Blakroc Released! Kinda!

The Black Keys have created their own version of the classic Heavy Rhyme Experience, live music mixed with great hip hop MCs, and have called it Blakroc. I’ve been excited about this since I first read about it. It was released yesterday and is currently #1 on iTunes’ hip hop chart, (where I bought the download today). I’m stoked to listen, but puzzled by the way they’ve released this.

Blakroc home

My curiosity was piqued after an email from Tara (also a fan) wondering why they hadn’t updated their Web site (still says coming Nov 27th, today is Nov 28th). I started poking around online and found it was only available two places: iTunes and Indie Retail stores (via the good folks at CIMS).

indiestores

iTunes and CIMS stores are both great retailers and partners, but I’m not sure why you would release at these two outlets exclusively. If I was going to do an iTunes exclusive for a highly anticipated album like this, I’d want to see some serious promo from iTunes in return. But there is literally zero promo for the Blakroc album on iTunes as far as I can tell, nothing on the home page, nothing on the hip hop page. Maybe it’s because they released on a Friday and iTunes can’t update their promo card mid-week? Dunno.

iTunesHome

iTunesHipHop

Not only that, a hotly anticipated track featuring Ol Dirty Bastard seems to have been left off the iTunes release. Note the comments at the bottom of this page:

NoODB

No worries, it’s easy enough to find elsewhere, for free:

I like the “Indie Retail Black Friday” part of their release approach. I bet those stores have it well-positioned and hopefully the holiday sale foot traffic bought lots of copies.

afewstores

But why not have the CD available via Amazon?

blakrocamazon

Someone who wants the CD and lives in northern Indiana, where I grew up, has two options to get the CD: 1) drive to Chicago or Indianapolis (3 hours by car), 2) Buy from Blakroc’s Web site (Music Today) for $21 ($14 + $7 (!) shipping/handling):

MusicTodayCheckout

Ouch. Guessing it would be closer to $13, delivered on Amazon, no?

And why not make it available at ALL digital retailers? It’s not any more work, releasing at all digital retailers is as easy as checking a box with digital distributors such as TuneCore, INgrooves, IODA, etc.

I searched for the album in order of my personal retail preference: 1) Emusic (I’m a subscriber, so for music available there, that’s my cheapest option), 2) Amazon (I’m a loyal Amazon customer and have an Amazon credit card, so buying from Amazon is simple, comes in MP3 format, and has a 3x points on my credit card), 3) Rhapsody (I have Control 4 in my house so anything playing in my house plays through Rhapsody). When I struck out at all of those I fell back to iTunes, which did the trick, of course. But why assume all your consumers are buying from the same place when it’s no more work to make it available at all digital retailers in one fell swoop? If it was a temporary iTunes pre-sale to get some good promo I’d understand, but the lack of iTunes promo tells me that’s not it. Also, is “Only Indie stores! And iTunes!” ironic to anyone else? Saluting the indies at physical and thumbing your nose at them at digital doesn’t quite compute for me.

Rhapsody

And International? Why not at least make it available internationally on the same day? Again, this is as simple as checking a box at the digital distributors mentioned above. Note the comments on this page from International fans, asking where they can get the release.

I think I know where these fans are going to get the record: there are 500K results on Google for “Blakroc Torrent” and another 500K+ for “Blakroc Download”, including links to Mediafire, etc:

torrent

I wonder if the illegal release has the ODB song that’s missing from the iTunes version. If so, ouch, again.

Not to mention that releasing at Lala and elsewhere would improve your Google search results (they would be playable and the top result would link to a point of purchase).

Lala

So to be specific, my release strategy would have been:

  1. Pre-sale of a limited edition unique product on the Blakroc web site
  2. Pre-sale of CD on Amazon, with promo from Amazon
  3. Pre-sale of digital on iTunes, with promo from iTunes
  4. Simultaneous release of CD on Amazon and at indie retailers
  5. Simultaneous worldwide release of digital at all digital retailers (Amazon, Emusic, Zune, Lala, etc etc)

And this isn’t completely theoretical for me, this is what I just did with Get Busy Committee, an album which admittedly was much less hotly anticipated, with great results.

This really isn’t meant to be a criticism of whomever is releasing this (I don’t even remember who it is — apologies, I think someone told me who was doing this once upon a time, and now I’ve forgotten, so it’s *really* not meant to be a slight, I don’t even know who I’m talking to here!). We’re all trying to find the path forward at this point. Just thought I’d put it out there to open up discussion on how we’re all releasing albums these days, and see if there’s something I’m missing as to why the approach being taken with the Blakroc record is better than the one I’m suggesting.

Regardless, the record is fucking great. Get over to iTunes or to your favorite CIMS store and buy it.

Comments welcome.

ian

A $1000 Studio: Recording The Get Busy Committee

Sorry no installment last weekend. I would have had this post up last Sunday but I came down with a pretty nasty flu/fever thing which put me down/out/way behind this past week. Ouch.

As I’ve mentioned, by the time I came into the Get Busy Committee project the record was finished, so I was and will be mostly be talking about the marketing and distribution of the record, not the recording process. But it was occurring to me that this was an interesting part of the story and worth including. It’s not news that you can record on your computer these days, but personally I was surprised when they told me they made the record on Acid, and at the end of the project Apathy saved us some money by mastering it himself instead of sending it off to a third party to do the mastering. So I thought I’d ask the band a few questions about how, technically, they recorded the album. I grabbed them for a few minutes last weekend before a photo shoot, and just before I became a feverish, useless lump.

The results are below, transcribed dutifully by Aidan Nulman. Thanks, Aidan!

Ian: So how did you record this album, technically? Did you guys spend a million dollars, book a month at the Record Plant

Apathy: Yeah, you know. G4s, Lamborghinis, that’s how we do it basically.

Ryu: For the next record we’re renting a G5, calling it The Mile High Club.

Apathy: Yup. We recorded the whole thing on a plane. Mile High Club, coming soon… Nah…

[back to serious tone]

the thing is is that we’ve all been signed to majors, we’ve all worked in the biggest studios — crazy, elaborate, fancy studios — and you don’t get as much of a vibe as when you’re chilling at the crib, hanging out, and working out of the home studio. And that’s what we prefer. When it comes down to the thing of “if I had to work in some crazy-fly, super Dr. Dre studio or work at Scoop‘s crib,” I’d rather work at Scoop’s crib ‘cuz we’re gonna be more productive, gonna catch a better vibe.

Ryu: We were just telling Scoop yesterday, “do not get rid of this apartment.”

Scoop: Yeah, we gotta keep the apartment, keep it a full-time studio.

Ryu: I don’t care if we gotta buy the whole building out.

Scoop: Yeah.

Ryu: You gotta keep that place ‘cuz…

Scoop: [Otherwise] the vibe will be gone.

Ryu: We vibe out at our studio in Reseda, and at Scoop’s crib. That’s where we do everything.

Ian: And whose studio is that in Reseda?

Ryu: It’s the Styles of Beyond studio. It’s Cheapshot, Vince Skully, myself, Sean Berman, you know, we’ve been recording there for a long time.

Ian: So you’re making the beats and whatnot at Scoop’s and then going and recording the vocals in Reseda?

Ryu: Both.

Scoop: We’re doing both at my crib. Everything was set up so we could do it at my house ‘cuz we had the full studio there. When Ap comes into town, we just all get together and work on stuff until… we were in the studio yesterday until, like, 4 in the morning or something.

Ryu: Scoop and Ap use Acid, so they’re on the same program, so that works out.

Apathy: The computer program: Acid

Scoop: Not the drug.

Apathy: …not the mental-stimulation acid.

Ryu: (to Apathy) See? I didn’t even elaborate. I was going to leave it up to them.

Ian: That was my next question: on the technical side, are strictly using Acid to make the beats?

Apathy: Yeah, strictly. I started off making everything in Acid: we record in Acid, we mix in Acid, we use it in correlation with Soundforge.

Scoop: Everything, including effects. It definitely has a unique sound when you hear the record; there’s nothing that sounds like it recording-wise.

Ryu: Not everything was made in Acid though. We used Reason sometimes, too.

Scoop: Reason, yeah. For the next album, we’re going to experiment with more stuff. But we definitely had a certain sound we wanted to use. And it definitely was easy [to collaborate with Apathy], because we were working on the same stuff. We’d just bounce records back and forth to each other.

Ryu: Using a, what, a little Roland NT-1000 mic?

Scoop: Yup.

Ryu: That’s it.

Scoop: Just keep it moving.

Ryu: We don’t even care if it sounds messed up. We don’t care if the shit ain’t even plugged in correctly.

Scoop: Yeah, it can sound any way it sounds.

Ryu: My Little Razorblade is probably the worst recording ever. The vocals are all blown out.

Apathy: Our vocals are blown and it just sounds like shit, but I love it. You know, that’s the thing, a lot of people go crazy, they’re fanatical about sound quality but their songs suck. You can have your thing sounding all pristine, but your songs are boring and they suck.

