Let me lay out a couple of things I’ve learned in the past almost decade of producing free music. They would probably apply to any aspiring musician. Many of them may be obvious and intuitive, but it’s always helpful to take stock.
No one cares about my music the way I do. There’s no reason for them to – for me its a primary extension of self. It’s what I pour myself into, laboring, debating, molding, and refining everything for a ridiculous number of hours. Then, after all this toil and triumph, I release an album, where all my pride and insecurities are balled up in an explosive state of nervous excitement. My friends and fans will support and celebrate with me, which is truly amazing, but it’s important to recognize that most people don’t care about it, nor understand the effort it takes. It’s important (though almost impossible) not to have expectations of how my music will be received. What’s most important is how I feel about my music. You’ll hear this again and again when you’re an artist – it just took experience for me to internalize it.
This is so true for so many things in life. I watch a movie, and when the credits are rolling I start thinking about what to do next. Only when I start watching the “making of” on the DVD do I begin to appreciate how amazing the process of creating the movie was. I created an interactive “making of” page for one my previous albums to give a listener some insight to the creation process. Hopefully it made the music more interesting to listen to.
It’s always a good idea to talk to people about the process of creating something, be it an event, a piece of art, a cake, or whatever. I’m often oblivious of the extraordinary effort it takes to accomplish a task.
When I released my first two albums, I really pushed my music on my friends, family, and peers, since, well, there’s already an established relationship. What I didn’t recognize is that many people I know don’t really care about music. Then there’s those who do, but don’t really dig my downtempo stylings. While of course there are exceptions, I finally recognized this isn’t really my target audience. My target audience are folks who dig downtempo melodic electronica, which is a certainly a niche category.
Why was no one coming to my website to download my free music for the first few years? Because no one knew about it. I had to learn the art of promotion. Since I’m not trying to sell my music, the traditional channels – i.e. labels – are not available. I must contact the radio stations, magazines, websites, blogs, and forums myself. Occasionally a fan will help spread the word – and to those people I am incredibly grateful.
Successful promotion turns out to be cast a wide a net as possible, putting a lot of effort in spreading the word, sending out cds, and getting very little back. You have to accept a lot of rejection. I’ve learned to be happy if 5% of my emails or mailings gets a response – that is, not even a positive response, but a message indicating that the party will or did check out my music. It’s not really something that I enjoy.
Just because people know about something, doesn’t mean they’ll care. When I hand someone a business card, realistically, there’s a minuscule chance they’ll go check out my website. When I hand someone a cd, there’s maybe a 50% chance they’ll listen to it. The best time to hand someone a cd is when they’re about to go their car, and I can suggest they check it out on their journey. We now live in an era where data is free, and people collect it without using it. Humans like to have stuff. If they do end up on my website and download an album or track, it may get lost in the shuffle of other downloads.
Unless your music is simple and poppy, or incredibly accessible, most people won’t be able to make sense of it on first listen, and consequently not return for a second listen. I can not approach my own music with fresh ears – I’m intimate with every second of it. It’s great to have someone who’s not a huge music fan listen to my music before I release it to gauge how most people will receive it. It has previously helped shape the ordering of tracks on an album. Accessible music will always be more popular than complex music.
I’ve learned that it often takes many listens for people to start really enjoying my music. My favorite story is of a co-worker who’s cd player broke with my cd in it, so they had to listen to it all day on repeat. The next day he told me never to stop writing music.
My next album will not be very accessible. At least I now know what to expect. The advantage of being totally independent is that I can choose to make musical decisions like this. I’m writing more complicated music because that’s what I want to do.
This is the most important thing I’ve learned – the small percentage that do care and listen to my music, don’t think how important it is for me to get feedback from them. This is completely normal. How often to do you appreciate something and think “I should tell the artist (or whatever) how much I enjoy their art?” Not often. Since the process of acquiring my music is completely devoid of personal interaction (click on a link on a website), there’s nothing bonding the downloader to me. They download the music, and perhaps listen to it sometime down the line. Maybe they like it – maybe the don’t. I will most likely never get feedback. The thing I’ve taken away from this is to always contact artists when I enjoy their work. It’s a great habit. Or if an artist is serious about soliciting feedback, both negative and positive, I try to do so. They always really appreciate it.
