Terra Naomi Welcomes The Challenges Of Being An Independent Artist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out her site

Follow Terra on Twitter

Become A Facebook Fan

Download Terra’s new album To Know I’m Ok

TuneCore Artists Featured In Digital Stores

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

Christina Grimmie-  iTunes Home Page 6/14

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

Ziggy Marley – iTunes Music Home Page 6/14

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

We Are Augustines – iTunes Alternative Page 6/14

Anna Nalick – iTunes Singer/Songwriter Page 6/14

Tedashii – iTunes Hip Hop/Rap Page 5/24

The Social Network -iTunes Soundtrack Page 5/24

Chase Coy – iTunes Singer/Songwriter Page 5/31

…we’ve got more.

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

May 2011 Slideshow

June 2011 Slideshow

Increasing Fan Engagement Through Online Dating

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

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

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

Favorite Food: Barley, maize, bran, greens

Job: Entertainment/Media

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

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

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

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

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

Songkick App Helps You Keep Track Of Your Favorite Artists' Live Shows

By Jacqueline Rosokoff

I seem to have bad luck when it comes to finding my favorite artists playing live.  I check their websites, don’t spot any upcoming nearby shows, and then check back again a few months later, at which point I’ve missed five shows in my area.  The Songkick app for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad has swooped in to save me.

Songkick scans your device’s music library to track your artists and then uses that information to create a personalized local concert calendar. Every concert alert includes the show’s line-up, a map of the venue, ticket info, and gives you the option to invite friends.  You can browse events in all locations, so if you know you’ll be in Hong Kong at the end of the year, you can see who will be playing and purchase tickets.

Other cool features include: alerts when new concerts are announced, full touring schedules available for your favorite musicians, a way to keep track of your upcoming concert plans, and customized lists you create to track specific artists.

If you already have a Songkick account on their website, and then you download the app, your mobile account will sync with the account you already created.

Songkick is kicking off the summer right, making it easy to find live, local shows. The concert tickets may not be free, but the app sure is!

iCloud: A Music Industry Game-Changing Product

By Jeff Price

Apple’s new iCloud product marries the two disparate ideas of consumer convenience and the monetization of pirated music, providing what could be the “missing links” between consumers, artists, labels, music publishers and the emerging digital music industry.  With its launch, the odometer on the music industry is about to reset itself (again).

For a simple flat monthly fee, just about any song in any user’s multiple iTunes libraries (iPhone, iPad, computer, iTouch) will automatically appear in a “virtual hard drive in the sky .“ No upload of the song is needed.  Each song will be available to be grouped into playlists, streamed and re-downloaded.  In the event the song is not already in the iTunes system, the user can upload it.

It’s important to note that in 2000, Michael Robertson first introduced the iCloud concept via his company MP3.com.  Soon thereafter, the RIAA sued for copyright infringement, and in April 2008, the courts ordered the service to shut down.

To get this seemingly very simple and consumer-centric concept launched, Apple had to negotiate byzantine labyrinth-esque deals with labels and publishers (we are still waiting to learn if a stream or download via the iCloud service is legally considered a “public performance,” thereby requiring the songwriter to be paid as well). Over the past decade many have tried to reach this goal, most recently Google, yet only Apple was able to reach the end.

And the results, I believe, will be stunning.

iCloud is first and foremost a product for the consumer, and Apple never forgot that. iCloud provides a convenient, quick and easy way to manage and access all of your digital music as you choose.

The iCloud service differs markedly from the recent Amazon and Google music storage lockers–with these services you must actually upload your songs to be stored (except for Amazon, where, if you buy it at AmazonMP3, it auto-populates into the customer’s music locker).  In addition, users are not able to re-download the tracks they uploaded. The re-download feature in iCloud provides the feeling of owning what you are streaming.

