1 Easy Way Stones Throw Records Can Regain Me As A Brand Evangelist

I have been a fan of Stones Throw Records since the late 90s.

I enjoy their brand of music. It always seems as if they understand their target audience.

That is until the music industry started to tank.

Then they realized they needed to ante up on the creativity.

This meant releasing new music styles and creating purchase-worthy physical goods.

Stones Throw… made me feel inadequate.

That got me to thinking, “do they really understand their customers?”

Now this was not a problem for me.

The release of long-time acquaintance Mayer Hawthorne was genius.

James Pants – I get it.

Anika – they had me at the single; lost me at the album (sorry folks).

This activity actually was strengthening my Stones Throw advocacy.

What put me off was during the release of the first Mayer Hawthorne album.

Collectables on top of Collectables

They released the heart-shaped 45, which was supposed to be a limited run.

I bought two copies, thinking it was definitely going to be an instant collector’s item.

They released some subsequent 45s, which I also copped.

Then something weird happened.

They released a second run of the heart-shaped 45s.

That was when I got a little upset.

Then there was additional vinyl coming behind it.

A remix 12″. Another 45. An alligator-skin-embossed double LP.

That is when I am thinking, “Stones Throw, you are killing me here!”

Now my “investments” have been rendered dubious and I cannot afford to be the fan I’d like to be.

Stones Throw, you made me feel inadequate.

That got me to thinking, “do they really understand their customers?”

We have been in an interesting period in the economy. Why release so much material?

It would seem a better business strategy would be to sell out of your goods to heighten demand for upcoming releases.

If people knew that a Mayer Hawthorne 45 is going to double in value within minutes of selling out, you would sell them faster.

In turn, this would give you room to charge more for your products.

That is what Third Man Records does.

Sure, they know that people buy their stuff, only to resell them. That sucks.

Yet it does not stop them from sticking to releasing high quality product that is desired by their target audience.

I get email blasts from Stones Throw that make me want to unsubscribe and end my relationship from them.

Why? Simply, the feeling that they do not understand me – a long-time fan – has not gone away.

I am receiving large notices highlighting a lot of news that I do not want.

I am a fan of certain artists on their label – J Dilla, Mayer Hawthorne, Madlib, Heliocentrics and others.

I really only want to hear about things regarding artists that I have purchased.

I hope you see where I am going with this.

Stones Throw should have this information on me. If they do not, they are leaving money on the table.

Segmenting Their Customer List Will Increase Their Sales Efforts

I truly believe this.

Instead of sending a general onslaught of material to a general list, customize emails to particular fans.

Madlib fans should be a list. Fans of DAM-FUNK should be another.

There are those that only care about instrumental releases. That can be another list.

Segmenting your lists will help you provide relevant content to the people that keep you in business.

Marketing is everywhere. We have learned how to ignore it.

I still read the Stones Throw emails, because I have hope they will get better.

At the same time, I also do not want to miss out on the next big thing.

I just bought the DOOM “Rhymes Like Dimes” 7-inch.

If I did not get the email, then I would have never known.

Thing is, I wish I would be sent a message specifically when new DOOM material is available. That’s it.

I hope someone at Stones Throw reads this. I still rock an ST t-shirt from 2004. I have been thinking about donating it to the Salvation Army. Please do not force my hand. Get with the times and segment your customer lists.

Questions for Music Business CEOs on the Rise
ARe yoU segmenting your contact lists? If so, how many segments do you have?
Do you think I am being too harsh on Stones Throw?
What other ways do you think you can personalize the customer experience when it comes to your music business?


5 Reasons Why Musicians Make The Worst CEOs

There comes a time where you have to address the elephant in the room.

It has to be said. Musicians suck as bosses.

photo by tiarescott

Some rap artists would have you believe they are the very definition of “boss.”

That is the greatest fallacy ever put to record in quite some time.

Just as companies go through personnel changes, so do bands.

Band members come; band members go.

Managers are here today, gone tomorrow.

It is time musicians come to grips with this, if they ever plan to have a sustainable career.

Without goals and a general plan of action, a business owner cannot expect to succeed.

Independent musicians need to understand that they are inherent business owners.

Therefore, you need to look at your productions as business assets.

You have to understand what value your productions have and to whom.

Artists never seem to think like this. Everything is a gamble.

“If I make it, they will come.” Okay, Robert Redford.

For those that want to stop the insanity, you need to realize where you are failing yourself. It is not because you are not working hard. You are not working intelligently. Here are the biggest holes in your business that are keeping you from progressing.

SMART Goals Are Non-Existent

If you do not have a good grasp on why you are looking to do music professionally, then you should stop wasting your time. If it is “all you want to do,” then how are you actually going to make that a reality? Have you done any research? Do you know where you will find income?

SMART goals can guide you in your quest to doing music full-time. Goals help you come up with a strategic plan. Goals help you temper expectations while at the same time keeping you focused and inspired.