Apathy: Yeah, straight up. If you listen to old Wu-Tang Clan, you’ll hear a lot of errors in it, you’ll hear a lot of flaws, but that’s what’s hot about it. You listen to an old Raekwon or GZA album, it’s grimy and it’s fucked up, but that’s what’s hot about it.

Scoop: I mean, a lot of people think that you need a big [sic] thousand-dollar studio to make a hit record, and really it’s not about the wand, it’s about the magician. So, you know…

Ryu: I wish I had a thousand-dollar studio.

Apathy: I wish I had a thousand-dollar wand.

Ian: As I was writing about releasing this record on my blog, it was occurring to me that there’s a similar story on the recording. It’s not like you guys borrowed money to record this, like some label owns part of it; it’s something that you guys have been working for almost a year, right? In your spare time, and across the country, and for essentially no money. Your own time, and your own investment, and your own studio.

Ryu: We’ve been recording the same way since the ’90s. Even when we were on majors, we still just did it our way because that’s just the way we’re comfortable.

Apathy: There was a time when I was on Atlantic and I had a big studio blocked out, and I was over here in LA recording for, like a month, and it was just whatever. And then as soon as I go home and I’m chilling in my bedroom with my setup, I start producing all this crazy stuff, and it comes out a lot better.

Ian: How long have you guys been essentially computer nerds with recording? Recording on programs like Acid?

Scoop: Years. I’ve been on it for years. For about 10, 11 years now.

Ian: Did it change things for you?

Apathy: 110%, man. It was completely… I have so much control, now. Back in the day, you had to do things through the ASR-10 and sequence things a certain way. Now I have control over every little second.

Scoop: [Previously] you could only do like, 10 seconds of a sample on certain machines. You couldn’t do what you can do nowadays, like take a sound and manipulate it into a whole different sound; take the voices out of the instrumental and just have the, you know, the sounds of the drums. There’s all kinds of stuff you can do.

Apathy: Not only that, but for all the producer nerds out there: I have, when I work in Acid, I have a drum beat, or I have a 4-bar break looped, or the drums, or whatever, I can have the entire sample underneath and view each part and jump around to each part like you jump around on a record. So I can mess with whatever, do whatever, and manipulate it. So it’s just control. Constant control.

Scoop: That’s the thing about computers: you can see it. You can actually see the audio. Cut it where you want to cut it.

Apathy: I think there’s a big thing, though. Even though a lot of people produce with computers, you can line up your snare visually to how that one looks, but it’s still super-important to listen to it. And sometimes, sight is deceiving. You look at certain things, and you’ve still got a…

Scoop: Sometimes you’ve got to put it a certain way, and it lands a certain way.

Apathy: Yup.

Ian: And, Scoop, is this the way you do it for everything you produce? I mean, if you’re producing for Snoop or The Game, anything’s any different?

Scoop: Yeah, I mean, it’s the same thing. I’ll bring a set-up to the studio, a portable set-up, just make a beat off of anything. A lot of the computer programs nowadays, you can just bring it, set it up, and dump it down to Pro Tools or whatever the case is. You can just make a beat off of a keyboard. I mean, whatever sounds good, man.

Ian: Alright. Any other words of wisdom for anybody out there who’s interested in making a record?

Apathy: No. Don’t.

Ryu: No.

Apathy: Don’t make a record.

Ryu: Yeah, it’s the worst way to try to make a living.

Apathy: There’s more people onstage than in the audience nowadays.

Ian: Why do you guys do it if it sucks?

Apathy: We do it ‘cuz it’s too late, we fucked everything else up. So this is what we’re stuck with.

Ryu: We still didn’t graduate yet, so our options are limited.

Apathy: Rap or McDonald’s? Ehhh, let’s go to rap for now. McDonald’s will always be there.

Ian: Perfect.

Listen to Get Busy Committee’s Uzi Does It in the streaming player below. If you like what you hear, buy the album direct from the artist in a limited edition Uzi-shaped USB flash drive, here.

ian

A $1000 Studio: Recording The Get Busy Committee

Sorry no installment last weekend. I would have had this post up last Sunday but I came down with a pretty nasty flu/fever thing which put me down/out/way behind this past week. Ouch.

As I’ve mentioned, by the time I came into the Get Busy Committee project the record was finished, so I was and will be mostly be talking about the marketing and distribution of the record, not the recording process. But it was occurring to me that this was an interesting part of the story and worth including. It’s not news that you can record on your computer these days, but personally I was surprised when they told me they made the record on Acid, and at the end of the project Apathy saved us some money by mastering it himself instead of sending it off to a third party to do the mastering. So I thought I’d ask the band a few questions about how, technically, they recorded the album. I grabbed them for a few minutes last weekend before a photo shoot, and just before I became a feverish, useless lump.

The results are below, transcribed dutifully by Aidan Nulman. Thanks, Aidan!

Ian: So how did you record this album, technically? Did you guys spend a million dollars, book a month at the Record Plant

Apathy: Yeah, you know. G4s, Lamborghinis, that’s how we do it basically.

Ryu: For the next record we’re renting a G5, calling it The Mile High Club.

Apathy: Yup. We recorded the whole thing on a plane. Mile High Club, coming soon… Nah…

[back to serious tone]

the thing is is that we’ve all been signed to majors, we’ve all worked in the biggest studios — crazy, elaborate, fancy studios — and you don’t get as much of a vibe as when you’re chilling at the crib, hanging out, and working out of the home studio. And that’s what we prefer. When it comes down to the thing of “if I had to work in some crazy-fly, super Dr. Dre studio or work at Scoop’s crib,” I’d rather work at Scoop’s crib ‘cuz we’re gonna be more productive, gonna catch a better vibe.

Ryu: We were just telling Scoop yesterday, “do not get rid of this apartment.”

Scoop: Yeah, we gotta keep the apartment, keep it a full-time studio.

Ryu: I don’t care if we gotta buy the whole building out.

Scoop: Yeah.

Ryu: You gotta keep that place ‘cuz…

Scoop: [Otherwise] the vibe will be gone.

Ryu: We vibe out at our studio in Reseda, and at Scoop’s crib. That’s where we do everything.

Ian: And whose studio is that in Reseda?

Ryu: It’s the Styles of Beyond studio. It’s Cheapshot, Vince Skully, myself, Sean Berman, you know, we’ve been recording there for a long time.

Ian: So you’re making the beats and whatnot at Scoop’s and then going and recording the vocals in Reseda?

Ryu: Both.

Scoop: We’re doing both at my crib. Everything was set up so we could do it at my house ‘cuz we had the full studio there. When Ap comes into town, we just all get together and work on stuff until… we were in the studio yesterday until, like, 4 in the morning or something.

Ryu: Scoop and Ap use Acid, so they’re on the same program, so that works out.

Apathy: The computer program: Acid

Scoop: Not the drug.

Apathy: …not the mental-stimulation acid.

Ryu: (to Apathy) See? I didn’t even elaborate. I was going to leave it up to them.

Ian: That was my next question: on the technical side, are strictly using Acid to make the beats?

Apathy: Yeah, strictly. I started off making everything in Acid: we record in Acid, we mix in Acid, we use it in correlation with Soundforge.

Scoop: Everything, including effects. It definitely has a unique sound when you hear the record; there’s nothing that sounds like it recording-wise.

Ryu: Not everything was made in Acid though. We used Reason sometimes, too.

Scoop: Reason, yeah. For the next album, we’re going to experiment with more stuff. But we definitely had a certain sound we wanted to use. And it definitely was easy [to collaborate with Apathy], because we were working on the same stuff. We’d just bounce records back and forth to each other.

Ryu: Using a, what, a little Roland NT-1000 mic?

Scoop: Yup.

Ryu: That’s it.

Scoop: Just keep it moving.

Ryu: We don’t even care if it sounds messed up. We don’t care if the shit ain’t even plugged in correctly.

Scoop: Yeah, it can sound any way it sounds.

Ryu: My Little Razorblade is probably the worst recording ever. The vocals are all blown out.

Apathy: Our vocals are blown and it just sounds like shit, but I love it. You know, that’s the thing, a lot of people go crazy, they’re fanatical about sound quality but their songs suck. You can have your thing sounding all pristine, but your songs are boring and they suck.

Apathy: Yeah, straight up. If you listen to old Wu-Tang Clan, you’ll hear a lot of errors in it, you’ll hear a lot of flaws, but that’s what’s hot about it. You listen to an old Raekwon or GZA album, it’s grimy and it’s fucked up, but that’s what’s hot about it.

Scoop: I mean, a lot of people think that you need a big [sic] thousand-dollar studio to make a hit record, and really it’s not about the wand, it’s about the magician. So, you know…

Ryu: I wish I had a thousand-dollar studio.

Apathy: I wish I had a thousand-dollar wand.

Ian: As I was writing about releasing this record on my blog, it was occurring to me that there’s a similar story on the recording. It’s not like you guys borrowed money to record this, like some label owns part of it; it’s something that you guys have been working for almost a year, right? In your spare time, and across the country, and for essentially no money. Your own time, and your own investment, and your own studio.

Ryu: We’ve been recording the same way since the ’90s. Even when we were on majors, we still just did it our way because that’s just the way we’re comfortable.

