Release Dates

When you release an album, you typically release it once. That's one shot to promote however many songs are in the collection. Most of the time, historically, albums have been made up of the songs people hear — singles — and the deeper cuts that only the real fans will notice or remember. Be definition, these album tracks will have a reduced pop culture influence and reduced memorability.

Every so often an album comes along that defies convention and gets attention for nearly every track. Taylor Swift's 1989 is almost entirely made up of singles. Ditto Third Eye Blind's debut album, or The Killers' Hot Fuss. But in these cases, the vast majority of the singles were released after the album itself.

So the model thus far — again, typically — is single first to hype the record, the record, additional singles to keep sales up.

For a big-name artist, this model makes sense. Record companies and PR teams work to keep the artist in the public eye, and the public, for their part, gets to hear new stuff with just enough regularity to keep things fresh.

But if you're a Taylor Swift fan, there's nothing on the radio today that you didn't hear two years ago. (Except for a soundtrack song, but whatever. This is about her album.)

For indie artists, we live and die by our fans' enthusiasm. We have no PR teams, no marketing departments. PR companies, music blogs, and other tastemakers will only even consider giving you attention if you give them tons of advance notice; you can forget about getting any attention at all for a thing that has already been released.

So we have to try really, really hard to hype something we're working on, usually while we work on it. It used to be that a record would be sent off for mixing and mastering and pressing and distribution, and you'd have plenty of time to get the hype machine going, but now we can have a song on iTunes and Spotify within a few hours of finishing the song. Because the impulse is always to ship when a thing is ready, it's hard to sit on a collection of finished songs.

But if you only release those songs once, and you blow it, it might be six months to a year or more before you get another chance to get attention. That can kill momentum and end a career before it starts.

We're starting to see a shift toward singles in the hip-hop world and EPs in the rock world. Airplane Mode, for our part, has only ever released EPs. We've stayed shy of singles because of how it feels — not enough substance, and lack of context for the song itself. The great thing about an album is that you get to focus on a certain kind of experience, and share those songs as something of a snapshot of the band in that moment. But maybe there's a third idea.

We're going to start taking a hybrid approach with this next record. It will still be an EP, probably 7. But we're going to set the release date to something like July or August. When the songs are ready, we'll start releasing them monthly as singles, each with their own artwork that fits both the song individually and ties into a bigger theme. On the final month, instead of releasing a single, we release the EP.

(We'll also almost assuredly be in the middle of recording the next set of songs by then, so we can probably keep a steady pace indefinitely.)

Instead of releasing one thing, we get to release seven. That's seven chances to get PR hype, seven chances to get a track featured on popular music blogs, seven chances to make it into 'new release' playlists. Maybe none of them will catch fire. But we'll get six more chances than we would have otherwise.

It also means that when we release music videos — and we intend to release a video for every song on this record — you won't be watching a video for a months-old song. Everthing can feel as new and interesting for the longtime fan as it does for the people just discovering us, and nobody gives anything up along the way.

So when is our next record coming out? I don't know. Probably end of summer. But by the time it does you can know every word to every song.

 

-Dave

 

Note: You can even get an early listen as we record and mix by supporting us on Patreon.

How to Ruin a Music Video

Our video for Elevators is out today, only two months behind schedule!

When we decided to put our focus on making videos, we knew we needed to learn a few things along the way in order to make it all work. For me, the best way to learn something new is to dive into the deep end and fight to stay afloat.

Squarespace — ever the sponsorship visionaries — got behind us pretty early and let us go do whatever we wanted. Literally. The only requirement was that we eventually release a video. But even that ended up being a close call.

For the record, everything that went wrong is entirely my fault.

Read More

To SoundCloud, Love Dave

Dear SoundCloud,

When Taylor Swift wrote her open letter to Apple about why her music wouldn’t appear on Apple’s brand new streaming service, her core frustration was over the lack of payment to artists during the 90-day free trial period. Not for her sake, she claimed, but because of how the trial period could impact small, independent artists whose entire sales cycle could be swallowed up in 90 days.

