Archive for July, 2014

Spencer Manio in front of his office (his door is the one with the Ghostface poster) at PlayNetwork.

Spencer Manio in front of his office (his door is the one with the Ghostface poster) at PlayNetwork.

Kyle Johnson for NPR

In an episode from the fifth season of Mad Men the show’s main character, advertising executive Don Draper, is asked by his client, the cologne company Chevalier Blanc, to supply a Beatles song for a television commercial. The year is 1966, and the 40-year-old Draper doesn’t have his finger on the rapidly rising pulse of popular music. So he calls in a team of younger, hipper copy writers, including his wife Megan.

“When did music become so important?” he asks her.

She reminds him jingles have been important forever. But he knows that. Now, though, he says, clients are looking for specific songs, or moods. Chevalier Blanc asked for the Beatles, but said, “All we want is […] that adolescent joy.”

Draper’s team decides on a Beatles-y version of “September in the Rain” by The Wedgewoods. It is a good fit. But Draper remains unhip, and at the end of the episode, he tries and fails to enjoy “Tomorrow Never Knows.” He’s not kidding around and not embarrassed when he tells Megan he has no idea “what’s going on out there.”

Today we know about these key elements of selling a brand, these emotional intangibles. It’s an industry, one with a whole sophisticated infrastructure to the placement of music in ads. Layers of artists, labels, marketing departments and lawyers all work together. It’s big business, at least in the diminished music industry. But just like back in Draper’s day, there is a gap between executives in skyscrapers and pop music on the street.

What is the right music to use in an ad? Where do these tunes come from? These questions require a middle person for answers. Someone with their finger on the pulse.

Spencer Manio is a 39-year-old Seattleite who works in that go-between role. In 2010 he put Oakland blog darlings tUnE-yArDs in a BlackBerry commercial. Back then the band was relatively unknown. Fast forward two years later and tUnE-yArDs is a critically agreed-upon Great Band. How many people first heard them in that commercial?

Manio’s job is being that guy Don Draper needed, full time, at Redmond, Wash., company PlayNetwork, and as a freelancer for BlackBerry and Nordstrom. He finds music and uses it to create specific vibes or feels for companies. Sometimes he does it by placing songs in commercials. Mainly he goes through ceiling speakers in retail stores. He’s a professional playlist maker.

When you walk into a store Manio has provided a playlist for, you don’t notice the music right away. He’s not trying to make it jump out at you. It swirls together with the wares for sale, the color of the walls and the attitude of the sales associates. It’s part of a whole experience, the ideal confluence of purchaser/thing purchased. It’s not just music for running shoes. It’s music for winning races.

A good retail playlist can bring home the culture of a business and psychologically affect a customer in a way that doesn’t feel pushy. And it’s positive for the featured artists. In today’s flooded climate, where new songs are published at a crazy rate on the Internet, having your song play in a Victoria’s Secret, for instance, can help cut through the noise.

Lacey Swain is in charge of licensing at Seattle’s Sub Pop Records, and works with Manio often. She can testify that although retail playlists often register to the customer on an unthinking level, sometimes real engagement happens.

Swain says that was the case with Sub Pop band Fleet Foxes, whose songs “Oliver James” and “White Winter Hymnal” appeared in the Philip Seymour Hoffman movie Jack Goes Boating.

“One day [Hoffman] was in town, he came by and we were walking him around [the Sub Pop office] and I asked, ‘How did you find out about the Fleet Foxes?’ And he heard them in a coffee shop and Shazam-ed it.”

Fleet Foxes didn’t get much money directly from being played in that coffee shop. You can’t buy music on Shazam — a smartphone app that identifies songs playing in the ambient space around the phone. But what it and other song-recognizing apps can do, is turn any place with internet access into a music store. You hear a song wherever you are, and from there it’s a quick link through to the popular digital distributor iTunes, and from there you can walk away with that song on repeat through your headphones.

And if wherever you are, say a coffee shop, is playing by the rules, musicians and songwriters have another (tiny) income stream from that same spin. This is where the IRS of music licensing — the performance rights organizations, BMI (Broadcast Music Incorporated) and ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) — come in. Sometimes they go door to door fining businesses. Probably not your lemonade stand. But maybe.

The amount of money changing hands is relatively small. But retail playlists are about making associations and building awareness. If your song is in every Gap in the world, it’s going to get stuck in some heads. That’s a connection. And that’s what the store is trying to get in on.

“All brands are media companies now,” Manio says. “That’s how they’re trying to get allegiance. Being down with what the kids are down with. Let ’em know that, ‘We’re on the level, too, kids.'”

