The Digest, Volume 3

The Digest is a new weekly feature to the Sketchbook blog. Each issue provides an annotated listing of links to relevant articles about events, trends, people, and things that have a direct impact on us as musicians. If you find The Digest useful, or if you want to suggest improvements, please let me know. Also, if you have content you’d like to see included, please send a message via Twitter or Facebook and let me know that as well. And share the love by passing The Digest on via email or social media.

Is Reading Music Important for Drummers? by the MD Education Team on Modern Drummer.

Should drummers learn how to read notation, or can they do just as well in their careers without that skill? The Education Team at Modern Drummer wanted to find out, so they asked a few professional drummers. Jeremy Hummel, Jim Payne, George Marsh, and others weighed in with their takes on the subject. The consensus? It sure won’t hurt you, and it may well help you land a sweet gig.

What Record Labels Are Looking For When Scouting Artists, on Music Clout.

The first thing that will attract industry attention is a full calendar of well-attended gigs, at which you sell your CDs and merchandise. But that’s expected of everyone: you have to make your act stand out. Have a band app out for the iPhone and Android? That could give you an edge. So can striking a careful balance between writing music that sounds familiar yet uniquely familiar to A&R representatives.

Is Your Art a Hobby or a Job, on Grassrootsy.

While the IRS has its own definitions of these terms, Grassrootsy has a handy checklist to help us decide. Do folks know you write music? Are you not making any money from it? It could be a hobby. On the other hand, if folks you don’t know come to your shows, you have a job on your hands.

Five Lessons You Can Learn From My Album Mistakes, by Shane Lamotte on DIY Musician.

Why spend good money on album production when you can’t give it away? Find out some of the lessons Shane learned such as why promotion is at least as important as production (“If you build it, they will NOT come.”), and why it’s important to build a buzz before dropping $20,000 on an album.

The Four Deadliest Practice Mistakes Ever – And What To Do About Them, by Grace on Artiden.

It’s estimated that over 93 percent of pianists don’t know how to practice piano properly, Grace says in her introduction, usually because they don’t focus on the connection between the entire body and the piano. Most of the time pianists focus on the connection between the fingers and the clock. Feel like you simply must get in three hours today? It’s quality, not quantity.

Interview With Entertainment Lawyer Joseph Stallone, by Aaron Bethune on Play It Loud Music.

Ever wonder what the difference was between copyright and trademark, and whether your band needed one or the other, or both? Can someone steal your song, and what can you do if that happens? Blogger Aaron Bethune sought out the answers to these and other questions from Joseph Stallone, a noted Texas entertainment attorney. Download the podcast to find out about managers, contracts, and your band’s most important asset – its name.

How to Network On the Gig, by Geraldine Boyer-Cussac on The Successful Musician.

Most of us probably don’t spend enough time building our networks, and that’s a shame, really, because it’s these very networks that can help us land jobs. Dr. Boyer-Cussac observes this is especially tragic when musicians fail to network with the very people they are working with. She advises going for diversity in your network, along with reaching out to people whom you do not know very well.

Ten Lies We Tell Ourselves About Networking, by Hannah Morgan on US News.

Dr. Boyer-Cussac tells you how to network; now Hannah Morgan tells you why you won’t. We whine that we don’t know anyone, or that we don’t have time, or that we’re too shy (but we will play our instruments in a crowded stadium!). Fortunately, noted speaker Hannah Morgan has some good advice for fighting against this negative self-talk.

The One-Sheet and Why You Need One, on Music Clout.

In order to have a loyal fan base that will come see you, watch your videos, and buy your material, they first need a way to find out about you. There are people who can help you, by just spreading the word. Help them out: give them the one-sheet, a 50-year-old music industry concept that is still good today.

The Pirate Bay Goes Cloud-Based to Dodge Police Raids, by Tom Pakinkis on Music Week.

