Career Advice

Sustainable Streaming- How Indpedendent Artists Can Actually Get Paid

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Sustainable streaming.

Sounds like a dream world, right? A magical place where artists would get fairly compensated for their creations.

Almost everyone in the music industry will admit that the current way that streaming music is set up is unsustainable for artists, labels (both major and independent), and even for the streaming services themselves (Spotify has yet to make a profit).

Despite these flaws, streaming music has become the normal way we consume music.

There is no perfect fix for streaming but Sharkey Laguana, a musician and entrepreneur, is trying to start a royalty revolution. We recently read a blog he posted about a protest called Silent September, and we think he’s on to something great.

But before we look at how to change streaming royalties, we have to understand how they are currently paid.

The Big Pool vs. Subscriber Share

Currently, streaming royalties are given to rights holders based on their percentage of all the plays on a service. This means that even if you never listen to Justin Bieber, he is still getting a hefty percentage of the total royalties a streaming service makes because he pulls in more listeners than your average independent musician.

This is the Big Pool system. It works great if you are an artist on a major record label who is getting millions of plays.

It doesn’t work so well for indie artists. You might have a good-sized fan base who listens to your music on streaming services, but if you’re not getting a half million plays, you aren’t significantly affecting the Big Pool percentages.This is why streaming income for independent artists is so low.

This is where subscriber share comes in. Subscriber share simply means that royalty payments are based on how much each individual user listens to a particular artist. Though not currently used by most streaming services, it has the potential to more fairly distribute income across the music industry.

Spotify takes 70% of its profits and pays them out as royalties for artists. This means that if you are a premium subscriber at $10 per month, $7 out of the $10 you give to Spotify are going to musicians.This is not a bad or unfair percentage. The problem with streaming royalties comes from the ways these payments are given out in the current Big Pool system.

For example, in the Big Pool system,if I am a premium subscriber and never once listen to Nicki Minaj, she is still getting a hefty percentage of the money I pay to Spotify because she makes up a large percentage of plays on Spotify.

However, if streaming services moved to subscriber share, and I listened to Odeza 15% of the time and Nicki 0% of the time, Odeza gets $1.05 out of my $7, and Nicki Minaj gets none.

Of course,this doesn’t mean that major artists won’t get paid. They will still get the money from the millions of plays they are currently getting. If Nicki makes up 35% of what another premium user listens to, she will get $2.45 out of the total $7.

What subscriber share means is that all artists get compensated fairly for their music. In the subscriber share system, when a music fan consistently listens to an indie artist they love, that artist will get paid fairly for the amount of time users are spending listening to their music.

Spotify loses no money in this system, major labels don’t lose, and indies don’t lose.

Time for Streaming to Make The Switch

The main problem is implementation. Spotify is not going to completely overhaul their entire system if they don’t have a reason to. This is where Silent September comes in.

Spotify needs a push from major players in order to switch their infrastructure. (We’re looking at you, Taylor!) This means that the 3 major labels need to be on board. This means that independent musicians need to shake up the majors and get them to pay attention.

We need to shift the percentages.

The best way to shift the Big Pool percentages is to listen to truly independent artists on whatever platform you normally listen on. But it’s going to take a lot of plays.

So when you aren’t actively listening to music, simply turn down the volume, but keep the music playing (this is where the “silent” in Silent September comes from).

If enough people are playing independent artists in the background, we can shift the percentages and make the majors take notice.

Silent September

This September is a great time for this protest, because the 3 major labels’ contracts with Spotify expire in October of 2015. If we can make them take notice before they re-sign contracts, we can help be the catalyst for change.

Silent September is a simple way to help make a difference in the lives–and the wallets–of independent musicians.

The originator of Silent September, Sharkey Laguana, wrote a more in-depth article on Silent September, and exactly how streaming royalties work, which you can read here. If you have a few more questions, check out the FAQ here.

If you would like to participate in Silent September with us, we have created a playlist of completely independent musicians in our local area who deserve your support. We will be adding playlists regularly of great independent music, so be sure to subscribe to our Spotify account and follow us on Twitter to stay updated!

If you are an independent musician and would like to be featured on our playlist, you can tweet at us, or comment below!

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Secrets to a Great Single Part One: Choosing the Right Song

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

I was sitting in a dark room with my eyes closed, listening intently to the music that was pumping through my headphones. I was carefully analyzing each song that played, noting the melody, tempo, and feel of the song.

About half way through the album, I opened my eyes, ripped the headphones off, and exited the room brimming with frustration.

I was trying to choose the first single off my first album.

Admittedly, the dark room was my closet. And the analyzing that was happening was mostly me trying not to be too picky about what I wanted to change on my newly-completed CD. But the frustration was almost too real.

How was I supposed to know which song was single-worthy? I loved them all!

Choosing which song deserves to be a single can be a daunting task for any artist. Picking the right song-whether from an album or to record as a stand alone single-is vital for musicians in today’s world of short attention spans. Luckily,you don’t need to feel all the frustration that I went through. Here’s a list of criteria for singles, and four tips to make the process of choosing a single a little easier.

A Single Is…

  • Catchy. Your single needs to be instantly singable. You want people to be humming it hours after they listen.
  • Relateable. Your single needs to resonate with lots of different people. Everyone has their own story. Your single needs to find its way into a chapter or two of  your listeners’ stories. That’s why love songs and breakup songs are so popular. Almost everyone has those shared experiences at some point or another. Your single doesn’t have to be a love song, but it does need to resonate with people.
  • Visual. Most singles have a music video to accompany them. While this is not strictly necessary, it is important to consider what a video to your single would look like. Good songwriting usually includes visual elements. If you can’t come up with any visual imagery for your song, you might need to re-visit your lyrics or pick another song as your single.
  • Promotable. If you can’t come up with any ways to promote your single, then it shouldn’t be a single. If it doesn’t lend itself well to video, if you can’t come up with some cool ideas for graphics, if you can’t think of ways to write interesting tweets about it, it’s probably not single-worthy.

