Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Want To Start Your Own Record Label? Then You Better Be Able To Answer These Questions

Deciding to release your own record is not only a good idea these days, it’s something you MUST do. As you read through the following questions, mark the ones that you can’t answer, and make an effort to find the answers. Answers to any of these label start-up issues are widely available on the Internet and in many books and blogs-in case you didn’t know that. So, get to work and find out what is involved with starting your own record label.

1. Why are you starting your own label? (What is your motivation?)
2. Why would anyone want to buy your music?
3. Is there currently a market for your kind of music? Prove it!
4. If you’re not releasing your own music, have you ever read a recording
5. Are you aware of all the traditional clauses that are in such 75–100 page
6. Do you know anything about copyright law?
7. What is a mechanical royalty? What is a performance royalty?
8. Have you heard of the Harry Fox Agency, ASCAP, BMI, SESAC? What do they do?
9. What do you want to achieve by starting your own label?
10. What do you know about the day-to-day business of selling music?
11. Will your new company be a sole proprietorship, a partnership, or a Limited
Liability Corporation? (Do you know the pros and cons of each?)
12. Have you trademarked the name of your company to be sure you can use that
13. Will you need recording equipment, office equipment, and supplies to run
your label?
14. Do you have a recording studio you can work with?
15. Do you know any record producers and/or engineers?
16. How much money will it cost you to start your label, record your records,
and market the recordings for the first year? Second year? Third year?
17. How will you raise the money you need to start and run your record label?
18. What local, state, and federal tax responsibilities will your label have?
19. How will you sell your records? (Live shows, Internet sales,streaming,mail
order, catalog sales, distributors, stores?)
20. What specific distribution and retail sales plans have you arranged so that
people can easily find your releases at retail stores?
21. Do you have the money, time, and determination to compete in an industry
that releases over 1,000 new records a week?
22 How much will it cost to manufacture your CDs?
23. What configurations-CD,CD singles,MP3-will you need to make/sell your
24. How many copies of your releases do you realistically think you can sell?
25. What deals are offered by manufacturers? Will you use their barcode or buy
your own?
26. Will you need to make posters, bin cards, or other materials for retailers?
If so, how many and how much will that cost?
27. Will you be making special novelty items like t-shirts, baseball caps, etc.
and how much will that cost?
28. How did you estimate the number of copies you needed to manufacture?
29. Did you count into your estimation the number of free CDs you’ll have to
give away for promotions of various kinds?
30. How will you go about finding other acts to sign to your label? Are you the
sole artist? Then how many new releases will you have every year or so?
31. How important do you think graphic design is in making your label’s logo and
cover art work for your releases?
32. Do you know any graphic artists with record design experience?
33. What information should go on the CD cover, back-cover, spine, booklet, and
34. What will your website look like? What online marketing and social
networking opportunities will there be for your fans to interact with you?
35. Do you know how to write a marketing plan, a distributor one-sheet, and
other promo materials?

Plus an extra question:

36. Who are your customers? If you think you know them, then describe them in
very specific terms!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Youu Have To Know Your Fans The Way You Know The Back Of Your Hand

If you’re more concerned about getting “a deal” than you are about getting to know your fans, you’re on the wrong track.

If you understand the lifestyles of your fans, you’ll have a passport to making money with your music.


Because when you know who your fans are, their habits and lifestyles will show you ways of reaching them that you never imagined.

Study the people who come to your live shows, buy your records and t-shirts, and visit your websites, and subscribe to your Blogs or Newsletters.

Your fans are your most valuable asset.

When you know who your fans are AND how they live their lives, this information can be used to come up with targeted music marketing methods.

Fan or customer research is behind the ideas of creating unique special promotions...just for your fans.

For example, haven’t you seen toys for sale at places other than toy stores? You know—toy action figures from some mega movie promotion, free with a hamburger. Or, how about those special deals where you subscribe to a magazine and get a free book or movie discount coupons? To help you get into the mindset of a professional marketer, here are some questions you should ask about your fans:

• How old are they? (Determine the widest range of their ages.)
• What gender are they? (If both, what percentage is dominant, or is it even?)
• Are they one specific ethnic background or a mix of backgrounds?
• Do they drive cars to work, carpool, take public transportation, ride bikes,
or walk?
• If they’re students, what kind of schools do they go to? Grade school, high
school, college, business school, university?
• Are they religious, atheists, or free thinkers?
• What political parties do they belong to, and what, if any, causes do they
• What kind of restaurants do they go to—fancy and expensive, ethnic, or fast
• Where do they shop for clothes? Thrift stores, Target, Nordstrom?
• What hobbies and interests do they have? Computers, art, hiking,
skateboarding, sports etc?
• What other music do they like? Particularly, what other bands and artists do
they spend their money on?
• What movies do they see in theaters, rent or stream online or at video
• Do they get to your gigs by bicycle, motorcycle, car, bus, train?
• What books do they enjoy reading, and how and where do they buy them?
• What kind of volunteer work might they do? environmental or political causes,
fairs and festivals, church or social groups?
• What TV shows do they watch, and what radio stations do they listen to
online or through cable and/or traditional broadcasters?
• What Internet websites do they visit and download music from?
• Do they subscribe to any blogs or podcasts? Which ones?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Quick Refresher Comment About The Types of Music Buyers You Have To Deal With

Sometimes I hear musicians say this about their music: "EVERYBODY will love my music. It appeals to everyone"


Your music does not appeal to everyone.
Not even the Beatles are/were loved by EVERYONE...there is no EVERYONE.

But there are TYPES of people who may love your music.

I have written at length about what are called 'Adopters of Music' before, but its been awhile, so I want to give you a brief summary of what this issue is all about.

In music marketing terms, there are basically 3 types of music buyers:

1. Early Adopters

2. Middle Adopters

3. Late Adopters

Early Adopters
are the type of people who really love one or more genres of music passionately. They live for their music and their favorite artists and bands, buy and/or steal as much music by their favorite performers as they can, and are always aware of what act is coming out with a new release, or touring in their area. Music is their passion, and very little will come in their way of fulfilling that passion.

Middle Adopters
are more casual music fans. They like a certain genre of music and have a few favorite artists and bands that they keep their eye on, but not to the degree of the Early Adopters. Middle Adopters actually have a life outside of their love of music, but they are casual fans of music at best, but still an important market to try and reach out to.

Late Adopters
of music I describe this way...they are everybody else in the general public. When music is a part of their lives it is usually not new music or the latest trend in some music genre. They are not 'leaders' like Early Adopters, they are more 'followers' of mostly mainstream music of some kind. They are hard to market to when you are a new act trying to get your music heard and appreciated.
BUT, you should not discount them in your long-term plans. After-all,any really big hit records are bought mainly by Late Adopters (after they have heard some music they like about a million times over and over again).

If you find yourself feeling smug and judgmental about these Late Adopters, if you smile knowingly when you realize they need to hear a song many times before the song makes an impression on their minds, YOU are probably an Early or Middle Adopter yourself.

I’ve spent all of my forty + years in this business as an Early Adopter
and did my part in slamming Late Adopters in my more naive days in this business. I accused them of having no taste, or at least no curiosity about all the great music that has been created. But over the last few years I’ve realized that I was a Late Adopter myself when it came to non-music interests. If everybody else was like me, we wouldn’t have films to see, gourmet foods to eat, cars to drive, doctors to heal us, athletes to admire, etc.

In the game of music marketing, late adopters have an important role to play.

The gatekeepers of the music business, (those people who stand between the artist and the artist’s audience), every one of them is either an Early, Middle, or Late Adopter themselves.The more you know about how they value music, the more you can prepare your presentations to them, because you’ll talk to an Early Adopter of music in an entirely different way than you would a Late Adopter.

When you speak with an Early Adopter of music, always stress the music itself.
You should be able to describe your music to them in ways they would describe it to another of your kind. Talk about the influences in the music. Compare it to other past or current acts. Speak knowledgeably and honestly about the music with a genuine excitement about it.

When you speak to a Middle Adopter of music, talk about how some Early Adopters have embraced it and what the results were.
Talk about the merits of the music itself from your view.

Should you ever have the money and muscle to try and reach the masses, remember this: the Late Adopter exposure outlets (the media in particular) care less about the artistic merits of the music and more about its accessibility to a wide demographic of listeners, viewers, or readers whom they must cater to.

So, tell Late Adopters business success stories and give them financial and survey data that prove to them that a wider audience would like your music.

Now, ask yourself what type of music adopter you are.

I hope you’re an Early Adopter because making it in this business is a lot more fun if you’re deeply involved in some particular kind of music.
If you’re a Middle Adopter, you’d better have some Early Adopter friends in influential places, because playing this game requires a real passion for music.

