Smart Musician Guide

How COVID-19 can help you as an artist. 

Gigs are being cancelled, the future seems uncertain, there’s a lot to cause anxiety right now if you’re an artist. But have you seen the videos that have been circulating from Italy lately? In this time of crisis, it is music that is keeping the Italians connected at a distance.

This pandemic will have horrible ramifications for many of us, but it is also a reminder to the world that art is valuable. Your art. Your music. It’s powerful stuff. That’s what people cling to when everything else is up in the air. They come together and sing and hope for better days ahead.

Many of my friends have started live streaming on Facebook and Instagram. Some include Venmo/Paypal links as digital tip jars. Some just do it for fun. You can too. It might be good therapy for both you and your audience.

Some of my artist friends are getting even more creative and offering to read/sing to children. Some are creating mantra songs. Some are writing funny PSA spoofs. Some are writing songs about the virus.

This too shall pass (if we all abide by social distancing and hand hygiene protocols). But not without a spurt of creative output. People are sick of hearing about the virus or the elections 24/7. Give them something else to take their minds off of current events. Take them on a journey to a positive place of hope and compassion. Doing so will remind your audience how magical music can be, and how much it should be valued. So…

What will you do provide relief through your art?

How COVID-19 can help you as an artist. was originally published in SmartMusicianGuide on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

How to get people to pre-save your song on Spotify. 

How to encourage people to pre-save your song on Spotify.

I recently was complimented by other artists about a post I made on facebook for our upcoming release’ pre-save campaign because it made them actually want to click that link. One asked me if she could copy what I wrote.

I realized during that conversation that many musicians don’t actually know why pre-save campaigns exist and why people should care about it.

Below is the post I made on facebook. You can copy it for your own campaign if you like. You don’t have to give us credit, but adding a song of ours to your playlist would be amazing. Further down, I explain the whole algorithm thing and why pre-saves and pre-orders help indie artists.

What I wrote (go ahead and copy it)

In this “algo-driven” world, every pre-save and pre-order counts.

That’s because on release day, you’ll get the download or it will be added to your library.

This tells “the algorithms” that the song might be worth showing to more people via their playlists.

Maybe we’ll get a cup of coffee’s worth of royalties.

So please click below? :-)

Sidelines Aren't for You by 23rd Hour

Why it works

Most people don’t know how streaming works, and how user behavior drives the algorithms that ultimately decide how many new listeners will be shown your song in their customized playlists. Just telling them to pre-save often annoys them more than anything because… Why should they pre-save it when they won’t be able to hear it until it’s out anyway?

What you really want to do is give them context as to why it’s important to you, and how a small action that is of little cost to them, could make a huge difference for the artists they like, especially indie ones like you.

What’s the fuss about algorithms anyway?

Imagine you’re designing Spotify. Your goal is to suggest songs for your listeners that they will enjoy to keep them listening. If you suggest songs that are too different from their taste, they’ll think you’re an idiot and move to Apple Music or another competitor! No pressure…

To complicate things, your platform is receiving 1000 new songs per hour from indie artists and majors. That’s 168,000 new songs a week on top of the existing catalog of almost all songs ever recorded! How do you decide what goes on Spotify’s curated playlists, what goes into various users’ “Discover Weekly” or “Release Radar”, and what doesn’t go anywhere?

You can rely on humans to curate playlists to certain extent. All streaming services have staff playlist curators who tend to their high profile playlists. But humans are slow. There’s only so many songs they could go through before the next #NewMusicFriday and there’s no way you can have enough of staff to listen to 168,000 new songs in a week and classify them into the right playlists. You need a better strategy that will both be easier on your staff and more rewarding for your listener.

This is where “the algorithms” come in. If you collect some data about each listener, you can create a profile for that particular listener’s taste, take note of the songs they skip, songs they like, songs they put on repeat, and then make an educated guess as to what new music you can present them that they will love. So if the algorithm notices that I have a healthy number of Mauritian artists on heavy rotation, it might put a new release by another local artist on my radar. Makes sense right? They help me discover my new favorite artist, and I happily keep paying them $9.99 a month.

The problem with indie music is that there is often not enough listener data for the algorithms to know where your music would fit best. I suspect that eventually they will get better at analyzing the music itself and rely less on heuristics like “listeners who like this artist also like artist X, so let’s show this song to artist X’s fans too”. I’m over-simplifying here, but you get the idea.

