Young Rising Sons is an alternative rock band from Red Bank, New Jersey who signed to Interscope Records in 2014. With label mates such as Eminem, U2 and Lady Gaga, the Sons have a lot to live up to. I was fortunate enough to spend ten days on the road with them in October 2016 as they embarked upon a west coast tour with The Moth & The Flame and 888 and what I witnessed each night was no less than spectacular. I saw a group of guys who are passionate, driven, and most of all, talented. The energy that they exuded on stage each night was infectious, and song after song found me dancing backstage, singing along to every catchy melody.

While the band’s music and live show impressed me, what captivated me the most was their attention to fans. The Sons family is widespread and far-reaching, and there was definitely a sense of kinship as fans lined up for pictures and autographs at the end of each concert every night. I heard stories of how the band’s songs helped people get through hard times, overcome their fears, and pursue their passions. I saw fans young and old come together to scream the words that reached into the very depths of their souls. As an outsider looking in, it was obvious to me that the Sons have something special.yrs-admat

Day 1 – Los Angeles, CA

  • I land in Santa Ana, California and take a scenic drive north to West Hollywood. Upon arriving at the venue, I reunite with tour manager Stephen Goldstein and the Sons, whom I haven’t seen since they toured with The Kooks in 2015.
  • I begin setting up drums and a guitar station side stage where I’ll be tuning and changing guitars for the band’s set each night.
  • The show goes off without a hitch and I spend the rest of the evening hustling CDs of the band’s latest EP “Undefeatable + 2,” which contains their most recent single, a cover, and an acoustic tune.
  • Bass player Julian Dimagiba’s birthday lands at midnight and we spend the rest of the night celebrating at a lounge on Santa Monica Beach. It feels good to be back in California.

Day 2 – Santa Ana, CA

  • After taking a morning stroll to shoot photos of the infamous Hollywood sign, I make my way to In-N-Out Burger for some lunch. It’s not as good as I remember.
  • I meet the band at Guitar Center where we gear up for the next run of shows. This will be a recurring chore as the band members require new drumsticks, guitar pics, cables and tuners on an almost every-other-day basis.
  • As we arrive at the venue, we realize that it is actually several venues in one. In the parking lot, a stage is being built for Bon Iver to play the next evening. Next door to our show is Taking Back Sunday, whom I have the pleasure of watching on and off throughout the night. Then there’s our room, which is a mid-sized venue and finally another outdoor space that seems to double as a sand volleyball court. Very punk rock.
  • This evening I actually have time to watch 888 and The Moth & The Flame perform and am blown away by the high standard of musicianship which I will be surrounded by over the next couple of weeks.

Day 3 – San Diego, CA

  • After waking up on a stranger’s floor due to an old Russian woman pushing an empty shopping cart outside of my window, I get an awesome home-cooked meal and have a chance to take in the scenery.
  • The band and I depart for the next show which is 21+, so the Sons decide to put on an impromptu acoustic set in the park for their underage fans. At the drop of a tweet, a slew of kids show up and the band again proves their dedication to the Sons family as they spend almost two hours performing, taking photos, and signing autographs for everyone who came out.
  • As we make our way to the venue, we fall into the similar routine of unloading, setting up, sound-checking, tearing down, setting up again, performing, tearing down, and loading up for the final time each evening. This is beginning to feel like work.

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    Just another day with the Sons

Day 4 – San Diego, CA to Phoenix, AZ

  • I try my best to get up early and catch a ride to the beach. This will be my last day on the coast before we head into the desolate interior of the American southwest. I make it to South Mission Beach and hike out onto a rock pier where I spend way too much time taking selfies and trying to figure out where that seal sound is coming from.
  • On an off-day like today, we spend seven-plus hours driving through the desert in order to make it to Phoenix for the next day’s show. Van time is bonding time and after only four days in, I’m beginning to feel like a member of the Sons family.

Day 5 – Phoenix, AZ

  • Because the guys in Young Rising Sons are the biggest sweethearts you’ll ever meet, they put on yet another free acoustic concert for their fans under 21 which takes place a few blocks away from the venue in a beautiful downtown green space.
  • We do another meet and greet and learn that one of the fans had also been at the Los Angeles show just a few days prior. He is one half of the Linford Twins, who covered Young Rising Sons’ “King of the World” for a reality television show competition.
  • The show at the venue goes well, but we get most excited about the amazing kale salad that the venue provides us for dinner. It’s the little things that count on the road, and eating healthy is one of them.
  • After packing up and having fourthmeal at a creepy, haunted, baby-doll infested former warehouse, we make it to our hotel in Flagstaff, AZ. The curious thing about traveling is noticing when the weather changes. Though it was nearly 100 degrees during the day, by the time we arrive and get out of the van, it’s only 49 degrees. Arizona is a strange place.

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    The Sons love you 10/26/16

Day 6 – Albuquerque, NM

  • We wake up early and start making the scenic drive toward Albuquerque. This is one of the most beautiful drives as we see mountains, trains, rock formations, desert, and a guy driving a pick-up truck down the freeway without a tailgate, leaving his two dogs chained to the back of the bed.
  • There’s not much else to say about New Mexico.

