Bob Baker's Indie Music Promotion Blog

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


February 23, 2007

5 Things I Learned in Halifax During the ECMAs

Hot talent, warm friends, cold weather, inspiring moments, and one guy who tried his best to insult me in public ... all this and more took place last week when I attended the East Coast Music Awards in Halifax, Nova Scotia.


You should always come back from a music conference with a head full of ideas. And that doesn't just apply to attendees. The same is true for speakers and panelists like me. Here are five highlights and thought nuggets I came home with after attending the ECMAs:

1) From performance coach Tom Jackson:

When playing your original songs live, don't get stuck playing them "like the record." Arranging a song to be radio-friendly is one thing. Making the most of it for a live audience is quite another. Don't be in such a hurry to get to the opening vocal line or to return to the chorus after a solo, etc. If there's an interesting rhythmic element in the background, bring it to the foreground and let the audience "feel" it.

It's too bad that more musicians didn't attend Tom's performance workshops. Hearing him talk about "creating moments" for your fans and watching him work with real musicians on their stage show will change the way you think about live performance forever.

2) From CD Baby founder Derek Sivers:

The bestselling CD Baby artist tracks on iTunes are cover songs. Derek's advice: Search the iTunes store for songs you do well that haven't been covered by a lot of other artists. Then secure the rights, record your own unique version, and get it up on iTunes.

Another great idea from Derek: Before you run off to start a record label, create a management company, seek funding, or get a business license ... test out your idea first to see if there's even an interest in it. I agree. Don't start a business entity until you've got business coming in.

I've known Derek for about 10 years, since right before he started CD Baby. We've always shared a kindred philosophy about the do-it-yourself music career path. It was a real thrill for me to share the stage with him on two panels in Halifax.

3) From the guy who tried to diss me in public:

Don't get me wrong. Debate is good. Being exposed to varying perspectives can be healthy and enriching -- especially if you're in the audience watching one panelist disagree with another. Which was the case when one of my colleagues (who shall remain nameless) had issues with some of the empowering messages I was sending to indie musicians.

A couple of his points were valid, but one in particular was truly perplexing and spoke volumes about his mindset. Soon after I remarked that the Internet has "leveled the playing field" for indie artists, he turned to me and said "The Internet has NOT leveled the playing field."

He seemed to be saying that the Web was a nice new tool but that you still have to be plugged into the industry structure to have any chance of succeeding. Hmmm. I'll let you decide if the Internet has had any great effect on the music biz in recent years.

Lesson: No matter how blatant the evidence is that times have changed, many people (even young, supposedly tech-savvy ones) will cling to the old ways of thinking and conducting business. I hope you aren't one of them.

4) From famed producer Bob Ezrin:

During his keynote, Ezrin (who produced Pink Floyd's The Wall and helped launch the careers of Alice Cooper and KISS) proclaimed that "the record business is dead." He said that a massive change (including widespread industry layoffs) was right around the corner and that the music business will have to adapt new ways of doing business. (Geez, I wonder if the Internet and that whole level playing field thing had anything to do with this?)

Ezrin's best advice: Get good at playing your instrument, singing and writing songs. Become an amazing musician. Then play your ass off and pour a lot of energy into connecting with fans. Stick around after shows and talk to everyone who wants to meet you. Build your mailing list and your own career.

Sounds like this industry veteran gets it and understands the value of the DIY career approach.

5) From the musicians and people of Nova Scotia and eastern Canada:

This was the second time in three months that I paid a visit to Nova Scotia. I said it before and I'll say it again: The amount of talent in that area of Canada is nothing short of amazing. And there's a sense of support and collaboration rarely seen in other music communities.

And the people ... they have got to be some of the warmest, friendliest human beings you'll ever meet. I feel like I've truly made some lifelong friends there and hope to return again later this year.

Check my podcast and future blog posts for more on the musicians of Nova Scotia and the surrounding provinces.

-Bob
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posted by Bob Baker @ 9:05 AM   3 comments


February 22, 2007

John Legend on Music Marketing

I've been saying it for years. A direct connection with fans is crucial to your survival as an artist. That's why a mailing list is all important.