It might sound a little brain-washy, but when this branding is done right, it doesn’t feel that way. It feels like a natural extension of the physical stuff in the store: the arrangement of shirts in a pyramid, posters on the wall, racks of vinyl for sale in clothing stores like Urban Outfitters.

If you go on Nordstrom’s website for clothes, you don’t just get photos or a slideshow. You see a full-on video of models in a high school setting, with a scrappy pop soundtrack. Manio made that happen.

Nordstrom contacted Manio to coordinate music, told him the point of the video was to promote jeans, and that there would be a narrative about “cute” girls and boys in a school environment with lockers. Their music guidelines for pitches included: “New indie flair, but, as always, upbeat and clean — hipster, fun Nordstrom music. No Katy Perry wannabes. Good Coachella-y bands.”

Manio picked “Hearts” by Nashville band Tropical Punk. It’s not the best song in the world, or the most original, but it’s peppy, the mood is right, it sounds like other popular stuff. And the band is independent, meaning the music will be cheap to purchase (generally), easy to get and he gets the satisfaction of directing money to people who really need it — a more noble cause, perhaps, than giving The Rolling Stones their next million. The band said yes right away and made a few thousand dollars.

That money comes along with what’s a “sync license”: music synchronized with moving images. Sync licenses are one-time payments for songs you hear soundtracking TV shows, movies and commercials you see on the Internet. Famous examples include Van Halen and Crystal PepsiVolkswagen and Nick DrakeThe Rolling Stones and Microsoft. Those were huge. Fleet Foxes’ music in an obscure movie is on the smaller end of that scale. But regular work in that arena can financially sustain a band or solo musician, at least modestly. Manio has done syncs of existing songs for companies as a freelancer; now PlayNetwork is doing them, too.

Manio’s also made custom syncs — actually creating music for the occasion. For Under Armour, he helped find a voice to go with original music by Darrin Wiener, for their bleachers-stomping jingle, with its tough refrain of “I will!

“It’s the biggest check I ever got for music,” says Spac3man, the local rapper Manio called to voice the line, because of his gravelly tone.

Placing music into retail playlists is a different science. The music you hear in stores isn’t a direct sales pitch, it’s all about branding. Commercials make a cumulative impression, drawing consumers into a company’s “essence” through logos, catchphrases and moving images and music, which goes right to the heart. Retail playlists use music almost subliminally, getting the consumer to relate to a particular culture and emotion. Rather than cerebrally registering “That’s a good price,” the soundtracks of businesses are about winning hearts and minds. The adage goes: “It’s not about the buying. It’s about the buy-in.”

Essence is a strange product to manufacture. But it’s a product nonetheless. And it’s a natural product for Manio, who comes from the world of party DJing (as DJ Suspence), specializing in creating an atmosphere that gets everyone open. When he DJs out, any event becomes his event. If there is alcohol, drinking increases. Dancing becomes more vigorous. Music nerds poke each other with surprise at his selections. He blends New Order with New Jack Swing, British Invasion with EPMD. Recently at the Showbox in Seattle, he did a set of folk music, scratched and juggled it like it was hip-hop. Skilled, silly and serious, he makes stuff work that shouldn’t. Afterward people ask him to DJ their parties.

“That’s why I love the [music programming] job,” he says. “My whole background for DJing is getting into the minds of the people who are dancing. That runs the whole gamut of the wedding party, corporate party, bar mitzvah — and finding out what will give them the most joy. And that’s not necessarily what I enjoy, personally. But I love changing my perception to be them, to see if I can channel that. As much as I’m a music snob, one of the other joys of music is how it affects everyone so differently, and knowing that’s what it’s all about.”

At PlayNetwork his clients are Under Armour, Converse, Old Navy, Fed-Ex, Sea-Tac Airport and Finish Line. He makes playlists for those companies. I know Manio personally, but got to know him as a fan. Over the years I’ve spent time with him in both capacities, sometimes going to work with him. I’ve seen a lot of creativity go into his retail programming. He says there are many strategies for programming retail music. Some brands tell him they think familiarity is key, to keep a customer in the store for five more minutes, to sell an extra pair of socks. Manio is after something deeper.

“For example for Under Armour, the music in their stores wasn’t matching their brand anymore,” he says. Under Armour is known for their stretchy, high-tech workout shirts, non-cotton, skin-like stuff that looks good on people with muscles.

“I went to their headquarters in Baltimore. It was a fortress of fitness. I met my contacts, toured the campus, worked out in the gyms. There was a laboratory that we couldn’t gain access to. It had a big warning sign with lightning bolts on hands. Basically you could get lasered in there,” Manio says. Getting down and dirty with the brand also helps him decide which music to use. “It inspires and gives insight that you can’t articulate sometimes. You become invested in knowing that the music represents all these things that you don’t see on a retail level, but rather the whole company, their culture. At that point you stop programming for the customer and program for the brand.”

