Song of the Week

Silly & Serious – A New Challenge.

Since finishing my Song of the Week challenge over 2 years ago I have felt there has been a hole in my songwriting process. Unless I was writing for an album I found I was starting so many songs but not finishing most. I thought about doing song of the week again but it felt like I would be going backwards a little.

Then, while writing some upbeat tunes with a view to ad placements for my publisher a few weeks ago, I found the urge to counteract the jolliness with something sad and depressing. I really enjoyed the juxtaposition (and I like the word juxtaposition!). So after quietly setting myself a goal of writing and recording one of each a week I found that I was being way more productive because I really do love a deadline. I thrive on it and every day I wake up excited that I have a purpose.

Now I am on week 4 and, while I am not posting all the songs I write (2 a week is a little bit of overload) I am posting some of them exclusively on my Facebook Music page via SoundCloud. I was originally going to call it Happy & Sad but the got a little confusing when some jolly songs are in minor keys etc. So ‘Silly & Serious’ it is.

Unlike Song of the Week, I am not committing to do this religiously every week for a year, but I will keep going (likely with holiday breaks) until I find something else to distract me… ooh look… squirrel! 🙂

Click on the image below to go to the new tunes…

Screen shot 2012-12-11 at 10.42.40 AM

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Free Download!

I wonder how many people will arrive at this page hoping for free music… well I don’t want to disappoint.

Gone For Now

I have received a few google alerts about my music being available for free download from various sites in the past, but this week I started getting lots of them. This is because someone thought that it was okay to upload one of my albums to Pirate Bay, which then took that album to many other torrent sites. I normally wouldn’t have been too bothered, but the person who uploaded my music had previously put up my bio and a video on his website, along with many other musicians. In fact, I was in quite good company.


(photo bought from istock.com)

This is why I was so confused as to why an apparent fan would then decide to make my music free to anyone. In his defence, he did reply to a post I put on his blog asking why he had put my music on Pirate Bay and, although he took my music down from Pirate Bay, he seemed to think that copyright was a matter of opinion and not law. This seems to be the big sticking point in this area.

Now back in the 90s when Napster first appeared, we were guilty of downloading albums (that are now lost on some old operating system somewhere). There was no itunes and we bought a lot of CDs so we didn’t see the harm. We were wrong. But now music is so easily available to download for a very reasonable price and there is no excuse to go to free sites. I used to spend my pocket money on singles and now my kids spend theirs on downloads. No Limewire allowed in this house and my kids appreciate the value of music.

Today music lovers are lucky that musicians are usually driven to make music for a reason that has nothing to do with money. If it was money based there wouldn’t be a lot of music out there, and certainly not quality, innovative stuff. And many musicians do give music away. I give away a song in exchange for signing up to my email list. I gave away all my music while writing my Song of the Week. Itunes has a free section.

If someone can’t afford to buy my music then I would rather they email me and ask for some mp3s rather than downloading and supporting these free sites, who are not only giving our music away, but they are also making money from us via advertising.

Ask me. It would just be more honest.

and the winner is…

Last week at the Vancouver Island Music Awards I got live out a life long fantasy. But I’ll get to that in moment.

After being nominated in 5 categories I was really hoping to get one of the awards and the award that I most wanted to get was for songwriter. After all, that is what I do all day, every day.

The night of the awards came and after several outfit changes I was ready in my pretty skirt and big boots. I love my big boots. Not everybody does but I don’t care.

The evening had some wonderful performances, one of my favourite being from my friend Emily Spiller, who I fully expect to go on to do amazing things and forget who I am.

The award for Female Songwriter came up early-ish in the evening and I was absolutely delighted to receive it. I even gave a pretty coherent acceptance speech.

Emily, who was also nominated for 5 awards and fellow Courtenay dweller, was awarded Female Vocalist which she SO deserved!

So that was it. I was happy with my award, really enjoyed watching others receive theirs and had so much fun singing my song with my daughter on backing vocals and whistling.

An added bonus was getting to sing on Todd Butler’s Home song… a very moving song about making Vancouver Island home.

Then came the last award for Artist of the Year. There were 10 of us nominated for this so I just sat back expecting to clap for the winner. When they said my name I couldn’t believe it and this is where I got to fulfill my fantasy.

Whenever I watch awards shows I love it when the winner kisses their partner and then goes and thanks them in their speech. So when I heard my name I looked at my husband of 19 years, kissed him and then went up, received my award, mumbled some stuff that I can’t remember as I was in shock, and then thanked Trevor. What I said was true. I couldn’t do what I do without him.

I want to take this opportunity again to thank James Kasper and his team for making these awards happen and to all who ‘like’ me, follow me and listen to me. I am always grateful.

Digital Music Distribution – Simple?

I have another new album coming out and normally I would use Tunecore for my digital distribution. I have for all but one of my releases. I used CD Baby for my 2nd album to try something different.

But Tunecore’s recent 150% price hike on all new and existing album distribution has got me looking around at what others have to offer.