BUT ... don't just ask people to sign up for your email updates. That's bland, boring and full of "who cares?" Instead, ask fans to join your special club. That's what rising star John Legend does.


On his fan club web site, the R&B singer-songwriter asks people to join the John Legend Network. Here's the text he uses to promote it:

Members of the Legend Network Fan Club enjoy exclusive access to the following:

Advance access to concert ticket pre-sales for premier seating to John Legend's tours.

Ticket giveaways, meet and greets and concert ticket upgrades! Keys to the Legend Network store, where all items are 10% off in the official John Legend Store and limited edition merchandise will be offered.

Members-only Website - www.johnlegendnetwork.com - an unprecedented resource of John Legend news, tour information, interactive behind-the-scenes multimedia, an extensive collection of photographs, monthly contests and giveaways (for US residents only), interviews along with a members-only message board and chat room.

John Legend Membership Kit - Includes an unreleased live CD, John Legend: Live at the Tin Angel, and an exclusive laminate that gets Legend Network members special perks when they attend John Legend shows.

We welcome you to join the Legend Network, as we bring members closer to each other and closer to John Legend.

I beg you to read this and understand the importance of it. Saying, "Hey, we got a mailing list over here if you wanna sign up" is dropping the ball. Connection and interactivity are key. Create special perks and incentives for people to join your inner circle. Then regularly interact with and deliver those perks (and more) to your fans.

That's the best way to promote yourself in this new era of music marketing.

-Bob
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posted by Bob Baker @ 10:32 AM   2 comments


February 20, 2007

Why You Should Focus on Singles

Are you stuck in a traditional CD/album release mindset? If so, you might be missing out on some great opportunities in the changing music marketplace.


There's a great post today over at the always spirited Lefsetz Letter blog called "Album Last Rites." In it, Mr. Lefsetz gives an overview of music history as it relates to singles-driven vs. album-driven time periods.

He points out how -- after the Beatles inspired the creation of a new format, AOR (album-oriented rock) -- major labels steered away from the single in favor of the more profitable full-length album.

That was the business model for a more than three decades ... until consumers became empowered to digitally choose only the tracks they truly enjoyed.

Here's an excerpt from the Lefsetz blog post:

People no longer listen to albums.

Society is overwhelming. We've got 300 TV channels, if not MORE! We've got a bunch of new movies EVERY weekend. We've got video games. We haven't got time to sit down and listen to an hour of crap over and over again in order to get hooked. We want something ear-pleasing, NOW! We ONLY want GOOD STUFF!

His advice to artists who insist on creating concept albums:

You're creating hour-long masterpieces that the public must eat like a day locked inside a McDonald's, but the public only wants some McNuggets and then a taco from Taco Bell, an ice cream from Cold Stone, a donut… THAT’S what iPods are like. They’re MIX AND MATCH!

The goal is to get into the iTunes library. And you don't do this by releasing ten cuts, but by making ONE GREAT ONE!

How, according to Lefsetz, this is changing the industry:

This is the labels' worst nightmare. This is not their paradigm. They pay a big chunk of money to an artist to get an album which they can sell for ten bucks to make their bottom line. They're not in the SINGLES BUSINESS!

And every act thinks it's the Beatles, that it's important, that it's got a STATEMENT to make. But the audience doesn't give a shit about ALL of this. The public just wants quality. Well, something it LIKES!

Yes, the iPod has killed the album. Technology has changed the format once again.

And, since an iPod can contain MORE MUSIC THAN ALMOST EVERYBODY EVER OWNED, there isn't time for crap. You now have access to too much good stuff, WHY listen to the crap?

The album is OVER! Start hyping one cut. And if that catches fire, deliver ANOTHER!

I agree with this perspective, especially when it comes to online marketing and sales. However, I also think that artists still need a physical product with 10 to 15 songs on it to sell at live shows, and to make available to fans who still want a CD to hold in their hands (and there are lots of them left -- don't kid yourself).

