Ebb and flow usually balances out

1 07 2009

Balance is a concept I’ve struggled with my whole life. Whether it was trying to balance out school, athletics, and being a social adolescent growing up or more recently balancing out passion and monetary compensation.

For the past couple weeks, I have reached peak highs and lows as a result of exciting business opportunities taking form, but I desperately tried to stay realistic and focus on facts as opposed to assumptions. Assumptions are one way emotional trip to one or more of the following: ignorance, misunderstanding, disappointment, anger, hatred, impatience…basically, not pleasant things.  This can be applied to waiting on a record contract, colleges acceptance, getting a job, relationships, or even blood tests.

For example, I assumed, growing up, that I would fail at riding a bike from a lack of balance, so I never really tried. It took a push (literally and figuratively) from my gal Virginia to get me on a bike for the first time since sophomore year of college this past Sunday. After ten minutes of practice, I left on a four hour journey around most of Manhattan with a pit stop lunch in Central Park. Pretty damn amazing feeling. For 24 years, I was a cyclist who never road a bike.

After an overall horrible day today, I began to think about my trip on Sunday. Finding balance on a bike helped me realize what I was capable of and how to find the balance in other parts of my life as well (and these most certainly can be applied to up and coming bands as well):

  • Compromise (definition–an agreement or a settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions) but don’t compromise (definition–the acceptance of standards that are lower than is desirable)
  • It takes certain level of failure in order to succeed
  • You have to understand before you assume
  • Patience doesn’t allow you to capitalize on the moment, but intensity often leads to carelessness
  • My balance isn’t your balance.
  • The ebb and flow of life tends to balance out in the end.  Appreciate the good, but realize it isn’t gonna be good forever and, on the flip side, the same is true for the bad (note:  good and bad are relative terms to be self-defined)

So regardless if you’re in riding a bike, trying to salvage a horrible day, or starting a new band, balance is a tenet to live by.  And think about this: balance is different than stability.  I’d prefer balance, but I won’t tell you why just yet.





Let the Beat Build

15 06 2009

I’ve been on a hip-hop binge since I heard Mos Def’s new album a couple weeks ago. When I say binge, I mean bender. I immerse myself in whatever I’m into, so I’ve been on the hunt for quality new hip-hop music. In an email chain with my buddy Alex, he linked me the video below and my jaw dropped, so take a few minutes to watch it, after which I’ll reflect on it for a bit.

I always talk about bands having to embrace technology to create unique ways to market themselves. With the raw viral power of music videos, some bands have the potential to get huge without having a name to begin with. I had noooo clue about this guy before, but JUST because of that video, I will go check out his next NYC show. The video is cutting edge, entertaining, and lively on top of the song being extremely catchy because, after all, it’s hard to enjoy a music video where the song sucks.

There’s a few questions you must ask yourself first:

  • What’s your budget?
  • What song are you going to choose and why?
  • How can you make that song come to life?
  • Who, if anyone, will be in the video?
  • Where and when will you film it?
  • What camera will you use?
  • Who will direct and edit the video?

I can tell that Nyle thought long term and bit the cost and time of putting together that video for the greater good of his career, BUT a video is nothing without an effective follow through campaign to get as many people exposed to your music as possible…Youtube, Twitter, MySpace and related blogs are a good start. Please note that videos don’t work for every song or every band. Figure out what your vehicle for exposure is. Plan it well, be creative, get people’s attention, and get them talking about it because fans are the best promoters…in short be like Nyle. Keep your eye out for him.





The New Rockstar Philosophy Pt 6 (the last part)

9 06 2009

We’re almost done. One more part. But before you read on, make sure you check out parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

“Most industry people have tight schedules at [conferences], so getting them to come to a new
show will take some coaxing.” (page 124)

Part of me likes to stumble on bands at conferences more so than have them contact me. I like the organic feeling of finding a killer unknown band randomly (or maybe by fate???). But if you HAVE to have someone at your showcase, connect the dots to find out who in your network knows this person and establish contact with them sooner than later, but be casual about it and don’t ram your show down their throat. If they like your music enough, they’ll put it in the calendar. Then maybe a week before send a reminder and tell them you’ll put them on the list.

