Archive for March, 2009

CD sales success stories

March 31, 2009

by Bob Baker

There are nearly as many ways for musicians to sell self-released CDs as there are CDs. The following stories show how two artists colored outside the lines.

Taking Your Music to the People

Tony, an acoustic folk singer/guitarist in New Zealand, says one method he uses to drum up sales is day-long appearances at record stores.

“The best deal I got was through a local retail chain that liked the sound of what I was doing and allowed me to promote through their store on three different occasions,” Tony says. “I spent all day in the store, played my CD through a stereo system, handed out leaflets, gave a special discount, talked to people, signed CDs — all in all, I sold
about 60 copies — and these to people who normally wouldn’t have glanced twice at the album cover anywhere else.”

Tony also does a lot of busking (playing live for tips in randomly chosen locations) at country fairs.

“I always have a table beside me with CDs,” he explains. “The trick here is that I busk acoustically, but take regular breaks during which I play the CD through a Peavey Solo amp and a Sony Discman, both running on rechargeable batteries. I’ll sell a dozen albums this way, plus earn busking money and make contact with people who want to hire me or my band.

“As an independent, you’ve got to do it all yourself — and there’s absolutely no substitute for personal appearances and live performances,” Tony adds. “It’s all geared to self-promotion, and it just snowballs. If you sit at home like other really good (much better than me) musicians and say, ‘You can’t make a living from your music in New Zealand,’ then it’s true, you won’t. However, playing music is my full-time job now.”

Using Your Unique Qualities to Your Advantage

Josh of Josh Max’s Outfit says his band has sold more than 550 copies of its “Make It Snappy” CD. Not impressed? You may be when you find out how.

Josh explains: “We sold 150 to fans at our shows so far, but the way we moved 400 CDs was to hook up with a fashion magazine for plus-size women and promote our singer, Julie James, who is plus-sized and an amazing, sweet yet powerful singer. Julie has loads of personality — and the media love juicy people like her.

“The magazine bought 400 copies of our CD,” Josh continues, “and distributed them in goodie bags at trade shows around the Northeast. It’s a great deal because it’s free publicity and the bulk sale made us back a lot of the money we laid out for the disc.”

It’s also a good example of a band taking what some in the business would perceive as a weakness and exploiting it to the band’s advantage. Therein lies the lesson: Any characteristic of your band can be repositioned to be perceived in a fresh light.

Bob Baker is the author of “Guerrilla Music Marketing Handbook,” “Unleash the Artist Within” and “Branding Yourself Online.” He also publishes TheBuzzFactor.com, a web site and e-zine that have been delivering marketing tips and inspirational messages to music people of all kinds since 1995. Get your FREE subscription to Bob’s e-zine by
visiting http://TheBuzzFactor.com today.

Stay-at-home moms and dads making music

March 30, 2009

Making Music for the Joy of It

In her book Making Music for the Joy Of It, Stephanie Judy writes about music making from many angles. On the back cover it says it’s a guide for adult beginning and amateur musicians. After reading it, I would say much of it applies to full time, professional musicians as well.

In one brief section, she outlines some tips for stay at home moms and dads who have a hard time finding time to practice. I think these apply to songwriters as well, just substitute the word ‘songwriting’ whenever you see ‘practicing’ or ‘playing.’

Here’s a sampling.

1. Be philosophical. Realize that this is a time in your life when you probably won’t make great musical strides.

2. Be prepared. Keep your instrument (pencil) as handy as possible so you can play even for very brief intervals. One mother moved her piano into the kitchen.

3. Be a little crazy and inventive. Play in the bathroom while your young one is in the tub. (The acoustics are fantastic!)

4. Hire a helper. Have a neighborhood youngster come over every day to do something with your child that you’d never do – finger paint, make mud pies, splash in a sprinkler – anything so irresistible that it will buy you an hour of practice time.

5. Trade off. Alternate childcare sessions with another parent and reserve this time for practice.

6. Do something new. Learn to play accompaniments on the piano or guitar. Even if you’ve never played these instruments before, you can learn very quickly how to accompany simple songs with basic chords. Old MacDonald, Twinkle, Twinkle and Mary Had a Little Lamb are still
appealing, even to the Star Wars generation of pre-schoolers. Doing this will not only entertain your youngsters, it will allow them into your world of music (at their level) and it broadens your music appreciation,
too.

7. Try music making in a group setting. Young children who are upset by a parent’s practicing at home are sometimes more at ease away from home, with the novelty of a new setting and new faces. Lynelle Inwood took six month old Alicia to a gospel music workshop: “She had never been so quiet for so long. For two hours she sat there totally
mesmerized.”

