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Small is the new big, and why house concerts could save touring artists.

This post by Fran Snyder originally appeared on the blog.  Fran is a touring singer-songwriter, and founder of

House Concerts - Mozart was onto something.
Mozart was well known for performing “parlor concerts,” in the homes of rich patrons who would delight in the opportunity to show off their acquaintance with him. Things have changed, however, and you no longer need to be rich to have access to some of the finest talent available. Furthermore, many of these artists are genuinely interested in their fans, and enjoy an opportunity to connect in a way that rarely happens in traditional venues.

Breaking New Markets = Breaking the Bank
Most acts, regardless of talent, are lucky to draw 30-40 people when they play in a new area. The resources needed to get beyond those numbers are getting more expensive and less effective all the time. Publicity and radio promotion can cost many hundreds if not thousands of dollars per week, and these methods employ people to beg, bribe, or cajole overwhelmed media personnel (writers, DJs, music programmers) who can rarely make the returns worthwhile. Ask any act how many “butts in seats” result from a nice article in the paper. Few, if any. Likewise, airplay doesn’t yield much unless it is sustained. Posters and flyers? Don’t get me started.

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Musician’s SXSW South by Southwest Survival Guide 

Making the Most of Music Conferences
The Musician’s Guide to Navigating SXSW and All Other Music Conferences

Six Steps to Maximize Your Conference Experience, Make More Music-Business Contacts, and Advance Your Music Career

Over my 13 years of attending SXSW I’ve seen plenty of bands who did get a coveted showcase and not only did they not get signed, but also they did not meet any key players in the business or benefit their careers in any way by showcasing.

Reasons for this included: They received awful showcase venues and times; they were busy loading and unloading gear, babysitting band members, or getting tanked at parties to make the journey worthwhile; or they opted for their measly $100 stipend instead of for the gold: the festival pass.

Here’s my musician’s South by Southwest survival guide to get your through one of the most massive and overwhelming conferences of the year. This guide is not just for SXSW; it’s also for any music conference out there!

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Give 'em something they can feel!

On February 25, I was contacted by a woman, via instant messenger, who is a fan of my band’s music. I’m often contacted by fans. Yet there are times when I am able to “shoot the shit” with them, and there are times when I’m a bit occupied. Nonetheless I always try to give a few moments of my time to anyone who takes the time to absorb our music.

Although I’ve enjoyed speaking to each and every one of our supporters, speaking with her was one of the most inspiring and eye opening moments of my life.

She’s been unemployed since Jan, and her living conditions aren’t the best. Although she has a college degree, and appeared very articulate, she has been unable to find any work. Needless to say she wasn’t in the best of spirits.

All she really wanted to do was talk about today’s music. (In her opinion) It wasn’t very rousing, and she longed for the days when music (particularly hip hop) moved her spiritually. She proceed to tell me how our music was different and how much she connected with it.

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My song sucks? You must be an idiot! What’s the right way to review music?

Someone once told me that to negatively critique a song is like telling a mother her newborn baby is ugly. Every mother thinks her baby is cute and every artist thinks his or her latest song has (massive) unrealized potential.

Over the last year, my favorite posts on Music Think Tank were my shortest. I learned a lot, and your answers helped shape the products I worked on. The comments on the following posts were great.
Do most fans really want anything from you other than your music?
Do great songs really ever go unheard?

Now, I’m going back to the well. Music Xray is about a launch a social-network-like music submission and review utility. The application does four things:

  1. It enables music industry professionals to earn a bit of revenue through the music submission and review process.
  2. It enables song owners to get legitimate feedback quickly and inexpensively via an environment where they can review the reviewers.
  3. It exposes songs (in some cases) to the people that can connect songs to exposure opportunities.
  4. It gives Music Xray the best way to get a ton of songs professionally tagged, which will help to make all the songs in our system easier to find.

Here’s the challenge: What’s the right way to review music?

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10 Predictions for Radio's Next 5 Years

Do you remember the scene in the 1951 classic A Christmas Carol, when the Ghost of Christmas Present tells Ebenezer Scrooge that, while he sees Tiny Tim’s chair empty in a corner, “these are visions of things which maybe, not things which will be.”

