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Entities

It takes a village.

Real, and virtual. Here are the parties involved at this stage of getting an album out:

  • the band, of course;
  • the “back office”, which handles (mostly physical) project management and finances and coordination;
  • the (physical media) distributor;
  • related to them, the production company that presses the vinyl and prints the packaging and so on;
  • the graphic designer for all the artwork (packaging, liner notes, book);
  • the photographer;
  • the translator;
  • the press text writer;
  • the yet to be signed digital distributor (though we know who it should be);
  • the publishing company, which is also our iTunes/Apple Music contact;
  • the press agent (for print media & online counterparts, primarily for the German-speaking region of the world);
  • the digital PR/marketing agency (for worldwide music platforms and social media);
  • the main tour promoter;
  • and their press/PR person, also primarily for Germany;
  • local promoters, especially for US;
  • and of course Patreon.

Which is to say, it’s a marvel that anything works at all.

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webmastering

All the accounts

Before we can do anything with online platforms and so on, we need to have access to the various accounts and get verified and all that.

Spotify: I’ve now verified the account, and have access to Spotify for Artists, where I can see how many people are listening right now, and what songs are most popular, and in what geographies and demographics. Cool.

Instagram has refused to verify me. I am not sure if it’s because I haven’t posted enough, or if I misunderstood how the process works. I am posting on behalf of the band, and they want a government ID of a person. From the advice online, I have uploaded my ID, but: nope. They don’t explain why not either, but I can try again another time.

Yesterday I just got verified by Apple Music for Artists, which gives me insight into songs played on the Apple Music as streaming service, purchased on iTunes, and searched for via Shazam. There you can really see the impact of the officially curated playlists: “Tanz Debil” is the top played track on Apple Music streaming, mostly because it has been put in a playlist called “Industrial Essentials”.

There is a neubauten.org account on Youtube but I cannot for the life of me figure out what email account is associated with it. I have tried the usual suspects and none of them work, plus the account only has old info and not a huge number of subscribers, so perhaps it would be easiest to start from scratch and build up a new one.

Our hosted video material is generally on Vimeo but I don’t know how many people actually use it for content discovery.

Facebook strategy is something I need to discuss with the professionals. As the fan base is relatively on the older side (yes I know, we are all not getting any younger) Facebook is still a relevant channel. There’s also various unofficial fan groups on the platform, which we should probably also encourage, despite the potential hassles.

I’ve created a neubauten.org twitter account but promptly forgot the password. I know, I know, I can recover it but: it’s just one platform too many. I don’t work well in short & snappy, and I would rather look at Instagram if I have to choose one.

Today we meet with our graphic designer to discuss physical formats, covers, liner arts, photos, book(let)s, packaging, etc. And we need to look through about 1000 photos from the photo shoot last month to choose some to be worked on for publicity photos and things. With a release date of May 15th, and the necessary lead-time for production and logistics and such, the clock is seriously ticking.

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webmastering

To vinyl or not to vinyl

Well no, that is not the question. But, one of the myriad questions that we are dealing with, as we look at physical production of the output of this recording period.

There is a thing called an album. We shall not go into the whys and hows thereof, but: vinyl is back “in”, and therefore we shall have a vinyl LP. Which is 12″ and has two sides. In consideration of audio quality, each side should not have more than 20 minutes of music, ideally even a touch less, and so: that’s the album, at probably 4 songs per side.

(Which 4 songs per which side, that’s another question. Let’s not go into it just now.)

But 8 songs isn’t representative of the actual creative output of the past year, and so: we will also have a CD, with 12 songs, 8 of the album (in the same order) plus 4 more. This is then the core work which will also correspond to the digital distribution, as well as the songs that the band would like to try to play live.

In order for those who buy the vinyl LP to not feel that they miss out, we will either include the CD or a download code. The current preference is for the CD, because it delivers higher quality audio than the average download, and is more versatile, assuming we understand correctly that the cost difference is not great.

The CD will also be packaged by itself for retail, the usual digipak + booklet format that we like.

Then there’s the “deluxe box”. We are still working on the exact contents and configuration for that one, which will somewhat depend on the various component costs: what, exactly, will it cost to press a second vinyl vs. another CD? Will extra media go on a data DVD or USB stick? Questions galore, and we need to get the production pricing and then calculate the potential retail price and then make decisions.

The bad thing about doing everything independently is having to also make all the decisions. If a record label or management team made a particular decision and it turns out to be wrong, one can always blame them for the mistake. Not so much when it’s 100% on us. I can look at the trends and talk to the fans and calculate the margins but in the end: things will sell or not sell.

