free-geek

because cool kids are boring

A wishlist from a fan

with 2 comments

Artist: Jawbreaker
Song: Tour Song
Album: Bivouac
(lyrics)

Last week Shael Riley started a thread over on Rhymetorrents asking for financial advice from mc chris. The thread eventually dissolved into the typical stupid infighting bullshit that plagues Rhymetorrents, so I didn’t bother reading all of it, but the idea did stick in my head. While I’m not a rapper or producer or DJ, I am a fan. So, as a fan, this is a list of the things that I would like to see to make it easier for me to give people money.

Before I get into things a few notes,

1) The below list is intended as constructive criticism. Please do not take any of the below as any kind of diss. Yes, I’m going to mention people by name based on the dealings I’ve had. This should not be taken as a slap against them. These are just observations. It is a fact that sometimes you don’t know you may not be doing something the best way until someone comes along and points it out. That’s all this is. Me expressing my opinions on what I’ve seen. Take them as you will.

2) This list is intended as a wish list. Some of these things will not be doable for some artists due to limited resources. That’s cool.

3) From the above thread, it is obvious that a lot of artists are solely into nerdcore for the fun of it and don’t care about money at all. In my opinion, that’s probably the best way to approach it. Hopefully though, there will be something that you can take from this list as well.

Bottom line, this is just me expressing my opinions. The intention is not to say this is how it needs to be done. Instead, I hope that this will get artists to may be think about how they do things and how they may be able to do it better. You can have the greatest music in the world. If the network supporting it is shit, then you won’t go to far.

OK, enough hedging my bets, lets get down to business.

1) One of the comments that mc chris made was “you can’t download a t-shirt” I found this kind of interesting. Years ago, while I was still in the jamband scene, I worked merch at a bunch of shows. Including managing the merch table at a half dozen festivals (meaning I ended up selling merch for 10-15 bands per festival). In my experience, I sold may be one t-shirt for every 20-30 CDs that I sold, and that’s being conservative. Now, that was a long time ago and a whole other scene with different opinions on merch, so who knows how worth while that bit of knowledge is now. The point is though, don’t underestimate the importance of printing CDs. Especially if you are doing shows.

If you are doing shows, hopefully there are people in the audience who’ve never heard you before. Yeah you can tell them from the stage that they can go download the CD from some web site. Just because the CD is free to download though, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have some available for purchase.

To download the show the person has to go all the way home with out forgetting your name, which can be harder then you think depending on how messed up they are at the show (you have no idea how many people I’ve sold CDs to after they stumbled up to the merch table and told me what they wanted through heavily slurred speech) or how memorable your show really was. Then they have to get on line. Then they have to find the web site (even if they do remember your name, the chances of them remembering a url are pretty bad). Then they have to download the tracks. And if you’re using RAR? They probably don’t have that software on their machine, so they have go find that as well. Now, they’re contending with their download speeds and how much space they have left on their hard drive.

Let’s be blunt here. Unless someone was really impressed by your performance, they probably aren’t going to bother 9 times out of 10.

On the other hand, if you’ve got CDs to sell, and announce from the stage that hey, the album is available for free to download or over at the merch table for $10 (or whatever), a lot more of those casual fans will wonder over to the merch table and throw down the $10 that they didn’t spend on beer before last call. It is an impulse buy for them. The thing is that they now have something to remember you. The Minutemen used to view records as fliers. They were just a way to remind the crowd who you were after you had left their town and to keep their interest until you came back. The album had to be good, since it was all they had until you came back, but it wasn’t an end in and of itself. Its a good philosophy to have if you’re planning on doing shows.

Bottom line here is that just because you’re giving a CD away for free, doesn’t mean people still won’t buy it. Despite what the RIAA has told you, the actual research on the subject (i.e. the studies that the RIAA didn’t pay for) shows that small indie artists actually sell more CDs when they give their music away. For small artists, people don’t just buy CDs for the music, they also buy CDs to show their support of the artist.

