Category: Taking Note

Taylor Swift, Spotify, and the Musical Food Chain Myth

Taylor Swift, Spotify, and the Musical Food Chain Myth

By Doria Roberts Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

by Doria Roberts
© 2014 Doria Roberts/Chatterbox Blues

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” –Alice Walker

I cannot tell you how happy I am that the conversation about Taylor Swift and Spotify is happening. Maybe people will start listening to what independent artists like me and my peers have been saying for years now.

A little background…

For those who don’t know me, I’ve been a indie musician by choice for 22 years. In 1999, I was chosen to perform at Lilith Fair and quit my day job the following Monday. I attracted several major labels, but ultimately, I walked away because I felt the industry was not going to be supportive of me, the business model was almost laughable for a new artist with little leverage and an insidious law called the Work For Hire Copyright Law had been passed that year, which prevented copyright ownership from reverting back to artists and remained with record labels in perpetuity. Like, that means forever. Luckily, Sheryl Crow and Don Henley went to Capitol Hill and had it repealed, but, by then, I was determined not to be become a cog and had committed to my full time life as an artist.

And, you know, I had good run of it…

Fast forward to 2008 when everything was crashing. I don’t think people think of artists being affected in a failing economy, but we were. Gas prices were sky high as were flights so expenses went up and venues started paying less because fewer were able to come out to the shows because they were broke, too. And, for the first time in all my touring history my American dollars lost value going into Canada. It was sobering to say the least.

In the years preceding this, I saw a slow but very deliberate decline in my music sales, which was more than just supplemental income, it was nearly half of my income. So, I stopped touring full time to assess the situation and come up with solutions.

The only solution I found that allowed me to stay true to who I am an artist was to stay put—which brings me to today.

Life As An Artist Now

Like clockwork, once or twice a week since I stopped touring full time in 2008, I get asked when I’m coming back to XYZ. And, like a broken record once or twice a week, I’ve had to say I can’t afford it. I’ve had to explain that not only have physical CD sales been down, but also the digital money I used to get from legal downloads all but disappeared. Instead of getting weekly payments ranging between $200-$750 from my distributor, I started getting an average $11.36, once a month from all streaming services combined. Yes, $11.36/month is what I get from all of them. That is not a sustainable business model for a truly independent artist.

While carefully building and maintaining a social media connection with my fan base and doing mostly one-offs in some of my bigger markets, I decided to do a full regional tour in 2012. And, while I am grateful to the people who came, I had miserable turnouts at most of the shows. In Buffalo, where the temp dropped to 30 degrees that night, I cleared $14 once the door was split with the venue. In Philadelphia, where I started my career, I lost upwards of $1,500-2,000 on one show because only 12 people showed up. It was the night of the Presidential debates, something I couldn’t have known when I booked the show months before. But, I still had to pay the venue, their door person and sound person, pay my band, pay for their hotel room and mine for three nights so we wouldn’t have to stay in NYC, paid for their flights (along with baggage handling fees for my cellist’s cello), my rental car, gas and food for myself and the band (breakfast, lunch and dinner). Same with DC where the venue wouldn’t even allow me to officially charge a door fee and where some people (my fans included) opted not to pay one even as a requested donation.

This is my reality and the reality of the many artists you care about.

I’m sorry if you think so, but music is not free. It costs money to make and it costs money to support via touring. It’s a “life cycle”. This “life cycle” is how I used to get my CDs out and how I used to see my fans two to three times a year in some places. It worked like this: Fans would come to my shows, they and their friends would buy my CDs, and then I made another CD and went on a another tour, and so forth and so on.


All the money I made went to bills, touring, promotion and creating new music and so I had to keep my overhead low. No new cars (I had and still have my ’78 Volvo that I bought for $600 in 1996), no new shoes or clothes and I lived in a small 425 sq ft apartment for 12 years. 12 years. That’s how I did it. It’s not a sob story. It’s not a mystery or a marketing ploy. I am a working class artist. There is no rich-uncle-wizard-behind-the-curtain type situation here. This is how it goes when you make tough decisions to be true to your life and your life’s work. I have no regrets.