Now that you know the criteria for your single, here are three tips on actually choosing the song.

1 – Follow Your Gut

As the creator and artist, you are intimately familiar with your music–all of it, not just the songs you’ve chosen to record. You know your art, and you can usually tell when you’ve written something that stands out. Don’t be afraid to listen to your gut feeling on which song is a home run.

2 – Don’t Follow Your Gut

This doesn’t make sense. I know. But sometimes when you are so close to all your work, you can’t see the bigger picture. Being humble enough to listen to someone else’s opinion could mean the difference between a great success and a huge failure. You may love your highly specific song about the exact feeling of happiness you get when your lawn is perfectly mowed, but that might not be the best single. Just because a song isn’t single material doesn’t mean it’s not a great song. It just means that it’s not a very universally appealing song. Often a single is used to drive publicity and hype, and you want to pick a song that can appeal to the masses.

3 – Listen to Your Fans

Get the opinions of your friends, family, industry pros, and, most importantly, your fans. Fans are the ones who will be buying your single, so they should be the deciding factor in choosing the right song. What song do they tell you they love after shows? What song do they ask to buy?

You might want to ask the fans on your mailing list their opinion. Give them a link to vote on the song they like best, or ask them to email you their opinion directly!

4 – Compare Yourself

This isn’t something I usually advocate for, but when you are choosing your single, take some time to study what’s currently being released in your genre. Create a playlist of singles that have been released in your genre (and maybe a few outside your genre!) in the past 3 months. Put your music in that playlist. What song fits well? You want to be unique and cut above the noise, but you also don’t want to be so out in left field that people click the skip button when your track comes up.

Now that you have the tools for choosing a great single, stay tuned for Part Two-The Unique Challenges of Recording a Single!
How did you choose your last single? Was your gut feeling right, or did you let the fans or an industry professional choose? Let us know in the comments below!

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What Independent Musicians Need to Know About Fair Play Fair Pay

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Take a minute and journey with me into the muddy waters of licensing, royalty payment, and copyright. If you’ve had much experience with these things in the past, you quickly realize that the way that copyright holders in the United States get paid is a complicated mess.

Unfortunately, this mess is one of the most important things for artists and musicians to understand. If you missed our series on understanding copyright, I recommend you take a few minutes and read them.

These articles will help give you a good foundation to understand the rest of this article, and why Fair Play Fair Pay is important.

What is Fair Play Fair Pay?

One of the odd quirks of copyright law is that the performing artist does not get paid when their song is played on traditional radio. When a song is played on your favorite FM radio station, the station pays only the owner of the underlying musical work. This usually means that the publishing company gets paid, and then they pay the writers of the song. This is different from digital radio services like Pandora, Sirius XM, and Spotify, which are required to pay royalties to the artist and owner of the sound recording copyright, in addition to the owner of the underlying musical work.

Currently, the United States is one of the only developed countries in the world that doesn’t also pay artists and sound recording owners when their music is played on traditional radio. But the Fair Play Fair Pay Act is trying to change that.

If the Fair Play Fair Pay Act passes, the artists and labels who own the sound recording (SR) copyrights would be entitled to compensation from the radio stations that are benefiting from the public performance (each spin on radio is technically a performance) of those works.

How Will Artists Get Paid?

The royalties earned from radio airplay would be directly paid to SoundExchange, a non-profit organization that was set up by the government to collect royalties from digital radio services. SoundExchange automatically divides royalties between artists and the SR copyright owner. The primary artist on the track will receive 45% of royalties, labels and SR copyright owners 50%, and other featured musicians on the track will get 5%.

The act will also specify a minimum payment amount based on how the radio station (internet, terrestrial, or streaming) uses those sound recordings, and whether or not the use is promotional. The royalty rate will be determined by the Copyright Royalty Board and not set into law by Congress, which is good news for artists since it’s much easier to renegotiate rates with the Copyright Royalty Board than with the Senate and House of Representatives.

Direct, negotiated licenses will still be available, but payment for the use of the sound recording will still have to go through SoundExchange.

This minimum payment is great news for artists. It means that a service like Spotify, or even Pandora, could possibly pay a higher rate because consumers are more involved in choosing the music they will listen to, unlike traditional radio where all the music is chosen for the listener.

Royalties From Around the World

Though it seems like a small thing, the fact that America is one of the last developed countries to implement this kind of royalty payment for traditional radio is a really big deal. Because America’s royalty payouts don’t look like the rest of the world’s, the American music industry loses about 100 million dollars annually.

This is because of a little thing  called “reciprocal rights.”

Basically, if a radio station in the UK plays a song, they have to pay to play the underlying song, and pay the artist/label for paying the sound recording. If the artist is American, that money will come back across the pond. But it will only be the royalties for the underlying composition, because America doesn’t have a reciprocal (i.e. similar) right that says artists have to be paid.

If Fair Play Fair Pay passes, those reciprocal rights would kick in, and American artists would be payed the same as their European counterparts.

Other Aspects of Fair Play Fair Pay:

  • This act also includes a provision to pay artists who released music previous to 1972, and do not receive any royalties when their music is performed. (You can read about that loophole in copyright here)
  • The act will also make sure that small broadcasters, like college stations, and public broadcasters, like NPR, will pay a reduced royalty rate so that the changes in the law won’t force them out of business.
  • The bill also gives SR copyright owners an easy way to make sure the producers and sound engineers who worked on their project get paid.
  • If this law is passed, it will keep internet radio stations like Pandora from trying to lessen their payments to artists. You can read about that fiasco here.

Why is Fair Play Fair Pay Important for Independent Musicians?

Fair Play Fair Pay will mean more money in the hands of artists. And if you are an independent musician who owns both copyrights to your songs, when your songs are played on terrestrial radio, you will get 95% of that royalty rate, plus what you would already be making from the underlying copyright.