“Moving to the cloud lets TPB move from country to country, crossing borders seamlessly without downtime,” according to a statement by The Pirate Bay. Worst of all, those hosting providers have no idea that they’re aiding and abetting the illegal file-sharing site.

The Digest, Volume 2

Note: The Digest is a new feature to the Sketchbook blog. My goal is to provide a weekly annotated listing of links to relevant articles about events, trends, people, and things that have a direct impact on us as musicians. If you find The Digest useful, or if you want to suggest improvements, please let me know. Also, if you have content you’d like to see included, please send a message via Twitter or Facebook and let me know that as well. And share the love by passing The Digest on via email or social media. 

Performing, by Bob Lefsetz in The Lefsetz Letter.

What was so special about the Beatles and Prince? Sure, they have huge catalogs of great music, but their real staying power lay in their acts. The message is clear, musicians: if you want a career in music today, you’re better off focusing on your live skills than your recording chops.

Memorizing – A Few Tips, by Melanie Spanswick in Classical Mel’s Piano and Music Education Blog.

And speaking of performance, how about that Franz Liszt? Melanie Spanswick tells us that pianists and other musicians have this Romantic Era Hungarian pianist and composer to thank for starting the precedent of memorizing one’s music instead of relying on the score. Liszt felt that solo pianists (another concept of his) who relied on printed music did so at considerable cost to their stage presence and charisma. Fortunately, Spanswick offers a few simple but effective tips on how to commit music to memory.

Is Your Day Job More Important to Your Music Career Than You Know? by Normandie Wilson in Music Clout

Wilson wastes no time in cutting to the chase: “Let’s be serious,” she writes. “This economy totally sucks. A regular paycheck is your best friend.” Moreover, a day job gives you a chance to schmooze and make some good connections (especially if you’re in sales), and it gives you cool perks, like paid vacation days, a free copier (sometimes in color!), and free internet.

When God and Mozart Hang Out, They Listen to These Speakers, by Michael Calore in Wired.

Peter Lingdorf’s new speakers built for Steinway, the Steinway Lingdorf Model LS Concert, are far beyond the best of the best out there. How good are they? There’s absolutely no distortion, even at 120 dB. They are so good, in fact, that Steinway engineers were able to tell the difference between Model D pianos made in their Hamburg, Germany and Long Island, New York factories simply by listening to an audio CD played through the speakers. Of course, such audiophile quality comes at a price: $190,000 per pair, or enough to buy two Model D pianos.

How To Skyrocket Your Twitter Promotion, in Music Clout.

What are the best ways to make Twitter a stronger music promotion tool? The good people at Music Clout who follow the industry’s hot topics suggest following people you’re interested in (labels, A&R companies, engineers, and so on) as well as other people in your genre.

Four Things You Should Be Aware Of Before Signing With a Music Manager, in Music Clout.

Your manager will likely be the most important member of your team, so it only makes sense that you take your time and exercise caution in picking someone you trust. Before you sign any agreement, Music Clout recommends that you examine their history with past clients, their success rates, their reputation in the industry, and (perhaps most importantly) payment. Reputable managers take a cut of your earnings. Warning bells should go off if they ask for payment up front.

Amanda Palmer’s Accidental Experiment With Real Communism, by Joshua Clover in The New Yorker.

Amanda Palmer, who raised $1.2 million on Kickstarter to fund her new solo album and then asked for volunteers to play with her for no pay when she went on tour (with her band, the Grand Theft Orchestra), is Joshua Colver’s pick for Internet’s villain of the month. Unwilling to share her Kickstarter fortune with musicians who supported her tour is bad enough, but Palmer’s hypocrisy becomes even more glaring when one considers that she is a folk singer, presumably interested in social justice. Yet beneath that, however, is an interesting set of problems about art and work in an age when both are becoming more and more devalued.

Music Fans In the Internet Age: Same Behaviors, Amplified, by Refe Tuma in Hypebot.

