Posts Tagged 'artists'

Deep Artist/Fan Connections Critical to Success in Music 2.0

More than nine million musicians are trying to connect with more than 200 million music fans, according to some estimates. The huge numbers alone would suggest the odds are in their favor. Yet the channels musicians have traditionally relied upon to get their music discovered, promoted and sold are increasingly irrelevant and as a result, musicians are increasingly on their own, without labels, record stores or radio to help them.

“The artist’s challenge is to convert casual fans into loyal fans, and loyal fans into paying customers,” said Charles Feinn, CEO and co-founder of music technology innovator MixMatchMusic. “Getting your music discovered just isn’t enough. Musicians have to engage and involve casual listeners in order to build deep and lasting connections with them, and to convert them to loyal fans. These connections are what drive sales of the concert tickets, band merchandise and CDs artists need to pay the rent and put gas in the van.”

According to Feinn and many other music industry observers, record labels play a smaller and smaller role in breaking new bands or even promoting signed bands. Record stores are disappearing and radio is less and less of a factor in promoting new music. And it’s hard for a new band to breakthrough amongst the millions of songs in the iTunes Store. It’s also true that music fans have changed, acclimated to the read/write web and the social interaction that comes with it, and looking for the same experience with music and the artists who create it.

“While the business part of the traditional music business is breaking down, music is alive and well and there is more music than ever,” said Feinn. “We’re on a mission to help keep music alive, and we’re doing so by helping artists forge deeper and more meaningful connections with fans.”

Feinn said a growing number of artists are turning to new Internet-based initiatives, such as the remix promotions pioneered by Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead, to help them engage with and connect with music fans.

“Involving fans in the creative process by encouraging them to remix and mash up a new song from the musical building blocks provided by the artist, is catching on as one of the best ways to make the artist – fan connection stronger,” he said.

Feinn said that more than 60 artists have launched remix promotions based on MixMatchMusic’s Remix Wizard, a simple-to-use widget that any fan with a broadband connection can use. Artists including Pepper and Zion I have loaded the building blocks of songs – the guitar, bass, keys, drums and other elements called stems, into customized versions of MixMatchMusic’s widget, and invited fans to remix the stems to create new sounds and songs with them. He said the company’s site has received more than half a million impressions since the beginning of the year, and more than 80 thousand plays of fan-created remixes.

Feinn said the Remix Wizard is a fan-friendly approach to the more complex remix technologies employed by Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead. Bands such as Pepper feature remixes submitted by fans on their sites and MySpace pages, and some artists even promise to incorporate especially imaginative fan-created interpretations of their music in future albums.

Feinn said the Remix Wizard is the first in a series of artist and fan friendly technologies from MixMatchMusic designed to forge even stronger and deeper connections.

“Music has the power to bring people together,” said Feinn. “It’s exciting and also humbling to know we’re playing a small part in making those connections happen, through our technology-based products and services that help musicians convert casual music fans into loyal fans, and loyal fans into paying customers.”

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iTunes, DRM and Artist Royalties

Earlier this week, alarm bells were ringing when a quote from Apple in 2007 found its way back to the top of the news heap. That quote? That if royalties were to change to a point of being unprofitable to Apple, it would shut its iTunes store down. Now even the thought of this, among Apple and its competitors, has been brewing frightening thoughts for the consumers for a while due to the fact that virtually all the music these stores sell is DRM protected. Of course, the DRM is built into the song, so what exactly happens if the company selling the songs ends their existence? Well, it looks like the DRM for the material would expire, leaving consumers with hundreds if not thousands of “purchased” songs that will no longer play anywhere. As a music lover (and legal buyer of mp3s), this kind of news, even if it is an undeveloped thought, causes a good deal of frustration. Here the studios want consumers to pay for music, foregoing the option of downloading all the music they want illegally for free, but the copyright protection within the music means that if the retailer goes down, the files go down with it? That’s like buying a CD at Tower which is then erased when Tower goes out of business (you all do still remember Tower, don’t you?)

So what can we do about it when the very mechanism that has allowed music labels to go digital, and therefore the infrastructure that controls all of our legal downloads, is compromised by companies willing to close their DRMs? Unfortunately, not much. Short of burning all of your DRM tracks to a CD and then re-ripping them to mp3s to strip of them of their DRM (and some sound quality in the process), if a store goes down and discontinues its DRM licensing, all the tracks you’ve bought could die on your iPod. This to me seems like the ultimate Trojan horse of the music industry…we don’t want you to have mp3s, but if you do, we’ll create a way so that once they’re in your music library, should the stores you bought them from close, we’ll demolish your entire music collection from the inside.

I understand the purpose of DRM, but unfortunately its just not a viable business model if there are ways to stop the music playback at any point after the purchase. The point of buying music is that you have it forever. All the CDs I bought are still mine and will be mine for as long as I manage not to lose or damage them. The idea that you could buy a song which at some point in the future becomes unusable is, to me at least, outrageous.

