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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Artist & Record Label Relationship – A Look At the Standard “Record Deal” [Part 1]

[Editors NoteThis is a guest blog written by Justin M. Jacobson, Esq. Justin is an entertainment and media attorney for The Jacobson Firm, P.C. in New York City. He also runs Label 55 and teaches music business at the Institute of Audio Research.]

 

UPDATE: Read Part 2 of this series here!

In our prior installment, we examined the artist and manager relationship and explored a variety of standard clauses as well as negotiations tactics. We now start our initial examination of a few selected clauses from a standard recording industry agreement, better known as a “record deal.”

Once a musician has finished its product (music), the music is then distributed to the public for sale, either physically (CDs, vinyl), digitally (MP3 downloads, internet streams) or in both formats. Distribution is generally handled by a third-party on behalf of the artist unless the artist independently distributes their own music themselves. If an artist utilizes a third-party distributor, one of the industry’s most dominant distributors of recorded music is the recording or “record” label. These companies dispense the musician’s recorded music through a variety of channels, including to “Big Box” Retailers such as Best Buy and Target. Record labels are also involved in digital distribution by providing the work as digital downloads (MP3 format) in digital stores such as iTunes Store and on digital music streaming platforms, such as Spotify and Pandora.

Today’s recording industry landscape has significantly changed from its earlier roots, with many of the older, independent labels being sold and merged into each other. For instance, there are still a variety of major recording labels, such as Capitol Records, Columbia Records, Interscope Records and Atlantic Records; however, most of these are owned by other larger entertainment entities such as Warner Music Group, Universal Music Group or Sony Music Entertainment. In addition, many major labels have also established “vanity” labels. These act as smaller distribution companies where a producer or an artist signs additional artists or producers to this imprint and the “vanity” label then is dispensed to the public by a larger entertainment entity. For example, “Cash Money Records” is a “vanity” label distributed by Republic Records, which is under the Universal Music Group umbrella. There are also a variety of independently owned record labels such Sub Pop Records, Epitaph Records and Norton Records, who operate and distribute works on their own. In addition, there has been a recent rise in “digital only” record labels that function like traditional record labels; but, solely distribute music digitally.

Once an artist selects the appropriate distribution entity, it is standard practice for the parties to enter into an agreement outlining the deal points. To better comprehend this contractual relationship, let us now review a series of common clauses included in many standard record label agreements.

Similar to management agreements, the “term” or length of the agreement is of paramount importance.

TERM – (a) The Term will consist of an initial contract period (“First Contract Period”) and each of the renewal contract periods (“Contract Periods”) for which we will have exercised the options set forth in the next sentence. LABEL will have three (3) separate and successive irrevocable options, each to extend the Term for a further Contract Period. Each option to extend the Term for an additional Contract Period will be exercised automatically. The second Contract Period will be called the “Second Contract Period,” the third Contract Period will be called the “Third Contract Period” and the fourth Contract Period will be called the “Fourth Contract Period”.

(b) The First Contract Period will commence upon the date of Execution and will continue through the later of:
(i) The date twelve (12) months from the date hereof; or
(ii) The date six (6) months after the last day of the month in which Record Label
commercially releases the Album made in fulfillment of the Recording Commitment for the first Contract Period in the United States.

(c) Each subsequent Contract Period will run consecutively, commencing upon the expiration of the immediately preceding Contract Period, and will continue through the later of:
(i) The date twelve (12) months from the commencement of the particular Contract Period; or
(ii) The date six (6) months after the last day of the month in which Company commercially releases the Album made in fulfillment of the Recording Commitment for the first Contract Period in the United States.

This language states that the record label shall have one “firm” or “committed” album release with the “option” for up to three additional albums, totaling a potential four album deal. As it is written, these options are in the label’s sole discretion. In addition, this provision means that the agreement shall commence upon signing and shall end at either the expiration of one year from the signing of the agreement or six months after the last commercially released album. It also states that any subsequent option shall run for a similar period of time.

