Saturday, October 30, 2010

Recommended reading...

Check back often to catch the ongoing updates on my favorite books…
Skill-Building and Performance
Outliers - The Story of Success
Malcolm Gladwell - New York: Little Brown, and Company, 2008
Malcolm Gladwell explodes the myth that excellence is the result of some mysterious, innate talent. By examining research and the lives of a variety of “outliers’ he explores the logic of extraordinary success, delving into the impact of ‘deep practice’ (10,000 hours…), family, and birthplace.
The Talent Code - Greatness Isn’t Born, It’s Grown. Here’s How
Daniel Coyle - New York: Bantam Books, 2009
Weaving together real world examples with brain science and behavioral research, Daniel Coyle breaks the process of expert skill-building into three main pieces: deep practice, coaching, and motivation.
Talent Is Overrated - What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else
Geoff Colvin - New York: Portfolio, 2008
Geoff Colvin explores ‘deliberate practice’ in individual and group contexts. This book covers much of the same ground as The Talent Code with the inclusion of a section describing organizational applications.
The Way We're Working Isn't Working - The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance
Tony Schwartz - New York: Free Press, 2010
Tony Schwartz covers a wide range of topics in this actionable book focused on creating efficiency in the workplace. His premise is that people need four types of energy to perform at their best; physical (sustainability), emotional (security), mental (self-expression), and spiritual (significance). He provides practical steps and illustrations for each section. For example; we work best in 45 to 90 minute, highly focused sprints intermixed with periods of renewal.
Practicing, The Psychology of Creation, and Overcoming Creative Blocks
The War of Art - Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles
Steven Pressfield - New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2002
This classic book (by the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance) should be read by everyone. We are all artists and have a gift to give the world. Steven Pressfield inspires in this funny, straight-from-the-hip, kick in the pants, identifying the roadblocks that keep our potential under wraps and prescribing strategies that take no prisoners. 
Free Play - Improvisation in Life and Art
Stephen Nachmanovitch - New York: Putnam, 1990
This is one of the best books I have ever read on the essence of improvisation and the creative process.
Effortless Mastery - Liberating the Master Musician Within
Kenny Werner - New Albany: Jamey Abersold Jazz, Inc., 1996
Jazz piano virtuoso Kenny Werner shares his approach to practicing, getting out of the music’s way, and developing a state of relaxed focus.
The Art of Practicing - A Guide to Making Music From the Heart
Madeline Bruser - New York: Bell Tower, 1997
This book describes both a physical and spiritual approach to practicing a musical instrument. While most of her instructions are for pianists, the principles can be applied to any instrument.
Practicing - A Musician’s Return to Music
Glenn Kurtz - New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007
Classical guitarist Glenn Kurtz describes his personal journey as a music student who eventually drifts away from his passion only to return years later. The book is largely a memoir but contains many vivid descriptions of the process of practicing.
The Pat Metheny Interviews - The Inner Workings of His Creativity Revealed
Richard Niles - New York: Hal Leonard, 2009
With the unique perspective of a fellow guitarist and long-time friend, Richard Niles captures the essence of Pat Metheny’s creative evolution, process, and work ethic in a collection of conversations culled from a three-part BBC radio series.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

California Copyright Conference : “The Music Industry: A Survival Guide for the Future”