Day 7 – Denver, CO

  • Denver is a beautiful place. I wander around the city with touring guitarist Max Dean, who is possibly one of the greatest guys I’ve ever met. He decides to get a spontaneous tattoo and within 15 minutes he’s got fresh ink, the word “adventure” penned into his forearm. As we walk back to the venue, we pop into a guitar repair shop where the owner gives Max some free gear to repair his guitar. Max loves Denver.
  • The band does a photo shoot in the alley behind the venue with an amazing photographer named Nikolai Puc whose creativity astounds us. You can check out his work here.
  • As always, the band plays an amazing set with the aid of front-of-house engineer Shane Vetter, who has become a mentor to everyone on the tour.
  • After the show, we pack up and return to our hotel, but that doesn’t last long. Before we know it, we are back at Denny’s for the third or fourth time this week. I am sick of Denny’s.

    yrs-fist
    The world will keep on turnin’

Day 8 – Greeley, CO

  • Greeley is an interesting town. It was founded during the gold rush and even once housed German POWs during WWII. Everything about it screams “wild, wild west,” and as we are eating veggie burgers at an old saloon, a picture frame mysteriously flies off the wall. This town is probably haunted.
  • One of the more unique venues on the tour, the Moxi Theater turns out to be a blast. An old theater perched on the second floor, the space is large, inviting, and just kitschy enough to be cool.
  • This is, in my opinion, one of the most fun nights on the tour. Marissa of Ares Exposures takes a load of fun photos backstage which can be viewed here.

Day 9 – Denver, CO

  • The Sons wake up early to shoot a video for “Undefeatable” at the Decibel Garden, a recording studio space at The Lot @ RiNo, a multi-media collective based in Denver. The video shoot could not have been more fun and inspiring as all of the staff were professional, creative and kind.

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    Music video shoot for “Undefeatable” in Denver
  • A restaurant in Denver called Illegal Pete’s curates a “starving artist” program where they feed touring bands, but we fail to get a voucher on time. We go to Illegal Pete’s anyway and have some amazing Mexican food before we make our way to Utah.
  • Driving through the night, we catch glimpses of beauty through a desert rainstorm as we pass out-of-this-world rock formations and scenery. I earn five good samaritan points by letting a stranger in a broken-down truck at the rest area use my cell phone. After over eight hours, we finally make it to our hotel in Utah.

Day 10 – Provo, UT

  • Velour Live in Provo takes the cake for the most interesting venue on this tour. Provo is another town founded in the mid-1800s and the interior of the venue is decorated as such.
  • As this is my last night on the tour, I make sure to take it all in one last time; watching 888 and their creative live show, singing along with the Sons and enjoying my time as their tech, and watching The Moth & The Flame play to a sold-out crowd in their hometown.
  • The boys drop me off at a Sheraton in the middle of the night in Salt Lake City and I could not be more devastated. After spending ten days crammed into a Sprinter van with these guys, it feels more like leaving home than going home. I’m looking forward to the next adventure.yrs-utah-lake

**Special thanks to Young Rising Sons and Max, Stephen, 888, The Moth & The Flame, Shane, Alex and everybody else I met on this tour who made such a positive impact on my life.**

/ZF/

Shazam is a mobile-based smartphone application that allows users to identify songs from radio, television and film simply by holding their phones toward the audio source. Though I use it sparingly, I’ve racked up over 100 Shazams in the past couple of years and I felt that it was finally time to pursue some of these artists. As I browsed through my list, I realized that there were several bands and even songs which I had captured more than once. In one instance, I even “Shazam’d” the same song three different times, leading me to conclude that it must have been something special. That song was “Soundcheck” by Catfish and the Bottlemen.

As I listened to the song with a new perspective, I spent the first 0:48 seconds perplexed. I didn’t really like it, and I couldn’t even remember having heard it. Then the chorus kicked in at 0:49 and I was immediately hit with an upbeat punk rock anthem that made me want to head-bang at my desk. The first chorus was short and sweet, and moved directly into the second verse within just 14 seconds. That verse already felt familiar to me and I enthusiastically hummed along while anxiously awaiting the next big chorus. The bridge hit around two minutes in and was as sparse as it was haunting. It built into an emotional and tense guitar solo which evoked scenes of chaos before returning to the familiar verse structure and a huge double chorus before ending abruptly.

most-artist-shazamsThe rest of my data was equally enlightening, as I found eleven artists in total whom I had Shazam’d more than once. Next up was Icelandic folk group Of Monsters and Men, followed by American-turned-English rockers Cage The Elephant. I quickly noticed a pattern in which 45% of my Shazams were indie-rock bands from the UK with California (36%) coming in a close second. At times it can be difficult to discover new music, especially with radio, retail centers and film replaying a lot of the same homogenous drivel. Shazam gave me the opportunity to identify the songs I liked and prompted me to discover and pursue these artists. Many say that technology is hurting the music industry, but with apps like Shazam, technology is only the beginning.

/ZF/

“Wanna go to Alaska June 22nd?”

That’s the text message I received back in January from my old bandmate, Tim Waters. He and Stephen Goldstein, our bass player from Someone Like You, rose from the ashes of our defunct easycore band to form We Are The Movies, an alternative pop-punk band based out of Columbus, Ohio.

Without hesitation, I immediately committed; because all I’d been hearing about for the past eight years was Alaska. Tim’s old band, Nothing Less, was a mainstay of the early 2000s Alaskan pop-punk scene, performing at the Alaska State Fair, Sullivan Arena, and the University of Alaska – Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses. Nothing Less went global in 2005 performing with the Vans Warped Tour across the United States and Canada and performing at such famed venues as the Whisky a Go Go in Hollywood and CBGB in New York.

I met Tim back in 2008 through a craigslist ad seeking a pop-punk drummer. Before I knew it, we had recorded an EP, had a couple of our songs on the soundtrack of the Best Documentary at the 2012 Mountain Film Awards, and were performing at America’s Longest Continually Running Music Venue, the Newport Music Hall. By the time 2010 rolled around, Stephen and I hit the road working for a magazine on Vans Warped Tour, working on the tour during the day and performing acoustic songs and promoting our album in the early mornings and late, late evenings. That summer took us everywhere from Boston, Massachusetts to the Mexican border in San Diego, California. We learned a lot about hard work that year, and that experience would come into play as we set off to Alaska to kick-off Vans Warped Tour 2016 at the Sullivan Arena in Anchorage.


