Today commemorates the first-ever Monterey Folk Festival, which took place back in 1963 and featured a couple of no-names like Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Peter Paul and Mary. Wishing you were rocking out to that festival line-up instead of counting down the remaining hours of the day/week? Yeah, us too. But hey! Enjoy these wonderfully distracting TuneCore Artist music videos instead:
[Editors Note:This is a guest blog written by Paul Loeb. Paul has been at the intersection of music and tech for 20 years. He is founder and CEO of DropTrack, a music promotion platform for independent artists. His goal has always been to give musicians like himself the tools to stand out from the rest, get heard, and make deals.]
Whether you’re pursuing music full- or part-time, you’ve likely been asked by family, friends, or perfect strangers about how you plan to make it in the music industry. Annoying, sure, but it’s a fair question. It’s a tough industry to crack and success takes much more than musical talent. Unlike in the past, however, making it big as a musician isn’t just about who you know. The good news is, with a bit of marketing, you can start to set yourself apart from the musicians who simply continue to hope the right person happens to walk into a near-empty bar for a listen. Here are a few quick tips for building your music brand so you can stand out amongst the competition.
It Starts With a Conversation
If you’re a member of a band, it’s important to start the branding process with all members present. If you’re a one man or woman show, you can get started immediately. You’ve probably already talked or thought about how you define your music, but for branding purposes, let’s focus on what makes your story different or unique.
There are thousands of hopeful “indie rock artists,” but are you in a band with your siblings? Did you learn to play the saxophone from your grandpa? Even if you’re convinced there’s nothing special about your background, there’s an interesting story behind any true passion. If you’re still unsure of how best to tell your story, look to the musicians who inspire you. Odds are, they’re paying marketers big bucks to help with this process, but reading a few of their stories can help provide a template to follow. Teasing that story out is the first step to successfully branding yourself.
Tell Your Story Concisely & Authentically
Now that you’ve done the hard work in getting to the root of what makes your music brand unique, it’s important to create a few variations of that story. You’ll need your quick, 30-second elevator pitch as well as a more detailed version for things like your website, talking to press, etc. The more concisely and consistently you can tell your own story, the catchier it becomes. Also be sure that you’re telling an authentic story and building a connection between you and the listeners.
Think about the musicians you love: there are likely certain stories—the love story behind the lyrics of your favorite song or the random way in which the guitarist met the drummer—that stick with you because of how well, and how consistently, they’re told. Which part of your story would you want to stick with a music blogger? With your biggest fans? It may seem redundant because these narratives are surely in your head, but getting them onto your website or into an email is critical in transferring how you see your music brand to how others understand you.
Be Consistent Across Channels
Now that you know your story and can tell it effectively, you’ll want to make sure it’s updated across all your channels, from your website to various social media platforms. You’ll want to make sure that a music blogger who checks out your Facebook page has the same experience there as (s)he does on your website, Twitter, and Instagram. Your messaging and the visuals that support it should all reflect the story you want to tell.
Create a List of Influencers
Once you’ve gained direction with the story you want to tell, it will be easier to find bloggers and publications who might be interested in your vision. You can use free, online tools like Buzzsumo to quickly search for relevant influencers. Broaden your reach by thinking about your story from a couple of different angles. If you’re a New Orleans-based funk band, look for bloggers who cover other funk bands, but also look to local New Orleans publications who might be interested in the local, hometown aspect of your story. You should cater your message to these two types of writers differently, but send promos easily and track which aspect of your story might be having a greater impact.
Make a List of Resources You Need
Ok, so it might be hard to do a total rebrand in 24 hours. But, now that you know the brand image you want to portray, have updated media to the extent you can, and made a list of the people with whom you want to connect, it’s time to jot down where you can go the extra mile in completing the branding process. Maybe your visual aesthetic isn’t telling your story as effectively as it could be. Scheduling a photoshoot or reaching out to a designer about a new logo are proactive steps you can take today toward a complete, successful online branding.
