(Public) Performance Anxiety

By Jeff Price

So here’s a perspective on performing rights organizations I just got my head around and I wanted to share.

First, some quick background, and for those of you who already know what a public performance is, just skip down a few paragraphs.

For every recorded song there are two copyrights: one for the recording of the song (usually owned by the record label), and one for the song itself, the music and lyrics (owned by the songwriter/publisher).

To use the now beaten-to-death example, Dolly Parton wrote the song “I Will Always Love You.”  Columbia Records hired Whitney Houston to sing a version of Dolly’s song.  The version of this recording of the song is owned by Columbia Records, but the copyright to the song itself (the music and lyrics) is owned by Dolly Parton.

As Dolly owns the song (‘cause she wrote it) she gets six legal copyrights, and these six rights drive the entire music industry.  You can download a free PDF booklet on them here.

One of these copyrights is the exclusive right to “Publicly Perform” the song.  Under this copyright law, a songwriter is granted the exclusive right to publicly perform his or her song. A public performance is when a song is played on the radio, in a bar, in a restaurant, live in a venue, on TV, in an elevator, in a retail store, streamed on the Net via YouTube, Pandora, any streaming music service, or anywhere else that falls under the legal definition of “public performance” (you can read the legal definition of Public Performance here ).

This means that no one else can “publicly” play your songs (either your own recording of it or someone else’s recording of it) without negotiating a license with the publisher or administrator (which, most likely, is you).

Sounds good to me, songwriters should be rewarded for their talent.  After all, songwriters, like all artists, make culture.  But let’s turn to the reality of this law. To assure that your song is not being publicly performed without your OK, you need to run around the world and listen to what is being played in restaurants, bars, elevators, hotels, TV shows, retail stores, venues, bookstores and more.  In addition, you also have to watch every video on YouTube that has a song in it, get a list of every song that was played by every streaming music service, get every playlist of all the songs that were played on every radio station and the list goes on and on.  And when you find a place that is playing your song without your OK (meaning no license was granted to them by you) you get to sue them or force them to pay you.

On the other side of the coin, if there is an entity that wants to comply with copyright law and get a license to publicly perform your song before they do it, they need a place to go to get the license. This means they would need to go to millions of songwriters around the world, and if they can find all of you, strike million of different deals.

In other words, it’s a great element of copyright, but one that is tough (impossible!) to enforce, license, track and police on your own.  So what’s one to do?

This is where the three U.S. Performing Rights Organizations (called “PROs”), BMI, ASCAP and SESAC come in.  These three organizations might not have been built to work for publishers, but these days they sure do.  Writers and publishers enter into an agreement with a PRO that allows the PRO to act as the writer/publisher’s representative specifically and ONLY for public performances.  The PRO performs all of the duties listed above.  This grant of rights from the writer/publisher to the PRO allows the PRO to negotiate rates on their behalf with various entities that desire to publicly perform the works of the writer/publisher.  In addition, this grant of rights allows the PRO to collect the fees on behalf of the writer/publisher.

In return for these services, the PROs take a percentage of the money they collect to offset their costs and pay for lots of other things like cars, salaries, office space, lunches, etc… (go to page 18 of the ASCAP 2010 year end report to see some of the line items ).

Case in point of the public performance police in action, check out ASCAP’s recent lawsuit against a bar in New York for having a Bruce Springsteen cover band night, but not paying Bruce, represented by ASCAP, for the right to publicly perform his songs (note, it was not Bruce who sued them, it was ASCAP on Bruce’s behalf.  The article gets it wrong).  And before you get angry with ASCAP, remember, this is their job!  They should be doing this.  They are protecting and enforcing the rights they represent.  Perhaps they could have handled it a bit more diplomatically, but this is what they do.

Now this next point is key, this right to publicly perform is controlled by the publisher.

For example, if you write your own songs, you are, by default the music publisher. This means that, until you assign your publishing to a publishing company, you control both the “writer’s” share and the “publisher’s” share of the rights to the songs you write. If you enter into a music publishing deal, you then transfer your rights to this other entity and they then represent you for music publishing.

However, even major music publishing companies like Sony/ATV, Warner Chappell Music Publishing, Universal and EMI don’t have an infrastructure to track and police public performances.  They too “hire” a PRO and rely on the them to police, license, collect and disburse public performance income.

