Marketing Your Music: Interview with Rick Goetz Part 1: Getting Signed, Email Etiquette & Licensing
Throughout his music career, Rick Goetz has been a major label A&R representative, a music supervisor, an artist manager, a reality show producer, a bass player and the head of a digital record label. Rick has lots of helpful content on his blog Musician Coaching, and is one of my favorite industry people around, because as you’ll see, he’s a straight-talker who doesn’t pull any punches. In Part 1 of this interview, we discuss why bands still want to get signed, how to send emails to industry professionals, and Rick also offers some insight into getting your music licensed.
Q: Earlier this year ReverbNation released the results of a survey that showed that 75% of indie artists still want to get signed to a record label. As someone who has a background in the label world, I’m curious to hear your thoughts. Did the results surprise you? In an era with social media, easy digital distribution, and an abundance of direct-to-fan tools, why do you think so many artists still want to get signed?
Surprised? I think when I initially got back in to working with artists in 2009 I was surprised that this was the pervasive feeling among musicians in the digital age. By the time that survey came out I had become all too familiar with what most artists were looking for. MusicianCoaching.com started in August of 2009 and right around that time when researching what music business related keywords were most often searched in Google I was shocked to learn that keywords relying on outside help far out numbered keywords that suggested self-reliance. This hasn’t changed. For example, today (December 13th, 2011) “How do I get a record deal” gets searched for 110,000 times per month while “How do I market my music” gets searched for 480 times per month. “Where can I find a music manager” gets searched for 165,000 times per month where as “How to promote your music” gets 6,600 searches per month. You could argue that these are only 4 different terms but by all means go on Google Adwords Keyword Tool and look for yourself. It indicated to me that people were more interested in outside help than self-reliance. To be fair- there was this unspoken promise of the digital era that said every musician would have a chance to be self sustaining through direct to fan that (of course) never really came to be. Fame and success are what they are in music because they are (and always will be) rare commodities.
The underlying message I took away from the keyword research though is that most people think the idea of being a rock star is great but they don’t really understand what goes in to it. Notice I said “people” rather than “musicians” – there are too many people who are really just people who plunk around on a guitar rather than “real” guitarists or people who scribble poetry in a journal and sing in the shower who consider themselves “real” singers. However you define what a real musician is I think the take away here is that our overnight success culture is one that has sold us on the idea that anyone can be a musician and anyone can make it but it has left out the years and years of study and persistence that usually goes into becoming a success. I guess the overnight success mythology is just a much better story for journalists than the slow grind. No one remembers that Hendrix played sideman gigs for years before going solo or that Peter Frampton was on the road for three years straight before recording “Frampton comes Alive”. People look at the end result and just forget those things.
It’s weird, right? Shows like American Idol perpetuate this mythology too. If you think about it they show the public less than an hour’s worth of performance footage before handing someone a record deal and they don’t really elaborate on the journey of honing their craft that got them there. Worse still- they deify people in the music business as judges who hold artists’ fate in their hands. In the real world there are very few people left who can allocate millions of dollars towards the marketing and promotion of a pop star and waiting for someone like that to appear in your life (rather than doing your best to market and promote yourself) is akin to handing an investor a business plan that says simply “Buy lotto tickets with initial investment and win.”
Why do so many people want to get signed? I think it stems from a global cultural problem that alters our perception of reality that is fed to us and reinforced by mass media. I think people gravitate to the idea that there is some kind of quick fix. It’s in the way we (all of us) think to look for the path of least resistance. What most people don’t realize is just how difficult things remain even after getting signed.
Q: Speaking of email, many artists do email record labels, managers, etc. asking for help. What’s your advice for artists who write emails to people in the industry?
I have a ton of advice on this – people often screw this up and they don’t have to if they put a bit more time and thought into their approach.
For one – I’d avoid the form letter. I’m not saying that some of what you send people isn’t going to be the same (or even a straight cut and paste) but you’d better have language in your letter that is custom tailored to the person you are sending a cold email to. A specific reason that you are contacting someone is a good start. What do you want, why specifically are you contacting this industry person and why should they care? You need to answer those questions in a concise manner because a form letter about your thoughts on your own level of talent is going to fall on deaf ears.
Remember that playing music is a potent drug and nearly everyone who plays is under the influence. We might not always be the best judge of our own music and as such people who are gate keepers (or what I like to call people who sit behind a desk where dreams go to die) are used to hearing how great people think they are day in and day out. If you want to impress someone – do so with tangible accomplishments. Mention who you’ve played with, how many tour markets you do well in, social network numbers, testimonials for more established musicians or synch placements you have gotten. If you don’t have much to talk about it might be too early to contact the person or company you are targeting. The industry wants to know that other people think you are great and are putting their money where their mouth is. Your own word doesn’t tend to hold up.
Another common mistake musicians make is throwing themselves at the industry. If you take a tact that you want to know someone and see what their company is about- it’s a much stronger position than making the assumption that whatever company you are writing to is the best possible fit because they work with large artists (or whatever the case may be). It’s really off-putting to people getting these emails to consider that the person contacting knows absolutely nothing about them personally or professionally but is out of the blue proposing an ongoing business relationship. It’s creepy. This would be like seeing an attractive stranger across the room and then tearing off your clothes and charging at them. Be aware of healthy boundaries in your business life too.
You have to remember that at some point we all (myself included) are going to have to reach out to someone we don’t know to advance our careers so it’s important that you develop this skill as soon as possible.
Q: You have an extensive background in television, and you’ve also featured some great interviews on your blog about music licensing. What is your advice for artists looking to get their music licensed on TV and in film? Do they need to have an agent? Work with a placement company? Do the abundance of free/open-to-all/non-exclusive music licensing sites work for indie artists?
“Extensive” is being a bit kind but I’ve done some work in music supervision for commercials and dabbled in reality TV. I think people should selectively try out a few of the non-exclusive placement companies. It’s rare that they turn up a placement relative to how many submissions they get but it can’t hurt since most of these companies don’t have much of a barrier with regard to the time it takes to register or submission fees. I know musicians who do quite well without an agency and those who have started monetizing their music by building relationships as junior producers at large music / jingle houses. It’s almost 100% a relationship business getting your music placed. The most important thing is that you meet music supervisors and even editors and approach them without any hint desperation. You might laugh but someone coming at you like their life depends on you using their music is a bit... well, it’s a bit scary.
In Part 2 of our interview with Rick Goetz, he discusses digital marketing strategies, music streaming services, and has some choice words for social media experts, so stay tuned for that.