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Thursday
Mar112010

Case Study - First Steps in a Music Start-Up Venture

Hey guys.  My name is Kyle Simmons.  I’ve been an avid reader of MTT for almost a year now, and I’ve decided to come out of the closet and post.  Background info on me: I’m currently at the University of Florida getting my Master’s degree in Business – Entrepreneurship.  In addition, I’m a part-time gigging musician/singer-songwriter. 

I’m writing this because I want to gather as much information possible to make the best possible decisions with my music in the coming months.  Let’s call this a case study on the start-up of my music career.  

This is my situation:

I’ve come to the point where many people at my shows would rather hear me play my own songs and want a CD.  The problem is: I don’t have a CD.  I’ve recorded one song in Nashville (at Sound Emporium Studios) with an “Artist Development Agency” that came across my Myspace and wanted to record one of my more “mature” songs,  make it radio-friendly contemporary pop, and pitch it to labels.  It was a great experience, but truth be told, I’m not even that enthusiastic about the song as it isn’t even really my style (my style is more acoustic, with lyrics attractive to a college-aged niche).  

Other than that, I’ve only recorded roughly into the microphone jack of my laptop.  You can listen to some at www.myspace.com/kylesimmonsmusic.  Note: my music is for people who tend to enjoy Jimmy Buffett, Jack Johnson, Zac Brown, and Corey Smith; relaxed, drinking, and the occasionally humorous lyrics and style of music.  All the songs on my Myspace now are older; I haven’t recorded my new, better stuff because I don’t want the quality of the recording to overshadow the songwriting/music.   

Now, the big question:

Where do I go from here?  I’ve got a ton of songs (over 50), and at least 14 that my fans (and I) really enjoy.  I really want something that I’m proud of and can promote the sh** out of, but I don’t know where to start or what steps to take as far as recording.  The main question is: do I invest in a home studio or a real studio with a producer and engineer? 

Here are some points to consider:

- MOST IMPORTANT POINT- I don’t want to shortchange myself on quality – I’m a perfectionist and I want to create something that people will want to share with other people

- I don’t have much money – 2-3K is a ballpark figure

- I have limited production knowledge (but I’m always learning and I have a good ear)

- I don’t have many connections in the industry

- I’m constantly writing songs

- I really want to get involved with new music industry trends like social media, community and fan interaction, online guerilla marketing, distribution patterns, etc.  In other words, Jonathan Coulton inspires me. 

If you have any other questions about my situation, please ask. I’ll give you as much information possible.

All I want to do is hit the ground running and try to make a name for myself.  I’m open to advice and suggestions.  I’m even interested in making this an ongoing case study in which I post my progress and experiences for other aspiring musicians to learn from (if anyone thinks that may be a cool idea).

Anyways, I know most of the readers and contributors on MTT are going to have their hands full the next couple weeks with SXSW and I can’t wait to hear the ideas that come from the conference.  Have a good one, and I appreciate anyone who takes the time to interact with this post! 

Cheers,

Kyle

Kyle Simmons is a full-time graduate student at the University of Florida studying Business-Entrepreneurship.  He is also a part-time gigging musician and songwriter.  The combination of these two identities makes him very poor at the moment, but he remains patient and hopeful for the future.  Contact him at kylesimmons05@hotmail.com, facebook.com/kylesimmonsmusic, or twitter.com/kylewsimmons.     

Reader Comments (6)

Kyle,

When we think of time, for reasons too complex to get into here, our culture tends to focus on the immediate present. When faced with the question of learning a new skill, 99% of the friends and family that I have would assess it in terms of "available time right now" but I think that's definitely the wrong approach.

The fact is, if you're alive right now, odds are pretty good that state of affairs will continue.

Granted, it "takes" more time to learn how to use your own pro tools setup. It also "takes" less time to just go to a professional and hand them a medium-sized wad of Federal Reserve notes in exchange for having them Do It All for you. But I'd argue that buying your own setup and learning it will actually give you time, give you money and give you options.

If this is what you love to do, investing in it = no-brainer. Especially for music like your own, you've got a style that lends itself to DIY recording, just like hip hop. $2000 will buy you a powerful home studio setup as long as you've already got a computer capable of running robust Pro Tools.

That's my vote and logic, hope it helped.

March 16 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

I am in no way a financially successful musician yet (though I'm still relatively young). I have, however, seen a surprising number of acquaintances get their music careers off to a better-than-average start. Here is some random advice, which you can take or leave at your own discretion.

