#TBT “Can We Kick It”

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Hard to believe it’s nearly been a year since we put this video out. In hindsight we should have done it earlier but the weather here in NJ prevented us shooting some of the scenes we wanted to capture. The radio campaign we had running was tailing off as this was coming out, the fact that the lyric video has nearly 5 times more plays (we put it out mid radio campaign) speaks to that effect. The music business is all about timing, miss the boat by a day or two and you’ll get left on the sand. Have your song heard at the right time on the right platform and you could blow up. It’s a game of fine margins.

Alas, it was a really cool video directed by our good friend and collaborator Charles Kliment (see his post here for his insight on the shoot) and was the first all Go Pro music video shot like this.

Go ahead and check out the video (again, because you have seen it already right?).

-HS

Streaming Payouts (Yup, ANOTHER streaming post!)

music, music business, music industry

There’s a lot of talk about music streaming at the moment, partly thanks to TIDAL’s launch and subsequent flop, Apple’s pending entry into the game and labels, artists and songwriters shouting from the rooftops about how unfair the pay outs are.

Let’s be real, the payouts are shit but it’s not the streaming services’ fault (more on that in a second) and according to some mind boggling work posted here, streaming services actually pay more per play than radio does if we were to break it down by actual listener count.

**Before we continue, we know we talk about Spotify a lot but really they’re the only player right now until Apple step in so they’re the best example to use.**

When we say the payouts aren’t the streaming services’ fault what we mean is that they can only pay out from what they are making. If Spotify has 15 million paid subscribers that means they have $150million of revenue per month or $1.8bn annually. They pay out 70% of that which leaves $1.2bn in the pot to split between all the parties, if you want to know how they calculate what to pay check out their explanation here, it’s actually a very interesting read.

The problem with the music industry right now is the streaming services are lacking volume, we’ve said it before and we’ll say it again…more people equals more money. Those bitching about the money made from streaming services probably don’t subscribe to one which is rather ironic. Get on board the streaming train, music sales are dead! Tell your friends to get on it, tell your family, the more paid subscribers we can get on whatever platform they choose means a bigger pot.

Look a little closer at the Spotify article and you’ll see that by law in the US, statutes dictate that publishers be paid 21% the amount that master recording owners receive. This is actually equal to, if not more than the general 9.1 cents paid out to publishers when a song is purchased digitallty or physically (it’s hard to judge as the percentage that 9.1 cents equates to will vary depending on how much a song is sold for). So just like with radio, if you’re comparing apples to apples, streaming services actually pay out pretty nicely, they just don’t have much to pay out with. Like we mentioned above, Spotify only has 15 millions subscribers world wide, that’s nothing! Wait until there are 150 million, 500 million and hopefully one day billions of people subscribing to streaming services. That’s where the industry is headed and it sucks right now, but we’re all in it together (which is why TIDAL leaves such a bad taste in a lot of our mouths- successful, rich artists complaining they don’t make enough money. It created a bit of a ‘them vs us’.).

Buying an artist’s album isn’t supporting them as much as you’d like to think, they don’t make that much off of album sales- bands and artists never did. Check out the 30 Seconds To Mars movie ‘Artifact’ if you want to know more about that (or even if you don’t, it’s a really good movie). Go and watch them on tour, that’s supporting them, (unless they signed a dreaded 360 deal). Buying their album vs streaming it won’t make you a better fan nor will it likely make them that much more money.

What’s also worth noting is you don’t hear anyone complaining about DJs getting paid 6-7 figures for one night playing other people’s music (sidenote: there is NOTHING wrong with them being paid that but if the mentality that streaming services aren’t allowed to make money off of others’ music exists, why are you OK with DJs doing it? They’re not paying out 70% of their fees to the rights holders like the streaming services are). Sure, writers and publishers get performance royalties from our songs playing in clubs and bars but nothing like 6-7 figures (and the venue/DJ has to report the songs played so you’re relying on that too). There just seems to be a lack of understanding as to what people are actually complaining about when it comes to streaming pay outs. More money coming in means more money coming out. It’s that simple.

Rant over.

Until the next one.

-HS

What Does It Take To Break An Artist?

music, music business, music industry

It’s funny. The Internet has made things easier by providing musicians the opportunity to market and promote themselves without the backing of a record label, yet at the same time it’s made it harder by giving music fans so much choice that it’s more difficult to stand out. 

