This site is a blog for musicians and music industry people. It is a free educational resource and it is also the way I advertise my music consulting services. I am an entertainment professional with deep roots in the music industry. Throughout my music career I have been a major label A&R representative, a music supervisor, an artist manager, a reality show producer, a bass player and the head of a digital record label.
Posts Tagged ‘album release’
Mark Christensen is the owner of New York City recording facility Engine Room Audio and has over 30 years of experience in the music industry. He started out as an artist, touring in the Midwest at 16 with his original progressive modern-rock material and beginning his production career at 19. He spent three years in England and toured briefly with acts such as The Waterboys and The Clash while producing numerous independent records, eventually moving to New York City. While working as a line producer at Soundtrack City, he self-produced a demo which ultimately resulted in a record deal and another round of tours with bands like Radiohead, The Wallflowers and The Gin Blossoms. Mark opened one of the first upscale restaurants in New York City’s East Village, but ultimately decided to pursue his passion for mastering and production by launching Engine Room Audio, a business focused on providing production, engineering and manufacturing support to a wide range of talented musicians. Mark has become one of New York’s most highly-regarded Mastering Engineers and has worked with hundreds of labels, major corporations and artists, including 50 Cent, Trey Songz, OK Go, Depeche Mode, Sia and Soulja Boy.
I talked to Mark about the differences between the music mixing and mastering processes and the critical qualities of a “radio-ready” song. He also shared some important advice for artists and producers just starting out who want to build successful, long-lasting careers in music.
Thanks for taking some time to chat, Mark. How did you get into the music industry?
I was an artist for a long time and was in a few bands that were signed. At some point, I wanted to get out of that. I ended up opening a restaurant in the East Village in New York City, but got a record deal while I was running it and ended up deciding to sell. I had a little bit of cash left over and wanted to start some kind of small business. And this was back in the day of cassettes, so I bought a business that was doing duplications: high-quality, real-time cassettes.
I always had a small studio in my house, and I was getting requests from clients to start doing mastering. Initially, I really didn’t even know what that process entailed. But I started doing mastering for these duplication clients – hundreds and hundreds of hours-worth – and realized I really enjoyed it.
The record I did with the band I was in, Thirst, did really well. We toured opening for Radiohead in 1996 and had a couple Top 20 radio songs. It was a lot of fun, but there were a lot of political issues attached to being in a band like that. And our record label, Iguana sold their alternative division to Interscope Records. Our album got caught between the cracks of that transition.
By the time Thirst was getting ready to do its second record, the whole production universe had become more interesting to me than anything else. I decided to go professional with my mastering business and built a production complex over on Lafayette Street, where I decided to “hang out my shingle” and offer my services to the general public. By that time I’d already done a huge quantity of mastering, but none of it had been on a retail level; I had just been doing it for duplication clients.
Since I began my business, the projects have just been getting more and more interesting. We’re now a full-fledged recording studio. When we moved to our new facility, we built a big SSL room upstairs. We also have production suites that we lease out to resident producers. They aren’t affiliated with us in a business context, but synergistically, we share resources. We have quite a few studios: seven smaller rooms leased out to in-house producers; the SSL room upstairs; my big mastering room.
When people ask me what my main focus is, I say, “Mastering is my day job and producing is my hobby.” While I usually get paid to produce, mastering is where my heart is.
I would imagine having the creative energy of all those people in one place really builds the business.
Yeah. We have seven producers doing their thing. And the manufacturing is still a part of the business. But cassettes have, of course, disappeared, and CDs are becoming less prevalent.
I wanted to talk to you a bit about the mastering process. I’ve been playing bass for 20-some years and have played on a handful of records. I am by no means a first call on an album, but if worse comes to worst, I can hold it down. Still, I admit, I have no clue what the difference is between fine tuning a mix and mastering.
There is definitely a tried and true method of making an album, and mastering is the forgotten step; it’s the final piece of the puzzle. Most producers and mix engineers understand that mastering is something they ought to be doing. A lot of people are in the same boat you are in, though: They don’t really understand what is happening with mastering. I will say that being a mastering engineer has made me a much better mix engineer. And when I mix, I think I get a better understanding of what the mastering process is actually doing to a recording.
Mastering can be kind of hard to explain, and I think that’s why there’s a mystique around it. Mastering engineers listen a little differently from how most people listen. We have different objectives and do different things with the signal flow.
