3 Reasons “Staying Busy” Could Be Hurting Your Music Career

[Editors Note: This was written by Suzanne Paulinski and it originally appeared on the Sonicbids Blog.]

 

It’s quite common to hear, “I’ve been so busy, I need a vacation!” or, “Things are so busy around here, I suppose I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” The music industry is one of the last industries to embrace the self-care movement. Corporate titans like Arianna Huffington and Mark Cuban, along with celebrities like Jennifer Aniston, have begun speaking up loudly about the importance of prioritizing time outside of work and working smarter, not harder.

All too often, musicians work ’round the clock in an attempt to prove to others how much they “want it.” However, the “24/7 grind” is nothing more than people staying busy, regardless of how much work is actually getting done. After all, when you’re on your second all-nighter, how much is truly getting accomplished?

There are endless reasons it doesn’t pay to be busy and why it’s so important to slow down in order to get where you’re going. In fact, I recently pointed out three reasons you should slow down and regularly reflect on your music career. But, in an effort to save you even more time, below are the three most important reasons it literally doesn’t pay to be busy.

1. Filling up your day depletes your energy

Okay, this sounds pretty common sense. If you’re busy from sunrise to sunset, your energy will be pretty low, but it’s important to realize how much depleting your energy truly costs you.

According to a study on sleep deprivation, 17-19 hours without sleep is the equivalent to working with a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) level of .05. That leaves, at most, seven hours for sleep. At best, most of us are running around on four-to-five hours of sleep. That’s closer to operating on a BAC level of .08, which is legal intoxication.

How often have you sent an email to a venue with your templated material still in it (i.e. “Dear [venue]”), sent the wrong material to the wrong person, missed a deadline, or ran late to a soundcheck? Ignoring your body’s need for sleep is not helping your career, it’s hurting it.

2. You’re ignoring your priorities

When you have less time to do work, your priorities will magically appear. When you give yourself more time to work, your instinct is to put more on your plate. That leads to “busy work,” which hardly ever leads to anything productive.

For instance, if you give yourself only 20 minutes to send out emails to venues to book a show, you’re not going to spam every venue on the list, you’re going to make those emails count, right? You’ll be more likely to contact the venues that are relevant to you and your music.

If you tell yourself you’re not going to sleep until you’ve emailed every venue on the list, you’re not only depleting your energy, but you’re sending out emails to an entire set of venues that are most likely irrelevant to your cause. You’re so focused on being busy, however, that that fact never enters into the equation.

3. You’re making poor decisions

Being busy leads to being stressed, especially when all of that busy work doesn’t lead to any real, tangible results. The harder we work and the less we have to show for it, the more stressed we become.

When you operate under stress, you become more reactive than proactive. When it comes to committing to shows, coordinating recording sessions, planning social media, or sending out important emails, high levels of stress can cause you to react to whatever is going on in the moment, rather than look at how a particular decision is affecting your larger, long-term plan.

Slowing down feels wrong. I get it. If people see you turning in early rather than burning the midnight oil, how will they know how badly you want it? But consider this: How will other people’s thoughts of you get you where you’re going? Thoughts don’t get us anywhere, actions do.

Slow down and focus on work that matters, work that will get you where you want to be. If someone tries to shame you for getting a full eight hours of sleep when they only got three, simply say, “Yeah, thanks, I feel ready to take on the day!” And then take on that day like your career depends on it.

Why Playlists Are More Important Than Ever

[Editors Note: This blog was written by Patrick McGuire. Patrick is a writer, composer, and experienced touring musician based in Philadelphia.]

 

In 2017, the playlist has become an integral part of not just music but our culture at large. While radioplay and the blogosphere still have the power to bring attention to an artist, playlists are becoming a steadfast way for more and more listeners to discover and consume music. This isn’t exactly breaking news for those readers who’ve been making serious music over the past decade, but the fact is that playlists are shaping the musical landscape more than ever before, and if you don’t release your music with that in mind and plan accordingly, you’ll risk missing out on some potentially huge opportunities.

