Sometimes It’s More Than Just the Music

Sometimes it’s more than just the music. It’s a conversation. Are you following any well-known artists on Facebook or Twitter? Big names are not just sharing music, they’re sharing their lives. You might not be at the stage where fans are fawning over your every move -- that often takes somewhat of a celebrity status in your niche to achieve that sort of following -- but that doesn’t mean you can’t create value outside of just promoting your music.

As much as everyone might love your music, if all you do is PUSH PUSH PUSH your song embeds, your profile links, and other “me-oriented activities,” then soon enough your following will be ignoring your updates if not outright unfollowing you. Instead, create value by starting a conversation. Whether directly or indirectly related to your music, point out interesting topics about music, art, or media that will inspire. If people trust your voice and opinion, they will most likely give your music more thought and feel closer to you as an artist.

What are some ways to make things interesting? If you make music, why not attach music to a visual? Album cover art is becoming less relevant in the digital age, so start an Instagram or Flickr profile where you can create a tone of visual aesthetics that match your music and gets you in front of a new audience. Like sharing a mixture of videos, photos, and short writing snippets that appeal to you? Start a Tumblr blog that others in the community can reblog and share. Are your lyrics political or controversial in nature? Start a Posterous blog describing your stance on issues that are important to you. Whatever it is, start it now.

There are dozens of sites that have already hit critical mass or a meaningful enough scale where you can help build an audience for your content (with the end goal of creating new fans and opportunities). You can do this by being a voice for a certain segment of the community that matches your artistic message or sound. At the very least, your content will all link back to your main website or online profile, thus creating more link juice for you to appear higher up in Google search results. Just remember to be authentic and mean what you say, what you share, and what you believe in. The rest will follow (and hopefully so will the fans).



Music Quotes to Live By, Laugh At, or Just Enjoy

"Without music, life would be a mistake." - Friedrich Nietzsche 

"We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out." - Decca Recording Company rejecting the Beatles (1962) 

“When words fail, Music speaks.” - H.C. Anderson 

"One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain." - Bob Marley 

“Music is not a matter of life or death...
It's much more important than that.” - Unknown

"Play the music, not the instrument." - Unknown

"I would rather play Chiquita Banana and have my swimming pool than play Bach and starve." - Xavier Cougat

“Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.” - Mark Twain

“Never look at the trombones, it only encourages them.” - Richard Strauss 

"I think popular music in this country is one of the few things in the twentieth century to have made giant strides in reverse." - Bing Crosby 

“Videos destroyed the vitality of rock and roll. Before that, music said, ‘Listen to me.’ Now it says, ‘Look at me.’” - Billy Joel 

"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side ..." - Hunter S. Thompson 

"I don't know anything about music, In my line you don't have to." - Elvis Presley 

"There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself." - Johann Sebastian Bach 

"Music is love in search of a voice." - Leo Tolstoy

iTunes Shapes The Way We Hear Music

The audio industry has been abuzz over the latest Red Hot Chili Peppers album, I’m With You, because it has three mastered versions including one made specifically for iTunes. For those who don’t know, iTunes uses an AAC file format that is superior to mp3 but still contains some audio degradation compared to the normal CD format.

Despite the lossy format’s sacrifice in quality, many claim that the AAC format used in iTunes has its own peculiarities that can be sonically interesting. In a NYTimes article back in 2007, Robert Levine described the mastering process for Ry Cooder’s My Name is Buddy and the influence of a supposed iTunes mastering sound:

“When he burned a copy of the album using Apple’s iTunes software, it sounded fine. He didn’t know why until one of his younger engineers told him that the default settings on iTunes apply a ‘sound enhancer.’ (It’s in the preferences menu, under ‘playback.’) Usually, that feature sweetens the sound of digital music files, but Mr. Cooder so liked its effect on his studio recordings that he used it to master — that is, make the final sound mixes — his album. ‘We didn’t do anything else to it,’ he said.”

We are now living in a generation that is being brought up with iPods and iTunes—and that means audio engineers across the world have to make production choices as a consequence of this phenomenon, whether borne out of necessity or choice. Vlado Meller worked on the Red Hot Chili Peppers master with Mark Santangelo at Masterdisk studios. In an interview with Digital Music News, Meller stated that:

“With an iTunes optimized master, the listener will be able to enjoy more clarity and an overall better sound quality than is otherwise currently available… With iTunes optimization during mastering, the AAC files are much closer to the sound of the commercial CD.”

While many audio purists might decry the generation of Apple earbud headphones and degraded audio formats, there is still the hope that technology will usher in an era of new audio formats that do not sacrifice on sonic characteristics in the same way. Right now audio engineers are making the best out of a bad situation, where consumers choose convenience over optimal sound quality. The sacrifice might be worth it for most, but all convenience comes at some price. Hopefully we’ll all be able to have it both ways in the future. Until then, expect more albums like the latest Red Hot Chili Peppers album to get mastered specifically for iTunes and digital downloads. 

