Sunday, June 25, 2017

Widen the Target

Whether you are an artist or songwriter if you are reading this, you have probably been working towards a very pointed and exact target: Christian music. So when we work on our music we tend to write specifically in this genre. We work very hard to follow the rules, to write what we have heard, and to do it very well. The problem is that we sometimes write a very similar message and style over and over again. Perhaps the problem is not what we are trying to do, maybe it’s that we are aiming for too small of a target.

What I mean by this is that we write for the very tiny, tiny genre of contemporary Christian music, or gospel music and maybe we are painting ourselves, our music, and even our ministries into a box. Maybe we are not using our full skill set and growing to the best of our abilities because we are trying to write only for the small target of what is or would be popular in the Christian market.

The Fallacy of Christian Radio

Despite the fact that Christian radio is very hard to compete in anyway, most Christian songwriters and artists think that this is the pantheon of success. And so they write songs to compete with the other worship and Christian pop songs that are on the charts right now. The funny thing is not many people can or will work towards the quality it takes for radio. More so, they don’t write the kinds of songs Christian radio is even looking for.

The other big problem with Christian radio is that it really doesn’t reach the lost – only the believers. So is your goal just to write songs that will be enjoyed by other believers? I mean there’s nothing wrong with that I guess. But again, it’s a very small market. Can you do more?

Are You Really Going to Tour?

For years we have operated with every artist that they can tour to reach the lost, and to sell CDs and make back their album budget.

The truth is that it’s very hard to book yourself into events, especially if you are not doing it full time. So the act of contacting churches (which really don’t need more music) is quite mystifying and downright scary.

The Scary Low Digital Return

Anyone who has released music to digital sources like CDBaby, Spotify, and iTunes can tell you, you won’t be making rent payments with that money. Sure these numbers change when you have major radio play and touring, but as we outlined above that’s just not in the cards for most.

So what do we do? Maybe it’s time to consider some new options, and it might be time to make our music more accessible. I’m not saying lose your faith folks, but I am saying we need to be smarter on what we are writing, who our audience is, and our real goals of reaching the world.

The Dreaded Crossover

If you remember back in the 90s it was the time with Amy Grant and Michael W Smith were crossing over into pop (some would say secular) music. At the time, there were detractors and supporters on both sides. But no one can argue that Amy Grant widened her audience.

After all, reaching the lost is really our main mandate. The Great Commission does not say go where Christians are and play music that they will be comfortable with. So maybe writing some of our music that can be played outside the church isn’t such a bad idea.

Now, secular radio is even harder than Christian to try and get traction, but I’m not talking about radio necessarily.

The Hard Share

How many times have you wished you could share your music with your friends only to realize if you did it would be a hard conversation or perhaps uncomfortable situation you were not ready for. I’m not saying God did not call us to have hard conversations, but sharing with people at work, or family, or strangers is very difficult when you don’t know their where they stand as a believer.

Writing something and creating something that is more than just Christianese gives you the ability to reach a much wider audience with your message. Sometimes that can mean we have to be a little stealthy. But that allows us to get in doors that we could never get in with our normal message, which can sometimes offend ears that aren’t ready to hear it.

Reaching a Bigger Audience (And a Bigger Return)

Another area that is hard to get into and reach for Christian artists is the world of the film, TV, commercials, etc. Since most of this business is done in Los Angeles, it’s a hard sell to get a Christian song or even a song by a blatant Christian artist through the process that will get their music into a project. This is another reason to think outside the box when you are writing your songs.

This is another reason to think of a new way to say a message of faith, or love. Maybe a way that could be construed by a Christian audience as Christian, or by secular audience as just more positive faith and love.

Now I understand many of you may see this as being disingenuous, or even a cop out. But if the point is to make this a career (read: make income) and to really reach the world for God, then maybe we have to open up our box just a little bit.

Maybe your next song you can use ‘you’ instead of ‘Jesus’. Give the song a chance to reach a wider target of listeners. Believe me, God will not get His feelings hurt if you don’t use His exact name in all songs (besides those are our words not His.)

Just some food for thought. Would love to hear your comments below.

Have a great week!

