Friday, December 20, 2013


One of the most frustrating parts of trying to build a career is the ever elusive RADIO AIRPLAY that is so hard to get as an Indie artist. Logic dictates that if an artist is heard on the radio, it would mean they have true credibility or have the ability to get more rapidly known. But radio today is not the same as it was 5-10 years ago.

First of all, it's obvious that the more America and international countries depend on digital data communication, the more syndication of media (like music) can occur to individuals with devices that can receive that media and play it or view it. Much like what email did to fax machines, wifi and mobile data are doing to CD sales and radio stations. In fact, the past 5 years of radio in the USA alone has seen a major shift in how revenues are created for station owners.

Since I'm a marketing guy for a living, I have to understand how advertising works.  In the simplest form, advertisers are what "pay" radio station budgets. Advertisers in any given community have a plethora of options to choose from to get their message out. Newspaper, billboard, direct mail, radio, TV, signage, and more importantly... the internet and social media.  Now the average consumer in America has internet access via mobile phone/tablet or computer. The "music" consumer radio stations reach are highly likely to use internet on a regular basis as well. I'm not talking "talk radio", but stations that play music format as their primary broadcast. Obviously the era and genre of music changes from station to station, but most are reaching consumers who are technology capable with the web.

Now, the FCC has made it difficult to get a radio station license to broadcast over the open air outside our homes. However, the FCC has no jurisdiction over the internet based radio stations broadcasting music. In fact, internet based radio poses a real threat to "terrestrial" radio stations which can be found on your radio dial in a car. As such, these stations around the U.S. which have paid for their F.C.C. license and have to keep that license in good standing in order to keep it, they have to be able to generate good income to underwrite overhead for just owning a station.

Sorry if this is boring, but it will make sense soon if you're following along.

So let me give you an example from the past.

Radio Station XYZ in Yourtown, USA was locally owned and operated. The station owner had a programming director or station manager that would decide what music would be played on-air. That station manager / program director would ultimately have the authority to decide what songs would get played and therefore they were the "ONE" you wanted to have a nice relationship with.  To some extent, that still holds true, but more on that later.

Record companies used to send demos to these station owners/managers/directors. They would build relationships with them and get their artists on the air. However, a nice feature of being locally owned meant that they could also decide to play Independent artist's music as well if they wanted. This is how many unsigned artists used to get radio play, and is how many artists today think it still works. In cases where a station is 'still' locally owned and not part of a group of stations owned by a big corporation, this may still be possible, but not likely.

The other factor that locally owned stations had going for them was that advertisers in their area had a hard time not finding success investing in radio commercials because (frankly) radio was the center of our daily world in the commute and at work and home. TV and radio were the cutting edge way of reaching a consumer. Factor in the internet, and suddenly consumer attention isn't fixed as much on local radio as it once was and suddenly the station's owner starts losing income because advertisers are spending their budgets on methods that may reach their intended audience more directly than radio (aka internet/social media).

So, with less money coming in, less staff. With less staff, less "LIVE DJ's" to work with. With less LIVE DJ's, the station programming director had to resort to pre-programming playlists of songs on a computer and hit "GO" and basically let the computer spit out music. At the same time, with less revenues, the station owners were less inclined to keep the station open and looked for someone to buy them out.

Enter the BIG CORPORATE TAKEOVER of local stations.

Now with large corporations buying out locally owned stations in a region or geographic area, there may be local programming that is overlapping a station of the same format 25 miles down the road. Saturation and overlap mean the advertising dollars are diluted so no ONE station can live off the splitting of the same advertisers among two format stations that play the same music. Big corporations consolidate stations and take over "play lists" they play from a CORPORATE level versus the old time local level programming director decision.

Add to this that the BIG 3 record companies in the world have their staff "buying" airtime with the corporate radio giants, and suddenly we have playlists that are saturated with what $$$ has been spent by the major record labels to "own" that air-time.

So what once was a local decision for songs being played is now a corporate decision because they are selling air-time to major record labels.

Now guess what advertisers are doing with this new model of radio?

They want to advertise on stations that play the music that is being sold on iTunes and shown on official music videos on Vevo. Frankly, corporate radio takes the lead from the Big 3 record companies because they know that the record companies are spending millions to promote their artists and those millions of marketing dollars are helping advertisers make the choice to buy commercials when they know the consumers are listening to the Billboard hits and latest release from their favorite recording artist.

So, yes, money dictates a lot of this.

Scratch that.

It's all about the benjamins.

Back to you... the independent and rising artist.

How do you get on radio?

Well there's an interesting shift in how consumers are "consuming" music now thanks to the internet and upgrading of mobile data bandwidth (think 4G and 4GLTE) which is making it possible to have "radio" on your cell phone with services like Spotify and iTunes. In fact, iTunes radio, which launched earlier this year, is becoming a force along with Spotify as a chief competitor to local radio.

Satellite radio makes it's dent, but when we're talking the younger generation, XM and Sirius Radio may not have the edge they once had for more music and the ability to listen to what you prefer (I prefer the 60's and 70's station).

Let me share Spotify, for example.

For $10 month, I can have commercial free (no advertisers) radio playing on my phone or computer and only include songs I chose to include in my playlist. So, when I sit at my computer and type away at my keys, I'm listening to any of my many playlists I created of songs I "WANT" to hear, not songs I have to hear because some Corporate Radio Giant dictates that I hear the same song 46 times a day.

How great is that?

So local radio may still hold attention of consumers, but it's nearly impossible to get an unsigned artist regular airplay unless they open their checkbook in a BIG way.

For example, we hired a radio promotion company in Tennessee to promote a single Spencer released this past February.  For a nifty $3500, the song was uploaded to a CLOUD based database of music that stations all over the USA and World can access. The file is in the proper format for computerized stations to quickly download to their server and insert into a playlist.

But wait, it's not just having the song available for program directors of these stations, it's also getting your song visible among the thousands that are plugged into that CLOUD every day. That's where I mentioned earlier that relationships with program directors or station managers can still be important. Well guess "WHO" those station managers and directors will tolerate calling them, emailing them, or mailing them "new" music?  Yep, the radio promotion people you HIRE to solicit them. Enter the tidy fee mentioned above.

A radio promotion expert knows all the station managers in the genre they specialize in. So it's not even enough to just hire a promotions company to get your song to radio, you need to make sure they are well accepted by the genre / format of station you want your song played on. So it makes no sense to hire a RAP / HIP HOP radio promotions guy to try and get your COUNTRY song on radio. That guy just does not have the connections at those format stations.

So let's just take a quick guess how much it costs a major label to place ONE song on radio? The national average I last heard for a top 40 type artist is $250,000 minimum for ONE song.

Hate to be a kill-the-vibe kind of guy, but this is the reality independent artists face and the reason why many of them get excited when an online radio station chooses to play their music. That's great for bragging that your song is on "radio", but if it's online radio, it only means so much unless that station is syndicated through the web or even on Terrestrial radio.

I know this is a HUGE amount of information to digest, but in reality, the more you understand about the RADIO GAME, the easier it will be to navigate that particular area of your artist's career. There's a ton more to know and understand about it, but this should give you a foundation.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


The web is full of sites which are designed to showcase an artist's music for various reasons. Some are designed as a portal for connecting artists and industry people and venues together. Some are focused on networking artists with each other, etc. Whatever their focus, these sites have done great and not so great things for artists.

For the artist who needs quick exposure, these sites can provide traffic from industry types. Some industry and venue people crawl these sites looking for talent. So from that perspective, it's great. But if you're looking for a place to showcase your music for a fan, these sites aren't necessarily the best. Many require memberships to view and communicate with profiles on them and the average fan shouldn't have to become a member of a site just to view a profile or talk to their favorite artist.

I'll talk specifically about one site that Spencer used to gain some traction early on in his career.


At present, I am completely angry about this site and it's blatant exploitation of unsigned artists. One such issue being that if you use them to distribute your music to iTunes or other online retailers, you're risking signing away any/all royalties because of a clever loophole they put in their Terms and Conditions that cites if you choose not to keep paying them annually to relist your song with online retailers they originally listed your song with for you, then you must pay a "termination fee" equal to $15-30 per song so they take that song off the retailers website. Here's the catch, if you choose NOT to pay them that fee to take it down, you actively surrender all your future royalties for that song as long as it is listed by them.

Beyond this nifty little gem is a caveat in song ownership that you may need to clearly understand. By uploading your music to their site, you are giving them a LICENSE to promote (use) your music however they want and they don't have to pay you for it. Nice!

So, it is very important to know the fine print of some of these sites before you use them to promote your music or show your music.