I don’t mean to sound like it’s a negative experience to create and release music – it’s not. There’s simply a lot of challenges I never imagined. I absolutely celebrate the tools, ability, and lifestyle that allows me to craft the music that I want to. I’m still in awe that there’s a distribution method that allows me to share my music at almost no cost to the entire world.
We are still very much at the beginning of the musical explosion that’s about to take place. The tools that are available completely eliminate the cost barrier to create music. As this generation learns those tools, the variety and quantity of output will be staggering.
Good times ahead. And good times right now.
I would love to hear what other lessons musicians have learned, or your experiences with anything I mentioned.
I’ve recently stumbled upon a fantastic music website called The Sixty One. Its sorta like Digg for music, only there’s a cool gaming element. You “bump” tunes you dig, and then if other people then “bump” that tune, you get points. You level up, get new abilities as a user, it fabulous. I’m having a lot of fun and finding seriously good music.
Anyhow, if you decide to join, please give me a “bump.” Not cause I’m “coming down” off “herion” or anything, because I wanna level up. Get me some more uploads.
Lars, Tony, and I went to catch Mike Patton’s new project called “Crudo” at the Great American Music Hall. We couldn’t disobey the golden rule: If Mike Patton is performing in San Francisco, we should be there. So we went.
It turns out this was their first performance, and no one present had any idea what we were going to hear. This was the first time I was in equal footing with the rest of the audience – unlike the last two times I saw Patton. The line up was Patton, Dan the Automater on the turntables, a rapper from the Hieroglyphics, and a full band (guitar, keys, bass, and drums). It turned out to be a mostly hip-hop project, turned slightly on its head from Patton’s insane antics. This was the first time I wasn’t totally blown away by something Patton was in – not that he didn’t give it his all, which is always worth seeing – but the repetitive hip-hop lyrics and the sonic hooks didn’t pull me in. It was fun, but not amazing. The female key player blew it up when she did a simultanious beat-box/piano playing interlude though. I particularly enjoyed one song where the lyrics primarily consisted of “set your pants on fire/I’m going to lick it up”.
Phil Lesh and his trusty friends graced San Francisco with a five night run at the Warfield. He’s been toting around the same friends for the past two years or so, and I rather enjoy the line up. They’ve also done a couple tours, a rare occurrence at this stage of Phil’s long career, so they’re well versed in the Dead cannon and got some good gravy in their group mind. I signed up for nights 2+3.
Night one of the run they chronologically played the first two Grateful Dead albums in their entirety. Set one was “The Grateful Dead” and set two was “Anthem Of The Sun“. This meant that they’d probably run the Dead catalog in order during the rest of the run. Which they did for my shows. My first night I got to see “Aoxomoxoa” and “Live/Dead“, meaning both sets had a St. Steven. This must have been the first dead show ever where a song was played twice in its entirety. They kicked off second set with a 45+ minute Dark Star which went all over the map.
This also must be there only time when I ever knew what I was going to hear going into a Dead show. Night three of the run was “Workingman’s Dead” and “American Beauty“, two of the Dead’s more celebrated albums. David Nelson was on hand for most of the show, which was appropriate since he contributed to both of those albums. A really special night for sure. The highlight for me was Speedway > Cumberland, and a really beautiful rendition of Attics.
Steve Bolinger invited me to join a group of his buddies that were “renting a limo” to go up to Anderson Valley for the beer festival. It sounded like a good idea, having never attending a beer fest like that before. The circulated emails seemed vague and a little sketchy on the limo, which I assumed would be a van. Steve bailed last minute, but I remained stalwright, so DanT, Angel, Lisa-Ruth, and I remained on board for journey. And what a journey it was.
