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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?