An Artist’s Take on the Importance of Authenticity

[Editors Note: This is a guest blog written by Ellery Bonham, a TuneCore Artist performing as EZA. She’s acquired millions of streams across platforms, and you can check out her latest EP, Dead Reckoning, on Spotify here!]

 

When I was sixteen-years old I went on American Idol. (It was quick, seriously.) Back then in 2009, it had been a dream of mine since I was nine years old and Kelly Clarkson won the first season, closing the finale with that-song-we-say-we-hate-but-secretly-still-love, A Moment Like This. I don’t even think I auditioned hoping to win the show; what I really wanted was to see what three legitimate music professionals might think of me – a young girl from Rhode Island who grew up in a small town, a small church, and was raised by incredibly supportive, but very conservative parents. Outside of that world, I had no idea who I was, and I was finally at the age where I needed to find out if I really wanted to take music seriously.

When I arrived in California for ‘Hollywood Week’, it took about half of a second for me to realize I had nowhere near the self-awareness that the others did. After all, I was wearing clothes my mother and I deemed “nice” and “professional,” singing songs that were “sweet,” and “appropriate.” I was a singer, and just that. The other contestants were different. These people had ‘I-don’t-give-a-****’ hair and assertive style. They were the epitome of effervescence; their spirits bled with fearlessness and individuality.

I remember feeling so envious of the freedom that they allowed themselves. I wanted to know what it was like to wear clothes solely based on how confident they made me feel. I wanted to be on stage not to entertain, but to share a moment with the audience that could make a stranger feel known. I wanted to perform songs that expressed my soul rather than stroked my ego.

I never knew the difference between an ‘artist’ and a ‘singer’ until I met some of these people. Understanding the distinction was just the beginning of the agonizing journey of authenticity that lay ahead. When I finally returned home, I brought with me an understanding that branding and vulnerability were just as important as one’s talent in order to achieve success in this field. So a few years later, I moved to Nashville to study the entertainment industry and learn how to pursue a career as an artist.

I’m now about to be 24-years old, and EZA has been my artist project for three years. I’ve been doing it full-time for the past year-and-a-half, and have learned more about music business and authenticity than I ever thought I could handle. I can’t even count the number of times I have gotten my ass handed to me because I didn’t do my research, I jumped the gun, or tried to operate with my walls up. Talent aside, you cannot do this job if you’re uneducated about the field and you cannot do it as a fraud.

That is the kicker in this industry – why being an artist is the ultimate paradox: Creating music requires your heart, sustaining your career requires your mind, and each are constantly threatened by the the other. I think if anyone followed an indie artist around for a year, they wouldn’t believe how or why we still wake up every day and keep trying to find the balance.

Over the years, I’ve come to a really difficult conclusion that might slap you across the face just as hard as it’ll kiss you with encouragement: Those of us who master the heart and mind paradox will be successful. I truly believe if we are good enough at what we do (music and vulnerability) and want it bad enough (work ethic and business) we will find the success we are so desperately chasing.

I know that sounds too simple to be true, perhaps even too cold to be true. But it is. Many of us have been told that luck is half of what makes a person in the music industry successful. (It’s true that for some, luck helps speed the process along.) However, I don’t believe that we find luck so much as we make our own.

We cannot give up the wheel and stop taking responsibility for our own careers. Relying on anyone else to make you successful, or blaming something/someone for never becoming successful is simply a defense mechanism; it is a deflection to avoid taking matters into our own hands.The truth is, when you’re doing something right for long enough, it is impossible to go unnoticed. As Steve Martin says, “Be so good, they can’t ignore you.”

If you’ve never read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, stop what you’re doing, open Amazon right now, order a copy- and then continue reading. More than anyone I’ve ever read, Pressfield puts words to every internal-struggle a creative individual has ever faced. He teaches the deception of “Resistance” and the different ways our mind tries to distract us from doing the very work we feel called to create. The entire book is a collection of small chapters that speak truth after truth about why we aren’t where we think we should be. Accepting that we are the only one in our way is a jagged pill to swallow, but there is also unimaginable freedom when we embrace it. In the end, those of us who strip away the B.S. and really figure out who we are and how to do it well are going to end up where we want to be.

