Kevin is a Grammy nominated artist, podcaster, and indie musician advocate. He resides in Portland, OR where he is the Director of Marketing for CD Baby (cdbaby.com). Oh, yeah, he also plays guitar in Smalltown Poets.
You’ve probably noticed that it’s been a while since my last post. It’s not that I’ve stopped thinking and strategizing about the music industry, but with family (daughter #2 came) work and music, I had been stretched beyond my limitations and something had to take a back seat. The good news is that over the past year, instead of sitting at home dreaming about what other bands and musicians should do with their music careers, I’ve actually been out trying to put some of those lofty ideas into practice with my new band Hello Morning. I can tell you, it’s not as easy as all the gurus make it out to be. And I have to admit, there are some things I liked about the old school music business. Anyway, I plan to continue the dialogue as there is always something to about the topsy turvy world of the music business.
I’m in a new band called Hello Morning that is just emerging from the studio and finally ready to get serious about promoting and moving our music forward. Our situation is very similar to the average indie artist, in that we all have jobs, families, and other responsibilities, so when it comes to our music career, the time and money we put in needs to count for something. Several of us in the band have had success connecting with individuals through our personal social networking, but to be honest, when it came to the band’s social media efforts, we seemed to be floundering a bit with little sense of purpose. Since part of my job is spent giving other artists advice, I figured it was time to put my money where my mouth was and come up with a plan to put our band’s Twitter account to work. What Hello Morning has started to implement (with excellent results seemingly overnight) I will pass along to you in the following 5 steps.
1. Clean your feed – A good cleansing is in order! If you’re like the average artist, you’re following way to many people for all the wrong reasons and it’s time to un-follow most of them. You’ve got to clear out the junk and noise so you can make your Twitter feed useful and manageable. Don’t follow people just because they follow you!
2. Follow with a purpose – Stop following everyone at random (Even in your local music scene). Follow bands, clubs, and club bookers that you’d like to work with, and who in return, might want to work with you. Keep this list as small as possible.
3. Focus Locally – Give your Twitter feed the local touch so it reflects the pulse of the music scene in your town for your genre. Keep it as focused as possible. Don’t follow people across the country, or around the globe just because you can.
4. Interact – Now that you have your targeted follow list, it’s time to interact, and the more interaction the better! Social media is an excellent way to push out content, but it is far more effective if that content is coupled with sincere interaction. This step is key!
5. Take the relationships into the real world – Once you’ve started to dialogue with folks, ask to meet up in person. You’d be surprised at how many people are more than happy to grab a cup of coffee and share their insights and experiences. They’ll also be more likely think of you when they’re looking for an artist or band like you. Note: Whenever meeting people from the internet, don’t be stupid. Use good judgement and carry a big can of pepper spray!
OK, I said my band started to see results overnight, so what were they? First off, there was an immediate sense of purpose for the time we put into maintaining our Twitter account. That purpose being, to connect to our local scene, NOT necessarily build fans. This purpose will evolve as the band gains exposure, but it’s perfect for where we are now. Like I said, we’re brand new, so connecting to the local scene and getting gigs is step one. Building the fan base will easily follow once those things are in place and we are performing on a regular basis. Secondly, with the new streamlined Twitter feed, we’ve been able to hone in on useful information that was most likely being missed before. One post that we spotted was a local club booker needing to fill an opening slot for a national act that was coming through town in 2 weeks. With no album, no one sheet or EPK, no band website (Just a nice myspace page with less than 200 friends), no long history of playing in Portland and drawing a crowd, we got the gig. The club booker was in a pinch, and simply by responding to her post, she immediately gave our music a listen, and offered us the gig. We’re also making it a point to meet up with folks in the local scene (Like club bookers) that we’ve introduced ourselves to via Twitter. So far, the response has been extremely positive, and we’ve only been doing this for two weeks!
