TuneCore has a number of amazing independent success stories—The Civil Wars’ two 2012 Grammy Awards, Alex Day’s “Forever Yours” hit #4 on the UK pop charts, Colt Ford’s Declaration of Independence achieved the #1 Country Record in the America, J. Dash’s “Wop (Official Version)” is a certified Gold Record,…and the list goes on. Insight from these artists is something we want to offer to the TuneCore Community.
On September 11, Amanda Palmer—AFP to fans and friends—will release Theatre is Evil with TuneCore providing digital distribution. If you don’t know Amanda Palmer, you should because the successes of her career should serve as inspiration for many DIY performers. After a number of releases with her previous band The Dresden Dolls, as well as solo releases, Amanda chose a life without a record label. This decision seems to have only energized her efforts and popularity. Amanda is open with her fans, unflagging in her pursuits, and creative at her core. In response to our questions, Amanda discusses her approach to social media, suggestions for building a fan base, thoughts on her Kickstarter campaign, and offers both advice and calls to action for pursuing the life you want.
Was a career as a musician your personal goal?
Yes. I wanted to be a rock star from the time I was twelve. I gave myself no other option.
Was signing to a label one the goals of Dresden Dolls?
No. Signing to a label was never a goal in itself. But making music and not spending all of our time on the phone and on email was. I was managing the band and our label in the early days, and trying to do that on top of touring in a van was impossible. I just couldn’t handle all the work. So signing with a label was – mostly – a way to relieve that pressure.
I have seen your quote “Nothing happens by accident” regarding your success. As your initial efforts were pre-twitter, Facebook, etc.. massive social networking, what would you recommend to young artists as keys to building your fan base outside of social networking?
Networking in PERSON. PLAYING SHOWS. HANGING OUT. Seriously: there’s nothing more depressing than thinking that a whole new crop of musicians are missing this point. The internet should be the tool, not the end point, for connection. Part of the reason I’m so close with my fans is that I always took the extra time to hang out after shows to talk, sign, gab, hug, listen, learn and connect after shows, even if it meant going to bed at 3 am instead of midnight when we had to wake up at 9 am to drive. You just DO IT. And you act like a person, not a diva. If the venue kicks you out, you all go outside. You don’t expect anybody to help you. You just GO. You talk to everyone who wants to talk to you, you spend your extra energy connecting with the fans, not drinking with the crew. After years and years, you start to understand that when you make that actual connection with people, you have a real relationship instead of a fairweather one.
Were there aspects of being on a label that were important your success?
Absolutely. Roadrunner really helped us achieve a presence in Europe and Australia. Had it not been for them, I may have never gotten over there with such ease. For that, I’m very grateful.
Famously, you raised over a million dollars from your fans, do you think the Dresden Dolls would have pursued being on a label if Kickstarter had existed when you were starting?”
Well, it was still possible to burn CDs and be independent back when we signed. The question would have been: WHO’S GOING TO DO ALL THIS WORK? Even if you have a successful Kickstarter, SOMEONE has to do all the office work, the fulfillment, the troubleshooting, the dealing with problems. So I’m not sure about that. Kickstarter isn’t a way to get known, it’s a marketplace. And back then, we would have seen a massive outpouring of support from our local fan base on the eastern seaboard, but we would’ve spent a huge amount of our time dealing with the logistics of keeping the business running. And I think this is a big problem for many musicians nowadays: HOW DO I GET ALL THIS SHIT DONE? It’s very, very hard without help. And you have that moment, sitting in your apartment surrounded by boxes of misprinted CDs that your fans were expecting in the mail two months ago, with an email inbox filled with 1,264 logistical questions and problems, and you shake your fist at the sky screaming “ALL I WANTED WAS TO PLAY GUITAR!!!!!” Finding the balance is…difficult.
You are in the process of releasing, distributing, and promoting your upcoming release Theatre is Evil as an independent artist, what other members of your team have you assembled? And what are their roles to let your focus on your efforts?
My team is fantastic: I have a full-time personal assistant, Superkate, who helps me clean out and organize my moster email inbox, since I tend to get about 100 emails a day and when I’m traveling and touring, it’s impossible to keep up. My management at Girlie Action deal with the big broad strokes and connect all the publicists, agents, lawyers and general how-to of my day to day existence. They also helped me build, plan and time the release of the Kickstarter, and they keep me on task when it comes to messaging the fans with less personal information like tour dates. They’re also essentially functioning as my record label, since I’m effectively running my own little label with the release of this album. They help me partner up with distribution, they align campaigns and release dates, they literally work on the packaging and all the merchandise with me. They’re indispensable.