For those of you out there who state:

“Waaaaait a second.  How can you say that?! The PRO represents the songwriter, not the publisher! Of the money the PRO collects, they send half to the songwriter and the other half to the publisher to assure songwriters get paid.  Their entire existence is to serve the songwriter”

True, they do, and I am glad they do it! But, as I understand it, the idea of paying the songwriter directly originated with the PROs, not with a law.

Remember, in the “old days” most signed artists and/or professional songwriters did deals with publishing companies.  When they did, they transferred their right of public performance (along with others) to this other entity.

When the PROs were “hired” they simply refused to pay the publisher all of the money they collected for public performance.  This assured that songwriters made some additional money.  The PROs did not want songwriters that transferred their publishing rights  to get screwed by wonky accounting or get nothing as they had not earned back “advances” from the publisher. Therefore, the PROs insisted that half of the money they collected (after they took a % off the top) get paid directly to the songwriter. The PRO was there to protect the songwriter and this model of direct payment to the songwriter for half the money became industry standard.

However, the publisher has the power to undermine the PRO. The music publisher has the public performance right to grant; therefore it has the control.  In other words, if a songwriter does a deal with a publishing company, like Warner Chappell, and then signs up as a songwriter with a PRO, like BMI, the publisher can undercut the songwriters relationship with the PRO by not granting the PRO the right to represent the public performance of that songwriter.  To this point in time publishers have not done this and also agreed to hire the PRO. In return, they give up some of the money collected.

Which then leaves the door open for changes to occur.  What happens if a music publisher no longer needs a PRO to collect and monitor some of the public performances?  For example, YouTube.  YouTube has a sophisticated tracking system that can accurately track how many times a song was played in a video.  It’s an automated system that can spit out reports and email them to publishers.  Same with Spotify and the new Apple iMatch service and many others.

In these cases, why would a music publisher want to have its YouTube, iMatch, or Spotify public performance money go to a PRO who is going to take 12.5% of the money off the top (remember, all the overhead mentioned above) and then only pay the publisher 50% of what’s left (remember, the other 50% gets mailed directly to the songwriter)?   They wouldn’t, which is why they have started “going direct” (see the ground-breaking EMI announcement). In this case, EMI is collecting all of the public performance income directly, and will only pay the writers if the writer is recouped.

So what will be the impact of this new trend?

First, My heart goes out to the “legacy” artists who did deals with the old school music publishers.  Many of these songwriters received “advances” from the publishers that must be paid back before they get more money from the publisher.  When the PRO was collecting the public performance royalties, it took a chunk off the top, but from what was left, 50% was mailed DIRECTLY to the songwriter and the other 50% went to the publisher; the songwriter was assured to get additional money from public performances regardless of whether or not they were recouped with the publisher.  In this new “direct” model, the PRO is cut out.  Therefore, if a songwriter is unrecouped with a publisher, they get no money from public performances. Frankly, this kind of sucks.

On the other hand, for the new music industry artists that control their publishing rights and do not have “unrecouped” balances, they could potentially hire an entity like a TuneCore to go “direct” with places like YouTube, Spotify and Apple, thereby getting more money into their pockets more quickly and with more transparency.  This is a great thing for songwriters.

As for digital stores and services, they are going to have to deal with the new reality that they cannot just go to a PRO like BMI/ASCAP/SESAC to get public performance licenses for all the music in their stores.  Despite this, many stores and services are stating they refuse to go “direct” as it’s a “headache,” but there is no way around it.  The law requires them to get a public performance license in order to have the music in their store.  For example, EMI “withdrew” its catalog from ASCAP.  This means a digital store will now need to go to ASCAP for the songwriters/publishers it represents as well as go to EMI Publishing for the songwriters it represents.  The stores and services cannot just say “we don’t want to deal with EMI because it’s a headache.”

The bottom line is that as technology makes it easier to track all public performances that occur online, the ”old school” methodologies and business models need updating as well.  Artists and songwriters should be able to get as much of their money as quickly as possible with as much transparency as possible. They should not be told “that’s the way it was, so suck it up and shut up”.  It’s beyond bizarre that this point has to even be argued.

More and more artists are now the record label, performer, publisher, songwriter, etc…  They are able to control and exploit all of their rights associated with the copyrights to their work.  Like all of the old entities, they must make certain that they are getting all of their money, and as much of it as possible, from all the available revenue streams.  Public performance—once the bastard step-child of the six rights; frequently ignored, almost always misunderstood by all but the most successful artists (i.e. those with lots of radio play)—is increasingly becoming the most important right with respect to its relationship to revenue.  Collection and tracking of this right must innovate at the same speed that usages do.

