Myself and Dave Franz interviewed some folks when we were at the SXSW music conference last month. Take a look at the two-part video interview here
Whew. Just got back from one of the largest music conferences in the world – SXSW (South By South West) in Austin, TX. It’s like a musical wonderland down there. I was floored by Earthless, These are Powers, A Place to Bury Strangers, Chuck Prophet, Mark Kozelek, Brad Barr, The Peasantry, and in particular, Monotonix, which might have put on one of the most ridiculous/riveting performance I have ever seen. Check them out:
I suppose that seeing good music at SXSW is a given, but now that I am back and catching up with my RSS feeds and emails, it’s a little surprising for me to see that some folks have an opinion that SXSW is a waste of time for bands, the business has changed in such a way that the industry folks in attendance don’t make a difference anymore, and that the conference is so crowded there is little chance that bands can make any impact anyway.
To me, that’s a bit of a close-minded and jaded way to look at things.
It might be true that the major label A&R folks that are at SXSW are interested in locking bands into 360 deals that are likely not in the best interest of artists. But from a promotional and business standpoint, there are fantastic opportunities. We all know the Internet has changed everything about the business – sales, distribution, and how music is discovered. Commercial radio has fizzled as a means to expose folks to new music, having been replaced by blogs and online music communities. And the blogs have been in full effect at SXSW. Sean Moeller runs a tremendous music blog/site called Daytrotter, and he’s been holed up at Big Orange Studios in Austin the whole week recording exclusive live sets and interviews with folks like Peter Bjorn, from Peter Bjorn and John, Kaki King, and Johnathan Rice. The notion that there is too much competition at SXSW is discounted by that fact that the Internet allows the new breed of tastemakers to bring SXSW to you. All it takes is one blogger writing about your performance to make an impact on hundreds or thousands of folks immediately, both through editorial and multimedia content.
It always comes back to the music. If your music kills and you work hard, good things will happen. Berklee put on a show on Friday afternoon at Friends on 6th street, where my good friend and Berklee alum Brad Barr performed. Brad played a beautiful Townes Van Zandt-inspired set (to my ears) of original music. Directly after the show, Brad was approached to play a solo set at the High Sierra Music Festival in California next year, as well as an opportunity to play Middlebury College. Cory Brown, the founder of artist-friendly Absolutely Kosher records, was in attendance too, rocking out to The Peasantry. It’s tough for me to see how these things could be viewed as anything but positive for Brad and The Peasantry.
Barry Kelly, Dave Franz, and myself shot some video interviews with heavy hitter forward thinking industry folks while we were down in Austin. I’ll post a link when we have the piece edited all together.
Occasionally I hear folks complain about the fact that there is no good music out there any more (this myth was recently perpetuated by LA Reid in this, my “quote of the year”). But the fact is, many of the major national and regional outlets that in the past were the gatekeepers of new content (in particular radio, retail & TV) have ether been homogenized in such a way that they are ineffective at presenting new music to consumers, they are now irrelevant as tastemaking outlets, or both. There’s a whole new world of music promotion that is rising up from the ashes of the old guard that is primarily user-generated: thousands of blogs (Brooklyn Vegan and Day Trotter are excellent outlets focused on indie music) and online radio stations (Pandora is leading the pack) are doing a fantastic job at discovering and promoting new music. There are more outlets then ever to hear/promote new music, they might just not be quite as obvious as they were 10 years ago.
All this being said, I do love seeing quality music from real “developing” artists playing real songs on national TV. I got turned onto Feist from the work she has done with Broken Social Scene, an amazing collective out of Toronto. She’s got a new solo record out and a new song, (“1,2,3,4”) that was heavily promoted in the new iPod commercial. Check her out performing on the Today Show yesterday:
My friend George turned me on to Soft Focus, which contains an amazing series of artist interviews hosted by Ian Svenonius from The Make Up. Ian talks about the wonders of worldwide musical collaboration that the Internet affords us in this interview with Cat Power:
Here’s an old school video of Ian singing with The Make Up
There may be more music produced now than ever, but it certainly is not getting any cheaper to promote it to traditional outlets. David from Digital Audio Insider has written a great piece about the realities of servicing your record to press and radio. College radio is relatively untainted by the consolidation and lack of diversity that haunts commercial radio, and can be a good option for independent bands that appeal to the 18-24 demographic. The same can be said for press, who generally review records and concerts based on buzz and quality, rather than ad dollars (unlike commercial radio and most retail visibility).
As David points out in his piece, press and radio do not react well to emails containing links to MP3s to review. They need the proper CD in a package, with a one sheet. The financial realities of this break out like this:
$1.81 per CD package
There are about 1000 college stations which are eligible to send their playlists to CMJ (College Music Journal). Say you are in a hip-hop band and want to get added to the Hip-Hop chart on CMJ. 300 stations report to this.
+ 300 CDs
If you are sending CDs to CMJ, then you are likely touring as well. If you are touring, you want to support your dates by getting press visibility in key markets, as well as try for some national hip-hop pubs. Let’s say you do a press mailing to 300 outlets to cover major regional papers and targeted national media.
+ 300 CDs
= $1,086 for mailing costs.
Of course, you are going to want to hire an indie to help you at press and radio. Depending on your goals, how long your campaign is, and who you use, this could cost you anywhere from $1,000-$4,000 for a radio campaign, and between $1000-$5000 a month for three months for publicity coverage.
Based on these numbers, bands are looking at $12,000-$15,000 on the low end to do an effective campaign to press and college radio.
The Wu Tang Clan are rocking the press in support of their December 4th 8 diagrams release. It was announced earlier this month that the Wu secured the first Beatles sample in history, George Harrison’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps. While the band subsequently posted on their MySpace page that this isn’t quite true, the press bump they got for their new record from this news was tremendous.
But to me, even more outstanding is the news that Wu leader RZA won the 1st Annual Chess Kings Invitational, this past weekend in San Francisco!
Who CANT write about that??
I talk about the importance of creating a press story in my Berkleemusic Music Marketing 201 course. I’m sure the Wu’s publicity team is on cloud nine with the news the band is generating leading up to street date.
Check out: Wu-tang Clan – Da Mystery of Chessboxin’