You Have No Choice But Creativity

Remember that shiny record contract you’ve been salivating over since you were four? What! It’s not coming? The record industry is in shambles? Digital music has taken over?

Now you CAN’T sell out! You have no choice but to make the music YOU wanted. You have no choice but to communicate directly with your listeners, picking up new fans one by one as they dissect the nuances of your unique craft. You have no choice but creativity.

Yes there will be followers. Cookie-cutter remixes of the sound one artists discovers. But it all started with an idea, an extraordinary tone, inflection, nuance, and melody. The start of something new! A signature sound.

The newness will wear off, and the new trend will begin, but the motive is still there. Unbridled freedom of expression! A crowd that will turn away at first glance of selling out. Fragmented music! Dictatorships gone and we are left with a bunch of city-states. Powerful nonetheless, made up of early adopters and distribution fiends. “Share share share” they all cried in unison! Anything short of force-feeding is fine. Cause it’s all good in this game.

It’s all good! Even the bad is good. And if not, it’ll be gone tomorrow! Because why not? Transaction costs are small (and getting smaller), the noise is tough, but we’ll get through it. Cream still rises to the top last time I checked.

TV killed the radio star. Digital killed what was left in its path. Hurry up before the cycle begins again! You have no choice but creativity. 

Score One for Freedom of Expression

In the United States, sometimes we all need a little reminder that we live in a place where freedom of speech and freedom of expression are so commonplace that they are second nature. Of course there are instances where lawmakers try to pass laws that inhibit those freedoms, but for the most part, we live in a pretty “free” society.

After reading an update on Ultimate Guitar, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Nergal, frontman for extreme metal band Behemoth, was found innocent after being arrested for tearing up a Bible on stage at a show in Gdynia in 2007. The concert where Nergal ripped apart a Bible was in his native Poland, where there are strict laws against anti-religious actions that might offend others.

Regarding the verdict, Nergal stated:

"I'm so glad to see intelligence won over religious fanatics in my home country. There's still so much work to be done to make things right, but I'm sure I'm on the path to ultimate freedom… The battle is won but the war ain't over."

Ryszard Nowak, chairman of the Polish Committee for Defense Against Sects, accused Nergal and Behemoth of promoting Satanism. Fortunately Judge Wiechowski sided with Nergal, claiming that no one in the audience was offended by Nergal’s act and that it was a form of artistic expression.

Even in the U.S., some cases slip through the cracks and people go to jail for seemingly minor offenses that don’t warrant serious jail time or significant taxpayer dollars to cover inmate incarceration. Nevertheless, some countries get it wrong most of the time and getting arrested for speaking your mind is not an aberration. Luckily in the U.S. and in many other countries, we are able to judge a piece of art or music based on its quality, no matter how extreme, without the fear of any excessive repercussions. Whenever you add extra filters to what you can or cannot do in society, you water down the culture. The verdict for Nergal is a small bit of liberation for Poland.

Even With Audio Fidelity, Is Half the Price for Hype?

“Friends don’t let friends use Apple headphones.”

I’m not sure if that’s an actual phrase by someone other than me, but it’s the statement I’ve lived by since my early years of iPod use. The earbuds that come with iPods never seemed to match the audio fidelity of bigger headphones or smaller noise-canceling earbuds that seem to keep a lot of the pleasant frequencies flowing into my eardrums.

Since I listen to a lot of mp3s and don’t have a vinyl player sitting in my apartment, I’m not sure if you can consider me an audiophile or music snob in the High Fidelity sense (if you haven’t seen this scene with Jack Black and John Cusack, then you need to). However, I’m very particular when it come to my daily portable music player listening experience.

So when I found out that Dr. Dre sold a 51% stake in his audio company Beats Electric for a cool $300 million (read about that here), I thought to myself: “Damn, those must be some nice headphones.” The popular product in Dr. Dre’s audio line is the Beats By Dr. Dre headphones that apparently sell like hotcakes. People still like hotcakes, right?

Question is, is the Dr. Dre name and hype worth the price tag to pay between $100-300 for earbuds or studio headphones? Lady Gaga and other artists also have their own custom headphones as part of Dre’s product line (also at a high cost). The price would be hard to justify for the casual music enthusiast hitting the gym three times a week, and the audio fidelity would have to be exceptional for a studio producer to pay for high-tier products.