Music is an emotional product. It moves people in many wonderful and mysterious ways.

Knowing about the different types of music consumers can help you monitor the acceptance of your music by fans and industry people alike and help you find ways to reach them.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Questionnaire To Help You With Your Artist Development Issues

Please take time to answer the following important questions. Thoughtful, honest, and detailed answers to these questions will help you when you write your bios, fact sheets, and the press releases that are necessary for marketing and promoting your music. This questionnaire will help you evaluate your current career status, and help you define and refine what you HAVE done and what you HAVE NOT done.

• Name of artist or band? (Include all band members names and instruments
• Is your stage name trademarked?
• Have you registered your songs for copyright protection?
• Have any of your songs been published? (If so, by whom?)
• Have you affiliated with a performance rights organization?
(Which one—ASCAP, BMI?)
• What is your background? (Who are you and your band members? Tell your
• Do any band members belong to the Musician’s Union?
• Do you have a written band/partnership agreement?
• Why do you want to record and release your own music? (Be very honest.)
• Who is your fan or customer? (Analyze this question thoroughly.)
• Do you write your own songs? (Discuss the songwriting process in detail.)
• Who are your musical influences? (Cite specific examples.)
• How do you describe your music to people? (This isn’t a short answer.
Discuss it.)
• What image do you think your music conveys? (Do not avoid the image issue!)
• What are your immediate music career goals? (Next one to three years.)
• What are your long-term career goals?
• How would you define the word “success”? (This isn’t a short answer.
Discuss it.)
• Do you have any personal contacts in the music business?
• Do you have an entertainment law attorney to consult with?
• Are you looking for an independent label deal or a major label deal? (Why?)
• Do you have a demo or press kit, or any promotional materials?
• What live performance experience have you had? (Any industry showcases?)
• How do you rate your live performance ability? (Be very critical.
No clich├ęs.)
• Have you recorded any previous CDs or demos? (Which studios?
Who was the producer?)
• How did you sell your CDs? (Consignment? Over the Internet? Live sales?
• Have you had any previous print or broadcast media exposure or reviews?
• Are you financially able to fund the costs of establishing your career?
In debt?)
• Do you have a business license? (City, state, federal?)
• What is your current business form? (Sole proprietor? Corporation? Partners?)
• Have you set up a system for tracking your financial activities?
(software system?)
• Are you aware of the tax deductions available for musicians?
• Do you have insurance on your band equipment and vehicles?
• Have you created an exciting, well-designed website?
(aware of new design software?)
• Do you have a presence on the Internet that is active and aggressive
(Looking for new opportunities?)
• Who handles your daily business activities? (bookings, promotions, etc.)
• Have you created an actual career, marketing, and business plan?
(Is it in writing?)
• Are you actively involved with updating daily your social networking sites?
i.e. Twitter,My Space and Facebook, or any other such networking tools?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

If You Don't Know The Rules, How Can You Play The Game?

I want you to do a simple exercise.

After you finish reading this, go over to your record collection and look at all the CDs and records you’ve collected over the years, and that includes looking at your digital library of music you downloaded to your hard drive. Go through your collection.

As you look at the music that means so much to you, say the following words to yourself: “I would never have known about or heard all this music I love, if there hadn’t been a carefully planned and successfully implemented promotion and marketing campaign for all my favorite bands and artists.”

That’s the plain and simple truth of it. In a capitalist, consumer society like ours, every popular music star is either backed by a record label, manager, publishing company, booking agency, attorney and countless others who worked with that artist to help them achieve their hard earned success. Or, in a growing numberr of cases, an artist or band has acted as a label and accomplished some success on their own.

This is true for the mega superstars as well as the local and regional artists who found a way through their own efforts to marry the business of music with the art of music making.

When you go into a record store or search for music online, remember this exercise. Say to yourself while searching: “If these artists or their record labels had not dealt with the business side of music, these musicians would not have their CDs for sale here.”

The articles you read in music publications, the songs you hear on the radio, the videos you watch on television and places like YouTube, plus the concerts you attend, could not have happened for those artists unless someone had successfully dealt with the business of artist and product development

See what I am driving at? Catch my meaning? Get my drift? Music and the marketplace go hand in hand. There’s no other path to success. Someone—you, in the beginning—has to take responsibility for making peace with the eternal struggle between art and commerce.

Musicians struggle with this dilemma as much as authors, painters, sculptors, or poets do. It’s like a virus that infects many musicians with the notion that money making and music making are enemies. Contracts, marketing plans, budgets and image development issues can be alien to the creative process, but are necessary for the business side of the music world in order to get your music heard, desired, and purchased.

So, it’s necessary to make peace with that side of yourself.

There's a funny thing about creativity. On one hand, it wants to be left alone to create. Yet it demands recognition, and rages when society refuses to acknowledge the art that has been created. The creative side feels robbed when it isn’t rewarded with enough money to make a living.

This conflict tortures many musicians, beginners as well as experienced players. I’ve observed many frustrated musicians over the last twenty-five years, and I’ve seen a pattern of ignorance and naivete concerning the rules of the music marketplace.

I’m not saying there aren’t examples of exploitation throughout the history of popular music; that there haven't been outrageous tales of gross mismanagement and outright thievery in recorded music’s legacy that fowled-up the success of artists, but the following observation is also quite true.

Along with a musician’s wish for stardom and recognition comes a feeling of 'deserving' success because you have struggled so much to become successful.

But what if you never really studied the business and marketing side of the business you are in? What if you are ignorant of the rules of the game? Who's fault is that?

Only you can be the master of your ship. So, ask any sailor...if you don't know how to use a compass out at sea, what are your chances of reaching the shore safely?

Its the same in the music business. I have written repeatedly about how stubborn so many musicians are about learning something about the business they are in...the music BUSINESS!

I’ve never bought into the common belief that a recording contract(for example)is indentured servitude or slavery. Nonsense.

These days, musicians who have been exploited left an opening in their defenses by refusing to take responsibility to educate themselves.

That’s the cold fact of it. You cannot be exploited unless you’ve leave yourself open to be exploited.

The age of enlightenment has not just recently arrived. The secrets behind the business of music started being revealed almost twenty years ago. In the late 1970s, pioneering music business educator Diane Rapaport came out with her landmark book, How To Make and Sell Your Own Recording.
That book single-handedly led the way for musicians to learn about the business of music.

Today there are countless books and articles available on the many different aspects of the music business. I suggest you go to amazon.com some time and type in “music business books” to search what’s out there. And don't forget that today there hundreds of colleges and universities that offer degrees in music business.

Also, there are dozens of music business conferences, organizations, clubs, and Internet sites devoted to helping musicians understand the business of music.

The future belongs to enterprising musicians who control their own destiny.

The downloadable music frontier is here, and never in the history of recorded music has so much potential rested in your hands.

Let’s hear the rallying cry by musicians, loud and clear—Educate Thyself! Promote and Market Thyself!

Your music IS your business.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

So Many Bands- Even More Bands That Fail!

This year I read in an issue of Billboard Magazine that over 134,000 New Releases came out in 2009. Do you know how many of those releases failed to sell even 100 copies of their CD? (either online or as a CD?) ...over 50,000!!!

Why is this!

It drives me crazy when I think about the wasted money and time so many acts have flushed down the toilet by not DOING ENOUGH with their music, you know...getting out there and playing tons of gigs, climbing all around the Internet and screaming "listen to my music, damn it!" You'd think that pride alone would be a strong enough incentive to motivate even the laziest of lazy.

I have a saying I occasionally recite to a class I am teaching or give out in an interview...
it goes like this..."Just because you can record, doesn't mean you should.".

Yeah, that's a big part of the problem of why so many indie artists and bands fail. They WANT to record their music, but they don't give a damn about trying to get it out there.

In the music business that activity is known as 'working your record'. They don't do it because of two main reasons. #1.They don't have any money saved up to promote and market the damned thing, and #2 They don't want to do anything remotely related to actual work!.

It's truly amazing, scary, and most of all maddening. Bands will send their music out to a few college radio stations perhaps, or maybe even a couple of Internet stations, but then they sit back and just do nothing...waiting for someone to discover them, or what? I really don't know.

What I do know is that all the professionals who work in radio, or write for the press, or buy music for the online and offline stores, and the bookers who are approached for gigs are up to their friggin' ears in CDs. One local non-commercial radio station I know of (KEXP 90.3 FM in Seattle), told me they get over 900 CDs a WEEK, and only around 1% of those new releases have someone involved with the project ever 'follow-up' to see if the station is playing their music.

