These four musician-resource sites offer a range of services that can help you gain recognition and income. Clockwise from upper left: ArtistShare, Broadjam, Pump Audio, and SonicBids.
Most serious musicians will agree that composing, recording, and performing great music is a full-time occupation. Yet there is no promise of seeing a single dime for the time and effort involved in creating such art, nor any guaranteed rewards for its artistic merit. That may come later, after more work in the realms of self-promotion, networking, and other, far less enjoyable endeavors.
Fortunately, help is available, much of it through Internet-based musicians' resource companies. In this column, I will focus on four such outfits — ArtistShare, Broadjam, Pump Audio, and Sonicbids — all of which are designed to assist artists who have the goods but aren't sure how to turn them into revenue streams. Each of these unique businesses goes to impressive lengths to help musicians generate music-based profits without having to know all the right people, hang out in all the right places, or spend a lot more money than they can really afford.
Founded by musician and computer programmer Brian Camelio, ArtistShare (www.artistshare.com) was born after three years of what he jovially recalls as “writing software, creating business plans, and eating a lot of Chinese takeout, all in the name of the creative process.” ArtistShare, he insists, “is a business model and a philosophy. The business model enables artists to fund their work through their fans and own the copyrights to their work, which eliminates the need for outside companies. The philosophy part is about empowering artists and developing strong, loyal relationships with fans by allowing them to be a part of the process.”
Being a part of the process at ArtistShare includes selling more than just CDs or music downloads. Some artists have sold complete scores, seats at rehearsals, autographed merchandise, and — in the case of trumpeter and composer Brian Lynch — a chance to participate in the recordings of new releases. “Brian called me a few weeks ago and invited me to the studio for the mix of his record,” recalls Camelio. “He blew me away when he told me that his Executive Producer Participant was there — he had flown in from Houston to attend the mixing session. Roger, an amazing fan who loves Brian's music, signed up for his ArtistShare project through the Executive Producer Participant offer. And he came to the recording session!”
One of ArtistShare's success stories is that of jazz composer Maria Schneider, whose release Concert in the Garden (ArtistShare, 2004) won a Grammy and is the first recording to receive the award without being distributed in record stores. “That was real validation that the method and philosophy worked,” Camelio beams. “Maria was an artist who had been largely ignored by the industry. Winning the Grammy through ArtistShare offered assurance that great music and art will continue to be created even if it's not ‘industry approved.’”
According to Roy Elkins, founder and CEO of Broadjam (www.broadjam.com), finding success through his firm is all about utilizing its synergistic benefits. “Broadjam serves three distinct market sectors: musicians, underground and indie music fans, and the music industry,” he explains. A litany of services exists for musicians, including comprehensively maintained and appropriately designed Web sites for $199 a year or $19.95 a month, over 175 review-based song charts, song-transmitting services, and what Elkins believes to be the highest net download payout on the Internet: over 80 percent of sales.
“Our music downloads are priced at 99 cents, and artists receive 80 cents for each sale,” he explains. “Almost the whole team here at Broadjam is made up of musicians, myself included. So we have worked hard to develop a fair and ethical business model to deliver really useful services for serious musicians.”
Of course, making money from sales requires more than just great payouts for downloads; the audience must be there, too. That's why true music fans and the music industry itself require the remainder of Broadjam's attention. Using a comprehensive search mechanism and a database of 200,000 songs and 50,000 artist members, Broadjam is able to give music fans exactly what they want. “Broadjam captures a lot of metadata about songs, so searches can be really focused,” explains Elkins. “Fields include genre, subject matter, mood, tempo, lyrics, and geography. In fact, we know that industry pros use our database to search for just the right song for specific projects.”
And if anyone is aware of the attributes of Broadjam, it's the industry. “We provide professional consulting and project-based services for industry clients such as the Academy of Country Music,” Elkins says. “We build and run the ACM voting system for the awards show broadcast on CBS every May, and we also built their Web site. Other clients include Peavey, Yamaha, Warner/Chappell, several publishers, and more.”
At Pump Audio (www.pumpaudio.com), the goal is to connect indie artists directly with mainstream media clients ready to write checks for the use of truly great music. Artists are able to license their music to productions while retaining all ownership rights, and television and advertising producers gain access to new music and often untapped talent.
“Pump Audio is a new kind of agent for independent musicians, digitally connecting them with buyers in the mainstream media,” says Steve Ellis, founder and CEO of Pump Audio. “With a growing catalog of tens of thousands of songs — all by independent artists from around the world — customers access music through Pump Audio's innovative search software and delivery device, the PumpBox.” According to the company, Pump Audio licenses hundreds of independently produced songs per week to major and international clients such as MTV, VH1, NBC, CBS, ABC, Nickelodeon, and the BBC, among others.
So who is the ideal Pump Audio client? “Literally anyone,” explains Ellis. “The whole concept behind Pump is that anyone, literally anyone, may make music that our clients find useful.”
According to Ellis, the Pump network includes 65,000 tracks under license with over 50,000 licensing placements to date. “Rock, electronic, and hip-hop are the genres we see the most and the ones that are used the most. All music submissions are prescreened, and Pump's staff listens first for recording quality. Obviously, we can't accept music that is poorly recorded, though perfect sound isn't needed either. After that, it's about the performance and the sounds and style.”
One of Pump Audio's more interesting success stories is that of a California recording artist and a Pump client from an ad agency in Portugal. “The agency started using the PumpBox and immediately picked a track for a Portuguese bank,” Ellis explains. “Most interesting was that the track was from L.A. alt-country artist Brady Harris. He got paid and started getting emails from Portuguese women.”
Sonicbids (www.sonicbids.com), a company founded by current CEO Panos Panay, set out to do something about the music industry's problem with the elusive “press kit.” In the past, musicians' press kits either were missing something or included too much; they never seemed to be right for every potential client's needs. But at Sonicbids' online headquarters, affordably priced and easily emailable electronic press kits (EPKs) are a reality, perfect for musicians seeking to rustle up publicity and to apply to various events, festivals, and other jobs. In a word, to be a user of Sonicbids means to be “connected.”
Panay insists that if you aren't already a member of Sonicbids, you're missing out — membership clearly has its benefits. “We have 60,000 artists and some 5,200 promoters from 107 countries using the service, and we are growing daily.”
However, Panay is clear to explain who would not be the ideal Sonicbids member: “The American Idol and Star Search crowd,” he deadpans. “Sonicbids is a cool, professional community. We like to preach the gospel of DIY, the artist-as-entrepreneur ethos. The perfect member — and the one who gets the most benefits from Sonicbids — is the artist who is looking to be proactive about their career, who understands that if used correctly, the Internet is a powerful tool to connect you with audiences and opportunities. But it's up to you to make it work for you and your needs. We are a site for musicians for whom music is a passion and career, not a ticket to fame.”
Strother Bullins is a North Carolina — based musician and freelance entertainment writer.