Production: Creating the Perfect Bass Sound

[Editors Note: This bass production guide was written by our friends over at Point Blank London, and was originally featured on their site. Check it out here for audio samples and more.]

 

Searching for the perfect bass patch can be an odious task. With such a plethora of synths and libraries out there, flicking through the almost endless presets to find what’s right for you is like finding a needle in haystack.

Getting something that works with any samples or chord progressions you’ve got, that sits nicely with your kick drum and still carries enough weight to shake those subwoofer cones can seem like a juggling act.

In this tutorial we’re going to explain how to create bass sounds and lines with powerful subs, thick mids and tops that cut through on any system. Download the project used in this tutorial here.

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There are a myriad of dos and don’ts out there and you can spend more time tweaking than actually making music. In this article we’ll take a forensic look at how to build your basslines from the bottom up, from creating a penetrating sub bass, layering the mids and tops, getting it to bite in all the right places and processing it with your kick and rest of the mix.

Due to the low bass frequencies in these audio examples we suggest listening through good headphones or studio monitors to appreciate the nuanced programming.

Low-End Theory

Depending on which genre of music you’re working on, the bass might perform a different function; in house and techno, a weightier kick drives the track along, dictating the pace and feel. Basslines in these genres might contain more mid-range frequencies to cut through the mixes.

Drum ’n’ bass, dubstep and other bass-heavy music can contain much more bottom end and sub frequencies, underpinning your loop. Balancing your kick and bass can be an essential part of getting your track working. With weak foundations, you’re going to struggle to get the rest of the mix sitting comfortably.

To understand bass properly, there are a few key terms you will want to get your head around: amplitude, harmonics and phase. Amplitude is simply a term for volume, but it’s not to be confused with decibels (dB). It’s more akin to relative volume or power.

Harmonics are the name given to all the frequencies that go into making up a sound. The lowest, loudest note in your bass sound is the first harmonic (or fundamental). Any frequency above this will normally be a harmonic.

Harmonics are integer multiples of the fundamental frequency. If that didn’t mean anything don’t worry, the maths is simple. Let’s have a look at Live’s Operator instrument using Osc A. Below is a low A note (110 Hz) and I’ve adjusted the Waveform Editor, bringing in the next four harmonics one at a time. They are the frequencies, 220, 330, 440 and 550Hz.

First Five Harmonics

Just above Operator we can see Voxengo SPAN mapping frequency across our X-axis and amplitude across our Y-axis: you can quite clearly see each harmonic creeping in relative to the fundamental. To the right is an oscilloscope by Laidman & Katsura, this displays time across the X-axis and amplitude across the Y-axis.

The other concept we need to familiarise ourselves with is phase. There are primarily two places we’ll come up against this, the first of which is the start phase of an oscillator. Below we can see eight notes with their phase free running (the default of most synths) and with their phase locked to restart at 0º when a note is played:

Free

Free

Restarted

Restarted

As you can see without restarting the phase, each note has a different start position within the oscillators cycle, causing irregularities in volume and nasty clicks and pops.

The second instance of phase we’re likely to come across is relationship between the left and right channel. It’s highly recommended to keep your frequencies below about 100Hz in mono: any disparity in stereo spectrum here can be very noticeable, causing phasing issues when summed to mono and more irregularities in volume.

Creating a Sub Bed

While we might tend to think of basses as one sound we can sometimes separate their spectrums up further into complex composites – containing as many as three or even four layers – each requiring different programming, processing and treatment.

Flexibility with the sub, low-mids and mid range can be key in getting the right amount of punch, the bass cutting through the mix and retaining that all-important stereo image. Let’s start off with our sub frequencies.

The only way your bass is going to move air on the dancefloor is getting a good, meaty sub. Making a competent sub isn’t rocket science, as it requires very little understanding of synthesis and sound, but making a great sub just takes a little more. Let’s stay with Operator for now.

Osc A defaults to a sine wave, a waveform that contains only the first harmonic. This is good for sub bass as it’s clear and uncluttered. Ensure the phase restarts on 0º (0%) and change the Voices to 1 in the Global Shell.

Phase Restart

If you’re leaving the sub as the sole layer for the bass part then you can almost leave it untouched. I’ve added in -30dB from Osc B, which is modulating the frequency of Osc A. This adds just a few harmonics into the sound helping it cut through a busier mix and on smaller speakers.

Do this by enabling Osc B and turning the Level up to -30dB, or wherever you feel the sweet spot is. It’s good to check on a spectral analyser, though, as frequency modulation can sometimes overpower the fundamental frequency if you add too much in.

