I really don’t think you should get a record deal.
Wait – let me rephrase that.
I really don’t think you should spend time, effort, money, and emotional stamina to get a record deal. I played music myself, once, and hungered after a contract. I never got one, and I’m actually pretty okay with that. I had a non-realistic view of what a recording contract meant, and I’m betting that the same sort of reality distortion is in effect for quite a few other folks.
Of course, my opinion doesn’t amount to a hill of chili (super chunky or otherwise) without some reasoning behind it, so here are my bullet points, in no particular order:
1) A recording contract isn’t a career, or even a job. It’s a loan.
Carlos has said as much on social media, and I agree. I especially agree because I think I might have been the one who came up with the idea that a record company is just an unregulated bank. (I think. Actually, somebody else probably came up with it long before I did.)
The whole point of a recording contract is basically to say, “We’ll help finance the creation of a recording and other things, because we think we can sell those things for a TON more than the price of the financing.” If it works out, it’s a sweet deal for the record company, because they very likely have all the rights to the sound recording of your songs – and they can keep selling that sound recording to as many people as they can manage. If you’re not careful, or don’t have enough negotiating power, they will probably own those rights “in perpetuity.” (That means “forever.”)
Record companies don’t give you money for anything. They “front” funds to produce something with your name on it, hoping that your brand will be great for them. If you manage to carve a long-term career out of that situation, then that’s great for you (and the label, for whom it’s probably an even better deal), but the loan itself isn’t a guarantee that things will work out.
Plenty of artists have been dropped by their labels, by the way.
And no, if you get dropped, you won’t be likely to get the rights to all that hard work you did in the studio. That belongs to the people who paid for it, people who aren’t you.
Sidenote: KEEP. YOUR. PUBLISHING.
Actually, just forget about all the record deal hoo-hah and keep everything.
Musicians tend to think that a really snazzy recording, sold in all the big outlets, backed with a spendy video, and pushed with a fancy marketing campaign is what generates a career-powering phenomenon.
Well, no, what creates the phenomenon is people hanging on every note that you play.
Now, to be fair, all the fluff can help you get in front of more people. But you have to ask yourself if all the costs are actually necessary. Sure, it strokes your ego to have spent a whole year in a studio that makes a starship look dinky, and to have display ads in all the papers, plus a launch party featuring 100 white horses and an airdrop of 7000 popsicles over New York. Sure, that’s hard to ignore.
It’s also a frighteningly expensive way to reach a few folks who would have loved you for the music, glitz and glam or no. Yes, it takes more time and effort to find those people without all the hooplah, but if YOU find them, and YOU make the connection, then YOU are in control of your career.
And you might have an actual career, instead of just a big party that lots of people showed up to because of the free popsicles. Those folks are just there for the fun and spectacle, and will be gone in an hour. A career has to last longer than that. The shortcut isn’t a shortcut – it’s a conversion of money to time, and the conversion rate is lousy.
Oh, and of course that expenditure gets tacked onto the loan that the label made you.
Here’s another thing: Record companies look for products that are either selling themselves, or likely will be able to sell easily as the flavor of the month. If they see that you’re building a a real fanbase for yourself, they may come calling, dangling a juicy deal in front of you. Why? Because they want to make money off of what you’ve built.
Ask yourself: If you’re building it on your terms anyway, why should you sell it all off to somebody else for an advance that’s actually a lowball offer, plus the “opportunity” to do everything their way? That doesn’t make sense.
3) Recording contracts don’t do much that you can’t do for yourself anymore.
I’ve talked about this on other occasions. Back in the day of physical media, access to large-scale manufacturing was necessary to keep a large fanbase supplied. Back in the day of a few, tightly gated media outlets, money and clout were needed to dialogue with a significant number of people.
Now, it’s all digital. Making a copy of the entire, uncompressed contents of a full-length recording is trivial. Compression and transmission is only slightly less than trivial. Everybody can get on the Internet and say whatever they want to whoever they want, with the only real limit on audience size being the number of people who will listen. (Social media platforms ARE gated, yes, but not nearly as much as traditional media.)
You can do all of this yourself. You don’t need the label’s advertising machine to connect with your fans. They’re on your favorite social media platform already! Go talk to them. Be available. Answer and ask questions.
You don’t need the label’s production machine to have a music video. A half-decent phone-recording on YouTube can be a major attention grabber.
