Tuesday, July 7, 2015

OCCUPY YOUR MUSIC - Part 8a - Reverbnation conclusion - and kudos to Taylor Swift!

Before I conclude my experience with Reverbnation, I have to, again, give HUGE kudos to Taylor Swift who in recent battle for us all with Itune Music won a historic battle.

She proved exactly what I've been talking about in my series of blogs called - Occupy Your Music. She, in case you didn't know, took her last album off the Spotify because she refused to have them use it without the right remuneration, and her CD sales broke all the records! She also refused to give her music to Itune Music for their 30 day free trial without the proper royalties to all the artists. They listened, and at the end changed their initial plan! Now all the artists are receiving the royalties, not only her. This is nothing but revolutionary. And she deserves all respect for her integrity and fight for the importance of music in general.

Now the time will show what the further changes are coming. For this, all of us should step in and start respecting our music more and fight for the right treatment. I can't wait to see what happens next!

Back to the Reverbnation story, as I tried to explain in my last post, my general experience with Reverbnation was positive. For truly free service you really get a lot, tailored to artist needs. However, for anything more substantial (and this is not the fame or fortune! Only a little more listens and comments, fans, and ranking) you still need to spend a lot of time working on your profile.

This work brings me to the main point I want to make about Reverbnation. The ranking system, the way it's working to date, is only based on your hard work. They even state that in their promo. The more you work on your profile, communicate with other fans and artists, send emails, etc - basically the more you bother people in your network, the higher your ranking will be. This is unfortunately NOT a reflection of your music and profile popularity. Everybody there is working for the same purpose - to bring their ranking higher. Most of the artists there are hardly listening to others, unless you beg them or drag them to your profile to do it, which is in my view not the way. You can, for example, get ten followers from twitter in a day, and if it's linked to your profile it will directly influence your ranking to put it to #1 in your category, although those people never even check your profile, not to mention listen to your music! This should somehow change, but given that most people online are there for their own self promotion, I don't really believe much can be done to change it.

Over time, this has become the least of my concern how high my profile is in their ranking. What is good though is the opportunity to connect with people, promote your gigs, share songs and videos, and if you really have time, to listen to other artist's music. It is mind boggling how much good music is out there, unfortunately, music that will never have a chance to get to a place it really deserves. Why? I will try to explain that in my next post...

Thanks for reading...


Thursday, April 23, 2015

OCCUPY YOUR MUSIC - Part 8: REVERBNATION


Reverbnation has been a bit of a different story. The PR company I was involved with at the beginning of my CD promotion effort had created my profile on there. It still took some work on my part to add the images, logos, and customize the profile. For the basic service free of charge one gets what appears to be more than from any other online service in terms of exposure, connections, gig opportunities, song submission opportunities of various kinds, promotion tools, distribution etc. 
This is the only website that keeps working for you even if you are not making direct presence. As long as your site, Facebook profile, blog, and Twitter profile you are working on even somewhat regularly are synced to your Reverbnation profile, you will see the number of visitors, fans, song listens slowly and steadily growing. But don’t get your hopes too high: this will not make you famous. And Reverbnation will still make way more money off of your free music than yourself. However, your odds are a bit better with this service.



The Reverbnation team appears to work pretty hard on creating opportunities for every musician. You get regular opportunity emails and you can apply to them right from your phone, most of them for free. The odds are very slim something will actually work, but it’s better than nothing right? From their free app you can keep your profile up to date and do the most of what the service offers where ever you are. Check and reply to emails, fan back your new fans, listen to other artist’s music, add shows, add songs, photos, videos, check the stats, and much more. 
From your home computer you can use their free gadgets like player, mailing list signup, video player, shows, free download etc. and place them on your main website, blog, Facebook profile etc. It’s quite smooth and slick and worth a try. Be careful what songs you are posting though. My suggestion is to post experiments, demos, songs that are not too important to you, especially not songs that you published on CDs! It’s proven that giving your published music for free will reduce the number of sales – if you at all have them already! Don’t get the U2 full you. They can give away a whole album through Apple – for a limited time, but be sure that they will make up for it in concert sales and later in CD sales because of the enormity of their popularity. The concert prices are now getting ridiculously high. In Vancouver, the biggest names in the music industry are selling regular tickets from $300 and up! Gone are the days of $40, $50, or even $90. Of course people don’t want to buy CDs anymore when they can stream the same music for almost nothing if they are doing it legally. The only way the music industry figures it can still make money is through inflating the ticket prices.
For us mortals, the only way we can retain some respect for our music is if we are not giving it away. At least we need to make a real careful selection of what we are going to give away. 




