Declaration of Independents Panel,
TAXI Road Rally 2006, Part 3

Moderated by Michael Laskow

World-class Indie artist experts (L to R), Tony van Veen, President, Discmakers; Michael Colledge, V.P./ Sr. Financial Advisor, Merrill Lynch; Derek Sivers, Founder & President, CDBaby; Steven Corn, Co-founder, Big Fish Media; Michael Laskow, TAXI, CEO.


Tony van Veen, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing (President, as of 1/6/07) for Disc Makers
Derek Sivers, Founder, President, and Programmer of CDBaby and HostBaby

Steve Corn, Co-founder, Big Fish Media LLC

Michael Colledge, Vice President and Senior Financial Advisor of Merrill Lynch

Dear Readers,

As I've been editing this segment of the Declaration of Independents panel, and the previous two segments, I find myself in awe of the information being presented here. At the risk of sounding gushy, I would venture to say that if you glue there three segments back together, and read them top to bottom, you will be giving yourself the keys to the kingdom most of you want to enter. I LOVE this panel!

— M.L.

Derek, what can you recommend for people on a marketing level for touring acts? What should they be doing to get more people out to their shows?

DS: I can most succinctly say it by telling you to get this book called Guerrilla P.R.—not to be confused with the one called Guerrilla Publicity. The author's last name is Levine.

He's a very successful publicist with Tom Cruise-size clients. But he wrote this great book, saying he's been doing this since he was 19 years old, before he had any money, before he had any clients. It's all about the mindset, and this book puts you into the mindset of publicity. It says there are media outlets everywhere always looking for a story, and it costs you nothing to reach them. It's just about thinking about what you're doing as an interesting story. So, if you're on the road, if you're a touring act, you should constantly be contacting local press, but with an interesting angle to your story—like why should they be covering the fact that you're play Friday night at the Lion's Den? So, instead, if you bring them an angle that's ready to go, you'll get written about constantly.

And the other big tip I found out that I never knew—and this is so obvious—anytime you look at the calendar section of the newspaper, there's always some artist there that has the photo, right? And I always assumed that that it must be kind of the best, the spotlight artist playing this weekend, and I found out from going to panels like this, actually—I went to a few different press panels, and I heard seven or eight editors say, "We just choose the best looking photo. We don't really care who it is, we just want a photo that looks good on that page." So, if you have a good looking photo that is visually striking, they're run it, and you will be the artist that has that spotlight photo, and everybody will come to your show because you're obviously the best thing in town that weekend, otherwise they wouldn't have run the photo.

So, have a great-looking photo. Also, work to get an angle to your story. This kind of goes back to what we were saying earlier—getting into non-traditional press, getting people interested in you and your background as a human interest story. But if you do that even on a local gigging level, you'll get so much more press coverage.

And, last tip I heard: De-emphasize the fact that you're independent. Bari Koral was the name of an artist from New York who did a nationwide tour, and she tried something interesting this time—she didn't tell anybody that she wasn't signed. In case it ever came up what record label she was on, she said, "I'm on Unicorn Records"—or whatever her label was—nobody questioned it, and she treated everything as if she was on a major. She just totally let go of the fact that she was unsigned—that whole taboo amateur hour word. She just made no mention of it and got press like never before. The Arts and Entertainment section in the Chicago Tribune ran something, never asked what label she was on, and she just approached them in such a way that made her come across like a major player.

That's actually a brilliant point, and I've never had that come up in a panel before. When you think about it, so many artists talk about being unsigned, being independent. It's almost like saying "struggling actor," you know. It is. There's a connotation to it, yet there's been this whole movement, "I am Indie," with the fist raised in the air. I never thought of that, it could have a negative connotation. Then again, that girl had to lie about it to go the other way.

DS: But it wasn't a lie. I asked her and she said if it came up, and somebody actually asked, "I've never heard of Unicorn Records," she'd say, "It's my label." End of conversation, next point. It just didn't really come up. Because think if you're a writer, you don't usually question what label that it's on. She just let go of that whole independent unsigned taboo.

TV: It's like the Intel campaign—It's "Indie Inside." You're absolutely right. You don't really gain anything with the world at large wearing the Indie badge.

You're one of millions. You're almost going the opposite way.

DS: Where I do find it comes in handy is that music fans like knowing that their money they spend is going directly to the artist. That's one of the biggest things we hear at CDBaby. It's like they hate the fact that they buy a major label artist, and they've heard—all music fans know—that of the $18 they spend, that $17 is going to some big company and only a buck makes it to the musician. So, I've heard that they love knowing that when they spend $15 that all $15 is going to the artist.

I have a question for Steve. I often see articles about how ringtones have become big business. People are making gazillions of dollars with ringtones. Is there a market for the people in this room to make money with their ringtones?

SC: Yes. Do it yourself. I'm sure some people in this world will disagree. I'll answer the "how" question in a moment. There is no real market for making money on independent music on any of the so-called "on deck" platforms that are the carriers—the Sprints, the Cingulars, the Verizons. They all make at the best, just a modicum of interest in—not so much unsigned bands—up and coming bands, which are generally signed bands that just haven't had their CD released yet. The market for independent ringtones is strictly "off-deck," which means that you have to utilize one of the many different technologies out there to sell them yourself—much like selling your CDs. It's the same concept. If you sell a CD to a fan, why wouldn't they want a ringtone? They probably would, or give them a ringtone if they pre-buy a CD, or many things like that. There are lots of technologies out there that are generally flawed to the degree that they just don't sound as good as buying ringtones say on Sprint, but, it's better than not having ringtones. You can make your own ringtones and distribute them on your Web site. There are technologies out there. I really don't want to endorse any specific technology because I think they're all kind of flawed, but most of them have very high revenue shares, as opposed to Sprint and Verizon. But Sprint and Verizon will promote 200 songs.

