Online Fundraising for Bands

5 Apr

There was an interesting article in the NY Times a few days ago about web 2.0 sites that allow bands to raise money for tours, albums, etc. by coordinating donations from their listeners. These websites hit my radar screen a few years back with the advent of Sellaband, which attempts to raise $50,000 for its artists, at which point they are entitled to a pro recording session with a “real” producer, and some other stuff. Along the way, donors are thanked for their level of generosity with special merchandise and access to the musicians.

I never wrote about Sellaband because it wasn’t something I was personally interested in trying. It only works if you have enough fans to generate a ton of donation money, and judging from my sales to date that just wasn’t gonna happen for me. In the meantime, Sellaband has gone bankrupt and gotten new investors.

This article in the NYTimes highlights some depressing facts not only about Sellaband but the difficulty of creating something unique, and inspiring enough to gather the support you may be wanting for your music:

  • “Four years in, the SellaBand model has not helped many groups. More than 15,000 artists have set up projects at the site, but fewer than 50 have been fully financed”
  • There are 13 million music profiles on MySpace, and 4,000 artists on the rosters of the major music labels

While these may be discouraging, the MySpace figure at least is deceptive, since I’m guessing many of those profiles are dead carcasses of former music projects that no longer exist. I’m sure that a couple of them are from my own projects…

To sum it all up: More bands => more competition for the pocketbooks and wallets.

Not that there’s anything surprising about this, really. The other site that the article features is called KickStarter, which bills itself as a “A FUNDING PLATFORM FOR ARTISTS, DESIGNERS, FILMMAKERS, MUSICIANS, JOURNALISTS, INVENTORS, EXPLORERS…” Check it out. I like how it’s targeted not just at musicians but anyone that wants to raise money for any sort of project. I can think of several crazy ideas that would be fun to solicit some funds for. I’ll leave that to your imaginations…

Communication Skills 101

2 Apr

While this blog is called TheMusicSnob, I’m usually pretty nice to people and things in my posts. At the same time, I do have a degree in English, and so occasionally I find someone’s use of it so offensive that I just gotta mention it.

I’ve got a contact form on this blog and occasionally people write me. Most of the time they are extremely nice and are just looking for the chance at some exposure, a review or something like that. Sometimes I’m a total d-bag and forget to write them back. If that happened to you, I’m sorry, I haven’t forgotten, it’s just that I have like 52,397 jobs and haven’t gotten around to it. Anyway, the people that offend my English sensibilities are those that write me asking for something and can’t be bothered to even write in near-complete sentences, and offer zero explanation of why I should bother spending my time to essentially do free research for you.

Case in point. Today I get an email that states:

“I need some info on getting my artist song s on ring tones to make money for the company”

That’s it. Let’s look at what information we don’t get:

  • Who is this guy?
  • What “company” is he talking about?
  • Who’s this artist, and why should we care about him?
  • Why was he so incapacitated that he couldn’t write us a proper note?
  • Why should I care about this guy?

I’m all for helping people. But if you can’t bother to address any of these basic points, then don’t expect too much. I hope this guy isn’t approaching clubs, labels, producers, etc. with this communications strategy.

peace and harmony,

The Snob

Zimbalam Challenges Tunecore

26 Mar

I was browsing some music blogs when I saw an article on Hypebot about a service called Zimbalam. This company is basically a flat-fee digital music distributor like Tunecore. The key differentiator seem to be cost (Zimbalam) is cheaper than Tunecore, and allegedly won’t charge you the annual fee after year 1 unless your royalties on the albums they’ve distributed are adequate enough to cover the costs.

This is interesting to me because back in 2008 I wrote a post explaining why I was distributing my latest release with Tunecore and not CD Baby. One of the main factors for me was that I didn’t want someone taking a % of my royalties, so I preferred the flat fee. But now I’m wondering, will I have to pay their annual maintenance fee into perpetuity just to keep my music on iTunes? What if my descendants in 2248 want to download my music? Will I have had enough music sales over the previous 240 years to justify keeping my music active on Tunecore? I doubt it…Also, I’m not sure if by not renewing with Tunecore your music is actually taken off of iTunes, etc or just taken off the servers at Tunecore. In either case, I’m not sure how you’d get paid, since Apple isn’t going to start mailing you checks if you stop paying Tunecore’s annual fee.

Anyway. Check out Zimbalam. I’d love to hear from people with experience using it. I’ll try to do some actual reporting on it soon.

Peace.

Cubase 5 Review: Easy Enough for Amateurs

22 Mar

Steinberg Cubase 5 DAW Software Standard

My parameters for evaluating home audio recording software are simple: 1) Can I figure out how to use it without being an audio engineer? 2) Does it have the features I need to get quality results?

