Last month I was fortunate enough to get a chance to visit the offices of my friend Omri Mor’s Seattle startup, ZIIBRA. What a great team of highly motivated and creative people (their office Halloween pumpkin-decorating contest was, how do I say this? Inspiringly Awesome).
While I was there visiting, I also did an interview with their charming community manager, Mia Myklebust, about one of my favorite subjects, music marketing.
Omri founded ZIIBRA in 2011 “with the goal of helping artists turn their creative projects into full-time gigs.” ZIIBRA is a crowd funding or online patronage service that strives to harness the internet to make creating art sustainable. It caters to various types of creative “makers”, from visual artists to musicians to herbalists, perfumers and artisan food producers.
Here’s the interview I did with Mia Mykelbust at ZIIBRA:
Solveig Whittle has had a number of different careers from Microsoft to Marketer to Musician. Her many interests and talents have given her a unique perspective on the artistic community and how they go about making a living from their passion.
“I started out as a programmer many years ago and worked at a big company,” Whittle said. “I worked at AT&T and then I kind of got into the business side and worked as a product manager in the high tech area.”
She has now found her way back into marketing, which is really where her heart lies, while at the same time pursing a career as a musician. Her diverse background has given her the tools to start her own successful music career as well as help musicians hoping to break into the industry.
“Think about it as starting a small business,” Whittle says.
“If you’re an artist and you don’t think about it as starting a small business – you can’t fathom that – it’s going to be difficult unless you partner with somebody who can do it.”
Particular early in their careers many musicians will inevitably be doing their own marketing and promotion. Whittle says that though it’s important for artists to have a broad understanding of what going on in these areas of their business, oftentimes artists are more successful when they partner with someone they trust to work on these sides of their career.
Almost exactly two years ago, I wrote a blog post called 8 Things Indie Musicians Can Learn From Taylor Swift’s Red Release. That post has become one of the most popular on my blog, so I thought it appropriate to do a follow-up regarding the release of Swift’s newest album, 1989. Plus, analyzing and writing about the dynamic marketing duo of Taylor Swift and Scott Borchetta is downright fun. (If I were a graphic artist I would have a picture here of Borchetta in a Batman outfit and Swift as Robin).
The release of Swift’s 2012 Red album was a remarkable success from a marketing perspective. It propelled Swift from country into the mainstream pop market and made her one of the most powerful artists in the industry with a large and loyal fan base.
This year’s 1989 album also did not disappoint. Swift topped even her own record (no pun intended) with 1.29 million copies of 1989 sold in its first week (as compared to 1.21 million copies of Red in its first week after release). While selling 80,000 more units in Week 1 doesn’t seem like a huge accomplishment, remember that overall, the music industry has shown a significant decline in sales in recent years. Until the release of 1989, 2014 looked to be the first year no single artist album would go platinum (sell over a million copies). Sales of CDs for the first half of 2014 were down 19 percent from the year before, to 56 million, and even digital downloads declined by 14 percent in the first six months of 2014 (RIAA figures). 1989 comprised 22% of the entire US album sales the week of its release. In a declining industry, this was no small accomplishment.
As I did with my first article, it’s important to consider what the marketing goals were likely to have been for this release. In 2012, I proposed the marketing goals for Red were to expand Swift’s fan base beyond the country demographic into a broader demographic. I think the goals for 1989 were different: in this case, to maximize total net profits for the release. I mean, isn’t everyone already a Taylor Swift fan? Do we really need more Taylor Swift fans? (See Saturday night’s perceptive fake ad for Swiftamine for proof of her expanded demographic.) OK, just kidding. Sort of.
During a recent Twitter exchange regarding the Taylor Swift/Spotify/streaming debate, I was labeled as having “become a professional problem identifier.” I was exhorted to instead “Be a problem solver.”
— Steve Rennie (@renmanmb) November 12, 2014
Many more knowledgeable and successful than I have certainly already waded into the fray. Even Dave Grohl! Why bother to add my perspective? Because every time I hear the argument that musicians should just “get over it,” or “stop complaining about streaming” I realize that many of us are not on the same page. We don’t even agree what the problem really is. I subscribe to the philosophy that solutions are built on consensus and common understanding, not on forcing a solution that doesn’t fit, or a model that only benefits one or two key players in the industry at the expense of the others.
It seems to me that there are a lot of things that get all confused up in this debate, and the refrain I keep hearing that musicians should just shut up and “focus on making great music” ignores the reality of how screwed up the music industry is and how hard it is – even if you’re a great musician with great material – to make a living at music.