EC

Eric Copeland is president of Creative Soul, a company that helps Christian artists and songwriters move to the next level in their careers. For more information on how to get started with us, click here.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Perfect Record Deal

It’s that elusive thing that most artists dream of. The perfect recording deal that will give you a stunning project, propel you to radio, and jump start your music ministry.

But no labels are signing. Even if they did, you aren’t sure you’d want them to own you, or your music, or your money!

You could pay for it yourself, but you don’t have the money to invest in the whole thing. Plus, you’d own it all but music isn’t really bringing in much money unless you tour relentlessly, so the investment doesn’t seem that smart.

So what would a perfect record deal look like? Would you know it if you saw it? Let’s define the aspects here:

A Trusted Brand

Sure you would trust Word or some other large Christian label, but what about a name you’ve never heard of? Some “guy” who says his label is a thing but you can’t find anyone who’s ever heard of it? Or the claims are so outrageous that’s you raise an eyebrow?

If it’s not a large label, it should be a company that you can see their track record, you can hear the work they have done and know that it is outstanding, and you can talk with other people on the label to see what it’s like to be part of the label family.

The Money

Well this is always a problem isn’t it? How do you get things started when either you don’t have money, don’t want to spend the money, or don’t know if it’s a good investment to spend the money.

If someone else is paying for it, you may be beholden to them, and have to forgo ownership or rights to the music and how it is handled and used.

There is no real good answer to this unless there is a way you don’t have to pay for it out of your pocket, and yet still have some control and can make money from the sales and master. (Maybe there is…read on.)

Control Over Content

One of the upsides of paying for a project yourself is that you really have complete control. If you aren’t careful you can really make some bad decisions, or ones that are based in your own inexperience. But you still get to make exactly what you want, even if that’s not exactly what the industry or fans want.

On the flipside if you are signed to a label, they may want to control most of the decisions based on what they need to do sales wise or marketing wise. While they will want you to be yourself, they still will lean on their own experience and expertise. And since they are paying a pretty penny for all of the production and marketing, and basically gambling that they will make their money back and/or a profit, they get to do that.

Photos, Design, Duplication

These are things a lot of artists forget about when they hire a producer or some company to help them make music. Unless you work with a company who is experienced at doing all of these things as well as producing a premium product then you may shoot yourself in the foot by putting out something that does not look professional.

Of course record labels are used to these things and count them as part of the project automatically. They know who use that will make the artist look as good as they sound. Experienced labels and some production companies have gone through countless photo shoots, designs, and duplications.

Website and Social Media

Again, these are things that artists don’t necessarily think about when they are thinking about making a record. They want to make music and put it online but they do not think about the world of online marketing that a website and social media provide.

Of course these are things you can kind of do yourself, but you can also look very amateur if you’re not careful. This is where a label or an experienced company comes in again with the team to take care of all this.

Back End

Who gets what at the end? Is it important you control the master? Do you get to have 100% of sales? Do you get to sell CDs but whatever you want to?

If you are paying for everything yourself, of course all of this is usually a resounding yes. You own everything and can sell it for 100% profit.

If a label owns the recording, they say how it all works. This is where they make back to their investment.

(Personally, I don’t see how owning the master itself is that important. If you were given a fully produced and manufactured CD with full rights to sell it for whatever you want and all the income from it online, would it matter if you did not own the master? Just something to chew on.)

Radio and Marketing

These are things that artists dream about, but having the right information about how they really work it’s a totally different thing. This is where having a label or company behind you that knows how these things work is important.

What if…

So after looking at all these things, is the perfect record deal to do it yourself, or to have a company do it for you? These are all things you have to know and think about to make this decision.

What if there was something in between? A way for you to not have to pay for a project, but not have to give away all the sales and back end? What if you could be involved with a trusted company that could do all the things the label can at a very high level?

Creative Soul Records is looking for a few artists to try out a new unique system called Creative Soul Records Premium. It’s not going to be for everyone, and there will be work for an artist to do. To be honest it may not even be something artists want to do, but we think it is a new way that can help Christian ministries get started and get their music out there.

For more information on this click here.