This act is a step in the right direction for the major copyright overhaul that is desperately needed, and that musicians and other creators have been asking for since the early 2000s.
Independent musicians are by far the largest force in the music industry. Our main problem is that we don’t know how to band together and use our powers for good!

When legislature comes up before Congress that will positively affect musicians across the board, indie musicians should be the most excited. And in the case of a new law passing, musicians can actually do something by emailing their representative and senators, and getting involved with organizations like GRAMMY On The Hill, or the Future of Music Coalition, that are working to help get these bills turned into law.

If you’d like to get involved, you can click here to write to your congressional representatives, or even tweet at them!

Do you think the Fair Play Fair Pay Act should be passed? Do you think it will make a significant difference for artists? Let us know in the comments below!

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Understanding Music Copyright: Originality and Ownership

What To Do AFTER You’ve Finished Writing a Song

Music Royalties: What You Should Know

The Difference Between Songwriting in Nashville and New York

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How to Get Started in the Music Business in 3 Simple Steps

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

In the music industry, there’s a saying that gets tossed around pretty often. Though there are different variations, the basic mantra is this:

“It’s called the music business for a reason.”

This is what the pros are saying when they toss that phrase around:

For recorded music to reach a listener, 98% of the time, some kind of business transaction was involved. For every beautiful song, for every masterful lyric, there was a person doing business behind the scenes making things happen.

Lets put it this way- if you want an electric guitar to be amplified, you have to plug it in. If you are only playing to a few people who are about 3 feet away from you, you might not need to use the amp. But if you want more people to hear what you’re doing, you have to plug that bad boy in and crank up the volume. Your music(the awesome creative stuff that comes out of your brain) is the guitar, and the business (the money, the marketing, the networking) is your amplifier.

Unfortunately, many independent musicians I meet are only plugging the guitar in halfway. Sure, they look like they’ve got everything right, but a guitar that’s only partially plugged in still isn’t going to make much noise.

So if you’re just getting started on the business side of “music business,” we’ve outlined the first three things you should do to plug in, power up the amp, and start your journey in the music industry.

Step 1- Be Professional

This may seem a little obvious, but the way you present yourself is important. You need to be professional in every different facet of your music career, but a good place to start is your web presence. This means creating a nice looking website with a custom domain, a simple electronic press kit (EPK), and making sure your social media profiles are up to date. To add an extra touch of professionalism, it’s also a good idea to choose a font or 2 and try to stick with those when you are making your website, EPK, and creating graphics for social profiles. Creating a website and EPK show industry professionals that you are willing to put some effort and energy into your music, and updated social media profiles will help your fans get to know you, and know where to find you and your music on the web.

You also want to invest a little time in the way you present yourself to people face to face. It might be a good idea to have a few business cards made up (after you’ve already decided on a website domain!) to give to other musicians and pros you might meet. You also need to decide if you’ll have merchandise to sell, and make sure your merch set-up is functional and visually pleasing. And as much as we hate it, go ahead and take a look at what you’re wearing. Whether you like it or not, many people’s first impression of you is going to come from what you’re wearing, especially when you’re onstage. So take an extra five minutes before your next gig and think about if what you’re wearing is a good visual interpretation of who you are, and what kind of music you play.

Step 2- Be Organized

If you want to be a part of the music business, you have to treat your music like a business! Most well run small businesses started with a plan that detailed a mission statement, legal  structure, and how daily business will be run. I’m not saying you have to have a complicated business plan. But there are two things you need to keep careful records of.


You need to know what you are spending money on, and what money is coming in. Not only will this make your taxes way easier at the end of year, (yes, you do have to pay taxes on the income you earn from music!) but it will let you know how your business is doing. If you make a profit for six months, and then the next three months you are losing money, you need to find out why, and detailed records will help you with this. You can use a spreadsheet (like Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets) or a more complex accounting program like Quickbooks.


It’s also vital that you keep track of your contacts. You need to know who you’ve talked to, when you talked to them, and what you talked about. This helps you define and expand your network. You can easily create a spread sheet, or a word processing document to keep track of these things. I recommend Google Docs, since you can access it from anywhere as long as you have a Gmail account. This is the place to keep the phone number of the graphic designer you met in line at the grocery store, and the email of the booking agent of that festival you want to play. A database like this will help you to know when to get in touch with people, send a follow up email, and if you need to send any extra materials to them (maybe a demo or a press kit).

Step 3- Be Proactive

Great music and great business ideas don’t mean much if you don’t put action behind them. To borrow from our earlier analogy, you need to turn the volume up on that amp! Just like practicing your instrument takes time, energy, and commitment, the business side of your music does too. Start out by devoting a few hours a week to your business. Spend some time marketing and creating content for fans, or work on getting your music placed in some licensing opportunities. Opportunities in the music industry come to musicians who are looking for opportunities. Don’t just sit around and hope you’ll get discovered. Go to some local shows in your area and meet other musicians. Play as many open mics as you can. Do some research on ways to grow your career (like reading the blogs on this website!).

Most importantly: perform, and do it well. Playing your music live is the best way to get new fans, cement relationships with current fans, and meet other musicians and industry professionals. Putting on a great live show also gives you legitimacy as a musician.  This means lots of practice time making sure your music is absolutely killer before you get in front of an audience. The relationships you form at shows, and the reputation you will gain by playing awesome shows, are major factors in propelling you to the next level of your music career.

Beginning the journey of turning your music from a hobby into a business can be intimidating,  but it doesn’t have to be. Putting these three steps into practice can help you put your best foot forward, and begin that journey in the right direction.
Have any tips to artists just starting out, or any advice on beginning a career in the music industry? Let us know in the comments!

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Dealing with Self Doubt: Learning to Love Yourself and Your Music

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

A Source Spotlight Interview with Collin Hauser

Here at Source we love local artists. Being located in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex means that there are hundreds of great musicians at our doorstep.

