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 ‘music marketing strategies’
I often talk about how frustrated I feel when people ask me “how to get to the next level,” but then have no idea what that “next level” is. Hopefully this conversation will help you start to think about what the “next level” means to you and your career.
Dave Rose is the president of Deep South Entertainment and the author of the book Everything I Know about the Music Business I Learned from My Cousin Rick: The Musician’s Guide to Success. He got his start as a touring and recording bass player. Founded in 1995, Deep South is an artist and business management firm, record label and concert production company based in Raleigh, North Carolina. Dave has been guiding and developing the careers of multi-platinum artists for over 20 years, including Grammy-winning and Billboard-charting greats such as Bruce Hornsby, Little Feat, Stryper, Marcy Playground, Five for Fighting, Sister Hazel and Butch Walker.
Dave talked to me about the evolution of Deep South, and what inspired him to write a guide for artists to help them navigate the music industry. He also shared some practical advice for bands about how to build a loyal fan base and a successful career that balances carefully-crafted business and marketing strategies with creating great music, both live and in the studio.
I appreciate you taking the time to talk, Dave. How did you get into the music business?
I got into the business in 1995 with a dear friend of mine, my business partner of 20 years, Andy Martin. We started Deep South Records. The original idea was to put out compilation CDs, and the popular business model at the time was for bands to pay money to be on compilation CDs with the promise and hope that it would get played for bigwigs.
I remember that. And actually, a lot of people got signed off those compilations.
That’s true. But we ended up taking a different approach. We decided not to have bands pay anything and just pick music we like. We had some good success with the first one, which had Marcy Playground’s “Sex and Candy” on it.
Over the course of the first three CDs we put out in two years, 17 of the 60 bands got major label deals. I feel like we got more listens from the industry primarily because we got the word out that this music was handpicked, and thus nobody could write a check big enough to make us put them on there if their music wasn’t up to par.
Then, two of those bands, as they got record deals, were looking for managers. They came back to us and said, “You got us this far; would you consider managing us?” We said we would, and it kick started us opening the management side of our company. Over the years, we’ve handled Bruce Hornsby, Little Feet, the ‘80s Christian metal band Stryper, Marcy Playground and many others. I actually still work with Stryper as their business manager.
So, you basically segued into a management company, also handling business management for some artists.
Yes. We split our time between artist management and business management. Truthfully, as managers, our strength is really the financial side, making sure tours are profitable and that business affairs are intact. That’s why we end up working with a lot of career artists who really need to be on solid ground over a long period of time.
And five years ago, I opened a live music venue in North Carolina as well. We own and operate a small live music venue very similar to Arlene’s Grocery called Deep South, The Bar.
And why did you decide to write Everything I Know about the Music Business I Learned from My Cousin Rick?
From the day we put out the first compilation, I’ve always liked helping bands, much in the same way you enjoy it. I like helping artists navigate the strange marriage of art and commerce. We’ve both seen the industry progress over the past 20 years, and artists have really needed to discover alternative forms of income to make their living in the changing industry.
I had a couple artists I was working with that wanted to release small books or collections of small pieces of writing to Kindle to provide an additional stream of revenue and also to have another creative outlet. As a manager, I really didn’t know how to navigate the world of Amazon and Kindle on the book side of things. So, I decided to write little pieces about the process of figuring out the self-publishing world. One thing turned into another, and I finally got some people involved and decided to turn it into a big book.
It’s really not a big book. It’s 170 pages with probably not a single four-syllable word in it, very geared towards musicians.
Given all our attention spans, that’s a great length.
It is. And it’s split up in a way where you can really just open the book to any point, start reading, spend three minutes and get a short lesson about something you can do that day that will improve your career.
Can you share a common thread that runs through the book, or some basic concepts it outlines that a lot of artists might not understand as they are building their careers?
I’ll start you with who my cousin Rick is. He was my older and cooler cousin. He had long hair, knew all the hot girls and was the coolest guy I knew. He played me my first rock album, Boston in 1977. The theme of the book is that great music tends to find a way to be heard. If you make great music first and foremost, you will start to see a lot of the pieces to the puzzle fall into place. My book teaches you how to gauge whether or not you’re making strides forward in your career. Are people telling other people about your music? If they’re not, the book tells you some of the things you can do to change that as you move along, before it’s too late.
A very regular phone call I get is from bands that say, “We’ve incorporated our band. We’ve trademarked the name. We’ve set up an operating agreement and have opened a checking account. We have all the paperwork in place. What should we do next?”
And I’ll say, “Send me some music.”
They’ll respond, “Well, we’re not there yet. We haven’t started writing or recording, but when we do, we’ll send it.”
This book teaches you how to not put the cart before the horse and how to constantly remind yourself what is important. I know so many musicians that can tell me the ins and outs of a publishing deal, because they’ve read every textbook-style music industry book out there. But what they can’t tell you is whether or not they are progressing musically, or whether their fan base is increasing.
There are so many numbers out there for musicians. Ever since MySpace started, the idea has been that a musician’s self-worth is based on number of views, friends, tweets and re-tweets. What is your gauge? What should numbers look like if things are going well for a band after a year, 20 gigs, etc.?
I think the greatest barometer is your live show. I love to use the example of Butch Walker. I saw Butch play to about 12 people in my hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina in the mid-90s. He put on his signature Butch Walker-style show: Volume at 11 and giving 110 percent the whole time. After the show, he stayed in touch with those 12 people and told them when he was coming back. But those people were so passionate about what they had seen, that when he came back to Raleigh about four months later, he played to about 40-50 people. And the third time he played this market, he sold out a small room of about 150 people.
The live show is a perfect barometer. Keep track of your live show attendance. Are your numbers increasing or decreasing? If they’re decreasing, it’s a hard pill to swallow, but there is generally something wrong. People are clearly not passionately talking about your music to other people.
I think a lot of people are playing a handful of gigs to warm up with the understanding that they need to play live in order to get tighter and hone the performing craft. I don’t know when a band or an artist should realize, “I’m not going to get so much dramatically better that I will need to reevaluate my product” and stop that process.
Well, and I think the Butch Walker example is a really good one, because he had done his 10,000 hours prior to playing to 12 people in Raleigh. He had done over five years of being on a major label and touring nonstop. There are absolutely reasons to play live and do your thing beyond increasing your fan base. You need to try out new songs, get the band tighter and get yourself better as a musician. Just because your crowds aren’t improving immediately doesn’t mean you need to start completely over.
I’m not a guy who has played thousands of shows, but I’ve certainly played hundreds. And as someone who has played hundreds, my recollection is that the shows I learned the most from were the ones where I was playing to nobody.
Exactly. You get so much better because of those shows. And ideally, if you have done many, many hours of touring, playing and writing and are only playing to the bartender and the soundman, ideally you want to play the kind of show that the bartender and the soundman will talk about the next day when they are living their lives, at the coffee shops, telling people what’s going on in town. You want them to say, “I saw this show last night that was incredible. No one was there, but next time they come through town, you have to check this out. I’ll give you a call.” If you can create that reaction in even one or two people, you’re headed in the right direction.
It’s interesting that you are stressing artists’ offline efforts, because most people are so focused on online marketing right now. Are there other barometers artists should use online? I think people are so hell-bent on conquering social media that they have in many ways lost the plot.
I think you’re right. And there are definitely online barometers. There’s a chapter in my book called, “Social Media: It’s All about Pizza.” I was having a conversation with a 30-something musician who came into my office very distraught over his inability to conquer social media. The misconception is that because it’s free, it’s also easy. I looked at his tweets and Facebook postings, and they were all making the classic mistakes musicians make who are not good at social media. For example, “Hey Guys, I have a show tonight. Come out and see me at 7.” And then you don’t hear from the artist until he has another show or product release.
And this artist told me that he would post all this stuff on Facebook and nobody would re-tweet, comment or talk about it. He felt like everything he said was falling on deaf ears. And I told him, “Make a post about pizza. Everybody likes pizza. Ask your fan base where their favorite place to get pizza is and see what kind of response you get.”
That day, he posted: “Where is your favorite pizza joint, anywhere in the nation?” It was unbelievable the reaction he got. The point is, when musicians are missing the plot, it’s because they don’t realize you have to engage your audience. You can’t just provide information.
What did the pizza conversation lead to?
It led to a conversation, but it also led to a transformation in the way that the artist approached things. Instead of saying, “I have a gig Friday night at 7:00, and you should come out to see me,” he started saying things like, “Is anybody going to see the new Will Ferrell movie Friday? I hear it’s going to be big. I can’t make it because I have a show at Joe’s Pub at 7 p.m. Stop by after the movie if you’re around, but don’t tell me how it ends, because I want to go see it Sunday.” He started having conversations with his fan base rather than just feeding them information.
If you’re an artist, you need to make what you post on social media about the reader and not yourself. Facebook and Twitter are the new flyering. We used to go out as kids and flyer our shows. This is that. In the days of flyering, if you just walked up to someone and gave them a flyer as they were passing you on the street, you might as well ask that person, “Would you mind throwing this away for me?” Instead, if you actually got to know them through a two minute conversation, then handed them a flyer, they would be 10,000 times more likely to come see you.
