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Entries in Tips for Musicians (6)

Expectations and Realities of Music

Here's a great post from Andy Othling (Lowercase Noises) about expectations and realities of music:

http://www.andyothling.com/5-facts-about-music/#more-2093 

-TRMJ

Creativity Is Your Best Asset

The tools are available to everyone. Worldwide distribution, digital recording capability, social media accounts to stay connected with fans…these all level the playing field as far as musicians who are trying to record, release, and distribute their music. So, why isn’t every musician successfully living the dream of being a full-time musician and having their music support them?

Creativity. While the tools have made it easier than ever for musicians to succeed, it has also made it easier than ever for musicians to be lazy. You no longer have to work for a record deal to make a recording; you just make it at home. You no longer have to hunt for a distribution deal, you’ve got worldwide distribution available (in any format), available just a click away. It is possible now for any artist to put the least amount of effort ever into writing, recording, and releasing a record, and that’s the part that can make us lazy. There’s no producer breathing down our neck to say, “You can play that part better” or “That phrasing on that line you sung was weak – do it again,” we just do it until we feel like we don’t want to anymore. There’s no engineer telling us that the EQ in our mix is unbalanced or that a bass track is over compressed.  There’s no accounting department telling you that ordering 5000 vinyl records may not be the best investment for you; and there’s no marketing department telling you that your best market is in digital sales in the UK, not in Canada with vinyl.

I realize that some artists still work with record labels and some of those resources are still available to them, but for the majority of artists, you’re doing all those roles on your own. As daunting as that sounds, there is a huge creative opportunity there. What are you doing to create music that is unique and appealing? How are you practicing to make sure that you are mastering your instrument instead of just keeping the status quo? Who amongst your other musician friends are you running your lyrics/guitar tones/melodic choices/percussion sounds by? When do you set aside time to be inspired by other music/art/nature/beauty/faith/friendships/love? How do you search for opportunities to reach your fans above and beyond what other artists are currently doing?

All of these are huge opportunities to be creative. They all require time and hard work to do. The artists who leverage their creativity are the ones that we listen to each day because they’ve created something that no one else has. Let’s be those artists.

-TRMJ

A New Beginning

I got married almost six months ago to the day. Besides the absolute beauty and wonder of the wedding and the following months of marriage, there’s been an incredible amount of introspection and change that’s taken place in me (which, to an extent I was expecting, I just wasn’t sure exactly how it was going to unfold). It’s been an incredible journey thus far, and I can’t wait for the rest of it.

Of course, to say that life is compartmentalized and love doesn’t affect work, that work doesn’t affect hobbies, and that hobbies don’t affect love (and we could continue with examples), would be shortsighted and naïve. The last few months have given me an unexpected opportunity to reflect on where my music career has been, and where it’s going.  Just as two people in a marriage will change over time and the dynamic of a marriage will look different, so will artistic visions and the environments that house those visions.

Just to make sure I don’t get too esoteric with this topic; I'm going to go through some takeaways that I had about the state of the music industry and the state of my own artistry. I will list them in a series of posts, over the next few weeks. The first, for me at least, is that national touring should probably wait...

National Touring Should Probably Wait – I spent the greater part of the last 7 years trying to play a live show in every corner of the United States. While I can look back on this as one of the most enjoyable times of my life, it made little sense in the way of developing a real listener base. I would do a two week tour in the Pacific Northwest through the major cities and a few of the smaller ones, and I wouldn't make it back up there for at least another year because I was trying to book shows throughout the rest of the country for the next 9 months. So I was essentially living on the road, and I was always trying to promote for my next tour of shows while I was on a tour already.

This remained difficult even when I had a booking agent that took over a large part of the booking process, because most of the new cities where I played, I was a completely unknown artist. As an unknown artist, I had no radio exposure, and no nationally syndicated press clippings, and my agent was not booking shows that were part of a bill with other bands/artists in the region, so very few people knew that I was playing in their city even if they would have liked to come to the show. I was limited to playing for the people who just happened to be in the venue during the time when I was playing.