But that's just the way it is, right? Well, think of it this way...With over 900 CDs coming out each week, that creates a lot of what I call 'clutter' out there in the world of independent music, and clutter means (to the people who have to go through all these CDs), a lot of unpleasant work...ask any of these folks and they will say things like, "Oh I will put on a CD to check it out, but I can tell in 10 seconds whether it's crap or not" or " I just look at the cover of their CD, or sometimes go online to their website,or Facebook page, and one look at their crappy graphics tells me all I need to know about the artist." Having said that, these good people are flabergasted that, even though most music they get sent to them sucks, they are shocked that so few artists and bands contact them to see if the station is going to play their music.

I plan to bitch and moan about the crappy habits and attitudes of so many indie acts. But at the same time I am going to try and enlighten any of you who may come across this posting and want to learn a thing or two about a thing or two regarding the bad habits I have encountered over the decades when it comes to working with independent artists and bands.

That's right, I said DECADES. I can proudly say that I have been in this business since the mid 60's.and I have learned a lot about how the industry works, (or doesn't work for that matter) and how I think things can change for the better for Indie musicians.

Visit my website if you haven't already.

My website has been around since 1995 and has lots of cool articles to read for free, and maybe buy my book "Music Is Your Business, the 3rd Edition" while you're at it.

I mean really, don't you think as a group of Indie music lovers we can do better than selling only an average of 100 copies of our releases as Indie folks...stay tuned, I hope my criticisms and observations will help wake up some of you out there who think that anything regarding knowledge of the business you are in is a waste of time.

Believe me or not, I don't really care, I'm just going to keep on sharing with you what the facts of being in this business are...that's all I can do.

Remember, recording something is easy compared to the work that needs to be done to let fans know about it. There's a lot of competiton out there folks, so get to work!

Monday, March 22, 2010

How Original is Your Music?...Really?

If you’ve ever attended a music business conference like the SXSW event in Austin, Texas every year, or the New Music Seminar and walked into a Demo Listening Session, you may have encountered this: a panel of A&R Reps from major and independent labels evaluate a demo recording that’s been submitted to them. The first song is played, and after about ten seconds the Reps are holding their hands over their ears, or waving for the sound technician to “Turn it off!” Another song is cued up, and after twenty seconds the music is stopped and the Reps are muttering. “That really sucks,” “I’ve heard that before,” “That sounds like an ’90's band,” or “Please, Nine Inch Nails already did over twenty years ago!”

Rude but honest comments like these are made by industry reps all the time at such conferences, as well as in the privacy of their own offices, homes, and cars.

Remember this. Just because you can record your own music, doesn’t mean you should!

It may sound good to your ears, but may be just crap to the gatekeepers who are paid to evaluate, critique, and sign new talent to their record labels and publishing companies.

When any label puts up the money to record and market any artist, guess what? They want to get that money back and make a profit. It’s really that simple. Record labels and music publishers are looking for music that will make money for them.

Your music must inspire their business creativity. They must be able to hear your music in the context of the marketplace they’re familiar with. Any good promotion or marketing minded person will tell you that when they hear music that turns them on, they begin to think of marketing strategies and tactics to help get that music noticed.

When I’m inspired by a demo CD or CDR that has been sent to me, I find myself thinking, “Oh, this would be perfect for such and such radio station,” or “I have to play this for the music reviewer at my local music magazine,” or “What a cool song; why don’t we do a contest around the title of it?”

Music that inspires that kind of response is truly music that is compelling music.

Your music must excite the gatekeepers. When that happens, the wheels of the music business begin to turn.

When A&R Reps are asked what they’re looking for, they often say, “We don’t know what we’re looking for, but we’ll recognize it when we hear it.” Your music must truly stand out in some significant, original, dynamic, and creative way.

Ninety-five percent of the demos out there contain regurgitated ideas that were ripped-off from more gifted musicians.

So,challenge yourself! Talent scouts hear hundreds of wannabees every week and complain about “indistinguishable groups who all sound alike.”

How does your music stand out from the rest?

Since the late 1970s, the cost of making a recording has gone down each year. Each year, more wannabes have inflicted their unoriginal music on an industry that has grown cynical and jaded about finding new music. Let’s face it, there will always be entry-level bands and artists who try to get their music to the ears of an industry they know little about, but expect so much from.

A&R Reps, for example, are looking for, but rarely find what one Rep at a music conference called “What the f**k was that music!” There’s a real clue to what your job is. Your job is to create great music, not just good music, but great music.

Great music is a lot easier to get people excited about and to market.

Who decides if your music is great? For mass market commercial music, it’s the employees of record labels and music publishers who must try to find truly original and outstanding music. And you know what? It’s very hard to find. So hard, in fact, that you won’t believe this... a Rep who finds as few as three truly great artists (in a lifetime of listening to new music), signs them to his or her company, and jumps over all the bureaucratic hurdles to get the company to commit to developing the artist—that Rep will probably be recognized as one of the great A&R people of all time. (Assuming those artists actually become commercially successful!)

So, you may be thinking, if such a high standard is required for getting signed, why is so much crap released these days?

Good question. Reps have had to lower their standards because there isn’t that much great talent out there. There’s huge competition to find the next big thing. I can assure you that there’s a sense of desperation among highly pressured Reps to keep their jobs and discover something that might make millions of dollars for their company.

But even though lower standards of originality are accepted these days, many qualities still take precedence when music is being evaluated for its commercial potential.

Songwriting skills:
Writing a song that many people like isn’t an easy task. Do you really know the basic components of songwriting? If not, challenge yourself to learn the craft of songwriting.

Vocal Abilities:
A dynamic, charismatic, individual singing style that is uniquely your own is as close as a musician can get to having a brand. Are the vocal stylings of your singer up to that definition?

Any music business professional can tell instantly if the musicianship in your group is ready for prime time. Amateurism is not acceptable.


Back to this again. It’s a delicate subject, but basically what the labels and publishers are looking for is just one thing about your music that makes it stand out.

Remember that the word “origin” is in the word originality. It’s OK for your influences to show, but no one is looking for a carbon copy of what’s already out there. They look for a sound that is different, but not so dramatically different that it alienates the listener. It could be a band’s sound, a vocalist’s style, a mix of instrumentation, or simply an attitude your music has that is truly unique.

One last tip about making great music: study the history of popular music.

That’s it. If you were brought up listening mostly to commercial radio, or watching MTV, you missed out on most of the great music that is our national heritage. Dive in to it. Get immersed in the history of rock, rap, R&B, soul, jazz, folk, blues, country—anything and everything. If that incredible adventure doesn’t inspire you, nothing will. There’s a world of great music out there. Absorb it. Make it your own.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Are You Really A Professional Musician That Makes Great Music?

When you deal with music industry personnel at record labels, booking agencies, radio stations, distributors, stores and online...most of them are not musicians. Frustrated musicians, maybe. Wannabee musicians? Possibly. Appreciators of music? Definitely.

In my case, after twelve years of record retailing, ten years of alternative radio work, eight years of running my own record label, and over a decade as a music business consultant, I’ve listened to countless thousands of hours of recorded and live music. And you know what? After all this, I can tell you straight out that everyone on the business side of music can recognize a competent, incompetent, or master musician. When it comes to auditioning new music, it doesn’t take more than ten seconds to judge you in some accurate way.

We can tell when a musician knows their instrument. We can tell if a vocalist has something magic happening or not. We can tell when a drummer can’t drum, when a bass player doesn’t know a bottom from a hole in the floor. We judge you, perhaps unfairly at times, and our prejudices, tastes, and attitudes toward musicianship can have a profound effect on whether or not you become successful.

You can never go wrong being a master musician. It’s no guarantee of success, but it’s a big deterrent if you are not a master musician on your instrument.
Obviously, we can also spot developing talent. We categorize you when we first hear you play. Once I was at a club when a band came on. From their first chord, everyone looked at the stage to catch the amazing performance of the lead vocalist and hear his unique voice. At another showcase, the band started to play and emptied the room. Why? Because they played horribly. The guitar was out of tune with the bass, and the drummer couldn’t even keep a steady beat.

In case you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of bands out there, more every year…thousands of musicians, and thousands of bands, and thousands of new releases growing every year by the way.

Note: Ten years ago, in 1999 the record industry, both major and indie labels combined released 28,000 new releases. Last year,in 2009 over 134,000 new releases clutter the landscape and when it comes to sales, only around 6,000 of these new releases sold more than 1000 copies! Yikes!...Do you think maybe that a lack of professional playing skills might just be a good part of why so many music releases fail to catch on? Huh?...Do ya think?!

Buy a clue. Be the best musician you can be. Don’t go out too early and practice in front of an audience. A musician is an artist. Artists develop their skills over a lifetime of learning, refining, and perhaps even re-defining.

This issue of musicianship is rarely discussed any more, perhaps because 'just getting your music recorded and out there' is very fashionable these days. But as exciting as a performance can be, it can get tired very quickly if a band's playing skills are sub-par.