Bringing together your kids and your music is good for the kids and good for you. Even though part time songwriters will see decreased time in which to write (not to mention diminished energy), the experience of raising kids will be good for your creativity in the long run.

Writing 24/7

March 27, 2009

Not all of us have the luxury of being full time songwriters. Many of us have day jobs, as well as time-consuming responsibilities to family, community and elsewhere. If your goal is to become a successful songwriter and you are passionately committed to it, try to incorporate writing into the other areas of your life.

One example is keeping a journal, something we’ve recommended in the past. Another is the lost art of letter writing. Not email, but personal letters. Another is writing in your day job. Ideally you do some type of writing in your day job, at least an occasional business letter or report.

The more you write, the better you’ll get, whether it’s prose, poetry, non-fiction, journalism, children’s books, blogs or the community newsletter. And the better you get at the written word, the better and more facile a lyricist you’ll become.

Let the world know you’re a songwriter and proud of it, with Songwriter’s Tip Jar caps, T’s, sweatshirts, mouse pads and other swag. Check out the swag here.

stj-official-white-t-front

My Big Break

March 25, 2009

Julie Gold

My Big Break by Julie Gold

I came to New York in 1978 at the age of 22 in pursuit of my dream of being a songwriter. I would wait my turn to get a chance to play one lousy song in some dark, smoky, noisy room in hopes of being discovered. Waiting in the dark in pursuit of the same dreams were Christine Lavin, Cliff Eberhardt, Shawn Colvin, Suzanne Vega, John Gorka, and Lucy Kaplansky.

I am very proud to have shared such a vital and rich history with musicians who I hold in such high esteem. It was a special and unique time, and, although it was filled with heartbreak and despair, I wouldn’t trade one second of that rich time in my life.

Happily, I became friends with many of these special people, especially Christine. We were very in touch with each other’s ups and downs. She’d have a new manager, and I’d lose my old one. She’d get a gig, I’d get a gig. And we sent each other tapes of our newest songs.

I tell you all this because it really figures into my happy equation.

Dreams are essential, but they sure don’t pay the rent. For years, I worked various temp jobs while gigging at night and sending songs out whenever possible. I demonstrated vacuum cleaners, Mr. Coffees and toaster ovens. I worked the flea markets, as a proof reader, for a dentist, and at a Venetian blinds factory.

It was a struggle. No health benefits. No money for recreational purposes. Desperation. Self doubt. Fear. We all know what that’s like. But, all the while, I clung to my dream like a life preserver. I knew why I was born, and no one could discourage me from reaching my mountaintop. I was willing to die trying. Honest I was.

I finally gave in to taking a full-time job as a secretary at HBO in 1984. It was a smart move. Ah, the magic of a steady paycheck. In my spare time and evening hours, I was of course still gigging, writing songs, and dreaming my big dream. Now, however, I didn’t have that horrible daily struggle of keeping my head above water financially.

In 1985, just before my 30th birthday, my parents sent me the piano I grew up playing. I had just served as a juror on an emotionally trying case, my brother had just married, and I was questioning my life to date, wondering what my future could possibly hold.

I took the day off work to be home when my piano arrived, and I remember how it glistened in the sun as the movers lowered it off the truck. My piano. My truest love and friend. My confidante. Back together again after all these years.

It came into my little, one room apartment and fit just where I hoped it would. The movers told me that it had been on the truck for 24 hours, so I had to give it a chance to settle. They said I couldn’t play it for a full day. So, there we were in the same room, unable to make music. I
remember hugging it and polishing it. Then I went to bed. My bed was a high loft bed, and I looked down on my piano all night to make sure it was really there.

The next day, I sat down and “From a Distance” just poured out of me. On one hand, it took me two hours to write. On the other hand, it took me 30 years. Pick whichever hand makes you happy. I love them both.

I sent “From a Distance” around to all my contacts. As usual, most did not even reply. Those who did found fault with my song. Christine Lavin loved it and requested copies to send around to her friends and contacts. Within two weeks, my scratchy demo was getting radio play thanks to Christine. Then I came home one day to a flashing message
on my answering machine. There was a gentle, unknown voice
identifying herself as Nanci Griffith. Christine had sent her the song, she loved it, and was asking to record it.

That magic moment was the beginning of my big break. Allow me to tell you a little bit more.

(more…)

Your Christmas Album

March 25, 2009

Herb as Santa

My apologies to those of you who don’t celebrate Christmas. This article is for those of us who do celebrate, even if just in a secular way.