Has the internet killed off the music fan? The good news, says Refe Tuma, is that the fans haven’t gone anywhere, and they aren’t likely to anytime soon. The internet hasn’t killed music fandom; fandom is alive and well. But music fans have changed, and the internet has had an influence on their new behaviors.

Excelling Under Pressure, by Gerald Klickstein in The Musician’s Way

The primary distinction between those who excel under pressure and those who crack, says Klickstein, lies in how they prepare to perform. They operate from “a place of awareness” and do not rely on muscle memory.

Microsoft Unveils Xbox Music, Its New Streaming Music Service, by Seth Feigerman in Mashable.

The software giant rolled out the new music streaming service to many customers on Tuesday as part of an update to the Xbox gaming console. Updates to Windows 8 PCs and tablets will be ready October 26. Spotify redeaux?

Advice To a Young Musician

I ran across the following this morning while perusing the Craigslist music ads. The headline read “Can Anyone Help Me Get Signed.” (I crossed out the genres and influences to eliminate bias toward any particular genre. The genres are immaterial. Lots of kids feel this way.)

Hey im XX years old. Singer, songwriter, and I play the acoustic guitar. I’m looking for a producer, or manager who can help me get a record deal. My genre is xxxx xxx xxx. My influences are Xxxxx, Xxx Xxxxx, Xxxxxx, Xxx Xxxxxxxx, and many more. If you can help please email me asap. Thanks

The thing is, this could be any musician, at any age, and in any genre. Where to begin? So many problems to deal with, so many misconceptions to overcome.

Let me begin by saying that I hope you make it in this business, young musician. I really do. But you have your work cut out for you before I see your act at Bonaroo, or the Ryman, or Madison Square Garden, or The Iridium.

Now, let’s get down to business. The first thing you need to realize is that the world doesn’t owe you a living, much less a record deal. They’re not given out for free just because you ask for one. You have to pay your dues, and that means writing good music, recording a CD, playing gigs (at which you sell the CD), and building up a loyal fan base. Then you repeat all of that until you get the results you want. That formula hasn’t changed, and there are no shortcuts.

But before you even start, ask yourself why you want to be a musician in the first place. Do you enjoy writing music to the point of being unable to imagine doing anything else? I can’t tell from your post. It sounds like you’re all glassy-eyed over the romance of a record deal and what you think that entails: money, tours, limos, more money, and so on. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you need to get your career vision firmly in your head before you start down that road, not after. How will you know you’ve arrived at your destination if you don’t know your destination?

Read what artist management guru David Lowry has to say about starting a career in music and creating a buzz. Musicians are the product, he says, not the CD, and that you have the sole responsibility of promoting you. Use Twitter and Facebook, but don’t spam your followers. No one wants to follow someone who talks about himself all the time. Engage your followers, and you’ll build a fan base. Managers and booking agents only get involved when there’s a good following built up and there’s something to take to the next level.

Learn about the music business. Read this great article by Christopher Kanabe, and pay particular attention to points 8, 9, and 10. Your post suggests you’ll put your hand in the hand of the first “manager” that comes along, and I sincerely hope you don’t. Never forget that music is a business, and that there are many ways to lose money in this business. If someone offers to represent you, do your homework. Talk to past and current clients. Visit some shows that this person has booked.

Finally, read this excellent blog post by Danny Barnes on how to make a living in music. Then read it again. It’s so packed with good advice that it should be required reading in any university course about the music business. Here’s what he has to say on the music industry (emphasis added):

the main business strategy is to build your own audience. if you have a draw, agents, labels or investors [which i do not recommend] and stuff will come to you. if you skip this step and start trying to talk to industry people and you don’t have a draw yet, you are going to be sorry [unless you are really hot looking or have a famous parent and/or willing to sign away the rights to the whole thing of course]. build your own audience. if you can sell your own records that you make yourself and do your own shows, you can attract the attention of industry folks and get your calls returned.