The important thing to remember, is that your social network focus will evolve as your music career evolves. Don’t assume that the first step (Or the only step), is to try to cultivate a fan base. Define your goals, focus in and target, and you’ll see far better results. Oh yeah, if you want to hear the music in progress with Hello Morning, you can find us here – http://hellomorningband.com
When talking about the future of the music business, it’s become a trendy statement to say, “In the future, musicians will look to playing live and touring to make their money instead of selling CDs and mp3’s because music will be free.” Well, I’m not afraid to call those people out with a big BS and here is why.
First off, I find that these statements are made by people who are, either, not musicians, or people who made money as a musician years ago. They are not an artist or a member of a group who is actively playing live and touring in today’s market. For some reason, they are working with the notion that bands and artists somehow forgot to put a focus on live music revenues and just need to return to that to see the money start rolling in. The fact of the matter is, bands and artists never stopped touring. And if they did, it’s because the money stinks! Even successful tours these days barely break even, much less make enough money for the recording artist to consider recorded music as just a free piece of promotion and nothing else. It takes an immense amount of work, time, and talent to build a serious revenue stream from playing live. Let’s not forget that through the internet, you can reach an endless amount of people worldwide, but with live performance you are working with a select number of venues in confined markets. Last time I checked, there weren’t many venues with the reputation of paying out big to artists. While there are echos of the past through the return of the single release as opposed to the full album, we are not returning to the 50’s, 60’s, or 70’s like some suggest.
The future of music lies completely within the artist’s hands, period. If they want to focus on selling recorded music and their fan base will continue to buy it, selling music will be a big revenue stream for them. If they are fantastic live and want to give away a track to entice people to come to a show, then live shows may be their big revenue stream, but it’s all up to the artist and what their fan base will allow. The future of the music business is NOT in the hands of companies who dream up business models that artist should follow. The future is NOT free music because some guy with a degree and years working in the industry says so. The business plays by the artist’s rules now, and that scares the pants off the gate keepers that used to make a living deciding what the artists could do.
By now, you might have seen the bizarre, uncomfortable, and strangely humorous video of Billy Bob Thornton making a fool out of himself in a way that only Hollywood types seem able to do. If not, it’s right here for you.
There are numerous things that can be said about this silly display, but one lesson that anyone who is working to promote music should glean from watching this video, is that story matters. Context matters. Your story makes you unique from all of the thousands of artist vying for the same attention of music fans. It brings interest to the music and provides the context in which your music can be interpreted.
In a very exaggerated way, Billy Bob shows us how idiotic a notion it is for an artist to remove themselves completely from their story, and since he demands it of his audience, he pretty much alienated anyone who might care or find his story interesting. Lucky for Billy Bob, if this interview permanently damages his music career, he can always go back to the land of make believe!
I read an interview with Barry Schwartz who wrote, The Paradox of Choice: How More Is Less, and I have to say he put into words a lot of what I have been feeling as a music consumer and an artist.
For the music consumer: The Paradox of Choice highlights that we have way too many options to choose from in our daily lives. More than our brains really want to handle! For example, we flip through 200 TV channels and feel like there is nothing on TV. This is exactly how I felt when I tried out a music subscription service for the first time. I suddenly had access to just about any album I could ever want to listen to, and oddly enough, I couldn’t think of one album that I wanted to hear. I honestly sat there thinking, “Why did I suddenly lose all desire to listen to something?” I don’t think I ever used the service because trying to decide on what to listen to was just too overwhelming. As new music business models emerge, I think understanding this paradox will be key to success. Sometimes giving the consumer everything can be more of a stumbling block (even if they don’t know it). What music fans are missing is active engagement with music, not musical choices. If the focus continues to be on the number of musical options, we might get to a point where the fans feel like not choosing anything at all is their best option.