In fact, it is best for you to only provide "links" to your youtube videos or music you've uploaded to a place which you trust their intentions and let these sites just refer to your music. For example, create your own artist website, upload your music there, and use these 3rd party music sites to bring traffic to YOUR site where you have 100% control of ownership of your music and content.

Now, I will say that I have found a few performance opportunities for Spencer using sites like these, so they aren't necessarily evil sites, but you have to be very careful to read the fine print.

In general, it is always a good practice to have an artist website as the key place to keep your updated music and public information (bio, tour schedule, latest news, etc.)

At some point in the adventure of the music industry it would be wise to have an entertainment lawyer on hand to review any terms & conditions of sites like these and most definitely any contractual agreements you're being asked to sign.


In the midst of recording Spencer's first professional studio song in early 2011, we engaged in an interesting dialog with the 25+ year veteran producers and mixing engineers. Should an artist (today) use AUTOTUNE or not?

For those of you older folk like me, Autotune is a nifty plug-in used in software for mixing music at most studios. There are two primary software makers for "fixing" pitch issues vocals: Autotune and Melodyne. In a quick lesson, the basics of these include the software's ability to detect what "note" the singer is trying to hit and it automagically fixes the note. Extreme uses of these software plug-ins can be heard in most pop, hip-hop, or rap music on the radio. One artist has made an entire career out of using Autotune as a special effect on their voice (T-Pain). Once you hear it (very obvious here) you'll immediately know the extreme version of it. However, although T-Pain has made millions from using it, Cher is actually the first to make it mainstream with her song "BELIEVE" in 1998 where the robotic effect on her voice was not yet known as Autotune by the main public. Other artists using this include Will-I-Am, Ke$ha, Katy Perry, Lady GaGa, etc.

So now you know the extreme uses of Autotune for effects. The other use, which is how it was intended, is to simply pitch correct a singer's voice. However, even this pitch correction can be easily detected by most music industry people. There's a subtle marker that can be heard when autotune is applied to vocalists.

So why write a blog post about this?

Great question.

Especially with younger artists trying to make their way in the music industry or possibly have a career, it is very important to know when to use autotune and when not to use autotune. Even saying this means that there is an acceptable use of it, which many purists (like me) get cranky about.

Let me just state a fact that is 100% accurate.

Like it or not, Grammy winning artists have all used this. Even country artists use it. When you're in the studio at Sony (as Spencer was this fall) they use Autotune as a standard plug-in. It's not even a question to them. It's regular practice.

So, it's not even a question of using it or not, it's just whether your artist can get by with having very little of it used on their voice.

One phenomenon that actually shocked me about the highest levels of pro-recording at studios is that Autotune is used during live recording "while" the artist is singing into the mic. This is a lot different than I would have guessed because I've only experienced autotune being applied "after" the recording was made and only to fix small spots that may have missed a note or two. What this did for Spencer, as I came to understand, is it created (for him) a sense of confidence to be more focused on vocal expression and dynamics than to worry about hitting the exact notes perfectly each take. Two different engineers told us that countless major recording artists rely on autotune to keep them focused on the other elements of delivering a good lyric in a song, like enunciation, volume, phrasing, etc.


What this also did was create a confidence that couldn't be reproduced live for Spencer on some songs. While he sounded great in the studio monitors and final mix, to hear him try to replicate the exactness of notes on a stage was a whole different issue.

Back to 2011.

These engineers pulled out (for our benefit) a recording from a 1970's vocal heavy song which clearly did not have Autotune, and we were shocked at how our ears had been trained (recently) to assume pitch-perfect vocals. Many of the amazing singers I grew up listening to were far from "on pitch" in their vocals, but we didn't have anything to compare them to at the time and the "NORM" was what it was. Pick your favorite old-school artist and listen to them close enough and you'll hear some missed notes and bended pitches where they slide into notes or out of notes. It was perfectly acceptable before, but now it isn't because of the invention of software like Autotune. They further pointed out to Spencer to give his impression of the vocals he heard from back in the ancient 1970's. He said they didn't sound good. You see, at his age, he has ears that are used to hearing pitch corrected vocals on the radio and CD's. So, even when he records, his natural singing voice (without autotune) sounds bad to him and he gets very conservative.

The opposite can be true with some artists, they don't possess a tone gauge that keeps them in the same key. They may consistently hit note after note, but it may drift 1/2 step up or down from the actual key. Sadly, parents of some younger artists get caught convincing their child how amazing their vocals are and while their skill may be good, their execution of notes is not. Hence, the need for AUTOTUNE.

So, what's the negative for Autotune if it fixes issues... is the common practice today... and is what the trained ear of today's music expects?

Live shows.

While I've not seen him live in concert, Jason Derulo has a huge fan base of his music. Spencer introduced me to his songs and I really like his R&B vibe. When sharing about him with a few friends and acquaintances we've met in the industry, we were told his live show was horrible. He can't sing like he does on his records. There has been so much doctoring of his vocals in the studio that he can't replicate it live.

Another facet is that while the average fan will love recorded music from an artist, music industry executives and professionals tend to be less impressed with software wizardry by a producer and more interested to know what an artist sounds like without all the myriad of takes that go into making one song. In fact, most labels will require an artist to audition live so they can determine if they have a real voice or a studio voice. (think American Idol or X-Factor, etc.)  The "live" voice is the real voice of an artist. Autotune is supposed to help make a commercial product that will be sold, and it is perfectly acceptable in that case to use Autotune to fix vocal miscues.

One thing that consistently annoys me about young artists with their music is when you clearly hear the heavy autotune they've used to fix issues. Sadly, young artists goes through puberty and their voices are not capable of being "on" all the time. So Autotune may be a tool required to provide consistency for them. But it also raises the question of whether they can really sing.

So the best advice I've come to understand from industry execs and my own experience with building a fan base for Spencer is this:

  • Use Autotune on songs which will be sold on iTunes or made for a CD projects
    • Be careful that how it is used won't be an issue for live performances and the artist being able to replicate the vocals on stage without sounding completely foreign to the audience
  • Don't let your artist become dependent on Autotune and be a lazy singer who isn't trying to get better
  • Realize that experienced industry people can spot Autotune "fixed" vocals on a demo and know whether it is an effect cause the song calls for it, or it is fixing pitch issues and may be a red flag to them
  • ALWAYS let an experienced engineer apply the Autotune versus an amateur. If they are professional, even the most trained ears won't be able to hear the plug-in on the vocals and it will still sound natural
  • Have your artist record live songs in front of a video camera and post on Youtube so fans and industry people will have the chance to hear a pure vocal without it being fixed with software. This will increase your credibility as an artist.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


In previous posts, I've eluded to working with a label from a few different aspects. Perhaps one of the most challenging areas to understand as a new artist or for parents of younger artists is what it means to get a label deal and the many facets involved.

First of all, in the world of music, there really aren't very many major labels left. Most of the industry has consolidated into a field of indie labels and the remaining big boys.
  • Universal Music Group
  • Sony Music Entertainment
  • Warner Music Group
There are other well-known labels with market recognition, but many are just subsidiaries of these three major corporations. Labels like Atlantic, Capitol, MCA, Mercury, Arista, and Motown are all names I grew up knowing as labels of famous artists. All of these and many more are now under the umbrella of one of these big 3 companies. However, in the industry, these labels are considered a power in themselves in various genres. Also keep in mind that these labels have sisters and brothers in other countries and even some siblings in the USA market as well.

In a recent visit to Warner Music Group in Nashville, I was able to hear the history of Warner's maneuvers in the industry the past few decades and didn't realize how cross-pollinating some of the labels under Warner really were. For instance, some artists signed to one Warner label may actually work with a sister label on a project or for distribution to a different segment of the consumer market. Frankly, it's all very confusing until you sit down and draw it out on paper.

Then there are the Independent Labels that are "not" part of the big 3. Honestly, I know of many small indie labels that have launched the careers of some well-known artists that later moved on to the big boys or the labels roster was bought out by a big boy.

So, knowing that there are MAJORS and INDIES in the label business, there are some clear distinctions you should understand before starting a dialog with either, should you be fortunate enough to be considered.


To simplify the role of a label, let's just pull away the glitz and glamor of getting signed. A label is nothing more than a business partner (bank) who is interested in investing in your small business (the artist). Having said that, stop thinking of yourself as a creative entertainer with spotlights and autographs happening and think in terms of being a mom & pop diner in your town. You have invested in your reputation, product, service and advertised with your own money. Imagine a banker or investor coming along and seeing you have a successful small business. There are legitimate investors to consider and some you should avoid. This is the essence of navigating your understanding of a label's role.

So to avoid picking the wrong "investor" you should consider some basics.