We know that there are some problems, and triumphs, that artists share so we are going to sit down with one artist every month and have a discussion about some of the issues that musicians face.

This month, our local artist feature is Collin Hauser. Collin is based out of Denton, TX and plays regularly around the DFW metroplex and around the country. He just finished recording his new self-titled EP when we sat down to talk to him, so we asked Collin a couple of questions about his new release.

As we were talking, I realized that Collin had some insight on an issue I know many musicians deal with.

As musicians, our songs are an extension of ourselves. We pour everything we’ve got into the music, and we want it to be absolutely perfect before we show it to the world. We worry if it’s going to represent us well in the future, or if our fans will love it. And though all of these things are technically about the music, we tend to personalize them, and place those worries onto ourselves.

When that happens, it can be difficult for us to pull the trigger on finishing our projects. We might afraid to make them public because we think they aren’t good enough and as an extension, we aren’t good enough. We can get so worried about what other people might think that we let projects continue on indefinitely, adding new parts and taking them away, striving to create the “perfect” album.

Although it can be difficult to admit to others, and even to ourselves, this is a common insecurity felt by many musicians. It’s also something Collin dealt with as he put the finishing touches on his new album.

What was your biggest struggle in creating this album?

Collin: “The most difficult thing is accepting yourself. I think as an artist we’re always worried about how other people are going to perceive our work. Battling and dealing with how things are going to come across is a struggle. You have to accept who you are today. You have to accept that this is what the songs are today. If I were going to re-record these songs next month, they would be different. They would be five completely different songs. At some point, you just have to say ‘Enough.’ These are the songs that are speaking to me right now, these are the songs that mean something right now, and I have to accept who I am, and these songs how they are.

It’s almost a relief when you come to that realization because you can say to yourself, “This gives me room to grow,” and hopefully the next project is better. I can always find something to do differently, but I can be excited about putting the songs down and simply saying ‘They’re real now.’

And it’s a beautiful thing on the other side of accepting who you are that you get to step back from your work and be proud of what you did. That’s my favorite part about creating this album. I can look at the effort I put into it, and I’m excited about the EP. And when it’s done, you get to put yourself in the mindset of a listener and hear the art that you created. When you can accept who you are, listening to yourself can actually be therapeutic.”

But being okay with yourself and the music on your new project isn’t just something you magically discover when the record is finished. Accepting who you are as a person, and as an artist, is something that you have to deal with during the entire process of creating a record. And often that process takes much longer than we hope it will.

How much time did you spend on your record, from planning stages up until the release?

Collin: “Honestly, it’s been two years, but it hasn’t been two years. I recorded all the music for two of the songs on the EP over two years ago, but I didn’t feel like my vocals were good enough yet. I had written the songs, I had faith in the music, but I didn’t feel like I was in the right place vocally. The music was so good, and I wanted the vocals to match that. I went to school for jazz, and everything in jazz is theoretical. So sometimes I hear the part, sometimes I feel it, and because I know it’s theoretically possible, I end up writing music that’s too hard for me, and I have to step back and learn it.

Between deciding on the songs, cutting the tracks for the songs, and getting my vocals to the place I wanted them to be, it took about two years. After that, I was able to say, ‘This is really my first step as an independent musician. It’s ready.'”

Artists pour their heart and soul into the music they make. Part of learning to accept yourself as an artist is learning to step back and take a critical look at what you create. This is especially important when it comes time to decide what songs go on a record. Sometimes we get particularly attached to a song that might not be the best choice. Knowing that this is a major struggle when it’s time to record a new album, we asked Collin about his process for choosing the right songs.

How did you decide which songs went on the record?

Collin: “Well, it changed a thousand times! Besides the two songs I recorded two years ago, it was a difficult decision. My favorite song on the record is ‘You Are More in Love’ and choosing that one was a no-brainer. I had the arrangement for that song already worked out in my head, and I was so excited to flesh it out. Some other songs on the EP were collaborations with friends that I really wanted to include.

My original plan was to make an 8 track record, but I started to see how long the recording process was actually taking me, and I knew I needed to cut it down so I could get the record out. I made a checklist, and if the songs didn’t meet all the requirements on the checklist, they were out. After that, I had four songs left out of the original eight. So I got those all ready for release, had them mixed, mastered and ready to go, and when I listened to it, it was missing something. So we went back and added the track ‘Love in a Minor Key.’ We recorded everything for that song really quickly, but it ended up being one of my favorites.”

Collin is a great example of an artist who has learned to accept himself and his music for what it is, and find joy in the self expression that is creating music.

You can learn more about Collin and his new release by watching the video below, or checking out a preview of his new EP on SoundCloud.

You can find Collin online here:

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How to Spend Less Money Recording an Album

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

So you’ve decided it’s time to make an album. You’ve been playing these songs live, you’ve recorded the demos, and people keep asking, “When is your album coming out?”  You can’t wait to get these songs tracked and you’re ready to see all the music inside your head coming to life.

And then you figure out how much it’s going to cost.

Recording an album can get expensive. But it doesn’t have to break the bank. You don’t have have to drop $10,000 to get a great record, if you go into the process prepared. Knowing up front what  is important to you can help you decide what you want to spend money on, and what you can skip to make the process cheaper.

So lets look at some things that will drastically affect the cost of your record, and how to drive those costs down.

Length of the Project

The length of the project will drastically affect your cost. 12 songs are more expensive to record than 3 songs.

You have to be honest with yourself—and your other band members—about what songs are good enough to go on an album. Make sure that your investment of time and money is funding great songs. You want to make an album that you are going to be proud of for years to come.

Do People Actually Want a Full-Length Album?