Apathy: There was a time when I was on Atlantic and I had a big studio blocked out, and I was over here in LA recording for, like a month, and it was just whatever. And then as soon as I go home and I’m chilling in my bedroom with my setup, I start producing all this crazy stuff, and it comes out a lot better.

Ian: How long have you guys been essentially computer nerds with recording? Recording on programs like Acid?

Scoop: Years. I’ve been on it for years. For about 10, 11 years now.

Ian: Did it change things for you?

Apathy: 110%, man. It was completely… I have so much control, now. Back in the day, you had to do things through the ASR-10 and sequence things a certain way. Now I have control over every little second.

Scoop: [Previously] you could only do like, 10 seconds of a sample on certain machines. You couldn’t do what you can do nowadays, like take a sound and manipulate it into a whole different sound; take the voices out of the instrumental and just have the, you know, the sounds of the drums. There’s all kinds of stuff you can do.

Apathy: Not only that, but for all the producer nerds out there: I have, when I work in Acid, I have a drum beat, or I have a 4-bar break looped, or the drums, or whatever, I can have the entire sample underneath and view each part and jump around to each part like you jump around on a record. So I can mess with whatever, do whatever, and manipulate it. So it’s just control. Constant control.

Scoop: That’s the thing about computers: you can see it. You can actually see the audio. Cut it where you want to cut it.

Apathy: I think there’s a big thing, though. Even though a lot of people produce with computers, you can line up your snare visually to how that one looks, but it’s still super-important to listen to it. And sometimes, sight is deceiving. You look at certain things, and you’ve still got a…

Scoop: Sometimes you’ve got to put it a certain way, and it lands a certain way.

Apathy: Yup.

Ian: And, Scoop, is this the way you do it for everything you produce? I mean, if you’re producing for Snoop or The Game, anything’s any different?

Scoop: Yeah, I mean, it’s the same thing. I’ll bring a set-up to the studio, a portable set-up, just make a beat off of anything. A lot of the computer programs nowadays, you can just bring it, set it up, and dump it down to Pro Tools or whatever the case is. You can just make a beat off of a keyboard. I mean, whatever sounds good, man.

Ian: Alright. Any other words of wisdom for anybody out there who’s interested in making a record?

Apathy: No. Don’t.

Ryu: No.

Apathy: Don’t make a record.

Ryu: Yeah, it’s the worst way to try to make a living.

Apathy: There’s more people onstage than in the audience nowadays.

Ian: Why do you guys do it if it sucks?

Apathy: We do it ‘cuz it’s too late, we fucked everything else up. So this is what we’re stuck with.

Ryu: We still didn’t graduate yet, so our options are limited.

Apathy: Rap or McDonald’s? Ehhh, let’s go to rap for now. McDonald’s will always be there.

Ian: Perfect.

Listen to Get Busy Committee’s Uzi Does It in the streaming player below. If you like what you hear, buy the album direct from the artist in a limited edition Uzi-shaped USB flash drive, here.

ian

Alert, Connect, Sell: Releasing Get Busy Committee

Get Busy Committee Uzi Does It Release Party Flyer

As I mentioned last weekend, the band I’m co-managing is releasing a record called Uzi Does It at nearly every digital retailer on the planet (with INgrooves as our digital distributor) on Tuesday, November 10th. We’re having a party at Zune LA sponsored by True Love & False Idols; if you’d like to come please let me know and I’ll try to get you on the list.

While getting the album to iTunes is the main thrust for a lot of artists, it’s only part of the story (and a very small part so far) for us. We’ve been preparing for this release for months, started selling the album in six different packages two weeks ago, are selling the album for $1 on MySpace all weekend, and much more. To make good on my promise to blog the experience of managing a brand new band I thought I’d crank out a quick post about how we released the album. If you have questions, comments, feedback, opinions, or other ideas, please leave a comment. I’m doing this in hopes it will help other artists; let’s make it a discussion.

We’ll cover how the album was recorded in another post. Tonight I’m just going to talk about what happened after I got involved. At that point the album was basically complete, they had a couple of vocals to finish, some final touches to add, and the mastering process to make it through. Apart from texting Apathy daily asking him when he’d have a master to me and if we’d really be able to release by October 27th, I wasn’t involved in the creation of the album, just the marketing and release.

At Topspin we generally talk about three stages of development:

  1. Creating awareness
  2. Making connections
  3. Monetizing

We sometimes hear artists complain: “Dammit! I’m not selling anything!” Usually it’s a result of skipping straight to #3 above and not concentrating enough on #1 and #2. Consumers have an unlimited number of places to spend their time and money today. How are you getting in front of them? It is not a build-it-and-they-will-come world. How many you will sell is a small (and relatively consistent) percentage of how many people you have looking at a buy button. More impressions equals more sales, and most importantly none equals zero. If you have a very small number of fans (as we did, starting with zero emails, zero Facebook fans, zero Twitter followers, and just a handful of MySpace friends) IMHO you start by creating awareness and connecting with folks, not concentrating solely on selling.

Capturing Interest – The Net and The Web

In the heading above the “net” is not the Internet, and the “web” isn’t the World Wide Web. The net and web in this case are for capturing anyone interested in Get Busy Committee, no matter where they first heard of them, and moving them from a casual interest in “that one song” into GBC fans who will end up telling friends, going to shows, and buying stuffed koalas packing heat.

Before we can even get to the steps above, we need a place to capture any awareness we create. The artist’s Web site should be that place, IMHO.

We started by taking stock of what we had. Get Busy Committee didn’t have stand-alone Web site, just a MySpace page (ditto for Ryu, Apathy, and Scoop Deville solo) and none were collecting email addresses. Step one was to remedy this. We registered GetBusyCommittee.com and started looking for someone to help us build the Web site.

As mentioned in the last post we chose Open Mic for Web design and Parker at Wrvrywhr for Web programming. My friend Jonathan Strauss of Awe.sm also offered to help with some of the social features. Parker, Jonathan, and I gathered at an easel in my home office and argued out the design of the site. We new we needed to get a splash page up as quickly as possible, so we started with a single page which simply played the intro from the title track and had an email collection widget (both the streaming player and the email collection widget were created in less than 10 minutes using Topspin):

Original Get Busy Committee splash page

Then we started scoping out the rest of the site, the one we would launch on release day. Parker took notes and we went from my scribblings (dig my koala):

IMG00015-20091108-2038.jpg

to wireframes for each page a la:

Get Busy Committee wire frames by Parker Brooks

We handed these off to Open Mic and he turned them in to fleshed out Photoshop files before handing them back to Parker. Note Parker is in California, Open Mic is in Connecticut, and both work out of their homes. These guys are talented but their overhead is low and none of this is expensive. I’m not going to share exactly what I paid as the market may have changed their prices by the time you read this. But this is the beauty of Web development, people collaborating across the country with very low overhead, using more ingenuity than raw materials. It’s what the Web is made of.

Anyway, eventually Open Mic handed the design back to Parker, and Parker pulled the site together into what it is today with a lot of late nights and loving care:

GetBusyCommittee.com

The object was to make the site:

  1. Home base. The top SEO result for “Get Busy Committee” and anything else related to the band.
  2. Vibrant. It should update with the latest information about Get Busy Committee with very little effort, from a variety of sources. Furthermore, we weren’t going to spend time or money building any of these tools from scratch. We integrated WordPress and Twitter to make sure it was easy to update with long or short-form updates (respectively) easily.
  3. A fan acquisition tool. The site should be sticky like fly-paper. If you visit the site you should have an incentive to leave behind your email address, follow GBC on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook, a friend on MySpace, friend on Flickr, subscriber on YouTube, or subscribe via RSS. We may only get one chance to make a connection with you. We don’t want you to bounce in and bounce out without granting us permission to reach out to you later with an update.
  4. A tool for fans to create other fans. Every page of the site is instrumented with simple ways to share on Facebook and Twitter, and feedback for having done so either in the form of a counter or free music for having done so. We want it to not only be easy to spread the word but for you to be recognized for having done so.
  5. A place to convert at whatever level of fan you happen to be. Never heard of Get Busy Committee? No problem, you can stream the record or download a few songs for free. Super fan? How about the T-Shirt/USB Flash Drive combo for $55? Somewhere in between? No worries. We have something for you.
  6. Useful. If you’re a college radio DJ who needs a clean version to play on your show or a beatmeister who wants an acapella to remix that should be easy to find. If you’re a blogger writing about the band there should be a special page for you, even if it’s not linked from the front page. Anything you email to people regularly should be on the site and easily linked to.

What the site shouldn’t be:

  • An art piece. Unless you’re Prince, the era of a big Flash site is finally over (note Prince’s official site is #8 when you search Google for Prince). Your site should have a distinct look/feel, but it needs to be all the things above and easy to use first and foremost. Make it look good and easy to navigate while accomplishing the items above. Don’t make people search and guess, because they won’t.

It’s worth noting that while we’re really happy with what we’ve created thus far it all feels very rudimentary. There’s so much room for improvement on the above vectors. It’s what I obsess over every day of my life.