  • In general, an established label will NOT reach out to artists unless they have been touring a lot.
    • The market is too full of talent for them to need to turn over stones. Most want to discover new talent, but rarely reach out to up and coming artists unless they intend to do a development deal... which usually involves the artist writing checks to someone for "development".
  • The music industry is shrinking and many ex-professional executives are out of work.
    • Sales and revenues for labels are very hard to come by today versus just 5 years ago. As such, many labels are laying off even the most experienced and talented staff members simply because they can't afford to keep them on payroll.
    • Many of these former employees have launched management companies, development companies, bird dogging services (they find talent and set up intro meetings with their former associates for a nice fee), production companies, or even small labels. They use their resume to impress you with how they will help you get discovered or signed to a big deal. In the midst is the little issue of them needing to make money to transfer this wealth of knowledge they possess.
  • What artists do they currently have?
    • Many labels have a plethora of undiscovered talent on their roster and they use those artists small-market fame to build their label with other small-market talent.
    • Many of these labels try to build momentum off their anchor artist on the roster, who may or may not be happy with their "contractual" obligation to stay with that label.
    • Their website is plastered with self-promoting fluff that really doesn't point to any third parties to validate their track record. If they don't post record sales, tour photos, radio results, etc. it's a sign that they aren't doing much.
So suppose you get into a dialog with any of these labels who claim you (the artist) are the next big thing. The reality is that all their promises and delivery guarantees can be found in the fine print of that annoying and lengthy contract they present. Initially it's great to discuss theoretical outcomes, but get the contract into the hands of an "ENTERTAINMENT LAWYER" (not your family lawyer or your company lawyer). An entertainment attorney has seen all the tricks and knows the industry better than a general practice attorney. There are obviously black and white elements that will be easy to spot as an artist, but never sign a contract with anyone unless it has first been reviewed by an entertainment attorney.


Yes, there are good guys in the industry that are fair and able to become your partner without you fearing the worst. However, the reality of what a good guy provides in a deal may not be what you expect or want.

In general, these are the things that the big labels do and don't do with a new artist, and what they are looking for in new talent.
    • Most major labels will not sign artists who are still trying to find themselves artistically or finding a fan base. Simply, they want an operating business that they can blow up (in a good way). They aren't interested in having to train the artist "HOW" to be an artist. They assume that is already done.
    • However, they may be willing to build on a good foundation and develop a better marketing strategy or brand image that will have a stronger market presence. For example, you may have built a fan base with your band being called "The Crumb Eaters", but the label may choose to rename your band and invest in a new logo and brand campaign because "The Crumb Eaters" doesn't fit their overall corporate brand strategy as a label.
    • Although A&R staff still exists at major labels, most A&R roles aren't as hands on as they used to be in the past. They aren't necessarily spending a lot of time training artists how to be a professional artist. They are more interested in refining the product through strategic song writing and production. They are more hands on in creating product that sells. So consider them more R&D engineers.
    • Unfortunately, many necessary doors to exposure are sealed shut to independent artists. Big labels have the relationships to get radio airplay, big tours, P.R. events, etc. Sadly, the radio industry, for example, will prefer music from major label artists before indie artists. Why? Because these major labels have the artists that consumers want to hear and advertisers on those stations will invest to have their commercials played between those artist's songs.
    • When you're working with a major label, the industry quickly knows who you are and you will have first-hand knowledge of matters that may affect your career much quicker than being an indie.
    • Labels have to deal with a whole team of artists and won't sign competing artists (necessarily) that an existing roster member already handles that area of a market. This may be hard to distinguish with 
    • Conversely, a label won't sign an artist that is so far from the genre they specialize in that their infrastructure, relationships, etc. won't be usable. For example, if the label is primarily a Hip-Hop focused artist home, their radio contacts will likely be with stations that feature hip-hop music.
    • A reality that is hard to handle sometimes is measuring the effort and sweat you put into a career versus what is noticed or considered "acceptable" experience by a big label's standards. At one point in the past 12 months, I had a candid conversation with one of Spencer's mentors and managers in Nashville who shared the harsh reality of the trek we've been on. He was first to compliment Spencer for the hard work he's been putting in and the overall work we've been doing as a team, but he said that the industry has some definitive bench marks they use when considering which artists are really on the radar. Sadly, he said as much progress as Spencer is making, he's not even a blip on the screen yet. That was hard to hear, but a good thing to understand. I asked what makes a BLIP, or how (when) does Spencer become a BLIP. His reply was both encouraging and depressing at the same time. Mind you, this man helped start the fastest growing label in the hip-hop industry 8 years ago and is now a multi-million dollar enterprise with it's premiere artist just having won a Grammy this year. In addition, he has negotiated several major deals with other artists and major labels, and has been in music distribution for a long time. He knows and understands the "business" side of the music industry. His reply...
      • How many units has Spencer sold the past 12 months? (units=songs and or CDs)
      • How many live shows has Spencer done in the past 12 months?
      • How many top 10 radio hits has he had in the past 12 months?
      • What is his live show attendance average when he headlines?
    • My head sank when I realized the measuring stick of a major label is different than my "YOUTUBE VIEWS", FOLLOWERS ONLINE pride we've had for Spencer. He commented that unless his sales of units is in the 5 to 6 digit area and his live shows nears 100 or more each year with several hundred in attendance, he isn't really even considered a legitimate artist yet. Then radio needs to have at least 1 or 2 songs chart for him to be considered legit. The reality is that all of this takes time, resources, and PATIENCE. These criteria are also used by major tours to determine if an artist can even OPEN for a headliner. Either that, or it's a PAY TO PLAY scenario for an emerging artist wanting to get exposure.
    • Most major labels aren't looking to experiment. They are looking to invest in someone who is grounded in what they want to do in their life with music. They aren't looking for someone seeking fame and fortune, but rather someone who is seeking hard work and is "self-motivated" to work hard for very little initial gratification. They want to see that an artist is in it for the long-haul.
    • When Spencer was 15 and we just started to seriously discuss his music career with the management team we have in Nashville, one of the more profound things I learned was the value of real-world experience over time for Spencer. While he had many tangible assets for a major label to consider, he lacked "LIVING" the life of an artist over time that most labels want to see an artist having done already. Why? Well, consider a bank loaning your business money in the first 12 months. It's highly risky to do so because you haven't really proven your staying power during good AND bad times. Statistically, most businesses fail in the first 36 months nationally speaking. It's usually after 36 months that an owner will either throw in the towel or stick it out because they've invested themselves and learned "HOW" to run their business.
    • Most artists think if their sound is great that they deserve the big contract. Well, think about the perspective of a label who will be investing millions into launching that artists career. The risk is the money they spend to launch them (marketing mostly) and if the artist hits the road and fizzles out because of the rigorous schedule and limelight and constant scrutiny, the label risks losing an investment. So, as Spencer's current manager put it, they want to know that the artist knows what it's like to sleep in a van, slugging their own equipment from show to show and eating at Arby's at 2am in the morning. That 'experience' is worth MORE to a label than talent. A label wants to protect their investment and an artist must be able to demonstrate that they are fully committed to their career but not just fame and fortune seekers.
While having a lot of cyber-fans can mean popularity, it doesn't always translate into revenues. Proving the financial value of an artist to a label is the most significant "business" side of what a label considers. The indie labels are usually anti-big-label minded. They tend to shy away from the traditional model that big-labels look for, but in the end, it's still about making money.

So, when considering a label or label deal being presented, make sure you do your homework on how income and expenses are shared between the label and artist. Most deals are backend loaded with artists having to PAY BACK up front monies and reimburse expenses. Be sure to understand how the accounting of those expenses is done and what percentages are going toward whose account. 

Many labels today want 360 deals (that means they get a piece of every revenue stream an artist makes) in order to get the return on their up front investment as quickly as possible. In the past, some artists have signed multi-album deals and labels have been burned when sales of the first or second album don't exceed the investment. So, to offset the risk, they find ways to bring in money from an artist through things like merchandise, concert revenues, licensing deals, publishing, etc. All these revenue streams are "taxed" by a label and the artist must pay a portion of those back to the label. This is very common in reality TV shows like American Idol and X-Factor. In exchange for being catapulted into the market, the artist surrenders a lot of future revenues they would have been able to keep in the past.

This is why the Indie label or Indie route for an artist can be much more appealing. The publishing, merchandising, concert revenues, record sales, etc. are all revenues that you get to keep. The trade off is that you rarely get the marketing budget for people to find out about you and if you do, you spend hundreds of thousands of dollars getting that notoriety... which of course, would have to be made back in revenues at some point.

So it ends up looking like this.

Invest your personal resources into the career of the artist as much as you can. Hope the market likes your stuff. Build a loyal fan base over time and someday realize a revenue (income) from the investment. This method is usually slow growth and long, long time to come to fruition.


