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Your Fans Have Your Back

There's a fantastic happening making the rounds among nerd-ish websites today. A writer for Gawker went on a date with world champion Magic: The Gathering player Jon Finkel, and she called him a loser.

Fans of Magic: The Gathering, a delightfully addictive collectible card game, rained down hellfire and righteous fury upon the unsuspecting writer.

But this wasn't a PR disaster at all.

We can learn a couple things from this ordeal:

1) Fan/Nerd-Baiting builds buzz and strengthens fan's devotion.

As this article in Forbes points out, it's a possibility that she knew this would happen.
Gizmodo’s readership is hugely male, and hugely tech savvy and therefore mostly “nerdy” in the traditional sense. To post something trashing a “geeky” activity like Magic the Gathering would be the equivalent of their video game blog Kotaku writing a post trashing professional eSports. Oh wait, they did that too.
... as of the time I’m writing this, that article has 529,280 views.
She probably benefited quite nice from the number of hits generated by the article, but the real story is about fans of Magic and Jon.

This is the same as rapper feuds. Being a fan of music, Magic, or nachos is a part of our identity. When someone talks smack about your band, it's an affront to your taste. You gotta back up your people. (In group bias)

And as fan's come to the defense of their favorite artist, both devoted and casual fans begin to see the vast numbers of people who are dedicated to the artist. Current fans connect and bond, prospective fans look into the artist to see what all the hullabaloo is about. Remember how everyone came to Michael Jackson's defense when he went to trial for some seriously nasty allegations?

Nearly one BILLION people watched his funeral service.

Social Proof. Learn about its power.

A beef could be good by drawing out your committed fans.

2) How you respond to a crisis determines the outcome.

When word of this broke, Jon Finkel took it like champ and created an IAMA on Reddit to control the message. (IAMA stands for I Am A _____, Ask Me Anything! It's popular format on Reddit where the famous and not-so-famous can talk directly with fans.)

In the thread he responded, coming across like a normal, chill dude. No lashing out at fans, just an average guy with some cool stories to tell.

In a heated argument, the person who remains calm and collected is in control.

Considering he had an article written about how crappy a date he was, I'd say Jon came out on top:

The topic of "controlling the message" is a big 'un. Expect more on this later.

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Would You Sue a Restaurant for $30,000 If They Didn't Pay You Royalties?

Edit: Oof, this post has been the most negative feedback I've gotten.

I'll gladly admit I'm wrong, and simply leave this post up only for reference. I still appreciate the feedback, however. Getting my thoughts on track is very important.

Read below if you really care to.

This makes me queasy:
Restaurant Owner Ordered to Pay BMI $30,450 For 'Illegally Playing' Four Unlicensed Songs

This is not about feeding musicians, it's about feeding the "Royalty Collection Agencies".
BMI began sending communication regarding the restaurant's lack of proper licensing back in September of 2009, but it wasn't until May of 2010 that BMI even bothered to visit Fosters to verify that the business was actually playing unlicensed music. (From page 32 of the PDF.)
So without verifying anything, BMI starts demanding payment from a restaurant for "Piracy".

This is how the mafia demands "protection".

To which BMI would retort: "But it's all 'For the Artists'!"

Would you sue a restaurant out of business for playing your songs and not paying you a few dollars?

Of course not, that's terrible business! The restaurant is playing your music to a captive audience, this is a good thing. From psychology we know that people prefer things more simply by repeated exposure. (The Mere Exposure Effect)

From Wikipedia:
In studies of interpersonal attraction, the more often a person is seen by someone, the more pleasing and likeable that person appears to be.
Music is marketing material, not the profit driver it once was. You want more people listening to your music, this is a good thing!

The traditional performing rights organizations (BMI, ASCAP, SESAC) are scared; the era of terrestrial radio domination has passed as competition for ear-time has shot up exponentially. They somehow decided it wasn't important to deal with the issues of streaming internet radio, satellite radio, and cable TV so now SoundExchange swooped in to become the only entity in the US allowed to collect digital royalties.

Oops. Their business model just got OWNED.

Better start suing fans!