The New Listening Landscape

Remember that snobby record store clerk you used to get your music recommendations from? Or maybe it was your cool older sister. Well, either way, playlists featuring every genre of music you can conceive of are introducing listeners to new artists in way measured by literally billions of songs, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.

But probably more important than the way listeners are discovering music is the way they’re now listening to it. Listeners are now relying on playlists big and small to guide their unique listening experiences. Why?

Put yourself in the shoes of a non-musician for a second. Unless you’re particularly interested in discovering and listening to new and interesting music, you most likely won’t have the time or patience to wade through hours of music to find songs that actually resonate with you. Enter an army of new expertly curated playlists, specifically designed to convey an array of nuanced moods that cater to a wide variety of different music fans. Like indie rap? There’s tens of thousands of playlists out there for you. Looking for electronic jazz/rock fusion for stepdads? Actually, I have no idea if that playlist exists or not, but you get what I mean.

Engaging new and old listeners on this relatively new playing field is becoming more and more important for career musicians, but don’t take my word for it.

Let’s look at the data.

The Data Behind Playlists

On average, Spotify’s 4,500 curated playlists generate over a billion streams per week. Their Discover Weekly feature has connected well over 40 million music listeners to about 5 billion new songs. Love it or loathe it, Spotify is doing something massively important for new artists, and figuring out how to get your music featured on Spotify is worth looking into, even if the chances of your music being selected by one of Spotify’s notoriously picky playlist curators is slim.

But while Spotify is a major resource for listeners when it comes to finding and consuming music, YouTube is an even bigger player. Though the stats are controversial, complicated and difficult to understand, some music industry analysts believe YouTube accounts for 40% of all music listening.

I released a single recently and was surprised to learn that a dude with a playlist I’d never heard of had shared my new song on a YouTube playlist with over 188,000 subscribers. My release performed pretty well on Spotify, but the numbers were nothing compared to the exposure I got from being featured on that one Youtube playlist.

Make music regularly enough and you’ll sometimes get lucky and have your songs featured on decent-sized playlists, but reaching out to playlist curators and asking for your songs to be considered is vital if you’re just starting out and new to the playlist game.

Pitching Your Music to Playlist Curators and Digital Music Stores

Taking the time to submit your music through TuneCore’s feature submission form is an easy way to pitch your music to digital music retailers like iTunes, but if you’re interested in getting playlist curators to consider your songs, you’ll have to do some research.

Take some time to find out what playlists are out there that feature music that’s similar to yours. Rather than gunning for the big, heavily followed tastemakers, I recommend starting small and pitching your music to playlists with smaller followings.

Similar to how you’d pitch your music to blogs, take some time following different playlists and getting a feel for the kind of music their curators like to feature.

Craft a short email explaining who you are, what your music sounds like and why you think it fits on the playlist you’re inquiring about. Yes, you’ll most likely get your fair share of no’s and unanswered emails, but with how much potential there is out there for finding new fans through playlists, getting serious about playlists is becoming a mandatory task if you’re intent on being a successful musician.

Opening Band Etiquette

[Editors Note: This blog was written by Rich Nardo. Rich is a freelance writer and editor, and is the Director of Public Relations and Creative at NGAGE.]

 

I’m currently reading Meet Me In The Bathroom; an excellent oral history of the rock and roll resurgence in NYC at the turn of the century, written by Lizzy Goodman. Aside from the havoc that existed then, as the swan song of the “glory days of the music industry” were playing out and my own nostalgia for the culture of New York City at that time, one thing has really stuck out to me in the book thus far; The Moldy Peaches.

The Moldy Peaches were an outlandish, anti-folk outfit that came up in New York City during the 1990s. They also happened to be good friends with The Strokes. As the Strokes were on their way to becoming the biggest band in the world, they invited The Moldy Peaches to open several of their big hometown shows as well as on a few tours. The Strokes even went as far as to persuade Rough Trade Records to sign their friends.