Creating Awareness

Once we had the site up and running, we needed to create some awareness. We did a few simple things to bootstrap those first few views:

  1. Created a unique product. By creating the Uzi-shaped USB we had a hook, something people could talk about.
  2. Leaked some music. We took two songs from the album and made them available for download in return for an email address from GetBusyCommittee.com, and available for streaming on MySpace, Facebook, iMeem, Last.fm, YouTube, and iLike.
  3. Told the world. We worked every source we had to get the word out, Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, email, blogs, friends, family, etc. We even bought a few Facebook and Google ads (more on that in a later post).

Through this we managed to collect a few hundred people. Not much but it was a start. These people were gold. Our early followers. Our best friends for life. We sent an email thanking them for the early support, giving them another song for free in the email, and telling them we’d give them ONE MORE song if they’d just do us a simple favor: share Get Busy Committee with their friends. We gave them explicit instructions on how to share via Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, or their blog and told them if they did we’d send them the song for download. In many many cases they obliged and through the goodwill of these few hundred people we broke a thousand email addrs and many hundreds of followers elsewhere. Lesson learned: we didn’t test the first email we sent well enough and sent people BAD/BROKEN instructions on how to share. People were sharing but their share wasn’t linking back to us. DOH. Test test test before you send. We ended up having to send them three emails to get the sharing instructions right. Very bad form. Thankfully we had very few unsubscribes. Thanks sincerely to those folks for understanding. Apologies.

Making Connections

As mentioned above, every action at this phase was positioned to drive direct connections. We’ve talked a lot in the past about Permission Marketing and the quid pro quo approach of giving something valuable in return for permission to reach out to you again. I’d like to think this goes without saying but I still see people at either end of the spectrum, either giving away music without even asking for an email address or giving away nothing and simply asking people for their hard-earned cash. Unfortunately simply having your music sitting in their iTunes library doesn’t mean they’re going to know when you’re playing a show in their hood (though Songkick is trying to solve this ;) ) and by the same token asking someone for $15 when they aren’t yet in love with your music is destined for failure or at least lower conversion.

Get Busy Committee Streaming Widget on MikeShinoda.com

We tried a few approaches with Get Busy Committee:

  1. Free streaming player, with a button leading back to GetBusyCommittee.com. The streaming player itself doesn’t ask you for an email address in order to play, but it does give a very clear way to get back to our site (where other embeddable streaming players simply lead you back to YouTube.com, iMeem.com, etc). Hopefully people will spread the player to their sites, blogs, etc, and people will click the “free download” link if they like what they hear. One great thing about this player is that you can update it in the wild, meaning you can change the contents of what’s been embedded once it’s out there. For example, we got a great placement on Wired early in our cycle and they embedded a player which at the time contained just two tracks. When we created a streaming player for the full album we updated ALL players in the wild, and the player on the Wired page updated, too.
  2. Give email, get free songs widget. We give away free music in return for giving an email address. This is also easily shared and we’ve seen people put this on their blogs. Great content for them, fan connections for us.
  3. Liberal use of content streams from other services. We’ve integrated Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, and YouTube into our site. Folks familiar with those services and interested in GBC have an obvious invitation to make the connection in a familiar environment.

Topspin Twitter Feature

One of the main tools I’ve been using to monitor the Get Busy Committee zeitgeist and connect with fans is the Topspin Twitter integration. This feature allows you to see what people are saying about your band and easily (but not robotically) follow (and hope for reciprocity) and communicate with them. I admit to being pretty addicted to this page, checking it several times a day and constantly scheming on ways to get people to talk about GBC and generate more mentions in the ether.

Selling Shit, aka “Monetization”

While I didn’t expect to sell a ton of music day one, I wanted to be selling music and more from the first day the site launched. Again, you might only get one chance to get in front of a potential fan. I want them to be able to move as far down the funnel as possible. If they just want a couple of free tracks, that’s fine, but in the case they do want to drop $55 on a Flash drive/T-shirt combo pack, why stop them? For a new band it’s a marathon not a sprint, and I see absolutely no value to deflecting interest in favor of a “huge street date”. To me that’s a sure fire recipe for “huge disappointment” and loss of momentum. I’d prefer to get the product out there to “no one”, be surprised when you sell any, and parlay that surprise into an understanding of where those sales came from and how you make a few more.

We started with a range of products, things we’d buy ourselves if we were fans:

  1. A cheap digital download. $6 gets you the whole album in high-quality 320kbps MP3, CD-quality FLAC, or CD-quality Apple Lossless format.
  2. An inexpensive CD with an immediate digital download. Buy the CD, download now. CDs printed on-demand by our friends at Kufala. Oh and the shrink-wrap is smokeable so every CD comes with free rolling papers.
  3. An Uzi-shaped USB flash drive and an immediate digital download. This was the most difficult piece but also the linchpin. We had to get this sourced by a company that deals directly with manufacturers in China and had to spend money up-front to buy a few hundred. To be honest I was very reticent to spend the money. But since these have constituted about 40% of our sales at a good price point as well as garnered us the most attention it was certainly money well spent. We’re already about 50% sold through our order, which is completely unexpected for me.
  4. High-quality t-shirts added to any of the above. We partnered with street wear company True Love & False Idols to do a high-quality shirt. They’re fashion-quality and fashion-priced and as a result we aren’t selling a ton of them on the site just yet (they’re also not merchandised particularly well at the moment, I plan to correct that later in the cycle). But also as a result we have interest with some great retail outlets such as Suru LA, who will be selling an exclusive version of the shirt along with a CD starting this week.

So how much money have we made two weeks into our direct-to-fan presale and on the eve of our retail release? Well, without sharing exact numbers I’ll share a good gauge: in the first two weeks of release we’ve made nearly exactly the amount of money we spent on Web design and development. So we’ve basically paid for the cost of creating all of the above value by front-running our retail release with a direct-to-fan campaign offering a number of products at price points ranging from free to $55. Not bad for a band no one has heard of (yet), as far as I’m concerned. And we’re not even into the first mile of the marathon yet. I’m expecting this setup to pay dividends especially when you consider the alternative to the above is to just throw your album up in iTunes and wait. :)

Free Is A Price Point!

When people talk about what Trent Reznor did with Ghosts they always mention the 2500 $300 box sets he sold but rarely do they mention what is perhaps the most genius concept he introduced with that offer: the price point of FREE. What Trent really did was look his fans in the eye and ask them, “So, how big a fan are you?” But he also acknowledged that “not that big” or “I dunno yet” was a perfectly valid response by saying, “if you’d prefer to spend nothing, I have a package for you, it’s half the album.”

We opted to do the same thing with the Get Busy Committee record. Our hope (and belief) was that when the right people heard a few songs from the record, and samples of the other songs, they’d be happy to part with at least a small amount of cash to own the rest of the songs. So we decided to give away fully half of the album for free, and to incorporate these free tracks into the “store” right next to the paid tracks. When you visit the store, you can choose to spend $0, $6, $10, $20, or $35-$55 on a package including a shirt.

But the $0 package isn’t 100% free. We ask for some simple help in return. We ask that you do one of the following things:

  1. Add our streaming player to your MySpace page or blog, and drop us a link or screen shot.
  2. Email 10 friends a link to the streaming player and Web site. We can easily track this with the Topspin CRM software.
  3. Become a fan on Facebook, and post the streaming widget to your Facebook page. Jonathan of Awe.sm cranked this functionality out for us in an overnight session (THANKS, JONATHAN! I owe you at least one night’s sleep and will pay you back just as soon as science figures out a way for me to).
  4. Follow us on Twitter, and Tweet a link to the site to your followers. This is easily monitored with the Topspin Twitter integration.

Note that each of these things isn’t just a share, it’s a connection between fan and artist followed by a share. Connect with us, give us a conduit to reach you in the future, and tell your friends about what we have going on, and we’ll give you half the album for free.

Get Busy Committee MySpace Music Billboard

Get Busy Committee Uzi Does It $1 album offer on MySpace

The Ultra-Cheap Option

Following in the footsteps of Fanfarlo and others, we decided to see just how many fans we could acquire through a big traffic-driver with a very special offer. This weekend only (through Monday, November 9th, so if you’re reading this Monday you can still take advantage of the offer by clicking here, and you’d be crazy not to) we’re selling the record for $1 in an offer made exclusively via our MySpace page. In return MySpace was kind enough to give us some great promotion on both the MySpace Music page and the MySpace front page. We’ve seen an influx of tons of traffic and plays (about 25K plays today — we had a couple thousand total before this promo), hundreds of new friend requests, and lots of folks either taking the free tracks (in return for an email address) or the $1 album itself. We’ve seen a huge jump in the number of people LIKING and TALKING ABOUT the record, which is encouraging, but most importantly we’ve increased the number of people connected to us via MySpace, Email, and even Facebook and Twitter as a result of this promotion. That’s more people we can reach out to with special offers and more people who will spread the word on our behalf. More people tomorrow than yesterday. That’s the motto.