I think on social media, broadcasting something is much more offensive than handing someone a flyer; broadcasting information via the Internet is like running at someone with a flyer and punching them in the chest with it.
That’s a perfect analogy.
So, musicians regularly make mistakes with their live shows and fan engagement. Is there a third mistake they frequently make?
Yes. The third is actually the first. I think the biggest mistake musicians make is that they don’t clearly define what their idea of success is. In the book, there’s a great transcription of a word-for-word conversation I had with a band that came to meet with me. In a nutshell, they came in, and I asked, “What do you want to do?”
They said, “We want to be successful. Do you know what I mean?”
And I said, “No, I actually don’t know what you mean.”
They said, “We just want to make a living playing music.”
And I said, “Well, that’s easy. Here’s what you’re going to do: Buy some nice tuxedos and suits, learn some Top 40 and wedding songs, and I’ll get you out playing the wedding and corporate circuit. We can have you up and running in 30 days.”
They looked disappointedly at one another, and they said, “No. That’s not what we want to do. We want to make a living playing the music we write.”
So, I said, “Well, that’s not as easy. But you can do it. There are some sports bars and menu venues where you set up and play acoustically over in the corner. You don’t get rich playing those, but you can definitely make a living.”
And again, they ducked their heads down and said it wasn’t what they wanted to do. They thought for a few seconds, then came back and said, “We want to be on the radio.”
So, I said I could have them on the radio by the afternoon. I told them, “There are thousands of Internet radio stations. All you have to do is upload your song. Very few people listen to the smaller ones, but you will get played by one of them by this afternoon and will have been successful.”
This conversation went on and on as they refined what they wanted. Finally, one of them pointed at me and said, “I see what you’re doing, Dave. You’re trying to confuse us.” I told them it was quite the contrary, because they were already confused. They wanted me to help them when they hadn’t even defined what they wanted to do.
And that is the biggest mistake. It’s amazing how many bands just float, never having a conversation about their definition of success and where they want to be. Once you define exactly where you want to be, it’s amazing how different that idea of success is from band to band. And it should be that different. For some, it’s playing successful weekend gigs and doing it as a wonderful hobby. For others, it’s having millions of fans and becoming the next U2. Regardless of what your definition is, you have to start making lists about how to get there: short-term lists; long-term lists. I go through examples of what some of those lists can and should be in the book.
I wrote a blog post recently called “Everything You Need to Forget about the Music Industry.” One of the things that drives me crazy is when people say, “We just want to get to the next level.” It makes me so mad, because I know 99% of the time, those people don’t know what “the next level” means.
No, because they’ve never defined it for themselves. A lot of what Everything I Know about the Music Business I Learned from My Cousin Rick does is get bands talking. It’s encouraging to see the hundreds of emails I’ve received from bands that say, “Because of your book, I called a band meeting for next week. We are outlining exactly what it is we need to do so we can figure out how to get there.”
You’re so right that artists don’t know what the “next level” is. The biggest underlying advice of my book is to regularly check yourself with your definition of success and figure out if the things you are doing are guiding you in that direction.
Do you have any parting words of advice for artists?
First and foremost, realize what you want to do. I promise you that you’ll never get there if you don’t know where you’re going. Even some nationally-known acts find themselves frustrated and disappointed 20 years into their career, and I have a feeling it is because they never sat down and defined what they wanted to do. You really need to define a plan and update it almost weekly. I actually encourage artists to write down their plan and then hang it in a visible place, like in their practice room, etc., so they can regularly remind themselves of it.
To learn more about Dave Rose, his book and the work he does with artists, visit the Everything I Know about the Music Business I Learned from My Cousin Rick website.
With 2012 coming to a close, I wanted to call attention to some of the most interesting articles we’ve featured on the Musician Coaching site this past year. I chose these “Best of” highlights below not only because many were shared the most on Twitter, Facebook and the Web, but also because they hit some of the issues I feel artists and others in the music industry should be particularly focusing on as they develop their craft and build sustainable careers.
I have learned a lot of interesting things on my 20-year journey in the music business. But one of the biggest discoveries came to me as I was building this website and has continued over the past four years: Why do so many people gloss over all the foundational work that is usually required to find great help? Why are people often so divorced from all the work they have to put in on their own to advance their careers and all the time they need to devote to developing their sound and playing shows (especially those poorly-attended ones at tiny venues that build character)? And why do so many think an executive will want to jump in and partner with them when music seems to be just a hobby for them and not a real, thought-out business?
As I mentioned in my article, “Everything You Need to Forget about the Music Industry, “I was watching something on the Science channel about the planets, and an astronomer was talking about an asteroid hitting the earth. He said, ‘There has been more money spent on movies about asteroids hitting the earth than money spent on preventing asteroids from hitting the earth.’”
Since I heard that statement, I haven’t ever looked at media – the field I’ve been focused on for my entire life – in the same way. And it made me think even more about the different stories that the media tells us about what it means to be “successful,” as musicians (and human beings), and how the way we compare ourselves to the media’s ideals impacts our own quest for success.
Using the example of the layout of VH1’s popular Behind the Music series, I pointed out how we are all told success stories that are based more often on the moments after a famous artist’s album comes out and that person becomes a huge celebrity by creating a genre changing piece of work or a huge commercial success. We are less often told about the reality of people everywhere that continue to work steadily and persistently and make a real living in music.
The article ended with this point: “If you want to achieve your goals as a musician, you need to get really specific and write out a business plan. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know how to write a business plan or if you believe that it’s only for raising money or that it requires fancy number-crunching graphs. Truthfully, a business plan can start off as simply just visualizing where you want your music to take you in the next six months.”
As I said, I can’t write down a plan that will work for every artist, but I can offer a few guidelines if you are devoted to music for life and want to stop pursuing it as just a fun hobby:
- Build a solid business foundation. Figure out how money is made in this industry and how publishing works. Register with ASCAP, BMI or SESAC and SoundExchange. Make sure you have a business entity established and trademark your name.
- Get your marketing materials in order. You’re going to need at least a 4-song recording (and one that requires no apologies), a well-written bio, a logo, a professional photo and a video of you performing live (for an actual crowd). You’ll also need vanity URLs on social networks, a website and to make sure all your digital real estate is interconnected.
- Set yourself up for the long haul. You need to engage in long-term planning if you want to work as a musician. Most “normal” businesses are not in the black for three, to five years, so why should a music business be any different? If you are truly in this for life, you should be investing in your business in a way that ensures you are set up to play and record music and get it to people at a moment’s notice over an extended period of time. This could mean building a home studio and getting a P.A. and a van. The point is, you’re going to have to plan multiple releases over a number of years and be prepared to play countless gigs. And you’re going to need to know how to accomplish this as cheaply and easily as possible. Don’t blow all your money on your first release, expecting it will propel you instantly to financial stability. Plan on truly playing and recording music on an on-going basis.
- Build a community and diversify. The music, the money and “the hang” (who you seek out as collaborators and the other musicians with whom you surround yourself on a regular basis) determines which gigs you should take, even if they divert you from your original work – sideman work, apprenticeships, etc. Remember, even Hendrix was a sideman.
- Think about B2C and B2B. It is also important to consider that everyone is talking about direct-to-fan in the digital age – an obvious, unfiltered Business to Consumer strategy (B2C). As they are building their communities, I’m of the opinion that many fledgling artists should also pursue Business to Business (B2B) relationships with like-minded artists. If you convince one band with a 50-person mailing list in another town that you are worth a damn, you can get your music in front of those people and start to break a new market if you’re willing to do the same promotion for them on a gig trade.
The confusion and frustration you may be feeling about your music career is just part of the process. (It’s just not part of the process that people really talk about!)
In September, I had the pleasure of talking to Danny Barnes, a banjo player and a songwriter who has been a working musician for over 30 years. We discussed his long career in the music business and his views on the modern music climate. He also shared some advice for artists that want to successfully build their lives around music and become truly great at their craft.
Widely known as one of the world’s most innovative and versatile artists, Danny mixes non-traditional music like rock fusion and jazz with electronic percussion instruments, still rooted in the traditional bluegrass, country and folk music for which his instrument is known. A lifelong music “fanatic” in every sense of the word, he decided he would make a career in music at 10, when, deeply inspired by the many records his parents played at home, he began to diligently study his craft. Known for his positive and refreshingly-honest attitude towards being an artist in the modern music industry, he continues to dedicate himself to growth and further innovating his instrument by learning from and collaborating world-renowned master musicians, including Bela Fleck, Lyle Lovett, Nickel Creek, John Popper, Chuck Leavell and Dave Matthews. He puts out music through ATO Records.
Danny candidly shared his passion for music, his candid thoughts about the current music climate and where he believes artists should be focused. One of the most powerful things Danny said in his interview was, “It’s possible to mimic things closely. We can find someone down at the bus stop, get them a makeover, auto-tune them and make them look and sound a lot like a guy on TV. I think that’s distracting. The response that creative people should have to stimuli is to make something. Imitating somebody is not making something. I’m not saying you shouldn’t gather inspiration from people. But our response to being inspired should be to create something ourselves.”