And we intend on helping that change occur….

Stay tuned.

10 Inaccurate, Erroneous or Irrelevant Things Being Stated about Marketing, Promotion, and Success in the Music Industry

By George Howard
(Follow George on Twitter)

I recently wrote a piece that outlined The Top 10 Most Inaccurate, Erroneous or Irrelevant Things Being Stated about the Music Industry. As I stated in the intro to that article, when you want people to come to your blog, create a list.  Well, I wasn’t wrong, and people seemed to (largely) agree with the items I put forth.  In the grand tradition of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” I herewith present another list of fallacies of the music industry.

This list, however, has a certain slant to it that the prior one didn’t.  Specifically, while the last list was more general in nature, this list addresses some common fallacies related to the marketing and promotion of music.

So, without further ado: 10 Inaccurate, Erroneous or Irrelevant Things Being Stated about Marketing, Promotion, and Success in the Music Industry.

As always, this TuneCore blog is about conversation, and we try to answer/respond to any question/comment posted.  The best types of conversation involve genuine back and forth (listening/empathy), and while the nature of this type of communication dictates that it begin as something of a monologue, the good news is that it doesn’t have to stay that way.  That’s a long way of saying that these are my thoughts — based on longer than I’d like to admit spent in the trenches of the record industry — but they’re not a priori “right,” and should be taken with the spirit they’re intended: to stir thoughts, conversation, and debate…man, do I wish we could do this over drinks!

10. The vinyl resurgence is due to the fact that vinyl sounds better.

I started with this one, because it allows for an easy metaphor for the rest.  I think we can all agree that vinyl does sound better than the alternatives.  However, there’s another reason why people desire vinyl. It’s what I (and others before me, like Hugh MacLeod) call a social object.  That is, it’s something that can be held, and displayed, and, most importantly, shared.  The importance of a social object in the age of downloadable/streaming music simply cannot be overstated.

Humans are hard-wired to share, but we as creators must provide constituents with something more tangible than ones and zeros to share if we hope to have the desired impact that is associated with sharing; that is, shifting the burden of converting new fans from the creator of the content to the fans of the content.  Social Objects, are, therefore, the tools you need to arm your evangelists with.  Vinyl suits this need better than just about any other music-related tangible item.

It’s counterintuitive to think of something that has been around long before the Internet as so essential to the success of marketing in today’s Internet-centric universe, and that’s why I began with this item.  Much of marketing in the music business (and other businesses) has been focused on conventional wisdom, and “gut” instinct.  While there is (maybe) nothing wrong with these things, gut alone doesn’t represent anything like innovation.  Innovation requires being deeply dissatisfied with the current state of things, and looking for a way to change it via non-traditional avenues.  And thus, taking a tool that just a few years ago seemed destined to be a footnote of history (vinyl) and re-thinking about it, repurposing it, and reconnecting it with current trends is a great metaphor for what must be done generally.

9. I (artist) need a booking agent to succeed.

This (and the subsequent “I (artist) need a…” fallacies all relate to the above idea that it’s not so much about discarding what has historically been part of the music business (e.g. vinyl), but rather re-calibrating your notions of how to employ these tools.

Playing live is an essential element of success in the music business, and it always will be.  However, waiting around for a booking agent to enable you to play live is a surefire way to a slow and painful death in the music business.

Like many things in the music business, there’s a chicken-and-egg element going on here.  You hear bands say with some frequency, “I need a booking agent to get gigs, but I can’t get a booking agent without gigs.”

The latter part is true; the former, untrue.  No booking agent worth their salt will sign a band up for their roster unless said band can demonstrate that they’re capable of playing a good show; hence, the band has to get gigs.  However, to think that you must have an agent in order to get gigs, is sort of the definition of the “entitled” artist mentality.

The very best thing you as an artist can do is to begin thinking of your live performances as “events” where people with shared values come together.  This should lead you to consider non-traditional types of venues.  As an artist just starting out, rather than repeatedly banging on the door of some venue, begging for an opening slot on a Tuesday night, instead create your own event: find a cool space (be it someone’s back yard or the VFW), and make it a memorable event.