If you’re still unsure about hopping on board, I’ll close with some send-off questions:

  1. What am I really trying to say in my songs? (What am I not saying and need to?)
  2. Who am I afraid to let down if I reveal my true self?
  3. Am I vulnerable enough to confront what “my best” looks like right now? Do I hold back from giving 100% of myself to my work because I am afraid to see that “my best” is in fact, disappointing?
  4. What would it sound like if I only released songs that brought me to tears of joy, sadness, or anger, when I wrote them?
  5. What would my band/project look like if I started over right now and only committed to ideas that I would bet my career on?

I’m curious to hear how this sits with you. Feel free to reach out at contact@ezamusic.com or hit up the comment section if you’d like to keep the discussion going.

Is Posting Covers on YouTube the BEST Use Of Your Time?

By Carlos Castillo

A lot of music biz teachers will tell you that you should commit time to releasing cover songs on YouTube because you’ll get all kinds of organic growth and attention.

This is a proven strategy that has been working for several years. But, especially now that so many musicians are applying it, I’m not sure it’s all that it’s cracked up to be anymore. And it’s not as simple as picking songs you like and recording your own versions.

It’s true that YouTube is the 2nd largest search engine. Which means that if you post songs that people are ALREADY looking for, you can show up in those searches. So your Lady Gaga covers might get some traction. But your Journey covers probably won’t.

In order to REALLY make that strategy work, what you have to do is cover POPULAR songs as soon as they are released. I’m talking the DAY they are released or within a few days at most.

Remember when Adelle released “Hello” and everybody and their cousin covered it on YouTube?

The problem there is that you put yourself in a situation with a LOT of competition…

…AND you’re playing someone else’s songs.

So if your goal is to build an audience for your ORIGINAL music, before you put any more time into YouTube covers you should try something different.

Just trust me…

And follow my instructions exactly for a 7-day Facebook Live challenge.

Here are the rules:

Each day go on Facebook Live and play one of YOUR songs.

Don’t do it from your fan page. Do it from your personal profile. More people will see it that way.

Before you hit “Go Live” add a link to your squeeze page in the video description.

Mention 3 different calls-to-action during the broadcast:

1: “Please turn on my live notifications.”
2: “Please share this video or invite people to join.”
3: “Please subscribe to my email list.”

That’s it.

I promise that if you do that for 7 days in a row, you will not only get MORE subscribers and engagement out of it than your last attempt at a YouTube cover, you’ll do it playing your own songs.

For extra credit try it out on other platforms where you can broadcast live like: Periscope, Twitter, Instagram, & YouTube.

Not only will it help you identify which social media platforms are the most responsive for YOUR original music, you can also repurpose the videos as blog posts for your own website and put them into rotation as content that sends traffic there!


For more actionable advice, tips, and Musicpreneur wisdom, click here to join the Schwilly Family Musicians Community.

Carlos Castillo is a Musicpreneur, Artist Business Developer, International Road-Tripper, Lap Steel Player, and Captain of the Schwilly Family Musicians. Find him at Schwilly Family Musicians, or on Twitter at @CaptainSchwilly

3 Easy Tips To Consider Before Pitching to Music Bloggers

[Editor’s NoteThis blog was written by Janelle Rogers, the founder of  Green Light Go Publicity, a music PR firm which helps up-and-coming musicians reach their audience.]

 

You found a list online entitled, “100 Blogs You Should Contact Now.” You’re ready to start emailing those 100 blogs about your album right away, because like the list says, those are all blogs you should contact now.

There’s just one small problem. They might not be.

Lists like those are often a generic compiling of the most read blogs or the blogs that are most receptive to unknown bands. They don’t delineate between a blog focusing on hip hop and a blog focusing on folk.

Those lists are a great starting point to find the blog right for you, but there are a few steps you need to take first.

1. Determine the Genre

First and foremost, you want to make sure they cover your genre before you reach out to the blog. Often a first glance of the site will make it glaringly clear if you are the right fit. If you’re an Americana band and the site is clearly only covering electronic or dream pop, you remove it from your list. In some cases, it’s not as clear at first glance. In those cases, start by finding a column that could be a fit for your band. Then look at the last five bands they’ve covered.