“You need to work pre-conference to connect with the right people.” (page 125)

If if you’ve done the work ahead of time, the showcase should be a follow through on what you’ve planned and who you’ve spoken to, BUT if you meet people along the way subtly drop that you got a gig.

“Know what you want to talk about and get to the point.” (page 125)

Don’t just tell industry professionals to come to your show for the hell of it. They’re time at conferences are limited, so don’t waste it. Know what you want to accomplish by having them there and be brief when you speak to them after the show. Let the show itself as well as their view of the crowd’s reaction be a gauge of how well it went. Please please please don’t follow up right away. Think of that scene from Swingers where Vince Vaughn is teaching Jon Favreau the artof calling a girl after getting her number because you wanna be cool about it.

“If you know whom you want to contact and have a visual on them, you can swing by the lobby or hang out in the hotel bar and await their arrival.” (page 125)

HORRIBLE IDEA! I actually think people would be more creeped out and annoyed by this. Think from their perspective: they just got off a plane, took a cab through traffic, and they arrive to a stalker musician they most likely don’t know that’s pitching his or her band…how would you feel???

“Bring a laptop or a notepad to take notes and have a list of questions ready for the panelists.” (page 126)

Some say that panels are a waste of time because it’s people talking about what should be done instead of actually DOING something, but I’m indifferent to the whole thing. However, if you choose to go, research the panelist and take the panels seriously.  If you’re in a band, divide and conquer to different panels happening in a given time period. Learning about the panelists can better prepare you for their point of view on the industry and how to construct thought-provoking questions…which will get their attention and want to know more about you.

“To simplify it, publishing and licensing is basically about getting paid by someone who wants your music to help sell something else.” (page 128)

Licensing is another engine for exposure (and there’s money too!!!). Effective placement of indie music makes a company advertisement, TV show, or film seem hip and it’s cheaper than getting a shitty Coldplay song. And that company will forever be associated with that band’s success (if they do succeed that is). Last year, Ropeadope artist The Frequency scored the summer and fall Blackberry ad campaign (see below). They got money and exposure. When I would hear the commercial at friend’s apartments I would always look around and wait for someone to be like, “Who is this? It ain’t that bad”, which is good for the band AND Blackberry. The exposure gave them leverage to book bigger venues and the money was invested in the band, so overall it was a great experience for them.

“The pay can vary, but the bottom line is you can get paid for the use of your song.” (page 129)

DON’T COMPLAIN! But take into account these variables: who the company is, what their marketing budget is, the frequency of the advertisement, how long will they be able to use the song, which song it is, how popular you are, are they giving out the song for free, and what audience(s) will the song reach (note: apply these variables to whatever format you’re negotiating. I just used TV ad by default.)

“In today’s music world, getting your song placed in a hit TV show or movie can be a promotional coup.” (page 131)

When I think of excellent placement, I have two people in mind: The Shins in Garden State and Feist in the iTunes. They epitomize the potential of what a placement can do for the future of a band, but don’t think because you’re in the title credits of World of Warcraft 19 that you’re gonna be huge. Take the placement for the money and/or the exposure and appreciate the opportunity unless it’s for McD’s or Halliburton, in which case think twice about being REAL sellout and what it would mean to attach your band to a particular brand/show/movie…

“Since many of the artists were already featured on Broken Social Scene songs, their own releases had more credibility and anticipation.” (page 132)

I just love BSS and you guys should too. Easily one of the best bands of the past ten years

“If your fans feel connected to you as an artist, there will always be ways to make money.” (page
138)

I believe that wholeheartedly. Connections with fans, even in the current financial climate, are strong. But realize the days of band jets are over. Be humble and content with the money you make. Know that you need to diversity your streams of income: MP3s, subscription plans, premium box sets, merchandise, concerts, licensing, brand sponsorships… On the flip side, know that those streams don’t run forever, so you will have to adapt with technology and the purchasing habits of the next generations. And first and foremost, the quality of music must be there before you even consider marketing yourself.

Good luck and feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss anything I mentioned.






The New Rock Star Philosophy Pt 4

27 05 2009

You the know the drill….check out parts 1, 2, and 3. Now onto 4.