For the musician: In my own musical pursuits, I have seen how having more options at my disposal actually serves to stifle my creativity. Instead of finding a creative way to make due with limited resources, I spend hours searching for the perfect keyboard or guitar sound, never truly satisfied as there is always another patch or effect that might be better than what I’m currently using. Some of my most creative moments are when I pick up a single instrument and am forced to make that sound work. Would The Beatles have been able to finish Sgt. Pepper if they had been recording with unlimited tracks and effect plugins? Would it have been a creative masterpiece? Try limiting yourself, as it will open up a whole new world of possibilities, and that’s the paradox!
I hear artists and musicians asking all the time, “Is it possible to build a bigger fan base just through the web?” I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, and I’m convinced that it’s not as hard as people make it out to be. Here’s the big secret – Be interesting! I’ve learned a lot from reading blogs and using Twitter, and one thing I’ve noticed, is that the people who have learned how to convey information in an interesting manner are the ones that have a growing online presence.
The funny thing is that artists (you know, creative types), are some of the worst people at creating interesting content on the web. Instead of conveying information that peaks the interest of those browsing the internet, they usually just post, “Buy my CD!” all over the place. Why would anyone stop to read more? They won’t. Promoting your music online can be as much about your writing skills as your musical skills. In order to give a push in the right direction, I’ve come up with a couple band updates that are typical web fare, and then created examples of how it can be made better.
Boring: We wrote a new song last night. You can hear a demo here
Better: For some songs, the birthing process can be a bit agonizing. Last night, we finally finished up what might turn out to be our best song to date. This is quite a surprise considering we almost scrapped the idea twice, and the fact that two of us (who shall remain nameless), nearly threw punches over the chord progression of the bridge. Writing music can be a wild ride making it easy to get hung up on the small things and lose perspective. That being said, we’re curious to hear how this new song hits your ears. Please take a listen to the demo we posted and let us know what you think! We promise we won’t throw any punches!
Let your readers in on the process so they have a reason to care. Make them feel as if they need to take a listen in order to make the story complete.
Boring: We had a great show last night! Thanks for coming out!
Better: Last night, the Doug Fir Lounge in Portland OR was a rock n roll cauldron of joy. It was one of those amazing nights where the audience and band were in perfect sync. The type of show that makes all the rehearsals and time we’ve invested as a band worth it. But what those in attendance didn’t see, is what we are now calling “The Salsa Incident.” It’s typical for a venue to provide snacks or food backstage, and at the Doug Fir, this means a giant bowl (the term vat would almost be appropriate) of salsa, and a giant bowl of chips. Well, literally five minutes before we were supposed to go on stage, Peter decided to take the bowl of salsa and……
Well, you get the picture. Your fans most likely saw the show. Tell them about what they didn’t see. There is always an interesting story line, you just have to make a conscious effort to pay attention and look for it.
A few more tips:
The people reading your content and discovering your music online can be anywhere in the world. Don’t write strictly to your local audience.
Try to avoid starting your posts with what I call “We phrases.” Things like – We Played, We recorded, We blah blah blah. This will usually turn into a “We don’t care” from your readers
Read blogs and follow folks on Twitter that you think create interesting content. Learn from them.
If you continue to develop a story mentality, creating interesting content will become second nature, and the result will be more subscribers, more readers, more fans!
There is a “free” trend in music that I find pretty alarming. No, I’m not talking about the fact that more and more artists are choosing to give away their music for free. For an indie artist, giving away music can be an excellent means to draw music fans into what they’re doing and get some attention. The trend I’m talking about is the “our services are completely free” trend. I guess it’s a general reaction to the big bad music industry who has been painted as bullies that steal all of the artist’s money leaving them with nothing(Much of that reputation deserved). Now that the the old system is falling apart, the pendulum seems to be swinging too far the other way. There is a growing sentiment that no one should get a cent from an artist’s music, not even the people facilitating their career. This view point is very short sided and only serves to damage the artist community over the long haul. Unfortunately, there are plenty of venture capitalist ready and willing to throw lots of money at the music community, hoping to strike it rich off of the next big idea. This seems to create short lived excitement, with no sustainability. Artists and musicians are seen as a group to be harvested with the art having no real value.