But, I’m seeing a lot of chatter about Taylor Swift and her supposed “greed”. If you’re saying it, you’re probably saying it because Taylor is already wealthy. But, what about artists who aren’t? If you or your friends are indeed one of those people, I challenge you and them to go to work for a year, bust your butt, do a good job (maybe even a great job) and then accept half of a year’s pay (or less) from your boss. I further challenge you to pay your bills and keep your other financial commitments from that pay all while keeping your enthusiasm for your job—which is kind of essential for you to even do your job.

Go on. I’ll wait…

As indie artists, for all intents and purposes, our fans control our careers, the ebb and flow, trajectory and course. For example, if I hadn’t raised enough via Kickstarter to do my last project, a tribute CD to folk legend Odetta, there wouldn’t have been a new CD to this day. Period. No new CD in eight years even though I was able to release six projects on my own before that and have enough music for about four or five full length CDs right now.

Another example: I haven’t been back on the road since 2012 because I assume my fans don’t want to see me or can’t afford to see me in NYC, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Buffalo, NY and Charlotte, NC. Because of that, I can’t take a financial chance on Chicago, Seattle, Portland, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Austin and the like. And, just forget Canada, France, Sweden, Japan or Australia altogether. I’ve remedied this by doing online shows on a platform called StageIt and this has allowed fans as far away as Vancouver, Taiwan, Germany and Boise, ID to see me play. It works, but it isn’t ideal.

The point is, we haven’t just “given up”. It’s not that we don’t “want to” do it anymore. It is, painfully and honestly, simple math that mostly prevents me and others like me from doing what we do.

Think About This For A Minute

Before the comments section gets flooded with snarky retorts, like “get a job”, I will say this:

First, I have a job, one that I’m fairly good at and one that I’ve had for 22 years (or over half my life).

And, second, what if Bob Marley or Bob Dylan, Kurt Cobain or Joni Mitchell or Mozart, Frank Zappa, Joan Jett, Diana Ross, Prince, or Aretha Franklin had actually listened when someone (undoubtedly and repeatedly) said to them, “get a job”?

What would your life look like?

What happens to the first dance at your wedding to that special song, the one that made you realize you loved her? Or, the song you hum to your baby because it’s the only one that makes him less fussy? What would you be distracted by in an elevator ride with your creepy co-worker who wears the same shirt every day? Or, what would you focus on when a dentist is drilling a hole the size of the Grand Canyon in your head? And, how, pray tell, would you know when Jaws or Jason or Darth Vader is coming so you can yell your futile warnings at the screen?

Okay, granted, those last few examples sound frivolous but they’re serious considerations to make when you consider how music plays an integral and inseparable role in your life, from the mundane to the momentous. How it can be both ubiquitous and precious. That’s something to protect. That’s something to respect.

How To Make The Future Better

I want to tell you something: as a consumer and a fan, you are at the top of this food chain, not the bottom. You are not subject to the whims of popular culture; you are the arbiter of it. If you want to see less “fluff” in the music industry, if you want to see your artists remain authentic, creative and prolific beings and, if you want them to come back to your hometowns:

  1. Start buying our music again. Digital, hard copy, doesn’t matter, just pay for it. If you can pay $4 for the coffee you’re only going to drink once or $15 for a blockbuster movie you’ll see once, you can pay $9.99 for something meaningful that you’ll have forever.
  2. Stop using streaming services that only pay us $.0006 per listen if you don’t already own our music either via a legal download or a hard copy. Educate yourself. If you think the profits that oil companies make are obscene, I urge you to do some digging about what some of these streaming companies are really about.
  3. And, this is important: Set your DVRs on your favorite show nights and go to our concerts. If I had a dime for every time a person told me they weren’t able to make my show because it was the finals of DWTS/American Idol/The Voice, I wouldn’t be writing this post. I’d be sitting in a bungalow in Costa Rica sipping something fruity and delicious.

Simple solutions sometimes require difficult choices.

Oh, and this goes for independent movies, books, indie/feminist bookstores, small venues, and small businesses, too.

Just know this: You have the power to change the cultural landscape around you. Use that power wisely.

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Taking Note: Taylor Swift and Spotify

Taking Note: Taylor Swift and Spotify

By NationWide Source Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

We like to stay up-to-date on music industry news. It would be foolish not to. We get daily reports from a number of websites and news conglomerates, and there are certain terms that we track. This can mean that when something big happens, we hear a lot about it in a very short window of time.