A Little Background

I wrote, recorded and produced a song a week for a year. During that year I released some download-only EPs. The at the end of the year I released an album with 13 of the best songs of the week. I also got some songs placed on TV that were neither on EPs or the album so I released them as singles.

So now I have 3 EPs and 4 singles from that project. At $49.99 per album (even a 4 song EP) and $29.99 per single, that’s a lot of money to pay every year for just over an album’s worth of songs. So I had to have a think.

Then, after being asked about releasing more of the songs of the week, I decided to take the best songs from the EPs, the singles and some never released songs, remix, rerecord and master them for Song of the Week 2. So 7 releases become one.

So that is why I started examining where to go for my distribution.

Tunecore’s Price Hike

My problem with Tuncore isn’t that is costs $49.99 per year to put up an new album. I think the price is reasonable for a new album. My problem is the price hike on existing albums. Albums that, over time, are likely to get less sales as the years progress. Albums, where the work to put them up has already been done. Albums that cost around a just a couple of dollars a year to host. It’s not is if we are allowed to modify or upgrade anything about the albums, yet they are costing us more.

They added new features like trending and widgets and bundled them together with the distribution but it feels a bit like they are saying “here’s a bunch of stuff you didn’t ask for, now you owe us more money”.

So the quandary for indie artists is that to take our business elsewhere means losing those precious stars, comments and ‘others that bought this bought…’. We need all the attention we can get.

By all means put up your prices for new business but don’t penalize old customers for something they can’t do anything about.

Attitude problem

And then there’s the attitude to those who were not overjoyed at the price hikes. I think they took take offence to the statement by CEO Jeff Price – “So we just said screw it, simpler is better”…  “Let’s give Tunecore customers all the things they asked for and not charge them for each and every new feature.” (from Digital Music News)

Simpler for Tunecore. I think customers would always prefer to chose what they are paying for. I have a feeling they paid for the development of these features and found that people weren’t as interested as they thought, so, as I said earlier, they have bundled them… for who’s convenience?

Distribution

But enough bitching. I still have the problem of who to distribute through. There seems to be 2 basic options. Pay a fee each year but pay no percentage of sales (Tunecore, Reverbnation) or pay a one time fee and pay a percentage of sales (around 10%) (CD Baby, Indie Pool). I did a little research and came up with this chart so I could see a comparison between many companies now offering music digital distribution. It’s not pretty but it’s as simple as I could make it. (click on the image to see in detail).

The Indie Artist Dilemma

Now if you’re a well known artist it’s a no brainer. Selling a lot means that you are way better off with paying the yearly fee and keeping all the sales. But for less well known indie artists then it’s a gamble. Especially if you have a lot of CDs out there. It adds up. But if I get a song on a TV show, which happens from time to time, then my potential sales make it worth paying the yearly fee. If not then which is my best bet.

What’s Next?

I totally get that it’s all business. I do. And if this was my first album I would most likely go with Tunecore. They have a great website, make it easy to get your albums on iTunes quickly and your money from sales is easy to withdraw. But I have a bad taste in my mouth and I think that there is one simple thing Tunecore could do to keep the indie artists happy, if they really want to… and Tunecore are all about keeping things simple, right?

Leave existing albums at the yearly price that they were originally signed up for. Simple and fair. Those albums require no more work, only the storage cost.

For this new album, Tunecore may still be my best option. I would be interested in other’s thought on this.

Song of the Week 2

Well, it’s been a while since I blogged but I have been busy, both with music (see news on my site) and healing my injured shoulder, which is taking irritatingly longer than it should. But, as usual, the restrictions have lead to some interesting decisions… but more of that another time.

This is about releasing Song of the Week 2. I have been asked why specific songs weren’t on Song of the Week and, also, some of the songs that didn’t make the first CD have appeared on various TV shows and… well, I wrote a LOT of songs that year and I still really like some of them ( and some, I would glad never to hear again!)

So I am going to take down EPs Happy, When We Were Young and All The Letters from iTunes as some of those songs are on the first Song of the Week. I am also going to take down the singles. These are all songs of the week. Perfect Girl will stay as that was written and recorded before I started the madness.

I will take some of the songs from the EPs and singles and add to them a bunch of songs that I think warrant being released and make them into Song of the Week 2. And after that Song of the Week will be done. I will be taking down the original project from my website as it is time to move on.

The artwork took a while to figure out until it hit me yesterday that I should be using the photo I took of all my song sheets as I had written them. It just so happens that the song sheet sitting on top is one of the previously unreleased songs from this album. The picture sums up my brain!

So there you have it… I will be releasing Song of the Week 2 in June. I haven’t decided yet about getting physical copies done. Although I know there are die-hard CD purchasers (and I appreciate each one of you) it seems to be getting less and less relevant. Please tell me if you feel differently.

Why do songwriting challenges?

Before I was aware of the songwriting challenges out there on the web I set myself my own challenge – write, produce and upload a new song every week to my website for a year. I did this from April 2009 – 2010.