2) Make it easy for people to sample your shit. I’m going to pick on Ultraklystron here first, because I’m going to compliment him later. This is Karl’s site, it is the first hit when you search for Ultraklystron in Google. Now look at the site and tell me where to find two pieces of information. First, where does it tell you how to buy his first album? Second, where can you sample the tracks from his first album to see if you want to buy the album? The first is easy to find. There’s a nice paypal link right there at the top. The second, not so easy. It’s about three quarters of the way down on the sidebar.

If you’re going to go through the trouble of putting mp3s of your music on your site (and I’ll love you for it), then go that extra mile and make them brain dead easy to find. This is why most artist web sites have a specific section set aside for mp3s and videos. It makes it really easy for fans to find what they are looking for when they hit your site.

Sub point, let’s call it 2.1, put together a decent web site. I’m sorry but I fracking hate having to deal with the sites for mc chris or MC Lars. Both look pretty but are functionally horrible. Instead of getting into the why’s, Merlin Mann did a nice write up awhile ago on his 43 Folders Blog. The comments there are worth a read as well.

3) Don’t sell what you don’t have to sell. OK, time to pick on Beefy. Why? Because everyone picks on Beefy and I want to get in on it. Seriously, from what I’ve seen, he’s the first one to step in this one, but I’m sure he won’t be the last. Back at the end of December it occurred to me that I was digging his new album, which I’d downloaded off his site, and, being a record geek, I wanted to have a copy of it. So, I purchased a copy through his site. A couple weeks later I watched a vidlog of an interview that Beefy gave to someone. In the interview he talks about how he’d burned a couple copies of his CD and was surprised when they all sold, since he was giving the album away for free. And even more surprised when they kept selling. He also mentioned how he was trying to burn more to fill the orders but was running into time constraints. I saw this interview and wrote off ever getting the CD. I already had the music on the CD and really I just wanted to buy it to show my support so I just forgot about it. A lot of people wouldn’t though.

It is tempting with CDR technology to just burn what you need, when you need it. Sell one CD, burn one CD. Then life gets in the way. Things start happening and the next thing you know you don’t have time, or energy, to burn the CDs that you need to burn to fill your orders and the orders start piling up. The problem is that this annoys fans. Those fans then think twice before ordering from you again. Even worse, they tell other people about their negative experience and suddenly your problem is solved because a lot less people are buying your CDs. Instead, burn a bunch of CDs and then sell them. When that batch sells out, take down the paypal link and put up a note saying that you’ll burn more soon. Then, after you get another batch burned, make a big announcement about how they’re back in print again. It isn’t uncommon for albums by indie artists to go in and out of print. You could even use it to your advantage, telling media folks how your first album sold out in a week. Who needs to tell them that you only burned 20 copies. Do what you can to keep the albums in print as much as possible though. People want to give you money, let them!

4) Send out orders asap. If you’re selling merch through your web site, then you need to ship out your orders as soon as possible. I mentioned before that I would be complimenting Karl, and this is where. When I placed an order for his first CD, I promptly received it in the mail a week or two later. Because of that, I’m practically chomping at the bit to give him my money for Romance Language. There is a certain level of risk for people when they place orders online. Especially when they’re dealing on the indie level. I have no idea if you haven’t sent me the CD because of understandable problems on your end or because you’re just ripping me off. By sending out orders right away, you create a level of trust with the person placing the order. That trust means they’ll be more likely to order from you again in the future.

When people respond to the question of why they bother to still buy music from stores, even though they may be able to get it cheaper online, the most common answer given is that they want to listen to the music now. Not, the three to four weeks it takes for an online order to show up. So, the quicker you can get them the order the better. An example of what I mean here. There’s a record label/distributor out in AZ called Eclipse Records. I once placed an order with Eclipse at around 1AM on Friday night/Saturday morning. I received the order on Monday. That means the order was probably filled before dawn on Saturday morning and dropped off at the post office first thing in the morning (remember, no post office service on Sunday) This is actually pretty common with Eclipse, their orders always arrive with in two to three days of my payment. Because of this, I LOVE ordering from Eclipse. And when I’m in the mood to buy the type of music that they sell, I don’t hesitate to place an order with them. Since I know that I’ll have the music in my hand so quickly. Plus, I love supporting a business that is so involved in making sure that I’m happy with the service. I’m not saying you should fill orders with in hours of receiving them, but try to be prompt. I order a lot of albums from indie labels and Karl’s week or two delivery time was extremely professional.