Today you launched SoundCloud Go, a streaming music service that brings your full catalog of independent music together with major label artists to create something new: a seemingly level playing field with focus on the creators and their music (or podcasts). Something accessible to anyone.

Except it isn’t a level playing field, and that’s a big problem. I’m no Taylor Swift, but hey, you’re no Apple. Have a seat, let’s talk.

Your Go service is $9.99 for unlimited songs. Users can download songs for offline listening. Anyone can access the same collection of songs for free but with advertisements included. So far so good. But then I get to the “Creators” section of your announcement to see what this means for my band, and I see nothing at all about our cut of the take.

We can see from your On SoundCloud page (which reads a bit like a multi-level marketing scam, by the way) that there’s a “Premier” level at which some artists get paid. The major labels are listed, but what about independent artists?

"Even if you don’t work with a label or a distributor, you can still make money from your music or audio. As long as you own the master recording rights to your tracks, you can monetize them by becoming a Premier Partner directly with SoundCloud.

Premier Partners that are independent artists include Blackbear, Kali Uchis, Toni Romiti, Stick Figure, Omar Linx, and many others.

Please note that we currently have a backlog of artists who’ve expressed interest in becoming a Premier Partner, but opening up monetization opportunities to more artists and creators is something we’re extremely focused on accomplishing. You can register your interest in becoming a Premier Partner here and we’ll contact you as soon as we’re able to invite you.

Alternatively, you’re welcome to participate through any of the growing list of aggregators that are Premier Partners, many of whom are accepting new artists. Aggregators that are currently Premier Partners include: Fullscreen, Maker Studios, Studio71, Repost Network, Omnia Media, AEI Media, with more to come.

Please follow the SoundCloud Blog, our social channels, or check back here for updates as we continue to roll out monetization to everyone.

So there’s only one conclusion left: SoundCloud doesn’t intend to pay Airplane Mode a single penny for our music regardless of how many people listen to us unless we:

  1. Get invited into your exclusive club which you’ve already stated has a super-long waiting list.
  2. Wait for you to “roll out monetization to everyone.”
  3. Work through an aggregator (who may still reject us) and lose the benefits of posting directly to SoundCloud.

This is dramatically worse than missing 90 days of revenue for a free trial because you're offering listeners a way to pay to hear our songs that actively and intentionally competes with services that do pay us.

You can slice it, package it, or spin it however you like, but the bare fact is that you’re making money off of songs you aren’t paying for. Worse, you’re doing it while perpetuating an air of exclusivity around the concept of making money. All while you’re pretending to be a friend to the little guy. There’s nothing artist-friendly about this approach.

But wait! There’s more!

Airplane Mode has a SoundCloud Pro account to get access to unlimited uploads and a few other features that make the service useful. This account costs us $15 per month. So not only are you getting our music for free and paying us nothing, we’re actually paying you to take it. What an excellent deal. For you.

This isn’t new, really. You’ve been running ads for a while now without paying us. I guess I wrote it off as a temporary measure to keep the lights on. I could accept that. But now you’re charging people for access to our songs, rolling out the red carpet for the major labels, and saying you’ll get around to us eventually. You can make lists of why this service is good for us, but “exposure” is a myth, and I have little to no faith in your magical recommendation algorithms as our ticket to superstardom.

We’re a small indie rock band from New York City. We’re very new on the scene. While our play counts on SoundCloud wouldn’t generate enough revenue for us to be especially meaningful right now, that’s exactly why it matters that you’re not paying us. SoundCloud’s success thus far has been built on the backs of small artists looking for an audience. It’s fine to want bigger things, but not at the expense of your fans. You’ve sold out, man.

Meanwhile, there are services like BandCamp falling over themselves to help us make money. Apple Music, Spotify, and even Tidal manage to pay us for our songs despite not allowing us to upload to them directly.

As musicians and as music fans, we want options. As a perennial supporter of underdogs, I want to see SoundCloud do well. But not by perpetuating the notion that independent art has no value.

This is simple: you’re charging money for our music. Pay us. Not with “exposure” or vague algorithms but actual money. Apple ended up doing the right thing. It’s not too late for you.

