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Some Sick Jams

June 7, 2010

Follow this link to a mixtape of some tracks I’ve been gettin down to, post SXSW!

Grooveshark Widgets – Music Playlists for Your MySpace & Blog.

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Some jams I’ve been into since Austin

June 7, 2010

Perceptions of SXSW

June 7, 2010

In retrospect, I have gotten so much out of my trip to South By Southwest back in March. It created a spark of energy within my mind to pursue the crazy music business into the foreseeable future. Just seeing the environment of Austin during that week–music lovers galore, industry moguls knit together with fans in a packed venue for a few drinks at a late night show. Everything about it was magical. There is something for everyone to see, enjoy, and experience.

It’s Your SXSW.

It seemed like a great opportunity from the beginning. Tons of bands I’d never heard of before, cutting edge panels concerning, artists/labels/technology, and an amazing group of people going. How could it be bad? And it turned out exactly like that, only more crazy, sleep deprived, and unreal.

Obviously, I learned a colossal amount of valuable information, from people in the business that I admire and wanted to meet even before the trip. Networking was an amazing opportunity, as was finding out about new music, and yourself.

The rest of my time at IPR (just graduated two days ago woohoo!) was spent getting my hands dirty in as many activities, social events, and projects as possible, trying to really get a feel for what was out there and what my skills were. I’ve realized through all of these exploits that I fit into a wide spectrum of areas and have a ton of diverse interests–this I’ve discovered is why the music business is the one for me. SXSW helped me realize this. Now is my time to hit the streets and live my idea of the music business–may it carry me to whatever mysterious ends it might have in store.

Since, the trip I have planned on returning the beautiful city of Austin next March to do all over again, only better. The first journey to SXSW is a wild experience, but after demystifying the inter workings of such an intense situation changes and “I’m going to do this [differently] next year” ideas come to mind. Organization, research, and networking targets are some of the more global updates that I (and many others) have communicated. Getting a hotel in down town Austin in another change that I want to attempt to make. While it’s more expensive, you don’t have to contend with the transport services, can have a place to chill out, and even catch a few more zzz’s in the A.M. Regardless, there are always changes in what you would like to see/do and how to go about doing that, but there is only a set amount of time and practically unlimited things to do. I think being organized and digging around online before jumping in is essential for a productive time at SXSW.

I loved it. I’m going back. Thanks to all who made my time there unforgettable.

Businesses I’m Diggin

June 7, 2010

I found out about this at SXSW back in March. Nimbit is a direct to fan marketing platform similar to Topspin Media, that artists can use to more or less manage their business, connect with fans through email and social media, and even set up their own online store to cut out the middle man (even though I suppose Nimbit is a middle-man).

The pricing breakdown is one of the coolest parts about the system because it gives artists a wide range of services to choose from and allows them to try the software before deciding to jump into a monthly commitment. It’s also an open service, in that anyone can use it. Topspin differs in this regard, requiring artists to meet some general criteria before they can dive into the system (see questions below).

1. Do you make more than $5,000 annually selling music?
2. Do you have at least 2,500 emails in your email database?
3. Does your web site get at least 10,000 unique visitors per month?
4. Do you have at least 15,000 fans on Facebook?

See Nimbit’s plans and pricing here.

Direct to fan marketing tools are very powerful and beneficial to artists if used and managed correctly. Artists like Trent Reznor, Band of Horses, and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones are all textbook examples of how these systems can be used even for large successful musicians. Being able to control information flow, study analytics, and sell directly to fans keeps the business of “you” in house and allows for creative strategies and flexibility. I’m planning on trying it out soon myself, so when I do, I’ll let ya know more details and my perception of the software from the other side of the coin.

RootMusic is another service I discovered in the land of Austin. This is a really simple to use band page generator for Facebook. It uses a ton of drag and drop features giving the user total control over the layout, look, and feel of their personal artist page. In the tour video, the presenter brings up a pretty bare bones page and spices it up with custom uploaded graphics, creative font editing, and a mix of colors to really make it stand out. After 3 and a half minutes, boom, he has a really cool looking page that took a very minimal amount of effort to construct. I’m definitely going to use this for managing artists presence on the ever expanding Facebook music space. OH WAIT! I didn’t mention that the audio tracks on the page are powered by Sound Cloud (which is freakin bad ass) technology, so it’s easy to stream, and even download music straight from the FB page. Check it! (Links to Oona’s page so you can dig in).