While Kimya Dawson + Adam Green (the two artists behind The Moldy Peaches) now have sustainable careers based on their own talent, they owe a lot of their success to that early help from The Strokes. Which is why we are talking about “Opening Band Etiquette” in this post. If you’re one of the fortunate few acts that is given the opportunity to open for a more established band, it’s important to make the most of the situation. If you known how to finagle one turn of good fortune into another, you can find yourself building a career and headlining bigger rooms a lot quicker.  

Here are some tips on how to do so:

Headliner is King (or Queen)

Whether you’re the local opener for a touring band or actually on the road with someone, the headliner will set the tone. There will be certain things that they require pre-show and you should make sure to adhere to their wishes. The less their pre-show routine is interrupted by your own, the more likely they’ll be to invite you back, especially if your performance is awesome.

If you only have a few guest list spots, make do with that. Worried about getting an extra case of water? Forget it for now. When you’re drawing enough on your own to be the headliner than you can look for more guest list spots and extra water in your green room. For now enhance the headliner’s experience, it’ll pay off in the long run!

Stick to The Schedule; You’re Part of the Team

This point ties closely into the “Headliner is King or Queen” subject. However, it is the single most important thing you can prioritize in order to successfully stick to that rule and thus deserves it’s own separate mention. The headliner will create a schedule that works best for them. You will work your schedule around theirs. Most importantly, it’s imperative that you are on time for everything.

If you are running 15 minutes late to Soundcheck, that could push their own allotted time. Even a slight delay there could end up putting a rush on any press interviews they need to take care of before the show, potentially rob them of the chance to get away from the venue for dinner or disrupt another important aspect of their pre-show routine.

Do Your Own Promoting for the Show

The more tickets sold you are responsible for, the more value you will have to the headliner. Make sure you’re looking for your own press ahead of the show, promoting on social media and getting out on the street to flyer if it’s a local show. If you bring enough people, it’ll get you noticed. Not just by the headliner, but by the promoter as well.

Support the Headliner

Even though they’re probably further along in their career than the bands that are opening for them, a headliner is still out there touring to make new fans and create opportunities for themselves. Don’t forget to bring as much attention to them as possible. Whether it’s tagging them in your social media promotion ahead of the show or thanking them from stage and asking fans to visit their merch table, shoutouts will always be appreciated and often reciprocated.

Network! Network! Network!

One common thread you will see in every post about optimizing a situation is networking. It doesn’t matter what industry you work in, networking is key. Whether it’s introducing yourself to the headliner, getting to know the promoter for the event or hanging out at your merch table interacting with fans, the relationships you take away from any opportunity is what’s going to be your biggest asset moving forward.

The music industry is built largely on word-of-mouth. Do everything you can to build a network that wants to help spread the word about your band and you’re increasing your chances to succeed infinitely.

 

4 Music Theory Techniques To Help You Write a Great Chorus

[Editors Note: This article was written by Chelsea Ira of New Artist Model.]

 

I want you to think of some of your favorite songs. You know, those choruses you could sing over and over for hours and still not be sick of them.

How do you think those songwriters stumbled upon something so seemingly perfect?

Was it a bolt of inspiration out of the blue?

Or did it stem from their understanding of music and countless hours of practice?

More likely than not, it was a combination of the two. In songwriting, it’s important to find a balance between chasing inspiration and developing your skills. Too much or too little focus on either could leave you in a frustrating writer’s block.

But today I want to focus on the technical side of things. More specifically, I want to go through a few music theory techniques that you can use to spark killer chorus ideas and get your inspiration flowing.

Of course, these are only ideas to get you started. If inspiration strikes, follow your creativity and even break some music theory rules!

1. Simplify Things Down to a Motif

As songwriters we can sometimes get caught up in the big elaborate vision we have for a chorus. This top-down approach to songwriting can certainly work, but it’s very easy for the essence of the hook to get lost amidst everything else. And then you’ll end up with a non-descript chorus that falls flat compared to the initial vision you heard in your head.

In other words, the hook gets lost in translation.