I talked to Gregory Mead, co-Founder of MusicMetric, in early August. MusicMetric is a company that aggregates and analyzes all music-related trend information available on the Web for over 600,000 artists and over 10 million individual releases in real time throughout the world. As I mentioned in the interview, Musicmetric is also the first product I have ever openly recommended to musicians on my site. Greg helped develop the technology behind Musicmetric while earning his degree in computational physics at Imperial College London. At the time, he was working as a Music Editor for the major London student newspaper Felix and recognized the need for an efficient Web tool that would help his team of 30 music reviewers seek out new artists in London. Alongside Co-Founders Marie-Alicia Chang and Matt Jeffery, he launched Musicmetric in 2007 in an effort to create an easy way for those working in the music industry to track important music data and statistics. A fan of live music, he has also been involved in organizing live events throughout London.
Greg shared his background in music and technology and, more specifically, why metrics tracking and analysis is important for artists at all stages in their careers. He also shared information about how Musicmetric can help artists become more aware of how their music is being received and take informed steps to build a loyal fan base. He said, “There are three broad categories of the data we track: file sharing; social media and online mentions, which of course involve analyzing text in reviews while crawling the Web … There are other music analytics services that attempt to focus only on the social media part, which we have in our product. But having the file-sharing data and the mentions feature is really important because it gives you a broader view of what is going on.”
The past decade or so has been a particularly challenging time for artists. They can no longer just focus on making great music or rely on someone else to do all their marketing, promotion and business tasks for them. Now, social media and technology tools designed to help artists build intensely personal relationships with their fans and turn more people on to their art are necessary. Add to this the fact that the industry is changing faster than ever before, giving birth to entirely new business models and figuring out what to focus on in order to find long-term success can be a difficult task. How can you thrive in the shifting modern music climate?
In May, I got to catch up with Tom Silverman, the founder and head of TommyBoy Entertainment, as well as the principal executive of the New Music Seminar. Tom has graciously agreed to contribute quite often to the Musician Coaching website and honestly share his vast expertise and his views on the evolving industry. Throughout his amazing career, he has worked with and broken artists like De La Soul, Digital Underground, House of Pain, Queen Latifah and Afrika Bambaataa.
In the interview I entitled “Monetization, Myths and the Modern Artist,” Tom and I discussed what artists are going to need to do from a business and artistic perspective to be successful in the evolving industry: “[One trend that's emerging] is monetizing attention. One of the things we’ve learned from Instagram, Facebook, Google and everything like that is that we’re in an attention-based economy: Attention equals dollars now. If you look at the attention that’s garnered by the artists and music that the labels control, it seems like there should be a better way to monetize that attention. Labels are so focused on selling albums and secondarily, music, that they aren’t really focused on monetizing the attention and focus that those artists and that music create. If they created relationships with artists where they would manage and monetize the relationships artists have with fans and the impressions the artists and their music create in the world, the value of that would probably be 10-50-times greater than just selling records.”
Above all, Tom’s thoughts on the subject were positive. And as promised, he shared these positive thoughts at this year’s New Music Seminar, where we both spoke in June: “I’m optimistic, though. And at the New Music Business Seminar this year, we plan to be optimistic – no whining and complaining. If you don’t have a way you think the business can be better or that artists can do better, get more exposure or make more money or do something better than has been done before – if you don’t have a way to improve things – stay home … At a lot of the other conferences, people talk about what a mess everything is, but, that’s not the way we want to look at it.”
If you’re an independent artist without label support, juggling all the elements of your career by yourself, from marketing your music, to booking shows and seeking out new opportunities to connect to your fans is no easy task. If you’re confused – as so many artists are – by the many intricacies of the industry, you might feel as though you are spending more time on menial, business-related tasks than on your music.
In mid-April, I got to talk to New York City-based DJ, producer, remixer and music company owner MING (a.k.a. Aaron Albano) about his own multi-faceted experience in the business and how he has managed to stay balanced and focused on his art while seizing every opportunity to build critical relationships with fans and music industry professionals in order to continue to get to make a living pursuing his life’s passion. From the age of nine, MING trained as a classical and jazz guitarist and played in hair metal bands throughout high school. Because of his passion for production and interest in building a solid career in the music industry, he decided to pursue a degree in electrical engineering with a focus on audio at the University of Miami. He continued to fine-tune his production and DJ’ing skills in college and upon graduation, looking for a way to fund the development of his home studio, MING found work in the burgeoning Internet industry. During this time, MING met renowned musician and DJ FS and together they formed the duo Ming+FS, a collaboration which went onto produce four studio albums and over 30 singles. Eventually, he founded the record label Hood Famous Music. As an artist, MING is managed by Stephanie Lafera at Atom Empire, which counts huge artists such as Lady Gaga among its talent.
During our interview, MING stressed that artists in all genres need to stay forever focused on the music: “You always need to be working to get better at your craft. Try to work with as many people as possible. Have a point of view and a unique sound. Bring something new to the table … And learn how to collaborate. Just because you can do everything by yourself now doesn’t mean you should … The more people you can collaborate with, the better you will be as a musician, and the larger your fan base will be … [And] be honest with the music you’re making. It’s okay to make music that is not successful. But if you want to make music that you’re going to make your money from, you have to find the line between art and commerce and be able to ride that line comfortably. You have to be able to carve out a career where you’re making money from the art that you make. Otherwise, you can call yourself a professional musician, but you’re really just a hobbyist with an addiction.”
He added that DIY musicians need to proceed carefully and intelligently: “Putting out your own record is all fine and good if you understand the business – if you have your social marketing down, have good networks and a good fan base, if you understand business and can manage money. You know what it’s like to run a record label, a touring business and a merch business. There’s a lot to understand. And most young musicians at 22 do not know how to do all that. They play to 50 people in their home town, have 100 Twitter followers, 50 people following them on Facebook and think people know who they are. From a global business perspective, you’re basically invisible at that point … I’m always telling young musicians that it’s not enough to make your own record and put it out on your own label. You haven’t been put through the system, and you haven’t been validated by fans or the other people who are going to help sell your records. You’re an army of one. Some of these deals you do in the beginning won’t be good. Make sure the deals you do in the beginning are short term or limited to a certain number of years. But it’s valuable to do records on larger labels and have other people validate your music.”
You can expect many more interviews and articles from some incredibly talented, knowledgeable folks coming up in 2013, so stay tuned. Here’s to a very happy and healthy New Year!
Rob Reid is a L.A.-based author and entrepreneur, and the founder of Listen.com/Rhapsody, the first online music service to get full-catalog licenses from all the major music labels and one of the top online music services, with over a million paying subscribers. He got his start in music growing up as an avid guitarist and songwriter, eventually choosing to focus on business when he attended Harvard Business School and wrote his first book, a first-person account of what it was like to be a student at that particular business school, which was published by William Morrow & Co. After business school, he got involved in the Internet as it was just beginning in the mid-‘90s, initially working at Silicon Graphics, a company that made graphics workstations, supercomputers and web servers. While there, he wrote his second book, Architects of the Web, in 1996, which chronicled the rise of the Internet as a commercial medium. Eventually, Rob decided to start Listen.com, which he grew from a barely-funded startup with just a handful of employees, into the now-renowned Rhapsody music service. At the 2012 TED conference, he presented his now infamous “Copyright Math” theory, the term he uses to explain the often confusing and intangible numbers cited by the two major organizations within the entertainment industry – the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) – in an effort to get others to rally against piracy. He has written pieces and features for various magazines and websites, including Wired and The Wall Street Journal. His first novel, Year Zero, is closely tied to the “Copyright Math” theory and releases on July 10 via Random House/Del Rey. It is a comedic science fiction story set mainly in present-day New York City about a society of highly-advanced aliens who are so enamored of American pop music that they accidentally commit the biggest copyright infraction of all time, thereby bankrupting the entire universe.
Rob was kind enough to chat with me about his background in the technology/Internet and music space, his book Year Zero, and how writers, artists, musicians and other creatives can best connect and share their work in a world where the distance between creators and their audience continues to decrease.
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me, Rob. How did you get into the music, technology and publishing business?
I was a fairly committed guitarist and songwriter with a 4-track. But I never went the band route. I decided pretty early on that if I was going to be a creative person, my strengths lay more in writing. It took me a long time to actually get around to doing that.
I got out of college and did a somewhat weird thing: I went to Cairo on a Fulbright Fellowship. I lived there for a year and went to school on the then obscure and now very famous Tahrir Square way back in the day. I came back and got involved in business by going to Harvard Business School. I was a pretty serious writer throughout the very business-oriented first part of my career. I wrote my first book while I was Harvard – a first-person account of what it’s like to be a student at there, which was published by William Morrow.
When I came out, I went into the tech industry and became an Internet full timer very early. It was 1994, and I came back out to California, where I had originally gone to college, though I grew up in Connecticut. Because, I really liked the Bay Area.
I thought I was progressive for having an AOL account in 1995.
You were. I came to work at a company called Silicon Graphics, which was great at the time and pretty much at its apogee, and now is pretty mourned – may it rest in peace. We made graphics workstations and supercomputers and web servers in the very early times of the Internet. Our founder, a guy named Jim Clark, took off to start Netscape, which was the first true Internet company, in my opinion. I came over to Silicon Graphics because it was the big, sexy company. All the graphics supercomputers we made were dominating post-production studios in Hollywood and at game studios at that time. It was a great place to be, because there was such a talented crew there in the mid ‘90s. It has become an alumni network in and of itself. My Silicon Graphics alumni network matters even more to me than my Harvard Business School network.
