Get Started With Feature.fm

TuneCore has partnered an exciting platform, Feature.fm, that helps artists get their music heard. Offering a “digital ad platform” for musicians, Feature.fm lets you sponsor your already uploaded tracks from Deezer, SoundCloud or Youtube on stores, radio and major music websites worldwide, such as youredm, EDM Hunters, Tiny Mixtapes, 1001 Tracklists, PopMatters or HipHopnMore.

So what can Feature.fm do, and how do you get started?

There are three ways that feature.fm can help you get heard:

  1.    By playing your song to a targeted audience of Deezer users.
  2.    By playing your song to a targeted audience of people listening to the 8tracks Radio service.
  3.    By promoting one of your existing YouTube Videos, SoundCloud tracks or mp3 across various popular music websites and blogs.

The ability to create a campaign to promote your music to streaming stores like Deezer, or popular upload platforms like SoundCloud, make this an extremely worthwhile service in engaging your audience and music everywhere!

As one of the biggest streaming services, Deezer has 10 million active users, and offers its service in 182 countries worldwide. These millions of users are a huge opportunity! By generating more streams of your music inside a service like Deezer, you can drive trending activity, and start to rise up the Deezer charts – meaning  more exposure! As an additional bonus because TuneCore pays you 100% of revenue for your streams from Deezer, you will recoup some of the costs of your feature.fm campaign from the increase in streaming revenues you get from people hearing your music!

Once you’ve selected the song,  you will be asked how you would like to target your campaign – you can select locations, ages and genders. You then need to add some tags – genre, similar artists and flag whether or not your song has explicit lyrics.

If you’ve already distributed your music through Spotify, you can use the “similar artists” area to target similar artists based on data – but if not, then make sure you put in some well known artists here, so that you’re getting a broad pool of potential listeners. Targeting your music to the right audience is super important – be specific enough to hit the right people, but don’t be too specific – you want to get in front of as many potential fans as possible. If someone doesn’t like your song they can skip it so don’t worry. And if they skip before 30 seconds, you don’t get charged for the sponsored play.

Let’s take a look at the UK artist Karmah  to see their experience  using the service! They were specifically interested in boosting themselves on Deezer and selected that as their campaign focus with the song “I Ain’t Worried”. Now, as they are a UK band, their currency is in £, but you can use your own Local Currency (AUD$ £, €, $ etc…)

Above, represents the initial campaign creation process and then two days of activity. You can see that by spending £40 the campaign drove 2500 sponsored plays – so that’s more than 2500 potential new fans reached. One really interesting thing to note here is the “play sources”. You can see that almost everyone listened to the track on either an iPhone or Android phone. The number of Deezer users using the Deezer.com website is tiny by comparison. This is worth taking note of generally when you are promoting your music on social media (for example when using TuneCore Social Pro) – remember that the vast majority of people streaming your music will be doing so on a mobile device, and ensure that you are messaging appropriately.

In the image above we can see that there are 152 “engagements” – representing 6% of the people who listened. Let’s dive into bit more detail on that section.

You can see here that 81 people added the song to their “favourites” in Deezer while another 59 added it to one of their playlists – 140 people took an action related to saving the song. This means that new listeners are engaging with your music! By getting your music in front of a new fan with feature.fm, you may actually have started a relationship that continues for years!

Some more useful information that feature.fm gives you is a breakdown of the age and gender of the people who are listening to the track – but also the age and gender of people who engage.

When Karmah’s team created the campaign, they set some broad targeting criteria – you can be as detailed as you like here – the more relevant the data you put in here, the better the audience you will be targeting. The age range selected for the campaign is 12 to 40, and the locations are UK, USA, France, Ireland, and Canada. For Gender, the campaign targeted both female and male listeners.

When you look at the age and gender or people who heard the sponsored plays, you can see that females aged 18-24 heard the most number. This could be because of the “similar artists” that were used to target the campaign. The screenshot below breaks down the age and gender demographics of your audience.

Creating our first campaign with feature.fm took just a few minutes – and already we are seeing some exciting results…

For £40 (and remember, this is just a snapshot of two days in the campaign) Karmah not only got 2500 plays, but also 152 strong engagements as a result of people hearing and liking her music. She and her team also got some really valuable data about what kind of fan is most likely to engage with her music. All of this for just £0.26 per engagement – and with long term potential for those people who favorited or playlisted the track to listen again and again and again.