As he got more intimate with Under Armour in Baltimore, he started to see things in the business that even it wasn’t aware of yet. He saw their next move.

“The main word I heard was ‘innovation.’ Innovation in the fabric. So you truly have to find innovative music, in a way. You can’t have finger-pickin’ folk music. What’s behind the fabric? It’s a soundtrack to the company’s soul. In this case it’s what you’d expect a linebacker to have in his body. Just stone and concrete and steel.”

It used to be a company like Under Armour would associate itself with music played in sports arenas, like Queen or Gary Glitter.

“Familiar, clapalong, singalongs,” Manio says. “Now it’s more working out. Trying to get motivated. Stuff that athletes listen to before a big game.”

Under Armour got him thinking about how society’s attitudes about fitness are changing, and Manio’s eyes light up talking about the evolution of the jock jam, how it goes through earbuds now, not giant speakers, how fitness culture has shifted from running on fan energy to personal army-of-one energy. We are not concerned about the love of the game like we used to be. Today we are into serious gear and training. He cannot reveal his playlist for Under Armour, but it will be aggressive electronic music. There will likely be mainstream songs by Skrillex and Calvin Harris, who soundtrack many a CrossFit and “bootcamp” experience. Manio says he will probably also program underground tracks by Hudson Mohawke, Rustie, Baauer, Lunice and TNGHT. He’s trying to elevate taste. But in the end it’s about balance.

“There’s certain songs that aren’t meant to be played in retail because they’re too jarring,” he says, making a zooming trash compactor noise to imitate Skrillex. “But with a decent amount of it, you get the idea. It’s the machine. The human machine.”

If he pulls it off right, he’ll communicate the brand, intrigue the consumer and expose people to extraordinary music. Essentially he’s trying to help Under Armour convince you, whoever you are, even if your body is not a temple, that you could be in the Olympics. He could be shlockier, but wouldn’t be keeping it real to himself as a DJ. And that’s the reason Manio can sleep at night.

He experiences tension all the time. If money were no object, he would be happy being a monk, creating music all day in his basement home studio, emerging only to shop for records at Goodwill and make rice balls so his family didn’t starve. But making playlists for the airport doesn’t mean he’s faking it. He’s already crossed that bridge in his DJing.

“Don’t get it twisted. Being a DJ is a job. It’s a professional job. So there’s two ways to view it. You can play what you want and have people follow you, and love what you’re playing. Or there’s the facilitator of a good time, for whoever’s there. They’re both good. Sometimes I’m so high off rocking a party, playing songs I don’t necessarily like, because I’m feeding off what people are digging and the enjoyment they’re getting.”

Manio estimates PlayNetwork reaches 75 million people per day. And each one of those people is important.

His boss at PlayNetwork, Jon Wooler, explains: “In the old days, [record companies] used to fund a lot of money to have in-store play only in record stores. There’d be listening posts, you could listen to records, and they’d pay for that — because their perception was you can immediately purchase the CD and walk out with it. And that changed. There’s no record stores anymore. But the process is the same.”

There is no payola for retail playlist programming — in fact, sometimes PlayNetwork pays labels to use their music. But for companies that understand that relationship between environment and sales, their retail store is almost like a record store: Starbucks puts music CDs by the cash register, for instance. And for those stores who get Manio as their music programmer, they become much cooler record stores than the Orange Julius across the mall (no offense to Orange Julius).

He’s also one reason that, in that strange world of music where it’s often used for sneaky purposes, there can also be artistic purity. Manio’s professional attitude is down to the fact that he’s an artist. Since he has to make dollars, he’s an especially broad-minded one, with no time for snobbery.

“It’s not about knowing the coolest stuff, or being down with old stuff, or ‘when things were better,'” he says. “It’s about how [music] affects everyone in a really personal way. And you can’t f—- with that.”

by Rhian Jones

As of today, more than 750 independent labels worldwide have signed up to the Worldwide Independent Network’s (WIN) ‘Fair Deals Declaration’ – a statement of commitment to treat artists fairly in agreements relating to digital exploitation of their work.

The campaign asks labels to agree to five measures when signing agreements with third parties for the use of recordedmusic. It follows on from the recent furore over what were deemed to be YouTube’s ‘unfair’ terms for its upcomingstreaming service.

WIN highlights ‘growing concern’ from the artist community over ‘huge lump sum payments’ with new digital services that could offer disparity between the value of the deal to the rights-holder versus the per-stream rate shared with the artist.