An easy way to get past this is to simplify your idea, narrowing it down to one or two motifs – then build up from there.

In music theory, a motif is a short musical idea that is used to build phrases, melodies, riffs, and grooves. Typically, motifs are very short and simple. Think of them like small little Lego blocks that can be stuck together in multiple different ways to create larger things.

I can’t emphasize simple enough when it comes to motifs. Often it’s the songs that use the simplest motifs that really stick in our heads.

Blues songs are one of the easiest places to see motifs at work. Take a listen to Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues and you’ll hear a motif in the first line of the lyrics, starting on A, going up to B♭ and C, and then back down to F. That motif is repeated with subtle variations and is answered by a second motif.

Another example is Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. I know – it’s not exactly modern music. But, it’s a great example of just how powerful simple motifs can be. Almost everything in the song is created and derived from that iconic four-note motif. If that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what is.

Next time you’re stuck on a chorus, try simplifying things down and really think about the motifs you’re using. Try making small changes or variations to those motifs and stringing them together in different orders. Starting from the core of your hook and working out from there will give your choruses a very strong and cohesive sound.

2. Play With Sequences

Expectation and anticipation is something every great chorus harnesses. You want the listener to be expecting and waiting for that hook to come around – the hook and the sections leading up to it should almost act like a magnet that draws the ear to the most important part of your song.

In music theory, one technique you can use to create expectation for your hook is a sequence. A sequence is a musical idea that is transposed and repeated to create a pattern.

A motivic sequence is made up of a motif that is transposed and repeated using specific interval pattern. (For example you could move the motif down by a 4th and up by a 2nd.)

A harmonic sequence is made up of a set of chords that follow a particular interval pattern.

Our ears latch onto musical patterns by nature, so as soon as you establish a sequence your listener will catch on and begin anticipating where the music will go next.

In songwriting, you can use this to really build things up before or during your chorus and draw the ear into your hook.

Alternatively, you could also create expectation with a sequence and not follow through by playing something completely unexpected to create tension.

3. Pull From the Notes in Your Chord Progression

The notes in a chord will always be the strongest, so they can be a great starting point when you’re writing a strong melody for a chorus.

You see this all the time in popular songs. The hook will pull out one or two notes from the chord(s) underneath it, or even outline all the notes in the chord. Using your melodies to drive home the key notes in your chord progressions can create an overall more cohesive sound and a much stronger composition.

Of course, you don’t need to only use notes from your chords. Try using them as a sort of outline for your hook.

If you write melody first, try going back and creating a chord progression that incorporates some of those main melody notes. If you write chords first, try pulling out key notes to create an outline for your melody.

If you want to expand on this idea even more, try looking into modes. If you’re playing in they key of C Major, use the G Mixolydian mode to create the melody line over the G Major chord and the F Lydian mode to create the melody line over the F Major chord. This just allows you to pull out those strong notes that will really get your hook to stand out.

4. Harness the Power of Repetition and Subtle Variations

Repetition is often the thing that really drives a strong hook home.

Think about songs like “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk. The chorus is simple and it’s played over and over (and over) again. But despite all that repetition, it’s pretty tough to get sick of that song.

Why?

If you take a closer listen, you’ll notice that there are subtle variations in each chorus. Different instruments are added into the mix and small compositional changes help keep things fresh.

Once you have a great hook or chorus, experiment with it, see all the different ways you can subtly manipulate it, and use those variations in your song to really get that hook in your listeners’ heads.


It goes without saying that if you want to write hooks and choruses like the greats, you should study their work. Make a habit to try to really dissect some of the choruses from your favorite songs to see what’s going on.

We gave you a few examples in this article, but if you want more, you can download the ebook Inside the Hits: The Secrets Behind 10 Hit Songs for free here. In that book you’ll see what’s going on from a music theory perspective behind 10 big hits by artists like Rihanna, The Police, Bruno Mars, Mark Ronson, Jay-Z, Johnny Cash, and more.

