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Re: loopmarketing

Michael Peters wrote:
> hi all,
> now that my own first loop CD is almost ready, I'd love to stir up a 
> about loop music marketing ... those of you who have CDs out, what is 
> experience, opinion, and approach to this?

I don't have a CD out, but I've basically decided to start my own label
once I've got my music recorded, so I've been doing a lot of research
into the nuts and bolts therein.  I'll offer up what insights I can,
though there are several on the list with far more experience and
insight (hopefully they'll pipe up with their own ideas).
> Is it feasible at all to produce, market, and distribute a CD without a 
> label? 

Pretty much every indication I get is that the current trend is towards
labels taking an interest in artists who develop a lot of momentum on
their own.  Groups like Hootie and the Blowfish and Dave Matthews Band
got signed principally because they had built up serious regional
followings through extensive gigging, and had already released their own
indie CDs which had sold thousands of copies via gigs and word of
mouth.  Ironically, one of the best ways to get a label interested in
you is to prove that you basically don't need them, and that you're
already a somewhat autonomous commercial entity.  But even if you're not
looking to be picked up by a label, the dropping costs of CD
manufacturing, coupled with the flourishing independent scene, makes it
easier than ever for a person to do a lot on their own.

> How does one proceed, 

The best thing to do is to start your *own* label, which basically
amounts to registering it, filing a name statement, opening a DBA (doing
business as) bank account, and other legal and business details.  Total
cost for this is probably somewhere between $100-$300.

> what are the things to watch out for, 

There are some strange legal loopholes in some cases.  For instance,
some cities prohibit running a business out of one's house due to zoning
laws, which means that you have to rent out a suite (i.e. a spot where
mail can be delivered to you).  This apparently gets around the zoning
issue because even though you're only renting a tiny mail box,
technically you're renting out property.  (Apparently a PO box doesn't
work; you've got to go to an outlet like Mail Boxes Etc. or some such

I've also heard that some cities require that people running a business
out of their home must set aside one room designated strictly for
business use -- no bed or anything else.  Kind of a pain in the ass, and
these things seem to get checked up on.  Be sure to check with the local
regulations in terms of what you need to do in order to operate as a
business.  There are quite a few books out on the subject of releasing
one's own record independently; check out some of those as well.

> how can the
> CDs be distributed, what are good addresses (radio stations, magazines 
>...) for
> distribution, 

CDs that you buy in stores get from labels to retailers through
distributers.  One of the more or less unanimous sentiments seems to be
that distribution is a collossal headache; the market is swamped right
now, making it very difficult for a new or untested artist to get a
distributer to carry their album.  And just because a distributer *does*
pick up a CD doesn't necessarily mean that they're getting it into
stores.  Distribution is the bane of music retail.  I'm not sufficiently
well-versed with it's many intricacies to say much about it, except
that's it's a serious drag.

There are other outlets, though they're more labor-intensive.  You can
contact stores and try to sell them directly without a distributor (as
the Jones Brothers in Saturday Night Live used to say, "We eliminate the
middleman!"), via a consignment deal.  You can sell them at gigs
(provided, of course, that you actually play out).  You can run ads in
print magazines oriented towards indie labels and/or your particular
musical focus and sell direct via mail-order.  

And of course you can use the Internet to target potential customers
through a few well-placed posts in newsgroups and mailing lists.  There
are also a lot of resources for independents cropping up online; check a
search engine and be prepared to spend a few hours sorting through the
resources.  This is a very interesting time for music retail and the
Net; it's obvious that there's some incredible potential, but right now
everybody's kind of feeling their way through the different
possibilities and trying to work around the logistical issues of
charging customers for downloads, maintaining sound quality, etc.  For
someone like yourself with a strong basis in computing and online work,
I'd consider the possibilities of online marketing and distribution as a
primary possibility for getting your music out.

> where does one send promo CDs, etc?

Promo CDs get directed at record stores (ideally intended for in-store
play, though they generally wind up getting passed along to store
employees), journalists at magazines for review, and radio stations for
airplay -- in a nutshell, anybody who's in a position to get people to
hear your music.  If you're sending a promo, it's a good idea to include
some kind of cover sheet and/or bio describing the music and specifying
which tracks are particularly worthy of attention.

> Is doing it all alone a better or a worse approach than working with a 
> label? What are the pros and cons? Are there other ways to do it?

The upside to working without a label is that you make 100% of the money
from the sales of the CDs.  Robert Fripp once pointed out that his
soundscapes album "1999" had sold 10,000 copies through his own label,
DGM.  He went on to say that if it had been sold through a major, the
album would have had to sell over *100,000* copies for him as an artist
to have made the same amount (and even though that's his own label, some
of those profits no doubt go back into DGM).  I think Ani DiFranco makes
about $4.00 per every CD she sells through her own label (but again, the
rest of the profits go right back into her own record label, of which
she's essentially the only artist, barring a one-off collaboartive album
from a couple of years ago).  Exactly what kind of royalty deal an
artist gets with a label varies from label to label and from deal to
deal.  For comparison's sake, a really good major label deal will give
an artist about $1.00 per every CD sold.  (Consider that the current
list price for most CDs in America is somewhere in the $14.99-#17.99

The fairly recent breakthrough in terms of affordable home CD burning is
a really interesting development.  For instance, let's say I'm going to
play a solo gig in a town a couple of hours away.  So I burn up ten CDs
at home on a CD-R drive.  With the average cost of a blank CD-R
somewhere between $1 and $5, and factoring in paper for the jewel box
and CD face labels, let's say that each CD costs about $3 to make at
home, which translates to $30 for ten of them.  So I stick them in a
box, have a good night at the gig, and sell all ten discs to people in
the audience for $12.00 each.  That means I've made a profit of $90 --
and I don't have a box of 990 extra CDs sitting in the closet waiting to
be sold.  Depending on how many CDs you're looking to sell, how quickly
you expect to need a large amount of them, and what the cost of
mass-producing several hundred happens to be, literally burning and
manufacturing CDs at home could be a very viable route to go.