Since most record distribution deals contain similar language, an artist can attempt to negotiate specific parameters that are required in order for the record label to exercise one of its options. For instance, an artist could provide language that affords the label with the right to exercise an option for an additional album if the prior album reaches a specified sales figure (i.e., selling 20,000 copies of an album) or if the release recoups a certain specified percentage of an advance provided to the artist by the label (i.e., 75% of the preceding advance was recouped).

Once the “term” of an agreement is established, another important clause to decipher is the definition of what constitutes “delivery” of an “album” to satisfy an artist’s “recording commitment.”

Delivery Requirement – During each Contract Period, Label will cause the Artist to record and Artist will Deliver to Label Masters sufficient to constitute one (1) Album (the “Recording Commitment”). An “album” shall consist of approximately twelve (12) tracks with a total duration of approximately seventy five (75) minutes (the “Album”). In order for an Album to be “Delivered” under this Agreement, it must be contained in such format of which the Label advises the Artist, in the proper form for the production of the parts necessary for the manufacture of commercial Records, which shall be delivered to Label together with all materials, clearances, consents, approvals, licenses and permissions necessary to commercially release the applicable album. Each Album shall be subject to the Label’s approval as being technically and commercially satisfactory.

Further, unless Label otherwise expressly consents in writing, Artist will ensure that the Artist does not record Performances in fulfillment of the Recording Commitment that are: (1) not recorded in a recording studio (i.e., “In Concert” or “Live” performances); (2) instrumental Performances; (3) solely speech or spoken word; (4) not in the English language; (5) remixed or re-edited or mixes (e.g., extended mixes of an Album Master) or otherwise altered versions of Performances previously recorded; (6) based on an overall theme (e.g., a Christmas Album); or, (7) Performances of more than one Composition (e.g., a medley).

Under a recording agreement, the “delivery” of an album is an important point of contention between the label and artist. For instance, traditional language, such as in the clause above, requires that any album submitted to the record label must be both “technically” and “commercially” satisfactory to constitute a “delivered” album under an artist’s “album commitment.” An album is “technically” satisfactory when the master is technically well-made and able to be utilized to manufacture CDs, records, etc. This is fairly easy to satisfy, as any track that was recorded, mixed and mastered at a reputable recording studio or by a reputable professional, should suffice. Conversely, an album is only “commercially” satisfactory, if and only if, the label believes the album will sell. This means that the album is “satisfactory for commercial exploitation,” which is highly subjective. In negotiating this clause, an artist could try to limit the satisfaction of the “delivery” with an album that is “technically” satisfactory as opposed to one that is both “technically” and “commercially” satisfactory. This is especially important in emerging musical genres, such as electronic-dance music, where there are often quick and unpredictable listenership shifts whereby an artist or a type of musical genre which was once highly marketable is now no longer. If the label rejects an artist’s delivery of an album, it prevents any additional progress within the contract, such as the issuance of additional monetary advances. This situation may also arise where an artist is signed to a record label and then takes several months to finalize their album. If during this time period, the entire musical landscape shifts, the artist’s music may become outdated and not commercially satisfactory to the label, who feels they can now no longer sell this material.

In addition, the above clause defines one “album” as approximately twelve songs totaling seventy-five minutes; however, there are a variety of recordings that do not constitute a “track” sufficient to count toward an artist’s “album commitment” to the record label. For example, the language above states a “live” recorded performance does not constitute an acceptable track unless the record label permits it. Furthermore, a track that is solely instrumental or solely acapella will not count unless the label says so. Additionally, any foreign language tracks, remixes of original tracks or “theme” tracks, such as a Christmas or holiday album, will not count without approval from the label. An artist can always attempt to negotiate that a particular “live” version of a track counts toward the “album;” but, ultimately, the label may not agree or may only agree to allow this one particular track as opposed to removing the restriction entirely.

