The funny thing about being a blogger is that you get all kinds of negative noise in the online space, but when I meet people face to face, one at a time, or see old friends, the resounding feeling is that I have been a bit distant, that I haven't been sharing things, not writing enough, like I'm withholding the good, bad, ugly, and beautiful that has been going on in my life and my experiences in this music community. While I'm gonna keep the private stuff private, perhaps I can bring back that personal touch. So here it is, after the jump.
First, a little background. For anyone who doesn't know, in its infancy, this weekend was called "North By North Park", the next year "North Park Music Thing", and for the last two years, the "San Diego Music Thing". Personally, I accept my role as a cheerleader for the scene, but sometimes I feel like I'm the only one with the rah-rah-go-team! spirit. If only you really knew how many emails I shuffle, how much I wish we deserved comparisons to Brooklyn or Portland or Austin as a center of music but then get disheartened when certain shows that should be sell outs have minimal attendance, well, it can get frustrating and there are times when I wish I could just go back to writing an online diary with an audience of seven so I can just spew all of the ridiculous things that happen in my life and in my brain and not be held accountable for my knowledge or lack thereof. I don't want to know everything all the time. And I certainly don't.
So this weekend was the San Diego Music Thing and though there were a lot of people out and about at the music performances that I attended (Bar Pink, Casbah, U-31), the daytime conference should've had more people. The panels were decently attended for the most part, but conferences and speakers like this cost big bucks in other cities and where else can you have deep and insightful panels and then follow up with one-on-one conversations and brain-picking moments with people like Martin Atkins, Chuck D, Nic Adler (The Roxy), Lou Plaia (Reverbnation), Matthew Tomaszewicz (Thrillcall) and David Dufresne (Bandzoogle)? All of the panelists were more or less available to speak with before and after panels, and if you're a band, venue, promoter, blogger, or photographer, this was your chance to meet the people who can help you without having to pay consulting fees, or worse, hire a publicist/manager/lawyer who might not have your best interest in mind.
Naturally, I took notes at many of the panels and keynotes I attended. Here are some nuggets that stood out for me.
Panelists: Glenn Litwak (Law Offices of Litwack and Havkin), Tim Mays (The Casbah), Marcy Rauer Wagman (Wagman Dickman LLC), Justin Pearson (Three One G Records)
The Music 101 panel is one of the introductory but all-over-the-place panels. You had Justin Pearson from Three One G Records and Tim Mays of the Casbah sandwiched with two lawyers who were more concerned with how to choose a tour bus than simple things like the should-be-simple task of getting 25 or 50 or 100 people to show up at your shows. Still, there were some broad principles shared for basics.
- Have a plan.
- Be able to articulate your band (have an elevator pitch).
- Know your target audience.
- Know and use your resources.
- Have realistic and flexible goals.
- Take the steps to get there. You have to work for your band/brand as a business.
There was also a lot of talk throughout the weekend of copyrights and royalties as they tried to explain the differences (song copyright vs masters; Mechanical, Performance, Synchronization, and Print Royalties), I was a little glad that I'm not a musician who has to worry about all of that stuff. Chase has helped bands I work with sort these things out and you should definitely talk to him if you're at a stage in your career where these things matter. I also noticed the absence of musicians in this panel. At the Casbah and in my own email, we're flooded by bands trying to get booked. Just like every Monday at the Casbah you can meet Tim Pyles to work on getting a local show booked, Tim Mays was here and could've been a resource or at least to make an introduction and give him a CD. This shit doesn't just come to you; go out and seize the opportunities when they're easily available to you.
PUNK ROCK MARKETING: THE DAY SOCIAL MEDIA DIED
Panelists: Corey Denis (Toolshed), Matt Tomassewicz (Thrillcall), Hisham Dahud(Fame House, Hypebot.com), Nicole Polous (Sideways Media)
This panel was really interesting, as they worked backward from mistakes that are made in music marketing, promotion, and social media to try to shed light on what actually does work. Of course there were simple things like working on your pitch, finding the right people to help you, and the very simple fact that grammar and your approach matter. One panelist cited their pet-peeve as people facebook-stalking them on their personal walls. They focused on live performances, that every performance should be an event, a spectacle that can't be missed, instead of just another gig. This is a strategy The Heavy Guilt has adopted over the past year and the band has definitely illuminated their presence and demand in San Diego.
Some interesting things of note from this panel:
- Users on social media are for rent. The only way to own your fans is through an email newsletter. If facebook/twitter go the way of MySpace and something new comes along (as you know it will), can you easily transition your fans to a new platform? Email is the only way to do this.
