Archive for the ‘Music’ Category
I recently interviewed two of my favorite, no-nonsense women in the Seattle music scene, Robin Fairbanks (A&R) and Elizabeth O’Keefe (Operations). They are both part of a music consulting company called Setlist Music Solutions, headed up by Sean Hensley, which specializes in artist development and management. Part I of this series offers Elizabeth’s perspective, and Part II will showcase Robin’s point of view. Both of these women have a lot of hands-on experience helping indie artists succeed.
It’s no secret that the options for self-promotion are greater than ever before for musicians. As a DIY independent artist myself, I often find it overwhelming just to understand all the different business and marketing things I need to do on a daily basis in order to be successful – to say nothing of actually getting them all done – and I have an MBA (and experience in marketing!) Like many artists, I fantasize about a record label riding in like a white knight, begging to sign me and to do all the work to promote my career as a musician. While this still happens for some artists, for most of us, it’s important to move forward with the reigns of our careers still firmly grasped in our own sweaty, trembling hands.
So what’s a girl to do when she realizes there is no way she can do it all herself?
The idea of a boutique recording or music label has been around for a while, and has been written about in articles like this in-depth Baltimore City Paper article published in 2010 or in this article about the Arizona-based Cosmica Artists label. While the terms indie label and boutique label often seem to be used interchangeably, a boutique label generally focuses on a small artist roster, or even a single emerging artist. It may even be started and owned by a producer, or the artists themselves. It could be a non-profit artist collective.
The signed artist(s) may do none, or some of their own marketing. The boutique label may or may not act like a traditional label, providing (and funding) most or all of the services an artist needs, from recording to promotion, booking and tour management. Artists may have to pay for some, or all, services provided, but they get to say they are “signed” to a label. Boutique labels will not sign just anyone, but they might take a chance on a relatively unknown artist. The artist and label’s brands are associated with each other. The boutique label generally chooses the artist, not the other way around.
How Important Is Your Live Show To Your Career?
Tom Jackson believes that the most successful artists are those who are amazing live performers. A few weeks ago, Stevie and I attended a two day bootcamp with live music producer Jackson and his team to see how we could improve our own performance. I was not disappointed.
In his many years of experience working with everyone from big name artists like Taylor Swift, The Band Perry, or Jars of Clay to up-and-coming indie artists like the Canadian country duo The Reklaws, Jackson has learned that fans don’t just come to a live show to listen to music. They come to feel emotion. What they crave is to connect with an artist, and to have their lives changed.
As for merchandise, most fans don’t buy a CD because they want to listen to the studio version of the song they heard live. Merchandise, Jackson says, is a prop that help fans relive the emotional moments of a live performance. The merchandise is a memento, and the emotional moments in a show are what it’s all about.
The Steven Spielberg of Live Music Performance
Tom Jackson teaches musicians how to make their live stage show remarkable. He helps artists deliberately create emotional “moments”. Jackson is the Steven Spielberg of live music production. This is the science of stagecraft and performance art. He teaches musicians how to use moments to create true fans, because it’s those moments that bring people back again and again to see your live show. It’s those moments that create the word-of-mouth buzz that propels an artist forward.
Occasionally, I like to interview other musicians who strike me as having an unusual thing going on – whether it is their look, their music, or their marketing. I’m always learning, and it’s great to have role models. When I came across musician Elyas Khan and watched his music video, I thought, huh, here’s a guy who has these elements very together in an unusual way that appeals to me aesthetically.
I think there is a lot of marketing to learn from this actor, dancer, musician, singer and performance artist. He has been Amanda Palmer’s backup band, and Neil Gaiman and Sxip Shirey played bicycle bells on one of his newest songs (read more on that below). Now based in Berlin, Khan is touring Europe in support of his newest release, Brawl in Paradise, produced by Matt Booker. I interviewed Khan via email because I was curious to know more about him and his music. Check out his music video Bells, too, it’s uber cool in so many ways.
S: Thanks for agreeing to this interview, Elyas. I was really intrigued when I stumbled across your latest music video, Bells, on Twitter. I couldn’t look away, actually. Then, when I delved deeper into your background, I was further flummoxed. The biography on your website is fairly brief. Can you give us a little history and background on you as a musician? I see from your bio that you were in the Brooklyn-based band, Nervous Cabaret, for many years, and you have a very international background. Can you give us a little more about how long you’ve been making music? Do you have another career (as many musicians do) in another profession, or have you been a fulltime musician your whole life?