Karmah’s manager Jermaine from Public Sector Entertainment said “Karmah already has a really engaged fanbase through SoundCloud, Twitter and Instagram – but we know that as her career develops the thing that matters most is getting out in front of new fans who have never heard her music before – feature.fm has allowed us to do that in a way I have not seen from any other tool. Creating our first campaign with feature.fm took just a few minutes – and already we’re seeing some exciting results. I will definitely be using feature.fm with other artists I manage. We made a small spend to test the platform, but I’m already imagining if this campaign keeps running. With a £100 campaign spend, that could be over 6000 streams, and more than 380 engagements… With £200 campaign spend it could hit more than 12000 streams, and possibly as many as 750 engagements – and we will see some of that spend come back directly through streaming revenues. Longer term I’m sure that the value of developing these new fans is sure to pay off.

Get started with feature.fm today – look for the link backstage in your TuneCore account and sign up using that link to get some free feature.fm credit to use in your first campaign.

Getting Social Series: Astronautalis Talks Channeling Creativity on Social

Welcome to the latest installment of our “Getting Social” Series, wherein we showcase TuneCore Artists and music marketing pros who offer insight on social strategy for independents. Because after all, there’s more to social media than sharing tour dates and funny pictures!

Today we’re sharing an interview with indie MC Astronautalis (AKA Andy Bothwell). Hailing from Minneapolis, Astronautalis has been releasing albums since 2003, blending hip hop with elements of indie rock and electronic music, (among other genres). His songwriting is a force to be reckoned with – no obscure subject is off limits, and few MCs possess the topic bank and flow to make things your high school history teacher forgot about captivate an audience.  Astronautalis has built his fan base in sync with the progression of social media in mainstream culture, and was named a top Instagram follow by Pigeons and Planes. We discuss his interest in photography, using social to promote new releases and more below:

You recently released The Very Unfortunate Affairs of Mary & Earl – tell us about this ‘historical fiction’ album and how your fans have been reacting to it.

Astronautalis: Technically, it is a re-release of a very old EP I made for a vinyl only release on a small label in Germany several years ago. It was my first foray into working “historical-fiction” into rap music, and based on the rather star-crossed love affair between Mary Queen of Scots and James Hepburn, the Fourth Earl of Bothwell, Scotland.   Hepburn is actually a VERY distant relative, and the story, (which involves murder, kidnapping, black magic, and more), has always been a point of great fascination for me. The process of writing creatively from history was such a thrill for me on this project, it became a bit of a hallmark for my next two full-length records.

Has the amount of time you dedicate to social media changed as your fan base has grown?

Yes, several times, actually. Initially, back in the MySpace era, I used social media to book tours, talk to the few fans I had, and lay the meager little foundation that I would later build my career upon. MySpace messages made things a lot more long form then they are now in the world of Twitter and communicating through the comments section. Back then, I wrote back EVERYONE who wrote me, in a true and full response. Even with my small fan base, it became quite the undertaking, and as things expanded, I found that I didn’t have the time to write so extensively to fans.

Twitter couldn’t have come along at a better time. It was quite the revolution to be able to communicate with anyone and everyone, but within the inherent limitations of the format it became less like letter writing, and more like text messaging, and thusly, more manageable. Lately, I find myself focusing less on Twitter, and even less on Facebook still. They are still both important tools for my business, but I get little reward from them personally. And while I am still engaging with fans on both sites, and using both as business tools, the only social media I engage in with any great passion is Instagram. I, personally, find it much more rewarding to scroll through an endless stream of beautiful photos, as opposed to people being outraged over Beyonce’s Grammy snub, you know?

Do you feel your fan base is one that is very plugged in?

Certainly! Isn’t everyone of a certain age, or younger? I think people are so plugged in at this point, they do not have an understanding of what it means to be NOT plugged in, you know? When the revolution in the Ukraine started last year, it was insane to be able to not just talk directly to people who were on the ground in Kiev, but people who knew my music? Everything about that is so bizarre to me. The reach of all things in the modern age, even weirdo rap music, is nothing short of mind blowing.

What do you like (and/or dislike?) about the process of building excitement and dropping a new release on social?

The things I dislike about the process are really only the things I dislike about social media in general, and the level of laziness it fosters in people at times. People using social media to ask questions that could be solved with a short Google search, and what not. (Which is pretty much the main annoyance faced by any artist who is really connected and involved with their social media).

Aside from sometimes feeling like a butler, pretty much every other aspect of releasing and promoting through social media is fantastic! Working on a record is arduous and exhausting work; totally mentally and emotionally draining. You spend the better part of the entire process second-guessing everything from your lyrics to your album art, to your choice to start rapping when you were 12. When the album comes out, your social media is the thing that builds you back up. It is like having every person, from every show you are about to play, all in one room at once, cheering you on; and you would have to be a total asshole to not love and appreciate that support/ego stroking.

Between Facebook and Twitter, you boast over 69K followers/fans – which of these two comes most into play during a touring stretch?