OCCUPY YOUR MUSIC – Part 7: ONLINE PUBLIC RELATION COMPANIES


One good thing that MySpace had brought about was getting me in touch with a Canadian fellow artist from Toronto who recommended CyberPR Public Relations  company from New York. The artist had told me that since he hired them, his online presence had flourished to the point he couldn’t believe the difference. That immediately caught my attention. I checked their website, and soon I was in their hands. Only later did I recognized some major differences between me and that particular artist, and about the real reasons for his success. However, I still feel the move to hire the CYBERPR was very beneficial.
The company works on your social media presence, promotion of your music, and overall your product branding. They create your profile on their server that is available to all of their professional contacts including other artists, bloggers, podcasters etc. They also create your RPK that you can link to your website so it’s available to interested parties. After an interview over the phone, they create your artist bio. For this you will have to be available at the agreed time to conduct an interview. For the RPK you need to provide photos for the album and yourself, basic info about your music and CD and the pitch, some digital recordings for podcasters and internet radio stations, and to provide as many songs as possible. I’m glad I provided only 6 as initially I considered providing all! If I was doing this now, I would have provided only partial songs, but I will explain this later.
If you haven’t done it already, they would make your Facebook, MySpace, LastFm, Soundcloud, and Flicker (or similar) profiles and they will keep them pretty active for you. They will also keep pushing you to start and maintain your own blog. Your involvement is obviously constantly required. So, pretty soon, my initial 1.5 hours a day turned into whole evenings of doing online promo! For a while it was interesting as it was bringing some results, but later it became obvious that this kind of involvement will not be able to last.
In any case, it was very beneficial. Soon I started getting more Facebook likes, requests for podcasts, an internet radio station had contacted me to present my song “Sonny” with a live interview, one podcast selected my song “You and I instrumental” as the best in 2010, and as the culmination of it all, a UK blog “For Folk’s Sake” had reviewed my CD and selected it in top 10 discoveries of 2010.


This whole experience of course brought some interesting twists. Very quickly after I joined CyberPR, a podcaster has contacted me complimenting me on my music and requesting a song to be placed on his podcast. I naturally accepted. A few days later he contacted me telling me that he liked my music so much that he hacked into CD Baby site and my page there, and downloaded all my songs! His excuse was that since he was in South Korea or something like that, CD Baby was not allowing him to purchase anything – so he hacked into it! I was shocked. The fact that he liked my music so much he wanted to have it didn’t impress me. I told him he could have asked me to send him a copy (and I wouldn’t even charge him) would be much more flattering than having him steal it. It didn’t seem to faze him at all. 
Another episode was with a podcaster who selected my song as one of the best that year. This was flattering, however, I found his podcasts on sale on ITunes with no remuneration to the artists or even mention about them!
The third episode was with my song “Sonny” that was posted on a website and offered for free without even consulting me about it! After I had a talk with the CyberPR team, they had removed the song, but couldn’t understand why I’m at all upset about it! No, I don’t believe in giving the art for free. It takes a lot of talent and sweat to produce it, and regardless of personal taste, it deserves respect and recognition. In a way, by artists accepting this disrespect as a new reality, we ourselves are creating this massive exploitation of music and art in general, where everybody else is benefiting and making money, in some cases billions – but artists! Read the latest case of Taylor Swift and google about how much artists get from online streaming. You will be shocked, and probably disgusted about it as well… 
The last thing was about the bio. I only got really bad reviews about it. My feeling was that it had been done too quickly, with not much thought, with the structure that was not fitting the accepted norm as I had learnt after my research, but I went with it thinking they should know what works. It didin’t  work, and finally after too many complaints I had to abandon it and create my own. 
While I was with CyberPR, I was at the same time with CTW Promotions, and the Cyber team couldn’t understand how come my number of friends keeps growing so rapidly in comparison to their other clients. This proved to me that only if you have someone or some company working on it daily, you will get more significant results. Even with that, the success rate is very much under question. As I got laid off, I had to discontinue not only CTW Promotions but CyberPR services as well, and eventually it all stopped. After the initial contract, you are offered a monthly service that was at the time about $250. From this perspective I’m not sure that would be money best spent, as all in all, the online promotion could be useful, but is not crucial. For real success, it still seems, the old fashioned leg work still works the best. 


