How to Maintain your Most Valuable Instrument: Your Voice

            Whether on tour or recording an album it is vital to keep your voice in tip top shape. For independent artists it is particularly important to be self-aware and monitor what you are doing to your voice. There are several tips in particular to keep in mind.

Get the Basics  

In between all the excitement of doing what we need to do to make our music successful, don’t forget the simple things to maintain your voice and yourself. Make sure to sleep well, eat right, stay hydrated, and do regular vocal exercises to keep to chords loose. These simple things can make the difference dome show time.

Self-Confidence Makes a Difference

In a recent Billboard article celebrity vocal coach Mark Baxter explained his best tips for vocal artists. One of the main points he emphasized was the importance for singers to be confidence to get that optimal sound. Baxter explained, “Doubt creates tension and coordination issues. And each one of them individually is what lessons target: throat tension, jaw, tounge.

Watch out for Nodes

Another major point Baxter mentioned was to look out for nodes. He describes that, “Nodes are calluses that form on the edge of the vocal folds, and [they come] from too much friction, too much pushing. It will go away if you stop the friction, but if you don’t, they’ll get bigger and thicker.” It is your job to keep track of the stress you put on your vocals.

Don’t Scream A lot

Now if you are in a hardcore scream rock band this note does not apply, and my prayers go out to your vocals chords. Yet, for everyone else, it is not healthy for your chords to do a lot of screaming. The most important thing to keep in mind on this note is to be aware of what your body is telling you and to not over strain yourself.

Lessons are Worth it

Whether you are a band in your basement or hitting the big time, voice lessons are always worth it. Lessons aid you into developing your voice into a full fledge instrument. Also, lessons can help to facilitate the ideas you have in mind to sing. This can help to expand vocal creativity and control.

 

How One Man Is Trying to Profit from Amy Winehouse Tragedy

                It has only been a few weeks since the tragic loss of Amy Winehouse and already there are those wrongfully attempting to profit from her death. Martin McCann, an internet “squatter”, has purchased the domain name Amywinehousefoundation.com. An internet squatter purchases domain names in order to sell it back at a great profit, or in the case of Martin McCann, profit from the death of a musician.  McCann purchased the site hours after Amy Winehouse’s father, Mitch, said he had plans to begin a Drug Addiction Treatment Center in her name. Mitch posted a harsh but honest tweet about McCann in saying, “We have to put pressure on this d—head who stole our foundation name. . . Our solicitors are all over this but it takes time.”

                In response to this McCann told the Sun, “I’m not exploiting anything yet, I’ve just bought some domain names. Anybody could have. It only takes the click of a mouse. I’m not ashamed or embarrassed. Detach yourself from emotions and think business.” That is his philosophy to live by, ignore any sense of morality as long as it makes money. McCann also has prevented Mitch from setting up a bank account for the Foundation by registering the name with the U.K. agency Companies House. This has forced a grieving father to return the donations for the Foundation to the fans.

                These actions and response by McCann reflects exactly what is wrong with the music business today. The greed for money is greater than the love for music, respect for the artists, and even sense of morality. McCann’s first thought upon hearing the singer’s late father is starting an Amy Winehouse Foundation must have been, “Hmmm how can I profit from this beautiful musicians death.” And the worst part is that he justifies it to himself with saying “Detach yourself from emotions…” because it is just business. Yet, he is blind to the fact that this is not ‘just business’ to the grief-stricken father.

                Musicians need people in the industry who are there because of their love of music, not their love of money. And I would ask McCann to put himself in Mr. Winehouse’s position to realize the pain he is causing him. Rest in peace Amy. Find out more about Amy Winehouse at her official website http://www.amywinehouse.com/.

The 4 P’s of Music Marketing

“Oh The Times They Are A-Changin

                                                                  —Bob Dylan

Thinking again of your music as a brand, there are Four P’s to Marketing Your Music: People, Product, Place, and Promotion.