You don’t need the label’s recording machine to lay tracks. A few okay mics in an okay room can be connected to a $300 audio interface with basic software, and make a recording that sounds just fine. Maybe even great. Plus, you’ll own the rights to your music, and the recording, AND the means to make more.
You ARE the label. You ARE the contract. You ARE your fan-connection machine.
Why pay somebody else? You don’t need a record deal to make art and make connections. All the tools are readily available.
I’m going to say something that is going to upset a lot of musicians.
I totally understand why you feel the way you do when you complain about fans at shows constantly having their phones out and taking pictures or videos of the performance instead of just watching it without using mobile devices.
But with cell phones, cameras, and social media all playing such a major role in society and the way we communicate, we have to understand that they are not going away any time soon.
So we can either keep bitching about them….or we can find a way to make them work to our own advantage.
This was the internal dialogue I was having in my own mind a few months ago while driving to Austintown, Ohio to work with the lead vocalist of one of my client-bands, Amanda Jones & the Family Band.
And it was during that 30-minute commute on Interstate 80 that I started kicking around an idea; one that I knew Amanda and her band would be the perfect band to experiment with.
This article, the first of two parts, is a detailed look at that idea, how we implemented and rehearsed it, and some of the important decisions that had to be made going into it. The second part, which I’ll release in the next week or two, will delve into what happened the night of the show, problems that arose and how we dealt with them, and will include video of the entire Facebook Live broadcast as well as video shot from the floor of the venue.
But I’m also going to talk about the things that could have gone better than they did as well as what I think we should do differently the next time we attempt something like this. Even the most planned out shows can have things go wrong or pop up forcing musicians to think on their feet and adapt. Like boxing legend Mike Tyson used to say…everybody has a plan until they get punched.
THE PEOPLE INVOLVED
It would be a good idea to introduce you to the folks involved and why all of this went down in the manner that it did.
For those of you reading this not already familiar with me, I’m Wade Sutton from Rocket to the Stars – Artist Development and Music PR. I work with bands all over the world (thanks to Skype) and provide to them an array of PR-related services like bio and press release writing (I have an extensive journalism background), website and press kit creation, and more.
I also help artists hone their live performance skills and assist in the production of their live shows. I previously founded and directed one of the largest singing competitions on the US East Coast, one that saw the live attendance at the show’s annual finals surpassing an estimated 27,000 people.
The band involved in this little experiment is from an area just outside of Youngstown, Ohio, which is about half way between Pittsburgh and Cleveland. They have been clients of mine for about one year and we were just recently beginning to really dig into their live show.
The lead singer, Amanda, has been singing for several years but didn’t truly throw everything she had into music until after graduating from Mt Union University in Ohio. The band, Amanda Jones & The Family Band, is just that: a family band. Amanda’s father, Michael, is the acoustic guitar player. Her sister, Brittany, is the keyboard player. Brittany’s husband, Nathan, is on bass. The drummer, Frank, and electric guitarist, David, are not relatives but have been with the band for some time now.
When they first started performing, they were a Sugarland tribute band. It isn’t difficult to figure out why because Amanda at times sounds strikingly similar to Jennifer Nettles. But wanting to be something more than a tribute band, they began putting more time and energy into writing original music. The current set list is made of up a healthy combination of originals and covers. And while their music would most certainly fall under the country genre, their original music, individual style, personal likeability, and energy gives them an incredible amount of crossover appeal.
They also don’t burn out their local audience, instead making it a point to book dates outside the Youngstown area, including shows in Cleveland, the Pittsburgh market, and even down into West Virginia.
The band has also received its fair share of media coverage as well. They have performed live (more than once) on the television morning news program on Cleveland’s FOX TV affiliate in addition to making multiple appearances on Froggy radio in Pittsburgh.
So this is a group that has worked hard to grow beyond being a local band and, while they aren’t famous or well-known, they are performing and operating on a regional level.
LOOKING FOR SOMETHING A LITTLE BIT DIFFERENT
Back to the day I was driving to work with Amanda.
This idea of artists blasting audiences for using their phones at shows was weighing on me and I kept coming back to one question: If fans at a live show will have their phones out, what can we do that will get them to use those phones in a manner that benefits the bands.
I knew a couple of things going into this. I wanted it to be something that involved Facebook Live and I wanted it to be something much different than what people typically see of a FB Live broadcast.
I began formulating an idea that was born from two immensely popular performances I had seen over the past few years.