That’s one of the interesting things that people sometimes don’t realize about picking the company they’re going to go to; that’s going to be your network.
I think that’s a good lesson even outside the corporate world.
Always be on your best behavior, because it’s a small world, and your reputation will precede you. The people you hang out with for two or three years doing anything are going to be the experts on you in the future. And you want them to say good things about you.
So, I was at Silicon Graphics for a while. I ended up becoming the business development interface between Silicon Graphics and Netscape, which hauled me into the Internet somewhat inadvertently at a very early moment. After working for about a year and a half, being a writer at heart, I took some time off and wrote a book about the rise of the Internet entitled Architects of the Web.
This is actually good advice for anybody: If you want to really wrap your head around something that’s going on in society and also get to know everyone who is doing anything within it, a very good way to do it is to write a book about it. Even people who are too busy to talk to journalists will usually take the time to talk to an author, because authors don’t call them that frequently, whereas journalists call them all the time. And the act of stating to yourself and the world, “I am going to write a 400+ page tome about an interesting phenomenon” is a terrifying proposition that really forces you to crystallize your thinking, because of the acute risk of enormous public embarrassment. I think to a lesser degree, it’s true of any kind of writing – blogging, writing articles for magazines and websites. But the book puts you in an ivory tower for eight or nine months, because it’s all you do for a very long period of time. It’s a license to meet lots and lots of people.
I got to know everyone who was doing anything remotely interesting on the Internet in 1996, which was a great year.
That’s really why I have a blog, by the way, though it’s not the same thing as a book. It’s to be able to have that conversation.
Yes. It’s that same idea. You get to reach out and talk to people. The book is a monster dose of that. But I think it’s entirely true of blogging, writing any kind of articles. It’s a license to talk to interesting people, pick their brains and think about what they have to say. Then, as you find with your blog, when you’re going to put that out there into the world, it really forces you to make your thinking rigorous, because you’re going to put it into concise paragraphs as opposed to chatting about it over beers, which is what we usually do when we expound upon ideas that are important to us; it’s usually casual and off the record.
So, the book about the rise of the Internet was my second book. And at that point, I accidentally became one of maybe 10 MBAs in the world who could say they had worked for two years with the Internet. Because of that, I was able to leverage my way into a job in venture capital. Through that work, I saw into the capital-formation process and a lot of great entrepreneurs upfront and got the idea that I’d rather start a company than be a junior investor. So, I started Listen.com, which became the Rhapsody music service. That began a very, very busy seven years of building that from a PowerPoint presentation, to a barely-funded startup with a handful of people, to what it became.
So, I got Listen.com funded, ran it for a few years and then found someone who was better at running it than I was and acted as Executive Chairman for a few years. We eventually sold it to RealNetworks, and they grew Rhapsody much bigger than we could because of their resources. MTV bought half of it, and that helped it grow a great deal more. Now Rhapsody is of course off in the world and doing wonderful things. I left RealNetworks about a year-and-a-half after I sold Rhapsody.
After that, I did a bunch of different things. I started an online video company that did pretty well, but I just couldn’t figure out how to make it grow. It had the opposite problem that most of your traditional startups have, because it was actually profitable. But I couldn’t figure out how to make it a much bigger company than it was. My wife, Morgan Webb is a bit of a celebrity, and we created a video blog. She talked about what was going on in the tech world that day. She hosts a TV show called X-Play, which covers the world of video games and video gaming. We did really well with that little tech video blog, because even in 2007 or so, it was really early for that.
But it was a little too early, because there weren’t a lot of people watching episodic video online at that point. While we could grow that and do well with advertisers by working with a company called Federated Media that does great online ad sales, we couldn’t really figure out a way to launch the next seven shows. We had an audience for our show, because Morgan has an audience. But to do the next six shows, we would have to hire hosts of her stature – which we really wouldn’t be able to afford – or launch it with folks that didn’t have much stature, which would leave us with 400-500 viewers per episode. And we couldn’t monetize that. From my standpoint as a startup guy, I realized this was just going to be a small company forever. And from Morgan’s standpoint as somebody who had and has a national daily television show, it didn’t seem like the best thing she could be doing with her scant free hours. We did the video blog for about a year and then shut it down.
Not long after that, I started writing this book, Year Zero, which is being published by Random House. It’s releasing on July 10 and is deeply connected to the TED talk. It’s my first novel. I’m sure that a lot of the artists in your readership know very acutely – and you do yourself as well – what it’s like to be nursing a creative urge over a period of years. In my case, that creative urge lay fallow for quite a few years, because I was busy running Listen.com, doing all that Internet stuff and writing two non-fiction books, which both had major publishers and were pretty well received. Architects of the Web was published by John Wiley and Sons, Ltd. But I’d always wanted to write fiction.
Morgan and I were traveling in Colombia at one point, and she got a little sick towards the end of the trip, so we were lurking around the hotel for a few days. I started writing this story to entertain her. The story was about a vast universe-spanning civilization of highly-advanced aliens who are so into American pop music that they accidentally commit the biggest copyright infraction of all time, thereby bankrupting the entire universe. All the wealth in the universe is now owed to our rapacious record labels, and we human beings don’t know it just yet.
I love that.
As you can probably tell, it’s absolutely a comedic story. I just kind of got inspired and spent 18 months writing this thing, in kind of the same way people spend 18 months putting together an album even though there may never be any prospect of it getting out there. To make a very long story short, it’s going to be coming out on Del Rey, which is the biggest sci-fi imprint of Random House. Year Zero is going to be Del Rey/Random House’s lead science fiction title for the summer.
And yet, you emailed my 15,000-20,000-monthly-unique-visitors website to promote it yourself. I think that’s brilliant.
Well, and that’s what we need to do. This goes right into the advice I would give to anybody who is in your audience, particularly on the artist side. I think this practice is essential and very few people bother to do it. And 15,000 is a hell of a lot more Twitter or Facebook followers than I have. Hopefully a lot of people will read my book. But I’m in a phase right now where the publication date is coming up, and I’m very attuned to the media that’s out there that’s engaged and interested in issues of music, copyright and intellectual property. Because, those are significant themes in the book. So, I’m really trying to engage in “retail politics” and meet a lot of people who are talking about and responding to my TED talk and other things I’ve been doing. I think that’s what we need to do today as creative people.
Back in the day, there was so much friction that stood between artists – whether they were musicians, authors or anyone who performs as a comedian or an actor – and their audience, that these very large-scale operations with the muscle to pierce through the friction of the physical world became intermediaries between us and our audiences. What ended up happening is that a lot of people ended up misperceiving what was going on in the world as being a statement of the nature of artists and their relationship with their audience, and the nature of public tastes.
I’ll give you an extreme example: The media channel was once very constrained. And when I talk about the physical media channel, I don’t just mean rolling trucks, etc., although that is a part of it. I’m also talking about shelf space, which was once very tight. There were people who were very good at distribution and could pierce through the market and put your work – whether it’s a vinyl record or a book – on a narrow shelf in front of a lot of people. There’s enormous power in that. In music, I would say that the “shelf” wasn’t just referring to the shelf space at the mom and pop store, Sam Goody or Walmart ,etc. – although that was important …
Yes. Price and positioning was critical. There was a whole science to what endcap you could buy and discounted pricing, etc.
Oh, it was immense. And it was bad enough if you were a tiny, independent label or publisher. But if you were a tiny, independent artist, good luck getting on 15,000 shelves from Seattle to Miami. The infrastructure and cost would elude you. But the other piece of shelf space – equally important – in music that we don’t have in writing was the terrestrial broadcast “shelf” space. Again, let’s go back to the ‘50s-‘90s, and to a lesser extent, the present day. There are only so many music radio stations in Milwaukee. And there are only so many hours in the day. With payola and independent promotion, it became a game of scale to access that very narrow “shelf” – the de facto “shelf” of time and broadcast slots.
The extreme example for me is if we go back into the early ‘60s, when there were three channels that the entire nation watched. Being on The Ed Sullivan Show was a hell of a way to launch a band. The Beatles achieved a level of cultural homogeny that will never be paralleled. And it’s partially because they were magnificent in absolutely every regard. (I’m as much of a Beatles fanatic as any true music fan out there.) But also, you just had every teenage set of eyes in the country watching one of three channels. And at that moment, they were just watching that one, because at that point, the shows on the other two channels sucked. Piercing through that physical channel created hits. That was just what you needed to do.
If you could get a major book publisher like I’ve done, or if you could get a major label like the Beatles did and get that muscle behind you to pierce through that very, very congested, friction-filled and expensive channel, you would then be in front of a very large group of people with a relatively small list of competitors. I grew up on the East Coast, so this meant you’d be at Caldor with one of a few hundred records that were available to kids who would get on their bicycles and ride out to Norwalk and look at them. Not every record got to be Dark Side of the Moon, which spent hundreds and hundreds of weeks in the Top 200. But it was a hell of a lot easier to get to that level when there was just a small amount of stuff that pierced through.