These parameters are, of course, totally open to debate by purists, who would say that no, if you don’t understand the finer points of audio mixing / EQ, mastering, etc. then it doesn’t really matter whether the software has them or not, because you’re the problem, not the software.

But I disagree. This blog is all about indie musicians getting stuff done on their own. And so for me, the signs of a quality product are the ease with which I can approach it for the first time and create a quality recording. With
Steinberg Cubase 5 DAW Software Standard
, that’s exactly what I’ve done, and I’ve been pleased with my initial experiences.

The Song / Recording Project

Recently tasked with re-recording one of my songs to a video of me playing it, I had to find a new piece of software to use. The song is about my experiences as a helper/translator on a medical mission to the Dominican Republic.

My Initial Impressions

Having spent years using Digital Performer, and then briefly trying a demo version of Cakewalk before it kept crashing my computer, I was a little put off by the Cubase 5 track controls. There are a million different little icons around the recording/editing screens and I usually count on these to be totally intuitive, which in this case they seemed much less so. When trying Cakewalk, it was as easy as 1-2-3 to take a look and figure out how the major functions worked. Also, Cubase 5 didn’t automatically identify my MOTU 828 audio interface and configure itself for it, which I would have liked it to do. Cakewalk did this no problem, and Digital Performer (also made by MOTU) worked with it like a charm. Some of the track editing tools and features were less than intuitive as well, though I was quickly able to find tutorials online to show me the way.

Continue Reading

15 Percent Off Anything at GuitarCenter.com

19 Mar

Yo yo yo, if you’re anything like me then you never have enough money to buy the recording equipment or instruments you’d like for your projects.

Here’s a little help from one of our “sponsors”, which entitles you to 15% off any single item over $299 this weekend only at Guitar Center when you click on our link.

The offer ends March 21st, 2010.

peace.

True Love Waits

11 Mar

Radiohead – True Love Waits

’nuff said.
====================================

I’ll drown my beliefs
To have your babies
I’ll dress like your niece
And wash your swollen feet

Just don’t leave
Don’t leave

I’m not living
I’m just killing time
Your tiny hands
Your crazy kitten smile

Just don’t leave
Don’t leave

And true love waits
In haunted attics
And true love lives
On lollipops and crisps

Just don’t leave
Don’t leave

Just don’t leave
Don’t leave

Capturing Inspiration on the Fly

10 Mar

caravaggioMany of my best song ideas seem to “happen” during brief windows of creativity, moments where I lose all “thought” and self awareness and just imagine what this unborn song sounds like, trying on different moods, tempos, vibes and vocal sounds. Typically I will have some rhythmic thing or riff on the acoustic guitar, and then just make up vocal sounds that seem to reflect whatever the music is conveying. I don’t bother with real words, just nonsensical stuff, sometimes just vocalizations of syllables.

What I typically do is just let my portable recorder run, and then go off for several minutes on the idea. Stop listen play back see if there are any bits of gold to be found. Once I have essence of something I really like, then I may spend weeks or months trying to polish that vision. But the best part has already happened, the idea has been born, and often times the non-words weird sounds vocal stuff is more appealing to me than actual lyrics, because it is that much closer to pure instrumental expression. But this is coming from someone who hears the music first and lyrics second practically always, and I know there’s a strong camp for the opposite.

Anyway. Not that this is that important. But in the past I would have to setup my laptop to record any small stupid idea I had, and then I bought a crappy dictaphone, which works at least to capture something so you don’t forget the rhythm or whatever entirely next time you sit down to play it. But what I use now is this neat and inexpensive recorder called the Zoom H2 Handy Portable Stereo Recorder that I got as a gift for Christmas. It records at whatever level of digital quality you could want, mp3, wav, etc, is super easy and portable, and has great sound quality for capturing off-the-cuff moments of inspiration.

Sometimes I’ll write out ideas on staff paper so I don’t forget them, but this is usually too tedious for me, since my music notation skills are truly rusty and were never that good anyways.

What do you guys use to capture your rough ideas?

How to Maximize Your First Studio Recording Experience

5 Mar

blueguitar

This is a “guest post” taken from an email exchange with Adam von Gootkin, co-owner and producer at Onyx Soundlab.

How to Maximize your First Studio Recording Experience

You have to have a plan going in. Are you recording to put together your first demo to hand out at shows, or are you ready to start submitting material to record labels?  Will you be selling the material, or just trying to get something simple recorded?  Having a good plan going in leads you to putting together your reasonable budget for a project.  Your expectations should match the size of your budget.  I get a lot of clients that call up and their main question/concern is what is our hourly recording rate.  One of the things I try to educate our clients on, is that it’s better to have a budget in mind before you start calling studios.  If you know you’ve got $1,500 and want to do a demo, then we will customize a package based on that price.  