Facebook has become all about business for me at this point. I use it to post the brass tacks about shows and tours and releases, especially on and around said tours and releases. Twitter really gets the most use in my life once I hit the road, partially because it becomes a great way to interact with folks before, during, and after shows. Also there is A LOT of time to kill on those van rides, and once you have run out of podcasts and you can’t play Mario Kart anymore, Twitter is always there for you with some excellent diversion.

Similarly, how do you feel you interact with your fans differently in general when it comes to those two channels?

As I said above, Facebook is become so about business and promotion, with little personal flair, that most of the fan interaction has turned that way as well. Even though it is host to my largest number of followers, I found pretty early on that people don’t like it when you use the Facebook page like Twitter. They get annoyed if you post a lot through the Facebook page. So, I try to keep it short, sweet, and down to business. As a result, much of the folks writing me on Facebook keep to that tone as well, (i.e. asking for show/tour details). On Twitter is where the interaction becomes much more personal, and I’ll find myself discussing everything from sports, to rap, to Target’s line of “50 Shades of Grey” sex toys. Facebook is where you go for stuff about “Astronautalis”. Twitter is where you go to talk to Andy, if that makes sense?

You were named one of the top 25 indie artists to follow on Instagram – and for a good reason. Has photography/visual art always been an interest of yours?

My mother was a photographer and a photography teacher, so I grew up in a dark room. And while I have always owned cameras, and taken photos, for me, it was always a hobby. Honestly, till Instagram.

Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 11.53.30 AM

Where/when do you find yourself getting inspired to share photos most often? Or do you feel it’s more of a random happening?

One of the reasons I have latched onto Instagram was the creativity it fosters IN me. While it is a great creative outlet, and a nice distraction from music for me, the thing I enjoy the most is having an endless stream of great photos to look through all day. Seeing the world though all of those people’s eyes has pushed me to see photos everywhere and made me think more like a photographer. While the most popular photos I post are certainly the ones taken on tour in exotic locales, showing things most people have never seen, some of my favorites are the ones I take just strolling through my neighborhood in Minneapolis.

What tips do you have for an independent artist who’s trying to tighten their Instagram game up?

I think it starts with what is in your feed. If you just follow your friends posting pictures of themselves at parties, or shots of food they eat, chances are that is what your feed will end up looking like as well. Think of Instagram differently then other social media. Use Twitter and Facebook for socializing, but use Instagram for inspiration. If you follow great photographers, you’ll start thinking more like a photographer, just by osmosis. But, take it from me, when you start unfollowing your friends because their pictures suck…you better think of a nice way to explain it to them. People take this stuff SERIOUS!

Your career has really progressed almost parallel to that of social media’s presence in mainstream culture. Do you feel this gave you a leg up in terms of how you engage fans now?

I think so. For myself, and a lot of artists who adopted social media early, we were already sharp on a lot of the ins and outs, while most of the big guys and major label artists were still scrambling to figure out what the hell a tweet was, you know? Social media is not the real world: there is a whole different set of social morals to live by online, and a lot of which are still being written. I think the early adopters have proven to be more nimble in adapting to change, and more innovative when it came to making change in how this relatively new set of tools can be used.

What newer opportunities do you see for independents in hip hop when it comes to marketing their music online?

Rap music is going through a really exciting stratification right now. Rap has replaced rock as the language of pop music, and as you see rap coming out of all these strange places and faces, it is producing an infinite amount of sub-genres within the framework of “rap”. From a creative standpoint, I think this is astoundingly exciting. Thankfully, we live in a technological environment that allows artists to use the pinpoint marketing power of social media to find fans for their version of rap, no matter what obscure sub-genre of a sub-genre they occupy. And as the technology grows and improves, our power in that realm will only grow and improve as well. It is in exciting time for democratization of the business of art.

What’s in store for Astronautalis in 2015?

Well, I finished a new record (shopping that to labels now). I am re-releasing my entire back catalogue of rarities (about 8 EPs or so?) in the coming weeks. I have been working on a performance art piece with some British artists at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Starting on a couple of rad musical side projects. Sketching some ground plans for a top-secret non-musical project this summer. Touring a bunch in the states and Europe. And hopefully riding the hell out of my motorcycles as soon as the snow thaws…if not sooner.

Anatomy Of A Songwriter Signing; Jessi Alexander

[Editors Note: This interview with TuneCore Artist Jessi Alexander originally appeared on NEKST. David Ross, author of this piece and the founder of Music Row Magazine, uses NEKST as a platform to cover ‘music and the technology it powers’.]

Music Row streets are filled with new and experienced songwriters hoping to climb that next career rung by finding the perfect home to nurture and support their creative efforts. But in an industry where success gets more elusive every day, only a fortunate few will find what they seek. Therefore the importance of these decisions—for both writer and publisher—cannot be underestimated.

