"The reggae/rock genre has been encouraging of my [photography] efforts, and my level of comfort with many bands has reached the point where I consider many my big brothers. My time with them has enabled me to build a hearty photography portfolio, which has led to other artistic opportunities including a spot on the Warped Tour (2011-2013)". - Taylor Miller
Before departing for a tour in Europe, I gave The Black Seeds Rootfire t-shirts as farewell gifts. A few weeks later a student in Germany saw one of the band members wearing the shirt in Munich and wrote me an email asking if I would send him one.
The student’s name was Arnab and his email changed everything for what Rootfire would become.
My first reaction was to send Arnab the shirt as a gift. Looking back I understand that I feared selling the shirts because… what if no one bought one?
I have always been shy about self-promotion, and at the beginning giving Rootfire shirts away to the band had been uncomfortable for me. When people asked what the shirts meant I said “Rootfire is this thing I am starting, it has to do with connecting people with modern reggae music, and it’s not just a music management company.”
With some hesitation, I responded to Arnab’s email by sending him a thank you note and promised that the shirt would be for sale later that week. I then opened a Topspin store (at the time it cost $20 a month + 15% of sales) and put the shirt on sale for $20. I purposefully did not add shipping and handling charges into the fee because I was still worried that it would prevent Arnab from buying it.
When I sent Arnab the link to the store, to my surprise, he bought the shirt.
Here is how it broke down:
Shipping to Germany cost $14.40, the shirt cost $7.80, and the store was $20 to open + Topspin took a $3 fee from the sale.
Total cost to sell shirt: $45.20
Price paid by Arnab: $20
Net: - $25.20
Ironically if I had sent the shirt for free the breakdown would have been cheaper:
Total cost to send shirt for free (shipping + unit cost): $22.20
Total savings if shirt was free vs. selling it: $3
Of course both the above options lost money, but they offered radically different opportunities for development. In one case, I could continue giving shirts away for free, primarily because it was hard for me to understand that people would be willing to pay for them. That idea is of course unsustainable, because there is no path to profitability.
Alternatively by putting the shirts up for sale, I learned that people placed value on them, which opened the doors for offering additional products that people might buy (vinyl, hats, tanks, etc). Additionally the cost of selling goods would go down as more people bought products, and this would eventually generate positive net income (assuming I added in shipping costs to the fees).
Arnab taught me that someone on the other side of the world could place value on Rootfire, and not only support the idea, but spend money on a product. The first sale gave me confidence to put more ideas into the world through Rootfire and ultimately lead to partnering with Easy Star Records for our first vinyl release, which debuted earlier this month.
This post is part 1 of a 3 part series that focuses on struggles with selling art, and outlining a path to profitability.
Part 2 will discuss the outcomes from selling products under the honor system (where I mailed packages all over the world hoping that people would be inspired to then pay for them), followed by Part 3 - lessons learned by selling merchandise at the California Roots Music & Arts Festival.
As for Arnab, earlier this year he completed his studies to become a doctor (he is now Dr. Arnab Chakrabarty), and moved home to India a few months ago. Arnab was also involved in the recent Rootfire Mixtape 004; he sent the opening song from Seeed before the music was available in the USA.
Thank you Arnab. You inspired me to share an idea with the world, which has greatly changed my life this year.
(Wed, June 5) Part 2: Experimenting with the honor system + Sending packages around the world and hoping people pay you a donation after they receive the package.
(Wed, June 12) Part 3: Lessons learned from having Rootfire merchandise for sale at California Roots Festival.
Mixtape 004 - The Road To California curated and mixed by Alific
(0:00) The Beautiful Girls - Weight Of The World iTunes
(0:13) Seeed - Wonderful Life iTunes
(3:35) Led Zeppelin - Going To California iTunes
(3:30) Nightmares On Wax - 70’s-80’s iTunes
(8:59) Saadi - Below The Waist iTunes
(10:46) Bushman - N2 *Unreleased iTunes
(14:11) John Brown’s Body - Old John Brown iTunes
(19:29) 10 Ft. Ganja Plant - Chalwa iTunes
(22:14) Bedouin Soundclash - Waiting For My Ruca iTunes
(24:56) Sublime - Lou Makes Friends iTunes
(27:45) Stephen Marley feat. Damian Marley - The Traffic Jam (Acoustic) iTunes
(31:16) The Green - Take Me On iTunes
(34:31) Slightly Stoopid - Mexico iTunes
(42:42) Cornerstone Roots - Home iTunes
(47:10) Gramatik - Just Jammin iTunes
(53:34) The Slip - Get Me With Fuji iTunes
(54:16) Peter Tosh - Catchy Shubby iTunes
(54:27) SOJA - Decide Your Gone iTunes
(58:53) The Slip - If One Of Us Should Fall iTunes
(59:23) Stick Figure - Dreamland iTunes
(1:03:26) Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad - Humboldt County Gold iTunes
The first time I saw Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad, I got bruises on my armpits. This is a story about how that happened.