Osc B introduced

By increasing the level of Osc B we can create a brighter, sharper tone. You can shape the overall FM by reducing the sustain of the amplitude envelope of Osc B. With the level around -13dB, and changing the Coarse tuning to 4 (fourth harmonic), we can get an archetypal garage/UK house sound:

Garage Bass

Shaping the Low-Mid Tone

Once we’ve got our foundations laid we need to move on to the lower mid range, which is going to shape the body of our bass. Click on the Operator and hit cmd + G (or ctrl + G if you’re on a PC) to group the Operator into an Instrument Rack. Instrument Racks allow MIDI to be distributed to various different chains of synths and samplers and their combined signals to be processed and mixed individually.

Click on the Show/Hide Chain List and rename the Operator “Sub”. It can be muted for now while we concentrate on our midrange.

Show Chain List

Ctrl + right-click in the panel where it says Drop an Instrumental or Sample Here, click Create Chain and name it “Mids”. We’re looking for a synth that has a couple of oscillators and, while most any subtractive synth will do, I’m opting for Native Instruments’ Massive. Drag and drop it on to the Mids chain.

Massive’s default preset is using Oscillator 1 with a wave that’s harmonically halfway between a square and a sawtooth. It’s running into filters 1 and 2, and Envelope 4 is controlling our amplitude. Let’s set about getting it to a place where we can design our sound.

Move the WT-Pos (wavetable position, highlighted in green) fully clockwise to Squ and set the routing of the oscillator to F1 (yellow). Now click on the 4 Env panel and reduce the Attack to minimum and increase the Level to maximum (blue and red).

Massive Reset

You can repeat these steps oscillators 2 and 3 if you want.

In the Osc panel, click to Restart via Gate in the Oscillator Phases box. Much like Operator, Massive allows us to select the start phase of our oscillators each time a new note is received. If we were designing a pad or poly synth patch with unison detune it might not be necessary to take these steps, but for a lot of modern bass sounds it’s recommended.

Finally, in the Voicing tab, change the Voicing from Polyphon to Monorotate and the Trigger from Always to Legato Triller. These steps ensure the bass is monophonic and that envelopes won’t retrigger if two notes overlap.

Next I’m going to enable Osc 2 and load a sawtooth in. There are a few two choices here, the Squ-Saw and Squ-Sw II. Ensure the WT-Pos is in the right place and turn the amplitude up to just half way. This gives us a richer sound that is dominated by the odd harmonics provided by the square wave – plenty of middle and top end for out filters to bite on to.

Route Osc 2 to F1 and turn your attention to the filter section. I’m going to add the Lowpass 2 filter – this has a weaker slope than the Lowpass 4 giving it a smoother sound – which will sound great later on down the line when we start modulating it.

Set the Cutoff to about 8 o’clock and leave the Resonance as is. Before moving on I’ve added the Ktr (keyboard tracking) Macro to modulate our filter. This tracks the position of the filter according to the pitch, opening it as the pitch gets higher. Lastly set the >F2 to Series and the Mix to Mix1.

At this stage you can add a third oscillator in tuned up an octave or two if you want to. This won’t really add anything to the weight of the bassline but it might help it come across on smaller speakers.

In addition you could add some Sine Shaper from the Inserts. Experiment with their position before or after the filter in the Routing panel.

Filter

Filter Envelopes for Bite and Punch

Modulation comes in all shapes and sizes and by far the two most common sources are LFOs and envelopes. Let’s look at each in turn, starting off with LFOs.

LFO stands for low frequency oscillator, and this is a control value that falls within the 0.01 Hz to 20 Hz spectrum. We wouldn’t be able to hear these waves on their own, as they’re subsonic, but when applied to filter cutoff or volume we can hear their effect.

Their value is determined by a ‘rate’ and their modulation is bi-polar i.e it has a positive and negative part to the cycle. LFOs are great for tempo-synced modulation like dubstep wobbles, filter and frequency modulation as well as stereo tremolo on pads and rhodes-type instruments.

Envelopes on the other hand are unipolar and whereas LFOs are free running envelopes are gate triggered. Massive contains four envelopes and number 4 defaults to modulating the amplitude.

Commonly there are four stages in an envelope: the attack (time in milliseconds it takes to reach the maximum level from a MIDI note on signal); decay (time in ms after the attack has passed to reach the sustain stage); sustain (value at which the note sustains at); and release (time in ms the sound takes to reach zero again after a MIDI note off is received).