To elaborate on that, when you have a properly-put-together record, the mixing engineer ought to be mixing for actual mix; that person has to make sure the balance between the instruments is correct. At the beginning of audio and recorded music, mix engineers were originally called “balance engineers.” And that’s really what you need to be doing as a mix engineer: Making sure that the individual musical elements are set up with the right EQ structure and have the right dynamic range, and that the overall mix is pleasing to the ear. What you should not be doing as a mix engineer is mixing for volume. You shouldn’t be trying to make a loud mix or a “present” mix. Those elements are in the domain of the mastering engineer.
I tell people that even if you are going to end up mastering it yourself because of budgetary constraints, you still have to respect the mastering process as part of the record-making process.
I run across a lot of guys who like mixes that are burned almost to the point of clipping, not realizing there is going to be a mastering process to polish everything.
I’ve seen that myself, and it’s definitely a function of the Digital Age. I tend to blame the salesmen at places like Guitar Center for this. People buy all these plug-ins, because the gear manufacturers are trying to sell people new products they don’t have. But artists end up purchasing tools they don’t really need and then reverse engineer a use for it.
That’s also what has happened to some extent with the mastering plug-ins. If you don’t have the budget to send it to a mastering engineer, having those tools at your disposal can be a good thing. And if you are a working, professional studio owner or mix engineer, many times putting some type of “ghetto mastering” on an album is good so clients can listen to it in the car on the way home and not have it be distant sounding or non-competitive with the other CDs in their CD changer. So, there is an immediate application for some of these tools. I definitely see high-end mix guys doing “quickie” mastering for clients to listen to and reference. But then they keep the un-mastered versions of the songs to send to the real mastering guy later. And that’s actually a fairly smart way to work.
When the mastering guy gets the files, he is concerned with making it radio ready. There are two parameters that determine “radio readiness.” In the digital domain, we have an absolute ceiling that we’re working with: 0 db full scale. The loudness of any project is going to be determined by the average between the average dynamic output and the peak dynamic output. Since we know where the peak is – 0 db full scale – what we’re working with is manipulating that average dynamic output so it can get as close to the peak as is reasonable, so the song is “present” and competitive with other songs on the radio. When the FM transmitters get a hold of the song, we don’t want it to be too brittle, “present” or crispy sounding or to disappear and be inaudible.
The other culturally-defined parameter is the EQ structure. There is no such thing as the “mathematically-correct” amount of high end, or the “mathematically-correct” amount of low end. Those things are all culturally determined. You want to pocket your product in a place where it makes sense to your consumer. If your consumer is used to listening to a certain type of record, then suddenly you give them a record that is incredibly bright in comparison, it will hurt their ears, and they will want to stop listening. On the other hand, if you give them something that is too dark in comparison to what they are used to listening to, they will not be able to hear it.
There is a little bit of strategy and interpretation involved in trying to “pocket” a product, depending on what type of music it is and what the artist is trying to achieve musically and artistically. A good example of this idea is some of the early Kanye West albums. Those were pretty quiet, dark records. He made those choices on purpose, because he wanted his music to inhabit a slightly different space from some of the more aggressive, bright records that were out at the time.
You’ve been in music for 30 years at this point. And you have an interesting perspective on the business, because you’ve been in a band, toured, recorded and worked behind the glass in a studio. What advice would you give someone just starting out?
I was always a person who wanted to do things on my own. Musically, when I started out, I followed the punk ethos and have always had a “DIY” mindset in general. Even when I decided to get into engineering, I was more interested in learning how to do things myself than being taught how to do things by someone else. If I were going to give advice to someone like myself, it would be to learn how to listen to other people. I think you have to learn how to weed out the crappy advice and work with the good advice.
As I get further along in my career, I realize there were a lot of people telling me useful things when I was younger. And had I listened to them at the time, I would’ve been much better off. Sometimes when you are concerned with being self-sufficient as an artist, you forget that other people have had experiences and have gone through the process themselves. And some of their advice might be worthwhile. In the Digital Age, where everyone thinks they can buy any application, put it on their laptop and do it all themselves, it’s easy to forget that you really need the experience of other artists and professionals to guide you.
There’s actually not a single record I’ve mastered that hasn’t made me think, “This person would’ve benefitted from a stronger producer.” There are a lot of people I work with who are great artists with solid projects. But if they had used a real producer, a real mix engineer and a real studio instead of doing everything themselves in their mother’s kitchen, they would’ve had a substantially better product.
News this past week stressed the seismic music industry shifts of the past decade as experts analyzed why the Yahoo! Music service is booming and explored Sony’s increase in market share and its implications on the hotly-contested EMI deal. Also, Metallica members talked about their struggles to stay afloat in the current business climate.
