*Independent artist or label? Set aside an hour to watch this
I admit I was on the fence. Bandcamp was an amazingly simple tool which (at first) let anyone sell or give away their music for free in return for fairly valuable data (email addresses and post/ zip codes). Topspin was a paid service that only approved artists could use and they focused more on their marketing advice as a benefit.
In the last couple of months, Topspin has become available to anyone, and (I'm so sorry Bandcamp, you tried!) it just wins hands down. Having had to train artists up on how to actually make use of the data they were collecting from Bandcamp, set them up with mailing list provider services to send emails, and generally try to turn artist friends in to digital marketers the above Topspin demo is like an answered prayer. They have literally thought of everything at the click of a button, and because its an all in one solution it works out cheaper. If you're an artist or a record label and you haven't checked it out yet, make a cup of tea, set aside an hour and watch the video above - it is a game changer.
"I started making music in 2002..." "I grew up in South London..." "I'm best known for working with so and so..."
It's really hard to write your artist bio, and sometimes it's even harder to find someone who can write it for you. Sitting there staring at a blank screen can even make you question whether you've actually done anything worth writing about, which doesn't exactly inspire you to start.
Last week I came across a really simple way of attacking the bio problem when helping a friend, and that was to stop thinking about it as a biography.
At the top of the page, start with "Once Upon A Time", and begin with how your parents met. Imagine you're writing the story of your family, with you as the lead character. It should be easy to read for almost anyone over the age of 12, and it should make sense without boring them. Try to write quickly and in a continuous flow (I turn off the internet and write in all caps, then change to the correct case at the end). Read it back to yourself aloud, though you may want to pick another voice - I made up a cheesy African American 70s award show host called Bill.
Once you have finished your story, go back and edit. Get rid of "Once Upon A Time" of course, and then delete anything that is irrelevant or boring - you should be able to get the whole thing down to three or four paragraphs. A good bio should make people feel they almost know you and want to ask you questions - if you give every single detail what is there to ask? The hardest thing is knowing what to leave out, so keep imagining someone reading it who has never heard of you and comes from another country (that should also help you remove overly presumptuous statements - "in 2004 she worked with all of Kiddlington's greats - The Badlights, Emma Hope & co..." Huh?)
Try to avoid the usual pitfalls; don't start every paragraph with your name, keep lists of people you've worked with or places you've been as short as possible, don't fixate on boring technical details, and don't write in the first person "then I did this, then I did that". Most importantly, don't tell yourself you can't do it before you start.
When talking to a friend the other day he was embarrassed that his clothes smelled of the rehearsal room he'd been in all afternoon because it was a "closed space", and it struck me how solitary and insular music rehearsals can be. Of course this makes sense sonically, but none of the other performing arts are rehearsed in this way and it got me thinking.
Before you reach a certain level, some things are almost inevitable. The soundsystem at the venue itself might (will) be crap. The sound guy probably won't care about your carefully constructed set. You might not even get a soundcheck and have to beg just for a line check. Your set may be cut short. You won't be the only act on the bill and the rest might be terrible. Most people in the crowd won't know your songs or be able to hear your lyrics. The crowd might talk (yell) all the way through your heartfelt acappella. It sounds quite bleak, but in reality, sometimes it can be - I unofficially manage a number of artists who are paying dues, and sometimes they get off stage and feel like crying.
The problem is, to the audience not much of that stuff really matters. Most people cannot tell if the mix or sound system is terrible. They're not expecting to be able to hear all of your lyrics - the only thing they may fully understand is what you say between songs. They just want to be entertained. Something I often feel at gigs is that musicians forget the obvious difference between being in the studio and being on stage - we can see you. It sounds glib, almost patronizing, but I say it because I come from the opposite end of the performance spectrum as a former dancer, where rehearsal is always either carried out in front of a mirror or an audience, we crave constant feedback and the soundsystem is probably the last thing on our minds. The idea of stepping on stage without that public preparation would terrify me.
Don't wait until after your gig to ask people for feedback, no one wants you to feel bad about something that has already happened and can't be changed. Ask some trusted and honest friends to come to your rehearsals, (not the day before your show, weeks before and regularly) so that they can give you some honest feedback about how your performance makes them feel. If possible, get their children to come along, that way you'll really know if you can hold people's attention! Ask yourself honestly if your show (not set, show) will make people leave raving about you to their friends no matter how crap the venue and circumstances, because that's what makes it worthwhile, not the rubbish fee. Think about what you will do in worst case (but probably not that uncommon) scenarios. Once you step on that stage your every movement is a performance and we want you to commit to it and deliver it to us with very ounce of emotion you had when you wrote it and more, (but this time also on a visual level that has to scale), no matter what happens.
