7 Surprisingly Smart Yet Uncommon Music Career Investments

Posted by Mike McCready | May 27th, 2015 | 1 Response – 

Most indie artists don’t have a lot of money in the bank, so if you’re going to spend your valuable savings or that money you raised crowdfunding, you’re obviously going to want to make sure it’s a wise investment. Outside of the typical things musicians have to shell out cash for, though (quality gear, recording, merch, publicity – you know the drill), there are many less obvious investments you can make to enhance your music career.

From hiring a songwriting consultant to getting a dedicated sound tech for your live performances, here are seven smart ways to invest your money that you might not have thought of – assuming you’ve saved up the money to spend, of course!

1. Songwriting consultant

Just because you can play your guitar doesn’t mean you can write a well-crafted song. Songwriting is a skill all its own that takes years of practice to perfect. A seasoned songwriting consultant can offer objective advice about your songs and improve them significantly. It makes no sense to spend zero dollars on the most important aspect of your music career – your songs – and hundreds (or thousands) of dollars recording and promoting your music. People like Robin Frederick and Jason Blume are just two people off the top of my head who may be available to work with you in person or via the internet. Check them out.

[How to Write Songs That Get Stuck in People’s Heads]

2. Focus groups

Some of the most important people related to the success of your career are the very people to whom you are trying to appeal: your fans. Yet, it surprises me how most bands don’t spend the time or money to conduct research and get feedback from them. By rounding up two groups of 30 people, inviting them to your rehearsal studio, serving pizza and drinks, performing sets of your music, and having your fans discuss/rate your songs (or sound, stage presence, look, etc.), you’ll gather some crucially important information that can help save you a great deal of time and money in the long run.

My band did this when we were planning our next recording project, and it worked great. We played 15 of our songs and let the fans pick the six compositions they wanted on our record. After all, if it’s the fans who you’re trying to satisfy with your music, doesn’t it make sense to see what they think before spending thousands recording your EP or album?

3. Photographer

Anyone with a camera phone in their bedroom can think they’re a photographer. While camera phones are quite impressive these days, an experienced pro who has access to amazing locations, knows how to arrange a shot, understands proper lighting, knows about hair and makeup, and understands fashion can give your band the real visual edge it needs. Look, if they say that a picture is really worth a thousand words, and you agree with this statement, then why not spend at least that much in getting some really professional photos done? Your brand depends on it.

4. Graphic designer

Your band’s logo serves as the stamp of your brand. It’s what’s put on your drummer’s bass drum heads, your banners, your road cases, your merch, and – you never know – it could even become your tattoos. While you might feel fairly confident playing around with Adobe Photoshop yourself, an experienced pro can really make a difference. Hire someone who has an outstanding portfolio of band logos and several years of experience to back it up. Remember, you want to have a badass logo that can become part of that badass T-shirt that people will gladly be willing to pay $15 to take home. So let the pros do your logo and design.

5. Sound tech

Most artists spend thousands of dollars to get their music recorded, mixed, and mastered, and zero dollars to replicate that sound onstage! Think about it: you book yourself into a club with four other bands playing on the same bill, and then use a house sound guy who knows nothing about your music and vibe. Don’t get me wrong, house guys do some really amazing work, but hiring someone who knows every snare drum fill, every guitar riff, and every vocal harmony can make a huge difference and give your band’s live show the competitive advantage that it so desperately needs.

[Until you can afford your own, learn how to deal with sound guys who are just plain bad.]

6. Lighting tech

While on the topic of your live show, let’s discuss your light show! What light show, you ask? My point exactly! Once again, most bands rely on whatever the club provides, and that’s precisely what the other bands on the bill do. This means that every band ends up looking the same. But imagine having a lighting tech who synchronizes every snare drum roll with a series of strobe lights, projects bright white lights from the stage into the audience on dramatic power chords, and builds special boxes that project bright lights upwards into your face, making you look like a superstar every time you step up on them. Sounds awesome, right? Remember, you’re in show business. No show typically means no business.