Do any of them fall within your genre? If not, remove them from the list as well. You may still be thinking, but it looks like they cover all genres, so there’s a chance they could cover my music as well. If you’ve looked at five articles and none of them have covered your genre, you’ll have a less than 20% chance of coverage on that blog. That low rate of return is neither worth your time or the blog you’re targeting. If at least one of those articles represent your genre, add the blog and move on to the next step.

2. Determine the Musician Career Level

When my music pr company, Green Light Go Publicity, is determining if a blog will cover a band at the level we’re working, we first break the stages down into five categories. Those categories are unknown, emerging, buzz, indie established, established and superstar. As a general rule, if you’re unsure of a band’s level you can look at Facebook as a guide.

For instance, we categorize unknown bands as less than 2k Facebook likes. Emerging have between 2-5K. If you fall into either of those categories, you want to make sure at least one of the five bands who were just covered by the blog are also within the same range as you. Like the above example, if they only cover established bands, the chances of you being covered are really low if you’re an unknown band.

This is also why it’s really important to look for columns that could be a fit for you at the forefront. A high profile site like Stereogum may only cover established and celebrity musicians in their news features, but could potentially premiere an unknown artist whose music they really love.

3. Determine the Best Contact

Once you’ve found a site that fits within the first two parameters, you want to determine the best contact at the outlet. Start with a writer who wrote the article or articles featuring a band matching your career level and genre. If you want to get even closer, look at writers who have covered artists similar to your sound.

Add that writer or writers to your list while noting the specific article so you can individually tailor your message when you reach out. If the writer isn’t clearly noted, then take a look at the contacts on the contact page and see if you can find the editor who best fits the column or type of coverage who fits your band.

That’s it. It’s really that simple to target the right contact. By taking a little extra time at the beginning to determine who would be most interested in your band, you’ll be able to invest time appropriately in those who’d most likely turn it into coverage.

Facebook’s New Reach Objective: A Game Changer for Touring Musicians

[Editors Note: This is a guest blog post written by Don Bartlett, owner of No Door Agency, an Austin, TX-based boutique management and marketing agency. Don also hosts a seminar titled “Facebook Marketing For Musicians. Be sure to read his TuneCore Blog article on maximizing your Facebook ads on an indie budget.]

From it’s earliest days Facebook has used its powerful data algorithms to deliver incredibly well-targeted ads. It was a dream for most advertisers. They wouldn’t just put your ad in front of your target audience, they’d put it in front of the specific members of that audience who were most likely to engage with the ad. The success of this approach changed the entire landscape of advertising, and advertisers reaped the benefits. For musicians trying to promote tour dates, though, this presented a problem.

Bands are in a relatively unique position, from an advertising perspective. In each tour city we have small but very valuable target group of people we want to reach. It’s critical that we reach ALL of that group, not just the ones who might be prone to engaging with Facebook posts. If we’ve got 500 fans in New York City, we want all 500 to see the ad for our show.

Until now, the best objectives were “Page Post Engagement” or “Website Clicks” which deliver to those people who historically took those actions when viewing ads. In many cases that left a decent chunk of your fans out.

In late 2016 Facebook rolled out a new objective that solves this problem. When you choose the “Reach” objective you are now functionally telling Facebook that you want to reach as many people in your target audience as possible. After a few months of testing we’ve found that ads with the Reach objective perform significantly better for these small but valuable targets.

Note that that when you’re advertising to larger, non-fan target audiences….fans of similar bands, for example…you’re still better off using the “Page Post Engagement” or “Website Clicks” objective.

Another significant advantage to the Reach objective is that for the first time Facebook is allowing you to put a limit on how often people see your ads. Even an ad for your favorite band’s show can get annoying if it’s popping up in your newsfeed 4 times a day. This new feature lets you define an amount of time that a user will not see your ad again after viewing it.

It’s a very helpful tool that provides an extra degree of control to what your fans are seeing from your page. A good rule of thumb is to build in a frequency cap of at least two days for most campaigns.