E: Now music and composition are my fulltime job. My history as a musician is truly only 10 years old though…Out of high school I only had fantasies about the whole thing and fooled around with a punk band called “The Sarcastic Brats” but the guitar was sold early on, school was abandoned and I worked various jobs just living for the weekend. Buying records, new threads, getting to gigs, watching other guys chase women around and jotting it all down in massive leather-bound journals was what I was up to…I dabbled seriously in film school for a while and did well with my profs.
As with many things in my life at the time I just could not complete the program. 16mm film, processing costs and the time it took was just overwhelming to me. I was already doing a late night shift for UPS and washing dishes at a local bistro to keep my head above…
I forged many friendships with kids that were going to art school and got to pour over their books constantly and then someone approached me at the bistro. That place, The Loring Cafe in Minneapolis, was run by many Guthrie Theater and Children Theater alumni. They were about to adapt Siddhartha by Hermen Hesse for their new theatre venture. I was young and probably the only person they knew with Indian parents so they asked me to audition. I did, along with several hundred people and got the job. That started a long chain of events including dancing for a Ballet company, setting up my own company in Minneapolis called Famine Chorus, moving to New York and studying at Playwrights Horizon and then establishing a very active performance company called The Dean Street Field Of Operation (F.O.O.) and creating tape based, cut up scores with found sound and badly played instrumentals for our shows. The whole time I worked as a delivery boy of various goods (don’t ask) and as a mover (don’t ask). I got my SAG card and if you watch some old episodes of OZ and a number of shit films from the 90′s you just might spot me. The entire time I was intent on getting my head around finessing story telling techniques, theatrically, with film and scoring.
I am in the process of creating a new visual brand for my music. I am not including links just yet, because it’s not quite done. Read on as to why.
This new “band brand” is for my duo, Solveig & Stevie, and it’s separate from my blogging and marketing online brand (Solveig Whittle). It hasn’t been a particularly fast or easy process. I’m certain much of this is due to my personal combination of obsessive perfectionism and lack of graphic arts skills. However, I suspect, fellow musicians, that I am not alone.
Perhaps you can relate: I’ve tried seven different WordPress themes for my band website. I have agonized over which band pictures to use. I created a band logo myself, after trying crowd sourcing one with two different websites. I started with one album cover, and then changed it.
Because this has been a difficult process for me, I thought perhaps it would be useful to share some of what I learned during this process and some of the online resources I used.
In Part I of this series, I focused on the successful Kickstarter ($20K+) campaign held last fall by the female-fronted indie Seattle band, the Aury Moore Band. Their recently released CD, Here I Am was produced this spring by Stevie (full disclosure). I’m not affiliated myself in any way with band, although I’ve shared some marketing tips with her over the years, and I appreciate what Aury has done to market her CD. In this post, I will detail Aury’s June 2013 CD release party for Here I Am, including the budget and key promotional elements.
I received several requests for more detailed cost information after writing a blog post about my own (much smaller) CD release party in April. I think Aury’s party is a better lesson on how to make money on a CD release party, so I asked her if she would be willing to share her numbers. She was most gracious, so here they are:
- Venue: $0
- Merchandise: $200 (most was left over from the Kickstarter campaign)
- Raffle Items: $100
- Posters, Flyers and VIP Passes:$260
- Pre-printed Tickets: $40
- 1000 CDs (jewel case, 4-page color folder/traycard): $1500 (roughly 400 were given out the night of the party, and an additional 200 mailed out to Kickstarter backers)
Revenue: Approximately $10,000
- Pre-sold Tickets: $4000 (online ticket fees were paid by purchasers)
- Tickets Sold At Door: $4000 (some attendees were “comped”)
- Extra Raffle Tickets: $200 (went to charity)
- Merchandise: $700
(I assume Aury has some kind of revenue-sharing deal with her bandmates, but I didn’t ask about that.) So how did Aury end up netting around $8K at her CD release party?
Stevie and I were talking the other day about the fact that all of his professional musician friends are childless. As a member of GoGirls, I have also gotten to know many female musicians online. I’ve noticed that in general, the women I have met online who are working musicians (those who make a living working full-time as musicians – no day job) don’t seem to have any children. My local female musician friends are the same way – regardless of age, they have no children.
It got me thinking – why is it that being a professional musician and having children seem to be incompatible, especially for women? I’ve also been thinking a lot lately about touring – is it a necessary part of a band’s evolution?
