A Brief Guide To Copyright For Musicians

b7-copyright-picCongratulations! You’ve finally finished recording the music for your first CD, and you can’t wait to get it mixed, mastered, and into the eager hands of your (paying) fans. But before you send that package off to Disc Makers, you’ll need to think about protecting your hard work from piracy by securing a copyright for your music.

While some musicians might have a fair idea of what copyright is, I suspect more of them have a better grasp on copyright mythology than the reality of it. And there are plenty of businesses out there who prey on those who believe the myths. But the facts are these: copyright is not difficult to understand, and getting one for your music is easier and cheaper than you think.

What Is Copyright?

A copyright is legal protection extended by the U. S. Government that covers such original, creative works as books, paintings, photographs, music, and films. Any such work that exists in a physical form can be protected from infringement (theft) by law. Notice I said physical form. You can’t copyright an idea; whatever that idea is needs to be written or recorded somehow. A CD of your music is an example of an original, tangible work; playing a song without writing it down or recording it would not be eligible for copyright.

Do I Need to Copyright My Songs?

The U. S. Copyright Office is very clear on this point: you do not have to register your music. Although a work is considered copyrighted from the moment it is set in fixed form, no legal protection for it exists. Except for work-for-hire situations (in which the employer is the author), someone else could take your work, copyright it, and be forever recognized in the eyes of the law as the original author. Therefore, all musicians should copyright their music to enjoy the advantages of recognized authorship and legal protection.

How Can I Copyright My Music?

8960378333_a5fa2aa6d2As with most things, there are two ways to go about getting a copyright for your music: the wrong way and the right way. The first of these is the so-called “poor man’s copyright.” or PMC. Here’s how it works: the songwriter records his music, writes out the lyrics and chords, and puts the charts and recording in an envelope that is addressed to himself. He then sends it to himself via certified mail and puts the unopened package away in a safe place when it arrives.

While it might sound good, PMC is inferior to the Constitution-based protection afforded by copyright. To begin with, one could simply mail an empty envelope to himself and add the recordings and charts (which may not be original) whenever he wishes. PMC is also only slightly less costly than registering with the Copyright Office. Sending materials in a Priority Mail Express envelope from and to an Atlanta location runs around $23, including collecting an adult signature. Add to that the fact that PMC doesn’t stand up in court against a copyright granted by the U. S. Copyright Office, and it’s easy to see the other way is the better value.

Getting a copyright for your music is easier than you might think. It costs as little as $35, and you can register your work online in as little as 10 minutes. There are services out there that will do this for you, but they’ll charge far more than what you’ll pay directly. (While researching this article, I found services that charged anywhere from $69 to $120; some charged even more.) I suppose they stay in business because they’re able to capitalize on either the ignorance of this process or the fear some have of doing anything with the U. S. Government. I would avoid such services. After all, you’ve probably recorded your music and booked your shows all by yourself. Why stop the DIY now?

If you’re still a little hesitant about jumping in, watch this excellent video. It walks you through the online registration process explains the process of online application:


The following resources contain good information about copyright law. Those published by the U. S. Copyright Office, especially “Copyright Basics” (the basis for this article) , should be read first.

The dates listed after the title of the work are the dates the works were copyrighted or updated. If no date follows the title, none could be found. The date after the URL is the date I visited the site.

Elton, Serona, Esq. “Musical Arrangements and Copyright Law.” January 2011. http://www.copyright.gov/eco/eco-tutorial.pdf. July 29, 2013.

Heller, Annette P. “General Copyright Information.” http://www.trademarkatty.com/copyright. July 29, 2013.

Nevue, David. “How To Copyright Music.” Updated March 2010. http://www.musicbizacademy.com/internet/how2copyright.htm. July 29, 2013.

U. S. Copyright Office. “Copyright Basics.” May 2012. http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ01.pdf. July 29, 2013.

U. S. Copyright Office. “Registering a Copyright With the U. S. Copyright Office.” May 2013. http://www.copyright.gov/fls/sl35.pdf. July 29, 2013.

