We’re All Hobbyists Now
These days, more than ever before in the music business, it isn’t enough to just produce a great record. You have to sell it too. And while I’m wholly comfortable with internet self-promotion, I must admit, I do find myself a little out of my element. Which is why I come to you, the community, for help. There are so many options available for delivering and distributing music, and things are changing so rapidly on that front, I have to wonder how anyone can keep up.
As many of you know, I’ve released a new satire on the music business called #Mixerman and the Billionheir Apparent, which is currently available as both a hardbound book and a fully produced audiobook–complete with ensemble cast, leitmotifs, music, foley, and even sound FX. In it, I illuminate precisely why it’s nearly impossible for a wholly independent artist to break in music these days. I even go so far as to provide solutions. For the now, we must all face the realities of the music business as they currently exist.
While this isn’t meant as an advertisement per se, I suppose I should tell you the premise of the story, as it’s pertinent to the purpose of this blog post: Mixerman (that’s me!) accepts a lucrative offer to mentor the son of an Indian Billionaire (Kanish Kanish) to become a world-famous record Producer. After an initial carefree romp through California inspires a catchy ditty about Douchebags content to retard the free-flow of forward progress, the two partner up to produce “The Douchebag Song.”
Anyone who has read my books knows they’re peppered with personal commentary, and I spend some time in the story discussing the Pharcyde and their quintessential album “Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde,” which I was fortunate enough to have recorded in Los Angeles back in 1992, and for which I was awarded my first Gold album. Since I needed rappers to perform The Douchebag Song for purposes of the audiobook, I figured I might as well reach out to the Pharcyde for their help. Sadly, the Pharcyde are no longer together as a unit of four anymore.
At the end of the day, this was less about getting the Pharcyde, and more about getting rhymes from some of the best in the business. As far as I was concerned, I had a super catchy track and hook, but that doesn’t mean shit if the rhymes are lame. I needed legit MCs in my camp, otherwise I would come off as nothing more than a sad middle aged white dude reliving his youth by calling cool things Dope, and offering cringeworthy farewells of Audi5000 G.
There was no way around it, I needed MCs and if I couldn’t get the Pharcyde, perhaps I could get half of them. With Facebook at the ready, I looked up producer John Barnes III, who happened to be on tour with Fatlip and Slimkid3 (pronounced Slimkid Tre), easily my two favorite MCs from the original group. After some discussion, they agreed to write and perform the rhymes to my Douchebag track.
I’m happy to say, they killed it. Seriously. They blew me away. I’ll Share it with you momentarily, I promise.
So, here I am with a completed book and audiobook, and a completed kick ass song performed by Fatlip & Slimkid3 (formerly of the Pharcyde), mixed and mastered, and ready to go.
Distribution of the book and the audiobook are in the domain of Hal Leonard. The four fully produced songs and their videos? That’s on me, and while I’ve made records for decades now, selling them was always up to someone else. Not so, anymore.
Which begs the question: now what?
I suppose I could try and get a Label involved, but that’s no guarantee of success. After all, an Indie label is unlikely to garner radio Spins. And let’s face it, no Major Label executive in their right mind would have anything to do with a one-off by two aging MCs, and their equally aging DJ Produsah. If the book takes off, that might change things. But for the now, that makes me the Label.
I’m also the publisher, the Artist, the Songwriter, and the Produsah, (as are Fatlip and Tre). I’m even operating as an entire marketing and promotion department! All by myself. Sound familiar?
Ultimately, the goal is to get The Douchebag Song on terrestrial radio. That’s where the big money is for Songwriters because Congress passed the Copyright Act of 1976 which dictated robust statutory rates to Songwriters paid by radio stations for Spins. There is no reasonable and possibly lucrative per Stream statutory rate, and that needs to change. In the meantime, I must deal with the current reality.
I have few viable paths to radio play. I can’t just send the track to radio stations for them to Spin it. They won’t give me the time of day. I’ve already dismissed the possibility of Major Label involvement, and as far as I can tell, that leaves me two options for radio Spins. 1) I can attempt to generate massive and undeniable attention to the track and its video on the net. 2) I can seek out Sync opportunities and hope to get the song placed on a massively successful movie or television show.
With the Douchebag Song and its production complete, and with it mastered brilliantly by my friend Jason Fee, I needed to set up a publishing company. I’ve called it Mixerman Publishes. I filed my D/B/A with the state of North Carolina (I left LA to move to Asheville recently), I opened up a bank account, and BAM, I’m now a publisher. Check.