I have decided that it may well be true that these are two very important things that separate a professional musician from an amateur: having children and touring. Of course, these two things are related. This is one of the reasons that choosing to be a professional musician is perceived (perhaps logically) as a young, childless person’s game. Touring and putting off having children are both things that younger musicians do, but find increasingly difficult to juggle as they get older.
(Note an important caveat: the story may be different for professional studio musicians or those who write and record music primarily to license it for film and TV. This post is meant for indie musicians who are performing artists with their own original music groups).
Let’s face it, male musicians can and do have children, but only if they find a partner willing to stay home and take care of their kids for them while they are out on the road making a living. In some ways, that’s even harder, because they then have to make enough money to support not only the band, but their families back home. If you read Peter Townsend’s recent autobiography, Who I Am, he talks about the pressures he felt to continue touring to support his wife and children. This was true even mid-career, when people would have assumed The Who were so successful that Townsend could have slacked off or retired.
For female musicians it’s a lot less acceptable to have kids. It may be a provocative thing to say, but I think society frowns more on the absentee musician mother than the absentee musician father. Other (childless) musicians look at you sideways when you have to leave rehearsal suddenly because of a sick child (been there, done that).
Here are a few of the other reasons I think many musicians – men, too, but especially women – have to choose (or feel they have to choose) between a professional music career and having a family:
I just recently finished a CD, but I haven’t yet decided where to distribute it online. I did press 100 CDs at a local disc duplicator for my release party last month, though, and I’ve sold 50-some already. I was freaked out briefly today, however, when I put one of my lovely new CDs in the computer so I could rip the tracks to MP3s for some promotion I am planning AND ALL THE TRACKS CAME UP TRACK 1, TRACK 2… etc. Had no one noticed this? Why had I not noticed this, for goodness sake?
I know we embedded the metadata in the mastered files for each of the tracks (for hopefully licensing later) – because I made sure that I made a big deal out of this with Stevie’s good friend Garey Shelton, who did the mastering. So what did I fail to do? And OMG, I thought, are all these CDs floating around now WITHOUT THE PROPER TITLES? And what’s worse WHERE WAS MY ALBUM TITLE AND ARTIST INFORMATION??? Have I communicated yet how freaked out I was? I’m a marketing person. I know bad data when I see it. So Stevie was on the phone immediately to Garey and this is what I learned.
It turns out that, after you’ve pressed your CDs, it’s important to take one more step and upload your stuff to the Gracenote CDDB (Compact Disc Database), so that all your identifying information (album title, artist, and track titles) is available to everyone else. You can do this using third party software (Winamp or QMP), or you can just use iTunes (and an internet connection). It’s not very hard to do. Here are the steps: || Read more
Alas, a decade is practically an eternity online, and as such, the download-to-own concept that iTunes revolutionized is already showing signs of age. The growth of subscription-based streaming services like Spotify and Pandora, and the current cultural dominance of YouTube, with its more than three billion videos viewed daily, hint that that music consumers are now largely content to listen, rather than own. - Time Entertainment, April 28, 2013
In this two-part podcast, Jason Spitz and Kyle Bylin of Hypebot’s Upward Spiral Podcast and I discuss some of the customer needs and behaviors that drove iTunes adoption: the unbundling of the single from the CD purchase, as well as the product characteristics (seamless integration with the iPhone, ease of use, standardized pricing). It’s interesting to hear the generational differences in how we adopted (or didn’t!) iTunes to build our personal music libraries, and to note that iTunes clearly was a substitute product for pirated music, even if an imperfect one.
In the second half of our discussion, we cover the transition of customers from download to streaming and debate where the future may lie for Apple’s iTunes and the consumption of music. We discuss iTunes competitors, and what factors might determine whether Apple will continue to dominate music distribution, such as the ubiquity and seamlessness of wifi, and the deep pockets of a platform player like Google, Amazon or Apple, as compared to a software-only offering such as Spotify or Pandora.
Kyle Bylin is the founder and editor of sidewinder.fm, a music and tech think tank, and also conducts research and develop music product concepts for Live Nation Labs. Jason Spitz is an ecommerce expert helping bands, comedians, and other artists build direct-to-fan businesses. In addition to being super-knowledgeable about the music industry, Jason and Kyle are expert conversationalists, and they always pick topics that are timely and interesting.
I sure had fun talking to these guys. Please let me know what you think of our discussion in the comments below!