Before I was 21 years old.
I closed my eyes and took in one last deep breath. My lips outlined the words “this is fucking ridiculous” as I exhaled. One second later I ran full speed towards the end of a wooden dock. It was a cold dark October night; the water was dirty and shone no reflection of the parking lot lights. For a moment I wondered if James Bond could make this jump- if he had to, like if Money Penny was dying or something, would James find the strength to jump this far?
And then I did it. I leapt over beer cans, twigs, and duck feathers all floating in the Cayuga inlet. With arms outstretched I reached for the boat. Held up by my now bruised armpits, I climbed onto the ferry, tumbled over the side, and lay on my back. Yes, 007 could definitely make that jump, casually on his way back from getting milk. It still hurt, the boat was steel, and I was a freshman.
A few minutes later a band named Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad started playing on the boats “starboard” side stage.
I grew up and moved to Virginia; the band grew up and became Rochester NY’s music heroes. With accolades including “Wegmans sells our albums at the check out line” (for real) and “we threw a free concert in Rochester and 6,000 people showed up- the city wont lets us do it again because they said too many people were smoking weed” (also for real). When asked what their music sounds like, I say “If reggae music had been invented in the US during the 1960’s, Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad would have been the band making it.” Local synonyms include “They are as country as a Lynchburg farmers market and as rootsy as main street Davis, WV.”
If you are like me and feel good when NPR tells you something that you already believe, check this: All Things Considered featured a story about Rochester-based business Kodak declaring bankruptcy, with quotes like “Have we missed the train- is there a way to revive manufacturing in America?”
The program ended with Guy Raz saying “we should point out that in a lot of ways Rochester is doing great, despite Kodak’s bankruptcy. The University of Rochester is now the largest employer in town… and the city includes talented bands, like Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad” (for real).
This limited edition vinyl compilation is focused exclusively on artists performing at the 2013 California Roots Music & Arts Festival. Featuring songs from Slightly Stoopid, The Green, Katchafire, Dub Trio, New Kingston, Tomorrows Bad Seeds, Natural Vibrations, Stick Figure, Stranger, Three Legged Fox, and Kings & Comrades. Progressive Roots Volume 001 is the first release to come out of a partnership between Rootfire and Easy Star Records. $13.99, only 1000 pressed.
Order. This will only be pressed to vinyl one time.
Read an exceptional feature story from ThePier.org about PROGRESSIVE ROOTS VOL 001 here.
About the compilation:
We thought creating a compilation that celebrates artists working
within the scene would be a great way to contribute to and participate
the community. We approached Easy Star about the idea and asked if they
would help us. Right away they were interested in the release. Together
we created a plan, and reached out to the promoters of Cali Roots to
see if they would be supportive. The festival saw the compilation as a
great way to showcase the scene and raise awareness of amazing music
coming out of it. Not to mention Dan (one of the promoters of Cali
Roots) is a big vinyl fan and used to DJ in Guam; the idea was a hit
with him right away. Every artist that contributed a song to Progressive
Roots Volume 001 was really
excited about the compilation, and the process of reaching out and
with managers, labels, and the musicians themselves has given the LP a
positive community vibe. I know we are all stoked to see each other at
the festival and we are grateful to be able to create a memorable
celebrate this scene. I hope we get to do this all over again at next
year’s Cali Roots! - Seth
Rootfire Mixtape 003 showcases artists from around the world who contribute to the progressive roots music scene. Connecting mid-‘90s John Brown’s Body with upcoming artists like The Skints and Stick Figure, and incorporating New Zealand heavyweights Fat Freddy’s Drop and The Black Seeds, producer Brendan Dane, better known as Alific, delivers a seamless mixtape complete with audio samples a la’ Jeff Bridges. This mix is the first in a series curated by Alific, the second and third installments will be released later this Spring. Future Rootfire mixtapes will continue to evolve and create connections within the genre of progressive roots music.
Rootfire Mixtape 003: SoundCloud
Q&A with Alific about Rootfire Mixtape 003:
Q: What was your main inspiration for this set of songs and the overall feel of the mixtape? How would you describe it?