- Facebook penalizes auto-posts from Hootsuite and other social media tools. They want the traffic from you logging on to an account and your Hootsuite posts will not go to all of your fans/friends.
- Tech has impacted bands/brands. Use non-music innovations, be creative, be willing to experiment, find what works for you, and don't use platforms that suck.
Panelists: Greg Khaikin (The Planetary Group), Dave Sozinho (Dead Air Dave)(U.N.C.L.E. Promo), Mike Sherwood (Warner Brothers)
I didn't get to stay for all of this panel, but it was definitely interesting learning about Payola and radio. A panelist described payola not as pay-to-play, but paying for the advertising a station will lose by playing certain music. There has never been a level playing field for radio play and other than local radio shows (like The Local 94/9 with Tim Pyles on FM 94/9, Loudspeaker with Mike Halloran on 91X, The Homegrown Hour on KPRI 102.1 with Cathryn Beeks, and Loud and Local with Missi on Rock 105.3), this panel basically pointed out that without a major label or a promotion company that works with stations across the country on a regular basis, your chances of getting a radio add are pretty slim. Or maybe you should pay to play at Sunset Sessions to get in front of the eyeballs and earholes of music supervisors and program directors.
TAP INTO LICENSING
Panelists: Jeff Gray "Pesci" (Fox Sports), Margaret Saadi Kramer (Antic Inc), Mark Frieser (Disconic)
This panel on licensing should have been one of the most important, but while the panelists definitely know their shit and are incredible resources to get help (if you can get them to like you and your music), it seemed to mostly illuminate the idea that when it comes to licensing, it is definitely who you know. A lot of importance was placed on "getting your house in order"... make sure you're represented by a PRO (performance rights organization like ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC) and then find the people who can help you get placements. Margaret Kramer recommended signing up for IMDB Pro and the Guild of Music Supervisors while Pesci said you can still do things the old-fashioned way and find that information in film and tv credits followed with simple Google searches.
As an example, I love the show Revenge on ABC and the music is perfectly placed. Earlier this year, a simple Google search told me that Season Kent is the supe and I've since interacted with her via Twitter. Of course, I don't create music, but if I did, it isn't difficult to be proactive in making these connections, because you can be sure that you can find these people on Facebook, Twitter, and Linked In (pitching them without bullying or violating their personal online space). Locally, you can take advantage of local resources, like the fact that Sony Entertainment is based here and you probably know someone who works there, or Chris Richards of Six Palms Entertainment who loves local music and has been successful in getting several local bands some placements in Weeds. One of my music heros, Alexandra Patsavas, runs Chop Shop and is a high demand music supervisor whose name is worth knowing, too. Of course, "get your house in order" before you even try to work these connections.
The panel spoke of the importance of Meta-data tagging for your music and having one person as your pitchperson...not a band member AND a publicist AND a manager AND a lawyer. Music supervisors (like bloggers, venues, program directors, booking agents, and talent buyers) do not like clutter. Look into Disconic when it launches later this year, as it will act as a digital rights exchange that matches buyers to sellers. There's no fee for sellers, just a commission on actual paid placements. I regret not having time to talk to Margaret and Pesci after this panel. Next time.
MARTIN ATKINS KEYNOTE
Martin Atkins returned to the San Diego Music Thing and he. is. awesome. Last year I had the chance to speak with him as Jesse LaMonaca wrapped up a session by the pool and he had me in stitches. His SDMT bio reads:
Martin Atkins is the definition of entrepreneurial activity in cultural arts. His 30+ years in the music business span across borders and industries. He was a member of Public Image Ltd. and Killing Joke, he founded industrial supergroup Pigface and has contributed to Nine Inch Nails and Ministry. Martin is a producer, documentary film maker, DJ and father of four.I think this bio is a bit of a disservice because Atkins is also an instructor at the Madison Media Institute and and author of Tour:Smart, Welcome To The Music Business, You're Fucked, and his next book Band:Smart, so while he could've just talked about his music background, instead he gave one of the most dynamic, insightful, and hilarious presentations on social media, music marketing, and the business of music.
You should definitely check this out. The video is NOT SAFE FOR WORK, but if you watch through to the end, you can get a free download of his second book, Welcome to the Music Industry, You're Fucked. His kickstarter campaign goal was $18k and closed at nearly $27k, but you should still watch this for the free DL.
