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 publishers’
(And the Other Top 4 Reasons Your Email Isn’t Being Returned)
This is a re-post of an article originally published April 14, 2011. In honor of some truly lousy emails I have received lately, I felt now was the perfect time to run it again.
I am a big believer in doing as much legwork on your own as you possibly can before reaching out to music industry executives. That being said- there comes a time in every artist’s career where they are going to have to approach someone in the industry to get to that proverbial next level. Let me assure you that there is a right way of doing this … and several wrong ways of doing this. Sadly, many artists repeatedly write emails that go right into the trash because of very basic mistakes that can be easily avoided.
Obviously the first and most basic rule of the approach is “Don’t approach someone with a cold email if you can avoid it;” knowing someone who knows the person you are trying to get in touch with can help a great deal. However, I realize that going in with a strong referral isn’t always an option. Consider the top 5 suggestions below when you’re putting together your next cold email.
1) Form Letters
Sure, 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 (don’t confuse this with a newsletter – that’s a whole other blog post) 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. And speaking of names on a list, sending an email to yourself and cc-ing rather than bcc-ing everyone won’t win you any favors from people who hold positions where both bot-generated and musician-generated spam mail comes with the territory.
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? Let’s just say you are looking to approach a blogger. Saying something like, “I just read your story on this other artist and I really like the way it was written. I thought that since you liked what they do you might appreciate my new single…” is much more likely to get a response than a press release about your new product addressed to no one in particular.
2) Poor Presentation
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. From my vantage point, I am getting a message from SlappyMcJellyPants@Yahoo.com. The rest of the email had better be stellar (or at least very funny) for me to consider responding.
*As a side note, I’m damn easy to get a hold of. I am in the business of selling music marketing services so it is part of my job to be as reachable as possible. That said, it isn’t hard to tell from presentation who is taking their career and image seriously and who is not. If there are people out there who are having trouble getting a hold of me, then they can forget about people who are really difficult to contact cold like A&R people, Music Supervisors and music journalists. *
Another huge issue in presentation is spelling and grammar. Look, I’m no grammar Nazi and I would be completely lost without spell check, but reaching out to a stranger for help and then sending them what looks more like a text to your girlfriend is probably not a great idea. This all might sound silly, but I have found a huge correlation between the way people present themselves on email and how together their career is, and I respond to emails in order of the likelihood that I am dealing with someone who is serious (and willing to work!)
Lastly on the presentation front: Saying you have talent is meaningless. Executives hear this all day long. The best thing you can do to get someone’s attention is to make a concentrated effort on your pitch prior to crafting any email and running it by friends and peers that can be honest with you. What turns my head is not when people talk about their talent, but when they describe the achievements that they have earned with their talent. Are you drawing well or playing with more established artists? Are you working with anyone who has great credits? Did you win a local contest? Do you have a ton of social media followers and an obvious dialogue with fans online? Do you have a mailing list with a ton of people on it? These are the things that will get people’s attention.
3) Lack of 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. I am always flattered that people took the time to read about me before reaching out. Admittedly I’m usually annoyed when people don’t bother to read anything and just ask for help without knowing who I am or what I do. And in my case, all that information is provided in a link right next to the contact link. I get intoxicated calls on my Google Voicemail at 3am on a Sunday from people wanting a record deal (from me … even though I don’t run a label) or want me to manage them (I don’t manage artists). My favorite call to date was someone asking for Jay-Z’s phone number (which I still don’t have) and then offering me 50% of the guaranteed collaboration that would result from me giving it to him.
Beyond the research on any one individual though it is important that you also research understand the mindset of a person who is the gatekeeper (Music supervisors, A&R people, Publishers, major journalists etc.) of big opportunities. Firstly, they can’t possibly return all the correspondences or listen to all of the music they get. Secondly – and this is especially true with big organizations – virtually no one executive makes 100% of the decision about a song getting placed in a movie, getting a major write up in a big magazine or getting someone signed to a record label or publisher. Damn near every executive these days has a boss, a client or someone else who guards the purse strings to contend with before pulling the trigger on a decision that could really help your career as an artist. The second part of the job is important to note also, because the easiest part of a gatekeeper’s job is getting in a steady flow of music to pick from. The hardest part of a gatekeeper’s job is keeping a gatekeeper job. It’s easy to think of these people as people who sit around listening to music all day on a pedestal and then giving a Ceasar-esque thumbs up or thumbs down. The politics and juggling involved with keeping everyone happy internally and making sure your external relationships are sound in case you are out of a gig (there is a high turnover rate with creative jobs like this) are almost full-time jobs in and of themselves. Long story short, like these people or hate them, it’s important to know before you approach them that they are often pretty stressed out.