7. Bar and food tab

Want to get a really important person to come and see your show and hear your music? Then why not pick up their food and drink tab for the night? Really! It blows me away how indie artists will pay some random company to blast out their music to hundreds of bloggers, but never think about targeting one or two influential local music journalists or radio DJs and offer to comp their night. Sure, there are still no guarantees that the person you invite will like your music, but I’d bet on this more personal approach any day over some “get successful quick” campaign that sends unsolicited emails to the world.

Have a few music career investment suggestions of your own? Please share them with us in the comments below.

Bobby Borg is the author of Music Marketing for the DIY Musician: Creating and Executing a Plan of Attack on a Low Budget (September 2014). Find the book on Hal Leonard’s website under “Trade Books” or on Amazon. Signed copies with a special offer are also available at

photo CC by


Art Garfunkel Lashes Out at Paul Simon in New Interview

Posted by Mike McCready | May 25th, 2015 | No responses – 

Art Garfunkel lashed out at his former Simon & Garfunkel partner Paul Simon in a scathing new interview where the singer accuses Simon of suffering from a Napoleonic complex and suppressing Garfunkel’s creativity. Speaking to The Telegraph, Garfunkel also cites Simon as the reason why the tour aren’t embarking on a reunion tour and even takes a mild jab at Paul McCartney.

“Will I do another tour with Paul? Well, that’s quite doable. As far as this half is concerned, why not? But I’ve been in that same place for decades. This is where I was in 1971.” Garfunkel said before pretending to address Simon. “How can you walk away from this lucky place on top of the world, Paul? What’s going on with you, you idiot? How could you let that go, jerk?”

Garfunkel also talked about befriending Simon when they were school kids because Garfunkel felt sorry for Simon because of his height. “And that compensation gesture has created a monster,” Garfunkel said. When asked if Simon has a Napoleonic complex, he responded, “I think you’re on to something. I would say so, yes.”

Regarding their post-Bridge Over Troubled Water breakup, Garfunkel said, “It was very strange. Not my choice. Nothing I would have done. I want to open up about this. I don’t want to say any anti-Paul Simon things, and I love that the world still loves Simon & Garfunkel, but it seems very perverse to not enjoy the glory and walk away from it instead. Crazy. What I would have done is take a rest from Paul, because he was getting on my nerves. A rest was very much called for. The jokes had run dry. But a rest of a year was all I needed.”

In the interview, Garfunkel relays an anecdote about meeting George Harrison and how the Beatles guitarist compared Paul Simon to Paul McCartney. “George came up to me at a party once and said ‘my Paul is to me what your Paul is to you.’ He meant that psychologically they had the same effect on us. The Pauls sidelined us,” Garfunkel said. “I think George felt suppressed by Paul and I think that’s what he saw with me and my Paul. Here’s the truth: McCartney was a helluva music man who gave the band its energy, but he also ran away with a lot of the glory.”

Simon & Garfunkel last performed together in July 2010. In recent years, Garfunkel has suffered through vocal problems, but he told Rolling Stone in February 2014 that his voice had returned to 96-percent strength. (Garfunkel told The Telegraph that he has “now almost fully recovered it.”) Garfunkel also told Rolling Stone that he believed he and Simon would reunite to tour again.

“It takes two to tango. I don’t want to be the blushing bride waiting for Paul Simon to walk down the aisle,” Garfunkel said. “If he’s too busy to work with me I guess the real answer to your question is, ‘I’m too busy to work with him.’ I think that’s the only answer I can give you for pride’s sake.”



Pandora Acquires Artist Analytics Platform Next Big Sound

Posted by Mike McCready | May 20th, 2015 | No responses – 

Our prediction that 2015 would be a big year for music tech mergers and acquisitions is proving accurate. Today, Pandora, online radio’s dominate player, announced that it has acquired Next Big Sound, a pioneer in digital music analytics.


