Music Today – Artist v. Industry: May Fall’s Chronicles from Both Perspectives
The music industry has changed in the last few decades and many artists are unaware that path to success is still the same: time, money and effort. No pain – no gain.
by SoundBytes Magazine Guest Writers May Fall and Frank Scott, Nov. 2017
The music business is still the same as it was decades ago. It is still a business. It has changed in many ways, but there is one thing that has changed even more than business itself: the artist’s mindset. In older days you needed to invest some money to buy equipment, then work on your music, organize concerts to attract people from business and, in most cases, even pay for studio time to record some demo tapes. Studio time was far from cheap back then. So, it was a time-money-and-effort sort of the game.
Today most young musicians use some software – some of them even pirated one. They then proceed to make really cool music at home and just wait to be discovered, sending their demos to various labels. The main thing that music industry expects is your commitment. They need an artist who is willing to do his or her part of the job, and do that for the long run. Why should they invest their money in somebody who hasn’t even invested money in a proper demo or a good master? The artist who doesn’t invest time and a bit of cash into good presentation, spending some time in second hand shops to find some really cool clothes, making some appealing (and professional) promo photos, is not putting a best face forward. You can get a good promo pic for a price less than that of a plug-in. Then there’s video. Bands, or individuals used to work hard to buy their first instruments, today you can invest this money in a video clip.
There are still plenty of things that you can do to make some progress, to promote yourself in the music world, to become a star. But you really need to show that you care. We are offering you a true story, a tutorial on what should you do and how you can do it. No pain, no gain.
Attitude is everything. Show to the industry that you care and that you are prepared and committed to do your part of the job, and they will care. It is not a fairy tale. It is still what it was – a music business.
We at SoundBytes magazine are offering you a true story, a story on how to make progress in your career, a story from artist perspective and story for promoter perspective. Heed well, Grasshopper. 😀
by SoundBytes Magazine
Part I – The Artist’s Perspective by May Fall
During my musical adolescence, I used to believe that the biggest challenge in music making is to come up with a great musical idea and to bring it to life in the best possible way. Years of experience taught me that indeed it is a great challenge, but the real challenge begins after you complete the creative process.
Capturing your idea in a well performed, arranged, recorded and mixed song is great. But bringing your music to get the attention it deserves is a true fight, whether you intend to bring it to the attention of the wide public, music industry professionals, or both.
We all know that the music industry has tremendously changed since the early 2000’s due to the increasing availability of all sorts of new music online. This abundance of music out there forced musicians to take more actions than before in order to stand out. Whether you aim to independently distribute your music to the public or you want to grab the attention of the music industry, you need to do so much more than just music.
Every project I was involved in during the recent years has taught me what I’ve done right, but more about what I’ve done wrong. It became clear to me, that no matter what strategy I turn to – indie or label, I need to start my way with the most possible established infrastructure around my music.
Step 1 – Acknowledging the Unromantic Reality of Music as Commodity
First of all, it is important for you to see your music, and in particular, every song or album, as a unique product. This perspective is not only a mantra of musicians aimed to plant the business awareness in their minds, but it is actually how a song is considered financially: it is an independent product that is being sold to the public through different channels, and it’s what constitutes the artist’s main source of generating profits.
As for the infrastructure around it, I am referring to anything that accompanies and promotes your product: your live performance, your branding, logo, artwork, photos, written content, music videos, and social media pages that display all of that to the public.
Being an artist that feels more comfortable in the studio than on stage. I knew that especially when you’re not touring with your music and you plan to disseminate your music primarily through your recorded material, you have to work even harder to compensate for the lack of live presence.
My idea was to have everything ready before starting the promotional endeavor, since at that stage, your focus completely changes and you turn your creative resources to the dissemination of your music.
As for budget considerations, money is always an issue, and minimizing expenses is vital for this journey, especially at the pre-release stage, since you’re going to need most of your budget for the promotion of your music.
