Bob Baker's Indie Music Promotion Blog

Music marketing ideas for DIY artists, managers, promoters and music biz pros


February 24, 2005

The Resurrection of Indie Radio

We all know that Clear Channel and other Big Media conglomerates have taken advantage of government deregulation and turned commercial radio into a wasteland of mediocrity. But did you know that the corporate beasts are also secretly supporting a new generation of independent, free-form stations?

Check out "The Resurrection of Indie Radio" from the March 2005 issue of Wired magazine for a great overview of modern music media. In it, you'll get the nitty-gritty on "NeoRadio," the growth of high-definition radio and why the popularity of the iPod is directly related to the crappiness of radio.
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posted by Bob Baker @ 12:13 PM   0 comments


February 21, 2005

Why You Need to Get Off the Fast-Track Mentality

Joe Taylor wrote a great blog post last week called Slow-Cooked Success. It addresses the quick-fix, instant gratification mentality that is so common among aspiring rock stars. Here's an excerpt:

"Anybody that tells you that you can go from zero to 100% success with one radio promotion campaign, or one tour of a foreign country, or one appearance at an industry showcase, doesn't have your interests at heart ...

"Instead, focus on the small things you can do differently every day to move yourself forward. It may take a little longer than you want right now, but your gains will be real, and you won't endure the shock of a crash when your real, perfect audience is there to support you."

David Hooper responded to Joe's blog with his own take on the subject: That you should expect to spend seven to ten YEARS (not months) becoming an overnight success:

"Look, the 7-10 years that it's going to take for you to make things happen is time that will pass regardless of whether you are working or not. So why not get off your ass and make things happen?

"I realize that 7-10 years may seem like a long time, but it will pass quickly when you're enjoying the process. And if you're not enjoying where you are now, don't think that you'll enjoy it any more when you 'make it' -- because the process never ends and nobody ever really gets to their destination like they think they will."

This discussion reminds me of a section from my audio CD, What Every Musician Should Know About Self-Promotion. Here's the text:

Do Something to Promote Yourself Every Day

For a moment, let's talk about your physical health. Let's say that you decide you'd be better off if you lost 20 pounds and tightened up your stomach muscles and other areas of your body. The first week, you work out three times and feel the burn. Then two weeks pass by before you exercise again. A month later, you find time to work out once more, but as you look in the mirror, you wonder, "Why doesn't any of this effort appear to be paying off?"

You know the reason. You can't lose 20 pounds and get in shape by exercising sporadically. In the same way, you can't promote your music effectively by doing it intermittently.

Too many musicians think about self-promotion in terms of the big media blitz. They use terms like "push" and "hype" and believe that one big wave of promotion will launch a music buzz that will somehow continue without any further effort from them. Sorry, but that ain't the way it works.

From now on, stop thinking about the Big Push and start getting in tune with the idea of small self-promotion activities engaged in on a daily basis. The thing is, with this approach, progress is tough to measure. Just like one exercise session won't produce noticeable results, every day or week you promote your music may not appear to bear fruit. But over the course of months and years, the continuous effort generates a tremendous payoff.

Every day, do something to promote your music. Reply to an e-mail from a fan. Send a review copy of your CD to a new media source. Call a club owner to set up a gig. Talk to another artist about a cross-promotion idea. Search online for new Internet opportunities.

The activity doesn't have to be earth shaking. As long as the actions you take are focused on connecting with more fans, doing something simple every day will reap huge rewards just three to six months from now. I guarantee it.
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posted by Bob Baker @ 11:08 AM   6 comments


February 18, 2005

5 Big Music Web Site Mistakes

Before last week, I had never heard of Merlin Mann or his 43 Folders web site and blog. But now I'm ready to build a shrine to him. Why? Because of his hilarious and right-on-the-money post Five Mistakes Band & Label Music Sites Make. It says what I've been preaching for years -- but in a far more creative way.

My favorite Merlin Mann comments include:

"Too much Flash. Okay, I get it. You're creative. Awesome. But you're totally wasting my morning as I helplessly wait for your designer's dancing sausages to finish loading ... Your fans are trying to drive people to the cash register, but you insist on making them watch a puppet show before they can even enter the damned store.

"Crappy or non existent mp3 metadata. If I load up the MP3 of your big single and it says it's "Song" by "Artist" on the record "Album," you've completely blown it already; I have no way to ever find you again. Ditto for file naming. Remember: people often download dozens or hundreds of songs at once, so it's really unlikely they'll remember where Track%2007.mp3 came from.