The successful music industry of the future is one that is community minded, where artists and industry professionals live together in a symbiotic relationship. There must be a balance, as both sides need each other. Both the artist, and the music professional should be interested in each others ongoing success and sustainability. As referenced in my previous post, there has been growing concern by the artistic community that music fans no longer see value in paying artists for their work. Artist’s should also consider the perspective of the people and companies that facilitate their career. There is value in the services they provide, therefore, an artist should make sure they are compensated fairly for what they do.
Without some sort financial benefit or stake in the artist’s success, there is no reason for a “free” company to work with the artist’s best interest in mind. Not only does this have an effect in obvious areas like customer service, but it also effects their ability and willingness to spend the time and money needed to work the best deals. Artists are simply reduced to a number that can be leveraged for some other purpose, which is how they’ll make their money eventually if they manage to stay in business!
I want companies I work with to be sustainable. Let’s face it, the music business is not charity work, it’s a business. Money must be made somewhere. People have jobs in order to make money, so it shouldn’t be taboo to mention the idea of making money when it comes to the music business. If a “free” company wants to keep their doors open, one of the following will most likely be true 1. They will change course and start charging 2. They will plaster ads everywhere and leverage user’s personal info for their gain 3. They will try to sell artists tons of other unnecessary items(The old bait and switch) 4. They will lose interest or just go out of business. It does not benefit the artistic community if all those who are passionate about music and are able to provide us with resources, throw their hands up in frustration feeling like their is no return on their investment.
I want to enter business relationships where there is no hidden agenda. Where the company does what they do best and I pay them their fair share. Don’t shop for professional services like you’re at Walmart! When looking into a business relationship concerning my music, the first thing I ask myself is, “Are they the best at what they do?” I put too much effort into my music to hand it over to the cheapest of the cheap. Am I crazy on this one? What do you think?
Last week I saw this article(Click Here), where Katie Taylor states, “The core challenge we are facing right now(as artists) is the need to get people to see art as WORK that should be compensated.” She goes on to say that the general public views the arts as more of a hobby, and not as a serious profession that demands fair compensation. I would agree with her observations of the general public, but unfortunately, I think this an unwanted side effect of any career that has a hobbyist component. I honestly don’t think you’ll have much luck trying to change the opinions of the general public, as they just don’t understand what goes into being an artist at the professional level(Or even at the hobby level in many cases). I do, however, think it’s important that you don’t let the the opinions of the non-creative bunch shape how you pursue and view music at a professional level.
Now that I’m in a brand new band starting from scratch(Shameless plug http://hellomorningband.com), I’ve been thinking a lot about what separates the hobbyist musician from that of a full fledge professional. Here are some of my observations.
The Hobbyist Attitude – Believe it or not, many people who are making some income from their art with hopes of being a full time pro, are still operating under what I call a hobbyist attitude or mindset. They work at their craft when it’s convenient and fun, but don’t make the full commitment needed to get to the next level.
It’s Work – To be a pro, you have to take everything that goes along with having a job and assign it to your art. That means doing things you don’t want to do. Music and your art go beyond your own creative expression, as now the point is to make a living. It is work. I’ve known countless talented artists that have faced this fact head on only to become extremely disillusioned and give up.
The Stakes Are Much Higher – As you increase your profile as a musician or band, you become increasingly vulnerable. The audience applause and good press reviews are nice and all, but there is less room for error. People are watching with increased scrutiny, and they will call you out on a bad performance or bad album. Thick skin is not a typical trait of the artistic type, so many become fearful of exposing themselves to that kind of spotlight. Some people thrive with the increased pressure, but for many, it ruins the whole artistic experience.
Don’t Think It’s Possible – I know many people where music is the center point of their lives, but when it comes down to it and are honest with themselves, they really don’t see playing at the professional level as a realistic possibility. Without a burning passion and determination, it will be next to impossible to make the leap to the professional level.