Unfortunately I have yet to try the headphones out, so don’t make my skepticism out to be a product review. But I always like to engage the Reddit community with my news posts, and a conversation actually started around Dr. Dre’s headphones (see comments here). While Amazon’s ratings can be quite solid if you have enough data points, you can often find some straight shooters on Reddit telling you the real deal about a product or service without to much hassle. The expected answer to the question was that Dre’s headphones are heavy on the bass and don’t offer too much more in terms of quality than some of your cheaper more run-of-the-mill headphones.

If that’s the case, buying the earbuds for daily use comes down to personal preference and whether you’re willing to fork over the extra money for a popular name attached to a brand. For studio musicians and engineers, they’ll want a flat sound that accurately resembles the frequencies and range of music as they recorded it. I’m not sure if the Beats By Dr. Dre headphones delivers on that end, but I’m sure professional studio engineers don’t want to pay for a name.

Sometimes with name brands you’re actually getting a superior product (as true with sweet-tasting cereals as it is with quality guitar craftsmanship). The company that bought a majority stake in Dr. Dre’s brand, HTC, will use the audio technology for their smartphones. That makes it seem like there’s more to it than just a name, but you never know . However, if a celebrity is attached to a product in any way, you can be sure you’re paying a premium for that product no matter what the product or industry vertical.


Legacy Artists Eat Up the Touring Pie

In a recent study, Pollstar charted the top grossing US tours for 2011. As you can see in the chart above, older acts are earning the majority of the touring revenue. Digital Music News brought up an interesting question about the future of the music industry: what will the touring industry look like in the near- and long-term?

Rock bands with deep-pocketed fanbases continue to rake in the big touring money—acts like Bon Jovi, U2, and others never fail to fill the seats. Even if the dynamics of the concert industry always favor older acts with long-standing followings and more disposable income, will the younger generation be able to fill in the gaps in a decade or two when they become the legacy artists? The question then becomes whether the Generation Y audience is a more fickle bunch. We are used to downloading songs off the Internet, putting it on our iPods, and having access to an unlimited amount of music. We’re often exposed to so much but give back so little (in monetary terms, that is).

What might result is a more fragmented system of music and allegiances to artists that won’t last for decades to come. Paul Resnikoff wrote:

“Instead, younger acts are probably making their biggest impact at festivals, a huge growth category that could represent a massive shift in future concert-going (and probably wouldn't be well-represented in this study).”

Younger audiences have the endurance to go to concerts for full-day shows with dozens of acts. The thirst for endless choice in music directly at our fingertips is translating to the concert experience as well—Lollapalooza, Coachella, Electric Zoo Festival, and many other annual events are staples of the younger generation of music listeners.

For the concert industry as a whole, the sum of all its parts might make up for any future shortcomings in legacy acts that bring in large sums of money on an individual basis. Hopefully, younger artists will still be able to make touring work without losing steam as they mature into Generation Y’s future legacy touring acts. 

A Rebuttal to “Why Electronica is the New Rock N’ Roll”

After somewhat of a riot in downtown Los Angeles at the Electric Daisy Carnival film premiere, sparked in part by a tweet by the famous deejay Kaskade, a couple popular blogs brought up the subject of electronic music becoming the new rock n’ roll for the current generation (those articles can be found here and here). While there are some elements of the rock n’ roll movement of past generations, this electronic music movement has very different cultural implications – while it is easy to see some similarities between the two, this is not a new revival of the “rock n’ roll” mentality and atmosphere of the 1960s and 70s.

As we know from Los Angeles sports events and famous jury case verdicts, LA is prone to rioting and the most recent “riot” is not representative of a broader social movement in the U.S. The electronic music scene, while it has built up steadily in the clubs and festivals over the last several years, is culturally disparate from rock n’ roll. Electronic and deejay music is not a particularly rebellious form of music that fights against the tyranny of war and governments or espouses a counter-culture lifestyle. While some deejays might certainly include political messages in their lyrics, most opt for lyrics centered around a fun, party atmosphere not too unlike pop (although often slightly more nuanced in feeling and intention).

Electronic, house, and dubstep music is gaining mainstream acceptance and is rising in the ranks of music in the same way that rock n’ roll did decades earlier, but its cultural references are fewer, its drugs of choice are much different, and its intentions are to mash up and remix every other genre one can imagine. It is a cultural amalgamation of sorts, and while it might be here to stay in all its hype and glory, it is not your parents’ rock n’ roll and nor should it be. and Active Music Discovery

If you haven’t been living under a music discovery rock for the last month, you’ve probably tried (or at least heard of) the new social music discovery site The site allows users to become virtual DJs, where people take turns picking songs from their queue to play to listeners in rooms for specific genres. Everybody has an avatar and the ability to chat with others, fan different “DJs”, and make playlists. A fun idea, though it’s important for casual listeners to distinguish between a DJ who plays their favorite songs all in a row and a DJ who carefully crafts and manipulates songs in new and unique ways. But I digress.