1. In the short term, pay the engineer at the studio and buy a pro-tools rig in a year or two. An entry-level recording rig (anything under at least 10k) is not going to sound anywhere as good as a pro studio. While I suggest you start reading and learning about recording, it is a process that takes years to get decent at. It sounds like your priority is your songs, so you need to give them the best damn treatment possible. If money is an issue, consider doing a 5 song EP instead of a full-length.

2. Get some videos on your page and youtube if you haven't already. Could be live, or a simple 'music video" for your songs. Make them engaging and reflective of you and your music. The point is not necesserily to wow anyone with your amazing video skill, but to give them a depth of content which reinforces the notion of "Kyle Simmons = Serious Musician who Does Stuff"

3. Use facebook to tell people about shows and what you're doing. Yeah you can try using other social media sites, but start with the one that everyone you know uses.

4. Consider starting a blog. This is a tough one, because you need to be confident that you can update at least every few days with something interesting that your fans will want to read. If you can do so, do so. Thats probably going to be your social-networking home base if things take off.

5. Define your image, as it relates to your sound. Are you laid back and breezy? Edgy? How do you dress at shows? What type of images does your music inspire? Think about it, and get those visual cues out there on your website and incorporated into your overall presentation. I know it sounds plastic and corny, but this provides a great backdrop for your music that your audience will unconsciously assimilate into their understanding of what you, the artist, are all about. A well crafted and maintained artistic brand can spell the difference between having casual fans and true listeners who identify with you and want more.

6. To help with No. 5, consider networking with other artistic folks who aren't in music. Do you know any videographers, photographers, web designers, print artists, or graphic designers? Come up with a way to collaborate with them.

7. Choose at least one aspect of your art that you are willing to practice and work on until you are abso-freakin-lutely the best at it. Maybe its your lyrics. Maybe guitar soloes. Maybe its your energy when performing live. Maybe its your singing voice. You need to be good at everything, but certain parts of your music really need to pop out above the rest. What is your artistic hook that makes someone who was merely just enjoying listening to your song stop and go, "woah." after you pull it off?

March 17 | Unregistered CommenterJustin

Learning how to make a simple recording (in the old days, we called the demos) is an essential music skill. Many great recordings were made with 8 tracks or less.

Playing out live and playing at open mics is a way to meet other musicians. If your music is compelling, you'll meet some possible collaborators (i.e., people that play other instruments, write songs or have a home recording set up.

Personally, I would consider buying a Mac Laptop, two decent mics, and get started with Garage Band, or some other multitrack recording software. I don't think it's that hard to record music if the material and performance skills are strong.

March 17 | Unregistered CommenterBruce Kaplan

Everyone seems to be suggesting spending a couple thousand bucks setting up a home studio. I don't know that all that is necessary. I assume you own a computer since you posted on this site. So I'd suggest one of the affordable DAWs that comes with free recording software (I got a Lexicon Omega external sound card with Cubase for $200). But without any ideas how to work it, I'd suggest looking around for an inexpensive local studio (probably one in someone's house) where you might see some stuff that you might decide to get in the future. So I'd try to find a guy that you can get for $50 an hour (which is possible to get a pretty decent guy for in a lot of markets) & book an eight hour day to record (practice all your songs first so you can get them done easily in this amount of time) & then another eight hour day to mix & master. So that's $1000 so far & leaves you some money to get a CD actually manufactured. Now comes the hard part... selling 500-1000 CDs.....

Thanks a lot for this guys. I'm definitely leaning towards doing it all at home now. Although the studio does offer better equipment, I can't take the time to nitpick the little things I hear that need to change in the recording (with that said, I have no idea about recording techniques, how to mix properly, etc). Also, I have a ton of songs and I don't just want to settle for recording five. Justin, thanks for all the general "getting started" info advice. I'm working on all that stuff right now! Boland, what do you mean by "options?"

March 24 | Unregistered CommenterKyle Simmons

Options: Do a 5.1 mix without sinking $10k into engineering costs, record and produce anyone you want anywhere anytime, rent yourself out doing live recordings on off nights to network and make some DMT money, move to another part of the country and not have to start paying dues with a local studio all over again, record your next single in a hotel room, that sort of thing.

You pay someone for a service, that's a one-time transaction.

Paying money for tools is a more open-ended equation.

March 24 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

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