After my initial slightly ranty post on Classical Music and Streaming I’m going to do a slightly more practical guide to self releasing in the digital age from a composer’s perspective. This is based on the assumption that you are self funding or have received support from an arts council or similar body (for example Creative Scotland, ACE, RVW Trust, NI Arts Council or PRSF). This is an overview of my experience and it might be missing things that I just haven’t learnt yet (I still am!), so it is not meant to be exhaustive. Be warned though self releasing is a lot of work. You have to do all of it (or pay someone to) but it does mean you keep all the financial reward.
That’s the process in a nutshell but there is a lot more nuance in those points. So below I’m going to try and walk you through.
Though before you go further, follow me on Spotify. You know you want to :).
1. Write some interesting music
Ok this is well out of the scope of this blog. I’m assuming if you’ve found this blog you’ll already be writing interesting music. However what you might not have done is register your music with PRS for Music (or your country’s equivalent like ASCAP in the USA or IMRO in Ireland). If you are writing your own you should register every piece with PRS the moment you finish it. This enables them to collect royalties on your behalf every time the piece is performed in public. ‘Performed’ in this case means in a concert, on radio, streamed, on tv etc.
2. Book players and studio time
This is probably the most straight forward part of the process. You’ve written a piece for string quartet, you book a string quartet and agree a fee. In the UK there is the MU/BPI agreement stipulating minimum fees for various lengths of sessions and how much music can be recorded in that session. In a 3h session you can only record 15 mins of music. If you record more you have to bump up the fee.
So say you’ve written a 20 min string quartet the players will cost you £960 (£120 x 4 players x 2 3h sessions). Though string quartets are classical the ‘classical rates’ are for orchestra rather than chamber music. Even if you get through all 20 mins in one 3h session you are still obliged to pay for the two sessions. You can then do almost whatever you want with the music you recorded (in line with the MU/BPI agreement) however there are some extra things that will come up in point 5 like PPL.
You need to book somewhere to record the music and someone to record it. This is where artistic choice comes into the recording process. What kind of acoustic do you want? What kind of recording style do you want? Are there live electronics, how should they be recorded? Mic choices? And numerous other things will influence your choices on where. As for the who I like to use someone who can read music and is an exceptional engineer. This is because he knows what’s going on and can be a second pair of ears to pick up any mistakes. I wouldn’t suggest you ask Jane from the pub who does live sound every Friday night, you need someone who knows how to mic classical instruments. But find someone you are comfortable working with and is good at what they do. Timothy Cooper has recorded almost everything of mine. A producer might also be useful but I’ve no experience with that.
Finally make sure your parts are clear. So much recording time can be wasted by unclear parts or notation. Get the music to the players well in advance of the recording so they can get back to you with any questions. 3 hours is not a long time when you are in the studio. Make notes constantly do not think you are going to remember take 34b is better than 32d.
3. Pay for players and studio time (plus engineer and producer)
Make sure you pay people and do it promptly! Be someone people want to work for by paying as soon as you can. No excuses!
4. Mix and Edit
This part of the process can take as long as you want it to. I’ve found it food to wait a few weeks from recording session to do this just to come at things with a fresh par of ears. You can do this yourself, if you are proficient in ProTools, or get someone else to do it for you.
Congratulations you have just recorded, edited and mixed your first recording. You are now a master rights owner!
5. Register your Recordings
Now we are coming to a more in-depth part – registering your recordings. If you’ve already registered the composition with PRS then give yourself a pat on the back, if not why not!? But if not you can hold off a little bit because there are other things to do now.
You are now a master rights owner. This means you own the right to the recording and can exploit it however you feel fit. You might decide to give it away or you might want to make a some money from it. Either way you should register yourself with PPL. They are pretty much the PRS for master rights owners and performers. Whenever a recording is broadcast PPL collects money for the rights owners and the performers. So when you register a recording with them it will also ask you about who performed on the recording so the musicians earn some money whenever the piece is performed, in certain circumstances.
PPL will give you a unique ISRC code. It is made up of four letters followed by a series of numbers. The letters are assigned to you and the numbers you choose, though there is a kind of standard format. The ISRC code is a unique identifier for THAT recording. So every recording of a Bach Partita, even by the same performer and record label, has a unique ISRC code. Once you have the ISRC code go and put it on your PRS registration.
Because you have composed the music and you are about to release it you should register with MCPS. They deal with the mechanical (goes back to player pianos) reproduction of the music.
There’s also GVL a German company I’ve recently been told I should register with. I don’t know details about them yet… (new thing to learn!).