Thoughts On How To Approach Music Bloggers

[Editors Note: This article is derived from the “Question and Answer” format found over at MusicPreneurHub.com, a site that connects artists and music industry experts. It was written by Jack Ought, a musician, freelance writer and digital artist from the UK.]

 

1. Start With Empathy

I’d say start with empathy. Empathy is a vital skill for dealing with other humans, whether they blog or not. Try to put yourself into the head of the music blogger before you contact one. What do they want out of life and how can you help them get it with your music? Put another way, ‘what’s in it for them’?

It’s a bit like submitting to A&Rs at major labels. If they’re really big, they’re getting more submissions than they can possibly deal with. They’re getting generic/irrelevant pitches all the time, and they might have grown to resent ‘bad pitches’. They don’t want to read War and Peace, even if your content is relevant to them – instead, they’re looking for short, informative, and ’to the point’ releases that allow them to learn more, if they want to. And they are always looking to uncover music that they feel has real value, why else would they do what they do?

If it’s a commercial blog (i.e they have ads), understand their revenue model – they want more page views, which generate more ad revenue. How can you help them generate more page views? One of the things that always gets my interest as a journalist or blogger is an exclusive – I’m not interested in posting content that a bunch of other people have put out before me. Do you have something new to announce that they can post first? A new tour perhaps, or a new single? Perhaps consider: “if it’s not new, it’s not news”

2. Your Mindset

Perhaps consider your mindset too; in the sense that you are here to serve and provide value. You are here to give them something very exciting to show to their readership. You have something genuinely valuable to share with them in the form of your art.

What to do when you pitch a blogger:

Have a strong headline: It’s worth bearing in mind that your email subject is a bit like your headline – you really have to get it right, because if they don’t like the title they won’t even read your email.

Do your homework on the blog: Some blogs ask you to do certain things in your email to help them better process your submission. If you don’t, the blogger will likely reject your message outright.

Personalize your pitch: Make sure the salutation references them by name, if you can. If not, name of the blog that they write for. Don’t start an email with something like ‘Dear Blogger’, please. Tailor it to the blogger in question, ideally in the first paragraph by referencing something they have written about in the past: And why what you have to OFFER them is RELEVANT. I speak from experience when I say that if someone shows that they have taken the time to research what I am writing, I am much more inclined to respond. It’s not flattery per se, more an example that you’re a professional who has taken the time and thought to do their research.

Expect a low hit rate: Sad but true, even the best crafted, most targetted pitches will often evaporate into nothing. This is very often the case and not something to take personally. People are busy, people forget stuff, sometime spam filters get excited, there are many reasons. Which leads us to the next bit… Follow up: 3-5 days later, politely. A short, friendly follow up email to remind them. There’s a trade off between emailing indefinitely until they get back to you or tell you to stop, or not. I think it’s like a lot of stuff in life in that persistence pays. Remember, you have something useful for them to see. An optional step – you could pick up the phone and call them (or try to get them onto Skype). If you are the kind of person who is good on the phone, this may be better for you.

Provide easily accessible links to your content: Either download links to music and imagery on a site like 4shared, or your EPK. Say thank you at the end: Everyone is busy, the fact that the blogger has taken the time to read all the way to the end is great. Politeness will get you around. Here’s an example of an email title (first introduction) that could work for you: “Hi [NAME OF JOURNALIST], I read your piece on [SOMETHING THEY WROTE] & thought you may like this…”

3. On Bloggers (Big and Small)

Please don’t rule out smaller bloggers. Just because they’re ‘small’ doesn’t mean they’re not important – even though a blogger may not have the following of a bigger publication, they often have a highly engaged and super niche following of the kind of people you want to get in front of. For example, they can be followed by journalists at bigger publications looking to catch new bands before they take off. Big outlets often get their ideas from smaller ones.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that bloggers are, on the main part, fanatical about what they like and they can be some of your biggest champions, if they like you. Most of the time, the ones who went into it purely for the money were quickly weeded out when they realized that they’re probably not going to get rich and famous overnight.