Yesterday, we heard a lot.

What Happened?

Simply put, an artist chose to remove her back catalog from a streaming service.

It probably happens quite often, although not nearly as often as artists announce that their music is now available on streaming services. But, judging by the flood of news bulletins in our inbox and trending topics on social media and legit news sources, yesterday’s announcement was a little different and a big, BIG deal. So, what is the difference?

Well, the artist in question is Taylor Swift.  And the streaming service? Spotify.

That’s right. Spotify has neither Taylor’s newest album, which debuted last week and was never offered on the streaming service, nor any of her previous albums available for its users.

Whether or not you personally are a fan of her music, it’s hard to deny the enormous success and even larger fan base that Taylor has. If those fans can’t get Taylor’s music on Spotify, they might start looking somewhere else for Taylor’s music… which could be cause for alarm for Spotify and could explain their efforts to bring her back.

There’s abundant speculation about why Taylor Swift has removed her back catalog, including an alleged effort to boost her label’s sales figures before the label makes itself available for purchase. We don’t want to speak for the songstress, though, so we’ll allow her words from a recent article in the Wall Street Journal to speak on her behalf:

“Piracy, file sharing and streaming have shrunk the numbers of paid album sales drastically… Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is. I hope they don’t underestimate themselves or undervalue their art.”

Taylor, we couldn’t agree more.

Why You Should Care

We’ve said before how we feel about streaming music, but we’ll say it again. It’s great for fans, since they get often customizable and sometimes unlimited access to music for free or almost free. Based on the fact that Spotify and Pandora have struggled to turn a profit, and that Pandora attempted to have Congress enforce lower payments to artists, we’d be reasonably safe to argue that streaming services are an unprofitable, unsustainable business model. Yet, these services are still around. How are they surviving? Well, someone is picking up the financial shortfall. And that someone is every musician who gives his or her music away on these services.

Yes, those are the same musicians who spend hours writing the music and lyrics, weeks rehearsing and perfecting the songs, time and money recording, mixing, and mastering the album, and then pay more to market and promote their newest releases. Musicians—whose gifts and talent result in the product (music) that streaming services need—are paying to get their music on the service, only to wait on hundreds of thousands of streams (if not more) to recover their investment. While not free, the payments to musicians are so low that the music might as well be free. Additionally, since streaming also impacts their ability to sell music to fans, musicians struggle to recover financially.

Why do musicians give away their product for almost nothing? We hear a lot of reasons: In hopes of exposure. Because everyone else is. Because it’s what is expected by their fans. Because their labels make them. Because they don’t think there’s another way.

But there is.

What You Can Do

We think it’s insane that musicians let others profit off of their hard work while they struggle to make ends meet and debate continuing what they were born to do. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Like Taylor Swift said, we think that, “Music is art, and art is important and rare [and] valuable.” With that in mind, here are some changes you can make.

  1. First and foremost: stop sending sales and profits to everyone but yourself! Sell your product on your own website, or on a platform that doesn’t rip you off and does share your own customers’ information with you.
  2. Stop giving it away! If you want new listeners to explore your music before they buy (how kind of you!), offer previews of songs (meaning, not the whole song) or music videos on your website. Or, exchange one valuable item for another: one of your songs for your fan’s contact information. If you feel that streaming is a necessary part of your music marketing plan, then try posting just a single song or a small sampling of your work. Hopefully, this limited sampling will whet the appetite of listeners, who will then come to you to purchase your music.
  3. Believe that your music, and the time and energy you’ve put into it, is valuable. You can’t ask your fans to pay for something if you don’t see value in it. They aren’t just paying for a file, whether digital or on a piece of plastic. They’re paying for your creativity, your time, and your energy. If that means nothing to you, it will certainly mean nothing to them.

While Taylor’s motives for pulling her music from Spotify have yet to be seen (if they ever come to light), we can only hope that other artists will see some logic in her actions and decide to take their career and their livelihoods back into their own hands.

The question now is what will you do?