Pandora has agreed to acquire Next Big Sound, a provider of online music analytics, for an undisclosed sum.

A part of an offensive to counter what many in the industry see as inadequate payments to rights holders and creators, Pandora has stepped up efforts to help artists understand and connect with fans. Today’s deal “marks the latest step in Pandora’s commitment to become an indispensable partner to the music industry,” the company said in a statement, “and accelerates its strategy of harnessing data for the benefit of music makers.”

Launched in 2009, Next Big Sound combines music consumption data in a centralized platform. The acquisition provides Pandora with an analytics tool currently used by tens of thousands of artists, labels and marketers.

It will be interesting to see how Next Big Sound’s artist and label customers feel about Pandora having access to their data.

Under the deal, Next Big Sound will expand Pandora’s data-driven Artist Marketing Platform (AMP), that already offers Artist Insights and Artist Audio Messaging. And Pandora’s massive data set will be added to Next Big Sound’s analytics offering.

“We are thrilled to be joining Pandora,” said Alex White, CEO at Next Big Sound. “In them, we’ve found a great partner who, like us, believes data has the power to transform the music industry.”


To survive, the music industry must work as one

Posted by Mike McCready | May 19th, 2015 | No responses – 

It’s no secret that the music business is changing. With physical sales hitting all time lows, many — including Apple, Google, and a slew of big name music superstars — have pinned their hopes of a viable business on streaming. But the services, which include Spotify, Rdio and Jay Z’s Tidal, have not been without criticism, specifically about compensation to the artists and, most recently, public flame wars. We asked Jim Rondinelli, a former record producer who now works as Rdio’s Global Head of Content Licensing and Catalog to weigh in on how the industry must adapt in order to survive.

In the nineties, I had the pleasure—an honour really—of working with some of the most influential North American bands in Rock and Roll. My career as a producer and mixer brought me into the creative spheres of Weezer, Wilco, Matthew Sweet, and Canadian treasures like Sloan, Odds, and The Tragically Hip.

Back then, people listened to music on cassette tapes and compact discs sold in physical stores. As much as I loved shopping for tapes and CDs, there was nothing worse than traipsing out to a store only to find that the record I’d been searching for was out of stock. Those days are long over.

The music industry, as with so many other industries, has been undergoing a radical transformation. Thanks to the internet and widespread broadband access, people around the world can access every song ever recorded, anywhere within reach of a data connection.

In 1999, I made a decision to take a break from producing and mixing records. I could see that the music industry would be disrupted by the emergence of new digital distribution technologies. Now, as Global Head of Content Licensing and Catalog at Rdio, I am focused on making music legally available to fans in the 85 countries in which we operate, while also making sure that artists are being fairly compensated for their efforts.

We’ve now arrived in an unprecedented era of music discovery and distribution, where music fans can find virtually every piece of music ever recorded instantly via their mobile phone. Distribution barriers have collapsed. Artists can offer their music to a wider audience than ever before. Artists and fans alike benefit from instant distribution. If I create a song this afternoon, it can be available globally within hours. This would have been inconceivable twenty years ago.

Artists are now compensated by people choosing to listen their music

But, as the earlier years of illegal file sharing showed us, availability did not mean that artists were being compensated for their efforts. Rights holders saw first hand the damage that was being done to their businesses by piracy.

As subscription and ad-supported music streaming services grow, people ask me how artists can continue to make money in the new digital landscape. The fact is that it’s possible and it’s happening today, even during this transitional period for the industry. However, we all must be mindful that this transformative period for the music industry is still at a very nascent stage, and many rights owners have had to undergo painful transformations of their businesses to support the pace of change demanded by a rapidly evolving marketplace.

In the meantime, the barriers to entry for music production have vanished. Many new computers come preinstalled with software offering greater functionality than was available in a $200,000 recording studio some 20 years ago. Similarly, as our economy moved from one based on purchasing to one based on attention, music consumption patterns have changed. Few music fans have the time or the willingness to listen to a 12-song album in a single sitting. The result is that more artists are regularly releasing and promoting music than ever before.