Sure, you can break yourself online by being innovative on platforms like YouTube, Twitter, snapchat (has there been a snapchat musician yet?), Instagram, Vine etc but inevitably those artists still need major label backing to make the transition from viral sensation to recording artist.
A recent article published a study reporting that record labels are spending around $500,000 on marketing to break one of their artists nationally and up to $2million for global campaigns. Considering its a struggle these days for an act to sell more than 100,000 units that’s a lot of money to be spending on promotion. Obviously those costs are offset by the labels taking cuts of the artists’ endorsements, tour income etc (360 deals) but those revenue streams are dependent on the artist’s music breaking into the mainstream.
It’s really hard to break an act in today’s climate. We went the independent route with 3AM Tokyo (Yep, bringing that album up again!) and it was an interesting and expensive experiment. Just for radio promotion alone it was north of $20k, the single “Can We Kick It” peaked in the low 30s on the MediaBase Top 40 chart (MediaBase takes into account every single radio station in the US. Now that’s pretty dope, we were the only release in the Top 40 that was on an independent label. It’s also a pretty good example of how much money you need just to get to that level. However. No one pays attention to the MediaBase charts, it’s all about Billboard (Billboard only take into account certain radio stations). To get on the Billboard charts you’re looking at spending even more money and if you’re independent forget it, even with the required funds you just won’t have the connections or radio promotion departments that  the record labels have. This isn’t a slant on how radio works, it’s just the reality. You can’t get in if you’re not with the big boys. Now back to the money that was spent on the radio promotion for “Can We Kick It”, you want to know how many sales, streams or video plays all those radio spins gained? Not much. Certainly not enough to cover the costs of the promo. Not terribly inspiring for the independent musician is it?
This is where the benefits of social media and the Internet come into play. If you are independent you keep all the profits. That means you only need to sell/stream a fraction of what a major label act does to make the same amount of money, not to mention the money you’d make from doing shows. The average music listener spends around $100 on music a year (the exact figure is out there somewhere). With just 1000 fans you could make a decent amount of money, especially considering artists with a smaller cult following tend to have more intimate relationships with their fans which leads to the fans spending more money on them.
Of course with only 1000 fans you can’t really tour anywhere which is why you may need a bigger fan base, unless you don’t want to perform gigs and gigs are where the money’s at. We were chatting with a senior figure at one of the biggest publishing companies in the world and they were telling us one of their acts (who we happened to be friendly with) don’t even spend that much time in the studio anymore because they make so much more money from performing. Now this act broke online which led to them signing a major label deal before putting out a few albums so it’s hard to know whether the people they perform to were fans before or after the deal but this swings us back to the point that you kinda do still need major label backing to put a big dent in the industry.
All of this comes down to what an artist deems as success. You could be a solely touring act that doesn’t release records but builds up a fan base by grinding, playing show after show in city after city and make a living from it. You could equally be that artist who has 1000 fans online who are willing to spend $100 or more a year on your music and merchandise and make a decent living from that. But if you want to be known worldwide you need a major label and their financial backing. Their connections and infrastructure are unparalleled and combined with a savvy Internet game they can break an artist all over the world.
So to answer, to break a new artist into the big time you need money and lots of it, preferably a record labels money too! Money alone isn’t the answer but it allows artists to get their music on radio and launch viral campaigns to target the kind of audience their music warrants. We’re already starting to see deals where the label ends up in up reducing their role to being investors in artists and offering their distribution resources in return for a profit share. Don’t be surprised to see similar plays from companies like Google, Apple, Spotify and Microsoft in the future- investing in musicians and using their vast amounts of user data to help connect musicians with consumers. That’s another post topic though…
Have a great weekend
-HS

Taking Risks

music, music business, music industry

We’ll start with an apology today for not doing a ‘new music tuesday’. We know how much you enjoy those (!) but frankly there was nothing released worth mentioning which kinda leads us to today’s topic. 

We were in the studio last night with Bryan Terrell Clark working on a huge song called “Heaven” (no hype, it really is that good). Bryan was singing his ass off and we were working some crazy vocal arrangements. As incredible as it’s all going to sound when we’re done with it, in the back of our minds we’re just waiting for the moment we have to strip it all back and simplify it for mass consumption. It’s pretty depressing when you create something you’re really excited about only to have to scale it back and make it sound like everything else that’s out. 

It happened recently with a single we did for someone. Manny from 3AM Tokyo laid down some ridiculous drum fills that we had in the first mix but we ended up having to take most of it out because the song is for Top 40 radio and you just can’t have that much going on in those types of tracks, which sucks! 

It’s a bit of a catch 22, you can’t blame the labels because they have data (sales figures, radio spins etc) that directs the music they choose to put out. On the flip side you can’t really blame listeners either because they can only consume what they are provided with in the marketplace. The vicious cycle just continues. It’s all comes down to taking risks. Someone has to take a risk with the music they put out and the audience needs to take a risk by opening their minds and ears to something a little different. We always take risks with the music we make because it’s otherwise boring and uninspiring. At the same time we want to get paid and for our music to be heard so if we are asked to scale back the arrangements of songs for mass consumption we do it. 