You should read his books, but you should also never miss the chance to see/hear him speak because his strategies are so obvious that they're not. Like his band strategy.
1. Have a fucking strategy.
2. Get the fuck out of bed.
3. Practice for catastrophe.
4. Free is the new black.
I have to say that number 2 was hilarious as Martin illustrated how, if you wake up at 5am versus 10am, you've added 5 hours to your day, 35 hours to your week, and so on, getting a leg up on your competition. I suppose I'm of the opposite mind with my personal life, that I'd rather pull an all-nighter because 2am-8am are my "quiet hours" when I'm less distracted by Facebook and Twitter and no new email is coming in and I can keep all of my work sorted out. Still, to the same point, the idea is that you should maximize the hours in a day. I'm guilty of this, too, but I'm really getting bored with people who respond to "how are you doing?" with "I'm so tired." That isn't the question. Everyone is tired, just like everyone has to point out when the almost-always-perfect-weather in San Diego is anything less. Yawn. We all have to work, we all have obligations, but if you can't find the time not just for your music but the marketing/promotion/business associated with your project, then maybe you should just get out while you're ahead.
SLACKER HAPPY HOUR
After Friday's panels, I hung around at the hotel happy hour for awhile to talk to people - Dead Air Dave from U.N.C.L.E. was chilling with Tim Pyles and I caught up with Drew from Jupiter.fm. The happy hour was hosted by my friends at Slacker and I got to meet the guys in The Stone Foxes, too. You can talk and learn from the panels, but these open mingle happy hours are where you can really talk to people. Sometimes you can also weed out the opportunists or sniff out the people that you don't want to work with. I don't experience it often, but it is important to remember that sometimes there are sharks in the water.
On Friday night I met up with Chase at the House of Blues for The Walkmen (though not part of the San Diego Music Thing, it was a Casbah show), then he dropped me off at the Casbah so I could use the office laptop and get some work done and catch some of Shannon and The Clams. We watched a little bit of Hunx and His Punx, but Tim Mays was heading to North Park, so I caught a ride with him to U-31 to catch The Blackout Party and then closed my night at Seven Grand until I walked home when all the bars were closed. I gotta say, it was a pretty great day/night/latenight.
I intended to arrive at the San Diego Music Thing early on Saturday, but going to sleep at 5:30 am meant that just wasn't going to happen. I allowed myself a nice sleep-in then I had lunch with Darren at Oggi's before returning to the San Diego Music Thing, and I was right back in it. Still, a little bummed I missed the Management panel and Wayne Kramer's Keynote, but hopefully the SDMT videos will be available online soon.
BRASS IN POCKET
Panelists: Kristin Thomson - Moderator (Future of Music Coalition), Cyndi Lynott (Stiletto Entertainment), Tim Sweeney (Tim Sweeney and Associates), Martin Atkins (Toursmart)
This panel focused on alternative revenue streams from music. I didn't take a ton of notes, but Martin Atkins was on the panel and spewed out some gems. In today's touring world, he said, your band better be ready and available to perform 11 times a week, compared to 7 back in the day. Of course, he specified that he meant live shows, record in-store performance, radio station interviews, private radio sessions, TV performances, and blogger sessions (like A Trolley Show and Daytrotter). He also recommended merch ideas and other ideas: tip jar, at least two shirt designs, live albums, cassettes, show downloads, recipe books, make stuff, college campus performances and recruiting A/V students to film/record performances, live shows, books, and general "personal branding". It was during this session that record sales were addressed. In 2011, more than 77,000 albums were released. In 2011, only ELEVEN records sold more than 1 million units. In 2012, only 3 albums have sold more than 1 million units: One Direction, Lionel Richie, and Lincoln Park. Take with that information what you will.
TOOTING YOUR OWN HORN
Panelists: George Varga (Union Tribune), Ben Westhoff (LA WEEKLY), Kevin Bronson (Buzzbands LA/KCSN), Chris Morris (Billboard), Michael Corcoran (Austin Chronicle)
This panel was fun. Let's just say the crank-o-meter was turned up to eleven as these seasoned journalists spoke about what to do and not to do to get press for your band/event/record. George Varga was moderating and many of the topics he addressed were similar to topics we covered when I was on an Arts panel with him at the Society of Professional Journalists Conference last year- how do you choose what to write, what to cover, who to cover, pitch pet-peeves, etc. Of course, ultimately it depends on the medium and the writer/editors role, which says to me that in a nutshell, sending a PR blast isn't ever going to have much traction. Just like a metal band probably shouldn't pitch Kevin Bronson at Buzzbands, a band from San Diego releasing a record probably won't get much traction pitching to Michael Corcoran at the Austin Chronicle. I was sitting in the crowd thinking of a million things I'd add to their comments, because as a blog owner and contributors who write or post at-will, ultimately I'm the one that reads every.single.email and some things work and a lot of things don't when it comes to a band pitch. Either way, I left the panel early because David and Nic were in the other room deconstructing websites.
