JEFF SHATTUCK MUSIC

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The best Internet resources for independent songwriters.

Since starting work on my album back in late 2006 (I CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S BEEN THAT LONG), I’ve spent countless hours combing the Internet for advice on everything from writing songs to selling them. I even started a links page (soon tbe updated!) on this blog to chronicle and preserve my quest for knowledge. The Internet changes so fast, though, that many of my cherished links have become outdated or were on sites that are now defunct. So I spent some time this morning culling the best and still relevant of them and adding some new ones, then organized them to reflect the order in which an independent musician should read them. Note: these are directed toward non-gigging musicians, since that’s what I am, thanks to my brain injury!

BEST BLOGS FOR INDEPENDENT SONGWRITERS

Start with these to begin wrapping your brain around the complex, daunting and, at times, overwhelming world of DIY music.

Passive Promotion
Ideas for set-it-and-forget-it promotion. KILLER.

colortheory.com
Written by the guy who does passive promotion, but for his own music, sobering.

MUSIC PUBLISHING & SONGWRITING
Very informative blog about music business by Berklee prof and publishing heavy Eric Beall.

Music Think Tank
Packed with useful info and insight.

We All Make Music
I just discovered this last week, but it seems to be really good.

EMAIL SERVICE

From everything I have read, the first thing you want to get sorted out is your email list. You could use Gmail or Yahoo Mail, both of which are probably fine, but true email services automate a lot of the drudgery of maintaining a good email list and since time is your most valuable resource, anything that saves it makes a lot of sense.

Reverbnation.com
I have not personally tried this service, but I have read good things. Plus, it’s free!

ConstantContact.com
I tried this for a while and found it very complex. They have since simplified the service some, but it remains daunting. If you’re going to try to be as big as U2, go ahead and hire some geeks and have them run your CC stuff, otherwise pass.

Fanbridge.com
I settled on these guys for the simple reason that they offer text-only emails. Personally, I find fancy HTML emails off-putting in that they always look like spam and feel impersonal. Sadly, Fanbridge’s user interface isn’t very good, but then neither is anyone else’s, so I can’t worry about it too much.

PACKAGING/REPLICATION FOR YE OLD PHYSICAL CD

If you’re going to go pure digital, please skip this section. But if you’re going to make a CD, you might as well make a nice one, and the best service I know of is Oasis CD. They have tons of choices, killer quality and great customer service. If you don’t what to print 1,000 CDs, consider KONAKI.COM or CDPRINTEXPRESS.COM, which let you print as few as one CD.

OasisCD.com
This is the service I used for Deep Salvage, a four-song EP I did with a friend, and I was very pleased with the result. Oasis CD is not cheap, but they’re not expensive either, when you consider that you are getting true CD replication (plain duplication can lead to playback problems) and pro-quality printing.

cdprinexpress.com
I’ve used these guys for one-off packaging, one-off CDs and both, and they are great. No, the quality of the printing is not what you would find on a retail CD at Starbucks, but it’s pretty damn good. Pricing is under $5 per CD, or less, depending on quantity, packaging and printing choices.

Kunaki.com
Super innovative service in that the per unit price is only $1 for 1-to-100,000 units. You can even have them drop ship your stuff, so you never have to worry about storing a mountain of CDs. The catch? One-size fits all, in that all CDs are packaged in a standard jewel box and all artwork must conform to a standard template.

BEST SITE FOR ENABLING DIRECT SALES OF YOUR MUSIC

Amazon and iTunes are great, because most music fans are comfortable with them, but your cut is only about 10%. What to do? Post your music on bandcamp!

Bandcamp.com
This KILLER service was launched by the dude who sold Outpost to Yahoo for a few billion, so they have SOLID financial backing and they are absolutely devoted to creating the best experience possible for musicians and fans. Price? FREE (unless you actually sell something, in which case bandcamp takes a paltry 15%). View my current bandcamp pages here (for my music) and here (for Deep Salvage, a collaboration between me and Dave Tutin).

BEST SITES FOR HOSTING YOUR MUSIC FOR PURPOSES OTHER THAN SALES

To me, bandcamp is the best music hosting site around, but what if you want to let someone hear a track without being a digital clod and sending an MP3 (faux pas!) or giving the rest of the world access to it?  Consider:

Soundcloud.com
Not free, but worth every penny, I think. Best feature: private links, which let you grant access to a track or tracks via a simple email link. Slick. The players also let you highlight places in your track of special notice. For example, you could annotate your track with stuff like “start here for killer guitar solo” or “my best bridge ever.”

Mobileme.com
Definitely not as slick as soundcloud, but not bad if you just want to be able to post your track to the cloud (via iDisk) and send out links to it. Cost is $100 a year.

Google Docs
This started as online wordprocessing and spreadsheet software, but now lets you upload files. So, like mobileme + iDisk, it’s a killer way to offer people links to tracks, except it’s free!

DISTRIBUTION TO iTUNES/AMAZON

If you want to get your songs onto iTunes and Amazon, just choose either one of these services. I’ve tried both, and they both rock.