Day 1 – A Formal Introduction

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KWHL 106.5 FM
  • Anger Management, the entity behind Road to Warped Tour, books us on radio station KWHL 106.5 FM to perform live and interview with Bob & Chad on the morning show.
  • The boys perform “Happy EX-Mas” while I film and photograph.
  • The reality of having to be somewhere at 9:00 A.M. reminds us that being on the road is no different than having a day job back home.

Day 2 – The Warm-Up

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The Covenant House
  • Anger Management books us another show, this time at the Covenant House, a safe refuge which provides shelter for homeless youth in Alaska.
  • GCI, Alaska’s premier telecommunications provider, co-sponsors the event and provides 50 free tickets to the Road to Warped Tour. This will be the first time many of these kids have ever seen a concert.
  • I join the band on tambourine and we perform an acoustic set between speeches from GCI representatives and Covenant House.
  • Afterward, the boys do a signing and photo op while I give away free merchandise and coordinate with GCI. The kids go wild.

Day 2.5 – Wicked Wanda

  • We hop in the van and head over to Chilkoot Charlie’s, or simply “Koot’s,” a world famous bar and music venue where the band will headline the Warped Tour pre-party. Catering is served and we have dinner and watch the newest Game of Thrones with a band from New York called Behind the Façade. Good times.
  • The boys take the stage around midnight while the sun still blazes overhead. I sell merch and take photographs. We meet a girl who offers to sell merch for us at the festival the next day and we acquiesce.
  • Everyone is surprised to see the band Sleeping With Sirens in our audience, only to realize that they are only there to shoot pool and probably didn’t even notice us performing. Stephen and I laugh about the time we got into a fight with some of their members in Los Angeles in 2010.
  • We head off into the night to stir up some trouble in a brand new city.

Day 3 – The Big Day

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Warped Tour 2010 in Los Angeles, CA vs. Warped Tour 2016 in Anchorage, AK
  • The sound of an alarm clock buzzing near my head is the worst possible thing I could hear after passing out a few hours earlier on a stranger’s floor.
  • We arrive early at Sullivan Arena and begin setting up the merch tent. The band performs soundcheck while I coordinate a professional photographer, catering, and freebies from the vendors.
  • We  Are The Movies perform on the main stage. They are the first band to perform at the first Vans Warped Tour event in 2016. I poorly livestream the event over facebook and try to maintain the appearance of professionalism.
  • We spend the rest of the day hanging backstage with our favorite bands, hustling for enough money to get home, and making new friends from all over the world. Our merch girl turns out to be the best damn merch girl any of us have ever seen. She promises to show us around the city later and again, we acquiesce.

Day 4 – Nature Beckons

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Beluga Point
  • The next day is spent exploring Independence Mine State Historical Park in Wasilla. The views are breathtaking. We have a snowball fight in June. We drink water right out of the stream. We experience Alaska.
  • Later that night, Tim and Mike perform an acoustic set to raise money for an organization that teaches teens how to use multimedia. At this point, the band has made five appearances in four days. We eat our free pizza and drink our free wine as we have become accustomed to do.
  • The next several hours are spent moving from bar to restaurant to another stranger’s floor. It’s daylight before we blissfully drift off to sleep. We are beginning to get used to this.


Days 5 & 6 – The Tour Guide

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Midnight in Alaska
  • Our merch girl turns out to actually be a legitimate tour guide with some serious expertise. We visit Earthquake Park, eat Thai food, see a moose, mistake a pod of Beluga whales for white caps, and spend the evening around a campfire singing Red Jumpsuit Apparatus songs on ukulele.


Day 7 – Home

  • Eventually we make our way to the airport. I have a layover in Phoenix while everyone else is at LAX. They see Charlie Day, while I see a desert. My girlfriend picks me up and I go back to normal life. Happy ex-mas, the war is over.FullSizeRender_3

**Special thanks to Chris and everyone at Road to Warped Tour, Pat for his hospitality, Chloe for her skills and company, and Rosie for her food, drinks, and floor to sleep on. I will never forget you, Alaska.**

Ten years ago, distribution was one of the main reasons artists needed record labels. Of course their marketing and recording budgets didn’t hurt either, but that’s what crowdfunding is for today. Just like crowdfunding, independent artists now have access to channels of distribution outside of the major label supply chain. The simplest and most direct of these channels consist of free streaming websites such as bandcamp, SoundCloud, and ReverbNation which allow artists to create profiles, e-mail databases, sell music, and interact with other artists and fans alike.

All of these actions are a form of direct marketing or personal selling. Direct marketing bypasses the supply chain completely, or “cuts out the middleman” by going straight to the consumer. If you’re as old as me and ever used MySpace, I’m sure you’ll remember how many bands became successful simply by creating social media profiles and interacting with their fans in real time. This type of direct marketing was free, added value to the customer’s experience, and allowed the artists to become their own managers, publicists, and distributors. Though MySpace is no longer the internet powerhouse it once was (R.I.P.), there are other methods of distribution which do similar things.

You were my first friend Tom, but I feel like I hardly knew you.
You were my first friend Tom, but I feel like I hardly knew you.