"Too artsy, too fartsy. People are visiting your site because they want to learn more about bands and music -- not to have a guided tour of your designer/brother-in-law's Photoshop brush collection. Don't be cute with the design, section naming, or navigation. Don't make your visitors solve a Rubik's cube to pull up your lyrics page."

For every complaint he lists, Merlin also supplies solutions. This is required reading. So be sure to check out his entire post.
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posted by Bob Baker @ 11:33 AM   0 comments


February 15, 2005

Marketing Lessons Learned from the Grammy Awards

Most years I try to catch at least some of the Grammy Awards on TV. For some reason, this year I plopped down and watched the entire three and a half hour spectacle. As it turned out, it was a great year to do so.

The 47th annual awards show pushed many of the standard award categories to outside of the broadcast and replaced them with a powerful lineup of live performances. Some of the standouts included Usher and James Brown, Joss Stone and Melissa Etheridge, John Mayer, Green Day and Alicia Keys.

The thing that struck me most about the show was the sheer variety of music that's considered "popular" or "mainstream" these days. Actually, this is a trend that's been developing for decades now. But in this age of empowered artists and crumbling industry traditions, it's even more important for you to comprehend.

The days of the wide-ranging, crossover, appeal-to-everyone pop star are becoming a faded memory. The most successful artists appeal to niches. And it doesn't matter if the majority of the population hasn't heard of them and doesn't care.

Take Maroon5. The band has sold something like eight million albums. Yet, I'm sure that many fans of Will Ackerman, Herbie Hancock, Etta James and Steve Earle (all off-screen Grammy winners this year) have never heard of Maroon5.

If this wide variety exists among the artists who get the greatest amount of airplay, CD sales and media exposure ... you can bet it's even more far-reaching below the surface, where most independent artists operate.

We live in an era of abundance. For starters, there are more people on the planet than ever before. And there are more choices for entertainment than at any time in history. It's impossible for a human being to be aware of every piece of music that's available.

So music fans use filters. Those filters can include the radio stations they choose to listen to and the live venues they attend, as well as the magazines, web sites, e-zines and blogs they choose to read. Add to that the influence of personal recommendations from friends and you can see that the average person is still getting exposure to only a limited array of everything that's available.

And that's your challenge as an independent artist. How can you operate within this new world of abundance and overwhelming choices? The answer: I've said this before and I'll say it again ... you break through by going to the places where the people most likely to be attracted to your music congregate.

There's no magic pill. No one-size-fits-all answer. The web sites, publications and venues you need to be promoting yourself through are unique to you. And they're different for every artist. It's your job to figure out where you'll have the most impact and then get busy connecting with people via those avenues.

For the full list of 2005 Grammy Award winners, go here.
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posted by Bob Baker @ 11:42 AM   2 comments


February 11, 2005

One Sheets: What They Are, How to Use Them

UPDATE: This post was revised with fresh links and information on August 7, 2012.
I recently received an email from a reader asking for some direction on creating one sheets. After doing a little investigative digging to back up what I already knew, I was able to dish out the following advice and resources:

The tradition one sheet is created for the benefit of music distributors and retailers. On a single page it lets a potential buyer know about an artist, CD title, radio airplay, media exposure, marketing plans, the CD's UPC code, price, street date and more.

Check out this article on music distributors by Chris Knab. Scroll down to the section "What a Distributor Wants to Know About a Label's Release" and then the heading "The Distributor One Sheet" below that. This gives a great overview of distributors' needs and the purpose of a tradition one sheet.

There's another type of one sheet worth noting, and it's an idea that I'm a big fan of. Full-blown press kits can often be overkill. Sometimes a simple one-page overview of your act is all that's needed to grab someone's attention.

This kind of one sheet can be used for many purposes: getting media exposure, airplay, gigs, etc. Kevin from CD Baby does a good job explaining what it is in this video:


Along the same lines is "Writing Better One Sheets," an article by Jett Black.

Grassrootsy published this good Creating a One Sheet post. Here are PDF samples of one sheets from artists Jessica Owen and Kate Gaffney.

Then there is a cool website called OneSheet.com.

Got anything to add? Click the Comment link below and post your thoughts.

-Bob

P.S. Want to link to this article on Twitter, Facebook, etc? Feel free to copy and paste this text:

One Sheets: What They Are, How to Use Them http://goo.gl/I2oPM via @MrBuzzFactor
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posted by Bob Baker @ 4:01 PM   4 comments


February 07, 2005

What's Wrong with American Idol?

(Bob Baker's updated manifesto on how the popular show is creating widespread misconceptions about what it takes to succeed as a musical artist today.)