As you make decisions about your upcoming project, you need to look at the music industry as a whole. For the past 15 years, we have seen album sales drop, and sales of singles rise. When you create an album of any size, you invest time, money, and a lot of emotions. You need to be able to get a return on your investment. Sometimes, recording a full length album is a great idea. Creatively, getting to spread your wings and work on 12 songs can be a wonderful thing that fulfills you as an artist. If you have the time and money to record a full album and that’s what you want to do, then go for it. But for many artists, recording a smaller body of work now can result in a better return on your investment later.

If you have four really great songs that people absolutely love, and seven songs that are just okay. Just record those four songs. You’ll cut your cost drastically, and you’ll be giving fans the music they truly love.


You also have to decide whether or not to work with a producer.  Producers have been a part of recorded music since its inception, and they are an important part of the recording process. If you have a particular sound in mind, finding a producer who specializes in your genre can be a great way to make sure your music is comparable to what is currently available. Working with a great producer can also bring a valuable outside opinion on the music you will be recording.

A producer can be one of the most expensive parts of your album. But a great producer who understands you and your music can take your album to new heights. Some artists love working with a producer, while other musicians prefer to do it all themselves. You have to decide what’s right for your music. If you have found a producer you trust, and can afford them, I recommend you hire one.

Often producers and sound engineers are the same person, especially for smaller projects. This can help you cut costs while still reaping the benefits of having a producer.

Studio or At Home

At home recordings and DIY studios have come leaps and bounds in the past few years. It’s now possible to make a great sounding record at home. However, there are still costs associated with this. The equipment needed to build a professional sounding at-home studio is still quite expensive. If you don’t already have the tools you need at home, you may find your initial budget gets eaten up quickly on equipment alone.

If you are a beginner in home recording, even though your initial investment in equipment may be higher, you could save money in the future if you already have all the tools needed to make great music in your living room.

There are lots of great resources to learn how to record well at home. You can check out these helpful articles if you are looking for a place to start:

Even though it can be cheaper in the long run to record at home, studios are still an important part of making great records. Studios have high quality equipment, rooms that are acoustically engineered for great sound, and either an in-house engineer, or a recommendation for an engineer they trust. If you don’t have the patience or time to invest learning how to make a great sounding recording at home, a studio may be the best place for you.

Many musicians  work out a hybrid of the two. You may find your living room isn’t the best place to record a full drum kit (and your neighbors might hate you!) but it is the great place for tracking acoustic guitar and aux percussion. Working out a deal to combine the best of both worlds may cut your cost significantly.

Many producers/engineers have a great home studio setup. They may charge you a reduced rate to record there, or just bundle it in with the fee they charge you initially. This can save you loads of money on studio hourly fees and per day rates.

Ultimately tracking at home is the cheapest option. But you have to decide if that’s the best option for your music and your career.

Remember:  Although it’s definitely possible to make great music at your house, there is still a standard of quality that you will have to meet. Even a casual music listener can tell when something doesn’t sound the way that they are used too. When you are deciding between recording at home or in a studio, think ahead to how you want the album released, and what kind of opportunities, like licensing and radio airplay, you will want to pursue with these songs. Then make sure the quality of your recording matches up with other songs that are being released on those platforms.

Studio Musicians

Another costly item is studio musicians. If you are in a band, this is less of an issue, although you still may want to hire session players for strings or other auxiliary instruments. If you are a solo artist who wants an album with a full band sound, this is a much bigger concern.

Every musician charges different rates, but there is probably a “normal” dollar amount that musicians are charging in your area. Remember, the quality of the musicians you choose will drastically affect the quality of the music you are recording. Shop around a little, and find the best musicians for your project.

To cut costs, ask a friend who is great at their instrument if they would be willing to help you out. If you are involved in your local music scene, collaborating with other artists can also be a cheaper alternative to hiring studio musicians.

Post Production

Remember that though the tracking may be finished, the project isn’t.  You will have to pay for mixing, mastering, and your disc packaging/digital distribution. All of these things are vital steps in the recording process that you shouldn’t skip.

Mixing might be the most important part of recording a song. No matter if you recorded at home, in a studio, or with a producer, mixing can make or break your record. Do some research, and find the best engineer you can afford.

Many digital distributors and disc manufacturers like Nationwide Disc offer mastering services at great rates. Again, this is a step that shouldn’t be skipped if you want your recording to be the same quality as the songs that major labels are releasing.

There are many factors that will affect the amount of money you spend on your new project. But with some research you can decide what you really need to make your project exactly what you want it to be. Once you know what you need, you can find ways to significantly cut your budget. This applies to a record you made by yourself at home, or a fully produced album made in the most expensive studio in town.

How have you cut costs on albums you’ve recorded? What part of an album do you think artists should invest the most money into? Let us know in the comments below!

One note: Just as you want to be compensated fairly for your work as an artist, your friends, other musicians, producers, and sound engineers do to. If people are willing to work with you for free or a reduced rate, that’s great. But don’t short change your fellow musicians who are working just as hard as you are to have a sustainable career in the music industry.

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Apple Music: A Review for Musicians

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Yesterday Apple released the latest iOS update that included Apple Music. This buzzed-about service officially puts Apple into the world of streaming along with Spotify, and Rdio. The update also includes a heavy emphasis on radio-both traditional live radio and custom stations based on user’s choices.

This launch is a big deal to musicians. Will Apple Music be able to make streaming a viable part of a musician’s income? Will its paid-only service be able to attract enough fans to make a difference?

The most important thing that we need to know right now, as a community of artists, is if Apple Music is actually going to appeal to the masses. Music fans are what keep artists going, and if any streaming service is going to work, it has to be backed by fans.

Does Apple Music Meet Fan Needs?

This release has garnered mixed reviews, but the general view is that Apple Music is powerful, but is busy and hard to navigate. There are great features, such as Siri’s ability to control the app and find specific music for you without ever pushing a button. The app also seamlessly integrates with your current iTunes library. If a fan wasn’t already a convert to streaming music, this app makes it incredibly easy for them to make the switch.