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Taking Note: Communicating with Fans

How To Find and Keep Fans: Taking Note of Shakey Graves

By NationWide Source Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

­Often, communicating with fans is like walking a tightrope. If your balance tips ever so slightly to one side or the other—too frequent, too seldom, too polished, too sloppy—you lose them. They get annoyed, or forget you, or feel like they’re being spammed with smarmy marketing, or just don’t take you seriously. Finding that happy middle ground is a struggle.

So, when I saw an artist put out an amazing letter to his fans, I sat up and paid attention. Then, I decided to share it with you.

About the Artist

We’ll take a minute to introduce you to Alejandro Rose-Garcia, aka Shakey Graves. Understanding who he is as an artist makes it easier to understand where he’s coming from in his fan communication.

Shakey’s music is a fusion of folk, blues, and rock, at once familiar and distinct. His lyrics—packed with emotion and evocative imagery, and weaving fantastical stories—capture basic elements of humanity: love, lust, hope, despair, bitterness, folly, rage, regret. His voice is haunting and soft one moment, then rich and impassioned, then gravelly and road-weary.

The same shifts in his voice are reflected in his songs, which slip from one tempo and dynamic to another. He changes pace and volume, dropping off just when listeners think the song is about to peak, then building it all up again. What a way to keep listeners’ attention!

Most musicians sing or play an instrument, or do a little of both. But this guy? He takes it to a whole new level. Often playing as a one-man band—handling the guitar and vocals and a (likely homemade) kick drum/tambourine combo, conveniently packaged in an old-fashioned hard case suitcase—Shakey brings his music to life. He embodies it, far more than any other musician I’ve ever watched. As he carries out these four parts of his songs, his body sways, his hands slide, his fingers press, his head nods, his legs dance, and his feet tap. There’s not a single part of him that isn’t contributing to the performance. It’s mesmerizing to watch.

To recap: he’s young and talented, he’s pretty damn unique, he knows when to drive it home hard and when to gently caress with his music, and he can handle four parts at once. Impressive.

In July of this year (late July, appropriately), Shakey sent an email to his fans. Calling it a newsletter or press release doesn’t do it justice. “Love letter” might paint a better picture. EDIT: The letter is no longer present on his site, be we discuss the importance of it below.

Know Your Audience

There are two ways that Shakey does this.

First, the letter is intended for an audience already familiar with Shakey. He wasn’t trying to reach people who hadn’t heard of him, he wasn’t trying to impress the general public, and he wasn’t trying to make a pitch to a team of venture capitalists about the profit margins and sustainability of his career. He was simply reaching out to people who had supported him previously.

These are people who had attended his shows, people who had bought his music, people who likely listened to his songs until they knew every dip, crescendo, tambourine crash, guitar lick, and hushed lyric. Some are intimately familiar with his work; some are likely just casual listeners. But none are strangers, and all are supporters.

He addresses that audience with an appropriate degree of familiarity. By no means is it a formal letter or a lifeless sales pitch. Like a letter you’d get from an old friend (if people still sent letters, that is), it exudes personality, a sense of shared history, and camaraderie. Not only is his tone casual and friendly, but he directly acknowledges the role that the reader has played in supporting him.

Second, he actually knows his audience. He knows their names and email addresses, knows that they’ve purchased his music before, knows that they are likely more interested in updates from him than some random person on the street. They aren’t random likes or followers on some social media network (although many probably do like or follow him); they are actual contacts. At some point (likely the point of sale) he gained each fan’s contact information. That is extremely valuable data, and requesting it was an incredibly wise move for him to make. Putting that data to use (by sending this letter) was an even wiser move.

Tell Your Story

Shakey’s songs tell stories. His lyrics paint pictures, and there’s a natural ebb and flow that his lyrics, dynamics, and tempo build. Those same characteristics are present in the first half of his letter.

The beginning of his letter focuses on expressing gratitude and fortifying the previous connection that the reader had with Shakey’s music. He thanks the reader, reminds them of their previous help, and then says exactly why he’s thankful for their support: “[it] has allowed me to survive,” “[it] has been essential in my understanding of what is most important as I navigate this terrible and glorious industry,” “[it is] enabling artists like me to help lead that charge.”