  • People: Think of the target group of people, whether in age, behavioral, demographic, etc. that would appreciate your music and how your efforts will attract and expand that fan base.
  • Product: Define the unique benefits of your musical product to the consumer. Physical products include the obvious– like albums and concert tickets. Yet, your music as a brand represents a certain need from your listeners. Whether that need is to laugh, dance, cry, think, or question, is for you as an independent artist to decide. The better you understand the need you fulfill for your listeners, the greater appeal your musical product has. 
  • Place: The places where you sell your product. This can include concerts, street corners, CD retailers, or digital/online platforms. Some people say that ‘Digital Killed the Radio Star,’ but digital media simply provide a new means to sell. Take advantage of this new opportunity and be creative with ways that online platforms can expand your number fans. Recently, a popular independent artist named Mikey Wax offered his new album as a free download through Facebook in exchange for importing Facebook contacts into the fan page. Another independent band, featured in Billboard magazine last month, conducted a photo contest online for fans to get band stickers in the craziest places and post the pictures on the band website. The winning fan won a special signed album, merchandise, and tickets. It is unique ideas like this that allow independent artists to fully exploit the new place for music that the internet provides.    
  • Promotion: Promotion is the various marketing techniques used to advance your music, whether in printed advertisement, public relations, direct marketing, or social networking.

In a changing music environment it is vital to maintain multiple diverse revenue streams. Also, these revenue streams can help build a band fund which pays for recording time, concert expenses, and further promotion efforts.

  • Both online and physical sales of music, merchandising, and concert tickets, music Subscription and other music royalties, ad revenue sharing, cobranding, and benefit concerts expand awareness while creating revenue for your band. These revenue streams are all utilized by major artists to maintain their financial success.

In an ever changing music industry, it is critical to remain up to date on the most recent changes and developments in the industry. Subscribing to music magazines and following blogs, as you already do, are great ways to stay in touch with the industry. Additionally asking friends, family, fellow artists, music engineers, artist managers, venues, and whoever else will listen, opinions about your music is extremely valuable. The fact is, you don’t know what you don’t know. Therefore, you never know how a person’s assistance or insight from any background, musical or otherwise, could help you in getting your music heard. Remaining open to criticism is how an artist is able to continually grow. Taking the best advice on your music and integrating it into your own unique style can take you from indie to legendary.

What Does It Mean To Be An Independent Artist?

“My Independence Seems To Vanish In The Haze”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      –The Beatles

            In today’s music industry, many are unclear as to what it means to be an independent artist. The most basic definition of an independent music artist is a undiscovered group that is not signed to one of the big four labels. Artists under the big four record labels, Sony, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, and EMI are generally defined as “Major Signed” artists. Beyond the major label artists, independent artists include everyone from the high school music prodigy who is dropping his first album to the accomplished indie artist who now owns his own label to maintain creative control over his music. According to SoundScan, the company responsible for tracking music sales, independent music makes up 18% of the total music market share.

Yet, the ambiguous definition of what it means to be an independent artist has led some to refer to major label artists as independent based on their sound, genre, or the type of fans the artist attracts. A primary difference between these “major label” independent artists (for lack of a non-paradoxical term) is that they have multi-million dollar promotion and music budgets funded by the label that signed them. This extra marketing cabbage makes it difficult for newer artists to gain attention and exposure among the clutter of major artists. Independent artists tend to have smaller production, promotion, and distribution budgets than their signed counterparts, and, for that reason, there are several unique tips Independent Artists need to know. The philosophers, Wu Tang Clan, explored this important message when they said “Cash Rules Everything Around Me, C.R.E.A.M. get the money, dollar dollar bill yall”.