5) Don’t make me jump through hoops to check you out. I realize that a lot of artists can’t afford to put their songs up on a web site for people to download. If your trying to make money off of this though, it really needs to be something to work towards. Unless your song is just super catchy, it is probably going to take me a little time to get into it and understand the full scope of your brilliance. Let me download the song and listen to it while I’m driving, or at work, or doing what ever. Let me fall in love with your music where I am most likely to fall in love with your music. Also, once I have fallen in love with your music, let me promote the living shit out of your music. Let me link to it on my blog or send emails to my friends telling them they that have to check this track out. If you’re creating music that I love, then I’d love nothing more then to pimp the living shit out of it. Please, let me.

Which brings me to something that I just have to say. Myspace? Fracking sucks! Worst abomination on the web since the invention of the blink tag.

I realize that for many people myspace is the only option to getting their music on the web. And hey, something is better then nothing. That said, using myspace as the primary way to let people hear your music when you have a choice, is not a smart move. The difference here is me being able to tell someone to click a link and sit back and enjoy the music. Versus having to tell someone to click a link, then click this other link, then wait for the track to buffer, then listen to the track until the buffer runs out, then, once the buffer has filled up again, listen to the rest of the track. This doesn’t help me promote you. In most cases, people won’t bother with the second option.

Bottom line here is, please, let me make you bigger then Jesus. I really really want to.

As an aside here, I’ve noticed that a lot of the nerdcore tracks on myspace do not have downloading enabled. Now, since I don’t have a myspace account, I have no idea if there is a reason behind this or not, but considering the prevailing opinion in the nerdcore scene on downloading music (i.e. it is a good thing) I thought this was kind of odd. If you’re tracks aren’t available anywhere else and it doesn’t cost you anything to enable downloading, could you do me a favor and let me download them please? I’d appreciate it.

Jesus this has gotten long! I guess I had more to say then I realized. OK, one last point then I’ll wrap this up.

6) You’re my bitch! Sorry, but that just struck me as funny, not sure why. It is true though. If you are trying to make money off your music, then you are constantly in debt to your fans. They are the ones paying your rent and putting food in your stomach. Its important to treat them right and make sure they realize that you appreciate it.

A little story to illustrate. Back in the early days of what would become the jamband scene most of the big name acts were signed to major labels (Phish, Blues Traveler, Spin Doctors, even Aquarium Rescue Unit). One of the marvels that the labels could never wrap their heads around was that all of these bands allowed their fans to record their shows (which were universally seen as superior to their studio albums) and yet they still posted strong album sales. The labels could never figure out how they did this. Well, the secret was known as taper’s tax. We, the fans, knew that the bands had gone to bat for us over the whole recording shows thing. Labels did not like this practice and constantly tried to stop it. The bands had our back though, and we knew it. And so, the community created the process of taper’s tax. Taper’s tax was a unwritten agreement between the bands and the fans. If you collected shows from a band, then you bought their studio albums. You may never listen to those albums, but you bought them just the same. It was our way of helping to support the bands and to say thank you for them going to bat for us. On the other hand, bands that gave into label demands and limited or cut off recording of their shows, suffered swift retribution, as all but the hardcore moved on to other groups.

The moral is, take care of your fans and they will be more then happy to take care of you. Abandon your fans, and they’ll follow suit.

Alright, that’s it. Thanks for putting up with all of this for those of you who actually did. This turned out to be a lot longer then I expected. Hopefully it was worth your time.

Two quick notes before finally signing off:

One, I mentioned the Minutemen up above. For anyone looking to turn “pro” I’d recommend heading down to your local library and checking out a copy of Our Band Could Be Your Life, then read the section on the Minutemen. There’s some good info in there.

Two, the relevance of the above song. Considering the subject if felt appropriate. If you’re going to go pro, then you’ll probably do some touring. It is important to keep in mind, touring can suck. Plus, its a great song.

Written by Matt

February 13th, 2007 at 6:00 pm

Posted in Nerdcore,Thoughts