4) Unreasonable Expectations
The next time you go out on a first date… or hell, the next time you encounter someone attractive from a distance, you should briskly walk up to them, say “Hello my name is _____,” and while heading towards them at an uncomfortable pace (preferably without letting them reply to your hello), you should attempt to French kiss them. This is actually best done when starting with your tongue fully extended from a distance of 20 yards or more at a full sprint.
* Editor’s note: Actually, don’t try this. I am not responsible for the whiplash, broken jaw or harassment suits that may follow if you do*
Now you might be thinking, “Wow that was unexpected/inappropriate/ scary…” Yes, indeed. It is. What is my point? Well, my point is that 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 equally inappropriate (although admittedly it is considerably less creepy). 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.” Not that I manage people, but if I did, would I want to partner with someone who was willing to blindly decide that I was the one to guide their career without having met me or had a phone call? Boundaries, people!
Those are some extreme examples obviously, but the real point is, 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.
5) Undefined 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, 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.
When you say, “I need a publishing deal,” do you mean, “I would like…” (‘cause really, people – we need food, water, shelter and good health; lighten up). Don’t you really mean, “I want someone to help me get my music placed in film and TV and arrange collaborations and co-writes with other artists I like and respect”? Maybe it means something else to you. But whatever it means to you, write it out for yourself. Be specific without making a plan that hinges on the participation of a person or a business to which you don’t have access.
Of course, it need not apply to only publishing deals; it can be for whichever goals you have for yourself. One of the most encouraging things you can do in the eyes of a gatekeeper is to demonstrate that with or without their help, you are making progress in getting where you want to go.
I realize I am no longer a gatekeeper but I certainly sat behind a desk where dreams went to die for many years. Still – if you would like to check out a more current A&R person’s vantage point on the approach check out my interview with Jason Jordan VP of A&R at Hollywood Records – here.
Last week was marked by some big wins for independent labels and artists as Clear Channel Media signed a new radio royalties deal with country label Big Machine and DIY darling Amanda Palmer hit the $1 million mark on crowdfunding site Kickstarter. Also, YouTube fine tuned its licensing deal with music publishers.
Applause for Clear Channel-Big Machine Deal
Indie country label Big Machine cut a first-of-its-kind deal with Clear Channel on June 5 that will pay its artists royalties and also potentially spark online radio growth. The deal – effective immediately – will finally pay artists like Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw and Reba McEntire for songs played on traditional radio stations. As part of the agreement, the artists will earn a fixed percentage of revenue on Clear Channel station websites and on its iHeart Radio streaming service, which will allow Clear Channel to run promotional campaigns to increase its online audiences without going over its budget.
Big Machine CEO Scott Borchetta stated that he sees this groundbreaking agreement as an investment in the future of digital radio as well as the first big radio win for a small label: “We’re going to more than double our income from Clear Channel in the short term, and they’ll make it up on the back end as digital continues to grow.”
Radio broadcasters and the music industry have been at odds for nearly 100 years when it comes to paying royalties to artists. Prior to this point, songwriters and music publishers were compensated, but not performers. The chairman and CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) Cary Sherman sang praises for the deal at a congressional hearing, “The Future of Audio,” on June 6: “We’re obviously delighted that the biggest radio group acknowledged that something should be done.”
However, Sherman and other industry leaders said that individual deals will not be the answer going forward; an industry-wide agreement needs to be met. Jazz musician Ben Allison, who is also the governor of the New York branch of the Recording Academy (the Grammy® Awards) said, “Terrestrial broadcasters have an inexplicable ‘free ride’ when it comes to performance royalties … This makes corporate radio the only business in America that can legally use another’s intellectual property without permission or compensation.”
Broadcasters also want to keep government out of the radio royalties issue. The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) issued the following statement after the Clear Channel-Big Machine deal was announced: “NAB remains steadfastly opposed to a government-mandated performance tax on local radio stations.” The radio industry’s recurring argument is that radio provides free promotion for artists that allows them to build their fan bases and sell more records.
Regardless, this past week’s Clear Channel deal shows the corporation is finally willing to invest in online radio and make its iHeart Radio app a priority. Clear Channel Chief Executive Bob Pittman stated, “This is a big step, but we think this investment is an opportunity worth taking to align our interests in all of our revenue streams and grow digital listening to its full potential with record labels and their artists as our partners.”
