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#808083 04/03/10 07:03 PM
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I recently listened to Chris Anderson's "Free" (which I downloaded for free.) REALLY interesting book. I then heard Chris on the CDBaby DIY podcast (a great one, BTW.)

One of the things he talked about is the "free-mium" model where you use the free model to do some things but also have some things that you charge money for.

I could fill 20 pages with my thoughts on this whole new idea but I won't, because no one would read it. But I have some thoughts that apply to the small time coffee shop artists (like me:)

Obscurity is our big problem, not illegal file trading. I play gigs that are free to the general public, and yet I try to sell $10 CD's. Even the big name artists struggle to sell CD's nowadays... what shot do I have? Not much. Which explains the lack of sales.

Would it not make more sense to give all of my music away for free, everywhere I can, and get people interested, and then charge them $5 to see me? This is the reverse model of what I'm doing right now. I'm wondering if this approach would work for me and others in my boat.

Chris Anderson would argue that I should. He'd say that I should get everyone talking about my music, give it away like mad in every way possible, get people to become fans of my music. Then charge for shows, charge for t-shirts, charge for deluxe versions of the CD's.


Richard MacLemale
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I'm under the impression that playing live is where the money's at these days. I'll have CDs for sale when I get a band and I'll let fans download a couple tracks for free. We'll also have a lot of merch available, it helps advertise and generates it's own revenue. The key will be to play as often as possible to build a loyal following. Rather than having a really good CD, we're going to focus on having a superb live show every time. If enough people like it, we might make enough to break even but I'm realistic. If something else bigger happens even better.

Q #808133 04/04/10 01:05 AM
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Well, and this hits an important point - what kind of a musical act does a person (or band) want to be? Some acts are known for their live show over their music (KISS.) Some acts are known for their music over their live show (James Taylor.) I would imagine that the best of both worlds would be to be known for both... Rush might be an example of that. Back when they weren't old guys.

It sort of makes sense... what drives you to see an act? Usually either you like their music or you've heard they put on an outstanding show. Why do people buy CD's at live shows? Because they want to capture that moment in time when they saw you and they were having fun.

So it seems pretty simple to me that to gain a following, you need to get people to like your music, and/or you need to put on such a great show that people will tell their friends.

But there's some styles of music where, to be blunt, you can't put on a stellar show where people have a blast. It's not so difficult to put on a great show when you play high energy music in a bar where people are getting hammered and want to get laid. Alcohol can make everything seem more fun. Try putting on a high energy show when you're a guy with an acoustic. How does a solo artist put on a great show? That's a question I wish I had the answer to. Tell jokes, tell stories about songs, and so on and so forth, yes, but it's really difficult.

So I am speculating that it makes more sense for an act who does NOT play high energy music to maybe try to build a following by giving their music away and then charging admission when they play. I mean, everyone should charge money for their shows, but most small timers don't because they aren't in a position to do so. How do you GET in the position to do so? You either get people very familiar with your music so they end up wanting to see you live, or you put on a killer live show and word spreads.

I'm just thinking about loud and trying to make some sense out of everything. I could be totally wrong, but the more I see local artists struggling to gain fans while trying to sell their CD's for $10 or more, the more I think maybe there's a better way.

Richard MacLemale
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The successful musician's that I know are also excellent entertainer's.
They don't sell a lot of cd's either but they are in constant demand and gig a lot.
One of them is mainly a solo artist that is getting ready for his European tour in May.
making sure that your audience is having a great time is not an easy task but it is what you must do to be successful.
People want to be entertained so you have to be their entertaiment center.


The difference between genius and stupidity is that there is a limit on genius.-Albert Einstein
Jerry Jakala #808195 04/04/10 12:12 PM
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i agree with ya richard.
while i never talk about cd's at shows. folks that like us always ask if we have any. so i make 10-15 or so from my computer and leave them near the tip jar. they are free .. and homemade. most folks usually drop something in the jar and take one and a card.. and that's how we're getting our music out there to the folks that want it..a win-win..but for a solo artist, they better be real good or i'm asleep in 10 minutes...

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I don't know the answer to this question - maybe you will test out the theory and report back. But here are a few observations about CDs that seem to pertain to the question.

We played at a street market where people are prepared to spend money on small items and sold a lot (for us) at $5. We sold them for $10 at bar gigs and sold very few.

You can buy a CD of a top artist at Walmart for ~$15. An older compilation CD of someone well known can be had for ~$7 Why would someone spend more for a CD from unknowns like us?

Young people buy the most music whether it be CDs or downloads. As people get older, they buy less and less music. Few people in their 50s and up buy music at all.

Music is like baseball. Every kid can play baseball. Then there is Little League, grade school, high school, college, minor league and major league. Only a handful make it to major league baseball and they are the only ones who get paid much to play it.

Solo artists have a greater challenge because they cannot provide the variety it takes to hold someone's attention for more than a few songs. Audiences like to hear great songs and great voices. Many do not appreciate great guitar playing because they hear it all the time. A friend of mine can only strum a few simple chords to back up her vocals but folks love her because she has the voice and she writes excellent songs.