I've been meaning to write a blog post called "Think Outside the Jewel Case." Look for that soon. In the meantime, think about ways you can tap into the new singles-driven music marketplace.

-Bob
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posted by Bob Baker @ 10:24 AM   4 comments


February 13, 2007

TheBuzzFactor.com's New Look

If you visit the home page of TheBuzzFactor.com (which you can get to by clicking the Home tab above), you'll notice it has a fresh coat of paint. I haven't converted all of the pages to the new design template yet, but you can see enough of them now to get a good idea. It's cleaner and leaner ... I love it!

If you like it too, you can thank Scott Andrew, a Seattle-based indie musician who happens to have a great knack for all things web and tech-related. For years I've been using Scott's site as a great example of all the elements a good artist web site should have. So when it was time to update my own site, I turned to Scott. He not only took on the challenge, he rose to it!

Scott is interested in taking on some other music web design projects, so if you're interested in having him help you with your site, send him an email (Scott AT ScottAndrew.com) and tell him Bob Baker sent you.

-Bob
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posted by Bob Baker @ 3:37 PM   0 comments


February 12, 2007

49th Grammy Awards a Disappointment

Two years ago I blogged about the 2005 Grammy Awards in radiant terms. It was a stellar production with riveting live performances.


Last year, for some reason, I didn't get a chance to watch the spectacle at all. So when I realized I had the house to myself on Grammy night this year, I was excited by the prospect of another entertaining night in front of the small screen.

A short time later, I was wishing I had those few hours of my life back.

For starters, the production job that CBS did was deplorable. An peculiar-looking set, awkward transitions between award presentations, voice overs and segues that stumbled over a chorus line of left feet.

Granted, it's a huge undertaking. But this is the big time, folks. So much for the superiority of network television.

There were musical highlights that nearly saved the sinking ship. Mary J. Blige and her inspired performances (both solo and with Ludacris). The threesome of Corinne Bailey Rae, John Legend and John Mayer was first-rate. But most of the rest were flat and flavorless.

Even the performance by "My Grammy Moment" winner Robyn Troup and Justin Timberlake outshined most of the other star-dudded appearances.

(Note: I sadly missed the opening number with the Police reunion. That very well could be another highlight, but unless someone posts it on YouTube, I may never know.)

The encouraging thing about this awe-uninspiring telecast: It continues to prove that major labels and major media outlets do NOT have a monopoly on delivering quality experiences that make a difference.

Not Ready to Make Sense

Then there was the Dixie Chicks. When they first performed "Not Ready to Make Nice," I felt like applauding. The song is a powerful personal statement, and I was glad to see the Chicks not backing down from expressing their opinions.

It's always bugged me that they had to grovel and apologize for their off-the-cuff anti-Bush stage banter a few years ago. Time has proved them to be more accurate than inappropriate.

But my applause for the Dixie Chicks turned to disappointment every time they approached the mic to accept another award. Their rambling, nonsensical fumbling of words have to go down as some of the worst acceptance speeches in Grammy history.

I know, it's the music that matters most. And I'm doing my best to remind myself of that. But for Jehovah's sake, when given the opportunity to reach millions with a message about you and your music, you'd better be prepared to have something to say. I feel they wasted a real opportunity to communicate something meaningful.

That's my two cents. Feel free to add yours.

-Bob
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posted by Bob Baker @ 9:24 AM   5 comments


February 09, 2007

Do You Know 'The Secret'?

Several months ago I watched an independently produced movie that few people had heard of at the time. The content of the film was amazingly powerful. But this wasn't an action-adventure, drama or comedy. It was a movie called The Secret, which revealed the secret to success and living a vibrant life.
The buzz about this movie has been building steadily, but it took a mammoth leap yesterday when Oprah Winfrey aired an entire one-hour show about it. The little movie that could is now the #1 DVD on Amazon.

The "secret" is not really a secret at all. It's wisdom that has been passed down through the ages based on a principle you've probably heard before. But most people spend their lives disconnected from the principle and, therefore, struggle. I've been aware of this secret (or law) for many years and regularly incorporate it into my writings (and my life).