I still talk about how they cut the power on Angie Stone at a festival ten years ago after just one song, but we all stayed in the tent in the dark with lighters, singing with her and clapping our way through her set. Or when Slum Village backflipped off the speakers. Or how Lissie's drummer can sing and play guitar all at the same time. When Matthew Herbert and Eska made the whole Barbican sob. James Brown holding his dancer over his head and being able to do the splits in his 60s. I could go on and on. I imagine you all have amazing gig stories too, but I doubt many of them started "the sound in this venue was amazing..."
If you haven't already of course. I have spent a large portion of my afternoon trying to remember my old password in order to get rid of my Myspace page because the email address I registered with is no longer active, as I suspect is the case for lots of people. This is probably the reason I didn't realise that Myspace changed to a (rubbish of course) new layout where all of the customizations made long ago no longer work and look like a car crash, and there was a giant ad for some rubbish band I don't like on the front.
"Why not just leave it there? I can't be bothered to work out how to change or delete it and no one ever checks it anymore surely?". For most regular folks that is true, but for musicians Myspace was the industry standard for a very long time. That means it usually still comes up top in the search engine rankings for your name even if it looks awful, people are clicking on it - get your shiny up to date website up there instead.
"What about my 10,000 friends??" If you're not logging in what's the point of them? Concentrate on growing your e-mail list and actually emailing it - Twitter does a better job of letting your fans speak to you directly and hear your news than Myspace ever did anyway.
Another reason you should get rid is that the long, humiliating, protracted death of Myspace courtesy of Rupert Murdoch means that your profile is being used to advertise things you have no control over unless you buy a premium account, similar to a bot which harvests and parks adverts on the urls of people's names who may one day become famous (and want to buy them back for an extortionate sum).
Once you've hit 'cancel account' 20 times and gone through the rigmarole which just confirms how rubbish and desperate Myspace is, what next? (Either do that or spend hours updating your page, but don't leave it). There are lots of ways to build a decent web presence, but by far the best option I've seen for artists recently is Flavors. Flavors is a website builder which makes simple but beautiful design really easy, and collects everything else you've got scattered about the web (Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Last FM gigs, Soundcloud, Bandcamp etc - all of which are great but don't give the full picture) in to one nice looking place. I've been recommending it to my friends so a good recent example of it in action is ericlaumusic.com.
A Few Tips (for non-web nerds)
1.//Whatever the top search engine result for you is, make sure it's up to date. If you don't want to delete your Myspace page, update it then push it down the search engine rankings with a good website, Bandcamp, Soundcloud and your social network profiles.
2.//Whether you are about to build a website or not, register your domain name (url) before the afore mentioned bot harvests it. I use GoDaddy.com for putmeonit.com because they send reminders if your credit card is expiring (instead of just auctioning off your URL as a third party once did to me!).
3.// If you're signing up for Flavors, the pro version at $20 a year is pretty cheap and it's on 2 for 1 at the moment so if you arrange to sign up with a friend you can split the cost and get it for $10 each. Bargain.
4.// Whatever your website looks like, add a newsletter sign up form and USE IT. I've downloaded countless free Bandcamp projects in exchange for my email address and I rarely hear from the people who've put them out. Your mailing list are the people who are going to buy your projects when they're for sale, come to your gigs, blog about you etc - stay in touch. I use Your Mailing List Provider because it's the cheapest I've found, and pretty easy to use. Apparently if you use the code: 02NA2J you get a discount. If you're emailing more than a couple of hundred people at a time use a mailing list provider or your email account might get suspended for spam!
5.// There are lots of website builders aimed at artists out there at the moment but for the most part the services they provide seem to be a bit of a rip off - all you really need is a blog (Tumblr is a winning combination of easy to use and very attractive without customization), a bio page, and links to your music, videos, gigs, press shots and social networks.
Whatever you do, don't leave your Myspace looking like a car crash from 1996.
It's that time again, and a large chunk of the emerging musical community is currently in a mild state of panic trying to fill in the epic 53 question Red Bull Music Academy application in hopes of making it to Tokyo this October. The video RBMA put together is fantastic, but I thought I'd ask a few of the past participants if they could add any extra words of advice.
A couple of my thoughts -
The first page looks relatively easy but Question 7 "This is where I am in relation to the musical universe« Please draw us a map!" might be a bit daunting - start with the chunky questions you feel confident about answering first and once your form filling juices are going get on to the tougher questions, you don't have to go through it in order. You might just be Googled - what comes up (something to bear in mind anyway!)? Is the first result a Myspace page you haven't updated in 5 years? Sort it out. *How to post coming soon. It's an amazing opportunity, but if you don't get in are you proactively trying to line up other exciting opportunities off your own back so that you'll be ok either way? Personally, that's the kind of participant I would want to pick.
The RMBA application is one of the few tests in life you'll actually enjoy taking. Give your self lots of time to fill the application out. It's designed to reveal who you are & what your music is about to the academy, you wouldn't want to cram that into an evening. Don't try to make yourself out to be something you're not, your best chance of getting in is being yourself. Show that you work well in a group environment, show that you're open to different cultures, mediums & genres. Just remember, these are questions designed to find out who you are, how difficult could that be?