Do this for some period of time until you actually are getting people responding in the way they should be to your music, and then (and only then) book yourself one of those Tuesday night opening slots, and make sure all these converts you’ve made during your non-traditional gigs show up.  At that point, not only will you be more polished, but you will blow away the club booker who will be expecting it to be like every other Tuesday night where no one typically shows up to see the poor bands.

If you do this, you won’t be playing Tuesday nights long, as word will get out.  Do this in three or four markets, and you’ll have booking agents approaching you.

It will then be up to you to decide whether or not you need an agent (and are willing to give up the 10% of the gross from your future gigs).

8. I (artist) need a manager to succeed.

Keeping with the theme, this too derives from a misguided (but understandable) belief that many musicians have; these artists believe that others have the answers with respect to their careers.

Certainly, there are many, many managers who do in fact have answers (and connections and capital and experience).  It is this type of idealized manager that many artists quest for.  However, like the booking agent above, if an artist has to look for a manager, the manager will typically not be there.  Rather, it is when the artist determines that he or she can and must devise a plan that accurately and honestly assesses his or her current state, determines a desired state, and then creates a set of strategies to close the gap between the two (i.e. becomes his or her own manager) that more established managers will begin emerging.  And, like the decision an artist who has successfully begun booking himself, the artist who has successfully begun managing himself must decide whether the value a manager brings is worth giving up 15% of his income for.

7. I (artist) need a publisher to succeed

This is a trickier item that relates to number four below.  At this point, you realize, of course, where I’m going.  Sending/emailing your songs to publishing companies in the hopes that they will miraculously pluck your demo/listen to your emailed mp3 from their pile/inbox is not a strategy.

Rather, getting the attention of a publisher requires first getting the attention of people outside the industry; i.e. fans.  It requires building a level of authentic awareness around your work that eventually grows into that overused, but apt term, “buzz.”  At this point, the publishers will come to you.  You will then have to determine if the value proposition that the publishers bring to the table is worth giving up as much as 50% of the income derived from the exploitation of your copyrights.

6. I (artist) need a publicist to succeed.

I will get nasty comments for this one.  In order to perhaps lessen the hostility of these anticipated comments, let me start by saying that not all publicists are bad, and, in fact, some are great, and play a key and decisive role in creating awareness for artists that leads to these artists developing sustainable careers.  However, many publicists (like many doctors, lawyers, and Presidents) are not great, and they prey on artists’ most fundamental desire (the desire for someone to write about their music), and leverage that desire to extract money from artists, for which very little of value is received by the artist.

The best publicists have fantastic and close relationships with media outlets (traditional and “new”), and can help artists craft “messaging” that increases the odds that the artist’s work is at least listened to by these so-called tastemakers in the industry.

However, do consider that there is something troubling (understandable, but still troubling) about the fact that these publicists are your advocates so long as you’re paying them, but cease their advocacy when you stop paying them.  Given this dynamic, it calls to question the whole nature of the “relationships” between publicists and the media.

The alternative, of course, is for artists to develop their own relationships with those arbiters of taste in the media.  These relationships, in theory, will prove more durable than those that run out when the dollars run out.

Notwithstanding the forgoing, ask yourself when was the last time you bought a record from an artist you had never heard of because you read a review of the artist on some magazine/blog/newspaper.

5. I can be a songwriter and get my music covered by others/used in music without playing live.

I get variants on this a lot.  Those who fancy themselves songwriters, but, for whatever reason, don’t want to (or don’t believe they can) perform their songs live.  Instead, they simply want to sit in their creative space (typically, at home) and churn out songs to be performed by someone else.

It always pains me to tell them, that the chance of this happening is pretty much zero.  The great songwriters who have established themselves to the degree that they can now largely stay in their creative space and parcel out songs to great performers without playing live don’t do that, and never did that.  Go to Nashville any night of the week and you will be able to hear someone playing and singing his heart out in a little dive, and when you ask him how things are going, he will tell you, “pretty well.” And if you push him he might admit that he just got another song on another hit album.  And you will wonder why in the world he’s out there playing his heart out on a Wednesday night in a dingy club, and the answer is: because there’s no other way.

If you resolutely refuse to do the above, your only other recourse (and it’s not a great one) is to take the Elton John/Bernie Taupin or Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter approach, and find yourself someone who can sing the hell out of your compositions, and hope like crazy that this performer has some similar magic to that of Elton John or Jerry Garcia.  Good luck with that, by the way.