Please note: there’s a big difference between playing simply and being a show-off that exaggerates your mistakes and turns people off.

For example, playing simple, straight-forward rock n’ roll isn’t as easy as it sounds. Simple can sound deceptively easy, from the acoustic blues of Robert Johnson to the “chugglin” of Creedence Clearwater Revival, to AC/DC and the Ramones, up to the Arctic Monkeys and the The Ting Tings. Believe me, it isn’t easy to sound simple. It actually takes incredible playing skills to pull off that kind of music.

Investigate and you’ll find that some of the simplest sounding music has been rehearsed for countless hours. That music has lasted and will last a long time.

The business of music demands more than the hobby of music. If you’re content jamming with friends and playing occasionally, don’t confuse this with the determination you must eat for breakfast if you really want to make your living as a musician. The quality of your musicianship will enable or prevent the promotion and marketing of your music.

Music either makes a lasting impression on a listener and becomes part of the fabric of our culture, or becomes a “passing fancy in a midnight dream.” However long you take to make your music, it’s a blink of the eye compared to the potential life span of a classic that people never get tired of.

Being a master musician simply means being dedicated enough to your profession that you care enough to play your very best, all the time, every time.

Do that and you stand a chance of making a lasting impression not only on the industry gatekeepers, but potentially on generations of music fans.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Draw Attention, But Don't Demand Attention!

Waiting for someone to discover you is the purgatory of the unimaginative soul.

I’m always on the alert for the “discover-me musician”. Here are some clues to these lost individuals operate:
• They mail outdated cassette demo tapes, instead of CDs, with no contact information. (Tip: stop with the shopping-for-a-deal idea. And when a demo recording is requested, burn it on a CDR or better yet have a professionally made CD ready to send.)
• After sending their music to an industry professional, they’re never heard from again. The idea of making a follow-up call never enters their minds.
• They scribble an illegible note about having a bunch of “great songs” and want us to “get them played”, or “sign us now!”
• They’ve been recording songs for several years but never performed for a live audience.
• They send out mass e-mailings to industry people filled with cliche descriptions of their music (“monster songs that will make you rich if you just try to sell my songs for me.”)

These unfortunate discover-me addicts have no clue.

How did this come to pass? Why are so many musicians and bands waiting in a self-imposed twilight zone? I trace it back to Tin Pan Alley. Yup, since the late 1890s, the income from published songs has been controlled by a coterie of powerful songwriters, publishers, and later, record company executives. These influential people created a system where aspiring songwriters and would-be stars depended on their services and connections.

Whether it was access to the vaudeville stages, the budding recording industry, or the wonder of radio broadcasting—if you wanted to “make it,” you had to find a way to be discovered by those guys. Only they could open the gates to these opportunities. Hence the term “gatekeepers.” “Come on kid. I can make you a star!” was their pitch, and they could do just that.

But today we live in a new music environment, and forty-plus years past the birth of the indie revolution, the DIY (Do It Yourself) movement of the early 1970s. Things are different now, but I still encounter hundreds of wannabes at music conferences like the CMJ Marathon, SXSW, SXSE, etc.

There they are, an army of discover-me drones passing out those infamous demos with no contact information, and playing the stupid lottery game of “Discover me, I’m really good.” Then they go home, only to resurface at some other expensive conference to try once again to make that one really important contact.

Let’s put an end to this foolishness, whad’ya say?

Stop dreaming, musicians! Learn the business as you build your own career. The gatekeepers will come, maybe, after you have something substantial to show them; a fan following on your website or social networking sites, a number of CDs sold, some modicum of press recognition. Then you can decide if you actually want the almighty record deal. Or is 'a deal' actually a series of gigantic financial hurdles that you have to climb over in order to earn some lousy $1 to $1.50 per unit sold, after you recouped all the advances?

Now, let me say this. You do need connections. You do need people to help you with your career. (why do you think Linked-In, and Facebook etc. are so popular?)

The entertainment industry is built on relationships.
The best relationships are nurtured over the years and have been built on mutual trust and respect for the different gifts we have as musicians and music business professionals.

As a non-musician, I can honestly speak for myself and other non-musician gatekeepers on this. Music business professionals have found their place by listening to and being inspired by the great music of the past and present. We’ve developed “ears,” a kind of inner radar for what music is “good” by our marketplace definition. We’re paid for being able to find the right music for the various companies we represent.

Don’t bother us with lame pleas for attention or unprofessional work habits. Prove to us that your music is cool, don’t tell us that it’s cool.

The way you do that is to put yourself in places where we can hear your music, read about it, and pick up the buzz from the excitement of your growing fan base. In this competitive age, you need to do more than just write some songs and send out demos.

You’re not the only one who has a dream of being successful, of making money with your music career. Music professionals also want a long career doing what we love to do. Should our paths meet, and should the chemistry work between us, our success could include working to help you succeed.

Industry representatives like to discover new talent, but they like to discover it on their own terms.

Build relationships based on a working knowledge of the business you’re entering, and cultivate a respect for the business side of things.

Draw our attention, but do not demand our attention.

The best relationships are those that honor the gifts and talents of the creative person and the business professional. When that type of relationship is sought after and established, only then we can say that someone discovered a new act and made someone a star.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Recording Your Music is Only the 1st Step...Do You Have Money fo Support the 2nd Step?

Many musicians have finally wised up to the idea that they must do more to further their careers than just record a few demos and send them out randomly to a list of A&R reps they found somewhere on the Internet.

The smart musician finds a way to record either a couple of professionally recorded songs or a full length CD. But that is only the 1st step in being a professional musician/band in today's independent music universe.

The 2nd Step is really the answer to this question. "You've recorded your music...now, what are you going to do with it?

If you have very little money left after recording your music, that you are going to have to be very creative in what you try to do to get the word out.

Nobody is waiting for your music
until you have established yourself in some fashion. You have to be the one to push your music through all the clutter that is out there so people can find and listen to your music, and hopefully buy it.

So the activities you choose to do when you are a very small budget are going to be fairly limited...AND there will be some costs involved along the way to exposing your music.

You may be surprised to learn that too many recorded projects end after the songs have been recorded. WHY?, because many acts spent their whole budget on recording and have little or nothing left to market, promote, and find ways to sell the damn thing.

Yes, it actually costs money to take the 2nd Step. "How much?" As much as you've got!

I am NOT trying to flippant, it just the truth.

There are now more than 110,000 new releases coming out each year so apparently there are a lot of artists and bands that actually have money saved up for things that involve this 2nd Step. Things like: designing the artwork and manufacturing the CD, or to not just rely on a MySpace or Facebook page, but create an actual professional looking website of your own, for starters.

The smart acts realize that it takes money to promote and market their music.

We need to look at the basic economic issues of creating and promoting musical product. This subject definitely separates the boys and girls from the men and women. For starters, you must know what the standards of excellence are for releasing a CD in your genre of music. By this I mean, whether you’re a rocker, a rap or hip-hop act, a potential Top 40 pop artist, a country musician, or a singer/songwriter, the recording quality that’s expected of each genre is different.

You many have to spend money on several types of re-mixes of you music, depending on the needs of that part of the music business that exposes your style of music.
Think of it this way; the more mainstream sounding your music is, the more money you may need to spend on re-mixes for your release.

I’ve read many helpful articles and books about raising money for recording projects. They go into detail about the options available. You can save up money from each of the gigs you’re playing. (You are playing live aren’t you... duh 101, please and thank you!) You can borrow money from family or friends. It’s a long shot to get a business loan from a bank (good luck—because financial institutions see music as a very high risk and rarely provide such loans). You can do fund-raising gigs with other artists. Whatever.

Raising the money for an unproven musical talent shouldn’t be the responsibility of anyone but the you, the artist.

There are thousands of independent records in the musical landscape. The musicians who put out their own music found a way to raise the money. Others have gone before you and gotten the job done. You too can raise the money to record and fund a proper marketing campaign if you’re serious about it.

Let me go back for a second and take a look at Step 1 issues in more depth.

Let me give you some tips on recording expenditures that might save you a few bucks.

I know it is very popular to just record your music on you laptop these days, but do you really have the skills to create a recording that is considered 'professional' by industry standards?

• Looking for a studio? Ask around. Talk to other bands and musicians in your neck of the woods. What studios did they use? What was their experience like?
• Call the studios you’re interested in and ask for a tour of their facilities. Don’t use a studio just because someone else said to, check it out for yourself. If you don’t feel comfortable there, how can you do your best recording there?
• Check for deals. Ask about slow times or off-hours when the rent is cheaper.
• What comes with the studio time? An engineer? Is that person right for your music?
• What about a producer? Do you have someone in mind? Does the studio recommend someone? How much will they cost? (Be sure to sign a producer’s agreement with any producer too!)
• After you’ve found the right studio, at the right price, rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse! Many musicians spend precious time in the studio rehearsing. The clock is ticking! Before you waste expensive hours in a recording studio, be sure you’ve rehearsed your songs until you dream about them at night. In the studio the motto is: Get in, get out.

