2018 Tour Goals: Fly Passport-Free to Play These Two Island Cities with Incredible DIY Scenes

[Editors Note: This article was written by Jhoni Jackson, a music journalist and San Juan, Puerto Rico-based music venue owner.]

 

If you think living on a island is a tropical, sunny breeze, please exit the #islandvibes hashtag on Instagram immediately. All those beautiful beachside backdrops will leave you tripping over tropes; yes, the scenery can be jaw-droppingly gorgeous, but you’re not getting the whole picture.

The reality of #islandlife is less picturesque: Islands are more likely to be impoverished, experience drastic income inequality, struggle with food security, and in some cases, they also endure the worst of natural disasters—complicating existing conditions and disrupting the tourism industry on which so many island economies rely, albeit to varying degrees.

These oppressions extend to U.S. islands, too. Statehood or territory status by no means makes the potential for these problems obsolete, but in fact can exacerbate them—like in the cases of Hawai’i and Puerto Rico.

Factoring in the effects of colonialism is inherent to understand the issues both archipelagos face. The displacement, depletion, or near destruction of indigenous cultures is a violent tragedy all its own, but with U.S. takeover also comes the privatization of lands, military occupation, tax breaks for wealthy individuals and multinational corporations, a drop in sustainable agriculture in favor of imports—all at the expense of the people. (There are grassroots movements to decolonize both islands.)

Understanding all this, it’s not a stretch to view DIY music scenes in Puerto Rico and Hawai’i as acts of resistance.

When you’re living in the most expensive U.S. city—Honolulu, where four rolls of toilet paper will cost you more than anywhere else in the world—buying a guitar may be a feat of finance. If you’ve recently survived a devastating category five hurricane, are enduring the aftermath without electricity, and haven’t been able to work for months, putting a show together might rightfully be the last thing on your to-do list. Even before Hurricane Maria, Puerto Ricans were grappling with an 11.5 percent sales tax and an unemployment rate higher than 10 percent (officially 10.8 in November; for comparison, the U.S. stands at 4.1 percent).

These are just a few of the realities of actually living on island, of course, and they’re specific to Hawai’i and Puerto Rico. There are other influences involved with each, and you can’t sum up a culture or a society with stats alone; life is more complex than that. But context is consequential to learning about a music scene, understanding how it runs and why—and that will give you a clearer idea of where you, as a visiting band or artist, might fit in.

If you’re plotting a tour in 2018, consider venturing out to these islands. It’ll cost more than taking the van a few cities west, sure, but the trip can be more than a typical tour date. You won’t need a passport for either, at least.

Small and tight-knit, but not insular or uninviting, the independent scenes in Puerto Rico and Hawai’i run on DIY community ethos, encouraging solidarity and mutual aid. If your band is fueled by the same ideals, you can expect a warm welcome at both—and to make new connections with listeners and fellow musicians in a more personal, enlightening way than you would playing a big U.S. city.

Honolulu, O’ahu, Hawai’i

In small scenes, working together is especially crucial, and solidarity is a key force in Hawai’i DIY. Transience and a high cost of living combined limit its population and means: It’s not easy to sustain a band while holding multiple jobs, and imported instruments and gear are pricey. Rather than struggle solo or compete for audiences in an individualist way, independent bands, organizers, and venues support each other so that everyone thrives.

Rachel Heller’s story for Rookie last year detailed growing up on O’ahu, the third largest of the Hawaiian islands, and beamed a shining light on a thriving DIY culture, particularly of the punk, emo, pop-punk, and lo-fi indie variety. In the Chinatown area of Honolulu especially, the underground is elevated through Failed Orbit Records, once the label of local band Beaman and now an umbrella collective organizing hometown shows and bringing in outside acts. Transportation and other costs are offset by fundraisers, making it possible to fly in names like Peach Kelli Pop and Audacity from California and New Jersey’s Screaming Females—a scene-generated process that further cultivates a sense of community. (And while Failed Orbit announced a hiatus in November, we have no doubt the scene will be maintained, and continue growing, too.)

And the DIY realm extends to other genres, too. Ska, reggae, hardcore, metal, hip-hop, and electronic (see Audiophile Entertainment, Rave Rock, and Rise Up Electric) are all sturdily planted in and around the same network, sometimes even sharing lineups. They’re seemingly disparate sounds, but operating with the same DIY gusto in pushing the independent music forward, and that common effort can be unifying.