Another essential clause in a standard recording contract is the “advance” or “advance of recording funds” section. The negotiation of this paragraph has the potential to severely impact an artist’s career as this is the “money” the artist gets for signing the deal and are the funds the musician has available to actually record and finalize their album.

Advances/Recording Funds: Label will provide to Artist the following Recording Funds (inclusive of all producer advances and recording costs), which shall be recoupable from any and all royalties and any other agreements between the parties hereto. “Any other agreement,” in this paragraph, means any other agreement with Label relating to Artist’s Recordings or relating to Artist as a recording artist or as a producer of Recordings of Artist’s own performances.

(a) “Recording fund” advances for the Albums shall be subject to the following “minimums” and “maximums”:

(b) No respective recording fund shall exceed the “maximum funds” set forth in Paragraph(a). If the Artist fails to earn an amount which is the equivalent of one hundred (100%) percent of the proceeding “Recording Fund” advance as earned artist royalties in respect bearing units through normal retail channels in the United States of the Album, then the “Minimum” amount listed in Paragraph(a) shall be provided to Artist by Label. If the Artist earns an amount which is the equivalent of at least one hundred the proceeding “Recording Fund” advance as earned artist royalties in respect bearing units through normal retail channels in the United States of the Album, then the “Maximum” amount listed in Paragraph(a) shall be provided to Artist by Label.

(c) Label shall pay Artist one-half (1/2) of each Recording Fund advance listed in Paragraph(a) hereunder upon commencement of recording for each respective Album. The balance of each respective recording fund advance will be payable to Artist within thirty (30) days of the technically and commercially satisfactory delivery of each completed Album to Label.

As it is stated above, each album released by the label coincides with an additional “advance” of recording costs so that the artist may complete its album obligation to the label. Typically, most labels want approval over the recording budget; and, if any money remains from the recording funds after paying all the associated recording, mixing, editing and mastering costs, the artist gets it. If the musician requires additional funds to record and finalize the album, the artist must usually go into their own pocket to pay the difference. However, in select situations, the label may choose to pay the difference; and, in those instances, the label treats the additional payment as an additional recoupable advance. This situation could arise when there is no other way for the artist to obtain the funds to finish the album; and, the label would rather accept a finished album that costs a bit more than originally budgeted for than an unmarketable, unfinished album. The “minimum” amount listed above is known as the “floor.” As the above clause states, if an artist fails to fully recoup their entire prior advance from the label, they will only receive the “minimum” amount listed for their next album. Conversely, the “maximum” listed above is known as the “ceiling.” This is the highest amount that the label will provide to the artist for their next album no matter how good the prior albums sales were. As the proceeding clause states, if an artist does fully recoup their prior advance, they will receive the “maximum” amount listed for their next album.

In most instances, any advance provided by the label to an artist is fully recoupable from the royalties earned on the material. This means that after the label advances a specified amount to the artist, the label keeps any and all royalties earned by the artist for the recordings until the original amount is paid back. This is further exemplified as most clauses state that the amounts subject to recoupment by the label include “all amounts paid to you or on your behalf, or otherwise paid in connection with this agreement.” Thus, all the expenses the label pays including, to name a few, any
recording costs, music video production costs, studio session players and marketing and promotions for the album. They are generally all recouped prior to the artist receiving any additional monies. This is why the actual “minimums” and “maximum” are subject to extensive negotiations, since the amount the artist initially takes subsequently impacts what they will receive in the future, if anything.

The royalties earned by an artist under this agreement and in most standard ones are typically subject to cross-collateralization. This means that any monies advanced by the label “under this or any other agreement between the parties” shall be recouped from any and all streams of income that the label is entitled to. For instance, if the label has a publishing deal with the artist, the recording company could recoup the funds it advanced to create an album from the artist’s publishing monies. Similarly, if an ancillary income arrangement exists with the artist, the label could potentially recoup the funds it advanced to create the recorded music from the artist’s touring monies or from the artist’s merchandise sales, or any other income that is included in the agreement with the artist. Conversely, an agreement that is not cross-collateralized permits the label to only recoup the funds it advanced for the creation of recorded music from the funds earned from the sale of the music instead of the label recouping the funds of any potential stream of income the label is entitled to. Ideally, an artist should attempt to negotiate that the agreement not be cross-collateralized; but, this may be a hard bargaining point, as the label may insist on cross-collateralizing any income earned to reimburse itself for the costs it has already advanced to the talent.