ADSR-2

I’ve used envelope 1 to control several parameters in our mid-layer. Here, I’ve used the shortest attack available and dropped the level (Massive’s terminology for sustain) and set the decay parameter to a value of 11 o’clock. The decay time might differ drastically depending on your tempo, where at higher bpms you might want a shorter decay time and at slower tempos you could get away with letting the envelope’s modulation breath a little more.

Decay envelope

We can add this envelope to as many different parameters as we like. Firstly let’s add it to our filter (which, if you remember, already has some modulation from the keyboard tracking). Setting the amount of modulation is key to controlling the harmonics that come through and therefore sets the tone of your transient. Having more modulation means the initial hit is brighter, and less, duller.

I’m also adding the same modulation to the Drive circuits on the two Inserts, for which I’ve used Parabolic and Sine Shapers. These add harmonics into the signal by folding over the upper portions of a waveform. One of these is placed before the filter and one after.

Lastly I’ve used Massive’s powerful Modulation Oscillator tuned up 19 semitones (one octave plus a perfect fifth above the MIDI input) and set to Phase modulate Osc 2. Sonically phase modulation is very similar to frequency modulation, and again adds a nice blast of complex high frequencies to our transient.

envelope mod

Macro Managing

We want this bass to be as flexible as possible so I’m going to set up some Macros within Live’s Instrument Rack to control our mids. Click on the Unfold Device Parameters and then click Configure.

Unfold

Configure

Now, anything you touch in Massive will populate this list. I’m going to add the filter cutoff, the drive and dry/wet from both inserts, the phase from our modulation oscillator and the level from envelope 1. If you’ve done that correctly it should look like this:

Config 2

Unclick the Configure button and assign these to Macros. I’m going to give the filter cutoff it’s own Macro named “Cutoff” and the dry/wet and drives of both inserts will be mapped to Macro 2, “Drive”.

The envelope level will be mapped to Macro 3, named “Env Mod” (because cleverly reducing the Marco to 0 will remove all of the envelope modulation), and lastly the phase will be mapped to Macro 4 named, “FM”.

colour code

Once they’re named and colour-coded, click Map and carefully set the ranges for each parameter. It’s good to have a MIDI loop running in the background whilst you do this. You want to set a minimum and maximum that are musical but allow some space for interesting automation later on down the line.

Macros

Top Layer

Now we’ve put the work into our mid-range let’s concentrate on the top layer. I’m going to duplicate my instance of Massive for mids by clicking on the chain and hitting cmd + d (or ctrl + d for a PC). Rename this new chain “Top” and solo it.

Aside from the patch being duplicated you’ll notice all of our hard work that’s gone into tweaking the Macros has been retained. Let’s edit this patch to get a more suitable top end. Firstly I’m going to disable the Oscillator Phases to Restart via Gate. I’m going to experiment with Unison Detune in this patch. Restarting the oscillator’s phases can sometimes create a nasty flanging sound when combined with unison detune.

I’m setting both oscillators to sawtooths now, matching their amplitudes and detuning them ever so slightly. The wider the detune amount, the faster beating we get. Beating is a fluctuation we hear when two oscillators are playing the same note but out of tune (you hear a similar effect when tuning two adjacent strings on a guitar together).

I’ve opted for +/- 20 cents. Next add in Osc 3 selecting the Scrim (Screamer) wavetable. Use envelope 1 to modulate the wavetable readout. I’ve gone for a range of 10 o’clock-5 o’clock.

Lastly for our oscillators, add in the Noise oscillator with envelope 1 controlling the amplitude. We want a blast of noise at the transient of the sound but having too much noise in the sustain stage will quickly muddy the sound up. I’ve chosen the Tape Hiss option here.

Oscs

Let’s turn our attention to the filter. I’ve left the settings intact but changed the algorithm to Bandpass. This works by isolating a band of frequencies, leaving us with a more aggressive but thinner sound perfect for our top layer. Set the Bandwidth and Resonance to about 9 o’clock.
In the voicing tab change the number of Unison Voices from 1 to 4 and enable the Pitch Cutoff and Pan Position, adjusting their values to taste. Pitch Cutoff will add some detuning to each voice and Pan Position will spread those around the stereo spectrum. Now our layer is starting to sound the part.

Bandpass

voicings

There’s not much more to do but turn our attention to the FX tab. I’m adding in a Classic Tube and Dimension Expander while shelving off some bottom end in the EQ tab. Keep a close eye on the Master as all of these distortions and unison effects can easily clip the sound unpleasantly.

Processing Layers Together

Now we have our three layers in place, we need to think about separating them so there’s as little overlap as necessary and each part occupies its own space in the frequency and stereo spectrum. As our sub is fine let’s start with the mid layer. Solo it and add Live’s EQ Eight.