The next paragraph tells readers what Shakey has been up to. He launches into his story with words suggestive of bar stool retellings of epic legends: “Since the days of recording Roll the Bones in various living rooms on questionable equipment…” It’s a fanciful way of saying “I know my first album wasn’t necessarily recorded or produced as well as it could have been,” and it segues nicely into his next thought: “I turned my Austin home into a studio.” So, that’s what he’s done with the money from supporters! Good! Not that questionable living room recordings don’t have a charm of their own, but converting your home into a proper studio shows a good amount of dedication to your craft. That implied dedication is confirmed by the final thought of the paragraph: he has new material.

Take Care of Business—Without Being a Gold-digger

This letter isn’t just to thank supporters and wax poetic about their shared history. (Although, personally, I don’t have a problem receiving those letters from him.) Nope. Shakey has a purpose for writing, and he is sure to include it.

Shifting to the present tense (and out of storytelling mode), Shakey announces that he has a new album in the works. He discusses the album’s anticipated release date, its merits (full platform, bigger sound, more collaboration), where it can be ordered (with a link), and why it should be pre-ordered (there’s a digital download as an incentive). He also lists new tour dates (again, with a link), hoping that fans interested enough in his music would be willing to come see him perform.

It’s a lot of information to present to fans in two short paragraphs, but the way the words pour out and rush each other along suggests that the writer was brimming with excitement over finally being able to share this huge news with others. Like someone who’s ridden a new rollercoaster and gushes to his friends about how awesome it was and how much fun they’ll have when they ride it together, he’s thrilled about this and wants to share that feeling with readers. That excitement keeps this announcement from reading like a smarmy, greed-driven, lifeless, and boring sales pitch.

Be Yourself

If you’ve seen him perform, watched video of his concerts, or read his updates on his website or social media profiles, it’s hard to get the feeling that Shakey’s an elitist musician. He seems pretty casual, down to earth, and genuine, full of admiration for fellow musicians and with a healthy mix of humility and confidence in his craft. His letter reads the same way.

There’s a good dose of Texas slang: “Howdy, y’all”. To keep things casual, he uses informal, even improper, language: “I really really really couldn’t have done this without your support.” By sharing his personal feelings, the letter has a sense of intimacy and sincerity: “from the bottom of my heart”, “allowed me to survive”, “I am thrilled”, “I hope you are as excited as I am”, “You keep me flexible, motivated, and sane (ish)”, “for that I am forever happily in your debt.” There’s a bit of self-deprecating humor in his jabs at his previous recording process and, at the end of the letter, his sanity. However, the acknowledgement of changes in the industry and his efforts to “lead that charge” erase any doubt of him being another industry lemming; there’s fire and passion in his blood, and a good head on his shoulders.

Argue with the style or errors all you want. The letter comes across with life in it… specifically, the life of this Shakey Graves persona. That’s hard to do, yet so important.

Please don’t mistake my admiration of his style and music for idolization. I know Shakey isn’t perfect. For example, although I’ve been a fan since the beginning of the year, that July letter was the first contact he’s made since my initial purchase. That’s not ideal. (Although since that letter, I’ve received another, so he’s improving in that aspect!) Nor do I expect his music to be everyone’s cup of tea.

But this letter? Flaws and all, it’s a shining example of striking that balance between commercial and genuine, formal and fun, sincere and stylized. For those reasons, I thought it worth sharing.

P.S. – Shakey, if you happen to read this, our door is open. Fort Worth isn’t too far away from Austin. We’d love to have you stop by!

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How To Get 20 Million Views: Taking Note of Meghan Trainor

How to Get 20 Million Views—Taking Note of Meghan Trainor

By NationWide Source Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

Two months ago, Meghan Trainor was an unknown songwriter. Even today, she isn’t a big, established artist… at least, not yet. But, if her first single’s smashing success on YouTube is any indication of the future of her career, she will be.

Trainor, a 20-year-old singer-songwriter, is the artist behind the single “All About That Bass.” The catchy pop tune stands tall on its own merits, but the accompanying music video is pure brilliance. And audiences seem to agree. The video, which was released on June 11, already has over 21 million views. Not too shabby for an artist’s first single.

So, what’s the big deal?