Taken together these two new features provide a huge improvement to the tour marketing arsenal. Facebook ads have always been a one of the most effective ways to reach fans in a given city, but the effectiveness was often limited by their optimization algorithms. With the “Reach” objective we now have a concrete way to reach all of them.

The Music Industry Belongs to the Hypercreators

[Editors Note: This blog was written by Ryan Kairalla, an entertainment lawyer based in Miami, FL. He recently published Break the Business: Declaring Your Independence and Achieving True Success in the Music Industry and also hosts the Break The Business Podcast.]

 

“You can’t use up creativity, the more you use the more you have.”
– Maya Angelou

A few weeks ago, I was giving a talk at the NAMM Conference in Anaheim, California. After it was over, a musician approached me and asked me what was the most important thing he should be doing to be more successful in his music career.

I succinctly responded: “Make music. Make lots of music. All the time.”

I could tell that this young creative was more than a little unsatisfied with my answer. Perhaps he thought I would give a lengthy discussion on the value of effective social media. Or maybe he was expecting that, as an attorney, I would talk to him about the importance of having good legal structures in place.

Granted, those things are important. But if you’re going to be in the business of making music, there is nothing more important than making as much music as you can. Today’s musicians need to be “hyper creators.”

Let’s lay down some essential truths about the current state of the industry:

  1. It has never been easier or cheaper to create quality music thanks to advancements in low-cost home recording hardware and software.
  2. It has never been easier or cheaper to distribute your music thanks to the digitalization of music and the emergence of low-cost distribution platforms.
  3. It has never been easier or cheaper to promote your music with the advent of social media.
  4. It has never been easier or cheaper to fund your music projects with the rise of online crowdfunding platforms.

Modern technology has removed nearly all of the barriers preventing artists from creating music constantly and sharing that music with a worldwide audience. Being able to make more music means that artists can have more opportunities to connect with their fans. It also means that artists can have a larger catalog of material to sell or license.

The musicians that will succeed in this world will be the ones who are best able to take advantage of these developments. This means creating lots of music—far more than the musicians of previous generations did.

The prevailing music creation model of recording and releasing an album’s worth of songs every two or three years is making less and less sense in the New Music Industry. It is a product of a bygone era where the creation, distribution, and promotion of music was an expensive endeavor, and thus bunching together the release of a small number of tracks was the way things had to be done.

Today, it is a better strategy to (1) make more music and (2) spread out the releases of your music throughout the year so that your fans never have a chance to forget about you. You can still make and release traditional albums if you so choose, but don’t do it at the expense of depriving your fans of a steady stream of new material.

Many musicians have effectively embraced the hypercreation model. Ireland-based indie acoustic artist J.P. Kallio has garnered some impressive success by releasing new original songs every week. Colorado-based Danielle Ate The Sandwich gained considerable fanfare for writing, recording, and producing an album’s worth of songs in just 24 hours (and she’s done this twice).

And then there’s New Jersey’s own Jonathan Mann. Mann has written and recorded a new original song every day for the past eight years—and counting. Mann and his catalog of nearly 3,000 songs have been featured on ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, and HuffPost Live.

If hypercreation seems too daunting to you, remember this: Creativity is a muscle. The more you create, the more prolific you will become. Conversely, the less you create, the more that muscle atrophies. Make creation a constant in your music career, as each song you produce gives you one more opportunity for success.

A final word of warning:

As you embrace hypercreation in your own career, you should be wary of business relationships that are not conducive to you being prolific with your art. You cannot hypercreate unless you have complete authority over when, how, and with whom you make music. As a result, you should look upon exclusive recording agreements with great skepticism.

These contracts essentially give someone else (such as a record label or producer) full control over your recording projects. Under such a deal, you would not be able to make music without that someone’s permission, and they almost assuredly will not approve of you creating new music on a weekly basis. Rather, they will favor the old release model: Make an album, wait 2-3 years, and make another album (assuming that the label/producer still wants to record with you).

In the New Music Industry – one in which the creation, distribution, and promotion of music is so conducive to hypercreation — artists should give some serious thought to the significant value in being able to create on their own terms.