I’ve high-pass filtered it fairly abruptly at 80Hz using the 48dB/Oct slope: this stops it interfering with our sub. I’m also going to add some compression to even out the level a little more and some limiting to deliberately clip the layer. You could add more distortions and modulations here but I’m going to reserve them for our top layer.

Solo the top and add an EQ Eight. Add Live’s Pitch plug-in from the MIDI Effects tab and tune it up an octave. This will transpose any incoming MIDI up an octave automatically – a great time-saving device! I’m again going to high-pass the sound, this time using the standard 12dB/Oct slope and high-passing at 180Hz.

I’ve also added Live’s Auto Filter (adding some extra low-pass filter envelope modulation), the Simple Delay (using short unsynced values of 30 and 80ms), some Reverb, Compression and Limiting. Here’s the top layer on its own now.

FX 1

 

Lastly I’m going to map the levels of each chain to a Macro, allowing me easier control over each layer, and the dry/wet of the top layer’s FX to my last remaining Macro.

MAcros final

Multi-Band and Parallel Processing

Now our synth is balanced internally we can think about processing it as a whole. The way Ableton nests Instrument Racks is clever but it means in order to contain any effects we now apply with our three existing layers we’ll need to re-group (cmd + G / ctrl + G) our current three layers into another Instrument Rack. Alternatively add an Audio Effects Rack after.

While we can use filters or EQ to separate frequency bands, it’s safer to use Live’s Multiband Dynamics as the bands are phase coherent and will minimise the amount og delay to any part of the spectrum. I’ve added three chains, each with a Multiband Dynamics, each soloing one of the Low, Medium and High bands. Ensure you label your chains for ease of use at a later date.

Now we can process these bands individually and adjust their crossover if you choose. STart by adding a Utility to the Low chain and reducing the width to 0%. It’s recommended to keep your bottom end in mono for nearly all applications and this plug-in can ensure that. I’ve also added Live’s Compressor with a slow attack and release with high ratio to tame the dynamic range a bit.

Mutliband 1

On the Mids chain I’ve adjusted the high crossover band to 1.5 kHz to narrow this range a little. Adding another Utility I’ve kept the Width at 60% and added some more compression with a much faster attack and release to match the quick envelope modulation of this band.

Lastly in the High band I’ve adjusted the Width of a Utility to 120% to spread the sound a little and added some light low-pass filtering around 8.5 kHz. After the Audio Effects Rack you can add in any further EQ you might want (to balance the patch specifically with your track), any compression, limiting and sidechain compression.

The patch is designed to be a jack of all trades and will require some tweaking of the Massive instruments and processing to get it to sit just right, so be liberal with adjustments. Hopefully this acts as a springboard to inspire you to create your own bass sounds too. Download the project used in this tutorial here.

 

TuneCore’s New Refer a Friend Program Helps Artists Earn and Save

Anyone creating music in 2017 knows that collaboration is a beautiful thing. Whether it’s a featured hip hop verse, a bluegrass rhythm section, or two songwriters coming together in the studio, musicians working toward a common artistic goal can have incredible results. Heck, we’ve even talked about apps that allow artists to collaborate with greater ease than ever.

In the spirit of indie artists doing right by their fellow indie artists, TuneCore is proud to roll out an all new “Refer A Friend” program! This opportunity gives you a chance to hook up some of your fellow artists who – unlike you – don’t know how to get their music sold online yet.

As long as you are a TuneCore Artist with an active distribution, each friend who you refer gets 20% off of their first release, and you get to release your next single on us!

All you need to do to get started is head over to our Refer A Friend page and choose how you want to invite friends to take advantage of this opportunity. You can email them directly using our portal, or open it up to your friends and family on social media by choosing to post right to Facebook or Twitter.

However you choose to share, you’ll be given a unique URL for your friends to click. It’ll take them to TuneCore to learn more, and if they choose to sign up and distribute, an automatic 20% off will be added to their release. Once they release their music using your link, you’ll receive an email with a free Single Distribution code! Simple as that.

tunecore-refer-a-friend

TuneCore is already proud to benefit from a solid reputation in the independent music community, and we owe a continuous ‘thanks’ to the artists who have helped us grow via word-of-mouth. Now moving forward, we’re happy to be able to give back to you

Start referring your indie artist friends today.

The Upsides to Releasing Music Often or Rarely

[Editors Note: This week, columnist Hugh McIntyre explores what many independent artists often question: How often should I release music? In this installment, Hugh touts the benefits of releasing often as well as rarely. And just so we’re being fair, stay tuned for the second installment, which will cover the downsides of each strategy to consider!]