We’re in a very different world today. I think the most powerful currency that any artist has – particularly smaller, newer and more independent ones – is the number of direct relationships that we have with our audience, with the people that listen to or read our stuff. We need to do anything we can do in a block-and-tackle manner to get our name, our Twitter handle and our Facebook page name out there, or sample chapters or mp3 singles out there to start building that base of people we can reach – whether through Twitter, Facebook, or through any other method. (I think that Twitter is overrated and Facebook pages are underrated, but that’s a personal bias.)
But building that pipeline is potentially the greatest asset that any of us will have. And it is a career-long project – day after day, week after week, month after month. You need to put enough out there to generate interest and participate enough in that sphere that you get dozens, hundreds and thousands of followers, fans, listeners or readers. If you build that over a period of years and let that growth compound, at some point you don’t need an intermediary to reach your audience anymore. I think it will be more powerful in publishing in some ways, because relatively speaking, it’s so much less of a team project to write a novel than it is to make an album. The role and the need for groups of people to assemble around a band to make it successful is much greater than the need for a group of people to assemble around an author. But building that channel in the manner I just outlined in the creative world is absolutely essential right now.
You can learn more about Rob Reid and his work on the official Rob Reid website and follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Year Zero comes out on Tuesday, July 10 and is currently available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and IndieBound. (The audio version is read by John Hodgman!) You can read the first chapter of the book here, or check out the trailer. Also stay tuned for Part II of this interview, which will release next week.
Evin Schwartz is the CEO and co-Founder of Campus Socialite Media, a full-service marketing, advertising and media agency he co-founded with Drew Austin that connects brands with the college demographic. Before starting the company, Evin began his career in marketing as the Marketing Director of a New York City-based real estate firm and was responsible for developing and implementing the company’s social media strategy. He co-founded Campus Socialite Media in 2009, and specializes in exposing brands on college campuses through various live music and entertainment events throughout the country.
I recently got a chance to talk to Evin about how Campus Socialite Media began, how collaborative marketing between brands and artists works and ways musicians can improve their marketing strategies and live shows in order to break into the college market.
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me, Evin. How did you get into the entertainment/music industry? Which types of live events have you coordinated throughout your career?
Upon starting the company, we knew a great way to reach college students would be producing live events directly on campus. While focusing on the marketing aspect of artists and brands, we were able to produce live unique engagements on college campuses. I always had an interest in entertainment and music, and with a background in live event production, it was a natural fit to develop this aspect of our business. Because I was based in New York, I was always able to coordinate events such as bar and club parties. But it wasn’t until our first concert event at Hofstra University in 2010 that we saw what really goes into a mega production. It was an absolutely incredible experience. Since then we have been producing events across the country, including our annual campus music and tailgate tour, Blitz & Beatz Tour – which is tailored around the biggest college football games – every fall. As a passionate sports and music fan, it is thrilling to be able to be a part of this production.
I can imagine. How did you end up starting Campus Socialite Media? What specifically does the company do?
After college, I worked for a media company in their marketing and sales division and almost immediately realized that I was more interested in creating new solutions for existing problems than I was in just maintaining the corporate culture. I sat down with an old friend and eventual business partner, Drew Austin, for dinner one night after work, and we both saw the opportunity in the college space. The rest is history. We now have a digital marketing agency connecting businesses, brands, and products to the 18-26-year old demographic. Using our vast network on campuses throughout the nation, we are able to spread a physical, viral and social messages directly to the college student.
From your perspective – as someone who has worked to connect artists to colleges and universities – what advice would you give an artist trying to break into the college circuit? Are there specific qualities an artist needs to have in order to become successful in this market?
The college market is extremely hard to break into for both artists and brands. The issue is that college campuses are similar to small cities – just much more compact, and consuming double the amount of alcohol on any given night. There are so many different types of college students on one campus that to try and target all of them would be insane. Sure, mainstream music can hit the masses, but chances are athletes, graduate students, Greek life students and freshmen are all listening to different types of music.
Artists need to be able to find the groups that listen to their style of music and make the most of any opportunity when they get in front of these students. A great quality I have seen over the years is for an artist to be able to perform on top of their game, no matter the venue or size of audience. We have thrown campus-wide events where an artist absolutely killed it in front of thousands of students, then performed with the exact same intensity inside a fraternity house. That’s a quality I don’t think you see too often. And it’s a pretty amazing quality to have.
Because of your experience, you’ve undoubtedly learned something about what makes for a good live performance …and a bad one. How important do you think live performances are to an artist’s career? What do you think artists should be doing to improve their live shows?
Live performances are always going to be beneficial to an artist’s career. It is the one chance for a performer to showcase his/her ability in front of the people that believe in them the most. That being said, I believe it is extremely important and beneficial for artists to parlay these performances into a direct takeaway from each live event. Fans and music buffs want to be able to relive these performances whether it’s at a local coffee shop, music festival or sold-out arena. This can be done through almost all social media platforms we interact with on a daily basis.
You are responsible for marketing brands to a very specific demographic. What are your thoughts on collaborative marketing between musicians and other brands? Can you give any examples of times you’ve seen an artist align successfully with a specific brand to build a stronger profile and attract more fans? Do you have any examples you could share of times it did not work so well?
I absolutely love this question. In the day and age we live in, I think it is ultimately inevitable for musicians and brands to collaborate. If a musician can partner with a beneficial brand that gains them more exposure and keeps them afloat financially, more power to them. Don’t get me wrong, it would hurt deep down if I saw my favorite artist on the next pet food commercial rocking out, but the proper partners are always going to be out there. Each musician has his/her own style so why not align with those brands to build a stronger profile?
The immediate successful pairings that come to mind are Run DMC and Adidas, P. Diddy and Ciroc, and Grateful Dead and Ben & Jerrys. All of these have been tremendously successful pairings and have accelerated the growth of both the artist and the brand. As for times it did not work so well, I can’t stand seeing an artist try to get their name on a fragrance line (like Usher and Britney Spears). We get it, you’re marketable and have a huge following. But let’s be real: We’re not trying to smell like you after your performance at Madison Square Garden.
Can you share any tips about what you feel artists should be doing to build successful marketing campaigns?
The #1 thing I can recommend is for artists to find their niche. Stay true to your own brand and the lifestyle that is associated with it. This includes engaging directly with your audience. These are the people that are going to either make or break your career, so don’t treat them as strangers. Facebook, Twitter and video streaming platforms make it easier than ever to interact and engage with your audience. Drop a line from the studio and let them know about your new single, take some behind the scenes videos from life on the road, let them know about the new pair of sneakers you just picked up (you might even get a sponsorship deal out of it). But just make sure you are constantly building your own brand as well.
Do you have any parting words of advice for artists trying to build their careers and get their music heard, both within the college market and beyond?
The best advice I can give is to get out there and get your music heard. I see new artists everyday that think just because they have a new EP or mixtape coming out, they are bound for greatness and 10 million YouTube views. I am a believer in the grassroots methods of promotion for new artists. Partner up with music blogs in line with your sound and perform for free. Yes, I know that word “free” is hard to deal with, but trust me, it will pay off.
Lastly, always surround yourself with people who believe in you and your cause.
To learn more about Evin Schwartz and the work he does, visit the Campus Socialite Media website.
To mark the end of the year, I wanted to put together a post highlighting some of the notable articles and interviews that have been featured on the Musician Coaching site in 2011. I chose the “Best of” listed below not only because they were some of the most shared on social media sites and the Web in general, but also because they covered some of the most important issues I feel artists and others getting into the music industry should be focusing on as they build their careers.
Are your emails to industry executives being returned? As I discussed in this article about music marketing from mid April, your attempts to reach out could be met with silence because you’re making the following common five mistakes:
- You’re writing a form letter. You may be able to get your message out to hundreds or even thousands of people. But if people feel like you are sending them a form letter about a specific need or a desired business relationship, then it’s over. No one likes to feel like they are just a name on a list. It is perfectly acceptable to cut and paste part of a letter to a certain type of executive, but at least take the time to customize the first few sentences and address them by name. Also, let the person you are contacting know specifically why you are contacting them. What makes you think you are a good fit for what they do and why?
- You’re presenting yourself poorly. This is so common it boggles the mind. I often get emails from people in which their names are not obvious from the email address and not included in the “from” field by their email program. On top of that, they don’t bother to introduce themselves or put any kind of signature indicating who they are or where they are from. Other ways people present poorly include using bad grammar and spelling and saying, “I have talent,” thinking that in and of itself is a major selling point (and the main reason the person on the other end should respond).
- You’re not doing your research. You can much more easily begin a personal relationship with someone when you have specifics about their job function and their professional history. With blogs, LinkedIn and any of the other resources available online these days there is no excuse not to have a good understanding of what people have done in the past and on which projects they have worked. Knowing these things can go a long way in adding a personal touch to the email you are sending someone.