U. S. Copyright Office. “eCO Tutorial.” February 2013. http://www.copyright.gov/eco/eco-tutorial.pdf. July 29, 2013.

USPS truck image: David Guo

Becoming An Excellent Sideman

danny2final_0I love reading Danny Barnes’ essays. He packs a lot of wisdom earned from years of experience into them, and not one word gets wasted. And Danny doesn’t provide any dramatic revelations about music or the music business. It’s just all common sense.

His article on playing in someone else’s band is an outstanding example of applying common sense to musicianship. To begin with, he points out that you’re not the star of the show. You have an obligation to remember that “your number one job above all else is to make the leader sound good, look good and feel good.” In exchange for following what he calls “the rule,” you get money, an education, and valuable network contacts. Not a bad deal.

The rest is pretty easy. Just remember who the leader is (or “the dude,” who is probably not you, Danny says) and keep him happy. What follows is a litany of what it takes to be a sideman extraordinaire. A few things you need to remember are as follows:

  • Don’t worry about money or business arrangements. You’ll get paid if the leader has something good going, and business arrangements aren’t your concern.
  • Don’t self-promote your CD or band. It’s bad business, and it doesn’t keep the dude happy.
  • If you’re on tour, stick to buisness. You’re at work, not on vacation. Sightsee another time, unless you have a couple of days free.
  • Try to be the easiest person the leader has ever dealt with. No one likes a jerk, and you can be replaced.
  • Travel light, and be courteous while doing it. Have your tickets, boarding passes, and passport handy. You don’t need to check a bunch of stuff on the plane. If you drive, offer to pump gas and check the oil.
  • If you charge something to your hotel room, pay for it. Small tours generally can’t splurge for room service or mini bars. Pony up.

Now it’s your turn. What advice about being a good sideman would you offer to someone just starting out?

The Digest: Jay-Z, Mozart’s Violin, and Why Your Local Music Scene Sucks


Jay-Z/Samsung – The Lefsetz Letter

Bob Lefsetz, the no-holds-bared music industry commentator, is at it again, and this time he slams Jay-Z for selling his music out to the corporations. Samsung is giving away his latest album for free to those who use their smartphones; the album will instantly go platinum as a result. Lefsetz argues that marketing ploys such as this one mean the focus has shifted away from the music and toward the novelty of the stunt. And the problem with stunts is that they’re only good once.

The Lost Half Decade Of Music Recorded After Napster – Hypebot

Between about 1999 and 2004, there was a lot of exceptional music made by a lot of talented artists, who, thanks to new and affordable recording equipment, were able to make the music they wanted to make. ADATs reigned supreme in the 90’s, but they would give way to the more powerful (and less expensive) DAWs of the 21st century. Facebook and Twitter (circa 2003 – 2006) helped artists spread the word. But the core power tools for promotion and dissemination online simply did not yet exist. Andrew Dubber argues it’s time to give that lost music the chance it never really got.

Steven Tyler, Joe Perry Inducted Into Songwriters Hall of Fame – Rolling Stone

Other honorees included Elton John and Bernie Taupin (recipients of the Johnny Mercer Award for lifetime achievement), Foreigner, Billy Joel, and Berry Gordy (honored by Smokey Robinson with the 2013 Pioneer award).

tumblr_m7gw3vMYAT1r3nzmmo1_500Why Your Local Music Scene Sucks – Music Marketing [dot] Com

You can’t get fans to support you just because they’re in the same area code, says David Hooper. They don’t owe it to you to buy your music; you have to give them a reason. It has to be good. And if it is, you’re halfway there. Do unto others and set the example, Hooper adds: go out and see other acts. Get the ball rolling, and you’ll soon have the following you want.

The Average iTunes Customer is Spending Less – Billboard

Apple recently announced it had 575 million iTunes accounts, compared with 100 million in September of 2009. While that sounds impressive, a closer look at the numbers shows that more people are actually spending less, bringing the dollar value of each account down from $74 in 2009 to $40 today. Glenn Peoples discusses what this means to Apple and the music industry.

