I spoke to Adam Gold from American Songwriter recently for a piece he was working on about the changing music business and best practices for success. A couple of my comments made the piece, along with some thoughts from folks at Kickstarter, SoundExchange, and Moontoast. Check out Adam’s interview with all of us, here.

Here’s the rest of what I said, which didn’t make the piece:

American Songwriter: 2011 is over. I just recorded the best song I ever wrote. What’s the new model for getting my music heard? What to do with my demo?
Do I post my music on Facebook, or is there a better place for music?

Mike King: This is a long answer. I think there are really so many paths and so many options for musicians now to get their music heard. That’s both a blessing and a curse. I think the key is to think about this from a consumer, or fan standpoint. For consumers, there has never been a better time to listen to music. It’s everywhere. The floodgates are open, and if I want to check out practically anything I can do so in a matter of seconds.

I think the tricky thing, and something that a lot of folks are trying to figure out, is curation. Although larger gatekeeper-based vehicles still do have an effect at exposing folks to music, like commercial radio exposing folks to pop music, I think that for the most part consumers are moving towards niches, and are finding new music through trusted sources within these niches. For example, there are some rooms on Turntable.fm, and some DJs, that I totally trust to turn me onto new music. In one of the soul/funk rooms I’m part of, one of my favorite DJs is also a musician, and occasionally he “spins” his own music – which I love. So for me, that DJ is a trusted source, and that is where I am finding some of my new music. Same thing for blogs. A site out of LA named Rollo and Grady has the exact same taste in music as I do, and I have been turned on to some great music there. The other way I find new music is by providing my contact info to artists that I love, and I let them deliver new music to me. For example, I found a band Fanfarlo a couple years back, and because I gave them my email address, I am among the first to get new music from that band prior to release, and then can be one of the first to purchase when a new record is out.

All of this should filter into how bands release their music, and their plan for getting heard. I think that everything in a marketing plan should be integrated, and there are a lot of moving pieces that include live events, press, online retail, your own site, PR, and more, but from an overview standpoint, I think that realizing that A) fans are more niche based and look to certain outlets to curate music for them, and B) it’s possible to connect directly with fans to deliver music to them, are both key. I would approach both of these areas separately, using some of the developing marketing / technology tools and best practices. Starting by identifying who you think your core fans are, and then looking at pitching the niche outlets where they hang out is a good first step. I think that acquisition is also extremely important for all artists, and I suggest using email for media widgets from Topspin, Official.fm, SoundCloud or other marketing/technology companies to help retain a permission based contact for future communication and up sell. I also think that optimizing your site for the search engines, and making your site an awareness and conversion engine by providing media in exchange for an email address is a best practice, too.

Finally, I think you have to develop a content plan for your release. This is something that I think Metric did a great job with for their last record, Fantasies. Metric sketched out what type of media (single, acoustic version, live version, demo versions) they were going to release on their site and through widgets on third party sites prior to the release of their full length. This allowed them to acquire email addresses prior to the pre-release of their record. They were then able to reach out to these folks across the full timeline of the record release, and engage with them, make them aware of what they were doing, and also provide them with the opportunity to buy. I think that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Thisismyjam.com, Turntable.fm, YouTube, and more could all fit into your plan, but I think having a plan is key.

American Songwriter: If I do post it for free, will anyone want to buy it?

Mike King: The short answer is that case studies, examples, students experiences, and data I have seen say yes, but I think the long answer is more nuanced. My personal opinion is that artists have to think about sales differently. I think artists have to romance new fans a bit – it’s really kind of like dating. I don’t think going in for the kill immediately makes for the best long-term relationship, you know? I mean, I suppose sometimes that works, but I think a better option for retaining a fan for years, which is much less expensive than finding new fans for every record, is to treat your fans respectfully, offer then what they want, provide them with some free gifts, communicate with them regularly and effectively, and then offer options for monetization. Again, not so different than any other relationship you might have in your personal life. This is the difference – artists now have an option to provide music for free, and engage with their fans in ways that was not quite possible before. I think the new technology / marketing companies that have emerged to foster this relationship have been really helpful.

But to say it simply – I think that providing free music is key to building up your larger community, and I think that in terms of sales, you are going to want to sell a variety of items to your fans from your own site, with the idea that you can sell items that are more personal, and not available in traditional retail. Talk to any of the third party direct to fan companies like Topspin, Nimbit, Pledge Music – they will all tell you that the average revenue per sale is over $20. This is because artists have this relationship that they have built with fans, and they are monetizing much more than a single song on iTunes.

American Songwriter: Should I sell it on iTunes, CDBaby, Spotify? What sort of cut will I get?