Best indie venues: Hawaiian Brian’sThe Manifest, Downbeat Diner and Lounge

Read more: Rachel Heller’s Rookie story, Mariana Timony’s report on Bandcamp

San Juan, Puerto Rico

Before the fawning, a disclaimer: I live in San Juan, and I opened a venue here (Club 77) several years ago. I’m no longer a co-owner, though I remain very much a supporter of that spot and the rest of the local DIY scene, too.

The underground of San Juan is perpetually pulsing, and feels more critical than ever now in post-Hurricane Maria conditions. Immediately following the storm, a mainstay DIY venue, El Local, reopened with a 12-hour daily community kitchen that was a boon to scene bonds—it solidified established connections, and created new ones, too. Venues like Club 77 and La Respuesta have reopened in the past month or so, and they’re thriving—in the wake of it all, the trauma and the hardship and total disruption of the quotidian day-to-day, bands have emerged eager to play, and crowds are anxious for the catharsis of stellar live shows.

It’s important to note that the storm’s repercussions aggravated pre-existing difficulties; the island’s unemployment rate was already high, so economic strife was amplified by the island-wide power outage that left virtually every Puerto Rican worker without income. A mass exodus is already in full swing—and it’s forced out some of the scene’s key players.

But there’s a long history of independent music in Puerto Rico; it’s a scene that’s overcome countless hurdles. This category five storm was inarguably its most difficult blow, but communities are working in solidarity to bounce back. The recovery is still in progress across the island—and that includes the music scene.

Built in bulk by a steady boom of hardcore punk in the late ’80s through the ’90s, the punk scene is sustained today by the some of the same folks, plus bands of the later 2000s wave (Los Vigilantes, Ardillas) and a generous crop of emerging acts (Desahuciados, Sikotropicas). Dating back about as far, the hardcore and metal factions regularly converge these days, operating together on the same bills and through the same organizers, but they’re individually robust enough to stand alone, too.
Hip-hop, too, has continued to evolve from its strong start around the same era. La Respuesta’s Lunes Clasico, a longstanding weekly hip-hop, soul, and R&B party, is the heart to the genre’s sprawling veins that, like every other genre, showcases regularly in all DIY and indie friendly spaces. Reggae, dub, and ska acts are tried-and-true Puerto Rican indie players as well—and folk, alt-pop, experimental electronic, and heaps more styles.

It’s a unique landscape; the intertwining of seasoned acts with up-and-comers in a condensed environment makes for a fixed sense of burgeoning. There’s always something new and fresh to be found, but consistently great stalwarts are intrinsic to the whole.
Visits from outside acts aren’t uncommon, albeit not with the same regularity of a continental U.S. city. These shows are a mix of booking and venue-funded appearances and bands that make the trip on their own dime; the latter, no doubt, the scene could especially benefit from right now, as organizers and musicians are still steadying their footing post-storm.

Best indie venues: El Local, Club 77, La Respuesta

Read more: Check out Puerto Rico Indie, the island’s premiere blog for independent and DIY sounds. (It’s exceptionally comprehensive, but in Spanish; use Google translate if necessary!)

Digital Marketing Tools & Resources for Independent Musicians [Part 1]

[Author: Raj Shah *

Part One of a two-piece article that aims to break down tools that independent artists can utilize in their digital marketing strategies – all available at their fingertips!

The hard truth about success in music is that the modern artist must be 51% marketer and 49% musician.

In today’s world, the overall difference between the thousands of up and coming artists and the millions of amateur artists trying to make a name for themselves isn’t talent, it’s marketing. Specifically, an artist’s ability to nail digital marketing.

If you can generate an income from music sales, gig bookings, and merchandise, then you’re ready to leap to the next level where people know you, find you, talk about you, and hire you on the regular.

If you’re an amateur that’s looking to take that next step and start marketing yourself more seriously, this guide will provide a list of actionable tools and resources to get started.

While only 1% of musicians blow up, surpassing the “tipping point” and becoming household names, the rest of us still have the opportunity to make a respectable career as professional artists. Digital marketing helps you do just that.

Build Your Own Website/Marketing Hub

If you don’t already have one, get yourself a website. At the heart of every digital marketing strategy is a website – one that you own and have full control over.

Your website sells you and your music in your sleep. It should showcase your bio, shows, events, and your latest and greatest tracks. A website with blog content is even better, as it radiates your expertise, lessons learned, and the niche you’re working to carve in the industry.