Amanda Palmer’s $1 Million Kickstarter Win
As the music industry has shifted away from the traditional label system and musicians have had to take control over their own careers, crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, RocketHub and others have developed as a trend to help them raise money for their creative projects. Indie sensation Amanda Palmer (formerly of the punk cabaret duo The Dresden Dolls) made history this past week when she raised $1 million in one month on Kickstarter to fund her record Amanda Palmer & the Grand Theft Orchestra. According to Simon Usborn of The Independent, her success could be the sign of a huge shift in the music industry.
Palmer made the announcement she would be ditching record labels and recording a new album in April with the help of the fan-funding site Kickstarter. Her goal was to raise $100,000 from fans, who would get a variety of special opportunities commensurate on their level of investment. For a dollar, she said fans would get a digital download of the record. For ten thousand dollars, they would get a whole day to hang out one on one with Palmer herself.
Palmer reached her goal within six hours and in a month, had raised over $1 million thanks to 25,000 fans. This feat caused her to see fan-funding as “the future of music:” “The industry has long needed a new system, and crowd-funding is it.” (As a side note, a party was held for Palmer in New York City this past week where many artists played, including Shayfer James, who has been previously featured in the Musician Coaching newsletter.)
However, many experts continue to debate whether or not the crowdfunding model works consistently for artists, and whether or not cutting out the middle man is a new trend. Radiohead released its album In Rainbows in 2007 through its website and asked that fans pay what they wanted. And SellaBand.com was already offering investment opportunities for fans.
Still, Palmer was the first to make $1 million – more than any record label would invest in an artist the size of Palmer. Manager Colin Roberts, who works at Big Life Management (Scissor Sisters/La Roux) said that while music stores used to get away with charging a lot more money for albums than artists do on their own now, fans were always frustrated about spending. They have come to see labels as rich, powerful and greedy, even though the labels are losing money. Now that fans have a new way to get music, Roberts agreed with Palmer that “the tide has turned,” in part thanks to a change in attitude among artists: “In the past it felt like holding a cap out. Artists used to say, ‘no way!’. Now there’ll be a conversation.” Big Life is currently considering moving to crowdfunding to support some of its acts.
Roberts and others continue to agree that fan funding does not work for every artist. It works best for those that have a strong fan following and a heavy online presence. Without fans, there will be no funding, so new artists will still likely have to rely on traditional models in the beginning (and throw in some money themselves).
Roberts also said that record companies should definitely pay attention when their big names turn towards fan funding: “When Coldplay say, ‘We’ve just done four nights at the Emirates, do we need EMI to sell records?’ That’s when they should be worried.” He added that Palmer’s feat, while impressive is not revolutionary: “What would really change the game is if people could do this from nowhere in their bedrooms … But unless you’ve got hype, that’s not viable. Nobody’s found that model yet.”
YouTube: A Sweeter Deal for Music Publishers
YouTube declared it had inked a deal that “opens the door for more songwriters, publishers and content creators” in its blog this past week. The Google-owned site came to an agreement with BMG Rights Management, Christian Copyright Solutions, ABKCO Music, Inc., Songs Music Publishing, Words & Music, Copyright Administration, Music Services, Reservoir Media Management, and Songs of Virtual , publishers that represent works from artists including Adele, Cee Lo Green, Foo Fighters, The Rolling Stones, Sam Cooke, etc. The deal will give these entities more opportunities to earn money and improve their copyright protection.
Elizabeth Moody, head of YouTube Music’s strategic partner development wrote that the deal will bring “more of the great music you all love on YouTube, and more opportunities for artists to make money.” What that means according to PC Mag, in layman’s terms, for YouTube users is that the next time they upload a video with their favorite song playing in the background, the Content ID system – an audio and video matching tool – might not cut out the audio track or remove the video from the site. The improved Content ID system will give content owners the option to leave the copyrighted material online and place ads next to it that will allow them to earn money.
YouTube made a similar agreement last year with the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA) and Harry Fox Agency. This contract and the previous contract will allow YouTube to monetize nearly all the user-generated YouTube videos with accompanying music. When publishers enable YouTube to run ads with videos that feature their compositions, the publishers, songwriters, record labels and artists will make money, “so they can reinvest in their careers and keep making great music, and the music industry can thrive,” said Moody.
Google has been heavily attacked recently for aiding piracy via the Google search engine and YouTube. While Google has been working to fight this problem, not all within the music industry are convinced. Google announced plans in late May to publish copyright takedown notices on a daily basis, but the RIAA felt this action was insufficient. (See last week’s Musician Coaching news story.)