It shouldn’t be surprising that this attitude about the music industry is so prevalent. Not when American Idol invades our living rooms every year showing talented Nothings becoming Somethings, and everyone getting the idea that he or she can do it, too. It’s America’s annual Hunger Games, only these Tributes can’t wait to compete. Instant music career! May the odds be ever in your favor!

I sincerely hope this article has been of some help, young musician – whoever you are. Keep reading about and studying this business you want to be a part of. Keep practicing your instrument, and try to write something every day. Network with other musicians. Post your music on YouTube. Play out, and do it often.

And take the advice of Sir Winston Churchill:

Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense.

And you’ll get your record deal.

How To Make a Living In Music

I first ran across “How To Make a Living Making Music” when Jason Parker tweeted the link to it some years ago. I blogged it then, but I lost that blog when I updated my website. I never forgot the post, however, and long story short, I’ve decided to rerun that article.

Danny gives such excellent, folksy, common sense advice that you’ll smack your forehead and wonder why you didn’t think of it first. But that’s just it; Danny isn’t telling you anything you probably didn’t already realize. It’s just that perhaps you glossed over the reality while you were planning that quantum leap in your music career. And that’s the appeal of this article. You can tell that it’s heartfelt advice, no sugar-coating, delivered from one musician to another. “Just live within your means,” Barnes says, “and you can avoid so many hassles. Hassles interrupt your practice routine.”

Other gems include the following:

  • Get good at your music before trying to promote it.
  • Keep your overhead low. You’ll make more money that way.
  • Used gear will usually do just fine. Most of the gear in my studio is pre-owned.
  • Don’t be afraid to take different jobs while working on your music career. Bills have to be paid.
  • Don’t expect to get paid more than you can bring in. Know the difference between your value and worth.
  • Learn how to work in different contexts. Do other music jobs besides performance, such as sessions, teaching, recording others, running sound, et cetera.
  • Don’t waste a CD on someone you think won’t listen to it.

I seem to recall Jason suggesting all musicians reread this article once a year. I heartily agree with him.

The Digest: Volume 1

Note: The Digest is a new feature to the Sketchbook blog. My goal is to provide a weekly annotated listing of links to relevant articles about events, trends, people, and things that have a direct impact on us as musicians. If you find The Digest useful, or if you want to suggest improvements, please let me know. Also, if you have content you’d like to see included, please send a message via Twitter or Facebook and let me know that as well. And share the love by passing The Digest on via email or social media. 

Three Critical Reasons Why a Facebook Profile Can’t Replace a Fan Page, by Jon Ostrow on Music Think Tank.

Why should I create a fan page on Facebook? Can’t I just use my personal profile? Not if you want to use Facebook as an effective marketing tool for your music, says Jon Ostrow, who goes on to say that your family may not necessarily be numbered among your fans.

If the Internet Is Working for Musicians, Why Aren’t More Musicians Working Professionally? on The Trichordist

With all of the cool internet tools musicians have to send their careers into the stratosphere, why aren’t more of them making their living as musicians? When less than 1 percent of TuneCore artists make minimum wage, and when only 2 percent of artists who released albums last year broke 10,000 units, something’s wrong. Are the digital technologies that are supposed to help artists really helping?

Artists Are Like Children. They Simply Lack Discipline, by Paul on Digital Music News.

On another take as to why technology isn’t working for some musicians, Chuck D. opines that it’s the lack of structured classes in high school. That, he adds, along with the fact that young music students don’t have football coach-like mentors who order them to run laps if they don’t do their theory homework.

Ten Reasons How (Digital) Music Controls Your Life, on Manila Standard Today.

Headset manufacturer Skullcandy runs down a list of the top 10 ways music controls our mood, energy level, and even intelligence.

The Healing Powers of Music: Repairing Brain Damage, by Melanie Spanswick on Classical Mel’s Piano and Music Education Blog

“Patients with left-side brain damage who can no longer speak,” says author Melanie Spanswick, “can find they are able to sing words, often without trouble or training.” Her article defines melodic intonation therapy and discusses how therapists used it to teach former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords how to speak again.

