Monday, September 10, 2007


Unsigned artists have a greater chance of success today than ever before. On one hand, composing and performing songs without the shadow of a struggling record label hanging overhead leaves musicians free to express themselves instinctively from the soul. On the other, it requires a lot of work behind the scenes, but can offer can offer greater rewards in return.

Brooklyn-based band Clap Your Hands Say Yeah broke through in 2005 as a result of the commotion started online among a community of blogs and music sites, such as Pitchfork Media. As a result, their self-financed, self-released and self-titled debut album has sold more than 200,000 copies. Band bassist Tyler Sargent explained to Paste magazine (12/6/06) why the band has remained unsigned, despite their success: "Because there are so many new avenues opening up these days...if you have good songs and the right relationships you can just totally bypass this whole label system. Which is just great for independent music...and this way, we get 80 percent, or at least a larger chunk of (our earnings). And it just makes more sense."

The truth is, the major label end of the music industry is in "turmoil," as noted by CBS Evening News (5/28/07), as "CD sales plummeted 20 percent the first three months of this year." In the same piece, Wilco's lead singer Jeff Tweedy stated that "Technology has evened the playing field. If the artist can gain more power over the situation--over the economics of the situation--why wouldn't they take it?"

While the Internet has become the most vital and effective marketing tool, taking music to the streets has become the bread an butter for many acts. On a smaller scale, Heath & Jed have made a living off of the CD sales and tips they've received playing the streets and subways of New York City. In their Gothamist tour diary (8/14/06), they revealed: "We’ve sold over 10,000 CD’s this year. One fan at a time...We came and we conquered and we made some money to live another day as musicians, doing what we love."

Sony's Connect music site did a feature on unsigned Fullerton, CA band Cold War Kids who "have risen to the top of the hipster rock heap through their relentless touring." In the related interview, lead singer Nathan Willett talked about the process of peddling their homemade EPs during their non-stop tours: "Basically (the EPs) were available at our shows at best, and we ran out of them a lot, and it was kind of a bummer because we couldn't put the effort into being at home and getting more made. But it was cool because we had a limited amount of them and people seemed to want them, and we were surprised that people wanted them as much as they did."

There are no rules to follow when it comes to unsigned bands promoting their music. From utilizing their fan base to promote local live shows, new releases and merchandise, to reaching new fans outside via online communities like Facebook and social music sites such as Echoboost, the extra effort will only aid them along the way. As long as they have quality songs, the talent to perform them live and a dedicated work ethic to spread the music, nothing can stand in their way.


The rewards of creating music range from the deep satisfaction of writing a new song to the glowing pride of a successful performance. These feelings bolster our confidence, but do little to compensate for the financial investment often tied to making music. While selling your music via CDs and downloads is a good start, you should also consider investing in band merchandise to promote your band and cover the cost of instruments, rehearsal spaces, recording equipment and more.

In a Rolling Stone article (7/04), Dashboard Confessional's Chris Carrabba spoke about the importance of merchandise: "Merch sales are what kept us going. Even now, we're still not making our living from playing the shows. Merch is where we make our profit." In that same story, John Mayer commented on merchandise sales and the current state of the recording industry: "You're not making that much money off records anymore, so until people can figure out how to make a re-writable Hanes Beefy-T, merch is one of the last bastions of individuality, commerce and style that an artist has left."

Echoing those sentiments, Amanda Palmer of The Dresden Dolls told NPR (1/17/07): "We make almost no money off our recordings themselves." To earn a steady income, NPR interviewer Chris Arnold noted that "The Dresden Dolls can take in more than $1,000 a night selling merchandise, which makes the 'merch table' a major source of income why they're on the road."

While generating money is the most obvious benefit of band merchandise, the valuable impressions made from exposure to potential fans is just as important. Arming your current fan base with a fashionable marketing tool will only help to promote your band and raise your profile. To this end, musicians should take great care in creating logos and images that accurately reflects their sound and image while appealing to consumers. For inspiration, turn to for a wide range of arresting designs. If you don't have the skills to create the design, try cutting costs by recruiting a graphic arts student to handle the project for you.