These traditional performing rights organizations made sense thirty years ago, but not anymore. Without the concentrated market of old-school radio, songs don't get as famous as they used to since people listen to what they demand, not what they're fed. (Jeff Bridge's new album sold only 13,000 copies, which is now enough to break into the Billboard top 25!) Without monster-hit songs, the amount of royalties collected on a per-song basis will continue to drop, shrinking the margins of these agencies as they have to chase down royalties for more songs for less pay. Unless they fundamentally change their business model, I don't see traditional performing rights organizations having an important role in the future of music.

My suggestion? While I'm registered with ASCAP, I'm not counting on the $50 registration breaking even. SoundExchange will probably play a bigger role in your career, so I'd make that a priority over traditional performing rights orgs. Still, I don't really figure royalties into my business plan as they'll only become significantly large long after I'm making better money from other income streams.

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Why do videos go viral in the first place?

Alrighty, I gotta admit I'm surprised.

I wrote this post last week with the intent of posting it in late september, but Lefsetz beat me to the punch. He even made the "empty calories" analogy I make. Glad to know he thinks the same though.

So it goes.

Having said my piece on viral videos before (Part 1) let's take a different approach this week and look into how and why media "goes viral".

Have I mentioned that Jonah Lehrer is one of the best science writers out there today? Here's his analysis of Jonah Berger's (University of Pennsylvania) recent research into media sharing.
It’s one of the most popular online videos ever produced, having been viewed 355 million times on YouTube. At first glance, it’s hard to understand why the clip is so famous, since nothing much happens. Two little boys, Charlie and Harry, are sitting in a chair when Charlie, the younger brother, mischievously bites Harry’s finger. There’s a shriek and then a laugh. The clip is called “Charlie Bit My Finger—Again!”
Three hundred fifty-five million views.

But why?
In his study, Mr. Berger demonstrates that such states of arousal make people far more likely to share information. For instance, when he had subjects jog in place for 60 seconds—Mr. Berger wanted to trigger the symptoms of arousal directly—the number of people who emailed a news article to their friends more than doubled. He also boosted levels of “social transmission” by showing his subjects frightening and funny videos first. “Levels of arousal spill over,” Mr. Berger says. “When people are aroused, they are much more likely to pass on information.”

This builds on previous work by Mr. Berger in which he analyzed 7,500 articles that appeared on the most-emailed list of the New York Times between August 2008 and February 2009. While Mr. Berger initially assumed that people would share articles with practical implications—he imagined lots of pieces on diets and gadgets—he discovered instead that the most popular stories were those that triggered the most arousing emotions, such as awe and anger. We don’t want to share facts—we want to share feelings.
In a piece The Atlantic did on this same study, social psychologist Kim Peters says:
"What we share may have as much to do with the stimulation provided by the environment as with the information itself."
And that's why viral marketing is dumb.

There's an infinite number of ways to arouse emotion. Creating a classic album for your fans arouses emotion. So does a video of a guy getting hit in the crotch. Both activities will get you huge amounts of hits.

But hits / "friends" / retweets are not dedicated fans. Viral marketing is junk food; full of calories (hits) and not much else. These numbers are transient fans who saw a cool video of "that band that fell down the stairs a bunch". And now they're bored with your video and don't remember your name.

The real danger of "friends" is that these numbers are easily quantifable whereas actual fans can't easily be counted. My facebook feed is full of bands touting how many facebook "likes" they have. It's fun to compare, sure. But don't treat it like a measure of your band's "true" worth. Correlation doesn't prove causation.

Focus on creating real fans with brilliant music.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to watch videos of dogs on skateboards for the next hour.

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Link: Lefsetz' New Rules for the Music Industry

Lefsetz write a concise and illuminating list of the New Rules for the Music Industry. (Yes, I linked to him last week but this article was far too good to ignore)

My favorite point:

8. Social networking is for fans.
Twitter and Facebook are irrelevant until you get traction. They’re rallying points for those who already believe. Once you’ve got fans, feed them information about gigs and goings-on. Once you’ve got a plethora of true believers, tweet and post about your inner life. No one cares until you approach stardom.
Thoroughly worth the read.


Everything Is Connected (Continued)

Touching off of last week's post, I'd like to share with you how getting personal training helped improve my musical skills.