 

​When you become a full-time musician, there is a lot to consider. What kind of artist do you want to be? Are you going to be elusive and never publish a true photo of yourself? Are you going to be the kind that inundates your fans on social media every day? Will you constantly surprise fans with music they weren’t expecting? Are you going to lead with streaming, or attempt to sell music in a time when that’s becoming less and less likely?

One of the most important decisions you need to make is how often you’ll release new music. Some artists seem to always have something you haven’t heard before, while others space out their collections, with years passing before any new material emerges. This isn’t always a decision you can make, and at times, fate and circumstances decide. Other times, you’re in power, and it’s up to you. So, what’s a working musician to do?

There are upsides to both options, and you should carefully weigh the two before choosing one to stick with for a while.

Often

Releasing music nonstop can be tiring, but there are plenty of benefits that you’ll want to consider if you’re going to attempt to go this route, if even for a period of time.

If you continuously release new music, with only very short breaks in between new singles and albums, you’re likely going to earn more money. Simply put, if you have more products, your fans will buy more. Once somebody has ordered a song or album, they are essentially out until the next album cycle, at least in terms of purchasing music. They won’t hand over more cash for downloads or physical copies of your tunes until there is something new out there.

Constantly delivering new work also gives you an excellent opportunity to tour over and over again. If you haven’t released anything for a long time, some of your fans will still buy a ticket when you come to town, but if your show is simply you playing the same songs over and over, it won’t take long for people to decide they can wait until the next batch of tracks is shared…if they’re still interested at that point.

New music is also always a wonderful way to drum up excitement when it comes to the media. Similar to how your fans purchase music, once a blog has written about your new song, getting them to cover the same piece of music in a slightly different way is almost impossible. Blogs and magazines need new material almost as badly as your fans do. If you can continuously send the outlets that have supported you in the past solid, just-released art, there is a pretty good chance they will cover you in many different ways, and that will help your name get out there. The more often music lovers (and industry insiders, including other writers) are seeing your moniker pop up, the more likely they are to become interested and give you a listen as well. It’s a cycle that repeats and grows larger every time it comes around.

Rarely

On the flip side of that argument, some acts only share new music every so often, and in some ways, that’s benefited their careers immensely.

If you’re the type of artist that spaces out album campaigns by a few years, you are less likely to experience burnout, which is a serious issue with musicians. Instead of touring all the time and constantly having to come up with new, catchy tunes, you as an artist can take your time and truly create the best work possible. That might not necessarily sound appealing in the beginning, but many artists slow down as their career progresses, simply out of necessity. If you start down that road in the beginning, your fans will know what to expect, and they won’t notice (or be disappointed) if you spend a little extra time on that next album.

There is also a perception (that is typically incorrect, but that’s not what’s being debated here) that if an artist releases new singles and albums all the time, they are somewhat less-than. While one artist may spend as many hours on a song as the next, if the first releases a track every week, the work can appear to be…cheapened in a way. It’s not necessarily fair, but that’s the perception. Consumers are more likely to spend money on things they consider to be valuable and worth their investment, and if your excelent work is something they have to wait patiently for and they are excited for it, there is probably a subset of them that group that won’t bat an eye at opening their wallet for something that seems to happen rarely, if it’s for a good reason.

Giving your music time to breathe and really get out to the world properly highlights the fact that while you’re selling music as a product, it is also ART, and it should be treated and valued as such.

In The Middle

Of course, there is always a middle ground, which is where most artists reside. Many working artists drop new collections every two years or so (or slightly more often) and tour and promote those for a long time, taking only a short break in between one cycle and the next. That is typically how the music industry has conducted business for the past few decades, and it has worked fine for a long time. Sure, things are changing, but most working acts are still able to pay the bills with that type of plan, though it’s not for everybody.

When Will Then Be Now? 3 Music Tech Trends in 2017

[Editors Note: This blog was written by Rich Nardo. Rich is a freelance writer and editor, and is the co-founder of 24West a full-service creative agency focusing on music and tech.]

 

As we’ve all grown accustomed to over the past decade, the music industry we will come to know over the next 300 some odd days will look very different than the year we just bid farewell to. That’s not to say you should abandon that focus on building your Spotify numbers or that Facebook Live, Snapchat and Instagram stories should be removed from your marketing agenda, but a lot of what will likely become essential to an innovative and successful marketing campaign for independent artists this year probably wasn’t particularly of importance for you when you were putting out music or going on tour in 2016.