But of all the books and resources that address this topic, The Secret DVD does perhaps the best job of presenting it and driving home the message.

What does this have to do with music promotion? Everything.

The reason so many musicians struggle and complain is because they don't understand the "secret" and the effect it has on their careers and lives. Most successful, content musicians have tapped into some aspect of this simple universal principle and apply it on a regular basis.

And here's the rub: This secret law directs the events and circumstances of your life whether you know about it or believe it or not.

I'll stop typing for now and let you discover it on your own. There is a summary transcript of yesterday's show on the Oprah site here. Check out the movie on Amazon, where you can also watch a two-minute clip.

As Mike Dooley says, "Thoughts become things ... choose the good ones."

-Bob
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posted by Bob Baker @ 9:40 AM   2 comments


February 08, 2007

Indie Music Takes on the Majors

Here's the opening to a new article just published at Wired News:

Tommy Boy Records' Tom Silverman has said that independent record labels are responsible for 30 percent of music sales and 80 percent of all releases worldwide. If indie music were a major label, it would be the biggest in the world -- and in a way, that's what's about to happen.

The focus of the article is on new trade organizations that are attempting to consolidate the power of indie labels and artists into one almighty group. That is indeed interesting news, but here's what I also found useful:

The biggest trend in music in the past 10 years has been decentralization. Technological advances have made it possible to form a label if you're just one person with a computer -- all it takes is finding a few new bands, which seem to be everywhere, then convincing them to let you handle their business needs (which increasingly means acting in a managerial role while outsourcing promotion and distribution).

As the music business becomes more fragmented, though, a funny thing seems to be happening. Along with the decentralization trend, a strong need for new types of centralization has appeared, such as MySpace and the original MP3.com. It has been possible for more than a decade to produce music pretty inexpensively without being part of a label or any other network, but there was no central repository for the results.

In retrospect, MySpace's ascension looks inevitable; once it reached critical mass, no band could ignore it. It's as if the more decentralized things get in music, the greater the need is for certain kinds of centralization.

An Alternate Viewpoint

There's another way to look at this -- and it's something I've talked about a lot in my New Rules of Internet Music Marketing workshops. It's the need for "filters" to help consumers sort through the mass of new music available online.

As the article says, for a while now, musicians have had access to the tools of production (low-cost, high-quality home recording equipment and software). And using the Internet instead of traditional retail outlets, indie artists have had an effective distribution channel to reach fans.

But you still have the noise factor. Since anyone can produce music, it seems everyone is. Consumers could easily get confused and overwhelmed by the choices.

That's where filters (or new "repositories" like MySpace) come in. They allow fans to find out what artists their friends are talking about and who's creating a buzz. Blogs, podcasts and social tagging sites let fans sift by searching. Reviews and comments help fans grasp the consensus view of a new act.

Knowing that, here are some questions for you:
  • How can you tap into the most effective filters and repositories?

  • What can you do to increase the odds that your ideal fans will find you?
There's no absolute right or wrong answer here. But asking the questions in the first place will inspire you to dig for answers and uncover the best marketing strategies for your music.

-Bob

MySpace.com Footnote

As you probably know, I published a book last year called MySpace Music Marketing: How to Promote & Sell Your Music on the World's Biggest Networking Web Site. It's been one of my best-selling titles over the past six months.

Here's part of a new customer review of it on Amazon:

"Even though I've been doing web site work for almost a decade and am quite proficient in the ins and outs of MySpace, this book is a *really* useful tool for my band. In the first hour of reading it I made approximately a dozen changes to our MySpace profile and band web site, which will make a significant impact on our Internet presence as a whole."

Amazon is currently selling the paperback for $17.22 - a 31% discount. Want an autographed copy? You can get that on my web site here.
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posted by Bob Baker @ 10:25 AM   1 comments


February 07, 2007

Triple Your Odds of Getting Music Media Coverage

I view getting media coverage as a two-way exchange. You have something of musical value to share with the world, and the media source has a vehicle to help you reach more fans. However, you'd be surprised by the number of musicians who expect the media person to bare the brunt of the workload in this transaction.

