178

An Open Letter to Musicians: Lemme Hear It!

Dave Sumner By

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Okay, so now I've gone through a ton of jazz new arrivals. I have my list. Here's where my advice, and this article, becomes relevant. Here's what I do:

I begin searching for internet sites where I can hear something more of your music than just 30 second samples. I'll Google your name and see if you have a web site. If you do, I immediately look for a page on your site to stream your music. If you have a place where you stream all or most of your new release, I think a nice thought of you and I listen to it. If I really like the first couple songs, then I make a couple notes on my list, and then I'm done with you for the time being. You've made it to the next round. If I'm not sold yet, I keep listening, giving your music every opportunity to connect. If I'm not liking your music so much, I still continue listening. If you give me the opportunity to listen to your music in full, I will give you every opportunity to prove to me that I should keep listening.

Let's say I don't like the album and you don't make it to the next round on my list. Lemme tell you why that's not the end of the world. I bookmark sites. I have different bookmark folders with links to sites that let me stream in full. I will return to your site. I will return to give your current album another listen, I will return to your site to see if you're coming to a town near me, and I will return to see if you have a newer release coming out, one that might better connect with me. This process I'm currently explaining, it's not the only method I utilize to discover music. I also have bookmark nights, when I go back through what I've heard before and give it another shot. I have strong anecdotal evidence of artists who had an album I didn't like suddenly becoming my new favorite artist with a later release. And, sometimes, making that connection with a later album has me re-evaluating my relationship with the earlier album. Sometimes, once that connection is made, it translates on to future albums and back to past ones. This has happened. Repeatedly.

Okay, let continue with #4, but we'll set up the scenario that you don't have an artist site or you don't stream music on your artist site. These days there are less and less tech excuses not to stream on your site, but that will be a subject for a different article. For now, let's just continue on with this scenario.

So, I struck out on your website. I now turn to specific trusted third-party sites where I am confident that I can stream music in full and the site won't spam me or unload some ungodly virus onto my hard drive. My first two choices are Bandcamp and SoundCloud.

For those unfamiliar with either of those sites, Bandcamp is a very cool retail site that is very self-driven by the artist, and I've been told that as far as music retailers go, the musician rate on sales ain't bad. It's a lot like Myspace but without all the social nonsense and spam. What I like about it is that 99% of the artists who list there use the functionality of full streaming of music. SoundCloud isn't so much a music retailer as a music showcase tool, but the end result is the same... a huge percentage of the musicians who are on SoundCloud stream their album in full (or near about).

(Note: Artists who only provide song samples on Bandcamp and SoundCloud stand out like a festering thumb.)

Since I really like to focus on small label and self-produced jazz, I typically do pretty well finding music on Bandcamp and SoundCloud. Up and coming jazz musicians have grown up in a cyber world and are hip to the benefits of the internet. And a big benefit of putting music up on sites like Bandcamp or SoundCloud (or others I'm about to discuss momentarily) is that even if a musician doesn't have the time and/or knowledge to create their own site, third-party sites like Bandcamp and SoundCloud give the artist a meaty skeleton on which to establish themselves and build up from. I've lost track of the times I've seen a post on a music forum or Twitter that linked to a SoundCloud or Bandcamp page, which I then followed, listened to, and then purchased the music or, at least, spread the word about it. But more on that later.

Okay, so back to the search. If I strike out on the artist site and Bandcamp and SoundCloud, I start searching for secondary sites like All About Jazz and ReverbNation and YouTube and Facebook... sites where I've seen instances of full-streaming by artists but have had mixed results so as not to make the sites fall within the first avenues to explore. We at All About Jazz now offer a service that allows artists to stream their music from several pages, and of course there's the thousands of free tracks available here to download. ReverbNation is very similar to Myspace. You know what YouTube is, as well as Facebook. I don't know how long this particular Facebook functionality has existed, but I've noticed that Facebook has a "Band Page" tab, which some musicians use to stream their music on. That's a good thing.