Here are ten predictions for Radio’s next few years - visions of things which maybe.

1. Radio will recognize that to be more attractive than other sound-alike alternatives - to retain more of its existing audience – it must count on more than habit, convenience, familiarity, ease of use, and the often-proclaimed almost-universal reach of the medium, since all those advantages are transitory. 

2. The advantage of “local” will diminish in direct proportion to the disappearance of local content on stations - and here I’m talking about the local content between the songs (the very stuff that makes the PPM meters tank). 

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What successful Internet marketers know and what musician marketers don't

Most Internet marketers make money online, most musician marketers don’t.

The Backstory – The Big Seminar
My journey into the world of Internet marketing, began when I attended an Internet marketing conference and saw one of the keynote speakers. Armand is a bubbly and enthusiastic man from South Carolina; he makes a fortune in the world of internet marketing, and he not only markets things that help him make money, he teaches people how to do it themselves.

Armand is also a musician and his alter ego is Micheal Lee Austin. When I saw him speak, he walked us through how he took took himself to the top of the Billboard charts using his own online marketing strategy. He sold thousands of CD’s using his own techniques. I was so intrigued I wanted to learn how he did it, so I signed up to study with him via a series of online courses and they came with a ticket to his “Big seminar” in Atlanta.

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Sell More Cds at Shows By Not Naming the Price

I recently posted about discovering a wonderful band called Arizona. I found them while attending PopAsheville in January and I wrote - “I was invited to give the keynote speech this year. I spent an hour reminding the musicians in attendance that they are no longer in the music business, they are in the T-shirt business and they all seemed to agree. They also agreed that the music industry is not hurting, it’s the cd business that is in decline.” The whole post is here.

I am not being facetious when I say that bands are in the T-shirt business as I believe very strongly that as music slips down to zero in dollar value then artists must move quickly to find different ways to make money from their art.

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practicing with limitations

practicing with limitations

I see many musicians (especially young ones) getting frustrated with practicing. there are two main reasons for this.

for one, musicians are overwhelmed by the many possibilities and the number of materials to study. they ask “what should I practice?”, they don’t see the wood for the trees.

others complain about not having enough time to really practice deeply because they have a huge load of responsibilities everyday and at night they’re too tired to focus.

“what” and “when” are the most commonly asked questions.

this post is about the “what” but it will also help to get the “when” under control. (I’ll post a seperate article about the “when” later)

practicing is actually very simple if you follow one simple principle.

keep it simple by applying limitations!

I spent 8 years studying music at conservatories in germany, the netherlands and the usa. I’ve gotten so much advise from teachers, musicians, friends and audiences, I still wouldn’t know where to start hadn’t I come up with a solution. it’s a simple solution, too.


limitaion leads to simplicity.

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MIDEM Conference Video Interviews

Last month, (January 2009), I went to the MIDEM Conference in France. The largest music business conference in Europe.

I went two years ago and didn’t like it, because it was just a lot of suits talking to suits. Very old-boy network. But, like I did with PopKomm, I tried to be the eyes and ears of my musician clients, bringing my video camera around to every company that was exhibiting there, and asking them questions from a musician’s point of view.

So, here are the edited videos from 13 companies that seemed worth talking to - and the URL for each.

Whether they can help you directly or not is up to you, but I hope you find it interesting, either way.

If you are a self-promoting musician, I don’t recommend attending MIDEM. It’s better than it used to be, and is worth it for bigger companies to attend, but still not an ideal use of your money and time.

For a more objective overview of what went on at MIDEM 2009, read this write-up by my buddy Hal Bringman.

Click to read more ...


Artist Path to Market Post #2: Navigating the Hype Machine

[This is the second in my series of posts about the artist-to-fan relationship]

Ah the one hit wonder. It’s a music industry staple isn’t it? Great one-off hits have lit up the charts for as long as the charts have existed, cultivating a love-hate relationship with the public. Everyone should have a personal favourite.