The first source of inspiration for the idea was a U2 performance I saw a couple of years ago in which the band invited a member of the audience to join them on stage. The woman they selected was given a cell phone tied to the band’s Periscope account. For one song, the fan was given free reign to walk around the stage showing what ever she wanted on camera and it was all broadcast live on Periscope. If I remember correctly, this all happened in that time period between when Twitter really started pushing Periscope (in direct competition with Meerkat) but before FB announced that it was working on the now popular Facebook Live feature.
The second source of inspiration for the idea was when Bruce Springsteen performed during the Super Bowl halftime show several years ago. The thing about that particular show that I always carried with me after watching it wasn’t how much energy Springsteen had on stage but was how he interacted with the cameras in addition to playing to the live audience. It created a sense of breaking the fourth wall and made for a television broadcast that was much more engaging for those watching on TV.
So taking those two performances as sources of inspiration, I knew we wanted to do something that was extremely engaging for both the audience attending the show live as well as the folks watching on Facebook AND we wanted to create something that would encourage people to share the video AND we wanted to walk away from it with incredible footage that the band could then repurpose and use for marketing materials, including a sizzle reel that could be shown at trade conventions or to send to colleges at which the band is hoping to be booked.
There is an inherent problem with the vast majority of Facebook Live broadcasts done by music artists wanting to air portions of their live show. More often than not, the artist places their phone on a tripod (or has somebody else hold it) and the phone is situated off to the side of the stage. The artist then performs for their audience and totally ignores the camera. So it leaves the viewer watching online feeling like they are a fly on the wall…a passive observer.
It results in a very strong feeling of detachment for the viewer, something that is in direct opposition of the engaging experience artists should be trying to create for fans.
When I arrived for my appointment with Amanda, the idea was pretty much fleshed out and we immediately began planning it. We were going to take a three song portion of an upcoming live show, put together a high-energy performance for those three songs, and broadcast it live on Facebook Live…and we were going to have the camera operator moving around on the stage with the band. This meant making sure the camera operator knew everything that was going on performance-wise so she would have the camera on the appropriate band member at any given time and so we could capture specific angles at specific times. And, most importantly, the band was going to be performing to the camera as much as the audience at the venue.
We were essentially creating a live mini-television production for FB Live.
We then decided to add an additional layer by erecting a video screen at the venue on which the broadcast would be shown as it was happening live. The reason we did that was because we wanted to encourage fans at the show to break out their phones, share the broadcast with their own Facebook friends, and leave comments so they could see their own names and comments pop up on the screen next to the stage…all things that would make Facebook detect the video as “interesting content” and hopefully push it into more people’s news feeds.
WHAT WE HAD TO DECIDE
In planning out this three song broadcast, we had to make some pretty important decisions. The two things that jumped out immediately were figuring out what three songs would be performed during that broadcast and during what live show would the broadcast take place.
As far as what three songs we would use, we took a look at all of the band’s options. As I said previously, their set list includes a combination of originals and covers. I suggested to Amanda that we stick to using only originals for the broadcast. As many musicians know, Universal Music Group has been on a tear pulling down covers of their songs done by music artists and posted on Facebook. Even though we could have used covers owned by other publishing companies, I felt the broadcast and video content was too important for the band to risk butting heads with any publishing companies. And it wasn’t like they were lacking quality originals that could be used for the broadcast.
I also wanted them to use originals that were upbeat because the performances during that broadcast were going to utilize an extensive amount of movement. I wanted the entire broadcast to be full of energy so anything remotely close to a ballad was tossed from the start. We eventually whittled it down to three songs: Jones Family Reunion, Ready to Fall, and Wine, Whiskey, and Beer.
Jones Family Reunion was the perfect song to start the broadcast with for several reasons. Not only is it a very fun and upbeat song, it also does an incredible job reinforcing one of the most interesting aspects of the band’s branding in that most of the members are family. That was extremely important because it is one of the things about the band that a lot of fans remember when they are first exposed to them. So starting the broadcast with that song allowed us to introduce people watching it to one of the things about them that is different from most other bands out there and it was done in a very high-energy manner.
Ready to Fall was a natural fit for the second slot. It gave us an opportunity to do a song that was about falling in love but wasn’t a weepy, slow song. And while it was upbeat, it was one we could bring down the visual energy (for the first half) by having Amanda sing at the mic stand and putting more attention on the lyrics for a period of time. We did this on purpose because we wanted to come out of this song and ramp up the visual energy for the end of the broadcast but we needed the audience to SEE the energy increasing over that time period. Doing so keeps the show visually interesting for both the audience at the venue and watching on Facebook Live.