Once the perfect design is approved, identify the medium that will give you the greatest return. A quick Google search found a wealth of companies dedicated to meeting the merchandise needs of independent artists. Here are just a few of the deals out there:
100 printed t shirts: $405 at
500 1" buttons: $100 at
250 5.5" x 1.42" stickers: $25 at
100 posters: $175 at

Selling your band merchandise can be done at live shows or online via your web site. Create links at social music sites like to draw more traffic and use secure payment services, such as PayPal, to handle the monetary transactions. Email fan club members when new products become available and try offering special packages, bundling your CDs or downloads with t shirts, buttons and/or stickers to drive sales and spread the word about your music.

You shouldn't let expenses drain your passion for music. Put your music to work for you with your own merchandise and keep making the music you love.

Monday, August 27, 2007


Building a fan base is an important step for any band interested in elevating their recording and performing career. With attention and planning, even a modest following can become a powerful tool to support an artist's work and expand their popularity.

People are attracted to bands on musical, cultural, social, sensory and spiritual levels. While fitting in to current trends may result in a rush of flavor-of-the-month fans, the artists who pursue and stay true to their own musical vision appear to have a greater chance at creating a broad, dedicated fan base. Rolling Stone contributed Kentucky-based band My Morning Jacket's broad success to their unique musical vision, noting "The band's ecstatic, spacey records and improv-heavy live shows are as popular with Bonnaroo hippies as they are with New York hipsters." Frontman Jim James told the magazine, "We love that...Looking in the audience and seeing frat boys, indie rockers and maybe some sixty-year-old women."

In the digital age, artists shouldn't be afraid to give music away in order to reach more people. Andrew Dubber of NewMusicStrategies wrote an article titled "The 20 Things You MUST Know About Music Online" which counsels musicians to "forget product--sell relationship." In a recent interview, Dubber told HomeTracked: "I recommend (musicians) recognize that their recordings are not the totality of their economic value. Recordings are idealized performances that show musicians in their best light. These are the best promotional tools available...And if records are the way you want to make your money, just think of it this way: it used to be that you’d press 1000 copies, give away 200 promos, and hope to sell the other 800. Now you can press 1000 copies, give away a million copies and sell the thousand."

Once a band has earned a small fan base by playing shows and giving away music, it's important to retain their interest and encourage networking by keeping them up to date with current songs, concerts and a steady flow of appealing merchandise. The digital age presents a number of ways to accomplish this, with maintaining a web site, posting profiles on social music sites like Echoboost, email, internet radio, podcasts and social video sites. Performing Songwriter suggests networking through cell phones using fan club text messaging services like Broadtexter, which "enables North America-based musicians to create free Mobile Fan Clubs which easily allow them to use regionalized text messaging to stay connected with fans."

It's vital for bands to take their relationships with fans as seriously as their music. The acts who consistently provide people with appealing music, quality live performances and a steady stream of positive interaction will build their fan base while increasing their chances of long-term loyalty.


While there is no shortage of successful songwriters who prefer to work alone, the caliber of music that's been created by collaboration suggests that two heads are better than one when it comes to songwriting.

In June, Rolling posted the results of a readers poll for the Ten Best Songwriting Duos Ever. A quick look at the top five proves two things: England has indisputably cornered the rock royalty market, and some of pop and rock's greatest songs were created by collaboration.

1. Paul McCartney/John Lennon (the Beatles)
2. Keith Richards/Mick Jagger (Rolling Stones)
3. Elton John/Bernie Taupin (Elton John)
4. Joe Strummer/Mick Jones (the Clash)
5. Johnny Marr/Morrissey (the Smiths)

Indie darling Liz Phair put this theory to task and caused a stir when she elected to write songs for her 2003 self-titled album with Top 40 production team The Matrix. Phair, who enjoyed a faithful following and critical praise from previously released material, told Filter magazine: "I wanted to get on the radio really badly. And I don't write those kinds of songs. I write stuff that's quirky or more personal. So collaborating was a way to get some people who kind of know what they're doing with chord structures, plus they're all so talented and really great people."

Famed songwriter Dianne Warren told John Braheny about the professional advantages a young songwriter has in working with others: "When you write with someone else, you get their whole network of contacts and people they deal with. You have a double shot of getting some major stuff happening."