The Evolution of Music Tech – SoundCtrl

“In just the past decade, the advent of innovative, volatile and disruptive music technology continues and is accelerating – pushing the industry to accommodate a consumer base that is empowered, hyper-connected, and always-on.” This fascinating timeline shows how this technology snowballed as the public demanded more.

amandine_beyer_violin-3d0c1dfceeed93893dd24bc46b78951a099b5b27-s6-c30Playing Mozart – On Mozart’s ViolinNPR

It’s not an ornate instrument, as one might expect, but rather a plain, “workhorse fiddle” made in Bavaria. It and the master’s viola are kept at the Salzburg Mozarteum under heavy security. They were finally brought to the United States for the first time, on separate flights, and with a nondescript security detail. Still, all of the arrangements for the Boston and New York concerts were worth it to Miloš Valent, who said holding Mozart’s viola  “is something extremely personal.”

Independent Radio In the Digital Age – Engadget

Independent radio stations WFMU and KCRW belong to no corporations and answer to no one but the listeners themselves. They have survived media consolidation and an internet revolution. Their bi-annual pledge drives show they were into crowdfunding well before Kickstarter, and it’s allowed for some fiercely independent programming. Their format? “We specialize in playing hippy noise music that people hate,” replies WFMU’s general manager.

Twitter’s #Music Flops, But Twitter Is Still Key to Your MarketingMusic Think Tank

Even though Twitter #Music didn’t live up to the hype, Twitter is still critical to your marketing game plan. Among other things, the micro-blogging platform allows you to plug into your musical niche quickly and easily, thus allowing you to build relationships with industry leaders. Twitter also enables musicians to find and engage with potential fans.


The Digest is a weekly feature of the Sketchbook blog that provides an annotated listing of links to relevant articles about events, trends, people, and things that have a direct impact on 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 share the love by passing The Digest on via email or social media.

Photo credits: Top – http://www.insidetheframe.net; Middle – http://www.tumblr.com; Bottom – http://www.npr.com

The Music Business According to Woody Guthrie

477px-Woody_Guthrie_NYWTSWow! That’s the first thing I said – out loud – when I read these words spoken by Woody Guthrie. Then I read them again. Wow! He was so right. Music is meant to inspire us, to lift us up, to energize us, to make us feel good. Music shouldn’t demean a group of people because of race, gender, creed, or any other attribute, nor should it need to rely on profanity and vulgarity to get our attention or make a point. Or, as Woody put it:

“I hate a song that makes you think you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim. Too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard traveling. I’m out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood. I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built, I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work. And the songs that I sing are made up for the most part by all sorts of folks just about like you.

Then he turned on the music industry itself and proceeded to dress it down:

“I could hire out to the other side, the big money side, and get several dollars every week just to quit singing my own songs and to sing the kind that knock you down farther and the ones that poke fun at you even more and the ones that make you think you’ve not got any sense at all. But I decided a long time ago that I’d starve to death before I’d sing any such songs as that. The radio waves and your movies and your jukeboxes and your songbooks are already loaded down and running over with such no good songs as that anyhow.”

Woody had values, and he wasn’t afraid to let his music reflect those values. Nor was it necessary for him to tell anyone what they were – you could hear it in his music. We would all do well to take and abide by Woody’s advice. ________ Image credit: Wikimedia.org

The Digest: Fresh News About the Music Business – March 30, 2013

ramonePhil Ramone, Music Producer, Dies at 72 NPR The Two-Way

While the cause of death was not immediately disclosed, Ramone was known to have been hospitalized with an aortic aneurysm in February. Ramone, a South African native, studied at the Julliard School in New York when he was a teenager and went on to earn 14 Grammy Awards.

Topspin Offers 5 Direct-to-Fan Lessons From SXSW Hypebot

South by Southwest is more than just a venue – it’s a place where artists can learn about the latest trends that affect their music and what lessons they can learn from those trends. The Hypebot article describes five of these lessons and strategies for musicians and those who work with them. Among them: the digital streaming experience must evolve to allow fans to dig deeper into the music and discover the artist completely. Also, artists must also go beyond the metrics, such as followers and likes, and focus on the authenticity of their messages.