I've been into lifting weights for a couple years now as a way to blow off steam and keep myself healthy. After hitting a frustrating plateau in my weight lifting for a couple months, I decided to get over being stubborn and ask for help from a personal trainer.

I've had more progress in these last six months than in the last four years. Wow.

Lessons I've learned:

   -There's a limit to how long you can have an effective workout. Anything over an hour and you're getting diminishing returns. 30 minutes of optimal practice a day is more effective than two hours once or twice a week. Not only will you be more focused, but you'll retain more of your practice over the long term.

   -Change your workout every 6 weeks. Your body adapts to how you train it. When you hit a plateau, it's time to change your patterns. P90x calls this concept muscle confusion, but that's primarily a marketing term for what trainers have known for decades. Plus, constant change keeps you from getting bored and not focusing intently on your practice.

Even better, midway through a workout, an idea pranced through my head. What if I were to take what I've learned from my trainer and applied it to my practice?

My Current Bass Guitar "Workout"

Grinding on scales can get boring, so this practice regimen aims to sandwhich in the boring drills with fun improv stuff. Practice sessions are to last ONLY 30 minutes. If I'm "in the zone", I go on to the next day's routine because Practice is more effective if you vary between different tasks, such as between dexterity and improvisational exercises.

   -A Day, Speed Scales: One scale, two octaves starting at bottom, 3 different fingerings, fast. Then do it in 3rds, arpeggios (135 and 1357), picked and fingered.

   -B Day, Ear Training: I'll pick a song solo I like, preferably not a bass solo so I'll expand my style, and try to learn it by ear. Miles Davis has brought my solo game up a few notches already.

   -C Day, Slooooooo Scales: Same scale as A day, two octaves starting at top, all conceviable fingerings, played painfully slow, arpeggios (135 and 1357), played as eighth notes, triplets, doubles, and triples both picked and fingered.

   -D Day, Brain to Instrument Improv: This exercise is to help improve the connection between what I think and what I can play, which has been something I've been wanting to fix for some time now. First, I listen to a 30 second segment of a song I want to work with. Then, I'll sing an improvised bassline into my computer's sound recorder. After that, I'll try learning the part I sung on my bass.
Two important things I've learned:

Everything is connected.

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Link: Lefsetz Says Festivals Are the New Radio

Lefsetz kicks some serious ass in this post, with his prediction on the direction of the industry:

Let’s revisit the formula. You hone your chops, barely able to break even until a festival organizer booking a city-based event makes a deal for you to perform. Then this same booker makes sure you’re featured on the YouTube stream. With this imprimatur, people pay attention.

Festivals are the new radio and bookers are the new deejays. It’s just that simple...
The more technological breakthroughs we develop, the more important it is to get back to our roots. I love my computer, but it’s the opposite of music. It’s cold and unthinking, whereas music is warm and fuzzy and positively alive.
And the best place to demonstrate this is live.

And the best place to do this is where everybody is watching.

We can spread the word so quickly online. But no one wants to hear about anything that isn’t great, that doesn’t have substance.

City festivals are the launching pad. Bookers are the linchpins. Food and amenities add to the experience, but the real drawing power is the music. When done right, it’s enough.
Music is

Everything is Connected

It's disheartening when you plateau in your playing skills. Guitar in hand, skillfully dodging doing scales by watching youtube videos of amazing musicians, which only makes it harder to practice.

Once you're stuck, it's hard to see a way to get get unstuck.

But the secret to getting unstuck is reminding yourself the true nature of creativity: Creativity is about mashing up disparate ideas in totally new and strange ways to develop something amazing.

Translation: The best way to get over writer's block is do something totally unrelated to what you're stuck on. The answer will come to you from the unexpected connection your mind makes between disparate activities. Everything is connected.

Need to improve your stage presence? Learn to dance salsa. Dancing is all about body language, confidence and rhythm. These may or may not be relevant skills for a musician.

Need to write more clever lyrics? Take an improv comedy class. Improv comedy is about quick thinking, using tropes effectively, and creating strong emotions within the audience.