Now that you’ve put some serious effort into building your brand, it’s time to make sure you’re getting in front of the right people. Music bloggers and industry influencers will be more likely to give you a listen when you present yourself in a unique, consistent manner. (Remember, your demo isn’t enough, but your new branding will help you get the email open or link click-through.) There’s also no time like a rebrand to ramp up your marketing emails and connect with your fanbase with an email marketing campaign through Droptrack. You’ve done the work; now, go get your brand in front of the right people.
Did you know that the Beatles were originally called The Silver Beetles? Terrible band name, right? Well, they were! And today back in 1960 they auditioned to be Billy Fury’s backing band. Obviously they did bigger things, but it’s important to know these other not-so-great names they considered: The Beatals and Long John and the Silver Beetles. What could have been! Anyhow, enjoy these wonderful music videos from an eclectic line-up of hardworking TuneCore Artists:
What goes into making a ‘hit song’? It really depends on who you ask; some members of the music industry will begin to talk about melodies, genres and repetition, while a cynic might simply point to financial and network advantages. But what about an artist or band?
Hit songs aren’t an everyday occurrence, despite however many times a radio station might play them in a given 24 hours. And while artists don’t always hit the studio in hopes of making a smash single but rather to get their thoughts and emotions out musically, not too many of them are going to shy away from the popularity and money that comes with this sort of release.
Aside from what we think of as a ‘hit song’, keep in mind that for most indie artists, that can simply mean a single that gains traction via a popular blog or playlist and leads to more opportunities. Chris Pizzolo and Sara Waber, the co-founders of Play Too Much – a site dedicated to curating unique experiences through features, podcasts,’original session series’, and events – decided to set out on a journey to document one band’s experience in releasing such a single.
They began documenting New York-based (and TuneCore Artists!) Great Caesar as they crafted their tune “Take Me To The River“, to be featured on an upcoming album, from conception to recording to release. The result is an excellent five-part podcast series called “How Hits Made” that follows the group’s trials and tribulations around the recording of their album Jackson’s Big Sky. Recommended for indie artists of any genre, the podcast does a great job of breaking down the creative process behind what so many go through.
We were able to interview Chris and Sara about the process of recording the podcast, what they learned during their time chronicling the release, and more:
1.) What was it about the subject band, Great Caesar, that caught your attention at first?
Sara: The opening monologue in Episode 1 of How Hits Made is a real depiction of the first time I saw Great Caesar. Chris had seen them perform stripped down so we were both in awe of their live full set. They had so much energy and passion behind every song. John Michael Parker is truly one of the best performers we’ve come across. I always say that he’s a great singer but he’s an even better storyteller because their music takes you a journey.
Chris: There was something about them that really moved me. I think it was the collaborative pool of talent, and charm behind the lyrics that got me excited about them. I kept them on my radar for a while before approaching them about the series.
2.) Did you sense a serious energy shift at a particular point during your documentation of/relationship with the band?
Sara: Well there is a huge band dynamic shift at the end of episode one. I don’t want to give away too much but I think when we first approached the band they were humbled by us even wanting to document them. I think they felt like it would just be a fun experience. But when their band dynamics changed and things got really emotional and serious for them, I think they then realized that all of that would be on display in this podcast. I admire them for being as honest and straightforward as they were throughout the entire production. But that was our main goal – to portray an honest depiction of a struggling band in NYC and Great Caesar took that to heart.
Chris: Totally, and I think you can hear it in the first two episodes in particular. There’s a real sense of urgency, and a real sense of purpose from the band, and I think at the end of episode 1 the shift became a lot more palpable.
3.) A publicist points out in Ep. 4 the trouble of going into the studio with a hit song in mind. Did this ever resonate during the writing/recording of “Take Me To the River”?
Chris: I think that resonated more after the recording. I think the band, and a lot of bands for that matter, really get caught up in trying to move as fast as they can that it’s hard to really assess in real-time. I agree with Nancy Lu’s perspective, and I think that the band truly believed that “Take Me To The River” was going to be a song that propelled them to another level.
Sara: Great Caesar needed to go into writing and recording with the intent to create a hit for the podcast’s purpose but also for themselves. Their success has plateaued and knew they needed something different – a hit to propel their band to the next level. I think a lot of artists believe there’s a formula for earworms and catchy radio tracks so it’s easy to go into a studio or writing session and think that a hit song will come out of it. The pressure of doing so though it what gets in the way and could stifle that creativity.