EC

Eric Copeland is a music producer, songwriter, creative company owner, and is always trying to think of new ways to help Christian artists succeed. For more information on what he does for Christian music artists and songwriters go to http://www.CreativeSoulOnline.com

Sunday, May 07, 2017

5 Excuses for Music “Meh”

meh
informal

exclamation
1. expressing a lack of interest or enthusiasm.
“Meh. I’m not impressed so far”

adjective
1. uninspiring; unexceptional.
“the songs just came out … meh”

I hear all the time from folks who feel like they have been taken, or ended up with a bad project, or worked with the wrong person. They lament the fact that they made the wrong choice in producer, studio, or just in someone they trusted to help them well musically.

The music just sounds…meh.

Now there are many reasons people make these decisions and end up unhappy, and sometimes feeling downright scammed. So here are the things I hear most from people after they went down roads.

“But they offered me a record deal!”

I know of a company that for years sent “record deals” by email to any artist who contacted them. The company quickly got several thousand dollars from them with promises of putting in “tens of thousands of dollars” themselves, promising online marketing, and other grandiose things.

They then proceeded to leave the artist with a usually under-produced album, stick them on their site, and call it a day. The artists, never fully happy with the production, usually came to us saying they wish they had not gone down that path. But hey they were offered a “record deal”, and that doesn’t happen every day (well, except with that company I guess).

Record deals don’t happen because you send someone an email. After years of talking with A&R friends of mine at large labels like Word Records, I know that they only sign artists after a long period of building a relationship. Furthermore, if someone signs you to a real record deal, THEY will pay YOU, not the other way around. They usually offer some kind of advance against sales, and a way for you to make income as an artist.

Best advice: If it’s not a major label offering you a legit deal looked over by lawyers and working on for months by both sides, it’s likely going to be a headache.

This is not to say that an artist paying someone to produce their record is wrong, it’s simply another model. You can sign a production contract, and you as the client will pay for production. (And FYI, even if an artist is signed and the label makes them a record, the artist is STILL paying the label out of their sales and royalties.)

“But they had a big name, or had won Grammys!”

Make sure you know the exact role they had in that shiny Gold Record they have on their walls at the studio. Anyone involved in a project can buy one of those plaques, or get a certificate to frame. It doesn’t matter if they were an exec, or an assistant to the assistant to the engineer. Listen carefully to the previous recordings of artists they have produced recently, before you start paying them to make music for you.

“But they said I was an amazing, “anointed” talent!”

I bet they did. They probably also told you they only had “one spot left on their roster”.

I do know that people feel very differently about what they hear. One producer may like something, and one A&R guy doesn’t care for it. In many cases (for production companies or producers) the tendency is to take anything that comes in the door, mainly because smart studios don’t say no to work. This is not inherently wrong. I’ve been producing most who knock on my website door for decades since I come from the production studio model.

The scary thing and red flag is when some producer or “label” comes to you out the blue and says they think you are “anointed” and “special”, and then asks YOU to pay them. That is straight up scam time. We don’t do that, and most of the engineers, players, and other producers we know in Nashville definitely don’t do that. We wait for people to find us, contact us, or inquire about our services.

Unless we see you live and in person, meet you through an acquaintance, or are otherwise moved by something we see, we will not contact you looking for business. It’s just wrong.

“But the price was so low!”

Of course it is. In almost anything in life, you get what you pay for. A Hyundai isn’t a Mercedes. And many times these companies know if they can get a few grand, from a lot of people, they can make out quite well.

Or, you have someone with limited experience doing things for nothing or for free. The dude in his basement with Pro Tools, the fledgling studio in your hometown, or the retired musician who does this as a hobby. They could all be super nice people, but the price usually will dictate the quality you will get. (Although this can work in reverse with the “Grammy winning team” who says they are worth $5,000 per single. Hint: It really doesn’t cost $5,000 per song!)

“But I didn’t know anyone else or any better!”

And this is the one that I hear most often. As the police say, Ignorantia juris non excusat or ignorantia legis neminem excusat (Latin for “ignorance of the law excuses not” and “ignorance of law excuses no one” respectively.)

We don’t quite believe it’s your fault that you don’t know what to do with your music and ministry, so we work very hard with blogs like these and free advice, phone calls, workshops, etc. to make sure people know what they need to know to be prepared.

