Are you a musician? Is your group having issues? Ask Fan Landers! Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist, and is the author of The Girls' Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her -- confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.
Dear Fan, I'm in a weird spot with my music "career." I have a label that's actually willing to put my stuff out, but the last album barely broke even. I don't tour and I don't even have a band with which to play local live shows. Since I'm doing this as a hobby at this point, I'm inclined stop releasing music on labels, and to put my stuff out for free on Soundcloud or Bandcamp in the future. Some of my buddies argue that doing so devalues music and would contribute detrimentally (in spirit) to a declining music economy. How do you feel about artists like me releasing their stuff for free?
When I've released individual songs for free in the past, interest in them is much lower than the albums that I've done (and sold). What do you attribute this to? The lack of paid publicity, or do you think people are less likely to pay attention to singles than albums? Is releasing singles (even for free) every month or two less advisable than saving them up for one album every two years?
Signed, Keep My Name Out Of It
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Dear Mr. Keep, You know what contributes to a declining music economy? Bands that let little labels sink a bunch of money into releases they are not going to tour around or promote. They might as well just take two grand in bills and evenly distribute it in nearby trashcans for the squirrels to find. Maybe they are just scared of what this prospect says about their career--you are a name, collaborated with some names, have had accolades. I understand big picture what they are saying, but the logic is faulty. Do some people being all freelovin' on the open market skew everyone else's ability to settle down or get married? No, because the people who wanna get married get married regardless of other possibilities. Don't let your peers slut shame you into making CDs. There is a hole in the bucket, and you putting out CDs and charging $14 won't fix it.
My thought is that putting up $5-8 or, jeez, even $10 downloadable albums on Bandcamp is more reasonable than making a real world CD or album--and reasonable is good. I think it's better to be a bargain, and have your music be accessible and easy to get to, to be real about things than to hold out for the impossible, on principle. You can recoup your costs and then there isn't the guilt of having a fucking palette of CDs sitting in your or someone else's garage. You might even make some money! Go figure. What I would suggest is that a trickle of stuff is good, or to publicize (via your site/Twitter/Facebook) that you are embarking on some new endeavor where you are going to release X songs in X period of time via this X platform. (Bandcamp? Tumblr? Mime troupe?).
Doing themed releases is easy publicity--who doesn't love a gimmick a la Death Grips or those states albums Sufjan Stevens hasn't bothered with. A little something to perk up ears, pique some curiosity--that'll help to let people know you are gonna go hard in their digital marketplace.
If you can't commit to that, then there is nothing wrong with doing a single or two a year and an album when you can. You are taking the reins, you decide. Hire a publicist to send some press releases for you if you go with a series. If you feel ambitious, do a month of a proper PR campaign with an album release. Or save yourself the hassle and tweet the link to everyone in your press kit. This is your oyster, you get to decide how fucking high-maintenance of an oyster you want to eat. Peace, Fan