The first aspect of distribution is to set a goal. Do you want all of your fans with smartphones to be able to purchase your music on the go? Or do you have older fans who would like to buy a physical CD at a store or concert? Maybe you’re extremely hip and are offering vinyl through mail-order. Believe it or not, some major radio stations are now playing local and independent artists as frequently as national ones and maybe you’d like to get yourself a slice of that market share.

Successful distribution requires having a plan in place which allows you, the independent artist, to distribute your music at the lowest possible cost to the largest possible audience. For organization’s sake, we’ll break the channels of distribution into two categories. We’ll start with digital by covering streaming and purchasing, then move to physical where we’ll cover brick and mortar stores, radio, and selling merchandise at concerts.

Like I said before, the melting pot of social networking sites, artist profiles, and e-commerce has met at a crossroads and churned out sites like ReverbNation and SoundCloud. These sites stream music, which simply means that listeners can play the music for free on their websites. Other programs such as Spotify, Pandora, and Rdio offer similar services, but are organized differently, have smartphone applications, and may offer membership costs for more premium services. Regardless, if your goal is to put your music in the hands of your target market without any financial return, then this is an excellent route to take. As we discussed in the pricing article, the freemium model can be a great marketing tactic which drives fans to your concerts and other merchandise.

If your goal is to have a financial return on investment, then that is where iTunes, Amazon, and other digital retailers come in. As I’ve mentioned before, these do not cost a lot of money, offer instant gratification to smartphone users, and are reputable retailers which add authenticity and credibility to your brand image. Of course there are websites which offer both streaming and the ability to purchase, and I’ll have to admit that bandcamp is my personal favorite. Bandcamp allows for artist and fan accounts, has a smartphone application, and costs the independent artist next to nothing to use.

The internet is not exactly tangible, and sometimes there’s nothing better than hearing a new song on the radio, seeing a band live and picking up one of their CDs, or digging in the crates at your local indie record shop. CDs and download cards are products which can easily be sold at your concerts, as setting up a merch booth takes little effort and can offer excellent visibility, opportunity, and revenue. It has also never been easier to place your products on the shelves of brick and mortar stores such as independent record shops, coffee shops, and other small businesses in your community.

Courtesy of www.ThunderPussy.com
Courtesy of http://www.ThunderPussy.com

As far as getting your music on the radio, there are two radio stations right here in Columbus, Ohio which often play local music. In fact, in researching for this article, I was surprised to see my former bandmates from Someone Like You in rotation on 99.7 The Blitz Local Stuff with their new group We Are The Movies. Another admirable local radio station is CD102.5 who plays local indie rock on their Frontstage program every week.

Another method often unknown to many independent artists is licensing. I could write an entire article about this and probably will someday, but the bottom line is this: if you simply want your music to be heard, you can partner with a publisher (or become your own) and license your songs to movies, TV stations, and companies who play music in restaurants and shopping malls. This type of distribution pays a royalty, and allows for the general public to be exposed to your work. As you may have realized by now, distribution comes in many different shapes and sizes. It all depends on your target market and what is the best way to reach them. As technology changes, so will the supply chain, but the end goal will always be the same: to have your voice heard.

One of my earliest musical memories is watching Michael Jackson videos on TV and begging my dad to tape them and painstakingly write down all of the lyrics so I could sing along. He didn’t hesitate to buy me a guitar, and didn’t scold me when I never touched it and asked for a drumset a year later. I ended up playing drums in various bands for about ten years before I picked up guitar and vocals around the year 2008. I remember telling all of my friends that I was going to release a solo album, and I honestly really tried. I’ve probably written 20 – 30 songs a year since then, but have never really been satisfied or had the time to pursue releasing a proper album.

All that changed a couple of years ago when I woke up in the middle of the night in a tent in the mountains of West Virginia with a tune running through my head. I had fallen asleep the night before listening to Rufus Wainwright’s latest album and thought maybe for a second that whatever was stuck in my head was simply a reincarnation of one of his songs. Conveniently I had brought my ukulele and iPhone camping with me, as I never leave home without them, and started demoing this song, much to the chagrin of my neighbors (which is a whole other unbelievable story).

That song turned out to be “Wrecking Ball,” which is my first proper solo release and single which is now officially on iTunes, Spotify, and the like. It’s the first song I wrote where I didn’t poorly rip off Neutral Milk Hotel or attempt to sing high-pitched whiny pop-punk songs just to fit into a mold which didn’t fit me. I also recorded, mixed, and mastered all of it myself, except for the help of audio engineer Ryan Liptak (of Happy Tooth & Dug fame) who recorded the drums and lead guitar.

This is the guy that I probably ripped off.
This is the guy that I probably ripped off.

In the year 2015, I set one and only one goal for myself: to finally release my solo album. I even came up with a fancy name, “Some Things Never Change,” which is spot on considering this has been my great white buffalo for the past six years. I’ve written and demoed the majority of the songs, buying fancy recording equipment and trying to push myself to the outer limits of my comfort zone. It has been rewarding and stressful all at the same time, and when you actually think about everything that goes in to making an album, it can certainly seem daunting.

The first step in creating an album is being a competent musician. In all my years of private lessons, practice, ripping off my favorite bands, and trying to create a niche for myself, I finally feel competent enough as a musician to be able to write a decent song. I usually start with a lyric, or a “hook,” craft a melody based off of that, then pick up an instrument. My go to instrument is usually guitar, ukulele, or piano as of late, and helps me craft the chords with which the song will take shape.

Then I do a free-write to help me fill in the lyrical holes, and basically just journal like a sixth-grade girl until I pull something from deep enough within to be taken seriously as an artist. Being a marketing graduate, I crafted a press kit with the quote “lyrical topics include accepting your past, fatherly advice, marriage and income inequality, suicide, and of course a self-deprecating song about hipsters.” Pretty serious stuff, right? It’s not all bad, I did attempt to write a self-deprecating song about hipsters, but honestly it seems so gimmicky and vapid that I’m not sure it will even make the cut.

