October 30, 2007

Does your band measure up?

Have you ever wondered if your band is 'good' or not? How do you measure this, and if you do measure it, via downloads, myspace hits, or plays, how do you draw meaningful conclusions? Let's keep it simple, and try to judge by something easy to measure, and easy to draw conclusions from (even if it's not scientific). You can even try this at home!

Recently, while reading an SEOmoz article on what I'm going to call, 'friendly spamming,' I had a bit of a realization. Rebecca was complaining (politely) about how people expect her to digg up their articles because they're friends.
I don't want to sound like a jerk, but if you're requesting votes from people you need to understand that these people are doing you a favor by awarding your content with a vote. If you keep bugging them and badgering them and incessantly hounding them to vote up your content, they're not going to want to award you with a vote any more.

Sound Familiar? Maybe you do this when you're trying to promote a show? well the same concept applies. If you hound your friends to constantly be doing things to 'support' your band, pretty soon they won't want to do anything for you. They might even start trying to avoid your phone calls. But let's assume for a moment you don't incessantly pester your friends with upcoming shows, myspace spam, new merch they have to buy, etc. Rebecca also said this:
If someone does not vote for your content, don't hold it against him or try to guilt him into voting ("Come on, we're friends!"). If even your friend doesn't think the content is worth his time, what chance does your piece have of being interesting to the mainstream?

This (perhaps unintentionally) hits on an important point. If your friends don't think your band, or something your band is doing, is worth his time, what chance does it have of being interesting to someone who doesn't even know you? Probably none.

Unfortunately you can't just ask your friends if your band is good; social rules, and mushy crap like feelings get in the way of honesty. So here's what you can do to find out if your band (or just something your band is doing) is good enough to really be worth it:

For this example, I'm going to use a song as an example, because it's the simplest thing a band can produce, and if you repeat the process with each song you make, it'll help you improve much more quickly than just guessing as you go.
  1. Keep track of all the people you tell about the song. If they've already heard it when you tell them, ask how.

    This is your first indication of how interesting and desirable the song is to hear (and how good it is). If they heard it from someone else, we know that person probably likes it, or at the very least, thought it was worthy of talking about. A really good song, will be introduced to people primarily though other people who already like it.

  2. Keep track of how many times you generally have to remind your friends to come to your shows.

    This is a relative measure. Some people are just forgetful but be honest with yourself. If it was something else (that you aren't involved with), and the person in question was interested in attending, how many times would you have to remind them?

    If you find yourself telling your friends about shows, and reminding them to come, and they still don't show up... you might have a problem. Again you have to compare this to how they act in other circumstances, but if you can't get your friends to come to shows, maybe you should think of ways you can make your shows more interesting/appealing/etc.

  3. Ask people what they don't like about your band, and don't just ask friends. Ask people who dislike your band - They'll be the most honest.

    This is where you get feedback on what you can do to improve. Be careful though, don't change to fit the genre preference of the people you ask. Try to weed out the comments that pertain to genre preference to get at the things you can do, without abandoning what the band actually is.

    Garageband.com is a really good place to get a feel for how non-friends react to your songs, the $15/song listing fee is absolutely worth it (you can list free by doing reviews though). However I need to let you in on something first... not all the reviews are actually worth a damn.

Lastly, I just want to say, 'Don't Give up!' It takes time to develop something that people really like, and get excited about. Keep making music and developing your style, and try to think of ways to be different, interesting, and appealing.

October 29, 2007

Your Name is Everywhere

Your name is everywhere you go, on everything you do. So don't steal, don't murder, and for god's sake, don't release bad recordings!

I understand the temptation to just get those quick and dirty demos out, you just want to have something, anything to show people. Don't do it. Really. Don't. Your name is on everything you do, and if you do something low quality, even if it's meant to just be quick and dirty, people listen to it and make judgments. Once you release something, it's near impossible to get it back out of circulation, and first impressions are very hard to change.

Here's an example: I'm a recording engineer and I occasionally agree to give bands a rough mix so they can listen to what's done so far, and thing of things they want to change. I know I should follow my own advice, but... well I have nothing to say for myself. Some band members who weren't privy to the fact that these mixes were (very) rough were very upset about the quality and insisted on recording the remainder of the project elsewhere.

Disclaimer: If I worked on a demo/CD/anything for you and you think this story is about you... don't worry I'm not upset about it, this is how you learn. hopefully I'm not getting myself in trouble.

The moral of the story is, don't release anything that isn't complete, and always spend the time/money necessary to produce a high quality product (whether it be a recording, stickers, t-shirts, album art, etc), or else you run the risk of being judged against the completed works of everyone else, instead of just the context which you intended.

