Saturday, July 18, 2009

13 Songs With The Calculus Affair: Dialog II

The Stoat: I appreciate the lack of any Breakin' 2 references there.
Calvino: I was sorely tempted.
The Stoat: You were going to tell me ideas you'd had so far about how to "market" (for lack of a better word) popular music in the digital marketplace, assuming that you do not have an entrenched power broker (i.e. record label) backing you.
Calvino: Right. I'm mostly going to just throw out some thoughts. They aren't really organized. Maybe they will become so as I toss them out.
The Stoat: Okay, go.
Calvino: Okay. Again, assuming that I am the creative force behind The Calculus Affair...
The Stoat: I have no problem with that.
Calvino: ...what I'm doing here right now is thing number one, obviously. I'm advertising the fact that I'm making an album by blogging about it. Every time I post one of these things, it goes into my Facebook feed and presumably some number of the hundred-odd people I'm friends with sees it, and most of them don't read it, but that doesn't matter--it goes into their head. They know that I have a band.
The Stoat: Brand awareness.
Calvino: Exactly, though as mtg points out, this is pretty much just first- and second- degree of separation. That is, it's only brand awareness for people who know me directly. There again I run into the same problem--some percentage of those people wind up checking out the album, and some percentage of those people are, like, wow this is awesome and tell their friends to check it out. But by then we're down to a small percentage of a small percentage of a percentage, and since we started with only 100-odd people, I'm pretty much down to Sam and Aunt Madeline at that point.
The Stoat: On whom you were already counting.
Calvino: Right.
The Stoat: So, what else?
Calvino: Well, I'm trying to get into the business via the Taxi route--trying to get songs placed in tv and film. I've gotten some things forwarded to publishers, but so far no phone calls (it is, relatively speaking, early yet on that front). And while it's sort of a side-project as far as the main question of releasing an album is concerned, I've gotten some pretty useful feedback from it. A couple of months ago I saw a listing asking for songs with voice and guitar only and thought, "I bet I can get a forward just by following instructions." I wrote a song in an hour or two, recorded it in a couple more hours, mixed it, and submitted it, and sure enough it got forwarded. I was pretty proud of that.
The Stoat: Okay, what else?
Calvino: Well, I've been thinking about the last listing to which I submitted, actually. It was a return (those are the two outcomes of Taxi listings, forward or return); they give you feedback either way, and the screener clearly liked the songs--it was more complementary than most of my forwards--but he was also looking for something different. The Calculus Affair leans into retro-pop and they wanted something...sonically more recent, I guess. Anyway, I thought of the lesson you'd learn as an actor--if you have a specific thing that you do, and you're good at that thing, but nobody is casting for that thing, what you do is start your own theatre company.
The Stoat: So you want to start a record label.
Calvino: No. That would be insane. Record labels are a losing proposition all around these days. I want to start whatever record labels are going to morph into in the near future.
The Stoat: What do you think that is?
Calvino: Well, here is where it gets really disorganized. As we talked about in part 1, you don't need a label--you don't need the financial backing to make a record and you don't need a distributor. What you need is something that sets you, as an artist, apart. What you need is something that enables people to find you. What you need, instead of a label, is a brand. Think of your ten favorite bands. Now tell me the label to which they're signed.
The Stoat: Well, in some cases I can do that. Lots of bands I like are signed to Barsuk Records. Lots of bands I like are signed to SubPop.
Calvino: Yeah, great examples of small labels that do exactly what I'm talking about. Big labels--Sony, Universal, Virgin, Columbia, etc., aren't musical brands because they haven't had to be. Small labels, if they want to survive and thrive, need to conjure to mind music when you hear their name. In the late 80's and early 90's, when you though of SubPop, you thought of Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mudhoney--the Seattle sound. It was a label but it was also a sound. Same with Barsuk today--if you know the label, you think quirky indie rock when you hear its name.
The Stoat: What I like about it is that idea is that the brand becomes a filter. As you talked about in part one, there's a huge abundance of music. Creating a brand creates a shorthand for finding music you like. And it works for both sides of the partnership--good music builds the brand, and the brand helps the music find an audience.
Calvino: I believe the word you're looking for is "synergy."
The Stoat: Synergy is the greatest thing in the world.
Calvino: Never say that to me again.
The Stoat: Whatever. I'm sold. What form does this musical branding take?
Calvino: ...
The Stoat: ...
Calvino: ...
The Stoat: You seemed about to speak.
Calvino: Yeah, I don't know. I mean, it starts with a website, but after that I really don't know. There are tons of analytics tools out there that would help you, but then you start talking about market research and targeted ads and crap like that, and then you run into my main problem: it's taking all of my spare time just to make an album.
The Stoat: Also, you hate market research. And also, apparently, synergy.
Calvino: Yeah, that's another problem.
The Stoat: So you're hosed.
Calvino: Pretty much.
The Stoat: Okay then. Good talk.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