Want an example?

For 10 years I was the editor and publisher of my own music magazine in St. Louis. Over that decade, I wrote about or assigned stories on hundreds of bands. I was regularly amazed by the roadblocks that so many artists put up when I wanted to give them exposure.

I'd meet some band members at a show and express my interest in writing about them. They would seem excited about the prospect and promise to send a press kit that I could hand off to a writer. And guess what? Often, that press kit never came.

Then there were musicians who called or came up to me in person to gripe about never having been covered in my magazine. Typically, I'd ask them if they had ever sent a press kit or followed up with a phone call or e-mail to my office. Usually, the answer was, "Uh, well ... no."

You'd think this would be a no-brainer, but it's not. Too many musicians feel they deserve press coverage just because they exist or because they believe they're the coolest thing since Menuto.

But every so often I was blown away by an artist who not only created good music, they also understood the two-way exchange of media exposure. These artists would call and say, "Bob, I really enjoy your magazine, especially that recent article on ..." (A little stroking doesn't hurt.) Then they'd pitch their act and news hook.

But the really smart ones asked one key question:

"What can I do to help you make this happen?"

Take a look at that question again. It doesn't ask me to do extra work or jump through hoops to provide the coverage. In fact, it shows that the artist is willing to supply me with whatever I need to get the job done. Ask that question and you'll triple your odds of getting media exposure.

Most media people are overworked and under paid. If you help make their jobs easier -- by providing quality music, photos, artist bios and good story ideas -- the media will reward you with the exposure you deserve.

(This is a short excerpt from my PR package called Killer Music Press Kits - Deluxe Edition. When you really want to get media exposure, check out this in-depth resource.)

-Bob
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posted by Bob Baker @ 3:28 PM   2 comments


February 05, 2007

On Music, Money and Attention

Last week I responded to a barrage of blog comments with a post called The Talent Myth. In it I addressed two topics often debated by music people: talent and popularity. Feel free to read it if you haven't yet.

But I realize the comments were mainly sparked by a reaction to my suggestion to take financial advice only from people who are financially successful. In the same way I wouldn't ask a plumber for advice on how to fix my car's transmission, I wouldn't hold too tightly to the money-making ideas of someone who constantly struggles with cash flow.

I know this, because for much of my life I lived on a pretty slim income as I pursued my creative passions. And I would have been a lousy mentor to someone wanting to profit from their talents. Fortunately, over the last decade, I've aligned myself with abundance and prosperity and feel I have more to offer in this department.

Still, when it comes to advice, there are as many roads to success in any endeavor as there are people making the trip. So what worked for Person X might be useless to Person Y. We all have to find our own way. But I've found it helps to at least be aware of what's worked for people who are already at a level to which you aspire.

Dollars and Common Sense

That said, let's talk about money -- especially as it relates to The Talent Myth. In that post, I said talent is a subjective thing based on individual opinions -- not an absolute quality.

It's like trying to rate "beauty." Not everyone agrees on the definition of "beautiful." People's opinions vary and are based on their culture, previous experiences, and past encounters with people, places and things they considered to be beautiful.

However, there are certain things that a majority of humans would agree exude "beauty." Certain facial features, body shapes, breathtaking landscapes, etc. So if we go by majority rules, that means our opinions are validated through popularity.

A similar thing happens with the flow of money. The more people who feel you are "talented" or "beautiful" or "fun" or "exciting," the more options and opportunities you have to expand your music career and increase your income.

Seek Attention First

As Gerd Leonard wrote in a recent blog post called Music Sales 2.0, music fans pay you in two ways: first with their interest and attention, then with their money. So your primary goal isn't to make a sale; it's to invite fans to discover you and get to know you. As the number of people who are aware of you in a positive way increases, so does your ability to transform that awareness into revenue.