4. The way to succeed in the music business today is by getting your song used in a film/TV show.

While there is certainly a correlation between having a song used in a film/TV show/ad and success in the music business (though, certainly, one does not guarantee the other), the fallacy here is that one can simply make getting their compositions used in a film/TV show/ad their strategy, and achieve this without all of the related things that must occur for this to happen.

Put simply, it is music from artists who have a lot of other things going on that gets used in film/TV/ads.  The way it frequently works is that an artist writes some great songs; an artist cultivates a good local following where people respond well to those good songs; the artist then amplifies this offline fan connection via some savvy online marketing; this leads to the artist being able to play outside of his hometown, and while doing that he visits the local radio stations that play music from unsigned artists.

Eventually, by following this strategy, the artist finds himself  playing in NYC and/or LA, and has his music played on great stations in these cities like WFUV/KCRW; these stations are listened to by music supervisors, who likely have also read about these artists, and then decide to come out to their shows.  After a number of visits to these cities, the music supervisor may decide to comp one of these artist’s songs in a project they’re working on.

The alternative, the imaginary version that a music supervisor will just magically stumble upon some artist’s work that has done none of the above is just that: imaginary.

3. The way to succeed in the music business today is by getting your song played on the radio.

I just wrote above that the savvy artist will visit the radio stations that support unsigned artists when they begin playing live, so clearly I’m not suggesting that radio doesn’t play a role in helping an artist succeed.  Of course it does, but, as you likely have gathered if you’ve read this far, focusing exclusively on radio, and not making it part of a larger and more comprehensive strategy will not bode well for you.

A note about radio: Big time, commercial radio (i.e. stations that play Lady GaGa, Katy Perry, etc.) tends to be only accessible to artists who are signed to major labels.  Sadly, but truly, it’s really the last wedge of exclusivity that the majors have.  The reasons for this are a bit beyond the scope of this article, but, suffice it to say that if you truly believe that your music must get played on pop radio for you to be successful, than you likely need a major.  That said, assuming you’ve seen the videos of both Lady GaGa and Katy Perry, before they became stars, you know that the road to a major label is often a winding one in which the artist has to develop a constituency on his own (ala the methodology above) long before a major comes into the picture.

2. I (artist) need a label to succeed.

Really? It should be very apparent how untrue that is. Doesn’t mean labels are bad. Doesn’t mean labels can’t help you succeed.  It does mean that — like pretty much everything else on this list — that the quickest way to a successful artist label relationship is via not waiting around for one, but rather taking control of your own career, and developing authentic and meaningful direct, sustainable connections between you (the artist) and your fans. If you do this, you will have your choice of labels to either work with or turn down.  Do remember, that should you ever consider working with a label, that you will have to negotiate a deal with them, and that in these negotiations, the more you bring to the table, the less they can take away.  If, by some amazing degree of sheer luck, you as a brand new artist, with nothing more than a bunch of promising songs are negotiating with a label, you will likely make a less-than-favorable deal (i.e. 360). If, on the other hand, the labels are coming to you because you have developed a good touring circuit, and have a good direct sales relationship with your fans, and have a strong social media presence, you will be able to make a far more favorable deal.

1. An artist can do it all himself today.

While pretty much every word up to this point would seem to imply that you as an artist not only can, but must do it yourself, attempting to do so for most artists is as problematic as waiting around for some label to pluck you from obscurity.  As any good economist will tell you, we live in a world of trade-offs and opportunity costs, and it’s very hard to do two (or more) things at the same time and do them both well.

Being an artist means being a creator, and honoring the creativity imperative.  This means providing oneself with the mental space to let the muse in.  If you gum up that mental space with all of the elements required to treat your musical career like a real business, you will axiomatically have less time/mental capacity to create.

In the early stages, when your business is developing, you will likely be able to juggle both the business and the art, but as your business grows, something will give: your art and/or your business will suffer. It’s at this point where you need to do what all businesses that are succeeding must do: scale.

You must begin outsourcing/delegating some of your business responsibilities so you can continue to honor your creative impulses.  This does not mean that you must sign to some label.  In fact, I would highly advise against this, and instead look to develop a small team (a manager and maybe an assistant), to begin growing and developing your business.  With technological efficiencies, a team of two or three people all rowing in the same direction, and supporting an artist who really does connect emotionally with a constituent group, can change the world.