Mike King: Yes, absolutely. There are folks that only buy music on iTunes, and are not interested in buying from an artist directly. I think for some larger artists, the volume they see from third party sales on iTunes is much greater than what they will see on their own site, but I think that the margin has the potential to be much greater by selling from your own site. In terms of the cut, every service is different. iTunes takes 30%, and if you use CD Baby as a distributor, they are going to take a 9% fee, too. So for a $.99 cent sale on iTunes, an artist would see about $.63 if they were using CD Baby. TuneCore takes no fee on sales, but has an annual fee for distribution. I consider Spotify now as more of a way for folks to discover music, not unlike radio, and I think that artists have to be there. They certainly don’t pay artists anywhere close to what iTunes pays, but I tend to think that is more because of the deals the labels / distributors made with Spotify than it is an inherent problem with the service itself. I am optimistic that as the service, and other streaming services grow, we’ll see better deals, and larger payments to artists. But I think worse than the lower payments from these streaming services is being anonymous. I have Spotify and Rdio open all day long, and if I hear or read about a new band, I have the option of immediately looking these artists up on a streaming service to check out the whole record. If I fall in love with it, I’ll then check out their site, perhaps download something interesting, and the relationship between the band and me starts. The band now has a direct, permission –based contact with me, and can up sell me on live events or other items. This all starts on Spotify. If I didn’t see the band on a streaming service, I am likely to move on and find some other music to listen to.

American Songwriter: What if only ten people buy it? Will I still get digital royalties? Via Soundchange? How do I protect my recordings?

Mike King: There’s a lot of confusion around how digital royalties work. SoundExchange collects and distributes royalties from statutory licenses, including digital cable and satellite television services, non-interactive webcasters like Pandora, and satellite radio services like Sirius XM. SoundExchange only covers performance rights, and doesn’t collect for downloads, interactive services (like Spotify, Rdio, Mog, Rhapsody), or traditional radio or TV. It really depends on where the “sale” originates to determine how much you will be paid. So, 10 sales on iTunes will pay you much more than 10 listens on Pandora or Spotify, and 10 sales off of your own site has the potential to pay you much more than all of these services. In terms of protection, copyright exists as soon as you have a tangible version of your music, such as sheet music and/or CDs. In the US, you can register the copyright to your music here: www.copyright.gov/eco. I also think that Creative Commons, which sits on top of copyright and reserves some rights, can also be a positive thing for artists who are interested in allowing their fans to participate in their work via remix contests or other forms of “participatory culture,” as Clay Shirky would say.

American Songwriter: Next, how do I get people in the industry to hear it, so I can get a record deal or have it placed in a commercial?

Mike King: You have to build up leverage. I think you can look at some recent success stories to see how other folks have done it, but all paths are different. For the most part, a label is not going to care about you unless you have leverage – unless they see that you have a base of fans that you can leverage to sell your music. Things are much harder for labels now, and while I think some labels can be great for artists, I think that artists should really consider building up their own base, hopefully with a smart in-house team. Once they have some leverage, then can then determine if they want to keep things in-house, or partner with a label. I think Karmin is a good example. Amy, Nick, and their manager Nils focused on creating great content on YouTube for years. They slowly built their base through some really great cover songs, and then did a cover of Chris Brown’s “Look at Me Now,” which exploded with over 30 million views on YouTube in a couple months. They got on the Ellen show, they were featured on Ryan Seacrest show, and built up a huge following on Twitter, Facebook, and via email. This is leverage. The labels saw this, and Karmin had deals with all of the majors on the table in the course of a few weeks. They ended up signing to LA Reid’s Epic sub label on Sony. All paths are different, but I think leverage is a component to whatever you do.

American Songwriter: The response has been great but I haven’t been signed or picked up for a commercial — what’s my next move? Tour? Hire PR?

Mike King: It’s different for everyone. Getting in a commercial is great, but if you are having problems with getting folks interested, perhaps you have to look critically at yourself and see what you can change or do better. There are so many data points musicians can analyze these days, supplied by companies like Next Big Sound, Google, Topspin, and many others. If you are not building up a base online through strategic release of content, if you are not generating interest on your site, if you are not seeing an increase of fans at your live show, I think it makes sense to look at what you are doing from a holistic standpoint. Perhaps your music isn’t there yet. Maybe your live show isn’t quite right. Perhaps you’re marketing to the wrong people. Data can help you to see what is working and what isn’t, and I think you can iterate your campaign and your approach. Also, I think that not everyone is going to make music their full time career. Steve Albini has a good quote that I think is accurate: “Not everyone can become a professional artist. Maintain a realistic perspective on your art that allows you to enjoy doing it.”

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Here’s a video of my presentation from a couple weeks back at Midem. I like the idea of trying to make cohesion out of chaos, and in this presentation I talk about some best practices for musicians and managers with organizing their music marketing campaigns. I focus on three main areas: social marketing, email / widgets, and fan funding.

I also talk about the Wu Tang Clan.