Another upside to DIY is that you're in control of your own destiny --
you decide how it's marketed, where it's directed at, the works.  You
don't have to deal with people who may or may not understand your music,
who may or may not decide that your work is a priority for promotion and
marketing, who may or may not have a good sense of what route to take in
making potential customers properly aware of the music, who nonetheless
have control over your album due to contractual rights.  And you'll wind
up owning your master recordings, which isn't likely in a typical label
deal where the label funds the recording expenses but then owns what
they paid for (not an unreasonable arrangement, but a potentially
discouraging one for an artist who has no control over what happens to
the recordings of his music.)  Even in cases where the artist basically
delivers a finished master recording to the label, the label will often
require a period of time (often many years) during which the label holds
exclusive rights to manufacturing and distribution.

The disadvantages to doing it yourseelf?  You have to assume the roles
of promoter, marketer, producer, and artist at the same time.  There's a
lot to be done in promoting a record, and one of the things labels offer
is people who (hopefully) do those things for the artist (whether or not
they actually do is another matter altogether).  They also cover the
expenses of promotion and marketing.  Granted, these expenses often come
out of any future pay an artist may recieve, but the issue of simply
raising the necessary capital to press up some CDs and run a few ads is
less daunting for a label with an established presence and a history of
working with publications and outlets than it is for one artist who's
footing the bill himself.  

> How does one find a suitable record label? There are hundreds of labels 
>for the
> experimental, electronic, ambient genres - how can one find out what the
> differences are, which label would be best suited for one's needs, 

It depends on what you're looking for a label to do for you.  Some are
better than others in terms of simply getting product into stores. 
Others are more geared towards mail-order and word-of-mouth.  Some have
certain types of reputations built up, to the extent that a lot of
customers will buy pretty much anything from that label simply by virtue
of the label's track record and reputation.

A good thing to do is to check out various artists whose work you feel
is in a vein similar to yours, and then find out which labels carry
their work.  It's a bit of a double-eged sword, though, becuase a label
that already carries an artist who does very similar work to what you're
doing isn't going to be looking for another one of those exact acts.  In
other words, Elektra isn't looking for another Metallica, Maverick isn't
hunting for the next Alanis Morrisette or Prodigy, and Discipline Global
Mobile ain't exactly hard-up for Guitar Craft-bred ambient guitar-loop
artists.  I'd say, try to find a label that seems to share your own
musical philosophy, but which has enough of an empty niche in its roster
that you can stand out amongst the others.  

Once you've found a few labels that seem to carry music you feel is in a
kindred vien to your own, you might simply go to some record stores and
see how many of those releases are in stock.  See what other artists are
on the label's roster, and check out what sort of distribution they have
as well.  (Use some common sense here -- don't think that Astralwerks
doesn't do a good job of getting product into stores just because the
new Photek or Adam F CDs aren't in Sam Goody next to Mariah Carey and
Celine Dion.  Check out stores that cater towards the type of music
you're doing).  Talk to the store buyers (the people responsible for
dealing with distributors and selecting what titles the store carries)
or management and see what their take on different labels might be.

Also bear in mind that a lot of these smaller, more obscure labels are
no more than one- or two-person outfits.  One of the reasons there are
so many indies these days is that everybody and their dog is starting up
their own label. 

Beyond that, you might simply see how many labels are actually *willing*
to take you on.  It's one thing to be selective, and if you're ina
position to shop around, then more power to you.  From my point of view,
the main reason I'm preparing to start my own label is that I don't
think there are any labels out there that would be interested in putting
out the stuff I'm working on.

A good resource is _The Musician's Guide to Touring and Promoting_,
which is published about once every six months by _Musician_ magazine. 
Among other things, it includes an extensive listing of labels, often
including what sorts of music they specialize in.

> how does one
> approach them, 

Most indies accept unsolicited tapes, though some don't and others have
specific policies (i.e. call them first, write to obtain permission to
send, etc).  Unsolicited tapes sent to labels that aren't receptive to
them usually wind up returned to sender at best, or cast into the trash
heap unopened at worst.  The _Musician's Guide_ has a comprehensive list
of different labels' policies; you can also try e-mailing, faxing, or
calling them for info.

As I mentioned above, releasing it yourself and getting some concrete
results is a good way of getting somebody's attention.  Here's a scary
statistic: 97% of all major-label releases sell no more than *700*
copies.  That means that any hack rock band or bedroom-studio techno
producer who presses up 1,000 CDs and sells them all at gigs out of the
back of their car is on par with the top 3% of releases put out by the
Big Five majors.  Pretty sobering, huh?

> what can one expect, how can one make sure that one doesn't get
> ripped off?

Be very clear on what the terms of the contract are; depending on how
in-depth it is and how it's worded, consider having an attorney work
with you to negotiate the contract.  Things to be mindful of include
master tape ownership, royalty rate, royalty payment schedule, number of
albums you're required to deliver under the terms of the contract,
degree of artistic control, etc.

A serious caveat: this is all basically a report on what I've found out
myself from research, which has yet to be tempered with the actual
litmus test of practical hands-on experience.  So, if I've said anything
here that a more knowlegable or experienced member of the list would
care to elaborate or correct me on, I'd be more than happy to hear it!