Dear Diary: Why Aren't I a Rockstar yet? :(
Dear Diary: Why Aren’t I a Rockstar yet? 😦

So I’ve got the bare bones of the song done; chords, melodies, and lyrics, and the next thing to do is to record a scratch track or demo track. These two are not technically the same thing, but I’ll often demo a song and use it as a scratch track later when I’m recording the master. Many engineers and musicians will tell you to always record drums first, and I’ll have to agree with them. Trying to record drums over anything is a serious pain in the ass, even if you’ve followed your metronome like a robot. But music isn’t robotic. Music ebbs and flows and is rarely static.

I always record drums first, and always close enough to a click that it sounds like I know what I’m doing. I guess I forgot to mention the step where I also have to write the drum part. One summer when I was on Vans Warped Tour I spent the whole two months without access to recording gear, so I would listen to my acoustic demos and tap out drum parts with my hands or think of them in my head. I remember my bass player asking me with a genuinely confused look why I always listen to myself. He must have thought I was extremely self-centered. Well, he wouldn’t be wrong in assuming that.

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Photo Credit: twitter.com/THAOphoto

I write and record the drums, and then it’s off to the races with the rest of the rhythm tracks. I lay down a rhythm guitar, bass guitar, scratch vocal, then I start crafting my leads. I never truly appreciated leads until I joined the band Someone Like You and we recorded our debut EP as professionally as we could afford to. I watched our three guitarists come up with lead after lead and heard them seemlessly melt into the verses and choruses, adding texture, melody, and harmony to an otherwise bland rhythm guitar.

Once I have all the leads written, I record the main vocal, add some harmony, back-ups, and listen to the song on repeat enough that if it were on Spotify I’d be rich by now. The next phase is mixing and mastering, which is honestly so much of a science that I wouldn’t do it justice by discussing it here. I add some compression, equalization, reverb and delay, adjust the levels, and once all that is sorted out I start the mastering phase. When mastering, I always refer to the phrase “Radio Ready” to compare my final mix with what one might hear on the radio. Is it loud enough? Have I panned appropriately? Is it clipping anywhere? What about unwanted noise, or even sounds getting lost in the mix?

Mixing and mastering is probably the hardest part of the whole album process, as you can never truly be done mixing. I learned early on to realize when something is the best it’s going to get and just roll with it. Once I’ve got the masters, I can start uploading them to bandcamp, SoundCloud, YouTube, and get my wavs sent off to iTunes, Spotify, Amazon and other digital retailers. At this point in the game, I’ve spent practically no money on recording as I already own or borrow the instruments, have cheap home recording gear, and most websites and retailers are free. I’ll spend about $20 getting CD Baby or TuneCore to put my music on iTunes, but it’s not a bad return on investment.

This s**t takes forever.
This s**t takes forever.

Artwork and photography are a very important visual representation of your music. I’ve got a decent camera and some free editing software, and can easily come up with some promo pics and album artwork. In the day and age of digital purchases, artwork is less important, but it’s not difficult to create something professional on your own in one evening. Next I’ll take my camera and make some YouTube videos, lyric videos, or promotional videos, throw them up for free online and publish them to my social media accounts.


I went to school for marketing and public relations, so it’s easy for me to come up with branding, distribution, press releases and media kits. I work in business administration so I’m able to stay organized and within budget. I’m just a kid from a small town in Ohio, so trust me when I say that if I can do this, anyone can. Getting out and playing shows is the next step, and honestly networking is key. Music is all about community and one of the most valuable lessons I learned playing in punk rock bands is that we all look out for each other. Trading shows with bands or getting added at the last second is common, and concerts are one of the most important means of keeping the momentum of your music going.

If this sounds like a lot of work, it is. You’ll likely have to invest some money before you even get started, and be prepared to make a lot of personal sacrifices (sorry babe). I can only imagine that I won’t earn much income with my music, and having a day job and a personal life can hinder that even more. The important thing is having fun, not putting too much stress on yourself, and sharing one of the most basic human rituals with others. That’s why I’ve decided that in 2015, I’m finally going to release a new album for a new year.

Do you remember your first real concert? By “real,” I mean the first time you ever went to see a band you actually liked, not like the time my parents took me to see Cheap Trick at the State Fair, or even that time I accidentally saw LeAnn Rimes at the amusement park (it was not amusing). No, I’m talking about the first time you actively pursued a band whose music meant something to you and having an unforgettable time at one of their shows.

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OMG I’M SO COOL LOOK AT MY COCKFLAP

All the way back in the early 2000s when I was just a young chap, I picked up a sampler album at Hot Topic (I know) called Pure Punk Rock by Punk Core Records. This disc contained many of the bands I would worship over the next few years, drawing me closer and closer to the dingy, dirty, run-down dive bars that I would frequent throughout high school. The sampler contained a song by a band called The Unseen, who was a pretty straight-forward street punk band from Boston (sidenote: their bassist has since written a pretty entertaining book which you can check out here). A couple of months after starting my freshman year of high school in the autumn of 2003, this thing called the internet told me that The Unseen were coming to my town. They were playing at Newport Music Hall, a place I had never heard of, but would later go on to perform several times myself.