Yahoo! Music Thriving Under the Radar
Yahoo! Music is enjoying 27 million monthly U.S. visitors despite massive industry changes; yet, this success seems to be escaping the attention of artists and music executives, according to a recent article on Billboard.biz. While the company got some negative media coverage recently when it lost some major executives, Ken Fuchs, the president overseeing sports, entertainment, music and other verticals claimed the recent changes will not affect Yahoo! Music.
And to which factors does he attribute the success of the service? Fuchs stated that it is a combination of brand alignment, the availability of robust emerging artist services, mobile services and the company’s focus on breaking original ground: “[The recent staff change] certainly doesn’t affect our mission and our ability to continue to build on creating a great voice on breaking news and original programs.” He added that Yahoo! is “ramping up in video programming,” which includes interviews, video series and live and on-demand concerts.
In April, the site enjoyed 171 million unique visitors in the United States, declared a report from comScore. And Fuchs said that its popularity has been building excitement among music fans both on and offline, which has helped the service direct traffic around its diverse offerings, or, as Fuchs stated, “the water-cooler events that create conversation and create context for that conversation. It could be a big concert. It could be breaking news.”
Major artists account for a lot of the traffic. Whitney Houston’s funeral was among the top 10 live streaming events in Yahoo’s history. And the Clinton Foundation Concert, which saw performances by Lady Gaga, Bono and Usher had more than one million live streams at the time of broadcast and has garnered well over 20 million video streams and 13 million content interactions since it aired. The popularity of these events has brought brands like Nissan and Unilever into the fold to sponsor genre-specific major events with big artists.
However, Fuchs stressed the growing popularity of Yahoo! Music can also be good for emerging and independent artists, because the focus of the service is always on “music discovery:” “We try to do it in a fairly intimate way, through strong editorial, access to artists and, more and more, original programming and live performances that create a very unique canvas to perform and interact with their fan bases.”
Yahoo! has also introduced several products across its different platforms that could significantly add to the strength of its music service. One is the Yahoo! “Social Bar,” a social media interaction tool that has been downloaded by over 68 million and sees about 40 million monthly users. The “IntoNow” mobile app could also help Yahoo! better serve music fans and artists by informing Yahoo! of music listeners’ preferences. It tracks the shows people watch and delivers this information to Yahoo! so they can shape their programming. Fuchs said it works similarly to Shazam and SoundHound: “You can be watching a football game or CNN or a live concert and it will understand and pick up the signal regardless of what’s coming out of you TV and drop into an experience where you can get more information, you can interact with friends around that show … It allows the user to get deeper, especially around big events like concerts or sporting events or the Grammys.”
Above all, Fuchs continues to hope that Yahoo! Music will continue to grow by giving consumers what they want musically: “We believe in being able to extend our experiences across screens and scale. So whether it’s a concert with the National and Bob Wier that’s fully available across all screens, or it’s the Clinton concert or breaing news, we don’t really care where you’re accessing it from, we want you to be able to access it.”
Sony vs. Universal: Who Will Win the War for Top Tracks?
Although the spotlight is currently on the EMI deal, with many industry analysts and critics scrutinizing the fairness of Sony Entertainment’s and Universal Music Group (UMG)’s takeovers of two divisions, no one seemed to notice Billboard.biz’s report that Sony overtook Universal in U.S. market-share rankings over a month ago until this past week. And the experts at Billboard stated this is because those in the music industry fretting over the potential deal might be picking the wrong battle.
Sony surpassed UMG in year-to-date album market share including track equivalents in the first week in March. It also held the #1 spot during the month, only relinquishing control in the final week of the first quarter, ending April 1. Recent figures from Nielsen SoundScan reported that UMG’s market share for music albums is 30.35 percent, vs. Sony’s 29.14 percent, which contradicted numbers from SounScan, which reported the two companies were even closer, at 29.98 and 29.36 percent, respectively.
Despite the on-going battle for market share between the two major labels, critics continue to focus on the EMI merger, which still has an uncertain outcome, as no final decisions have yet been made by trade commissions. They have failed to notice the race between Sony and UMG for top spots on the charts, which many feel could provide important insights into the future of the label system.
Billboard stated that whether Sony or UMG will ultimately grab more market share likely depends on album release schedules. Many analysts are banking on Adam Lambert’s “Tresspassing” to put Sony over the top, even though that album has not had as many weekly scans as other #1s before it. Sony has some big releases coming up, including albums from One Direction, Usher, Kenny Chesney and R. Kelly. And these releases, on paper, look stronger than the releases on the UMG side, who will only have Justin Bieber’s “Believe” and Maroon 5’s “Overexposed,” both going on sale in June.