In the never-ending quest for more music, I’m always trying the latest music apps so I can stumble upon a new artist or song that I might come to love. My personal preference for music discovery in the last couple years has been to browse artist profiles on various music social networks, whether that’s on my own site HypedSound or on the various other platforms (SoundCloud, ReverbNation, MySpace, YouTube, etc.). Streaming music websites that have restrictions in terms of song selection, too much advertising, and other limitations never interested me much. I tried out Pandora a couple times but I couldn’t find the consistency in song quality for what I was looking for.

The passive music discovery channel that is Pandora and other streaming sites, that let you press the play button and stop worrying about what song to put on next, never met the quality I was looking for in a more personalized experience. bridges that gap by letting you discover music alongside like-minded people. For funk, jazz, electronic, and dubstep I found that the songs being played were consistently up-to-par with a song that I wouldn’t press the skip button for on Pandora. If appropriate, it can also skew to the underground or more up-and-coming artists.

What is evident to me now is that the future of music, or at least for the more diehard music fans, is not a passive music discovery channel but a constantly evolving one that allows for a number of different options to discover music within a social environment. While I prefer music websites where artists are the ones broadcasting their music profiles themselves, rather than an algorithm choosing a song from a catalogue or a virtual DJ putting up their favorite tracks, I see the merit in every different type of model. offers the intimacy of a social environment with few options for direct-to-artist interaction. Pandora offers simplicity with little of the social factor. HypedSound and similar sites offer more complexity and the ability to reach artists directly, but they require more from the users in terms of interaction and searching. Every platform has its own strengths and weaknesses, but so far, I’ve benefited off of many different models of music discovery.

Slight Edge and Mass Appeal: Why U2 and Others Make Top Dollar

Forbes released a list of the 25 highest paid artists of 2010 last week (see below), which got me thinking as to why certain artists make the list on a reoccurring basis. While I normally don’t dwell over lists like this, I came across a question on Quora that made this list even more relevant (side note: Quora is a Q&A site that seems to have hit a stride amongst the techie/early adopter crowd). So what makes U2 perfect for high earning potential?

As the answers on Quora suggest, U2 is able to reinvent themselves throughout their career while still staying true to their core sound. They stick to an environmentally-friendly, socially conscious message that is not too divisive that it alienates a major ethnic or demographic group. There is also a huge market of older fans with deep enough pockets to pay premium prices for greats seats at their concerts.

Daniel Rosenthal, co-founder of, put it this way (and in narrative form): 

“Earnest, melodic, Oprah-endorsed U2! $200 a ticket? No problem. You get a sitter. Your wife is excited – this is going to be great! You invite some friends from college to join you. On the way, you listen to the “early stuff”. Joshua Tree pumps through the speakers of your Lexus SUV (no judgment - you have two kids!). The harmonies soothe. The lyrics are straightforward.”

The complete answer can be read here and is worth an entire read if you enjoy humorous, somewhat cynical but 100% dead-on commentary.

And who is after U2? It’s Bon Jovi, a less adventurous artist in terms of sonic exploration, but just as appropriate in terms of pinpointing that ideal age and demographic that will not only come to a show but also shell out the big bucks for the experience.

Of course you’ll get newcomers on the list when they hit it big for a stint or two, like Justin Bieber or Rihanna, but to make it to the Top 25 on an ongoing basis for years or even decades, you need a degree of predictability in music. The ability to keep pumping out radio-friendly hits without crossing the border into stale, boring, or even worse outdated is key. There seems to be a happy medium between taking risks and staying true to what the broader mainstream audience wants. If you can make sure that your songs are just as catchy as they were 20 years ago, then at least you do not have to rely 100% on the “nostalgia act” (ahem ahem, Margaritaville).

Forbes’ list of the world's 25 highest-paid musicians:

01. U2 ($195 million)

02. BON JOVI ($125 million)

03. Elton John ($100 million)

04. Lady Gaga ($90 million)

05. Michael Buble ($70 million)

06. Paul McCartney ($67 million)

07. BLACK EYED PEAS ($61 million)

08. EAGLES ($60 million)

09. Justin Bieber ($53 million)

10. Dave Matthews Band ($51 million)

11. Toby Keith ($50 million)

12. Usher ($46 million)

13. Taylor Swift ($45 million)

14. Katy Perry ($44 million)

15. Brad Paisley ($40 million)

16. Tom Petty & the Heartbreaks ($38 million)

17. Jay-Z ($38 million)

18. AC/DC ($35 million)

19. Sean "Diddy" Combs ($35 million)

20. Beyonce ($35 million)

21. Tim McGraw ($35 million)

22. MUSE ($35 million)

23. Rascal Flatts ($34 million)

24. Kenny Chesney ($30 million)

25. Rihanna ($29 million)