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Tuesday
Oct022012

Where Is Everyone? Why Albums Make Little Sense For New Artists

 

When you first start out, the path to music fame and fortune seems pretty straightforward.

Not because you necessarily know what to do, but because of what history tells you. Write some songs, play them live, and record an album. Then you get signed and fame and fortune flows.  The problem with this is the music landscape has changed and this template is now largely outdated.

It stands to reason that getting signed is going to be tough. We’re in a recession and the record labels are still waging a war against music piracy, where one in four of us are still downloading illegally. Making money from music is tough. But that’s not the only part of this template that is broken.

For new, unsigned, or self-funded artists the idea of making an album is likely to be out of reach. It’s a format that makes little sense. Producing an album takes time, money, promotion and skill. As a new artist the reality is you probably don’t have any of these.

As an unsigned, or self released artist it can feel like you have all the time in the world. There is no time pressure from a label or publisher to record. The only time pressures are the ones you put on yourself, or so it seems.

However, the moment you set up a Facebook account it’s the equivalent of starting to write a book in the most public of ways, with your fans as your readers. So imagine if your favourite author started writing a book then stopped, and disappeared for 6 months, or longer.  How long would it be before you lost patience, and went in search of a new author or book to read?

One of the biggest challenges facing a new artist is growing an engaged fan base and the key to achieving this is momentum driven by regular band activity. So if you are planning to take the next 6 months to a year off to write and record an album ensure you have a plan in place to continue to talk with your fans. If you just stop and expect them to still be there patiently waiting when you return from a year of writing you’ll be sadly mistaken.

Recording an album costs money, so unless you have rich parents, or happen to be friends with a producer who has his own recording studio, the associated costs can soon start to spiral. If you don’t have the money there are various solutions including fan funding, which could provide a solution.  If you do decide to go down this route, it’s essential you factor in the cost to promote the album you produce.

If you don’t you can easily find yourself in this doomsday scenario….

It’s two years since your last release. Finally you have enough material and enough money to record the perfect album. You have attracted a named producer and the record is sounding great. But your fans have deserted you and have lost interest. You have no money to promote the record to radio or the music press. The release date edges ever closer. Labels aren’t interested in releasing it because they haven’t seen any signs of life or fan engagement. The album finally comes out, but by then it’s too late, the music press have moved on to the next hot new thing.

So what’s the proposed alternative? Regular bursts of activity, whether that’s singles, EPs, video led releases or even tours. Anything to keep your name at the forefront of peoples’ minds, building momentum and interest. If you are lucky enough to attract a label, let them worry about making and promoting an album. Until then keep things simple.

Mark Knight runs Right Chord Music (RCM), a music management and consultancy business that works with unsigned bands and independent artists. Alongside a new music blog, RCM offers a range of resources to help independent artists; including music distribution, production and a unique Pay As You Go management service. RCM aims to bring the discipline of brand marketing to music marketing, helping artists promote their music in a more effective way.

Reader Comments (15)

I think you're right. Albums are expensive for the Indies. They do have a role to play, however, if the singles are doing well. Albums, or even physical CDs could be made using the singles, then adding "bonus material" that isn't available for downloading. It's a thought. Different things work for different groups/artists, so just have to experiment to see what works for one's self. Thanks for the insight on keeping the crowds around and keeping the pressure off at the same time. Much appreciated!

October 2 | Unregistered CommenterBR

Well there are some points I do agree with. Producing a record, spreading it via some social networks and doing nothing more is quite useless. Continuity is THE KEY for keeping in touch with fans and generate awareness. So, posting fotos and little videos BEFORE and WHILE you are recording the album is a propper way to get attention. After the release you should keep posting material of livegigs, record the release gig for example and post a song every week. Some artists start polls like "which is your favourite song" or make gifts like "send us a photo with "whatever" and the best 10 photos get the album for free". Of course the winner have to post a photo showing them WITH the album, so content is user generated. It's clever too, to upload some songwritings or raw recordings and ask the fans for feedback.
So we are in the year 2012 and yes, producing a high end album is still expensive BUT today you can create a good track with a little knowledge and a DAW and a MAC or PC, so there will always be some way to feed the fans untill the next album is coming out

October 2 | Unregistered CommenterMarc

so you are endorsing the status quo which is primarily very crappy music? real fans know real art takes time. if they leave they were just bandwagon social media junkies.

