Category Archives: Music Business Tips

So, You Want to Produce Your Own Records?

Here’s a podcast interview where I share how and why I record at home!

Jungle Gym Jam recording the kids' vocal parts for the song Pandagarten. One really cool thing about making music for families is that every now and then we come across young musicians learning their instrument and full of passion for the sounds they are starting to create. Often, they’re big siblings of our most frequent audience of preschool-aged kids. We also cross paths with lots of great kids-and-family musicians who are on a similar journey to Amy’s and mine.

We’re all experiencing rapid, sweeping changes to the way recorded music is shared with the world. Kids learning to make music are growing up never having needed a physical CD, possibly having operated a turntable simply for the richness of the experience, not for the necessity of that being the only way to hear recorded music. Most of us walk around with access to a library of millions of songs in our pockets.

Those of us who have been making records for a while have noticed that the public can enjoy our music in complete album form without having to own a physical product or even a download. While there’s a contingent who will buy our CD’s as souvenirs of a show they loved, they can listen to our recorded music at will without doing so.

Jason from the Jungle Gym Jam mixing a finished recording in his home studioMy desire to continue making and sharing fully-realized recordings of our songs has not been diminished by the changes to the recorded music market. But I can’t continue to hire producers and rent studios for $10K+ knowing that I won’t make back even 10% of that. So what does an indie artist do?

I turned to the example set by my friend John Cullimore from the excellent kindie band Chibi Kodama for my answer. John is a highly prolific self-producer, often cranking out multiple albums in a single calendar year. All his music is a heartfelt expression from his whole family and a true representation of the sounds he hears in his head, fully realized for the world to enjoy. And he does it all at home and on the road!

When I started to seek out how I could create high quality self-produced music with the experience I gained working with producers and John’s moral support, I stumbled upon, a home self-production resource founded and run by Scott Hawksworth. I started by reading his articles, which had given me some common-sense advice that I found earth shattering in its simplicity and ability to immediately improve what I was doing with my home recording gear.

I had recorded tracks for the single “Pandagarten” and really wanted to do a great job mixing these tracks into a radio-ready finished product. So I ordered Scott’s AudioSkills crash course DVDs. I watched the entire 2-disc set before embarking on the mix. Everything I learned helped me translate the music I imagined into something families could listen to.

To help tell my story of how I keep the music flowing in a changing market for recorded music, I recently appeared on Scott’s AudioSkills Podcast for an interview. I hope it inspires you or an emerging musician in your life.

Here’s our first self-produced single (as a picture video) called “Pandagarten” to give you an example of the results I achieved with Scott’s course.

In this new market for recorded music, we’ve drastically cut our costs to bring this music to you by recording at home. We’re also able to steadily release music – a single each month, leading to the release of an album next year. We’d like to sustain the pattern of a single each month. If our recordings enrich your family life, we’d love your support on our Patreon page, where you can subscribe and be the first to receive our new monthly singles – before the public gets them.

How are you or your family members engaging the do-it-yourself spirit to bring your creativity to life? Use the comments below to get the conversation going.

For Young Songwriters: Specific or Universal Songs?

Young songwriter working out her lyricsOne thing I love about writing and performing songs for kids is when the lightbulb goes on over a young one’s head and he or she thinks, “Hey, I can write a song too!” So if you’re thinking about writing your own songs, I’d like to share this tip to get your creative ideas flowing.

Is your song specific or universal? A specific song might tell a story that only makes sense for one exact subject, like bowling or the Moon. Most of the songs on my “Everyone’s Invited” album are specific. There’s one idea that can’t be swapped out for another idea without totally rewriting the song. Specific songs are great for teaching lessons or telling a very particular story. I also find it easier to make a specific song funny because I find humor in the details, as with “The People Exhibit at the Zoo.”

Now, for a universal song, think of those great big anthems, like Katy Perry’s “Firework.” It’s a song to get people to believe in themselves whatever they do in life. It works in all the different movie soundtracks it’s in; it works as mood music, party music, at public events, etc. Being able to write a good universal song is about coming up with a message that lots of people can relate to. Songs about feelings are pretty universal.

Some songs are both, and one in particular was a huge smash hit last winter: “Let it Go” from the Disney Pixar musical Frozen (written by Robert and Kristen Lopez; the movie version sung by Idina Menzel and the radio version by Demi Lovato) is both specific and universal. The verse at the beginning of the song tells the story of Elsa’s having run away to a deserted mountain top, setting a very specific scene. The pre-chorus begins a change from setting the scene to talking about feelings we might all have, until — BAM! — Here comes that great big, soaring, universal chorus “Let it Go! Let it Go!” Who isn’t holding onto feelings they don’t want to just unleash? It’s so universal.

I think a good album or live concert can have a balance of songs that are specific, universal and both.

What feelings or common experiences might you write a universal song about? How can you take something everyone can relate to and make it big and exciting? What topics might you choose for your specific song? What’s the purpose of your specific song? To educate? To explain? To tell a story? Discuss in the comments below.

Keep Creating; You’re Making a Difference!

The creativity you share is making a difference with people long before the accolades come back to you.There I was on the field at Yogi Berra Stadium, preparing to sing the National Anthem before a playoff game that involved local independent minor-league ballclub the New Jersey Jackals. A familiar looking ballplayer approached me and said, “We play your song in the clubhouse after every win and we hope to be playing it tonight.” I was stunned to know that the song I had written for the Jackals had become such an integral part of their off-the-field ritual.