As we move into 2017, here are a few things that artists should be aware of and, when budget or personal connections allow, incorporate into their next release.

360 Video | Virtual Reality

Those of you who have released music videos over the past six months have probably noticed that they don’t get quite as much mileage as they used to. Many of the top-tier press outlets are starting to shy away from ‘premiering’ or posting new music videos if it is not also the first listen for a new track. This is due in large part to the fact that in the current “discover-via-streaming” world of music consumption, very few people that you would consider ravenous seekers of new music are sitting down to watch anything other than dog videos as they scroll through their social media feeds. Instead, they want new music that they can listen to while they’re doing other things.

While this will likely continue, the next phase in having a visual component to your music is poised to hit the internet hard in the form of more ‘experiential’ videos. At the base level, we are already beginning to see 360 video creep more into use. Over the next few months, we will likely see those artists with a bit more of a budget start delving into the world of virtual reality to add another level for fan’s to enjoy their projects.

I imagine that at some point in the relatively near future we will get our first multimedia release where an artist creates an entire album where listeners are able to take a virtual reality journey set to each song, creating a ‘concept album’ of sorts.

More Applications Built on the Spotify Platform

One of the biggest trends of 2016 was the importance of growing your presence on Spotify. According a report by Nielsen music, streaming has become the number one way in which people consume music, accounting for about 38% of the market in the United States. That number increased by about 76% from 2015, passing digital downloads for the first time ever. With Apple apparently undertaking an aggressive plan to terminate music downloads in the iTunes store over the next two years, that seems to be a trend we should get used to. While Apple Music is growing quickly in this arena, Spotify still rules the roost with over 40% of the streaming market.

Most people in the music industry have already accepted that fact and shifted focus to upping streams as opposed to downloads in their marketing efforts. In 2016, this was accomplished by official Spotify playlsting, as well as, by getting your music on playlists by unofficial tastemakers such as brands, blogs and individuals with large followings.

These will remain essential to growing streaming numbers, but in 2017 we will see more applications built directly on the Spotify platform that will become essential to increasing plays. Right now Cymbal.fm is the best of these services, at least in my experience. But I personally know of several competitors in that world with plans to enter the market over the next few months, each of which have several points of separation that will appeal to different sects of music fans. I tend to view Spotify playlistings much in the capacity of the “new blogosphere” for music discovery.

My feeling is that these new services are set to become a crowd sourced variation on the way we traditionally view radio.

RFID & Beacon Technology

This is another technology that has, with larger artists, already started making headway. A lot of festivals and arena tours are already using RFID (radio frequency identification) and Beacon technology to incentivize fan purchases and form other initiatives with sponsors. I’m hearing a lot of buzz that this technology will start to trickle down to smaller venues in 2017, creating new revenue sources for the promoter/venue and bands alike.

Another aspect of this technology is adding an interactive or gaming component to the live music experience. Particularly in the electronic music world, I’m very intrigued to see how artists do so this year.

(It’s Not Digital but…) Cassettes Will Replace Vinyl As The Most Popular Physical Product

I know this article is supposed to be digital based, but I feel as though this is a point worth mentioning for up-and-coming artists. Yes, vinyl is beautiful and it sounds great, but it’s expensive. Often way too costly to be worthwhile for an independent artist doing a small run for a tour. In 2017, I believe we’ll see cassettes overtake vinyl as the most popular physical product at merch tables for artists on tour. It’s way cheaper and faster to create and it still holds a particular sense of nostalgia for fans, harkening back to the ‘good old days’ of music.

Truth is, a large portion of those people that are buying vinyl aren’t listening to it anyway. They just want a keepsake from one of their favorite bands to display in their home, and to offer support to the artists they love. Cassettes are a cheaper, more convenient way to satisfy those desires for both the artist and the fan.

Utilizing Soundcloud to Drive iTunes Sales

[Editor’s Note: This 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.]

 

There’s no doubt that convincing fans and music listeners to buy music in 2017 can be an uphill battle. For nearly 20 years the music consumer has been conditioned into downloading music for free. Services like Spotify, Pandora and Soundcloud have made it even easier, while making it legal.

You may think the only way to get your music heard is to give it all away for free.

Not so fast.

Like any legitimate business model, you should be looking at how you can market your product to drive sales. A single can be your product to market while iTunes provides the vehicle to drive sales.

How do you do that? Let’s dive into a simple five step strategy to market your music on Soundcloud to drive sales on iTunes.