Mine is ‘I Am The Beat’ by The Look, which sadly, reveals mostly nothing much but my age. It charted in the UK at number 6 in 1980 and had nice shades of The Jam and XTC. And wonder of wonders, a quick Google entry, and it is right there on YouTube. An amazing 39,152 (and steadily rising!) views, reassures me that I am not alone. It’s had 4,426 plays on (slowly rising) and was re-released as a download in May 2006. The miracle of the internet - it has opened up a world of discovery and fun for nostalgia fans at least.

Of course, no serious artist wants to be a one hit wonder, quite the opposite. Even if artists don’t seek fame, fortune, adoration & idolation, at the very least, they might quite like to have, well, a sustainable career. But with the traditional ‘Route 1’ to market – i.e. signing a label deal – undergoing something of a re-appraisal, do digital channels open up a genuine new route to a sustainable career for artists? Yes and no, too early to tell.

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Real in-store CD distribution: still working for anybody?

A musician emailed me today, asking my advice on choosing a physical distributor. He was considering paying big money to one company who promised to get it on the shelves of record stores, or another who would take a big cut, or using CD Baby’s in-store distribution (

Here’s my advice to him.  Feel free to critique it.  I’m curious to hear any replies from people who have had success with real in-store distribution recently.

The big question is:

How many people are going into physical stores (shopping malls, etc) - looking for your CD - and are unable to buy it?

Are those people truly unable to buy your CD, and give up before looking online?

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How to Set and Reach Your Music Goals

The fifth term of my “Music Marketing 101” class at recently wrapped up. The twelfth and final assignment asks students to create a 12-month marketing plan they can use in the real world.

Most students do a great job with it. But it amazes me how many include goals such as:

Book a lot more live shows.”
Sell a buttload of CDs and music downloads.”

Hmm …

Let me ask you: Exactly how many is a “buttload”? How do you know when you have arrived at buttload status? And how much is “more”?

Click to read more ...


Music artists your route to market is as easy as A, B, C...

“For all it may be a workable and pragmatic model, a teenager miming with a tennis racket in front of the mirror is hardly dreaming about running a small business with low overheads and low expectations”.

Alexis Petridis, The Guardian, from “This song was brought to you by…” April 2008.

It’s never been easy for pop musicians who are not yet popular. A few years back, a friend of mine delightedly, excitedly told me his mate’s band (UK indie hopeful’s Vega 4) had at last been signed by a label in the US - a major in fact, Capitol. What did I think about that? My response was inevitably, rather muted. “Do let him know when you congratulate him that his chances of a sustainable career in the music industry have just improved, to roughly 1%”.

Since I was The King of Music Industry Stats at the time, he couldn’t really argue. The percentage I quoted was the appropriate one – the chances of releasing a record and going to Gold sales, and therefore, being in with a shout of getting a second album with real momentum behind it. It didn’t happen for Vega 4, even though the band was unusually fortunate to get a second bite of the cherry when they signed in the UK with Columbia 18 months later. They sunk with barely a trace.

That was back in 2005/6. Fast forward just a few years, and the music industry landscape for a new band has become even more crowded, competitive and complex. With an increasing groundswell against the idea of signing with a label (at least in the traditional sense) - but a rapidly fragmenting media landscape making any other route look bewildering - what exactly is the best route to market for a new artists these days?

Two HUGE questions face you:

Click to read more ...


Inspiring quotes about making music

Do you have some quotes that inspire you, as you make your own music?

I’ve always loved those little thoughts that would inspire me to dig deeper in my songwriting, try new sounds in the studio, or listen to music in a new way.

A few years ago, I collected these quotes into a simple website:

It’s there for two reasons:

  1. inspire other musicians (you!)
  2. collect other thoughts about music

I think you’ll love this new update: I hired professional translators to translate MusicThoughts into nine languages: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Arabic, Japanese, and Chinese.

Look again, and play with the language bar across the top:

If you are fluent in any of these languages, please notice that below every translated quote is a link that says, “Can you improve this translation?” Example, here:

If you can’t see the Asian fonts, this link will tell you how to fix that:

After browsing around the site for a while, if you’ve got a favorite quote that inspires your music-making, please add it to the site. I’m not trying to make this a big site of all thoughts about music - just a simple quiet place with a few of the most inspiring ones.

Feel free to bookmark or link to any you love. The URLs are permanent, so it’ll always be there for you.