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.

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