Boyle-ing point

I get the Susan Boyle thing. It is, after all, a great story: never-been-kissed spinster from working-class Scottish town — from another era really — turns the tables of fortune on its ass before millions on British — now YouTube — TV. I mean, even Disney couldn’t make this stuff up. It’s Cinderella on steroids. It’s Pygmalion on pills. And the media barons have their content fix for the week.

But, despite it’s heartwarming feature – and the woman really appears to be the salt of the earth – the whole win-a-career-in-the-music-biz-overnight deal is quite irksome – annoying, actually– to music-industry veterans.

It comes down to callused hands. What do I mean? Well, in the heartland there’s a swift and certain vetting of suspected interlopers: “show us your hands, son.” Real farmers and ranchers bear the branding of their trade. “American Idol”s don’t.

Don’t get me wrong. “Idol” has actually uncovered some legit talent. Carrie Underwood, for example, is one of the best singers of her generation and is one of my faves.

Yet season after season, it’s irksome to the true laborers in the union of the real American performing artist to see folks believe that merely dreaming about stardom in their bedrooms is what forming a music career is all about, when union members are out there season after season pounding the pavement, the record label corridors, the club stages and the social media byways. The latter is called dues, man. And that’s the way the real music biz works.

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Release of “We’re America” video

I’ve released the video for my song “We’re America.” As posted earlier here, I’ll be making a case study of the song’s release.

About the song: There’s nothing so powerful as self-fulfilling prophesy, and, if we can defer excessive hand-wringing and rally behind the President, we just may pull out of this economic nosedive. That’s the spirit behind “We’re America.”

On the music biz side of this project, the strategy for getting the song out there begins with a pre-release via such social media sites as youtube and myspace as well as blogging.

I’ll cover youtube today, since that’s my primary focus. Why? Because in recent times that may be the primary breeding ground for the social media virus coveted by indie and major label artists alike. Today, “We’re America” breached the 1,000-view mark after a week’s time. Promotion so far has included: 1) very limited notice to my personal network of friends and fans, perhaps a dozen (by design); 2) limited promotion via Google’s AdWords; and 3) posts and direct messaging on related youtube channels.

A brief note here on Google AdWords. I’ve used AdWords for more than six years to: 1) promote my artist Web site and 2) promote a college Web site (another hat I wear — PR director), with decent results for both. Google recently sent me a complimentary apron and other goodies, an honor, I suppose, as a longtime user. That said, I’d rate my level of expertise at intermediate. AdWords is a complex Darwinian system that engenders a love-hate relationship. I’ll say more about its workings another time.

In future posts, I’ll cover more details on strategy and tactics and cite other articles on the indie artist and the viral campaign, including some success stories. All these posts will be listed under my “indie music workshop” category.

I’ll try to keep the reportage concise and relevant. And, of course, I invite readers to join the conversation with useful comments.

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Twitter for the indie artist

Is Twitter useful for musicians? Since I added Twitter to my music artist strategy, with my release of “We’re America” and beyond, I decided to post a roundup of opinions on the subject.

Musician Steve Lawson, for one, gives tweeting a thumbs up, claiming successes in an interview on Andrew Dubber’s vimeo.com, saying that musicians must immerse themselves in Twitter. He does a good job of explaining the contextual nature of the technology. If a musician creates a story about his process of making music – the songwriting, recording, performing – he says, users will find him interesting. “Make it part of a narrative,” he says. In a post on his own blog, Lawson debunks misconceptions, saying Twitter has “substantially improved (his) life over the last year.”

A Bob Brown post on networkworld supports Lawson’s philosophy. Brown lists artists of all stripes who tweet, saying the majors tend to do a poor job, while indies who are more serious are also more interesting. Also check out Brown’s list of productive tools for twitterers.

The New York Times tech writer David Pogue covers the waterfront on the subject. His posts cover everything from photo criticism to tips for beginners.

If there is a bellwether on Twitter as a proven tool, it’s Ragan.com. Over the past year, hardly a day goes by without a headline on the topic. Ragan writer and social media guru Shel Holtz says the brevity issue is “a load of crap.” Rightfully, he explains:

Yes, the messages are short. But many tweets are just part of some greater content. Tweets direct you to blog posts, breaking news, videos, photos, just about anything you can find on the Net.

I, for one, am ready to discover the greater good of Twitter for the indie artist and will report further on the subject.

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Google with noodles

On Billboard.biz, Glenn Peoples covers Google’s recent music play in China. Believe it or not, the Big G is actually second in China to Baidu, which controls 62 percent of the search engine market. Google’s search service is free for labels, but here’s the kicker: Chinese fans won’t pay for downloads. The model works well enough there, since labels pull in funds from Internet-site ads.

Reasonable sounding model that doesn’t translate in the states, however. Glenn cites a Forbes.com story that claims a good reasons it won’t work in the U.S.: fans’ willingness to pay for downloads.

Besides, labels still bear the scars from the original Napster wars and are about as open to free downloads stateside as kids are to broccoli.

I’ll say more about the indie artist and Google’s search-engine ad program in future posts.

Other coverage on the subject on hypebot.com.

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Coolfer moves to Billboard

I’ve mentioned Glenn Peoples’ coolfer.com as one of the more informative music blogs. So, it’s no surprise that Glenn has accepted a post as senior editorial analyst at Billboard Magazine. On his last post, he tells us his reportage will be available from now on at Billboard.biz. Couldn’t find anything there today, but will be checking. I saw coolfer as one of the best all around digests in the music biz. Good luck, Glenn.
News of the move has been reported on such other sites as earfarm.