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I participated in a panel at MIT a couple weeks back, discussing the future of music with some folks I have a ton of respect for: Nancy Baym (University of Kansas), João Brasil (Brazilian artist), Chuck Fromm (Worship Leader Media), Erin McKeown (musical artist and fellow with the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University) and Brian Whitman (The Echo Nest).  The Futures of Entertainment folks just made the video available. It’s long (two hours!) but I think we covered a fair amount of ground without getting boring.

Check it out:

MIT Tech TV

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My mentor at Rykodisc, Jill Christiansen, used to talk about the “mystery” associated with rolling out an artist campaign. For example, when going through a photo shoot to determine which image to use for promo, perhaps consider the sly, slightly-out-of-focus image as opposed to the straight on shot that “gives everything away.” It’s an interesting idea, given this age of everything being instant, with artists laying it all on the table immediately with social media and everything else.

Anyway, below is a great example of an artist that’s playing it close to the vest with an upcoming release. I have no idea what this release is – a DVD or future audio release – but I’m intrigued enough to give my email so I can find out. OF COURSE it doesn’t hurt that the band is Sigur Rós, OF COURSE they have a massive fan base, but I think it’s a solid example of a band properly rolling out a campaign that relies on subtlety and mystery perfectly focused on a core group of fans, as opposed to unfocused repetition and noise out of the gate. Cool approach.

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I met up with Owain Kelly, the bassist from the band Tigers that Talked, in March at SXSW. Here’s a video the band created during their time in Austin:

Tigers that Talked was a co-winner (along with Sonoio) of Topspin’s grant competition, which I helped judge along with some heavy hitters, like Rick Rubin, Marc Geiger, Richard Jones, Glenn Peoples, and Jennie Smythe. Owain and the band created and executed a compelling new-school music marketing plan, and I thought it might be helpful if I took a minute to lay out some of what this band did, and what they are continuing to do, from a sales and marketing perspective. Most impressive in my opinion was the band’s product and pricing strategy and execution, as well as their approach to PR and overall communications. Check out an interview I did with Owain from a few weeks back:

Band Background

Mike King: Can you talk a little bit about the background of the band, your ideas for the campaign, and what you were trying to accomplish?

Owain Kelly: I got together with Jamie, Chris, and Glenna after graduating from school. We all just kind of came together and we really liked what we were doing, so we went forward with it. We ended up signing to a local independent label. It was great at the time – we recorded the album and the label essentially turned around and said that they couldn’t release it. So we went through the whole process with them and eventually got the rights to the album ourselves, because we were very proud of it and we still wanted to release it.

MK: Were they not releasing it for creative reasons, or were they not releasing it for financial reasons?

OK: I think it was financial reasons. They aren’t even a label anymore. They are still a management company but they aren’t a label anymore. So I just think in the long run, they couldn’t do it. So we had this album that we finally got the rights to and we decided that instead of searching for another label, we could release it ourselves. We really just wanted to get the album out there and heard. You know, it’s the debut album, and a lot of people worked very hard to pull it together. We really just wanted to get it out there, get it sold and heard by people who had actually been waiting for it for quite awhile.

Process: Doing it Yourself with Help

MK: So when you say you put it out there yourself, was it just the four of you that were responsible for all the marketing and sales initiatives, or did you have some other folks that were helping out?

OK: We also have our manager, Ritchie. We had a radio plugger for the campaign but we didn’t have a press plugger. We did all of our press ourselves.

MK: I want to get into what you did with press because I think it’s fascinating, but I’m interested in knowing what else you guys were doing yourselves. Didn’t you also create your website?

OK: Yeah, absolutely. Essentially, the way that came about was another economic restraint. We had this kind of holding page website which we’ve had for years when we first started the band, made by the same guy who did the album artwork. It was a very simple one page that would just redirect you to the label’s website and it would direct you to our MySpace; there were just two links on it. We decided that we needed something a bit more substantial and we just couldn’t afford to go and get someone else to do it. Eventually we kind of talked about it, Ritchie and the four of us, and we agreed, “let’s just go for this and try and do it ourselves.” None of us had any form of web experience, no coding experience; basic Photoshop experience is really all we had. So we did a lot of online tutorials, chatted with friends who do a lot of web design; we just taught ourselves, and it took about a years worth of banging our head against the wall to get something that we were happy with. We kind of succeeded in the primary goal of making a website in about three months, it just took another nine months of honing skills to actually get a decent looking website that we were all happy with.

MK: It’s something that people talk about a lot, the fact that it is difficult to be writing and recording music, producing your own music, and then doing all the marketing yourself. Did you find that you were stretched thin by doing all the press and all the web design and updates?