The reason that all of this has come about this week is because the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) was weighing a decision to raise the artist royalties on digital downloads from 9.1 cents per song to 15 cents a song. From what I can ascertain from the article announcing the steady royalty fees, a .99 cent iTunes song is sold like this…

1) Apple sells the song for .99. 2) Apple keeps .29. 3) Apple gives .70 to the record label. 4) Record label gives the artist 9.1 cents, keeping 60.9 cents. I don’t know about you, but even at 9 cents a song, it seems like the labels and iTunes are getting over on the artist. Are we really supposed to believe that the iTunes store deserves to keep almost three times as much money for a song it sells than the artist receives?

What this scare does do is make it painfully obvious that the record labels and online music stores need to create a way and find a method to allow consumers to legally retain their music, no matter what happens to the store you buy it from. Should royalty rights eventually be raised in favor of the artist, it would be a travesty for Apple to claim it can no longer operate iTunes profitably (with the number of sales they have per year and the fact that they’re getting money just to be a middle man, it would be very hard for me to accept the idea that they aren’t profitable), disable the DRMs and leave music consumers with a bunch of dead and unusable files. Apple needs to show a little more foresight and decency when it comes to wolf cries of lost profits with a change from 9.1 to 15 cents of royalty. This could have been Apple simply playing politics in order to protect its profit margin, but even then the greed factor, given what the artists out there are making, comes into play.

For now (the CRB’s decision lasts 5 years), it appears we can rest easy. But it makes it clear that more thorough examinations of the digital music sales industry, DRM technology and what the rules and technology mean to consumers are necessary and should not be ignored.

Host your own remix contest with the Remix Wizard

Recently, MixMatchMusic launched the Remix Wizard, a free widget that any artist can use to host remix promotions on their websites, blogs and social network pages.  Artists customize what the widget looks like and provide the stems to a song (the various parts of a song, like the vocals, guitar, drums, etc) for fans to remix, either by using the online MixMaker or by downloading the stems for remixing in any music software. All the remixes are then published to the widget for others to play, vote on, and share. The widget is designed to be flexible, so that artists can sell the stems or give them away for free, set deadlines and give prizes to winners, and set the legal agreement that covers the rights to the stems and remixes made (who owns them?).

I recently recorded a new song, and have embedded the widget on my Myspace page so that y’all can remix it:

My Remix Wizard

The play button next to the left of “A Little Fuzzy” lets you hear the original song. The tracks in the middle of the widget (Dark Sunrise, Now’s the Time) are submitted remixes. When you submit yours, it will be listed there. Then, people can hear it, vote for it, and share it (by making a separate, mini widget).

Click “download stems” to get the stems in your home software, and then be sure to click “upload stems” to publish it. Or, click “MixMaker” to see how the song was made and to create a mix using the online sequencer. You’ll be able to publish it to the widget directly from there. The “wanna remix more tracks” link will take to a gallery full of Remix Wizards deployed around the web!

So, what are you waiting for? Host your own remix promotion today! Or, click here for more info.

When the Mix Doesn’t Match

We talk a lot over here about the ability and productivity of mixing and matching. It seems that every combination of two or more things is sacrosanct in this neck of the woods. Therefore, the thought for today is what happens when mixing and matching goes wrong? Now there’s two types of wrong mixmatch: the kind where the match is just a little off and some people might like it, others may not, and the kind where the match is so off that almost no one in their right mind could possibly conceive of liking it.

Case in point…I like eating hot sauce on cheddar cheese. Now that’s a slightly odd pairing, but I’m basically certain that there are a lot of people out there who either enjoy it or would enjoy it if they were to think of trying it. It might be a little weird, but a lot of people could enjoy it given the chance. But what about dunking oreos in orange juice? I’ve never seen anyone do that, it sounds disgusting, and I don’t know anyone who would even try it. Another example…my aunt likes to chew ice that she’s put salt on. I always considered this out of the ordinary, but I can imagine hundreds of thousands of people the world over enjoying it. But I’ve never seen anyone that enjoys the taste of Snapple Peach Iced Tea after they have brushed their teeth. That’s a mix that just doesn’t match. Or, as they like to say in my office, “That dog don’t hunt.”

So how does this relate to music? Well my pet rant today is what happens when good bands mix themselves with horrendous band names. There’s not a whole lot, if you’re an artist in the music business, that you can control. You can control the music that you make to start out with, but you can’t really control if you get discovered or not. Once discovered, it’s very possible you lose control over the music to some extent. You can control the gigs you play but not the crowds they bring in. The band can control who’s in it, but can’t control what the people involved actually want to do.