However, if I strike out on those options, too, then I go to a label site (if applicable). Most labels don't stream in full. Some will stream a couple songs, some do just samples, though some, like Palmetto Records and RareNoise and Savoy, stream in full (god bless ya!). And, ironically (and smartly), some labels like Anzic Records and Sunnyside Records actually have created Bandcamp pages where they stream and sell their music (god bless ya, too!). If I was able to hear your album in full on your label site when I couldn't hear it on your own (if you even have a site), then your label has already done right by you.

If I've struck out on all those other options and Googling your name hasn't brought up some oddball result like you're streaming your entire album on archive.org or ubuweb, then I have one last place I check before scratching your name off the list... Myspace. However, the only reason I visit Myspace is, one, to see if you have an artist site address that my Google search didn't return (which happens occasionally, oddly enough) or maybe find a musician name or other search term to feed into Google (which also has brought results in the case of an ensemble name being no-go on the search because everything was linked to a specific musician's name from the ensemble). I do not listen to Myspace tracks anymore. Aside from getting hit with a nasty virus from a Myspace page and nearly getting hit with two others, I now get error messages when trying to play Myspace tracks or, sometimes, it plays a sponsored track instead of what I wanted. I'm done with that site, other than for a scan for information.

If, at this point, I've got nothing on you and couldn't hear your music, then I cross you off the list. I've already spent considerable time investigating your music, and if after all that time I couldn't even hear what you have to offer, then forget it, I'm moving on.

If I was able to hear your music and didn't care for it, well, I addressed that above. But it's worth mentioning again... your music will get revisited, both current and future albums. Musicians who let me stream an album in full may not get a sale from me, but they do earn substantial goodwill, and that can result in a future sale from me or, possibly, I spread the word that people can stream your album by putting posts on various forums and blogs (and with nearly 10,000 forum & bulletin board posts about music, I assure you, I've done it plenty), and that could lead to new fans and new sales.

For those of you who let me hear all (or near all) of your new album and I liked it... Congrats, you move on to #5.

In addition to the immediate benefit of purchasing your album, there's an assortment of others upsides that could result from my having been able to hear your album (results may and likely will vary):

5a. I invite you to submit an album track to be featured as an All About Jazz Download of the Day. AAJ gets over 800,000 unique visitors a month, so not too shabby a crowd to get your music out in front of.

5b. If your album hasn't been released to the public yet, and it's going to retail on eMusic, then I may include it as one of my weekly jazz picks. eMusic has something like half a million member customers, so that can't hurt promo-wise to get out in front of that group.

5c. I write a formal review of your album for All About Jazz, eMusic, Bird is the Worm, Music is Good, or in the future, other music sites and publications.

5d. To hell with 5a—5c. I mean, those are all good and they will bring you some solid results, but 5d is so damn important and it's what I've been doing and will continue to do regardless of my associations with any organizations or media outlets. I get the word out! On the All About Jazz forum, on Bird is the Worm, on the eMusic forum, on the eMusers forum, on Twitter, through emails to friends and just hanging out... I love to pass along what I've discovered, to share the great and beautiful music I've heard in the hope that others might also have a sublime reaction to it as well.

I love music. Jazz, especially jazz of the present day, is definitely tops in my life, but music has always been at the forefront. All those years of ambivalence at not owning a TV, all I cared about was whether the stereo was working and searching for more great music to play on it. I received an iPod once as a gift. It had video capability. I never bothered looking into purchasing shows or movies for it... I filled that damn thing up with MP3s, and suddenly my commutes on the EL and CTA buses and Metra trains were so much more enjoyable.

And the gift that I consider music to be in my life, I can't help but want to share what I've found, to share that gift. My enthusiasm may be almost pathetically innocent in its childlike exuberance, but fuckwhatever, it's how I'm wired, and so passing along the gift of found music matters to me. I'm compelled to do it. I want to spread some happiness along to others. That's a human reaction that I'll never hide from, to want to find ways to make the world around me a little bit better than the way I found it. One of those ways is spreading word of beautiful and engaging music.

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