Musicians: Minimize the Middlemen

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Shorten the pipe. Do one thing at a time and you won’t get overwhelmed. Honestly assess how much time and money you’ve invested so far. I found that learning to do the finite tasks that follow were a valuable investment in time I might have otherwise wasted staring at the phone, or when the songs aren’t coming, instead of filling the pockets of venture capitalists by filling other websites with content I created.

A website is imperative. It’s the biggest reason people like us end up driving traffic elsewhere and making other people rich. It’s why Facebook is so madly popular, you just fill in the blanks and you have a web presence. Visionary Jaron Lanier suggests we “create a website that expresses something about who you are that won’t fit into the template available to you on a social networking site.”

You need a domain name, of course, that’s less than ten bucks a year. I do it with NameCheap. Now you need a place to put the stuff people see when they go to you.com, a server. I freaking LOVE Digital Ocean. Six bucks a month with auto backups. $10 credit if you use my referral link.¬†Easily competitive with that Amazon cloud thing you keep hearing about and a thousand times simpler. The clearest and most comprehensive support documents I’ve ever seen. You can install Ubuntu (the free operating system for your virtual computer) with WordPress (also free, and so much more than just a blogging platform nowadays, a total content management system i.e. website without coding) with as much ease as any DaddyGator host and you can do it knowing you have total control over the entire server. But again, take it one task at a time: Go ahead and start with one of those hosts, they all use a control panel you can use to learn the basics of server administration, and create a mirror site on Amazon (free for a year). That’s exactly what I did, and I learned enough to drop both before that free year was over.

Do give yourself some headroom when you get around to taking your destiny in your own hands: Install Nginx with the RTMP module. This module must be installed with Nginx. Then you have YOUR OWN VIDEO SERVER. That’s very cutting edge, and incredibly empowering.

We’re still under $8 a month and you have everything ReverbCamp can give you at your fingertips. You log in to your WordPress administrative dashboard, browse though some layouts until you find one close to the look you want, and get the Easy Digital Downloads plugin (there are plugins for ANYTHING you can imagine wanting your site to do, installed with a click and 75% of them totally free and fully functional). Before you configure it, get a PayPal account. Free. If you have your songs in the format you want already, you’re in business.

If not, (or really even if you do) Reaper will be your new best friend. You know all those fancy ass¬† $700 programs the studios use? I had one, Cubase, for years, and could kick myself for throwing away all that money on updates, all the hassle of their stupid dongles and shit. Reaper does 95% of the best of them, Logic, ProTools, I don’t care – you are paying for the name no differently than you are with a BMW – for SIXTY DOLLARS. The DEMO is totally unrestricted if you’re on the fence over such an unbelievable bargain. I believe it was Pat Metheny who said Wynton Marsalis was jazzy “in the same way a BMW is sporty.” Reaper is a Mini Cooper. Invest in a decent interface and a handful of good mics and you can stop investing in Kickstarter’s retirement plan. I burned through about three “prosumer” rigs before I got serious and dropped a couple grand on RME’s magnificent UFX. Add the cost of them all to what I put into Cubase over the years and you’ll come up with a figure pretty close to the typical Kickstarter goal to produce ONE ALBUM.

You can install the LAME encoder to render mp3s with in Reaper that will astound you with their quality. Get ABX if you really believe you can distinguish said file from the original uncompressed file under any reasonable listening conditions. I was halfway through encoding my masters in FLAC format for hi-fi downloads before it occurred to me that my ears and brain are not that dramatically different than anyone else’s; try it, and save twice the time I did. Let’s just face the facts, we have a long way to go until people start revaluing music to where they’re going to start listening on mastering facility systems.

Now make an investment of $80 at usisrc.org: Your very own international code to embed in those mp3s using mp3tag (free) to declare to the world, “I made this”. This is one of the “services” those musician-helping companies offer. Pay that eighty bucks ONCE and issue as many ISRCs as songs you ever write under YOUR name. Stamp them into your master .wav files with BWF MetaEdit.

That said, if I were doing it now, I’d skip UPC. I bit the bullet 15 years ago and invested in it, but now they’re charging a regular fee on top of the obscene initial fee. CDs are so over, and they won’t be coming back like vinyl. Some day somebody will forget to pay off a lobbyist or something, and the technology that has existed for a decade will finally take over and every single play of your song will finally count – if you have ISRC. Until then, all we have are the Performing Rights Orgs.THEN those fuckers will actually have to start earning your membership fees. In any case, be a pro, hold your nose and join one. It’s like playing full credits on slots: You’ll wish you had been if you ever hit the jackpot.

So, yeah, fuck the bar code. But yes, yes, I know you still gotta have discs. That’s why God made Kunaki. Not one dollar upfront. No minimum quantity. Full color two panel with disc printing in jewel cases for ONE DOLLAR a copy! Payouts through PayPal. Upload your mastered songs (that you burned to disc along with your ISRCs using ImgBurn or EAC) and your artwork and done: Hardcopy for sale. Stock yourself with as few or as many as you care to have on hand. For ONE DOLLAR each.

Now, if you installed that server software like I suggested, YOU and not YouTube call the shots (Plus Nginx is just kickass server software). I send a relay of my simulcasts to them – encoded with the excellent and free Open Source Broadcaster – because I choose to leverage the traffic there, not because I need them. You’ll end up installing the ffmpeg or avconv libraries eventually to make the most of it and that’s essentially all YouTube is, along with a titanic marketing budget. Oh, installing the nginx-rtmp isn’t easy for anyone to do, but I knew nothing about video and next to nothing about server admin when I did it, and it empowered me to look into installing an Icecast server for dedicated audio streaming. It was so easy I couldn’t believe it. But only because I took it one bite at a time, starting with learning how to use the command line to control Ubuntu remotely.

What else do those parasites offer? A calendar? Google Calendar. Free, been around forever, plenty of plugins for WordPress. Which is a good thing because their API is a fucking nightmare. But nothing you can’t beat one bar at a time. I’ve been looking at open source calendar software to cut a little more Google reliance out of my life, and there are plenty of options.

“Fanbase building”? Facebook artist page. You have one, right? Hold your nose and get Twitter too. IFTTT to tie it all together. Email? Endless options for managing lists (I use PHPlist, dated but functional and free) even set up YOUR OWN email server now that you have all this experience! That’s the last thing I’m intimidated by, can’t miss an email. But you’ve got your Gmail account to fall back on.

Storage. That’s a good one. SoundCloud has done well with that carrot-on-a-stick. They give you six hours of music for the same price as 20 gigabytes with Digital Ocean. I have six albums of material and I’m at about 50%. Oh, and also my ENTIRE WEBSITE is in there. 6 or 7 years of blog entries with photos. Automatically backed up weekly. And when the BandClown sites finally sell out to a bigger company – just like everybody’s hero CD Baby, who I was with from the beginning, inevitably did (to the largest CD manufacturer) – my content will be up, and it’ll be there in a form I control and can scale or move at will.

I’d rather keep 98% of the profit made from my content and take twice as long to earn it than continue to devalue it AND EVERYONE ELSE’S by supporting the aggregators. If you feel that way too but didn’t think you had a choice, I hope some of these resources help you help yourself.

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