For every hour of paid playing time, you have to invest an hour in marketing/booking yourself and another hour in preparation/practice/travel which dilutes the pay rate to that of a Walmart greeter or less.


I try to critique as if you mean business.....



Colin Ward #808231 04/04/10 04:28 PM
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LOL, Colin. It's true. And I can also say that I sell way more CD's when they're $5 as opposed to $10. I've thought about doing what Barney does - burn some CD's and just give them out for free. It's not a bad idea. Maybe what I ought to do is put together a free "sampler" CD with songs from all 3 of my CD's, along with my web address where people could download all of my music for free (in mp3 128k format.) If they want a higher quality they can buy the physical CD or buy the 256 aac format files from iTunes. I think I'll do that.

As far as young people buying most of the music, that's true, and it's also why the biz is in trouble - because now they're downloading it and sharing it.

As far as solo artists getting boring, it's true - which is why venues where people come, eat/drink, leave are maybe good for us solo guys. What I try to do (when I have enough room) is to bring a keyboard, an acoustic, and an electric, along with backing tracks for some songs. Try to keep it sounding like 30 songs on acoustic in a row.

It's all about having fun, really. But if you can make some money while you have fun, I'm all in favor of it.

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I agree that obscurity is our real problem. I've recently allowed all my songs that aren't on a released CD, which includes everything I've recorded over the past 4 years, to be downloaded for free in the hope of generating some buzz. My observation is that anyone who gets a significant number of internet visits can somehow turn that into money. Just look at all these people who put up unique videos who suddenly become media darlings.

I find it frustrating that I am putting all this effort into my songs and recordings and website and still only get about 200 to 300 visits a day (not hits, I'm getting 600 to 800 hits a day). Yet someone can put up a video of a cat or a baby, which probably took them 15 minutes to make, and get hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of visits within a couple of weeks. In fact, it seems people in general have little interest in music unless there is a strong, unique visual, such as a video, associated with it. Visual media is all people are really interested in; the music is a very distant secondary. This may be the result of generations being born with and continually exposed to TV.

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Andy K #808328 04/05/10 08:51 AM
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As usual Andy hit the nail on the head.
I've noticed that even with myself visuals seem to be an important part of the package.
Between you tube,myspace,personal web sites,reverb nation and the other skillion visual places,MTV,GMAC,CMT our eyes have been conditioned to be looking more than listening.


The difference between genius and stupidity is that there is a limit on genius.-Albert Einstein
Jerry Jakala #808359 04/05/10 10:41 AM
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Good point, Andy, though I personally would love to get 800 hits a day! I'm nowhere near that.

But although I agree that people prefer video, music listening itself is at an all time high. More people are listening to more music than ever before. Much of it downloaded illegally, but they're listening. It may be harder to get noticed among the billions of songs out there, but it also is true that people are always wanting something new.

I think it's all about marketing. And of course how backwards the model is. Lots of us are out there doing small gigs and hoping to drive people to our websites by mentioning them at the gigs. That makes no sense. We should be using our websites to mention our gigs and trying to get people there.

I just put all of my music available for free download on my website. Actually it's hosted on bandcamp, but you get there from my website. But it's not 100% free... you have to enter your email address and zip code. This allows me to email people when I put new music up, or when I have a gig near them (because I know their zip code.)

Link = http://www.richardmac.com

"Richard, are you nuts? Giving away your music? How will you ever sell CD's?" Well... I'm not selling them now. It can't get any worse. I'm also playing to empty chairs. I'm going to try the free-mium model. Give it away online in exchange for emails and zip codes, try to get people out to shows, and then sell CD's and other stuff to the 5% who want them (some people still prefer CD's.)

I'll post the results, good or bad, of this experiment here, but this experiment is going to take a loooong time. I'm hardly the first guy to try this - some guys elsewhere have done this strategy successfully. But one thing I've noticed is that as soon as someone uses this strategy and becomes successful, they release their next CD the normal way, meaning they don't make it free. Which is a whole nuther conversation.

I am also not going to be surprised if I piss some people off. You know, like, "Hey, I'm trying to sell my CD and if other artists are giving their music away it hurts us all." But to my mind, the old way of doing things is outdated, irrelevant, and broken. We HAVE to try new things. Even with the big artists the money is now in live shows. But lots of us do live shows for practically no money. So CD's won't sell and live shows aren't making money... what do we do? Find ways to make more money on live shows. How? Simple - get more people to come out. How? Simple - get more fans. HOW? SIMPLE - Give your music away.

Well... it'll work or it won't. smile

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A couple more observations.....

I think the average musician like us fails to target the audience. We shoot for the general public hoping for a megahit, when it would be more productive to target a subset. An example follows.

I was a sailboat cruiser for several years. There is a community of sailboat cruisers who travel the waterways, coasts and oceans of the world. Eileen Quinn is a singer songwriter who wrote songs about the lifestyle and performed concerts along the way and sold a bunch of CDs. I decided to try it for myself and wrote and recorded my own songs (much different from Eileen's I might add). I performed in the Bahamas and sold CDs regularly. Then we sold the boat and left the cruising community. Sales of that CD dropped to almost zero. The reason it was successful for a while is that the songs were unique and related to the lives of the people in that group. Their reaction to Eileen's songs and mine was - "Oh yes, that happened to me".