You Could Learn a Thing or Two from Trainor

This performance stands out because it has hooks in the video as well as a social message that connects with a large number of fans, not to mention that it also creates a little controversy. The hooks have to do with the unusual way that Trainor portrays herself and the other performers in the video. Not just the fact that they are happy with their size and shape, but some of the unexpected things that happen in the video. They also turn the tables on “skinny” people by using humor, casting, and choreography to make their point.

Take a moment to view the video. I’ll wait.

Done? Good. I bet you noticed Sione, an example of casting brilliance. He is over the top with his dance moves, and he adds a dimension of depth and fun to the video that has helped to propel it into a huge number of views.

Still from "All About That Bass"

After viewing the video, are you compelled to share it with someone else? If so, then you begin to see how a video can go viral.

Note that it does not matter why you want to share it, just the fact that you do. This important point is quite often lost on musicians who make their career in music. Launching a video that is well done, but not compelling, is not enough. By compelling, I mean: what does the viewer feel compelled to do after seeing your video? If the overwhelming answer is to share it with friends, then you have a winner. Otherwise, as a good friend of mine would say, “You have a double handed death grip on a loser”. The world is full of music videos that go nowhere, and they cost just as much to produce as a compelling video. Learn to let go of the loser before you start… or do what it takes to turn it into a winner and then hang on tight.

The song “All About That Bass” by itself probably would not create the kind of buzz necessary to get 21 million listens. It is the entire package—the song combined with the video—that knocks it out of the park.

But let’s face it: video can be expensive. It would be fair to say that an inexpensive songwriting/performing/video-creation endeavor could easily cost tens of thousands of dollars. On the other hand, indie musicians are a very creative group used to working with very few resources. So, why not figure out a way to write and shoot a compelling video without a huge budget? It takes a combination of talent, flexibility, planning, funding, and desire to make all the parts work together smoothly, even more so on a small budget. It is not for everybody.

Let’s take a closer look at Trainor and her video; then, we can explore what indie artists might do to leverage their music in this same way.

What Trainor Does

Trainor writes about a very of-the-moment issue (body image) and has a positive message.

Body image issues are nothing new, but they have become a much more public issue in recent years.

Social media sites have turned into a battleground over women’s bodies. Memes proclaim that “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”, incredibly thin models are lifted up as ideals (after being photoshopped into even more idealized versions of themselves), and women with “extra” weight are publicly ridiculed for their weight and their choices (in clothing, in food, in living). On the other side, there is backlash against “thinspiration” and excessive photo editing, heightened awareness about the dangers of eating disorders, and encouragement to be healthy and to love yourself as you are.

And that’s where Trainor’s message lies. She sings:

“I see the magazine, workin’ that Photoshop. We know that shit ain’t real. C’mon now, make it stop. If you got beauty beauty, just raise ’em up, Cause every inch of you is perfect, from the bottom to the top. Yeah, my mama she told me don’t worry about your size… I know you think you’re fat. I’m here to tell you every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top.”

Now, Trainor is, admittedly, not a size two. The girl has some curves. She also doesn’t appear to be unhealthy or overweight.

But her weight and shape aren’t the issue, nor are they the focus of her message. Her message lies in her acceptance of her body for what it is. It’s not a skinny beautiful body. It’s not a fat beautiful body. It’s simply her beautiful body. And that message is something that girls everywhere—maybe people everywhere—need to hear. And, as an artist, Trainor does a good job of leveraging this topic by producing a compelling song/video combination.

She stirs up a little bit of controversy.

If you read the public comments on Trainor’s video, you know what I’m talking about. There are a surprising number of hateful comments on a video that has such a positive message. (Well, maybe not surprising, if you’re used to the internet.)

But don’t assume that some negative comments mean Trainor and her message are unpopular. Less than one tenth of one percent (0.001%) of the people viewing the video have taken the time to comment on it publicly—some comments are good, some are not. And for every “thumbs down” on the video, there are almost 22 “thumbs ups”.

Most importantly, a huge number of people have been compelled enough by the video to share it with others. That is all that matters.

Every part of the video—the concept, the casting, the styling, the shooting, the editing—is extremely well done.

The video’s concept is simple: reinforce the song’s message by showing people comfortable in their own skin having fun and loving themselves—regardless of their size, shape, or age. There’s no complicated storyline to confuse the viewer, nor is it simply just another music video of a performer singing their latest release on a stage.

