Networking & Music Placements – Onyx Soundlab Interview

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 or 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.

Make Music, not T-Shirts

Today’s guest blog comes from Chris Wochagg at, an online video portal for artists and musicians.


I’m tired of hearing the suggestion that musicians just have to cross finance through merchandising, ringtones, more gigs and expensive VIP tickets to their gigs. This may work for some bands – call it the Arctic Monkeys Bands – but it ignores a great field of composers and musicians committed to the studio and artists who aren’t willing to perform a rock’n’roll show every night and sell t-shirts, because their “fans“ may have outgrown the age of wearing band t-shirts.

Not every artist is able to entertain crowds nor is sorely tempted to be the focus of a photographer‘s lightning storm, but – and that’s the point – can be an appreciated musician/artist. So there is an enormous number of musicians out there who do not benefit from a “share everything and get more concert visitors” precept. It makes me believe that the idea of making money with additional goods should still be a great possibility to have a greater income and promote the artist, but not the only chance to survive.

This doesn’t mean that we should support DRM, set restrictions on the consumer or try to save the CD as a medium and the exploiting businesses of the majors. The era of the digitalization won’t stop, we’ve already passed the point of no return. Do we have to believe that nobody is going to pay for music anymore? Don’t think so. What we would need is transparency. 

Continue reading “Make Music, not T-Shirts”

Selling Product Placements in Songs

It appears that a serious hack has infiltrated the upper (or lower, depending on how you see it) echelons of music marketing, and recently conducting an email campaign offering companies product placements in songs by the likes of the Pussycat Dolls, among others. One of the people he unwittingly sent the email to writes a blog for the Anti-Advertising Agency, a group of ad professionals(?) that lament the influence of ad professionals on the world.

There’s an article at Wired about this mis-sent email and the idiotic attempts by its author to have his good deeds de-publicized. Here’s one of his winning defenses of selling product placements in songs:

We are just financially taking care of the people that should be taken care of…If an artist like Sheryl Crow has the same target audience as XZY brand, we feel it’s nothing but a strong and strategic way to pinpoint a market.”

I was thinking of starting a non-profit recently to “take care of” Sheryl Crow, but I’m glad a for-profit got to it first and is looking out for her. She seems to really be suffering.

That said, I also disagree with the Anti-Advertising people, who seem to advocate a disabling “integrity” that would shame every artist into giving away his last pieces of property and living under a tree in a public park:

Unfortunately, it does seem that some truly independent artists actually DO need the money provided by a momentary advertising fix.”

So they’re saying that some people, even though they have no corporate sources of income, may actually need money to survive like the rest of us? Who could imagine?! 

Get off your high horse. And take a writing class: their mission statement does everything but lay out a mission, getting lost in the satisfaction of using words that obscure and make uninteresting any actual point they may have.

But that’s just me, a broke independent musician, bitter that Coca-Cola hasn’t called yet asking me to write a song about Diet Sprite.

To subvert the subversion, I’ve decided to place this icon above my Google ads:

Maybe if they institute a pay-per-click program I can offset the loss of giving my music away for free.

A Quiet Week…

It’s been a quiet week here at The Music Snob, recharging batteries and experiencing music instead of writing about it.

Soon we will forge ahead with further talk of music licensing opportunities and other aspects of music marketing. Part of my quiet has been accepting that the best way to get heard these days is to give away your music for free. It took a while, but I’m convinced of this from my rampant surveys of music marketing blogs and the unsatisfactory returns on the time I’ve put into trying to sell my music.

My recent release, Bbelief, was a monumental effort for me in terms of time, passion, and money, and the results are my best musical creation thus far. Letting go of it and just putting it out there for free has been a psychological blow, as I think it’s probably the thing of most “value” that I’ve contributed to society.

Click here to download my 4-song EP

The “industry” discusses music as just another form of brand marketing these days, with the idea being, don’t worry about giving it away for free, because that’s how you get people interested in buying merchandise and concert tickets from you. Sounds like I better leave the woodshed and go on tour!

Give Your Music Away for Free?

Here’s an interesting post at the Music Think Tank about giving away all of your music for free. While on the surface this seems like an insult to artists everywhere, the point is that most artists (me included), stress out over selling a few dollars worth of CDs, and that the reward of actually making a few bucks here and there isn’t worth the mental energy.