- You have unreasonable expectations. Bluntly asking for a huge favor, a contract, a partnership, a record deal or any other lasting business relationship from a stranger in a first email is inappropriate. I can’t tell you how many emails I get without any information, background or even someone’s name that say something to the effect of “Help! I am really talented and I need you to manage me.” Take your time to get to know someone and what they do. Breaking the ice with an email never instantly leads to a partially executed contract on your doorstep. It’s supposed to lead to building a relationship and getting someone to take you seriously enough to give your material their time and attention.
- You haven’t defined your goals. Vague emails are really hard to respond to. A very common request I get (and I’m sorry, I know I reference this a great deal) is about “getting to the next level.” Do I understand in a general way what it means? Sure. Do I know specifically what people mean by that and what they need or if I am a good fit for getting these people to said next level? No, I don’t have a clue. Before asking someone else for help, make sure that you have clearly defined your goals. Many people respond with knee-jerk responses like, “I want a publishing deal,” or “I need a booking agent.” It’s important to break down these wants into what most people actually mean. What people forget is that for every brilliant partnership, there are plenty of lousy ones. And many of the lousy ones result from people not taking the time to really think through their needs and desires.
Last spring, I talked to Fred Pessaro, a contributing editor at the popular New York City-based music blog BrooklynVegan. Originally from Washington, D.C., Fred got his start in the music industry as a fan of hardcore and punk music and started regularly attending local shows in his hometown at an early age. His interest in freelance writing and photography and his love for music brought him to New York City, where he began to write for and contribute photos to music publications including Fuse, Time Out and Decibel. He has been working with BrooklynVegan since 2007 and also does some booking in the New York City area.
In this interview, Fred was kind enough to share some “dos” and “don’ts” for artists that want to get covered in blogs and other publications. As he said, “I think if you’re a young band today, the best thing you can do is put together a record and give it away for free. Let as many people hear it as possible. I think that’s important on the recorded front and the live front. Any time someone asks you to play a show, you should take it. If you’re a Twee band, and someone asks you to open for a metal band, play it anyway. If you’re playing first on a 12-band bill at 3 p.m., play it anyway. At the end of the day, playing the show is important, whether there are five people there or 5,000 people there. But it’s also important that your name is on a show, and your name is repeated as many times as it can be repeated. If I were a young band, I would play anywhere and everywhere as often as I could, and I would give away my music to anyone that would hear it. Also, maybe you can do something like print up t-shirts with a catchy design that someone might wear whether they liked your band or not. And sell them at cost. Basically, the more times someone sees your name, the easier it’s going to be for them to recognize it down the road. It’s the idea of conditioning. The more times you mention a name, the more the name will become a part of everyone’s consciousness as opposed to ‘just another band out there.’”
In August, I spoke with the legendary Art Munson, founder of Music Library Report, a comprehensive directory of music libraries and services for composers and songwriters designed to help them make educated decisions about choosing to which music libraries they should submit their work. With nearly five decades of playing, songwriting and producing experience, Art got his start in the music industry playing guitar with Dick Dale and the Deltones in the 1960s. He has done studio and live work with artists such as the Righteous Brothers, John Lennon, Billy Joel, Barbra Streisand and Paul Williams. In the 1980s he built and ran his own home recording studio where he worked with artists such as David Sandborn and Vonda Shepard. Just since early 2001, he has written hundreds pieces of music for production music libraries which have been placed in a variety of films and television shows. He and his wife Robin also run their own small record label, publishing and production company called Munsong Records.
Art shared his own story about getting into the music industry and also outlined some best practices for songwriters trying to choose which production libraries are the best fit for their work: “Maybe the best thing I could say is, ‘Write what you really love to write.’ And there are some parameters to follow with library music. You should have editable music, so the music editor can make really clear edit points. It might be a nice, strong intro that’s no more than four-bars long so you can get right into it. And I fight with that editable point too. Because I want to write songs that are musical and have a nice flow to them. And there’s a place for that also. As I said, there are really no hard and fast rules. But I do try to pay attention to really strong edit points, so that music editor can get in and out cleanly.”
In late October, I featured a guest post by Julia L. Rogers in which she outlined 5 concrete elements that should go into a compelling artist bio. Julia helps me behind the scenes at MusicianCoaching.com and is a classically-trained musician, a published author and a contributing music writer at Bitch magazine. Julia plays out regularly in New York City in various original projects. She also writes about business strategy, social media and emerging technology for corporate clients ranging from the Huffington Post to American Express … and she can be hired to write artist and band bios through the site.
In “5 Tips about Writing Your Own Band Bio,” Julia said, “If you want to be taken seriously as an artist, you have to have promotional material. And your bio is one of the most critical components – if not the most critical component of your press kit. (Sorry, but no one cares about your music if you can’t introduce yourself properly.) Your bio represents your first opportunity to spark interest in someone who will be a champion for your music. Besides communicating essential information about you, a well-written bio portrays you as a professional that has some understanding of the business you’re in – music. And when you take some time to thoughtfully craft it, you convey to your fans, to press, media and labels that you are serious about making music your career.”
And her 5 tips for artists trying to put together an eye-catching bio were …
- Clearly define your mission statement.
- Skip birth and childhood.
- Highlight personal stories and anecdotes.
- Use your long-form bio sparingly.
- Plan to update all your bios often.
Prolific songwriter Jonathan Mann has been writing and recording one song per day since January 1, 2009 for his Song A Day project. For over 1,000 days, he has been posting a daily – usually humorous – song to YouTube that touches upon news and current events. A graduate of Bennington College in Vermont, Jonathan started playing guitar and writing songs when he was inspired by the music of Bob Dylan at age 12. Song A Day has earned him a great deal of press attention and brought him a number of interesting collaborative projects. He has appeared on The Rachel Maddow Show and has been commissioned to write songs for companies including Apple, TechCrunch, Dobly, ChaCha, Cisco, Microsoft, Groupon and AirBnB. Last spring, he used the crowdfunding site Kickstarter to raise $13,000, which funded his record Song A Day: The Album.
A couple weeks ago, Jonathan was kind enough to tell me the story of how he first started playing music and provide some insight for other artists trying to stay inspired to write new music. He also discussed how people can leverage YouTube as well as other online (and offline!) tools in order to get their music heard, find opportunities for collaboration and build personal relationships with their fans: “One of the biggest things I’ve observed regarding YouTube is that you have to collaborate. If you want to grow your audience, you find people that you like and that you respect from YouTube, and you reach out to them with a good idea, then collaborate with them and make something. That way, your audience gets to see them, and their audience gets to see you. I started making online video in 2005 right when YouTube started. And had I known that collaboration was one of the biggest tricks on that platform, maybe I would’ve done more of that.”
When asked about time management/finding the time to write, Jonathan added, “…it’s really just about commitment. You just have to commit to doing it. I would also encourage people to do a song a day … Just challenge yourself to do it for a month. Once you commit yourself to it, it just becomes part of your life … What you do when you do that is set yourself up to make great music. If you do that every day, just by sheer probability, something you make is going to be great.”
Of course, I have more interviews and articles from some incredibly talented, knowledgeable folks coming up in 2012, so stay tuned. Happy New Year!
Brian Meece is the CEO and co-founder of RocketHub, a platform that has helped thousands of artists and entrepreneurs further connect with their fans and brands, providing them with tools to help them raise funds and awareness for their creative projects. Brian is also a lifelong musician who continues to perform and record. A graduate of film school, he officially made his way to the music industry through creative media and creative arts. Brian started RocketHub when he began to see how powerful the community funding/crowdfunding model could be for artists across media and decided he wanted to create a company specifically geared towards artists that would educate, empower and support them as they worked get their creative projects off the ground.
Brian talked to me about how the crowdfunding model works and about the mission of RocketHub. He also shared some tips for artists that want to successfully harness the power of this fan funding model in order to build mutually-beneficial relationships with their fans and get their dream projects off the ground.
How did you get into the music industry and come up with the idea to start the RocketHub platform?
My background mostly before starting RocketHub was in creative media and creative arts. I went to undergrad for film and made some films. And I have been playing in bands since I was in high school. I recognized that in the world of indie filmmaking and the world of indie music, a lot of early adopters were gravitating towards a community funding model that we now know as the crowdfunding model. We were seeing it when Darren Aronofsky raised money for his first breakout movie Pi in the late ‘90s. He reached out to his community to raise about $60,000 and make that movie happen. It was the first time I had seen this phenomenon.
Then, years later, I saw Jill Sobule do a fan-funding campaign on her own and raise over $100,000. I recognized that this community funding model that we know as crowdfunding was something that was going to become part of the new media landscape. And I wanted to build a company that was artist friendly and would educate, empower and support artists and creative people looking to get funding and build awareness for their projects. So, that’s how RocketHub came to be.
And your official title is co-founder and CEO?
In the tech startup world there are a lot of CEOs out there. It’s important to note that it’s not just me, but the whole team behind RocketHub that are all also cut from a creative cloth. We all came together to build a company and organization that’s really supportive of the Arts and of the folks pursuing their dreams.
What is crowdfunding, and how does the RocketHub platform work?
Crowdfunding is an online event that harnesses a community for funding, awareness and feedback. This event has a beginning, a middle and end to it. It’s very different from the standard ecommerce play where you open up a store and sell stuff online. And it’s different from a donation play where there’s an online tip jar. Crowdfunding is very much an event that galvanizes communities to participate within a very specific amount of time.