These things are great features, but they are somewhat overshadowed by the sheer volume of content in the app. It’s slightly confusing to navigate between the different tabs, and each tab seems to have about a million options. However, these slightly confusing problems are not deal breakers, though they limit the app’s usefulness.

If fans were hoping that Connect would bring them closer to their favorite artists, they were probably a little disappointed today. The Connect tab is pretty bare. This could change as artists invest some time into uploading content, but so far, Connect is fairly disappointing.

Apple Music for Artists

So what should artists do in the wake of this massive and highly publicized launch?

Use All Streaming Services Wisely

We’ve talked about it before, but streaming services shouldn’t be the main way you get fans to listen to your music. When used well, streaming can be an effective tool for marketing your music. However, with the current way that streaming pays artists, you shouldn’t count on it as a major income stream. Instead, leverage the people who find you and follow you on streaming services and try to take them from casual listeners to real fans.

Use Connect to Actually Connect

Apple touts Connect as a place for artists to post exclusive content to fans. This is great in theory, except that there is no way to monetize this content, and there is no way for artists to capture fan information. The word exclusive is also misleading, since anyone can log onto Connect (you don’t have to have a subscription to Apple Music), and you can post the same content on Connect that you post to any number of social media sites.

But Connect does give fans a way to look at your profile while their streaming your music. Connect has the potential to let fans and artists interact directly in the service they use to purchase music, and this is a good thing. You’ve gotten a fan’s attention, and you can use Connect to post content that will encourage them to engage with you further. You should use Connect like any other social media outlet. You can direct fans to your website, post about shows or new releases, or let them know where they can sign up for your mailing list!

I will insert a disclaimer into this: Remember when I told you I had a problem with Apple Music allowing me to claim my Connect profile? As of July 1st, this is still a problem. My music is available on Apple Music’s streaming service, but I can’t log into Connect to post to any potential fans. My account is still awaiting verification.

Apple should probably also be worried that artists just won’t post on Connect. This was Apple’s problem with the failed music social network Ping. Since the content that artists are posting to Connect is probably not different than what musicians are already offering on Facebook, Twitter, and Soundcloud, artists have to decide whether the extra time spent updating another social media profile is really worth it. Connect also doesn’t work from a desktop computer. It is only accessible through the iPhone and iPad app. This limits the service’s functionality, especially if you like to do most of your social media posting from a computer.

Ultimately, it all comes down to the fans. If the users of Apple Music love the service, and it becomes the go-to place for people to listen to their favorite music, than the creators will have to follow, or be left in the dust. (remember Myspace?)

We will keep you updated as we learn more details about how much Apple music is actually going to pay artists, and if Connect actually works to keep musicians and fans, well, connected.

Do you have any thoughts on Apple Music? Do you this this is going to drastically alter the way fans consume music? Let us know it the comments!

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Should You Use ReverbNation?

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

ReverbNation is a music-specific social network that over 3.5 million artists use. From digital distribution and web hosting to gig opportunities, ReverbNation seems to have it all. But do you need a ReverbNation profile?

To decide if ReverbNation is a good fit for you, you have to ask yourself this question:

Is ReverbNation actually helping my career?

ReverbNation has some useful tools. But some of its features might do more harm than good to your music career.

What Not to Do On ReverbNation

We want you, the artist, to market your music effectively, engage with fans well, and have a successful career. Part of that is using the tools available to you wisely. So we’ve outlined some things to steer clear of when you use ReverbNation, and a few things that ReverbNation might be able to help you with.

Don’t let ReverbNation’s automated social media posts replace your personal interaction with fans.

ReverbNation easily syncs with major social media networks like Facebook and Twitter. ReverbNation can automatically post information about your shows to other social networks. It will continue to post show information as it gets closer to the show date. While this sounds like a great thing, ReverbNation won’t let you control when those things are shared, or how often.

This is a problem.

ReverbNation’s posts tend to fill up your profile with impersonal concert notifications.

While it’s great to let fans know when and where you’ll be playing, these impersonal post soon begin to look like spam. This can frustrate and annoy fans, which is the last thing you want to do.

If you let ReverbNation post to Facebook, it can also lower your position on your fans’ newsfeeds. Facebook has a very specific algorithm that dictates what gets placed into newsfeeds. Numerous duplicate posts could get flagged in Facebook’s program, and mean a lower fan reach.

Do have a regular social media posting schedule.

A status that you took the time to write is better content than a computer generated post about a show. When your social feed is full of automated links, it can make you look like you don’t care about interacting with your fans.

ReverbNation’s automatic posts won’t harm you if your newsfeed has lots of organic posts.  When the automated updates are interspersed with personal content, fans can get excited that you are announcing shows, instead of frustrated that their feed is full of unwanted notifications.

Don’t sacrifice a great website.

ReverbNation has the ability to create a good looking website, that is mobile and tablet friendly.  But I have a major problem with ReverbNation’s website builder.

There are only three templates, and almost no customization.

While Reverbnation’s website design and hosting is easy to set up, the lack of personalization cuts down on the usefulness of this service. You want your website to be an accurate representation of who you are as an artist, and you want it to be a place where you can interact with fans. In my opinion, ReverbNation’s sites don’t allow you to do that.

As a quick example, let’s check out one of the bands that ReverbNation uses to showcase it’s website building feature: Skyward.

reverbnation website builder

Skyward is an independent alternative rock band from Harrisonburg, VA, and I reached out to talk to them about how their band utilizes ReverbNation. The first thing I asked them about was web hosting. They told me that even though ReverbNation features the Skyward website on their information page about site building, Skyward does not actually use the ReverbNation website tool, instead they use a design/hosting platform from Wix for their homepage.  If a band that is featured on ReverbNation—specifically on their information page for site building—doesn’t use the service, that tells me that something about their web design platform did not meet the expectations of Skyward.  ReverbNation may want to update their information page with a band that is actually using them to design/host their site.