Sign on with a big label when possible, short cut the long term, slow growth model, give up revenues, but have a bank paying to make you known (in the short term). You're essentially signing a promotion deal since the biggest payment you will get is exposure in front of a larger audience.

When you're dealing with a young artist, the long-term exposure route through self-promotion usually takes the artist into their adult years, in which case they become a needle in a haystack of talent.

While this post isn't all-inclusive of every possible scenario, for the most part, inexperienced artists and/or parents should take it as wisdom to avoid getting excited over the first dozen "industry" people that make a pitch to the artist. Chances are, you are one of hundreds on a list they are hoping to earn some fees for sharing the secrets of a successful career in the music business.


I'm not even sure 'commerciality' is a word, but it was a fun title, so why not?

At some point in the journey of becoming a professional artist, there will come a point when creating original music is a challenge. On one hand, most "creative" types like to just create and leave it at that. They prefer people appreciate their work for what it is and how original it is. Simply, they want it to be their representation of who they are or want people to see them to be.

Backing it up a bit.

When the artist is younger, a lot of times they create original music that is very similar to what is already on radio in hopes to sound professional.

We've all heard the expression, "It's about the music", and to a large extent, it is. However, in the real industry of entertainment, it's also "about the commercial viability of the music". In other words, "can this song make money".

Spencer is active in creating both secular and Christian genre's of music. His secular music is in the form of known covers, but also in the form of original music with lyrics that are positive, hopeful, and encouragement to the listener. His Christian music leans more toward a Christian audience which is accustomed to lyrics that directly speak about the Christian walk of faith or directly about God. But in this combination of creating music, there is still a balancing act between the music being something totally creative and free from commercial worry, and paying the bills.

So what makes a song commercially viable?

Well, unfortunately, there is no magic pill or silver bullet on this one, or else everyone who writes songs or performs them would be famous. There is, however, some baseline for understanding trends and how different pieces of the industry work so at least you have a better chance at creating something commercially viable.

There a key influencers that can often dictate whether a song will be a project tucked away on a track on an album project and reserved for loyal fans to appreciate, or one which will likely sell and become a hit.

In no specific order, consider these factors.

    • Every artist I know that is serious about their career is hoping for radio to embrace their music and songs. This is a Rubik's Cube if not a 10,000 piece puzzle of a solid color picture. Radio has been changing and evolving for quite some time and presents both the good and bad of the music industry journey. I won't use this post to speak about radio in depth, but on the surface, there are gatekeepers of the radio world that may or may not officially "BLESS" a song's commercial worth. The moment a terrestrial radio station embraces and plays a song, you are almost guaranteed it will have a commercial shelf life of sales. How much or when is not a formula easily calculated, but at the least, radio playing a song is an endorsement to consumers that the artist and the song are worthy of consumer consideration.
      • I would love to list the factors gatekeepers use to decide this, but (again) a later post.
    • This is a "DUHH" point. But it is truly important to understand. Before most artists hit radio, there is a fan base that supports the song. This isn't always true about radio, but apart from a label pushing the song to radio, it is more likely as in indie artist, fans will have paved the support road for a single to get played on radio... which turns into exposure... which turns into sales at some point.
    • Some songs find prominence and commercial success because the artist performs it so great in a live setting that it goes viral or has a grassroots movement behind it.
    • This is a tricky one. The moment a song goes onto Youtube, the consumer base that is supposed to purchase it no longer has the requirement to do so since browser makers provide a handy-dandy plugin that allows people to "rip" the music off a youtube video as an MP3 and lets them put it in their iPod for free. However, a lot of views of a music video can certainly equate exposure which may lead to sales.
    • One of the key ingredients of a song's commercial viability is it's production quality. There are many ways to produce a song and budgets dictate all of them.
    • Exactly "WHO" produced the song is also a key factor in whether it will be taken seriously by radio or industry executives with budgets enough to promote the song to commercial viability. So having a known producer on a track will increase it's likelihood of being taken seriously by industry gods who wave their magic wands over whose music gets pushed to the public.
    • Home studios are used all the time by professional singers and artists. What most may not tell you, however, is the when it's time to MIX that song recorded at home, they outsource that to professional mix engineers, and also may go to a professional MASTERING engineer. These specialist are called upon to mix and master music to commercial standards. Like it or not, there are industry known standards about the mix of a song that any radio or label executive will hear the moment they listen. They can tell if it is worthy of commercial promotion. So, in this sense, production of the song is a HUGE piece of the puzzle.
    • Another element is the readiness of the market for the song. Does the song stand out from what's already available from other artists, or is the genre unsaturated and can use another sound-alike without being lost in the shuffle? As an older adult, I tend to hear top 40 music and think, "Didn't I just hear that song 2 songs ago?" Seriously, a lot of the music sounds the same to me, but in reality, consumers are creatures of habit and may be interested in other songs by an artist and it just so happens what is currently on the playlist is a new release by the artist that happens to sound similar.
    • But from a "new artist" standpoint, I can guarantee you that labels are not looking to replace their current roster artists. They are interested in breaking an artist that can stand on their own two feet commercially and creatively. Labels aren't stupid. They also understand the power of the bandwagon, but if I've learned one thing so far on our journey, it's this. The cycle of production to market release is not less than 18 months in the real world of commercial releases. That's right, 18 months minimum. I've spoken to producer after producer in Nashville when working with Spencer and in their world, what they create today won't even hit the street for consumer's to hear for nearly 18 months. Now there may be some small market testing of a release before that, but when we're talking national radio, it's 18 months. So the "sound" or "style" of a song may already be 2 years old before a fan base is singing the words in their shower. As such, it's not always the song that "sounds" similar to what an artist hears on the radio today. It's the ability to predict what will be popular 18 months from now, and therein lies the problem knowing if a song will be a hit or sell well.
      • Personally, I struggle with knowing how easy it is to produce a song, and use a service like CD Baby to throw it up on iTunes in 2 months time. However, just cause it's available for purchase doesn't mean you're raking in the revenues.
    • Sometimes songs that are written with a specific social message can take on a greater commercial return than those that are personal creativity projects. Taking on a story from the headlines or topic that touches a lot of lives can be a way to quickly find exposure... again, leading to sales.
    • Sometimes the message is nonsense. Look at songs like "WHAT DOES THE FOX SAY" or "GANGNAM STYLE" and realize that the cleverness of the lyric and message it represents allowed it to gain market acceptance.
    • I know that younger artists don't think about this, but professional artists do this all the time. They write music that they know could be sold to TV, MOVIES, COMMERCIALS, etc. They intentionally write with licensing in mind. They will sit down and intentionally think of a product that the song could endorse or be used to promote. For example, the lyric says something about feeling excited and suddenly it's usable by Cadillac to launch their new car line on a TV commercial.
    • Sadly, a lot of starving artists look at this approach as selling out their artistry. But when they have to make a choice of having a regular job or doing a career they love.. but get paid to do it... usually they will understand the importance of making their music commercially viable.
These were just a few factors that affect whether a song is worthy of consumer investment. Labels are constantly toying with this list when considering new talent. In fact, it's almost formulaic how some labels go through the process of considering an artists commercial viability. This too, is a topic for another post (label's checklist for considering an artist).

Suffice it to say, an artist who intends to make a career out of their music passion will learn at some point it isn't about the beatnik poetic lyrics and melodies they churn out in a 2 hour rampage of inspiration. It's about knowing their intended audience and how to play the game of getting attention from the industry gods who look for artists willing to submit to their canons of unspoken rules.

Saturday, November 30, 2013


Of all the things that have been most enlightening but also annoying in the journey of music in my lifetime, it's the delicate issue of judging talent. What truly makes an artist "talented"?

We watched the movie "Moneyball" with Brad Pitt playing ex-baseball player Billy Beane who was the General Manager of the Oakland A's. In one scene of the movie, college recruiters and pro-baseball talent scouts visited his home when he was just a teenager. During that scene, the talent scouts shared some realities about their job of finding potential players for the MLB. What struck me in particular was their explanation of the obvious versus the intangibles that make up the best players in the game. As memory serves, there were 5 characteristics they used to judge pro potential. Their statement to Beane's family was that "MOST" players in the pros possess several of the 5 to some degree, but rarely do they find one single player who possesses all of them at a high level (as they were referring to Billy).

The same can be said about the music industry as I've come to learn. We've all watched reality singing shows and heard the various comments from celebrity judges about the X-Factor or IT factor. There will always be something more than pure vocal skill that an artist and parents must consider.