The goal is to be in a position where as a producer or songwriter you call the shots. We did that with the 3AM Tokyo record which was why it was so fun to create. Hopefully when it comes time for distribution our risks will pay off. 

Just keep this in the back of your mind next time you bemoan the music that’s being released these days. Support the artist you like that do take risks and things will change. Labels are led by financials, you can’t expect them to release a product that they don’t make money off. If we as consumers can show them the kind of music we want to hear, they will listen. 

-HS

Behind The Music Pt.1

music, music business, music industry

As mentioned in Friday’s post (we all read that one right…?) we’re going to be doing some in the studio/behind the scenes videos as it seems to be of interest to people. Today we have no video but we will talk a little about our creative process.

This post was inspired by a recent meeting at a label where we were asked the one question we get asked in pretty much every introductory meeting- “who does what?”, meaning which of us writes the melodies, who writes the lyrics, who plays the instruments etc etc. The answer is always “we do” which leads to “yeah but one of you does the tracks and the other one writes the lyrics, right?”, the answer to that is we both do both. We’ve never thought of it as strange but apparently it’s not common for both players in a partnership to do the same role. This isn’t us trying to speak of how great we are (you should know that already..) but to help you to get a picture of what goes on from beginning to end when we’re in the studio.

Every song is different, sometimes Paolo comes in with a track (music) and Picasso adds to it and we both write the lyrics, or vice versa. Sometimes we both start a track in the studio together and bring in someone to help with the topline (lyrics and melody). Songs can start with Picasso sending a voicemail with a topline, musical ideas and a beat and we just have to make it a reality in the studio. On occasion one of us will have built up a song so much that the other just has to co-sign, make minor changes and we’ll call it a day. We’ve worked with each other so long that we know what the other would do to a song so it’s easy to fill in the blanks.

In terms of the actual creation, songs can start with the music first or the lyrics. Sometimes the beat might inspire certain chord progressions which inspire a vocal melody. It could also be the case that the beat doesn’t feel right after the song is written. This happened with “Can We Kick It” by 3AM Tokyo. We changed the beat 4 times before we settled on the final version, we were sick of hearing the damn song after messing with it so much!

Once the song is written we like to get the artist in to record. It’s frustrating when producers don’t get to cut the vocals but budget and scheduling doesn’t always allow it and they record at another studio with a different engineer or producer. There’s only been one song that we didn’t record the vocals and the artist wasn’t happy and neither were we. We didn’t have what we needed and the artist didn’t sound how she wanted to sound (which we would have made happen- vocal production is one of our strong points).

What happens next is the most time consuming part of the process- editing. Editing vocals takes a long time. Balancing harmonies, making composites of the vocals (comping) and tuning the vocals. Make no mistake, the majority of songs you hear were not recorded in one take, nor are they recorded particularly in tune. Words, and sometimes parts of words are spliced together to get the best sound of the vocal. A lot of work goes into perfecting the vocals and there’s no going back to how it used to be. We are all so conditioned to hear the slightest imperfection because vocals are so flawless in commercial releases now.

After this is done we mix the song. Making sure it sounds good by balancing the levels and optimizing the sound quality of the recording. This part doesn’t take so much time in terms of blocked out periods but we often sit with a mix and revise it over a few weeks- listening on different sound systems in different environments to ensure the song translates over multiple systems. What might sound great in our studio might sound like shit in your computer speakers!

We will get around to doing some in depth videos about our process, every writer/producer has their own way of doing it so it’s always cool to see. Check out our instagram for short videos of us in the studio doing our thing until then.

-HS

From Demo to Release- Close Da Blinds

music, music business, music industry

Music has this funny ‘magic’ that makes people assume that a song is written and ends up sounding great almost instantaneously. This is true with some music but most of the time a song sounds completely different from the initial idea when it is released- and the process can take years. Like any other creative process you build on an initial idea until you have a finished product, sometimes it’s changed so much that you wouldn’t recognize that original idea. A good example of that is “So Into You” by 3AM Tokyo which started as a completely different song by our good friend Martin Evans aka Tricktheflow. We used some of the chords he had recorded and it transformed into another song entirely. And guess what? We didn’t use that song either! We took the music and re-wrote a completely new topline (vocal melody and lyrics) which became “So Into You”.

We’re not going to let you hear those initial songs because we ended up re-working them for other projects, but what we will let you hear is the first demo of Close Da Blinds and the final release so you can hear the differences.

In all honesty what we released was actually still a demo, we put it on Spotify, iTunes and other digital outlets because it was featured on MTV’s Real World: San Diego and we wanted to allow people the chance to listen to it before it ended up on YouTube in horrible sound quality (it’s happened with some of our other songs featured on TV). Angel Demar laid the vocals for us in demo form, that’s why you don’t hear any adlibs and we never had her redo them.