Some bands will hit the magical ride to popularity, but for the rest of us, most music just won’t be bought. This is my experience. With my first EP, I ended up just giving them away because I had no use for boxes of them in the basement.

Here’s the lovely conclusion: “…you’re almost more likely to get a blowjob after a gig than sell an MP3.” Which is clearly evident from one of ZRock’s recent episodes. Give it a read and check out the massive discussion in the comments.

You just might find yourself liberated…

The Key to Success is Failure

One of my favorite mantras, which can and should be applied to an indie musician’s music pursuits, is “Fail Faster“. I came across this idea in a book by Robert Kiyosaki, the well-known author of Rich Dad Poor Dad. In his book “Before You Quit Your Job” he explains that starting a business entails doing a lot of things wrong and learning from your mistakes along the way. Given that mistakes are an intrinsic part of the growth process, the faster you make mistakes, the more quickly you will find the correct path to success.

The idea of “failing faster” has direct implications for the indie musician, who is in effect starting a small business:

  • Get used to rejection, and develop a thicker skin
  • Learn which songs move people and which ones fall flat
  • Improve your skills as a musician and performer faster
  • Get quick feedback on how well your marketing efforts are going

To me, the most important promise of “failing faster” is that you will get used to rejection and develop a thicker skin. It’s often said that the most persistent, not the most talented, succeeds. The music industry is proof of this: how many mediocre bands do you see selling music and getting gigs, while you sit in your basement refining your masterpiece tracks, which a total of one person will hear?

It’s hard to be persistent in the face of criticism and indifference, but the better you can adapt to these, the better shot you have. For me personally, I have at times been way too afraid of people’s reactions, and thus avoided performance situations and telling people about my music. The more I accept that there will be poor performances, under-attended gigs, and a lot of rejection, the easier it is to handle. And when it doesn’t hurt so bad, the more energy I will put into finding success.

Some artists seem born this way: I can’t imagine Axl Rose or Shakira, for example, ever feeling less than 100% confident in what they do. Perhaps their strong personalities were what carried them to the limelight. For the rest of it, it’s trial and error, building our resistance to rejection.

Additional Myxertones Features – SMS Fanlists, Videos, etc.

Recently we took a look at Myxertones and Xingtone, two companies that enable independent artists to sell music via ringtones and make some extra cash. The people at Myxertones were nice enough to send us some more info on a few features that are also available that we all might want to know about:

In addition to our free “MyxerTag” (aka our widgets for blogs, Myspace, Facebook, etc.) and “MyxerCode” (the custom artist/item codes which empower users to download content directly to their mobile phones) which you mentioned in your post, Myxer also provides something called a Fanlist to all artists, free of charge.

A Fanlist allows fans to opt-in to receive SMS text announcements directly from the artist/band. Limited to around 110 characters, these “text blasts” are intended to further connect artists to fans by allowing artists to send timely announcements to fans’ phones. Many artists use this feature to announce upcoming tour dates, or updates to their Myxer ringtone offerings. (I’m a fiction writer, and use the service to distribute serialized short stories.) The service is free for both artist and fan. Fans can opt-out of the “fanblast” service at any time.

In addition to selling ringtones and wallpapers, artists can also sell videos via our service, as well.

For more ambitious content creators, Myxer also offers access to its free API, which can be used to further customize the distribution of an artist’s Myxer mobile content.

For more Myxer info you can check out their blog here.

How to Make Money Selling Your Music as Ringtones

There are many online services available these days that quickly and easily help you sell your music as ringtones, or turn album art into mobile phone wallpaper. These services will give you your own mobile content store that you can embed in your MySpace page or on other sites, and give your fans new ways to enjoy your creations.

Caveat: Do people really use ringtones? I’m not sure. While I exist in a bubble insulated by snobbery and isolation, I hear that human consume ringtones in supersize quantities, and that people are actually willing to pay MORE for ringtones than the actual songs they come from. Which seems RIDICULOUS to me. But hey, perhaps that means ringtones are a great way to subsidize the cost of songs. In the near future I will be setting up some songs as ringtones and do an experiment to see how well they sell…Perhaps those of you who actively use ringtones can share your stories and ringtone dreams…

Below is a quick review of two of the more popular services available that enable independent artists to sell their own ringtones…

Myxer helps you create and distribute mobile phone ringtones and wallpapers. If you want to sell them, you can use their tools to do that as well.