In addition, it is a common industry practice that in most every recording deal that an advance is non-returnable. Therefore, there is no need for the artist to re-pay the money provided to the artist by the record label. This is true even if the artist ends up “flopping” and never recouping the original advance amount from the royalties it earns from the sale of its music.

These are just a few of the main points that need to be agreed upon between the parties. We will explore some additional clauses typically included in many standard recording agreements in our next installment.

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

TuneCore Social: Revisiting Our Interview With Tyler Allen

With the recent launch of our brand new social media marketing tool, TuneCore Social, we’re re-sharing some of our favorite articles/interviews in which TuneCore Artists and members of the music industry dive into the importance of social, what kind of habits to avoid, and how to make it work for your music career. Remember – if you’ve got an active distribution, you can start using TuneCore Social today totally free!

We understand that when you’re writing, rehearsing, recording and eventually distributing new music, social media isn’t always a top priority. However when it comes to building excitement around and promoting that new release, it should be one the first things that comes to mind! Think about it: people who follow you on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Tumblr are doing so because they like your music. Once you’ve got them there, you’re able to bring them into your world to whatever extent you choose, and informing them of the awesome new song or album you’re releasing is the very least you should be sharing.

Tyler Allen is a music consultant whose firm, W Tyler Consulting, helps artists of varying genres and career levels establish and preserve a quality digital presence. He also offers strategy and artist packages for DIY and indie artists on a budget, so he has great first-hand experience and advice when it comes to making the most of your social media marketing efforts. Tyler was nice enough to explore the subject with us in an interview below!

Social media is, in the grand scheme of things, still a relatively young concept. From the collapse of MySpace to the explosion of Instagram, what do you feel has remained constantly vital for indie artists when it comes to social?

Tyler Allen: What’s remained consistently vital has been transparency and curiosity. This goes well beyond the constructs of “social media outlets”, from the days of Tiger Beat and Teen Bop magazines in the 1960’s, to Late Night TV and TMZ-esque sites, fans have always wanted a glimpse into the lives of their artists.

Sure, they want the music, and sure they want the videos and the latest news, but above all they want to feel as if they know these artists. Social media has become the gateway into the full vision of an artist from professional to personal. Whether they got it from a MySpace photo in the 2000’s, an Instagram or Vine clip from today, or whatever lies next, fans want that eclectic glimpse of an artist’s life and career.

Sure, there’s a delicate balance of what you post (promo vs. personal) but fans are always going to seek that balance; it’s a vital part of an artist’s brand.

How often do you hear artists interested in consultation or otherwise tells you, “Yeah we use Facebook, but Twitter is a waste of time…” or some variation of that? What is your reaction?

I actually get the opposite! I have a lot of clients that come to me and they are on every single current social media outlet, and aren’t able to keep up with them all. If you’re on an outlet, you need to keep it active—plain and simple.

My young pop artists who are doing radio tours and live shows – absolutely jump on every outlet – if you can keep up with it and deliver unique content on all platforms – let’s work with it.

However, my older veteran clients, who’s main focus is on licensing, and the occasional show—you simply might not need to be on every social media outlet if it doesn’t fit your brand. What’s he going to do on Vine? Does she have enough photo content to even keep up with an Instagram? Maybe, but probably not.

Social media is becoming a way for press and other decision makers to gauge your success and if you are worth their time. If they come across a thoroughly updated Twitter page, but also a Facebook page that hasn’t been kept up with, it’s a major red flag. Only sign up for what you can keep up with.