Get Ready – Apple’s iRadio Is On the Way! Forbes

Slated to launch sometime this summer, iRadio is acknowledged to be the next logical step in the progression of iTunes, iPods, iPhones, and so on. So what took it so long? The sticking point seems to have been profitability: Pandora pays artists $0.12 per 100 spins, and Spotify pays a whopping $0.35 per 100 spins. Apple, however,  wants to pay only $0.06 per 100 spins. Whether or not they get that rate isn’t etched in stone, but if talk of a launch is buzzing about, you can be sure that Apple has the hammer and chisel ready.

House Concert Tips and Advice Music Music Marketing [dot] com

house-concertIf you’re considering playing a house concert, take time to listen to this podcast first. The folks from Music Marketing [dot] com discuss topics ranging from which artists benefit from house concerts the most to whether house concerts should be streamed to getting Beyonce to play your house. And for more information about house concerts, click here.

Guitar Giant Gibson Takes Control of Teac Scotsman

The deal is worth a reported $52 million, and according to the guitar company, will help it expand into Asian markets.

Why Your Facebook Page Isn’t Growing Music Think Tank

Face it. You’re probably not going to get above 6 percent engagement on your band’s page, and that’s on a good day. In fact, most users have fewer than 256 followers. Some of that is your fault: you don’t post interesting content, you don’t use pictures or infographics, and you don’t engage with the community. But Facebook has stacked the deck against you. You can’t reach 100 percent of the people out there because the advertisers are paying for that privilege.

The Rise of the Musicpreneur Music Think Tank

Tommy Darker has written the first of three articles that provide “a well-organized overview of the tasks involved in being a modern do-it-yourself artist,” and it’s worth a read, especially if you’re just starting out on the indie artist road. What follows is a solid tutorial on music business terms and tasks, such as sustainable business model (what you do to stay in business), and growth/metrics (how you measure how well you’re staying in business). Then there’s stuff about web presence, branding, SEO, online platforms, and so on. If it seems intimidating, then you’d better read it twice and brace for parts 2 and 3.

Bob Moog Inducted Into Inventors Hall of Fame Music Industry Newswire

robert-moog-2Dr. Robert Moog, inventor of the legendary Minimoog Synthesizer, earned his rightful place among his fellow peers recently when he was posthumously inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame. A statement from his company headquarters in Asheville, NC, explained Moog’s honor as one given to “individuals who conceived, patented, and advanced so many of the great technological achievements that have changed our world.”


The Digest is a weekly feature of the Sketchbook blog that 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 share the love by passing The Digest on via email or social media.

Image credits: Top – http://www.npr.org/blogs; Middle – http://www.joyike.com; Bottom – http://www.djproaudioinc.com

The Digest – March 23, 2013

fire saleIs the $1.99 Album the Next Big Thing for Musicians? Digital Music News

On February 26th, Amazon decided to offer several albums at the fire sale price of  just $1.99, including Bruno Mars’ latest album, Unorthodox Jukebox, and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis‘ The Heist. As both albums had been out for more than four weeks, they promptly climbed up the Billboard 200 chart. But who will pay the artists’ royalties? Or will that change, too?

Emerging Trends in Social Media, and How They’ll Impact Music Music Think Tank

Obviously, mobile devices and apps will gain importance to musicians in 2013, with increased emphasis on email marketing to mobile users. Band websites that are not now optimized for mobile browsing will ultimately cost their owners fans and revenue. And thinking beyond the obvious ways we connect to the web needs to be part of a band’s marketing strategy.

Musicians Accused of Buying Virtual Fans on YouTube BBC Newsbeat

A US-based data monitoring company reports that artists are buying followers and comments in order to bolster their image with the music industry. Is such a practice ethical? Doesn’t it cheapen the music? That’s debatable, but apparently the scheme works well enough for Justin Bieber, who was outed after his YouTube video views surged into the millions.

