11 Sites and Services That are Essential to Bands

As we rock out here in the land of The Motion Sick, we come across a lot of different services and websites that help us in our quest to take over the world.  In an attempt to share the wealth, here is a quick bit on 10 sites and services (plus one extra tip rounding it to a nice, uneven 11) that you should be using if you are in a serious band.
1. Copyright

Before you do anything else, you need to file PA (performing arts) and SR (sound recording) copyrights with the Library of Congress at http://copyright.gov/
The PA filing protects the rights to the words and music and the SR filing protects the rights to the actual sound recording.  So, if you write all of the songs on a CD, you can submit the CD and simultaneously file both PA and SR rights.  If you include a cover, you should file for SR rights on the cover, but not PA rights.

Incidentally, getting permission to cover a song is generally now a really easy and quick process, both for physical pressing and digital sales.  Just head on over to The Harry Fox Agency web site and take a look at their Songfile system (http://www.harryfox.com).

2. Join a Performance Rights Organization (PRO) 

Now that your copyrights are registered, it’s time to join a PRO.  PROs handle royalty collection for copyright holders whose works are used publicly.  That includes radio, TV, live performances, and any of a plethora of other such uses.  The PROs exist to eliminate the need for radio stations, music venues, and other such organizations from having to individually negotiate rights to play music with artists.  The PRO determines the rate that say, a radio station, pays annually.  The radio station airplay is them polled using a magical, mystical system (that isn’t completely transparent), and artists are paid quarterly based on the airplay that they receive.  This doesn’t quite always work as desired, but that’s the idea behind it.

The primary PROs in the U.S. are ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC.  I am registered with BMI.  I have generally been unhappy with my interactions with them.  I have considered switching to SESAC, but I am not certain that any one of the three is better or worse.  I think, if starting anew, I would join SESAC, but this is not any kind of offical endorsement or advice.  Check them all out and see which fits your needs best.

!!!!!VERY IMPORTANT!!!!!! I learned somewhat recently, and too late for my own good, that the PROs do much of their tracking through third-party services including Nielsen ).  It’s very important that you register your music with these services (select the services used by your PRO) if you want to see royalties.

I hear that for PRO tracking, it is also important for your CD master to include ISRCs embedded in the disc information.  Read about ISRCs here and make sure to talk to your mastering engineer about including these.

Similiar to the PROs, there are also sometimes royalties for SRCOs (Sound Recording Copyright Owners).  Soundexchange is one organization that helps to collect these royalties.  Right now, these are primarily related to online streaming of songs via services like Last.FM and Pandora (we’ll get to those later).

3. CDBaby Digital Distribution
Although you don’t HAVE to use CDBaby as your digital distributor, they have a really simple process with pretty clear and fair cuts and reporting.  I recommend using them for simplicity.  Other people prefer alternative services and I am sure many of those could be fine as well.  If you submit your album to CDBaby, they will distribute it to iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, Napster, and a bunch of other digital sales services.  Letting them do this makes life easy for you and it gets your music onto these services in a manner that is quick and easy, neither of which would describe the experience you would have if you tried to do it on your own.  They also directly sell physical copies of your CD and digital downloads.  They pay out once a week and generally have pretty good customer service in my experience.

Here’s The Motion Sick’s CDBaby Page

4. CDDB/FreeDB

CDDB (now Gracenote) and FreeDB are two database services that help people to identify your CD when it’s in their computer.  This may not sound like such a big deal (they know your CD is in their computer,  right?), but it makes life 1000 times easier for people making digital copies of your album for their own use.  Find yourself some software that allows you to submit to both of these services and make life easier for your fans!

5. Gimmesound
Gimmesound is a newcomer, so whatever I write here may be inaccurate in a week or two (Today is June 24, 2009).  They are using a revenue-sharing system that results in artists getting paid for downloads even though the downloads are totally free to consumers!  How much did I get paid last month? 71 cents a download!  There is no way the payouts will continue to be so high as more artists sign up, but get in there while the getting is good!

Download all of our music for free at Gimmesound!!!

6. Last.FM / Pandora / Grooveshark
Last.FM, Pandora, and Grooveshark aren’t quite all the same thing, but they share certain aspects.  They all provide Internet radio services that allow users to select music to hear and then provide additional music that is calculated to be of potential interest given the likes and dislikes of the user.  Last.FM and Grooveshark allow artists to submit their music directly without limitation.  Pandora maintains a curated collection of songs.  You can submit two songs per album for consideration.  Thus far, every single indie artist I know (including The Motion Sick) has been rejected by Pandora.