Quantum Events

Tom Silverman refers to “quantum events”, those events you can’t count on which can change everything for an artist. We haven’t had any of those yet, but we’re encouraged radio seems to be liking the track. There’s no question that radio introduces people to music and sells records if you’re fortunate enough to find your way to the airwaves. We’ve been very fortunate and KROQ in Los Angeles has been taking a chance on the track, playing it every day since Wednesday of last week. They played it around 7:30pm on Wednesday and the phones blew up so hard (we really didn’t do anything to juice that, either, we’d been told not to try to inflate the response) they played it AGAIN at 9pm as part of their “Furious Five At Nine”, their top five requests show. Wow. Quantum? Too early to tell, but it’s great news regardless. Hopefully they’ll keep playing it and we can get a few other stations to try a few spins, too.

If you’ve read this far, I thank you. I know I’d be crazy to ask any more of you than simply reading this far, but if you like what we’re up to here please support by:

  1. Buying the record. The most expensive package is recommended. ;)
  2. Calling your local radio station and telling them they should be as cool as KROQ and play some Get Busy Committee.
  3. Leaving a comment below and telling me what you think or sharing a tip. I’ve already taken some value from last week’s post and I really appreciate the feedback.
  4. Turn off your TV, support and discover more music. As Zappa said, Music Is The Best.

Thanks. Until next time…

ian

Koalas and Uzis: Managing Get Busy Committee

Get Busy Committee - Uzi Does It

You’re going to laugh, but it’s true so I’ll own up: I’ve started co-managing an artist *. The artist is Get Busy Committee and consists of Ryu (Styles of Beyond, Fort Minor, Demigodz), Apathy (solo super-MC, Army of Pharoahs, Demigodz), and Scoop Deville (young and in-demand producer for Snoop Dogg, Clipse, The Game, Murs, and more, and also the song of O.G. MC Kid Frost). You can get their new album, Uzi Does It, at the Get Busy Committee Web site now (and on Nov 10th at digital and physical retailers worldwide). The album is 100% self-produced and self-released.

But promoting the record is not the purpose of this post. I am going to try to blog the experience in hopes it might be interesting/useful for others. I talk to people daily who are trying to figure out the future of music products, marketing, promotion, etc, and I thought it might be a good contribution to the cause to simply stumble my way through it end-to-end and share the process and results. If nothing else I’m sure many of you will have comments and suggestions which I’ll find useful, and I thank you in advance for helping me organize my thoughts and for any tips/tricks you care to share. I appreciate most managers prefer to play it pretty close to the vest but I hope this inspires others to share a bit as well. It’s a pivotal time in the industry and I’d love to see more folks in the trenches sharing tips/tricks. We all know the reality of actually finding audiences and selling art is challenging; I talk to people every day trying to make the jump from the old world to the new. The more info we share about what works and doesn’t the sooner we’ll cross the chasm. I understand the argument for protecting your secret sauce but think about the artists you could be helping by sharing both mistakes and successes; the rising tide does raise all boats at a time like this IMHO.

So read on and give your comments on the approach and process. Please save your comments on the music, like all great music it isn’t for everyone, and I appreciate (but don’t personally understand how) koalas toting Uzis may not be your thing. I love the record and there’s a niche of people who will also love it, and that’s all that matters. The goal is to reach everyone who might like this record and to turn a profit in the process, not to have a “hit” and reach the mass market. But more on that later…

I’ve had my eye toward working on a project like this for a while. Being the CEO of Topspin and *not* having experience managing a band is like running Flickr and not taking photos. I’ve worked with managers, artists, and labels peripherally since 1993 and I suppose if you used the term really loosely I “managed” DJ Strictnine and Paranorm around the time of their Grand Royal 12″ (meaning I wanted to be their manager but really I was just their friend who loved their music), but the truth is I’ve had no real experience as a manager. Back in 1997 Kid Rock asked me if I’d be his manager (and a few months back he did the math for me on what I’d have pulled down if I’d have said yes — whoops!) and since a couple other friends have asked, but I’ve always declined. Recently, though, I’ve had my eye out for the right project, something that feels right and I love (David Crosby — LET’S DO THIS), because I knew I needed to get my hands really dirty to take my thinking about the challenges which face Topspin’s clients every day to the next level.

I had zero expectation Get Busy Committee was that thing when they walked into my office a couple months ago, and just as little when they left an hour later. They were referred to me by Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda and I took the meeting as a favor to Mike. They came by the office, told me their story, and left me a CD. Ryu had his last Styles of Beyond record shelved by Warner Brothers (I guess I understand why but it’s a great record) and Apathy was once on Atlantic.

They’d started making some music with Scoop Deville and throwing it up on MySpace and YouTube. It wasn’t the usual hip hop fare. To their surprise, their friends were saying things like, “This are my favorite tracks you’ve ever done!” Thinking outside of the hip hop box had freed them creatively and it was working. They dug in and cranked out twenty tracks in no time.

A few labels, big and small, had expressed interest, but Ryu and Apathy hadn’t even followed the thread. “We just don’t care,” they told me. “We’ve heard every promise in this industry already and know all that glitters ain’t gold. We don’t have any idea what we’re doing, but we’d rather fuck it up ourselves than let someone else fuck it up.” I actually told them I thought there were a few labels who could do a great job with this record (Downtown comes to mind) but they wanted to try it themselves and get it out quick instead of making the rounds and waiting months more for the album to come out. I told them I’d think of some ideas of people who could help them, they left me a copy of most of the record, unmixed and unmastered, and split.

I listened to the CD that night and was kinda shocked at how much I liked it. As a kid who spent the 90s buying vinyl from Fat Beats I’ve loved everything from NWA to Cypress Hill and Masta Ace to J-Live at some point in my life. This hit those nerves pretty hard, but with melodies and beats which reminded me of why I liked the Girl Talk, Gnarls Barkley, and Santogold records more recently. I listened again the next day. And the next. And the one after that, too. I started playing it for people in the office. I played it for a friend who knows what I like and he said, “Damn, Ian, did they make this album for you?” It kinda felt like it.

I wrote Ryu and Apathy, told them it was my new favorite record, and asked if they’d mind if I wrote up a few marketing ideas. I wasn’t thinking I’d execute them, but thought maybe they’d find them useful.

Apathy and Ryu

They liked ’em, and after a couple of phone calls and a dinner we slid into talking about how “we” were going to release this record. I gave them all the reasons they did NOT want me to help, which included me being an idiot but mostly related to the fact that I have two kids and an 80 hour/week job and there would be times when I’m 100% unavailable. I told them I’d help if my wife, Julie (who used to work in the music biz but whose job title is now Mom/Yoga Teacher), would help out with the day-to-day stuff. They said cool and Julie said yes. GAME ON. Let’s Get Busy.

The first thing we did was define success: as I mentioned earlier, the goal is to get this music to as many people as possible, connect directly with the ones who like it, build products those people want to own, and turn a profit. Sure it would be great to make enough money that Get Busy Committee could be their primary income, but we definitely aren’t starting with the “if we don’t get a song on a radio this is a failure” mentality. We are starting at zero. The goal is to grow every single week and not lose money. In other words we’re following Clayton Christesen‘s golden rule of innovation: Be patient for growth, impatient for profit.

We started by putting together a release plan. I opened a Google Doc and started dropping ideas and info into it, and encouraged others to do the same. We needed a team, so we started assembling the roster of people, services, and tools which would help us get this record out the door:

Key:
$$ – Costs a fee
%% – Costs a percentage of revenue

    Big Hassle Publicity
    Toolshed Digital Marketing

  • Press Relations and Marketing ($$): We knew there were people out there who would love this record, but we also knew finding them would take mentions in the right places. Since there’s no label, we need smart, experienced people helping us spread the word. There are a lot of great PR folks out there but ultimately settled on two: Greg Miller at Big Hassle is handling the lions share with Dick Huey at Toolshed helping a bit around the edges with a few specific things. They’re just getting started. Keep an eye out and see how they do. 😉 No pressure, gents.
  • True Love & False Idols

  • Creative direction (%%): Ryu and Apathy have a close friend, 2tone, who designs for the clothing company True Love & False Idols. He’s laid out a lot of the creative direction, giving the project a unique look and feel, and since he’s a friend with a day job he isn’t looking for up-front cash, but is lending his company’s brand and support (and the clothing company makes money from the shirts we sell). 2tone and TLFI’s support will build over time but he’s already been a very important part of the project.
  • Open Mic
    We Are Everywhere

  • Web site design and development ($$): Apathy’s long-time friend and Demigodz crew member Open Mic has designed countless MySpace pages for all the artists in their circumference. We chose Open Mic to design GetBusyCommittee.com based on 2tone’s art direction as well as collateral such as MySpace page, YouTube page, etc. Open Mic has been great, fast, responsive, and always down for the extra task. For Web development we hired the amazing Parker Brooks (parker at wrvrywhr dot com if you need him), who has built more Topspin-enabled Web sites than just about anyone. Parker specializes in low-cost sites built on WordPress and integrating Topspin. He actually used Get Busy Committee as a guinea pig for the new Bandmajik tool he’s building. IMHO Parker is creating a scalable way to get great artist sites at a price reasonable enough for an independent artist to afford.
  • INgrooves