The next step was to find someone to administer my publishing. Why? Because I have no idea what the fuck I’m doing in this regard, that’s why. And I figure I’d better get someone in my camp who does, particularly if I want any chance at Sync. In Asheville, that person would be none other than Michael Selverne, a New Yorker transplant who is not only intimately familiar with the publishing game, but who is also a talented record producer in his own right. Administration. Check.
With Mixerman Publishing founded, and with my publishing now administered, I needed a Performance Rights Organization. I’ve been a record producer and mixer for my whole career, mostly with Artists that write their own material. As a result, I’ve never had a need for a PRO before now. Michael Selverne suggested SESAC given his affiliation with them, and he promptly sent an invitation request to SESAC representative Eric Lense.
Well! Wouldn’t you know it? Mike Lense is a Mixerman fan! In fact, he told me how he “devoured” my book The Daily Adventures of Mixerman in his college music class with professor Charles Dahan. Pardon the digression, but I just couldn’t allow that part of the story go untold. Really, as pleased as I was that Eric Lense was familiar with my work, the recommendation from Michael was more than sufficient.
And so with my new status as a registered SESAC affiliated Publisher and Writer we have our collection mechanism in place. SESAC. Check.
Then there’s Copyright registration. A work is automatically protected by Copyright regardless of whether you Register it or not. Unfortunately, you can’t sue someone for infringement until you Register the song. And if the Registration date falls after the date of the alleged infringement, you as the plaintiff aren’t eligible to ask for your attorney’s fees to be paid by the defendant (should you win your case). That’s huge. Lawyers cost money! It’s always best to Register your published work as soon as you can. Copyright Registration of the Sound Recording and the Composition itself. Check.
With the song properly registered with SESAC and the US Copyright office, we’re ready to put it online.
As a first-time publisher without label Distribution, I would need an Aggregator like CD Baby, Tunecore, Emu Bands, Record Union, Spinnup, and more recently ReverbNation. The Aggregators provide Independent Artists access to the Streaming sites (and iTunes), and there are a number of Streaming options available, including Rhapsody, Tidal, Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, Google Play, and Deezer. Then there’s Youtube, Vimeo, and Soundcloud, which don’t require an Aggregator. I’m not even sure they require a PRO.
From what I can tell, Spotify, Pandora, and Youtube have the most listeners, but they don’t pay shit. I don’t really think there’s any way around putting the video on YouTube (and Vimeo), as people tend to Share videos more than they Share songs. And since the official video is a few weeks from being completed, I made a quick clip with scrolling lyrics in order to Share it with you. Consider this a soft launch for the purposes of this exercise.
I can sell the track too, although there don’t seem to be quite as many markets for that. In a cursory search, there’s Spotify, iTunes, and Amazon. I didn’t even know that you could sell music on Spotify, or why I’d buy something I can Stream from a Streaming site. And I can’t for the life of me figure out why I’d bother to sell music on Amazon. It just seems to me that iTunes is the only game in town in this regard. That’s certainly the perception I have.
There’s also Bandcamp and Reverbnation which are the new breed of social music sites that have ostensibly replaced the once dominant MySpace. I can use these sites to post a profile as an Artist and market my music directly to my fans. The question is, do I want to sell my tracks directly from there, and if I do, is there any DRM protection? And does that really matter?
So, here I am, with 1 song (four songs actually, but we’re going to start with one), 6 streaming sites, 3 music sales marketplaces, 3 music and video sharing sites, 2 fan page sites, and a whole shitload of questions.
Is it better to open up access to make the track as readily available as possible? Or is it better to restrict access, to concentrate the View and/or Stream counts in a few select locations? I’d just as soon avoid Spotify and Pandora. They’re thieves. But would that be a mistake given the logical first step in my plan is exposure?
Do I sell the song anywhere and everywhere I can? Or should I just put it on iTunes and call it a day? Should I build a Bandcamp site? Should I put the track on Soundcloud, which riddles the music with audible negative artifacts from their bullshit file compression algorithm? Does that even matter?
I don’t know the answer to any of those questions, nor the 50 follow-up questions I’m sure to have. And, so I come to you for help—that is to say anyone and everyone reading this who might have some experience with how to deal with this ever-growing, complicated web of competing music delivery sites.
This will be an ongoing process over the course of the next few weeks if not months, as I Share with you my decision-making process on my quest to break a song. I request your participation in this exercise—that is to say your advice, suggestions, and experiences.
Comments and criticisms are welcome. Advice is appreciated. If I’m mistaken about some things, correct me. And if you have friends who might have valuable insights, please invite them to the discussion.
We’re all hobbyists now.
And without further delay, I present to you The Douchebag Song.