I arrived at the appointed house in the morning, and met our new trusty companions, mostly comprised of true beer aficionados. I then learned that this “limo” was actually a real limo, which seemed odd for the proffered inexpensive price. Things got a lot weirder when the limo actually arrived. It was the longest limo I’d ever seen – complete with an extra axle – and it seated 11 fairly comfortably. We got in, and there were still beer bottles and cigarette ends in the random holes that might have one been used to hold things. There was an extra set of seats you could climb into in the back, an area which we immediately dubbed the “Vomitorium.” The limo was pretty run down, and the sounds it made when it started up did not inspire confidence, especially if we were to take this monster up across the hills to Anderson Valley. It was complete with not with one, but two stoner-esque drivers, who seemed more ready to party then we were. The front passenger door didn’t seem to completely close, and I was really concerned about someone falling out when we hit the mountain switch backs – especially since there were no seat belts to be found.
We winded our way up the festival, impressively navigating the switch backs. It probably took 3 hrs. We sampled some excellent beers on the way up – the organizers were very generous and pretty serious about beer. My kind of people.
The festival itself was pretty amazing. There were over 50 brewers sampling multiple brews. You got a 6 oz glass on entry, and the price of admission ($35) allowed unlimited tasting.
I sampled at least 40 beers during the festival. I always asked for just a taste – my goal wasn’t to get drunk, it was try beers, and, man, I had some fantastic beer. The non stop afternoon buzz was a bonus though. I tried to photograph every beer to keep a record.
I had gotten some advice from festival alumina on the ride up, so I knew who to try first off. I headed straight to “Pizza Port Brewing Company”, and then had one of the best beers I’ve ever tasted: “Attenuation”. It turned out to be my top pick for the festival. I verified this towards the end with a second sampling.
Second place went to Russian River Brewing Company with their “Blind Pig” IPA.
Third place was a tie between Moonlight brewery’s “Moonlight Special”, which was a one off brew and Iron Springs’ “Sless Stimulating Stout” (though Rogue’s chocolate stout was a contender).
Worst beer award goes to Alpine Beer Company’s “Captain & Vanille”. Vanilla does not belong in beer.
The festival was a great melting pot of hippies from Mendicino, business folk from San Francisco, and true beer heads from all over California. There wasn’t much of the frat boy vibe that I had anticipated. People were extremely friendly (well, beer didn’t hurt), but I really appreciated the overwhelmingly positive vibe. While it was full of people, it wasn’t too crowded – there was lots of space to sit in the shade and chill. I never had to wait more then a minute for a beer – and most times I could just walk on up to the bartender. For a festival that ended at 5, there were a surprising number of places shutdown by 3:45. It sure was a great time.
The ride back was less fun. Chris, the limo organizer, had been hurt due to proximity of people jumping on each other. While the limo was in place an the anointed time – the driver didn’t show up for another 20 minutes. Some random dude poked his heads in the limo and claimed he had been in it the day before and that, man, the driver was sketchy. While he could have been lying about the limo, he was seriously right on about the driver. I felt quite ill on the windy road to 101. Then there was a huge discrepancy between what we thought we were going to pay for the limo and what the limo drivers wanted to charge. It was a bit of a mess. We made it back, and even though we all pitched in extra money, I believe that our host probably ate the bulk of extra limo cost – which was a pretty big deal. It was more then generous – and I feel a little guilty about it. Next time we should just rent a van and pay a friend to be the DD. I think it would have worked out far smoother.
So, in review – the limo = hella sketchy. the festival = kick ass.
Yesterday I attended the SF Music Tech Summit.
(photo by crazywanda)
I had a fairly good time. I went for a couple reasons:
1. There are a ton of companies in that space – I cannot keep track of them. Some clarity on innovation would be nice.
2. I’m a digital musician and a tech worker, what should be a natural fit for this conference.
What did I take away? Well, I got a light smattering of tech – there was only one talk devoted to technology. Most of it was through talking to folks who were building companies – learning about what frameworks their using, and theirs approach to scaling their services. It was fabulous hearing about how Pandora deals with their bandwidth growing pains.
