Life In Music Pt.1

music, music business, music industry

The music business is a cycle of hope and disappointment. One minute you’re on the verge of glory, staying up all night to finish the song that is going to be THE ONE that makes it happen for you,  then the door gets slammed in your face. Just like that, dead in the water. All the hard work and sacrifices you made to finish the project you were led to believe would be your big break was all for nothing. It happens time and time again. There are so many false dawns that you become immune to it. Only the strongest survive. If you’re serious about it and have the talent, you brush yourself off and keep grinding- on to the next one. It’s true what they say, there’s not much traffic on that extra mile, don’t take an earlier exit.

It’s hard for those around you to stomach, your family and friends ride the waves with you but aren’t always as resilient as you are. They get excited when you tell them you have the next single on artist X’s new album only for the label to go in a different direction and put your song to one side. You have countless meetings with labels and publishers that lead to no more than adding a new contact to your address book. It gets frustrating. The repetition can wear them down and the support and understanding they give you can waiver at times, especially when you’ve skipped out on family time to finish projects only for it to amount to nothing. They’re the real heroes in this, the ones that stick by you through the constant ups and downs. They believe in you, sometimes when you stop believing in yourself, it takes a strong partner to do that for you. Music isn’t like a regular job with a clear career progression, you just keep working until you make it. You follow the breadcrumbs and alot of the time it leads to dead end. That’s hard to understand for a lot of people, there’s a lot of risk involved and often not much reward. You just can’t lose sight of the big picture, it only takes one song, one person to hear it that can make the difference and change your life. You may not have written that song yet, you’ll never know if you stop.

Time is hugely undervalued and taken for granted in the music business. Label execs or artists think nothing of creating tight deadlines that require you to drop everything to meet and then don’t get back to you for sometimes weeks after you’ve submitted the song. A common response is the “can you send the mp3 again, I can’t find it?” email. Usually meaning that after all that time you put in they just deleted the email that had the song in it. You can’t be mad at it though, they’re just doing their job, it’s just an unfortunate consequence of the game.

From beginning to end a song can take about 20-30 hours to record and mix, if you do it properly (there are plenty songs on the radio that have sloppy vocal edits and half-assed production) and that’s not taking into account the writing. That’s nearly a week’s work for one song that 9 times out of 10 you’re not going to get paid for. You really have to love what you’re doing, we definitely do, otherwise that shit is hard to take.

The message here isn’t to be negative or complain, a lot of sacrifices have to be made in many industries but music has a glamorous vibe to it when in reality it’s a lot of grinding that people never get to see. For every act that makes it, many more have been working just as hard and have just as much talent but didn’t get the break. But that act did make it, which means you can too. That’s the hope you have to hold on to. Even when that deal falls through or your song gets rejected, the next one could be it. Don’t give up.

-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

HeatSeekerz Grammy Predictions

music, music business, music industry

The Grammys are upon us. Which means it’s another year passing by since 2009 where we’ve been saying we’ll go back and forget to get organized in time. The Grammys are prestigious, their relevancy are often brought into question, with some validation, but everyone wants to win a Grammy!

We thought we’d have a bit of fun and predict a few of the pop awards. It’s worth noting these aren’t who we want to see win but who we think will be voted for the most in each category.

We’ll check back in tomorrow and talk about the show and see how many predictions we got wrong!

Check out our predictions below:

Record Of The Year:-

Fancy-Iggy Azalea Featuring Charli XCX

Chandelier- Sia

Stay With Me (Darkchild Version)- Sam Smith

Shake It Off- Taylor Swift

All About That Bass- Meghan Trainor

HS Prediction- Stay With Me- Sam Smith

This one is a tough one but Sam Smith’s record stands out because it’s so different from the others. All 5 are huge records in their own right but Smith should walk away with this one. Quick shout out to our girl Charli XCX representing Sesac!

Album Of The Year:-

Morning Phase — Beck

Beyoncé — Beyoncé

X — Ed Sheeran

In The Lonely Hour — Sam Smith

Girl — Pharrell Williams

HS Prediction- X- Ed Sheeran

In terms of a whole body of work and Ed Sheeran’s second album is consistent throughout and a very unique album.

