In our efforts to make available as much music business information as possible for Alabama music artists, Alabama Music Office.com has asked music business professionals from all over the world to share their knowledge and experiences.
Managing merch sales isn’t the sexiest part of your music career, so I can understand if it keeps falling to the bottom of your to-do list. But with a new year approaching, it’s time to set some serious band merch resolutions!
Maybe you need to get rid of that ratty old suitcase you’ve been keeping your CDs in for years and construct a better merch display.
Maybe you need to finally get around to re-ordering t-shirts.
Maybe you need to recruit a superfan to go on your next tour to help out at the merch booth.
There are plenty of ways to step up your merch game in the coming year. If you’re wondering how, read on…
14 articles that will help you sell more merch at shows and online
Early on in my songwriting career, I considered it a minor miracle that I could write a song in the first place. However, once I got a little more used to performing that particular magic trick, it became necessary to start to refine my process a bit further. In other words, it was no longer enough just to have created a song. Now I had to go back and tweak, edit, fix and otherwise polish my songs until I was confident I’d exhausted every option to improve them. In the interest of helping you do your own song critiques, I’ve put together a list of ten things for you to examine in order to make your songs both lyrically and melodically stronger.
1. Do you have a strong opening line?
The opening line of your song is the first and best chance to engage your listener in the story you’re about to tell. Strong opening lines explain the where, what and who of your story and will eventually lead to why the story is being told. Make sure your opening line is designed to start your listener down the road to getting involved in the story you’re telling.
2. Are you using concrete imagery?
One of the best ways to put a listener immediately into the middle of your song’s story is to use strong imagery. I’ve also heard this imagery called furniture. These images are the details in a lyric that give your listener things to remember and connect with. Generally speaking, imagery is reserved for the verses where the meat of your story is being told. Choruses are designed to state the main point or theme of your song. Another way to think about imagery is to “show ‘em, not tell ‘em.” What that means is that it’s less effective to say, for example, she was a seductive woman but she was bad news than it is to describe her as “a black heart in a green dress.”
3. Are your lyrics singable?
For the record, it’s not enough to tell a good story with your lyric. It’s equally important to make sure that the words you use are easy to sing and phrase naturally. I’ve also heard this put as making sure your lyric is “conversational.” Lyrics that are awkward or emphasize the wrong syllables pull a listener’s ear in a bad way. There’s a reason the word “baby” is in almost every song ever written…those long “a” and “e” sounds are great and easy to sing. Another way to put this is that you won’t find the word “Nicaragua” popping up in a lot of hit songs.
4. How effective is your hook?
By way of explanation, the main point and identifier of your song can be referred to as the hook. In other words, the part of the lyric that reaches out and grabs the listener. Make sure that along with the story you’re telling, the hook is clear and doing its job. Often the lyrical hook of the song is also its title. It’s that important.
5. Does your chorus have a strong last line?
There are very few places in a song’s lyric more important than the last line of the chorus. This is the place where everything you’ve been leading up to in your verses and the first lines of your chorus pays off. It’s often the place there the hook is and usually leaves the listener satisfied that they understand your message. One important way to make the last line of your chorus count is to set it up with some kind of rhyme in one of the earlier chorus lines. That way, not only are the words important but they complete a rhyme which adds extra emphasis.
6. Does the overall idea of your song work?
Often when we’ve worked on a lyric for a long time, it’s easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees. In other words, we get so wrapped up in making things rhyme and using imagery that the overall concept of the song loses some of its focus. Make sure after you’ve finished your lyric that the overall message of the song is developed and supported in every line. While you, as the songwriter, already know your song’s story, you need to make doubly sure that a listener who is hearing your song for the first time will know what you’re talking about.
7. Is your verse melody interesting?
Given that the melody of your song is one of the first things people hear and pay attention to (sorry lyricists but the words come waaaay later), you’ll want to be sure that your verse melody is catchy and unique. This doesn’t mean your melody should be bizarre or uncomfortable but, rather, that it should be distinctive and memorable. educated-songwriter_do-your-own-song-critiques-pt2
8. Does your chorus melody differ from your verse melody?
So much of what we do as songwriters is about giving the listener clues as to what the most important parts of our songs are. By making sure that your chorus melody is not only strong but differentiates itself from the verse melody, you’ll cue the listener in to the fact that you’ve arrived at the main musical – and lyrical – moment in the song.