Traditionally, songwriters have found success by sitting down together with a piano and/or guitar to develop melodies and lyrics. While this method of collaboration is the most obvious, it isn't always the easiest. If you don't have someone living relatively nearby you're faced with the task of traveling to meet musicians for writing sessions. Facing this dilemma, some artists have looked for other ways to create songs together.

A few years ago, the indie-electro duo The Postal Service "wrote and recorded the better part of their debut album, Give Up (Sub Pop), with no budget and while living 1,000 miles apart," according to Band members Ben Gibbard (Death Cab For Cutie) and Jimmy Tamborello (Dntel) overcame the distance between them by sending music back and forth through the mail, with Jimmy handling most of the music and Ben responding with lyrics and melody. The Gold-certified success of their album means the pair will repeat the songwriting formula for a follow-up release, this time exchanging song ideas over the Internet.

No surprise, the Internet has become a good source for finding people interested in collaborating on lyrics and music. In 1998, NME reported how legendary artist David Bowie recorded a song using lyrics "written by US fan Alex Grant, who entered a songwriting competition held by Bowie on his website."

A Google search reveals a number of sites dedicated to encouraging and connecting songwriters, such as MusesMuse, Songwriters101 and SongWriterForums. Going one step further, musicians have taken to YouTube to share ideas and invite collaborations. Once such posting by "chuckadile" includes a full backing track--complete with lead and rhythm guitars, drums and bass--with an invitation for viewers to come up with the lyrics and melody.

With thousands of people turning to sites like to share their music, you might just find somebody online right now with the same taste in music who's looking to collaborate with someone you.


Songwriting is a cathartic exercise that allows musicians to escape the conundrums of daily routines. From the first spark of melody to the flicker of promising lyrics, the process of creating something from nothing is genuinely rewarding. Just as painters display their work on gallery walls, song writers are driven to gauge public reaction of their compositions. Whether performing the number at an open mic night at the corner coffee house or posting it on a music community sites like, the music is out in the open to entertain audiences.

However, many songwriters hesitate before sharing their creative property for fear of other artists stealing their original ideas. This is where a copyright comes in. It's important to note that original work is copyrighted the moment it is recorded on paper, computer file or disc. Protecting the work, though, is another issue.

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, "Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States to the authors of 'original works of authorship'...It is illegal for anyone to violate any of the rights provided by the copyright law to the owner of the copyright." The official U.S. Copyright site features a list of these rights and includes the three basic steps to securing your own official sound recording copyright--which requires an approximate six-month turn around and a $45 registering fee.

For home made artists looking for a cheap alternative to the watertight and time-tested U.S. Copyright Office method, the myth of the "poor man's copyright" may satisfy. The basic concept is to mail a copy of the work (recorded song and lyrics) to yourself and leave the envelope unopened until the day you have to prove you created the material yourself. Unfortunately, it would be easy to fraudulently duplicate this method by mailing an unsealed envelope to yourself and, therefore, appears to hold little legal value. For more pros and cons on the poor man's copyright, visit, which notes "Cheap copyright methods have never proved as reliable as the official methods."

Posting songs online at sites like could be considered a new, tech-savvy poor man's copyright since you would have a link to the existing music in addition to the website's record of the original posting date. A search for information to back up this simple online copyright solution came up empty, so it may or may not be any more effective than mailing a copy of the song to yourself.

Music business attorney and author Don Passman said it best in a article when he backed up the argument to go through proper channels when claiming ownership for creative material: "You don't need it to register the copyright in Washington, but it is a nice piece of evidence. If someone claims he wrote the song on such-and-such a date, and you can prove you wrote it before that, then it helps."


Many artists have become acquainted with the paralyzing cold-sweat sensations that shake limbs and turn stomaches into spin cycles when performing before an audience. While natural composure relieves a few fortunate artists from these stage fright symptoms, there are simple steps the rest of us can take to combat the trepidation.

It's important to recognize that "public speaking ranks ahead of snakes, heights, and the dark as causing fear in people worldwide," as noted by Dave Arnold in a National Education Association article. Called Glossophobia, this stage fright anxiety constricts the ability to communicate before a group of people, sometimes resulting in nausea and shortness of breath. An uncited stat in Wikipedia entry claims glossophobia affects 75% of all people.