OK: I have to say, without kind of just wanting to pat them on the back, it genuinely helps to have a service like Topspin involved to help with the direct communication with our fans. It is a lot of work, and it does take up a lot of time, but if you aren’t prepared to do that for your fans, then why are you even bothering to play the music? The fans are there, they want to hear from you, and I think the fans respond differently when they know that you’re making your own website and you’re doing all your own press. The more you can do yourself, the better. It’s really inspiring when you finish something you’ve done on your own, and while it might have taken you slightly longer than it would taken someone else to do it, I think it’s motivating to have a real stake in every aspect of your band as a business. With direct to fan interaction, we are getting the opportunity to tailor make our entire future and to do it in response to the people that are making this happen for us. Of course, there is a really difficult side to all of this, but it’s exciting!

Acquisition and PR Campaign

Email for Media Widget

MK: Can you talk a little bit about the techniques you used to make folks aware of you, and how you acquired permission-based contact with new fans? How did you do this on your own site and on third party sites?

OK: One of the big things we used for the acquisition stage of the campaign was the email for media widget through Topspin. Three weeks before the album came out we created an email for media widget and put it in a really prominently place on our site. The idea was that it was the first thing fans and potential fans saw when they visited the site, and we exchanged a free track for an email address. Kind of simple stuff really. But we also used the email for media widgets in the wild, too. You know, anytime we approached anyone in the press, we tried to hit him or her with the free email for media widgets. If they were going to mention that an album was coming out, we’d ask them to embed the e4m’s as well. And it worked! Using Topspin’s retrieved data we saw that the email for media widget we were using has been viewed almost 14,000 times, and from those views, the e4m was clicked around 1500 times, acquiring more than 900 new emails alone in the process. These are all people that we can connect with for this current record, as well as records down the line.

MK: You also had a dedicated EPK and content page on your site that only press could access, right?

OK: Yeah, we had that as well. That was another thing, the press page that we set up on our site. I mean that again came up quite incidentally, we were just having a conversation and said, “You know what? We’ve got this page for the fans where they arrive on the site and they can instantly go to where we want them to go, so why don’t we make one for press?” So we hid a URL that wasn’t hooked up to our navigation on the actual site, and we embedded the full album, we embedded a link where press could downloaded the full album, downloaded the press release, the bios; everything that actually goes into a normal press release by an email, except that this was a live URL so that they weren’t dealing with an email that just looked like the rest of the other emails. The emails to our targeted press list were very, very short and to the point. We’d send them out and they essentially just had this link in it that said, “if you are interested in this band, here’s a press link” and if they click on that, it would take them to fully dedicated page just for them, complete with a way to contact that management, to contact us, a way to explore the site and download content.


Tigers That Talked Press Page

MK: How did you focus your press outreach?

OK: We did a couple of things. First, we looked at everyone we ever talked to back from the first EP that we released, and we targeted those folks with a really personalized email. It looked a lot less like a press email, and it was from our personal accounts. We’d email these folks and say, “Hey, we’ve got this album coming out. Here’s the album for free with the press download.” This approach was really successful actually, we got some really great blogs that responded well. The second thing we did was that we created our own database from trolling through sites that we liked and pulling out email addresses of writers that we thought might like our music.

MK: Can you talk a little bit about the results? I know you were touring at the time. Were you getting more record release press or tour press?

OK: It was more record release press and we had a few tour presses, mainly for the lead show; we did an album launch show at one of the local venues and we had a few reviewers come down and do that. We also had quite a few interviews – one of the biggest local leads that did a full cover feature on us and did a full length interview. We’ve done some other things with press, like the PRS acoustic session we did and the Amazing Radio acoustic session. I think it’s nice to see the quality of the press hits and the longevity that you can have if you approach your campaign in a personal way.

Sales Strategy:

MK: So you’ve got some momentum with press and live events, you are building up your permission based contacts, and you’re engaging with your fans regularly. Can you talk a little bit about your ideas behind your graduated pricing campaign and your variable product offerings?

OK: Late last year, we released our album, The Merchant on a graduated pricing model. We did a four-week graduated pricing campaign where the price of the record ranged from £1.00 if you purchased early, up to £4.00. So the first week you could get it for £1.00, the second week you could get it for £2.00, third week for £3.00, fourth week for £4.00. We really wanted to reward the fans that had waited months between the recording and the release of the record. We just wanted to make it incredibly cheap so that anyone who was already a fan, who was waiting for it to come out, could get the record for the lowest price possible. Along side of the digital release, we were selling a t-shirt as well as the physical CD. We sold the CD for £5.00 and we sold the t-shirt for £12.00. We also created another bundle, at £15.00, which was all the digital downloads, the CD, and the t-shirt all together.

It was interesting to see that 58% of total revenue from the campaign came from the first week when we were offering a £1.00 digital download, and the average purchase on the site ended up being £4.48. So a lot of fans were buying some of our more expensive items. Overall, 18.3% of purchasers opted for the more expensive options we provided.