Tuesday evening’s panel at the California Copyright Conference dinner in Sherman Oaks was quite upbeat considering the many uncertainties of these times. The panel, moderated by Shawn LeMone, ASCAP’s VP of Film/TV and Visual Media, and Diane Snyder-Ramirez, VP of Royalty Accounting and Administration at The Royalty Review Council, consisted of:
  • Russell Emanuel, CEO, Extreme Music
  • Amanda Marks, EVP/GM, Universal Music Distribution
  • Patrick Russo, Principal, The Salter Group
  • Kari Kimmell, Recording Artist and Songwriter
  • Victor Rodriguez, Music Director THQ, Inc.
The theme for the evening was, “synch licensing.” Traditional music industry boundaries continue to blur and each panelist discussed evolving practices from their individual perspectives. 
Patrick Russo began the discussion with an entertainment industry revenue analysis. The larger segment is growing and diversifying, although music revenues will continue to decline. The good news is, music is ubiquitous and a key component in a wide palette of entertainment properties. This creates new opportunities for licensing and publishing revenues.
Russell Emanuel described the huge shifts in the music library business. The industry is moving into what was once considered independent label territory. Extreme Music is courting independent, niche artists (mostly songwriters) rather than the more traditional jack-of-all-trades composers. 
Victor Rodriguez is producing video game scores with traditional film composers as well as scoring entire properties from music libraries. Music is being licensed for virtual social networks and multiple co-branding opportunities are emerging across media platforms.
Kari Kimmell’s music has been featured in over 100 film and television shows. She controls her catalog and handles the licensing and business development with music supervisors herself. Although business takes up 50% of her time these days, Kari is very excited about the successes and opportunities available to her as an independent artist. 
Amanda Marks is anticipating a surge of tablet devices, providing a compelling entertainment experience for consumers. She is excited about the potential of apps to filter music, cutting through the noise in the channel and bringing the cream to the top. App developing tools are becoming more affordable and available to artists. Amanda feels that music distribution will be firmly ensconced in the cloud in a few years. A licensed experience where listeners can get anything, anytime, anywhere, will be a game-changing alternative to pirated music.
Revenue opportunities for creators are a mix of licensing fees, back-end residuals and exposure (the highly coveted “Chyron”). How these trends can benefit musicians working in non-pop genres is not as clear but one thing is certain: The music industry is a moving target, accelerating every day. The keys to “Survival” are making great music, working hard, and staying ahead of new revenue opportunities.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Career Tracks: Chi McClean, Part 2

In Part Two of my conversation with indie singer-songwriter Chi McClean we discuss the importance of building personal relationships with fans and industry partners and the challenges of doing it all yourself…
Chi is currently recording his second record. You can find out more about Chi on his website: and pick up his music at CD Baby,, and the iTunes Store.

Read Part One of our conversation here...

You are handling PR and marketing yourself. What’s working for you? How do you decide the best ways to invest your time?

CM: I pick my battles. If I’m going out on a tour, I’ll look at those markets, figure out what the weeklies are (and) target the music writers who have been writing stuff I genuinely like. You have to show that you are interested in them. For example, I got this great review in the San Francisco Chronicle. I liked this guy’s style of writing. I liked the artists that he covered. In my email to him I told him, “I really enjoyed (your) article about so and so, I heard him on KFOG, but this other guy (you) recommended I’d never heard of. I checked out his music and it’s awesome, a great find. What other artists could you recommend? Incidentally I just came out with a new CD (laughs). Do you ever write about independent musicians?” Within ten minutes I got an email back. I know that’s a total exception to the rule, because it’s so much about luck, but I think that stuff helps.

You never know what people are going to be interested in. You have to figure out what’s unique and original, and different about you. For me, when I’m going up and down the coast it can be surfing. There’s a guy who has a surfing blog and is also a music writer. We happened to connect through a booking agent. We start talking about surfing and next thing you know he’s doing a feature on me. That helped me promote the shows in the area. It’s challenged me to think about the other stuff I do that might be of interest to people. You have to figure out, what’s the story? Is there something deeper to tell?

Are you using Facebook and Twitter to stay in touch with fans?

CM: Facebook is the most productive for me. I use it for all of my show invites. Sending an email blindly, often times you just get nothing. With Facebook you have an opportunity to re-engage people. I use Twitter. I use Posterous. It’s free. You can set it up to feed Twitter, Facebook, your own blog, any number of social networking sites. I’ll take a photo with my phone of a set list or a marquee. It’s a really easy way to get stuff up there.

Are you blogging? Do you get a lot of comments?

CM: More often than not I’ll get comments on the blog posts on Facebook. I try to do it every day. Sometimes I run out of time, or the surf is really good! (laughs). It’s important to do it every day. You have to give people a reason to come back to your site.

Have you found it helpful to attend industry seminars?

CM: The first time I went to SXSW was really cool. So much of this business is common sense but it takes on a different tone when you hear it from somebody else. There were some demo listening panels that were helpful. The discussions on music publishing and licensing were interesting. I went again last year (and) felt that the panels didn’t change enough. The networking was helpful, not even talking about music. At the end of the conversation you exchange cards (and) both realize you can help each other in some way. I found out about the unofficial showcases. You just have to meet a couple of people then suddenly you’re showcasing SXSW. (It) means a lot when you can put that on your Sonicbids gig calendar.

West Coast Songwriters has been very helpful. They have monthly songwriting competitions. You get feedback from judges and get the temperature of the local songwriting scene. You can see who’s doing what, figure out if there are other people you might want to share the bill with.

How do you update your email list?