Even social networking promotional value had declined greatly since I first started touring back in 2005. In the time of Myspace (remember that weird thing?), artists could contact unreached fans directly and invite them to concerts. It wasn't unusual at that time to show up to play a concert in a city where I had never played before and have a solid 50 fans come out. But with Facebook and Twitter being the primary social networks that have gained prominence, artists have little opportunity to contact unreached fans in a new city where they are playing because both networks don't feature that same kind of personal interaction with unreached fans.

So – where have all these observations led? 3 ideas:

  1. Play concerts in cities that are easy to come back to. This one seems like a no brainer, but it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of traveling and playing every show that’s offered to you. If you play consistently in a city, and know that you can come back soon, you will almost inevitably build relationships with the fans in that city. As those relationships grow, they can lead to introductions to friends of those fans, places to stay in the city, introductions to other venues in the city, and the list of benefits goes on. I plan to play shows regionally throughout the major cities in the Southwest until they grow to the same size crowd I can draw in hometown.
  2. Go for quality over quantity. People like to be blown away. If they attend a concert by an artist a handful of time times, and each time they walk away with the response, “That was alright,” more than likely, they’re not going to be long-term fans. My planning for concerts has changed drastically, because rather than trying to hit people with as many shows as possible, I try to hit them with the best show possible.  That’s not to say that if you have a quality concert prepared that you can’t play somewhere 3 or 4 times in a year, just make sure that each time the focus is the best effort you can put forward, and not a phoned-in, obligatory gig.
  3. Use finances wisely. Most independent artists have a limited amount of money. Actually, most artists on a label have a limited amount of money too. If an artist is going to spend thousands of dollars on a two-month long tour across America, he/she probably better make sure it’s going to provide some sort of return on the investment; either on growing a fan base, or providing new opportunities to play, or generating ticket and merchandise sales, etc. The easiest way to use your finances wisely is to ask the question, “If I’m going to spend money on this, what is the real benefit to my music career as a result?” Though it’s glorious to state that you’re going on a nationwide tour, it’s not that glorious to say that your van got repossessed two months after that tour was over because you’re broke.

Obviously, there’s much more to be said, but those were my big three takeaways from touring.  Thanks for reading, and tune in next time for A New Beginning Part II.

-TRMJ

 

 

Something We Haven't Seen?

 

The world is changing...

A Tolkien-esque intro always makes something sound epic - oddly enough, what's happening in how people hear about and listen to music is so incredibly different from the way it was done 20 years ago, I don't think anyone could have imagined it. Even 5 years ago, myspace was still making a huge splash and musicians everywhere were getting on board and making new fans and spreading their music in a digital age...

Now, in 2011, myspace is all but a barren wasteland of advertisements for second-rate movies, but music is ready to be spread in a way that myspace once imagined, only not completely.  If Spotify (http://www.spotify.com) has its way, all people will be playing Netflix-style monthly premiums (only less - maybe about $5 a month) to be able to stream any song, by any artist you could possibly want , as often as you want.  

Sounds cool, right? I think it will be - here are a couple of reasons why:

1. People won't have to spend money to try out a new artist, they just have to spend time to go check them out. If they like what they hear, they'll continue to listen.

2. If an artist/band has songs that people actually want to listen to, they are the ones that will rise to the top of the charts - it won't just be the songs that people are willing to spend money on. Imagine that you'll actually start hearing about charts that have music on them that people actually listen to rather than just download and let sit around

3. Music becomes more honest. I think this will be a huge step in a great direction to get the kind of music that people actually want to hear to the people. Whatever is being listened to the most will be the most popular, not just what has the highest gross from the last fiscal quarter. 

As an artist, I still strive to write, record, and perform the best music that I am capable of creating. I think what Spotify has going for it may be the next big thing...or maybe it will just be the foundation of what some other company will end up doing even better. Regardless, I think this will be an incredible resource for artist to reach thousands of new fans that wouldn't have imagined before, and for music lovers to be able to make the charts meaningful again, not based on sales units, but by what makes it into their ears and their hearts.

Thank you Spotify, we owe you one.

-TRMJ 

But What Do You REALLY Do? - Part III

Publishing

I'm not talking about a book deal I recently got - publishing can be a revenue stream, post-music creation, that many musicians/songwriters do not take advantage of...let alone, know what it is. I'm going to try to describe some things you can do at whatever level you're at to get you familiarized with it.  I'll start with how a song is separated, and move onto a list of terms that you hear, but some of you may not know.