Do have a website.

If you don’t currently have a website, ReverbNation’s website builder might be a good place for you to start. Having a website with almost no customization is better than having no website at all, and if this fits your need, then ReverbNation offers a good solution for beginners.

Social media profiles, including your ReverbNation profile, are not a substitute for good website.

So if you don’t have a website, and aren’t sure how to go about creating one, ReverbNation might be a good place to start.

However, if you are willing to spend a little extra time, you can have a much more custom website with the same tools at about the same price. There are lots of web hosting and design services that have comparable prices to ReverbNation, and allow you to fully build the best website for you. I recommend WordPress, Square Space, or Wix.

Don’t expect hundreds of new fans.

While ReverbNations boasts that they have 3.5 million bands signed up on their site, they never let us know how many fans have profiles. There’s no doubt that some music fans are on ReverbNation, but is it a site that hoards of fans visit to find new artists? Probably not.

The majority of users on ReverbNation are other artists. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that a ReverbNation website will generate fan traffic and get you noticed. Try this simple test – ask the next 20-30 people you meet how they listen to music. Track how many tell you they log onto ReverbNation to find new music, I think you will find the number is small or possibly zero.  When I tried it not one of my people said ReverbNation.

If you want genuine interaction with fans, new and old, ReverbNation is probably not the place to do that.

I asked Skyward if they’ve had success connecting with new fans on ReverbNation, and their guitarist Jordan Breeding said:

I’m pretty sure no casual music fan ever hops on there, creates a profile, and then looks for new bands. It seems that most of the members are just other musicians. That limits its usefulness in my opinion.”

Do spend time creating relationships with fans

ReverbNation probably isn’t the best place to connect with fans. Finding out where your target audience communicates will help you build meaningful relationships with fans. Try Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or Patronage.

Don’t spend all your time randomly submitting to gig opportunities

There are thousands of live show and press opportunities on ReverbNation. In theory, having thousands of potential gigs at your fingertips is wonderful. But there are problems. One issue is simply sorting through them all. You have to find the opportunities that are relevant to your band that you actually have a chance of booking.

Remember, there are literally millions of bands on ReverbNation trying to compete for the same opportunities as you.

You also have to pay to submit to many of the opportunities on ReverbNation. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, if you don’t get the gig, that money is gone. So if you choose to submit to these gigs, make sure you are paying attention to the cost.

Do submit to opportunities that can genuinely enhance  your career.

When looking for opportunities on ReverbNation use your time—and your hard earned cash—well. Spend it on things that are actually going to enhance your career. Some people successfully find gigs on ReverbNation. Other artists don’t.

The guys in Skyward have had some moderate success with ReverbNation opportunities. They recommend looking for opportunities based on geography. You’re much more likely to have the chance to play at a local festival that uses ReverbNation than at a festival thousands of miles away. You always have to keep in mind that you are competing with thousands (or millions!) of other musicians. But if you’re smart about where you spend your time and money, and it might pay off!

Useful Tools

There are things you probably shouldn’t be using ReverbNation for. But it can be a great tool when you use it wisely.

ReverbNation offers digital distribution at good prices, and their services are comparable to many other aggregators.  And if you are already paying for the premium tier of ReverbNation, digital distribution is included.

They also offer a great rate when you sell downloads from their online store. Selling downloads is even available with a free membership! Musicians keep 87% of the revenue they generate from selling their music on ReverbNation. That’s quite a bit more than the 70% you’ll make from iTunes.

Reverbnation also offers a great looking Electronic Press Kit. If you need something simple, effective, and streamlined to send to promoters, ReverbNation’s press kits are good looking, easy to set up, and offer great tools like integrated fan stats. You can even see who opened your press kit, and exactly what they clicked on.

Another advantage of ReverbNation is that it keeps everything in one central location. This is Skyward’s favorite feature. Guitarist Jordan Breeding says:

“It’s definitely very helpful as far as being able to hold all of our music/videos/photos/schedule in one convenient place and then incorporate that stuff onto our Facebook and personal website. It can also be a helpful way to contact certain venues or other bands in the places where we travel.”

Thanks to Skyward for their input in this article. You can checkout their music here, and their ReverbNation press kit here.

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Apple Music and Why Taylor Swift is Your New Best Friend

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

If you are an independent musician, this weekend Taylor Swift became your new best friend. Whether you like her music or not,  you should be thanking T-Swift.

Here’s some background info:

This month Apple announced the launch of Apple Music. You can read more about the launch here.

Apple’s streaming service will require a paid subscription (no freemium like Spotify) after a 90-day free trial. About a week after the announcement was made, a contract leaked that stated that Apple Music was not going to compensate rights owners during the three month free trial.

This put the entire industry on edge, and for good reason. Three months with no revenue is never something a business owner wants to hear.

While the music industry was trying to decide what to do with Apple’s decision, Taylor Swift stepped in.

She famously pulled all her music from Spotify last year, stating that she was not okay with people listening to her music for free. And she took the same position with Apple.

Swift announced that her newest album, 1989, would not be available on Apple Music during the free trial period. In her open letter to Apple she said “We don’t ask you for free iPhones. Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation.”

Swift also declared that this was not a selfish move. She says “This is not about me. Thankfully I am on my fifth album and can support myself, my band, crew, and entire management team by playing live shows.” She goes on to say that she is speaking up for the artists, songwriters, and producers who rely on this income to make ends meet. Swift asked Apple to change their policy, stating that the tech giant has enough money to pay musicians during the free trial, even if the fans aren’t paying.

Luckily for musicians everywhere, Apple listened.

Senior executive for Apple, Eddy Cue, announced over Twitter that Apple heard Taylor and independent musicians, and they will change their policy so that rights holders will be compensated during the free trial.

This is a big victory for musicians and creators everywhere. And we have Taylor Swift to thank for that. She was the catalyst behind changing Apple’s mind.