However, analysts at Billboard noted that which company wins the market share for albums has become less of a focus than which has put out the most popular individual tracks. And a look at the popularity of albums has seen Sony on top almost every single week this year so far. But UMG has been the winner when it comes to individual tracks through this past week: 32.66 percent vs. Sony’s 25.89 percent. If Sony wants to win the war, it will have to keep a steady schedule of strong individual track releases.
Metallica: Touring to Stay Afloat
The dissolution of the former business models within the music industry as it makes way for new income streams has seen even big bands like Metallica working harder for a buck, according to an article in Rolling Stone, reported by Classic Rock magazine.
Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett stated that, while the band used to be able to take a few years off after a big album release and accompanying tour, thanks to dwindling music sales and royalties, members now have to be on tour almost constantly to stay afloat: “The cycles of taking two years off don’t exist anymore. We were able to do that because we had record royalties coming In consistently. Now you put out an album and you have a windfall maybe once or twice. But it’s not the way it used to be – a cheque every three months.”
He said that he believes Metallica and other big and small artists have had to get more creative than ever in the past few years when determining different income streams that will pay for future projects and necessary growth as musicians. All Metallica’s recent merchandise sales on the road together paid for their new recording studio. And even though Hammett and his band mates calculated that they will likely only break even at the big Orion Music Festival in June, they are optimistic about future opportunities: “We basically take funds from wherever we can. This is a real luxury, but great things come out of this.”
Jerome Bunke is the founder of Digital Force, a full service boutique CD and DVD production company that provides individual artists and groups with high-quality recording services surrounding their product releases. Jerome earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree at The Juilliard School as a clarinetist and his Doctorate at New York University. As a clarinetist, he has managed, produced and performed in world concert tours with stops at major venues such as Carnegie Hall and The Kennedy Center. As a studio musician and producer, he has collaborated with greats like Elmer Bernstein, Don Sebesky,Sid Ramin and Michael Cohen. As President of the UK-based international music publisher Boosey & Hawkes, he witnessed the first steps of the digital revolution and helped the company respond to changes that were pushing distribution channels from the record companies to the artist. He was also General Manager of Vox Records and helped transform their analog catalog to compact discs. He has also chaired the Chamber Music panel for the National Endowment for the Arts and participates in the music recording program at New York University. Digital Force has worked with major organizations including NBC’s Olympic Broadcast, RCA, Sony, Universal and Motown Records.
I recently got to talk to Jerry about how his passion for music and recording developed, how Digital Force helps artists and other creatives coordinate and execute their releases and some important details people need to consider when putting together the many different aspects of their recordings.
Thanks so much for taking some time to talk. How did you get into the music business, and what led you to start Digital Force?
Getting into the music business is something that has been a life-long passion, because I started out being 100% a performer. I went to Juilliard and got my Bachelor’s and Master’s from there as a clarinetist. And as a clarinetist, I was fortunate enough to play around the world at places like Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center with the Japan Philharmonic and in England. I made close to 25 album recordings. I’ve always been involved with production and being able to put music in conjunction with other disciplines. So, being involved with production and recording was my plan from the get-go.
I’ve also produced over 50 records that included many of the members major orchestras: the New York Philharmonic; Boston Symphony; Chicago Symphony; Cleveland Orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra. I also had works commissioned for me and a Ford Foundation grant to do an album of contemporary concertos.
The idea of getting into production and then having a successful product is being able to understand the perspective of the performer, the perspective of the studio, as well as what it means to market and be able to put together the graphics for an album and realize from a practical standpoint how important all the different components are. From my experience as a studio musician, I figured out that if a piece of music was three seconds too long, one edits it to fit the film. I learned what it meant to see music and my art through the lens of business.
Everything was crystallized when I was with Boosey & Hawkes, a publishing company based in London. The composers on that company’s roster included Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein. That’s when I started to move towards digital, because people started to see the cost of inventory and printing vs. print on demand. That’s how I officially got involved in digital production.
When CDs came out, I helped with the process of taking the Vox catalog and changing it from LPs into CDs. Jewel cases derived their name to help justify their relatively high cost. In the early days of CDs – before there were even CDs, which were jointly founded overseas by Sony and Philips, made in the United States –everything had to be imported. And if you were buying them at that point, they could easily be $35. a piece. That’s why this plastic case that held them was called a “jewel box.” It helped substantiate the cost of what that sound recording was at the time.
