Dream Big: Kendel Ratley – Director of Marketing, Kickstarter

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

We polled industry experts for the March/April feature Dream Big: How To Succeed In Today’s Volatile Music Business. For those of you who really want to get ahead, here’s the full transcript of each interview, with lots of extra insights and advice.

Kendel Ratley – Director of Marketing, Kickstarter

 I just recorded the best song I ever wrote. What’s the new model for getting my music heard? What to do with my demo?

Would you want the best song you ever wrote to be stuck in the middle of a demo pile or in someone’s inbox waiting to be heard? No, you want to shout it from the rooftops! Put your song out into the world and take your work and the trajectory of your music into your own hands.

Do I post my music on Facebook, or is there a better place for music?

Consider where your network is the strongest. If you have a healthy following on Tumblr post it there. If you’re most active on YouTube, create an image montage with basic editing software to accompany your track. If you listen to tracks on Soundcloud – go there. If you’re still establishing your fanbase, check out where your peers, favorite artists, or bands you want to emulate share their music and follow suit.

There are countless platforms and venues to debut your work. Identify your audience, think about where you discover music, and post accordingly.

If I do post it for free, will anyone want to buy it?

Sure they will, but you’ll have to give them a compelling reason to. Whether it’s a hand-numbered CD you assembled yourself, a signed lyric sheet packaged with the physical copy, exclusive videos or a PDF zine that accompanies the digital release. Make it more than just a file they download and find tangible ways to reveal the inspiration, passion, and creativity behind your work.

Even if you decide a free song is the way to go, you can still create an economy around your work: give away the song in exchange for a listener’s email, or ask fans to tweet a link to your site if they want to download for free.

Regardless of what you choose, remember money isn’t always the most valuable part of an exchange. Turning someone into a fan, who will sing your praises and become your advocate, will always be worth more in the long run than a cut from a 99 cent sale.

Should I sell it on iTunes, CD Baby, Spotify? What sort of cut will I get?

Digital retailers are an important part of getting your music heard and sold. Each one is different but know that most major retailers won’t do deals directly with artists. You’ll need to work with a distributor which may reduce your cut.

Whatever you choose, remember you always have the option to sell your music yourself. Platforms like Topspin and Bandcamp are more than just retail outlets, they allow for fan interaction as well. And of course Kickstarter handily functions as a pre-sale mechanism while collecting the location, contact info, and most popular reward selection for every fan.

What if only ten people buy it? Will I still get digital royalties via SoundExchange? How do I protect my recordings?

Ten people isn’t nothing! Whether they’re fans of yours or simply into music discovery, they made an effort to find you and saw value in what you created. Focus your efforts on seeking out those ten people and developing a relationship with them. Everyone has to start somewhere.

Next, how do I get people in the industry to hear it, so I can get a record deal or have it placed in a commercial?

A&R has moved on from its storied past in dingy clubs and streetcorners to the web. A great song is a solid first step, but there’s much more to a successful music career than songwriting.

Have you sold hundreds or even thousands of copies of your EP via direct-to-fan sales? Secured a residency at your local music club? Are your friends and fans vocal about their love for you online? These are all metrics labels can use to gauge how passionate your fans are and how hard you work to build your audience. Trumpet your success!

Differentiate yourself. What makes you, you? You don’t have to be gimmicky or create a fake backstory. Just be yourself and share your passion, inspiration, and excitement. After all, that’s what inspires the best song you ever wrote, so don’t be afraid to reveal more.

The response has been great but I haven’t been signed or picked up for a commercial — what’s my next move? Tour? Hire PR?

The importance of live performances and establishing a following in a town outside your own – whether it’s three people or 300 – cannot be overstated.

Play as many live shows and go on tour as often as you can. Go back to the same city three times. It’s hard work, but your audience and reach will grow.

If you can’t afford to tour or your day job doesn’t offer vacation, create live experiences online: invite your local fans to a backyard show or your friends garage, set up a camera and stream it live. Make it special and promote it.

Connect and collaborate with your peers. Whether you’re at the heart of a DIY scene or looking to get a label’s attention, there’s no end to the rewards a community of fellow artists can bring. Besides sharing resources, you’ll grow your network and gain fans, experience, and maybe notice from a label or manager.

Next: Tim Putnam of Moontoast

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