A: I hoped to create a mixtape filled with roots music from around the globe that could be easily listened to from start to finish. My goal was to follow the Rootfire mission of spreading progressive roots music by incorporating both well-known bands in the scene and bands many people might not be familiar with yet. I wanted to have a variety of songs in the mix that would showcase where the scene is heading as well as where it all started from. I focused on tracks that are currently defining the scene as well as tracks from “back in the day” that helped create it.
Q: How has your experience creating remixes and mashups affected how you went about creating this mixtape?
A: Over the years, I developed a strong understanding of how to find the tempo of a track and/or the key of the song, which is a very important part of remixes, mashups and mixtapes. For mixtapes, you (the producer) are constantly playing and manipulating with the key and tempo of a song to fit your specific goal. You want a mixtape to flow seamlessly throughout its entirety, so it plays as one long track but doesn’t feel like the music is dragging on. To do this successfully you need to make smooth transitions from one track to another by finding songs that have similar tempos or that are in the same key and using them complementary to each other.
Q: Did creating Rootfire Mixtape 003 inspire you to consider performing DJ sets or to start a weekly DJ night?
A: Yes. I had been throwing the idea around of starting to do some live DJ sets with my own music for a while now, and once I actually got my hands on the APC40 (thanks Seth), my ideas began to come to life. As I was creating this mixtape, I was also simultaneously learning how to use Ableton with the APC40 and really began to grasp on how to use it in a live setting. I plan to use my newly acquired skills and start DJ-ing my own music and remixes for live Alific shows.
By Dave Poe
Booking Agent for: The Green, Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad, Seeed, The Cat Empire, Trevor Hall, etc.
Ah, the question that every band or manager has heard before while in negotiations (or begging pleas for that matter) to book a show at a music venue… big or small. It may seem trivial, but it’s an important question that always gets brought up. You’d think that after working at an agency, it’s a bit more about the relationships and friends you’ve made along the way, but at the core of it, it’s the draw that stands tall at the centerpiece of these aforementioned dealings of music business stuff (the relationships do help of course).
Quantitative is probably what most people would assume I’m discussing, but its more than that. As a band, you have to know your angles. What can you stand behind to sell your case to the promoter, manager, or other decision maker of said show? Is it the amount of people that you coerce to come watch you on a late Tuesday night? Do you have backline to offer an international band? Do you have a small footprint on stage or play for cheap? Or, what it should be about: does your band help the vibe of the show? What you have to remember, as much as it should be about the music, is a lot of it is more about the business. The promoters you deal with on the regular are businessmen (and women), but most, if not all, are music fans too. They invest in bands just like you invest in countless hours of practicing Sublime songs. Before you can show people the new wave of roots music you’ve invented, you’ll need to be a salesman first. Best part is you don’t need a suit and tie - just some well constructed emails, solid links to music and quick business dealings.
Get the people who make decisions on your side and they will help you get on the important and somewhat strategic shows. When I receive an email from a local band, it usually gets filtered down in the line of importance in my day, which sadly, sometimes never gets read. But, if the promoter sends your band to me, revealing his pick for support, that goes right to management. I trust that his submission passed all the tests before getting to me (good draw). Same band, same links, different outcome (usually). Even on a bigger level for tours playing 2,000+ capacity rooms, the question is still asked… what is the draw?
It’s all about the music, but sometimes you’ll need to sell yourself to impact people with it. Use what you have and get the right people invested in you. Every Rocky needs a Mickey in their corner.
Dubbed “the new standard for online promo kits” OnePageLink provides a central hub for an artist’s bio, music, photos, videos, etc, all under a content focused minimalistic theme.
Carlo Santone of Australian record label and management company Lion House founded OnePageLink. I met Carlo in 2008 when his band Blue King Brown toured in support of John Brown’s Body. Carlo has an amazing artistic vision, which can be seen on every media asset that BKB puts out. From compelling press photos, album packaging, to graphic design, Carlo is someone working hard to take the scene ascetically forward.
When I asked Carlo about where the idea came from his response was:
"I have been part of organizations that go through thousands of band applications [for festivals and grant programs]; it was amazing to see how many bands just didn’t have a basic foundation page. That is what moved me to bring this idea to life. I want the layout to remain in a way that the band’s imagery and info is able to speak for itself, [which] really helps get to the core of who a band is. From a biz approach I don’t want it [OnePageLink] to feel too corporate or exclusive, not my style, I like that it [OnePageLink] is accessible to anyone right now; from the ground up."
Plans are free for 30 days and then run $4.95 per month or $49 per year.