I would like to give you latest example from my experience: Since the backup vocals are very important in my music, realizing that hiring them every time is not feasible, I came across a choir which performed at a concert I was attending with the bass player in my band. I’ve always been interested in singing in choirs but to that point none triggered my attention. The ones that did were usually requiring reading notes which I don’t - so naturally I never attempted trying to get into those. This one was more relaxed, yet still with some serious repertoire that would give me both training for my vocal chords and keep me educated about music in general. So I eventually joined them. I’ve already got not only interest from fellow singers to help me with the backup vocals, but to attend my every performance. The first one happened just before the holidays, and just by sending one email to everybody (about 25 people in total), I got 4 showing up (4 more stopped by to pick up more people and they ended up drinking too much so couldn’t drive… but that’s another story…). That’s still a pretty good percentage (6.25%). Out of 800 plus people I invited on Facebook, only one had actually shown up! By word of mouth I also invited a few of my closest friends probably about 15 or so, and 5 showed up! About 33%!
When you think about online involvement, you got to consider how much time you are spending on there and what you are actually getting. The more I’ve been doing it, the less I’m convinced it actually helps much.
Back to the artist from the beginning of this Online Public Relations Company story: He was and is a professional musician probably at least in his 50s with at least 30 years of experience in the industry. He has worked with some big names in the industry; he does music and everything around it full time, he has real time connections and fans already. In his case, the online promotion makes sense just to boost his brand, to add to what he already has. Without the real time involvement in his music business, the online presence would do very little for him and for anybody for that matter. The time will come when more and more artist will be waking up to this realization and we will see a decline in artists’ online involvement. Unfortunately, there seam to be a limitless pool of wannabe musicians out there desperate to get their music out so I don’t foresee a disappearance of online music services. I’m only hoping that we will all put the respect of our own music it deserves back, and stop giving it away.



OCCUPY YOUR MUSIC – Part 6: CTW PROMOTION SERVICE

One benefit of joining the Music BC Association was getting a contact of the Conquer The World Promotion Service recommended by them. The service was online promotion on social media like Facebook, Twitter, and such. It’s sad to see that they don’t exist anymore as I can’t find them online. Although the service was pricy, it did work as promised. One of the issues with similar companies is that most don’t really work with real people, don’t create personal contacts, the Likes on Facebook are not real etc. The recommendation by the Music BC proved true, and very soon I started seeing the benefits. The number of MySpace friends started growing very fast. That was very encouraging, especially as the price for the weekly service was $50. I believe I was paying those $200 a month for at least a year if not longer. It was worth it as at the end of that year I had about 60,000 friends on MySpace! And all of them were actually legit. The CTW team had a clear and productive strategy, and I could see them working daily on promoting my music. This reflected on the number of people who accepted the friend request, listened to the music, and liked my Facebook page. If I had not been laid off from my day job at the time, I would have probably continued using their services. I’ve learnt that most artists who used similar services got way better results than the ones who were trying on their own. It requires a lot of work, and a very specific promotion strategy with some automated message generation processes that one is very unlikely to master on their own, unless they focus on that full time.
One relatively minor problem with this was coming from constant changes on social media sites. I figured they make the changes not only to improve on service, but even more so to get people back to their sites to hang there for longer periods of time. Even though I was paying for the service, I still had to spend every once in a while updating my profiles, changing security settings etc, etc. This was at times very frustrating, but not because of the CTW Promotion, only for the strategic changes in social media sites.
For a while after I got laid off I reduced their service to a less expensive package of $20 a week, but I couldn’t sustain that for longer than 6 month so eventually I had to stop. However, I highly recommend similar services, only if they work with real people and not artificially generated numbers. To figure out who is legit and who is not requires some time to research, test, and look for trusting sources of recommendation.
To be continued...