Though, in the same breath, just because you don’t see the use of an outlet, doesn’t mean it can’t help you! Social media is important, but it’s one pixel in a larger digital branding picture. It becomes an extension of your art, and your brand—so I do recommend taking on new outlets if it makes sense for an artist’s work.

A lot of us shy away from things we don’t understand, so try to understand an outlet first before completely writing it off. I always recommend Facebook due to it’s helpful ad structure and it’s stature of somewhat being an industry standard. I also tend to recommend Twitter for it’s personable approach to media and fans. Though, every artist’s brand, story and goals are going to be different. Therefore, their outlets will be, too.

How do you think artists can best capitalize on touring when it comes to their social channels?

Touring is prime time for social media. Because you always have content, right? You have photos and video clips from shows; you have photos from the road trips. It’s a great way to connect with fans on a professional and personal level.

A lot of artists let outlets go ghost because they feel as if they don’t have anything to talk about, but being on the road, you have lots to work with. You just have to find the time to make an update video, take photos around town and be really interactive.

As far as promoting the tour, one should have graphics made in advance, and use geo-targeted ads (ie. Twitter and Facebook’s ad managers) to start promoting certain tour dates in certain locations. I’d also recommend a scheduler such as Hootesuite, or Buffer, to schedule posts to go live when you may be on the road.

Facebook has made it harder to reach fans organically with each post. What other kind of challenges do you see facing indies as social channels evolve?

Very true. Facebook’s algorithm changes often, and this basically means if your posts aren’t being engaged with (commented on, liked, shared) they might not even appear on your fan’s timelines. So you could very well have, let’s say, 5,000 fans, but if you post something that doesn’t get any love, it might only be seen by 5-10 of those fans—if that.

There are ways to get around that—ie. Make your posts interactive, be conversational, ask fans to interact with your posts, etc. Nonetheless, this change in Facebook almost makes an artist (or any brand, really) need to purchase Facebook ads so their work is properly seen. Especially for folks who still have growing outlets.

I do see more and more outlets relying on paid placement, Instagram just rolled out ads for brands, and Twitter’s ad manager is always evolving. So very well, we could see similar changes coming from other guys—who may almost force our hands to buy ads. But who knows?

Right now the biggest challenge for an indie artist is over-saturation. Everyone has a band, everyone has a mixtape about to drop, and everyone is about to go on tour. It’s becoming harder for artists to stand out, because social media has given everyone out there a platform. Artists really have to find new ways to be creative on their social media outlets to stand out from the crowd.

Have you seen success among indie artists who use social to develop or nurture relationships with bloggers?

Absolutely. We call this “influencer marketing”, and it’s something that’s been used by large companies for a while now. Let’s say you are a clothing brand, it’s very common you send free samples to fashion bloggers for review, right?

For large companies this has taken on a whole new stage of strategy, where these bloggers and YouTube personalities get paid hefty sums of money to promote products. There are even influencer agencies that help connect these bloggers and brands.

This is a tactic that’s certainly usable in the music industry, and fortunately you likely won’t have to pay a blogger to write about you. Music writers are typically a very open bunch and a proper email, tweet or press release will do the trick. Bloggers are just as powerful as large corporately owned magazines and websites.

Though, on the flip side, there are influencers out there like major DJ’s, celebs or big outlets that will cover your work for a small fee or arrangement. I’ve had success in this, we recently paired an artist with a nationally syndicated radio/TV personality to promote a release through his blog and Twitter, and I’d say it was worth the investment. But grassroots pitching always seems to feel more rewarding.

What are a few of the most common mistakes you regularly see independent or unsigned artists making on social?

As mentioned previously, not keeping your outlets updated is always a mistake. Be sure to be active on your social media—social is the key word there, right? Also, be sure to have a good mix of content. I see a lot of artists that are too heavy on the promo side, and promo after promo is just too “salesy”. On the flip-side though, I see a lot of artists posting their lunch or their #GymFlow and not enough posts of their actual music. Have a good mix.