This past week, I had a number of artists ask me about potential music licensing deals that they had on the table. The common concern was whether or not the deal they were being offered was legit. This is something that could be discussed in great detail on a case by case basis, but I thought I would give a few brief bullet points on some things to consider before getting involved with a licensing company.
Are they a licensing company or a music library? – The lines can be a bit blurry here, but a general distinction between the two is that a licensing company will pitch individual tracks, where a music library might supply clients with a searchable hard drive of music with thousands of tracks. In general, a licensing company will get higher fees.
What rights are they asking for? – At a minimum, you have to grant a licensing company the right to represent your music, but there can be varying levels of artist involvement for each placement they negotiate. Some contracts are pre-cleared(Meaning they don’t have to get the artist to sign off on each individual placement), and others give the artist the right of refusal before the deal goes through. Most indie artist will encounter pre-cleared contracts. Another thing to look for is if it’s exclusive or non-exclusive.
What type of placements do they typically get? – All licensing companies are not created equally. Most of them have areas of strength and weakness, so one company may be really strong on network TV, but not as great at getting songs placed in film trailers. Another company may specialize in getting music into video games. One thing to watch out for are companies that do a lot of bulk licensing deals that return little money to the artists they represent
What percentage do they take? – Fees can range between 20%-50% of the gross licensing fee, but it’s important to keep that in perspective. A small company that gets a high number of placements for you might be worth the 50% fee.
*Things to Avoid*
Don’t work with a company that asks for an upfront fee – They should make their money off of getting songs placed, not by getting you to sign up more songs
Don’t grant them mechanical rights – Some licensing companies will slip some language into the contract that allows them to release your music in album form and make money off of it. A standard sync license contract is pretty straight forward, but granting mechanical rights ventures into record company territory which is far more complex. This should be avoided at all cost.
Don’t permanently sign over any rights to the song – That would be more of a publishing deal, which can be beneficial, but it’s important to make a distinction between a publishing deal and a sync licensing representation deal.
For the indie artist, the ability for music consumers to preview music before making a purchase has had an enormously positive impact on sales. Music fans, who might not have bought an album from an unknown band, can get a sample of the music which in turn entices them to buy. After looking at my own music buying habits, I noticed that in many cases, the ability to sample music by well known established artists has actually had the opposite effect. Often times, hearing the album before I make the purchase has left me second guessing, so in the end, I just hold on to my money. Throw in the fact that I know if I really want to hear a track, it’s just a couple clicks away on Last.fm or myspace.
For example: Last week, the new U2 album magically appeared in my email inbox. Just to be clear, I didn’t go out searching for it. My friend obtained a copy and I was just one of a few people that he thought would like to hear it, so he sent it on to me. I debated whether or not to listen, as I had planned on purchasing the album when it was released in a couple weeks anyway. Finally, curiosity(And maybe some boredom) took hold and I went ahead and gave it a listen. Let’s just say I was very disappointed. So much so, that I know I won’t be buying the album. When I took a moment to think about why I changed my mind, I thought about how I hold mega artist like U2 to a much higher standard. With all the resources at their fingertips, there is no excuse for anything less than a stellar album. When they don’t deliver, they don’t get my money(Throw in the fact that I don’t feel the need to support them in their art). In years past, I would have rushed out and bought the album with only a radio single to go on, saving the disappointment until long after they had my money. Now, with complete tracks available ahead of time(Legally through sites like myspace), I have the ability to decide if their music really merits taking a chunk out of my slim music budget. In my case, the answer for the new U2 album is a resounding no. My opinion is that this is one of the big factors that contributes to a file sharing culture. I don’t think the average music fan sets out to get as much music as possible for free, but when there is no perceived value in the music, the main thought becomes, “I wasn’t going to buy the album anyway, so what does it matter if I copy a friends?”
Do you find previewing albums causes you to purchase fewer albums by established artists?