The other bad thing with being wholly independent is that if something needs to be done, we have to do it ourselves. Which is why you’ll find the husband and I sitting at our dining table, vestiges of breakfast pushed to the other end, looking at lyric translations from our translator and deciding on which variation best gets across the intent of the German original; later we are in our home office, looking at a nicely done super deluxe box from another artist, feeling the heft of the material and talking about the content and the haptics. We are separately on the phone with the graphic designer, or emailing with our vinyl producer, to discuss formats, prices, options, timing.

It is so much work, and for so little potential reward, with physical media falling in demand across the world, even in conservative Germany. Best to not think about that, buried in minutiae as we are.

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webmastering

Building a website

I cannot believe I am building a website, again.

The good thing is that it’s much easier than it used to be, to build fairly attractive and functional websites if it’s mostly a matter of presenting information.

The bad thing is that I am terrible at the visuals and graphics and whatnot. So all I can really do is figure out how I want to structure the website, what content management system I want to use, and then find a good template that I can sort of wrangle sufficiently to get it to do what I need.

The existing band site is, I think, over a decade old. It runs (I believe) on Drupal, with a design template that allows zero formatting of post content. There’s nobody that’s technically proficient running it, and all necessary maintenance is outsourced to a company. So: not good for a lot of different reasons.

I’m going to build the new one in WordPress. It’s somewhat limited in terms of navigation structures, but it has an insane amount of templates, plugins, user communities, and other support. Plus it’s extremely easy for non-technical people to update pages and add content.

I have to decide, however, whether to support a multilingual site. And how much to try to keep the navigation and URL structure of the existing site, both for content access purposes and also in terms of SEO, in that existing search results actually lead to what it should, and people’s ability to find things without having to search all over the site. Then there’s a matter of moving the shop (complicated! configuring everything to conform with German/EU rules for e-commerce), and making sure that things switch over smoothly, and so on.

Also smaller issues: the old site has lyrics in a popup layer, which I don’t feel like I need to replicate. But I do want a nice way to go from the releases to the song info and then back out and so on. Need to make sure there’s good breadcrumbs. The homepage will be driven by the news section which is definitely a blog, but then, should any of the other sections also be blog/post-based, or should they be static pages that can be edited at need? Should the “live” page of upcoming shows be a sequence of updates or just the current status?

And images. All the new WordPress themes are very visual, which make for nice eye candy but really forces Every! Post! to have an associated attractive picture or video.

But at least a good theme takes care of all the UI issues: desktop vs. mobile, different screen resolutions, different browsers, etc. All the things that used to be such a pain.

OK, off to create a droplet and deploy WordPress and get started…

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webmastering

ooh a pretty graph

I am a sucker for pretty graphs and charts. I care about the underlying numbers too, but it’s always impressive to me when someone can present that data in a way that’s both easy to grasp and visually stunning.

So I hereby present a pretty graph, which I found on the website of the Bundesverband Musikindustrie (German Music Industry Association), specifically, their look back in the past 34 years (?? couldn’t they have gotten a nice round number instead? 34 years is just not catchy!) of music distribution in Germany. If you read German and want a thorough overview of the developments in the German-speaking world it’s worth a look.

And now the graph!

copyrighted I assume by the Bundesverband Musikindustrie, downloadable from their website here, click on the image for the full resolution version.

Isn’t it pretty? Let’s all sit for a second and admire the vibrant colors. Some poor graphic designer probably spent hours selecting and fine tuning the right shades for visibility and contrast and who knows what else. This looks much better in full print 300DPI resolution, by the way, so by all means click on it and look at it in its full blown glory.

Here we can see CDs started entering the market in the mid ’80s, a process that Blixa still remembers where the record labels using the “new technology/format” as a reason to reduce royalty payments for sales in that format, and then reaching its dominance through the bulk of the ’90s. The napster/download revolution didn’t really hit Germany until a few years after it started in the US, and we can see the steep slope of the decline in sales in the new millennium. This is particularly impressive because Internet connections in Germany were so terrible back then; I know from experience that in 2002 the majority of Germans were still on dial-up, Telekom was extremely heavily invested in ISDN lines instead of proper broadband, so downloading media was a slow and unpleasant process.

The first supporter project, what’s now called phase 1, was started against that background: the record industry in what looked and felt like unstoppable free fall, but digital not really in the picture yet. By the time that phase 3 ended and Alles Wieder Offen was released, CD sales had hit what seemed to be the new normal, while digital revenues were hardly making a dent. (Side note: anyone else find the little sliver of ring tone revenue around then hilarious?) Some of the thoughts and actions of the bands re: digital platforms is perhaps more understandable given that they were formed with the information from back then. By the way, I predicted back in the mid 2000s (and there’s video evidence somewhere) that the future of music will be in subscription based streaming, once mobile Internet became sufficiently prevalent and inexpensive. I did not, however, want to get into that particular business, because of the awful complexities of existing copyright laws and geographical restrictions and other problems that still plague the music industry. Shall we talk about back catalogs, anyone?