“So before you spend any money recording an album, you should ask yourself a very important question: why are you recording an album?” (page 91)

Bands that don’t have any recorded music are like butchers that don’t have knives. You can’t make people fans without something to give them. But actually sit and write down why you want to make an album. Don’t just make it because you think that’s what your fans want to hear or what bands historically have done. Ask your fans what they want and in what form they want it. As for history, throw it out the door because there is no blueprint anymore.

“It’s the songs that matter, not the entity known as an album.” (page 92)

I’m a quasi-music elitist. I only get full albums, but I’m weird like that. Most people don’t care about full albums. They want the 1-4 songs that you have that REEEEALLY stand out. It’s songs that draw people in, so why feel stressed about spending the time and money on an LP that people will skip over. Might as well break that up into 4 EPS (give away at least one of them) over the course of the year.

“If you’re a new band, isn’t your number 1 priority to gain new fans?” (page 92)

You have music sell/give away, so GO OUT AND GET FANS!!! Go on blogs, go on chat boards, go on social networking sites, go to other shows to meet people, play for free in a park, and be creative. Today, I had a friend who told me, “I feel like if I give people juggling lessons [in a park] and then I give them a CD they’ll be more inclined to listen to it and tell their friends.” He gets it…do you?

“People expect new music often or you’ll be forgotten.” (page 94)

It doesn’t have to be new studio material. It can be live songs or remixes too. You just have to keep convincing people why to care. There’s sooooo much music out there. It’s a shame, but the sheer quantity of bands out there, you have to fight for people’s attention. The days of make an album, tour to promote it, and then take a break are over. You need to be distributing music to people every three or four months. People are beginning to expect it like waking up and getting the paper every morning. Keep the music coming, keep them happy, keep them as fans.

“It’s so much more fun and exciting to promote something new.” (page 94)

Say you release your album last fall. You did a tour to help promote it. What now? If you have new music every time your tour, it’s exciting for your guys, the fans, and the fans to be. There will never be a dip in your passion because the cycle of new music is more frequent that initial buzz from creating keeps your going until the next round.

“If fans get great songs, they will spread the word for you. If you consistently deliver, you’ll continue to grow your audience.” (page 95)

Fans are the best promoters. Riding the buzz (mentioned in previous response) works both ways. If the quality is there in your music, fans will only cherish your consistency and tell all their friends about it. However, quality is something I should mentioned earlier. Don’t just sell or give away music that sucks for the sake of fresh music. If you don’t like it, there’s a good chance your fans won’t.

“Staying true to what you want to express and keeping fans happy can sometimes be tough to balance.” (page 96)

Don’t be one of those super elitist musicians who only make music for themselves. You’re not gonna make a career if you make music only you and the ten people who are equally as snobbish and act like they understand your “art”. I’m not saying be a sell out, but don’t be so niche that people don’t even get you right away. Draw them in and then mess with their heads. Radiohead needed “Creep” to make “Like Spinning Plates”. So let me ask you, what’s your “Creep” gonna be?





The New Rockstar Philosophy Pt 3

22 05 2009

So I assume everyone’s read part 1 and part 2 right?????? If not, catch up. I’ll wait………

…time’s up. Now onto part 3.

“Although having your own website is an important part of your artistic identity, it should not be your only one.” (page 67)

“It’s sometimes best to learn [web design] yourself instead of depending on others.” (page 69)

You don’t have to be whiz like my roomie Arthur, but knowing a basic level of HTML and CSS saves you times and money.

“The basic idea is that the more networks you join, the more you’ll be all over Google” (page 70)

WARNING: don’t join more networks than you can maintain. Better to keep content fresh and updated on five networks for the X amount people you can reach on those sites. Also, only join relevant networks. Don’t join the Kiss Fan Site if you play Dixieland jazz music.

“People discover new bands through blogs and people stay current through blogs.” (page 72)

There’s a reason why you’re reading this! Radio and music magazines who were the initial tastemakers are now unable to sustain the same levels of income. People’s attentions are quickly being diverted to blogs who can offer instant, free content directly to people without commericials or annoying advertisements. Look how much leverage blogs like Brooklyn Vegan or Pitchfork in filtering what music gets buzz going.