9. Does your bridge add to the song?
A bridge is really designed as a moment in the song where you step away from the verses and choruses to make an additional lyrical observation or melodic contribution. If your bridge melody sounds too much like your verse or chorus, even if the lyric is doing something new, the risk is that you’ll miss an opportunity to add something of value to an already strong song. All this to say, be sure that if you have a bridge, it’s musically apart from what you’ve been doing in your song’s other sections.
10. Does your melody flow naturally throughout the song?
Not only should the melody in each section of your song distinguish itself but your overall melody should flow naturally from section to section. Be careful not to have a melody that is too repetitive. A little repetition is a good thing as it adds to the “hooky” nature of your song but too much repetition becomes distracting and a bit unpleasant from the listener’s standpoint. Be sure that your melody sits comfortably over the chords you’ve chosen as well. The harmonic – chordal – decisions you make can serve to either accentuate or hinder your melodic work.
Critiquing your own songs is never fun and is often a time-consuming and somewhat frustrating experience. That being said, it’s essential that you hold your songs up to the highest standard if you’re hoping to have a better chance at commercial success. I do want to remind you, however, that your first – and most important – job is to write the song. Focusing on critiquing your song too early in the process might prevent you from writing something heartfelt and spontaneous. In my experience, it’s always easier to get it all out first and invite your “editor” to the party once you’re done.
Cliff Goldmacher is a songwriter, producer, session musician, engineer, author and owner of recording studios in Nashville, TN and Sonoma, CA. Cliff’s website, is full of resources for the aspiring songwriter including monthly online webinars.CLICK HERE for the latest schedule.
Cliff’s company, Nashville Studio Live, provides songwriters outside of Nashville with virtual access to Nashville’s best session musicians and singers for their songwriting demos.
You can download a FREE sample of Cliff’s eBook “The Songwriter’s Guide To Recording Professional Demos” by going HERE.
Some people who make music don’t want to know anything about it. It’s something they do, not something they think about, and they will tell you so. One of my students told me a story once about a songwriter – one who is achieving some success – who said he didn’t want to learn about “any of that music theory stuff” because he wanted to stay “pure”. As if learning to speak the language of your chosen profession would somehow rob you of the ability to create.
I can’t claim to know how inspiration happens. It arrives at unlikely moments, so we carry notebooks and scribble on napkins or sing a few bars of a melody into a cell phone. Sometimes when I play it’s as if my hands and ears are being led. The ideas seem to be coming from somewhere else, and we’re always looking for a way to tap into their source.
But once that moment of inspiration has passed, we need tools and craftsmanship to work with the gift we were just given. No one thinks twice about the craft of lyric writing being worth serious study. Why not the craft of composition?
Now, everyone knows great musicians that never studied formally in their lives. But there’s a fundamental misunderstanding about where the gift and ability for greatness really lie. The gift is often not just the physical ability to play well, it’s an innate ability to explore and learn. Even if the process is unconscious, learning an instrument is an ongoing exploration, an exercise in trial and error. People who learn this way HAVE studied, but on their own….instead of being guided, they were able to guide themselves.
But imagine that as our gifted player works through exploration and trial and error, they learn the names of each distinct sound. They develop a conscious rather than an intuitive understanding of the materials of music: what a fifth sounds like, or the shift of a major chord into minor. This understanding has nothing to do with the source of inspiration, it’s a tool for craftsmanship.
Despite this, some people still believe that having command of these tools would hurt their creativity. I suspect that if you asked, though, they would say that inspiration and “the rules” come from two different places. So why, then, would learning about one hurt the other?
I have a theory about the source of this belief. I did not enjoy studying music theory in college, it just seemed like a list of do’s and dont’s – but one day I had an epiphany. These were not rules but principles, more like laws of nature. Not the reason music sounds good, but an explanation why. This was a revelation to me, and it changed everything: I realized that the “rules” tell us why some music works, but we’re not obligated to follow them!
