Getting the Music Noticed

May 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Barbara Schultz



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For so long, you got a call from a record company, you showed up, worked and they paid you in 60 days. It was almost like you're a plumber; that doesn't happen anymore. I made the conscious choice a long time ago to carve out my reputation and take chances on music I like rather than just work for hire. It has paid off. You have to go out and find the work. You want repeat customers.

Mason: For the most part the model of label A&R developing talent isn't really in place anymore, so the producer has to do the A&R part. You try to find an artist that's really comfortable onstage with a sound that's well-established in their own minds — then you can get down to the heart of crafting and presenting the artist's vision in the studio. This begins to take shape during pre-production. It's important to make sure you're not searching for each song's basic concept when you get into the studio because you need to turn records around pretty quickly today.

Last summer, I came across a fantastic rock 'n' roll band from Santa Barbara [Calif.] called Loomis & the Lust. They found me through my manager, Joe D'Ambrosio. They wanted help to take their music to the next level. They sent me demos, and I shared advice about how they could develop their sound: try a different tempo here, rewrite the bridge to this song. Once we got to where it seemed like we had an album together, I went to Santa Barbara and stayed with them for a few weeks, to continue working on the songs. That all happened before we went into a recording studio.

McKinney: I'll always take a chance on artists I believe in. If I think the artist has a future, I will A&R the whole record, even as far as developing a business plan for the record, developing the artist, production, all the way through art direction for their release. A producer has to do everything in their power to make sure the release represents their best work.

Worley: Our business, as a business of only providing producing, engineering or owning a studio — any of those creative services — is dying. Now we have to be much more entrepreneurial in our thinking about whom we choose to work with. Look at them as an act, and say, “Is this the kind of act that is going to succeed and have a career, regardless of whether or not they are signed by a major label?” I'm doing a lot more work at discounted rates upfront, and even for free upfront, to be involved with people I think have a future.

The Value of Free

We're all trying to make use of promotion methods such as viral marketing — giving music away to create buzz and reaping the rewards of a larger fan base. Radiohead gave an album away, which generated so much interest that they made a great profit. Nine Inch Nails did a similar thing last year. What is the strategic value of “freemiums”?

Rizzo: I think it's important to give some music away, but I don't subscribe to the Radiohead idea of giving away a record for free. I believe in giving the fan something like a free download of a song. I personally — and I've been saying this for years — think the future is a subscription-based fan. Meaning, let's say you're Radiohead and you've sold countless records, and you have 1 million loyal fans, and imagine you don't need a record company. You just have a small office where you mail out your product and your fan pays, let's say, $30 per year. And for that fee, they get a physical CD, a digital download of the album, a T-shirt, a discounted ticket when they come through your town, and a newsletter.

Mason: I think that as long as the music is self-released, we're using it as a marketing tool to get people to shows. Of course, we're selling CDs and merch at shows and online, but generally the music should be available for free to listen to, streaming on their MySpace page. [With Loomis & the Lust], we're using recorded material to promote the live shows. We would like to get the record to a label so that songs can be sold to a wider market, but “free” right now is a promotional tool and a marketing tool to generate interest and create fans, and to generate excitement that we can take to the record companies.

McKinney: I'm more in favor of streaming or sampling than giving away a record. I love the viral marketing effect that [social networking sites] have because you can make the music available without giving it away. Also, the whole fear of file sharing never really bothered me much. When I was growing up, we had tapes and we made tapes for friends and it wasn't a big deal. I don't think it's different now. It has an impact that people burn CDs, but to have music available for people to listen to and become fans is very important because what I want for my artists is real fans who will buy a whole album.

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