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Artists, Please! Don’t Put Spotify Play Buttons On Your Site…

From digitalmusicnews.com

Thursday, April 12, 2012
by  paul

Please, just hear me out on this one.  Yes, the integrations look great, the songs just play. And this is perfect for music sites, music blogs, and publications like Digital Music News.  But when it comes to artist pages, Spotify Play Buttons are mostly good for Spotify, not you, the artist.  And after wading through months of intense debates involving Spotify’s artist compensation (or lack thereof), this one doesn’t seem that complicated.

Here are just a few reasons why.


(1) Your fan has arrived.


If you’ve gotten someone to your website, Facebook page/app, Twitter account, Tumblr blog, etc., you’re winning.  You have fans or potential fans that may want to buy your stuff, repeatedly.  So why not point them to something that pays you multiples more (ie, your own download, vinyl, or even iTunes or Amazon)?

Spotify pays fractions of a penny, which means you can ‘make’ more in other ways, even if cash isn’t directly involved.  For example, swapping a download for an email seems like a better deal than ‘sonifying’ with Spotify.  And remember: there’s only so much room ‘above the fold’…


(2) Other formats pay more – a lot more.


This is valuable real estate here.  So why not use that real estate to convince a fan to purchase a piece of vinyl – or better yet, a smartly bundled package that includes vinyl, and produces a multiple in the thousands over what Spotify is likely to pay you?

So, fan who’s digging my music, where shall I send you?  What should I endorse and prioritize?  Hmmm…

(btw, this breakdown was offered recently by Uniform Motion based on their receipts.  The ‘direct download’ was name-your-price, hence the lower payout than iTunes.)


(3) Spotify enables discovery, but this isn’t discovery anymore!


Once they’ve hit your page or app, they’ve already discovered you.  You’re not getting passed around in friend feeds or conversations; it’s not background noise anymore – the fan is now at your doorstep.  So monetize that fan, instead of giving a freebie advertisement to Spotify and Facebook – and pushing your fan to a platform that is unlikely to produce any meaningful revenue.


(4) And what happens after engagement?


Engagement is good and important; engagement in the form of buying stuff is more important.  And this is one of the best opportunities to upsell and monetize.


(5) There are other ways to embed streams (without the baggage).


You can easily integrate on-demand streams of your music into your site, without the strings and issues that Spotify presents.  This is now ‘off-the-shelf’ technology; and optimally the service itself is in the background – and encourages engagement with higher-revenue formats.

Your site should not be a pitch to subscribe to Spotify – which is what a Play Button ultimately encourages.  Getting subscribers is Spotify’s problem, not yours. And if they really want to convert your hard-earned fans, let them pay you to advertise.


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Record Review: “The Ghost of John Henry” by Sci-Fi Romance

From teamhellions.com/

As a child we’re all told stories that stick with us. Folk legends for most, figures like Casey famously struck out, tales of Tommy Knockers helping miners find ore, and of course the legend of the headless horseman is a familiar haunt every Halloween. One legend that stuck with Vance Kotrla of the L.A. based band Sci-Fi Romance, was that of John Henry. Henry of course, in familiar folk tales, challenged the steam powered hammer to see who could lay down track the quickest. And like the outcome of the story, this album is a stunning achievement.

Vance Kotrla has a knack for story. From the bands last album …And Surrender My Body to the Flames, the song-smith painted stunning visuals with evocative music. Here, Kotrla & Co. take it one notch further and make a folk hero human to the very core of what it means to walk around in this pile of skin. This sympathetic take, drives the record to a very emotional level, and explores themes of love, loss, and man’s place in a world that is driven by technology. Kotrla’s voice still tinges with that combination of Nick Cave and Brad Roberts of Crash Test Dummies. Here, his vocals provide a haunting backdrop for the character of Henry to thrive. That familiar acoustic sound is very much present, but added elements are here too including some bass and electric guitar. Jody Stark adds to the ambiance with a really haunting cello, and Kurt Bloom’s simple drumming is just right.

