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Pt. 5, Digital Drink Coasters?

B.D. Lenz By

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In the previous installment of this column, I discussed the undertaking of making a record on your own. In particular, how to fund it and how best to spend those funds. Now it's time to talk about what happens once those boxes of CDs have arrived and are cluttering up your basement... Now what? How do you sell these things or will they just become expensive digital drink coasters?

Well this is the eternal question and there's no simple answer. But, you do need to work hard to let people know about your recording and to make it look like it's a big deal. A CD Release Party is an important part of this. It's a way of getting press for yourself and making an event that people want to come to. Make it a special night and not just "another gig." Have it at a venue that truly fits your music and your crowd. Bring a special guest(s), hire a bigger band, offer a discount on your new CD, have giveaways...make it an occasion.

This is so important that I've often hired a professional to help me promote it. Part of building your career is letting people know you're out there and it's worth hiring someone to help spread the word. A publicist knows how to angle a press release and pitch those in the press to catch their attention. They might also help you get reviews in magazines and journals, which is invaluable for your press kit. I've done all of this myself at times, and with some success, but it takes a little research on how to properly format a press release and what to say, as well as how to find all the people and places to send it. But one helps the other...the Release Party may help you get some press and the press will help generate interest and help make for a successful Release Party.

Something else you'll want to consider, in promoting your record, is whether or not to hire a radio promoter. There are pros and cons in doing this, as I've discovered, but if you're invested in pushing your career longterm, it's vital. Of course, you could send out your CD to the local jazz stations, college stations or podcasts on your own, and every little bit certainly helps. And if you don't expect to release many more recordings in the future you may want to go this route. But, if you have the budget and you plan to pursue being a recording artist longterm, then you ought to hire someone.

Radio promoters have updated lists of stations that might play your music across the country, as well as other outlets you may not have thought about (cable streaming or internet radio, for example). Admittedly, it's time-consuming to put all the mailers together, and costly to give away hundreds of CDs, pay the promoter, pay the postage and more, but it's an investment. Each time you go through the process, stations will get to know you that much better, which means more airplay, more interviews, more requests for live performances, and so on. And be sure to find someone who specifically works with jazz artists or who has some experience in the jazz world. It's a niche market, and you'll want someone who understands this market and knows DJs personally.

Hopefully, all of this hoopla is garnering interest in your record and adding up to real sales. Be sure to bring your CDs to all of your gigs and display them openly with a few mentions during your set. There's still no substitute to putting on a great gig and catching people while they're in a moment of awe towards you.

I find, to this day, that the best way of selling CDs remains at gigs. But another avenue for making back your investment is licensing. This is a topic that too few musicians know about. I've had a lot of success in this area, having had my music on literally hundreds of TV shows globally which earned me tens of thousands of dollars. It looks great on your bio and even better in your bank account.

When a music supervisor from a TV show needs music for their production, they often go to music libraries that house a variety of material specifically for this purpose (Pump Audio, Jingle Punks and Crucial Music are just a couple). The music is tagged so that the client can search for whatever mood or vibe they need (e.g. happy, ominous, eerie). Many of these music libraries will accept your music. It costs nothing to submit and many of them are non-exclusive, meaning they're ok with you submitting to as many other libraries as you want. Some are highly selective or only deal with certain genres, so don't take it personally if they don't accept your work.

If they do accept you, it's common that you'll be asked to tag your music yourself: label it based on criteria including mood, instrumentation and theme. It's important to take the time to tag it as exhaustively and accurately as possible as this is how producers will find you. Once accepted, there's nothing else you need do other than wait for the checks to arrive. Be sure to copyright your music through the Library of Congress and register it with a Performing Rights Organization (PRO) such as BMI or ASCAP, which handles collecting your terrestrial royalties for you.

Also, register (free of charge) with Sound Exchange, which will collect digital performance royalties on your behalf. Licensing may prove to be a valuable revenue source for your music if you're ok with it showing up as elevator music, on some soap opera or as Muzak (one of my songs was the Muzak in a car wash on Breaking Bad).

Ultimately, making your record may not prove to be a financial bonanza but, for your career, it's important that you keep releasing music and stay relevant. It's part of your business card and the publicity you get from it may provide some good momentum as well. I remember getting a prestigious festival gig from a promoter who saw my CD release PR. In the end, it's about getting your music out there and using each success to spur another.
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