Song Of The Year:-

All About That Bass- Meghan Trainor

Chandelier- Sia

Shake It Off- Taylor Swift

Stay With Me (Darkchild Version)- Sam Smith

Take Me To Church- Hozier

HS Prediction:- Stay With Me- Sam Smith

This award differs from Record Of The Year because it is decided by the actual song, taking away the production and just focussing on the lyrics and the music. We have to go with Stay With Me again although All About That Bass might pip it due to its great message.

Best New Artist:-

Iggy Azalea

Bastille

Brandy Clark

Haim

Sam Smith

HS Prediction:- Sam Smith

This one will be close between Smith and Iggy. Both made a big impact on music this year but with so many nominations it’s hard to see Smith missing out on this award.

Best Pop Solo Performance:-

All Of Me (Live)- John Legend

Chandelier-Sia

Stay With Me (Darkchild Version)- Sam Smith

Shake It Off- Taylor Swift

Happy (Live)- Pharrell Williams

HS Prediction:- All of Me- John Legend

This one is another tough one but John’s single really stands out when it comes on the radio. We love Sia’s performance on Chandelier though. She can hit them high notes!

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance:-

Fancy- Iggy Azalea Featuring Charli XCX

A Sky Full Of Stars- Coldplay

Say Something- A Great Big World With Christina Aguilera

Bang Bang- Jessie J, Ariana Grande & Nicki Minaj

Dark Horse- Katy Perry Featuring Juicy J

HS Prediction- Fancy- Iggy Azalea feat Charli XCX

We figure Iggy will win this one after missing out on other nominations. We’d love to see Bang Bang get one too in this category.

-HS

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

Music & Technology- DLD15

music, music business, music industry

We came across this panel video yesterday thanks to Ryan Leslie (more on him in a minute). The panel was made up of Ryan and a few other important figures from the music world discussing technology and its impact on the music industry. It’s worth pointing out that there isn’t a definitive solution for resurrecting the music business but we’re starting to see trends that indicate where the money can come from. Our feeling is a mix of many elements discussed in the panel but primarily the use of streaming services and D2C marketing and artist-fan interaction that Ryan Leslie is pioneering (again, we’ll come to that in a minute). There’s so much to discuss on the topic of music and technology but we’ll try to keep it short and revisit the topic on a frequent basis.

We’ve already briefly discussed Spotify (Spotify Hits 15m Subscribers) and it was encouraging to hear members of the panel validate its value both monetarily and its effectiveness at allowing artists to be discovered with a low cost of entry for the consumer. One other value that wasn’t discussed, and this goes for streaming as a whole, is utilizing streaming data to shape radio playlists. We hold our hands up here that we’re still a little unsure of exactly how playlists work, although we have first hand experience of getting a song to number 34 in the Top 40 charts, albeit with the help of a radio promotions company (we were, however, still the only independent release on the chart). Just think about this though, instead of record companies lobbying program directors at radio stations and spending a shit ton (read:A LOT) of money to keep their songs spinning, what if that money, and most likely a lot less, was spent marketing the songs to consumers so that fans then went and listened to the songs on streaming services? Radio stations would then act as curators, looking at the data to see which songs are popular and then putting playlists together that reflect that. Radio is still the most important discovery tool for consumers which means music lovers only discover what the program directors and record labels want them to. What if consumers were the new taste makers? Radio would be able to see which artists and songs were picking up steam online and then broadcast that out to a wider audience.