I’m a Music Industry CEO. And This Is Why I Tossed Your Resume Into the Trash, by Paul on Digital Music News.

Trying to land a job in the music industry, or do you want to be a musician? There is a difference, according to Lee Parsons, CEO of digital distributor Ditto Music, and you need to understand that difference before applying to his company. He spells out the top 20 list of things to do (and not to do) if you want to land that customer support/marketing position he has open.

Is Spotify’s Business Model Broken? by Greg Sandoval on CNET.

The music streaming service Spotify is struggling, posting a 60 percent revenue loss from 2010 to 2011. While analysts say there’s enough cash to keep it going for a while, its current business model is “unsustainable” for the long term.

Pandora Offers Song and Dance About Music Sales, by Greg Sandoval on CNET.

Here’s the skinny: Pandora, according to cofounder Tim Westergren, says that they pay a lot of royalty money to their artists. And they do: Coldplay and Jason Aldean are on track to make a cool million each from the internet radio company. But terrestrial radio broadcasters pay much lower royalties, and now Pandora is trying to get the government to lower internet radio royalty rates. Meanwhile, the music industry is trying to get radio stations to pay the same royalty rates as Pandora (understandably, they’re not interested). One thing’s for sure: the election will long be over before this issue gets settled.

How To Build a Professional Music Team, by Ryan J. Colburn on Music Clout.

It’s time to start putting together a team, says Ryan Colburn, when you’ve released a CD, put on some big shows, and gotten some decent press. Pick your managers, booking agent, publicist, and attorney carefully, and understand what they’re supposed to do. They, in turn, should understand your goals and objectives as an artist.

Classical Music: Musicians as Entrepreneurs on The Economist.

Quite a few classical musicians have had to become real entrepreneurs in order to ensure they can rely on a market for their work. Without flexibility and creativity, classical music will struggle to find the audiences necessary to sustain itself. Read how some innovative classical musicians try to cultivate these audiences by reaching out to the communities through unconventional means, such as coffee shop concerts.

How To Support the Indie Musician

Want to stimulate the local economy and do it for next to nothing? Support your local independent musician!

It’s easy to do, says Texas musician and writer Tracy Ready, and there’s not a lot of cost involved. In a recent article, Ready lists five low- to no-cost ways you can support the singer/songwriter in your neighborhood and support your local economy at the same time.

  1. Go to the event. If it’s at a club, pay the cover and stay for a set. Have a beer. Your total investment will probably be ten dollars or less, depending on the cover. You’ll blow that in a week on soda. And sign up for the newsletter. That’s free, and you could get a free music download just for doing it.
  2. If you like the music, buy the CD. Most artists sell their CDs at their gigs, usually for $15 or less. If you don’t want to buy the disc, drop $5 in the tip jar.
  3. Spread the word on Facebook and Twitter. This costs you nothing, but the potential boost to the artist is priceless. Retweet them when they advertise a gig. Post a review of the show on Facebook. Like one of their blog posts.
  4. Support their Kickstarter project. Even a five dollar donation helps.
  5. Host a house concert at your home. Invite several of your friends over for a house concert to hear the artist in an intimate setting. Suggested donations for such concerts are usually between $6 and $15, depending on the number of people, and everyone often brings a covered dish. It’s a more relaxed atmosphere, and fans have a better opportunity to get to know the musicians. (Click here to read more about house concerts.)

I’m going to add number 6: send this post to your friends so that they will know how easy it is to support the local music scene.

Should Musicians Ever Work for Free?

Such a simple question. Such a simple answer. Most us quickly realize the answer after adding up the costs of instruments, lessons, transportation to and from the gig, CDs, and so on. Yet for those who still struggle with the issue, here’s a flowchart that will lay it all out for you. (Note: this is the clean version of the flowchart. A version with saltier language is available.)

Still can’t decide? Here are more of my thoughts on the issue, along with some from The Successful Musician blog.