Gerd writes:

It's NOT about selling something at every turn and putting a BUY button everywhere. In reality, it's all about this question: "How can I interest you in my music / band / artist?" - it's the process of getting interest from the right people, getting them to pay attention, engaging an audience, creating value for and with and through them.

Only then, AFTER all of this happens, is where the 'buy' button comes in, where you can put some sort of tollbooth, where the wallet comes out. Create demand, capture interest, collect attention, drive exposure - THAT is the mission. Selling is just a consequence. Focus on getting interest, then enjoy the results.

I could go on but this post is already too long. To sum up, it's all based on the opinions of individual music fans - what they think of your talent, value, feel-good vibe, etc. It's your job as a musician and music promoter to connect with people who view you in a favorable light. And the more of them you connect with, the better off you are.

Now get out there and grab some attention!

-Bob
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posted by Bob Baker @ 12:29 PM   3 comments


February 01, 2007

The Talent Myth

Who knew that my last blog post, a simple list called 14 Things I've Learned About Indie Music Success, would cause such a firestorm of comment traffic?

It once again stirred up those age-old, evergreen debates about making money vs. having talent, and doing music for the love of it vs. a financial payoff. I've addressed these issues countless times over the years, so admittedly, it's easy for me to lose sight of the fact that people reading my writings for the first time will make assumptions about my true meaning.

So, to clear the record ... again:
  • Yes, you should be motivated to play music just for the love of it. It would be dumb to drag yourself down a music career path if your primary goal is to make money or be popular.

  • Yes, I agree that no amount of marketing will overcome music that doesn't connect with an audience.
The Unanswered Question

Okay, I feel better now. But there's still this gnawing problem I have with some of the comments surrounding this well-intentioned but misguided notion that talent carries more weight than popularity.

I get where the idea comes from. We all see amazing musicians who don't have much of a following; then floozies or pretty boys with little or no "talent" who suck up all the limelight.

Fine. Life and the distribution of wealth and fame can seem unfair. If that's hard for you to bare, wear a helmet.

But let's take a closer look at this talent thing. The pontificators talk about it like it's some absolute quality that only certain artists possess. When in reality, being "talented" is a purely subjective opinion.

Consider this quandary: If a guitarist played a smokin' lead solo in the woods and nobody heard him, should he be considered talented? The only way he could in that situation is if he decided for himself that he had "talent."

So, is it an artist's opinion of his own talent level that makes it so? Most people would not agree with that.

If Joe Satriani Jammed in the Woods

Now let's take the same guitarist and his smokin' solo and add 10 people to the forest. Seven people describe him as "talented," three people aren't that impressed, and let's say the guitarist himself is not happy with the way his fingers were moving that day.

Is he talented, or not? Who decides?

Consider Bob Dylan and Neil Young, two hugely popular and "successful" artists. Millions of people love them, but I've never tapped into that affection. I don't get what people see in them.

I have, however, admitted that I respect their place in rock and roll history. I admire the impact they've made on music, which took place because they connected with an audience and reached great levels of popularity.

Oh, there's that evil word again: popularity.

Here's the problem with the Talent Myth. You can only be perceived as "talented" by one person at a time. It's an individual choice. What makes your mouth water may make my insides shudder. And who is ultimately right in the "talent" label competition? Do you win if you can get a greater percentage of the population to deem you talented?

Ah, but if you did that, you'd be right back to playing the ugly popularity game.

A New Perspective

So let's reframe the subject. Instead of saying Artist A is cheesy and Artist B is truly talented and "deserves" this or that, let's think of it as each artist's ability to connect with an audience.

It really doesn't matter how you rate on the Talent Meter, because you'll have as many different scores as there are people in the room (or in the forest). But it does matter if you can connect with an audience that's sizable enough to give your musical effort meaning.

The more people who like you and your music, the better you feel about your craft, and the more options you have for career development.

Does this make sense, people?

It's not about good and bad, or talented and untalented. It's about who can touch people through their music in meaningful ways.

-Bob
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posted by Bob Baker @ 3:34 PM   14 comments