The industry is transitioning from the purchase of physical goods to a business model based on access to music. This change requires a fundamental shift in thinking from the people who are marketing music. Artists are now compensated by people choosing to listen their music.

More than ever before, music is about connection. Not only do fans connect to each other, they also connect with artists via social media. The barrier between artist and fan has broken down, creating an opportunity for artists to engage with fans directly and market themselves. The most successful new artists were once found at the back of the venue, selling merchandise and establishing a personal connection to people who came to see them. Now, they extend their interaction by connecting to their audience on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat. Audiences are responding with gratitude and scads of attention, and we are only a few years into this journey.

There can be no doubt that rights holders must be fairly compensated for their work. As the digital music market continues to grow, there will inevitably be differences between the industry’s many stakeholders. However, if everyone in the industry works together, we can make something very special for music fans, recording artists, and songwriters alike. We shouldn’t miss the opportunity to do so.

Jim Rondinelli is Global Head of Content Licensing and Catalog at Rdio



Nashville’s music industry, described in five words

Posted by Mike McCready | May 16th, 2015 | No responses – 

Among the dozens of panels at the Music Biz conference in town this weekend, one stood out more to me than others. The panel, called “It’s Still Music City, U.S.A.: Doing Deals in Nashville,” included a variety of music industry experts from local bankers to D.C.-based music policy wonks.

The premise of the panel was that the song still reigns supreme in Nashville, so changes in the global music industry are being felt differently here. Therefore, business is done differently here than in New York, Los Angeles and London. The objective was to provide some insight for the audience into how business is done in Nashville, and why “it’s still Music City, U.S.A.”

The panel touched on Nashville’s startup community and financing opportunities, but the moderator, Nash FM’s Blair Garner, kicked-off the session by asking each panelist to choose one word to describe Nashville’s music community. Here’s what the panelists said:

Heather McBee, Project Music: “Community.” McBee, who joined the Nashville Entrepreneur Center after years in the music industry, pointed to the support that major labels and music industry execs have given to Project Music, the music-tech accelerator run at the EC. Not only did major players offer mentorship and support to the companies, she pointed out that they’ve also helped fund the accelerator.


Four Things for Songwriters to Keep in Mind About Performance Royalty Rates

Posted by Mike McCready | May 14th, 2015 | 1 Response – 

Yesterday, news broke that performance rights organization ASCAP lost its appeal of a decision by a federal judge to keep webcasting rates at 1.85 percent. The ruling also affirmed an earlier decision that publishers are not allowed to “partially withdraw” digital rights from ASCAP. This decision only applies to public performances of musical works on non-interactive (or “radio-like” services such as Pandora. (For more information on how all of this works, check out our ASCAP and BMI consent decrees fact sheet.)

Songwriters want to be paid more, and we think they deserve to be paid more wherever their music is performed. However, there are a few things that songwriters might want to keep in mind with regard to this decision:

1. The appeals court ruling means your royalties stay the same for the rest of the term, which is only through Dec. 31 of this year. After that, parties must come to a new agreement to achieve rates for the next five-year period or return to rate court.

2. Terrestrial radio pays 1.7 percent of revenue to Pandora’s 1.85. Most of the songwriters we know—including us!—are more likely to be heard on Internet radio than commercial FM. And you have to be played to be paid. Granted, Pandora is likely to buy an FM station in South Dakota, which would make them eligible for the 1.7 rate. However:

3. The Department of Justice (DOJ) is likely to make recommendations soon to modify the consent decrees, which according to several federal judges, currently prohibit partial withdrawal of digital rights from ASCAP and BMI. Depending on what the DOJ decides, publishers may be allowed to negotiate digital licenses directly with the services, which could lead to higher rates. But do pay attention to what the songwriter guilds and associations have to say about transparency. Because it doesn’t serve songwriters if the major publishers can play “hide the money” or trade equity and cash advances for lower writer royalties.