For that reason, acquiring as many skills you can is crucial. As for things you can’t do or don’t have enough available time to learn, it’s always good to have skillful and talented friends that could help you. If you don’t have such friends, try to think of how to reach talented people you can work with without spending too much money – like students that need to do some project and are willing to use you as their guinea pig, or other talented people that agree to collaborate in barter transactions with you, or just believe in your music that much to agree being paid less under the belief that the exposure of the finalized product will serve them as well.
Step 2 – Get Everything Done
I started my new synthpop project with the recording of two singles: “Same Code” and “Blind Zone”. Having acquired some experience in recording and mixing throughout the years, I did the recording and programming in my home studio (as for previous works, you’re welcome to check the album by my band, Road to Evenmind,“Diagnosis: Unsovled”, which we recorded in our studio and had the pleasure of witnessing Michael Wagener mixing it).
Knowing that the backdrop of most home studios (including mine) is adequate acoustic environment, I expected the recording of the vocals to be the most complicated part.
Since I went all the way in this case being a cheap bastard that avoids expenses at any cost, I found out about a simple and brilliant solution for creating acoustic environment for vocals recording in home studios – paraphrasing the memorable hit: “it’s a Mic in a box”!
As for the mixing stage, I have the pleasure to have a very talented sound engineer friend, Noam Catinthesack Meiri, who guided me through the mixing of “Same Code” and meticulously mixed “Blind Zone” himself.
As for the video clips, I also had in mind exactly what I want to have, and I made efforts to get it in the lowest possible budget. Awkwardly enough, I shot the video for “Blind Zone” before mixing the song. In this case, I had a perfect location for a video clip – a satellite teleport in a mesmerizing valley, and since it was accessible to me for a limited time I couldn’t miss the chance of having a video clip shot there (with the assistance of another good friend of mine, Daniel Harpaz).
For the other video clip, “Same Code”, I found the very talented motion graphics animator Yuval Leizerman, who managed to create an awesome video that pretty much captured the vision I had for the video while adding his own brilliant ideas.
Having the tracks and videos ready, I diverted my efforts to work on all accompanying material. Another talented friend of mine, photographer Matan Militanu, ran a photo shoot session that resulted in great pictures that visually expressed the vibe of my music.
With some more assistance from my homies Eyal Benvenisti (artwork) and Vili Greenberg (logo design), and my own efforts to come up with some written content, I finally had all material I needed for the promotion of the project. Last step was to build online presence (facebook page, twitter, instagram, youtube etc) and we’re good to go.
Step 3 – and Now, Fight!
Next stage was to decide what would be my promotion strategy. Am I going to release my music independently? Do I prefer trying to find a record label to release it? If I’m looking for a label I shouldn’t settle for just any label, as I’m not confident that I wouldn’t do a better job promoting my own music than some small indie labels.
So my idea was to start by giving a shot with the major labels. Nothing to lose here, as I can always move on to plan B (be on my own), C (change profession) or D (die).
Unsurprisingly, as much as I tried hard to get emails of key contact persons in big labels, it really didn’t do the trick. Most record label A&R’s don’t tend to respond to emails at all. Apparently, they are not that communicative directly with artists, as they assume, understandably, that artists can’t really objectively represent their own music. For that reason they prefer to get submissions from other music industry professionals (like artist management), under the assumption that these people already filtered out for them the crappy stuff (or good stuff that is just not yet there). Looking back, I wasted too much time on trying to find different strategies to get to these people. At times I thought to create an alternate identity of an artist agent to represent me just to reach these people. Luckily I gave up that idea.
Pretty quickly I came to the conclusion that I should just start releasing my music on my own, just try to do my best and hope that something good would come out of it. I did some of the work myself, like social media promotion and turning to radio stations, which resulted in some nice airplay to begin with. At this point, I realized getting some assistance from experienced music-promotion professionals would be the best solution for me. As I expected, that was the point where I had to become less sentimental about my money.
Soon after releasing the “Same Code” video, I turned to Andy Gesner from HIP Video Promo. Andy and his team did great work: I got a big push on social media, some online media coverage, and most importantly, my video was aired in a variety of TV channels and outlets across the US.