Online engagement with fans is a mantra from marketing sites. You do it as well as anyone. What do you find works and helps connect with existing fans, and create new ones?
Honestly…I think the biggest thing I do it I don’t think about it much. I just do it because I like it and I genuinely want to talk to the fans all day via twitter. I love to share. I love to blog. I love to connect, and I love involving everybody in the crazy circus. So I’m not very strategic about that. If I listened to advice from “marketing sites” that said “do this with your twitter, do that, don’t post more than x times a day, blah blah blah” I’d be lost. I do exactly what I want, and sometimes I post over 100 tweets in a day because a topic heats up. And people unfollow, and I just look at that as the cost of doing WHAT I WANT. And I think it’s that general attitude – that I’m using these tools however I want, and to have FUN, not because I’m trying to be clever about it – that keeps people with me.
Do you ever feel there is too much honesty or taboo subjects to discuss with your fans? Social is 24-7, do you turn it off sometimes?
I do. There are things I just wont’ discuss at all…no family or relationship drama allowed, no shit-talking other people or musicians, no work gossip. I definitely have my lines.
Are there any new apps, sites, or services that you recommend?
There’s an app for the Oblique Strategies cards for the iPhone now. I’m ecstatic.
In, June, the NY Times quoted your last album had sold 36,000 copies. Do you think this an accurate or valuable statistic anymore with streaming, single song downloads, etc…?
I think it’s probably “sold” four or five times that, at least, if you want to talk about people HAVING the record on their computers and listening to it. I STILL encourage people to avoid buying that one in shops. I’ve given my fans BLANKET permission to download anything.
What else is planned to promote Theatre is Evil? Touring?
Oh, hell yes. We’ll be going on a tour that will last about a year, or more. The show is going to be an extravaganza…I’d recommend it. We’re going to be trying shit on stage nobody has ever tried before.
What other guidance can you provide to young cabaret punks, metal-heads, DJs, singer-songwriters, etc.. who are trying to succeed with their music?
I think the most important thing is this: why are you doing this? To be a star? To be famous? Or to connect with people? If you keep asking yourself this question over and over, it’ll help.
It’ll also help when you’re playing in front of practically nobody, like, just the girlfriends of the shitty band you’re opening up for are watching….and you’re wondering what the hell the point of your life is.
If you really, really want to be a musician, chances are you probably won’t be rich. You won’t be famous. If you want it anyway, if you’re willing to just MAKE A LIVING, then you’re on the right track. And while you may never be celebrated and huge, you might stand a better chance of being happy, and as acting as a conduit for happiness for other people. This is the best thing about being an artist or musician. And that’s better than almost any other job out there.
Rdio (www.rdio.com), the digital music service started by the creators of Skype, today announced two landmark music deals with CD Baby and TuneCore, the largest aggregators of independent music, bringing Rdio’s catalog to over 18 million songs.
“We are excited to partner with TuneCore and CD Baby, two of the best distribution tools out there for independent artists,” said Drew Larner, CEO of Rdio. “Independent music is a vital part of Rdio’s catalog. We’re glad to support hundreds of thousands of self-released artists by connecting their work to new music fans from all over the world.”
CD Baby and TuneCore join a range of independent artist aggregators in working with Rdio including ONErpm, BFM Digital, Zimbalam, AWAL and Ditto, making it easier than ever for artists to get their music onto the service.
“This alliance is a wonderful fit given the two companies’ focus on connecting musicians with fans and encouraging the exploration of the next great artistic expression,” said Julian Groeger, Vice President, Marketing at TuneCore. “Rdio, with its strong focus on the social elements of music sharing and discovery, accessible via the web, mobile devices and even offline, is yet another exciting venue for our artists to reach new fans and promote their music globally.”
“I am thrilled to see CD Baby team up with Rdio to make our artists’ music accessible to their dedicated and growing subscriber-base,” said Brian Felsen, president of CD Baby. “Their commitment to offering a cutting-edge service that skillfully blends social media and recommendation with an ad-free, subscription-based model and elegant interface has been refreshing to see. Our artists have consistently asked for Rdio to be added to our partner network, and we’re confident this partnership will generate a great combination of exposure and revenue to support our independent musicians.”
