Tuesday, December 11, 2007

SDMF Music Industry 101: "The Media in the Digital Age of Music"

My Saturday afternoon was spent sitting in the freezing clam-shell ballroom of the Lafayette Hotel getting some music biz edumacation. The panelists were Anya Marina, Mike Halloran, Marc Balanky, and Scott Riggs. Though it was only my second time attending one of the seminars, they always prove to be interesting. I think Balanky is the only one who doesn’t have a background in terrestrial radio, but the digital vs. radio debate is pretty entertaining. There was a whole lot of talk about the RIAA and their new rate schedule for internet broadcasters and really, the seminar just pointed out how unfair those rate schedules are for small time businesses. Halloran likes to talk, and likes to hear himself talk, as anybody who listens to him on the radio would know, but he has the lifetime of experience that backs his shit up. At least he’s not just pulling stuff out of his ass.

There were plenty of musicians there asking questions. Mostly “how do I make money in music.” It seems a lot of them are looking for one sure fire way to get their art to the world. I was kinda sitting there a little frustrated because it was at times a whine fest…How come people don’t come to my shows? How come I can’t sell CDs? How come 94/9 doesn’t play more local music? So instead of piping in at the seminar, I thought I’d save some of my opinions for here, where I can rant freely.

First, if you want to be a musician as a career, one should expect to always be a “starving artist”. If all you want to do is write songs and gig and make CDs, great for you, but just because in your own head you have a gift, the rest of the world may not think so, and getting bitter because your sense of entitlement tells you you’re better than XYZ performer who is making big bucks is only going to stunt your own development and possible success. There are thousands of musicians who are good, or even great, who never get a break. Conversely, there are a lot of really shitty bands who make a boatload of cash who are completely unworthy. Such is the way of the world.

There was a lot of talk about getting music to music supervisors and radio stations and getting tossed in a pile without airplay. All I could think about was this same thing on a small scale. My personal MySpace account is set to private. Everyday, I still get about 10 or 15 new “friend requests” from bands. I don’t accept most bands as my “friends”, and I was thinking about the criteria I use in my own head, and thought I’d share it here, because while I have my own quirks, I don’t think it’s too far from how radio programmers or music supervisors listen to music. Maybe you have similar criteria when checking out new music.

First I’ll say, because of what I do here and for CityBeat, I accept all San Diego bands as friends, and when approving their friend requests also subscribe to their blogs. I don’t accept all LA bands, but the majority of socal bands are important enough for me to keep on my radar as well. But then there’s the randoms, and here’s how I decide who “makes the cut” as it were.

There’s no order or specific method, but these are some things I look at:

• Band/Artist Name- If you’re not original enough to come up with a band name that is unique, I might just decline you. If I like your music, I want to be able to search about you on the net beyond your MySpace page and if your name is Mike Smith I’m not gonna be able to do that. I’m personally against names with certain words- “kings” or “royal” always sound pretentious to me, but that’s not gonna immediately turn me off- but I do consider it. I was surprised how much I loved Vampire Weekend because I think the name is pretty stupid.

• Music Type- So when you set up your MySpace profile, you thought it was cute to call your style “crunk” or “new age” even though you’re pretty standard indie, folk, pop, or rock. It’s annoying. I wanna kick my friend’s asses everytime I see one of their profiles that is mislabeled. People just might be looking for your band, or looking for music by genre. Confusing them only hurts you. If you don't take your own profile seriously, why should anybody else?

• Band Description- I want a brief one paragraph thing about you. Where you’re from, perhaps why you play music, if you’ve toured or plan on touring, maybe links to press about your band. I don’t need to read 1600 words on every stumble you’ve had in your life and how it shaped you. And I swear to god, if you describe yourself or your music as eclectic, I’m almost certainly pushing that reject button. First, you’re probably not as eclectic as you think and I can find 300 bands or musicians that sound exactly like you. Second, there are enough adjectives that might describe you more adequately, and if you can’t think of one, why am I to believe your lyrics are gonna be any deeper?

• Music- You should have at least 4 songs on your MySpace player, and if you’re unsigned, they should be downloadable. Period. Also, if your page has 16 youtube videos and flash slideshows and takes longer to load than the average page, you’re getting denied. I listen to every band that requests me. If I’m not at least somewhat intrigued in about 37 seconds by the first song that starts playing, you’re getting denied.

I don’t consider myself a music snob at all, but I think adding a MySpace friend is work. By accepting you or your band, now I’ll be subjected to your bulletins, and the more bulletins I have to read, the more frequently I have to read because they only go back 25 pages. On my Dialed In profile, that doesn’t really matter, because I have a small amount of friends who aren’t really posting too many bulletins. But even with just over 1000 friends, I could spend hours reading bulletins. Make me want to listen to your music, to read your site, to make me Google about you to find out more. If you can’t get me to do that, fat chance I’m gonna come to your show, buy your music, tell my friends about you.

Anyway, I really like the Music Foundation seminars. They're really great for getting people who are willing to share what they know with musicians and others, like me, who just wanna understand the music biz a little more. It's great for bands to network and meet one another and for me it always turns me on to musicians I might not otherwise see.

One thing I wanted to highlight was Anya's advice about sending music to Music Supervisors, because it also applies when you send a CD in to media, radio stations, and even bloggers.
  1. Most people don't want MP3s. You're usually better sending a CD in most cases.
  2. CDs should always be in a standard size jewel case, with the name of the band and the title of the CD on the spine.
  3. All song titles should be listed on both the CD and on the insert in the jewel box, in case the two get separated.
  4. Contact information (full name, band members, a person to contact with a phone number and e-mail)

Pretty basic information, actually. Should be common sense but that ain't so common, as they say. Finally, one last thing I wanted to say is that people who complain that nobody comes to their shows don't deserve to have people coming to see them if they aren't, in turn, going out and supporting other musicians. Sometimes people ask me if I'll slip a CD to Tim Pyles for consideration for The Local 94/9. I refuse. Tim is at the Casbah every week promoting local bands. If you can't come down and meet him in person and hand him your CD, well, you're gonna end up in Pyles pile.


Unknown said...

great post

catdirt said...

i agree with everything you said. bands that want support should support other bands. seeing a band member at a show i'm promoting or otherwise attending is pretty much a prereq for me ever writing about a band.

also: did anya marina talk about how she got a new car when she sold her song to gray's anatomy? i love that story!

also: what kind of a panel on that subject matter doesn't include a single blogger? hello? laaaaammemmeeeeeeeeeee.

whatever you want to say about music professionals, they read music blogs. seems like the opinion of a blogger would be appropriate at the forum, more so then, say, marc "nobody EVER listens to amplifysd" balanky.