Songwriters: Find Your Natural Audience Music Think Tank

What’s the difference between Taylor Swift and Nick Cave? Ms. Swift is a pop artist, while Mr. Cave is what the industry calls a niche artist. And you can use these two extremes to figure out where your music lies. Ask yourself who you are, and if your music is more mainstream or more indie. And remember, you’re the mirror of your audience. They’ll come to see themselves in your music.

Unwanted Electronic Gear Rising in Toxic Piles The New York Times

e-waste-dump-nigeriaOld cathode ray tube monitors used to be an easily recyclable item. Not anymore. Since the arrival of the flat screen monitor, the CRTs have become fodder for warehouses, overseas waste shipments, or landfills here. And, as reported in another Times story, unwanted pianos are also finding permanent retirement at the dump. Maybe I should shop for gear there instead of the local music superstore.

Transitioning From Covers to Originals The Big Picture Music Production Blog

If your band has been playing out for a while, chances are one of the members has suggested writing and performing a few original tunes. Problem is, you’re known for being a great cover band. How do you make the transition? Bobby Owsinski offers four good suggestions as to how morph into an original act. One of the secrets? Don’t sound like the record.

Tips For a Great Recording Session Galaris Music Industry Directory

studioIt should go without saying that you need to practice outside the studio. A well-rehearsed band not only saves more money on studio time, but also brings more energy to a session than one still trying to work out parts. Galaris also recommends bringing spares of everything, getting used to a click track, and not believing you can fix it in the mix.

Ten Ways to Unclutter Your Band’s Website Bandzoogle

Exactly how many social media feeds do you need on your website, anyway? Will 40 pictures of the lead singer taken at the same gig really add gravitas? And while you’re cleaning up your website, ditch the guestbooks and hit counters. An uncluttered web presence is your friend.

The Digest is a weekly feature of the Sketchbook blog that 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 share the love by passing The Digest on via email or social media.


Image credits: Top – http://www.sunriverrealestatenews.com; Middle – http://www.flatrock.org.nz; Bottom – http://www.tvphotogblog.blogspot.com

Got Gigs? Here’s How to Get Them

crowdIf you’re a bandleader with little to no experience in booking shows, this guest blog by Deron Wade is for you. I talked with Deron on LinkedIn a few weeks back, and the conversation turned to booking gigs. He asked if I would take a look at an article he wrote for Tune Cube, and I agreed. Turns out it’s loaded with great advice for those who are relatively new to the art of booking the gig. I have reprinted it below, with his gracious permission.

Booking Gigs? Some Magic Tips to Help You Out!

Your band has been playing in front of your friends and they love your music….

You are a solo singer/songwriter now comfortable enough to sing in front of a crowd, play your guitar and put on a show without knocking the mic-stand over……

You’ve been taking your beats to the streets and now you’re ready to take your rap game to a whole new level……

In every situation, you are ready to start booking shows,  but where do you begin?

Know your niche market

Your niche market = who you are selling your music to.

“Wait a minute, what does selling my music have to do with booking a gig?”


You need to have a venue that supports the atmosphere of your music (What’s the stage set up like?) and has a demographic of listeners that like what you do. For instance: If you are an acoustic artist,  is it a smart decision to play a venue that has a huge  heavy metal following? Probably not. In everything you do, you should be asking yourself, “How is my time being spent here? Is this going to be a valuable experience for me?”

I can’t count how many times music artists have come up to me and complained that the venue took advantage of them. When I ask, “Well, what did you want from the venue?” Their response is,  “We wanted to play.”

“Didn’t you play?”

“Well yeah, but there wasn’t any one there and then they had us get off after three songs.” Continue reading “Got Gigs? Here’s How to Get Them”

Should You Give Your Music Away?

man in the black jacket with cdCan you imagine someone asking you this question twenty years ago? I can’t.

The fact is, the concept of giving one’s music away for free is a concept that has only surfaced in the last two or three years, and I’d say its nativity was in 2007 when Radiohead announced that they would let their fans pay whatever they wanted to for their new album, In Rainbows. I mean, how can you compete with that kind of a pricing structure?