Christmas, at least in the US, has become a big business: I don’t mean the observance of its religious significance, but all the other fun stuff associated with it: family time, giving, decorations, peace, joy, brotherhood, music, movies, TV specials, product tie-ins, artificial trees, home lighting displays that rival Las Vegas and a partridge in a pear tree.

But what does that have to do with songwriting? I’m here to suggest that you consider recording your own Christmas album to sell at gigs and on the web, along with your other CDs. They also make unique Christmas presents.

It’s been long recognized that unlike normal CDs, whose popularity and sales eventually wane, Christmas CDs keep selling, year after year. In a sense they never go out of style, they are perennial favorites.

That fact has been a boon to singers and even more to songwriters. If you write a Christmas song that becomes popular, it will be rerecorded by dozens of singers over the years and will keep you in cookies and milk for a lifetime.

So start now, try your hand at expressing just how you feel during the yuletide season. If the long lines at the mall frustrate you, write about that. If you love seeing the expressions on your children’s faces on Christmas morning, write about that.

Write about what’s wrong with Christmas, what’s right with Christmas, your favorite Christmas memory, a memorable Christmas gathering or whatever strikes a chord for you. Then record it along with some of your favorite public domain Christmas songs, or more of your own originals. Even the Tijuana Brass have a Christmas album.

More juicy songwriting tips

March 20, 2009

24 More Juicy Songwriting Tips

Your copy of the long-awaited second volume has arrived. Fans of the original 24 Juicy Songwriting Tips asked for more and we delivered with Volume Two: 24 More Juicy Songwriting Tips. Includes tips for lyricists and melody writers, tips on how to avoid writer’s block and how to conduct more efficient solo and co-writing sessions.

Formatted like the original for a quick read, you’ll refer back to it again and again. It’s spiral-bound so it lays flat and stays open to the page you want; works well in a music stand and on any flat surface (also available as a pdf file).

Tools, Not Rules

  • Practical tips on every page
  • Use them whenever you get stuck for a word, phrase, verse, bridge or chorus
  • Learn how to prevent burnout and writer’s block
  • Learn how to start with the ending
  • Give your song a (painless) extreme makeover
  • Learn how to engage your whole body in the creative process

Available in two versions – as a digital file (pdf) and as a hard copy soft cover book. With the PDF version you get faster delivery, while the printed version can be carried anywhere. Plus, you can dog-ear it, write on it, read it in bed, in the tub, etc.

The suggested retail price is $19.99 for PDF and $24.99 for hardcopy. That’s what you’ll pay on Amazon.com. But for a limited time, Tip Jar readers pay only $14.99 for a digital PDF and $21.99 for a printed copy (includes shipping/handling).

Check out 24 More Juicy Songwriting Tips!

We couldn’t stop ourselves, see more bonus tips at the end of the book.

Make the most of the Muse

March 19, 2009

Don’t sweat the dry spells. We can’t be 100% creative all the time. I can go for weeks without a single new song idea and then I’ll get three in one day. Does that happen to you? Here’s what I do to capitalize on the phenomenon.

First of all, I make sure to capture every idea, no matter how lame it may seem. If I don’t capture it immediately, it’s likely to disappear back into the ether as fast as it came. This means carrying a notebook and pen everywhere, or better yet, carrying a mini recorder.

I capture the ideas that seem to pop into my head at random moments, when I’m not thinking about songwriting. It may be something I see on a billboard, read in a book or hear in a song. It’s often words out of my own mouth or a friend’s. This applies to lyrical as well as musical ideas.

Next I attempt to immediately develop it into more than just a raw idea. Perhaps I can use it as a song title or expand it into a story or concept. The goal is to make the most of whatever creative impulse I had while it’s still around: use the muse, before she moves on … strike while the iron is hot.

Unfortunately, great ideas rarely come at a convenient time. So develop them if you can, or save them for a later session. At the very least these gems will be there next time you’re stuck in a dry spell.

Start with the title

March 17, 2009

I have always wished that my computer would be as easy to use as my telephone. My wish has come true. I no longer know how to use my telephone.

— Bjarne Stroustrup, computer science professor and designer of C++ programming language

Q. I’m a beginning songwriter. I’ve got a good title and an idea of what the song is about. What do I do next?

A. A good song title is an excellent place to start. A strong title with a strong concept is even better. Just let the title inspire you to fill in the rest.

How to start? Well, how about writing the chorus next, since you usually find the title in the chorus (sometimes more than once). And since the chorus gets repeated, once you’ve written that, you’re more than halfway there.