Putting all your eggs in someone else’s basket, ie. putting all your content only on sites like SoundCloud or Youtube, is a risk you shouldn’t bet your career on. Social networks that are the hottest thing today might not exist tomorrow. They could have a change of ownership or start charging you a fortune.

Yes, keep creating and promoting profiles on these sites. Just don’t make them the heart of your marketing strategy.

Put your website at the core of everything you do and any prominent social networks or apps second.

Creating a Site from Scratch on WordPress

You don’t need technical chops to build your own website these days. You can easily fire up a WordPress site with a decent managed host like Pressable or Flywheel. These run for about $15-25/month but are worth the investment.

There are cheaper options but managed hosting services provide better support, security, performance, and updates.

Next, choose a decent WordPress premium theme for musicians, bands, or DJs. Here’s a showcase to choose from.

Need some more in-depth help getting a WordPress site up and running? Here’s a step-by-step guide to setting up your website from WP Beginner.

Website Plugins for Musicians

Plugins add unique functions to your site without the need for any special coding. Plugins are lifehacks if you use them wisely.

Consider adding these plugins for musicians to your site to allow your visitors to play music, pay for music, book you for an event, and more:

  • WooCommerce – set up shop and get paid for your music
  • Audio Album – let visitors play songs and see your albums
  • Calendar Event – show off your upcoming events
  • Social Icons Widget – showcase social icons for your Facebook, Instagram, SoundCloud, Spotify, Youtube, and other profiles

Here are a couple great lists of helpful plugins for you to consider adding to your site. Most of these plugins are free, but sometimes the developer might offer a paid version with additional features.

WordPress is built on open-source collaboration, which means it’s constantly being improved and new plugins are constantly rolled out to solve site owners’ challenges.

Pro tip: Plugins are tools, not toys. Don’t get caught up experimenting with so many plugins that you waste precious time you could be using to create new music or content.

Alternatives for Building Your Website

As simple as WordPress is, maybe you don’t want to spend your time and energy building a website from scratch.

A great alternative for building websites is Bandzoogle. You pay monthly, as low as $9, and in return you get a professional site, fan data, built-in mailing list functionality, and the ability to sell your music, merchandise, and tickets. Here’s the list of all the features covered.

How to Promote Your Website

Your website is a powerful branding tool. Try searching some of your favorite artists on Google and you’ll notice their website often ranks #1. This usually means that whenever they do interviews or promote upcoming events, journalists and bloggers are linking to their website.

Spread the word about your new site. Once you have a website, keep it updated with fresh content. Don’t limit your blog to news about your music, merchandise, or events. Use the blog to discuss happenings within your niche and build a following.

Encourage conversation, respond to comments, and listen to the audience for new insights. Share your posts on social media. Give shout-outs to others in your space, and maybe they’ll give you a shout-out too. These are all excellent ways to promote yourself and your website.


*[Raj Shah is the Senior SEO Manager at TakeLessons – a site dedicated to providing affordable and accessible options when it comes to learning instruments and languages. Check out Part Two of this article tomorrow!]

New Music Friday: December 8, 2017

TuneCore Artists are releasing tons of new music every day. Each week we check out the new TuneCore releases and choose a few at random to feature on the blog.

Is your hit next?

Follow Music Made Me – a Spotify playlist that’s updated every Friday with new releases from TuneCore Artists – stream it below!