Tunecore.com
CDBaby.com

BEST PLACES TO BUILD YOUR WEB SITE

Every independent artist should have a Web site. Sadly, Web sites are hard to build, so I recommend used services that simplify the whole process, yet don’t limit you should you decide to get more ambitious down the road.

Blogger.com
Google’s free blogging service is your best choice for a site that will offer decent functionality and be able to handle loads of traffic. You can even set up Google Analytics (if you can figure it out!) for accurate stats.

Typepad.com
The original service for bloggers, as far as I know, and a great one. If Blogger is your Toyata, this is your Lexus, but still basically a service for blogs and not full Web sites.

Wordpress.com
These days, it seems like EVERYONE is using Wordpress, and why not? It looks pretty great. You can either use their free templates or hire a Worpress programmer to build you full functioning Wordpress Web site. Expect to pay at least $2500 well-spent dollars.

Squarespace.com
This is what I use, and while it may not offer as much flexibility as Wordpress, it’s better for me because it’s easier. With a Squarespace account, you can set up a simple Web site like the one you’re on now, or get more ambitious by either learning HTML or hiring a Squarespace developer. Either way, Squarespace hosts your site, so you don’t have to bother with this yourself. Customer service is THE BEST and reliability is TOP NOTCH.

BEST WAYS TO GET HONEST (IF PAINFUL) FEEDBACK

If you play your songs for your friends and family they’re going to say they like them. The rest of the world? Who knows? So, to help you decide which songs to put the most effort behind, here are some ways to get feedback (hope you have a thick skin!).

Broadjam.com
If you only do one thing, put some songs up on Broadjam. The base membership is free and for every review you submit of other people’s music you will earn one review credit, which means one of your tunes will be put into rotation for others to review. Within a few weeks, you will have lots of reviews of your stuff and you will have heard lots of other people’s stuff. Plus, the process of reviewing is helpful, I think, as it really forces you to think about music critically. Sadly, the Broadjam community does not take kindly to brutal honesty, so most people tend to award three stars to stuff. My advice: pay attention to the four/five-star and one-star reviews, but only if they are accompanied by thoughtful notes.

Soundout.com
Do you feel tough? Is your skin thicker than an T-Rex’s? CAN YOU HANDLE THE TRUTH? If so, try Soundout. It’s not perfect, not by a long shot, but for $30, you can get be reviewed by 80 people, whose collective wisdom will be presented to you in a PDF report. Click here for a review of the service.

BEST SITES/SERVICES FOR LETTING THE WORLD KNOW ABOUT YOU

Now that you’ve got your email service up and running, your physical CDs sorted out, your tunes posted to places where people can buy/download/stream them from, your Web site/blog up and running, and some ideas about which of your tracks best represent you as an artist, how do you let the world know you exist?

Email
An oldy, but a goody.

Twitter
Duh.

Facebook
Duh.

ArielPublicity.com
Probably best for gigging musicians, but I plan to use these guys regardless. Here’s how they describe themselves: “Ariel Publicity is a New York based digital firm that connects artists to blogs, podcasts, Internet radio stations and social media sites. Over the past 14 years our firm has represented over 1,500 musicians of all genres.” Their cheapest package is $2,000, but probably worth it. Stay tuned for more info as I come across it.

Sonicbids.com
For finding licensing opportunities, sonicbids seems solid, but they offer EVERY DAMN GIG under the sun, meaning it’s on you to determine the quality of the opportunity. I’ve been a member for a year, but have not used them much, because I have not have my songs ready. Argh, I’m a moron! Next year....

Taxi.com
If you want to get your songs licensed or covered by other artists, I think this is the best avenue. It’s not cheap -- $300 per year -- but for your money you get access to a team who has contacts with the major publishers. If your material passes muster with Taxi, they will forward it on and it will be listened to because it came from Taxi. The per submission cost is $5. I’m pretty sure they offer in-depth reviews of your submissions, too. If you visit the Taxi site, be forewarned, it’s a nightmare of relentless promotion. For an honest review of Taxi, click here.

Jango
Back in the good old days, if you wanted to get your music on the radio you just bribed the station. It was called payola, and while it was/is illegal, I’m sure it continues to be a standard practice for the Guys With the Big Bucks. What of the poor independent sap? Jango! Yup, Jango is legal pay-to-play. You simply create an artist account, upload the tracks you want to have played on Jango’s radio network, and pony up! $100 gets you 4,000 plays over the course of a few weeks. You can accelerate or slow your plays, as well as geo-target them. Best of all, listeners will occasionally comment or even send you their email. Pretty cool, but be careful: once you sign up, Jango happily bills you for 4,000 plays a month, so you have to cut them off manually.

thesixtyone.com
This is a cool music discovery site. You post your tracks and if they catch on, thesixtyone continues to play them, but if they don’t, all quiet on the western front. The best way to get some listeners and comments is to be an active listener and commenter yourself. Here’s a cool post on how to use thesixtyone: What Artists Should Know About thesixtyone.

That’s it, so far. If anyone has anything to add, please let me know in the comments.