Having a Good Team is an Afterthought

As stated in the beginning of this post, many bands see people come and go in various capacities. Most of the time it is due to people have conflict of interests. Sometimes it is because a person just is not into it.

When you are working towards your goals, you need to make sure you surround yourself with people that will help you achieve them. It is not enough to just be friends with them, if your friends are lazy or negative. When you have goals, you should be driven by purpose. The people around you should understand your purpose and look to complement your efforts. Those that detract from your mission, remove them.

It is hard to run a business by yourself. Good help is hard to come by though. Learn what you can handle on your own and then look to find good people to support in the areas you need help.

Don’t Lead By Example

This goes towards the team concept. You cannot expect your team to work harder than you and if they are, shame on you. As the head of your music business empire, you need to out-work everyone. It is your business after all, which dovetails into…

Managers are Employees, Not Genies, Slaves and/or One-Man Shows

Music managers seem to be misunderstood. Some music managers misunderstand themselves. Simply stated, a manager is your employee. He/She works for you. Their job is to make sure you are getting optimal results from your business decisions.

Yes, traditionally music managers serve as part-legal staff, part-security and part-counselor. The thing is, with so many artists in independent capacities, there is not enough money in it for an individual to wear all those hats. That needs to be parsed among multiple people.

You can help those that manage or consult you by making sure you have a firm grasp on what you want to accomplish. Most artists do not take the time to establish this and that is where they are doomed for failure. Acts like N SYNC got jerked, because they did not know any better until it was too late. Learn about the business first before you start seeking a manager, then remember that your manager works for you, not vice versa.

PR Isn’t Cake Icing

This section should generally state, “do not assume good music will find its audience.” You have to put in the work. There are countless acts like you. If you want to stand out, then you need to be remarkable.

Publicity is not a fringe benefit. It is necessary for success. If people are not talking about you, then you are non-existent. You should not waste your time, if you are not willing to build buzz. The one place that you should seriously consider investing (beyond a solid website) is in a publicist.

These are areas that you need to re-think if you want to have a career in music. It is all hard work, but if you really want it, it will feel like a vacation. That said, I am here to help. Let me know in the comments how you feel you can improve as the owner of your music business.

How to Annoy People Using SoundCloud

SoundCloud is probably the best SaaS (Software as a Service) platform available to musicians to date. It is easy to use and widely accepted by music creators and music lovers alike.

But with every good thing comes an annoying a$$hole though.

At one point on this blog, I posted the “song submission” widget in the sidebar. It generated no interest, so I removed it. No big deal, it just did not seem that artists were actively sharing their songs that way.

If music bloggers were smarter, they would demand songs be sent to them via SoundCloud. I’m digressing though.

Recently, I had noticed a weird trend in my email alerts from SoundCloud. I was magically receiving a lot of followers when I was barely using the service.

It was not until I noticed the same individual was following me multiple times that I decided to investigate.

Now the above image is hard to see, but it shows the dubious activity that triggered me to look into my recent popularity.

I do not know who “Fista Cuffs” is, but I must admit I was intrigued. I did not expect anything worthwhile, but I expected to at least get a good chuckle at his or her expense.

Then I noticed “Fista Cuffs” sent me a private track. Curious. What did I do to deserve such a treat?

Wait. I am not special. This was sent to 10872 people. What are the odds that this person actually knows even 1% of these people?

My guess is 10873 to 1.

Of course, I realized what this was. It reminds me of the #TEAMFOLLOWBACK movement on Twitter. I was being conjoled into boosting this person’s social stats on a platform that wants to encourage the sharing of music, not the spamming of content.

I am not going for that. Never have; never will.

It was not until I decided to work on this blog post that I take the time to actually review the private track I was sent.

Turns out “Fista Cuffs” is no longer on SoundCloud. Kudos SoundCloud!

Moral to the Story

Being an annoying a$$hole will not get you far in life. You might achieve some minor gains, but long-term you will lose. If you are truly trying to build a music career, take your time and build relationships the old-fashioned way. “Hi. My name is Lars Ulrich and I am the drummer in a band called Metallica. I love music. How about you?”

In order to get to the 1000 true fans, there are no magic tricks available. It takes time, hard work and dedication.

Numbers do not matter, if they are not actionable. If you cannot get 10% of 100 to do your bidding, what is the point? An email list is only as strong as the open rate.

You cannot game your way into being successful. It is not good to speak in definitives, so here is an exception. You can game towards success, but it is not likely you will have a stress-free life and/or have many real friends in the process. Keep that in mind.

Stop chasing numbers and stick to chasing your dreams. Who really fantasizes about having 30,000 Twitter followers or 5000 SoundCloud listens? If you do, leave me a note in the comments. I want to talk to you.

How to Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth

TEDxDetroit is less than two weeks away and I am still working on the music line-up for the big event. The coordination process has not been easy, considering how long I have been courting certain bands. Regardless of that, I am still excited about the line-up I have curated and confident that the TEDxDetroit audience will be delighted by the musical entertainment.