We followed The Merchant release with a ‘pay-what-you-want’ EP called Battles, featuring exclusive tracks, remixes and 4 pieces of graphic art we designed ourselves. We offered a variety of suggested donations, from £1.00 up to £25.00. We found that 67.9% of fans opted to pay more than the lowest suggested price of £1.00, while the highest option of £25.00 accounted for 47.5% of our total revenue.


Battles EP Donation Release Strategy

Communication Strategy

MK: Can we talk a little more about how you are communicating with folks? There was obviously some demand for this record, even though there was a while between recording and releasing in. How did you maintain this interest through messaging and communication?

OK: We run our own website, so all the blog posts come from us and we try and write at least one blog a week. We don’t like to bombard fans with emails. We don’t ever want to be an irritation for them so we try to send out about one email to the list maybe once a month. Every month, we’ll send out an email saying what we’ve been up to, what we are going to do next, that kind of thing. Facebook has been a great channel for us as well. We’re on our Facebook page all the time and all the posts on the Facebook come directly from us. We’ve found it to be a great way to have a direct and immediate participatory relationship with our fans.

Our overall strategy is that we’re all music fans at the end of the day, and we know what irritates us and we know what really inspires us, and what captures our imagination, and it’s just a case of looking at that and putting yourself in your fan’s shoes. You know, I wouldn’t want to have an email everyday, not even from my favorite band; barely every week. Once a month with what’s going on is a nice level of email communication. I also think it’s important for us to make sure our fans know that the Facebook and the Twitter posts all come direct from us. They are not talking to a representative or a PR agent; they are getting to hear what we’re actually saying and what were actually doing. It’s just brilliant that there are plenty of mediums now where you can reach your fans so directly.

Check out more on Tigers that Talked here

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This is a guest post by my friend Dennis Carlson.

Dennis and I started our music careers in the 90s at Rykodisc, which at the time was a mid-sized independent record label based out of Salem, MA. While our careers have gone in different directions since our start at Ryko (I moved onto Berklee in Boston, and Dennis founded an insurance agency in CA), I was pretty excited to meet up with Dennis this past year at SXSW and learn that he’s getting back into the music business. After talking with Dennis for a couple of minutes at the Gayngs shows, I realized what a resource he was for musicians who are interested in learning more about best practices with health care. I asked him to put together a quick overview of options and tips, which you can read below. Follow Dennis @gaslighteast

===

I am an ex-artist manager, current health insurance agent, and aspiring music licensing guru and this March I was fortunate enough to attend SXSW in Austin. My evenings were filled with amazing music by soon-to-be-known bands like The Naked and the Famous, once-known-and-back-again power rockers the Smoking Popes, and too-cool-to-ever-really-be-known smart hip hoppers Gayngs. During the day, on the other hand, I opted to hit up as many panels as possible. The first panel I attended was titled “Break a Leg! Musicians and Health Care Reform”. The purpose of the panel was to provide artists with information on the health care reform bill that was passed last year and discuss the options for coverage.

The panel highlighted the problem artists have finding health insurance coverage and provided valuable resources to assist with this problem. A notable panelist was Rogue Wave drummer Pat Spurgeon who discussed his experience waiting for a kidney transplant. His saga is chronicled in the gut-wrenching documentary “D-tour”.

As someone who assists individuals and small business owners every day in finding health insurance, I know these struggles all too well, but I also know a few tricks.
Here are some tips for navigating the health insurance world based upon on my experiences, and while they provide no guarantee of getting coverage, they should give some guidance and direction.

1) Find a reputable health insurance agent. This is probably the most important step. Agents know much more about health insurance than you do and will only be paid if you secure a health insurance policy. Despite what many people assume, it doesn’t cost you any more money to use an insurance agent than if you simply bought a policy directly from the insurance company. To find an agent in your area go to www.nahu.org and click Find an Agent.

2) Determine if you can qualify as a small business. If you are a band that is producing even modest revenue, then it might make sense to form a simple business entity like a partnership, LLC, or maybe even a corporation. Or if you are a solo artist, and can show Schedule C income when you file your taxes some insurance companies will treat you like a small business and offer the exact same plans and rates that any small business would qualify for. In California, if you are a sole-proprietor with Schedule C income and are married and file taxes jointly, Kaiser Permanente will offer you a small group health plan, with no medical questions.

3) Look into associations you are (or could be) a member of. Many industry associations and chambers of commerce have health plans available to their members. Many times the association dues are modest and the criteria to qualify as a member of the association are minimal. One such association is the Freelancers Union. Membership is free and members are eligible for the association health plans (and many other benefits too). At the moment, the health plan is only available to qualified freelancers who are residents of New York State. Think about what you do and then put your Google skills to work to find an association that fits you.

4) Check out your State sponsored options. Currently most states have some form of government sponsored health care available. Depending on your state, annual income, household size and other factors, you may qualify for assistance. The easiest way to figure out what you qualify for is to call the US Uninsured Help Line at 800-234-1317 or use the on-line eligibility tool at www.coverageforall.org . I’ve personally used this free service for individuals.