“John Henry, Part 1″ opens the album, setting the listener up for what will be a pretty sad affair. “This will be the death of me, and what will I leave behind. Will they sing my name, after they lay me in this earth” is one of the most depressing, and purposeful lyrics to come from music in some time. Henry’s past is referenced in a way, with the use of chains as a melody maker; chains representing his past as a slave, but also the forging of a new chain by the up and coming technology that Henry must do battle with.

The track “Tomorrow May Take You” is a sweet love ballad about being so grateful for someone in your life, how much you miss them when they’re gone, and appreciating how they make you feel when your with them. Expect to shed a few tears. “Steam Drill Blues” has an acoustic/electric guitar sound dueling together. If you could apply characters to these sounds, John Henry would be the acoustic, and the steam drill the electric. Henry is bound and determined to beat this piece of machinery; “it’s a job that breaks your back and soul, but it’s what we do, cuz it’s what we know.”

As Kotrla belts on the track “Broken World,” “In the cracks there’s beauty.” That really is an unofficial theme of the record, out of all this tragic story telling, the most beautiful art arises from it. Sci-Fi Romance have outdone themselves tenfold with this record, an album that achieves great heights that most couldn’t with this character. This is the best album of the year, that you haven’t heard yet.

Album Rating: star_rating(9)

Album Webstie: http://music.scifiromance.net/album/the-ghost-of-john-henry

Band Website: http://www.scifiromance.net/home.html

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/scifiromance

Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/vkotrla

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Scoring Tips for TV and Film

Composing for Film and TV

Get involved as early on as possible

The sooner the composer is involved with the production, the sooner that the soundscape of the film becomes one of the priorities for the rest of the team. Often the director and/or the producer (or even the writer right back at the idea’s conception) will have a notion of the music or sound right from the start, sometimes a very clear vision of it.


However, production is geared up to serve the picture, there’s no two ways about it, and human beings, as brilliant and ingenious as they can be, can really only concentrate on one thing at once (if they want to do it well), so sound is quite often relegated to a lower priority.


Keeping in touch puts the film’s sound front-center in their conscious minds from early on. I’m not talking about daily updates, and even if you don’t actually write any music at all until final cut it also keeps it in your mind too. It can allow your subconscious to mull over the themes, to bring up any questions about tone and purpose.


In turn, this will have the added bonus of making you more creative – allowing your subconscious time to bubble up with new ideas – and more efficient as you will have had ideas way before the deadline.


Rather than consciously racking your brains for ideas or resorting to stock phrases, it’s simply a process of getting it all these lovely, new, original ideas up and running in whatever sequencer you use (or on paper if you absolutely insist… but, to quote Toby in The West Wing, “paper’s for wimps”  <tries to find sequence on YouTube to share with the world!  Promise will find it eventually> )

 Music Marketing Ideas

Communicate with your director

On film – features and shorts – the director is king. Lots of bowing and “Yes, your Majesty, no, your Highness”.  Mostly caviar and truffles. Mostly.


Ok, maybe not, but the film is absolutely his vision, his baby, his heart and soul out there for all the world to see. If it isn’t these things then it might not be worth the world seeing. It is the composer’s job, your job, along with everyone else on the crew and in the cast, to realize that vision.


No two directors work in the same way so developing a rapport and a sense for how your director communicates and works is pretty essential if, at the very least, you want to enjoy your job.


Communicate with the editor

Having a back-and-forth dialogue with the editor is essential. When schedules are getting tighter and tighter and the deadline is looming, it’s often the case where I’ll work on sequences before the locked off cut. And what I do with the sound may then inform what the editor, under the supervision of the director, does with the scene – the pacing, the ordering, maybe even cutting a line of dialogue, and then that’ll inform my next draft and so on.


Lots of the editors I’ve worked with like to use a temporary track to cut to, that will give a rough idea of tone and pace, and that might also inform the style and speed of music that I end up writing for the final cut.


Be really clear about tone/mood/emotion

This is the core of the musical score. Pin this down in your dialogues with the director and editor and the music will write itself. If it needs to be sad, write something that makes you feel sad as you listen to it with the picture (if if the picture’s not ready yet, the pictures as you see them in your head resulting from your early – see tip 1 – conversations with the director – see tip 2).


This sometimes actually isn’t the same as writing sad (or whatever the emotion is) music, though. If you’re underlining what’s already in the scene, why write anything at all? You might not even need to if the scene’s that good  .