Moving on...determine a budget for the recording project, and stick to it.

Now, as for Step 2
what about the CD cover artwork, design and the manufacturing costs? I usually deal with this topic for several hours in classes and consultations. Think seriously about these topics. YOUR IMAGE IS EVERYTHING in the entertainment industry.

From here on you’ll be leaving your comfort zone to enter the world of business. You’ll be making a product that will represent you for the rest of your life. Your choice of cover design and manufacturer will determine the quality of that product, and once those choices are made, they can’t be undone. Image issues are crucial when creating anything that your potential fans can see.!

Why are distributors now rejecting countless CDs with amateurish cover designs? One reason. Those musicians didn’t want to spend money on a cover design for their CD. The music is what it’s all about, right? What difference can a CD cover make? But think about it. Have you ever purchased a CD just because the cover was so cool you had to buy it? Someday, your CD will be in a store bin filed next to your favorite artist! Will you be proud of it? Will it reflect your image and your music? How about when a postage stamp size picture of you CD is on Amazon.com or iTunes, will it look good whatever size you may need for marketing your music?

If not, you’ll be hurting yourself in the marketplace.

So, you’ve gotten your music recorded and manufactured, you’ve spent a lot of money, but you’re not done. It’s now marketing time! Now I know I said, that you can use whatever amount of money you can to market your music here in Step 2, but I will give you now a tip that is more specific.

I suggest you budget an amount that doubles, or better yet, triples what you spent on recording, manufacturing, and design. (That’s only for a local or regional do-it-yourself release.)

Here again are some promotion and marketing costs:

• Stamps and mailing envelopes for sending your promo copies to the media.
• Phone bills for the hundreds of follow-up calls you must make to the media after they receive your promo copies.
• Gas money while driving around to put your CD on consignment in the few remaining independent record stores that are out there in your area.
• Internet connection fees, website design fees and promotion costs for making a killer-looking site that offers your music for sale using the new methods available.
• Hiring an independent record promoter and their retail counterparts. If you think you can get significant national airplay without hiring someone who has experience and contacts in college and commercial radio, get real.

The reason a recording costs so much is because of the hidden costs of promoting and marketing it. And without promotion and marketing your recording has little chance of getting heard.
Budget $400–$1,000 a week for this, for two to three months.
• Advertising costs. A distributor will presume you have money for this, if you can get a distributor on board these days. For example, the listening-stations you see in stores are not free; they cost around $100 per station, per store, per month! This practice is changing right now, so check your stores to see what they offer.
• Printing and copying costs for distributor one-sheets,publicity and promo packages, response cards, posters, and flyers for live concert sales promotions.
• The unexpected. Other expenses that you cannot predict will surely come your way.

There you have it. An introduction to why you must find a way to properly fund your recording and marketing costs. If you need encouragement after reading this, go online to your favorite digital music site, or go down to your local record store and walk up and down the aisles. Look at the thousands of other artists and bands who got their music into the store. That is an accomplishment, and if they did it, you can too.

Yes, there is more to it than just recording your record.

If you want to stand any chance of your music being appreciated you need money for Step 1 AND Step 2.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Are You a Quitter When Times Get Tough?

Creative people often have a strong need for approval. After all, their work is intended for the public eye or ear. But historically, many of the most creative musicians had a drive and passion to express themselves was far stronger than their need for acceptance. In fact, all the real innovators I can think of faced rejection countless times before their “sound” began to break through.

Awhile back a band I’d worked with off-and-on for five years called it quits. They announced their decision in a letter to readers of a local music magazine. They were polite, but lightly scolded the powers-that-be in the local media who hadn’t supported them, insinuating that if they had gotten more support they would have been more successful. They’d made it to the finals of a national talent search and been featured at a music industry showcase, but apparently the heartbreak of not being recognized (legitimized?) by the local music media was too much to bear. They went on to say that they would continue to make music as individuals, or in new bands, and then said their fond farewells.

I was ticked off at these guys. They had a small local following and had made some kind of beginning national noise. But they were so discouraged by the lack of local media support that their only solution was to stop playing and give up. So, what are they faced with now? Starting from scratch again, with new bands, new names, new fanbases to establish. After five years of working toward their goal, they threw away everything they had worked for.

Five years is nothing! Five years (or more) is behind many bands and artists who were just getting known but not yet on the brink of success. What if U2 had given up back in the 1980s? It took them many years to become the worldwide superstars they are now. And, a newer act like James Hunter, the English R&B singer, got his deal with the great indie label Rounder records after seven or eight years of playing his unique sound. And think about Spoon. After years of paying their dues they finally have a record out now that was so good they got a gig on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

You can’t give up! If you want a formula for failure, it’s just one word. Quit. That’s the one thing that will definitely stop your career cold.

Are you a musician or not? Musicians play music. Period. That’s all there is to it. If you’re quitting because the people you think are important haven’t properly recognized your talents, then you have your head on backwards.

Look at all the music outcasts who were rejected at first by the gatekeepers of the industry. The media blasted the Velvet Underground, Frank Zappa, The Sex Pistols, Nine Inch Nails, the Butthole Surfers. Even Lucinda Williams was confined to a small niche audience for almost twenty years. And how about ’70s and ’80s new wavers like Devo, Pere Ubu, and even 90's bands from Mudhoney to the amazing metal label Roadrunner and many of their acts. They’ve all received mountains of negative press at some time.

In the last decade the same thing happened again. Most bands/artists need time to develop, and that is where real commitment from you comes in.

Don’t think the criticism stops when you become successful. That’s when some really scathing reviews will be written by twisted and arrogant music reviewers.

Obviously, there can be legitimate reasons to quit. When inner conflicts within a group prove unbearable, when creative differences within a band become too big, breaking up a band can be the only thing to do. That’s not the issue here. We’re talking about the strange dependence many musicians have on getting acceptance by gatekeepers as a measurement of their success. Anyone who enters this crazy business to seek acceptance is in for a torturous ride.

I believe the only opinion that matters is the audience’s opinion. After many years of listening, I’ve come to the conclusion that taste is defined by the taster. I get requests all the time to review demos and indie CD releases, and I can hear the disappointment in a person’s voice if I don’t like their music.

So what if I don’t like it? I can’t like everything I hear, and that goes for everyone in this business. Stop worrying so much about what the industry Reps think of your music.

The public, your fans, will tell you whether or not there’s something of value in your music. If people react positively to your music by coming to see your live shows, or revisiting your website to get new information on your activities, or buying your CDs, then the public has spoken. Their opinions are the only opinions that matter—that and your own belief that your music is truly unique.

If the fan response to your music is good, but the music business doesn’t seem to be supporting you with glowing reviews, increased airplay, or gigs in the clubs that matter, then you have to assess what you’re doing and what the current trends in music are. You can’t pressure or intimidate or criticize the critics. They are who they are. They have their opinions, their own agendas, their own circle of friends, and they’ll either support you early on or you’ll have to continue on your own until they have to report on you, or support you. That can be the sweetest revenge. By not being discouraged, by not giving up, there may come a time when your popularity demands attention. And the very gatekeepers who wouldn’t give you the time of day will have to cover your concerts and review your records because the public support demands it.

Think about this; inside the word discouragement is the word courage.
Sometimes it’s hard to muster up a workable amount of that stuff, but if you don’t, you’ll have only yourself to blame. Keep on keepin’ on. If you’re as good as you think you are, start working today to prove it, and never give up!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Some Tips For Working Your Publicity

The job of a music publicist is to create a database of contacts within the entertainment industry, and determine which magazines, newspapers, fanzines, as well as music blogs and e-zines are most likely to review a client’s record, interview them, or write a feature story. This job is not any easier than finding a distributor or getting radio airplay.

Publicity, by itself, does not sell a lot of records.
It is most effective when your name is consistently in front of music fans. That will not happen overnight. You will most likely be your own music publicist in the beginning, and it will take you some time to learn how to work with the press. But, learning some basic facts about music journalists and how they operate is as important as the tips I gave you for working with distributors and radio stations.

Music journalists are a strange breed. They are, for the most part, a fickle group of individuals with their own inconsistent musical tastes, egos, and attitudes.
If you want your local music magazine, or some music e-zine to write a story about you, even review your record, there are some things to learn about these important gatekeepers. If you anticipate getting a newspaper entertainment editor to pay attention to your latest release, or write a feature story on you; being aware of the work habits of these professional journalists can be a great deal of help to you.

Here are some important facts for you to know about the people who may write a review of your new record.