1. Create a Sales Goal

Before you start marketing your music, you should set a realistic sales goal of what you hope to achieve. Note, I said realistic. If you only have 30 Soundcloud followers and 100 Facebook followers, chances of you selling 1,000 downloads of your album on iTunes within two months are fairly unrealistic. In that case you need to make a compromise, either extend the timeline to where you can realistically sell 1,000 downloads or decrease the amount of sales to reflect your current followers.

2. Offer a Track for Free

If you want people to buy your music, you need to give them a sample of your music to try out. It’s the equivalent of going to your local market, trying that new crunchy snack at the sample table and then buying the entire bag because you can’t get enough.

Determine one single you can give for free off your new album and set a limited time frame to download it. You’re offering a single for a limited time for three reasons. It allows listeners a chance to really hear your music and decide if they want to hear more. The limited time creates incentive to download before it goes away and it keeps fans from solely relying on free music.

Lastly, by only offering one single it gives incentive to purchase more music if they are interested or at the very least streaming from Spotify where you’ll be paid for each listen. If you were to give away your entire album, you’re essentially giving away the entire bag of chips without asking for anything in return.

3. Post iTunes Pre-sale or Sale Link

Next, you need to make it easy for fans to know where to buy your music on iTunes. Post your iTunes pre-sale link or sale link on your Soundcloud profile, any public tracks from the album, and your Facebook and Twitter profiles. You should also include the release date so fans know when it’s available.

4. Alert Soundcloud Followers of New Music

Soundcloud made notification changes in 2014, which make it difficult to communicate when you have a new song available. In the past, when you uploaded a song, your followers would receive an email notification with a link to the new song. Currently, Soundcloud offers no bulk email notification option to alert fans of new music. Without your fans receiving notifications of your new music, what can you do?

First, you’ll unfortunately have to take the time to privately Soundcloud message every follower on your list individually to notify them of a new song available. That’s the good news if you only have 37 fans. It’s very bad news, if you have 10,000. This would be a very time intensive process if you did this every time you released a new single. You need a notification process that is both efficient and in your control. The best way to do this is to also notify your Soundcloud followers of your email list with a direct link to sign up and receive notifications when you release new music.

If you don’t have an email list, that should be your first priority for two reasons. One, you control how your fans are notified and you also don’t risk losing fan contacts on a platform who owns the contact information or controls how information can be sent.

Lastly, keeping your iTunes objective in mind, you should also include that iTunes pre-sale link and call to action in your individual messages and newsletter announcements.

5. Increase Soundcloud Following to Increase Sales

In order to increase sales outside of your base, you also need to increase your following. The best way to utilize this within Soundcloud is to follow those who would be interested in your music and are current Soundcloud users. If you also factor in users who repost tracks regularly, no more than 2-3 times daily, you have the opportunity to grow your base exponentially.

First, think about bands who are similar to you on Soundcloud and follow them. Then take a look at their followers and start following those who fit the parameters in the above paragraph. Soundcloud does limit how many you can follow in one day, so I recommend keeping it to ten per day, which will also make it more manageable as you engage with those who follow you and comment on your tracks.

This brings me to engagement. You should also be engaging with those you follow or who follow you, by liking tracks they post (If you like them) and commenting. This is especially true if you are following a band or someone else in the music industry.

This is also the one area where I suggest NOT sending your iTunes link, keeping in mind you should have it included in your song description. You are building a fan relationship when increasing listeners so you need to make sure the listener experience is a good one. Once you have built that relationship, then you can repeat the above process by releasing another single to support the album and including the iTunes link when you privately message.

This method is the first step in increasing sales for your music. In this day and age, however, you need to be creative and adapt to a constantly changing industry. Album sales are just a portion of revenue for a band. You should always look at how you can build your audience and create an experience they want to be part of, so they will in turn support your every endeavor.

The Business of Making a Record (Part III)

[Editors NoteThis is the final installment in a three-part series of guest articles from Coury Palermo. Read Part 1 and Part 2 if you need to catch up. In this final piece, he guides first-time music makers as they navigate the world of defining their promotion and release strategy, as well as defining what success means to them. Coury is a songwriter, producer and musician who is currently one-half of duo love+war.]

 

Ok. The champagne’s been popped. You’ve listened to your album on repeat since receiving the master, ordered your physical packages, and now you’re ready; ready to share your masterpiece with the world. Before we get to the grit of “Now what?”, let me start by talking about the last part of the previous sentence.

A large part of your success as an artist rests in the tenacity of your belief – the belief you are creating something of worth. When I say “masterpiece, I mean masterpiece. You have, in whatever large or small way, created something that is uniquely you.

Remember that at every turn.