If the director isn’t clear about the prevalent tone/emotion in the scene, work out what’s the emotional journey through the scene, the highs and lows, the exact points at which it changes.  But I’ve found it really has to be one emotion at a time.  If you’re trying to create more than one, each becomes diluted by the other: it’s as if their emotional frequencies (sounds a bit new age…) cancel each other out and you end up with something a bit wishy-washy and generally unsatisfactory.


Be really clear about purpose

Is the music diegetic (of the world of the film, that the characters can hear, eg. on the radio) or non-diegetic? Is it there to heighten the emotion of a scene that just isn’t emotional enough on its own? Is it there to counterpoint the onscreen performances (eg. the character acts happy but the music is sad to illustrate what she really feels), to add another layer of meaning? Is it simply there to disguise a clunky edit?


These are all questions to consider, you don’t necessarily have to have answers to all of them straight away, but it’s good to put them out there and, if there’s time to play around with the sounds, experiment.  Ok… maybe this is ideal-world scenario.  Usually there’s little-to-no-time at all for experimenting so get answers to these by the time you’re embarking on your final draft of the score.


Check there’s no instruments, sounds or styles that the director really hates!

Some people really hate the sound of a harp. I don’t know why. I think it’s pretty. Or that Proteus oboe – hey Snuffy*, you know what I’m talking about…

 Tips for Band Merchandising 

Know your kit

When the deadline is looming and you’ve got a good chunk of tune floating round in your head and you’ve just got to get that genius idea down quick as possible because the director’s round to listen to it in an hour… well, you get my point. Plus it really stunts your flow if you’re constantly checking the help file, and looks really rubbish if the client’s in the studio at the same time. You gotta work fast! Time is, after all, money, and all that…


If you’re at the stage where you’re composing for a feature (and it’s paid, not a freebie for the ol’ CV) then you’re probably pretty au fait with terms such as sample rate, bit depth, digital audio file format types, omfi files, SMPTE timecode, that sort of thing, and the procedures you need to go through on your specific kit to deliver your music files to the dubbing facility. If not, there’s links to click, there’s no excuse .


This is all about setting the director and/or producer and/or execs minds’ at ease: you know your kit inside out, and you can deliver on time in a format that is most convenient and efficient for them. And so they can relax… where the music’s concerned anyways… who knows whether that distribution deal’s gonna come off…


Check your copyright

Just to be on the safe side, check what you’re actually selling them. Intellectual Property (IP) and Copyright law is a bit tricky, and if you’re in any doubt at all about a particular deal or contract it really is worth getting someone in-the-know to look over it. If you’re in a musician’s union, such as the MU or the British Academy of Composers, they have a legal service for this sort of thing if you feel you need it.


I get my publisher to have a look at it, not only because they’re incredibly experienced in this area, but it’s also in their better interest to get me a good deal on the copyright side of things as that’s how they get paid from me, through broadcast royalties. And you can’t get royalties if you sell away your copyright.


So, as general advice which I’ve learned from experience, keep your copyright and sell licenses to use the music in association with the film and its advertising.


These can be exclusive or non-exclusive (this latter one is the best kind as then you can sell further licenses to use the music to other productions), are generally world-wide (or, as really extreme back-covering, state “throughout the universe” – talk about thorough) and for the lifetime of the copyright (or “in perpetuity”).


You can even have your own draft contract ready if you’re super-organized and well-prepared.  Just in case.


The customer is always right

Within reason, do as many revisions as time and money will allow.  So long as you’ve had all the conversations in advance, everyone should be on the same page and it’ll just be instrumentation tweaks and timing edits.  And the director can change his or her mind about the direction you’ve taken, and that’s ok.


Get really clear on the new direction and go with it.  Even if you’re not entirely convinced: if the director wants more cowbell, put in loads more cowbell, really go to town on it, make it the best cowbell ever!  If he loves it, it’ll end up in the final cut and then you’ll be glad you didn’t do just a half-arsed version  .


The music you’ll cut can always be used in its current state or cannibalized for another cue or even another production; recycling is good for the planet (and your bank balance). Keep the director happy and he or she will come back for more, not just because your music is exactly what he or she wanted but because he or she enjoys working with such a professional, receptive, responsive and reliable composer .