This Music GM/Partner Rusty Gaston recently signed Jessi Alexander and both parties graciously agreed to discuss the dynamics of the new partnership and why they are so excited about a shared future.

According to Gaston, “This Music is a joint venture with Warner Chappell. The company was formed in 2006, with myself and songwriters Connie Harrington and Tim Nichols. We signed Ben Hayslip on our first day, who at that point had only charted one single. Since then he’s become a two-time ASCAP “Songwriter of the Year”. Today we’ve grown to five employees and 13 writers. As good as we put it on paper, knock on wood it has gone better. As we celebrate our 10-year anniversary we’ve won five “Song of the Year” awards, and had 40 ASCAP/BMI award winning songs. It’s been a super blessing.”

But despite This Music’s great track record, operating a boutique publishing company leaves little room for mistakes. So what goes into an important decision such as adding a songwriter to the team? “I always ask myself would I mortgage my house for this?” says Gaston. “If I can’t say ‘Yes,’ I don’t do the deal. I also don’t do pieces of business. Maybe a writer has a record deal or a cut bringing a certain amount of income and signing them could be a good business decision. But for me it’s about how much I believe in this person. I make my decision based upon people first and music second.”

Rusty Gaston

Rusty Gaston

Enter Jessi Alexander. “Jessi has been deeply involved with our company as a co-writer for years,” says Gaston. “For example, she co-wrote ‘I Drive Your Truck’ with Connie Harrington and Jimmy Yeary; and ‘Mine Would Be You’ with Deric Ruttan and Connie. So when Jessi approached us to say, ‘I’m thinking about looking around,’ we knew immediately we’d love to work with her. Jessi has tremendous respect for those 16th Ave. craftsmen like Bobby Braddock or Bob McDill who worked every day, chiseling people’s emotions onto a blank piece of paper. And she fits so well with our philosophy of a great work ethic and positive attitude.”

It’s easy to understand why Gaston would be excited to sign Alexander. Above he explained the “people first” side of the equation. But the new addition also ‘brings it’ musically. For example, her Grammy nominated co-write, “I Drive Your Truck,” won triple-crown Song of the Year honors from the CMA, ACM and NSAI. Her inspirational ballad “The Climb,” (inked with Jon Mabe) topped the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart for 15 weeks, garnered a Grammy nomination and won Best Song From A Movie from MTV.

I sat down with Jessi Alexander, (named after Jessi Colter) to get her side of the signing process and learn about her background. I wanted to know what career concerns mattered most, and what brought her to the conclusion that This Music was where she belonged. Unexpectedly, she also weighed in about gender on Music Row, offered some interesting advice for new writers and revealed some very personal feelings about why “The Climb” became a personal breakthrough moment.

NEKST: Did you interact with music growing up?

Jessi Alexander: I remember my grandfather sitting at a piano and playing a game with me. I’d say, “Hey Granddaddy play ‘Love Me Tender’,” and he’d tap it out with one hand. But my dad was probably most instrumental. He was a hippie child of the ’60s and during college collected all the great records—from Led Zeppelin to Jimi Hendrix. He also discovered Will The Circle be Unbroken which led him to Ralph Stanley, Willie Nelsonand even Joan Baez. His music library offered Bluegrass infusing with rock n roll, gospel, delta blues and more. I was an only child with few friends, so while everyone else was out playing, my pastime became absorbing this music. Now that I have a 7-year old it gives me more perspective on how weird I was. My daughter might know what bluegrass is, but by her age I was encyclopedic in my approach to music. And everyday I still draw from those experiences.

Sounds more like you were “gifted,” not weird.

Well, I love how your weaknesses can become strengths. Being from a broken home in the country (Jackson, TN) without siblings, much TV or toys, music was an easy choice. At age nine my Dad asked me what instrument I wanted to learn. I chose electric bass. If he had gotten me that bass then maybe I wouldn’t have learned guitar, but he couldn’t afford a bass and an amp, so he got me a pawn shop acoustic guitar thinking I wouldn’t know the difference. Of course I did, but that started me playing guitar.

Did you imagine yourself being an artist or a songwriter during those early years?

jessiI grew up around blue collar type factory workers. My first jobs were working at a dry cleaner, at Subway and the car auction. Even after moving to Nashville around 1999 I approached the music industry in a blue collar way thinking ‘work hard then you’ll get that raise or promotion.’ Pretty quickly I saw it wasn’t like that and it seemed frustrating to realize how elusive it can be as to why certain people have success and others don’t. A promotion can be a song hold or an award. But I also understand how fortunate I am just to get to do this.