So you need to:
6. Release music
Now you have everything recorded and registered you want to release it into the world. You have a few options here for self release the main ones I know of are CD Baby, Tunecore, RouteNote and BandCamp.
CD Baby – This is who I use. They charge an upfront fee, single ($9.95) or an album ($49), and take a 9% cut of all of your digital income but don’t charge a yearly fee.
Tunecore – An upfront fee of $29.99 for albums and $9.99 for singles, they don’t take a cut of your income but they do charge an annual fee of $49.99 for album and $9.99 for singles.
RouteNote – Has two distribution options. The first is completely free where they take 15% of your income or a similar model to Tunecore with $10 single, $20 EP, $30 album and $45 extended album and then $9.99 annually with you keeping all your income. If you use RouteNote use this link and I get a referal bonus. Thanks in advance if you do!
BandCamp – is completely free to put music on but they take 15% of digital sales. They have options where customers can pay more if they want which is nice (I’ve found people do this quite a lot). However BandCamp do not distribute to iTunes, Spotify, Deezer, Google Play etc. etc.
Make your choice of service, it seems there is little difference between CD Baby, Tunecore and RouteNote apart from the price. I would suggest releasing your music on one of the above AND BandCamp.
Some people do still buy physical copies and physical copies are useful to have to send to the press as well. CD Baby can create them for you (though beware of import tax to the UK. I made that mistake…) but there are other UK based services like Discwizards. I’ve only used CD Baby but a friend has used Discwizards and said they were good.
One final point, make sure you get your album artwork done and do the right spec. All the above have how to guides on what they need.
7. Market Your Music
Decide a date to release your music and plan to that. I’d suggest about 2 to 3 months from upload and hitting ‘send’ to actual release. This gives you time (or more precisely your PR person time) to build a decent campaign around the release. I’ve also heard that for pieces to be considered on the editorial playlists of Spotify and Apple Music they need to be in their system at least 1 month before release.
Get a good PR person or company. Talk to them about what you want and they will be able to advise on what needs to be done and how much it will cost. They wont be cheap though. Marketing will be the biggest one off expense of the release. Not just for PR but for buying advertising on Google, Facebook and Twitter. PR will (hopefully, but there no guarantee) get you reviews, editorial inches, radio play and playlist space but it needs to be supported by advertising and your own social media efforts. On that note follow me on Twitter and Facebook.
Music marketing is a whole other subject which I’m not going to get into here.
8. Make Playlists
Anyone that follows me on Twitter or Facebook will know I keep banging on about playlists being a force for good because I truly think they are. Yes there are a few issues but I have made more money from my music through playlists than through sales. I’m very open about the amount I’m making and the issues of streaming on my other blog here. So do it!
Once your music is released get yourself registered with Apple Music for Artists and Spotify Artists. This will give you the ability to control your artist page and publish playlists. Though I think you have to be subscribed to Apple Music to do that or you can use Soundsgood who can push your playlists to their Apple Music channel.
There are three ways you can make playlists.
Each of these works differently depending on the service. Cataloguing works well on Apple Music because, as an artist, most of your playlists will be fully indexed. That is if you put a piece by Kajia Saariaho in a playlist and someone searches for Saariaho your playlist will be somewhere in their results. This doesn’t work so well on Spotify, at least for search results, because Spotify doesn’t index their playlists to the same extent as Apple Music. This opens possibilities in Apple Music to create ‘if you like that, you might like this’ style playlists. So put music that people will be searching for that has a similar kind of audience to who you think your audience is.
Niche mood or genre playlists give you the opportunity for click bait headings, these work well for Spotify. Think of how people will search for music it could be ‘calming music’, ‘baroque music’ or ‘modern string quartets’. Spotify seems to only index playlist names (for most playlists) and Apple Music seems to index all playlist names even if it doesn’t index the contents of the whole playlist. So your new string quartet would be perfect to put in a playlist of ‘modern string quartets’. This could still end up being a massive catalogue playlist put think of the title.
Weekly/Monthly updated playlist. This is something I’ve started to experiment with and is gaining some success. I see it as curating a concert every week with music that I could never programme together. I try and give each week a different feel. With the weekly playlist I always tag the composers, performers and record labels on Twitter. My hope is that they will retweet it and introduce the playlist and music to new people. This kind of playlist is very community driven. The only way you, as the person releasing music, will make money from a playlist is when someone streams your piece. To get to your piece they will be streaming the music of others as well. So if you are tagged in a playlist share it, shout about it and say thanks.