Submitting songs for placement on TV as writers/producers is a fine balancing act. Financially you won’t receive as much as a placement on a major label release but it’s still more than worthwhile. It just means you have to think about the time you commit to it compared to what else you’re working on. This is why we often submit demos, unless you’re an artist the exposure you get from the credits on a TV show won’t matter as much to a writer/producer. We produce most of our demos to a commercial grade quality, if we want to produce the song we don’t want anyone at the label wondering whether they should call up a big name to do the job because we submitted a half-assed production. The idea is when an A&R, artist or their manager hears the demo they know that HeatSeekerz will make sure the production is on point. Doing this allows us to use our demo recordings on TV shows because it already sounds good enough.

Below you’ll find the original demo of Close Da Blinds and the released version. The mix is clearly superior on the released version, everything sounds balanced and polished (of course we’d say that, we mixed it!). There are a few musical elements that made the cut from the demo but for the most part we replaced the drums, added new instrumental melodies and utilized a fresh pallet of sounds. People seem to love this song because of the hook (try asking someone to close the blinds without thinking of and then singing ‘close the blinds, close the blinds’ to them!).

We’ll let you guys hear the contrast for yourselves, we won’t bore you by dissecting the music and explaining why we changed the sounds, the truth is it just sounded better!

Enjoy!

-HS

ORIGINAL DEMO:

RELEASED VERSION:

#TBT.. Ass on The Floor

music, music business, music industry

Can’t believe it’s been two and a half years since this video came out (Shout out to Marco Bobadilla and his team).

We originally had 5 songs for 3AM Tokyo’s EP, this was one of them. Somewhere along the way we did “Sky Is Falling” which completely changed what we wanted to do with the record as it had a different sound and frankly was better than everything else we’d recorded so far. “Ass On The Floor” still had a catchy feel so we did a soft release of it and shot a video, turning the song into a buzz single (it didn’t make the album). “Brighter Days” was the only other song of those 5 that made the cut too after some serious revamping, in case you were wondering.

If you haven’t been to a 3AM Tokyo show, you should, it’s all about having fun. No drama, no trying to be cool, just dancing your ass off. We wanted the song to reflect that and just get you in the mood to party when you listen to it.

We wanted to incorporate Ellen Degeneres’ ‘Dance Dares’ to try and get some viral buzz, plus we find that whole segment hilarious! The story of the video basically follows a group of guys who just wanna party but have that one friend who’s not in the mood. By the end of the video they succeed in getting him to join in the fun. It’s a pretty funny video and a lot of people worked really hard to get it done and we are still appreciative of that.

You’ve also gotta love the Full Force cameo at the beginning!!

Hit play and enjoy!

-HS

Music Monday..Lady Gaga

music, music business, music industry

It’s always a positive thing when artists use their music to raise awareness of taboo subjects. Especially when said artist is of the stature of Lady Gaga.

It was announced that she would be contributing a song to “The Hunting Ground”, a documentary about sexual assault on U.S. college campuses. The movie premiered at Sundance last week and hopefully will gain more exposure with Lady Gaga’s name attached.

Gaga has revealed in interviews that she was a victim of sexual assault and has written songs about it before (“Swine” from ARTPOP). Talking about such painful experiences can’t be easy and putting it out there for the world to know is a commendable thing, especially when it’s such a sensitive subject. This new song was written with Diane Warren (Google her for her list of hits). We haven’t heard the song but know it’ll be extremely well written and tackle the subject in a perfect way.

The message here is that music is more than just entertainment. It’s an art form born of self expression and when moments like this come in an artist or writer’s career where they can use their experiences to help others who share their pain, it’s great when they use it.

We love Gaga, her music and her artistic vibe and really respect her putting her music forward to aide a movie that addresses a subject she is familiar with. It’s not about the money, it’s not about the fame, it’s about the music and how it affects people. Sometimes we all need a bit of a reminder.

For more info on the film head over to
www.thehuntinggroundfilm.com

Follow Up Friday- Sam Smith/Tom Petty

music, music business, music industry

On Monday we discussed how songwriters can accidentally use other people’s melodies without realizing, seemingly happening with Sam Smith’s hit “Stay With Me” sounding a little to similar to Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down”.

Today we came across a statement on the Smith/Petty situation from Tom Petty himself where he called the whole incident “a musical accident no more no less“. It was great to hear him talking of how easily the problem was resolved and that he had never considered taking it to court, as was initially suggested by reports. Petty echoed what we had mentioned in our piece about how easy it is to write a song with unintentionally borrowed melodies,

All my years of songwriting have shown me these things can happen.  Most times you catch it before it gets out the studio door but in this case it got by. Sam’s people were very understanding of our predicament and we easily came to an agreement.”

Again we commend both parties for putting the music first! For Petty’s full statement head over to Billboard.

Have a great weekend!

-HS