And it really got me thinking: as an independent musician, as long as I’m sharing my creativity with those who want to engage with it, my works are making a difference to people who will attach their own meanings to the works, and more often than not, I won’t even know when it’s happening, or with whom. Or, as in the case with the ballplayer, I may stumble upon such a connection years later.

I write this to encourage my fellow creative people and the new generation of future creatives I may be entertaining now with my brand of children’s music. When you choose to create – music, writing, visual art, theatre or film, you will most likely go through very long stretches where it appears that no one is paying attention. The “likes” and “shares” you’re expecting won’t be there. Your videos are unlikely to “go viral.” The sales of that debut CD may not adequately reflect the effort and resources you poured into it. But if you see your creations all the way through and really put them out there, I have real reasons and personal history to believe your creations will matter to someone long before the accolades come back to you.

I heard a previous Oscar winning set builder talk about how the glitz and accolades of the Oscar ceremony is not the real Hollywood he knows – The sweaty workshops where he does the unglamorous work every day is the real Hollywood.

If you’re feeling hungry for applause, focus on doing what you love and remember why you love it. Imagine stumbling into someone 10 years from now who tells you how much he loves your song, painting, book, etc. and keep creating! Leave your personal story about sharing your creativity and making a difference to others in the comments.

7 Things You Should Do When You Meet an Entertainment Industry Professional

Lately I’ve been having increasingly positive interactions with professionals who are in a position to help me grow my audience and my earning potential from my music. It wasn’t luck and it wasn’t handed to me. I started completely from scratch and patiently, steadily went about the business of developing relationships.

Concert crowd

If you’re an artist and you share your art publicly, sooner or later you will come across people who have clout in your industry, people who are in a position to help your career along. The most common complaint I hear among those who work in the industry as booking agents, radio hosts, reviewers and journalists is that they are objectified by those who could use a boost. Think for a moment about how you would feel if you were treated only as a career opportunity, not as a person.

Now, let’s return to our interactions with that industry professional.

Be a good listener. Make a habit of really reading a person’s social media posts and responding kindly and in a way that’s relevant to the post. If you meet face-to-face, really, actively listen instead of rehearsing your responses. Get to know the needs of the person you think can help you. What that person probably doesn’t need is pressure from you to put their good name behind an unproven artist. Your demo track doesn’t prove what an industry professional needs proven.

Be helpful. What you can prove is how willing you are to make an event successful by jumping in and helping with an event even if it’s not your event or not the glamorous event you had in mind. You can help by recommending artists that are further along than yourself.

Get over yourself. How awesome your new song may or may not be is in the eye of the beholder. Nobody owes you an opportunity because you believe you made an amazing recording. Take a few deep breaths and let them go. If you can think for a moment like someone who hasn’t heard you and has little to distinguish whether she click your link or the 20 others on her inbox, you can think of a more relevant way to establish a human connection.

Ask for a critique. Instead of trying to sell an industry professional on how awesome your creation is and how ready it is for the opportunities you’re trying to get, you might ask for a critique of a new song before professionally recording it.  It depends on where you are in the relationship with this particular person. When you incorporate at least those suggestions that are genuinely in alignment with you as an artist, you can really demonstrate that you’re listening to that person in order to fulfill a need for the kinds of creations they can use. When an industry professional has invested time in your improving your craft and gets a satisfying result, the relationship grows.

Know where you are; don’t skip steps. The “American Idol” syndrome has a huge swath of the public convinced that you can be singing in the shower one day, auditioning the next day, and then it’s off to Hollywood! This may partially explain your instinct to ask a concert promoter you just found on Facebook if your garage band can open for the Foo Fighters next month when they come to town. If you’re a new band, you need a following that goes beyond family and friends. Concentrate on playing venues appropriately sized for your audience. Do not let pay or lack thereof stop you from performing. You need to keep improving your craft in front of an audience as you grow your audience. You need new names for your e-mail list. If you keep growing your following, you’ll be able to choose the higher paying venue over the lower paying venue when they both want you on the same day. Know which venues attract people with tastes that would match your creations. Strive to work each level of your career to its full potential before demanding to be carried to the next level. While you’re at it, enjoy the level you’re on. Embrace it with gusto. Be patient. If it takes years for the timing to be right to partner with an industry professional you’ve met, it’s well worth the time, effort and patience, as long as you’re actively working each level and not waiting to be discovered. This means practicing, playing writing, recording and growing your fan base by playing whatever appropriate venues you can and forming relationships with potential fans.

Be consistently positive and friendly. You can’t always control your mood, but you can sure control what you post publicly about your mood and the people involved in it. Bashing your competition or artists on a higher level than you advertises your insecurity about your own career. Even worse is bad-mouthing an industry professional who didn’t give you what you wanted. If you do that online, you will create a permanent record of your unprofessionalism and a neon advertisement as to why industry professionals should not work with you. Keep your interactions positive. Remember things that this industry professional shares, either publicly that you’ve seen, or in a face-to-face moment with you. If a concert promoter posts pictures with his puppy Roscoe, ask him one day “How’s Roscoe?”

Look for conversational hooks. Especially on Twitter, if an industry professional posts “Good morning, how is everyone today?”, he/she is hoping for a reply. Grab on that hook and engage this person in a little conversation.

By making these seven changes to your interactions with industry leaders you come across, and with potential fans, you will probably not get immediate financial reward, but you will feel a difference first in the quality of your interactions and the communication you get coming back to you. Industry professionals may not seek you out right away, but they’ll be much more welcome to your communication if you engage their humanity and not your idea of how they can instantly catapult you to superstardom.