In fact, while we will continue our popular Artist and Songwriter Development Workshop held at Word Entertainment in Nashville, and our other critiques and consults we’ve been doing for years, we are more devoted than ever to making sure you make the right decisions for your music and ministry goals.

We have been singularly focused for more than two decades on helping the independent Christian Artist and Songwriter find success and do God’s work. That’s why we have always offered for you to email us, call us, and talk with us for free.

Be careful out there, and if you have any question about music and ministry, give us a call, an email, tweet, smoke signal, Morse Code…

Have a great week!

EC

Eric Copeland has tirelessly worked for music ministries for over 20 years, and gets really mad when people are taken advantage of in pursuit of their music goals. His goal with anything Creative Soul produces is Heck yeah! Not meh. For more on what Creative Soul does, read through our site at http://www.CreativeSoulOnline.com and contact us with any questions.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Funding Your Music Ministry

We’re moving towards something new this year. Something big, and so I have been carefully charting a course to get us there.

So far this year, I have presented the “The State of the Music Ministry Business”, a report from interviews with people in the Christian music industry as well as artists out there trying to make ministry work. Also, I explored “The Forgotten Why” of why we minister with our gifts.

Of course at some point, the thing everyone is trying to discover (in an age when any music you make is worthless as far as it’s intrinsic value to the consumer) is where do you find money to pursue your music?

The Label Way of Funding


It used to be if someone wanted to be a Christian recording artist in the late 20th century, and they wanted to get out and minister to a large audience, that person had to be signed to a large record company. The labels were the only ones who had all the networks. They had the radio networks, the distribution networks, the touring networks, and the marketing networks. They also had all the top producers and were about the only way to record a quality album. Moreover, they had the MONEY to make it all happen. And to some extent they still do.

But being discovered, even with Star Search in the 1980s, to American Idol, Youtube, and The Voice in recent years, has never been easy. Still only 1% or much less ever get signed, and even less than that have successful, lasting music ministry careers.

The Indie Way of Funding

The other answer, especially over the last 15 or so years, was for artists to fund their own expenses and do everything themselves. That means finding a reputable producer, spending or gathering the funds to pay all the expenses of making a new recording, finding all sorts of people from photographers to designers, and a way to make CDs.

Then it became about selling your music to recoup your money, and hopefully make a profit. This is exactly what record labels do. They make records they think are great and then hope to make money from that music.

Up until a few years ago, there were actually online ways to make money with music, even if downloads brought in less than CDs. The problem now of course is that streaming has decreased online sales to a trickle (mainly thanks to the labels…yep they have that network sewn up too!) So the only way to make any income off music is to go out and play. But planning a tour, or even knowing who to call also takes time, and also funds for travel, pay to play, and other things.

Which now brings up the penultimate question, how do you spend money making music if you can’t make the money back? I’ve written blog posts before that stated we shouldn’t be ministering with the constant goal of making money. But the reality is that it does take funds to make this whole thing work from contacting anyone to help you get started, to making music, to getting the music ministry out there.

We have really struggled with this through the years. Being a studio based operation it was always easy to charge for finite services like recording, or mixing. Even the production of a full music product can be done in a service format. There is a product at the end, and you could hold in hand something tangible that your money paid for.

But consulting, or marketing, or managing, these are things that are not very tangible. Anybody who has hired a publicist or a radio promoter (which neither promise anything other than they will try) know how intangible these services can be. So it’s hard to charge for the services, and it’s easy for people to say “Oh, you shouldn’t spend your money on that!” But then offer you no other way to move forward.

A Future Way of Funding?

I think the answer to finding these funds is similar to the way a lot of you have probably already tried, with some degree of success. You’ve seen it in people who do Kickstarter, IndieGogo, or other campaigns, raising support for a project or event from people they know and don’t know.

Support from benefactors is not only the future for artists no matter what your specific creative talent, but it has been the past as well. Fund raising has been at the root of classical music, church activities, and other artistic genres like jazz for centuries. Even with the record industry machine that developed in the 20th Century, fundraising, support, or whatever you want to call it has been behind the scenes helping art survive for a very long time.