By getting labels on board with the declaration it aims to “amplify commitment to fairness and transparency” between the independent recorded music industry and the artists.

The five key points are as follows:

  • We will ensure that artists’ share of download and streaming revenues is clearly explained in recording agreements and royalty statements in reasonable summary form.
  • We will account to artists a good-faith pro-rata share of any revenues and other compensation from digital services that stem from the monetisation of recordings but are not attributed to specific recordings or performances.
  • We will encourage better standards of information from digital services on the usage and monetisation of music.
  • We will support artists who choose to oppose, including publicly, unauthorized uses of their music.
  • We will support the collective position of the global independent record company sector as outlined in the Global Independent Manifesto.

Alison Wenham, chairman of WIN commented, “A healthy commercial relationship based on mutual trust andpartnership between artists and labels is critical to the long term financial health of our industry. We believe that this new initiative, which seeks to put in place simple, fair and transparent guidelines for labels dealing with third party digital partners is a template for best practice.

“We invite companies – majors and indies – to join the hundreds of companies who have already signed and put a stop to the practice of diverting revenues from the artists without whom we would not have a business.”

The campaign can be followed on Twitter from the @winformusic account and using the hashtag #fairdigitaldeal4artists.



Image via Interstate-8

It’s no secret that in today’s industry, musicians are much more than musicians. Often we have to be our own booking agents, publicists, marketing teams, merch coordinators, and a myriad of other tasks that are often overlooked: chef, accountant, driver, babysitter, and much more.

So, when an artist decides to go tour, juggling all of these roles can be incredibly daunting.

During the early stages of touring with my band Sky Eats Airplane, I often served as a de facto tour manager and booking agent. That being said, I’ve had my own fair share of touring experiences that range from smooth sailing to shady venues (and even shadier promoters).

Simply put: While touring, you can’t rule anything out and you have to expect the unexpected. We spent many nights crashing at random people’s houses, dealing with breakdowns and break-ins, and taking last-minute gigs to stash more money for the road. However, at the end of it all, we also made lots of amazing friends, met fans, and honed our craft as artists.

I’m often asked to share my advice on how an artist can plan their own tour, so I figured I would put pen to paper and share some of the things that I’ve learned on the road. These tips will allow you to maintain a tour that’s not only in your complete creative control, but also one that maintains the same professionalism that you would find from any major artist on the road.

1. Get your EPK ready

Before you embark on your tour, you’re going to need to make sure everything is pretty and shiny. Make sure you have your electronic press kit (EPK) polished to submit to venues, and that you have all of your social channels consistent and your website up-to-date. I’d recommend Sonicbids’ EPK for building your kit, and I’d also recommend using a social media scheduler such as HootSuite that will allow you to schedule your band’s social media posts in advance so you don’t have to worry about posting while you’re on the road.

If you have yet to make an EPK, get to forming one. Your EPK can house your music, videos,biophotospress, performance history, and more – basically anything you want promoters and booking staff to see. You may want to tweak it on occasion depending on whom you’re sending it to, but ensure you have everything formatted in a way that’s easy for promoters and venue staff to access. Check out this article to find out exactly what promoters look for in your EPK.

2. Map out your tour

It’s a given, but it’s a big one. You should plan your tour at least six months (even a year) in advance. Not only will this give you wiggle room logistically for any issues, but it will give you time to catch venue booking calendars well in advance. It will also allow you to start planning your marketing calendar in advance – scheduling social media posts, getting on community calendars, and so forth. (More on this later in the article.)

In “industry speak,” folks often divide markets up in A, B, and C markets. A markets are the big music markets such as Houston, Chicago, and New York. B markets tend to be less dense areas, but still with decent art scenes, such as college towns. C markets are typically in less populated areas. While A markets are obviously great for exposure, B and C markets are generally itching for entertainment. Some of our best shows were in the hands of eager promoters in a B or C market. They may be hot, sweaty, and not have the best PA systems, but if you work on these markets you will have yourself a dedicated fanbase.

3. Do your research

While developing your itinerary, be sure to hone in on your research skills to allow you to make informed decisions. Before hitting the road on your tour, it’s never a bad idea to poll your fans! You can do this through your social media outlets, website, and email blasts. Ask fans where they want you to perform, what some key venues in certain markets are, and so forth.

Once you map out which cities you’re going to hit, begin researching popular venues in those areas. A simple search on Google can help you out a lot. Is their website up and running? Does it have a calendar? Which acts have played there in the past? How are their Yelp reviews? You can also check out their Facebook page to get some insight as to how active they are at marketing their shows, and how engaged fans of the venue are. With a little research, you’ll be able to judge venues pretty accurately to ensure that you’re ending up in the right places.