Another way they use data is to gauge popularity of a song. If a growing number of people are listening to a song and not skipping it, there’s a pretty good chance that song is very catchy and will keep listeners engaged. It’s in Spotify’s best interest to serve that to people who like that kind of music and keep them listening on Spotify.

Why pre-saves and pre-orders matter

Especially if you have a small following, it would benefit you to use pre-save/pre-order campaigns. Here’s why.

Let’s say you run a pre-order campaign and you get 100 friends to pre-order it. This actually means that the minute your song actually goes live, you’ve already sold 100 copies.

In contrast, let’s say you didn’t have the pre-order campaign but instead just told your friends that the song is coming out on a certain day. Assuming the same 100 friends intend to buy your song, there’s a good chance some of them will get it on release day, and some of them will get around to it the next day, week, month or year.

Now for the basic math. What would give an impression of more momentum: 100 downloads in 1 day or 100 in 100 days? You can bet the algorithm is more impressed with 100 downloads on day one.

The same concept applies for pre-saves. If 100 people have pre-saved your song, it will be added to their library on release day, and increase the chances of them listening to 30s of it. Not only does that get you a streaming royalty, but it also tells the algorithm that people care about the song you just released and that it might be worth showing to more listeners. That is why you need to use pre-save/pre-order campaigns

Here is my template once again:

In this “algo-driven” world, every pre-save and pre-order counts.
That’s because on release day, you’ll get the download or it will be added to your library.
This tells “the algorithms” that the song might be worth showing to more people via their playlists.
Maybe we’ll get a cup of coffee’s worth of royalties.
So please click below? :-)

You can use it as a guide to write your own, or you can just copy my exact words if you like. I hope you found this helpful.

Oh and if you did, do us a solid and pre-save/pre-order? It would mean the world if you could click below and add “Sidelines Aren’t for You” to your library.

Sidelines Aren't for You by 23rd Hour

Thank you!

How to get people to pre-save your song on Spotify. was originally published in SmartMusicianGuide on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Wrap Your Head Around Backups —  Musicians Edition 

Wrap Your Head Around Backups — Musicians Edition

You know you need it but just the thought of it is so… boring. I get it. I get that feeling too and I’m a techie! That said, if making music is your business, then you have to set yourself up for success by being prepared as much as possible. Here’s how to do it.

The gist is, you want

  • a setup that makes sense for your work
  • a physical backup (or two) — this would be the fastest recovery method
  • a cloud backup — slower than physical, but good to have in case your physical backup is also lost.
  • a workflow that will allow you to focus on music, not backups!

The Setup

Here are a few types of files you might primarily be concerned about

  • Your “finished products”: releases, artwork, and any other accompanying document. You need to be able to access those from anywhere, quickly. For that, I recommend saving them to a synchronized cloud storage service like DropBox, Box, iCloud, GoogleDrive so that you can get to them from any of your devices anytime. I personally use DropBox, which is $9.99/month for 1TB
  • Your recording projects such as Logic Pro X or ProTools sessions. Depending on how much you’ve got, it may or may not make sense to have it all in Dropbox. I personally save the recent ones/the ones I’m currently working on in Dropbox for easier collaboration. If you are very prolific and are running out of space to store them, you could move those to an external drive. Let’s call this your archive drive. You may have multiple ones.
  • Your sample libraries and loops such as EastWest, Ivory or ThatSound. These easily take up a lot of storage. Left on your main computer, you will quickly find your system slowed down to a crawl due to lack of space. It would make more sense to move those to a separate drive. I am moving all of mine to a 4TB external drive that I call the sample library drive:

Physical Backup + Cloud Backup service

Dropbox and similar services only provide a convenient way to access particular files (that are in the Dropbox folder). It does not store all your other stuff such as app data, mail, downloads, documents, etc. For that, you want a true backup system. Preferably, you want both a physical and cloud backup for extra protection.

Physical Backup

First let’s talk physical backup. If you’re a Mac user, you already have the most intuitive backup system at your fingertips: Time Machine. If you’re on Windows, perhaps Genie might be a comparable alternative. If you’re on Linux, you probably don’t need my help ;-)

Time Machine basically stores a copy of your system and files and allows you to “go back in time” by restoring your system with all its files exactly as it was at a particular point in the past. Let’s say you installed some new software that completely screwed things up, you can just go back and pretend it never happened. How far back you can go depends on how much storage space you have for the backups. Time Machine will do an initial full backup (which may take an entire day), then incrementally save the changes you make. It’s very easy to set up. You can also encrypt the backup.