13 Songs With The Calculus Affair: Dialog

Calvino: Tell me, Stoat: if I were going to release an album in the brave new world of digital music, how should I do it? What would minimize the chances of it not immediately being swept into the oblivion of all the music being released digitally today?
The Stoat: An interesting and difficult question.
Calvino: Yes. Yes it is. It seems like the internet plus digital distribution would democratize the world of music for the musician. But if that's happening, or happened, I haven't seen it. Obviously, music has the problem of volume--now that anyone can record an album in their basement and get it onto iTunes, everyone does. Anyone can get their record in the store, but the store is huge, so that's no real benefit.
The Stoat: Yes. Clearly a problem.
Calvino: So there's the theory/metaphor/whatever that the cream should rise to the top, that even though the proverbial mine of potentially popular music is much larger, the gems in that mine will still stand out and be discovered. But in following music these last several years, I have discovered something: there is a staggering amount of competence out there. A profoundly huge pile of pretty-goodness. So in order to be a gem amongst that, you basically have to be, well, fucking awesome.
The Stoat: I see...
Calvino: Let's, for instance, take the example of The Calculus Affair. Just for the purposes of ease of reference, let's pretend that I am the musician behind this band.
The Stoat: I have no problem with that.
Calvino: I have, if I am The Calculus Affair, accumulated a fair amount of objective evidence that I am producing pretty good music. As a close listener to music in general I can also tell that lots of people with far less...let's call it ability...than I are doing well by it. So if I were, say, 22 years old and hot and out there touring and building a fan base, I'd probably be doing pretty well myself. But I'm 36 and I have neither the time (nor really the willingness) to tour around promoting myself, so my music just has to stand on its own. And so it comes to this: my music is good, maybe pretty good, but it just isn't fucking awesome.
The Stoat: Sure. And there are some people who might disagree with that last sentiment, and if they ruled the music business, you would be obscenely wealthy. But I acknowledge the point.
Calvino: Now, that shouldn't necessarily be the end of it. There ought to be a space for the pretty good to succeed. Maybe not, you know, a definition of success that includes professional musicianship and fortune, but one that involves selling some records to people who aren't already ones friends. And this is the thing I can't find, or that doesn't exist, in this new democratic world that has a nearly infinite quantity of competent music in it.
The Stoat: Hmm...surely other people are thinking about this problem. What about this fellow? He's talking about the same things you are.
Calvino: Yeah, he's advertising for a seminar he's running. Did you read that article? Reading it was like watching that Simpsons episode where they introduce Poochie into the Itchy & Scratchy Show.
The Stoat: Oh No! Metadialog!

EXECUTIVE: We at the network want a dog with attitude. He's edgy, he's "in your face." You've heard the expression "let's get busy"? Well, this is a dog who gets "biz-zay!" Consistently and thoroughly.

KRUSTY: So he's proactive, huh?

EXECUTIVE: Oh, God, yes. We're talking about a totally outrageous paradigm.

Calvino: There are articles on the subject everywhere, all the time. Here's Trent Reznor on the subject. Another entry in the TuneCore blog. An article in Salon. That's just from this week. As far as I can tell, the advice boils down to, "Have you tried being clever? You should try being clever."
The Stoat: Not to, you know, to mindlessly echo Trent Reznor, but you are kind of clever. Not all the time or anything, but occasionally.
Calvino: Perhaps. But times seem to call for more than clever. They call for innovation. I haven't seen the innovation yet. Or I can't think of it. Or something.
The Stoat: Perhaps it would be helpful to start with what you've thought of so far and go from there?
Calvino: Perhaps. We'll try that in Dialog part II, in order to mitigate the already extreme longness of this post.
The Stoat: Okay. Truncating in