Continue reading David’s interview with Jessi Alexander here!

Maximizing Facebook Ads On an Indie Budget

[Editors NoteThis is a guest blog post written by Don Bartlett, owner of No Door Agency, an Austin, TX-based boutique management and marketing agency. Don also hosts a monthly seminar titled “Facebook Marketing For Musicians.]

Independent artists are constantly looking for ways to eke maximum value from very limited promotion budgets. As Facebook continues to solidify its position at the center of the social media ecosystem, many conversations revolve around taking advantage of their incredibly powerful advertising tools.

The primary hesitations about the platform tend to be some combination of “it’s too expensive” and “we don’t see results”, but by sticking to a few core targeting and budgeting strategies you can take advantage of Facebook’s promotional benefits without going broke in the process.

In our experience you don’t need to spend a lot of money on Facebook advertising to get concrete results. However, if you’re working with a modest budget, it’s even more critical to structure your campaigns in a way that delivers the most value.

To this end, start with a premise: The bulk of your “results” – ticket sales and album sales in most cases – are going to come from your existing fans. Using Facebook ads to increase this pool is a separate topic entirely, but once a show is on sale your focus should shift to those who have already identified themselves as fans.

The most effective way to spend money on Facebook by a wide mile is reaching this group of people. On the surface this seems like a very easy concept and in many ways it is. So why do so many bands have a tough time getting results from their campaigns? In many cases, they’re spending too much.

Let’s look at an example…let’s say a band has 500 Facebook fans in Chicago, and they have an upcoming Windy City show scheduled that they’d like to promote:

Assuming a typical ad cost of about $10 per 1,000 people reached, a budget of $10 will reach all of those fans, likely twice each.

Since these 500 people are our most-likely ticket buyers, we always suggest reaching them three different times leading up to a show. However, these three campaigns should to be separated from each other by some “dead air” time where people won’t be seeing your ad.

Think of it as a reminder. This is a group of people who already likes your band, so they don’t need to be persuaded – they just need to be reminded. And if you remind someone about something five times a day, they’ll be annoyed. If you remind them every week or two, they’ll appreciate it.

So ideally, the band creates three different campaigns budgeted at $10 each, for a total of $30. It’s important to note here that this is very different from a single campaign for $30.

With the 10/10/10 model, they’ve got 100% coverage of their fans a few different times, but not to the point where they’re being bombarded six times a day for a month.

So to reach the 500 fans in this example $30 is not only all you need to spend, it’s all you SHOULD spend. Unfortunately many bands think that by pushing the budget up to $100 is going to give an extra push to ticket sales, when the reality is that it won’t help – and often it hurts. When people see your ad too many times they often will block or hide the ad posts, which negatively affects your page’s organic reach down the line.

There are certainly ways to put an additional $70 to good use, but that isn’t one of them. And the bulk of actual ticket sales are always to your existing fans so spending the $30 is critical, but spending the additional $70, even when done correctly, is far, far less critical.

Which brings us to another critical component of campaign structure: Your ads to existing fans should always be separate from any other targets.

As your most-likely ticket buyers, you want to ensure 100% coverage of this target. With other targets, you’re just looking to reach as many people as possible within your budget. So instead of running one campaign to “fans of our band, fans of Band X and fans of Band Y”, you should run one campaign to “fans of our band”, budgeting to ensure full coverage, and then a separate one to “fans of Band X and Band Y”.

To be sure, there are plenty of other elements that go into successful Facebook Ad campaigns. But following these targeting and budgeting strategies will put any campaign in a much better position to maximize the value of limited budgets.

4 Ways To Engage With Fans in Digital Stores

You already know how to get your music into over 150 digital stores and streaming services worldwide – whether it’s a single, a brand new EP/full-length, or even just a cover song to surprise and delight your fans with.

And while it’s easy to get caught up with the desire to end up on Spotify playlist or get featured in the iTunes Store, independent artists often overlook some even easier ways to solidify their presence and interact with fans in some of these well-known streaming and download platforms.

Let’s take a look at a few simple ways you can engage fans and make your music easier to find when they come hunting:

spotify

1. Set Up a Spotify Verified Artist Account

Start building a community of fans who want to discover music through you – with a Spotify ‘verified artist account’ you can let your fans know when you’ve made a  playlist or share a new song. Your account will be linked to your discography pages, (making them easily searchable) and you’ll be creating a direct-to-fan channel within Spotify.

Once you’ve distributed your music to Spotify and signed up for your own account (avoid signing up with a Facebook profile), head over to this site to complete Spotify’s “Verification Form”. Be prepared to have a URL to a hosted 200×200 pixel profile image on the form. Click here to download a PDF of Spotify’s “Best Practices Guide”.