“It gives the converted a reason to come back if they know your blog is regularly updated and interesting.” (page 72)

“Just keep [your blog posts] fresh, true to who you are, and interesting for the fans.” (page 73)

The purpose of YOUR BAND’s blog is to fill in the gaps of MySpace and Facebook. Anything funny happen to you on the way to the studio? Did you make anything particular tasty for dinner last night? Did your van breakdown on tour? What do your grandparents think of your music? Did a fan write your an interesting email? What is one of your songs about? Do you think CSI: Miami has ridiculous plot? Write about it!!! Be creative. Be brief. Be genuine. And try to connect with people as much as you can to invite them into your life and who you are. I would give a band listen strictly on the fact that they think Arrested Development is the greatest comedy show ever or that they like an random band I love like As Human (who you should most certainly check out).

“Twitter is a different beast then MySpace or Facebook…so don’t add people blindly” (page 75)

…but feel free to follow me or my good friend Jo.

Seriously though, Twitter is about creativity, brevity, and honest connections with people. What I would say on Twitter is not necessarily what I’d say as my Facebook status on Twitter. I learned that the hard way after I forwarded my Twitter and my friends would message me saying, “I don’t give a shit what you’re doing?” or “Stop updating your status every 10 seconds. It’s annoying.” Learn the content boundaries between these various networks by trial and error given what your fans wanna read. I follow John Mayer on Twitter strictly because a friend retweeted something he wrote about being drunk and trying out a BAC reader from home…that’s amazing!!! And it has nothing to do with music.

“Your bio tells a story and lets people in on who you are.” (page 80)

If you’ve drawn people in with your music, they’ll wanna know who you are to decide whether your band is worthing investing in with their time and/or money. How, where, and when did you meet? What is your music like? Do you have any notable press or blog quotes? Any notable accomplishments like opening for a famous band, selling out a venue, or your record was produced by someone important. Brevity is equally as important as content because, once again, most people won’t read even a two paragraph bio.

“Have your best song play first and make sure listeners can get a good idea of what you’re about.”

A friend of a friend contacted me a few weeks ago to discuss the music business. I told him, like I tell every musician that contacts me, that I give bands 30 seconds before I make a decision if this band is worth my listening time. If I don’t like what I hear, I say fuck it. There’s enough music out there for people to enjoy, so the first 30 seconds of first song on your MySpace page is like a movie trailer.

“[Facebook ads] can help you gain fans as long as you are specific with your goals and budget.” (page 81)

Stupid. Don’t waste your money. There’s much free advertisement or free marketing tools out there that you shouldn’t waste your limited resources on Facebook.

“Video is much more engaging than audio alone.” (page 83)

Make sure it’s authentic for who you are and your band’s image. I told my buddies in Carlon to put music to their surf videos since Mike and Jared are avid surfers to connect with that whole culture of surfers who want more music than Jack Johnson and Sublime.

“Live videos can be a way to check out the experience.” (page 84)

Live concerts are unique experience for a fan. However, it is obvious that every fan will not go to every show…even the Grateful Dead couldn’t do that. Therefore, you want to make fans a part of the shows they do go to as the ones they miss. Each live videos gives fans a glimpse into that night’s experience, so they know why they want to go to see your band when you stop off in their city or to relive that show because they were there. In addition, that same video can convert people into new fans because of your lead singer’s stage presence, the guitarist’s solo, the crazy sounds your keyboardist makes, the complete reworking of a song, or even the stage banter.

“[A video blog aka vlog] doesn’t have to be long or important, it’s just another way to stay current.” (page 84)

I see vlogs as like a video version of a fireside chat. Invite them in your home or studio. Let them meet your friends. Show them sound check and backstage footage before/after concerts. Be informal, get comfortable, and address your fans as if you’re talking to them directly.

“We live in a search culture, so being visible is important.” (page 85)

Most people won’t go to even the third page of their search. Therefore, tagging and titling videos and blog posts are arguably just as important as what to name your album. I stumbled on The Drift on Amie Street Music because they tagged Explosions in the Sky. I would travel up to three hours to see them live if they ever came out East. And my connection was made through strategic tagging. With every potential tag ask yourself, “Who can I reach with this tag and will they like my band???”

“Giving away your music for an e-mail address and/or cell phone number can be more important than selling the music without the contact info.” (page 88)

Email lists are power these days. It’s about how many people you can reach and connect with and reminds people why they should care about your band. However, please indicate on your mailing list form or add a sidenote to your online widget that tells people:

  1. Your band will not sell people’s contact info
  2. How often you send out email blasts
  3. The content of your email blasts (tour info, contests, free stuff, new merchandise, blog posts…)

Being clear and honest creates an initial level of trust.