Wine, Whiskey, and Beer was the finale for the three song broadcast. The song is a fan favorite and includes a call-and- response. It was also a very appropriate song to continue increasing the visual energy coming out of Ready to Fall enabling us to keep a very natural flow to the show and the Facebook Live broadcast. It also gave us an opportunity to show that even though the band’s performances are branded as something that families can take their kids to, the band can still let loose in a manner that parents would be okay with having their children at the show. It is a party…but it is a controlled party.
So all three of the songs were selected because not only were they catchy and energetic, they all had their own way of reinforcing the band’s brand and image. This is an area in which I’ve always felt too few bands are giving their attention and it is holding them back in a big way.
The next thing on our plate was figuring out at which show this Facebook Live performance was going to take place. We had several options available to us but there were two that stood out: the band’s appearance at WinterFest in downtown Cleveland or at their show at a venue called Bootlegger’s near Yankee Lake, Ohio.
WinterFest was a great opportunity for them. It was a performance that was tied directly to a much bigger event (so they weren’t solely responsible for bringing in the crowd) and it was one at which a lot of people were expected to turn out. But there were some cons to trying to do the broadcast there. Because the show was going to be outdoors on a November Cleveland day, I was concerned the wind would nix any plans to erect the video screen on which the FB Live broadcast would be shown. One strong gust and that thing would have been sailing into the air and out over Lake Erie. And even though we knew attendance for the festival was expected to be pretty high, we knew attendees would have a lot of things to do and look at and we didn’t know to what extent that would suck people away from the stage to do other things. Lastly, WinterFest was right around the corner from when we started fleshing out this idea and we wouldn’t have very much time to rehearse for it.
Bootlegger’s was the other attractive option. The band had performed there on two other occasions and, both times, had big turnouts. The venue is pretty much in the band’s backyard and, like I said earlier, they make it a point to not over-saturate the local market by doing too many shows locally. The show was booked for late January and gave us more time to prepare. And, most importantly, we discovered that the venue had just spent major cash on a new lighting and effects system that would blow people’s socks off. Having decided that we wanted to take video from this performance to use for marketing purposes, this was too good of an opportunity to pass up.
We circled the Bootlegger’s date as the show during which the Facebook Live broadcast would take place.
INTO THE REHEARSAL ROOM
We set aside two Sunday afternoons to work on the production of the broadcast, with each session lasting two hours,
In helping the band with this, I had to focus on two things: Making sure their performances were planned out with a lot of energy and I had to work with the camera operator on walk her through everything we would need her to do. Remember that she needed to know everything that was going on during the performance, where on stage it was happening, and where she was going to have to be to get the best angle. A friend of the band, Alyce, volunteered to be the camera operator so I asked that she be present at both rehearsals.
We addressed the performances first. Fortunately, the band brings a lot of experience to the stage as well as a willingness to try new things, is fantastic at accepting coaching (a rarity in this business, believe it or not), and already came in with a greater than average level of energy and enthusiasm. So it wasn’t difficult to get them to ratchet the energy up a few more levels. We then focused on creating visuals that would stick out to people watching the show. This included sections in the broadcast in which Amanda was on her knees with Michael and Nathan on either side of her, Amanda tossing beach balls out into the crowd, and Amanda actually singing while riding on Nate’s shoulders while he walked around playing bass during the finale of the broadcast.
It was all stuff that would look great performance-wise even without the impressive lighting at the venue. Since we had only a couple of hours to sort everything out, we took a “broad strokes” approach creating and working on these very cool visuals in cleaning up any major problems that popped up.
While we were hammering down all the movements that would take place during the broadcast, we also had to hash out things like when Amanda and members of the band would be performing to the camera operated by Alyce vs when they were performing to the crowd attending the show at Bootlegger’s. Proving that they were in fact the perfect band to run this little experiment with, the band had no problem hamming it up for the camera during rehearsal.
Once all of that was done, we had to address the final layer: Alyce’s presence on the stage during the show. I wanted to make this as easy as possible for her so grabbed Brittany’s iPhone (the same one we would be using for the Facebook Live broadcast) and I had the band run through each of the three songs while I recorded the video as if we were doing the FB Live broadcast. We then sent the video file to Alyce so she could study before the second two-hour session. It basically provided her with a video walk-through of where she had to be and where the camera had to be pointed at any given time.