But there is one thing that every band has absolute control over because it exists long before the gigs and the labels and the fans…the name. Every band chooses their own name, and they have to do it before they even play a gig. And whether we like it or not, a lot of people (especially those of the American Idol fan club ideology) can and do judge a book by its cover. I mean, millions of people every year tune in and think that because some nobody from one of the fly-over states can sing cover songs, they deserve to have their own musical career. But that’s a rant for another post. But one of the first things, if not the first thing, that anyone hears about a band is their name. And once a band has become popular, usually in large part due to word of mouth, the name is near impossible to change with the same force of the original output.

So why then do good bands mix good music with bad band names? It’s an almost surefire way to make sure you’re either never discovered or taken as a joke. Some band names are catchy, but if the music doesn’t back it up, once that catch begins to fade, the name becomes sticky, a wad of gum holding the shoe sole of the band’s future to the pavement of its past. There are several types of naming sub genres I’ve identified for this little rant, and I’m going to examine them from glorious top to ignominious bottom: the popular/easy/immortal name, the easy to shorten name, the cumbersome name and the impossible name.

First let’s take a look at names that are immortal for one reason or another. Names that stick, roll off your tongue, entice someone who hasn’t heard them to listen to them, and names that are in some cases so simple that their mere ease of remembrance helps spread the band’s popularity. Obviously in some of these cases, the popularity of the band and their music helped to immortalize the name, but in others, the way the name is framed helps. The Beatles (clever because they’re not the Beetles), U2, The Doors (a reference at the time, I believe, to Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception), Hieroglyphics, Beck, Atmosphere, Dr. Dre, Eminem, Radiohead (who most people may not know is actually a name of a Talking Heads song.) The list of these names goes on and on, simply because there are a lot of good bands with great names. I’m sure you can think of at least three between now and the next paragraph. The names are most often short, to the point, descriptive, easy to remember and fitting for the band. Names of artists also fall in here like Johnny Cash, Frank Sinatra, Joni Mitchell and John Lennon.

Then you have the easy to shorten name. These names can sometimes be long, but the band’s music and the form of the name justify the creation of an easy and acceptable abbreviation. The Jimi Hendrix Experience (Jimi, Jimi Hendrix), Del Tha Funkee Homosapien (Del), Death Cab For Cutie (Death Cab), Creedence Clearwater Revival (Creedence), Dave Matthews Band (Dave Matthews, DMB), Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (Bruce Springsteen, The Boss). These names have great staying power because often the whole name has more impact, but the shortened name is just as effective.

Now let’s look at bands where the names got them some recognition, but then became a heavy burden or joke once the gleam of their first hit single faded. Bear in mind that these people may or may not still put out good music, but their credibility is constantly under scrutiny because why should you have band names like these if every song isn’t a hit? The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Hootie and the Blowfish, Insane Clown Posse, Frou Frou, Goo Goo Dolls, Jefferson Starship (how can you take it seriously when they changed from Jefferson Airplane just to be more modern? That in conjunction with a different band line-up killed every song but “We Built This City” for them) and Young MC (how can he ever grow up?)

These groups were all groups with some very good music at one point or another in their careers, and yet all of them faced intensified scrutiny later in their careers that was hard to overcome with the band names they had chosen. After five or six years, Hootie and the Blowfish might still make some good music (some of the tracks off their second album, Fairweather Johnson, were pretty good), but it had become a joke to listen to “Hootie.”

And then, you have the worst possible combination…a group that hasn’t been discovered, has no clear cut radio single for the masses to easily digest, and has a name that makes you not just want to not hear them, but to actively avoid them. One of the foremost examples in my mind is Deadeye Dick, a 90s alternative band that had a number of songs I really liked off their second album Whirl. The songs are all solid and could easily have found chart time with the other rock bands of the time, but the name helped crush them. Sure, it’s a good name for a Kurt Vonnegut novel, but in the end, books can overcome their names because it’s what’s inside that’s important. With a band, that name has to stand up to being repeated and tossed around as a prime identifier of the group.

A group like this is the entire genesis of this posting. A few weeks ago, I was asked to listen to and review for the site an album by a group called the Kung Fu Vampires. Their album was entitled Blood Bath Beyond, a clever play, to be sure, but how many people are actually going to pick up and listen to a CD by a group called Kung Fu Vampires? I wouldn’t have even thought about it if I hadn’t been handed the CD personally. The problem is, not much in the album is about Kung Fu or vampires. The beats are tight, the flows are pretty well put together, but there might be four or five lines on the entire disc that has anything to do with either of these subjects. So why alienate possible fans with a band name that is not only off topic, but in the end pretty silly? In conjunction with the album title, the whole thing looks pretty ridiculous, and unfortunately for the group, this ridiculous cover appearance could very well tank their potential to sell big. I laughed when I saw it, and after my second time through thought to myself, “This is actually a pretty decent rap album.”

So to all you aspiring musicians out there, especially those that may attempt to create something out of the MixMatch site, beware the name you choose. It can help you, hinder you, elevate you or bury you in due time, and once you’re established, it’s almost impossible to change. There’s no sense mixing bad names with good music. You might as well see how an oreo tastes in orange juice.


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