  • Digital distribution (%%): We knew we wanted to be in iTunes, Amazon, and retailers worldwide. If someone hears about Get Busy Committee they should be able to go to *any* digital retailer and legally purchase the music. We considered a few options here including The Orchard, IODA, INgrooves, and TuneCore. These are all great companies with their strengths and I’m fond of the people at each. We ended up going with INgrooves because we think retailers are going to be willing to give this album promotion but since we don’t have a record label and we have literally no staff, we don’t have time to follow up with each of those retailers. INgrooves does digital distribution, has a handy dashboard via which we can see exactly what’s going on with our content, and for a small percentage of revenue their team of marketers adds your product to their pitch meeting with retailers such as iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, Napster, etc. I had many people tell me not to give up that % of revenue but the fact of the matter is with no label we need as many people talking about this album as possible and I’m willing to give up some money to get that help and support. Again, we’ll see if that was a smart move or not. No pressure, INgrooves. 😉 Bring the placements and no one gets hurt.
  • Kufala

  • Physical Distribution (%%): We honestly weren’t sure we were going to be able to release CDs right away. We are well aware that many people want CDs but we considered going just digital for starters, thinking we could always do a P&D deal down the road if things picked up. We decided to start out by producing the CDs on-demand with our friends at Kufala. Kufala are a great company in Paso Robles who handle all the live CDs for Pearl Jam and a host of others (they also invented the smokable shrink-wrap, but that’s another story). They handle pick/pack/ship for a number of Topspin projects including Eminem. The prices aren’t dirt-cheap, but the customer service is *great*, which is really important to us. We have a great setup with Kufala for CDs where they create the CDs and packaging on-demand as-needed, ship them (along with t-shirts and any other merch fans buy), and handle customer service all at a very reasonable price. We’re able to make the same margins on a CD as we make on our digital, and don’t have to go out of pocket or manage inventory for CD production. They have a deal with CIMS for indie retail distribution and Amazon for selling online. They’re also very helpful when it comes to indie retail promotion and reasonable when it comes to things like returns (no hidden costs). It’s not the highest margin CD deal we could do but clearly there’s a lot of good there (including the smokeable shrink wrap). We’d be open to a P&D deal — perhaps something international — any takers?
  • USB Uzi

  • Non-traditional physical manufacturing ($$): We decided to release the album in a non-standard format, a USB drive shaped like an Uzi. We shopped to a couple different companies who do custom USBs and found the cheapest price. These get manufactured and shipped from China and they’re more expensive than you’d think. The most interesting part of this endeavor was the demand we generated just by leaking a photo of the prototype on Flickr. Fans were writing on the message board about it and giving us feedback on both what they wanted and what they’d pay. If it hadn’t been for the pre-manufacturing feedback from fans I probably would have cheaped out on the size of the drive. The fans said they wanted it to be 2GB and would pay an extra few dollars if it was, so that’s what we did. Fans said they’d pay $20-30 for a 2GB drive loaded with the album, so we started the pricing out at $20 and will probably raise it to $25 long-term. Still, we had to go out of pocket a few thousand bucks to make a few hundred of these and that’s a risk. So far I’d say it’s been worth it, though, nearly all the press we’ve received thus far has been either because of or at least referring to the Uzi USB and we’ve received some off-the-beaten-path attention from high-profile places like Wired and Gizmodo.
  • Legal ($$): I asked a few friends (I was talking to John Strohm in Alabama and Jeff Colvin in Nashville because I know they’re amazing and the prices are better than in LA) but Ryu and Apathy wanted to use their long-time lawyer here in town, Gail Perry at 3am Management. She’s fantastic, reasonable on price with us, and all in the family (Topspin works with Gail’s husband, Richard Bishop, and Ryu once toured with 3am client Crystal Method). Lesson: it’s good to stick with people you trust, and never underestimate the goodwill of a collective. Richard and Gail have already sent a number of opportunities (video directors, licensing opportunities, tour visuals help) our way and seem to always have the group in mind. There’s more to a lawyer than just contracts in the music biz.
  • SESAC
    BMI

  • Performing rights organizations (%%): Ryu and Scoop are both customers of SESAC, and Apathy has a BMI relationship. I haven’t met anyone from BMI yet (hit me up! Apathy doesn’t know how to reach his rep!) but we’ve sat with James Leach from SESAC and they’ve been very helpful in making sure the songs are registered and talking about other opportunities.

I’m sure I’m forgetting someone/something, but that’s the team that’s coming to mind right now.

Additionally, we’re using quite a few software tools. Here are a few:

    WordPress

  • WordPress (free): As I mentioned, Parker generally uses WordPress to build his Web site (as do I, you’re reading a WordPress blog right now, and TopspinMedia.com is 100% WordPress as well). It’s simple to use and has an incredible array of features developed by the community.
  • Topspin

  • Topspin (%%): I know this is going to shock you, but we’re using Topspin for our direct-to-fan marketing and distribution. We started by using Topspin’s widgets to gather email addresses, deliver streaming media to GetBusyCommittee.com, and build the press kit so streams and email collection could easily be integrated into stories about the band and album. We used Topspin’s widgets to give away two tracks as a leak early in the campaign, then to reach out to those fans with a special offer if they’d share their love of Get Busy Committee with their fans (which worked well to get that small but loyal base excited and to put some marketing tools into *their* hands). I built the multitude of offers on the store page last Monday night in about an hour using Topspin’s tools, offering the album digitally in MP3, Apple Lossless, and FLAC format (along with photos), and a choice of CD or USB Uzi and the option to add a t-shirt to any of the above. I’m also using Topspin to stay in touch with fans via email, manage the “Share and get half the album for free!” campaign, to keep on top of what people are saying about the band via Twitter, and to grow my Twitter followers. Finally and perhaps most importantly, I’m using Topspin to see how much money we’re making on a daily basis, understand where those sales are coming from, see what sites are embedding our widgets and how much traffic they’re driving, etc. In short, I login to Topspin daily to check sales and stats and a few times a day to check the pulse/communicate via Twitter.
  • Google Analytics

  • Google Analytics (free): The Get Busy Committee site is instrumented with Google Analytics so we can easily see what’s happening with our traffic, where it’s coming from, etc. Also, with the Topspin integration I can understand *conversion to sale* from each of those traffic sources. Very helpful in understanding how people are finding their way to us and what they do after they get there. I’ve already used this data to show CA radio stations we have a concentrated fan base here, to discover new keywords for Google AdWords, and to choose countries to include in my Facebook ad buys.
  • Awe.sm

  • Awe.sm (currently free in private beta): Full disclosure, Awe.sm is the product of my close friend Jonathan Strauss and I am an advisor to the company. But you’ll notice Get Busy Committee has a custom short domain (http://getb.us/y) and we’re using Awe.sm to track all the sharing that goes on from the site, either via Topspin short urls (http://topsp.in) or the GBC ones. We get click tracking so we can see how many URLs get created (how many shares) and how many clicks, and we can track by channel (Twitter, Facebook, etc).
  • Google Docs

  • Google Docs (free): Google Docs is incredibly handy for a project like this. The ability to easily collaborate on documents and spreadsheets has been invaluable. Simple but so useful.
  • Bandize

  • Bandize ($$): I’m using Bandize for my todo lists and accounting. Since we aren’t touring we aren’t taking full advantage of it yet, but I dig their interface and it’s been handy to just keep track of stuff. I’ve considered moving over to another project management system that sends emails to people when they have tasks such as Basecamp, but the Bandize guys tell me that feature is coming so I’m sticking with this for now.
  • Blackberry Messenger

  • Blackberry Messenger (free): I’d be remiss without mentioning Blackberry Messenger. Thankfully both Ryu and Apathy have Blackberrys and respond *quickly* to just about any need. Blackberry Messenger has been the most efficient way we communicate so far.
  • Mobile Roadie

  • Mobile Roadie ($$): Look out for the Get Busy Committee iPhone app in the app store soon. Well, not too soon. I haven’t had time to create it yet. But we will. We have a Mobile Roadie account and have been playing around. Great way to create simple and useful apps.
  • google

  • Online advertising ($$): With any luck this will be the topic of an entire post later on. I’ve been messing with trying to add fans and sales via Facebook and Google ads for a couple months now. It definitely works, the question is at what cost. At the very least I want to be sure if someone searches ANY of the terms which people search to find their way to us (easily discovered in Google Analytics) we are a sponsored result. But there are some other interesting questions to be answered: If I run an ad with Mike Shinoda’s “hip hop album of the year” quote directed at Linkin Park fans, can I convert them for less than what it costs me to advertise to them? What about fans of the artists Scoop produces? What about marketing the Uzi USB to people who collect guns or gadgets? Or the shirt to people who are fans of True Love & False Idols? Your local plumber is probably using AdWords to make sales. Is your manager or label?

There are many more, as we’ve set up profiles at MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, iMeem, iLike, and Last.fm. There’s Next Big Sound and other metrics sites we’re looking at data from. But it’s time to get to bed and hopefully I’ll be able to cover these topics in the future.