The second two-hour session was spent doing repeated run throughs of the three song set. We also worked on Amanda’s delivery during the transitions when she would direct the crowd to sign-up for the band’s e-mail list, give them the rundown on the merchandise giveaway that was being run through sharing the FB Live video, and directing the audience on the call-and- response going into the last song. And this gave Alyce several opportunities to operate the camera through the entire set while we made adjustments to the performances and added more movements to the show.
We wrapped up that second rehearsal with a ten-minute FB Live broadcast during which the band and I discussed the work that went into it.
So now you know about everything leading into the show and the Facebook Live broadcast. In Part 2, you will get a very detailed look at everything that took place during the show, problems that popped up, things that went exactly the way we were hoping as well as aspects of the show that could have gone better, and you will get to see the actual Facebook Live broadcast in its entirety as well as video of the performance shot from the floor.
Additionally, if you haven’t already grabbed yourself a free copy of my music business book, The $150,000 Music Degree, you can do so by jumping over to www.GiftFromWade.com.
A lot of music biz teachers will tell you that you should commit time to releasing cover songs on YouTube because you’ll get all kinds of organic growth and attention.
I’m not saying that they’re are lying to you. But I will tell you that they’re not giving you the whole story.
In fact, as far as I’m concerned, they’re sending you on a wild goose chase. And there are MUCH better things to spend your time on.
It’s true that YouTube is the 2nd largest search engine. So if you post songs that people are ALREADY looking for, you can show up in those searches.
So your Lady Gaga covers might get some traction. But your TOTO covers probably won’t.
(Interesting side note: “TOTO” is also a brand of toilets in Japan which caused major confusion during their first Asian tour.)
Now back to your regularly scheduled programing…
In order to REALLY make that strategy work, what you have to do is cover POPULAR songs as soon as they are released. I’m talking the DAY they are released or within a few days at most.
Remember when Adelle released “Hello” and everybody and their cousin covered it on YouTube?
The problem there is that you put yourself in a situation with a LOT of competition…
…AND you’re playing someone else’s songs.
So if your goal is to build an audience for your ORIGINAL music, before you put anymore time into YouTube covers you should try something different.
Just trust me…
And follow my instructions exactly for a 7-day Facebook Live challenge.
Here are the rules:
Each day go on Facebook Live and play one of YOUR songs.
Don’t do it from your fan page. Do it from your personal profile. More people will see it that way.
Before you hit “Go Live” add a link to your squeeze page in the video description.
Mention 3 different calls-to-action during the broadcast:
1: ”Please turn on my live notifications.”
2: “Please share this video or invite people to join.”
3: “Please subscribe to my email list.”
I promise that if you do that for 7 days in a row, you will not only get MORE subscribers and engagement out of it than your last attempt at a YouTube cover, you’ll do it playing your own songs.
For extra credit try it out on other platforms where you can broadcast live like: Periscope, Twitter, Instagram, & YouTube.
Not only will it help you identify which social media platforms are the most responsive for YOUR original music, you can also repurpose the videos as blog posts for your own website and put them into rotation as content that sends traffic there!
In the Musicpreneur Apprentice Program we not only talk about how you can use Facebook Live to grow your community, we also go into great detail about how to MONETIZE it.
Just ask Bad Mary, a punk band from New York who made a couple hundred bucks the FIRST time they broadcasted a rehearsal on Facebook Live.
It’s easy to be hardcore when you’re a young musician. I remember those days well. You’re willing to play any gig at any time, drive as far and in whatever weather as needed, compromise your own comfort and income, drive a beater, live on ramen noodles and cheap beer, and to do anything else required to live the life you love, because, deep in your heart, you just KNOW that it’s going to pay off. You are gonna write that song or create that sound that sets the world on fire and it’s all gonna be gravy after that. You just need a little more time.
So time passes. Some musicians do, in fact, set the world on fire. Not you, though. High school turns to college, twenties turn to thirties, and the same lifestyle grind continues. You’re not that old yet, right? You may have picked up a spouse and/or kids by now, which changes the game a little, but you will just pick up some cover gigs for cash and maybe teach some lessons and all, you think, will be good. But it isn’t. Your original music isn’t paying the bills, so you go full on cover band. At least you’re a working musician, right? Not so bad, you get paid, and more time passes, enough time to notice a crucial difference. Where before you played to get past local gigs to the next level, now you just play a circuit that keeps you busy, hopefully, but leads nowhere. Maybe you’re in your forties by now, day job and all, and, one night on stage as you bash out “Mustang Sally” or “When I Come Around” for the millionth time while an over-served girl pukes on the dance floor, you start thinking that being a live juke box for suburban drunks isn’t what you signed on for, and maybe it’s time to adult up and quit this nonsense for good. I mean, you tried, right?