Fast forward to today where Jamie Leger is telling musicians that they should give their music away because it’s not like people are buying it anyway – they’re listening on YouTube or downloading it from a bit torrent site. And if nobody is buying, then what good is having the attitude that you must be fairly compensated for your work? The world, Leger says, doesn’t owe you a living. You’ve got to figure out how to make one, and it’s a good bet you can’t make it on the paltry royalties paid out by Pandora or Spotify.

The music industry paradigm has shifted. People had bands in the sixties, and their music was about peace and love. Today people have brands, and music is just a tool to promote that brand. Bands are businesses now (they always were), and businesses have to make profits. Free music, it seems, has become the new method for getting people in the door.

Think of it this way: would you rather have the revenue from one customer shelling out $0.99 for a download on iTunes, or would you rather have that one customer coming to your shows on a regular basis and buying your merchandise? Doesn’t it make sense, Leger asks, to build relationships with your fans so that you have a sustainable income? And if you can get that relationship by giving your music away, isn’t it worth it?

Recently I got the chance to talk with some teenagers who had been to various concerts over the weekend. One of them proudly pointed to a necklace she was wearing that day. “Look! I got it at the show for $40!” she gushed. It looked like it might have been worth about $5. She said she’d found out about the band from a friend, who had sent her some MP3s from their first CD. She liked them enough to buy tickets to the show ($10) and buy their merchandise. It would have taken 5 people buying CDs at $10 a pop to realize the same revenue from one girl who paid $50 at the show because she’d heard free music.

So is it worth it? You tell me. Join the conversation and say whether you think artists should give music away in order to get fans. Vote in the poll below and add your comments.


Image: real.com

The Digest, Volume 10

112112-Fiona-Apple-400The Fifty Best Songs of 2012, by Jon Dolan and David Fricke, et. al. on Rolling Stone.

Some list! Predictable: Taylor Swift (number 2), Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen, who is behind Seoul brother PSY. Questionable: Carly Rae “Call Me Maybe” Jepsen (at number 50). And Fiona Apple – my favorite ever since “Criminal” – comes in at number 12 with “Hot Knife.”

Recordings Not Live, by Bob Lefsetz on The Lefsetz Letter.

The paradigm has shifted, Bob tells us in his latest letter. It wasn’t too long ago that bands practiced, got good, played out, got a following, then recorded an album. Today, that order has reversed itself: now you have to record so that venues can hear what you sound like before they book you. And, of course, you need a following before you can get booked. So what’s a new band to do? Simple – just be like PSY and have one killer song.

Does South Korean Rapper PSY Hate America? by Annie Reuter on 92.3 NOW.

gangnamstyle_wp“Gangnam Style” rapper PSY is scheduled to perform for President Obama during an upcoming Christmas in Washington special, but apparently there are some anti-American skeletons in his closet that have preceded his visit. His 2002 song “Dear America” contains some forceful language about US armed forces in Iraq.

A Simple Reason Why Audiences Are So Small For New Music Concerts, by Elissa Milne on elissamilne.wordpress.com

A resident of Sidney, Australia, Elissa has no patience with musicians who attribute a poor showing to their claim that “Australia is so backward.” It’s closer to the truth, she argues, that indie musicians have a small turnout because the music has no fans. Written with an elegant bluntness, her article should be read by musicians in all countries and of all genres.

Ten Truths About the Modern Music Business, by Jason Feinberg on PBS.org.

The definition of Y in DIY needs to be stretched to include a team if artists intend on being successful by going it alone. There’s simply too much to be done. Other truths: keep an eye on your metrics at all times. Facebook is gaining on email as a band’s preferred communication tool. And someone in the band really needs to understand marketing.

Dream Big: How to Succeed in Today’s Volatile Music Biz, by Mike King on Berklee Music Blogs.

In an interview with American Songwriter’s Adam Gold, Mike King learns about the tricky business of developing a content release plan (hint: it’s not just about Facebook), the value of giving music away for free, digital royalties, and pitching to the industry.

How Do Musicians Really Earn a Living? on Live Unsigned Blog.

merch-tablesIt might be surprising, but for many musicians music is not the primary means of making money. Small wonder, then, why labels want in on merchandise sales. Making a living in the music business is tough, which is why most musicians rely on additional income streams, such as teaching music, playing in multiple bands, or running sound for other bands during gig downtime.