Now if you’re thinking that fund raising is just one more thing you’re going to have to add to your arsenal of music and ministry duties, well you might be right. But your other options are hope to win the lottery, or pay for it yourself. And if you have read this far you likely have not had much luck with either of those options.

To this end we are trying some new things this year, first we are introducing a new company called Creative Heart Ministries. Think of this as a way for you to get started and dip your toe into the world of fund raising.

We have partnered with a company called Artists in Christian Testimony International, based in Brentwood, Tennessee. This is a company I have worked with throughout my career helping music ministries, as A.C.T. Int’l helps music ministries take donations that are tax-deductible.

You can find out more about what we are doing at our website CreativeHeartMinistries.org

Through this website you can find supporters to give tax-free donations towards beginning your ministry. We also have a scholarship fund that you can either join or donate to that will help people who need to speak with someone and work with someone they can trust, but don’t have the funds yet to get started.

As it is every year, it’s a struggle and a job to keep up with the best way to help music ministries move forward in the current world that we live in. So we are going to appeal to the better nature of the people who support us, offer them a tax free way to donate to ministries, and see if we can start something wholly new in the music ministry business.

We would welcome your thoughts in the comments below on how you think this might work, your concerns, and your ideas.

Have a great week!

EC

Eric Copeland is president and lead producer for Creative Soul, a Christian music ministry development company in Nashville, TN. Our goal is to build amazing ministries, and get them out and working in the world. Interested? Read more about us on this site. Or contact us now with questions!

We also invite you to check out our new non-profit side, where you can work with us via donations made in your name. Go to CreativeHeartMinistries.org

Sunday, December 18, 2016

What We See Out There

In a few weeks to open the year, we will be doing our “State of the Christian Music Industry” blog and PDF eBook. This will be a report in a way of what we have heard from the major labels, mid-level labels, and others throughout the Christian music industry. Some of those interviews are still going on.

But before I do, I wanted to share some preliminary things we are seeing in the industry from our side, especially in the strange year of change called 2016.
The More Things Change

“Things do not change; we change.” – Henry David Thoreau

What I am starting to see is despite the move from CDs, to downloads, to now streaming, nothing has really changed. Well, except sales. It used to be people had to buy a record, tape, then CD to hear music (other than the radio, and that’s the next topic). The surprising stat is that people are consuming music as much or maybe even more than they ever have. It’s everywhere. It’s not worthless, but we may have to think of it another way.

Moreover, live music being performed for people has never been more popular. This is not a change, from like….ever. Music has always been consumed en masse in live settings.

Even though there has been a whole century of recorded music that has seen an industry rise, stumble, and now get back on somewhat even footing, there has always been live performance. Every artist still judges their success not by how much they sell, but how busy they are. They are informed by how much demand there is for them as an artist.

So things have never really changed, even in the 20th century from the phonograph all the way through streaming in the 21st century. It still comes down to how much people come to see you.
Radio Rules

Yes, I can’t believe it either. But traditional, terrestrial radio is still THE thing that labels seem to invest in the most for the promotion of their artists. When you think about it, it’s not that hard to understand. I have a 2016 vehicle that still defaults to the radio, even if my fancy Bluetooth or USB cable is interfacing with my phone. So many times, if the station I have as default is playing what I like, I’ll leave it on.

And I’m a music person, who cares every second what my ears are hearing. Moms taking kids to soccer, or folks going to work who don’t “live” music like the rest of us are just happy to have something on. They don’t care what it is. So, when the new Lauren Daigle song comes on, then sure they are happy to give it a listen.

Since the labels are so focused on the Top 30 radio stations and networks, fighting over it against themselves, there is no room for indies. We still lose out on that game in the major radio audience. But there may be a market and way to reach other smaller radio stations. It just costs money and is very hard to know what you’re getting for your money. And it may not matter without touring and…

Publicity and Marketing


These are also areas of the industry that have changed…but not changed. Sure, there is Twitter, and Facebook, and Instagram, and YouTube, and they have changed the way we get the word out there. But are they really any different than TV commercials, junk mail, or ads in newspapers? All the social media tools are just current delivery systems. One day even they will be replaced by holograms, virtual reality, or some other thing.