Pro Studio Rates: Value vs. Cost

It is VERY important to understand that cheaper prices don’t mean anything.  I often say, if you’re primary concern is finding the cheapest recording rate, then we will not be the studio for you. You really get what you pay for in terms of recording.  For example, we include a producer with ALL recording packages we offer to independant artists.  That comes included in our standard recording rate, which is very rare.  And our prices are comparable with other high end studios in the area.  An experienced producer can sometimes charge upwards to $250 an hour, so there is a lot of value there and it definitely shows in the end product.  Remember to shop for studios on a value basis, not necessarily price.  If you find a home or garage based studio and there price is super cheap, recognize it is likely the acoustics are not great, the equipment is cheaper and the skill set of the engineer/producer may not be to the level you require.

One Great Song is More Valuable than Five Mediocre Ones

It is important to look at the big picture.  If you’re a young band with no funding, and your intentions are to get a pro-sounding 5 song demo for $300, the fact is that will not be a reality.  So you have to alter your plan.  I always say having one really well recorded songs instead of 5 songs that haven’t been well mixed is a much better way to go….but again, that depends on your end goal.

Have a Plan

At the end of the day, you have to look at pro recording and a music career as a business venture.  You have only one product, you and your music.  If I was getting started in a band or as a solo artist and had a limited budget, I would spend a few months saving and raising money to do a pro recording. I would look for a studio that could offer guidance and help with production in addition to just recording.  That would ensure I could do the recording once, and have some solid material to hand out, shop out, or sell for the next year or two.  It will save you money over the long run and likely get you where you want to be faster.  Have a plan, know your goals, organize your funding, and have reasonable expectations.  Like they say in construction:  "Measure twice, cut once!"

=========================================
Thanks again to Adam for giving his feedback. As a pro studio owner, he didn’t necessarily agree with my previous post about sticking with my home recordings for the time being because my limit budget has led to some disappointments in pro studios in the past.

Networking & Music Placements – Onyx Soundlab Interview

3 Mar

Having just written a post about my home recording experiments, here’s a great interview from the professional recording world with Adam von Gootkin, co-owner and producer at Onyx Soundlab in Manchester, CT.

I had the pleasure of recording a track at their studio last year, and definitely enjoyed my experience. I was doing a pretty basic classical guitar and vocals track, and we pumped it out in an hour or so. The studio was very nice, and the guys there are very professional.

From my discussions with Adam, I knew they were heavily involved in pitching music to major labels, TV and film, which I knew would interest themusicsnob readers, as most of our popular posts have been about revenue sources like music licensing. So here’s what Adam had to say on some of today’s hot topics for indie musicians:

What types of music projects are occupying most of your time these days?

Actually we’ve been doing a large amount of singer/songwriter acoustic rock-pop type stuff. Historically, we’ve done a lot of hip hop, R&B, and pop. So it’s definitely been nice to diversify a little more. When we first got into the music business we were doing almost exclusively hip hop and R&B. Now, projects here can range from classical music scoring for film, to regular rock projects. It’s really cool how we’ve expanded out into many genres. As a producer, I’ve really expanded my musical interests. I actually have a jazz vocal project coming up with an independent singer. Kind of a Michael Buble meets Zooey Deshanel and I seriously am excited about getting started because it’s a little out of the box for me as a producer.

What are some of your biggest accomplishments in terms of production or song placement?

We’ve had a large amount of high profile recording artists in the studio. Just recently, we worked with Asher Roth on his "Asleep in the Bread Aisle" album, which has gone on to do quite well. We had a lot of fun doing the song "White Lies," with Jessica Sutta of the Pussy Cat Dolls and DJ Paul van Dyk. They did a full music video for that a couple years back and it is up on youtube. We’re working on songs now for the debut album of Shanika Knowles (of the Hannah Montana show,) and think that will be a great album. I really like Shanika’s voice and she has a unique style. We’re also getting tracks together to submit for the next Mariah Carey album.

We have a couple new publishing companies we’re working with right now and expect to be moving a lot of our material much more aggressively in the coming months. We’ve been pursing a lot more tv and film opps as well.

 

How did you network your way into placing songs with major labels?

Really it’s all about establishing relationships. It’s important to keep in mind that A&Rs and publishing agents have a job to do. Their job is to find great music that fits the respective project. The easier you make it for them to do that job, the more success you’ll have. After years of going to conferences, shaking hands, reaching out via myspace and facebook, and making cold calls and emails, after a while you start developing a solid network. We’re fortunate enough to be in a place now, where we don’t just shop out our material, but also that of our studio client’s if the music is up to par. We have so many opportunities from our different connections right now that placing songs into projects is becoming a regular part of my job. As producer/songwriters, we can only create so much product on our own.