Need a new way to improve your playing? Talk to a personal trainer. They deal with motivation, self-improvement, and overcoming plateaus all the time.

Everything is connected. There's a reason geniuses have so many interests. They feed one another.

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DIY advice

I came across this video via a few weeks ago. It is a VERY interesting interview of how a band can basically be DIY and be able to become successful.


How To Sell Out Properly

Continued from last week's discussion on Cash vs. Control

So you've got it in your head that you must be signed to be happy. As you know, I am very much against labels as they are 95% of the time a terrible financial decision.

However, you don't care.

Cool, let's work with that.

Since you've got your heart set on getting signed, let's get our heads around how to look sexy for a label. As I've mentioned before, getting signed and getting bought out are exactly the same thing. A larger entity with lots of cash is willing to supply you with some sweet, sweet cash money in exchange for future profits and oversight. Not all of these investments (bands) will return as much cash, so a venture capital firm (label) will have a diverse portfolio (artist roster) in the hopes that a few investments (bands) will make enough money to cover the losses for all the failures.

The label's interest in you is contingent upon how your band performs as a financial instrument. An advance is essentially the label loaning you money for a set period of time with the expectation that you'll be able to repay the loan plus interest, thus making the label a Return On Investment (ROI).
If you're making the label less money than they're spending on you, consider yourself on the short list to get dropped. At this point they may suggest you change your look, sound, or direction. It's not really a suggestion. Once a label has thrown cash at your band, it's your duty to help them recoup their cost. Often, a band is given an advance to record an album with the stipulation that the band will not receive any additional compensation until the label makes enough cash to cover the advance. After that thresh hold is met, you'll still earn only a percentage of profit from each sale. You have to make them that skrillah or you're gone.
So if you really want to be signed, you want to position your band in a way that signals to labels that "this band is a solid investment."

Let's talk about some ways to preen your band for getting signed.

1. Study the Labels You Want To Get Signed On: Each label has a distinct personality, and your band needs to be careful about who they choose to do business with. (Death Row Records was affiliated with The Bloods and hired crooked cops/gang members!)

Pay attention to the sounds of artists already on the label. Do they already have forty bands that sound like you? Or do you think you'd be a good way to round out their lineup? Remember, it's about portfolio diversification.

Pay attention to the marketing and tone of communications the label uses. Do they like proper press releases with careful wording, or are they more punk rock-ish? This will help you determine if the personality of your band would be a good fit.

Pay attention to how satisfied artists are with the label. Does the label actually listen to the artist, or do they chew bands up and spit them out on a regular basis? (See the Victory Records Hawthorne Heights lawsuit)

Pick out a list of a possible labels in your genre that might be a good fit for your band. Tailor your band's "pitch" to fit each label's personality, and you're more likely to catch their attention.

2. Find an "In": Getting a label interested is infinitely easier if you can find an actual person to listen to you, as opposed to sending in a demo EP in the mail. Look around the label website, music publications, blogs, and local music industry directories to see if you can get a name.

In most cases, phone will tend to be ideal since emails and physical mail are much easier to ignore. Better still would be having a friend introduce you. Be polite and to the point with your pitch.

3. Pitch: Label or no, you need to know how to describe your music in under 10 seconds with a solid pitch. The goal of a pitch is to only get the "main ideas" of your art across and interest the listener enough to have them say "Hmm, ok. Tell me more."

This is good: "We're The Wigglin' Waggles, a danceable Nirvana-sounding band from Dallas. We'd like to ask your permission to send a demo CD so we can talk further about possibly signing with your label."

This is bad: "Hey, dude. Where do I send our demo?"

Expect more posts on building an effective pitch in the future. This is a BIG topic.

4. Get a High-Quality Demo: Your music needs to be its best to get someone to pay attention. If you have to apologize for your sound recording (It's just a demo, man, so ignore the skipping sound), you need a new recording. End of story.

5. Minimize "Distasteful Behaviors": Pure-bred businesspeople are uncomfortable going too far outside the norm. Musicians and artists live to push the boundaries, as that's where artistic growth comes from.

But be aware of this disconnect.