Each outlet should also have unique content, it can be similar, sure—but try to have a reason to be on every outlet that you participate in. Your Instagram should have certain content that’s different from your Facebook, and so forth.

Don’t be on an outlet just to have an account. Be fun and personable on each outlet. Have a unique message throughout. If you do share the same video or photo on multiple outlets, at least switch the captions or text up to make it different.

Lastly, make sure it’s pretty. Your band is a brand, and a major brand would never have typos or poorly photo shopped graphics. Make sure your outlets are clean and ready for public consumption.

What newer social channels are you excited about in terms of promotional/engagement potential for up-and-coming artists?

I’m most excited about new features coming out for the outlets we already have. Both Twitter and Facebook’s new video ads and video tools have been great for artists.

Integrations are also always great. The way Twitter integrates with Vine  is a great feature. Twitter allows you to play Vine clips straight from your Twitter feed, instead of just throwing out a URL. This is great because you can write a Tweet along with your Vine post, which kind of reframes the content to be unique to Twitter.

I’m also interested in Periscope and Meerkat, which are both live video streaming tools that integrate with Twitter. There was some conflict between the two as Twitter owns Periscope and the two apps essentially are the same. Regardless, whichever app reigns supreme, the concept is great for artists. This would mean fans could live stream your concerts, shows, meet-and-greets and more.

For an indie artist who doesn’t tour and isn’t making waves on blogs (yet), what practical advice do you offer for simply building a larger social community?

Be active! Your social media outlets are still a “media outlet”, so that is still your platform for greater exposure. Work on engaging content such as video posts, show clips and graphics, and give your fans something to talk about. I also recommend saving up for small ad spends, which can be used to promote your various channels and releases. A lot of people shy away from ads, but some artists don’t realize that even $5 a day for 5 days can get your work in front of thousands of fans.

Lastly, make media lists, and start submitting your work to blogs and press outlets! Sure you may not be ready for an album review in Rolling Stone, but sending your press kit to local media in the spots where you are performing can go a long way.


10686941_10202703937861306_3856894148549257883_nAs a music marketing strategist, Tyler Allen works with an extensive array of artists, labels, music tech, and music retail entities. Tyler began his music industry career with Sony Music Entertainment and RED Distribution, as well as the advertising industry. He is dedicated to giving veteran artists the tools to preserve their legacy, and new artists the tools to begin theirs (as well as everything in between). Learn more about Tyler Allen’s music consulting and background on his website here.

6 Essential Tools for Indie Artists

By W. Tyler Allen

Being a DIY musician in today’s industry requires, work and hustle — but it’s possible. Straight up, it’s completely possible to become a successful independent artist in today’s digital landscape. How exciting is that?!

You can make it, but like any profession or task, you need tools. Throughout my career working with artists and management teams, I find that there’s a lot of tools out there that are simply overlooked, or just not known about.

Here are some items to add to your “tool kit” to ensure that you’re marketing and managing your work properly.

1. First, The Things You Already Have…

I find that often in the music industry, we are signed up for certain memberships or use certain programs, but we really aren’t using them to their fullest potential.

For instance, did you know that TuneCore offers publishing administration services, for a small one-time fee? With this service  they actively assist in the process of getting your work licensed in TV and film.  This is just one of many services that your distributor can provide for you. Do your research, as there is plenty more!

Similarly, is your music registered under a PRO (performing rights organization), such as BMI or ASCAP? It really should be. A PRO is how to ensure you’re getting actively compensated for your work.

But did you also know that PRO’s also have workshops, networking events and even pitch sessions? While some of these may require some travel, your PRO tends to do more than just look out for royalties. For instance, many PRO’s will have music supervisor sessions, where a supervisor listens to pitches and considers your music for placement in TV and film.

Your distributor may also offer conferences, speaking series, or even concerts. Look into these events — and see how they can benefit you.