And finally…


Whatever the project, write the best music you’ve ever done.  You never know who might be listening.


(via zimbio.com)

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Music Production Tips

Do it right.

Recording can be an expensive and even daunting process. Here are some tips to help you better maximize your time in the studio and minimize your stress and expenses. Some of these tips are universal, while others vary from studio to studio.

– Have all songs written and parts figured out and assigned before coming into the studio. Don’t waste valuable studio time and money on things you can easily do at home or at your rehearsal space. This point cannot be stressed enough.

– If you are sequencing tracks or using beats, have them ready to go on a CD or hard drive before coming in.

– Practice, practice, practice! The tighter your songs are, the smoother the recording of them will be and the better the end result.

– Prepare a minimum of 25-30% more songs than you plan to actually use on the final product. Allow yourself a few throw-aways for the songs that aren’t up to snuff with the rest of the album.

– Come into the studio well rested, clear headed, and ready to work. Recording is a physically and mentally demanding process. Bring plenty of water and food.

– Change guitar strings and drum heads the day before coming into the studio and bring extra sets of everything, including drumsticks.

– Bring in your own rig. If you are a guitarist and want to capture the sound you get from the daisy chain of your guitar, pedals, and amp then be sure to bring your entire setup in. Experimenting with studio instruments, amps, and pedals is fine if you’re not set on what you want for a sound, but put a time limit on it. Let the engineer and producer, who are much more familiar with their own gear, assist you in finding the sound you are looking for.

– If you are working with a producer, give them a demo of the songs you want to record in the studio. Discuss production ideas ahead of time, and set aside reference Cds that serve as good examples of production styles you are striving for. Map out track assignments if you are recording to tape.

-Make a budget of how much money you have to spend on your project. Estimate how many hours you think it will take to complete your project in its entirety. Most musicians grossly underestimate how fast they think they can record their project. Depending on the band, a full length CD could take anywhere from 50 hours on the low end up to 250 hours or more on the high end. Variables to consider are how much recording experience the band has, how long the band has been playing together, and how elaborate of a production is desired.

– The drummer should arrive 2 hours before the rest of the band to allow for proper set up and undivided one on one between the drummer and the engineer. Good drum tone is crucial to a good sounding record.

– After the drums have been set up and sound checked, if it is a live recording situation the rest of the band will set up and sound check one by one in an order set by the engineer or producer.

– Stow all instrument cases and other items not needed for the session either back in your car or in an out of the way nook of the studio. Keep the floor space as uncluttered as possible, and set up allotting a comfortable amount of space between band members.

– Wait in the control room while each member sets up individually and is given their sound check. Keep talking to a minimum to allow the engineer to focus and hear everything that is going on in the soundcheck.

– After everybody has been soundchecked, a headphone soundcheck will be conducted. In a similar fashion, the engineer / producer will proceed one by one inquiring what each person needs in their headphone mix.

Tips for Building a Website for Your Music

– Mentally block out all of the microphones and gear surrounding you. Stay relaxed and play naturally. Put emotion and feeling into your performance.

– Stay focused. The studio is an expensive place to party. Refrain from drinking and other recreational activities. Don’t invite guests to your sessions – they will only serve as a distraction and may try to inject their opinions. Avoid unnecessary phone calls. Stay focused on the task at hand.

– Do more than one take of every song, but limit it to 5 takes. Odds are if you haven’t hit the performance you are looking for in 5 takes, you are not going to. Move onto another song and come back to that one if time allows.

– LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN! When you think you have a song in the can, come into the control room and listen to each take of it before moving on. Do not assume a take was good enough without listening to it just because “it felt right”. Get the sound and performance you are looking for. Don’t assume that you can fix things in the mix.

– Tune up in between each take.

– Consult with the engineer and producer before recording with effects.

– Defer to the engineer / producer in terms of recording process and performance quality. They are much more experienced in a studio setting than you are and have finely-tuned, objective ears that can hear things you may miss (i.e. flat notes, bad chords, tempo changes, etc.).

How to Become a Record Producer

– Bring in Cds that you like sound of for references.

– Mix at a moderate volume.