4. How do we get you paid more without fracturing the licensing space and tilting the playing field to just three major publishers? There are a great many writers who own their own publishing, are with independent publishers or have sub-publishing deals with the majors. This is a highly complex space with multiple writers and multiple publishers on a single song. Getting paid more is important, especially as our mechanical royalties erode. But eliminating webcasting isn’t the answer. Rock-solid data, transparency and yes, maybe even direct licensing under certain conditions, is likely to produce a better outcome.

Or else we’ll just have to ask Congress to “fix it.” And that might take a while.


Music Community Unites Against Radio Payola

Posted by Mike McCready | May 13th, 2015 | 1 Response – 

If you’ve ever negotiated with bandmates about where to eat after a gig, you know that musicians can have strong—and sometimes divergent—opinions about a lot of different things. Expand that to the broader music community—which includes independent and major record labels, managers, advocacy groups, artist unions and fans—and things can get even more complex. (Are we still talking about grub? Kinda getting hungry ourselves.)

Future of Music Coalition is a big tent and we respect the many and varied viewpoints of those who comprise our community. We understand that not everyone is going to see eye-to-eye on every issue. But sometimes consensus does occur. One recent example is the music community’s opposition to relaxing the rules around payola.

Over the last few weeks, musicians and their partners weighed in on an important matter before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Previously, a coalition of commercial broadcasters filed a petition to obtain a waiver that would allow them to take money in exchange for airing content without disclosing that information at the time the content is aired. If the waiver is granted, it’s a win for Big Radio, a loss for everyone else.

Such a change to the rules would have the effect of legitimizing payola, essentially making it even harder for independent artists and labels to achieve airplay.

FMC created the website to help musicians and fans file in the official FCC docket. And we were psyched to see so many individual artists make their viewpoints known. We were also impressed that so many music groups—from trade industry associations to nonprofits—weighed in. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) The American Association of Independent Music (A2IM), the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (the GRAMMYs) and FMC were among those pushing back against Big Radio.

All of this sends a clear message to the FCC: the music community stands together against payola on the airwaves. Undisclosed pay-to-play schemes are not good for listeners who want to know that the music they hear on the radio is chosen because of its artistic merit or popularity. And it’s definitely not good for artists and labels who are unable to pony up the cash to reach audiences on this still-vital platform. So what’s next? Well, the FCC has to decide whether to grant the waiver. With an overwhelming number of comments in opposition, we feel pretty confident that they’ll make the right decision.

Another thing the music community is united on is closing the loophole in US copyright law that allows AM/FM radio to not pay performers and sound recording owners (usually the label, but sometimes the artist) when their music is broadcast on terrestrial radio. Satellite radio pays. Webcasters pay. The rest of the developed world pays performers and labels. Songwriters and publishers are paid when music is played on AM/FM (as well as on digital radio). But incredibly, Big Radio has managed to convince members of Congress that not paying performers is OK. This isn’t just an issue for artists who are broadcast on US stations. It’s a fundamental imbalance in global trade. Due to the lack of a so-called “reciprocal right,” American artists are unable to collect money owed to them for overseas plays. Can you think of another export that the US would be cool with the rest of the world using for free? We can’t.

There have been many attempts to close this loophole over the decades. Currently, there’s a bill in Congress called the Fair Play Fair Pay Act that would, among other things, eliminate this unfair exemption. As we just learned from the payola issue, it is possible to come together and make our voices heard as a community. It might not happen all the time on every issue, but when it does, we’re that much closer to a brighter future for music.


The Most Popular Keys of All Music on Spotify

Posted by Mike McCready | May 7th, 2015 | No responses – 

Guest Post by Eliot Van Buskirk on Spotify Insights

Unless you count the microtones between what the notes in the genres many of us are most familiar with, there are only 12 notes in all of music.