Research the tools you’re already using and see how you can ensure you’re optimizing them.

2. Buffer and/or HooteSuite

I believe that artists should tweet and post in real-time. Scheduling too much of your content can come off as impersonal. However, you also want a consistent presence. So I do recommend looking into scheduling programs such as Buffer or HooteSuite.

These are especially useful for when you’re touring or busy recording — however, I find them the most useful for certain “pieces” of content. A good content mix, which I’ve discussed before, is about 70% branding, 20% personal posts and 10% sales posts.

A scheduling tool can take care of those occasional promo posts, or brand building posts — so you can focus on simply interacting with others, and using your social channels as you normally would.

Buffer and Hootesuite are two of the more popular platforms, however, there exists dozens of similar outlets. I prefer Buffer as it automatically posts during your customized “peak hours”. So you simply schedule, and it posts automatically during times that are the most active for your follower-base. This feature is also optional as you can schedule whenever you’d like.

I also dig Buffer as it automatically pulls photos from links, where as with HooteSuite you have to manually insert the link.

HooteSuite, on the other hand has integration with Instagram, and if you’re a manager or agency, you can manage multiple accounts for free — and an unlimited amount for only $10 a month.

Regardless of how you go about handling your social media, a scheduler is key to having a solid content mix. It allows you to consistently have a social media presence even when you’re on the road, touring — or maybe just not feeling up to it that day.

Although, remember that you need to schedule a mix of content — so, re-share your videos, but also throw up new music you like, or local events you want to check out. Be dynamic — but also, with a scheduling tool, you can also remain consistent.

3. Canva

I always recommend an artist hires a designer for any kind of complex design campaign. This might be an album cover, or a banner for a website. However, images go beyond that — artists need visual content on their social media channels. Images always do better than text posts — so, little things like “Coming Soon” graphics, simple show reminders, or even graphics with your lyrics on them can go a long way.

However, these aren’t really worth investing in a designer, especially when tools like Canva exist. Canva allows for simple graphics, and also gives templates that include dimensions for certain social outlets, as well as text tools. It doesn’t have great “photoshop”-level editing functions. But it does allow you to quickly edit a photo, as well as add in lines and other tools to really create some compelling and simple social media (or blog) graphics.

I highly recommend you check Canva out if you need a quick image boost on your social media.

4. Boomerang

Boomerang is one of my secret weapons. Boomerang allows Gmail users to schedule emails — while this might seem like a small feature, it’s actually huge for artists who want to pitch press, but don’t have access to a professional email tool. Sure, you can use MailChimp for this, but email inboxes register it as as a “marketing” program, so it goes to a “promo” or even a spam folder.

To use Boomerang, first, I activate up Gmails “canned response” feature. This allows you to quickly pull up pre-written text without having to go and copy/paste. That way you can tweak a pre-written pitch, quickly.

(Note: Always tweak your pitch, state the writer’s name, tell them how you found their info.. make ’em feel special. This is key.)

Then, you simply go to the Boomerang icon, that now appears in your email window, and schedule it! You can schedule a certain amount a week for free, or for a small fee you can schedule a larger amount. It’s certainly worth the cost.

I even have access to major PR databases and scheduling programs, but I still find myself using Boomerang for the scheduling aspect. I simply feel that it’s easier to tweak the pitches in Boomerang, and make them more personalized towards the writer. Rather than just launching them all out in bulk.

This is also good for artists with small media lists, or who just want to send pitches out to a few key people before a launch.

Bonus Tips: Searching for writer emails? Use outlets like ZoomInfo for press contacts — another good way? Google ’em. Seriously, try searching a writer’s name and you’ll be surprised with how often you find some form of contact info.

5. Google Drive

If you’ve worked for any agency, start-up, or company with a lot of moving parts — you may be familiar with project management programs such as Slack, Trello, and BaseCamp. These are all great tools, and I’ve used them with a few labels — however, they’re only really necessary for large teams with numerous projects.