OCCUPY YOUR MUSIC – Part 5: CD BABY and THE STREAMING SITES



As my CD got done and I got all 3000 copies packed in all the drawers and storage I could find around my house, I created a CD Baby profile and sent the 5 copies of each CD release (the Serbian and English version). I signed up for hard copy as well as the digital release, and in a few days my music was all over the internet. Four years after, several online profiles later, many and many hours spent on online promotion, I only have 1 CD sold, and 3 digital copies, and several streaming of songs, all together not adding up to $50 minimum that CD Baby requires to send you a check! Sad I know.
However, even after all that discouragement, I still believe that one of the best moves in all this was actually creating a profile on CD Baby and posting my music. Why? First, because for a very modest fee per album you get it permanently (hopefully forever) online, and in their stock. Personally, that means a lot to me even if it does not sell. Second, they seem very professional, and they know what they are doing. The service is smooth, the site is with no glitches, your info and stats about your sales are easily accessible and it’s all very well organized. Another very important benefit for me personally was that soon after I had posted it on CD Baby, the Canadian Library of Archives had contacted me requesting copies of my CD for their archives. To date, this is pretty much the most valuable thing that happened to my CD not only after I posted it on CD Baby, but otherwise as well. 



A couple things I would have done differently though. First, I would seriously reconsider posting my music on Itunes (so called digital distribution). I’m still not quite sure if I would completely take it down or not post it at all. In any case, the streaming sites I would avoid completely. On CD BABY you are able to track when and who bought your music and in what form. You can also see the prices each individual paid to get or stream your song. I have my music on several streaming sites and one stream is paid $0.0004 on Spotify! Rhapsody pays $0.0091, Muve Music pays $0.00099, Xbox Music: $0.0023, Rdio: $0.008, Last.fm: $0.0005, My Space: $0.0007 etc. Deezer pays $0.3564 for a song download!
It’s not surprising the latest scandal about the mainstream artist who had his song streamed millions of times and got only $3,000 for it!
That is the very reason Taylor Swift boycotted the online streaming. Guess what: She “Occupied Her Music” and her CD sales skyrocketed!



OCCUPY YOUR MUSIC – Part 4: MUSIC ASSOCIATIONS



In the meantime my CD was out and I had it registered with Socan, Music BC, and The Canadian Songwriting Association, and subscribed to their magazines. I thought if I wanted to get anywhere with all this I needed to throw myself right into it and keep up to date with the latest buzz. I’ve created profiles on both Socan and The Canadian Songwriting Association. My feelings about the effect of it are mixed. While there was no immediate benefit, the opportunity is there if you have time to utilize it. You are kept in the loop, you know what is happening at any moment in your city or the country, and if you got time and money to travel and mingle you will sooner or later gain some contact, some gig or such. If you are willing to schmooze there is some paid as well as free events organized by the Music BC, and similarly in other provinces. For me so far it hasn’t worked. The events I wanted to sign up (a few of them) didn’t work because of the time and location. Having to work daytime, half the day is out, the rest was usually a question of should I work on my new song or spend the evening schmoozing. I always chose the new song. At least I got a couple hundred songs in the last 4 years! I’m not good at schmoozing anyways. I believe that a musician should be able to either hire someone to do it for them – if he or she has means for it, or to get into an agreement with a PR or a music manager, label or similar.  Plus, I don’t believe in having to go around and beg people to listen to my CD or check out my Facebook page. And that is a big problem in general. 




Back to my first statement at the top of this article, if your song is on TV you don’t have to do much to get it heard. If people like it they will reach for it anyway. To this day I hate begging people to turn their heads and stop and listen. Do we ever do that on the street? No, and most likely most people would just pass you by if you did. I ignore all requests like “check out my CD”, or “Listen to my new song”, even when they are given for free, especially then, because I believe that giving it for free diminishes the value of the work, plus I don’t want to support giving the art away. Hence this series of blog posts. However, if the artist intrigues me with some content on his / her profile I will make time to check the music, and even keep up to date with what’s happening with it. 
Aside from registering the music with Socan, which should be done by default, the magazines have been the most important benefit from getting into the Music Associations so far. The gear updates, software and hardware updates, events, festival information, competitions, songwriting techniques and analysis, gig experiences, music business info etc. they are all things that you might benefit from at any point in your journey. I keep all the magazines still, as I haven’t read them all front to back yet, but I’m hoping I will get back to them sooner or later. Usually to leaf through them to get the sense of the overall, and read the main articles  it takes me about 30-45 minutes. Add to that about 1.5 hours of social media updates (there is many more sites that I will talk about later), that is minimum 2 hours a day spent on creating your online presence. Usually, that is way too much than I feel I should be doing. As the time goes by, I’m spending less and less time on it, simply because I don’t see the results that would make it worthwhile.
To be continued...