For the release of “Blind Zone” I decided to focus on radio promotion. That’s when I turned to Frank Scott from ReFeel Music Group. Frank and his team threw a big radio promotion campaign and managed to get the song added to rotation in more than 130 radio stations worldwide. Although I just intended to get their assistance in this matter, they actually liked what I’m doing and offered me to join their roster. After taking me under their wing, they got me more media coverage and managed to get the “Blind Zone” video on TV channels in different countries, including Russia, Mexico and Bolivia.
There’s always more to achieve, but that’s a nice start. Altogether, my promotional expenses for the entire project amounted to around $3000 USD. It’s not pocket money, but it’s not more than what artists usually pay for recording, mixing or video production. If you still insist on doing all promotion yourself to save money, take in account that you are probably substantially less efficient than professional promoters, and they can do much better job than you in a fraction of the time you would spend. You should do some of the promotion yourself, but if you try to do everything yourself, you actually spend time that could be used for something you’re good at (and perhaps you would make more money than what you would spend on professional promoter who would to the same job but much better). So, looking it that way, it’s actually more cost-efficient to pay someone else to do his job than struggling to do it yourself. To conclude, in my opinion, when you plan your budget for your next music project, a wise planning would be to allocate at least 50% of your budget (if not more) for promotion.
Happily, now I got time to work on some new tracks, knowing that finally someone covers me on the promotional side. Good riddance, I hated doing it on my own.
Part II – The Music Industry Perspective by Frank Scott (ReFeel Music Group)
I’ve been asked many times “what are you looking for in an artist?”, and honestly, I don’t have a simple answer for that. I know it when I see it. It’s easier to explain what I’m looking for by describing my perspective as a music industry professional.
What We Look For
First, I have to emphasize that I like music, I really do. I enjoy listening to many different genres and sub-genres, from EDM, through hip-hop, avant-garde jazz, experimental electronic music, underground industrial music, folk rock, funk, R&B, heavy metal, and to classical music. My taste in music doesn’t perfectly overlap with my professional preference of music. My professional preference covers only a small part of what I like to listen to.
The harsh truth is that in our (music industry) perspective this is first of all a business. You have limited time and limited budget and you want to make the most of it. So obviously you want to get an artist that you believe can generate revenue. You invest time and money and naturally, like in any other business, you want to see something in return. As for what kind of artists can be considered to have the potential to generate revenue, there is not always an objective answer for that.
Of course, there will be those prodigies that everyone would like to sign because they have it all. In other cases, personal taste plays a roll but some qualities are a must: great music, interesting and unique, yet the kind that can still be enjoyable for as many people as possible; Great presence – on stage and off it, the artist must look persuasive and confident and have the ability to capture the hearts of the crowd. Then there’s great character – we keep in mind that the artist is someone we’ll have to work with regularly. You want them to be good people, intelligent, fun to be around, and especially ones that can understand the music business (regardless of whether they play by the “rules” or not).
However, it’s important to add that besides these qualities, there are more considerations that might tip the scales. Generally, as in every investment, you always aspire to maximize revenues and minimize expenses. An artist that has what it takes, but doesn’t yet have well-produced and recorded songs or album, no music videos, no professional photos, nonexistent (or nearly so) established fan-base, might discourage us from taking them under our representation. It’s simple math. I know that getting less of these to begin with, will require us to increase the budget for the artist and thus reduce our profits. Of course, there are some artists we believe in so much that we would agree to take it all on ourselves because we feel it will probably be worth it. But the best tip I can give artists that want to get a deal besides “try to be as awesome as you can” is to come as ready as possible to release your music to the world. We saw that May Fall met both these requirements, so there was no question whether we should take him on board.