You’ve probably heard the cliché “you have to know the rules before you can break them”. This isn’t actually true, because musical exploration doesn’t require any knowledge other than how to create sounds. If you can produce a sound and then experiment with putting different sounds together, you’re making music, and it may or may not break the rules. But since the principles of theory are as fundamental as gravity, we’re often likely to follow them anyway because it sounds right when we do. So we could say that you DO need to know when you’re following the rules if your ears and fingers can’t guide you outside the lines on their own. Once again, it comes back to the gift we were given: how much we can comprehend intuitively.
I believe that people spend way too much time thinking about these gifts, or their perceived lack thereof. “Talent” is not a useful word, and attempting to measure it is a waste of time. Yes, if you’re talented and work hard, you will learn and improve faster than someone who isn’t. But the person who supposedly lacks talent can also learn and improve if they work hard. Talent is a lot less important than a good work ethic, a willingness to learn, and a desire to be great. Desire and drive help us aim high again and again, despite whatever frustration we feel. Learning and study coupled with desire and drive is a powerful and unstoppable combination.
So what does all this mean to a creative person working their craft?
I would say that one can make a choice between two approaches. One is to stay “pure”: in other words, to rely upon your gifts to provide the tools you work with. The other is to be a student: formally or informally, it doesn’t really matter. Being a student means choosing to learn, to stay open to new ideas and new approaches. These lead to new tools, new skills, and ultimately more options. To me, it seems like a no-brainer. Most of the time, talent has its limits, but learning only stops when we stop paying attention. Paying attention and keeping an open mind keeps you from getting stuck. As a creative artist – a songwriter, musician, lyricist, or painter – the value and wisdom of this should be obvious.
So DO study, even informally. If you’ve never played songs you didn’t write, start. If you play but don’t practice, start asking yourself what you can improve. Read books, watch videos, and listen to music! Watch great players and listen to great writers. Keep your ears and mind open…and above all, don’t choose to view knowledge as a straitjacket when it should be a set of wings.
Created for record industry professionals, NARIP is the biggest music business network in the world, bringing together leading innovators in the music industry and promoting education and career advancement for record executives.
Established in 1988, LAMN promotes career advancement, education, and good will among artists and other creatives, sponsoring industry gatherings, workshops, and seminars with top executives. Their LAMN Jams were developed to give talented artists a platform on which to perform original material for music industry experts.
The $40,000 in prizes included a Disc Makers CD package and “everything we offer in a record deal,” said Isaac Heymann, VP of A&R at Epic Records and LAMN Jam talent judge. More importantly, the LAMN Jam gave numerous indie artists an opportunity to dramatically accelerate their careers and their music branding, just as it did for 2011 winners The Mowglis, who signed with Universal/Photo Finish Records shortly after its big win.
This year’s winner, Sad Robot, wowed the judges during Round #1 of the pop/rock competition with their song “Hold On,” which has received spins on LA radio station KROQ-FM and was featured on FOX’s hit series, Bones. Competing against Young Beautiful In A Hurry, MEDIC, and The Singularity in the pop/pock finals, Sad Robot beat out the rest with a super-charged performance that judges lauded as “excellent, energetic, and marketable.”
Making waves ever since their debut, this LA-based quartet has achieved more success on its own than most bands at similar career points. In 2010, the band released its debut EP, The Beginning of the End, and was nominated by the Hollywood Music in Media Awards in its alternative category. Sad Robot’s debut album, 1.0, was released in the fall of 2012, and the band is currently in the studio working on new tracks for its second full-length release.
In addition to the LAMN win, Sad Robot’s music has earned multiple TV placements, has been featured on the SoundHound app, and the band has received press from MTV Buzzworthy and Pure Volume. Following the announcement of its big win, Echoes interviewed the band for opinions on marketing and branding, performing and touring, and the importance of attending industry events.
How important is it for bands to participate in industry events?
It is always very important to be involved in industry events like mixers, ASCAP seminars, and other contests and networking opportunities like LAMN Jam. Another contest we’ve participated in was an LA King’s Rocco’s music nights contest where thousands of bands submit and they pick their four favorites to perform at the Staples Center for the LA Kings. In addition to the prizes you win, it is such a great experience to be performing at the Staples Center. The relationships you build from that opportunity are great, not to mention that it provides momentum and experience in building your bio.