But the truly innovative and radical part of the iCloud service is its ability to allow copyright holders–the labels, artists, publishers and, possibly the songwriter–to make money off of music not bought the first time around. The iCloud service places all music from a subscriber, not just the music bought from iTunes, into the subscriber’s iCloud account, making it available for stream or re-download.  This includes music:

–       Ripped from a CD

–       Downloaded from a peer to peer service

–       Received in an email

–       Downloaded via IM

–       Ripped from your friends’ CDs

–       Received free from the band

–       Downloaded via a drop card

–       Taken from a public “share” folder

–       Captured as a stream and converted to an MP3

–       Bought at AmazonMP3

–       Etc

Each time a subscriber streams or re-downloads a song via the iCloud service, the label and publisher (and possibly the songwriter for the public performance) get paid.  The iCloud business model has created a way for copyright holders to make money off of pirated music without making consumers feel like they are paying for the music.

The key to all of this is meeting the needs of consumers first (not the labels) as consumers drive the market (and not the other way around).  And unlike many other digital music services, due to Apple’s market share, vast music library and 225 million + customer accounts (each with a credit card on file), Apple is uniquely positioned to provide the scale, and therefore possible revenue, for copyright holders to reach the proverbial “pot of gold” at the end of the digital music rainbow.

The end result is a product about convenience, elegance and simplicity, not a “subscription based streaming music service.” Yet it’s the money that people are paying for this convenience and simplicity that will be used to pay artists, record labels and publishers. And if the consumer did buy the song, Apple has provided a new model allowing the artist, label and publisher to get paid a second time for the same recording and song.

In effect, for labels and artists, iCloud is a new stand alone “store.”  A decision could be made to give away a song that is in the iTunes music store for free (or at a dramatically lowered price), and each time it gets played via an iCloud account, the rights holder gets paid.

In the meantime, all of the songs in the iCloud service will be downloadable in the AAC format, meaning that they will only play on an Apple device, driving more dependence of Apple’s products.  As an example, if you bought a song on AmazonMP3, and play it in your iTunes software, when it gets digitally fingerprinted by Apple, it will be available for you to re-download as an AAC file, only compatible with an Apple hardware device.

And finally, and perhaps more importantly, just as the original Napster trained people to download music and listen to it on their computers, Apple, due to its vast hardware proliferation (iPhones in particular) is in a position to shift consumer behavior yet again–this time from downloading music to listening to it via streams.

And with this consumer shift, the music industry will reset itself once again until the next revolution…


(UPDATED 6/8/11: We’ve just updated our FAQ to include information about the iCloud service. Below is an excerpt. Click here for our FAQ )

Apple announced its new iCloud service on June 6, 2011.
There are two significant changes for iTunes music customers:

When they buy a track on iTunes from one device (like an iPhone), it automatically downloads on up to 10 devices that use the same iTunes store account (for example, another Apple computer, iPad, iTouch etc).
They can re-download any of the songs they bought from iTunes an unlimited number of times.
In both of these cases there is no additional payment made.
iTunes Match
On June 6, 2011 Apple also announced another service in addition to iTunes and iCloud called iTunes Match. This service will launch in the coming months, cost subscribers $24.99 per year and generate revenue for TuneCore Artists.

For subscribers, Apple will match any music they currently have in their iTunes library on a Mac or PC. If the exact same song exists in the iTunes store, that song will be available for subscribers to access via any other Apple device they own. This includes music ripped from CD, downloaded from friends, file sharing networks and other sources.

How Do TuneCore Artists Get Paid?
As long as your music is available to buy in iTunes, you get paid each time a subscriber re-downloads or streams your music via iTunes Match.

The amount TuneCore Artists get paid is based on a revenue share model similar to other stores we work with.

Each time your music is accessed via iTunes Match, TuneCore will pay you a proportionate share of the total subscription revenue generated by the iTunes Match service. This means you are paid each time a subscriber re-downloads and streams your music. The pay-out rates can fluctuate each month, depending on how much subscription revenue was generated and how often your music was re-downloaded and/or streamed. As always, TuneCore will pay out 100% of the revenue it receives for your music.

iTunes Match is New Way to Make Money
For TuneCore Artists, iTunes Match is almost like a new “store.” Each time a song you distributed to iTunes via TuneCore is re-downloaded or streamed by an iTunes Match subscriber, you get paid.

Therefore, as long as your song is available to buy in iTunes, you could, for example, decide to give that same song away for free directly to your fans. In fact, it doesn’t matter how or from where your fans actually got your music. If your fans use iTunes Match to re-download or stream your song, you get paid.