You might have lived out a variation of this tale. I know I have. I ended up so far away from where and why I started out that I forgot, for a while, why I ever did this music stuff in the first place. I learned a whole lot about the game of music and about myself over thirty years in the rock and roll trenches and I today want to share a few tidbits of that knowledge with you, Gentle Reader, in hopes of improving your mental game and saving you a step or two. Here goes nothing!
TIDBIT #1 – THE REASONS WHY WE PLAY ARE IMPORTANT!
We all must be who we are, as musicians. We have to accept our deep, inner identity because that is the part of us that made us start playing. If you had a burning desire to write songs when you were sixteen, part of you probably still does at forty. You have to honor that or it will drive you crazy. That was the big mistake I made. I started as a songwriter but got seduced by cover band money in my thirties and gave up writing for over a decade. I only made music for money. Thing is, music is not only about money. If you need both money and creativity to be happy, a balance between is needed. Cognitive dissonance is your enemy and will breed resentment. Keep your reasons alive!
TIDBIT #2 – BAR BAND LIFE SUCKS AFTER A WHILE!
Let’s face it, playing in a four- set-a-night bar band is not for everybody. It has its moments, to be sure, and is great for your chops, but it gets old fast for some of us. It’s a world away from life in a one-set original music band. No one dreams of getting old playing hours and hours of overdone material to an often indifferent or even hostile crowd of drinkers. Combined with a day job and a family, this life can be a spirit killer. Some folks are fine with it but, if you’re not, admit it to yourself. A gig is most definitely not a gig. Play in projects and venues that inspire you to do it again, not to just get drunk.
TIDBIT #3 – NOT QUITTING IS ALL ABOUT MORALE!
People quit things that they have lost enthusiasm for. The more years you spend in the game, the more vital it is to nurture your enthusiasm and positive morale in order to keep playing it. If you lose those things, you’ll be phoning it in forever and people will know. No matter what gig you’re doing, you’ve got to want to be there and feel good about it. Dig out your inner teenager again and remember why you first joined a band. As long as you can feed that inner teen with what he or she needs, your outer adult will be able to get through the tough nights and low points that come with all levels of music. Your mental game really is everything. Play it well.
I’ve come through these lessons and many more and am happy to be a fifty-year-old original music artist. My cover band days are probably done. Writing and recording music is why I’m here and always has been. I’m still hardcore, and I’m totally ok with with what I now do. To hit that point is to truly master The Art of Not Quitting.
I got into this business thinking I would be an engineer in a studio. That’s not how it worked out. Live-sound got a hold of me, and that was pretty much it. Even so, I do some occasional studio-style mixing, and I think I’m starting to get the hang of it.
One of the major problems with recordings is that you don’t control the playback system. One person might play your music on a rig that’s built to reproduce the entire audible range of sound with a laser-flat response curve. Another person might be listening on barely-working earbuds. Someone else might be one of those incredibly annoying people who listen to music by pumping it through their phone’s speaker. CAN WE STOP THAT PLEASE?
Even before the age of smartphones, “translation” was a big issue for folks making records. The question that was constantly asked was, “How do I make this tune sound good everywhere?”
In my mind, that’s the wrong question.
The real question is, “Does this mix continue to make sense, even if the playback system has major limitations?”
I realize that this is an appeal to absurdity, but I see it as counterproductive to try to make a song sound “good” on a half-dead clock-radio. A mix being played through a small, damaged speaker should sound like a mix being played through a small, damaged speaker. Spending hours and hours trying to make things fool people into thinking they’re listening to a better playback device isn’t worth it for most folks, especially because the mix will probably sound strange on more decent systems.
But spending some time on making sure that your recording basically works in a variety of situations IS worth it.
It’s actually pretty easy. If you already have a digital audio workstation of some kind (ProTools, Logic, Cubase, Reaper, GarageBand, etc, etc), you won’t need any additional equipment. Back in the day (and now), studios used to have small, limited bandwidth speakers they could route mixes through. That was before you could get another equalizer, basically for free, simply by running another instance of a plugin.