Enter code “Rootfire" in the promotional field, and you will automatically extend the trial period from 30 days to 90 days.
Rootfire is getting zero kickback from OnePageLink. I wrote this post because in addition to believing that there is real value in OnePageLink, I believe in Carlo. For the last 5 years Carlo has continuously provided great advice and I think his industry perspective is excellent for adding value to what OnePageLink seeks to do, which is to clearly showcase promotional material. On a personal note- I do not use OnePageLink. The reason is simple- before OnePageLink existed I built promotional pages for the bands I managed which served a similar function and delivered content in a way that I felt was and still is effective. Should this change, I will consider using OnePageLink.
Pitching + Social Media Week DC Highlights
By Curtis Bergesen
Last Thursday I attended a Social Media Week event in Washington DC named “Social Media and the Local Music Scene: Engaging local audiences and re-envisioning social networks.” The event took place at VeraCruz Gallery and was hosted by Listen Local First and Metro Music Source.
You can read the event’s description and see a list of the speakers and organizations involved HERE.
Some of the speakers offered enjoyable, engaging, valuable content, while others were average and not so inspiring. The audience consisted of artists, and people from various aspects of the music industry and media.
I found three speakers to be particularly interesting and wanted to share some of their thoughts, advice and insight.
The Washington Post, Pop Music Critic
As a publicist, I’ve been pitching Chris a few times a year for the past 5 years or so. I work year round with a few nationally/internationally touring bands and every time they have a show scheduled in the DC area, I pitch Chris via email and twitter.
What does Chris want when you pitch him by email?
- a “listen” link where he can stream music by the band at the top / in the first few lines of the email. SoundCloud link preferred. If he likes the music and needs info he will look at the bio section on the SoundCloud page.
- Chris says that CD packages received by snail mail take time to open. Sending an email with a listen link at the top will allow him the quickest, easiest way to hear the music and decide if he wants to listen / pursue further, or skip and move on to the next pitch.
- Chris is a fan of Twitter and an active user. He mentioned that venues are listening to their social media audience. If you and a few other people tweet at a venue about a problem, or requesting a particular band, the venue will notice. Maybe they will even do something about it.
- Social media allows people to express themselves with little to no risk. Unlike the old days where you’d have to send an email or use the phone (gasp), you can just fire off a tweet and the recipient will have to spend at the very least a few seconds reading it.
I had hoped to speak with Chris face to face at the end of the event, but he left in the middle of it before “networking hour.” He mentioned that he was going to 4 different shows that night!
NPR’s All Songs Considered, Creator/Host
- Bob said that he tries to listen to the beginning of 1 song from every email pitch or CD he receives. If he likes it, he will listen to more.
- He has an intern open all the CD packages.
- He throws all press releases in the trash.
- Always include a download link of your song/album when pitching Bob.
Fort Knox Recordings, Label Manager, Tour Manager, Promoter
I’ve been friends with Andy for a while, he is a man of many talents. He is proficient with social media, promotion, and many other aspects of the music business.
- When asked what social media sites he actively uses, Andy replied “ALL of them.”
- You may not be an active user of a particular social media site, but your fans or future fans could be. Leave no stone unturned.
- Andy recommends that you be a fan of a band/artist and see what they do with their social media and online presence. Then take what you’ve learned / seen, and incorporate it into your own online presence and promotion.
- Engage your fans via social media, don’t ignore them.
- The speakers agreed that they all have different specific things that they want in an email pitch. Chris Richards wants a stream link, Bob Boilen wants a download link, etc. But one thing is for certain, the larger the media outlet, the less time they will have for your pitch. Be specific, cut to the chase, include all the things they could possibly want in your email, don’t ramble on or include unnecessary info.
- Include a link to stream AND download your music right at the top of your email pitch.
- Send a short, organized, to the point pitch. No one has time to sift through your long narrative press release / bio / nonsense.
- Include all the things a press person could possibly want: music link, website link, social media links, download press photo link, short bio/description, contact info, etc.
- Start your email with a very brief, to the point explanation of what it is you want, and include the most worthwhile, newsworthy info in short form. Then you can include a longer press release, or bio at the end, if you want.
- Pick a band/artist in your genre that is doing well. Look at their social media sites and online presence. See what sites they are active on, what tools / apps they use, what kind of promotions they are doing, how are they engaging their fans. Then incorporate the tools and the things that seem to be working into your own social media efforts. Learn by example. Don’t get frustrated or be lazy, get active and go after it!
Curtis Bergesen founded Herbivore Publicity in 2007.