Quality Songs: One of the great benefits of being an independent artist is the artistic freedom. Independent labels and artists are able to explore lyrical content and innovative musical styles that are excluded from the mainstream. As an artist, take that opportunity to express yourself in your lyrics and your own individuality in your music. Our music, and all other art we create, is a reflection of our own unique experience. Do not be afraid to try something new, experiment with different ways of wording or singing your lyrics and composition. The reason we all know Lupe Fiasco’s name now in the hip hop game is because he had the courage to release “Kick, Push,” a song about skateboarding, at a time when everyone and their mother was rapping about money and bling. The point is, there are no rules for what a song can be about or how it is done, so be open to the fluid process that is the art of crafting the song. Once the music and lyrics are all finalized, it’s time to practice, practice, practice. And then once you finish practicing, practice some more. The most legendary songs of all time, whether it is incredible guitar solos or singing of revolutionary lyrics at unbelievable pitches, all have flawless execution. It is the practice before those artists are ever heard that make their music so excellent that it will have eternal cultural significance. The best tip I ever got regarding practice, besides doing a lot of it, is that every artist should practice like they are performing in front of an audience. Doing this during practice ensures that when you are recording or performing you will bring the same or more energy from when you practice. This also keeps an artist from developing bad performance tendencies like being off pitch, having poor body language, or miscommunicating timing of the music between band members.

Quality Recording: Once the song is fully developed, it is time to get into the recording studio to prepare either a demo or album for live shows and individual sales. In the past decade, there has been a huge expansion in the quality and number of home recording. Depending on the type of sound you want to achieve and the budget at your discretion for a home studio, a home recording solution can be excellent with proper music production knowledge. Also, there are small unidirectional music recorders that cost less than $100. However, if you are a poor college student like myself or if you don’t have $1500 dollars lying around to build a home studio, there are plenty of independent labels and recording studios for indie artists (usually costs between $25-$75 per hour). As this is a common option for independent artists, having plenty of prior practice and a clear schedule of what will be recorded is crucial to minimize recording time and costs. Also when recording, put your full energy into the song as if you were performing at Madison Square Garden; you never know who might hear that recording. That person could be the one who gives you that big break just from hearing the potential in your voice. After all, that is essentially the story of how we found out about Eminem, and it is often that friend of a friend in the industry that can help the most. And finally, once the recording is completed and mastered, it is important to attain copyright for your music at http://uspto.com/ or at least a “poor man’s copyright”. Poor man’s copyright is when you use registered dating from a postal service as proof of ownership and creation date. You get this Poor Man’s Copyright by sending yourself a copy of your album with an official date stamp which then verifies when you put the work in physical form. Disclaimer; poor man’s copyright does not provide all the benefits of true copyright and should only be used as a last resort.

Quality Management: When first starting out, an independent artist will often times need to function as musician, singer/songwriter, publisher, label, manager, and promoter. However, there is a great value to having a manager outside of the band. A designated manager for your band not only functions as a point person for band activities, but also acts as an objective promoter in the minds of consumers and business sponsors. I can tell you all day how great I am, yet it is legitimized by having a manager to represent the band. However, if the band is not yet ready to sacrifice the standard 10% of revenue for permanent management then there are two options. First, the band can appoint an “acting manager” who is a friend or family member who fulfills the functional need for a manager yet does not gain control of band or revenues. The second option is for the band to self-manage by each member having a band leader or equal control between members of band decisions. The most important thing is that a band has a clear image of how decisions are made and who to contact to discuss further opportunities. Also, whatever management structure is determined to be best suited, it is important that the management team is effectively meeting the aspirations of the band. The value of having a manager is that they act as a spokesperson to promote the brand of your music. Employing management who think of your band and music as a brand that is being marketed, can help in constructing promotion goals that takes your band to the next level.

Quality Performance: Prior to any performance it is crucial to do a run through and sound-check to ensure that the music quality is optimal. Organizing special deals with the venue or bar can be an effective way to draw a crowd for your shows. Also, it is important to have albums, t-shirts, and other merchandise to sell at shows. During the performance, act like you are expressing it for the first time. Think of the moment that made you write the song in the first place and convey from your heart the emotions you have connected to the song. In performance, there is nothing more important than for the performer to keep the piece fresh. The same emotion and involvement in performing music is what makes a performance all the more captivating.