Sadly, many artists and parents of young artists are convinced that if they sound like an existing artist or have vocal skills that are advanced, they just need to wait for the MONEY TRAIN to come through so they can jump aboard. Well, these same artists and parents need to spend some time outside their local community and travel a while to see what "talent" exists in the market already. They should visit Nashville for a week and see the thousands of out of work artists that are amazingly talented and have a live show that is simply amazing. Or they should spend some time touring from show to show and watch artists find the energy to put on another show after getting very little sleep and still trying to use phone and laptops to maintain some sort of home life.

There is FAR more to becoming a professional artist than skill alone.

One of the most intriguing "reality checks" we have learned from our talks with veteran industry music professionals and executives, it's the stuff that most eager artists and parents don't focus upon when preparing them for a life in music or even being SIGNED.

Although every label executive has their personal "wish list" for talent they would back, there are other industry people who have their own check lists as well. In fact, the media itself has their check list. But I'll just touch on a few key comments I've been given about what former A&R's from Sony have considered to be more important than just vocal skill alone.

    • This one is quite tough for younger artists who find it difficult to find family friendly venues in their geographic region. As a resort, attendance numbers are hard to gauge.
    • This is important to venue owners who want to know what kind of income they can generate from an artist. It's also important to a label who wants to understand the REAL fans of an artist versus the CYBER FOLLOWERS of an artist.
    • The ability to get bookings is a HUGE indicator on an artists true value. Again, what an artist does online versus offline is a distinction of the commercial viability for that artist.
    • Like it or not, doing cover songs is just not going to make a career (unless you're Michael Bolton). Having the ability to create music is very important to determining the authenticity of an artist.
    • Most labels we have spoken to are keenly interested in knowing that the artist is the driver of the career and not the stereotype stage parent. This, of course, is the same in athletics with young people.
    • Because under 18 artists need a parent or guardian involved, it makes it difficult to sort through the blurred lines of motivation.
    • Spencer had a talent producer in L.A. speak to him about his auditioning for X-Factor and America's Got Talent. One of the intriguing comments from this 50 year old veteran TV casting director was how the music industry has dramatically changed because of REALITY TV. Her comment was basically this. "I see and audition hundreds of highly talented artists every season I'm casting a new show. One of the most frustrating things I encounter is their inability to simply answer a question or talk like a regular human. It's like they have spent all their time focused on the music and forgot that being in the public life is more about what they do off the stage."  What this told me is that having an artist that understands how to deal with media and public speaking is highly important. She went on to explain that it used to be that a musician could be amazing on stage and who cared what they did off stage. Now, with social media, media coverage being so widespread, an artist needs to handle their public life with as much professionalism as they try to do the music.
    • Sadly, labels don't have the budgets to invest in developing new artists like they used to. One of the areas would have been media training. Many labels are interested in picking up artists that aren't gun shy in front of a camera and actually have intelligent and thoughtful things to say. A label is putting money into them and what they have to say in public can effect sales... so it is extremely important that the artist have that aspect of their career well developed.
    • Working with iShine and Spencer, we've had first hand exposure to what it's like dealing with young artists and their families. Some are amazingly humble and well-balanced. Some are extremely arrogant and carry themselves that way.
    • The character of an artist (especially young ones who have not proven anything to industry people yet) is important. We've already come across venues, producers, labels, management companies and a whole myriad of other industry related people who have shared their opinions of working with certain artists and their families. Trust me, humility goes a long way.
    • Because the door to get into the industry may be small, having an artist with other skills in their belt is quite handy. Maybe they aren't keen to become an actor, but having some acting experience helps them become more marketable when an opportunity arises. Maybe it isn't acting, but it's dancing. Maybe it's playing an instrument. In addition, maybe it's being able to perform different genre's of music.
    • One thing we've learned quickly is that what Spencer likes to sing and listen to isn't what his managers in Nashville are necessarily pushing to promote him as an artist. Having the ability to lay down your preference of something artistically and consider an alternative in order to get exposure is important. Even if it's a matter of experimenting to find a niche in the crowded market of sound-alikes.
    • This seems obvious, but a lot of younger artists are more interested in looking like their hero in music than developing their own style and image.
    • Imaging mostly involves what the artist does off the stage as well. Do they volunteer in their community? Are they a spokesperson for a cause that matters to them? Are they dressed appropriately for their age? Are they connected with people or organizations that will reflect positively on their image.
    • Imaging may also have everything to do with whom they hang out with in the artist community. Projects they may collab on has a lot to do with their imaging. I recall several times when we have been contacted by talented artists who have their own loyal fan base, but the topics of the songs they sing are not something that blends well with Spencer's image. One in particular was a rap artist who sang mostly about partying and getting physical with girls. They had a great following, but it was simply not in the best interest of Spencer to be affiliated with that.
    • Honestly, having a professional support team surrounding an artist is a great sign that they are able to handle the industry. No professional artist does everything alone. They usually have a team of people that handle various aspects of their career for them. When you're young and just starting out, those support mechanisms are difficult to find or finance. However, being mentored is critical if the artist is going to handle the growth of their career with the best possible advice.
    • When you're talking to various industry execs or people, you are much better positioned to demonstrate that you're "teachable" and being taught by those that have proven experience. Additionally, having parents willing to let their child be taught without being de-programmed later by the parent is a big area needing addressed. Frankly, most managers, label execs, and other key industry people prefer and sometimes insist on waiting until a child turns 18 before they will extend any sort of offer for a professional opportunity. Conversely, a young artist with a good supportive family that is not intrusive and provides a strong balanced lifestyle for the young artists is something that a label may consider to be attractive.
    • Does the artist seem authentic or do they look like a puppet or trained monkey?
      • It's a harsh statement, but one that I have repeatedly heard among the industry people I've talked with over the past 3 years. The phrase "authentic" is just so common to my vocabulary now it seems like an obvious measuring stick I watch for in Spencer and artists we come across. Some may call it "originality" but even if you're covering someone else's song, does the artist seem to do it from a sincere place of artistic expression or does it just seem rehearsed?
    • Touching on the word ORIGINAL is appropriate, because the market is already full of acts that seem similar. An authentic artist can become original if the material they perform is believable coming from them. Having a 13 year old sing about a serious relationship heartbreak is just not authentic. That's where skill disappears behind authenticity.
    • A lot of seriously talented artists can perform well online in a video they've filmed a few dozen times til it is just right. However, there's no substituting a live performance in front of stone faced audience members who can quickly scare any talented audience into a shell. What's more, beyond the performance of the song, what kind of "talking" does the artist do between songs? This is equally important to making the live show more entertaining.
    • Messaging is simply what an artist has studied and thought through about what they want to say before or after the songs they perform. The revealing of the "real" person between songs is as important (if not more) to a highly discerning audience than the singing itself. This is a critical aspect we work on with Spencer on a regular basis. It is what an audience will use to relate to the artist and engage them into becoming more loyal fans.
    • One of the things we hadn't thought about when starting this journey is just that... it's a journey, not a sprint. Things like how well an artist adjusts to being away from their home and friends in order to be committed to their profession. How well they adjust to being booed at a performance. How well they adjust to staying in vocal and physical shape so they can sing one more show that day or week. All of that has everything to do with their career. Passion for music only goes so far. Endurance is more about the "annoying" stuff an artist has to do in order to be a professional artist.
    • Labels definitely appreciate knowing an artist they will consider has proven they can handle the rough lifestyle an artist has to take on. Hearing that they've toured for months away from home and have learned how to stay positive and not get burnt out and want to quit from adverse situations and experiences is something that will make a positive impact on their likelihood of being signed.
    • A lot of young artists crumble under peer judgment or negative feedback. That will sink a career quickly if the artist is unable to deal with rejection and turn it into motivation to get better or perfect their craft.
These are some of the more important intangibles that we've learned make a huge difference in sorting through WHO is talented versus who is skilled. The total package isn't always the look (appearance) or (singing ability) skill of an artist. But it is more about their approach to their career and, honestly, their willingness to keep trying hard.

Parents, especially, should make sure they are observing all these other areas in order to guide their child artist in a way that will serve them well when the opportunity arises for a more high profile career path.

Thursday, November 28, 2013


In the nearly 3 years of managing Spencer's marketing and promotion, I've seen about as many social media tactics used for launching a music career as I've seen Gilligan's Island reruns. Buying follows or views, boosting campaigns where street teams use spamming techniques to find new fans, automated software to sift through demographics to find the right people to consider your music, and a host of variations that all are used to promote new artists.

So, in the jungle full of unknowns in the world of social media, what should you consider and why?  Well, to begin, social media "IS" today's marketing platform for nearly every product or service being offered. Don't forget that an artist and their music is a product that consumers may want, so using social media is a no-brainer. But avoiding the trap of chasing cyber-fans can be difficult. Many artists and their management are sucked into the fantasy world that having a certain amount of followers, likes, views or connections on social media will somehow translate into opportunities, fans or revenue. I won't disagree that you can gain some of each of those, but gauging your progress or success using social media as your primary rubrik is likely the key reason you will experience great frustration.

