Making the most out of your music, Pt 1

Over the last few years I’ve been a vocal advocate of independent music, and all that entails.

I’ve not been too vocal over the mistreatment of artists by the ‘Majors’ (I could have, I’ve a cracking story about SyCo akin to the Rhythmix debacle, but I couldn’t afford the cost!), but I have made a point of advocating the idea that, in order to make the most of their music, artists should stay independent. Or at least retain control of their creation.

Having spent the last few weeks working with a band on the release of their new full length album, I think I may have changed my tune… slightly.

I still firmly believe that most bands/artists should maintain as much (if not total) control over their music as they can and that, in most cases, signing a deal with a major label will be detrimental more than beneficial to a band. There is a caveat to all this however; the question usually asked at this stage is “What do you want to achieve?”

Regardless of the answer to that question, and in all honesty when it comes to the next point, it’s moot anyway, most musicians would like to make some money from their recordings. The real question is, or should be, “How do you make as much money as you can?”

The answer to this, as with most money related questions, is not a simple one. And I think it’s this fact that all the ‘Industry Experts’ seem to miss when they tell all new budding global superstars to go it alone. If you want to do it properly then releasing an album, an EP, or even a single is no mean feat.

In fact, it’s a bloody nightmare!

I’m not going to get involved with the process of actually writing and recording your material, I’m going to start at the point where that’s done… What next?

Where would you like to start? Mechanical royalties? Performance royalties? Publishing? How about the basic retail of your product? But then there’s the decision of online vs physical, and if you go for the latter there’s the medium you choose?

And, of course, there’s the cost involved in getting most of this to happen in the first place…Which isn’t as expensive as you might think but can be prohibitive for many bands in their fledgling years.

What I have noticed over the last few years is that, despite everybody and their Aunt telling you to go it alone, there are very few places where you can actually find out how to make the most if it. I had to spend weeks trawling industry websites, phoning poeple, writing emails and all sorts of other ‘non-musical’ activities before we released our first EP. And even then I got it wrong! Our second single wasn’t much better, although it was nice to get the email from the UK Chart Company asking us for more details as we were selling well but they needed some further information. A pleasant surprise if ever there was one!

I’ve been involved with several releases by my old band, some more with other bands I’ve known, I’ve advised even more, and I’m still learning. Every day.
This is no easy task and I can see why having some kind of representation involved could be of great assistance to any ‘independent’ artist.

I remember reading on the old CD Baby site that if you found yourself being better at one aspect of the music industry than the other, or enjoying one more than another, then you should reconsider what you do. I’m at that point now.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to write about what I’ve learned during the last few years (and weeks). And who knows, now the new album’s out someone might actually make some money from it!

Once it’s ready this series of posts will move across to a new site. I can’t say too much just now, but all will be revealed soon.

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Separating the chaff…

I’ve recently subscribed to Hypebot, I used to read it every now and then but I’ve been ‘popping over’ more and more recently so just clicked the RSS feed button this week to make life easier.

One thing I’ve noticed since is the lack of real direction offered by any of the experts in new media. There are loads of blogs written about ‘the best way to do this’, ‘the top 5 do’s for your site’, ‘the top x don’ts for your site’, ‘the death of MySpace‘ etc but none of them actually give real advice. They may throw ideas into the hat, but that’s it. No more.

I realise Hypebot is, more or less, an aggregator for all the industry blogs such as Music Think Tank, Musician Coaching, Ariel Hyatt etc, but apart from a very limited number of posts they all extoll the virtues of some site or other which, when you dig into it, the author has some part in.

I’m not talking about the news posts, they’re exactly that, news such as ‘music sales down in 2010’, ‘rock single sales lowest ever in 2010’ etc, I’m talking about the supposed advice and guidance offered to independent artists. One of best examples of these is the ‘Break through the noise‘ article… what use was it? I know how big the web is and how bloody hard it is to get heard, I’m an independent musician for God’s sake!

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are some excellent posts and some great advice; Benji at PledgeMusic.com, Chris from Bandzoogle and the aforementioned Ariel Hyatt offer more sound advice than we mere mortals can shake a stick at. The problem is finding the time, direction and space to actually separate the gems from the dirt and then act upon them. It’s no easy task!

The same can be said of the plethora of websites which are ‘tools’ for independent musicians. They all purport to enhance the experience for the user, merging all aspects of your presence, combining your music with your online presence and such pap. But do they?

Morpheus Rising, the band I sing with, have Facebook, MySpace, Last.fm, iTunes Ping, PureVolume profiles and a whole handful more, and even some I’m sure we’ve forgotten we had! We also use sites/tools like ReverbNation, ArtistData, Bandcamp, Spreadshirt, Zazzle and more. We tried using tools such as ping.fm to centralise the management/control/updating of everything, but nothing actually works with everything. No matter what you do there will be a requirement to update several sites/blogs/pages with the same data.

Most importantly, and this is where I agree with many of the authors quoted on Hypebot, we have our own website. We own several versions of our domain name and ensure that our music, blog, live dates etc are updated there first. It’s our site, not a page on anyone elses.

In and ideal world I’d love to be able to update the News on our site and have it update the News section on ArtistData, ReverbNation and all the others. I’d love our newest blog to posted on WordPress, Blogger, etc. I’d like to integrate elements of Bandcamp into our site seamlessly, have Speadshirt as our own store rather than a link to the external site. Now, before you all start saying ‘You can set up A Records or CNames in Bandcamp to work as a subdomain of your site’ or ‘You can install WordPress on your server and have it as your internal blog’ or ‘With the Pro account on Spreadshirt you can embed it into your site’, I know! I can’t however do that with Bandzoogle, which brings me back to the point of two paragraphs ago.

Bandzoogle links with ArtistData (to an extent) which then links with MySpace, Eventful, Purevolume and even RootMusic which then links with Facebook, Listn.to and ArtistData… but none of them actually integrate fully. Bandzoogle’s News ‘bit’ doesn’t update ArtistData’s News ‘bit’ but it does update from ArtistData’s Events, ArtistData won’t update from my WordPress.com blog (not sure why), I can’t paste widgets from ReverbNation into Facebook due to the different code it uses (I seem to remember an app which let me paste html into FB and have it transferred to FBTML or whatever it’s called but no more).

In an independent musician’s Utopia I’d like to update the band’s official website, whether it be a show, news item, blog entry or a photo, and have that spread automatically across the Morpheus Rising web presence in all its forms…

Until then I’ll remain as one of the unsung tweets of the 25 billion sent a year, making mistakes and spreading them manually across the t’interweb…