4.) How do you feel this objective influenced the recording of “Jackson’s Big Sky” overall? Or was it just another consideration from an evolving band?
Sara: When we first started production, the song that came out of the show wasn’t suppose to land on their album. However, the band really fell in love with “Take Me To The River” and so it made the cut for their album. That was a huge surprise to us and we were thrilled. I don’t think How Hits Made directly influenced the album but I do think the themes of the show – wanting to take your band to the next level, figuring out how to make music a career, etc – were all aspects that inspired this album. I think they wanted to create music that could be enjoyed by a wider audience, music that resonated with fans, shorter songs that can translate to radio, etc.
Chris:Well, I think the collection of songs on Jackson’s Big Sky was an honest and real reflection of the band at that time. I might be biased but I like to think that this objective might have ignited the pace at which they hit the studio and released the EP.
5.) Explain what you consider to be some of the biggest struggles you witnessed during your time documenting this all. Similarly, what kind of positive realizations or opportunities arose?
Chris: I think Great Caesar was the perfect subject for the first series of this show. Their struggles were real. Dealing with major personnel issues, assessing how far you can push a creative career and trying to forecast how long you have to do that isn’t just a struggle that a musician has to deal with, it’s a struggle that most young entrepreneurs have.
I think the story of Great Caesar isn’t the story of a band that continues to struggle, but it’s more of a story about a collective of people who are using their unique resources and identities to create something larger than themselves.
6.) In your opinion, what can other indie artists writing with the ‘hit song’ in mind learn from Great Caesar’s experiences in 2016?
Sara: The guys in band say that having a band is like running a small business, if you want to make it a career you have to work at everyday like a 9-5 and not everyone has that privilege, so you need to prioritize playing and practicing after work or before class or in the morning before your significant other wakes up.
Chris: Personally I think the biggest takeaway from Great Caesar’s story is that you can’t step up to the plate swinging for the fences. You have to be realistic, and be the best you can be at what you do. If the negatives outweigh the positives, then you need to reassess why you do what you do.
7.) As curators of a music site like Play Too Much, what was the most profound lesson or realization you shared during this production, whether it’s in terms of the industry, songwriting or something else?
Sara: Making it in music is not easy. There is so many different formulas from pure luck to pure talent, to the people you work with to the studio you record at, to how you run your social media to how you perform live, etc. There’s endless opinions and that’s what I find most fascinating. Listening to different perspectives and being in awe that no one perspective is right or wrong.
Chris: The most profound lesson, and it’s probably an obvious one is that there isn’t a true formula for success. There are certain boxes you must tick in order to make progress, but to really be successful through art, it takes something much more spiritually ethereal.
8.) At the end of the day, without spoilers, how do you feel the documentation of this process influenced Great Caesar’s objectives or goals moving forward?
Sara: I definitely feel like every episode of How Hits Made was a mirror that was put in front of the band to make them take a good long look at themselves. That can’t be easy, especially if you’re already hard on yourselves. But ultimately I think that this series started out as an ode from two fans to a band that could have felt like their music didn’t mean anything to anyone and that the love this show received is a symbol that there’s a lot of people out there who believe in them and their music.
Chris: Imagine, someone put a spotlight on your life for a year analyzing the ins and outs of how you work – then crafted a compact, accessible story about it. That’s got to be incredibly insightful, no matter what your profession is. I think Great Caesar is only going to grow as they continue to create music together.
From Chris & Sara:
“We are so grateful for everyone that has listened, subscribed and shared this podcast and are grateful for all of the musicians out there that continue to create and make art every day. This podcast was intended to be a testament to all of the truly wonderful people who create art. This podcast would not have been possible without Great Caesar, Billy Donahoe, Refuge Recording, and everyone who supported. Thank you.“
Bing Crosby. James Brown. Frankie Valli. What do these three American music icons have in common with one another? Well, unfortunately it’s not their shared love of using TuneCore, or a strange collaborative album between them dropping this Friday. However it is all three of their birthdays today! So plug those headphones in and celebrate as they would have wanted you to: watching a bunch of cool TuneCore Artist music videos.