Next, add a playlist to your account (make sure to ‘right click’ on the playlist name to ‘Make Public’) – that way, you’re not launching an empty page.

Finally, share it with your fans! Copy and paste the playlists’ ‘http link’ and let your fans on Facebook and Twitter know you’re open for business.

2. Get Access to Spotify Fan Insights

Last November we reported on one of Spotify’s coolest roll-outs: Fan Insights. Now you can find out who your fans are, where they are in the world, how they listen, what their other musical preferences are and how they engage.

spotify fan insightsYou can still head over to Spotify’s Artist site and request access to the beta version of Fan Insights here.

 

Google Play

3. Set Up a Google Play Artist Page

If you’ve distributed your latest releases using TuneCore, it’s pretty likely that you’ve decided to include Google Play in the stores we send your music to. And why wouldn’t you? Google has risen to the ranks as one of the biggest household names in digital media, and Google Play serves as it’s platform for getting music, videos, apps and more in the hands of fans.

Selling your music, personalizing your store page and reaching users with your music on Google Play is easy! After you’ve made sure that your music has gone life on Google Play, head over to the Google Play Artist Hub.

Google Play Artist Hub

From there you can sign in with your Google account, find your artist name, and you’ll even be able to use a credit card (without being charged) to protect against “artist impersonation”.

apple music

4. Claim Your Profile on Apple Music Connect

By now, Apple Music has made enough headlines and become enough of a go-to platform for so many fans that as an indie artist, you want to make the most of it. Apple Connect is described as a ‘place where musicians give their fans a closer look a their work, their inspirations, and their world.

When you claim your profile on Connect, you can engage directly with your fans and share audio, photos and videos. Get started by visiting this site and signing in with your Apple ID.

AppleMusicConnect2

From there, you can search for your artist name or paste a link to your iTunes artist page and claim that profile.  Additionally, you’ll be asked for your Artist Management and Label contact information – keep in mind, TuneCore does not fulfill either of these, so if you’re lacking this information, just put in your own personal contact information twice and move on.


Now that you’ve stepped up your store game, head over to your social media profiles and break out that email list – it’s time to start sharing some links!

Interview: 18th & Addison – Pop Punk Power Duo Discuss New Album, Label, & More

18th & Addison are two-piece pop-punk group based in Toms River, NJ. Made up of Kait DiBenedetto and Tom Kunzman (they play live with a drummer and bassist), the duo met after leading respective musical careers and combined their talents for writing punchy, emotional and energetic rock cuts during a time where the genre is undergoing a revival in the indie limelight.

Kait and Tom joined TuneCore for our first-ever TUneCore Live: Brooklyn event last August, and we got the chance to catch up with them to talk about their new album Makeshift Monster, (dropping tomorrow, July 15th), their beginnings as a group and what it takes to start and maintain your own label:

Coming from the pop and punk backgrounds, what kind of influences did you two share right out of the gate? How did you learn from each other in this regard?

Kait: Regardless of my pop background, I was still very much into punk, pop punk, and all that stuff as well, but I think the first band that initially brought the two of us together musically was Mest. We got together to record a cover of one of our favorite songs by them and realized really early on we worked well together and brought the best out in each other musically. Besides that, once Tom and I started hanging out more, he really got me more into The Clash, the Rolling Stones, The Replacements, Rancid. Just a bunch of stuff I always respected but never listened to too much and now I love it

Tom: When I was younger I was kinda stuck in my ways. I hated pop music for a long time. At this point though, I’ve grown to love and respect the production of pop music from the 80’s and 90’s that I ignored as a kid because all I cared about was Green Day, Blink-182 and whoever they listened to (laughs). I love punk rock more than anything, but I’ve learned, from writing with Kait that it’s okay to have the high energy and “f*ck you” attitude of punk rock with a good pop melody and beautiful harmonies that really get stuck in your head.

That’s pretty much all I was doing in my old band anyway just without realizing where it was all coming from. I guess I was just a really ignorant kid or something but now, I get the biggest kick out of writing the heaviest song ever (to me) and throwing in this poppy chorus with all these harmonies and soaring guitars and synths like we do on Makeshift Monster. There’s a song on there called ‘Knives’ that will make you wanna punch somebody then pick them up to sing along immediately after. It’s exciting.

Describe the initial collaborative process between the two of you. Was there instant songwriting chemistry?

Kait: There was definitely instant chemistry, at least in my opinion. When we really started taking 18th & Addison more serious and began the songwriting process together, we wrote separately more often than we do now, but we’d still bring the ideas of those songs to each other for the other to add onto.