Now on to direct to consumer marketing (D2C)… Ryan Leslie is a musician & entrepreneur who really pioneered the use of YouTube and Myspace to build a social following and promote his artist Cassie back in the mid 2000’s. We’ve been following him since we first heard the record he produced for New Edition called “Hot 2nite” and he really was ahead of the curve using the internet to market himself and his music. Do a quick google on Ryan and you’ll see the guy is SMART, he graduated from Harvard at 19 and on top of that is an incredible musician. As an artist he recognized that he wasn’t able to access any information about who his fans are. Digital retailers are currently unwilling to share this kind of data which is hugely valuable information for someone selling music, merchandise or concert tickets. Knowing who your fans are and how to reach them is really important if you want to let them know when you have new music dropping, if you’re playing in their city, if you have a new video you want them to watch or merchandise to sell. Ryan built his own platform Disruptive Multimedia to effectively run his business from an app on his phone. Fans join his Renegades club, providing him with their contact info and location. He is then able to reach out to fans whenever he has something to tell them and also allows them to reach out to him whenever they want by giving them his phone number and email address. Paolo is a member of the Renegades and can attest to this artist-fan relationship. For a first hand description of this platform check out the video below.

Labels and artists are beginning to see the benefits of being able to directly communicate with their consumers and the financial rewards this can bring. Want to see the new video before anyone else does or hear the new record? Most fans will pay a premium for that! Especially if they are listening to the music essentially for free on streaming services. If fans are engaged with their favorite artists, they’re more likely to spend more per year than the $10 it costs to buy an album.

Where does this tie in with streaming? It’s all about brand management. Think about the brands/companies you always go back to, it’s more than likely that they’ve made you feel grateful for being a customer, which is crazy- you’re the one giving them business! You were probably given a good discount and treated nicely when you had to deal with them or given exclusive offers for being part of a loyalty club. It should be the same with music, an artist is a brand selling products. Use the music to market the brand, don’t see it as the only product you sell. Streaming services will place your music on a global platform, making you easily discover-able. Once you have a fan, use your D2C marketing to engage them, offer them exclusive merchandise, first viewings or listens to new material or VIP experiences at your next show. This is all putting aside the fact that as streaming services grow, so will the generated revenue and the music may end up being your primary source of income. You’ll also be making more from bigger attendances at shows (fans will know exactly when and where you’re playing), more t-shirts sold and music videos will have some relevance again. Fans put a premium on being the first to hear new music, why not offer them the chance to pay for it by sending them a text to tell them they’re entitled to download the new album before it hits the streaming services? If they want to hear it that badly, they’ll pay for it! You could make a great amount of money with only 1,000 fans as you will own your relationship with them and they will reward you for that.

Wrapping up, the future of music lies firmly in technology’s hands. Once music distributors and artists figure out the right ways to utilize it we’ll have this industry prospering again. Streaming services are the best way for consumers to hear the music, that’s pretty clear. Using a D2C approach is the missing piece that will engage fans and generate new paths of income for artists if they’re smart in how they market. We hold a lot of value in Ryan Leslie’s Disruptive Multimedia and really hope it becomes more widely adopted. The music industry is not dead, it’s just in a transition and we’ll be with it the whole way.
-HS

Meghan Trainor expected to be No.1

music, music business, music industry

2015/01/img_1429-0.jpg

We’ve always been All About That Bass so nothing new for us there (great song by the way), however what is interesting is the slow shift in Top 40 music’s sound through 2014 and into 2015.

Meghan Trainor, according to Billboard, is set to knock Taylor Swift from atop the Billboard 200 next week. This is interesting because it follows an underlying trend of more live, organic sounding songs becoming popular again. EDM (what an awful name for dance music..) ruled the charts for a long time, we’re not saying it’s going anywhere but with the emergence of artists like Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran’s steady rise in popularity we’re starting to hear less beat driven songs on the radio. Having had a quick listen to her album, Meghan is riding that wave with an old school, live instrument vibe mixed with a current Top 40 sound. We really like it.

In truth we saw this shift coming (how awesome are we..) when we made the 3AM Tokyo album. We essentially time proofed the songs so they would last the 2-3 years we knew it might take to get them into the mainstream. Seeing Meghan make it to number 1 with a different sound is good for music. It’s good to keep pushing the audience to experiment with their tastes. At the same time none of the songs mentioned by the artists above sound out of place on radio, which speaks to the excellent writing of the artists and collaborators. So congrats to Meghan and a big salute to all the artists and writers trying new things and not following the crowd.

We’ll leave it there as the weekend’s coming, and who wouldn’t wanna get ready to get their ass on the floor tonight right????