Sometimes we all just need a friendly kick in the pants to get us going. The best writers can apply that kick to themselves (they must be contortionists or yoga practitioners).

Collaboration Stories

March 16, 2009

A songwriter friend recently expressed frustration with finding a reliable collaborator. We were wondering what other experiences readers of this blog have had with finding/working with co-writers. Lorelei Loveridge shares her co-writing experiences and leaves us with some excellent tips for collaborating.

One, I’ve found the process of collaboration to be really strange. It all comes down to people’s personalities and individual/collective goals, I’ve discovered. I’ve collaborated (or attempted to) with a few people.

One was a friend who is NOT a songwriter, but is just a goofball like me. We sat together, had tea one day, and brainstormed a story based on some very strong hooks. She helped with the ideas. I, as the songwriter, crafted and edited the pieces together. It worked well. The music she had no part in, but the lyrics were 50% hers. That was a pleasurable experience.

The second person was another songwriter like myself — a woman who writes and plays guitar. Different style, but essentially the very same goals. It was the most tension-filled experience I’ve ever had. Or one of them. Another very tense experience would have been trying to come up with lyrics on the spot while a guitarist (a very good one)
noodled around on a riff that he found. That did not work either. Too much pressure. In the case of the fellow singer-songwriter, too much personal competition. We both wanted way too much ownership of the song. We were two people who wanted to write our own songs.

I’ve tried to write with STJ members also, two people I like and trust a lot actually. But because of the distance, or the fact that we were three, or the issue of timing (none of us had the time/energy to focus), or the initial topic and inspiration for writing (sucked), it never happened. I don’t look at that as a failure. It was just “bad timing,
that’s all.” Another day.

I had an accidental success with co-writing once when I wrote the fast first draft of a song. I sent it to a “friend,” an acquaintance, a guy I’ve never met but who works at Berklee College of Music and who is a bass player and graduate of the school. I sent the song out as a “Hey look at this!” email, also with the invitation to others to rewrite it, as I knew it was good but not finished. I loved what this friend coughed up, and then I polished it up a bit and promptly gave him 50% of the lyrical rights, simply because he really did have his hand in a huge portion of the song. He had no expectations, really, and was just doing it because he’s a creative guy.

When I recorded the song fast on my computer and emailed it to him, he and his friends were impressed. That was a pleasurable experience.

And, finally, I co-wrote with a good friend of mine back home, another woman, but a songwriter with a background in jazz. She’s a pianist; I’m a guitarist. We worked on guitar, laughed together a LOT as we tossed out the most bizarre lines and tried to piece them together. Sometimes we would throw out absolutely stupid lyrics, as a way to get through the creative blocks. (If something’s not working, then make it really not work and break the ice, release the tension by having a good laugh.) We got half a song done and ran out of steam/time. I live overseas, had to go as the summer was over. We’ve never finished the song, but it was a good experience and I trust I could work with Anna again.

Based on my experience, my advice to people looking to collaborate is this: It’s all about being comfortable together, and complimentary in your talents. If there’s too much competition, it’s not going to happen. If you both demonstrate the same weaknesses, it’s not going to happen. I’ve read time and time again, write “up,” or work with others who are better than you at some things. And definitely work out terms
right up front and look at the opportunity to co-write, even if you’re seeking your own name and/or fame, as a chance to hone your chops. If the fit is right with another person, it can lift you to higher levels. If the fit is wrong, then you’ve lost nothing. Move on and don’t be embarrassed about it.

Lorelei Loveridge
Orderly Bazaar Records & Publishing
http://www.orderlybazaar.com

Listen to Lorelei’s latest CD Bakhoor, a 4-year, 15-song album project recorded in India, Canada and Saudi Arabia.

Bakhoor

Book Festival Gigs

March 13, 2009

Performing songwriters are always looking for gigs. Sometimes the hardest part is finding suitable venues. At Festival Network Online you can find potential gigs at crafts fairs and festivals all over the country! Search by 24 music genres in over 10,000 music events and festivals.

Use their free online searchable database of festivals to book yourself on a festivals-only tour! Or use festival gigs to fill in between your other dates.

The database includes all sorts of festivals, from wine to arts & crafts to music-specific festivals, such as jazz and bluegrass.

They also publish a free newsletter full of tips for making the most of festivals. See an article called Packaging and Selling Your Art among many other interesting articles. You have to weed a bit through some articles that are geared to crafters, but if you perform or would like to perform at festivals, this is a gold mine.

For even more resources, join FNO’s advanced membership and save $5 – Find craft shows, art festivals, and music festivals nationwide.