 

Where do you think the biggest opportunities are for indie musicians and songwriters right now?

Honestly, I would say in the film and tv publishing side. While the budgets aren’t what they once were, there are hundreds if not thousands of opps on a daily basis. Connect with the right publishers or agents and stay on the opportunities. If you don’t have many direct personal contacts, starting with a company like Taxi.com or pmpworldwide.com is a great way to get material in front of some decision makers. But success in this business is tied directly to persistence, consistency, and longevity. You have to keep making the music and keep getting it out there over a period of time.

What are some common mistakes or misconceptions you see among musicians trying to get into the industry?

Owning a busy recording studio allows us to see musicians at all different levels of preparedness. From a music side, I’m surprised at how many aspiring recording artists and bands neglect vocal training. Even songwriters should have a good understanding of vocals. I see a lot of R&B singers, and lead band singers that are just kind of winging it. If singing is your reason for getting up in the morning, you better get those vocals right! There is such a flood of music in this business right now, only the truly excellent shine through. So it’s crucial to present top notch product from day one. On the business side, many independent singer/songwriters and bands haven’t educated themselves on the different opportunities that are available to them. I’ve told a band before, "this song is great, would you give me permission to submit this to a publishing agent for a film opportunity?" and they have no idea what I’m talking about or how that works. If you intend to be in music as a full time career, you have to learn the different ways that exist to generate an income. There is a lot more to it than playing gigs and getting an advance from a record deal.

 

What tips would you give a potential recording client for getting the most out of a session?

The first thing I tell a client before coming in is that they better have their material memorized. If you have to read lyrics off a sheet then you might as well not bother. At that point, we’re recording you reading instead of recording a performance, which is the true reason for professionally recording in a studio. Know your material front and back so we can use our time in the studio focusing on the creative side, instead of just trying to get something down that is a decent take. Also, do a bit of reading online or get a book about the recording process. If you understand some studio basics, such as recording, production, mixing and mastering, that will help you understand the process much better.

 

Are there any developments in recording or the music industry that you’re excited about that you think indie musicians should know about?

It seems like for the past few years the music business has been full of a lot of bad news. It’s like weekly headlines of, major label sales decrease due to itunes downloads and blah blah blah. At the end of the day, the system will correct itself. Companies are figuring out new ways to increase sales, labels are getting creative, and due to technology, opportunities are more available for bands and artists that are organized enough to take advantage of them. As far as great developments, I don’t really know of anything new at the moment. I think, kind of like the state of our economy right now, everything is slowly regrouping and heading towards an upswing. Hopefully in the next couple years, there will be some exciting new music as we watch the industry evolve. People that are preparing and developing their sound now, will be ready to take advantage of it.

Audio Recording Software – Home Studios

25 Feb

I’m at the point where I want to start putting more demos together of songs that have been accumulating in the back of my mind, as well as record a couple things of decent quality. In the past, I’ve looked at professional studio recording as the most desirable route, and always saw my home recordings as a stepping stone for final studio versions to come down the road.

Home Studio Sounds vs. Never-Good-Enough Pro Studios
In retrospect, however, some of my favorite recordings are the ones I’ve done myself over the years, in various semi-isolated basements and apartment bedrooms, etc. The recordings were solo efforts with relatively simple orchestrations, and perhaps because of that they have a real naked personality and warmth to them. With my pro studio efforts, good is never good enough. If I’m paying a ton of money for something, I want it to be perfect, but it never is. No matter how much I spend, it’s just not going to sound as good as the major label releases I hear. And that pisses me off. There are analog instruments like the drums, for example, that I’m convinced you need huge studio budgets to get top quality recording sounds.

So instead of spending more money I don’t have on pro studio recordings that I will find fault with, I’m going to focus on bare-bones home demos for a while. It’s really just a few songs that I want to focus on, but I love the intimate nature of hearing the full voice, a guitar, some nice subtle effects and maybe another instrument or two. And given my limited technical knowledge, that’s about all I can successfully capture in my home studio. I also want to venture into electronic instruments, which by their nature don’t require nearly the same level of expense to get good sounds.

Audio Recording Software: Which to Choose?
I’ve been researching again the possibilities for home studio audio recording software, so I may post some reviews of what I look at. In the past I’ve used Digital Performer with great success, but my Mac is old and barely running. Unfortunately it looks like my options are limited to PC platforms for now. If anyone has any suggestions, I’d love to hear them. I’m considering: Cakewalk, Cubase, Audacity (free open source software for really basic recording), and a few others.