Then it gradually turned into to us collaborating more on songs/ideas and writing more collectively which is why I think throughout the few years we’ve been a band, the songs have progressively gotten better. We learned each other’s strengths and weaknesses as songwriters and fed off of each other to each get better in different areas

Tom: Yeah, and we were writing A LOT. We could’ve put out a full length record right out the gate if we wanted to, but that wouldn’t have been a smart idea for a new and independent band in 2016 but the chemistry was there real early on. The writing process always changes, but over time, it’s gotten more and more collaborative which has proven to only make our music stronger which I think has made our live show even better and more fun as well.

How did you parlay your respective experiences in bands when it came to getting 18th & Addison off the ground? 

Kait: For me, I think the biggest thing I took from my past experiences is to wanting to be more involved. Right now I love being an independent band putting in the work and getting the pay off in the end. In the past, a lot of what I experienced were amazing opportunities but I didn’t have to put in as much work to get to the point where I was because I had a team of people doing it for me. Learning the in’s and outs of promotion and starting over from scratch is something I really took seriously from the start of this band and something I take a lot of pride in now considering we’re seeing a lot of our hard work pay off. It’s much more rewarding.

Tom: Pretty much the same for me. I got screwed over so many times. I was literally robbed by one of my drummers several times while on tour. I was literally left on my own the day of shows to play acoustically by myself which I had never done at that point in time. The list is endless! Anyway, I toughed it out because I felt stuck since I had a contract with a heavily involved investor who I was terrified to let down. Not that he would have sued me if the band broke up or anything, but because I had so much admiration and respect for him and his family for taking such a big chance on my band. I’m not one to ask for favors. Neither is Kait.

I’m thankful for those moments though nowadays and have no hard feelings because it really toughened me up. I took every idea that those guys ignored, or turned down for whatever dumb reason, and I put it all into 18th & Addison. Kait was feeling the same way and equally as excited to really grab the wolf by its ears and take it all on just the two of us and so far, so good! It’s liberating.

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What kind of tips can you offer to an indie artist who might be stepping away from a project to pursue another in terms of marketing and engaging new/old fans?

Kait: I think consistency is the key. A lot of people want the results right away or want to ride the coattails of old projects but don’t want to put the work that’s needed to start over. Social media is one of the best outlets to continue the communication between old fans, and a great way to connect with new ones so having a good online social presence goes a long way. But again, if you’re not consistent, it doesn’t matter.

Tom: Exactly. We’re definitely stuck in the age of instant gratification which Kait and I never subscribed to. Yes, let those fans of your last band know you’re doing something brand new, but don’t count on all of them follow along. Like Kait said, that consistency in 2016 is vital. My last band was terrible at that. We were so slow moving and we really hurt ourselves that way. It honestly killed the band and its drive, but 18th & Addison is a whole different animal!

Set goals for your new project that will catapult you to a new level, and do whatever it takes to achieve those goals. It might flop, it might not but that’s how you learn. Any band or creative endeavor is like a relationship. Plan for the future so you have something to look forward to and keep you in and if the passion and love is there, it’ll all work out.

Pop-punk has had a resurgence recently – I attributed some of it to former fans (like myself) finding a new value in the style and writing later in life.  What do you think?

Kait: Tom and I say this all the time but “pop-punk” never really went away. I think more recently bands of that genre are trying too hard to be too much like each other and it gets boring. A perfect example is putting on any pop-punk playlist on Spotify, it’s hard to identify any difference between some of the bands. No one has their own identity anymore and it’s nice when there’s a new band here and there that surprises you and gives you a little more faith in the genre again. But in my opinion, that’s few and far between these days

Tom: I’ve always paid attention to it so for me, it never went away. I also agree with Kait though. Sometimes, I can’t even tell it’s a different band with some of the newer ones in the “scene”. It’s like any genre though in my opinion. It goes through the motions and sometimes it’s popular, sometimes it’s not. One wave of it is great, the next isn’t so great, but I’d rather see young kids support a new, working band who can introduce them to older bands who started it all. As for the older crowd who grew up with it then stopped caring, I’m happy to see they’re starting to come back around as well even though it’s not this massive thing.

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You played one of our TuneCore Live events in Brooklyn last year and tore it up! What steps do you take to continually improve your live performances?

Tom: Thank you! We don’t really overthink the live show honestly. We just practice as much as we can and have a blast with our live band mates and try to think of things to add to the songs to get the crowds involved. Especially for people who have never seen or heard us before. We want everyone singing along and having fun. That’s why we started doing this as kids and that’s what I love to see a band do at shows. It’s just always a blast and we try to just be in the moment the whole time.