It's one of the most popular TV shows of recent years, drawing tens of millions of viewers every week. Even I admit, American Idol is fun to watch. The show provides all the elements of good pop culture entertainment: passion, emotion, the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, dreams attained and lost ...

So, what's wrong with American Idol?

Considering it's lumped into the "reality" TV category, the show is doing a great disservice to aspiring musicians (and the public at large) by distorting perceptions of how the music business really works. It sends an outdated message of dependence on the industry vs. the more realistic independence that artists have today to control their own careers.

For instance, the program leads you to believe that there are hundreds of people like Simon, Paula and Randy out there searching for raw talent they can mold into the next big pop star. Not true. Sure, record companies employ A&R people whose job it is to sign and nurture new artists -- but as major labels consolidate, cut staffs and get nervous about the bottom line, they no longer have the time or money to develop new acts.

Instead, they look for artists who are already developing themselves, attracting fans and selling CDs on their own. There's less risk with an act that has a track record.

Also, the American Idol auditions, in particular, create the illusion that most aspiring musicians lack talent and are delusional, struggling and starving. In reality, there are thousands of talented performers across the country who make good money, have hundreds of devoted fans and are steadily building careers.

Here's just one example of this modern reality: Over the past seven years, the web site CD Baby has sold more than $12 million worth of CDs (1.3 million units) by independent, unsigned acts. A tremendous amount of quality music is being produced and sold outside the mainstream.

One of the biggest myths American Idol propels is that you need the approval of industry gatekeepers to "make it" in music. Sorry, you don't need Simon's or anyone else's permission to be worthy of a career in music. If you wait for someone to give you the green light to create and perform music, you'll be waiting a long time.

Too many musicians claim they need to be "discovered" or given a "big break" to succeed. That kind of thinking puts control of your career in someone or something outside of yourself. The truth is, artists have a lot more power, tools and opportunities at their disposal than they give themselves credit for.

When aspiring artists see the stellar success of Kelly Clarkson and Clay Aiken, they're led to believe that landing a major recording contract must be the ultimate sign of success. Unfortunately, those singers are the exceptions, not the rule. Only about one in 30 signed acts reach significant enough sales levels to warrant a second CD release, which means nearly 97% of artists with recording contracts fail. Yet, most musicians are still obsessed with getting "industry" approval and think they need a major label deal.

Reality: The smartest musicians understand that building a career independently is the best approach. They promote themselves, book their own shows, produce and sell their own CDs and establish relationships directly with fans. Doing so, they learn the ropes and slowly develop the skills and business savvy needed to reach higher levels of success.

It's misguided for artists to think they need massive exposure and the approval of music industry honchos a la American Idol to succeed. That knee-jerk reasoning is based on a decades-old business model that is gasping its last desperate breaths. It's a new day. Now it's all about self-empowerment. Musicians need to claim their personal power, take their careers into their own hands, promote themselves relentlessly and create their own lucky breaks.

So enjoy American Idol for the "unreality" entertainment that it is. But pursue your dreams with the understanding that you are in complete control of your musical aspirations and development.

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posted by Bob Baker @ 1:33 PM   0 comments


February 02, 2005

The End of the Music Business as We Know It?

You have to check out the January/February welcome letter from Ritch Esra and Stephen Trumbull at the Music Registry site. I've met Ritch a couple of times at conferences and have heard him speak. As a former A&R guy for Arista Records, he's a veteran of the music "industry" who maintains a great perspective on the current realities of the music business.

Read these comments. They reinforce what I've been preaching for years: Stop having knee-jerk reactions to your music career based on outdated systems.

Here are some excerpts from Ritch and Stephen's letter:

"In looking back over 2004, we're reminded of the many conversations we had with various Music Business Professionals on both sides of the Atlantic concerning the current state of today's Music Industry. Without exception, there seems to be a very sobering sense that the Record Business we have known for the last 25 years is now gone. This is extremely troubling for many, sad for some and terribly exciting for others.

"I see these times as an incredible opportunity for a total re-invention not just for Record Label A&R Depts., but for the entire spectrum of the Music Industry. If you as an Artist, Band, Agent, Manager or any other Music Business professional cannot see that the old paradigm of artist development (the actual long-term process of building a career from the ground up) has been completely re-invented over the last few years, then you need to get out of this business.

"The old methods of doing things no longer apply. This may sound obvious to most of you, but you wouldn't believe how many fairly well known Music Business Professionals within the Industry today still believe that the only way an act can have a viable career today is to get that act signed to a major label.