CM: I get fans on Facebook or ReverbNation, but mostly it’s going out and playing shows. One of the toughest things, especially if you’re traveling alone, is to pack up quickly and get out there and start working the crowd, selling CDs, giving away stickers, getting people on the email list. If people like you they want to know where you’re playing again. If you go out and talk to them you meet some pretty cool people. That’s the way to build a meaningful list of people that are going to stay your fans.

Are you selling more CDs or downloads?

CM: (Online) I’m selling more downloads than physical CDs. The CD Baby admin tool tells you who streamed (or) downloaded what song from what service, and your net earnings. Whenever I tour I see a spike in CD sales and downloads. I sell CDs on the road when I’m playing.

Are you giving away music or using freemium strategies?

CM: I haven’t yet and I’m trying to figure out if I want to for this next one. I’m thinking it may be an added value; if you buy the CD, you also get something that wouldn’t be on the record like a solo acoustic performance. I want to get something in return if I’m giving something. I gave away pint glasses at shows if you signed up on the email list. That’s relatively cheap for a good email contact. People want to support you but you have to give them choices.

Are you getting terrestrial and/or Internet radio play? How’s that driving traffic to your gigs?

CM: I’m getting a little college radio through places that I’ve played. There are Chi McCLean stations on Pandora and

Showcase gigs are sometimes 40 minutes or less. You plan something for the day, playing in a bookstore or a radio interview to promote the show that night. Also, rallying the people who are on your email list. It’s about giving people a reason to come back and see you again. It can be hard to find time to really meet (fans) and hang out. When people come out to see your show it means a lot, especially in a town like LA.

Where are you seeing the most revenue, live shows, CD sales, downloads?

CM: It’s gigs. That’s where I connect with people and sell CDs. You drive people to the online stuff when you’re not touring in their area.

Are you pursuing a traditional record deal? What are your thoughts on the pros and cons for your career today and in the future?

CM: It would be really helpful in some ways; a marketing machine to help build a brand identity, (getting) bookings as a supporting act for a more established artist...there is stuff to be gained but you give up a lot in terms of ownership. I’d like to do that but it would all depend on the contract. At the level I’m at right now there is no reason I can’t build my own team. You need to have an established business before they (labels and managers) are going to consider you.

Have you been using online marketing platforms like Topspin or Nimbit?

CM: At the level I’m at ReverbNation is (a good fit). Topspin is really interesting. I’m on all these online sites but I don’t know anything about the person who is streaming or buying downloads. For the physical sales CD Baby gives me an address and an email. That’s great. I can send thank you notes and collect that data. It’s weird not being able to correspond with your customers. With Topspin I think you can. One of the things I’m looking at for this next record is crowd-sourcing.

One of the biggest challenges for me is time management. Where should you be spending your time? I think the answer is, on everything! You can’t afford to not do anything. You need to keep writing music and practicing. You need to book shows with a minimum two to three month lead time. You need to send out posters, make phone calls to confirm, reach out to the press. You need to keep reaching out to your fans and remind the venue that you’re coming and make sure everything’s good. You have to figure out a place to stay and how you’re making money to pay for all this stuff (laughs). None of it is hard in and of itself, but it’s an exercise in time management, discipline, and follow up. It is easy to feel like you’re getting nowhere then when it rains it pours. Somebody you have been contacting for a year suddenly has a slot. You go down, play a gig and establish a (long-term) relationship. The sales pipeline is so unpredictable. One guy said he had 100 MySpace messages a day. Even if you write the best email and your music is awesome, what’s the likelihood that he will even see your email?

What are your priorities in building a team? What questions would you ask to vet potential partners?

CM: Before you do anything with PR you have to have something to talk about. You need a record, then you book shows. The first thing for me would be a booking agent and a PR team to send out posters and contact local press. Booking shows that are pairing me up with people on that next level, bigger venues, getting me more exposure. I’m doing OK on my own but I’d much rather be playing every night.

I’m a lot further along (than a year ago). Exposure will ultimately be the most valuable thing to me in the long term.

Are you going after synch licenses, or writing for other people as revenue streams?How are you managing your publishing catalog?

CM: I went aggressively after music supervisors. “We’ll keep it on file.” (laughs). Who knows? I wish I had bounced instrumental takes of everything from the first record. A lot of places want background music.

I have a song preloaded on a Phillips MP3 player. I retained the relationships I made at Liquid Audio. People get word that you’re trying to do this for a living and they want to help if they can, if they like your music. One friend of mine in that space has been a great supporter of my music. God bless him! You never know. Suddenly you get a phone call, it’s a free thing but there are 50,000 players out there or something. It’s really amazing what some people will do.