Also, whenever possible, find out what you may be up against on the dates you’re looking to land. If you find out there will be huge mainstream act or a local favorite playing the same weekend that you want to play (or even a sporting event, finals week for a college town, etc.), you’ll be able to act accordingly and look into other dates.

Once you get a list of venues in the markets you want to hit, begin contacting them with your EPK and start solidifying your route. Again, 6-12 months in advance is the best time to start doing this.

4. Plan out all of your itinerary

Don’t just plan the venues! Where will you crash? Eat? How will you get from city to city? Map it all out to stay on track. One big bonus of planning things out this way is that you can schedule in free time throughout your tour to make sure you don’t burn out. One of the best things about touring is that you can explore what different cities have to offer, so go check out the best museums, restaurants, entertainment, and parks in your downtime – all in between playing the music you love! The better prepared you are, the more you’ll be able to explore and truly make the most of the time you spend on tour.

5. Raise funds and budget

Another good reason to start planning your tour far in advance is that you can allow yourself time to raise the money you’ll need for your tour. You need to calculate mileage, hotel stays, food, emergency cash, and enough cushion to get you across your markets comfortably.Start saving up from local gigs, or even launch a crowdfunding campaign to try to raise the appropriate funds.

6. Reach out to local artists

One effective way to gain exposure and add a bit of a safety net to your gigs is by reaching out to locally known artists and have them serve as an opening act (or even main act) for your performance. This way you’ll get that local draw for fans that may not know you, while also giving them a bit of familiarity.

7. Stay consistent online

Before and during your tour, ensure that you’re keeping fans up to speed through your social media outlets. Be sure to reach out to local newspapers, entertainment websites, and blogs to let them know you’re coming to town. You should even consider giving out a few press passes to influential writers and bloggers in the area for maximum press reach.

8. Advance the shows

Make sure to follow up with the show coordinator sometime between a month and a week before your performance date. Not only will this reflect professionalism with the venue and promoter, but it will help the show run smoothly for both your fans and your bandmates. When are the set times? What time do doors open? What time can we load in? Is there a sound guy? Are there monitors? Is there a catering budget? Is there a runner for the show? If your fans are younger, is there a curfew to worry about? Finding out all of these things will end up saving you time and money, and will allow you to focus on the most important part: your performance.

9. Build solid cred

After tours, be sure to keep in touch with the venue managers and booking agents. Send thank you letters and check in on occasion. These relationships will matter majorly throughout your career. You would be surprised as to how much a genuine “thank you” can do.


Touring can be a monster to tackle, but the feeling of planning a successful tour on your own is one of the best feelings a musician can get. By following these pointers, you’ll be prepared, organized, and ready to rock!


Lee Duck is a professional musician, producer, and lighting designer. In 2004, Lee founded Sky Eats Airplane, a heavy electronica band that performed using a computer. Lee currently designs automated light shows for bands and DJs that perform with backing tracks. You can learn more about his services at

red_flags_recording_contract_record_deal_negotiate_leverageImage via The Virginmarys


By: Ari Goldstein

Due to the ever-changing nature of the music industry, record labels have been making quite a few changes to figure out how to stay in business. As we all know by now, record sales have been diminishing, so labels have been “forced” to find additional ways to make (and take) more from artists in order to have a shot at making a profit.

The latest trend in recording contracts is the 360 deal, in which any income that an artist may earn while under contract – not just record sales – can be collected by the label. Anything but a 360 deal of some type for a new artist today is extremely rare, because the only somewhat reliable revenue components for artists today are touring and merch – and the label needs to get some piece of that just to cover costs and make the gamble safer.

“The handful of instances that I have seen where artists were able to really bargain down the 360 elements of their label deals were where they became overnight internet sensations, or cultivated a strong following,” says entertainment attorney Ryan Lewis. “Even then, I have not seen any brand new artist in the past five years get all 360 elements eliminated from their contracts.” The key is to be flexible, adaptable, and gain enough leverage that the ball is in your court.

How do you gain leverage as a new artist?

In some cases, a 360 deal may be worthwhile – but more than likely, if it’s presented to an artist who has little leverage (a small following, little record sales, no radio play, etc.), the deal will not allow for the artist to make money, unless massive success is achieved.

Without leverage, the most common complaint I’ve heard from newly signed artists is that they’re locked into their deal with no commercial album put out in the two years they’ve been signed, and the label says that they have a tab to repay with interest if they want to get out… if they can get out.