Another observation is that musicians play for other musicians much of the time. Other musicians aren't really interested in buying your music although they might learn from it. You have to target non-musicians. JPF Showcases and most open mics and jams are populated by musicians. Think of them as your Chamber of Commerce meeting - you go there to socialize and swap ideas, but they are not the customers for your business.

My final observation of the day. I recently had a chance to meet a soon to be famous country singer named Bridgette Tatum. She has a new release out called I Like My Cowboys Dirty. It is very well done if you like that style. There is a video of the song out also. I saw some photos of the filming of the video. My best order of magnitude guess is that the crew, actors, filming, editing, etc. etc. must have cost $25,000 unless it was done by a bunch of her friends..... I Like... A big investment.


I try to critique as if you mean business.....



Colin Ward #808430 04/05/10 02:12 PM
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You're right about the audience. We don't know what we're doing. I'm trying to learn who my audience is, still.

But I have to say, there are tons of examples of this "niche" sort of music success, and I think that's great for some people. It doesn't work for me because I'm not part of a niche and I'm unwilling to force my music into a niche so I can make money. It'd be easier to play cover tunes if I want to make more money.

Another niche artist was featured on the CDBaby podcast recently - she makes music for newborns and sells CD's to hospitals to give to all new parents. Great niche, but not going to work for me.

Of course, I'm standing with my fingers in my ears and going "la la la I'm not listening" and I realize that. There might be a niche I could fit into and I just haven't found it. But as I sit here and think about it, nothing comes to me. All I have to work with is the fact that more and more I'm writing story songs, mostly about my life and people I know and growing up. Not sure what niche that would be, though.

You're spot on about the showcases. Chamber of Commerce, indeed. That's exactly what it is, and that's what makes it valuable, if you look at it like you do. Agree totally.

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Well, update - after giving a TON of thought to this and sitting down and actually writing out a business plan for my "musical hobby," here's where I'm at - Do shows with covers and originals, give away some free songs (but not all) online, manufacture cheaper CD's, and lower my CD prices.

I play a pretty specific brand of covers and originals - I like to call it "The great songwriters of the 60's and 70's." The Beatles, Billy Joel, Elton John, James Taylor, Gordon Lightfoot, etc. And some of my songs that are strongly influenced by those guys. My target audience is the 35 to 65 year old crowd, and probably moreso women than men. I need to add some upbeat songs in there in case I'm playing someplace where people want to dance.

So for me, "freemium" means giving away a few free downloads on my site - that's where I'm at right now.

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My observation is that asking for an email address in exchange for free downloads of your songs is still too high a price to pay. I know that I rarely give out my email because I get inundated with too much stuff I have no interest in.

I also agree with Colin that too often musicians are playing for and pitching to other musicians, most of whom rarely buy others music. Actually, most want to swap CDs. You need to figure out how to reach the general public or a target audience.

I had mentioned the Jana Stanfield book before, "The Musician's Guide To Making And Selling Your Own CDs and Cassettes." She pushes finding a target audience and playing and marketing to them rather than the general public. She and others have made fairly profitable, though not so famous, careers via this route.

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Andy K #811448 04/18/10 11:40 AM
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Richard as usual a great discussion.

I can agree strongly with those who promote their music with a focus on Niche Marketing. I also believe that if musicians want to work their music as a business a substantial investment needs to be made just as in any other business. I would suspect that over the first 2 years you could expect to invest an amount equal to your gross revenues. (leaving no profit) Thereafter 20-30% of your gross. This is depending on effective marketing. Ineffective marketing will bring you no return no matter how much you spend. Otherwise it is just luck, not investment, not talent.

If you did not need to invest a substantial amount of money to start and run a profitable music business then everyone would be musicians making great amounts of money and we know this is not true.

I feel the position most musicians like you are in is somewhat of a waste to market to the general population. (a loosing battle) If I can write songs about Chocolate Labs I will sell more and make a lot more money than a song about people in general. If you are trying to sell your particular interest then you need to locate people who think just like you. There may be only 10 people in the country but I bet you will sell 10 cds. The trouble is finding the niche. Once you find the niche, marketing costs are reduced and marketing becomes effective. I believe you could sit down and write a book "1000 Niche Markets for the Songwriter" and probably sell enough books to seed your career.

As far as cds, I gave a cd to a 28 year old musician a few months ago. His response was that this is the first time in over 2 years that he physically touched a cd. To him and his generation music is not touchable it is digital and moves from one piece of equipment to another. We have to start thinking digitally. How much does the digital download cost you? I am happy that profit is not what I am interested in from music. Music is for my peace of mind. My business is for profit. I would need to sell too many cds for me to eat well.

Oh in addition the music has to be pretty good, not great. Your niche has to believe it's great.

See you at the next Chamber of Commerce Meeting.

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Jan 25th, 2020
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"Talent + Drive + Knowledge = Success" –Brian Austin Whitney
Today's Birthdays
Dwight Williamson (72), Sue Rarick (2023)
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