October 2 | Unregistered Commentera.q.s

Hi Mark, really interesting post. It's very true that for many new musicians that old default mindset needs shaking up - the release a few singles, an EP etc model seems to work very well these days for bands looking to launch with a generated buzz around them. I would suggest that it all depends on your objectives and ideas for what you want to achieve. I've released 2 full albums and then a kind of experimental album released in the form of 4 EPs over the course of a year. If I hadn't started with an album I don't think I'd have ever really formulated any ideas for what I wanted to do with my music over the past 7 years. It provided a blank canvas on which I could just throw things. I think for the DIY artist there are a lot of factors at work, especially with the ease of use and cheapness of 'home' recording - obviously this requires a lot of time and a fair amount of expertise. For me it's about achieving a good balance across aspects of the platform and if I feel the need to record another album I would do so, not by taking myself away from the world for months, but while continuing engagement with fans and still producing stuff for them to get their teeth into. It's really great to chat about these things!

October 2 | Unregistered CommenterAndy

I think this article makes a big assumption to prove a point. All of us have enjoyed an album from an artist and then a few years later after maybe forgetting them have purchased their next album. Take for instance Kate Bush. After twelve years of pretty much zero connection to the public she launched Aerial which drew her fans back to her as if it was only a few years.

So I think the assumption we forget and move on is far from reality.

October 2 | Unregistered CommenterAmbientGuy

Hi,

While I disagree with the notion that making an album isn't for all new artists (after all, activity such as recording/producing/releasing an EP can often cost similar amounts of money as well), I do think that any artists who has a website or social media page needs to stay engaged regardless of how busy they actually are (be it promoting a record, touring, or otherwise).

Staying engaged is another way to build the audience to prepare for an album release (especially if there's an actual strategy behind the effort). For example, I had a Myspace page back '06 for my band before I had band members but staying active on it snagged me my first sponsors and I had shows booked 6-7 months in advance. It also gave me a platform with an existing fanbase to promote to when the record came out, about 3 months after acquiring the line up.

Bottom line is not so much whether or not an album is a good idea but where it fits in the overall strategy and how you'll use websites/social media to support that.

October 2 | Registered CommenterSimon Tam

I agree that this post and mindset is based on an assumption and not on facts. I know for one that any artist that has a constant feed in my twitter or FB gets blocked or deleted fairly quickly because they become an annoyance and seem desperate. Whereas an artist that pops up on occassion with something interesting (an album, a video, a show in my region) is welcomed.
So much emphasis is put on little and continuous tasks in the name of staying in people's consciousness and it's proven not to really work except in special cases. It's kind of a work hard not smart mindset.

Nobody wants daily spam from an artist, especially if it's one they aren't completely in love with. Choose wisely what you blanket the internet with, I say. Don't just fling it all and see what sticks. I don't need to see some guy in his bedroom playing "acoustic" versions of their song on youtube.

I also find that most EPs, Singles are ignored by radio, media unless it's from already established and well known artists.

October 5 | Unregistered CommenterMaN

Albums (and CD's) are still important. Go play some live shows- when you're done and folks ask to buy a CD, look at the disappointment when you tell them you don't have one. Or that you only have a 5-song EP. Sorry.

The sooner you understand how to make a record, the better. And (IMO): DON'T RECORD AT HOME! It will take forever and will not sound as good as hiring a pro engineer. Find an affordable studio with a PROVEN track record- make sure their work sounds great.

Spend your time getting ready for those sessions. Get your arrangements down. Practice! It helps to have a producer, so know who is talented in your area.

If you're prepared, you should be able to track your CD in a week (it's done all of the time). Figure another week to mix. A day to master. Hire someone to do the graphic design.

Done.

Oh yes, it costs money. Sorry about that. If you plan on making money with your music, then you will understand.

October 5 | Unregistered CommenterHappy

@Happy. Some of my favourite records were recorded at home. I look for great ideas, imagination and something new. Invariably this happens with artists who have the time and persistence to create something great - yes great production can enhance and I would always advocate proper mastering but I think to have a blanket rule of no home recording would deny us of some absolutely incredible music. Do what you can with what you have and the rest will take care of itself.

October 5 | Unregistered CommenterAndy

I agree with some of the people in the comments section; the person who wrote this article is really ASSUMING that people aren't interested in whole albums. People will ALWAYS want to listen to albums. Things have changed and artists' will most likely have to change their format and put out an album depending on the direction of their branding and marketing. Different strokes for different folks. One artist might be able to put out singles, Eps, etc. while another should be putting out albums. Also let's give the fans more credit; if an artist puts out quality music and puts out a full length album every 4 - 5 years, then his/her true fans will welcome that album with open arms. I believe as long as an artist creates classic, timeless music, then they will always have fans waiting for their next project even if there was a huge gap between releases.

http://www.startyourmusicgrindnow.com

October 7 | Unregistered CommenterPF

Well.. Albums done the right way and on a consistent basis are still the best way to go... A good
ALBUM.. can be worked for over a year, if you put out visuals (videos) for each song on the album...(It sorta brings a new life to each song)..."Substance" is the Key...