There's an limited amount of 'edgy' that a firm will be willing to tolerate before you cross a psychological thresh hold where people become uncomfortable. the 'edginess' works against you. Venture capital firms are less likely to help fund totally new enterprises in wholly unproven markets, as they have to defend their decision to their bosses. It's much easier to defend investing $10 million when "the market for all-natural pet nutrition has been growing at 12% yearly, and this young company is perfectly positioned to take advantage of this growth." It wasn't until after Nirvana and Pearl Jam blew up that it became incredibly easy for a grunge band to get signed.

This thresh hold exists even in corporate life. Even if the official company policy says "tattoos and piercings are ok", having ostentatious sleeves and plugs will permanently stunt your career at a corporation. We (humans) like those that look like us. We identify and help those that look more like us, consciously AND unconsciously. Being "too far out" makes others uncomfortable with you AND themselves. Just the same as if you were wearing a full suit to a punk rock show, looking like a punk rocker in a cubicle is asking for others to distrust you. Don't.

So how do we apply this knowledge? First, cut the songs you have called "The AzzHol Commandoz" and "Shoot Heroin Into My Eyes". That's not mass-market material. You can still keep some swearing and vulgar material in your songs because, hey, it's rock and roll. But you don't want to get too avant-garde with your performance or too offensive in your lyrics that your songs would not be playable on radio.

You don't have to water down yourself completely, but be aware that you'll want to polish your rough edges so that an A&R rep will spend her time selling you instead of explaining/defending you. And ditch hard drugs. Drugs signal unreliabile people which makes it difficult for a label to trust that dropping $20k on an album won't end with someone in the band freaking out and ending up in rehab. Don't be stupid.

6. Maximize Your Draw: Adding a band/company to your portfolio is risky. The larger an initial market you can show your investors, the easier it is for them to justify signing you up for a few albums.

Put yourself in the A&R rep's shoes. Even if you loved this new band you saw, how would you defend your decision to sign the band if the only people in attendance at the show are the band's significant others?

Same decision, now assume the band can regularly pull 60 people at regional shows.

Get your pull up. Don't assume that a label will "discover" your no-name band at an open-mic night. Get a big enough fan base and buzz that the label hears about your music and have to check it out themselves.

7. Already Be Making Money: Less risk for investors. Same as above.

8. Take Any Contract to Your Lawyer Before Signing: Yes, lawyers are expensive. But so is being trapped in a crappy contract for five albums. If you're not finished with or currently working on a law degree, you'll save yourself years of heartache by having a professional review the contract to make sure you're getting a fair deal.

Labels assume (correctly) that most musicians don't know about or care to know about contracts. While there are benevolent labels out there, there's also malevolent labels out there. Protect your band so you don't become trapped in a terrible marriage.

9. Know Your Band Member's Intentions: Have a serious, sit-down talk with everyone in the band to work out all the details you can think of before you sign anything.

   -Does everyone want to get signed?
   -Is everyone willing to relocate?
   -What is the minimum offer we would accept?
   -What is our goal for getting signed?
   -Where does everyone want the creative direction of the band to go?
   -What would make everyone happy?
   -How much control will we give up?
   -Will everyone be able to work around getting signed, or will some have to quit their jobs?
   -Would the band member's spouses approve?
   -Would each band member be able to take care of their dependents?
   -How much touring is everyone willing to tolerate?
   -What would cause someone to want to quit the band?
   -Are there any current issues with/between people that must be taken care of? (Skipping practice, not paying rent, fights, medical issues)

10. Be Respectful: You'll get turned down.

A lot.

The Beatles were turned down by Decca, HMV and Columbia because "Guitar groups are on the way out." It happened to them, and odds are your band isn't the next Beatles.

That's perfectly ok.

Deal with rejections gracefully. Say thanks, and scurry off. Don't get mad, don't act crazy, and don't bad mouth the label; the industry is all connected. If word spreads you're jerks, it'll be much harder to gain an audience with already-overloaded label professionals.

There's millions of other considerations to make, but these are the red-flags you need to take care of before earnestly pursuing a label. Anything else you think should be added to the list?

P.S.: Are you noticing how improving your band in order to get signed sounds awfully similar to how you build a career as a DIY artist?

I thought so.

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