I wonder what would have become of Bob Dylan, Elton John or Carole King if record labels checked their Twitter following before putting a deal on the table.
In the age of hashtags and ampersands what can we do if we’re a gifted musician but clueless when it comes to self promotion? And what if we can’t afford to hire someone to assist us but our success hinges on quantity of followers?
That and the fact that social media requires a lot of time! We’re not talking about a tweet or 2 a day. An effective campaign involves constant maintenance which takes away from practicing with your band or writing another song, in other words…getting better at your craft.
But we're doing it. Like it or not. And some of us like it. A lot. (Have you gotten your LuMee selfie ring light yet? I have.)
There are other clever ways creators are adapting to the post millennial music industry. Since our most dependable income streams have dried up in digital, Topliners are charging session fees, producers and writers (with sufficient success) are asking (and in some cases demanding) points or pieces of masters from record labels. Good for us. We have to be thinking outside the box if we want to survive.
My daughter Layla, a college student, told me she went to a “Sofar” concert recently. A What? A Sofar concert is “an intimate event where new artists perform in unique spaces (homes, offices, rooftops) for an audience of music lovers...with the goal of bringing the magic back to live music.” It’s cellphone free and BYOB. Really? Where have I been? Can I sign up to host an event?
She sent me a link to a song by indie folk band Bailen (twin bros, their sister, and a buddy), who performed at the event she went to. Loved it. I checked Spotify for more material, but they weren’t listed. Not on Apple either. Apparently their stuff is only available on CD. I thought…awesome. They’re earning on every copy sold. Untethered to a royalty-sucking record label or streaming service. This new (but old, really), business model of a physical sale is advantageous not just to the artist but to every songwriter who contributes to an album. Now if we could just get back to…oops, don’t get me started.
Too late, I’m started!...What if labels were eliminated from the food chain? And recording artists refused a streaming platform that didn’t compensate them fairly? And music was only available on CD again…at least until regulations were relaxed and creators were able to get a better digital rate? Hey, desperate times call for desperate measures. If we accept that “disruption” is inevitable it has to work both ways.
Of course, this is unrealistic. Signed artists can’t pull out of their deals and unsigned bands would never (understandably) turn one down. And we need the muscle of distribution. Oh well. It was fun to dream.
Anyhoo, where was I? Oh, I was curious about Bailen’s social media presence. Their website (on Tumblr) was distinctively "fonted" and pleasing to the eye, (except for that little ad on the bottom right, blocking a good 10% of the screen and prompting me to sign up if I wanted an ad-free Tumblr experience—grrrr). The site featured an well produced video of their yummy song, “Something Tells Me." It couldn't have been inexpensive to make.
Where we used to save our babysitting money to buy a used car, today, if I were in a band, I too would likely spend it on this kind of documentation, and hitch rides instead or take an Uber. Or perhaps Bailen is lucky enough to have a friend at NYU film school. Or very generous parents. Or maybe it’s one of those videos that Sofar films at events.
Of course I had questions for a band that chooses not to stream content. So I asked Daniel Bailen.
Why CD only?
“We didn't want to release any music until we had label backing, but we've needed something to sell at our shows. So we made CDs and didn't put it online. It turned out that when people found out they couldn't listen online, they bought a record. It's been supporting all our tours now.”
Now that the slot for CDs has been eliminated from most laptops how do fans listen?
“They find a way!”
If you were offered a record deal you’d have more powerful distribution, but your music would be streamed. Would you be Ok with it at that point?
Once we have a label to help us open up to a bigger market we do want to put the music online…But now it's all potential energy. It's not getting lost on the Internet. The song isn't equal to a number of likes. We are bringing the music directly to our fans, in the flesh! It's very grassroots.
What are your feelings about Sofar?
We've done about 50 sofar sounds shows around the country and they are truly an amazing way to play music for a community of music lovers, gain fans, make friends, meet other bands, and enjoy playing music. For us it's actually the way the music is supposed to sound. The way we wrote it-in our living room.
As for me? I indeed applied to be a host for Sofar concerts. Street parking outside my home is quite favorable. And as a music lover who is hungry for an up close and personal, cellphone-free, BYOB experience, I look forward to opening up my living room (or back yard) to an audience of music lovers.
In fact I’ll take that a step further. Call me crazy, but in this time of change and coloring outside the lines and being brave and putting ourselves out there, I might even audition to be a Sofar performer. Why not? Life is short.