It should be noted that aside from the artist’s qualities, we (and other artist management and record labels) have more considerations to take in account when we decide whether to take an artist under our representation. Even if we meet a great artist that has everything it takes, sometimes it’s just not the right time for us as we already allocated all our resources (time and money) to the artists we already manage. In such cases, taking another artist will require splitting resources among more artists, and that is just not fair for our artists and the new artist interested in our representation. Working with too many artists simultaneously usually means that none of them will get proper attention and any work you do for them wouldn’t be effective enough to push them in the right direction. For that reason, artists shouldn’t be discouraged from getting “no” for an answer, because sometimes it just has nothing to do with their qualities. Accordingly, artists shouldn’t be tempted to join a label or agency that work with huge number of artists, because many times it means that the artists just won’t get what they need, and might actually be better off working independently.
What We Do
As for what ReFeel Music Group does, we use all our experience, knowledge, techniques and connections to push the artist and the artist’s music as far as we can. We work both a management agency for our small roster of artists, and as a promotion agency offering services to record labels, independent artists and other artist management and promotion agencies.
For our small roster of artists we start with building a strategy. We ask the artist what they would like accomplish, and then we check what is missing to make that possible. To begin with, we need a repertoire of five to ten great songs, professionally recorded, mixed and mastered and ready to be released. Then, we need to build the artist’s public persona – branding, biography and other promotional content, studio photos, a music video, some introductory videos, social media platforms etc. When we have all that, we make a six-month planned scheduled. We set dates for everything, online music release, radio release, video release, teasers, social media posts, announcements, concerts and everything else. It’s like a military operation, the order of things and timing is everything. You need to build the momentum and ride on it. If you do some things too early or too late you might significantly compromise the success of the process.
After building a strategy we start working: starting steadily building followers on social networks, creating a buzz, working on organic SEO, and expanding the online presence of the artist. Based on how things evolve, we sometimes make small changes in our plan but usually nothing drastic. When the time arrives to release a song or a video, we start making a big push. We prepare press releases and other promotional documents and start utilizing our connections. We run an extensive radio promotion campaign (our main expertise, which I will elaborate shortly), video promotion campaign, in the case there’s a music video, and we submit the music to music blogs, magazines and online music pages and platforms. Many times we also use the services of other music promotion companies with whom we collaborate to get the most of it.
About halfway into the scheduled plan we sit with the artist and check whether we are moving in the right direction, and what are the expectations after the completion of the six months scheduled plan. Based on that, we make a plan for the following six months, which might include planning a tour, pitching to some record labels, or scheduling new releases.
As mentioned, we have only a small roster of artists and a big portion of what we do is offering promotion services to independent artists, record labels and other music industry companies. Our expertise is radio promotion. Throughout the years, we managed to gather a database of contacts from 30,000 radio stations of all kinds (FM, online, college, commercial, public etc.), all genres, and all countries. Our promotion campaign starts with listening to the song at issue. Based on what we hear, we prepare a targeted list of relevant radio stations, based on genres, languages and locations. These targeted lists usually consist of 8,000 to 12,000 radio stations. Then, the client can choose the extent of the campaign based on their budget, with campaigns starting at 4,000 stations and go up to the full list of targeted stations. Our pricing starts at $160 USD per 1,000 stations, which is reduced the bigger the campaign gets. We pitch each station with a download link to a broadcast ready track and promotional sheet with information, links and photos of the artist, so they have all they need add the song to rotation as soon as they get it. To increase responsiveness, we pitch also in Spanish to stations in Spanish speaking countries, thereby tremendously improving the results in the huge Latin-American market. During and by the end of each campaign we provide the client with a detailed airplay report showing exactly when and where the song was played. As May Fall mentioned, in his case, our campaign led to his song being played in more than 130 radio stations in around 40 different countries.
To conclude, as much as May Fall and other artists I know have realistic perspective of music promotion and the ability to self-promote, I’m confident that it would be extremely difficult for them to accomplish what professional music promoters can accomplish for them. Talent is crucial, but without getting proper professional promotion, the world won’t know about that talent.
Got any questions you would like to ask Frank from ReFeel Music Group? Drop him an email:
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