Wolves
Story of the Year

Alternative, Rock


12.23.95 (Acoustic)
Jimmy Eat World

Holiday, Alternative


Light Work
Rich Jones & Vapor Eyes

Hip Hop/Rap, R&B/Soul


Big Business (feat. k Trap, LD, ASAP, & Blade Brown)
Carns Hill

Hip Hop/Rap


Hell No
Von Sell

Alternative, Electronic


Roll The Dice 2
Niko G4

Hip Hop/Rap


From Now On
Vedo

R&B/Soul


Dear John
Robert Ellis & Courtney Hartman

Folk, Singer/Songwriter


Shoot This Arrow
Kate Voegele

Pop


Prune, You Talk Funny

Gus Dapperton
Pop


Untitled EP
City Of the Sun

Alternative, Instrumental


Eva Green
Pink Fireball

Rock, Pop


96
Fear of Missing Out

R&B/Soul, Hip Hop/Rap


Love You Down
SWIMM

Alternative, R&B/Soul


Live From the Hurst
MRG

Hip Hop/Rap, R&B/Soul


Notos
The Oh Hellos

Folk, Rock


Summer Salt
Curtiss King & Gosh Leotus

Hip Hop/Rap, R&B/Soul

Wednesday Video Diversion: December 6, 2017

Happy Wednesday once more, readers and music video lovers. Today we’re celebrating “Underrated Drummers Month” and wishing Rick Buckler, drummer of British trio The Jam, a happy 62nd birthday! Who are The Jam? Only one of the finest rock outfits to come out of the 1977-82 UK punk/Brit-pop era, (if you ask this editor, anyhow). If you’re less familiar, dive into The Jam’s wonderful discography AFTER you enjoy these wonderful TuneCore Artist videos.


$uicideBoy$, “Face It”


Foggieraw, “U Can’t Be My Baby (feat. DJ Yung Vamp)”


Cuban Da Savage, “Let It Blow (feat. Molly Brazy)”


Michael Christmas, “Not The Only One (feat. Tobi Lou)”


DREAMDOLL, “Everything Nice”


Bill $aber, “Creepin N Kurkin”


Corey Finesse, “No Suburban Remix (feat. Sheff G)”


Francois van Coke, “Die Wereld is Mal”


Sun El-Musican, “Akanamali (feat. Samthing Soweto)”


Sketchy Bongo, “Let You Know (feat. Shekhinah”)

Why Playlists Are More Important Than Ever

[Author: Patrick McGuire *
In 2017, the playlist has become an integral part of not just music but our culture at large. While radioplay and the blogosphere still have the power to bring attention to an artist, playlists are becoming a steadfast way for more and more listeners to discover and consume music. This isn’t exactly breaking news for those readers who’ve been making serious music over the past decade, but the fact is that playlists are shaping the musical landscape more than ever before, and if you don’t release your music with that in mind and plan accordingly, you’ll risk missing out on some potentially huge opportunities.

The New Listening Landscape

Remember that snobby record store clerk you used to get your music recommendations from? Or maybe it was your cool older sister. Well, either way, playlists featuring every genre of music you can conceive of are introducing listeners to new artists in way measured by literally billions of songs, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.

But probably more important than the way listeners are discovering music is the way they’re now listening to it. Listeners are now relying on playlists big and small to guide their unique listening experiences. Why?

Put yourself in the shoes of a non-musician for a second. Unless you’re particularly interested in discovering and listening to new and interesting music, you most likely won’t have the time or patience to wade through hours of music to find songs that actually resonate with you. Enter an army of new expertly curated playlists, specifically designed to convey an array of nuanced moods that cater to a wide variety of different music fans.

Like indie rap? There’s tens of thousands of playlists out there for you. Looking for electronic jazz/rock fusion for stepdads? Actually, I have no idea if that playlist exists or not, but you get what I mean.

Engaging new and old listeners on this relatively new playing field is becoming more and more important for career musicians, but don’t take my word for it.

Let’s look at the data.

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The Data Behind Playlists

On average, Spotify’s 4,500 curated playlists generate over a billion streams per week. Their Discover Weekly feature has connected well over 40 million music listeners to about 5 billion new songs. Love it or loathe it, Spotify is doing something massively important for new artists, and figuring out how to get your music featured on Spotify is worth looking into, even if the chances of your music being selected by one of Spotify’s notoriously picky playlist curators is slim.

But while Spotify is a major resource for listeners when it comes to finding and consuming music, YouTube is an even bigger player. Though the stats are controversial, complicated and difficult to understand, some music industry analysts believe YouTube accounts for 40% of all music listening.

I released a single recently and was surprised to learn that a dude with a playlist I’d never heard of had shared my new song on a YouTube playlist with over 188,000 subscribers. My release performed pretty well on Spotify, but the numbers were nothing compared to the exposure I got from being featured on that one Youtube playlist.

Make music regularly enough and you’ll sometimes get lucky and have your songs featured on decent-sized playlists, but reaching out to playlist curators and asking for your songs to be considered is vital if you’re just starting out and new to the playlist game.

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Pitching Your Music to Playlist Curators and Digital Music Stores

Taking the time to submit your music through TuneCore’s feature submission form is an easy way to pitch your music to digital music retailers like iTunes, but if you’re interested in getting playlist curators to consider your songs, you’ll have to do some research.

Take some time to find out what playlists are out there that feature music that’s similar to yours. Rather than gunning for the big, heavily followed tastemakers, I recommend starting small and pitching your music to playlists with smaller followings.