The key to gaining leverage in negotiating a more reasonable record deal is to show the label that you can deliver in one or more reliable revenue streams, whether that’s touring, publishing, or another revenue stream. It doesn’t matter to the label – they just need to be able to bank on covering some minimum artist development burn rate. Upside isn’t enough anymore unless it comes with that guarantee.

You don’t have to attain Macklemore-level success to create some leverage, but you will need to build your career to the point where it makes sense for a label to do business with you. You can create quality songshone your craft, develop your sound, and promote your music on a small budget, so don’t wait for someone to do it for you.

Which red flags should you try to negotiate out of your recording contract?

Artists must arm themselves with skilled music attorneys to negotiate certain removals or certain untouchable categories, as well as negotiate the percentages of income shared.

First of all, any label that asks you to pay up front for their services, which they will then also be taking a commission or net profits for successfully performing, is an immediate red flag that the deal isn’t legitimate. If a company really believes in you and wants to push your music, they’ll do it for nothing up front.

But assuming you’re dealing with a legitimate label, here’s what to keep an eye out for in the contract:

1. Net profits

The goal is to make sure that you can control as much of the recording and creative process as possible, as any time the label mandates use of a specific producer, featured artist, recording facility, etc. (with whom they may have side deals anyway), they will be negotiating and deducting the value of those elements from your future royalties and/or advances. It’s really just a matter of negotiating the age old “net profits” elements and terms, which include recording costs, various distribution costs, manufacturing costs, touring costs, marketing costs, and all other major defined terms that comprise the expense side of the “net profits” valuation.

2. Mechanical royalties

If you have the leverage, try negotiating out “mechanical royalties” from the cost column of the “Recording Costs” definition. You definitely don’t want the label deducting that as a “cost” in determining the ultimate value of the royalty they pay you.

3. Require your written approval for costs

In terms of controlling costs unknowingly charged to your future royalties by the label, try to negotiate out the label’s ability to step up and pay for various costs without your written approval. The relevant language will usually be found in a clause defining “Deficiency Payment” and/or “Additional Payment.” Do not allow the label to have carte blanche in determining what they can and cannot charge for things that you “need,” unless they get written approval from you first.

4. Beware the multi-album deal

Don’t get locked into a multi-album deal, although they will turn it into a seemingly worthwhile option where you can renegotiate (certain terms, within certain limits) after album one. While the flexibility to renegotiate better terms for subsequent albums is ideal, you’ll want to come into the negotiation knowing specifically what you need from the label to be able to blow up, and get firm commitments from them that they will give you that within a prescribed time period.


At some point in your music career, you may exhaust your resources and arrive at a point where you’re either going to sink or swim. You may decide that you need to make a jump to reach a wider audience, and you’ll probably have to aim for a smaller slice of a bigger pie to achieve that. A label isn’t always the enemy, and there are countless examples of bands that have thrived on labels. That being said, the advice I always give to artists is to not sit back and wait for a label. Don’t count on them to save you – save yourself and make them come to you. That’s where things really shape up nicely for an artist. So stop being lazy, stop being scared, stop saying, “Tomorrow we’ll write our best songs,” and do it today. Learn, listen, be open, and believe in yourself. The rest will fall into place if you want it badly enough. A 360 deal can’t stop a 360 believing artist.


Ari Goldstein’s career in the music industry began when he funded the release of O.A.R’s debut album, The Wanderer (1997). After successfully pursuing a career in digital music marketing and working as an MC in Ordinary Peoples for 12 years, he began managing New York band DREAMERS (members of Motive) in 2011 and has been actively working in the industry ever since. Ari is the co-founder of AK Artist Group, a creative management company based out of New York City. He works with an eclectic roster of artists, including buzzing bands Mainland, DREAMERS, The Teen Age, Silverbird, and Challenger.

Contributions to this article were made by Ryan Lewis, who has been an entertainment attorney for four years with a focus on music and film.

One of the first things I learned when I began my career as a publicist was what the typical timeline for an album campaign is – in other words, the specific order of events from the moment an album is ready to be announced until its release.

Not all publicists adhere to a campaign of identical length. Some prefer to work more compressed, fast-paced timelines, whereas others like to space things out to gradually build anticipation and momentum. Whether you’re self-releasing a record, working with a freelance publicist, or working with an in-house label publicist, it’s important to have a grasp on the approximate timeline of events and know when new assets (songs, videos, album streams) should be shared with the world. Here’s a breakdown of the essential steps in this process, based on my own experience (though these may vary if you’re releasing a digital album instead of an LP, CD or cassette, or if you’re merely releasing an EP or 7” single).

