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Good Things to Know

OK, the first CRUMBS Night Out panel discussion—the music critic panel—was a blast. We were still going strong after 75 minutes, answering a ton of questions. The conversation was more philosophical than I was expecting, but that’s where it wanted to go.

Next Thursday (Nov. 13), Scientific Maps will perform, followed by a panel talking about licensing music to TV and movies. While we’re blessed with a couple local commercial radio stations and a bunch of college stations that regularly play local music, for the most part radio’s dead and irrelevant in terms of getting music heard. These days more songs break, and more money is made, on television shows and commercials and in movies. Find out how it works from Steve Ellis, president of online music-placement service Pump Audio, musician and music publisher Gary Burke, television composer Rich Tozzolli, music attorney Paul Czech, and yours truly. If you’re a recording musician you want to be here.

This being Metroland’s Local Music Issue and all, I’m gonna list some things a local musician ought to be thinking about:

Look beyond Albany. Listen, being the king or queen of Lark Street doesn’t mean squat, unless your primary goal is getting laid. Open your eyes; we’re within three hours from a couple a dozen markets roughly the size of the Capital District, and a couple of major markets. Go to them, even if the trips are money-losers to start.

Demos. Don’t submit “demo versions” of songs hoping to get some kind of deal. You can circulate demos to fans (in fact, that’s a really powerful way to keep your fans engaged), but when you want to really make a move, take the time and make a recording that’s ready to ship. With decent recording studios on everybody’s laptop, it’s not a money issue anymore.

Record deals. A record deal doesn’t need to be your goal. You can do it all yourself. You really can. There’s plenty of good reasons you might wanna be on a label, but it’s not the only path anymore. And for a lot of you, it’s probably not the best path.

Internet. There’s no such thing as working the Internet too hard. A major music consultant recently suggested that any serious band should have one full non-performing member whose job it is to work the Internet. These days, the number of MySpace hits matters; the number of fans you can blast matters; you have the ability to have a one-on-one relationship with your fans. Have it.

Competition. Don’t diss other bands on the scene. That’s small-time crawfish-in-the-bucket stuff (see Look beyond Albany, above). If your big “competition” on the scene gets signed and goes double platinum, guess where the labels are gonna be sniffing for their next big thing?

Collectivise. One of the really exciting trends I’m seeing is local music collectives, groups of artists that pool resources and expertise and act as DIY labels and event producers (see page 18 for an example). Create your own scene, share expertise in graphics and production, share equipment and music talent, cross-pollinate fans. One of you breaks, everybody’s connected. Who knows? Your cheap-wine apartment-based music collective could be tomorrow’s major indie label.

Free works. Understand that payment for music is more or less voluntary these days, so don’t be stingy about giving your tracks away from time to time. Would you rather have 1000 free copies of your song on peoples’ iPods, or 10 copies people paid you 99 cents for? Which alternative is more valuable to you in the long run?

Work your fans. Involve them, engage them, feed them information, make them part of your world. There’s a theory floating around that if your band has 1000 real fans per band member, you can make a comfortable living. And I’m sure you can squeak by with a lot less than that.

Learn about the biz. These days, being the aloof artiste, man, just doesn’t cut it. You have to understand how the business works, where the money comes from, how royalties work. Read a book like Don Passman’s All You Need to Know About the Music Business. Once you understand how this stuff works, you can pretend to be the aloof artiste, man, with confidence, ’til the cows come home. Knock yourself out.

—Paul Rapp

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