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The state of John Mellencamp’s mind

There’s a cornucopia of food for thought in John Mellencamp’s article “On My Mind: the State of the Music Business.” There’s much truth in this overview of the music business the past generation or two. It’s also rambling and contradictory, but, at best, is good grounds for discussion among music artists and industry people. I’ll be listening for feedback from his article and posting further comments along the way. BTW, for the record (no pun intended), I happen to love Mellencamp.

SXSW redux

The big show closed yesterday. Here are some more sites and blogs with good coverage. Spike.com had a big staff on the ground. Check them out for many live performaces and band interviews, including Waaves, VietNam, and The Black Lips.

Meanwhile, My Old Kentucky Home blog is stocked with photos and commentary. See stereogum.com for good coverage of Kanye West leading the G.O.O.D. Music showcase. And watch for coming coverage from coolfer.com. Glenn Peoples was on site, but “laptop-less.” Look forward to his take(s).

Noticed featured clips on YouTube over the weekend were ruled by SXWS performances. Nice play.

Power from the people

My friend Richie manages the Philippe Starck Building across from the New York Stock Exchange. They have a $23-million condo that’s wanting for a buyer (poor billionaires). I asked him if anybody was jumping from the windows yet. Apparently not.

The Sunday morning news coverage of the public furor over the AIG bonuses was instructive, if predictable, including David Gregory and company on Meet the Press on NBC, which was followed by Chris Matthews, who polled his panel on whether the bonus fallout would hamper Obama in his push for further bank-bailouts. The results were rather measured considering Congress’ need to sate the public outcry.

Let’s not underestimate the true meaning of the public anger. Certainly, the $165 million in AIG bonus payouts (although the Connecticut A.G. today ups that estimate to $218 million) can be seen as the proverbial straw, it is no less significant that other turning-point straws that fill the history books: the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, Pearl Harbor, and “remember the Maine” or the “shot heard ‘round the world.”

That said, here’s what I think is happening and what will ultimately solve Wall Street’s excesses: the power of the people.

While that sounds quaint at first blush, people power is the latest disruptive technology, and it will rule Wall Street in the coming years the same way it has reshaped the music industry, the film and television industries, the advertising industry and the news industry. It is a force that is even larger than Wall Street.

Here’s what’s changed: I call it the trust factor. Since the industrial revolution (and certainly earlier), industry, the media and government controlled information. They may have taken the temperature of the public along the way and had to proffer lip service to obtain votes; but, collectively, they dictated the message. They had us having to trust them concerning how to conduct our affairs. I could put together a string of corporate slogans here, but I think you get the point.

Over the past decade, the trust factor has been turned on its head as the Internet has leveled the playing field, first flattening the music industry, then steadily rolling over several others.

Now, the curtain has been pulled back on Wall Street, and the complex and secretive way it has conducted business. When everyone was benefiting from the current model, big banks and insurance giants could get away with their Ponzi-style instruments.

But no more. The public trust has been broken, never to return. Now, the public will have trust flow from the public to the corporate world, in full. Its beginnings were sown in the corporate facebook pages we see today. I believe a new, disruptive model will be forged naturally from these events.

I suppose that’s a hopeful way to look at this mess we’re in. But isn’t that the same model that now elects our Presidents.

Oh, one more note on hope — some songs to help us through: Tom Paxton’s “I Am Changing My Name to Fannie Mae” and my own “We’re America.”

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SXSW Live

It’s SWSW time, and if you want to keep up with the action, there’s excellent coverage from some leading music journalists. New York Times writers Jon Pareles, Ben Sisario and David Carr report through the weekend from Austin in the Time’s Topics page devoted to the festival. Pareles, who is the Gray Lady’s chief pop critic, is a veteran whose coverage goes back to the glory days of Rolling Stone. He has a keen, well-rounded ear. In his coverage today, Pareles also adds a keen observation on the state of today’s music artist:

…musicians draw their audiences from people who chase down music in the news media, in blogs and on noncommercial radio stations — or maybe from a friend’s recommendation or a giveaway on a music downloading site.

Yes, the biz has been leveled via the Internet. That, of course, is the good news for the music artist. The bad, or at least difficult, news lies in making money. I’ll cite a few cases, both good and bad, in future posts that exemplify the money issue.

Back to SXSW coverage, try WIRE’s Underwire blog, with jottings from Eliot Van Buskirk and others. Today, he discusses band Choo Choo’s take on Twitter as a tool to connect with fans.

For an authentic view from the ground, try popwreckoning’s blog. Their writers will transport you, with reviews, band details and photos.

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The ‘pre-release’ strategy

On the “We’re America” front, of timely significance is coolfer.com’s recent note regarding a “pre-release” strategy for singles tracks as employed by Rascall Flatts for it’s album, “Unstoppable,” which will be formally released April 7. As an indie artist, I’ve arrived at the same conclusion as I’ve come to embrace the iTunes-led track trend.

So, let the pre-release strategy of my “We’re America” song serve as an example for other artists. Note that the tune was written and produced during the past week as a solo single in response to the current political climate over the recession. So let’s workshop this here a moment:

•    artist releases single that must get out in a timely manner;
•    single is not as yet attached to an album;
•    yet single will be pre-released via social media;
•    then, formally released via both traditional and social media.

I won’t go into all the release details here, but will post the progression along the way, warts and all. With decades of music industry experience as both a Nashville songwriter and an indie artist and as a PR pro, I hope to bring something useful to the table.

Comments and suggestions are, of course, invited.