3-4 months from release day

Once you have your mastered music, agreed-upon tracklist, press photosbio, album artwork, and a planned release date, you are ready to send out advance copies of your record. It’s important to send your music out early to key “long-lead” publications and websites because they often plan their editorial coverage far in advance of when their new issues hit newsstands or content goes online. Most editors prefer to receive digital files instead of burned CDs, and there are many affordable or free options now for uploading password-protected or private media (I would recommend SoundCloud or Box). It’s important that you make your album easy to stream or download (never attach your album as MP3s or .zips to emails), and it’s also key that it’s password-protected or private to prevent leaks.

Shortly after sending out these advance copies, your publicist will service blogs and websites with your leadoff MP3 single – the song you’d like to use to announce the record and make a strong first impression. Make a numbered list of the websites you’d most like to premiere the song (with your publicist’s consultation and input), and your publicist will pitch them individually, moving down the list one-by-one if your first choices pass on posting the track. It’s shady to pitch multiple outlets at once, and besides, what would happen if more than one wanted to be first to post the song? You don’t want to make any enemies.

This is also a great time to get to work on booking a tour for after your record release if you haven’t started already.

1.5-2 months from release day

Hopefully your publicist has already secured some interviews and coverage to start going online around now, with print features and reviews being locked down for around the release of your record.

Now is the time to share another asset from your album. I’ve found it’s best to debut another MP3 single around this point in the timeline, though you could also premiere a second MP3 and a music video during this period if you have one ready, with one more video that will be ready in time for release day. You or your publicist will follow the same process used to pitch the first MP3 until you find a home for it.

2 weeks from release day

So close! During this time period, your publicist should secure an online outlet to premiere a full-album stream of your record, to go up one week prior to release day. On release day it’ll be taken offline, leaving only the previously-debuted MP3 singles available to the public. It might seem counterintuitive to “spoil” your entire record for listeners so close to release, but it actually helps drive presales and spike interest around the impending release.

Release day

Congratulations – you made it! An effective way to celebrate the occasion is the world premiere of your first (or second) music video and the announcement (or a reminder about) your upcoming tour.


Doling out your assets based on the approximate timeline above is a savvy way to build anticipation in advance of your record release, saving the best for when it counts most (for example, music videos are often more widely shared and viewed than track downloads or streams, with a higher potential to go “viral”). The exact timing of these steps can vary, but the most important will always be the first: the advance servicing. Writers, editors and important bloggers get sent a formidable amount of music on a daily basis, so the sooner you can add yours to their listening pile, the better.


Jason Baxter is the in-house publicist for Seattle’s Hardly Art Records, and performs in the electronic duo USF. In a past life he was a music journalist and writes comic books in what little spare time he has.

unread_emails_ask_a_publicist_campaignImage via PCWorld

Imagine this clichéd scenario from a Hollywood teen comedy: the protagonist’s parents are out of town and s/he wants to throw a party. They tell a few of their close friends, and those friends tell a few of their friends, and so on to the point where, on the night of the party, nearly half of their high school is there and the crowd has swollen to extreme proportions.Sometimes a publicity campaign can work this way, too – starting small and relying on word-of-mouth to create anticipation and a feeling of authentic, organic momentum.

This kind of campaign (which for the purposes of this column I will call a “focused campaign”) can work wonders for a new band, but so can a campaign that casts a wider net (i.e. inviting everyone at your school to the party upfront). Let’s call this kind of campaign a “comprehensive campaign.” Both have their advantages and their drawbacks, and depending on a band’s history, sound and visibility, one may be more effective than the other.

Focused Campaign

While all publicity campaigns follow the same basic architecture I outlined in my previous column, they can differ in terms of how selectively an album is pitched and how many resources are conserved or expended throughout the campaign. A more focused campaign starts small, and tactically. A publicist would send a limited quantity of advance copies of a band’s upcoming record only to select tastemakers – critics and editors whose endorsement would provoke interest from their peers and colleagues. When this technique works, it can create a genuine dialogue around an upcoming record, and snowball into more (and more prestigious) press coverage.

However, being selective in pitching and hoping an album catches on organically can be risky. It helps if the music is superlative, and if the publicist working the record is well-connected. If it backfires, however, you’re back at square one. It’s important to be fast on your toes, and you may miss out on some great press opportunities by not casting a wider net at the outset of your campaign. In such an outcome, you may risk bumming out the folks that you pitch to as a second resort (to continue my metaphor from earlier, would you like to be invited to a party only after learning that you weren’t in the first place?).

Comprehensive Campaign

For some new bands, it may not be worth the gamble of a more focused campaign. The alternative is more of a “throw everything against the wall and see what sticks” model. This would mean sending out advance downloads or streams of your record to as many worthwhile press contacts as you can find. After all, music critics and bloggers are just like any other kind of music lover – they’re voracious, they’re omnivorous and they’re open-minded. Who’s to say they might not cotton to your music? You never know if you don’t try.