The casting is impeccable. Trainor’s message isn’t limited to one group; it’s for everyone. It’s appropriate, then, that the people in the video are different sizes, shapes, ages, and genders, and they all look like they’re having fun, dancing and shaking whatever they have (or don’t have).

Still from "All About That Bass"

What This Means For You

Trainor is 20, and she’s new. She seems to be pretty talented (especially considering she had a songwriting contract at 18 and an artist contract at 20). She has a label that is obviously willing to invest in her, and she has an extremely talented team working with her.

Your situation is probably different. You might be starting your career in music, or you might have been at it for a long time. You’re likely talented and creative and have music ready to release or that could be re-released with better promotion. You probably have a loyal local fan base, but you’d love for it to be bigger. You’re probably wondering how to branch out—how to get bigger and better gigs along with more visibility.

Given that you’re in a different situation than Trainor, what on earth could she and her video possibly teach you about your career? Plenty.

Songs that strike a chord with you will probably strike a chord with others.

In a behind-the-scenes video, Trainor says, “My producer and I wanted to write a fun song… Why not do a song about loving yourself and loving your body? Because I don’t think girls love themselves as much as they really should. I think girls will really relate to it.” In an interview with the Today show, Trainor says that this is an issue she has struggled with personally. That personal experience and conviction help Trainor come off as a credible source on the subject, which means it’s easier for her fans to relate and connect with her.

What does this mean for you? Well, first, you don’t need a team of professional, award-winning songwriters to write a good song. You can leverage your own life experiences, just like Trainor did, and create music that reflects who you are.

Second, you should try writing about something that resonates with you on a personal level. Pick a topic that moves you, or an experience you’re intimately familiar with, and tell the story in a way that takes listeners along for the ride. If you connect with the song, it increases the odds of your listeners connecting—both with the song and with you.

Most importantly, consider whether that connection will cause your viewers to share the video. Get creative with the process, and be sure to create a hook, something in the video that will make fans take action. Without a hook, it will not work.

If you want a second opinion, try playing the song for the rest of the band, an impartial friend, another musician, or a songwriting group. Be open to their feedback and criticism, and genuinely consider what they have to say. Even if you don’t make the changes they suggest, the advice might come in handy on future songs.

You don’t have to be a superstar to get lots of good attention.

Before this release, Trainor was relatively unknown. She might have had a small local following, but she certainly wasn’t a household name. So, how did she get so many views?

Simply put, Trainor thought outside the box—with her message, her styling, and her casting. Her positive message is on a topic that few artists address. The styling of Trainor’s video is surprising (in that it’s rather different from most other videos out there), but it’s wholly appropriate for the song. In Trainor’s video, Vine sensation Sione makes an unexpected appearance, which helps create a hook for fans of the video because of his unique style. Sione’s 440,000 fans (yes, you read that correctly) on Vine probably headed over to check out Trainor’s video, and I can guarantee that some of Trainor’s viewers headed over to Vine to find out more about the dancing man. Both artists benefited from the collaboration.

That type of collaboration doesn’t take a label or tons of money. More importantly, thinking outside the box doesn’t take a label or tons of money. To be a successful independent artist, you must be creative, flexible, and resourceful; a ton of money to fund your project is not required to make this work.

This might mean you tell your song’s story from an unexpected angle. In Five Seconds of Summer’s video for “She Looks So Perfect”, the characters in the video strip down to their underwear. This in itself is a little surprising (but fits with a line in the chorus). What is unexpected is the type of people who strip down: highschoolers, a store clerk, a middle-aged mom, a cop, a grandmother, a pair making eyes at each other in a diner. Basically, everyone but the young and fairly attractive band members. It’s not just young, fit, beautiful people stripping. It’s everyone. This is the hook for an otherwise unremarkable video that now has over 67 million views.

As I said at the very beginning of this article, Meghan Trainor isn’t a big, established artist… yet. I think she’s incredibly talented, and I think she has a talented team helping her. I’m extremely curious to see how she follows up on this first single. Only time will tell.

As for you, the indie musician with your own style and talent and career, I want to know what you think of Trainor’s video and what you’ve learned from it to use in your own career. What’s your next move?

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