Thursday, December 22, 2011

Crowdsourcing for Aspiring Musicians

By Musicteachers911 contributing writer, Marina Salsbury
A relatively new phenomenon among musicians that was born on the capabilities of high speed Internet connections is crowdsourcing. A PhD program level definition by Merriam-Webster describes the concept as, “the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers.” In other words, crowdsourcing uses the internet to scale projects at a level and efficiency never known before. The respected dictionary site also states that the first known use of the word was in 2006.

With traditional avenues of distribution steadily losing market share, an individual or band needs to expand their outreach to fans through innovative ways. In today’s tech-savvy landscape, fans have come to expect a more personal way of connecting to their favorite artists. Crowdsourcing offers a way to not only do so but also a way in which to tap into the creativity of their listeners.

The popularity of mash-ups is an example of how the idea can be effectively implemented. Bands such as Nine Inch Nails have reached out to their fans seeking these clever re-mixes. Posting stems of a song on the Internet, the band allowed listeners to download and mix to their hearts content. Some of the results were compelling, but by doing this they achieved an even more important goal. They have increased fan loyalty which translates into more sales.

A related track is posting free music. British progressive rock band Marillion garnered increased sales after posting a recent album in its entirety. Those downloading were required to watch a short video from the band plainly explaining what they were trying to accomplish. Other artists have reported exponential increases in sales after posting free music.

YouTube is another essential channel for today’s musician. Even simple videos engender a greater connection with fans when posted. There is also the distant promise of one’s video going viral. Don’t scoff; stranger things have happened.

A different type of outlet being utilized today is Kickstarter. Their website offers applicants a way to finance projects by seeking donations from interested parties. An artist submits a project through
their website. They offer certain incentives such as their new album for a twenty-five dollar donation. Kickstarter then either approves the project or asks you to tweak it some more. Once online, you have a deadline (set by you) to raise the amount of funds you are seeking. By harnessing the collective ability of the internet to finance large-scale projects, Kickstarter has helped many aspiring musicians self-produce and distribute their music.

Crowdsourcing is just the tip of the iceberg in outreach to fans. Other Internet avenues such as Facebook and ReverbNation are also excellent avenues to pursue. If an artist or band uses all of these to make the fans their most important resource, they will find their popularity on the increase.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Plan B?

Last night, I was to play piano with an 18 piece swing band for a local Christian radio shows remote broadcast at a local attraction, The Christmas farm. Every year this farm displays over one million lights depicting the life of Christ. The venue is truly spectacular.

The show was started at 4 pm. We were recording two broadcasts, one at 5 and one at 7 (with a short rehearsal for bumper music in between).

The first show started off great. Then, the clock struck 5:30, the time when the light displays are to be illuminated. That is when everything got very dark!

Needless to say, one million Christmas lights, a 32 channel PA, and 1000 watt radio transmitter tend to draw more than it's share of electrical power. I think I actually heard the transformer "POP" over the sound of all our horns.

So there we were, the live audience, a swing band, the radio show hosts all sitting in total darkness.

Then, a small Christmas moment occurred.

From the crowd, a tiny flame from a cigarette lighter startd to flicker. It was immediately followed by another lighting one of the hundreds of Christmas candles that were for sale in the Christmas store.

From the dim glow, I saw a very old church piano near the stage. I grabbed the music and winked at the band leader. He knew in an instant what I was scheming.

"The show must go on!" he said.

One by one, audience members entered the stage bearing candles. The church piano was so old that it had candle holders mounted on either side of the music tray. I couldn't help but wonder how many carols were played by candle light by church musicians before electricity became the norm.

Since the show was no longer broadcasting, the pressure was off as we were pretty much free to do whatever we felt like.

I started playing "Silent Night" as one by one, the horns entered improvising luscious harmonies. The crowd sang rather well and the moment was truly inspiring.

After about 20 minutes of traditional carols shared by audience and band alike, the power was restored. Personally, I was a little disappointed as this signaled we had to re-enter the 21st century and get back to work.

The shows continued, uninterrupted.

Afterwords, everyone was musing about how the carol sing was the best part of the evening.

My mind hearkened back to a time long ago in Bethlehem where the first Christmas miracle lay in a lowly manger lit by candles an ancient torches.

After forty plus years of performing, one thing I have learned is that there is always a "Plan B".

Luckily, last nights Plan B was the best part of all!

good gigging!

Larry Marra