5) Check with your parents. One benefit of the health care reform bill that is already in effect is the ability for children under the age of 26 to stay (or rejoin) their parents health insurance plan. In the past, dependents between 19 and 25 had to be full-time students but this is no longer the case. If you are under 26 and your parents have health insurance ask them to inquire about what it takes to get on the plan.

Between now and 2014 we’re going to see many changes to the health care system, the way insurance companies are regulated, and individual access to coverage and care. What you knew about insurance last year is probably irrelevant, and by this time next year I’m confident the same will be true. The Federal government has done a decent job compiling information about changes at www.healthcare.gov, but be sure to utilize multiple sources to get the best and most current information. You are your best advocate.

Dennis Carlson owns Bespoke Benefits, an insurance agency in Davis, California. He also runs Gaslight-East an artist development and licensing company. He loves distilling the complexities of health insurance and the music business for anyone who asks. Follow him @gaslighteast

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I had Matt Stine as a student in the inaugural run of my Online Music Marketing with Topspin course, and it’s a thrill to see him put the sales and marketing tactics we discussed in the course into practice with his artist Clinton Curtis. It’s equally thrilling to see his work presented in outlets that I admire, like Mike Masnick’s Techdirt.

I’ve pasted Matt’s guest post in Techdirt below. Congratulations Matt!

Case Study: Clinton Curtis Connects With Fans And Gives Them Good Reasons To Buy His New Album

Ever since Mike Masnick introduced the concept of CwF + RtB, he has been confronted time and time again with the argument that this concept can only work for well-known artists with large established fanbases. And time after time Mike has provided evidence that CwF + RtB can work for any band or musician at any level. Clinton Curtis’ latest release campaign for his new album, 2nd Avenue Ball, is a prime example of how a new artist can use the concepts behind Mike’s formula to build a foundation for a successful career while earning money along the way from a small group of “super” fans.

Clinton Curtis’ 2nd Avenue Ball comes out today, March 22nd but it has been available for Pre-Order since March 1st. My company, 27 Sound, has been responsible for every aspect of the campaign, from producing and recording the music, to designing ClintonCurtis.com to developing the marketing and promotion strategy. Although technically this is Clinton’s second album, Clinton is still very much a new artist, and we treated this latest release as if it was his first. Clinton had been playing a lot of shows locally and regionally over the past year, and acquired a decent amount of email addresses at those shows. We knew that a small percentage of those fans would likely support Clinton going forward. Our goal was to offer something unique to those fans already in Clinton’s network and at the same time create ways for Clinton to connect with potential new fans.

In designing Clinton’s website, we wanted to make sure we were giving Clinton’s fans a reason to return to the site on a regular basis. We created two new elements — CC Radio and CC Connect. CC Radio is essentially a bi-monthly live show, broadcast directly to clintoncurtis.com. Each episode features members of Clinton’s band, guest musicians, friends and even Clinton’s fans, getting together at 27 Sound Studios to perform a solid hour of music. Powered by Ustream, it’s really simple to use, easy to integrate into the website and shareable across all major social networks. In fact, Clinton’s album release party will actually be a CC Radio episode (9:30PM EST tonight, Tuesday March 22nd) which is a much more effective use of time and money than trying to throw a big party at a NYC venue. CC Radio is an exciting way to keep fans coming back to the site and a great way for Clinton to connect directly with his them. It has been a huge success in only it’s first two months. The fans love it, and the easy sharing capability brings more traffic to Clinton’s online store.

Once fans reach Clinton’s Online store we wanted to be sure that we gave them plenty of incentive to buy directly from us. We created CC Connect, Clinton’s “VIP” fan club, to add value to all of our direct-to-fan offerings. Any package purchased through clintoncurtis.com comes bundled with a lifetime membership to CC Connect. CC Connect members get free download packs each month featuring exclusive previously unreleased music, live recordings, studio demos, audio from CC Radio episodes and more. They also get ticket and merch discounts as well as an entire fully-produced album recorded exclusively for CC Connect members each year. By doing this we add a tremendous amount of value to each package we offer through the site, giving fans a good reason to buy.

For 2nd Avenue Ball, we worked hard to come up with a variety of packages that we think will please Clinton’s fans and drive their support. I won’t go into too much detail here on each one, but there are a couple of noteworthy items in the biggest, Super Fan Deluxe Package that I think might interest Techdirt readers.

Each of the 50 Deluxe packages come with gatefold vinyl packaging but the vinyl record inside is not Clinton’s album. We don’t yet have enough demand among Clinton’s fans to warrant manufacturing and selling vinyl, but we wanted to showcase the amazing album artwork we had from an incredible young artist, Matthew Burrows. We planned on putting high quality art prints of his work inside as an insert where the vinyl record would normally go. But then we had the idea to also include an actual LP from Clinton’s personal vinyl collection. Along with the LP, each package comes with a note about what that album meant to Clinton and what significance it had to his musical upbringing. We thought this would be a cool way to make each package completely unique.

