Getting the Music Noticed

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



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Worley: Early on, I believe in giving 100 percent to start any business. If you're a young act, give your music away early on: Give it away online, give it to your fans. The data is showing that if you become popular, people will come back and pay for the music that you gave them and more if they feel that you have something to offer.

Here's an example: There was an artist — this is about two years ago — and he wasn't a straight-down-the-middle kind of artist, so the label was wrestling in their minds over how to promote him. His manager said, “Let's just go out on the road and stir something up.”

So he went back to Athens [Ga.], where he's from, and the manager started stirring up interest and was able to go back to the label and say, “You need to come down and see this.” So the label guys rode down to Georgia, went to see him at a club, and it was a dream come true: They saw cars and pickups and hundreds of kids milling around the parking lot, and they go in and it's packed. It was an incredible show.

So they went up to the manager afterward, and said, “How did you do this?” And the manager hemmed and hawed, and said, “Well, we kind of spread some music around and got people familiar with the music.” And the label executives said, “What music?”

They had been giving away the label's music in that marketplace to get people excited to come to shows. At first the label executive was irritated. He said, “You're giving away my music? You have no right to do that!”

But it got everybody excited, and he's been a very successful act, with very successful records, and the largest sales market, percentage-wise, was that market where the music was given away.

Facebook Fans

Social networking sites were trendy when they were introduced; now, they're just part of the fabric of social interaction and music promotion. What's the best way to use these tools?

Rizzo: I have thousands of “friends” on My-Space. How many of them are really fans? I'm not sure. But you have no choice in servicing all social networks, as well as your Website. This is the only way you can market yourself for free. But you should also not fly the flag too high of your play counts or how big your fan list is, because you have to take it with a grain of salt.

But everyone uses this now. Even the majors and the heavy indies, with the few in-house staff they have, that's what they're doing: viral marketing on the Web. I tell new artists it's not easy, but you can do the same thing yourself.

Mason: People don't turn on the radio to hear new music anymore; it's passed from person to person. That's the new radio. Somebody sends you a song with the e-mail heading, “Check this out.” Or people spend hours clicking from one link to another, finding some new music to fall in love with. So social networking is an important way to generate interest.

McKinney: Not only do fans get to stream the music and listen to it as many times as they like, they can also see what the artist is doing — find out where they're playing, get more information, read their blog — and these are fan-building things, which are very valuable.

Worley: I think that as a new artist, you get involved in [social networking], and you do it actively, and you get good at it, and you talk to people who want to reach you on the Internet. You make yourself available. That's where you collect your fan base and your data. If people engage with you, try to give them something, whether you're just talking to them or giving them music. But get them involved in your culture, and if you can, get their phone number or their e-mail address. Then you've got something of value.

Live Rules

With artists giving more and more recorded music away and counting on revenue from a live performance, where's the money for producers today?

Rizzo: One point that needs to be made is that producer points are almost useless these days, in my opinion. Getting paid on the back end is often hard to collect. If you're the producer of, say, a Beyoncé record, then this doesn't really apply, but for 90 percent of producers out there, it's essential to get paid up front rather than get paid on the back end and hope it makes money.

Mason: When I decided to get into this industry, I wasn't interested in only being locked up in a studio with clients to make records. I wanted to be involved in developing artists from the ground up, and then continue to provide guidance and support for the project after production is finished. It's very rewarding on a creative level, and it means I have a financial stake in more aspects of their career.

McKinney: As a producer and a label owner, I have to make sure that the investment always fits the business and the budget of the record. I always look at going beyond just being the producer to being an investor and a middleman.

I have groups like Fertile Ground out of Baltimore, an independent group that has put out maybe six CDs in the past 10 years and has sold well over 100,000 CDs, a lot of them at live shows. Same thing with Eric Roberson. He's constantly on the road and keeps putting out a new record every year, and sells hundreds of thousands of records as an independent artist. So the record and live shows are not separate for me as an investor; they go hand in hand.

Worley: I'm not just a producer; artist development is what I do. I always intend to be involved in my artist's culture, not just their studio career. If I'm going to take on a client, I'm taking them from the ground floor up and giving them the benefit not just of my recording ability and my collective years of wisdom; I also want to be involved as a manager and as a publisher. I might not be into all these things for every artist I work with, but at least some of these things, so if I develop their career I have an opportunity to participate in the income and the career the artist is making.

Have any of your projects benefited from the model of giving music away as a “freemium”? Send your stories to

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