I worked up the courage to ask my parents if I could go to the freak fest, and sheepishly inquired if they had ever heard of the Newport Music Hall. Both parents laughed and reminisced that they had spent many a night there when they were younger, but seemed a little reserved at letting 14 year old me attend the show. We somehow worked it out that my mother would take me (so punk rock) and my best friend’s mother would attend as well. I checked out the lineup online, and the headlining band were Dropkick Murphy’s who I had heard of, and the opening band were called Roger Miret and the Disasters.

I had never heard of the opener before, but this was my first big chance to discover some new music so we arrived early. My mom and her accomplice each grabbed a beer, which was a sight I had only seen a few times in my entire life up until that point. Immediately the mood changed and I sensed that it was going to be a fun night. My friends and I went into the pit and tried to act like we belonged there as Roger Miret and the Disasters started and put on one hell of a show. They were high energy, catchy, and unlike any other punk band I had heard at that time.

After their set, my mother and I were hanging around the merch booths when an older gentleman approached me and complimented me on my The Clash back patch. I said thank you and the three of us sparked up a conversation about older bands and who were our favorites. I didn’t even realize it, but I was speaking to Roger Miret, the singer of the opening band (and for all of you hardcore kids out there, also THE VOCALIST OF AGNOSTIC FRONT). My mother and I spoke to Roger for a while and before I knew it he was giving me free stickers, patches and pins, and once he found out that I had a couple of friends with me, went back to his merch booth and gave us even more goodies. This absolutely blew my mind, as everybody around me had neck tattoos, leather jackets and mohawks, and to be honest, I was a little frightened. This bad-ass looking dude not only turned out to be a perfect gentleman, but left me feeling included and inspired to be a part of his community.

Disasters
My “gear.”

The Unseen played next and I had a wonderful time pogoing, skanking, circle pitting, and picking up my fallen brothers and sisters off the ground. It was everything I ever wanted and more, and cemented the idea that this is where I belonged. I would later go on to see The Unseen about a million times more and had some excellent conversations with their drummer Pat, who was yet another amazing dude willing to spend his time talking to a random teenage kid like me. The Dropkicks went on last, and as I’m sure you can imagine completely blew my mind. By the end of the night, I was on stage with the band and a bunch of fat, drunken, sweaty Irishmen singing songs arm in arm and having the time of my life. It was and will remain one of the most memorable nights of my adolescent years.

Exactly four years later, in October of 2007, I was playing drums in a hardcore band who had seen mild popularity playing around the Midwest and Canada. Our band was asked to be the openers for an all-day hardcore music festival, whose headliner would be Agnostic Front. Nostalgia hit me like a ton of bricks when I thought about how just four years earlier I was an awkward kid going to his first punk show and now had the opportunity to play with a band whose vocalist had a major impact on me. I loaded up my gear and hit the road for Dayton, OH where we were to go on around noon.

Evansville
2hardcore4u

When my band played, there weren’t many people there, aside from a couple of other bands. We gave it our all and still had a wonderful time, and got to see a lot of other great bands throughout the day. Agnostic Front closed the night, and were really a sight to be seen. Everybody in the venue was going absolutely insane, moshing, singing along, and you could tell that this band meant a lot to everyone there. After the show ended, I had to make my way back toward Columbus and was unable to catch up with Mr. Miret that night. I doubt I would have had a chance anyway as he was the most popular man in the room, but I really felt like things had come full circle. I learned a valuable lesson about the relationship between artists and their fans, and remain grateful for what Mr. Miret taught me: don’t forget about the little people.

I think it was in Texas in the spring of ’06 when I bought the Arctic Monkeys CD Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not; which went on to become the fastest selling debut album in British music history. I also picked up an Anti-Flag CD, Coldplay’s live album, and I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning by Bright Eyes that day. I’ll never forget the smirk on the cashier’s face when he said I had an “interesting” taste in music. I had actually been introduced to Arctic Monkeys a year prior when a friend gave me a mix CD with one of their songs on it. Remember those? I found some of my favorite music through mixes.

Arctic Monkeys
My Arctic Monkeys CD. Amish beard for scale.

After reading this article on The Guardian, I was very impressed to learn that in the UK, the Arctic Monkeys’ latest album, AM, was “the biggest selling vinyl LP of 2014.” The article also mentioned that vinyl has become “an attractive format for object fetishists and committed fans.” Now object fetishists and committed fans are two completely different types of people, so I had to find out: who is buying vinyl records?

I don’t have a Facebook account and as you get older your friends generally start to move on with their lives, so I posed a question to an online vinyl record forum: “Why Do You Buy Vinyl Records?” I didn’t expect to get much of a response, but the one that I did get was not only qualitative, but quantitative. Perfect strangers opened up to me over the internet detailing exactly how they listen to records, their childhood, what their hobbies are, and what kinds of music they listen to.

You can probably guess who the majority of vinyl consumers are: 20-something men in major cities with enough disposable income to afford the average $20 record. If you guessed this, then you guessed correctly. What astounded me however were the vast lifestyle differences and reasons for purchasing that varied by respondent. Approximately 76% of my audience were males between the ages of 25 and 39, with all other respondents being female (obviously) and/or between the ages of 18 and 24.

Sound was first recorded in 1857, which was over 150 years ago. The tail end of vinyl record sales slowed in 1996 with just over one million units sold, so what does that say about the staying power of vinyl? The majority of my respondents were still teenagers when vinyl “died out,” yet somehow still find themselves drawn toward this mysteriously popular format.

Old Record Player
Just listening to the new National record, no big deal.