Stay tuned…

I can’t make any promises about how often I’ll be able to check in on this topic. Fact is, I’m writing this post on weekend time I could be spending marketing this album. But I’ll try to post here/there as things move along. If you’re interested, please buy one of the items at GetBusyCommittee.com (come on, you’ve spent $20 WAY WORSE ways) so you’ll be on our mailing list, and/or throw your email addr into the box at the top right of this blog so you can be sure to receive any blog updates here.

If you’d like to write about Get Busy Committee, please reach out to Greg at Big Hassle dot com and he can get you anything you need.

Thanks for the support!

ian

* Co-managing with an aspiring realtor/manager named Dutch. He does the hard part. I only handle the things mentioned above.

Koalas and Uzis: Managing Get Busy Committee

Get Busy Committee - Uzi Does It

You’re going to laugh, but it’s true so I’ll own up: I’ve started co-managing an artist *. The artist is Get Busy Committee and consists of Ryu (Styles of Beyond, Fort Minor, Demigodz), Apathy (solo super-MC, Army of Pharoahs, Demigodz), and Scoop Deville (young and in-demand producer for Snoop Dogg, Clipse, The Game, Murs, and more, and also the song of O.G. MC Kid Frost). You can get their new album, Uzi Does It, at the Get Busy Committee Web site now (and on Nov 10th at digital and physical retailers worldwide). The album is 100% self-produced and self-released.

But promoting the record is not the purpose of this post. I am going to try to blog the experience in hopes it might be interesting/useful for others. I talk to people daily who are trying to figure out the future of music products, marketing, promotion, etc, and I thought it might be a good contribution to the cause to simply stumble my way through it end-to-end and share the process and results. If nothing else I’m sure many of you will have comments and suggestions which I’ll find useful, and I thank you in advance for helping me organize my thoughts and for any tips/tricks you care to share. I appreciate most managers prefer to play it pretty close to the vest but I hope this inspires others to share a bit as well. It’s a pivotal time in the industry and I’d love to see more folks in the trenches sharing tips/tricks. We all know the reality of actually finding audiences and selling art is challenging; I talk to people every day trying to make the jump from the old world to the new. The more info we share about what works and doesn’t the sooner we’ll cross the chasm. I understand the argument for protecting your secret sauce but think about the artists you could be helping by sharing both mistakes and successes; the rising tide does raise all boats at a time like this IMHO.

So read on and give your comments on the approach and process. Please save your comments on the music, like all great music it isn’t for everyone, and I appreciate (but don’t personally understand how) koalas toting Uzis may not be your thing. I love the record and there’s a niche of people who will also love it, and that’s all that matters. The goal is to reach everyone who might like this record and to turn a profit in the process, not to have a “hit” and reach the mass market. But more on that later…

I’ve had my eye toward working on a project like this for a while. Being the CEO of Topspin and *not* having experience managing a band is like running Flickr and not taking photos. I’ve worked with managers, artists, and labels peripherally since 1993 and I suppose if you used the term really loosely I “managed” DJ Strictnine and Paranorm around the time of their Grand Royal 12″ (meaning I wanted to be their manager but really I was just their friend who loved their music), but the truth is I’ve had no real experience as a manager. Back in 1997 Kid Rock asked me if I’d be his manager (and a few months back he did the math for me on what I’d have pulled down if I’d have said yes — whoops!) and since a couple other friends have asked, but I’ve always declined. Recently, though, I’ve had my eye out for the right project, something that feels right and I love (David Crosby — LET’S DO THIS), because I knew I needed to get my hands really dirty to take my thinking about the challenges which face Topspin’s clients every day to the next level.

I had zero expectation Get Busy Committee was that thing when they walked into my office a couple months ago, and just as little when they left an hour later. They were referred to me by Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda and I took the meeting as a favor to Mike. They came by the office, told me their story, and left me a CD. Ryu had his last Styles of Beyond record shelved by Warner Brothers (I guess I understand why but it’s a great record) and Apathy was once on Atlantic.

They’d started making some music with Scoop Deville and throwing it up on MySpace and YouTube. It wasn’t the usual hip hop fare. To their surprise, their friends were saying things like, “This are my favorite tracks you’ve ever done!” Thinking outside of the hip hop box had freed them creatively and it was working. They dug in and cranked out twenty tracks in no time.

A few labels, big and small, had expressed interest, but Ryu and Apathy hadn’t even followed the thread. “We just don’t care,” they told me. “We’ve heard every promise in this industry already and know all that glitters ain’t gold. We don’t have any idea what we’re doing, but we’d rather fuck it up ourselves than let someone else fuck it up.” I actually told them I thought there were a few labels who could do a great job with this record (Downtown comes to mind) but they wanted to try it themselves and get it out quick instead of making the rounds and waiting months more for the album to come out. I told them I’d think of some ideas of people who could help them, they left me a copy of most of the record, unmixed and unmastered, and split.

I listened to the CD that night and was kinda shocked at how much I liked it. As a kid who spent the 90s buying vinyl from Fat Beats I’ve loved everything from NWA to Cypress Hill and Masta Ace to J-Live at some point in my life. This hit those nerves pretty hard, but with melodies and beats which reminded me of why I liked the Girl Talk, Gnarls Barkley, and Santogold records more recently. I listened again the next day. And the next. And the one after that, too. I started playing it for people in the office. I played it for a friend who knows what I like and he said, “Damn, Ian, did they make this album for you?” It kinda felt like it.

I wrote Ryu and Apathy, told them it was my new favorite record, and asked if they’d mind if I wrote up a few marketing ideas. I wasn’t thinking I’d execute them, but thought maybe they’d find them useful.

Apathy and Ryu

They liked ‘em, and after a couple of phone calls and a dinner we slid into talking about how “we” were going to release this record. I gave them all the reasons they did NOT want me to help, which included me being an idiot but mostly related to the fact that I have two kids and an 80 hour/week job and there would be times when I’m 100% unavailable. I told them I’d help if my wife, Julie (who used to work in the music biz but whose job title is now Mom/Yoga Teacher), would help out with the day-to-day stuff. They said cool and Julie said yes. GAME ON. Let’s Get Busy.

The first thing we did was define success: as I mentioned earlier, the goal is to get this music to as many people as possible, connect directly with the ones who like it, build products those people want to own, and turn a profit. Sure it would be great to make enough money that Get Busy Committee could be their primary income, but we definitely aren’t starting with the “if we don’t get a song on a radio this is a failure” mentality. We are starting at zero. The goal is to grow every single week and not lose money. In other words we’re following Clayton Christesen’s golden rule of innovation: Be patient for growth, impatient for profit.

We started by putting together a release plan. I opened a Google Doc and started dropping ideas and info into it, and encouraged others to do the same. We needed a team, so we started assembling the roster of people, services, and tools which would help us get this record out the door:

Key:
$$ – Costs a fee
%% – Costs a percentage of revenue

    Big Hassle Publicity
    Toolshed Digital Marketing

  • Press Relations and Marketing ($$): We knew there were people out there who would love this record, but we also knew finding them would take mentions in the right places. Since there’s no label, we need smart, experienced people helping us spread the word. There are a lot of great PR folks out there but ultimately settled on two: Greg Miller at Big Hassle is handling the lions share with Dick Huey at Toolshed helping a bit around the edges with a few specific things. They’re just getting started. Keep an eye out and see how they do. ;-) No pressure, gents.
  • True Love & False Idols

  • Creative direction (%%): Ryu and Apathy have a close friend, 2tone, who designs for the clothing company True Love & False Idols. He’s laid out a lot of the creative direction, giving the project a unique look and feel, and since he’s a friend with a day job he isn’t looking for up-front cash, but is lending his company’s brand and support (and the clothing company makes money from the shirts we sell). 2tone and TLFI’s support will build over time but he’s already been a very important part of the project.
  • Open Mic
    We Are Everywhere

  • Web site design and development ($$): Apathy’s long-time friend and Demigodz crew member Open Mic has designed countless MySpace pages for all the artists in their circumference. We chose Open Mic to design GetBusyCommittee.com based on 2tone’s art direction as well as collateral such as MySpace page, YouTube page, etc. Open Mic has been great, fast, responsive, and always down for the extra task. For Web development we hired the amazing Parker Brooks (parker at wrvrywhr dot com if you need him), who has built more Topspin-enabled Web sites than just about anyone. Parker specializes in low-cost sites built on WordPress and integrating Topspin. He actually used Get Busy Committee as a guinea pig for the new Bandmajik tool he’s building. IMHO Parker is creating a scalable way to get great artist sites at a price reasonable enough for an independent artist to afford.
  • INgrooves

  • Digital distribution (%%): We knew we wanted to be in iTunes, Amazon, and retailers worldwide. If someone hears about Get Busy Committee they should be able to go to *any* digital retailer and legally purchase the music. We considered a few options here including The Orchard, IODA, INgrooves, and TuneCore. These are all great companies with their strengths and I’m fond of the people at each. We ended up going with INgrooves because we think retailers are going to be willing to give this album promotion but since we don’t have a record label and we have literally no staff, we don’t have time to follow up with each of those retailers. INgrooves does digital distribution, has a handy dashboard via which we can see exactly what’s going on with our content, and for a small percentage of revenue their team of marketers adds your product to their pitch meeting with retailers such as iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, Napster, etc. I had many people tell me not to give up that % of revenue but the fact of the matter is with no label we need as many people talking about this album as possible and I’m willing to give up some money to get that help and support. Again, we’ll see if that was a smart move or not. No pressure, INgrooves. ;-) Bring the placements and no one gets hurt.
  • Kufala