– Don’t mix on the same day you record.

– Keep chatter and noise to a minimum. Listen attentively to what is coming out of the monitors. Don’t distract the engineer and producer or one another.

– Take small, five or ten minute breaks between songs. Go outside or to another room where it is quiet to give your ears a break.

– Mix down sessions should be limited to 8 hours to ensure your ears stay relatively fresh.

– Listen for random noises, such as lip smacking, foot tapping, digital “crumbs”, etc. These annoyances will be amplified when compression is added. Listen for them with headphones and remove them as you discover them.

– Listen for the overall balance between instruments. Think about the song as a whole. Not every instrument can be front and center. Mixing is about compromise. There is a natural tendency for musicians to want their own levels to be raised even when it may not be what the song calls for. Do what is best for the song as a whole.

– If the entire band is present at mix down sessions, appoint a spokesperson to be the liaison between the band and the engineer / producer. Discuss your mix ideas amongst yourselves before coming into the studio and convey them to the engineer at the beginning of the session. Work out differences as a band, and don’t put the engineer in the middle as a referee.

– Trust the engineer / producer! They are much better trained to mix your record than you are. Don’t expect to get each mix right the first time around. Bring home Cds of your mixes and listen on as many different stereo systems as possible – especially boom boxes, moderately priced home stereos, and car stereos. These are the places people are most likely to listen to your CD. Experiment with different volumes, but be sure to include low, soft volumes too. Make notes of your observations and bring them with you to your next session so you can tweak the mix. You may have to repeat this two or three times before you end up with what you consider the perfect mix.

(via offthebeat-n-track.com)

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Carpal Tunnel & Repetitive Stress Injury in Musicians

If you can see your skeleton and it glows red where the pain is, that's bad. You should probably see a doctor.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is one of a class of injuries called RSI’s (Repetitive Stress Injury). It’s true that typists and computer users are often affected by RSIs, but so are factory workers and anyone else who performs repetitive actions in their job – including musicians.

In general, the injury occurs over time, when you have forced your hands or arms into unnatural contortions over and over again. Nerves and tendons become irritated and extremely painful. At first, the pain only occurs when you are doing the repetitive action, but as the damage increases, the pain can become chronic, severely limiting your motion.

It’s important to know that injuries like Carpal Tunnel are cumulative. Once you begin to feel pain while playing your guitar, you need to make changes to prevent further damage. People with advanced RSIs have been forced to change careers, no longer able to work without pain, and causing a serious and costly problem in their lives. Imagine never being able to play because of the pain.

So what to do if you have begun to feel some intermittent pain while playing? It’s a good idea to scrutinize your technique, and see which motions seem to be putting stress or tension on your hands or wrists, and even your shoulder. It’s unnatural to your body’s anatomy to perform repetitive tasks using your wrists and hands, but not using your upper arms (tasks like typing or playing an instrument). The long nerves in your arms can be irritated, especially at the joints. You need to refine your troublesome techniques by slowly retraining yourself to play with less binding hand positions. You also need to stay in decent shape, so take up some mild exercise if you need to strengthen your body. Once you are using correct form, your pain should disappear. Just make sure not to over do it by keeping your practices to a modest amount of hours.

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If you already feel the pain even when you are not playing, things have unfortunately advanced to a more serious state, meaning you have caused more damage to your nerves. You should probably see a doctor at this point. RSIs of this caliber are extremely painful and hard to recover from. My injury, caused from working on the computer, advanced so far I was in constant pain day and night for several months, and was afraid I would no longer be able to do this sort of work. (Thankfully I was able to heal well enough to continue, but it was a long process).

I’m not a doctor, but here are some things that will help:

1. Keep your hands and wrists warm. Your movements will be smoother and less troublesome if you warm the area up before working. Warm water, blankets, heating pads, etc. will help you keep warm. Another favorite of mine is to fill an old sock with uncooked rice and tie the end shut. Heat in a microwave for a minute or two. Makes a great hand warmer. (Also great for stiff muscles).

2. Sometimes an ace bandage or wrist brace from your local pharmacy can help you avoid painful motions, used during work or other activities.