One other service that I found out about during my SXSW excursion, was HootSuite. This is a social media content manager similar to Tweet Deck, but involves more sites (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, WordPress, Linked In, Ping.fm, and Foursquare). It’s sick because you can link everything together and easilty manage all of your online communications without having to navigate a myriad of windows.

Another great feature is that multiple users can be added as admins to an account so that everyone can pitch in on the social effort. This is very useful for businesses who want to communicate news updates or content that is created or distributed from different parties in the business. Instead of having to mess around with email, texting someone, or yelling across the room, anyone can simply just post links to whatever they want in two seconds. Real useful stuff!

Panel Review #5: Future of Music PR

April 4, 2010

The world of music public relations has gone through a huge change in the recent past, progressing quickly from popular Zines to websites, and now blogs. As expressed by the panel members, the role of PR is still the same: to bring attention to where artist are and what they are doing, but the tools to communicate this information are in constant flux.

The panel comprised of:

Andy Adelewitz – Publicist for Paradigm (Ithaca, NY) Moderator
Wendy Brynford-Jones – Owner of Hello Wendy (North Hollywood CA)
Sarah Mary Cunningham – Publicist for The Chamber Group (New York, NY)
Keith Hagan Co Owner of SKH Music (New York, NY)
Ken Weinstein – President of Big Hassle Media (New York, NY)

A great deal of the discussion revolved around how a lot of changes in the industry are subjective and situational. To put this in perspective, some PR people have assumed more of an A&R role, and others more of a management position with the artists that they represent. The process and roles of publicists vary by agency and situation.

They all seemed to agree that “content is king”–as we’ve all heard a million times, but this is an important concept. With high quality content, publicists can distribute it through their channels and make a much bigger impact than if an artist just pumps out a bunch of mediocre media. A well developed story is essential to this success. This story can be refined and explored between the artist, publicist, and management. “Management is an extension of the band. The key, expressed by Cunningham, is a well thought out strategy–“Know your outlets and have control over your property.”

While the main panel was interesting, the questions that followed gave a lot of insight into the role of publicists and advice surrounding them.

Ken Weinstein smartly pointed out that “a lot of bands think they need a publicist when they really do not.” I thought that this was a really great comment coming from a PR veteran. This affirms that the DIY culture swarming the music industry today includes a wide range of responsibilities. At an early stage in an artists career, they might need to send out press releases to radio stations and bloggers in their market to get their content out there. This is very important for many artists to see. Traditional roles of musicians are changing as much as they are for the people who support them. Everyone has to work harder to be noticed.

As a final note, the panel experts gave a few thoughts on: what to look for when shopping for a publicist?

  • Do they post updates regularly?
  • Look at their artist roster, is there anyone of note, or a lot of unknowns?
  • Ask to talk to the other bands under the publicist and see what they think

It’s the wild wild west out there. There are no rules.

SXSW Topspin Media Demo @ The Belmont

April 3, 2010


I was extremely excited for Topspin Media’s demo ever since the invite popped up in Google Reader the first week in March. RSVP’ing for the 5pm time slot, I arrived at The Belmont, a stylish American restaurant/bar on west 6th street in Austin. As expected the gathering had very laid-back, friendly atmosphere, featuring food, drinks and a diverse group of interesting people all wanting to find out more about the Topspin direct-to-fan marketing system.

Settling down to start the demo, Topspin CEO Ian Rogers (Link to Twitter) casually introduced himself and dove right into the software. I have seen the front end of the marketing system from exploring the Topspin site, but the back end technology and user control of the program blew me away. The system parlays nicely with its user base (generally creative individuals) allowing them to customize their marketing and online presence to align with their wants and needs.

The system is totally customizable, but not to the point of excessive complexity. This allows the user to become creative with their marketing efforts without having to wade through mountains of coding. Topspin and their affiliates take care of this end of things. The huge amount of data Topspin generates from gathering email addresses, social network, and IP related data allow the display of fan’s geographical information, purchasing behavior, social network popularity, among many other important metrics. It’s great because this information is not only useful for online monetization, but for long-term strategies concerning touring, product development, and whatever other creative way an artist wants to use the data about their fans.

The best part is that it is so easy to use. In around an hour and change we built:

  • A simple site based on a WordPress theme
  • Set up a Facebook store
  • Created some creative product offers, including a couple different product bundles
  • Online tickets for a show (which can also be bundled with other items)
  • Generated some widgets (email for media, tweet for track) for use anywhere in an artist’s digital landscape

A new development in the Topspin system was discussed at the end of panel which allows the store to bridge multiple sites online without affecting the shopping cart. This basically means that if a fan is on Facebook and adds a item to their shopping cart, then moves to the artist’s website, they can alter or add to their shopping cart without interruption between sites. Myspace can also be thrown into the mix, which makes the store even more flexible and easy to use. Another useful Topspin tool allowing artists to cater to their fans.

Awareness → Connnections → Monetization

Panel Review #3: Merge Makes Noise!

March 28, 2010

After being braised with global music marketing culture and trends I decided to see what Chapel Hill, NC based indie label Merge Records had to say. Purveyors of Spoon, Arcade Fire, and the buzzworthy She and Him, Merge rose up as the in classic DIY fashion to become the amazing business that it is today. The panel was more or less a pitch for their new book, Our Noise, but contained a bunch of great tidbits concerning their creation and development throughout the years. Founders Laura Ballance and Mac McCaughan are amazing and gave a real down to earth introspective view on their lives and values. The panel was moderated by New York based writer Michael Azerrad.

Azerrad: “Why did you decide to start a label?’

McCaughan: “Well–we were in bands and we always wanted to put out a record, but nobody would do it for us. So we would do it ourselves. It started out as a kind of art project–nothing long-term.”

Ballance: “We had put out 7″ singles by local bands before, and that was pretty easy. So we just did that.”

Azerrad: “What were the mechanics of the business at the beginning?”

Ballance: “We just made it up as we went along. We knew some distributors, so we said ‘lets just call them’.”

Azerrad: “Did you get any help from other labels?”

Ballance: “When we had questions we’d call up people at K, TeenBeat, Homestead, Amphibian. ‘Where do you buy plastic sleeves? Where do you get your records pressed?’ The labels were sort of our peers, just on a bigger scale.”

They went on to talk about some of the values that they were build on–music they liked and operating without expectations.

Ballance: “If 500 people like it, it’s a success as a record.”

This really showed just how much they loved the music. While this may seem like a typical ‘indie’ statement, they sincerity with which she stated this was very authentic. They had always done things the way they wanted to do them and success was measured in a different way for Merge. The way many labels are starting to measure success today (except for the big four or three or whatever they will be soon, that view of success is a little too blasé for them to digest). To achieve this sort of sustainability, Merge entered a distribution agreement with Touch and Go, so that they didn’t overextend themselves. This led to slow, reasonable growth for the label–growth that they could (and still do) maintain. 2009 was their best year yet.

They then moved into Merge’s relationship with it’s artists.

Azerrad: “What are the evolving tastes of indie music?”

Ballance: “The evolving tastes of Mac and Laura. Merge is invaluable to our artists because the artists and Merge pick each other.”

Merge by design is in tune with many artists. The founders played in bands, so they are on the same wavelength as their clients. They are small in size, making them flexible, but garner relationships that allow them to handle interests of larger artists. When questioned whether supporting an artist who they like, but who would only sell a few hundred copies, was a practical way of doing business, Ballance answered. “If you really like something you want to believe it will sell more than 500 copies.”

Up until this point I was really interested in the panel, when it took an unexpected turn. When asked about how they would start a label today, a sour mood came over the panel. They formed a strong position against the digital realm of music, where the mp3 dominates the world of physical product. Mac insisted that physical formats still hold a great deal of value and that a physical product forms a connection between artist and fan as some sort of talisman.

McCaughan: “Physical things help create music fans. There’s just something about listening to music with that record in your hand.”

As a student of the new music business and web 2.0, I couldn’t help but see the flaw in this sort of thinking. I agree that there are definitely items that aid in creating a bond between band and fan, a limited edition tour T-shirt or a cool record with full size photo inserts and extensive liner notes, but to imply that there is something crucial missing in a world bereft of physical objects–I’m not sure that this new generation feels that way. To figure out whether I was inadvertently being some sort of know-it-all early twenties cynic, I consulted some of my peers and individuals of Mac and Laura’s generation. An interesting discussion popped up when I proposed whether or not the MP3 (any digital file) allowed fans to connect even better with the artist today, because it creates a clean slate to paint ones emotions and own creative view of the artist and their music. If there is nothing but the music, fans are free to explore how that makes them feel without the guidelines of album artwork and song descriptions. While these are still important, many of us download an iTunes file and that’s all we have of some artists. It may even be our favorite song. It seemed very plausible to many of us and we will see how this idea plays out as the years roll on. But as with everything, with time comes change and each generation will not understand many aspects of the one following. We should praise this paradigm, for it makes us different–and valuable.

Find Merge on the web!

http://www.mergerecords.com
http://twitter.com/mergerecords
http://vimeo.com/mergerecords

And their new book: Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records

http://www.ournoisethebook.com/