Inspired by Mike's blog posting which, according to the blurb at the end was inspired by somebody else,
This all stemmed from Mr. Jay Briody’s away message: “Your name is on everything you do.” I was going to tell him I was having a problem similar to Ted’s in Panel 1 regarding a pseudonym, and then thought Jay may appreciate this retort as a comic rather than a random message.
If you've already learned your lesson, comment. If you think I'm wrong, comment. If you want some candy, comment. Happy halloween!

What's up with first albums

I've heard a lot of talk about first albums - that first albums are better, and why this is. The thing is... I think people take this out of context and sort of miss some important things. Here are the reasons I've heard:

On their first album, bands...
  • have more time to spend on their first album (since they're not yet in high demand for tours, appearances etc), so they really get to make it exactly how they want.
  • are younger when they make their first albums, and because they're less developed as musicians, they don't have subconscious tendencies toward doing the same things over again (which certainly puts a damper on new, creative ideas)
  • sometimes only really have one thing going for them, and so when their first album comes out it's new (to people who havn't heard them yet) but on release of subsequent albums, it becomes clear that they don't have any other ideas.

These ideas seem logical but after endless nights of pondering I had a breakthrough. Here's what I think:

When a band stumbles on a really good idea, they quickly become popular and are 'discovered' (signed). They go on to produce an album based on this good idea. The album is good as it's the embodiment of the very idea which brought them their initial success.

At this point, the band has to try to do something new in order to keep the interest of the their fans and the media. This is where many (even most) get caught up. At this point it's sort of a numbers game - what are the chances the same handful of people will have two great ideas in a row? I say it's pretty low. Following this logic, most of the time they release something that is less desirable, and people start drawing conclusions (see above).

When you look at it this way it's pretty clear how to explain the circumstances that lead us to the conclusions at the beginning of this entry.

Bonus features:

Mike Sudhalter mentioned in a related blog post that often times fame creates a disconnect between the artist and their fans, making it difficult to continue writing songs the masses can relate to:
Take Gretchen Wilson. On her "Here for the Party" debut, she had a megahit with "Redneck Woman", a song that millions could relate to. The reason they could understand? Listeners realized that Wilson lived every word of that song and was proud of who she was.

Now, she's a multi-millionaire in Nashville, not the small town girl bartending in a rowdy Illinois tavern. She's tried to duplicate the success of "Redneck Woman", but it's tough to be the same person when you're now a superstar. It's tough road for Wilson. Because if she goes for a different image, some fans will say she sold out. But it's pretty clear, by listening to her songs, that she's not living them like she once did.

I believe this is probably a valid concern, but it doesn't seem to bother too many people if you embrace your fame. Sure some will say you sold out, but lets take a look at a few artists who still sell lots of records despite a change in song writing (due to fame).
  • Nickelback - "Rockstar"
  • Britney Spears - "Lucky"
  • Kanye West - "Gold digger"

There's a huge base of songs I could list but I think one generic artist from each of the 3 biggest genres will do. Now it's your turn... find all the exceptions and prove me wrong!

October 15, 2007

In (Top 10) Rainbows - not so good after all?

Ok, I love Radiohead. Last.fm loves Radiohead. So everything is good right? Well, maybe not: Just because Radiohead can let their fans pay whatever they want doesn't mean it'll work for everyone else.

Radiohead's recent album, "In Rainbows," has enjoyed the limelight the past few weeks, especially on social media sites. The success of the album has people talking about a possible new model for the music industry, and the amount of money some people have paid for the album has been sort of a, "Told you so," directed at the RIAA and Label execs.

Before we all hop on the band wagon, we should take a few things into consideration:
  1. Radiohead fans are notoriously loyal (madison square garden)
  2. They've already had several very successful albums
  3. They don't need the money
The problem: they're already so popular they can release a 10 track album, and secure all 10 of Last.fm's top 10 songs, the week the album is realeased:
Screenshot of Last.fm
Do you really think this is a good model for new music? It seems to me, well established bands will be able to keep on making it, while it will just get harder for lesser known artists to compete; especially as the expectation shifts toward cheaper/free distribution of music. Steve O'Hear did a nice writeup on alternative business models suggesting that the music would be a loss leader designed to get fans out to shows.

Seems hard:
  1. Try to give away your music in an environment of nearly infinate competition (which will cost money)
  2. Then try to get people to come to your shows (which will have to cost more to support the artists)
What do you think? Leave a comment!

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October 9, 2007

Radiohead vs. NineInchNails

Who would win in a fight? Radiohead or Nineinchnails?

I encourage you to be funny with your answers. but here's my NONFUNNY answer.

Radiohead, because they're giving away free downloads of their new album.

However, now that NIN has been booted from their record label for encouraging fans to download pirated copies of their albums... it's not like you're going to get in trouble for that either.

Horray for the end of music as big business.

© 2008 Jim Robert