I moved from production into audio CDs. And that grew into enhanced CDs, being able to use sound recordings in conjunction with computers, videos, links to websites as well as DVDs. As modern technology emerged, the performer and composer could become directly in touch with their audience and the public. The trend moved towards becoming independent, and people being able to artistically and financially control their own product. People started to think about who would have the expertise to be able to service the independent market and know what was involved with producing an album and what the timeline has to be, how everything has to work: Who would be able to make the project better?
And that is the rationale behind Digital Force. We provide a multitude of services that let the performer, the creative people and the marketing people do what they do best – make music, promote it, sell it. Digital Force makes sure there is a top-rated product that comes out and that gets into the distribution cycle. Our rationale is that the same quality work and attention to detail that we’ve provided to a wide array of artists – Dionne Warwick, Patti LuPone, Usher, Andre Crouch, The Dave Matthews Band, Thomas Hampson, BJ Thomas among others – and to Broadway productions ranging from Sunset Blvd., Movin’ Out, Hair, Spelling Bee and The Book of Mormon is available to independent labels, artists and bands.
Most people think, “All I have to do is get my CDs replicated. I’ll call a CD replication company, and that will be that.” And that’s fine if all you’re going to do is hand them out or use them as giveaways in a grab bag. What does Digital Force help people organize when they’re trying to put together a high-quality release?
We take a boutique approach. We’re passionate about what we do. We want to put genuine care into every project. We understand how important each note and each project is.
Very few people leave enough time for the production process. A lot of times artists and labels have focused most of their energy on getting the recording made. They try to figure out who is doing the A&R, which pieces they are using and how many recording, overdub, editing and mixing sessions there need to be. That can go on for months or even a year. Then suddenly, they think, “Gee. We have a release party next Saturday. What’s going on?” And then you wonder with all the time spent, who looked at the graphics? What is the name of the album? Do they have an artist photo? People can’t autograph digital downloads. So, the idea of having a physical, tangible product for a lot of performers is still very important. It helps create their identity, gets their story out and becomes something they can make income from when they sell it to their fans.
What we attempt to do is add extra value to that disc by being able to incorporate videos and other connections. To give an example, we’ve been talking with a show that’s going to be hitting Broadway this year. We’re in negotiations to do an enhanced CD. It’s going to be a cast album, plus videos, behind-the-scenes features and links to the show’s website.
What important details related to elements like album artwork, UPC coding, etc. do artists often forget when putting together albums for release?
As part of packaging, there are elements that the distribution system requires in order to make your product viable. There’s something called the UPC, which is the bar code that gets scanned at every checkout counter. This code is important because, what I like to do is make sure there’s nothing that prevents a store from taking someone’s album. And a UPC code will not guarantee that a store will take the album. But you don’t want to put a potential barrier in the way by not having it. Without the UPC code, the store can’t scan the album or figure out what the price is.
Is not having a UPC code a commonly-made mistake, even for independent or DIY artists who are looking for consignment?
Yes. And it is becoming increasingly difficult to find stores that have hired knowledgeable help. If you have stores that are mall stores or set up like mall stores, you need to make sure someone can come into the store, pick up the album and then check it out at the counter. The UPC code also helps with inventory. So, even if the album isn’t being sold, at least you know what your count is.
So, that would also apply in the case of someone who would be giving it away free with purchase.
Exactly. The UPC code has really become a standard.
Likewise, there’s something related to the UPC code called the top spine. You usually break your fingernails off trying to get it apart, but it holds the CD together on the top. It has a bar code and the title, so when it’s on the rack you can see the name. Quite often, not only does it help a person flipping through a stack of CDs, but also stores can scan it to find out what is on the shelves.
The idea with both these things is that you want to make it as easy as possible for the seller to accept your product and keep track of it for you.
As another example, recently we did a promo for an artist in advance of their release where we were looking at their artwork and realized there was no contact information: email address; website; etc. So, if you’re using your CD to try to get other gigs and promote yourself or find out if the radio stations are getting them, you need to be able to make things easy for people. And you can only have an album without a title – like The Beatles’ White album – if you’re The Beatles.
The other thing you need these days in terms of tracking, airplay and digital distribution – iTunes, etc. – is what’s called the ISRC code. That stands for the International Standard Recording Code.
Who monitors that, and why is that important?
At Digital Force, we are authorized to be able to assign those codes. It’s actually set up in the United States through the RIAA. And each code has 12 characters – a combination of letters and numbers. These indicate the country of origin, the year released and the authorized facility that issued the codes. It also is attached to a five-digit number that identifies every single track. We usually embed these when there’s a finished master to that finished master track.
