What We Learned from CMJ 2011

WHERE: New York City
WHEN: October 18-22
HIGHLIGHT: Panels of experts giving bands real career advice.

Performer Magazine had the privilege of hitting up CMJ this October. We saw lots of great music while borough hopping all over the Big Apple. Some favorites included the stellar vocals of acoustic trio The Pearl and The Beard at The Living Room, the original and fun Gangstagrass at Arlene’s Grocery, and the electro groove of Casio Kids at Spike Hill, but most importantly Performer brought back some valuable advice for independent musicians looking to make a living from their music. CMJ offered invaluable panel discussions regarding the latest trends in music distribution, emerging digital retail models, and tips for collecting royalty payments, as well as creative alternatives to traditional label structures.

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The Importance of Being Your Own Label

One of the most informative panel discussions was designed to teach independent musicians to operate as their own label and avoid the dreaded debt that comes with many label agreements. It’s no big secret that in the age of digital distribution, signing with a label could actually bring one’s music career to a screeching halt if sales expectations are not met. Even some of the best-known artists have experienced the disappointment that comes with being dropped by a label.

Many artists are now developing their own labels out of necessity to combat such situations. Developing your band as a “brand” on your own terms may carry a lot more work, but it allows you to decide who is working for you. You build your own team and your own support system.

When it comes to making money as a musician, licensing is your best friend. This is your key to revenue streams that will keep the creative projects going and paying. It’s only after licensing your material that you may attain a bigger audience through branding – this may extend to merchandising on tour, or even endorsement deals. Keep in mind that synchronization licenses (from TV commercials, films, etc) is no longer considered “selling out” in most circles. On the contrary, it provides a source of revenue for an artist to continue touring and, more importantly, survive on income from original music.

How to Obtain Licensing

It’s important in the volatile entertainment industry to maintain all the relationships you can. This extends to writers, booking agents, and so on. Also, to generate interest in licensing your work, there has to be something interesting about your band – something to set your songs apart from the vast pool of artists on the Internet. Don’t be afraid to give away your music. In the digital age, revenue streams don’t typically come from selling your music, rather they come from making a name for yourself. Graduate from the MP3 format and familiarize yourself with SoundCloud or Bandcamp. It’s important that journalists and music enthusiasts don’t have to go digging for content, but have the access to instant gratification.

Be sure in the recording process that you record slot vocals so that potential brands may access pieces of your songs for marketing purposes. If you approach a brand to work with your band, know ahead of time exactly what they are looking for and just do it (no pun intended).

Know How Digital Distribution Works for You

Don’t be afraid to work with digital marketing services like Rhapsody or Spotify, and don’t limit your distribution to only one of these platforms – streaming equates to royalties, which equates to a supplemental income. Tunecore can help you access a multitude of these services. Be aware of your digital presence and create a following for your band by constantly updating your playlists and sharing them on social media. Social media is most effective when you have a member of your band pay close attention to your sites and engage your fan base in active conversation. This helps maintain interest in your band and brand. Use sources like VEVO and Mixcloud as well, so as not to limit yourself to one or two digital avenues. Allow fans an opportunity to actively participate in your shows by submitting set list requests via social media.

Don’t waste a ton of money pressing physical CDs; instead, use digital distribution to minimize costs. Press physical copies for promotional purposes and then when demand for your music increases, you may entertain the notion of pressing more for merchandising. Also, use the Internet to gauge all markets. Your music may be accepted internationally before it becomes a hit Stateside.

When revenue streams allow, create mobile apps and expand merchandising – brand your band on anything and everything that you can, and use PR to your advantage. Do yourself a favor in monitoring trends by subscribing to Billboard and checking the ranks daily.

Know How Meta-data Works

Every recording you make is embedded with an ISCP code that is trackable online. Use services like SoundExchange to track what royalties are due to you by tracing where your music is being streamed online. This can also help you locate viable markets for your brand.


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