This is very true when you are included in one of the editorial playlists on any of the services. I have been told they check their social media feeds to see if people are sharing the playlist. Getting on to the editorial playlists is a bit of a mystery, the people behind the playlists don’t publish themselves. User generated ones are a little easier to find with a bit of Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn sleuthing.
Speaking of sharing, share your playlists wherever you can. There are Reddit communities for Apple Music and Spotify. Websites dedicated to playlists like http://mixing.io/, https://www.playlists.am/ and http://playlists.net/and good old social media.
If you don’t know how to share a playlist on both Spotify and Apple Music click the ‘…’ and it gives you sharing options.
As a very brief argument in support of streaming. At Classical:Next last week I sat in on a session ‘The Current State of the Recording Industry‘. There were numerous snippits of info but there were two that were very interesting. 10 years ago the average person bought one or two CDs a year (£10-£20) now they are paying £120 a year for their streaming subscription. The other is that downloads canablise physical sales, but streaming supports downloads.
9. Wait… (for money)
If you have done all the above, released something people want to listen to, had it on the radio, got it on playlists etc you have to wait at least 6 months to see any money, maybe even a year. PPL only pays out once a year, PRS every 3 months based on this schedule and streaming companies pay out every 3 to 6 months. It has taken me a year to build my streaming income to a point where I am getting a reasonable payment every month (about $100 at the moment) so you will have to wait… Though if you sign up for the artist tools above you can get stats on how your music is doing so you can tweak your marketing efforts. Remember, streaming is a micropayment so don’t expect huge swathes of money straight away but it will build up over time if you make the effort.
In July I was lucky enough to be accepted to attend the Atelier for Young Festival and Cultural Managers in Shanghai with my place being supported by The National Lottery through Creative Scotland Open Fund. The Atelier is organised by the Festival Academy, which is part of the European Festivals Association network. The aim is of skill development and dialogue between EU arts managers and their Chinese counterparts. The whole thing felt like it had a very political context being created in the EU-China Hugh Level People to People Dialogue through the Cultural Diplomacy Platform but whatever EU-China politics was going on behind the scenes it didn’t seem to impact the day to day working.
I applied for a duel purpose – to develop my ideas around running and programming The Night With… and build personal connections both for The Night With… and for myself as a composer. I was also very interested to visit China and try and learn a bit more about the country so I booked a few days after the Atelier to explore Shanghai a little more.
The seven days of the Atelier were completely full on, too full on. Events were programmed pretty much 9am to 9pm every day. The intention was to have as much contact time with the participants as possible to get more conversations going. This did happen but gradually through the week people dropped out for a morning or a day because they just needed a break or to recover from jetlag, tiredness, illness, culture shock or a mix of all four.
Cultural and linguistic barriers were one of the biggest issues to overcome with everyone. There were 44 participants roughly divided 22 from China and 22 from Europe. English was the common langauge but the meaning of various words took a while to fully form. Terms like ‘independent artist’ and ‘art’ needed to be defined and understood to develop the discussion further. To me the term independent artist would describe someone like me, making work, putting on concerts and occasionally getting support from funding organisations. However, in China it means someone who is freelance, not a salaried artist (for example one of the actors in a theatre troupe with a permanent job for life) and doesn’t get any state support, ever. Once this was understood a conversation could develop but it took 3 days before this was clear. Equally gradually through the week the word ‘art’ seemed more weighted toward ‘entertainment’ than ‘art’. By this I mean something like Warhorse was called ‘art’ but I would call it more ‘entertainment’. Warhorse is part of the Arts and it is Art but not in the same way as experimental theatre or new music. This was not universily true but it was true enough to cause moments that were lost in translation. This differentiation had never dawned on me as being necessary in any dialogues I’ve had but it was crucial in understanding conversations and a sharp learning point for any international work I want to undertake. Now that I’ve had that realisation I think it probably is very useful to think of where on a scale of Art —— to —– Entertainment any project, festival or work sits especially from a marketing point of view. This was summed by nicely by Robyn Archer ‘if all you do is give audiences what they want then you are entertainment’.