Since everyone seemed to agree that DRM was dead (this was a tech conference, not a major label conference), most of the talks seemed to revolve was how to monetize music services since the media is available for free. I was probably the only attendee coming from the creative commons perspective – which is par for course. Since my business model is determining how much money do I feel like losing through my music, I don’t care too much about the monetizing issue. Ah well.
One interesting idea is the concept of the musician “middle class” – the local bands, the musicians who are not ready to attempt the major label push – and the companies that are springing up to offer services to this group. These companies get local band’s music on the digital distribution services, build basic band-fan interaction infrastructure through social networks/blogs/websites, establish artist identity, and help with local promotion. Since the old concept of label isn’t necessary – the cost of creating a record has become so small – this is the new paradigm. Conversely, it doesn’t take much capital to start this type of company – so there is room for many of these companies, and I would consider them to be the new digital “labels”.
Music categorization is a very difficult problem to solve. It seems the best filters will consist of your friends, and the people who share the same taste in music. Finding those people is not always simple. Conversely, people who share your music taste breed a community. So monetize that, or something.
Music is still an important part of defining your identity (thank goodness) – and is used as a major expression of self. Hence, there is huge money in ring tones. I think I’m too old to understand that one. At least Haber once attempted the general fuzz ring tone.
Anywho, I met some interesting folks, and now have some websites to check out. Since I never heard the term “creative commons” during a since talk, I’d like to re-emphasize for my own benefit: Creative Commons KICKS ASS!
Well, in true Krudden style, I had a solid week long celebration of my birthday. Stina took me to a bread making class so that we could reaffirm our belief that its worth just buying bread from Andronico’s. Hans and I saw Dark Star Orchestra play a fun ’78 Chicago show. Stina took me to Boulevard for a meal so unreasonably delicious that the majority of our conversation comprised of moaning. It was complete with double knock downs of Stina’s drink and a solid water toss to the adjacent table.
Then there was the annual birthday BBQ in the park. Stina had to work most of the day, so I seized the opportunity and themed the BBQ as “total chaos”. I organized nothing, and brought nothing. Sure, we did end up with like 30 bags of chips, but no one went hungry, thanks to our very generous friends. The MVP handily gets awarded to Hans and Heather, who basically brought an entire BBQ with them, then manned the grill for half the day.
There were new re-transplants to the bay:
Recent marathon finishers:
And those who have already arrived:
Good times were had by all. Or at least, by me. We built forts, played many rounds of “throw it this way”, and ate and drank our way through the afternoon. This smoothly transitioned into round 2 at chez moi to work through some excess food/beer. So I had nice 12+ hr party on my birthday.
I was lucky enough to receive some very thoughtful and truly inspiring presents. Angel and DanT implemented a prototype of an brilliant idea we brainstormed a couple years back – I cannot reveal what it is since I’m convinced we’re going to become rich when 1.0 hits the market. Kelly, my favorite anti-technologist, harnessed the power of the internet to send a beautiful message.
My mom made me the most amazing present ever though.
It is an quilted blanket made up of old treasured teeshirts that I didn’t have the heart to throw away. I had no idea she was making it. I am still totally blown away.
A week or two ago I saw that John Butler was coming to town, and I do enjoy Mr. Butler. The opener was listed as “Mama Kin”, so I punched that into google, and I got back this. I told Stina that an Aerosmith cover band was opening up for John Butler, she got all excited, and last minute decided to join me when I headed over to the Fillmore. Imagine our surprise when this band took the stage, which really did make more sense considering this was to be a John Butler solo gig.
Stina was good natured about it, and stuck around to catch John Butler, who was nothing short of awesome. In my oldness, I was super irritated at the completely disrespectful chatty audience. For fucks sake, why did you pay good money too see this show? I was then completely perplexed when I saw Mum a couple days later at the Independent – a less expensive, Saturday night show with 7 or so people on stage – people were dead quiet during the entire performance. Mum was quite good too – though I do feel if they have 7 people in the band, they shouldn’t need additional backing tracks.