The disadvantage of pitching so thoroughly is getting lost in the shuffle. When you open your inbox every morning, do you sigh in desperation when you see the number of new, unread emails? It’s the same – and often way worse – for high-powered music writers, so a lot of emails from bands and publicists are straight-up ignored. It can be easy to get lost in the shuffle, but with a little tenacity (and more than a little tact) you can overcome this. There’s a certain amount of momentum that can also come from taking as many different press opportunities as possible, expanding your audience in directions you hadn’t anticipated and raising your profile to the point where you’d be more difficult to ignore.


There are many, many, many factors that influence the effectiveness of a publicity campaign beyond what I’ve outlined in extremely broad strokes here, but – depending on your band, your publicist’s preferred methods and what you expect to achieve from a campaign – you can try to set the course for your campaign early on by starting small and deliberately or going for broke and pitching far and wide.


Jason Baxter is the in-house publicist for Seattle’s Hardly Art Records, and performs in the electronic duo USF. In a past life he was a music journalist and writes comic books in what little spare time he has.

James Moore runs Independent Music Promotions, a DIY music PR company working exclusively with “music with depth” worldwide. He is the author of the Your Band Is A Virusbook series.

This article originally appeared on Independent Music Promotions.


Almost every artist who approaches me has had one or more negative experiences withmusic promotion in the past, and this is largely due to the “quick fix syndrome” on behalf of both individuals who engage in the partnership.

First of all, there are the automated music marketing services who I tend to call the “internet cowboys.” They offer progress and lavish promises at the push of a button. Facebook likes? You got it. YouTube views? Not a problem. Get your press release on the desks of thousands of journalists? They do that too.

The artists who tango with these folks also suffer from the quick fix syndrome. Rather than build a team of people and gain fans organically one by one, they instead aim for the mountaintop, neglecting to do the proper research or seek out the proof that Google can provide.

So what are some common warning signs to look out for when researching music promotion services? These aren’t hard and fast rules, but they’re all serious things to keep an eye on:

1. Do they have a “buy now” button, meaning they accept everyone?

Not good, unless it’s a service such as bio writing that really does apply to every musician. This almost always means that their audience ignores their outreach. If there is no filtering whatsoever, it’s a virtual guarantee that the output is unprofessional. No quality control tends to mean no results. The service essentially has a welcoming face with no brain function.

2. Do they offer “email blasts”?

For the same reason as above, this is usually a sign you should run for the hills – especially if these email blasts come with promises along the lines of sending you to X number of newspapers, magazines, journalists and music blogs. Find me a single story in a major publication that came about as the result of one of these kinds of email blasts. When was the last time you welcomed something that was “blasted” to your inbox? Marketing must be more organic than that.

3. Do they offer those coveted Facebook or Twitter likes for a fee?

This can get your profiles removed and it will certainly reduce your engagement to almost nothing. It also means that you’ll have to spend much more on advertising, because any genuine followers will be buried among all the fake profiles. Social media platforms are cracking down on this type of behavior.

4. Do they sell YouTube views and say they do it with real humans?

They’re lying. Even when they say they do not use bots, they do. Youtube is also cracking down on this type of behavior, and I’ve seen over a dozen cases recently of music videos being taken down after months of hard work had been put into them – all because of the desire for a shortcut.

5. Do they focus too much on peripheral services such as tweeting about you, distributing press releases, branding advice and consultations?

This is often emphasized to hide the fact that they are not driving real results where they matter, such as press, reviews, licensing deals, bookings, radio ads, and genuine, concrete opportunities. Anyone can post a status, blog a news release or tweet about you – you don’t need a company for that. Consulting and advice certainly have value, especially when it comes from knowledgeable people, but they are not worth thousands of dollars. And under no circumstance should you be taking advice from someone who doesn’t deliver results in the first place.

6. Do they not have a client list on their website? When you ask, do they only provide a few of their “top artists”?

Client lists, generally, should be public (depending on the industry). Go beyond all the site rhetoric and let Google be your truth teller. Google one company’s artists versus another to see the real results that are being driven. If you only compare one site’s rhetoric with another, you’ll end up going with whoever promises the most (almost always a poor decision).

7. Do they mention anything about getting a record deal?

Promises, promises. The loftier the promises, the less likely they are to come through. Stay away. There’s no need for that kind of “dangling a carrot” form of communication unless they’re referring to hard work and a team effort. Real marketing is not a one-stop shop. It’s a real, living thing and it can’t be achieved with the push of a button.