OCCUPY YOUR MUSIC -Part 3: MYSPACE



Immediately after the final mixing was done and I got the master recordings, I started creating online profiles. It was reasonable to accept at the time that online resources and opportunities should be used. Very soon after creating a bunch of online music profiles I realized that this might not be what I thought it was, and it would not bring the results I was hoping for. Especially because I don’t think my expectations were all that high anyway. However, the one expectation that was totally unrealistic was the thought that no matter where it is music matters to people. 
Not quite.

The only proven thing is – music trully matters to people only if:
1) It  gets on TV.
2) It is played on radio.
3) If you play live.
4) If you hit the jackpot of creating a viral video of your song or cover.
5) If you are in a business that uses free music as their main bait for customers.
6) If it’s free.
Everything else will bring you a few (valuable though) listeners and followers here and there, in return for hours of online presence – if you got time for all of it.
The first profile I created was on MySpace. 



MYSPACE

It’s amazing how much things changed in regards to this online media for music promotion in only a few years. I couldn’t wait to post songs on there, so I posted 7 full songs thinking everybody will jump on the new thing curious to hear it. What a joke! It was only the first song that got a bit more listeners, and only after I would spend an hour or more online trying to communicate to people and pitch my profile. Looking at the activities and reading the comments of other people trying to figure out why they are there, I realized it’s not the music. For the most part, the social part of it was the reason to hang out. Mostly to get laid actually! At the time Myspace was the biggest online music promo thing, but who was mostly listened? You guessed it: the biggest acts in the music industry. The ones from TV and the radio.  The little guys and gals, including myself, were trying to piggy back their popularity by working really hard to get them as Myspace friends. I even talked to some who were claiming to be the actual artists, but very quickly I realized it was people they hired to work on their online presence.
Aside from my enthusiasm rapidly melting, the website itself was quite buggy and unreliable. The design changes they kept introducing were screwing up my habits, slowing down my computer, crashing it even. At times it was really frustrating. 
Initially I started spending a few hours a day on Myspace working on acquiring friends. One of the strategies I thought logical at the moment was to friend the most famous artists who in any way influenced my own music or I for any reason respected. My hope was that having their names on my friend list would benefit my own music. That proved totally wrong and useless. The only thing that was beneficial there was the free promotion THEY all got in return for pretty much nothing. Soon I realized that I would have to spend many hours daily to gain any significant number of friends. The percentage of them who actually had listened to my songs proved to be very minimal. In 4 years the top song (and one of the best on my album – You and I instrumental) has gained less than 2000 listens! 
Now I only occasionally go there to check my profile.  The interface has changed completely, and the music seems to be even less important. Last time I checked I couldn’t even stream the songs on my iPhone because of some incompatibility issues they were blaming on Flash Player or something – I lost interest in trying to figure out all the reasons they come up with. At the moment, it is possible to stream the music on your mobile device, but it’s somewhat cumbersome to access your own profile and find the music. Reading the latest comments of the people, MySpace still keeps losing its popularity over Facebook as much as it keeps trying really hard to become a relevant social media site where people would come and hang out for longer periods.
The second profile I had created was of course Facebook. My page was up and running very quickly. However, getting people to like my music on Myspace from Facebook was a challenge. I hoped that linking it and promoting it on Facebook, and creating the presence on the page daily would make a difference. At times it felt the opposite – the more presence I created the less interest I provoked. Later I learnt from some research that only 5% of all people you friend on social media sites will actually click on your page and take a look! Not to mention the % of people who would actually reach to buy your music, which is almost insignificant! 
So, needless to say, as soon as my presence on MySpace subsided, so did the interaction with people and the number of listeners.
To be continued…