Social media is an inexpensive method to broadcast who you are with the hopes of gaining attention from fans and industry people. However, popularity and recognition don't always translate into revenues. At some point in the pursuit of a music career, thinking about the revenue streams needed to sustain a livelihood in music, you will need to step back and evaluate time and resources being injected in social media versus the strategy and goal.

I want to breakdown some myths and realities about social media that you should consider when trying to promote an artist.

    • Quite honestly, in talking to several music industry media people and major label executives on our journey so far, youtube is not the discovery zone it once was. I'm not saying there aren't other benefits, but to presume that having a video go viral and grab the attention of a huge slice of consumers isn't possible, but to presume this is the primary method of getting discovered is naive.
    • FACT: Youtube closely monitors uploaded videos for view boosting and purchased views. They ban users and remove videos that are trying to gain popularity outside of natural organic methods. It may impress fans, but industry people are keenly aware of how to spot boosted videos.
    • FACT: This method is a lottery approach which is fun to dream about, but not likely going to yield the results you would hope to have. You may gain fans and subscriptions, but be careful not to be swayed one way or the other about the legitimacy of your career based solely on youtube views or subscribers.
    • FACT: Youtube does offer revenue opportunities for video uploads that yield higher traffic views. However, within the music industry, the competition for views in the "MUSIC" category of Youtube videos is quite difficult to gain viewers. Aside from the well-known artists already using youtube, you have up and coming artists using the same method and the advertising opportunities Google implemented as intros to videos is simply an annoying distraction to the content people want to view. Revenue is not as easy to gain by just having a lot of views on a video with sponsored ads. There are other methods to gain revenues through ads on youtube, but the traditional methods most youtube artists use aren't likely to gain you much results.
    • FACT: If you are interested at all in selling your music as a digital download through iTunes, Amazon MP3 or other related online sites, you should be very aware that youtube is a primary resource for illegal downloads of the AUDIO portion of videos. Thanks to the open source programmers in our world who gladly develop clever plugins for browsers like Firefox and Chrome, a regular computer user can add an AUDIO/VIDEO STRIPPING file plugin which simply shows up as a button that allows them to download your music video and pull out the music track as an MP3. Voila! They have successfully now obtained your hard work for free. Yes, there are laws about theft, but who is going to prosecute millions of worldwide youtube users? We found out early on that when we post Spencer's youtube music videos, we are prepared to know that sales of that song will likely not have much return. In fact, in one email we received, a guy from a Middle East country asked if Spencer would send him the original MP3 file of a particular song since the ripped download he got from Youtube wasn't as high quality as he wanted for his iPod. We were shocked and did some investigation and learned about this high-tech (low-tech) way to steal music. So even though you can gain views or fans, remember that you are also giving away your music.
      • As a side note, I studied how a few major artists handled their youtube and vevo accounts for a period of time as it related to new releases. One interesting pattern I detected was that many released a "coming soon" snippet of the song as a way to entice fans to buy the download. Then, several months later, they would release an original music video for the song that had already been popular on radio and iTunes. Clever strategy.
    • Like anything with technology, improvements and methods are evolving. MySpace proved one thing, that if you don't move with the trends and habits of consumers/users, you will become obsolete. That is the essence of the social media game too. In order to keep your presence in front of fans, you need to go where they are.
    • FACT: Mobile smartphones are close to overtaking computers as the primary viewer for social media. It is already the number one method for young people to view social media. Knowing this, the app markets on Android and iPhone are consistently releasing new social media software that quickly catch fire among users. Programs like Instagram, Vine, Snapchat, Kik and a myriad of other platforms are all significant with users. Going beyond these popular platforms are other lesser known apps used by social media enthusiasts overseas too. So, when considering the game of social media, don't forget that some "FANS" may prefer chasing technology since their peers hop onto new bandwagons as a means to stay popular themselves.
    • FACT: The reality that social media software makers need to actually make money doing what they do requires them to clutter up the viewing pages with ads from sponsors and developers. Many consumers don't like that and stray away to other less cluttered social media platforms to simply accomplish what they are hoping to accomplish... just engage in social connecting and not being fed advertising every time they click something. So apps like Facebook and Twitter (although still highly used) may not be where your primary audience is spending their time (or as much) because a lesser cluttered and more unique app has pulled their attention away.
    • FACT: Many of the initial automation software tools developed for these two giants have been dismantled or banned because of spammer abuse. Users complained enough about automated follows, messages, tweets, or ads being placed on their timelines that the developers closed some doors for the software to work well and automate the process. So what used to be an easy way to rapidly grow a cyber fan base, is not as easy to do now. Organic (natural growth) followers are also looked upon as more legitimate in the eyes of industry people.
    • FACT: One band, in particular, that we have observed has just over 8,000 followers on their Twitter page. They are not verified (blue check) but have had 5 top 10 singles on the radio the past few years and are making serious money touring and through their physical and online music sales. They were not signed to a major label, yet somehow their career has existed without the frantic chasing of cyber fans.
      • I mentioned the VERIFIED status of a twitter account because that DOES impact the credibility of a user in the eyes of new potential fans. It has become a way to sort true artist accounts from faker profiles. It has also separated some emerging artist accounts from those who really do have industry recognition as a professional artist.
    • What many artists fail to realize is that social media like youtube is a brilliant documentation tool to monitor progress of your craft. Watching an artists videos over a time period, you can see what development takes place and hopefully use them as "game film" to improve your skills and public interaction.
      • An amazing site for doing this is called YOUNOW.COM and it is one of the fastest growing social media sites on the web. It is essentially a web-broadcast version of a TV Reality show. If you simply tune in (facebook login required) and watch the various channels of live broadcasts from around the world, you'll see how quickly addictive and amazing this social media can be for someone who uses it to their advantage. The truth is that any artist needs to interact with a live audience in order to learn their stage presence, speaking abilities, and performing skills. This site gives the artist a chance to talk to fans live through the chat box next to their live video stream while allowing the artist to also hone their speaking skills and become a real person to their fans. Reality TV is today's generation of fan to a large extent, and it's no longer about just the music. It's also about the person and fans being able to be connected to the artist on a personal level.
    • Creating a youtube video can be daunting for some artists. Many young artists may like to sing, but they struggle being watched. More importantly, many fear cyber bullying or hate posts and dislikes. The reality is, though, if you expect to make a career out of being in the public eye, haters are a very real part of that. Even fellow artists, media, and industry people will be the biggest critics and haters on top of fans. Learning how to use youtube as a training ground for dealing with hate is one of the most valuable lessons Spencer has had in this journey so far. He has learned how to not take to heart the many negative posts or dislikes. He actually has gone back and watched or listened through their eyes and seen ways to improve himself. So while views and likes may be an initial goal, the dislikes and comments posted are equally as important to developing a music career.
    • Dealing with fans through social media is a massively important method of gaining true fans. When they are able to personally talk to an artist and find a connection, the likelihood of that fan sticking around when new music releases aren't happening as often is greater than if the social media is a sterile advertising only platform.
      • Conversely, many artists use social media as a platform to rant or flirt with fans. This is obviously a personal choice, but when considering industry labels and executives may monitor an artists social media, great caution should be used on what is posted and how personal the posts become. Image is everything and when media use tweets or facebook statuses as fodder for news stories about celebrities, you have to be extra careful to not allow emotion or circumstances to drive the post's content. In fact, if an artist isn't that savvy at using the English language, you may want to let a ghost-writer post instead to ensure the message it conveys isn't misunderstood.
    • Developing a loyalty based on frequency of use of social media is highly important. Make sure to use social media daily in some form or another. Fans use your account as a means of daily connection or involvement with something they care about. It's like reading the newspaper.
I could spend a lot more time talking about this topic as it pertains to music artists and even discuss strategies that work and don't work with each platform, but the general idea is that an artist's success or perceived success should not depend entirely on their social media KLOUT score ( It certainly is a measuring stick for knowing awareness of your artist's brand in the market, but it isn't the golden ticket to a record deal that many think it will create. Trust me, record labels are not as impressed with 150,000 followers and 1 million youtube views as you would think. I'll be writing another post about what does impress them later.

Monday, November 25, 2013


In the past 10 years, the impact of American Idol and similar reality show competitions has affected the mindset of most aspiring artists. The modern era re-invention of 'Star Search' catapulted the attention of music consumers to front and center stage. Pop culture embraced the new "Dick Clark" called Ryan Seacrest and families all across the country started believing it possible for their musically inclined members to be rocketed into popularity if they could just get some love from Simon Cowell and crew. When the numbers of viewers blew up to TV's #1 watched show, sponsors and advertisers took notice. So did the creators and guest judges. Money flowed and suddenly an amazing business model was created.