When I think about my dismal acceptance rate of my first round of bands that I asked to play, I find myself concerned with the state of Detroit’s music scene when TEDxDetroit does not have the cachet to draw the best up-and-coming acts. It is possible that the TEDxDetroit group has not done the best job in engaging the general arts community in a way that makes people feel like we are a worthy platform, but the fact of the matter is, this year will be the biggest yet and it may not get any bigger. In fact, it could get smaller.

Image by goingslo via Flickr

Of course, the town crier in me finds this an opportunity to teach. For those that are trying to get their music heard in the most opportunity-rich scenarios, it is time to review how we pick and choose which venues / shows to play. Why you ask? Simply put, it seems one too many band agents look a gift horse in the mouth and for some reason do not like what they see.

Before I go into lending any advice, I want to make clear that I do believe that bands and band managers should scrutinize every opportunity. It just makes sense, not to mention a good practice for the music business. If you are highly discerning at every point, you never have to worry about anyone taking it as a slight. As the Director of Music at TEDxDetroit, I appreciate artists that vet me and the opportunity that I present. It gives me confidence that they are looking to make sure that we are a good fit for each other. I do not profess to know everything and my work with business-minded music acts help me learn more about the business. That said, you have to know a gift horse when you see one and remember that you are just looking to admire it or see how you can improve its dental hygiene by looking at it in the mouth.

Consider the Source

As I stated earlier, I never take offense to people questioning who I am. No matter how famous I think I am in my head, I know there are many that do not know of me. Most of the acts that are on this year’s TEDxDetroit bill came from referrals from friends or new acquaintances.

When you get a show request, definitely get the person’s credentials. Figure out the person’s track record and history. Ask people in your music scene if the person delivers what he/she promises. If it is a show promoter, find out how the person publicizes their events. Are they strictly using social media? Do they invest any money of their own into the promotion of the event? The answers to these questions should dictate whether you work with this person or not. If they are lame at what they do, then do not bother getting on their bill. That is unless you know that you can take advantage of the situation anyway.

Consider the Audience

One of the things I notice in my local hip hop scene is that there are some of the same people that attend the shows around town. That makes me wonder, what is the point of playing so much to the same people? If anything, we should have more events that have DJs play the music of local acts, instead of the artists performing.

Artists should be strategic when picking what shows to play by considering the anticipated audience. If you are working on new material and just want to get the feedback from your peers, then play a regular local gig that your friends frequent. If you are trying to get out and build up to your 1000 true fans, then you need to play in places where you know you won’t see people you know. An event like TEDxDetroit is a perfect venue if you are looking to get in front of a new audience of generally open-minded individuals. That is not to say that your music is necessarily perfect for the audience, but that is the decision you need to make as a serious artist. Is your thrash metal going to scare an average Joe? Well then, you need to be particular about who you try to entertain.

Consider the Potential

Sometimes it is not enough to just dodge shady promoters or finding the right audience. Depending on where you live, you may not have that many opportunities. Then you need to hit the road and look to make opportunities happen. If the lessons I’ve learned from managing Progress Report, I know that you hit a stage where you just have to consistently work. Make music, tour and connect with fans, then do it again. The idea is that each time out, we should have a few more people into our products. It takes work, but you knew that, right?

Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth is NOT for Kids

It is hard out here. The music industry is cut-throat. Crabs in a barrel, depending on where you live. Bands throw shows simply to have a place to play. Hopefully, their fans / friends are open-minded and you can sell a few CDs. You might pick up another gig put on by another band. You grind your gears trying to make some distance on the same hamster wheel as thousands before you. It does not come as a surprise that you could miss a great opportunity, due to exhaustion. That is why you need to take the emotional triggers out of the equation and review each scenario by your contact, the gig’s anticipated audience and the real potential of the opportunity.

Am I missing something? What else do you think should be considered when trying to assess a gig?

Detroit Music Business Professionals, Let’s Unite!

That's me on the left tweeting snarky messages.

On Thursday, May 12, 2011, I participated in a panel covering “Social Media & the Arts.” The esteemed panel had various brilliant minds from Detroit’s music, fashion and traditional design inner-worlds. The event was impressive. I have to admit that my friend, Sola Obayan of BTO Solutions, did a great job with the help of a few key folks. The event impacted me so much that I have been inspired to write some new posts.

First order of business, the one thing that was missing for this month’s Social Media is a Party was Detroit’s talented music business professionals. There were a few musicians in the house, but there should have been more. I take some responsibility for that, but there are many days where I just want to host a support group with like-minded people. That being said, I want to have an event with the following people:

… and many many others

I am setting the stage as I believe Detroit music business professionals are key to the revitalization of our region.. Where are you guys? When can we get together? What do you think we should discuss? I know I have many topics I could pine about extensively, but I want to hear from you – my peers.