And that’s what I recommend doing.
Put an extra EQ plugin across your main mix. Set that plugin to kill off both the low and high-end of your tune. A high-pass and low-pass filter set at about 200 Hz and 5000 Hz respectively should be a good start. Collapse the mix to mono if you can. Your mix should now sound like it’s being played through a phone speaker (gah!), or pretty mediocre earbuds.
Does the mix still make sense? Can you still hear all the instruments that you feel are crucial? Are the vocals still intelligible? If not, start making changes. Get to a place that you like, and then pop the “crappy speaker” EQ into bypass. Restore the stereo field, if you were working in mono before.
With all the high and low end restored, does the mix still make sense? Are the bass and kick overwhelming in the bottom end? Is there too much traffic way up high? If so, make changes in just those areas – the areas that were cut out by the EQ. Try not to touch the midrange much, though, because that’s what you just got yourself satisfied with.
Do some back-and-forth checking as you work. You’ll know that you’re done when the mix still works in both scenarios. The mix without the “sucky playback system” EQ should sound “good,” assuming that you think your regular playback monitors sound good. The mix with the EQ should work, and be basically listenable. Your tune will now have a much better chance of “translating” in multiple scenarios.
And, as a final opinion, I would say this: If your mix absolutely must be mind-blowing on a specific format, make a special mix just for that format. If, for example, you know that a huge chunk of your fanbase is definitely going to be listening on Airpods, create (and clearly label) a mix that’s designed to be stunning just for them.
But, if you’re not really sure what people will be listening on, basic attention to translation should go a pretty long way.
Here’s a question I get every now and again… and again:
“What does ‘Schwilly Family’ mean?”
The short answer is: A “Schwilly” is the ultimate community oriented music super-fan.
A bunch of us used to reek havoc across the midwest music festival scene. ESPECIALLY Hookahville. At some point along the way, someone announced, “We’re a family of Schwillies!”
The name of my business is a tribute to where I came from and, more importantly, a constant reminder of WHY I do it.
When I gave one musician that answer to his question, he proceeded to tell me about how is wife busted out laughing at the name.
Well, that’s ANOTHER great benefit to the Schwilly Family “brand”! It comes with free smiles included 😉 And it’s a HECK of a lot catchier than “Music Marketing This” or “Music Business That”.
Remember: You’re not really building an “audience”. It’s more like you’re starting a club, a group of soon-to-be friends, or found family. Isn’t that a MUCH cooler thing than trying to be part of an “industry”?
The MOST IMPORTANT element of a “brand” is a feeling of belonging to an EXCLUSIVE group of people you respect and appreciate.
A LOT of people told me I was crazy for using “Schwilly Family” as my brand. And the truth is, it’s NOT for everybody. And it’s not meant to be.
It’s for YOU.
And I KNOW that being “Schwilly” has become a part of your identity and a badge you wear with pride. That, my friend, is what creates a TRULY great “brand”.
The fact that outsiders have no idea what it refers to is irrelevant. Because creating a brand that is MEANINGFUL is much more valuable than creating a brand that is instantly recognizable.
“Apple” certainly didn’t become synonymous with “computers” overnight!
If I had to sum up “branding” in once sentence, I would say: “Branding is NOTHING MORE than figuring out what you’re all about and learning how to express it.”
It can also be summed up (even better) by a quote from Simon Sinek:
“People don’t buy WHAT you do. They buy WHY you do it.”
One of the biggest problems with the educational resources you come across online nowadays is a tendency to overcomplicate things.
Many educators feel that, in order to provide value that equals the price they charge, they must to give you 10 hours of videos, complete with excessive jargon and complicated explanations…
…as if the harder it is for you to learn, the more valuable it is.
I have figured out that I can provide more VALUE in 5 minutes by giving you information in a way that you understand, which you can apply and see RESULTS from on the same day I give it to you.
Pretty much everything we do in the Musicpreneur Apprentice Program contributes to building your “brand”. But you’ll probably never hear me use that word again.
I saw a discussion on Facebook the other day. A bunch of musicians were discussing whether it’s better to release singles, or to wait and release a full CD. The answer is, of course, there is no pat answer. It depends.
But one of the musicians brought up the following points about releasing singles.
Too many releases could get annoying
People would take some of the songs for granted since there’s no expectation or anticipation.
It’s too predictable and doesn’t build interest/wet the appetite of potential fans.