The thing that never changes is there still must be a story. There must be something unique to tell about the music.
Less is More

One change we are seeing is the trend that in this new culture of streaming and less sales, artists are choosing to do singles and smaller projects like 5 song EPs more. We have noticed this trend at Creative Soul and are trying to serve it.

Now, it may still make perfect sense for traveling or busy artists to do full projects with 10 songs. They simply sell better at your table than EPs or singles.

Well, that’s enough for this post. But we have more info coming. Stay tuned. Follow this blog to the right, or join our mailing list for more current info and opportunities.

Have a great week!

EC

Eric Copeland is president and lead info hound at Creative Soul, a consulting, production and marketing company devoted to building and supporting Christian music ministries for over 25 years. Find out more about us at http://www.CreativeSoulOnline.com

Monday, October 31, 2016

Why a Web Site Matters

If you are a musician, artist, songwriter, or doing any kind of business in music and ministry, you probably know you need a web site. It’s one of the first questions I ask any artist/songwriter that comes to meet with us, mainly because it’s a good indication of how serious they have been with their music to this point.

Your web site is your home base. Even if you have a Facebook Fan Page, dedicated music Twitter account, or Instagram, your web site trumps all of them. It’s how the world finds you.

“On the Web we all become small-town visitors lost in the big city.” – Alison Gopnik

After we finish a project for any artists, one of the first things we do is get to work on the web site. We use the same graphics from the album, and we configure for some basic pages.

Home Page

This should be a one stop page for anything someone may need to know about your music and ministry. It doesn’t need a hundred options, and shouldn’t have that many. It will have your graphic identity that you’re presenting with your music (your CD art, or art for online distribution). It will also have quick links to social media accounts, a brief bit of text announcing who you are, and a menu for the following.

Bio Page

This is the story of your music and ministry. Many people just want to know who you are and where you came from. What was the impetus for you to start making music, and why should they listen to you? This is where your story takes center stage and why we work so hard from day one to help you craft that narrative.

Music Page

Well, duh. What good would a music web site be without music? We can put either a Soundcloud player or CDBaby store widget here so people can sample the goods.

Photo Gallery

You likely spent a good amount on your photoshoot, why not show off those great shots? You could even have two galleries, one showing your studio shoot, and one featuring shots of you live and with fans.

Blog

If you are so inclined, a blog that features regular posts is really nice and keeps people coming back to your site. You can also use this part on the home page so that your site looks fresh with consistently posted content.

Store

This is crucial just in case anyone wants to actually buy a CD or download. We also guide people to your music on Spotify or Apple Music if they are looking for streaming options.

Contact Page

This may be the most important part of a web site, a page where people can contact you and book you for gigs, or just tell you they appreciate your ministry.

There are other optional pages like video, testimonials, and perhaps a schedule page if you get busy enough. But the main point is to provide a central hub where people can google for and find you, your music, and your ministry.

You may be wondering if Facebook or Twitter is enough. I’d have to say they aren’t even close to what a good web site can mean for your music and ministry.

“Create a website that expresses something about who you are that won’t fit into the template available to you on a social networking site.” – Jaron Lanier

A web site is the way to get your music out to the world. It certifies you as a legitimate music ministry business, and in this day where most people look everything up online, it’s more than crucial.

Have a great week!

EC

Eric Copeland is the president of Creative Soul, a music consulting, production, and marketing company for Christian artists and songwriters. If you’d like more info, we happen to have just updated our web site and you can start here for how we get started with artists!

Monday, September 19, 2016

2 Easy Steps to a Long Music Career

I recently shared a warm beverage with a young man who is absolutely killing it by booking and marketing his band. He said his goals were to be doing this in twenty years. I said, “You know how you do that?” He asked how. I said, “You keep doing it for 20 years.”

Millennials like this young man are very talented, very driven, and extremely ready to get going with their career. They have been online since they were born, and have gathered information from around the world via computer their whole life. They are smart.

But sometimes they don’t understand that even though they have advanced knowledge, that doesn’t lead to having an instant career. You still have to put in the years of work like everyone else who has had a great career has done.