Love,
Dave

How to Set Up a Click Track for under $60

Airplane Mode plays to a click. It ensures that the entire band is in time and it allows us to use triggered events to fill out our sound for live performances. For us, the click is about polish. If you’ve ever considered using a click track for your band, you've probably run into two problems:

  1. There’s no good software to drive the metronome
  2. The hardware to make it all work is confusing and expensive
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GarageBand: Chasing the Train

If you like remixing or manipulating songs, or if you just like to play around in GarageBand, we’ve broken out the tracks for our song Chasing the Train and made it available as a GarageBand project.

Since we recorded and produced the record in ProTools there are lots of settings and plugins that we aren’t able to share. But the tracks are isolated, so if you’d like to hear what it would sound like with your awesome jazz flute solo instead of my guitar, please go nuts.

If you come up with something cool, we'd love to hear it

Note: Please don't steal our song, claim it as your own, or charge money for any remixes or other derivations without our permission. Credit to Trent Reznor for having this idea all the way back in 2005.

Amsterdam

We have a new record out called “Amsterdam”. It’s a four-song EP about the time I moved to Amsterdam for a girl I liked. But there's a little more to it than that.

I love learning about how things are made. Documentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, blog posts, podcasts, and how-to videos. Fascinating stuff, even when (or especially when) I don’t understand it all.

Years ago Ben Folds did an iTunes Originals session where, between songs, he told stories and talked about his life and career and the events that shaped them. Not just a voice in my earbuds, Ben Folds became a person, with his own thoughts and opinions and flaws and weaknesses. The boldness of the vulnerability drew me in, and I’ve aspired to that same level of humanity with the things I’ve created since.

“Amsterdam” is available on iTunes and Spotify and Amazon. We're also trying a new medium: iBooks.

The book contains the same four studio tracks as the EP, but a new format allows us to go further; every song is a chapter, with the music, lyrics sheet, original demo, and stories that inspired the song.

We're also including a short video we made while goofing off in the studio, some photos of our experience, and a special hour-long podcast with the band and producer Michael Wuerth talking about what it was like to make the record.

Over time, as we make music videos or play shows to support the album, we can update the iBook with new content. In the digital age there's no reason why a record can't be a living document.

It's weird to release a record as a book. A decade ago it would have sounded like a joke. Yet with iPhones and iPads and digital everything, the line between mediums is starting to blur. We wanted to take advantage of that blurring to tell our stories in a new way.

For me, every step of this story is deeply personal. From that hotel in Amsterdam to the recording studio in Manhattan, I've lived every minute of it. I'm grateful to create art in an age where independent artists have the tools and ability to tell a story on their own terms.

We've worked very hard on this record, and I've never been so excited to put something into the world. We hope you like it, and we hope the stories inspire you.

On Making a Music Video

Today marks the release of our very first music video. We worked really hard on it, and we hope it’s as much fun to watch as it was to make.

“Let’s get our friends and some random people off the street to dance to the song.” The idea was to do something that would be inexpensive to make, but still entertaining. Almost nobody shown in the video had heard the song before, so what you’re seeing are people’s genuine reactions to the music. Well, as genuine as you can be when someone tells you to dance and shoves a camera in your face.

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Airplane Mode: The Podcast

When we decided to make a record, we did so knowing full well that we'd be doing things in an unconventional way. We don't have a full gigging band yet. There's no brand-name producer. There's no record label. We're recording most of this with our friends or in our apartments, sharing files over Dropbox.

But maybe that's the new normal. In the age of Twitter and YouTube and GarageBand, maybe this is just how independent musicians do things.

We've always loved Behind the Music and iTunes Originals, and hearing our favorite artists tell stories on stage. Something about a view into the process makes the music feel like a more intimate experience. It seemed that, if we were going to try starting a band and making a record without a road map, perhaps we had an opportunity to give others a look into what we're doing.

So this. We've enlisted the help of the brilliant Mark Bramhill and our good friends at Hover, and started documenting the band via podcast. Every week, you'll get to hear the story of Airplane Mode from the band directly.

We'll do our best to keep things interesting.

 

-Dave