Who Is Your Favorite Musical Artist?
I know a married couple that goes to Bruce Springsteen concerts, every chance they get. They fly to different cities to see him. Recently, when he was on his book tour, the woman couldn’t make it to see him in Seattle, where she lives. So, she went to Portland to have a chance to meet him.
Maybe you have a band that you love as much. It might be an indie, or underground band, and not somebody huge. Whoever it is, would you mind if they put out a single every month? Or would you want to wait 8 months or a year, for a full CD? How often would you like to be contacted by them? Is once a month good? Maybe once a week? Or would you like to see their living room, watch them record, know what they had for dinner, have an online Q & A with them, watch them play scrabble on the tour bus?
The answer is of course, that it depends. But most superfans like to be contacted more, rather than less.
One Superfan Is Worth How Many Lukewarm Fans?
A superfan will share your music. A superfan will like, comment on and/or share almost every Facebook post, watch every YouTube video, and read every tweet. They will buy nearly everything you put out. They are invested in you.
A lukewarm fan will like a few of your Facebook posts, but they probably won’t share them. They’ll say, “Nice job!”, or leave a smiley face. Maybe 10% of them will buy your CD when it comes out.
Although the percentages may not be exactly 80/20, that old rule applies. A minority of your fans will be responsible for the majority of your success. So, you should be set up to please your superfans, not your lukewarm fans. And you should be doing things that turn your lukewarm fans into superfans.
Who Should You Nurture?
Nurture your superfans. Give them as much content as they want (if you can). Don’t worry about the rest, too much.
I run an internet business (unrelated to music). I have an email list of several thousand folks. Whenever I get an email from one of them, especially a complaint, I check a couple of things right away.
How long have they been on my email list?
Have they ever bought anything from me?
If they’ve bought something from me, I know they’re invested. We have a relationship. They’ve demonstrated their commitment. I take their concern seriously, and address it as quickly as possible. If they’ve been on my email list for a couple of years, but haven’t bought anything, I take what they say with a grain of salt. The chances are., if they haven’t bought anything from me, or interacted with me in a memorable way, my message hasn’t resonated with them.
Here’s my point. If you try to please everyone, you won’t please many. You’ll move away from what you’re passionate about, and then everyone loses. If you do more of what you’re passionate about, you will attract those that resonate with it. Then, what do you do about people who aren’t quite into what you do? Well, don’t worry about them. They’re not who you should focus on.
You Need Regular Fans, Too
Not every fan is going to be a super-fan. While super-fans will probably be responsible for maybe half of your success, you need regular fans too. You might have an email list of 10,000 people, and only 500 of them are super-fans. But the 9,500 that are left, will make up the rest of your success.
My suggestion is to do your best to convert regular fans into super-fans. Beyond that, just keep engaging with them. The least of your worries should be contacting folks too much. If they aren’t that interested, they’ll remove yourself from their list. If you lose people, it won’t be the dedicated fans, it will be the lukewarm ones.
How Often Should I Contact People Who Like My Music?
One of the ways you can avoid over-contacting people is to have different channels that you create content for at different intervals. You can tweet 4 times a day, post to your Facebook fan page 4 times a day, send to your email list once a week, and post a YouTube video every two weeks (I’m just picking numbers out of a hat — it’s not a suggested schedule).
If somebody wants less contact than once/week, they’re not that interested. If that’s all they can handle, they can sign up for email. If they’re a super fan, they may want to be involved in all your doings.
But at a bare minimum, I’d suggest contact once a week. It doesn’t always have to be a new piece of music. You can talk about writing, what song you’re working on, the recording process, your journey as a musician, a cause you find important, or your cat. Less than once a week, and people will lose track of you, and forget who you are.
Singles Vs. CDs Or EPs
A lot goes into the decision of whether to release music as singles, or wait until there’s enough fro a CD or EP. Personally, I lean toward releasing singles, and then when you get enough, do a CD. Singles give you a chance to engage more often. Maybe, once you get enough tracks for a CD, you can do some live versions and remixes for the CD, and add a couple of tracks that you don’t release as singles.
Also, if you don’t have a big backlog of recorded material, singles can be a way of getting started delivering music to fans, without waiting months for a larger project.
Of course, I record at home, on a computer. When you’re recording a full band in the studio, it’s going to be much more economical to do a bunch of songs at once. It means you’ll probably only have to set up and mic the drum set once, for instance. You can still release the songs as single though, if you want.
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