The Motion Sick’s Last.FM Profile

7. Social Networking – Facebook / Twitter / Myspace
First things first.  I have to warn you that only a fool believes that social networking has evened the playing field between indie artists and corporate artists.  That same fool also believes that collecting friends on these services has any relation to collecting useful fans.  These systems are wonderful because they allow artists to foster and maintain actual relationships with fans.  They allow one-to-one and one-to-many interactions that were previously difficult to develop.  Myspace, as far as I am concerned, is 100% dead.  Sure, you should make a profile there and put music on it (with extensive links to your real web site) just in case some kid searches for you there, but you will not gain anything by adding lots of friends or sending out bulletins.  No one cares.  The entire failure of Myspace is rooted in the fact that they did not allow bands to have any direct method for communicating with fans.  The Motion Sick has almost 14,000 Myspace friends and exactly 0 ways to contact any of them.  The bulletin system is ignored, the invitation system is ignored, the status system is ignored, and mass direct messaging is not allowed.  All of that equals one big fat useless service.  Your best bet if you have a ton of Myspace friends is to try your very best to contact them one at a time and by bulletin or event to get them to join your actual e-mail mailing list.  An actual e-mail mailing list is the only real way to identify and keep fans.  Anything done on social networks is meaningless.  I repeat that:  an actual e-mail mailing list is the only real way to identify and keep fans.  Anything done on social networks is meaningless.  
That said, I go back to my original point.  The social networking systems allow for more direct interaction between artists and their audience.  Facebook is almost as much of a failure for bands as Myspace.  They’ve restricted bands to using the Page system rather than the Profile system.  Guess what?  It doesn’t allow you to send messages or event invitations to your fans.  Useless.  So, my solution is two-fold.  I’ve made a questionably disallowed profile for The Motion Sick and I also extensively use my own personal profile to interact with fans of the band.  I make friends with the fans.  I personally send them event invitations and post band updates.  So far, this has worked pretty well.  I am hoping that Facebook stops their foolishness and essentially transforms the page system into something actually valuable.

Twitter is essentially a glorified method for updating my Facebook status, but I figure, it’s another network of people who might read what you’re saying.  I also use Twitterfeed to automatically tweet a link and teaser for any blog entries that I’ve posted on the band blog or any of the other blogs that I write for.  This helps reduce my workload and helps to promote all of the work I am doing.

Find Us on Social Networks:
Facebook [Page] [Profile] [Mike] [Matt] [Pat] [Trav]
Twitter [Band] [Mike] [Matt]
Last.FM [Band/Mike] [Fan Group]
Other [Myspace] [Blog] [Youtube] [Tumblr] [Linked In Mike] [iTunes]

8. Artistdata
Before Artistdata came along, I complained every single day that I had to update my show information in too many different places.  Well, they came up with a solution that is about 3/4ths of the way there.  Ultimately, I believe their goal is take all of the bits of information about your band and allow you to edit those in one place while automatically dispersing it to all of the social networking sites, music profile sites, and download sites you use.  You edit once, everyone is happy.  I look forward to their forward movement on this task.
9. Reverbnation
Reverbnation is the absolute leader in music profile sites (and there are many, many, many) because of its relatively sophisticated widget system.  If you look on the sidebar of this blog and at much of our web site at http://www.themotionsick.com, you will see many instances of Reverbnation widgets in action.  For us, it’s primarily the mailing list and the music player.

Speaking of the mailing list (!!), we use Reverbnation’s Fanreach system for sending out band e-mails.  It’s easy, relatively advanced, and flexible.  It’s great for both maintaining the list and composing messages.  I highly recommend it!The Motion Sick on Reverbnation.

10. Music Licensing Sites: (e.g., Taxi, Broadjam, Youlicense, Sonicbids)
Getting your music heard is hard work.  You need to be willing to put in the time (and money) to make it happen.  There are a number of music-licensing services that can help you find placements that will provide you with exposure (and money) for your music.  Rather than rewriting the whole summary here, I point you to a past entry I did on music licensing resources at: http://blog.mikeandsophia.com/2008/07/httpwww-mikeandsophia-com200807dnfmomd-favorite-records-from-each-year-html/

I also want to point out that I am starting my own Boston-focused music publishing/licensing company.  You can read more about that at: http://launchover.com/

11. Your Own Web Site and Your Own Blog!
Maybe I am an old-fashioned guy, but absolutely nothing says unprofessional to me more clearly than someone giving a Myspace page (or even a Reverbnation page) as their official web site.  Don’t do it.  Make a useful, simple, and rich web page for yourself.  Fill it with information and content that doesn’t fit on Myspace.  What it comes down to is, if you want me to take you seriously, you had better have your own page.  If you want to keep fans up to date in an organized, fun way, make a blog that includes both band updates and other posts with general entertainment value (like a post about 11 sites and services that are essential to bands)!
The Motion Sick Web Site
The Motion Sick Blog

Now get back to rocking out!