3. Try to balance your repetitive motions with activities that use your upper and lower arms, as opposed to just your hands and wrists. I used to go out and sweep my garage floor with a broom several times a day. The long sweeping motions helped heal the pain and balance the workout load on my nerves.

4. Be careful taking pain medicine to keep working. It may stop the pain, but it will not stop the progress of damage you are doing to your body. In fact, numbing the pain can lead to increased damage if you play longer than you should because you aren’t feeling it.

5. Use hydrotherapy. One thing that helped me tremendously was a hot tub. The combination of warmth, free movement, and massage really helped me treat the painful areas.

6. Some people swear by herbal supplements for treatment, and others end up going the route of surgery to remove the pressure on their nerves. Hopefully, you will use proper technique and avoid such a serious situation.

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The bottom line is, RSIs are serious, and as a musician, you are a prime RSI candidate. You also have a lot to lose if you are afflicted with a serious RSI. Use common sense while playing, and in your daily life. Be aware of how you are positioning your hands and wrists, and correct positions that create pain, tension, or stress. Make sure to allow rest periods and other physical activities to balance out your load and keep you flexible. Above all, don’t try to bully your way through once you have pain. It won’t work. You have to let the nerve heal, and continued work will cause continued irritation. Once it heals, you can go back to playing, with improved technique to avoid future injury.

(via indie-music.com)

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How to Treat Your Music Like a Business

If you plan on making a living out of your music, you need to treat it like anything else you would make a living out of; a business. Here is how:

Ok, you really don't have to wear the monkey suit...

1. Promote – If you don’t believe in your music, don’t think anyone else will either. Get the word out! Do whatever it takes to get your music to people, do whatever it takes to get bodies in the door. I know you don’t want to hear this, but no one is as good at promoting your music than you and unless you’ve got a lot of money to pay someone else to do it, the responsibility falls on your head. Here’s the be all and end all of the music business: the bigger your crowd is, the more people will want to work with you. Period. That’s it. Others can help you reach a larger audience, others can help get your songs to their audience and expand yours. You can never go wrong if you’re working towards making your community bigger. And it doesn’t matter where you’re starting from, whether it’s a few people who are listening to your music online to a thousand people in a nightclub. Keep working on building your crowd, it’s the most important thing you can do.

2. Treat everyone involved with your music like the people you treat at your day job – This should be an easy one, but it’s not. Would you just not call someone back if they called you at work? Do you check your spelling in email at work? Do you get wasted at work? No. Music is and should be fun, but remember, there are people counting on you to put on a good show. Treat other musicians, bookers, clubowners, and waitstaff with the same courtesy and respect you’d treat your co-workers. For the night you’re playing together, they ARE your co-workers!

3. Copyright your songs – you’re probably already doing this as Broadjam members, but protecting your intellectual property is important. And chances are you’re a member of ASCAP or BMI, you never want to miss out on royalties! (Extra credit if you’ve set up your own publishing company!)

4. Set your group or yourself up as a business. Usually LLCs are the way to go. An accountant or lawyer can help you out, but with a little research, it’s not that hard to do it yourself. This is worth doing even if just for the tax breaks. New strings? Tax-deductible. New keyboard? Tax-deductible. There are tax laws designed to give new small businesses a better shot of making it and also to help you out with getting more of a refund from your day job. If you’re not doing this you’re leaving legitimate and legal money on the table. Don’t forget, you’re going to have to set up a bank account for your business before you can set up the LLC.

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5. Do you have a band name or a unique performer name? Trademark it! I learned this the hard way and lost a band name I really liked. You’re working hard to develop your reputation, don’t let someone else take that name recognition away by having the same band name as yours and making it legally theirs before you do.

That’s all it takes to make it official. Give these steps a try and you’ll see a difference right away, even if you just start with steps 1 and 2 by promoting and acting professional. When you treat your music as a business, others will treat you with more respect and they’ll take you more seriously. Don’t believe me? Play rockstar to an empty club a few times, you’re not going to get asked back and you’re not going to feel very good about yourself. If you want to play in the basement, that’s fine. But if you want to go out there and make a name for yourself, then you’re a small business owner now. Embrace it, enjoy it, get out there, and be awesome!

Music Production Tips and Tricks

(via broadjam.com)

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