So, these are codes that are put into the audio files themselves?
Yes. They are embedded into each track and are also unique to each track.
So even if these end up ripped onto a CD, that code will stay intact.
Yes. And you raise an important point, because the code is always part of the track. So, if you use the track separately as part of another recording somewhere down the road, that code goes with it.
As a matter of fact, if we were going to take a single that had the main track and an instrumental version or an a cappella version of that track, each version would get its own ISRC code. Then, the individual versions as it’s digitally downloaded or played can be tracked.
Is this part of the process taken care of by aggregators like TuneCore, ReverbNation or CD Baby?
No. It’s usually done during the mastering process.
Who actually picks up this tracking, and how is that tracking beneficial?
This is how whichever digital service you’re using tracks sales, etc. of the recording. This does the same thing the UPC code does for your physical album for each track of your digital album.
So, this is picked up by SoundScan, radio stations, etc.
Exactly. It’s how you’re able to figure out the quantity of sales and get paid.
Given the work we do with so many majors and distributors, we’re aware of the trends and we always feel it’s our obligation to answer questions, even though ultimately our clients have to make their own decisions. We’ve been fortunate enough to be able to create works and participate in broadcasts that have been heard by hundreds of millions of people, ranging from the Olympics and Broadway Shows, to the initial release of The Phantom Menace.
Earlier, you were talking about having enough production process. How much lead time should people give you? What are some of the things you need from artists in order to start a project?
One of the axioms I have is, “There’s never enough time to do it right, but there’s enough time to do it over.”
Quite often I find that the package and the graphic design are usually not given the same amount of time and consideration that the actual recording receives. In many ways, there are parallels between different parts of the process. I was talking earlier about how there are rehearsals, overdubs, editing, mastering. The recording process goes through many transformations over a period of time. And in many ways that same type of process has to happen on the graphics side. As an artist, you need to ask basic questions, like “What do I want on the cover?” “Am I going to include lyrics?” That might make the booklet bigger. You need to include basic information about the group and put it together, and it’s helpful to know what these are ahead of time. You also need to ask, “Are there composer credits? “Do I need to take care of sync or mechanical licenses, be it through BMI, ASCAP, SESAC, etc.?”
Usually I find that the initial release takes longer because companies or artists haven’t figured out what their identity is. Is there a logo? Is there going to be a second or third album? What format are you going to use? There is one company that we’ve now done about 130 releases for, and way back in the beginning, they wanted something that was going to set them apart. And so Digital Force came up with the idea of using a red-colored tray for all the CDs. That became one of the ways of identifying their products in the marketplace.
We have been good at building long-term relationships with our clients. We distribute for them and warehouse. And here’s another thing related to UPC codes: When you’re sending out promos, we like to punch holes in them, because they shouldn’t be counted as a sale. Someone shouldn’t be able to take them to a store, return them and get something else. When that happens, you’ll find you get more returns than when you sell. So, that’s something we also do for our clients.
I never thought about that as the reason all the promos have holes punched in them.
Do you have any other parting words of advice?
The biggest thing I would say is that you need to contact whomever your vendor is going to be before you establish a release date. Leaving enough time to take care of all parts of the process is important.
And I also can’t emphasize enough: The graphics are the one detail that most people haven’t focused enough on, and that’s usually what ends up holding up the release. As an example, we’ve been fortunate enough to be involved with providing CDs for the Super Bowl. And with the Super Bowl, if you’re three hours late showing up, the game is over. So, we take deadlines very seriously here.
And I apologize for not putting this positively, but there’s no worse feeling than trying to scramble to get a CD ready for someone whose CD release party is a couple of days away. Not that we haven’t done it, but it does make it harder – let’s say more of a challenge – to get the product out the way you want to. Most of the time, anyone who tells you they can get it out in a day or two probably isn’t being very realistic. We like to leave enough room in the production cycle for our clients to see proofs. Being able to see proofs of the artwork in finished form allows the customer to have the opportunity to make changes, and other corrections, if necessary, before going into final production. And we like our clients to go through the process, because it is a process.
Generally, I fell that musicians – and I can readily understand why – spend most of their time and focus on the actual music, recording, mixing and mastering their CD and therefore, the artwork may not get the same amount of attention.