How a Song is Separated:

1. Sound Recording - this is the actual recording of a song. Whether it exists in mp3 format, CD, vinyl, etc., this is what someone might refer to as a "master." You sell CD's, vinyl, and mp3's for money. Here's where it gets a little tricky - I can own the "master" of a song, and I don't have to be the writer. For example, I recorded a version of a tune called "Give Me Just a Little More Time" (you can listen to it on my music page), but I had nothing to do with the writing of the song. My recording of the song is my master of the song. I had to get permission from the writers (and pay them mechanical royalties) to do this, but I currently own 100% of that master recording. 

You can have a thousand different recordings of the same song, and they will all be classified as different sound recordings and can have different owners. If you record your record in your own home, at your studio, and no one else has anything to do with the recording, you own your own master/sound recording. 

If all of that made sense, nod your head, "Yes..."

2. Writing/Publishing (Intellectual Property) - this is the aspect of a song that exists as an intellectual property. Before a song is ever recorded, you wrote it, the lyrics and music, and you now have it as intellectual property. Cool, huh?

The intellectual property aspect of a song is comprised of 2 parts when it pertains to collecting income on it - the (1)writing, and the (2)publishing of the song. Think of them as cash and checks that you take to the bank - they are both forms of money, they're just called different things. 50% of the song exists as writing, and 50% of the song exists as publishing.

If you have written a song, and you are the sole writer of it, you own the writing and the publishing associated with that song. 

Why is this important?

Now that you know how a song is separated, you can better categorize how you will make money from it. The "master" side of a song, the actual recording, is what most independent musicians will use to make money because they sell copies of the sound recording to their fans. That's great! Keep doing that, and the more, the merrier. 

Writing/Publishing gets a little more intricate as far as how income gets into your hands. You will want to join a PRO (Performing Rights Organization). I mentioned these in my previous post, 3 of the big ones are ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC.

Do some research on each PRO before you make your decision of which one to apply for (I am a member of SESAC for those who are curious). Once you decide, make sure that you sign up as both a writer AND a publisher, because you own both of those aspects of the song.

For example, let's say John Smith wrote the song called "I Love You." If John Smith is the only writer, he would register the writing side under "John Smith" (he might have to provide another form of ID like a middle name or something, because there are a lot of John Smith's, but anyway...)  The publishing side of the song can be registered under whatever John Smith decides his publishing should be called. Let's say he calls it "John Smith Publishing" If no one else has that name for their publishing, he can use that to register the publishing of his song.

My publishing for my music is called "Bring the News In Publishing" - you can be creative with the name of your publishing, and probably should be so that people can tell you apart from everyone else!

Licensing

Here's the last section for this post - licensing. This is a huge element of how a writer can generate income from songs that already exist. When you "license"  a song to someone for use, they basically pay you for the right to use it in some way. It can be used in the soundtrack of a movie, TV show, in a TV commercial, as music in the background on a website (ESPN.com does a lot of this with hard rock music), and can even be licensed to other artists to perform versions of the song you wrote (many country acts do this - songwriters will license their music to bigger name artists to record and then sell their music, but the writer gets royalties!)

To go over every opportunity you have to make money would take quite some time, but here are some of the things I've done through licensing:

- Songs in a motion picture. You get money up front, and if the movie airs on TV, you collect royalties on the back end
- Songs in a retail store playlist. My songs have been featured in a few store chains, and in a few casino chains around the country, and some internationally. Different countries have different reporting/pay laws, but all of these count as licensing to the companies to use my music, so I get money for it.
- Songs on an actual movie soundtrack that is released as a CD/Mp3 album. I am compensated, through licensing, for both the sound recording that I own, plus the writer/publishing side of this because I am giving the film company permission to use them both on the soundtrack to sell for a profit. We all get a piece of the pie that way.

I hope this made sense, and has encouraged you to look at how your music is categorized for the sake of revenue generation. I know, this is the ultra boring side to being a musician, but it won't be boring when deposits are being made into your bank account. :-)

Thanks for reading, this will conclude this short series helping musicians figure some of this stuff out, but I'll definitely continue to post more info as I get questions from people.

Happy writing, creating, performing - and hopefully this helps you make that what you REALLY do...

-TRMJ