"Let's take unsigned artists, exploit them, and make money."

Sadly, this is exactly what the show has done to thousands and thousands of singers who believe they have a shot at stardom.

This business model is really nothing new. Since the 1950's, we've had amateur talent being used to entertain us on our livingroom TV's. However, with the advent of the internet, it seems that competitions are being held for unsigned artists on a local, regional, national and worldwide level.

If you've been scouring the web at all, especially Youtube, and you're connected to the music industry in any way, you'll have stumbled across some type of competition where fans are encouraged to vote for their favorite artist for this or that opportunity or prize. If you're like me, you have been sucked into the black-hole of rallying your fan base to just click the link and vote away for your artist.

Enter reality.

Contests and competitions serve many purposes. The advertising and hype usually focus on the competitor and their possible dreams coming true. However, remember, whomever is sponsoring the competition or contest stands to gain some benefit too... and in some cases, they are the real winners.

For an artist, a few things come to mind about why you would want to submit to compete.

  • Exposure to new industry people or fans
  • Reality check on whether you are talented enough to turn heads against other talented artists
  • The grand prize being offered
  • The bragging rights if you did win
  • The potential networking with music industry people that may attend or are involved.
I'm sure there are more finite or possible benefits, but to be fair, let's list the negatives that come along with being involved.
  • You must fleece your fan base to vote for you (which can become very old and annoying depending on the amount of competitions you submit to)
  • You ride a rollercoaster of what if's and can become distracted with the "lottery mindset" that this single event or contest could be your meal ticket
  • You find out quickly that you aren't as talented or desired as you possibly thought
  • You find out that other artists may have more supportive fans (voters) (bummer to the ego)
  • The sponsor behind the competition really has no valuable industry credibility
  • You spend time and resources which could be used to advance your career in some other more proven method
  • You realize that bias and potential rigging of the contest occurs (this has been proven many times due to technology or sponsor bias)
  • The bragging rights really mean nothing in the scheme of music industry professionals. "You won the Next Big Singer To Come From Smalltown, USA".
Sound jaded? Well, facts are facts. The music industry is filled with opportunists who are all looking for ways to exploit young and undiscovered talent.

Other than the many stories I've come across of bad experiences from other artists, I'm just going to share a few we've encountered in our journey to being discovered. For the sake of summarizing, I've blended these into easy to read bullet points.
    • This contest requires you to upload your video to's website where they host the video and you direct your fans to vote for you. This site may or may not be technically up to par. They let your fans vote as much as they want every day. Or, they tell fans to limit their votes to once per day. Problem is, clever fans and street teams of artists have figured out how to short circuit technology through browser loopholes that allow you to simply delete your footprint from ever having visited the site, thus allowing votes to be made 100's of times a day without being noticed by the naive site owners.
    • Second, your video is "content" provided to that site for them to generate new traffic. Why do you care? Well, believe it or not, in the world of web development, traffic to a website is gold and can easily be converted to revenue by paid advertisers on that site. Essentially, you gave away your talents to a website to exploit for their personal gain based on your driven desire to win and get noticed.
    • Similar to the submit your video contest, several radio stations, for example, have fan based voting contests which require fleecing your fan base to click votes on a third party website which you may or may not trust to be technically bullet-proof to vote hackers.
    • Not necessarily a contest, but honestly, it may as well be. The web is full of $ based websites where membership dues, one-time submission fees, or hired consulting fees are used as a means to get you in front of industry professionals. Sites like Reverbnation, SonicBids, Music X-Ray, and a host of other sites out there are all portals connecting undiscovered talent to music industry professionals who are looking for undiscovered talent. While the sites are definitely used by professionals for harvesting talent, the massive use by undiscovered talent makes you a needle in a haystack in most cases.
    • One of the most annoying opportunities to come across an inexperienced artist's email or social media inbox is the "washed up" ex-industry pro looking to make your artist into a star. They list their past credentials (note that I state "past") as a calling card to get your attention and trust. The problem is that they use this same pitch to hundreds of naive people in hopes of getting your $$ with  no guarantee of anything really. They promise to empty their brain and "maybe" help you get a meeting with a current industry executive.
These are just a few of the opportunity type exposure methods we have all succumbed to. Then there are the social media based tours and events that typically require you to invest something.

Now, there is definitely a balance of risk reward in all these. The majority of the time, you invest a lot of mental energy into the "what ifs" and end up feeling duped because your best-case scenarios didn't turn out.

So, before you get sucked into participating in EXPOSURE events, ask yourself at least some of these questions first and do your best to vet every sponsor or organization hosting the opportunity/event.
  • If there is a fee to participate, what exactly are you paying for?
    • Entry fee only, or do you get anything in return for that amount?
  • What additional expenses will you have to pay on your own?
    • travel, finding sponsors, selling tickets for guaranteed attendance at the event, etc.
  • Does this organization / person have any "current" projects or accolades that can be found publicly through a web search?
  • Is the event or opportunity person or organization willing to give you current references of other artists they've helped or who have done this before so you can discuss it with them?
  • Who exactly is attending or going to see the event?
    • Make sure you know your demographic audience for your music and don't participate in opportunities that aren't hitting that. For example, if you are a hard rock artist, chances are a contest featuring mainly country acts would not likely yield the best results for you.
  • Is the voting method fool-proof? Can it be hacked?
  • Are you giving them original music or videos that they can post on their site or are they willing to embed your Youtube videos or music stream links?
    • Again, many simply want to use your content to drive traffic to their site without you gaining any benefit. We had a bottled water manufacturer in California want to host a competition for unsigned artists and they launched a new website. The contest required letting them have the original file of the video placed on their site for voting. We lost all the Youtube views because we gave them the video.
  • If an MP3 is required for submission, make sure you know how they are using that file.
    • Many are looking for free music to play on their web radio stations and they do not pay royalties through ASCAP, BMI, etc. They simply use a contest as a means to get your content for free.
  • Before you submit any original content, make sure it is registered with a reporting royalty agency (ASCAP, etc.) and copyrighted so that they can not "steal" your work and later claim you voluntarily gave it to them or signed off your ownership rights of the material.
  • If it's a reality show competition, "HIRE AN ENTERTAINMENT LAWYER".
    • America's Got Talent, X-Factor, American Idol, The Voice all have thick contracts you must sign in order to be on the show and within the contracts are iron-clad ways for them to exploit you for money without you making much in return. They own you.
  • Original music competitions (songwriters, etc.) usually involve you submitting your songs for consideration. Be sure to get them copyrighted before you submit them.
  • If your artist is under 18, make sure you do a thorough investigation of the people you're talking to about it.
    • We, unfortunately, along with about 6 other young male artists, were sucked into a talent scout scheme which promised a recording contract with Universal Records. When the man refused to be shown on SKYPE camera, we became suspicious. Fortunately, we had a few industry friends we asked to help us find out if the guy was legit. Nobody had ever heard of him. After further investigating, we found out that he was having other males around the world do inappropriate video submissions of them exercising in bike shorts and no shirt. We notified the FBI and they stopped him after other families reported too.
  • If you're paying a submission fee for consideration as a performer at an event, make sure you read the fine print of what that fee covers and what the opportunity is about.
    • Sometimes venues use services to find acts to fill their talent needs. Many of the venues get their calendar booked quickly and never take down the advertisement. In the mean time, Johnny Come Lately's keep submitting their fees and the venue doesn't even look at their submission or provides a simple "we're already booked" response without refunding your money.
I know there will always be dishonest people, but the music industry seems to be built around opportunists exploiting dreams of innocent people. Don't get me wrong, you can find integrity filled people in the industry, but when you're first starting the journey and have limited resources and time, it's usually best to have some warning of what to look out for in EXPOSURE events.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


Perhaps the most commonly misunderstood part of launching a young artist's career is the notion that unless they are signed by a major record label, or any record label, they haven't arrived or aren't a professional artist. Strictly speaking, if they are being paid to perform or people are buying their music and merchandise, they are professional singers. The fact that so many adult professional singers go through tough financial times in their career doesn't negate they are professionals. Some just have the fortune to have their music selling and getting bookings.

So, back to the point of being signed.

As recent as 5-10 years ago, being signed by a record label usually meant that the tough road of financial investment was being eased by a business partner who saw a way to make money from the artist. However, nowadays, that isn't the same picture.

For the sake of simplifying the analogy, I'm going to speak of an artist like a start-up business. A record label is like a bank. Using this premise, consider the following.