Now this may sound a little extreme but it was an amazing way to practice my writing skills and it gave me an excuse to keep up the contact with my email list. In fact, it was how I created my email list. When I finished I got a lot of people telling me they missed the weekly new song, which was a relief, because you never know when you’re bugging people! In May I released an album with 13 of the best songs called ‘Song of the Week‘, many of which have been placed on TV and Film.

Shortly after I had released the CD I noticed a songwriting challenge called 50 Songs In 90 Days and I thought, “Don’t be silly, that’s impossible”.But I couldn’t stop myself and started writing a whole bunch of new tunes. But it was the school summer holidays and there just wasn’t time to keep it up, what with travelling to the UK and other kids stuff. Although I didn’t come anywhere near to finishing, I did get the bulk of a new album, ‘Treehouse‘, which I released January this year.

So it’s FAWM time – February Album Writing Month. I had no intentions of doing this at all. I had just put out a new album and had broken my collarbone… and where was the time? Well it turns out that just about the only thing I could do with my injury was play the guitar for short periods of time. Housework was completely out of the question so I had extra time. So I started on Feb 1st and am just over half way through and I swear it is keeping me sane. Some songs take a day or two and others like ‘Lemonade’ took an hour to write and record. I just love writing and recording. It’s a good thing my kids are old enough to get their own food!

So why do these challenges? Here are some great reasons:

1. With this much songwriting you can only improve.
2. It gives you an excuse to keep in contact with fans.
3. You are giving fans something new on a regular basis.
4. You improve your recording skills and discover new ways to produce.
5. You end with a large catalogue to draw from, which is especially useful if you are pitching to TV etc.
6. You really learn how to finish songs and move on.
7. It gives you something to tweet,FB etc.
8. It’s fun!

Some great songwriting challenges to check out (and it isn’t too late for FAWM)

FAWM
50/90
RPM Challenge

I hope to see you in the forums on any of these challenges and if you want to follow my progress, please visit my FAWM page – http://fawm.org/fawmers/helenaustin/

2010 – an interesting year!

2010 started with a flurry of placements, which continued throughout the year and I was still in full swing writing my Song of the Week. While still reeling from the death of a close friend, a lot of the later Song of the Week songs touched on mortality from different angles, but I ended the project with a song for my amazingly supportive husband!

Song of the week ended in early April and I rewarded myself and family with a trip to Disneyland. While there I got my first network TV placement on Ghost Whisperer.

May 20th I released 13 of the Song of the Week songs on an album and simply called it Song of the Week. I then started the whole marketing thing all over again but it was fun having a whole load of new, beautifully mastered songs to give to my wonderful publishers.

June was a sad month. I lost my Mum while, ironically, while playing the Relay for Life song at our local relay.It was her favourite song of mine and she had been battling cancer for many years.

July is one of my fave months because I get to be mainstage MC with Todd Butler at Vancouver Island Musicfest. We also got to play songs together too, which lead to us doing gig together in November just for the fun of it! July also saw me attempt the 50 songs in 90 days challenge which I failed miserably, but I got a new album out of it (see Dec).

August was New York month. Getting to see a movie my songs were in, playing a gig and lots of shopping and eating with a good friend… what more could a girl want? I was also mid blog challenge for the book Music Success In Nine Weeks, which challenged some of my thoughts on music marketing.

September got me 2 ads and an album release in South Korea. My husband wants me to get a tour there… he loves the food! October I headed south of the border again, this time to Delaware for the DBMC where I made lots of new friends and got to sing lots too! We also started rehearsal for Voices Three, a big concert with Sue Pyper and Judy Wing to raise money for hospice.

November started with the Taxi Road Rally where I learned a ton and finally got to meet both of my lovely publishers who just as wonderful as I had suspected they would be. I also wrote my first serious article about music licensing after being asked so many times about how I got my music onto TV etc. It was a cathartic thing to write, reflecting on the madness of the intense single mindedness that is my life (until kids need feeding and taxiing).

So we’re at the end of December. I have a new album, Treehouse, that I am releasing on Jan 1st 2011 (tomorrow) along with a wonderful video that my talented 13 year old created for the title track. The songs will be on itunes and the vid on YouTube.

After an interesting year I have an interesting story for the end of the year that has nothing to do with music (although may affect my playing anything short term) …

Yesterday while skiing (my fave thing to do with my family) I was taken out by another skier getting some big air on a black run. After being taken down the mountain on a stretcher, had my clothes cut off me and sent to the hospital for xrays, I now have a fractured collar bone and lots of nice drugs to see me into 2011 (so please excuse any typos!).

There are some people I want thank for 2010 – pigFactory and Crucial, my wonderful publishers. Thanks for all the placements. Hans Dekline, the masterful masterer and Brian Hazard for asking me to write the licensing article. I love both of your fb comments and musings… always entertaining! To Jon Ostrow of Mic Control for his support of indie musicians and me! And to everyone who reads anything I write, listens to my songs, comments on my postings and generally makes me feel like I am on the right track. Every little word helps!

Here’s to a fantastic 2011. I hope it brings you great things!