Myxertones is free if you want to give away your content. Otherwise they keep 70% of gross sales for overhead and their own pockets if you sell your tones or wallpapers.

Selling Tones
Myxertones allows you to set the price for each ringtone or wallpaper between $0.99 and $2.99. The service provides MyxerTags, small pieces of HTML code, that you can add to your website or MySpace page to sell directly to your listeners. Users enter their phone number and receive the corresponding mobile content.


  • Includes online tools to make ringtones and wallpapers
  • No up-front costs.
  • Receive payments through Paypal
  • Generate text codes to enable download of ringtones directly from mobile phones
  • Ringtones included in the Myxer catalog, which may give additional exposure


  • Because you pay nothing up front, you receive a lower percentage of sales (30%) compared to other services that charge monthly fees and pay out 40-50%.

Xingtone enables you to turn your audio into ringtones, and then sell or give them away via your own mobile content webstore. These “webstores” can be embedded on your website, blog, myspace page, etc.

Xingtone is free if you give away your ringtones. If you want to charge people, Xingtone will charge you. Plans are as follows:


Selling Tones
Artists can set the price for ringtones (they recommend $0.99-$3.00), and the plans pay out 40-50% of the gross sales, with the rest going to Xingtone.


  • Customizable embedded “mStores” for selling your ringtones

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Lose the Starving Artist Mentality

I emerged from adolescence with this strange notion that the creation of art is somehow opposed to the principles of capitalism, and that the hallmark of a true artist was his capacity to embrace and suffer the injustices of poverty. This is stupid. In my mind, it suggests that artists should feel embarrassed or ashamed for wanting to make a living from their talents. Society asks them to sacrifice their wellbeing so it can consume the results of their struggle. And an essential part of the archetype is that this suffering somehow engenders better artistic results.

Suffering: Is it Good for Your Music?
Taken to an extreme, perhaps this is true. If Thom Yorke didn’t feel so alienated from society, we’d never have been given OK Computer. And if you had millions of dollars, a handful of butlers and your own private island, perhaps you’d become complacent and would stop looking for new sounds and song ideas. But generally, making good music is hard work, and typically, hard work is productive work when you aren’t starving and can afford clean clothes and a shower. And don’t return home exhausted every evening after your full-time “real” job, at which point you expect creative inspiration to strike. And in Thom Yorke’s case, it’s clear that his alienation is not a function of finances, otherwise his alienation vs. riches graph wouldn’t look like this:

Alienation and Riches graph

On the other hand, maybe the starving artist archetype emerged because the majority of artists will, by definition, always be mediocre, and who wants to give money to someone that sucks? Well, lots of people, in reality.

Get Paid, You Deserve It
Whatever your case is, I’m just saying that if people like your music, you should be paid for it. Which puts me in an awkward position, given that I have gifted myself music from time to time, via peer-to-peer networks.

I foresee contradicting myself over and over as we proceed. Sometimes I’m impressed by how illogical the sum of my convictions is…

These things make for good debate, though…

How to Make Money from Your Music

The music purist in you might find this title offensive, but I would say that it’s a glamorous simplication of what this blog is going to be taking a look at. There are a billion companies screaming for the dollars of starving indie musicians; it only seems logical that we musicians use our collective knowledge and experiences to help each other separate the good from the bad, so that our precious few dollars might result in real listeners, instead of credit card bills and despair that your songs have vanished into the void of obscurity.

Listeners=$$$. Sometimes.
We are assuming here that listeners=money. In reality this really isn’t the case, as many record labels enslave artists and hand them a giant bill before kicking them to the curb. See here:

Record Deal Graph

But I guess we are addressing the difference between selling 10 downloads and 1000 downloads, not VH1’s Behind the Music tragedies…

Since web and mobile technology are so ubiquitous and pretty addictive, we will be looking at a ton of that sort of stuff. Overall, we’ll tackle major revenue areas:

  • Licensing
  • Gigs
  • Physical CD sales
  • Online distribution
  • Class action lawsuits

And whatever else we come up with…