There is a hierarchy of influential music writers across the country, and everyone of them, from the tiniest local music fanzine editor, to the writers who work for Rolling Stone or Spin, all have egos. Even the guy who writes reviews for some start-up Music Blog dedicated to ANY genre of music cops an attitude. That attitude can either help or hurt you, depending on what you know about them, and their likes or dislikes. So, research the tastes of music writers carefully before you e-mail or snail-mail your press kits looking for reviews.

Never address your press material envelopes generically to any publication -Music Sandwich Monthly, or whatever. If you do that, most likely what will happen is that your CD will be put into a large pile of similarly addressed envelopes, and the lowest ranking writer on the staff of the publication will be assigned to check out your music. If that happens, your music might be listened to and reviewed by someone who hates your kind of music and uses their review to rant and stomp all over your precious release.

Always research the music blogs, websites, magazines, newspapers, fanzines and e-zines carefully. Take time to read some of the reviews, articles and feature stories, and take note of who wrote them. When you find a positive review for a records that is close to your genre or style, remember the writer’s name and when you do your mailing, address it to that person.

When you find a negative review of a record that is close to what your music is like, take note of that writer, and do not send them your record for review.

Follow-up on every press mailing you send out. Give it a week to 10 days, then phone the publication, email them, or message them asking if they received your record. If you actually make contact, find out if the record has been listened to yet, and if they plan to do something with it. Be polite and professional. Most writers are quite conscientious about responding to publicist’s calls or emails, but I can assure you that you will meet your share of characters in the world of music journalists.

When you leave a phone message or write an email, be very specific in your message. Introduce yourself, and state clearly why you are calling or writing them. Leave contact information too. You would be surprised how many people don’t.

If you have had trouble getting a response from a publication or any Blog writer or e-zines watch your attitude. I have seen and heard many messages that start to argue with a reluctant reviewer. That is a sure way to not make a new contact, or lose an established one.

• If you score with a publication, and they agree to do a story on you, or interview you – keep any promises you made to get them more information, or sending another copy of your CD. ( Ask too, if they accept mp3 attachments to emails, or if they have a way for you to upload songs to them. If you flake out on an appointment, or show up late for an interview, you may have lost a valuable ally. Writers are busy people, just like everyone else in the entertainment industry, and too many artists and bands have an unprofessional attitude when it comes to dealing with writers and editors.

• When a review or article on you comes out and you find things about it that are objectionable to you, watch your temper. No artist gets only glowing reviews. Bad, or mediocre reviews are part of the game. Avoid the temptation to write or call back when you are emotionally heated about the story. Publicity is about making and keeping relationships with the press. You never want to get a reputation for being a jerk or a troublemaker. If you do lose your temper, I can assure you your tirade will show up in the next issue of their publication – and no, I am not one of those people that believe all publicity is good publicity.

Working with the press, finding contacts, making the initial connections, and nurturing the relationships along the way from local, to regional to national recognition is a time consuming commitment. But, publicity done well and consistently over time can be a career rewarding experience.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Do You Believe What You've Heard About How the Music Business Operates?

The history of the music business is filled with stories of musicians being misled or exploited by record labels, managers, attorneys, and other characters. Until the early 1980s, it was difficult to find information about record label contracts, marketing strategies, publishing issues, or anything else about the inner workings of the industry.

That was then, and this is now. Today, musicians who want to learn about the business of music can find dozens of books covering every aspect of it. The Internet also has many wonderful sites to help musicians find their way around the slippery world of the music business. Just type in keywords like 'music business','record labels', 'music distribution', or just about any topic you want to know about...it is amazing how much free information is out there. Of course, just because its on the Internet doesn't mean the information you find is accurate...you have to learn/research who is saying what about the topic you are researching.

So why do I still meet and get e-mail from so many musicians who don’t have a clue that there are more letters in the word “business” than in the word “music”? Once again, I think so much ignorance still exists because of the power of celebrity, the thirst for success, and the escapist fun and honest fulfillment that comes with making music.

But most misguided beliefs exist because we’re exposed to a never ending flow of music. It’s on radio twenty-four hours a day. Television music channels show videos filled with exciting, escapist images. The media interviews your favorite musicians with questions that are as deep as the shallow end of a wading pool. Reviewers write articles about the latest releases and treat musicians like gods or devils, depending on the bias of the writer.

Try out this exercise and make it a new habit…look at all the non-stop entertainment that’s coming at you constantly, and see it for what it really is.
Ask yourself some questions! How did that song get on the radio, who chooses what gets on the music channels, why does one CD get reviewed and another doesn’t, what factors determine who got the opening act gig on the superstar summer tour? How did that act’s website get so much attention? It’s no surprise that would-be stars see only what has succeeded, but rarely understand the inner workings of the business. So, it looks easy. Anyone can do it. That overnight sensation really did happen overnight—it couldn’t have been seven years in the making. Yeah, right.

Now let me show you some amazing statements I’ve come across over the years that show how ignorant most musicians and band members can be. They hear some things and believe them on faith, when in fact they’re hurting themselves by not knowing the business truths of the recording industry.

Here are some misconceptions I keep running across. I’ve heard these over and over.

“Copyrights? All you have to do is mail yourself a self-addressed, stamped envelope with your lyrics inside and a court of law will accept that as proof of copyright ownership.”

“Man, this band I know just got two million dollars for signing with a major label.
They’re rich!”

“Labels have to give you money to tour, man. It’s in every contract.”
“Recoup? That just means you have to pay a label back only for what it cost them to make your record.”

“Hey, if your band breaks up, you can just leave and go sign with somebody else.”
“Once you’re signed to a label, they have to put your record out, or pay you a lot of money to break the contract.”

The false statements above are just a small sample of the sad things I’ve heard and read from naive musicians, and really there’s no excuse for such ignorance. (You’ll find the real answers to these misconceptions as you read along in this book, by the way.) Look at it this way; as a musician, you’ve invested thousands of dollars in instruments and equipment. You may have paid for lessons and spent money on recording and manufacturing demos. Why not invest in learning about the business of music? Why aren’t books, consultations, workshops, seminars, conferences, or music trade magazine subscriptions as necessary to you as your other music related expenses? The fact that you’re reading this book shows that you’re on the right track.

Check out this fact…the men and women who run the music business got to where they are today because they asked questions and got the answers they needed as they worked their way through their various jobs They learned what they know by attending a different kind of school than the one you may have attended; the School of Hard Knocks. The people who own the labels, record the music, publish the songs, and promote and sell music learned the business by living it. They may have gotten burned in some early deals and lost money along the way, but they took those life lessons to heart and tried not to make the same mistakes again. That’s what the School of Hard Knocks is all about…diving into the business, learning as much as you can as you grow along the way, and never forgetting the lessons you learned.

The main reason musicians were exploited in the past was because the industry kept the secrets of the business to themselves. Well, the secrets have been out for a long time now. The only reason you may have naive ideas and misguided beliefs is because you never had a music business education. Today there are many ways for musicians to educate themselves. There are music business degrees given by universities. There are countless conventions, conferences, and workshops for anyone wanting to learn the ropes. If you want to know the truth about recording contracts, publishing deals, management contracts, or anything else, take the time to learn more about the business you are a part of.

What if you start your own label and just guess what you’re supposed to do? In the past, many successful professionals who helped develop our great musical heritage did just that. But ask them if they had it to do it over—wouldn’t they have wanted to know what they know now? Wouldn’t they love to have back the money they spent foolishly, the contracts they signed ignorantly, and the deals they made without the proper information? You bet they would.

Get curious. Ask questions when you’re not sure about something. Don’t believe rumors. Learn from reliable sources because ignorance is not bliss. It’s important to educate yourself. (Just don’t go to the other extreme and become an information addict who never gets any real work done. I’ve met some folks like that, and well…don’t get me started!)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Changing Face of Radio Promotion 2010

Promotion: How Record Labels and Radio Stations Work Together

If you understand the business relationship between record labels and radio stations, you understand the very essence of the music business. To put it simply, they need each other. A record label needs radio airplay to deliver the music of its artists to an audience of radio listeners. A radio station needs music programming to broadcast to that audience. But of course there’s a little more to it than that.
Anyone who is interested in getting their music on the radio must realize that the relationship between these two businesses is complex. Understanding some of the basic issues of record promotion and radio broadcasting will better prepare you for the challenges that await, should you ever attempt to solicit your music to a commercial or non-commercial radio station.

The Record Label Side

Radio airplay is traditionally the best way for a record label to get their recorded music heard by the public. The more a song is played on the radio and heard by listeners, the more chance the song has to become a part of the public’s consciousness. If people hear a song often enough to get familiar with it, they may like it and want to buy it—that’s the only reason a record label invests so much time and money to get airplay. It’s a proven marketing tactic that, when successful, leads to billions of dollars in record sales annually.