Why Does This Matter to Independent Musicians?

Something independent musicians lack is organization. That’s the nature of being independent. We don’t report to anyone, there is no standard network we all belong to. This is a great thing because it means that musicians are free to create whatever they want, with no fear of being told what to do by a label or other third party.

But this lack of organization is devastating when it comes to effecting major change in the industry. As individuals, we have no real way to influence government policy, and no power to affect decisions that are made by big businesses.

But today, we found a voice. Taylor Swift has the fan base, the fame, the influence, and the sales record to make Apple take notice. And Taylor seems to genuinely care about the future of the music industry for everyone, not just major artists and labels.

While we can’t expect Taylor to fix everything, she just accomplished a great thing for the music industry as a whole. And independent musicians should be thanking her.

We should also be having conversations about sustainable streaming on a regular basis. People are getting used to the idea of paying a subscription for music, and as we look forward to a sustainable income model for musicians, we can use that to our advantage. Things may not look so great right now. But we are in the beginning of a whole new music industry, and good decisions— like Apple’s decision to pay artists—are helping us move in the right direction.

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Making It In Music: How to Define Success

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Have you ever gone to the grocery store and bought a whole trunk full of food, and realized when you got home that you have nothing to actually eat? You bought good food, but you can’t make a complete meal out of any of it.

Being an independent musician can feel like that sometimes. There are lots of choices, lots of decisions to be made, but in the end, what makes up a successful career?

Some people want Ramen noodles for dinner. Some people want steak and potatoes. Others may want lasagna. People have different tastes, and musicians are going to have different ideas about what being a truly “successful” artist looks like.

You have to decide what defines success for you.

Who Are You?

To determine where you want to go with your music, you need to find out who you are. Take a step back from yourself for a moment. As an artist, it can be difficult to separate yourself from your music, but in order to make some decisions, we need to take a bird’s eye view and create an objective analysis. Ask yourself these three questions:

What is my genre?

I know, this is a terrible question. You hate pigeonholing yourself. I understand. But practically, you need to have some idea of the genre of music you play, and the sub-genre you fit into.

Some genre decisions are easy. You may know without a doubt that you are a country artist. But where exactly do you fit in country? Are you Texas country? Nashville pop? Bro-country? If you’re a rock artist, are you punk?  Neo-grunge? You play folk? Does it lean more bluegrass or folk/rock?

There are hundreds of choices. You don’t have to stuff yourself into a tiny box. But having a good, descriptive genre can help you communicate with listeners, distributors, labels, venues….the list goes on and on. When you know yourself well, you can help other people get to know you. And you can make wise decisions about where you are headed.

Who is Successful in my genre?

There’s a good chance you’re already listening to artists whose music is similar to yours. Do some research on someone who you would consider successful in your genre. This might be someone like Carrie Underwood, Sufjan Stevens, Kendrick Lamar, Joywave, or Sara Bareilles. Knowing who is doing well in your genre can give you a good starting place as you try to determine your idea of success.

It will also help you be realistic about your aspirations. If there is a large audience for your genre of music, your definition of success might be broader than someone who has a more niche market. Country, pop and hip-hop artists at the top of their game regularly play arenas. A artist who makes meditation music probably won’t be playing in an arena, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t successful.

Having your dreams of a music career firmly planted in the solid ground of what’s actually possible will help you avoid major disappointments, and will give your career a foundation to stand on.

What do I want?

So you know who you are, you know what is possible, now what do you want?

This is going to look different for every person. We all have different dreams, goals, locations, resources, skills, and talents. Maybe your idea of success is as grand as playing sold out stadiums. Maybe it’s creating music full time and sharing your music regionally. Maybe it’s playing once a week at an open mic or being signed to a record label. All of these ideas of success are good goals to work towards.

Take a second to jot down what success looks like for you. It doesn’t have to be a long description, maybe it’s just a few key words. But go ahead, put it in writing.

Then put it somewhere you’re going to look at it. You might tape it to your mirror, or put it on the dashboard of your car. Remind yourself daily of what you want your career to look like.

Success in the music industry (or any industry) takes hard work, dedication, and action. When you know the direction you want to go in, you can begin to take the steps to get there.

Success in Stages

No success is overnight. If you look at the careers of many top level artists, you will see years of hard work behind current successes. If success is achieved too easily, it will disappear just as fast as it’s gained. You have to put in blood, sweat, and tears to reach career goals.

But what if your goal is miles ahead of where you are now? It might seem like an impossible task to get to where you want to be. To get to any level of success, it’s a good idea to have smaller goals leading up to the big one. This allows you to track your progress, and can keep you from getting discouraged.

Want to play in huge arenas? Start with shows in a coffee shop, or play some open mic nights. Once you feel comfortable there, and people are responding well, start trying to get shows at venues with a bigger capacity. Do you want to be a hit producer? Start analyzing songs and find out what makes them great, and ask a friend if you can arrange a song or two for them.

Small steps and manageable goals add up to create success.

Don’t Be Afraid to Evaluate

You also need to be able to look objectively at your idea of success and your goals. You need to know when they aren’t going to work. This is extremely difficult, but knowing when to back out of something that’s not working is just as important as moving forward when something goes well.

Sometimes, life just doesn’t work the way you want it to. You need to be able to step back—even when that’s the last thing we want to do—and objectively look at what’s going on. You may need to reevaluate your overarching career goals. You might just need to alter the way you are trying to achieve those goals.

I’m not saying you should give up.

What I am saying is that we live in the real world, not fantasy music land. Things aren’t always going to go exactly the way you want them to. Sometimes we are limited by circumstances beyond our control. That doesn’t mean you throw in the towel, it just means that you look for an alternate route. Detours are hardly ever pleasant, but a road is a road, and can still take you to your destination.

Being a successful musician is going to look different for everyone. Knowing your own personal idea of success is the first step in achieving your music industry goals.

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