I’m not a famous musician, or a tech entrepreneur, or someone with years of experience managing bands or running a record label. I’m just a musician, an anonymous musician who, like most of the musicians I know, doesn’t make a fulltime living as a recording artist. Oh, and fifteen years ago I was the VP of marketing at a startup whose product was distributed software as a service, bringing Microsoft Office to corporate desktops as, essentially, a streaming product. I do care more about the long term future of musicians and the music industry than going public with my music tech company and cashing out (something I also know a bit about). And I am an engineer by training. I have a sensitive radar for arguments that don’t square with my version of reality.
I don’t frequently post my own press releases on this website. I prefer to interview and feature artists other than myself. I have a few amazing musicians whom I met through NARAS (the Recording Academy) on deck in the coming weeks with some very successful music marketing and social media stories to tell – so hang in there. It’s also the middle of Grammy season, and believe me, I will have a follow-up post to my Grammy submission experience from last year.
But in the meanwhile, as those other musicians finish laboriously typing their detailed and informative interview answers, I’m making an exception and promoting some of my own recent achievements as an artist. Plus, this post isn’t just about me. It’s all about indie musicians collaborating to make things happen, and it features my good friend and musical collaborator, Elizabeth Butler, whom I have written about before on this blog. As you know, I’m not just a marketer and blogger, I’m a musician. I try to live by my own advice, which includes tooting my own horn once in a while. So bear with me, here’s a bit of self-promotion.
October 20, 2014
Do you have to be 19 and able to twerk in a bikini to receive recognition as a female musician these days?
Solveig Whittle and Elizabeth Butler are proof that you don’t. These two indie female songwriter-musicians from Seattle, Washington and Houston, Texas, were notified recently that they both have songs and albums up For Consideration in the 57th Grammys and nominated for the 2014 Hollywood Music in Media Awards (HMMAs). The Grammys will be awarded in February of next year, but the HMMAs will be awarded sooner, on November 4th, 2014 at the Fonda Theater in Los Angeles.
The two women have been strategizing for months and working together to promote their music in an industry in which it is notoriously hard to stand out – and one that also tends to favor younger artists. They remain undaunted, however, and now their musical and co-promotional partnership has created some very visible results, such as their Grammy and HMMA nominations.
Like many indie musicians, Whittle and Butler have been hobbyist musicians their whole lives. Only within the last few years, however, have they gotten serious about putting resources and time into pushing their individual music careers forward. By sharing information with each other and honing both their musical and promotional skills, they have proved that collaboration is the new route to success in the music business.
I’m in the process of updating the Solveig & Stevie EPK (electronic press kit) for our new album release. I also have several friends and clients who have just released albums or EPs, and are sending them out for review or airplay consideration. As usual, I thought perhaps you, my dear readers and fellow musicians, might benefit from my learning process. I’ve also included links to more resources at the bottom of this post.
What’s An EPK ?
An EPK is an online, electronic version of the physical, paper information folder that was sent out in the old days by managers (now often by artists and bands themselves) to
- Venues and festival bookers
- Reviewers and reporters
- Radio stations or podcasters
Business Purpose of An EPK
The business purpose of a press kit, whether paper or electronic, is to get a person to book your band, review your new album, interview or write an article about your band, or play your music on their terrestrial or internet radio station.
The reason I mention business purpose up front is because I think that too often, bands forget that the press kit has a business purpose. If your band doesn’t need any of those things listed in the paragraph above, don’t bother creating press kit. That said, most solo artists and bands should have one. And, chances are, you are the one pulling it together (not a manager or PR agent).
If you are ever unsure about what items to create for or include in your press kit, or how to position or choose or write something – just put yourself in the shoes of the person who will be reading it. If they wouldn’t find it interesting and newsworthy, or useful for writing their article or playing your music, don’t include it or rewrite it.
I have to say, I love the song, “Chandelier” by the female Australian singer, Sia Furler (known simply as Sia). I’ve embedded the Vevo music video at the bottom of this post. It’s a beautiful, simple but visually compelling video, although you won’t see Sia’s face in the video, just her doppleganger.
You may not have heard “Chandelier” yet. Being a female vocalist, as well as a mother, I listen in the car to a lot of current pop music. In the Female-Vocalist-Fall-Back-to-School-Pop-Hit lineup, “Chandelier” is up against some heavy contenders, like Taylor Swifts newest, “Shake It Off” and Katy Perry’s inane “This is How We Do.” Not to mention the octave-defying Christina Aguilera-sound-alike, Ariana Grande, whose numerous collaborations this summer with every female hip hop artist in America (she’s moved on from Iggy Azalea to Nicki Minaj) dominate the airwaves.
I think “Chandelier” it’s going to be a huge hit, and one by a non-American artist who has been relatively unknown until now, at least here in the US. I wanted to pick it apart and get to know this Sia Furler person. Her music seemed, well… different.
In doing a little research, I uncovered some remarkable things that I thought were relevant to a lot of indie artists like me, especially those of us who are NOT Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, or Ariana Grande’s age: