Making the Case for Digital Liner Notes

When the 33-⅓ RPM speed became the preferred format for albums on vinyl, a wonderful and often overlooked tradition came along with it: album liner notes. While previous renditions of this – literal notes about the recording living within the album’s sleeve – had existed in recorded music before this, often times the space was reserved as an advertisement for other recordings from the label putting it out.

 

Album liner notes made it possible for artists to get creative with messaging, crediting personnel, and offering fans a little something extra in the way of art. Eventually as preferred formats of music evolved to tapes and CDs, the tradition continued. Anyone who grew up buying music in the 1990’s can tell you how much extra work it was to read some of those liner notes, but regardless of that, how satisfying it was to have a little something extra from their favorite band or artist. Of course, vinyl record liner notes are the best because of their size. I even remember trying to make wall art out of some of the Clash records’ (that I more or less stole from my dad) liner notes as a kid.

 

As the tides changed once more and fans switched to digital, liner notes became more of an afterthought for most – and eventually new music fans would be buying and streaming without even having their own personal history of CD booklets. In 2004, iTunes began offering digital booklets to certain albums. TuneCore offers artists the opportunity to include digital liner note PDFs when they distribute to iTunes for an additional cost.

 

While more and more releases began to include digital liner notes within iTunes over the years, it’d be a stretch to say it was any sort of craze or phenomenon. Fans can be delighted to find that their new digitally downloaded album contains a little something extra from the artist – a recent high profile case of this was Drake’s 2016 Views album which featured a digital booklet of images that were considered to be ‘meme-able’. This was an interesting example of a pop star not only incorporating something considered to be rather antiquated into their release, but doing so in a fashion that appealed to his generation of music fans.

 

But beyond that, does anyone care? Sonicbids published a great piece about this a few years back, with artists and industry folks chiming in with their opinion on the once-holy liner notes. These days, we see artists who cater to their ‘niche’ fan bases by focusing on vinyl releases – whether it’s LPs or 7” records – while still working with distributors like TuneCore to offer a digital component for those who prefer to stream or download. Artists have the opportunity to connect with these fans further by getting creative with their liner notes, and should they feel so passionate about the effort they put into them, include it as a digital PDF as explained above.

 

Another overlooked element of these booklets is that they give artists the opportunity to credit the producers and engineers associated with the release. Aside from the general karma points of shouting-out those hard working folks, it also allows artists who are fans learn who helped make such a great release even better. (It might even throw some business their way.)

 

There’s little doubt that artists with fans who prefer vinyl will continue to choose this medium for releases – but some wonder how long the resurgence of vinyl will last and how effective or important it is to the majority of independent artists. During a time of great saturation for indie artists online, standing out in the crowd can feel difficult – but what better way to garner some extra attention for your new release than a unique creative offering at no extra cost to the fan? Perhaps digital booklets and liner note PDFs can be an artistic channel for more artists to express themselves, give proper credits and ‘thank yous’, or provide a bit of a window into the production of the album or EP.

 

If you’re an artist who’s beginning to roll out vinyl copies of an upcoming release, it’s likely that you’re putting some thought into what your fans are going to be able to see and read in addition to what they’ll have to listen to. This should be cherished and seen as an opportunity to really connect with them, even if it’s just some credits and a cool poster. But for that other portion of your fan base who’ll be downloading, it may be worth your time to convert it all digitally, too.

 

If you’re an artist who is really just starting to develop a fanbase, vinyl copies of your new release probably aren’t in the cards. But as you begin to consider how you’ll be marketing it when it comes out, think of how a digital PDF of liner notes and additional art could help foster a new level of dedication from your fans that both already exist and begin to discover your latest release. If you feel you have the kind of audience who would appreciate this sort of component to an album, it’s likely that some will even consider converting from their preferred way of listening, streaming, to downloading it permanently.

 

Got any cool success stories with offering fans digital PDF booklets with releases? Let us know in the comments! For more information on how to include one of these with your next release via TuneCore, read more here.

TuneCore Fan Reviews Now Offering Updated Reports

Back in January of last year, we rebranded our awesome Artist Service – known before then as “Track Smarts” – to its current name, TuneCore Fan Reviews. With that news, we also introduced the capability of getting TuneCore Fan Reviews for unreleased albums, EPs, and singles – great news for anyone who wants to take advantage of real, actionable feedback from music fans before releasing their project to the world.

Today, we’re upping the ante once more.

TuneCore Fan Reviews (powered by SoundOut) now offer new interactive reviews and data, and they are now available online or as a PDF download. This is great news for independent artists who are looking to take the feedback they’ve received to the next level.

Take a look at some screen shots from the updated TuneCore Fan Reviews reports below:

TuneCore Fan Reviews – “Market Potential”

 

TuneCore Fan Reviews – “Track Rating”

 

TuneCore Fan Reviews – “Word Cloud & Review Search”

 

TuneCore Fan Reviews – “Reviews”

Getting feedback from impartial music fans can be a great way to identify your best tracks, find new markets, and grow your career. TuneCore Fan Reviews gets your tracks in front of real music fans to rate and review, and you receive a report per track with reviewers’ actual comments, plus insight and analytics to help you improve your music and advance your career.

Not familiar with TuneCore Fan Reviews? Here’s how it works:

1. Before or after you distribute music through your TuneCore account, you can purchase Fan Reviews reports for as many songs as you want.

2. There are three reports to choose from, and each offers a different number of reviews and data points. See examples of Starter, Enhanced, and Premium Reports.

3. Every track submitted to TuneCore Fan Reviews is fed randomly and in real-time to reviewers.  They’re then asked to rate it and give honest feedback.

4. The reviews and ratings are analyzed by semantic technologies and compared against other tracks that have already been processed through TuneCore Fan Reviews, resulting in your detailed report.

5. When the report comes back in, you’ll be able to read it right in your TuneCore account, or download a PDF version.

If you’re looking to improve your music and grow your career, TuneCore Fan Reviews can give you both analytics and insight to show you what’s working.

Head over to our site to learn more about TuneCore Fan Reviews and start collecting some data!

New Music Friday: May 19, 2017

TuneCore Artists are releasing tons of new music every day. Each week we check out the new TuneCore releases and choose a few at random to feature on the blog.

Is your hit next?

Follow Music Made Me – a Spotify playlist that’s updated every Friday with new releases from TuneCore Artists – stream it below!


You And Me Today (Acoustic)
Kelly McGrath

Singer/Songwriter, Country


Nerds By Nature (The Remixes)
Pegboard Nerds

Dance, Electronic


I Heard It Through the Grapevine
Joe Alterman

Jazz, R&B/Soul


Bodyguard
The I.L.Y.’s
Rock


No Moment But Now
Wendy Colonna

Singer/Songwriter, Folk


The Realness
The Pheels

R&B/Soul, Alternative


The Blame
Sam Grow

Country


Voodoo Love
Red Rosamond

Alternative, Pop


Better Places (feat. NVDES)
Pierce Fulton

Electronic, Alternative


Working Title
Mt. Eddy

Alternative


Dreams > Dollars
Maggie Rose

Pop, Country


Orion
David Archuleta

Pop, Singer/Songwriter


Faze Me
Anya Marina 

Singer/Songwriter, Pop


Bimmer
Ishmael Raps

Hip Hop/Rap


AmeriBLAKKK
F.Y.I.

Hip Hop/Rap, R&B/Soul


Oh No
Hannah & Maggie

Folk, Pop


Passionfruit
Noora

Pop, R&B/Soul


Anymore
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

Alternative, Rock


History
Tyler Barham

Country


May I Have This Dance (feat. Chance the Rapper) [Remix]

Francis and the Lights

Pop, Hip Hop/Rap


Dat’s My Bae

Ball Greezy

Hip Hop/Rap, Soul/R&B


Back to the Nights
Ben Rue

Country


State Trooper
Chris Kasper

Singer/Songwriter, Folk


Transitions
Fame On Fire

Rock, Pop

The Artist & Record Label Relationship – A Look At the Standard “Record Deal” [Part 2]

[Editors NoteThis is a guest blog written by Justin M. Jacobson, Esq. It’s the second in a two-part series on the Artist/Record Label Relationship – read Part 1 here. Justin is an entertainment and media attorney for The Jacobson Firm, P.C. in New York City. He also runs Label 55 and teaches music business at the Institute of Audio Research.]

 

We will continue from our prior installment on “The Artist & Record Label Relationship.” We will now explore some additional contract clauses included in most recording agreements as well as a few negotiation tactics for these clauses.

Once the artist and distributor agree on the advances and what constitutes “delivery” to satisfy an artist’s commitment, the negotiation of the actual royalty rate earned for each sale is next.

ROYALTIES – (1.) Artist shall accrue to your royalty account, in accordance with the provisions of this Agreement, as described below; provided, however, no royalties shall be due and payable to you until such time as all Advances have been recouped by or repaid to Label. Royalties shall be computed by applying the applicable royalty percentage rate specified below to the applicable “Royalty Base Price” in respect of the “Net Sales of Records” described in this paragraph. Label shall pay to Artist all-in royalties (i.e., inclusive of producer and artist royalties). The term “Net Sales of Record” shall mean all gross income actually paid to Label in connection with its exploitation of such Album less all expenses (excluding overhead only) paid or incurred by Label in connection with the exploitation, manufacture, sale, advertising, promotion and marketing of such Album.

(2.) (a) The royalty rate (the “Basic U.S. Rate”) in respect of Net Sales of Records of the Album made hereunder made during the respective Contract Periods specified above and sold by Label through Normal Retail Channels in the United States (“USNRC Net Sales”) shall be as follows:

(b) The royalty rate (the “Escalated U.S. Rate”) in respect of USNRC Net Sales of each Album recorded pursuant to your Recording Commitment in excess of the following number of units, shall be the applicable rate set forth below rather than the otherwise applicable Basic U.S. Rate:

As the above clause mentions, the royalty that an artist earns for the sale of their music is calculated as a percentage of either the “Published Price to Dealer (PPD)” or the “Suggested Retail List Price (SRLP).” The “SRLP” is the approximate price charged by the retailer, such as Wal-Mart; while, the “PPD” is the approximate price that distributors charge to the retailers (wholesale unit price). It is prudent for an artist to attempt to negotiate for the highest possible royalty rate they could receive, as the higher the rate, the sooner they recoup the amounts advanced and the sooner the artist will begin receiving funds again.

In addition to agreeing upon the royalty rate and what the rate is based on (“PPD” or “SRLP”), similar to the clauses above, an artist can create royalty rate “escalators” based on album sales. As described above, when an artist sells 500,000 units (R.I.A.A. certified gold) or 1,000,000 units (R.I.A.A. certified platinum), the royalty rate escalates or “rises.” This increases the royalty rate that the artist is entitled to. An artist should also be cognizant of whether the royalty rate escalators are “prospective” or “retroactive.” A “prospective” escalator is one that only applies to sales going forward after a specified sales level is reached. This means that the artist’s royalty rate only is increased for any albums sold after they reach the listed sales level, for example, unit 500,001 is paid at the higher royalty rate. Conversely, and what is the ideal scenario for the artist, is “retroactive” escalation.

This means that once the artist reaches a specified sales level (i.e. 500,000 copy sold), the royalty rate is increased to the higher rate for all the albums sold prior (1-499,999 copies sold) as well as those going forward (500,001+ copies sold). An artist should also be aware that any “free goods” or albums given away for “promotional use” do not count as royalty bearing sales as no royalty or money is earned in these instances.

As in the example listed above, most royalties are considered “all-in.” This means that the artist is responsible for paying the producer of the track from the amounts they receive from the label. For example, if the artist is entitled to a 15% royalty rate from the label and the artist entered into a production arrangement with the producer providing him with a 3% royalty rate, the artist must provide the producer with the 3% royalty from the royalty the artist is entitled to. Thus, the 15% royalty rate paid to the artist by the label is split with the artist receiving 12% after the artist pays the producer their 3% royalty from these funds.

Once the royalty rate is set, the examination of the “reserve against returns” clause is necessary.

Reserve Against Returns – Label shall have the right to establish, during each semi-annual accounting period, a royalty reserve against anticipated returns and credits, of up to twenty- five (25%) percent of the royalty earnings associated with the units of each Record reported as distributed to its customers in that period. Each royalty reserve shall be liquidated equally and in full over the four (4) semi-annual accounting periods following the accounting period during which the applicable reserve is originally established.

While the above clause has begun to become obsolete in most instances, it is still important to examine and understand. The “reserve against returns” specifically applies to any physical record music as there is currently no way to “return” a digital downloaded MP3. This means that the label shall “reserve” or set aside a specified portion of the royalties the musician would otherwise be entitled to in case of any “returns” or “credits.”

For instance, in the example above, the label shall reserve twenty- five percent of the royalties the artist is entitled to in case any retailers must provide any refunds to its customer, which the label must in turn refund to the retailer. After a specified period of time, the “reserve” funds are “liquidated,” thereby, releasing the royalties to the artist. The frequency of “liquidation” is determined in the contract. As the above clause states, the reserves will be liquidated in “four” accountings, meaning every semi-annual accounting period. An artist should try to negotiate for a lower reserve percentage as well as a more frequent liquidation to earn as much of their royalties as quickly as they can.

Finally, one more clause that is included in many recording agreements is one that addresses the artist’s non-musical obligations, such as publicity and marketing for the released album.

Publicity – As Label reasonably requests, Artist shall appear for photography, poster, cover art, and the like, under the direction of Label or Label’s designees and to appear for interviews with representatives of the media and Label’s publicity personnel, at Label’s expense. As Label reasonably requests, Artist shall perform for the recording of brief audio, visual, and/or audiovisual spoken-word recorded messages and fan greetings suitable for use on and in connection with digital products and services and/or digital media platforms (e.g., Internet and wireless). In addition, as Label reasonably requests, Artist shall perform audiovisual works (e.g., so-called “B-roll” and “behind-the-scenes” footage) suitable for use on and in connection with Records embodying the Artist’s performances.

As the clause above outlines, the artist has to make themselves available for any public appearance, audio or audio-visual fan greeting or other audio-visual work as requested by the label. This is fairly common and in most instances, the artist will not receive any additional compensation for these services. However, an artist should try to negotiate for some of their expenses to be covered, such as transportation and/or meals, especially if the artist is required to travel further than a specified distance from the musician’s home.

Overall, the artist and label relationship is one of the most important ones and the next step in an artist’s quest for stardom. Since these agreements typically span many years and many albums, it is prudent that an artist fully understand the contract they are signing and ensuring they enter into an arrangement that works for them as this could be the document that makes or breaks an artist’s entire musical career.

This article is not intended as legal advice, as an attorney specializing in the field should be consulted. Some of the clauses have been condensed and/or edited for content purposes, so none of these clauses should be used verbatim nor do they act as any form of legal advice or counseling. We are also aware of the importance of streaming recordings; but, we will need to leave that for another day.

Wednesday Video Diversion: May 17, 2017

Today commemorates the first-ever Monterey Folk Festival, which took place back in 1963 and featured a couple of no-names like Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Peter Paul and Mary. Wishing you were rocking out to that festival line-up instead of counting down the remaining hours of the day/week? Yeah, us too. But hey! Enjoy these wonderfully distracting TuneCore Artist music videos instead:

 

The I.L.Y’s, “Gargoyle/Bobo”

Riz La Vie, “Pisces”

Eben, “Victory”

Nia Sioux, “Dance (Just Rock)”

Pegboard Nerds, “Emoji VIP”

AdELA, “Livin Too Fast”

Heirsound, “Proud”

Mackenzie Sol, “Never Letting Go”

Nathi & Alma Lake, “What’s It Gonna Be”

How To Build Your Online Music Brand in 24 Hours

[Editors Note: This is a guest blog written by Paul Loeb. Paul has been at the intersection of music and tech for 20 years. He is founder and CEO of DropTrack, a music promotion platform for independent artists. His goal has always been to give musicians like himself the tools to stand out from the rest, get heard, and make deals.]

 

Whether you’re pursuing music full- or part-time, you’ve likely been asked by family, friends, or perfect strangers about how you plan to make it in the music industry. Annoying, sure, but it’s a fair question. It’s a tough industry to crack and success takes much more than musical talent. Unlike in the past, however, making it big as a musician isn’t just about who you know. The good news is, with a bit of marketing, you can start to set yourself apart from the musicians who simply continue to hope the right person happens to walk into a near-empty bar for a listen. Here are a few quick tips for building your music brand so you can stand out amongst the competition.

It Starts With a Conversation

If you’re a member of a band, it’s important to start the branding process with all members present. If you’re a one man or woman show, you can get started immediately. You’ve probably already talked or thought about how you define your music, but for branding purposes, let’s focus on what makes your story different or unique.

There are thousands of hopeful “indie rock artists,” but are you in a band with your siblings? Did you learn to play the saxophone from your grandpa? Even if you’re convinced there’s nothing special about your background, there’s an interesting story behind any true passion. If you’re still unsure of how best to tell your story, look to the musicians who inspire you. Odds are, they’re paying marketers big bucks to help with this process, but reading a few of their stories can help provide a template to follow. Teasing that story out is the first step to successfully branding yourself.

Tell Your Story Concisely & Authentically

Now that you’ve done the hard work in getting to the root of what makes your music brand unique, it’s important to create a few variations of that story. You’ll need your quick, 30-second elevator pitch as well as a more detailed version for things like your website, talking to press, etc. The more concisely and consistently you can tell your own story, the catchier it becomes. Also be sure that you’re telling an authentic story and building a connection between you and the listeners.

Think about the musicians you love: there are likely certain stories—the love story behind the lyrics of your favorite song or the random way in which the guitarist met the drummer—that stick with you because of how well, and how consistently, they’re told. Which part of your story would you want to stick with a music blogger? With your biggest fans? It may seem redundant because these narratives are surely in your head, but getting them onto your website or into an email is critical in transferring how you see your music brand to how others understand you.

Be Consistent Across Channels

Now that you know your story and can tell it effectively, you’ll want to make sure it’s updated across all your channels, from your website to various social media platforms. You’ll want to make sure that a music blogger who checks out your Facebook page has the same experience there as (s)he does on your website, Twitter, and Instagram. Your messaging and the visuals that support it should all reflect the story you want to tell.

Create a List of Influencers

Once you’ve gained direction with the story you want to tell, it will be easier to find bloggers and publications who might be interested in your vision. You can use free, online tools like Buzzsumo to quickly search for relevant influencers. Broaden your reach by thinking about your story from a couple of different angles. If you’re a New Orleans-based funk band, look for bloggers who cover other funk bands, but also look to local New Orleans publications who might be interested in the local, hometown aspect of your story. You should cater your message to these two types of writers differently, but send promos easily and track which aspect of your story might be having a greater impact.

Make a List of Resources You Need

Ok, so it might be hard to do a total rebrand in 24 hours. But, now that you know the brand image you want to portray, have updated media to the extent you can, and made a list of the people with whom you want to connect, it’s time to jot down where you can go the extra mile in completing the branding process. Maybe your visual aesthetic isn’t telling your story as effectively as it could be. Scheduling a photoshoot or reaching out to a designer about a new logo are proactive steps you can take today toward a complete, successful online branding.

Now that you’ve put some serious effort into building your brand, it’s time to make sure you’re getting in front of the right people. Music bloggers and industry influencers will be more likely to give you a listen when you present yourself in a unique, consistent manner. (Remember, your demo isn’t enough, but your new branding will help you get the email open or link click-through.) There’s also no time like a rebrand to ramp up your marketing emails and connect with your fanbase with an email marketing campaign through Droptrack. You’ve done the work; now, go get your brand in front of the right people.