Playing Profitable Shows as a Band: The 25 Percent Rule, by David Roberts on Music Think Tank.

Roberts provides a good template for planning a profitable tour, suggesting budget guidelines for fuel and a (very austere) food budget. Most importantly, however, the band needs to budget for a 25 percent profit – no matter what.

Live Streaming’s Long Tail, by Cortney Harding on Hypebot.

Face it: tours are expensive, taking their toll both physically and fiscally. Live streaming a show is an option, although a slow-growing one. However, as Harding explains, live streams of shows can be profitable ventures when they target specific fan bases: cult followers, shut-ins (think thirtysomethings with kids), and casual fans who may not be willing to commit. (Note: check out stageit.com, a cool way to stream a show, collect a cover charge, and virtual tips, all on one website.)

Will An Internship Help Get a Job? by Katie Reilly on Intern Like a Rock Star.

Don’t count on it, says interning guru Katie Reilly. Better to use experience from an internship to get leads, to gain valuable experience, and to prove to others that you’re serious about working in the music industry.

The Digest is a weekly feature of the Sketchbook blog that 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 share the love by passing The Digest on via email or social media.


Image credits: Fiona Apple – http://www.philly.com; PSY – http://www.metrolyrics.com; Noisecreep merch table – http://www.noisecreep.com

(Mis)Steps to Music Career Success

plane_crash_redux_01Air Crash Investigation is a series on National Geographic TV I’ve become addicted to recently. It’s not because of an excess of Schadenfreude, mind you; rather it’s because I want to figure out what made the plane crash before the show reveals the answer. And I’ve watched so much that I’ve actually gotten pretty good at figuring it out.

I bring this up because one of the investigators on the show said something that really impressed me. It was something like this: every air crash makes flying safer. While it sounds counter intuitive, the meaning is that each accident investigation leads those involved in the air travel industry to make improvements and modifications that will reduce the odds of such an accident ever happening again. Likewise, we as professional musicians can take a look at musicians whose careers never got off the ground (or crashed and burned) and take steps to avoid those same mistakes. The following list is a sampling from an excellent career postmortem article by Vinny Ribas.

  1. Lack of knowledge. Plenty of musicians find out about how to achieve success in much the same way they found out about sex: through the grapevine. And while statistics show that 60% of grapevine information is true, common sense should tell us that such a low number is not reliable. Lesson: read and study as much as you can about the music industry. Finding a mentor would be even better.
  2. Failure to build relationships. If fans feel like you don’t care a whit about them, they’ll stop coming to your shows. Likewise, if the people you meet in the industry only hear from you when you want a favor, they’ll start turning you down. Lesson: build strong relationships with everyone you come in contact with as a musician, from the fans to the salesman at the music store, to the agent you’d like to see booking your gigs one day.
  3. mozartOver-reliance on talent. One of my earlier posts dealt with the mythology surrounding talent, and many musicians have counted on being vaulted to success on talent alone. Lesson: never stop improving. Continue to write better music, stretch your lyric writing skills, or make your performance even more entertaining.
  4. Failure to develop an image. To me, this is the one sign that a musician doesn’t take himself seriously. Other evidence includes the lack of a professionally developed website (or simply a Facebook page), no business cards, unimaginative band pictures, and poor dress. Lesson: spend some serious time and money developing promotional materials that show your professionalism. Invest in a good wardrobe, and never be without professionally printed business cards.
  5. Failure to communicate. Face it: the club wants you to bring fans with you, but you can’t do that if they don’t know where you’re playing (or even if you still are). Lesson: keep up with your social media outlets (note the plural – don’t put all of your eggs in the Facebook basket). Write a blog, and do it regularly. Send email newsletters to your fans. They want you to do this.

There are more thou shalt nots in Vinny’s article, and he adds that there are probably far more ways to fail than he came up with. However, you’ll improve your odds of success by simply doing two things: keep an open mind (this is an evolving industry), and learn all you can about the career path you’ve chosen for yourself.