WEBSITE DEMOLITION DERBY
Panelists: David Dufresne (Bandzoogle), Nic Adler (Adler Integrated), Nathan Levinson (Adler Integrated)
This panel allowed people to pre-submit their sites and get advice on tweaking them. Because of the specificity, there's not a lot to share, but some of the main points for band sites are having your music first on the landing page, a short form bio (and a longer one if you feel like you need to tell more of your story), band photos, and social integration. David's company, Bandzoogle, powers the SiteBuilder feature in ReverbNation and looks to be immensely useful. Someone in the audience asked how their music should be hosted and the panel suggested that SoundCloud is the best way to go, but I added that as a blogger, I preview to RECEIVE submissions with SoundCloud for the embedable player that can be customized, but when I'm LOOKING for a band's music, I usually go to Bandcamp first because the bandname.bandcamp.com format is easier to search. (Later, Martin Atkins told me he took notes on my suggestion and asked for my card. Pretty awesome.)
CHUCK D KEYNOTE
If and when the videos for the San Diego Music Thing go online, you have to watch Chuck D's keynote. Obviously his music and politics are strong, but being in the same room, you definitely get a sense of Chuck D as a man who has been fighting the power since the beginning of his career, but you also get the sense that the man knows how and when to pick his battles. He has moments of wisdom, like when he spoke about the Occupy movement or his feelings about radio, moments of seriousness, like when he choked up about the death of MCA, and moments of hilarity, like when he spoke about some good times with the Beastie Boys when they took Public Enemy on their tour in 1988.
I didn't really know all of Chuck D's projects and accomplishments, like his early web involvement with The Orchard which became Tunecore. Nowadays, Chuck is running SpitDigital.com, which is an online aggregator/digital store/distributor for independent artists. He wasn't there to sell however, so here are just some of the gems from the night.
- "Local artists need to look at selling their music like a painter- one by one." A painter can only sell one painting to one buyer, instead of thinking of how many units to move or an end number of fans, work on fans and buyers one by one.
- Chuck D is involved in a Class Action Lawsuit versus Universal Music Group on the premise that digital music should be paid on license (50% artist/50% label) and not on royalty (88% label/12% artist)
- "What you KNOW is what you SAVE. What you SAVE is what you MAKE." What you can do for yourself, you don't have to pay someone else to do, and keep more of your earnings and properties for yourself.
- "Making a killing and making a living are diametrically opposed."
- Chuck D never wanted to be a recording artist. He wanted to takeover radio. Signing to DefJam was a concession.
- "I'm a culturalist. I believe art and culture bring people together."
- "The world order better sort itself out or there ain't gonna be no world. That's some fucking real talk right there."
- "We cleared the path for you to get through and give back, not just take."
- Chuck D refers to Mitt as the 'Myth' Romney. "What inspires me about Obama...what I think about, is whenever I get tired at 52, is how the hell does Obama do it?" "I believe that Obama is a good man with a fucked up government." He signed up for the job, but nobody could really know what the job really demands.
- "If you're a musician, you have the power to transcend the orders and the borders."
- "What's (Obama) got to do with how you do you?"
- "Look at your artistry like a cactus. Roots run deep, every drop counts."
That pretty well covers my San Diego Music Thing experience. After the panels, I was able to pick Nic Adler's brain about some social media tactics and strategy. On Saturday night, I went to see Parker and the Numberman at The Office, Races and Hills Like Elephants at Bar Pink, and Dead Feather Moon, Get Back Loretta, and Father John Misty at the Casbah. There was some drama at the Pinback show with their stolen bass that was later recovered, and you can read about that at CityBeat. I really encourage everyone to take advantage when events like this are put together. People can bitch and complain about this or that, but ultimately the people behind the event are trying to help build this community. I look forward to next year, and I'm hoping to maintain the new contacts I made and will hopefully see familiar faces at NAMM, SXSW, Sunset Sessions, and any other industry events I can attend. If you're not always growing and learning, you're not only standing still, but everyone and everything will just pass you by.