So… if you have an in-house PR team, booking agent, a designer, an inventory specialist and a manager — then sure, use these programs! But if you’re reading this, you’re likely a team of less than 5 folks and having project management tools may be a bit overkill.

While I’ve used these tools with large management teams and indie labels, most of my clients work directly off of Google Drive. Google Drive is just like Dropbox, though since it’s cloud base — it’s a bit easier to navigate and edit documents in real-time. Here’s what I use in Google Drive:

  • Google Drive Folders

Obvious, but great for separating out photos, PR documents, tracks, and organizational documents.

  • Google Sheets

This is my go-to tool for weekly status updates. I have columns for “Task”, “Status”, “Next Steps” and “Responsibility”. Then we work with the team (managers and/or artists) to fill out each item.

I also use Google Sheets to keep up with media lists, budgeting, track what writers I’ve pitched, venue contacts and more.

  • Google Docs

Another obvious but good tool is the Google Doc. Google Docs allow for one document to be shared with your team for collaboration. So, this could be a marketing plan you’re working on with your manager, or it could be a social media content calendar.

It’s a great tool to create a document, and have a team give insight and feedback.

6. Good Ole’ Fashion Knowledge.

Hey! I know you wanted some hacks and quick tips, but I can’t stress this piece enough. Simply, educate yourselves.

One of the largest ways artists step towards failure is by trying to rush success. This might be going broke paying for sketchy promo deals, or maybe just giving up because they aren’t seeing results soon enough. However, the real success comes in understanding the industry. It goes into knowing what makes a good pitch, how to network, what makes a good social media presence.

You might say, well — I can have a PR team handle that. Yes! But… how are you going to know if they’re doing a good job? How do you know if your manager is doing their par? If you don’t understand what goes into these two arenas, you can’t gauge their productivity.

Recently, I started offering musicians my Artist Launch Kit which, instead of blindly pitching on the artist’s behalf, I give them all of the tools they need to pitch press and operate their brand. This includes a series of pitches, an EPK, a custom media list, as well as a marketing plan.

However, it goes beyond working directly with folks like me. TuneCore’s blog has become a great resource for artists, same with HypebotSonicbids, and more. There’s also some incredible social media influencers out there who talk about music marketing (without trying to sell you something too often.)

Read blogs, connect and network with folks in the industry, education is everything, especially as our industry continues to grow.


w tyler allenAs a music marketing strategist, Tyler Allen works with an extensive array of artists, labels, music tech, and music retail entities. Tyler began his music industry career with Sony Music Entertainment and RED Distribution, as well as the advertising industry. He is dedicated to giving veteran artists the tools to preserve their legacy, and new artists the tools to begin theirs (as well as everything in between). Learn more about Tyler Allen’s music consulting and background on his website here.

Stop Whining & Start Doing: Making a Music Video as an Indie Artist

[Editors Note: This is a guest blog post written by Steve “Renman” Rennie, a music industry vet with experience as a concert promoter, record label exec, Internet entrepreneur, and artist manager. Learn more about his Renman U Insider’s Guide to Today’s Music Business here!]

Making videos has been an important piece of the brand building process for artists and labels for quite a while now. And the reason is pretty simple. Videos put a face on a great song. A great video helps paint an image of an artist and imprints it indelibly into the minds of the music consumers. The impact and reach of a great song can be magnified exponentially if it’s accompanied by a great video.

Back in the days of MTV, making videos was really the domain of the major labels. The reason quite simply was the cost of making videos. Record labels would routinely spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and in some cases millions of dollars to make a video.

But making a video was only part of the challenge. Getting it played was an even bigger challenge. Back in the day MTV was the ultimate gatekeeper when it came to videos. If MTV didn’t play your video, nobody saw it, and you were toast. And all the money you spent making it was down the tubes.

But, in today’s music business all that has changed. Continue reading “Stop Whining & Start Doing: Making a Music Video as an Indie Artist”