Generally, I feel that musicians — and I can readily understand why — spend most of their time and focus on the actual music, recording, mixing and mastering their CD and therefore, the artwork may not get the same amount of attention. People see the artwork before the CD is opened — before they get a chance to hear the amazing sounds that will be heard when your music is played. It is like spending time to create a wonderful meal: getting the proper ingredients; preparing the ingredients; cooking the meal to perfection and then determining how the meal is to be presented. Your choice of a production company is a vital aspect of realizing a finished product that matches your dream. Do you want to serve your meal on a nice platter or on a garbage can cover? Even without tasting the meal, which one do you think will be more appealing?
To learn more about Jerome Bunke and the work he does, you can visit the Digital Force website.
This past week in music, industry analysts highlighted trends that have emerged during the Digital Age as experts claimed January is the best month for artists at all levels to release an album, and a study of the Billboard chart system showed that artists who show up on these charts only spend about five years there. Also, the file-sharing giant MegaUpload was finally shut down by the U.S. Department of Justice and labeled a “mega conspiracy.”
Want to Make it Big? Release Something in January
January has long been labeled a “dead month” in the music industry. But a study of artist releases – both major label and independent – conducted by the Independent showed it could actually be the perfect time for particularly emerging or lesser-known bands to sell more albums and register on the charts. And scoring a #1 hit is a good move for any band, as it increases sales, radio airplay and can garner better spots at live music festivals.
Since 2006, January releases have catapulted quite a few independent bands and artists to #1 on the charts, including The Arctic Monkeys in 2006 (Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not) and The View in 2007 (Hats off to the Buskers). And Adele’s #1 success in January, 2008, 19 inspired her to release her album 21 in January 2011, an album which sold 200,000 copies in its first week and made her the best-selling artist of last year.
What is the advantage for artists of a January release? The biggest benefit is that sales of just 30,000 albums can earn them a #1 spot, whereas in other months, that sales figure would have to be about three-times that much.
This year, new artist Lana Del Rey is hoping to replicate Adele’s formula for success by releasing her debut album at the end of this month. However, in competition with her will be Adele herself as well as more established artists Bruno Mars and London indie band The Maccabees, all releasing their third albums the same week.
Experts say the real reason January can be such a prime month for new artists in particular to get noticed is because it is during this time of year that the media and music fans are hungriest for something new. According to John Hirst from HMV, there has typically been six weeks of silence after Christmas and “…When no one’s released a record for two months the public’s appetite is for something new. It’s easier to get media attention and positive reviews so an album can over-perform.”
How Long is the Career of a Billboard Artist?
Artists who make Billboard charts are there for only about five years on average, according to a study spend on average only about five years A recently-released professional study conducted by Storm Gloor, MBA at the University of Denver’s College of Arts and Media (CAM) and published in the 2011 Music and Entertainment Industry Educators Association (MEIEA) Journal. And according to Gloor, more than one-third who make the charts will be “one-hit wonders.”
This study is based on analysis of Billboard charts and other pop music data and is phase one of a research project designed to figure out how artists’ popularity and the length of their careers have been impacted by the huge music industry shift brought on by the digital revolution and other major events of the past 15 years. This first part of the study analyzed over 50 years of Billboard music charts.
The official results were that artists stay on Billboard charts in some capacity from 3.95-6.16 years and that 34-percent of those whose debut albums – of any genre –hit the charts only appear there once. However, with pop artists, that figure is 50 percent.
Gloor said the results of this study will be particularly important to aspiring artists who want to plot out real, long-lasting careers in music: “The research is important to aspiring artists in understanding their own long-term planning in light of such realities. They need to know what they are facing as they start planning for their careers and beyond.” He also said this information could help labels, as they will be able to use it to create more effective promotional strategies for their artists going forward.
The second part of Gloor’s study will involve an examination of music business trends and how they affect the popularity of artists who make the charts. According to Gloor, his initial findings have been that artists who chart might gain national popularity faster, but will not likely stay in the spotlight for long.
MegaUpload Shut Down by Feds
One of the world’s most formidable file-sharing websites MegaUpload finally bit the dust on Thursday as it was shut down by the U.S. Department of Justice for violation of piracy and copyright laws. The feds issued an indictment declaring that MegaUpload was a “mega conspiracy” and labeled it a global criminal organization stating its members “engaged in criminal copyright infringement and money laundering on a massive scale.”
The indictment also charges MegaUpload executives with earning $175 million through subscription fees and advertisements and taking $500 million in royalties from movie producers, authors, musicians and other copyright holders.
According to an article in The Washington Post, prosecutors stated that the company attempted to hide the fact that they were paying users to upload illegal movies and music and used the financial windfall this practice created for a “lavish lifestyle.” Federal agents confiscated dozens of luxury autos, including site founder Kim Schmitz’s, aka “Kim Dotcom”’s Rolls-Royce, which sported the license plate “GOD.”