October 7 | Unregistered CommenterKD

Hey Andy...

Again (in my opinion) I think home recording for the most part is a black hole for artists. Way too much time and energy put into learning to be an engineer (a trade that takes YEARS to get good at).

I'd much rather see folks spend that time writing and working on their musical skills, rather than learning DAWS, where and when to apply compression, how to make a bass translate onto computer speakers, finessing EQ's, making a vocal 'pop'...etc...

Let a pro do that, and you'll be much happier with the result (especially if you ever hear your music on the radio, or over a larger PA). Don't be sorry when you realize that, 'hey I guess I didn't do that great of a job on my mix.' Ooops!

Competition is as fierce as ever- why make it any harder with second-rate sonics?

Cheers...

October 8 | Unregistered CommenterHappy

I still can't understand why musicians are so adamant about getting signed by a label. Everything they could ever need, managing, marketing, publishing, distribution, etc. is all available online. It just takes a little time and effort.

Personally, I think the music scene is changing. Vinyl sales are going up. I think people are getting back into an almost Lo-Fi type of desire nowadays. To be sure, there's still a lot of Pop star followers, but real music lovers don't mind buying an EP that isn't "professionally" recorded.

And the start up costs to make a DIY studio for an Independent band or musician isn't as high as some people like to say. I know several bands who have almost no money but have still managed to scrape together equipment that produces some excellent quality EPs and albums.

October 13 | Unregistered CommenterMars

Hi Happy,

I think that you make some really good points. As a musician, singer, and fashion fanatic, I can tell you one thing: there is ALWAYS a way to save money on what you're doing. There's also always things that you should look at to see where you want to spend your money.

You can record a lot of decent stuff with a home studio. You really can. There are a lot of bands that I admire and look up to who work this way... bands who might not be famous, but bands who can put together a good product in a home studio, or in their friend's studio, or whatever. You are ABSOLUTELY RIGHT that it is often so much less frustrating for the artist to focus on making the best sounds possible, the best songs possible, and then letting a professional do the mixing, the EQ, the compressors. Being an engineer is not really something you can learn from a couple YouTube tutorials. The best engineers are ones that have lots and lots of experience under their belt. You'd be a fool to not utilize that! To a certain extent I feel like a lot of indie artists are doing things that are the equivalent of me saying, "well, I want a certain pair of designer shoes and since I can't afford them, I'm going to try to make them myself." Which always ends up going poorly for everyone.

If you have a super limited budget, and you record your music at home or with a friend, and then ask a professional to mix it, you'll still get a much better result than doing it all yourself. I think in the DIY scene there is this pride that comes with reinventing the wheel and ya know, I'm just not here for that. I have a lot of things to do and very little time to do them. Your time is also valuable too. You can spend $700 on a great mic for your home studio that you don't know how to use, or you can spend $700 and go into a real studio for probably a day or half day and get a lot more done.

You're also absolutely right that if you head into a studio with your songs rehearsed, you do not need any longer than a week! A lot of budgets get squandered, IMO because people are simply not prepared. They don't have the ideas clear in their head, and they aren't really ready to be in a studio.

I don't agree that EPs are irrelevant, and I agree with some of the other points the article made but... really what it comes down to... A lot of musicians, IMO, really want to have professional results without putting in professional effort. Not gonna happen. And professional effort will always cost money, but TRUST ME when I say there's no need to pay full price for anything. You can always do something to cut your costs down a bit when it comes to money. Extraordinary results come from extraordinary effort. You can't put in mediocre effort and get amazing results.

I often buy designer bags and thrift certain items of clothing. But when I buy a $18 handbag, I certainly don't expect it to last in the same way that a $600 handbag will. Basic common sense. Life is in the details, folks! Common sense and solid action are the things that will make your dreams come true. I might ramble on this some more later.

October 14 | Unregistered CommenterNormandie Wilson

Totally agree with Mars except I think we have to accept not everyone has the skills within themselves to do marketing & promotion. So that's why sites like mine exist as part of a wide plan for any musician to gain access to many potential markets.

October 27 | Unregistered CommenterAmbientGuy

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