Kait: Yeah, we consistently practice even when we don’t have to just to stay fresh. We like to play out our actual set list all the way through at least three or four times just so we can work out all the kinks but in the same token, we make sure we still have fun with it. The energy of the crowd plays a HUGE role in the vibe of our live performance and it’s something we really feed off of so we make sure we get them involved as much as we can.

The first single off Makeshift Monster, “War”, deals with aging and the risk of losing your passion. Is this something you think a lot of independent artists go through?

Kait: I don’t think it’s something independent artists go through as much as I think it’s something literally EVERYONE goes through at one point or another. Sometimes you unintentionally lose sight of what’s important and you let what holds you back consume you and it doesn’t have to be that way. Whether it’s a passion you let go of, or anxiety holding you back in anyway, it’s something that we all experience and sometimes it’s nice to know you’re not the only one going through it.

Tom: Definitely. It’s something everyone goes through at all ages. I think that’s just life and I don’t know if it ever really changes. Everyone’s different. Times get tough whether we like it or not and some people run from their dreams in hopes for security because their parents raised them to think that they need to. The world we live in is tricky, but you can’t let ignorant people who have never truly followed a passion in their lives tell you how to live yours or what you need to be doing by a certain age.

That’s really where this new record is based. It’s a brutally honest album and ‘War’ is just the tip of the iceberg, but I overcame it because I love this shit and I know I can do it for the rest of my life so long as I’m not an idiot about it. Anyone can do it for any passion they have. Just need to commit yourself and enjoy the ride.  

What other themes and topics do you cover on the new album?

Kait: We definitely cover a lot of ground on this album. We write a lot about self-doubt, personal demons we’ve each had to deal with in our past, and also society and all the inhumanity that surrounds us. There’s a song on there that we wrote after we went through a hard time and our relationship was tested a little bit so there’s definitely a song for every emotion.

Tom: Definitely something for everyone and every emotion but it somehow became really cohesive at the same time. Unintentionally though. I think ‘Disaster by Design’ is the only real left turn on the record in terms of lyrical content, but it still fits the album. We were just being honest as usual, and this is what came out of the both of us because that’s what was going on in our lives at that time. We do try and write it in a way that people can take it and make it their own though.

What urged you to start your own label? What kind of partners – beyond TuneCore – have you found helpful in this venture?

Tom: Like I mentioned earlier, it was just the determination to be self-sufficient and not have to rely on anybody but ourselves. We know how we want to be perceived, we know how we want to promote our music, and we know where we want to go better than anybody else. Period.

You guys have been amazing in distributing our music digitally. We’ve loved working with you since the beginning. We get to pick our release dates, host pre-orders, decide how much we sell our music for so our fans can afford it easily and of course being added to the showcase was amazing! We had so much fun.

As for other partners, we hired a very hard working and extremely supportive manager/publicist who we’ve been with since we got the ball rolling in 2015 and put out our first release. He’s the man. There’s also our good friend and beyond driven videographer/photographer, Jarred Weskrna. His work is awesome and we just recently teamed up with a booking agency (Ashley Talent International) so we’re starting to work with them this summer! Then there’s obviously Skywire Studios where we recorded the album and our engineer, Charlie Berezansky also tracked drums for every song.

Kait: I couldn’t agree more. We like to be in control of what we do, what we write, the decisions we make regarding our music, how we present ourselves and everything else in between and these days, the only way to do that is to do it yourself.

We LOVE working hard knowing we got ourselves there. It’s also a great way to be involved in music outside of our own. We love collaborating and finding new music and figuring out new ways to make music that is refreshing so starting our own label is something we felt would help us do that long term. And all the people Tom mentioned are a HUGE part of why we’ve been able to be so successful thus far.

For an independent artist who might be interested in setting up their own label, what are some pitfalls to avoid or underrated advice you could’ve used?

Kait: I would avoid listening to people who try to put their two cents in who have no idea what they’re talking about. They THINK they do but they haven’t put in half the work to know or understand. Being able to identify the people who are really supportive and the people who say they are for the sake of getting something out of it is something you learn to be really cautious of. We’ve had our fair share of people doubt us or make comments about what we do but as far as we’re concerned, it only adds fuel to the fire for us to want to keep building this more and more.  

Tom: I agree. That’s a big part of it. The doubters are always people who have no f**king clue how much work and dedication goes into being your own boss. We never really felt like we’ve come across anything we couldn’t handle, to be honest. It just takes a lot of discipline which is tough for some musicians.

Just be smart and willing to learn as you grow. If you’re a member of a PRO, I suggest reading their newsletters daily and be up to date on the business side of things so you can really stay on top of the new ways to get the music heard. Also, always keep your music first. Without the music, the business doesn’t exist, so don’t forget what’s most important. Pitfalls and failures will happen but that’s what success consists of. Learn from your mistakes. Don’t run from them.