While most would agree feeling strains of anxiety when you take to the stage can be an intimidating experience, a little stage fright shouldn't stop you from sharing your music. You've already shared your songs over the Internet via social music sites like and now you're taking the natural step towards a live performance.

The first step in battling stage fright is preparation. Start by selecting the songs you feel will appeal your intended audience--yes, the boisterous crowd at the local pub is vastly different than the folks at the reverent coffee house across the street. Rehearse the songs over and over in front of a mirror to eliminate mechanical flaws while evaluating your posture and presence. Sounds cheesy, but seeing yourself as the audience sees you will gradually make you more comfortable with yourself. Don't have a mirror? Video record your rehearsals.

Helpful hint: write down the song titles, key lyrics, chord changes, capo tunings or any other useful info on a small slip of paper and tape it to the top side of your guitar or keyboard. Adhere this in a convenient place you can easily look down for a quick reference.

You can now work on your confidence by inviting a few friends over for a mini concert. Easier said than done, you may experience some apprehension playing in front of friends. That's the point. If you can conquer the stage fright you feel when playing in front of close acquaintances, there's no reason why you can't roll out your work before a group of strangers. Finish by asking for constructive feedback, then go and rehearse some more.

Now that you're prepared and confident, take a moment to come to grips with your expectations. Embrace the fact that this is only a single performance and, no matter what happens, the earth will continue to spin, the sun will rise and you'll be okay. Bottom line: there's really nothing to worry about.

As you countdown to your performance, the butterflies in your gut will begin kicking up dust. Don't let this minor stage fright hiccup discourage you. Just close your eyes and resolve to give it your best. Just ease into that comfort zone you reached while playing in front of the mirror and you'll be fine.


The Internet is an endless spring of community, entertainment, commerce and information. Unlike traditional mediums (print, TV, radio, brick and mortar businesses), the web promotes interaction by enabling everyone with a computer and a connection to cautiously dip their toes or cannonball full force into the world's biggest pool party. Encouraging that do-it-yourself spirit in each of us are an endless line of designers, programmers and hosts who are anxious to assist even the most technically timid to sprout wings with their own site. However, you'll never make it out of the nest if you don't have the perfect domain name for your site. And thus, the search begins.

Instead of wasting time by throwing darts at names on a wall, it's best to maintain focus and recognize a few domain naming parameters. First off, it's paramount that the domain name doesn't confuse potential visitors. Strive for a site name that sounds exactly like it's spelled so you don't need a search engine to find it. A quick trip to Alexa's Top 100 U.S. sites shows there are few exceptions to this rule. With most basic words already spoken for, be prepared to get creative, mixing words together or coming up with an appropriate onomatopoeia.

While it's a good idea for a domain name to describe the site, it's equally important to come up with an original name that is catchy enough to be passed along at the water cooler. Look no further than domain names Yahoo or Google. While these names really don't reveal much about two of the web's most visited sites, they're easy to recall and short on syllables, making it simple for first-timers to find.

If you're after serious traffic, commit to securing a .com name. It only takes a quick trip to Alexa to discourage any thoughts of settling for less popular .org, .net or .info. Of the Top 100 traffic-ranked sites in the United States, only 10 ended with something other than .com. At the end of the day, why argue with 90% of the country's most-visited sites.

Now that you're armed with these factors, head over to your favorite domain name registrar. Don't get too discouraged when you discover the fabulous names you've painstakingly researched are already spoken for. This is your opportunity to recruit family and friends to get involved by emailing them your naming guidelines. Don't be surprised if someone who isn't invested in the project suggests the perfect, available name.

The company I work for recently survived the re-naming process and we still have the bruises to show for it. Originally named, we're a social music site that allows people to discover unsigned artists in their own communities and across the country. With a complete redesign underway to amplify a more community-oriented experience, our design firm said the .net name had to go. The .com version of our domain name wasn't available, so we followed the steps above. After much brainstorming and research, we feel we've hit a home run that will elevate our site's experience. The winning domain name: We feel the name conveys the positive experience bands and music fans alike can expect from our site while remaining easy to remember and spell.

Now it's your turn, so dive into your own website with a great domain name.