Friday, January 07, 2005

"Promoting the Album"... uuooogh.

If you are a musical artist that wants to record a CD from scratch and has not done that yet, this blog may be useful for you. If you have CD and want to make it sell more and more, that's kind of where this blog leaves off-- if you have just now visited, you are joining at that point.

If you are someone who likes free MP3 downloads then here's site that you can sign up for an account and do that and you can download the music of Utenzil that is the topic of writing herein here.

If you are a music fan, then this blog takes you behind the scenes of the recording and production of an artist's first CD release. The artist is not particularly outrageous, hopefully knows his limitations and generally performs on key, on tempo with lyrics that are not too amateurish and original music that has a fair amount of variety and interest.

Also, this is *not* 'remixes', where the large part of the musical composition has already been established by someone else and is then embellished, but electronic compositions that might use some musical ideas already established, but not assembled into a composition.

As a money making venture, music almost always requires up-front investment with no real guaranteed return. Take the lowest common denominator: we've all seen musicians that are, say, pretty good saxophone players and have a saxophone, standing out on a street corner playing and get some spare change thrown in their instrument case-- it will be a while before they would be able to pay for a saxophone in this manner. If you are a really good singer, you *might* be able to do this and make money from the get go with no investment (because your instrument is free) but the singer on the street corner across that is maybe half as good as you but which can also can play a guitar and has one, will very likely win out. So the essential idea there is get an instrument that is as inexpensive as possible, play it well, and you will get ahead eventually.

And of course people walking by with headphones listening to an MP3 or CD player only regard these street musicians as noise. Let's say the same guy on the corner playing the good sax could accompany himself with computer produced tracks and be playing on those headphones on those devices. At what point is he doing better monetarily? At the point he sells enough to pay for the CD and more.

The fact of the matter it is practically a certainty he will make more money faster and very like more money total (albeit less comfortably and safely) playing on the street corner if he is so inclined.

Now the CD is produced, what he's doing now, he's thinking about 'the next step' in trying to sell more CDs. The Indie Bible comes highly recommended from a number of sources. Now, here's the thing. Promotion is not easy, it is work, and there is some of the 'music scene' that is fun for people, and some that is not.

Here's how promotion works: you pay some service some money, and they promote your album. "Promotion" means they say good things about you in the right ears. It also requires that you provide enough valid and accurate information regarding your music and goals so that they may do this effectively.

I have not promoted my album successfully yet, and may never be able to do so, but what I can tell the music fan, the aspiring artist, and the people who just like to download free MP3s, is that I have done research on the subject and it means this:

'The musical artist' must do those two things that 'musical artists' typically dislike the most: 1) pay somebody some money and 2) real work that has little to do with making music.

Most musicians, including me, have a 'day job', right; and this musician actually happen to like his day job a fair amount. There is also this notion that your 'music career' will actually be more fun/make you happier than your 'day job' but of course your 'music career' becomes your 'day job' at that point. I do not want my music career to become my day job. I want to be able to write words in my blog and websites, write music on CD, read about things that are interesting to me but at the same time somehow generate value for my family and friends when I do these things.

If you look at it completely sensibly, you are making an investment if you are deciding to release an album. If you start completely from scratch (none of this includes musical training and audio production training, but assumes you have enough of that to start) and you follow what happens in this blog, you are looking at an investment that involves the following:

  • More powerful than normal computer (anywhere from $1200-$5000, really could go to $10,000+ if you are serious about going into that business). You need Firewire and/or USB 2.x inputs on the computer. I don't use Mac, I use Windows. Mac is preferred by many musicians, and of course those are more expensive for the higher level machines.
  • Some computer based audio production software and hardware, here I am referring to interfaces that plug into the computer via USB 2.x or Firewire (IEEE 1394) ($150-$1000, really could go to $10,000+ if you are really serious). Btw, do not bother with USB 1.x devices regardless of price unless you just want to mess around, go for USB 2.x or whatever comes later only. Also Firewire is generally regarded as superior in handling multiple audio inputs and is more expensive. In addition, there are new variants of USB and IEEE 1394 that are and will evolve, faster and faster is what this means.
  • Instruments ($300-$1500, yes, $10,000+ easily if you are really serious)
  • Audio hardware (monitors, microphones, cables, mixers, effects, amplifiers) ($800- easily lots and lots)
  • CD duplication and production, distribution services: ($100-$1000 and easily much more)

    So, prior to promotion costs, take some not all the way at the low end numbers of all of these, add them up:

  • Computer $2000
  • Interface $ 500
  • Insts. $1500
  • Audio HW $2000
  • Services $ 500

    If you budget about $6000 *to start* you can have a go at it. So the first CD will be expensive, and it won't be the best because the musician will learn, but afterwards the cost per CD drops. But in the above hypothetical case, about a $6000 investment has been made to start with very little chance of a return.

    What promotional services do is boost the chances of return. By how much it's not possible to say, but definitely by some positive amount. If you look at it this way, $300-$500 to get that to happen is among one of your lower end costs. On the other hand, it may do nothing for you, because it cannot be guaranteed: risk on top of risk.

    Many indie artists, including this one, also hold out hope for their work being "licensed" by a movie maker or television show. One such licensing could easily cover the startup costs.

    I will tell you why I sweat the startup costs (which, even as a hobby or amusement, are not all that high-- one could buy a fancy bicycle, go golfing every weekend, go to sporting events, do skydiving, collect any number of things and easily go through that much money or more).

    It is because I want the things I "put together" to work, and I think the music is not that bad. Also, I could make it better, and will.

    :-) Anyway, all of this-- I'm guessing add up to some reasons why, typically, reasonable business types are not musicians, and why musicians can become the 'economic victims' of the business folk that advance their careers.

    Think about all the *signed* artists whose CDs sit on shelves waiting to be sold. Go to a music store, no matter what kind of music fan you are, out of ALL of them-- soundtracks, showtunes, comedy, country, folk, classical, jazz, blues, R&B/Funk, rock, metal, punk/emo, indie, alternative, pop, electronic, world.... how many of those categories would you consider browsinng, and then in that category, how many CDs would you even consider buying? Some very small percent. [so, if you even consider buying mine, I am honored and thank you]

    The ones who make the profits, they can often have incredibly short "runs" of popularity but can make astronomical money, much of which in turn is consumed by the process of making and promoting the music.

    Like moths to a flame, yet we keep flitting ever nearer to the beat of our Muse.

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