A start-up business usually has a new brand in the market that is just being discovered. Their product/service is probably something that exists in some form, but unique enough to garner a base of customers to patronize them. Most new companies have some sort of financial budget to get started and most use that budget to create their product/service. Very few have a big enough marketing budget to promote themselves to grow rapidly. Very few have a lot of staff to manage the daily business effectively and therefore, they are limited in growth based on the owner's 24 hour a day schedule.  Now imagine that owner talks to a bank and presents their business plan to the bank in anticipation of a loan being given. Most banks who invest in businesses are leery about giving loans for small amounts because their portfolio of investments are usually needing to be bigger returns that a simple interest personal loan. So, for example, when I first started my marketing company, I went to a few banks to discuss loans and they reviewed my business plans and felt I wasn't aggressive enough with my vision to justify their investment. It was a shock that a $50-100k loan wasn't of interest to them. For me, it was a fortune, for them, it was small change. They are more interested in clients (borrowers) who want to borrow BIG money. Big money=Big returns.

Major labels are like that. They want an artist which has a Big need so they get a Big return. Now the analogy breaks down here a bit because all starting artists need a lot of money to move forward, but the point being that a major label needs to see a comprehensive and proven business model that already exists, not one that "could" exist with investment. This is where most artists and parents fail to understand big labels. Today, they aren't interested in investing in risk. Today they are interested in investing in well established businesses, that may not be national, but have a proven track record of customers and revenues, start up experience, etc. They are looking for small businesses to invest in.

So this is where the INDIE part comes in.

The INDIE artist is a small mom and pop business that has a regular customer base. They have established routines and methods they've developed to keep customers happy and possibly show consistent income.

Most artists I know, including Spencer, have yet to realize a profit from doing music. However, if you can do a live show, make a paycheck, sell some merchandise, sell some downloadable music, you're well on your way of becoming a potential artist for a big label.

What makes this black and white comparison confusing is the world of social media.

Enter the wrench in the machine.

Social media like Twitter and YouTube has made this world of small businesses (artists) seem different than it really is. A parent and young artist can get tripped up into believing if they have X number of followers, or X number of views on YouTube, this means they are a proven small business worthy of being signed by a major label. Essentially, they've proven they can garner attention of consumers, but honestly haven't proven they can "live" the lifestyle of an artist (on the road, giving media interviews, etc. See my earlier post THE CHECKLIST OF ROUTINE) They haven't proven they can "sell" their product for $$$. And reality is, labels are banks needing a return on their investment. If they don't see that artists can make money from the fans they have, then there really isn't a business there. It's just a hobby like playing a pick up game of ball at the local park.

Social media (a topic for another post) is why most young artists are even being recognized today. In the past, an artist never got attention unless they had a platform of a national TV show or were connected to some mechanism to perform live at a lot of venues in a geographic area. Talent scouts (called A&R's) from labels would discover young talent that way. A&R's used to review demo submissions and spend huge budgets to scour the industry for the next big thing.

Now, with social media and wide access to the internet, it is much easier to discover new talent. And because it is easier to discover, the rules of discerning those worthy of consideration also have become easier.

There is no shortage of supply of highly talented artists. This is a fact. Major labels are not suffering from finding highly talented artists. They are suffering from finding artists they can make a return on investment.

This is where INDIE versus SIGNED ARTISTS becomes so interesting.

The question is this. If a major record label only signs artists that they believe have proven ability to make money, then why not just stay independent and keep the money yourself?

Great observation. Short sided justification.

The fact still remains that major labels have the "networked relationships" with all the major retail outlets for music (online and offline) as well as the gatekeepers of major venues and radio. Frankly, major labels still have the highest influence with those necessary public platforms which are needed by artists to succeed.

So, while it's possible to make a nice small business out of being an INDIE artist, national prominence and discovery usually comes from a big label recognizing the "business value" of a successful INDIE.


Become a successful "business model" before assuming getting signed is viable. There are certainly lottery winners in the world of the music business where they shortcut the norm. But wisdom says to plan for the norm... which is a lot of hard work building a business that you hope will be strong enough for a big label to consider a worthwhile investment. Having an artist understand this work ethic and the time it may take is the best advice I could give. It may happen overnight, but it most likely won't. It most likely will happen after working long hours and investing a lot of resources into the business (INDIE ARTIST) before a major label will even consider talking to you.


All too often it seems that artists and those helping them, spend too much time getting asphyxiated on the adrenaline of the creative process or performing and forget about the 90% of the rest of what it takes to build a sustained career.

Why is this?

Most artists are "creative" types who reject order and organization. They just flow with the emotion and soul of being the artist. They hire other people to manage the boring stuff. They just want to create and be appreciated for their creations.

Some of the most successful artists with sustained careers finally figured out that "business" is what sustains your career more than the simple passion of creativity. Don't get me wrong, good music is good music. Bad music will eventually kill a career. So it is very important to manage that part closely. But the statistics are that there are 10's of thousands of artists who can make good or even great music. So something isn't right. Most artists believe that if so-and-so record label will just sign us then... or if I could just get my song on the radio then...

Sadly, it's been proven with fact that a huge majority of amazingly talented artists will never get a lifelong career from music simply because they haven't developed a routine of handling their own career. Artists really need to look at the checklist below to understand how to develop routines that will serve them well in the long-run of their music goals. It will be obvious that some areas aren't within their personal ability to manage, but it doesn't mean they shouldn't find a way to make sure it's being handled at some level of efficiency and accuracy.

I gave this list to one family that had a young artist they were working with and told them to do their best to let it guide their routines each day. Obviously, some things are beyond the intellectual capacity of young people to handle at their age and adults need to be involved. But it's never too early to have them take ownership of understanding the routine and how it will help them become successful.

This may seem very business-like, but it's because the artist is a start-up business just like any other small business trying to get bigger.

    • Liablity
    • Insurance
    • Contract Negotiations
    • Brand/Image Protection
    • Asset Protection
    • Estate Planning
    • Revenue Streams
    • Royalties
    • Merchandising
    • Licensing
    • Live Performances
    • Songwriting
    • Endorsements
    • Travel / Touring
    • Music Creation
    • Marketing / Promotion
    • Wardrobe / Appearance
    • Artist Development
    • Accountant / Financial Planner
    • Financing / Funding
    • Legal Counsel
    • Security Staff
    • Business Manager
    • Publicist / P.R. Firm
    • Artist Management
      • Coordination of Schedule
      • Liaison for Business Affairs
      • Primary Contact for Artist
    • Marketing / P.R.
      • Develop/Maintain Brand
      • Liaison for Media / Interviews
      • Develop/Maintain Promotion
      • Marketing Materials Creation
      • Develop/Maintain Airplay
    • Music Creation
      • Songwriting
      • Musicians / Band Development
      • Studio Work
      • Collaborations
    • Merchandising
      • Develop Brand Merchandise
      • Establish Distribution
      • Live Performances
      • Local Venues
      • Festivals
      • Touring
      • TV/Radio
      • Online Streaming
    • Vocal Coaching
    • Instrument Coaching
    • Vocal/Instrument Practice
    • Dance / Movement Training
    • Diet / Exercise
    • Stage/Performance Training
    • Rehearsals
    • Expanding Music Catalog
    • Acting / Public Speaking Lessons

    • Pro Image
      • Physical Appearance
      • Brand Image
    • Expectations
      • Public Appearances
      • Live Performances
      • Creating More/New Music
      • Training / Practice
      • Industry Networking Events
      • Fan Interaction
      • Maintain Personal Life (free time, family, etc)
      • Working Hours/Time Commitment


    • Family / Friends
    • Media Relations
    • Fan Relations
    • Industry Relations
    • Team Relations (Business, Musicians, Staff, etc.)
    • Core Mentors

    • Family Time
    • Social Friend Time
    • Spiritual Health / Growth
    • Hobbies Outside Music
    • Regular Rest and Separation From Music

    So obviously these "routines" within the life of an artist can seem overwhelming, but it's something that the artist needs to really grasp regarding the entirety of their career. It's a very similar reality athletes go through at the college and professional levels. A lot schools and pro teams spend considerable resources helping the athlete understand life in the career other than on the field. They must grasp the routines expected of them in order to have the most possible success. Without having an understanding of these routines, they will either burn out or have a hard time "loving" what they thought they were getting into.

    Record labels, for example, often interview potential roster artists and ask questions about life outside their music performances or the studio. A record label is more interested in knowing if they are investing in a hard-working and smart artist that has routines and works them than they are about a certain sound they may have at the time. Consumers tend to like flavors and then get bored. A label is interested in the long-term picture of an artist they invest in. And that long-term has a lot to do with whether the artist is "living" the artist lifestyle.

    In future posts, I'll be taking each of these ROUTINES under a microscope and hopefully help you understand strategies to achieve them.