As of the end of 2018, which is where the graph stops, digital revenue has clearly overtaken physical, even though Germany is one of the few markets worldwide where physical sales still carry significant weight. This graph is not directly comparable to the global music industry revenue chart from IFPI (linked to in previous post), the IFPI numbers include all income streams derived from recorded music, not just physical and digital sales. Hence performance rights (royalties paid on songs performed live) and synchronization rights are not included in the German revenue graph.

By IFPI methods, globally physical sales are only 24.6% of all recorded music revenue and falling 10.1% year to year, whereas in Germany it is still about 35%. If we don’t include those royalty revenues then physical media sales in Germany account for 43.3% of the market share in 2018, but I believe the global trends also apply, though with a couple of years of lag.

Vinyl, despite the resurgence that it has seen in the past decade, is still far below CD numbers, though of course that varies significantly depending on one’s fan base and niche.

Fun, isn’t it, what one can get out of a pretty graph?

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webmastering

Der Stand der Dinge

Eh, that means “the state of things”. It sounds better, somehow more official. German is my third language and probably the one I’m least fluent in (depends on how you measure such things, I think I speak more fluently in Chinese but I probably read better in German), but in some situations I like it.

It’s of course a little challenging, running a project for a very German band like Einstürzende Neubauten when I am not particularly German. But fortunately the fan base is widely international and I can at least make myself understood in German even if I’m never going to reach true literary competency (language learning is a topic that’s interesting to me but would be a huge digression to get into it now).

So, the state of things.

Patreon — As previously mentioned, going well, we are at about 600 supporters right now, who are generally very loyal and increasing at about 5% a month after reductions and deletions. The current Patreon project is limited in scope to the production of the album: the announced plan is for it to stop in April and we will do that. In April there’s going to be a big supporter event, all those who have supported us up to that point are invited, and in April we start a new tour-based project. The duration will also be limited; the tour will end at the very end of October, and assuming that we product something out of the tour, then perhaps the yet-to-be-finalized Patreon project will end by the end of the year at the latest. It has occurred to me that it is not good to ask people to give you $$ just so that the band can go on tour (the US tour, despite the fact that tickets are selling well, may not cover the expenses), but we have not quite figured out what will be a concrete result that we can reasonably go out and ask people to support. The rewards are at least fairly straightforward, because the tour will naturally generate plenty of content and also opportunities for the band to do things like meet & greet etc.

Album release — there’s still a LOT to do for the album release, yo. First of all not all the songs are finished yet; there’s another (count them on my fingers) 12 full studio days where Blixa needs to finish lyrics and singing of two songs (he thinks), and Boris our sound engineer needs to finish mixing. There’s a hard stop to this work because they are going to Dusseldorf on the 13th and 14th for the mastering. Then there’s liner notes, artwork, and other related work that starts to bleed into the promotion side of things. Physical album production, by the way, needs to be booked now. It would not surprise anyone that vinyl is the favored way to go, but there are considerations necessary about the amount of music that can fit on an LP, and also the arrangement of songs on the two sides, and the lengths and the flow and … Arcane musician stuff that I will not partake in. Then there’s the fact that the band would like all the new songs that they plan to play live on the tour to be on the general release, and all those songs do not fit on an LP, and what shall we do? If there’s, say, 55 minutes of music, and only 40 fit on the LP, which 40 do we choose out of the 55, and then what do we do with the 15 that don’t fit? Plus, there’s the expectation of a deluxe version of the album with double vinyls and so on, and… how much additional audio material does there need to be, to distinguish the Deluxe Box from the normal release? How does one price the difference and justify it? Plus, the clock is ticking!

Promotion/Marketing — Well. We’ve done a photo shoot! Yay!

No, really. This clearly has a long way to go and will probably run into all kinds of obstacles but first we need to establish the guidelines. This is already complicated, because up until now the band has avoided participating in online platforms, especially streaming ones with poor reputations for royalty payment like YouTube and Spotify. However, lo and behold, the years have gone by and the Internet has moved on and… it’s just not a good position to be in anymore.

As EN’s publisher and former band member Mark Chung has helpfully summarized, completely with graphic attachment:

global recorded music industry revenues – click to zoom
originally from IFPI, part of their Global Music Report 2019

Revenue from streaming services, not including digital sales, has overtaken all other forms of revenue on a global level. We can of course argue that EN fans are less likely to be digital, being on the whole older and more, ah, attached to the sounds and listening habits of their distant youth (do I need a smiley?) but outreach to the younger generation is something I’m very much in favor of, and surprise surprise, even the older European fans are listening to and discovering music online.

