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.


Daniel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Stoat said...

You seemed about to speak.

fronesis said...

A. I'm still here, still loving and telling people about COEMR.
B. I know 'good talk' is a BTVS reference, but it frustrates me that I can't remember it exactly.
C. The label as filter thing is spot-on, and I see HBO as network or even David Simon or Joss Whedon as creators/exec producers, as analogues of it in the tv world.
D. On an unrelated note, isn't the MiFi awesome!?