So what caused this shift back to traditionalism? Was it Napster, KaZaA, or SoulSeek? How about iTunes, Zunes, or CD players? Or maybe it was the final nail in the coffin: YouTube, Spotify, or Pandora. I can’t say for sure, but after reading some of the responses to my question, I found that the main reason for this shift was the physical and emotional connection that the listeners felt to the music on the record. If we look at the timeline mentioned above, from vinyl to CD, and Napster to Spotify, let’s think about how this affected the artist. In 1996, bands were selling vinyl and CDs for upwards of $20, but today they only get paid mere pennies for however many hundreds of times their songs are streamed on Spotify.

The second highest response to my question was to support the artist. Bands clearly aren’t making any money from streaming, and they definitely don’t have major labels backing them any more, so where is their revenue coming from? For some lucky artists, it’s coming from their vinyl record sales. 21% of my respondents purchased just to support the artist. Two of the other major responses to my question were that listeners are buying vinyl for the higher audio quality and physical packaging.

Dent May Vinyl
Aw shucks, really? Thanks, Dent!

Some of the more interesting lifestyle statistics I gathered from my audience were geographical location and annual household income. Most lived on the east coast of the United States in major cities, some were unemployed, and others made almost $200,000 per annum. Music has always been something that brings people together, and often transcends cultural and socio-economic barriers. It was really exciting to see so many people from different backgrounds come together just to talk about their love for music. Many of them talked about the feeling they get of nostalgia or warmth once they touch the needle to the record, or how much closer they feel to the artists that they love.

The artists have noticed this cultural shift too, and have started to give back to their fans. Record Store Day is usually the third Saturday of April, an international holy day for musicians, fans, and record store owners alike. Many bands release special records and CDs and even perform concerts at independent record stores all around the world. It has become a unique and important observance for die-hard music fans allowing them the chance to collect rare memoribilia, meet the artists they love, and provide a revenue boom for small businesses and independent musicians.

Though music may be seen as a commodity to many, to others it is life. The anticipation running through their veins as they tear off the shrink wrap, pull out the liner notes, and delicately place the needle on the track. Turning the lights down low, the bass and treble up, and simply enjoying being nowhere with only your favorite song as company. I’d like to say that the recent uptick in sales of vinyl records is not a trend, because trends don’t last for 150 years. Trends come and go as technologies and cultures change, but one thing that will always remain the same is the connection that we feel to the music.

In keeping with the spirit of an album release, today we’ll talk about how to price your album. There are many different factors to consider when establishing a price, such as how much money you put into the making of the album (studio time, artwork, photography, advertising); how much money you hope to earn from sales of the album (after dividing money between band members, paying income tax, manufacturing overhead), and ultimately, what you think the album is worth.

Manufacturing Overhead: Overhead is the cost of doing business. So you rent a studio space for $500 a month, it costs you $750 to press new merchandise each month, and your entire band needs a cost of living wage; so when it’s all said and done, your overhead is likely several thousands of dollars per month.

Income Tax: Taxes paid on all incoming revenue. If you are a solo artist or sole proprietor, or your band is a co-owned LLC, you would generally pay the IRS your income tax quarterly as an independent contractor.

Many artists calculate what they’ll sell their album for by starting with the product cost. What I’ve heard a lot of bands say is “the CDs each cost $2 to press, so we need to earn at least $2.” This is called break-even pricing. What this strategy vies for is earning enough revenue to cover the cost of manufacturing. What it doesn’t take into account is how much money it cost to record the album in a professional studio, how much the photographer was paid, and how much time each band member spent practicing, recording, and promoting. Unless you’re opting for the freemium model (which we’ll discuss later on), this is the best worst-case scenario.

If you want to earn a profit on the sale of your records, what you’ll likely want to do is markup your sale price. Cost-plus pricing is when you consider the initial cost of manufacturing and add (plus) your desired profit. So it takes $2 to press each CD, and you want to earn a minimum of $5 profit per sale, so you sell each album for $7. In today’s economic environment, is this the most realistic price? If every other musician on the planet is selling their album for only $5, and you are selling yours for $7, who do you think the audience is more likely to support? Unless you have added value (bonus tracks, free downloads online, music videos, etc.), your competition is likely to prevail. Competition-based pricing is just that- pricing your products at the same price or lower than your competitors. I’m sure you’ve seen gas stations across the street from one another lowering their prices by mere pennies just to gain market share; well it’s not much different in today’s music industry where supply greatly outweighs demand.

Gross Profit: This is the amount of money you make before paying off your band members, income tax, and using the band fund to cover costs such as hotels and meals.

Net Profit: This is the amount of money that you earn after all expenses are paid. So you sold $1,000 worth of albums, but after living expenses, taxes, and per diems, you’ve got about $40 bucks.

With the increase in streaming programs such as Spotify, Pandora, and Rdio, many consumers, especially die hard music fans aren’t even buying much music anymore. Sure, they might pick up a vinyl record or download an album on bandcamp to support an artist they love, but in 2014, several artists surpassed over one billion plays each on Spotify. With this technological shift in the way we consume music, many bands, especially indie ones, are opting for pay-what-you-want or freemium pricing strategies.

Pay-what-you-want is so simple that it makes you wonder why no one thought of it years ago. Radiohead was one of the first bands to successfully execute this model with the release of In Rainbows in 2008, which saw millions of downloads worldwide. Many indie artists are using the PWYW method as a gamble. Realistically, most people will probably download your album for $0, but every once in a while you might get a very generous benefactor. I remember one time I was hawking my old band’s EP for $5 at a Warped Tour stop in New Jersey, and after hearing us, a young woman offered $20 for the 5-song EP that we recorded in our singer’s basement. She was heavily intoxicated and clearly incapable of making financial decisions, so I declined her offer as many times as possible before she simply shoved the $20 in my face. I gave her $20 worth of merchandise and sang her a few tunes on my ukulele, making damn sure she got her money’s worth, as that was the first (and last) time anybody paid me $20 for my music.