“Don’t just sell to your list” (page 88)

All too much I see bands shoving their merch down people’s throats. I KNOW YOU’RE BAND HAS A CD..OK?!?!?!?! The key is to give them a reason to buy your shit. Email people about a free EP, free live recordings, remix contests, or ticket giveaways. Feature a couple new merch items like an album or graphic t-shirt and the rest can be covered by linking people to your band’s web stor

Final thoughts: social networking sites shouldn’t be treated as separate entities. Take out a piece of paper and draw your web presence in a web. I did this with Ropeadope. I really wish I had a copy of it, so I could show people what I’m talking about. It may sound stupid, but it clarifies or questions your current online marketing strategy. Replicate your written web online by making sure to link all the sites to each other and distribute your content throughout to account for any given site’s special features. However, make sure to have a bulk of the content on your main site (MySpace, blog, or website). An example would be to have use Imeem playlists for music, YouTube videos, and a Twitter feed all on your main site, but making sure to link people to all of your sites (and vice-versa) to get more content. Better connections to and from your various networks allows people to build stronger connections with your band.





The New Rockstar Philosophy Pt 2

19 05 2009

So if you’ve been following, this is part 2 of 6 summing up/adding to/dissecting The New Rockstar Philosophy. As I’ve been reading part by part, I realizing more what a basic guideline this is for anyone’s music career. It won’t guarantee that it will make you a rockstar, but it allows you to ask yourself all the right questions. If you have no clue what I’m talking about, read part 1 or even better, read the actual e-book.

“If it comes from a genuine place, people will connect to that.” (page 22)

Even if you believe the BS your kindergarten teacher fed you like “everyone is a unique snowflake”, people can/do/will connect with each other on various levels. We aren’t so unique that we can’t relate to one another. Music is an emotionally-driven art form which is easy for people to identify with (both the music AND the musicians). If what you have to say is authentic and potentially relatable in a way, people will connect with it. At this point, I must note that you don’t need lyrics for people to relate. There are moments in Miles Davis or Explosions in the Sky where I feel an emotion that brings me to specific moment in my life where I felt that exact same way and I connect with that music without a word being uttered. However, most music’s message doesn’t have to be that implicit, so lyrics and a band’s image can, most certainly, be a more explicit means to connect.

“Your songwriting will always be influenced by the music that you listen to, but push yourself to add something new to the equation.” (page 23)

As I write this, I am listening to Bill Laswell’s Methods of Defiance album where he paired rock, funk, and jazz musicians (ie Bernie Worrell, Buckethead, and Herbie Hancock) with Drum and Bass producers. Adding different elements makes your music that much more accessible and eye-catching than some other band who is playing copycat. However, that’s a slippery slope because your music, within a given album, should have some continuity between songs…you can’t sound like Tool in one song and Leonard Cohen in another because you like both nor can you really have a single song that sounds like Wu Tang Clan and The Smiths in different parts. OFTEN (not all the time), bands that go off in too many musical places, don’t have enough glue for fans to stick.

“If you don’t have the right members, then you are wasting your time.” (page 26)

In this post I spoke about the importance of testing band mates. Better now than later to find out your drummer’s drug indulging is actually an addiction, your saxophone player isn’t willing to give up teaching lessons for a month to go on tour, or your bassist uses band funds to pay his credit card bill. Being in a band goes beyond playing instruments or being friends, so test the waters and see how big the wave gets.

“It’s best to know where everyone stands when things start to get serious.” (page 30)

Once you feel comfortable with the members you have, it is important to set your intentions of the band, what the roles are of each member, and then make a plan (marketing, booking, money, manager, do you want a label?….). That’s up to you, but make you know each other’s roles (given their passions and strengths), so you decide rational goals (modesty is important too) and the appropriate routes to take to fulfill them. Anyone can say they want to be a rock star, but if you don’t know how to get there then it’s like building a house without blueprints.

“Don’t let anything hold you back.” (page 31)

People will say “you suck” or “quick now and get a REAL job”. Please maintain the conviction coupled with the follow through of honing your craft, sound, and image. However, not everyone can shred like Clapton or have the pop-rock mass appeal of U2 (note: I don’t like U2 besides Joshua Tree and War, but I can’t argue that they’re not huge rock stars), so if you actually suck or don’t have the drive to make it happen, extract your ego, realize your place in music history, and be content with it.