George Howard is the former president of Rykodisc. He currently advises numerous entertainment and non-entertainment firms and individuals. Additionally, he is the Executive Editor of Artists House Music and is a Professor and Executive in Residence in the college of Business Administration at Loyola, New Orleans. He is most easily found on Twitter at: twitter.com/gah650

Terra Naomi Welcomes The Challenges Of Being An Independent Artist

Pop singer-songwriter Terra Naomi creatively uses social media and fan engagement to make and promote her music. This week marked the release of “To Know I’m Ok,” Terra’s first album since she left Universal-Island Records and became an independent artist. The album was entirely fan-funded through Pledge Music, and she’s got a video in the works through the iPhone app “Hipstamatic,” that her fans can participate in. Read on to learn about her smart approach to self-promotion, her experience of being signed to a major label, and why it’s important to remember why you’re making music in the first place.

Without using the words “alternative,” “pop,” “rock,” or “hip-hop,” describe your sound.
My sound is basically raw emotion transformed into music. It’s a mix of classic songwriting influences and honest lyrics taken from life experience. I let it all out in my songs. I used to be afraid of too much emotion, and now it’s really all I care about–putting my truth out there for people, and hoping that they can feel and connect to their own emotion. I like to make people laugh and cry in the same song sometimes, just by telling it like it is. Life is that way.

Why did you decide to work independently after being signed to a label?
It was less a choice than it was a decision dictated by the state of the industry. My experience at Universal Island Records was a very common one, i.e. it didn’t work out, and I was left somewhat disillusioned by the whole process. I moved back to the U.S. from London, and considered my options. I was approached by some “big people” in the industry, and was offered a few deals, all of which sucked, to be honest, and I also knew from experience that someone who was in a position of power one day could be gone the next day. (In fact, one of the people who wanted me to sign with him lost his Executive Vice President position a few months later!) I couldn’t do that to myself again. I was not willing to hand over my music, my career and essentially my life. It’s tempting, especially now, as I work 18-hour days, trying to accomplish what I once had dozens of people doing on my behalf, but I know that I will ultimately feel much better, doing this independently. I want to feel like my successes and my failures are my own.

What’s your team like now? (Manager? Band members? Marketing team?)
I’m laughing as I type this…it is literally just me. I had a series of managers at some of the most powerful management companies in LA, and it was always the same experience: over-promise, under-deliver. I realized that I was the only person who would care enough about my music and my career to actually make something happen. I know that the right team is out there for me, and I believe that I will find those people. Until I do, I’m going to do this on my own. The illusion of having someone’s support really only holds us back. It’s much better to know I’m on my own.

Describe some of the challenges you’ve faced as an independent artist.  How did you handle those challenges?
The biggest challenge has been finding a way to get my music out there, with none of the resources I had when I released my first album. It’s frustrating at times, because I can say with 100% certainty that this album is worlds better than my major label album. I’m a better artist, the songs are better, the production is better, the musicians are better –everything about it is better, and I struggle to get people’s attention now. Some of the same people who would have been completely accessible when I was with Island Records do not return my calls. It’s hard, but all I can do is work harder and find ways around it. Sometimes it feels like I’m trying to blow up one of those giant air mattresses using only my own breath, and everyone around me has one of those electric pumps…but I don’t let that stop me. I appreciate a good challenge.

In this case, I needed support for my album, needed to find a way to get my music out there and make some noise. I decided to cold-call the heads of major technology companies and iPhone apps; companies I engage with on a daily basis, like the photo app Hipstamatic. It was an ambitious undertaking, but I had no budget to hire PR, and I also wanted to create something new. The way I see it, tech companies are way more powerful than music companies at this point. The people at these companies are the innovators–paving new paths and moving us forward culturally. It’s not the music industry anymore. I aligned myself with people who are doing things that I find interesting.

How have your fans helped your development as an artist?
My fans are incredible. They funded my album, for one thing. I raised the recording budget through Pledge Music, a company that connects artists with fans to fund recording projects. I’ve been close with my fans from the very beginning. I started touring many years ago, played house concerts, slept on peoples’ couches. Then there was YouTube–I posted my videos online and people embraced me, hundreds of thousands of people from around the world. I still communicate with people who were sending messages to my YouTube account when I had 300 subscribers. Their belief and support has gotten me through several really tough stretches.

Is there usually a set marketing plan you follow when you release new music?
I have no set marketing plan, at least not this time. I look around, observe, follow my intuition, create music I truly believe in, and trust that it will find its way into the hands of the people it needs to reach.