With Rdio, fans are constantly discovering new music through friends, people with similar musical tastes and even the artists themselves. Artists can share what they are listening to in real-time, bringing a deeper level of engagement to fans and tapping into Rdio’s socially powered discovery features to promote themselves, their music and the music they love.
For more information or to sign up for Rdio, visit www.rdio.com.
Rdio is the groundbreaking digital music service that is reinventing the way people discover, listen to, and share music. With on-demand access to over 18 million songs, Rdio connects people with music and makes it easy to search for and instantly play any song, album, artist or playlist without ever hearing a single ad. Discover what friends, people with similar tastes, recording artists and more are listening to in real-time and share across Twitter and Facebook. Build a digital music collection that’s available everywhere – on the web, in-home or in-car, on tablets or mobile phones, and even offline.
Launched in August 2010, Rdio is headquartered in San Francisco and was founded by Janus Friis, one of the creators of Skype. Currently available in the US, Canada, Brazil, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Great Britain, France, Sweden and Finland, Rdio is funded by Atomico, Janus Friis through his investment entities, Skype and Mangrove Capital Partners. For more information and to sign up, visit www.rdio.com.
Are you a big Spotify listener? Soundrop.fm is a free app for the iPhone, iPad, and iTouch that turns Spotify into a more social experience. With the app you can create a listening room for playlists you’ve created, or check out some of the public rooms to hear specific types of music and hang with thousands of music fans.
Another cool feature of Soundrop.fm is that you can use it as a remote control if you’re dj-ing party, or join an event already using Soundrop. The app has just been updated to include scrobbling to Last.fm, a playback progress indicator, audio quality setting, improved AirPlay integration, and more.
In order to use the app you just need to login with a valid Facebook or Twitter account. Another service note – in order to listen to music in Soundrop rooms you need a premium Spotify account.
By Ari Herstand
(Editor’s note: The post below is from TuneCore Artist Ari Herstand, and it was posted originally on Ari’s Take. Herstand’s music has been featured on One Tree Hill and various MTV shows, he’s opened for artists including Ben Folds, Cake, and Ron Pope, and his music has charted on iTunes singer/songwriter charts.)
When you’re on tour, merch is your #1 income generator. This can’t be stressed enough. Believe it. Bands stress over their guarantees and door splits and turnouts. If you want to survive financially with your music you must understand the importance of merch sales and approach it as such. I’ve played shows where 10 people showed up, but they had such an amazing time and I stressed the merch to them that all 10 people bought something averaging about $15. That’s $150 in merch sales. That’s good for any night.
Have an impressive merch display. This means it needs to be big, attractive, professional and well lit. For all intents and purposes you are traveling sales people. So make your displays as such. If your display consists of CDs tossed in the corner of the room with no light then you aren’t going to sell anything. Bands bitch that their fans don’t buy merch. That’s bull. Every fan buys merch. If you sell it right they’ll buy.
Musicians are traditionally horrible business people and that’s why managers exist. Most musicians hate the business and hate having to “sell” to their fans. The most charismatic front person who can capture every single person in the room while performing can be the most introverted, bland, unimpressive and embarrassing salesman when having to talk about the merch.
You have to get over this. Getting your merch pitch down and comfortable is almost as important as getting your live performance down.
Make combo options, ie “Each CD is $10 but if you want to buy both you can for $15” and then not only announce this but emphasize it. I spend about 45 seconds every show to explain what I have for sale. You may say this is a vibe killer and kills the flow, but on the contrary you can make it a part of your show. My stage banter is a big part of my show so I incorporate it into my banter and turn it into a joke. I title the combo that is $25 for all 3 of my albums, my “Midwest Combo” because I say “I’m born and raised in the Midwest and we love bargains there so I like to pass along the Midwest bargain wherever I go.” People come up to me after the show excited and with a smile on their face and ask for the “Midwest Bargain.”
I have a credit card swiper and I talk about that too – and stress it – because ever since I got a swiper (for my iPhone) my merch sales have about doubled. They hold out their credit card and say while smiling “show me this cool credit card thing… you know what throw in a poster too.” It’s so easy to just keep adding on items with your credit card.