Of course, MegaUpload is just one of a number of services that provide file sharing online. Sites such as Mediafire and Rapidshare and also cloud storage services like Box.net and Dropbox also offer easy ways to share content. This shutdown and the potentially impending SOPA and PIPA bills – which brought about internet-wide protests by Craigslist, Wikipedia and Google last week – has many running legitimate services concerned about their future and whether or not the government has the right, even in the absence of a passed bill, to shut sites down for hosting pirated content without allowing the companies to defend themselves in court first. As Eric Goldman, a professor of intellectual property law at Santa Clara University said, “They will wonder if they have done anything different from MegaUpload, and does that mean the Feds will come through their door?”
One detail that made MegaUpload different was that it managed to get celebrities on board to support it with its online marketing campaign featuring Kanye West, Lil’ Jon, Sean “Diddy” Combs as well as Russell Simmons and director Brett Ratner, who all professed their love for the site in a series of promotional videos.
The indictment against MegaUpload was unsealed Thursday, but was issued by a federal court in Virginia on January 5. The Justice Department released a statement with the indictment: “This action is among the largest criminal copyright cases ever brought by the United States and directly targets the misuse of a public content storage and distribution site to commit and facilitate intellectual property crime.”
Authorities were dispatched last week to arrest three MegaUpload executives employed by its two companies Megaupload Ltd. and Vestor Ltd. in New Zealand, including the site’s founder, Schmitz. The indictment also charged the two companies with running a “racketeering conspiracy, conspiring to commit copyright infringement, conspiring to commit money laundering and two substantive counts of criminal copyright infringement.”
In retaliation for the shutdown on Thursday, a hacker group named “Anonymous,” linked to the Twitter accounts @YourAnonNews and @AnonOps took down the websites for the Department of Justice and Universal Music as well as for the Recording Industry of America and the Motion Picture Association of America.
The Justice Department also seized 18 additional domain names linked to the case.
Ready, Fire – Aim!
I have worked with about a dozen artists over the last year more than just coaching them but doing the heavy lifting – product managing and marketing the release of recorded music and tours. What never ceases to amaze me is the myriad of things that many artists only remember about marketing and promotion after they have released an album. I realize there is less set up time required in the high paced digital world we live in but let’s not forget that there is in fact a need to have some setup before a release date so as not to be completely unprepared.
These are ideas that should be thought about before you have even entered the studio because what you capture about the process of making the record will serve you in the process of the set up and release of the record. One of the most important and noteworthy things a musician can do from a marketing and press standpoint is to release new material. This is one of the reasons many people advocate releasing singles or EPs vs. LPs. I’m an EP man myself – a single just feels too easy to divorce from the message and image of an artist as a whole but that’s probably a topic for another blog post at another time.
1) Have a plan. Any plan is better than no plan. Start this plan the same day you say to yourself – “it’s time to go into the studio”. Physically write out this plan and make yourself a sketch of the next 3-6 months both during the making of and after the completion of the record. It had better be more than – “Let’s put it on Myspace!”. As hard as it is to not share your new creation with the world – hold off until you have a rollout strategy in place so you can maximize the impact of your new release.
2) Document the process of creation. Write about it (and I mean keep a full journal), take photos of it, take videos of you in the studio if you are lucky enough to have guests on your record that have a larger profile than you ask permission to get photos and video of them with you. Collect a few rough mixes and make sure you have instrumentals and TV tracks mastered for possible placements at a later date. Be sparing with what you release to your fan base during the creation phase – it may make sense to survey all this “making of” content so you can edit and meter it out in a way that keeps people talking about you and your new music that’s coming out.
3) Once the album and B-Roll footage are all assembled and edited – divide these items up into what is for sale and what is for promotional use and start thinking about where and when to place the promotional pieces leading up to release.
4) Speaking of where – get the url for your project name at myspace, facebook, twitter, youtube, flickr, ustream and sign up for a tubemogul account. Toy with synching these services together using artist data, ping.fm or other one off synching applications (Selective tweets, myspace-twitter, twitter-lnkedin etc). If you’re going to be in a learning curve or don’t have these items established do it with your catalog albums and merch – not the new stuff.
5) Like Physical CDs? No judgments here. They sure are easier to sign than digital downloads. Have them in hand a few months before the release date – some gatekeepers still like getting CDs in their hands.
I’ll be back soon with part 2 but consider items 1-5 as prerequisites to have checked off of your list before release. Above all – be patient!