How do you use social media to promote your music?
I am active on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, StageIt, USTREAM, and several other social networking sites. I am finding, through trial and error, that the best way to keep people engaged is to release content frequently and consistently. I know this, yet I don’t always apply this knowledge. It’s hard to keep up with everything. Many artists with large online followings have a team of people maintaining everything. I do the best I can, and stay as involved as possible.

Do you have any advice for other independent artists trying to promote their music and be heard?
Everything starts with the music, and it has to be phenomenal. A good friend and I were talking about this, and she brought up the point that music has to be exceptionally good or exceptionally bad (e.g. Rebecca Black) to break through these days. It’s more true than ever before, because we are completely saturated with music.

Another thing that I have found to be absolutely necessary is single-mindedness of purpose. Complete focus. It is much harder for an independent artist to be heard–that is the simple truth–and it therefore requires so much more focus. If you’re independent artist #1,000,647, no one cares if you start slacking off. If you’re not willing to work harder, there is someone else who is, and chances are, that person is equally or more talented than you are! It’s a really hard thing to grasp–this concept of taking full responsibility for ourselves. At least it has been in my experience. And it’s a delicate balance, because we can’t work ourselves into the ground.

Most important is to remember why you are doing this. Our expectations are kind of unrealistic these days, with the culture of celebrity and the mixing of art with commerce. That is to say, it used to be the case that someone was a great musician and then that person was approached to make an album, and maybe that album took off, maybe it didn’t, in which case the artist would continue to develop and release another album, and maybe that album would do well. The goal was not to sign a record deal and get rich and create a line of clothing and perfume and back-to-school supplies. Artists created art because we had to, because it’s who we were, and if that happened to make some money, then great. Mozart lived in poverty and taught lessons til the day he died. We need to stay really clear about why we do what we do. If the goal is to “get famous,” then release a sex tape or go on some crappy reality show. Music should be created for the love of it, and anything else that comes along is an added bonus.

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TuneCore Artists Featured In Digital Stores

This week we’re kicking off a new feature that shows off digital store placements we’ve gotten for TuneCore Artists.  Check out some of the artists featured in May and June.

Christina Grimmie-  iTunes Home Page 6/14

La Gusana Ciega – iTunes Mexico Alternative Page – 6/21

Ziggy Marley – iTunes Music Home Page 6/14

The Civil Wars – iTunes Singer/Songwriter Page 6/14

We Are Augustines – iTunes Alternative Page 6/14

Anna Nalick – iTunes Singer/Songwriter Page 6/14

Tedashii – iTunes Hip Hop/Rap Page 5/24

The Social Network -iTunes Soundtrack Page 5/24

Chase Coy – iTunes Singer/Songwriter Page 5/31

…we’ve got more.

To check out more of the artists featured in May and June, see our slideshows…
(To view larger images, click on them and head to our Flickr page!)

May 2011 Slideshow

June 2011 Slideshow

Increasing Fan Engagement Through Online Dating

Boston-based rock band The Lights Out, has found great success in online dating.   Or rather, the attractive female centaur on their latest album “The Rock Pony” has.  Determined to use social media in a unique way to increase band awareness and engage fans, The Lights Out created an OkCupid account for the mythical creature on their album cover, filling out the dating profile as they believed the Rock Pony would.

(Text below taken from the Rock Pony’s OkCupid profile)

Self Summary: Mythical creature, dwelling in the space between your pituitary gland and your stereo speakers

Favorite Food: Barley, maize, bran, greens

Job: Entertainment/Media

Speaks: English (Fluently), Ancient Greek (Okay)

The results of the extended promotion have been overwhelmingly positive. The band has seen an 80% increase in traffic to their website, hundreds of visits to The Rock Pony’s dating profile since the campaign began in October 2010, and they’ve received and replied to hundreds of messages.

The band has remained transparent in their efforts, making it clear that the Rock Pony is a band-created character and not a real woman looking for a romantic connection. And they’ve provided an incentive for OkCupid users to reach out:

“Profile lovingly managed by the lights out. We forward all incoming messages to the rock pony, and like a true workhorse, she will respond to every one. We also award the most entertaining messages with a free copy of the new EP and guestlist spots at our shows.”

The Rock Pony’s horsey good looks and charming, playful profile have resulted in high rankings on the site, a “Brilliant Profile Award,” and several complimentary messages. How’s that for creative marketing?