Funding was another very interesting discussion point for everyone. Surprisingly there wasn’t really a common reference point for anyone here. It seems every country has some similar funding agencies but the structure seems very different even within Europe with various mixes of public bodies (like Creative Scotland), trusts and some cooperate sponsorship. The Chinese model is either state funded, commercial sponsorship or self-funded. There are no trusts. There was one participant from China who said his theatre is run as a real estate company not as an arts company. A bank leant them the equivalent of £4 million over 5 years to set up the 80 seater theatre. This seems insane as to cover the interest alone at 2% they would need to sell out one show every day with a £2.70 profit per ticket. This seems a completely unsustainable as a model for an arts venue unless you look at it from the view of reselling the property in 5 or 10 years. Then it becomes sensible especially considering the increase in value of property in Shanghai. Could this be a model to open more venues in the UK? Instead of presenting a business model based around selling tickets, base it around reselling the venue in 10 years after the property price as gone up. It seems like it could tie into the pop-up aesthetic that as developed over the last 10 years but you would need to develop a strong brand independent of the venue to be able to move every 5 years. It also might explain how so many venues are opening up in China at the moment.
The scale of China is quite hard to comprehend. Catharine Wang said that in 2016 Shanghai International Arts Festival reached ‘only 4 million people with 200,000 tickets sold’. Considering the population is Shanghai is about 24 million reaching 16% of them or 1% of the city’s population buying a ticket I think would be good for any UK organisation but she is disappointed by these figures an wants them to grow. By comparison attendees at the BBC Proms are around 300,000 a year and Edinburgh International Festival 450,000. I believe these figures include free events not just ticketed.
One very interesting session was run as part of a separate conference at the Shanghai International Arts Festival. This was a session where Chinese arts companies were pitching performances to international delegates. Each was given 10 mins including a 2min video, 4 min presentation and 4 min Q&A. It was very interesting to see how large touring shows are sold with so little information and that the people who are potentially interested buying them fail to read the information in the info pack and ask needless questions already answered.
As part of the SIAF there was a trade fair area. Though not part of the Atelier activities, I took the opportunity to talk to various international venues and ensembles hosting a stand. What was very interesting about this trade fair was the fact that there were very few opportunities to listen to music or watch videos, it was all leaflets. This brings up an interesting question, how do you get interest in durational arts with static media?
To conclude, some short thoughts on various discussions during the week:
Music Streaming – China has gone from a country where music is listened to live to one where music is streamed within about 10 years. This has meant there has been no label, marketing or distribution infrastructure developed to ‘break’ Chinese artists. This has meant a reliance on tried and tested (mostly western) music.
Marketing – concerts are marketed on names rather than programmes. In the Shanghai International Arts Festival brochure, and in other venues I looked at, it was filled with gushing bios of conductors and ensembles but hard or impossible find what was in the programme. The bios are true in the UK but from my experience there is always a concert programme.
Who isn’t here is as important a question to ask as who is.
Risk – Arts organisations in China seem to want to eliminate risk (not true for independent orgs) whereas Western organisations want to reduce it. This means that Western organisations find ways to balance artistically interesting work with work that will bring in audiences, Chinese orgs just want programmes to bring in audiences. Robyn Archer talked said that people take more risk during festivals than they would normally.
Themes – One thing I have been struggling with when programming The Night With… are themes, how to use them and if I even should. Bernard Faivre D’Arcier (President Lyon Biennial, Former longstanding Director Avignon Festival) gave me some insight into how he programmes with regards to themes.
The take away from my conversation with him was that themes are useful for marketing but shouldn’t be the main aim of festival programming.
‘Festivals are like a public examination of your years work’ – Catherine Wang
‘Give more power away as you get higher’ – Mark Ball
‘Buildings can make the city big, art makes the city great’ – Rongjun (Nick) Yu
‘Themes come out of programming choices. You cannot have a festival or series imprisoned by one theme’ Bernard Faivre D’Arcier
It has been a hugely beneficial experience to attend. I have made many international connections all with the potential for collaborations. Something else that I’ve become more interested in through the Atelier is the use of Culture as a soft power. Is it possible to be apolitical in the arts if you are receiving support from the state? Even if that support is coming from an arms length organisation. That might be a topic for another blog.
My aim for this weekend was to get at least one piece finished and I managed to do it with time to spare for another. I got Catherine’s trumpet solo done and sent to her. Just a short piano and trumpet piece, quite jazzy but quite short.
The other piece I’ve got to make a decent start on is for the Queen’s Music society. They are planning to put on an informal concert some time soon and have asked me to write something for Double Bass, Cello, Bass Guitar, Piano, Mezzo and timp. It’s a weird ensemble but could be interesting. Again its just going to be a short piece, probably about 2mins long or so, but being asked to write a piece is still being asked to write a piece.
Got the first rehearsal of my quartet this week, concerts only in about three weeks! Though CMC have agreed to advertise it on their site, they should mean a decent amount of advertisement and maybe a few more people coming to it.
Also in other news, I’ve got my inter-rail tickets booked! Away for a month over the summer and will probably do random updates on this.