The way our platform works is that an artist comes to RocketHub, uploads the title of their project and what they’re looking to do – whether it’s recording an album, a music video, doing a tour or something along those lines. And they’ll typically have a pitch video talking about themselves, their passion for the project, and a detailed project description. Then, they’ll set a goal amount – what they’re looking to raise. Most music projects we’ve seen are between $2,000 and $10,000. We’ve had other projects raise tens of thousands of dollars and some raise over $100,000. But, most music projects raise in that $2,000 – $10,000 range. And they usually accomplish this goal in between 60 and 90 days. On the project page, there’s also a rewards menu that outlines what funders get in exchange for their financial contributions. For example, they might get a digital download of the album for $10 or a physical CD that’s signed with a memento for $20. They may get a bundle or another cool experience for $50. And it scales up. We’ve seen donations of $100 and even $1,000 or $5,000 come in for certain projects. If the reward is really exciting, and the fan base is there to support the project, it can be a cool and interesting way to monetize communities based on these different levels of support.
You said something interesting to me the other day. You mentioned you really weren’t selling music and the final product as much as you were selling an experience.
Yes. We really are selling the experience. This funding model is about the relationship that these funders – and we call them “fuelers” on RocketHub – have with the artist/person spearheading the project. It’s about the relationship that those fuelers have with this creative person and that they have with each other – their ability to connect and communicate. It’s really about how fans participate with the funding, how they connect with the artist and the other funders and what they get back in exchange for the financial contribution. It’s a very different phenomenon from just going to the store or downloading something. It’s very impactful when done correctly.
The music projects on RocketHub make up about 25 percent of all the projects that come through the site. And we have a really high hit rate for music projects. Many musicians already have loyal fan bases and are already communicating with fans in ways that they weren’t doing ten years ago. A lot of projects can get made with 50-100 people, because the average contribution to music projects on the site is a little over $60. So, you can go back into the project budget and say, “Okay, if I need $6,000, that’s a little over 100 people I need to say ‘yes’ to this project.” And that’s very doable for a lot of emerging artists that are looking to take the next step with their careers by getting a tour or an album or music video out.
It’s really exciting to see music and crowdfunding fitting together so well.
I’m the kind of guy who struggled to even ask people to sponsor me when I ran a marathon. Do you find that there is some sort of acclimation process involved in the process of getting people comfortable with the idea of asking their peers for donations? How would you advise people to get past that mental hurdle?
First of all, I don’t really like to look at this as a “donation” model. You want to push the “trade,” not the “aid” angle. And the “trade” angle is where the rewards come in. Also, we’re artists, not charities. We’re asking for support and contributions. But we’re also offering something to our network. We’re offering cool rewards and scarce experiences. That’s really what the campaign should be about: “Here’s what I’m up to. Here’s why I’m doing it. And here’s what you can get if you come along for the ride.” When you frame your campaign around that type of communication, you get a lot better response than you do if you say, “Hey, I need money for this.”
For example, I ran my own campaign. And I can tell you, it takes a little bit of commitment and a little bit of gusto to get it together and put a project out to the world. It’s a little scary. But what I really enjoyed about it was that it gave me an excuse to reach out to people that I hadn’t talked to or seen in a while. I said, “Here’s what I’m up to, just FYI. Here’s what I’m doing and how I’m doing it. If you’re interested in this – and I hope you are – here’s how you can become a part of it. If you’re intrigued, come join the tribe.” And that communication really worked well with my audience. I have a hunch it would also work well with a lot of other artists’ audiences.
That “trade, not aid” mantra gets us, as artists, out of the mindset of fundraising or asking for tips or donations; because that’s really not what crowdfunding is about. It’s patronage meets commerce – a new spin on an old idea. I like to say, “Beethoven, plus social media equals crowdfunding.” What I mean by that is, it’s the old idea of patronage meets this new concept of being connected to a massive amount of people; crowdfunding is really just mass patronage. It’s pretty cool to see this idea of patronage reemerge on top of social media.
Yeah. It’s wonderful.
I often find that musicians, myself included, get ahead of ourselves pretty often and place the cart before the horse in a lot of situations. My inclination with setting up a crowdfunding campaign would be to say, “I put a band together, and we had one rehearsal. Now, let’s raise some money!” Because I don’t have any patience. When is the right time in a musician’s career for this type of crowdfunding campaign? Is there a baseline amount of fans or activity a band should realize before embarking on this type of project?
I would say that crowdfunding works for artists at a lot of different levels. So, it depends on what you’re trying to raise. The band you just described that has been jamming in a garage for a month or two may not be ready to raise $10,000 – $12,000 to do a big double LP. But they will very likely be able to raise $1,000 – $1,500 to go do a little demo EP or to do a higher-end show to premiere the band.
If you’re an emerging artist, I’d say, be realistic with your goals. And know that the average contribution to music projects is about $60. So, to raise $1,000 you need 20-30 people to say “yes” to a project, which is not really a lot. Just be reasonable in what you want to raise based on where you are in your creative journey. We’ve found that emerging artists that are just looking to start something raised $500 – $1,500. We’ve seen mid-level artists raise $5,000, plus. And we’ve seen larger, working artists that everyone may have heard of raise significantly more. It really just depends on where you are in your career. But you need to be aware that there is a strategy involved. If an emerging artist tries to raise $10,000, it’s going to be a lot tougher.
I know not every campaign is successful. From the vantage point of someone who sees thousands of these campaigns start up on RocketHub, which specific qualities do the artists that are successful at crowdfunding tend to have?
A successful RocketHub campaign typically has three core components. The first is an awesome project spearheaded by awesome people with passion. Believe it or not, just the fact that you’re making a record, a music video or planning a tour is not enough. It really needs to be as awesome as you can make it. The project doesn’t have to be really big either; it can be something really cool on a small scale. But as an artist, you just have to make it as awesome as you can and be front and center and have your band’s personality, or the creative team’s personality be front and center.
The second component you need in order to be successful is some sort of audience or network to start the campaign to. Obviously, the bigger the network, the more successful a campaign will be. But a lot of projects are funded through small communities. 20, 30, 50 or 100 people can add up significantly with a crowdfunding campaign. You want to have some kind of fan base to start. It doesn’t have to be massive.
The third thing you need in order to run a successful crowdfunding campaign is cool rewards. The $20 level is most popular one for music. It’s the single-most popular price point. But the average – the mien – is a little over $60. So, you want to make sure you also have a cool $50 reward and cool $100, $250, $500 and even $1,000 and $5,000 rewards, just in case you get a big-ticket player that wants to jump in.
Those are really the three core components we find successful projects have: 1) an awesome mission spearheaded by awesome people; 2) that fan base/audience that’s connected to them; 3) cool rewards to offer in exchange for the financial contribution. Those three things together are the Holy Grail.
The tiered model is always an interesting one. I was fortunate enough to work with Jill Sobule – who you mentioned earlier – when I was at Lava Records. For a $10,000 contribution, she actually offered the reward of being allowed to sing on her record. And somebody did it. And I don’t know if he ever sold any of these, but the drummer Josh Freese came up with a list of tiered rewards. And one of the upper echelons was, “Do mushrooms with me and the guys from Tool.” I don’t know if that’s something you’d want to advise, but it’s an interesting take on the model.
Well, and also, the RocketHub team loves helping artists. We love educating them on how to run campaigns and giving them a little feedback when they need it. As a team, we’re very accessible to artists. If you’re an artist, you shouldn’t look at the platform as just a website. The people behind it – myself included – are really passionate about helping artists raise funds and awareness.
There are a few crowdfunding sites out there, including Kickstarter and PledgeMusic. Why do you think artists should choose RocketHub?
We share this space with a variety of different companies. And overall, that’s a really good thing. Having some choice in the overall market stimulates demand for the entire industry. I think the biggest way we’re different because we’re always looking to add value for our creative users.
I think RocketHub has some technical differences as well as some softer-touch differences. In terms of technical differences, on RocketHub you don’t have to reach the full funding amount in order to unlock your funds like you do on some of our competitors’ platforms. So, if a musician sets a goal of $15,000 and raises $9,000 or $10,000, they’ll be able to walk away with funds – minus their credit card fees and RocketHub fees.
We’ve found that RocketHub is a great platform for creatives looking to make their projects happen and that are committed to making their projects happen, because they can aim high and still have a safety net if they don’t raise all their funds. On some of the other platforms, you can run a campaign, raise $8,000 or $9,000 of a $15,000 goal, and walk away with nothing because you didn’t hit the full funding amount. We want to really be artist friendly in that regard.
Another way we’re different is that we allow artists to launch projects from around the world. Some of our competitors don’t do that.
We also are looking to add value beyond the funding campaign. So, if you look at the front page of the RocketHub site now, you’ll see one of our Launchpad products. It’s basically a publicity firm in New York that’s going to give a month-long publicity campaign to an artist on RocketHub. These opportunities we open up are free to our creative users that have successfully funded on RocketHub. And we’re going to be doing more and more of that – trying really get exposure and extra awareness for artists that are doing special things on our site.
To learn more about Brian Meece and how his crowdfunding platform helps artists, check out the RocketHub website.