"What's so sad is that these people who believe this (and there are many) can't even see that the very system they feel can & will accomplish this for their artist no longer even exists! We've said this before, but it bears repeating - though no one will actually come out and say it -- Major Labels today, with very rare exception, are no longer willing to be in the business they have built over the last forty years.

"The train of thought today is that the 'old' process of signing, recording and developing talent takes far too long and is way too costly to achieve the results they desire in the time they have allotted. As a consequence, whether intended or not, (and this is the part many simply can not see) is the Major Labels are now in the Promotion and Marketing business -- but only for those experienced artists who have already been developed that they feel can be turned into Multi-Platinum sellers.

"Of course, there will always be Platinum sellers in the future, but far fewer of them. Today, there is simply too much choice available. It's fascinating to observe some of the most influential Music Publications out there today such as pitchforkmedia.com and Blender to name two, have hardly any mainstream artists in their Top 50 of 2004. Today, it's all about choices.

"The future of this business will be the thousands of niche artists selling fewer records much like cable television, which has a fraction of the audience, but is profitable! And this is the most profound difference from the past in terms of A&R signings and looking at what can and will work in the Marketplace.

"Under the old paradigm, the public (the majority of the time) only wanted what the Major Labels signed and sold to them. Today, choices of music being vastly wider, a far more diverse artist selection available to us, not to mention the various new formats, provides an almost infinite selection for today's listeners and consumers. And, as most of us have known for years, the market is far broader (yes, people between the ages of 30-50 WILL BUY MUSIC when presented with Artists they can connect with) than the Major Labels ever cared to acknowledge.

"The Revolution has begun! The opportunities today are vast and limitless for those artists, bands, managers, and other individuals and companies who truly understand and embrace what is actually occurring, who can step back and see the decaying mechanism that many are still struggling to maintain for what it is - not only a crumbling business model, but an entire way of viewing the world in which we used to live, but no longer do!

"The personal, business and artistic successes we are seeing today are from those individuals who can peer through this fog of delusion and see the business as it actually is; not as they want it to be or hope it will become, but how it actually is! Those individuals are moving freely and creatively interacting with our new social order while others are still clinging to a world or a way of thinking and being that no longer exists.

"Careers are not supposed to be events that have a huge build-up and then are over like The Super Bowl. As we all know, the best careers (The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Elton John, Neil Young, U2) are long journeys that have been built on solid and viable foundations that can (and do) sustain a wide array of paths and experiences. Each of these artists was able to build extremely solid and viable foundations without a Major Label, and in most cases, had no mainstream radio airplay at all.

"What these artists (and their managers) do have in common (regardless of genre) was an entirely new way of thinking and approaching the marketplace with regard to the development of their careers. They all utilized new and non-traditional methods that did not have the luxury of an enormous marketing push behind it to create awareness.

"Today, with so many more marketing and exposure options available to artists (iPods, Internet radio, websites, non-traditional retail), the artists who develop and build careers for themselves won't necessarily be household names in the first few years, but they will have built a very solid base of fans that actually want their music and will attend their live performances.

"These artists will have built their followings over a long period of time, not through hype and over-exposure on MTV, VH-1 or other media outlets that in so many cases actually damage careers instead of enhancing them. More than ever, today's youth culture is looking for something real, something it can feel a genuine connection with, not something it's oversold on!

"This is the tragedy of The Major Labels (tragedy in the classic definition is defined as "the fall from greatness through an unseen flaw in ones character). They keep looking for the formula that will give them the huge Multi-Platinum sellers that they once enjoyed. Only problem is, the system today doesn't allow these types of massive sellers like it did in the past. Today, we have far too many choices. And that's their tragic flaw. Major labels do not see that the harder and louder they continue to market their acts, the more the audience they're trying to reach doesn't seem to hear them or care for that matter.

"The most fascinating aspect of the process to us today is how many artists and bands today WANT NOTHING WHATSOEVER TO DO WITH MAJOR LABELS AT ALL! A lot of Artists today, have seen too many acts over the last 10 years break up, implode or simply get lost in a system that they truly had no business being in the first place.

"If Major Labels are to survive in the future they are going to have to completely re-invent themselves. They are going to have to start seeing their business as it truly is today - not how they would "like it to be" or "how it was" but how it actually is. Like Werner Erhart so brilliantly said "The Truth will set you free, but first it will really piss you off!"

Again, read the entire letter here. Thanks to Ritch Esra and Stephen Trumbull for this cold (but much needed) slap in the face.

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posted by Bob Baker @ 1:48 PM   6 comments