  • Physical Distribution (%%): We honestly weren’t sure we were going to be able to release CDs right away. We are well aware that many people want CDs but we considered going just digital for starters, thinking we could always do a P&D deal down the road if things picked up. We decided to start out by producing the CDs on-demand with our friends at Kufala. Kufala are a great company in Paso Robles who handle all the live CDs for Pearl Jam and a host of others (they also invented the smokable shrink-wrap, but that’s another story). They handle pick/pack/ship for a number of Topspin projects including Eminem. The prices aren’t dirt-cheap, but the customer service is *great*, which is really important to us. We have a great setup with Kufala for CDs where they create the CDs and packaging on-demand as-needed, ship them (along with t-shirts and any other merch fans buy), and handle customer service all at a very reasonable price. We’re able to make the same margins on a CD as we make on our digital, and don’t have to go out of pocket or manage inventory for CD production. They have a deal with CIMS for indie retail distribution and Amazon for selling online. They’re also very helpful when it comes to indie retail promotion and reasonable when it comes to things like returns (no hidden costs). It’s not the highest margin CD deal we could do but clearly there’s a lot of good there (including the smokeable shrink wrap). We’d be open to a P&D deal — perhaps something international — any takers?
  • USB Uzi

  • Non-traditional physical manufacturing ($$): We decided to release the album in a non-standard format, a USB drive shaped like an Uzi. We shopped to a couple different companies who do custom USBs and found the cheapest price. These get manufactured and shipped from China and they’re more expensive than you’d think. The most interesting part of this endeavor was the demand we generated just by leaking a photo of the prototype on Flickr. Fans were writing on the message board about it and giving us feedback on both what they wanted and what they’d pay. If it hadn’t been for the pre-manufacturing feedback from fans I probably would have cheaped out on the size of the drive. The fans said they wanted it to be 2GB and would pay an extra few dollars if it was, so that’s what we did. Fans said they’d pay $20-30 for a 2GB drive loaded with the album, so we started the pricing out at $20 and will probably raise it to $25 long-term. Still, we had to go out of pocket a few thousand bucks to make a few hundred of these and that’s a risk. So far I’d say it’s been worth it, though, nearly all the press we’ve received thus far has been either because of or at least referring to the Uzi USB and we’ve received some off-the-beaten-path attention from high-profile places like Wired and Gizmodo.
  • Legal ($$): I asked a few friends (I was talking to John Strohm in Alabama and Jeff Colvin in Nashville because I know they’re amazing and the prices are better than in LA) but Ryu and Apathy wanted to use their long-time lawyer here in town, Gail Perry at 3am Management. She’s fantastic, reasonable on price with us, and all in the family (Topspin works with Gail’s husband, Richard Bishop, and Ryu once toured with 3am client Crystal Method). Lesson: it’s good to stick with people you trust, and never underestimate the goodwill of a collective. Richard and Gail have already sent a number of opportunities (video directors, licensing opportunities, tour visuals help) our way and seem to always have the group in mind. There’s more to a lawyer than just contracts in the music biz.
  • SESAC
    BMI

  • Performing rights organizations (%%): Ryu and Scoop are both customers of SESAC, and Apathy has a BMI relationship. I haven’t met anyone from BMI yet (hit me up! Apathy doesn’t know how to reach his rep!) but we’ve sat with James Leach from SESAC and they’ve been very helpful in making sure the songs are registered and talking about other opportunities.

I’m sure I’m forgetting someone/something, but that’s the team that’s coming to mind right now.

Additionally, we’re using quite a few software tools. Here are a few:

    WordPress

  • WordPress (free): As I mentioned, Parker generally uses WordPress to build his Web site (as do I, you’re reading a WordPress blog right now, and TopspinMedia.com is 100% WordPress as well). It’s simple to use and has an incredible array of features developed by the community.
  • Topspin

  • Topspin (%%): I know this is going to shock you, but we’re using Topspin for our direct-to-fan marketing and distribution. We started by using Topspin’s widgets to gather email addresses, deliver streaming media to GetBusyCommittee.com, and build the press kit so streams and email collection could easily be integrated into stories about the band and album. We used Topspin’s widgets to give away two tracks as a leak early in the campaign, then to reach out to those fans with a special offer if they’d share their love of Get Busy Committee with their fans (which worked well to get that small but loyal base excited and to put some marketing tools into *their* hands). I built the multitude of offers on the store page last Monday night in about an hour using Topspin’s tools, offering the album digitally in MP3, Apple Lossless, and FLAC format (along with photos), and a choice of CD or USB Uzi and the option to add a t-shirt to any of the above. I’m also using Topspin to stay in touch with fans via email, manage the “Share and get half the album for free!” campaign, to keep on top of what people are saying about the band via Twitter, and to grow my Twitter followers. Finally and perhaps most importantly, I’m using Topspin to see how much money we’re making on a daily basis, understand where those sales are coming from, see what sites are embedding our widgets and how much traffic they’re driving, etc. In short, I login to Topspin daily to check sales and stats and a few times a day to check the pulse/communicate via Twitter.
  • Google Analytics

  • Google Analytics (free): The Get Busy Committee site is instrumented with Google Analytics so we can easily see what’s happening with our traffic, where it’s coming from, etc. Also, with the Topspin integration I can understand *conversion to sale* from each of those traffic sources. Very helpful in understanding how people are finding their way to us and what they do after they get there. I’ve already used this data to show CA radio stations we have a concentrated fan base here, to discover new keywords for Google AdWords, and to choose countries to include in my Facebook ad buys.
  • Awe.sm

  • Awe.sm (currently free in private beta): Full disclosure, Awe.sm is the product of my close friend Jonathan Strauss and I am an advisor to the company. But you’ll notice Get Busy Committee has a custom short domain (http://getb.us/y) and we’re using Awe.sm to track all the sharing that goes on from the site, either via Topspin short urls (http://topsp.in) or the GBC ones. We get click tracking so we can see how many URLs get created (how many shares) and how many clicks, and we can track by channel (Twitter, Facebook, etc).
  • Google Docs

  • Google Docs (free): Google Docs is incredibly handy for a project like this. The ability to easily collaborate on documents and spreadsheets has been invaluable. Simple but so useful.
  • Bandize

  • Bandize ($$): I’m using Bandize for my todo lists and accounting. Since we aren’t touring we aren’t taking full advantage of it yet, but I dig their interface and it’s been handy to just keep track of stuff. I’ve considered moving over to another project management system that sends emails to people when they have tasks such as Basecamp, but the Bandize guys tell me that feature is coming so I’m sticking with this for now.
  • Blackberry Messenger

  • Blackberry Messenger (free): I’d be remiss without mentioning Blackberry Messenger. Thankfully both Ryu and Apathy have Blackberrys and respond *quickly* to just about any need. Blackberry Messenger has been the most efficient way we communicate so far.
  • Mobile Roadie

  • Mobile Roadie ($$): Look out for the Get Busy Committee iPhone app in the app store soon. Well, not too soon. I haven’t had time to create it yet. But we will. We have a Mobile Roadie account and have been playing around. Great way to create simple and useful apps.
  • google

  • Online advertising ($$): With any luck this will be the topic of an entire post later on. I’ve been messing with trying to add fans and sales via Facebook and Google ads for a couple months now. It definitely works, the question is at what cost. At the very least I want to be sure if someone searches ANY of the terms which people search to find their way to us (easily discovered in Google Analytics) we are a sponsored result. But there are some other interesting questions to be answered: If I run an ad with Mike Shinoda’s “hip hop album of the year” quote directed at Linkin Park fans, can I convert them for less than what it costs me to advertise to them? What about fans of the artists Scoop produces? What about marketing the Uzi USB to people who collect guns or gadgets? Or the shirt to people who are fans of True Love & False Idols? Your local plumber is probably using AdWords to make sales. Is your manager or label?

There are many more, as we’ve set up profiles at MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, iMeem, iLike, and Last.fm. There’s Next Big Sound and other metrics sites we’re looking at data from. But it’s time to get to bed and hopefully I’ll be able to cover these topics in the future.

Stay tuned…

I can’t make any promises about how often I’ll be able to check in on this topic. Fact is, I’m writing this post on weekend time I could be spending marketing this album. But I’ll try to post here/there as things move along. If you’re interested, please buy one of the items at GetBusyCommittee.com (come on, you’ve spent $20 WAY WORSE ways) so you’ll be on our mailing list, and/or throw your email addr into the box at the top right of this blog so you can be sure to receive any blog updates here.

If you’d like to write about Get Busy Committee, please reach out to Greg at Big Hassle dot com and he can get you anything you need.

Thanks for the support!

ian

* Co-managing with an aspiring realtor/manager named Dutch. He does the hard part. I only handle the things mentioned above.