There is one catch. Time Machine backups are not bootable. If your computer’s main drive is completely fried, you need to be able to boot from something before you can restore from Time Machine. For this reason, it is also advisable to have a bootable backup of your main drive. This would especially come in handy when you’re on deadline. You can do so using Carbon Copy Clone ($39.99) or using the Mac’s free Disk Utility to do it manually. CCC allows you to schedule it and make automatic incremental backups, which is nice.

Cloud Backup

Why do you need this? Well, let’s say someone broke into your house and stole both your computer and your backup drive. Then what?

I am currently researching options. Here are a few:

BackBlaze offers unlimited storage, advanced security features, they’ll send you a hard drive anywhere in the world for free if you need to restore your data. It has a 15-day trial and then it’s about $5/month per device. It works with both Mac & Windows.

Synchronize! Pro is the only one that offers a bootable backup. It seems to also offer unlimited storage and archiving capabilities to free up space on your drive. Unfortunately it does not support versions of Mac OS more recent than 10.10. We are currently on 10.14 so that’s a problem in the long run if the software is going to be discontinued. It works on Mac only.

CrashPlan keeps your deleted files forever, has unlimited storage, advanced security features. It is used by many large corporations so it is unlikely to go away soon. However it is the most expensive option I found so far. It offers a free month trial then is $10/month per device for the small business option. It works on both Mac & Windows.

Final Thoughts

Arguably, the online backup systems could be a replacement for the physical backups. The only caveat is that, when on deadline, you want to be able to get your stuff fast.

Remember, you want a “set it and forget it” system so that you can do it once, then go back to way more interesting tasks like making music :-)

The tips were compiled from a forum discussion I had with a few other ladies (and gents) in the biz. Thanks to Patti Boss, Carla Kay Barlow, Anne House, Michelle Lockey, Bill Lefler for sharing their strategies with me.

Wrap Your Head Around Backups —  Musicians Edition was originally published in SmartMusicianGuide on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Bookers will love you for this 

Venues & Bookers Will Love You For This

Top 17 things to do to make sure you’re booked again

You’ve landed a cool gig. Maybe you’re really new and you just booked your first coffee shop feature. Or maybe you just scored your first festival or showcase. Every new gig is an opportunity to make new connections in the music business, no matter how small the venue or audience. You always want people to feel like they were lucky to book you. It’s not hard to do, but it is all in the details.

Before the gig

  • Make sure you know where to go, what to bring, who will be the point of contact beforehand.
  • Decide on your set list. You should at least know how many songs you can fit into your allotted time slot.
  • Think about your banter. Is this a venue where people will want to hear the story behind your music? If so, which story do you tell? Refresh your own memory so you don’t stumble on stage. You want to be as professional as possible to make your booker look good!
  • Promote the event. Everybody loves some help promoting their event.

At the Gig

  • Bring your best attitude and be flexible. You’re an entertainer, it should be fun to be around you. Introduce yourself to other musicians if you get a chance.
  • Show up at load-in time. If applicable, ask where to put your gear until it’s your turn to soundcheck, so that it’s not in other people’s way.
  • Once you’re there, stick around until you’re done soundcheck. Don’t have people chasing you around when it’s your turn.
  • Try really hard to remember everybody’s names: the sound engineer, MC, volunteers, anybody who’s helping out. It does matter.
  • Thank everyone personally before you leave.

On Stage

  • If it’s a new audience, repeat your band name a few times.
  • Mention your social media and/or merch if applicable.
  • Thank your audience.
  • Thank your host/venue and the event staff.
  • Do not apologize. It doesn’t make you appear humble. It makes you appear unprofessional and undeserving of the audience’s time. Even if you make a mistake, the show must go on.

After the gig

  • Send a thank you note. Bonus points for physically mailed thank you cards.
  • Tag the venue, organizer, photographer etc in your social media posts about the event. If a photographer provided pictures, make sure to give them credit whenever you post those photos!
  • Share any posts about the event. Promote them. Reciprocity is the name of the game.

There you have it! Have we missed anything?

Bookers will love you for this was originally published in SmartMusicianGuide on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Resources for musicians

Books we recommend

We love these books about music, entrepreneurship and creative pursuits.

Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means that we will earn a small commission if you decide to purchase them. This commission is at no extra cost to you and is not the reason we're listing the product here.

We have read each of these books and have found them useful. We think you'll enjoy them too if you're looking to grow your music business. However, you should only make a purchase if you feel the book would be relevant and helpful to you.

We are happy to answer any questions you may have about the books listed here. Just email hello [at] 23rdhr [dot] com with the subject line [BOOK].