The same goes for the LAMN Jam, which was all about networking and the performance and where you have top industry representatives in various departments critiquing and guiding your performance and songwriting. Plus, you have a network of people right there to help launch your music career. These opportunities are gold and not only help get the word out about you or your band, it also is an amazing learning experience. You can get so much more out of these industry events than just the winnings.
What are you biggest takeaways from the experience?
So far, it’s been the people and sponsors we will get to work with. With our new album in the works, this really is the perfect time to be working with Disc Makers. The experience has provided us with everything we need to help launch our new album as well as the music video and marketing. We decided to submit to LAMN Jam because we really enjoyed the artists who have won in previous years and saw what a great opportunity it provided for connecting with people who may not have seen us before. And, LAMN Jam has the potential to open new doors for us to help get our music out to new listeners and industry representatives.
Are festivals more important or less important than touring independently? Does one provide more opportunities to meet fans than the other?
It depends on the band and the fan base they have at that time. We would say festivals can give you a slightly better opportunity when your music is still very new to people. These festivals have a built in fan base and the bands you play with do as well. No matter what time slot you play on most festivals, you will have your music heard by loads of people who have never had the chance to hear it previously.
The experience of touring, however, is a priceless one in the fact that there is nothing better than performing your music for the fans who love you and your music most. There is a connection there that is undeniable. Plus, playing in a different city each night really makes you an all around better band. You grow on stage and off stage each night. And, as you travel, you still pick up more fans along the way from the fans you have already.
And even if you’re not headlining, when you are the opening band playing before the headlining band with the bigger audience, the chances of you catching some of their fans is great. So, both experiences are a must. You should be doing everything you can to grow your fan base in as many areas possible, making your stage show stronger, and selling merch to afford the travels.
Will you be making a return to SXSW next year? How has that experience influenced you? What other festivals have you participated in?
We have been a part of SXSW, Sunset Strip Music Festival, KROQ Lobster Fest, and San Diego Music thing so far. Coachella is definitely a dream, and we plan to make another SXSW return. Every SXSW is a great experience for musicians and music lovers. It really is all about the music, not about how many Facebook likes you get and so on. And there are so many talented bands that you get to play with from all over the world that you would never get to play with if it weren’t for SXSW. It is not only a great networking opportunity and showcase, but also incredibly inspiring. As fans, we definitely love attending Coachella, Outside Lands, Lollapalooza, and Bonnaroo.
A unique font is just one of the ways you distinguish yourself as a band (and brand) on social media. How did you come up with that, and what other methods have you tried to stand apart from the crowd?
With our name, Sad Robot, being so visual, we wanted to have a type of font that would be our own. There is that one standard font you see on every social media outlet and we wanted to have ours be just a little different and hopefully catch your eye while we are sharing our thoughts, experiences, and promoting our shows. The slight change in font was us looking at everything from a point of view that everything we do and create is connected and complements each other. From a social media perspective that includes our font, photos, music, videos, album covers etc. There is a lot of thought and creativity involved in what we do and how we choose to express ourselves, and that has definitely been noticed by our fans — they “like” and “comment” even more than they used to.
How much do you utilize social media to gather information from and about your fans?
It is very important to engage your fans in whatever way works for you. Asking direct questions is very helpful to get to know your fan base and that can better target your tour, merch, etc. Where this can really help is finding which cities are best to bring your show to as well as if you’re wanting to do something for the fans, such as, “which song would you like us to cover?” In addition, you can try getting your fans involved by asking for artwork for show flyers or even album artwork. This can obviously engage the fans more due to the fact that they now feel like a part of the music in some way.
When you want to connect with your fan base and new fans, there is no faster and better way than social media. So post pictures of your life and don’t always just promote your shows, iTunes, merch, etc. Don’t just be a salesman; engage and inspire people. Ask questions, provoke thought, start a dialogue on Twitter, show videos where your fans can see your personality a little better and they feel like they know you even just a bit beyond the music. It gets them more excited and it makes you feel like there isn’t such a huge separation — it can become exciting! The world is now very small due to social media so you can reach out to other countries, and when it’s through your music, there is no better reward.