What about Indie artists, for Derek's customers who are buying the CDs and maybe downloading stuff digitally from CDBaby? You're a digital distributor as well; couldn't there be some method if you download this song and like it, you have 48 hours to come back and get a ringtone from it?

SC: Absolutely. There is technology you can do that for free. There's one company I will mention, but I also don't think their compression technology is really up to snuff—Xing Tone. It sounds pretty bad, but it's better than no ringtone. You can have a free ringtone store in 10 minutes. I think the free store is three tones or 12 tones, or whatever it is. You can set it up in 10 minutes, and upload your edited MP3 files, then have a URL and make it available. I know that a couple of our competitors have done deals with them, but it doesn't sell very much because independent artists aren't marketing to their fan base. And as every band here might have a fan base of a 1,000, 5,000 if you're lucky, but Verizon doesn't care. They only care if they can sell 50,000 ringtones from an artist. They millions of ring tones every month, so there's not really a destination sight that's working that aggregates independent content into ring tones. MySpace is trying to make a play right now. They're doing a deal with I think Verizon, I can't quite recall. But, then again, you're mucking through three million bands who want to sign up and sell ringtones, and the chances of selling your own are very minimal.

TV: I was just gonna say I hate to rain on the old ringtone parade, but, as an independent artist, there is actually a technological barrier to people buying your ringtone. A lot of folks just don't know, and don't want to learn how to download a ringtone. So your audience is fairly limited, in fact, I have a friend who works at a company that I won't mention—who said, basically, that the Indie artists that they sign to their service, sell no ringtones.

Are you saying that nobody wants to buy ringtones from Indie artists because they just don't know who they are?

TV: That's part of it. And even when you have fans who would buy ringtones, if you have a thousand fans who would buy a CD, and 1% of them care enough to buy a ringtone, you've sold 10 ringtones. BFD.

So much of what we're talking about today—and I don't mean to turn this into a negative, because the people in this room are the cream of the crop. They came, they're doing something... but, all this stuff we're talking about requires work, it requires effort. Here's another survey question from that same company, "Are there other ways we can help you support your music?" Don't know...Don't know...You tell me...Unknown...I have no idea...You tell me...Unsure...Advertise my sight...Give me the boost I so badly need...Give us money to make it...I have no idea...Not sure...None yet...Give me money...I'm not really sure...Find somebody who wants to provide financial backing...Buy our albums, T-shirts and stickers...Tell the world how wonderful we are...I have no idea...Don't know...No idea...I'm just answering the survey...Pay us to get recorded and pay for actual advertising...Find me an investor...I don't know...I don't know anything about you...I'm not sure...Get influential people to listen...It should be free to use, no monthly cost...

DS: Michael, we got the point. It sounds like a typical day on the phone at CDBaby.

I wanna see everybody in this room have a reason to go to Michael Colledge and say, "What do I do with this money next year?"

MC: One other thing we didn't really talk about, but something to think about, is that I submit my music to a lot of different listings, and I'm sure any artist out there right now submits to a lot of listings for artist deals with labels, but, submit your songs for film and TV stuff too. I recently got a music library deal from a TAXI forward. That can help put you on the map. I haven't got a song placed yet, but, I mean, if you get a song placed in film or TV, it's great advertising for yourself. Plug that stuff like crazy on your Web site, then your fan list will look at your site and say, "Wow, his song was on the O.C."

It builds credibility.

MC: Absolutely. And that can help put you on the map. I think Jack Johnson is one of the biggest—if I'm not mistaken—one of the biggest sellers at CDBaby of all time, and that was before he really was on the map because of that surfing movie his songs were in. Certainly, something like that could really go a long way in building credibility and getting the word out about you. So, think about that. Try to go for the film and TV deals because that'll add some credibility.

You're so right about that, even though a lot of stuff is gonna land on cable, and the payments aren't very big. But if you stick with it for a number of years—and I'm gonna get to that later on the publisher's panel—it's absolutely possible, if not probable, that if you work relatively hard at film and TV stuff to make 150K a year. That's a great income for anybody, to be able to work out of a 10-by-10 bedroom in your house doing what you love to do and make six figures. I know that can happen. I'm going to ask later on, but Steve is a world-class expert on music libraries. I asked you that question the other day when we were hanging out in my office. Do you have friends or acquaintances that you've known in the industry that have made six figures doing film and TV stuff with libraries?

SC: Yeah, absolutely. The interview is on your Web site right now and it goes into more depth.

SC: It's also on my Web site, and my MySpace site, and my other MySpace site, and everyone should link to it. It's definitely possible, but it comes with hard work. You're not gonna get $100K a year in income with two placements on an A&E documentary. You might get it with 200 placements though.

Well, I gotta tell you guys, this is great information. Normally I'm a little depressed about how many musicians don't want to do the hard work, but I firmly believe that the people that come to the Road Rally and other conventions like this are our greatest hopes. So, thank you guys, and thank all of you.

Tony van Veen, Derek Sivers, Steve Corn, and Michael Colledge. Great panel, you guys. Thank you.