Similar to how you’d pitch your music to blogs, take some time following different playlists and getting a feel for the kind of music their curators like to feature.

Craft a short email explaining who you are, what your music sounds like and why you think it fits on the playlist you’re inquiring about. Yes, you’ll most likely get your fair share of no’s and unanswered emails, but with how much potential there is out there for finding new fans through playlists, getting serious about playlists is becoming a mandatory task if you’re intent on being a successful musician.

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[Editors Note: This blog was written by Patrick McGuire. Patrick is a writer, composer, and experienced touring musician based in Philadelphia.]

Mix Buss Compression Made Easy!

[Author: Scott Wiggins *]  

How many of you are completely terrified of doing anything to the mix buss, aka “stereo buss” “2 buss”?

It is real easy to mess up an entire mix with too much processing, in particular, mix buss compression.

Over the years of searching the internet creeping on my favorite mixers (Jaquire King, Dave Pensado, Chris Lord Alge, and many more) mix buss compression settings I’ve found that a little goes a long way.

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Mix Buss Compression Glue

Have you ever heard the term “glue” in a conversation of recording and mixing?

No, I’m not talking about the kind you used to put on your hands in elementary so you could peel it off when it dried.

Am I the only one who did that?

I’m talking about the way compression can make tracks seem like they fit together a little better.

When set up correctly it makes the whole song feel like it’s glued together in the subtle ways which gives it a nice musical polished cohesive sound.

The goal with mix buss compression would be to just tame any transients that may spike up in volume just a little too much, and then bring the overall volume up of the rest of the tracks juuuuuust a bit.

We’re just trying to add a little more energy and fullness to the mix.

mix buss compression

Mix Buss Compression Settings

The Attack:

The attack setting you use for mix buss compression is important just like using a compressor on any other track.

With a faster attack the compressor will clamp down sooner on the transients that tend to be a little louder than the rest of the audio coming through.

A slower attack will wait milliseconds before it clamps down on the audio and starts compressing.

I tend to use a faster attack, BUT I’m not crushing those transients with a ton of compression, so I still keep the dynamics in my mix.

If I found I was killing the transients too much and there was no excitement in my mix, I would probably make it a slower attack setting.

Release:

I tend to use a medium to fast release setting.

I’ve heard a lot of famous mixers say they set the release with the tempo of the song.

So they would watch the gain reduction needle and have it release on beat with the song.

I try my best to use this method.

Ratio:

I use a really small ratio of around 1.5 to 1.

This means that once my audio passes the threshold I’ve set that there is very little compression happening to that audio.

It’s just a little bit. I’m not trying to squash the life out of it.

You can experiment with a little bit higher of a ratio, but know that the lower the ratio the less compression (more dynamics), and the higher the ratio the more compression (less dynamics).

Threshold:

I dial the threshold to where I’m only getting about 1 to 3 dbs of gain reduction on the peaks of the audio.

I tend to keep it on the lower side of 1 to 2 dbs of gain reduction.

You just want to kiss the needle. You don’t want to have to much mix bus compression happening.

Remember, we are going for a subtle “glue” like affect.

Make up Gain:

Just like on any other compressor, I turn the make up gain to math the amount of gain reduction happening.

Be careful here. Don’t turn it up to loud and fool yourself that you like the result just because it’s louder.

Do your best to math the input volume with the output volume of the compressor.

We tend to think louder is better when it’s not really better, it’s just louder.

I’ve shot a video tutorial below to show all of this in action on a mix i’ve started. Check it out!

Conclusion

Mix buss compression is a great way to add a little bit of excitement and glue to your mix.

Some people like to slap it on the master buss AFTER they have mixed it (Ryan West who’s credits are Jay-Z, Eminem, Kid Cudi, Maroon 5, T.I, Rihanna and Kanye West)

And some engineers like to slap a little bit of compression on in the beginning and mix through it.

I don’t think there is a right or wrong way when it comes to when to put it on.

The key is to be subtle and don’t kill a good mix with too much mix buss compression.

Use your ears like always. They are your biggest weapons.

Good luck and happy mixing!

If you want to learn the 1st step to a successful mix even before you think about adding mix buss compression, check this post out about “The Static Mix”.

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[Editors Note: This is blog was written by Scott Wiggins and it originally appeared on his site, The Recording Solution, which is dedicated to helping producers, engineers and artists make better music from their home studios.]