This week marked big news for the business side of the industry as Citigroup suggested it would break up EMI and Google Music eyed the MP3 store space. And Björk made music history by releasing the very first “app” album.
Will Citigroup Sell EMI in Pieces?
Artists and music industry professionals have been awaiting the fate of EMI Group Ltd., home of Katy Perry, Colplay, the Beastie Boys and many others. Citigroup has been deliberating over what to do with the company since they took it over in February. And after final bids came in last week, reports suggested the owner will sell it off as two separate businesses – a label and a publisher.
EMI’s Chief Executive Roger Faxon and former head of EMI publishing has been very opposed to cutting the business in two, saying that the publishing arm and the label arm have a symbiotic relationship, which is what has made the company work for so many years. Since he took over leadership, he has tried to integrate both divisions to make a split more difficult.
Two companies have submitted the highest bids on EMI Publishing: BMG Music, a company run by Bertelsmann and the private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Sony/ATV, a partnership between Sony Corp. and the estate of Michael Jackson.
As for the EMI’s recorded music business, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group are both trying to seize it. Warner Music has also expressed interest in purchasing all of EMI; however, anti-trust issues on the publishing side and an inability to line up solid financing with the economy and the music industry in particular in flux will likely prevent that deal from closing.
EMI is considered to be one of the last attractive assets in the rapidly-changing music business. In June, the company was exploring alternatives to being sold, running an auction code named “Project Nile.”
Citigroup will also get more money out of EMI if they cut it in half – as much as $4 billion. Winning bidders will be selected by the end of next week.
Google Music Poised to Move into the MP3 Space
Google will likely open its first MP3 store, possibly as soon as in the next few weeks, says a report published in the New York Times. Five months ago, the company launched its first cloud music service – Music Beta, which allows users to back up songs on remote servers and stream them trough mobile and other devices – and is in negotiations with major labels to build a marketplace that will be an iTunes and Amazon competitor.
Music executives say that Google is pushing to open the store – which will be connected directly to the cloud service – as soon as possible. Google seems to be pushing up the launch date of the store in hopes of getting in ahead of Apple, who will open its own cloud music program, iTunes Match by the end of October. However, Google must establish partnerships with labels and publishers before it can have a full-service store.
Earlier attempts to begin a “smart locker service” – a storage system that lets people link their personal digital music collections to a large central database – failed when Google could not convince music companies it was installing anti-piracy features. Many labels and publishers have said they still are not convinced that Google has addressed their concerns regarding piracy, and Google’s ability to license their MP3 store is uncertain. If Google opens an unlicensed service, users will have to upload each song individually, which could take hours, or days depending on the size of the collection.
Björk’s Biophilia is Released as the First App Album
Björk released the first-ever “app” album last week, opening up new possibilities for artists that want to further integrate music with technology and add new dimensions to recorded music releases. Biophilia features a “set of ten apps contained within a mother app” and was made partly on an iPad. It is available as a CD and is being additionally released as a set of apps – one for each track – so listeners can enjoy a fully-interactive experience. The album represents work of Björk herself as well as work from a team of engineers, scientists, writers and artists/filmmakers, including Sir David Attenborough. App designer/filmmaker/media artist Scott Snibb headed the app design process.
Many believe this album could revolutionize how artists, industry professionals and fans have traditionally defined “music album.” The apps – depicted through images in Wired – are filled with links to reading materials and many interactive features. Interacting with the apps is incredibly comprehensive for those that take time to immerse themselves and even go beyond artistic to become educational. However, some critics worry that all these extra features detract from the main focus of any album – the music itself.
However, Biophilia, which explores music through the themes of science, paganism, nature, love and technology is clearly about the music; two entirely new instruments were even created for it. As the music industry experiences a continued decline in album sales and struggles with piracy, many artists have gone the DIY route. Björk’s latest endeavor could represent an interesting new direction for artists that want to get creative about recorded music and find new ways to embrace and leverage the growing technology side of the industry.
The need for today’s artists to develop savvy, creative self-marketing skills in order to make a living was big in music business news this week as Lil Wayne’s new album Tha Carter IV sold record numbers on iTunes in its first week and music journalists discussed the value of remixes for emerging artists. Also, artists won a big battle as the European Union (EU) came close to a decision on the extension of coverage by International Music Copyright Law.
Lil Wayne Proves Business Sense is Critical to Selling Rap Albums
Lil Wayne’s long-awaited Tha Carter IV album exploded onto the U.S. album chart last week, coming in at #1 with a 964,000 unit sales debut. The album was the second-biggest seller of the year, coming in close behind Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, which sold 1.1 million in its first week when it released in early June. Wayne’s accomplishment is even more notable because he chose not to release on Amazon, thus decreasing his overall sales opportunities. He also set a new one-week iTunes record by selling 300,000 on that platform.
While Wayne did not reach his 1 million-unit personal best, achieved with Tha Carter III in 2008, he beat out the Jay-Z and Kanye West collaboration Watch the Throne, which came out at the height of the summer record sale season and only sold 436,000 copies. While industry experts agree that record sales are no longer the main indicator for how good an artist is, numbers do still count; and many feel that Lil Wayne’s ability to self market and sell his own music has been a huge factor in his success.
Lil Wayne is the CEO of his own record label, Big Money, and he has a hand in marketing himself and other artists on his label. But according to the Global Grind website, others note that he will need to do even more to continue to sell albums, especially in the rap and hip hop genre, which, more than any other area of music has been hit particularly hard as the music industry becomes more and more digital. Being a talented rapper alone no longer brings in big money; rap artists have had to branch out and cross over into other businesses in order to stay relevant and grow their brands. For example, Jay-Z is co-owner of the New Jersey Nets, CEO of Roc Nation, owner of Ace of Spades liquor company, co-director of Budweiser and investor in a line of hair products and several clubs as well as being a real estate developer. And without diversifying, his hiatus from recording his own music might have pushed him into obscurity.
Rap music has long been associated with “living large” and making money. And while Lil Wayne has proven he can sell records without the help of a huge label, some feel that in order to continue his upward trend, he will have to up the ante with his marketing tactics, possibly capitalizing on his interest in skateboarding (which appeals to his younger fan base) by branching out into the clothing and accessories market, or, since he just learned to play the guitar, designing a line of guitars that caters to his style of music.
The Beastie Boys and Others Uncover the Value of the Remix
Recently, Major Lazer took on the Beastie Boys’ “Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win,” and remixed it as a dance-hall-style song that takes it far from its original state. And this is just one of seven remixes featured on the new Hot Sauce Committee Part 2 album. Leah Collins of the Montreal Gazette asks, aside from giving fans of an artist something more to collect and buy, what is the value of remixes?
First of all, remixing can help an artist reach a new audience; an artist can reshape the song so it has a place in a club, on the radio, or so it gets the attention of an elusive blogger. It can also just give a musician the opportunity to play with a piece of music and make a new form of art. And for a new or emerging artist, remixing can be particularly important because it can help that artist build his/her name, build a community and become more skilled as a musician.
And Major Lazer isn’t the only artist remixing. Ian Swain, who DJs and produces under the moniker “Pho” and also works as half of the dance-hall duo Bonjay used remixes of indie rock hits – including TV on the Radio’s “Staring at the Sun” and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs “Maps” – to build his profile. Swain said, “Putting up those early tunes [and remixing something like ‘Maps’] … was a way that, even though we hadn’t really developed into writing our own material … getting our name out there.”
And he added, “If you’re a band, you cut your teeth doing covers, developing your sound. It’s where you figure out what’s unique about what you do … Remixing is pretty similar in that, when you’re starting out, it’s a great way to hone your style and garner some interest in what you’re doing.”
Besides helping emerging musicians grow artistically and increase their fan bases, doing remixes of popular songs can even in some cases help an artist build relationships with the more well-known artists whose songs they choose, which can lead to new opportunities and wider exposure.
The European Union (EU) Extends Copyright Protection by 20 Years
Musicians could win longer copyright protection of their work abroad as early as next week, thanks to a big decision by the EU which will help make European copyright laws more similar to laws in the United States. For years, artists like Paul McCartney and Cliff Richard have fought to increase the length of time musicians’ work was protected in Europe beyond 50 years as they faced their protection running out within their own lifetimes. If all goes as planned, recordings in Europe will be under copyright for 70 years, making distribution of musical works without permission before this time period expires illegal.
Although some countries are still opposed to this change, industry spokespeople feel that this extension will be made a reality after ministers from EU countries vote on the issue in Brussels on Monday. The decision will also bring extra royalties for major labels Universal, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group and EMI. The issue of copyright protection has become even more important worldwide in the past year, as global music sales fell 9 percent, a decline linked directly to widespread piracy problems; according to IFPI, 19 out of every 20 music tracks downloaded from the internet are obtained illegally.
IFPI’s CEO Frances Moore also said new copyright laws in Europe would hopefully help make building a career easier for emerging and independent artists: “Extending the term of protection to 70 years would narrow the gap between Europe and its international partners and improve the conditions for investment in new talent.”
In the U.S., music copyright lasts for 95 years after recording, whereas authors of written works and their estates maintain the rights to their creative works 70 years after their deaths.