Although MTV, VH1, and other cable and broadcast television use to be an essential way to get mass exposure for new songs, today only the major labels MAY concentrate on getting such airplay. Obviously this type of video exposure can significantly increase the popularity of a recording artist. However, for most acts today, investing in the type of quality video that the commercial TV and cable broadcasters require is out of reach for most new artists and bands.

Any kind of radio airplay creates excitement about a new song, whether is be commercial, non-commercial, Internet, or Satellite radio So, smart music formatted radio stations work closely with the record labels to coordinate promotional events surrounding music releases. Today, Internet promotions, publicity efforts, retail store promotions, and live tours by recording artists each play an important role in supporting the radio airplay a song gets, all with the hopes of creating sales of that record.

Radio listener-ship is not what it use to be, even a decade ago, but it still can be a very strong tool used by labels for exposing recorded music product. Social Networking sites like MySpace, Facebook, and even YouTube are used by more and more indie labels and bands to discover new music these days.

Anyway, the money from the sales of CDs is a label’s only real source of income. So, until some newer technology comes along to replace the exposure that radios allows, radio airplay of any kind remains a priority for most record labels. But please remember: for independent recording artists putting out their own records, or those signed to small independent labels, getting significant commercial radio airplay can be very difficult and very expensive.

Getting songs played consistently on national commercial radio stations and getting songs aired on non-commercial radio are two different things. Commercial airplay is an effective type of radio airplay, but the costs of promoting songs to commercial radio may be prohibitive to many independent artists and labels. Opportunities for some radio airplay do exist for independent artists on many commercial stations through local music programs, but such airplay is usually spotty at best. However, many non-commercial radio stations, especially college radio, as well as Internet stations, air independent music on a regular basis.

The Radio Side

Realizing how record labels need radio airplay is only half the picture. Because record labels and radio stations need each other, let’s take a quick look at the radio side of things before we talk about promotion in greater detail. Record label combatants in the music promotion wars arm themselves with an arsenal of information to convince stations to play their songs. They prepare for a promotional campaign by studying some facts about the business of radio. Basically this is how the broadcasting business works.

Music-formatted radio stations both commercial and non-commercial get their music for free from record labels. The radio industry uses that music to attract listeners to their stations. If they get enough listeners, consistently, they can attract advertisers who are eager to reach a select demographic group of consumers. So, in a sense, a radio station uses music like bait to attract people of a certain age group, gender, and ethnicity so they can deliver listeners of that demographic group to their advertisers. If they do their programming right, radio stations can charge advertisers handsomely for the radio ads they air, and the income from advertisers is radio’s primary source of revenue.

What Is Record Promotion?

Promotion is the word used to describe the work done by record labels to get radio airplay for their releases. Promotional Representatives, or “Promo Reps” are record label employees who present the label’s new releases to radio stations and try to persuade the station’s music and/or program director to play the song the label has selected for promotion. Record labels decide very carefully what specific songs from an artist or band’s new record would most likely get the airplay they need to attract consumer’s attention, and at the same time fit into the radio station’s format.

The Promotion Department is a key department for any record label—major or independent. If a Promo Rep is successful in securing airplay for a record, the overall marketing plan conceived by the label will be given a significant boost. If a Promo Rep can’t secure airplay for a release, it’s very difficult for that record to become a hit.

Promo Reps are like sales people. If you’ve ever had any experience selling anything, then you know how important enthusiasm and a positive attitude are in convincing potential customers to buy your product. Staying positive and upbeat is essential in the music business. Every label Rep knows that they’re not the only label releasing new music every week, and that radio stations can only play a few of those new songs.

Record labels, big and small, release several hundred CDs every week. Radio stations have an over-abundance of records to choose from when they pick which, if any, songs to add to their playlists. A “playlist” is a list of songs a station is airing and it’s created every week by the station’s Music Director. So, a recording that gets a passionate and honest sales pitch (filled with information about the act and what support the label is giving the record) will have a better chance of being listened to by the radio station’s Music and Program Directors.

In order to fully appreciate what’s involved in promoting songs to radio, it’s essential that some basic understanding of the business of radio broadcasting be known. So, let’s take a brief look at who decides what music gets on the air at a station, why they choose the songs they choose, and other issues that affect music broadcasters.

Radio Station Decision Makers: Music Directors and Program Directors

Every music-formatted radio station, both commercial and non-commercial, has a Music Director and Program Director. The Music Director (MD) is the main contact for a record label’s Promo Rep. The Music Director’s immediate boss is usually the station’s Program Director. The PD is responsible for everything that goes out over the air and reports directly to the station’s General Manager. These General Managers (GMs) are then, in turn, responsible for the entire operation of a station and report directly to the owners of the station.

At most commercial radio stations, Program Directors approve all songs that their MDs recommend. There are variations on this, of course. Some PDs leave all music selection to the MD, while others are deeply involved in choosing the music with the MD, or act as the MD in addition to their other duties. Those duties can involve hiring and firing DJs, working with the station’s Sales and Promotions departments, meeting with the station’s Chief Engineer, Production Director and General Manager. A Program Director has to coordinate any and all issues that may affect the station’s sound. Radio stations, like record labels, are run by people in separate departments who act as a team.

Over the last two decades technology has radically changed the way radio conducts its business. In the early ’90s, at the same time as the SoundScan company was revolutionizing the way record sales were monitored, a company called Broadcast Data Systems unveiled a new software to help radio stations and record labels keep better track of the number of times a record got played on a station. Today’s music-industry trade magazines now track the exact number of spins a song gets every week on all stations that report playing it. These spins are called Plays Per Week (PPW) in the charts. Knowing exactly how many times a song is played can be very beneficial to both radio stations and record labels. Think of it…every time a song is played on a commercial station, the song’s unique ID number tracks it. Reports of the number of plays each song gets are sent via e-mail to the BDS offices in New Jersey, where they can compile very accurate national PPW reports on the cumulative number of spins each song gets every week on the various music-formatted commercial radio stations.

To help Music Directors and Program Directors put together their playlists and devise effective rotations of their programmed songs. The dominant company today for commercial radio stations is Mediabase. It has contributed to streamlining the job of creating and maintaining accurate programming logs. And as technology creeps even more into the business of radio, most commercial radio stations today no longer play actual CDs, which are cumbersome to organize and subject to too many technical glitches. Instead, radio stations invest in computer programs that store the selected songs on massive hard drives with hundreds of terabytes of storage which are then simply accessed by the DJ on duty, and played or recalled from memory at the time they are scheduled for airplay. (Did you think DJs actually play vinyl records, or even CDs? Times have changed, my friends.)

Music Directors have one main job to do. They deal with the glut of new releases coming into the station every day. That means they have to listen to every record and decide on its merits for airplay, keeping in mind the format of their station, the target demographic they are appealing to, and whether or not that song will work in their programming mix.

In addition to that awesome task, they must talk with the many Promo Reps who call them every week seeking airplay for their new releases or increased airplay of the songs they are playing. Then, in regular weekly meetings with the Program Director, they usually recommend specific songs to be added to the playlist. In most cases, the PD makes the final decision on what particular songs will be added.

By the way, for every new record added to a station’s playlist, another record is usually taken out of the playlist. Commercial radio stations play a very short list of songs in varying degrees of rotation. Around the clock, seven days a week, 365 days a year, music-formatted radio stations play a mix of new songs, fairly recent popular songs (called “recurrents”), and some older songs from the history of their format. No radio station on the planet plays only new songs, one after the other, around the clock. If they did, they would have very few listeners.

Music Directors and Program Directors are professional broadcasters who have studied the listening habits of radio listeners for years. They know how listeners use radio in their daily lives, and the fact is that most radio listeners listen to radio as background accompaniment to various tasks they’re involved in throughout the day.
Radio stations’ most listened-to times of day occur in the early morning and the late afternoon. These times are called “drive time.” Morning drive time is roughly from 5 am to 9 or 10 am. Afternoon drive time is approximately from 3 pm to 7 pm. More people listen to a radio station early in the morning than at any other time of day.

Americans use radio as a companion to whatever else they may be doing. Getting ready for work in the morning, driving to work or school, doing errands throughout the day, performing chores around the house, working on our computers, or playing around with our hobbies—whenever we want it, radio is there for us.

When Music Directors and Program Directors check out the new releases sent to them from the labels each week, they listen with an ear tuned to how most listeners use the radio and how each particular song can fit into a listener’s day. They know instinctively if a particular song would work for them in the morning, afternoon, or perhaps in the late evening or overnight off-time hours. Music and Program Directors are acutely aware of their audience’s listening habits. The time of day and even the day of the week play a role in their decision to play a record a lot, a little bit, or not at all. MDs and PDs may choose a song because they personally happen to like it, but as professionals, they’ve learned how to listen to songs for their audience. They are paid handsomely, in most cases, for having the ability to choose songs that keep listeners listening. They can tell if they’re making good programming choices when they read the Arbitron reports.