When you’ve spent hours sending your record to hundreds of blogs for review, and one blogger bites – remember that. When the “likes” on the debut of your “sneak peek” for the first single don’t stack up to “industry standards” – remember that.

We don’t create for praise. We create because we know no other way. It is the life of an artist. In this self-assured approach, do not mistake arrogance for quiet confidence; this is never a good look and will only lead to complications. Now, let’s get to the meat.

There are as many ways to market an album as there are to record a song. Some grand and proven, others outside-of-the-box and risky. The only way you “fail” in this pursuit is by not truly planning out your approach. Throwing something in the air and praying a stranger knows to look up is foolish.

In the same respect, a scattered, unplanned marketing strategy will only lead to an annoyed audience and wasted opportunity.

What is within my reach?

Start here. Don’t compare your album rollout to anyone else’s. New duo Levv is probably not going to have the same access or promotional reach as say Macklemore or Sia. Creativity is key.

With so many avenues of approach at our fingertips, it can be daunting for a new artist to decide the path that best suites her or him. This process is extremely important to your success. A well-thought out plan of attack is almost as important as the product you have created. Here are a few ideas that may help jumpstart your upcoming album release.

Find the “comeback”.

When people suggest social media is the best way to begin promoting your release, don’t assume you already know this little gem of information because you’ve posted a Soundcloud link of a song to your Facebook wall. The world of social media is a much more complicated arena than the occasional “Get ready for our latest single!” status/tweet, or a picture post from the studio. You have to create the “comeback.”

What about your music brings people back to your page – pulls their finger to the “like” button – and what has them waiting for what’s next? People enjoy having something to look forward to. This can come in the form of revealing different pieces of your artwork, teasing songs from the album through video or audio posts, playing one song from the record live in the weeks leading up to the release, doing a pre-release on iTunes or Bandcamp, making a new song available each week as the release date approaches – the possibilities are limitless. It just takes some imagination and hard work.

Press: The ask.

For an independent artist this may be the most difficult part of the equation. If I’ve learned anything from my time in the industry, it’s this: the ask will get you further than the fear. If your goal is blog supremacy, then roll up your sleeves, and get to work. This is not for the easily winded.

Step 1: Compile a list of your favorite music blogs and publications. Begin following the sites and make a habit of regular visits. Be invested in the platforms you hope invest in you.

Step 2: Pick your most commercially viable or best song (TIP: send out an email to friends and family with a private playlist of the album, and have them vote on their favorites) and formulate a personal email to EACH of these outlets. Yes, personal – yes each. No blogger or music content editor with any clout is going to waste time reading, or listening for that matter, to a mass email talking about a song /record from an unproven, unknown artist when their inbox is full of known acts looking for the same spot (and usually sent from a reputable publicist).

This is work, my friends. You can’t decide one day that all you need to do is send out an email to 200 of your favorite online outlets and expect the rest to just fall in to place. Start this process early – long before your rollout is to begin.

The day after…

You’ve come to a crucial point that few talk about, but everyone experiences. I call it “the day after.” The album has been released, and you’ve spent an ungodly amount of time promoting and planning only to find yourself a month in and feeling as though all your hard work is already forgotten. Stop right there.

I am a firm believer in defining your OWN idea of success. Those in the arts, or most human beings for that matter, get caught up in numbers. Societal bars that dictate whether or not we are successes or failures. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

The easiest way to avoid following the lemmings to this destructive cliff is two-fold.

Redefine what success looks like within your reality, and never assume quality work doesn’t require hard work when it’s finally time to release it.

Imagine what you could accomplish if you refused to carry the weight of living up to expectations that were never yours to begin with. All you’re in control of is the quality of your work and how much time you’re willing to put into making it a success. Before one album or song is sold or streamed, decide what your goals for the record are according to where you are in the journey. Build your brand and career with the knowledge that it may take some time before the work reflects the prize.

This business is a killer. It’s sleepless nights and dive bars – working two jobs mixed with moments of creation.  Remain true to what you feel makes you great – different from the pack. When you discover your unique point of view, create with intent. Be the best at what you do, work hard, and people will take notice.

For all the advice and careful planning one can give or receive, there is no perfect guidebook to the world of creative arts. It is a place for the dreamer; a road of self-discovery that will lead to triumph and loss – failures and success. Resolve to create because you must, and the rest will fall into place.

Thank you for allowing me to talk a little about my thoughts on making a record through the lens of my personal experience. These are challenging times for artists, but remember, we are the pulse of each generation. Without art, music, or words, we are left to brave the world in silence. So play loud my friends, because whether or not they know it, they need us.