#TBT Shaliek ft Fred the Godson- Spoke Too Soon

music, music business, music industry

We first came up with the instrumental to this song in 2009 and had a completely different song for it. All producers and writers will admit that they get attached to certain songs but this can blur your judgement and lead you down the wrong path with a song choice. We have been guilty of this plenty of times, but often one of us will talk the other out of sticking with certain melodies or entire toplines (main melody of the song). Thankfully on this occasion we had both been in agreement for  a while that we needed a better song on top of the instrumental so we added it to our “farm trax” folder (farm trax are the instrumentals we have open for songwriters to write to).

The Hitterzz are a songwriting team consisting of Shaliek and Cashus, two incredible writers and artists in their own right. We have a number of songs with them that we love and we wouldn’t hesitate to call on them if we needed a hit. When they came by the studio for the first time we played them our farm trax and this was the one they gravitated to. With their collaborator Daisy Grant they penned this song in less than an hour, that’s what it felt like anyway- we just left them to it.

Originally we were shopping Spoke Too Soon to a number of artists and labels when Shaliek said he wanted the song for his EP “I Don’t Wanna Be Famous”. We always want our music to be heard so of course said yes. Shaliek hooked up the Fred the Godson feature and we finished up the mix. You won’t fully appreciate the mix until you play it through a sound system with a sub woofer as the kick on this song bangs real hard.

Sit back and chill with this one, it’s a smooth old school R&B joint. Also give Shaliek a listen on iTunes or Spotify, links below. The boy can sing his ass off!

-HS

Shaliek iTunes

Shaliek Spotify

Spotify Hits 15m Subscribers

music, music business, music industry

spotify-logo-primary-vertical-light-background-rgbThere will be a long, probably too long, post about music streaming and its impact on the music industry coming at some point but we just had to stop and talk about the Spotify announcement from yesterday that they’ve hit 15m paid subscribers.

A lot has been spoken about Spotify and its supposed negative effect on the music business recently thanks to Taylor Swift taking her music off of it completely a few months ago.  We fall on the other side of that argument and see streaming as the future of the industry. We’ll try and keep our reasons brief here so as not to spoil the big post that will be coming soon (we know you can’t wait..)

Yesterday’s announcement is big because 15m people are paying $10 a month to stream music on Spotify, that’s $150m monthly revenue and $1.8bn annually. Take into account that in the United States alone there are over 320m people and globally the population sits just shy of 7.3bn, 15m really isn’t that much. Yet those 15m subscribers generate more than 10% of the total global recorded music revenues from 2013 ($15bn). Just imagine if there were ten times the amount of paid subscribers, and judging by the amount of YouTube views major label artists get, there are more than that listening to music for free online. From Spotify alone there would be more money coming in to music than there is now, and Spotify doesn’t have to be the only player!!

Artists that are disgruntled because they claim to be losing out on money from lower sales need to sign better contracts. Spotify pays out 70% of its revenues to right-holders, just as much as Apple and other online retailers, where are the complaints from those that dismiss streaming? Artists have always lost out in shitty deals, check out 30 Second To Mars’ brilliant documentary Artifact for some insight into that. On the flip side, more needs to be done for songwriters and publishers as they do lose out from streaming- although they made pittance on the sales anyway, roughly 9 cents per song total (split between all parties). Hopefully laws will be put into place to change this as unlike the artists, writers and producers can’t sign endorsement deals or tour off of the back of the songs they write and should be compensated fairly. The money generated per stream is a mute point. The more money in the pot, the more there is to distribute. Right now there isn’t as much in the Spotify pot as there are only 15m subscribers. You can’t compare that to a fixed amount for a sale. As the amount of money coming into Spotify grows, so will the per stream revenue.

Before this post turns in to a long rant, we’ll end by congratulating Spotify and hope they continue to grow and break into new markets. Considering only 3% of all commercially released music sells more than 1000 units, streaming services are giving the other 97% a platform to reach new fans and build a base that they can make money from with a low barrier of entry and zero commitment for the consumer to check out their music.

We’ll elaborate further on all the points raised but hope we’ve given you something to think about, whichever side of the argument you sit.

-HS