If you haven’t picked up on the subtle hints: GET A CREDIT CARD SWIPER. Right now Square is the best option. It works on an iPhone, Droid or iPad and the device is free and the only fees are to the credit card companies at around 2.7% (these numbers and your best option may be slightly different by the time you’re reading this, but it doesn’t change the fact that you need to accept credit).
Putting up a sign with the credit card logos is also good just in case they don’t hear you say it on stage.
Depending on how attentive your audience is you may need to stress the merch a few times during a show.
The Merch Seller
You see tweets and Facebook posts from touring bands all the time asking for merch sellers for tonight’s show in exchange for free admission. Bringing a merch person on the road with you is best, but expensive, and you probably won’t be able to afford that for awhile. Not having someone sell your merch, though, is not an option unless you play very short sets and are certain people will stay the entire show and you can run over and man the table yourself after you finish playing. But most likely, not everyone will stay the entire time – especially if there are multiple bands on the bill or you’re playing a late night, 4 hour bar gig.
Bands think that if they didn’t sell any merch it was because people didn’t want to buy it. But what if they REALLY wanted to buy something but they had to leave at 11 because they have to wake up at 6 and you didn’t take the stage until 10:30 (when you advertised 9) and you are playing a 90 minute set. They glance at the table on the way out, but no one is there to sell them something so they leave.
+Musicians Are Lazy (The Day Of)
+Time To Advertise Your Show (coming soon)
You will double your sales by having someone at your merch table during your set.
If you push your merch from the stage, take credit (and push it from the stage) and have a merch seller at your table during your set, you will absolutely increase your yearly income. Doubling your sales by taking credit and doubling them again by having a seller at the table during your set can take your yearly income from $10,000 to $40,000. And now you’re a full time musician.
Your pitch for them to buy your stuff starts with a kickass performance and ends with you standing by their side after the show with a sharpie out ready to sign your CD (or Tshirt, poster, etc).
Organize Your Merch
I once toured with a band who put a lot of money into creating a lot of merch. The merch guy they appointed in the band was incredibly lazy and irresponsible (don’t appoint someone irresponsible to manage your merch). They played after me, so after I finished my set I hung out by the merch table during their set. People came over to me wanting to buy the other band’s T-shirt, however all of their shirts were tossed with no rhyme or reason into about 3 bins. I put in good effort sifting through hundreds of shirts attempting to find the correct design in the right size, but eventually with a line piling up I had to give up and apologize that they either didn’t have the size or I just couldn’t find it. I told them to come back when the band finished and they could spend more time searching. Sometimes they’d ask if I had their size in one of my designs. 8 seconds later I pulled out their size swiped their card and just made $20 for being organized.
+Allocating the Duties
How I keep my shirts organized is I roll them up and use painters tape or masking tape (painters is better so it comes off easier) and write on the tape the size. I place them in a long clear bin from Target with the sizes ranging from S-2XL left to right. No sifting or guessing. I put Women’s shirts in one bin and Unisex shirts in another. I label the Women’s shirts WS for Women’s Small and the unisex just S.
Merch is an incredible money maker and should be looked to as such, but it’s also a promotional tool. You want to sell fans shirts that they’ll actually wear with your band name displayed on them to promote you to their friends. It’s a conversation starter. I’ve gotten tweets from people saying they met new friends from wearing an Ari Herstand T – and actually someone got a 1st date out of it once! True story.
+How I Made $13,544 In a Month (on Kickstarter)
Order brands that are comfortable and hip. You’re not just selling a design you’re selling a feel and the vibe. If people get your shirt and after one wash it gets deformed and becomes uncomfortable to wear they’ll associate your band that way: uncomfortable and low quality. I always order shirts that cost a couple bucks more because it’s an investment. Big fans know that I offer quality and when I come out with a new design they’ll pony up another $20 to get it even though they already have one of my old shirts. If a fan buys your shirt and they don’t have a good experience with it they won’t buy another.
+Image Isn’t Just About Your Look (managing your brand) (coming soon)
It’s #TCVideoFridays today on TuneCore! Check out a few awesome videos from some talented TuneCore Arists.
But first, a quick reminder! TuneCore can distribute your videos to iTunes. For more info, click here or contact email@example.com.