“Does your band look like your music?” (page 34)

I should be at your concert, close my eyes listen to the first song, then open them, and notice the correlation between how you look and how you sound. Johnny Cash was the man in black. Robert Smith of The Cure puts on eye liner, powder on his face, and had that crazy hairdo like a poofier version of Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future. Wayne Coyne of Flamings Lips wears that vintage, stained suit every show. How you look on stage, in CD linear notes, album covers, press photos…. all adds to and compliments your music. Everything I just listed is inextricable from the band’s musical identity, so think before wearing that “Life is Good” tee-shirt if you’re in an emo band; that just doesn’t make sense.

“The details of live performances are what will separate the amateurs from the professionals.” (page 35)

Think about all the concerts you’ve been to. What were your top 10 favorite concerts? Write down what they did that made it so special, and if it makes sense given your band’s image and style, replicate and then see how you can make it your own.

Look at James Brown, Prince, and Michael Jackson for example.

“People need context and a reason to take a chance on you.” (page 38)

This is what I say almost every post, but I hammer down the importance of it by saying, “people need to give a shit about you.” Why should they care about you, when there’s much seemingly similar music out there. Your “elevator pitch” (ie we’re Interpol meets Modest Mouse or we’re The Roots if they were fronted by George Clinton), opens people’s ears to give you a listen, so they can one day give a shit about you enough to pay you money. DON’T LIE or be vague. Don’t say you’re the next Beatles because A) people won’t believe you B) may not even listen to your music C) will possibly be offended D) will most likely be disappointed if they actually listen to your music.

“Knowing whom you appeal to is a critical step to your success, longevity, and stability of your career.” (page 39)

To know your music is to know your fans and vice-versa. Don’t waste your time and energy in a broad search for fans. Have the foresight to hone in on who your fans should be and hopefully it’ll branch of from there. This is the only acceptable time for profiling. You’re in a jam band, go talk to the kid with Phish t-shirt. You’re in a rock band, go talk to the kid with the tight black pants. There’s a good chance, he/she will wanna hear your band if you have the elevator pitch for your band down to a science (see previous quote’s comments). From there, you need to develop your relationship with fans and make sure they continually give a shit about you.

“Video taping a show can be a huge reality check.” (page 43)

It’s hard enough that a lot of musicians are self-conscious about their music, but you need to be strong enough to watch yourself perform. You get can’t better without analyzing what needs to be changed in your stage presence or what parts of a song need to be reworked for the live setting

“Help out the sound person as often as you can.” (page 53)

I tell this to a lot of bands (if I’m able to remember). Have your set list planned out ahead of time with notes for the sound guy. These notes should include general mixing level adjustments (ie bass higher, more reverb on the vocals, guitarist has a solo during the bridge, this song is softer so have the vocals up) to account for what the vibe and style of the song are. Let him know what key the song is in. Basically, the more information you can supply, the better off he can do his job, and the better you will sound overall. Your live performance is the best place to convert people into fans, so their first impression of your band means a lot. And overall, don’t piss the sound guy off because can easily make you guys sound like buffoons on stage.

“Relying on the club owner to promote your show is not always the best idea.” (page 54)

The venue, the band, and the booker mutually benefit from all parties working together. A venue is going to continually work with a band who does its part in promoting because it shows dedication and it helps to pack more people into the bar/venue. Communication is also vital to ensure that both online and physical promotion is taken care of.

Example: I am currently helping to promote a show I booked. I make a percentage of the door, so if I help a little to promote it could make a difference in how much I make. I check in with the band to make sure they created a graphic for the show and pass it along to the venue, so they can do their part as well. I check in with both the band and venue to see what they’ve done and make any suggestions on how improve the current promotional campaign.

“Good things will come from your initiatives.” (page 61)

Note: showing initiative isn’t being blindfolded and trying to pin the tail on the donkey. Foresight, thorough thought, and analysis is necessary, BUT excessive deliberation shows weakness and uncertainty. Be strong enough to make up your mind one way or another in whatever you do.

That’s all for part 2…stay tuned for part 3.








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