I will talk about other issues related to the relationship between radio stations and record labels another time. For now, you have a lot to think about after hearing a bit about how both industries rely on each other.

by Christopher Knab
Copyright 2010 All rights reserved

Monday, March 8, 2010

Scams and Con Jobs. What Are They and How To Deal With Them

Con Jobs: Watch Out:for the Flim-Flam Man

The music business has a bad reputation when it comes to working with musicians. But there are rip-offs and there are RIP-OFFS. If you read about the history of this business you’ll find it littered with unscrupulous businessmen who made P.T. Barnum’s famous quote their motto: “There’s a sucker born every minute and two to take him.”

Musicians have been exploited in the past, are being exploited today, and will most likely continue to be exploited in the future, if they allow themselves to remain ignorant of business. Apparently there’s something about the very nature of the creative person that exudes the scent of an innocent lamb to hungry wolves.

Here are some of the most common ways you can be exploited.

Live Gig Con

There’s no one particular rip-off related to playing live but there are a lot of potential ways for a club or venue to weasel out of paying you. The best way to prevent exploitation is to get the deal you agreed upon in writing. However, for new artists and bands that can be easier said than done. Most local scene performers are lucky to get any kind of gig in the beginning and the only contract is an oral agreement made over the phone.

When there is no written contract, the best tip I have is for you to write a letter of agreement to the venue. Be very polite and thank them for the gig. Then just state all the issues that were agreed upon over the phone, mail it to the venue, and keep a copy for yourself. If an argument should arise, pull out your copy of the letter and do your best to fight for what is yours.

Another thing you can do to prevent not being paid properly is to have a friend of the group stand by the door and count with a hand-clicker the number of patrons entering the club. At least that puts the venue on notice that you’re an alert and professional musician who won’t easily be duped. Over the years I’ve talked with countless musicians who complain about not getting paid for their gigs from the same venue over and over again! Just because “it’s the only place to play, man.” Yeah, right. How stupid is that? As your career is developed and you gain a following, written contracts will become the standard operating procedure.

Bogus Compilation Albums

Have you seen ads in your local paper or national music mags that say something like “Your Music Sent To Over 800 Music Industry Contacts...Our Compilation CD Will Put Your Music Into The Hands Of The Right People!” They do that all right. They sell you the idea that for merely $400 to $800 you can have your best song on their CD. They take your money, and along with twenty other gullible artists, you’ll get your song on the compilation CD. (Hmmm…20 bands x $800 is $16,000. Not a bad deal when it only costs them $3,000 to $5,000 to make and mail the CDs.) They usually do manufacture the CD and mail it to the industry list they have. But that’s it… it’s really nothing.

Any legitimate record label will tell you that making the record is only the beginning of what a record label does. Once the record is finished, the real work begins. “Working” the record is what it’s all about. And working a record takes time, a lot of money, great contacts, and patience.

This type of compilation CD is paid for by naive musicians who fork over their money to these sleazy companies. They’re happy to take your money, manufacture a limited number of the CDs, and then disappear from your life forever. They may send you a few copies of the record as part of their contract with you, but when you call them to see what’s happening to the CDs after the mail-out, you’ll never be able to reach them. They’ve moved to a new location, changed their addresses and phone numbers, and you’re left wearing the dunce cap.

Shopping for a Record Deal

One of the potentially riskiest endeavors for musicians is when they try to find someone to shop their CD to the labels. The biggest flashing danger signal is the industry person who needs to get your money up-front before they’ll begin shopping for you. Listen to me closely: any person who takes up-front money from a musician before they begin to shop that musician’s music is a totally unprofessional fraud, a slime ball. This type of exploitation is very prevalent in the business. Any music business professional that demands such an arrangement is preying on the musician’s gullibility. Feeding on the dreams of naive musicians is a big business. There are so many wannabes out there waiting to be plucked that the temptation is to take their money and run.

So, beware. Real professionals do not ask for your money to begin the shopping process. Remember, legitimate deals are made in writing, and state such things as how long the shopper has to shop the music, and how the shopper will be paid if they’re successful in securing a contract. Please consult with your attorney before allowing anyone to shop your music.

Independent Record Promoters

This is an honorable profession. A legitimate independent promoter is someone who has (in most cases) worked for a number of years for a record label promoting records to radio stations. After they’ve worked with a label and developed their relationships and reputations within the industry, they sometimes go off and start their own independent record promotion companies. This means they have a positive track record of successfully getting songs on the radio. They’re usually genre specialists—Top 40, Urban, Alternative, AAA, etc.

When it comes to negotiating with independent record promoters, go slowly—do your research. Ask around about the reputation of the company or person. Meet with them. Ask a lot of questions about what they expect from you and what their rates are. A good independent Rep can cost $400 to $1,000 a week and you’ll need their services for at least two or three months. Don’t consider hiring an independent radio promotion person without having secured a distribution deal for your release. If a company is willing to take you on and never asks how you’re going to sell your record, they’re most likely a rip-off company.

All good independent promotion companies have some kind of relationship or partnership with a retail and distribution person who is working your release to the music stores while the radio promotion person is working the airwaves.

Songwriting Scams

I can remember reading ads for songwriters in newspapers and entertainment magazines when I was a kid. These companies were looking for songs of any kind and promised a lot of money for the songs you wrote. When you sent off your songs you got this amazing letter back saying what an incredible songwriter you were. For a mere $1,000 you could register your song with them and be on the road to riches because they had “many contacts in the business who know how to make money with great songs like yours.”

Today these songwriting scams are still going on. The legitimate publishing business does not work this way. The legitimate songwriting and publishing business is as hard a nut to crack as getting a recording contract.
There are many wonderful songwriting organizations, associations, and clubs that sponsor contests and showcase opportunities. Just remember that even though they’re mostly legitimate they’re also lotteries in a sense. People do win these contests, but a very small percentage of them go on to long lasting careers as songwriters. Instead of gambling with your talent, build it.

If all you do is write songs, find singers to sing them, develop songwriting partnerships and record a good quality demo. Then search out the legitimate publishing companies who will never ask you for any money up-front before they work with you. If you write and sing your own songs, then form a group and get out there and play as many gigs as you can. If your songs are good, and people are showing up in growing numbers to hear them, believe me it will be a lot easier for the legit companies to find you.

Get it in Writing

So many of the things I’ve examined could have been avoided if the musician had taken the time to get a promise or an offer down in writing. That’s what an entertainment law attorney is there for, to help you protect your best interests. So, find a reputable attorney by asking other musicians and band members who they use. Never sign any contracts without first having an attorney look at them.
There are no shortcuts to success, and there are no formulas for success either. There are, however, a lot of exploiters out there waiting for opportunities to cash in on unsuspecting musicians. To beat the odds, you need to be dedicated, talented, and streetwise. You need to ask questions and even question the answers if you’re not satisfied with them.

Possible Internet Scams

Now that the technology of streaming music content and downloadable music opportunities have collided head-on with the plethora of Internet companies eager to exploit any music content the careful musician should be on the lookout for a new generation of exploiters offering deals to good too be true. Watch out for scam A&R Rep websites who are cruising the Internet looking for naive bands and solo artists to lure into their phony record label deals.

To avoid exploiters, you need to be an active participant in building your career, on and offline, and you need to stop thinking there are shortcuts to success. There aren’t any.

What is more troubling to me these days concerning Internet scams, is this: 10 years ago or so people like me and other knowledgeable veterans of the music business wars started websites, and more recently Blogs that were dedicated to helping musicians understand how the music industry works and what they, as artists and bands, should do to get their careers up and running, while learning the ins and outs of this unique business.

That’s all well and good. However, now after a decade or more of these legitimate sites, we now are faced with a different kind of ‘content pirate’, younger people who have decided to copy and paste legitimate articles by these music biz professionals, and just steal that content, put their names on the articles, and start their own very questionable sites. I will not mention by name any of these unscrupulous sites or people who steal outright the knowledge and wisdom of legitimate professionals. I want nothing to do with them.

So how can you tell if a website or Blog is run by a legitimate person?

Well, take the time to Google their names. Track them through Wikipedia.com and/or track down through references these people who are credited as the author of whatever information they claim to be an expert on. That is always a good idea anyway. In the music business you should demand to know the credentials of everyone you choose to work with, and as the old saying goes “give credit where credit is due”.

Copyright 2010 Christopher Knab All Rights Reserved
Checkout my website, http://www.4Frontmusic.com