Then we thought to return the favor…. If people get a piece of Clinton’s favorite music, we should give them back some of their favorite songs, too. So anyone who orders this package gets an email from Clinton asking for their favorite song, and then Clinton records that song and sends it directly to their inbox. Yes, it will be a lot of work for us to put this together, but it will give each of these 50 fans something special that they really want. And who knows, maybe some great recordings will come of it! (In fact, almost all of these Deluxe packages have sold out at the time of writing this, and the song requests have been really cool, including one person who requested an original song that his 9 year old son wrote.)

These are just a few of the things that are unique about this campaign although there are many others (including the “Turn This CD Into A Coaster” Kit that comes with each disc!). Have a look over at clintoncurtis.com to see the package offers in more detail and explore around the site to see more ways Clinton is actively connecting with his fanbase. I would love to hear people’s thoughts and ideas on what we could be doing better. I always keep reminding our team that this is all an experiment and we need to adapt and change every day as we learn from the feedback we get from our fans. So visit the site and help us out!

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I had the opportunity to present at MIDEM in Cannes a couple of weeks ago. Check out a video of my “Direct to Fan: From Foundation to Execution” presentation below. Unfortunately, whomever edited this video cut out my intro – which I delivered in French! I assume my pronunciation was part of the editors decision making process.

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I think there’s no debate that a part of the future of music is going to include an access (as opposed to ownership) approach to listening to music. On a large scale, music consumers have always chosen convenience over almost everything else, and the opportunity to listen to as much music as possible, anytime and anywhere, whether connected to the Internet or not, is a compelling proposition. And while I think it’s only a matter of time before Apple gets the licensing together to re-activate some version of LaLa, there are some great services out there in the US and abroad right now that offer a really compelling approach to music in the cloud.

I’ve been checking out Rdio for the past few months, and been really impressed with what they are up to. They have a pretty extensive catalog (made all the more extensive in recent weeks with the addition of the Beggars Group catalog), and interesting social media tools to help with music discovery.

I spoke with Rdio’s CEO, Drew Larner, a couple weeks back about the service. Here’s our conversation:

Mike: Can you tell me a little bit about the background of Rdio, and how you became involved with the company?

Drew: Janus Friis and Niklas Zennstrom, who were the founders of Skype, are the founders of Rdio, and they are the ones who have been funding it for the last two plus years. I met them first in 2000 and started working for them in about 2003, when they were just kind of getting out of the Kazaa phase of their careers. So it was interesting to meet them at that point because I had come from the film business, I had worked in the film industry for twelve years. To meet them with all that was going on – it was an interesting change for me. Shortly thereafter they started Skype, and then Joost, and now Rdio. So they’ve done a lot of things, and I’ve worked with them in fits and starts over all of that period.

Mike: I talk about Rdio in some of my courses, and one question that always comes up is “Okay, Rdio sounds great, but how do I get my music on the service as an independent artist?” Is there an opportunity for folks that are unsigned to get their music on Rdio?

Drew: We don’t have a self-serve option yet. There are aggregators out there that we’re speaking with that effectively provide that service for artists. You know, content aggregation for a service like this, is a long, and I don’t want to say tedious process, because it’s not, it’s an interesting process, but it’s a long process. So to provide a catalog that you are going to charge people for, you are going to need the building blocks, which are obviously the major labels and the major Indies. You get the publishing deals in place and you start adding to the catalog over time. So right now, we’re at seven million plus tracks. Very, very deep catalog. But like you’ve said, there are lots of great indie artists out there who aren’t yet at a label or may never want to go to a label. The paradigm may be changing where they don’t need to sign with a label and you understand that stuff better than I do. As far as marketing directly, we don’t have a self-service option yet and I don’t think it’s in our future over the short-term but I think once we sign with an aggregator that is a more geared towards indie artists, then that would be the way that they can get on Rdio.

Mike: So, from an overview, you are starting with the big guys, which makes sense in trying to get all of the content that the larger population is going to be interested in, and then your going to be moving down the line into working with an aggregator that is more focused on independent artists. Is that accurate?

Drew: No. I mean we’ve already done deals with IODA and some of the bigger Indie aggregators – what I was referring to simply is almost self-serve. So I guess I’d term it non-label indie artists. Those who aren’t signed to any label but are producing music that they want to be distributed. Yeah, we’ll get there.

Mike: Maybe through a partnership with CDBaby or TuneCore.

Drew: Exactly.

Mike: How difficult is it for you to get the licensing deals done right now, as opposed to three years ago? Is there a shift that you are seeing with the majors where they are saying, “Streaming is definitely going to be part of the future and we have to get our content on there?”