That’s over 30 million songs, the vast majority with various combinations of the same 12 notes. In addition, every song in western music is based around only one of these notes, as well as a mode — almost always major, which sounds happy, or minor, which does not. These two elements determine what key a given piece of music is in, and are known as the “key” of the song.

Spotify data analyst and jazz pianist Kenny Ning took it upon himself to analyze the key of every track on Spotify, to determine how frequently they appear, and we turned the result into a chart.

“With regard to Western contemporary music (which dominates our catalog), instrumentation is largely based around guitar, piano, or both,” said Ning. “So, the hypothesis here is that the key signature should be a convenient key for both guitar and piano.”

Let’s find out:

More mysterious, at first glance anyway, is the order of the notes. Why is G Major the top key on all of Spotify? And why is C Major number two?

Much like electricity going through a circuit, songwriters often take the path of least resistance. On a keyboard or a guitar — both incredibly popular instruments for composing western music — that path is through G Major.

We saw a similar phenomenon with minor keys. A minor, the relative minor of C major, is the easiest minor to play on a keyboard. It’s the also the most popular minor key, with 4.8 percent of all the music on Spotify.

Kenny Ning explains:

“E is convenient for guitar, but not piano.

C is convenient for piano, but not guitar.

G is convenient for both guitar and piano.

So, why is G major the most popular key signature in Spotify’s catalog? It’s likely because most popular Western contemporary music instruments are biased towards certain keys.

When people talk about the ‘key signature’ or ‘key’ of a song, they are referring to the tonal center of the song. The key signature will also determine what notes and chords your song should use if you want it to sound consonant/pleasant.

The guitar and the piano are probably the two most popular instruments in modern Western music history. So I would assume a lot of composition today begins on one of those two instruments. And for those who have ever studied guitar or piano, they quickly learn that certain keys are easier to play than others.

Black keys on a piano are thin and somewhat hard to strike accurately, and the player/composer has to remember where they are. Thus pianists will stick to key signatures that are largely composed of white keys, such as C major, G major, or F major.

For guitar, there are certain chords that are naturally easy to play given the standard tuning of the strings. There’s a reason the first chords you learn in guitar are E major, G major, A major, and D major.

Combine these two sets of ‘easy to play’ keys together, and you’ll see that G is the common denominator between guitar and piano. So it’s no surprise that songwriters would write their chords in these keys so they could focus their energy on more important things… melody and lyrics.”

Sony Pulls All Music Off Soundcloud

Posted by Mike McCready | May 7th, 2015 | No responses – 

The globe’s second biggest music group, Sony, pulled its music off of SoundCloud yesterday after failing to reach an agreement. Gone are such hit artists as Adele, Kelly Clarkson, Hozier and Miguel.

Sony dispute with Soundcloud is over “a lack of monetization opportunities,” an anonymous music executive told Billboard, who were first to report the takedown. “[It’s] been a good place for exposure,” added an artist manager. “At the same time, artists and labels need to get paid for music. Until that can be worked out, we’re going to have situations that are incompatible with artist development.”

Ongoing Negotiations, $2 Million Paid

In addition to the NMPA, Soundcloud has also been able to strike a licensing deal with Warner Music Group; and talks with other rightsholders are ongoing.

“We are in ongoing conversations with major and independent labels and will continue to add partners to the program,” noting that the company has already paid out more than $2 million in advertising revenue to more than 100 partners since On SoundCloud’s establishment in late 2014″ Soundcloud said in a statement. “We’ve always put control in the hands of creators, and anyone who makes music and audio can decide when and how they want to share it with fans, allowing artists to essentially broadcast out to the world the availability of new content.”

Interview With Music Xray CEO Mike McCready On The Jimmy Lloyd Songwriter Showcase

Posted by Mike McCready | May 2nd, 2015 | 3 Responses

Jimmy Lloyd asks Mike McCready the tough questions.

Episode 31 – Segment 3 – Jimmy Lloyd interviews Mike McCready – The Jimmy Lloyd Songwriter Showcase from on Vimeo.