Finally we’ve arrived at the current trend in indie music, the freemium model. When I was going to university for marketing, I had always heard a term called “loss leader” which is a strategy that works well for major corporations. A loss leader is a product that the company sells for a low price or gives away in order to drive consumers to their establishments in the hopes that they will buy other items on which the company will profit. McDonald’s sells $1 large drinks in the summer in hopes that the customers will buy Big Macs and whatever other expensive crap they sell. It usually works. In the music industry, time and time again artists are realizing that the best money they’ll make is on the road. And how can you guarantee that people will come out to see your concert? Well, you can’t really, but giving them free music is definitely a start.

Recently, U2, one of the biggest bands of time immemorial, released their latest album for free on iTunes to all of its users. In all of my years avoiding pop radio and television, I suddenly found myself with a copy of an album which I had previously gone out of my way to avoid. I’d be lying if I didn’t enjoy the U2 tracks that came up on my shuffle, but will I ever go see them live? Probably not, but if it were a local band whose concert I could afford attending, I would definitely be more inclined to go than if they were charging me $10 to listen to their album.

We’ll touch on pricing again as we get into the 4th P, Promotion, covering topics such as discounts and incentives, but for now this is most of what you need to know in order to start pricing your album. Tune in next week to read about place; also known as distribution.

As an artist, you are your product. Your album, your live show, your image, your prose. Out of all of these factors, recent studies show that musicians earn the most income on the road. I’ve always been more of a studio geek than a stage presence, so in this article I’m going to focus on one of the most important products in the music industry: your album. First of all, let’s define album. Is it a single? EP? Full length? Is it digital, or on CD, or vinyl? You’ll likely want to choose the right kind of format for your genre; for example country artists are still moving CDs, many indie artists are selling large numbers of vinyl records, and digitial releases have never been more successful.

Once you’ve figured out what your release will be, you’ll want to start focusing on packaging. Packaging is the visual and physical representation of your product before it hits listener’s ears. Important aspects of packaging consist of cover art, track listing, and liner notes. Cover art is easiest to achieve with digital releases, as you often only need one image to act as the cover of your album. Track listing is also as simple as writing up a text document of the songs included on the album, which order they’re in, and each song’s length. Liner notes may take a little longer to create, as they include lyrics, credits, art and photography contained within a .PDF document. Barriers to physical releases (CD, vinyl, cassette) consist of creating front and back album art including barcode/UPC, designing the actual CD face, and artistically creating the layout based on the format’s physical space limitations. Not only are physical releases more costly to produce, but they often take longer to complete.

discmakers
DiscMakers has about a million options for physical packaging

In order to create a successful product, the music, lyrics, and recording quality need to be good, but I’ll leave that topic alone in the hopes that you’ve already achieved those traits before preparing for release. When you are finally ready, you can use the checklist below to narrow your focus.

– Your album is a single, EP, or full length
– Your product will be released digitally, on CD, vinyl, cassette, or all of the above
– You have album art/professional photography, track listing, and liner notes

Above all, you should only release your album once it’s ready. If the songs are poorly performed, or the art isn’t appropriate, the audience will recognize that and respond accordingly. One question I always ask myself is “am I proud of this?” If I am, then I can move forward. If I’m not proud of my work, I go back and tweak every little thing I can until I’m satisfied. I encourage you to take pride in your work and never try to run before you can walk.

Next Phase: Learn How to Price Your Album

Marketing is often known as selling or advertising a product or service, but it’s actually part of a much larger process. The marketing mix, or “4 Ps”, consist of product, price, place, and promotion; individual concepts which we will explore further in future blog posts. When you are ready to begin the marketing process, the first step is to define your target market. Your target market is the group of consumers who have common traits, needs, and desires. The essential question you have to ask yourself is, who are my customers? Males aged 18 – 25? Hispanic women? Jewish pre-teens in New York?

Marketing MixThe easiest way to define your target market is through demographics. A market’s demographics often consist of age, gender, race, occupation, and location. Other statistics included in a target market’s demographics are how they buy what they buy, where they buy what they buy, etc. If you’re a musician, how will your target market access your songs? Will they have enough money to purchase a vinyl record instead of streaming your album online? Do they live in the location in which you’re touring? Are they old enough to get into the club that you’re playing this weekend? These are all important things to think about when trying to increase your visibility among your target market.

Visibility is exactly what it sounds like. How visible is your music? Do music fans even know you exist? How can you increase visibility? Visibility goes hand in hand with reach. Reach is the total number of people that have been exposed to your music at any given time. Thanks to the internet, reach and visibility are limitless, providing millions of ways to get your music out to fans and gain new ones. Websites like Facebook, SoundCloud, and BandCamp allow for you to connect with consumers socially in ways that you never could have before, guiding them toward your brand and your products. Unlike the internet, geographical location can drastically limit your reach. For example, if you live in a small town of 5,000 residents and you’ve played the same bar every weekend for a year, your overall reach starts to dwindle as you begin to tap out your market. This is why touring is the most lucrative industry for musicians right now.


One last thing to think about before you begin your marketing campaign is branding. Your brand is who you are, what you represent, and what you hope to sell to your audience. A brand can be a lifestyle, a logo, or even a political or religious ideation. Just off the top of my head, California punk rock band Black Flag’s logo is something that has nearly transcended the band itself, representing “rebellion and anarchy” in the punk community and beyond. Branding can be one way to increase visibility, and acts as an overall component of every successful marketing campaign.

Black Flag logo
Next Phase
: A 4-Part Series on the Marketing Mix