Drew: Well, our deals are done. We needed the deals in place before we could launch the service but it is a very good question because it was an iterative process in that, when we started this over two years ago, we were trying to figure out what the right model was. We were looking at companies that were doing ad-based premium type models and personally, because I am the one who was on the hook for defending the model that we choose to my board and my investors, I didn’t really believe in that ad supported model because the ad revenue doesn’t come in at a level that is significant enough to pay for the royalty costs. You know, I come from the content world and I believe content is valuable and needs to be treated as such, so it’s not that the royalty costs are out of line, they are what they are because this stuff is valuable.

So we kind of thought about what kind of model we wanted, and we decided to move towards the subscription model. The majors, as we were negotiating our deals, were moving in that direction as well. There were subscription services out there already, of course, but the functionality in those services are not as robust as they are now. I think the most important change is the offline caching, which if you are using mobile, you are hopefully using a lot because we think that is kind of the light bulb moment. You know, “Wait a second! I can turn my Android phone into a iPod!” You know, “I have a Blackberry and I can play a thousand songs on my Blackberry!” So it creates a single device strategy, and that kind of functionality is something that over the course of the negotiations came into the deal.

Mike: Are there any limitations to how much music you can cache?

Drew: The only real limitations are on the functionality side – what your device storage limit is. If you have a lot of storage on your device, you can store as many songs are you want. On the deal side, once you stop subscribing, your music is no longer available. But that’s the concept of moving, in terms of the model, from an ownership model to an access model. Meaning that you don’t need to physically purchase every song because they are all there. Why would you need to purchase anymore when you have access to everything?

Mike: Are there any other major partnerships that are on the horizon for Rdio that people can look towards in 2011 that you can talk about?

Drew: On the content side?

Mike: Yes.

Drew: We’re doing deals all the time. While we do have some announcements coming, my PR people would get pissed at me if I blew the lid off. So there is nothing specific I can speak to, but I can promise that stuff is coming. Again, it’s a process where you get those cornerstone building blocks that everybody needs for service, and from there you start adding more and more interesting elements. Whether its world music or classical music or additional deeper jazz – it’s a process! We have someone in-house who is very good and very savvy, and she is just continually doing deals. It’s just that it’s time consuming.

Mike: I was really pleased to see the Beggars Group up there.

Drew: I would agree. I’m very, very excited that Beggars is on there and by extension now, the Arcade Fire. It’s very important to have that extensive catalog.

Mike: Can you speak a little bit to the social component of Rdio and music discovery using the service?

Drew: We keep pushing new updates to the clients constantly and just keep making it a better experience in terms of finding new people to follow and giving you more information as far as new music and music that we think you would like, that we believe is unique and based on people rather than algorithms. Now we do have an algorithmic approach, I don’t know if you checked out the radio that we have? So for me, I like that because I am more of a passive listening guy. If I want to listen to Wilco, I can create a fantastic play list with Wilco, the Jayhawks, and Son Volt; that does it for me. Other people want a more core discovery experience, so we’re constantly updating and making it better, but social is really the core to our DNA. The fact is music brings people together. Music is a social conversation and that sense of community is what we really built this service around, and we believe that this differentiates us from the other services in the marketplace. We believe we’ve created a way to accurately & interestingly filter all that music to give users an experience where, instead of just a static search and play where you need to know what you want to listen to, you can come back to Rdio not just everyday but every hour and you will see new stuff! That we really believe is unique and creates a great experience.

Mike: Are you working with a third party like The Echo Nest here in Somerville for your radio algorithm, or is that homegrown?

Drew: It’s homegrown. We’re all in-house, everything is built in house. We don’t outsource, we really have a fantastic engineering and design team, and you’ve seen the result of it. It’s in-house.

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Excellent acoustic cover of a song from one of my favorite records of 2010.

Jónsi – Go Do [Acoustic] – Live at Origami from plastic pearl on Vimeo.

From the LA Times Pop & Hiss Music Blog

“There are a few very valid reasons to be nervous about playing an in-store at Origami Vinyl; loading gear in up its perilous spiral staircase, the remote chance of plummeting off the loft into the crowd, Ali the Boxer dog witholding hugs in judgment of your set. (Full disclosure: I’ve played at Origami Records in my other life as a drummer, and received Ali hugs.)

We may never truly know why Sigur Rós frontman Jónsi pulled the ripcord on his planned acoustic record-store tour after playing Origami last month (he cited paralyzing nervousness at the set’s intimacy, which was unexpected for a singer who headlines the world’s biggest venues with Sigur Rós). But Origami and director Jack Schlinkert just posted two gorgeous clips from the show, each of songs from Jónsi’s recent solo album, “Go.” His otherworldly falsetto is pristine and betrays no trace of what he was feeling at the time, so enjoy these clips as the best evidence that a show like this actually happened, because it apparently won’t happen again.”

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