I did a little survey of the supporters, who are if anything older and possibly more tradition-bound than the average fan, and found the following:

The pie chart above is actually not 100% accurate because because 272 people said yes to streaming, and then 278 people actually selected some music service, so it would probably be more accurate to have 278/323 = 86% be the actual percentage of “yes”. In any case: a very significant majority, one that can’t be eliminated even with the Electoral College (sorry! this is 2020 and I’m concerned!)

I am a little bemused by the very limited reach of Pandora in this sample, given that they are supposed to still have the same # of listeners in the US as Spotify. Some people have commented that we should look into Bandcamp, which I know of but have not explicitly included since I think of it as a place for extremely indie artists but I might be wrong.

Given all of the above, I will need to go through every significant digital channel (Spotify, YouTube, SoundCloud, ??) and the social media platforms where we should be active (FB, Instagram, ??) individually and work out what we need to do to “service” each.

I am talking to multiple PR/marketing agencies that have come recommended, and will be working with them to understand what’s possible/desirable given our very limited budget, and then formulate a longer-term online strategy on the promotion side. This will be a separate post.

I am also going to be working with our distributor Indigo and publisher Freibank to figure out our current digital distribution plan, what we should be doing with the new album, how to outsource really messy things like data from all these sources and accounting thereof, plus all the issues with different rights, to the new album, the historic catalog, and so on. That’s another post as well.

Phew. This got long!

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webmastering

Beginnings…

This is a place for me to park some thoughts about what I’m doing on a number of projects. What first brings me here is the work I’m doing with/for Einstürzende Neubauten, building/running their Supporter project, now in its 4th phase, this time with help from Patreon.

A little history: back in 2002, I built and ran the first crowdfunding site for a band with the very first version of neubauten.org. Entirely hand-coded, and thank goodness the standards for user interface was low at the time because my HTML skills have not been updated since back then. We managed to reach a couple of thousand fans, ran 3 phases of the project over 5 years, and ended up producing 4 CDs (plus the limited edition Musterhaus series), two DVDs, and various other records of the band’s productivity at the time.

*mumble mumble* years went by, the Neubauten (what does one say? “Die Neubauten” works in German but “the Neubauten” sounds pretentious, the definite article in English clearly has a different resonance) were intermittently on tour and produced a commissioned work for Flanders in remembrance of WWI and released an ironically titled Greatest Hits album and so on. Finally end of 2018 there was a decision to record a new studio album, and then there was the question of, how to finance it?

In this age of laptop recordings and songwriting in bedrooms (and when that works for some people, great), EN is very, very old-fashioned in how they like to record. They want to work all together, in the same room, on their often eccentric equipment, to come up with musical ideas that may eventually turn into songs, with a sound engineer to help figure out how to record their equipment and have multi-track (digital) recordings of the entire process so that they can go back to older ideas and takes. The first thing that the band did, upon deciding to do this undertaking, was to block 10 week days a month for 10 months, so basically a half time job for 5 people plus studio time plus sound engineer and assistant. Plus the resulting album would be released independently, which means prepaying for all production costs (mastering, photo shoots, liner notes, physical production of products, promotion/marketing, etc.)

I went and looked at the current state of the art in crowdfunding options. I was pretty sure that we wanted to do a monthly subscription, because our prior experience with one-time pre-payment crowdfunding models had too high a cost of reward production vs. funds for the band, and the fact that the most devoted fan base automatically got a copy of the resulting album significantly cannibalized our retail sales. I then did a thorough comparison of the subscription systems out there — Patreon vs. Steady, for example, and also a number of plain old subscription payment management systems. I ended up going with Patreon because they had the easiest authentication plugins for the two main website features I wanted — a WordPress content site and a forum, which is currently powered by Discourse, and because they charged a fairly reasonable 5% of revenue. The pure subscription management platforms charged a little less, perhaps 2-3%, but I hoped Patreon would have more cross-pollination effects due to other artists/musicians on the platform.

Forward to now: Phase IV, as it’s now called, is drawing almost to a close and has done well. The band is almost finished with the recording portion of the project and will be working on finalizing the album (mastering will be mid February), all production material (liner notes, artwork, other content) need to be turned in by the end of February for production to a mid May release. There are rehearsal periods in March and April for the upcoming concerts, with a general rehearsal (with audience) on April 19th and a full tour starting late May.

Now comes the hard part: how to take this from the 600 supporters to the wider public? How to get people to pay attention to a 40 year old band which has evolved for those 40 years? How do we navigate the very fast moving and mostly digital music distribution and discovery landscape? How can we stay true to the character and history of the band without completely botching the social media game? What should we focus on, with our very limited resources?