Andreya Triana -
Main and only piece of advice is to really put your heart and soul into your application, send them music you love and don't feel you need to have a finished polished cd of music!! (I sent some scrappy home made recordings and a few collabs). It's not your bulk standard application and can be as fun as you want to make it. I personally really enjoyed it, it gave me the chance to get the coloring pencils out and all my old mixtapes (which in turn bought back alot of great memories). They won't give you any feedback due to the amount of applications they get but they are great people and if they think you're right for the academy they'll be able to spot it a mile off. So just show them the best you can what you do and hope for the best!
It's an epic form so the main thing is to give yourself a good amount of time to do it. Try get a free day just to get really into it. Think about your answers properly but enjoy it, the questions are pretty fun, its not like doing your tax return or whatever! It's not a performance so don't act like your the shit, just be honest and genuine. They're super clued up, so you're not pitching yourself like you're applying for funding or some shit, it's more like chatting to fellow music geeks. Yeah, cool. Good luck yoOoOoOo!!!
You've got until Monday 17th January if you want to enter the Glastonbury Emerging Talent competition which gives emerging unsigned artists the chance to perform on the main stage at one of the biggest music festivals in the world. It is open to artists from any genre, you don't have to be a guitar wielding mud lover, and rumours abound that Prince and Beyonce are playing this year so it's worth it just to get in.
I'm on the judging panel this year, and I will be objective, but it would be in your best interests if you're entering to only send your very best tracks (on their surprisingly easy application form), because I'm told there will be hundreds we have to sift through and I don't imagine we'll get to track 27 for every act. Good luck!
Apply for the Glastonbury Emerging Talent Festival here
I had an interesting conversation with a young artist this weekend who said that he didn't put his music out online because he was worried people would copy it - that might sound like inexperience talking but Charles Hamilton did try to tell Black Spade to his face last year that he made a beat he in fact copied from Black Spade. Of course the upshot was Black Spade recreated the beat live online and Charles Hamilton couldn't provide the original files as proof he made it so no one believed him.
What's probably the more worrying thing to a new artist is when someone jacks your style, and I think this video is a great reminder of that. There are a squillion Flying Lotus and Hudson Mohawke clones out there but we still want the real thing. If what you have is truly special there will be a demand for it - maybe not so much as individual digital units, but the things we can't copy (live experiences, unique merchandise and memorabilia for example). If what you're doing is easy to copy maybe you need to be more creative...
I'm a really big fan of Bandcamp, but after explaining how it works recently to a few aspiring and emerging artists their eyes all seemed to light up at the same point in the conversation - "you can also sell your music on there", and it's got me worried that they're missing the true value of it.
I must have downloaded well over 200 different projects on Bandcamp in the past year which means I've given out my email address and post code to all of those people, and so far only two artists have stayed in touch. [Disclaimer: the rest of this post will probably be boring if you're not a new artist or you know what you're doing.]
If I were an unknown or emerging artist looking to generate a fan base independently, I would create a couple of amazing projects and plan to give them away for free on Bandcamp. The first thing I would do is make a hit list of influential DJs, bloggers and journalists I think would like it, then approach them all with it personally well in advance of releasing it, letting them know when it will come out and asking for their support. Then when the release date came around I would send them the Bandcamp link and info (personally), and ask them to help me spread the word.
Once the email addresses started to come through I would sign up for a mailing list provider (YMLP is the cheapest & easiest) and email everyone who downloaded my music a thank you. I would also stay in touch with them on a monthly basis about what I'm up to - live shows, music, videos, photos, things that inspire me etc so that I could build a relationship with them - not just emailing them when I wanted something.
Then when I had another project to put out I would repeat exactly what I did last time, only this time I could also let my new found fans know in advance I would have a new project available soon and I'd love their support to spread the word. Once I started to get a decent sized list together and a buzz I would group fans by country/ town and use them to help me book a tour so I could make some cash. I might release a project for sale later on as a pay what you want (of course setting a minimum amount) and hope that 10-20% of my hefty new found fan base would be willing to support and pay for it. When the time came I would also be able to use my play counts/downloads/email addresses etc as leverage when talking to labels who approached me - after all if I could do all of this myself they'd have to bring a decent offer to the table to make it worth it.
What I definitely wouldn't do is put out a half finished, just ok new project every week and spam random bloggers who've never heard of me hoping they'd put it up. I also wouldn't upload my old album that wasn't very well received and try to get people to pay for it. Or be really short-sited and start trying to sell to my fan base when it reached 1000 to try and make £1000 (10% paying £10 each), when if I did my best to get it up to 10-15000 strong I might make £10,000 (10% paying £10 each).
I suppose my thinking is this - ask yourself how much a record label would pay for and invest in your project right now. If that number isn't high because you're a new artist, then use Bandcamp to help get yourself to the point where they will be making you offers, and then ask yourself if you really need them.