A Longish Preamble to My New Song

Between the ages of ten and thirteen, I went to a Catholic school just beyond the city limits of Philadelphia. You knew you were leaving Philadelphia because you had to cross a bridge that spanned a set of railroad tracks and ended at the top of a steep hill that descended into the wilds of suburbia. The school sat at the top of the hill, right next to the railroad tracks.

The school didn’t have a schoolyard per se. But it did have a church, and the church had a parking lot, and that’s where we were sent to play at lunchtime regardless of weather or time of year.

Worth noting is the fact that the church was a long block away from the school, and that the long block ran parallel to the train tracks. What this means in practical terms is that the church parking lot where we played every day at lunchtime was right next to a set of train tracks. Other than a low dirt hill and some shrubbery, nothing stood between us and the tracks — not to mention the trains that roared by every twenty minutes or so.

Also worth noting is that the church parking lot was built on the same hill that the school and the church were built on. Again, if we’re thinking about this in practical terms — or at least geographical terms — it means that if the parking lot was level (which it was), then there would be a steep drop at one end.

So at one end of the parking lot there was a set of heavily trafficked railroad tracks, and at the other end was a twenty-foot drop. Between these boundaries ran a horde of ten-to-thirteen-year-olds who liked to set things on fire and believed that everything they saw on pro-wrestling was not only real but should be emulated. Amidst all of this, there was one person (me) who just wanted to be left alone to read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the latest issue of Doctor Who Monthly.

There was also a lamp.

SchoolyardDiagram-01

It turns out that I didn’t get much reading done, largely because I was trying to navigate the Scylla and Charybdis of the church parking lot while also trying to avoid the hordes of preteen boys who wanted to use me as a prop in their efforts at staging the latest wrestling moves they’d seen on television. Also, my interest in reading and a tendency to make references to things like “Scylla and Charybdis” did not endear me to anyone in my age bracket. Or anyone outside of my age bracket, come to think of it.

The upshot of all of this is that I ended up getting pounded quite a bit, and once went home with a concussion when my skull slammed against the blacktop. At the time, I thought everyone hated me. I felt like an outsider, and that made me miserable. The books I read and the TV shows I liked to watch gave me a bit of an escape, but what I really needed was someone to tell me to forget about all of the kids who made me feel like I didn’t belong — to tell me they could all go to hell. To tell me, in essence, to fuck ’em.

And that’s where this song comes in…

By Way of a Business Plan

I’m auditing a music business course this semester, and there was a longish assignment due earlier today along with a presentation. Here’s what I came up with…

Early in the semester, the professor, Mike Kelly, posted a short piece that Bob Lefsetz wrote about artists. It started by saying that an artist doesn’t give an audience what it wants, isn’t in it for the money, is not a member of the group, and lives for feedback but hates that they do. All of this describes me more or less perfectly, especially the last point.

I’m also cool with all of the other stuff he says in that short piece, especially the idea that an artist isn’t entitled to an income but sill needs an audience in order to be relevant. That’s essentially where I find myself in relation to the music business—not expecting or even especially wanting to make any money at it but nonetheless wanting to find the audience that will like my music.

Also, I’m kind of a cheapskate. So even though I’m not looking to make any money in the business, I’m also trying to mitigate my losses as much as possible. Here’s how I’m making that happen…

The Brand

As ill-advised as it may seem, I’m not using my own name. I made a decent reputation as an indie writer some years ago, but I’m throwing all of that away and starting from scratch and going by the name Zapatero. It’s my last name in Spanish. I discovered this fact in a used book shop in West Chester about fifteen years ago. Here’s an image I’m using as a kind of logo:

Zap2-01

I’ve also adopted the tagline “Admittedly strange music by an admittedly strange individual,” though I’m not committed to that.

The Product

At this point, “the product” is an indie Lo-Fi electronic EP that I released at the end of April. It’s called Garden Variety and consists of five songs:

  • Into the Yoni: A quasi-instrumental that includes samples from a Reason plug-in. I went back and forth as to whether to include this one, but there’s a chaotic instrumental break in the middle that I like.
  • Fuzzy Logic: This is the featured track of the EP. It’s about wanting to recapture the innocence of youth. And about picking trash. A heavy synth bass gives the track a dirty edge.
  • Johnny’s Secret Army: This one is ostensibly about John DuPont, though I recorded it about three years too late to get it onto the soundtrack of Foxcatcher. Timing is everything.
  • In the Light: I played an acoustic version of this song at a Quaker meetinghouse once. For Quakers, saying that you’ll hold someone in the light is like saying you’ll pray for someone, so they loved the song—and the fact that I was playing an acoustic guitar. So they invited me back to do a full set on one of their “coffeehouse nights.” When I came back with synths and a band consisting of two friends of mine dressed as robots, they didn’t  know what to make of it.
  • West Philly Bedroom: A breakup song for the hometown crowd. I like the church bells at the end.

Here’s the cover:

Fuzzy Logic CoverGetting the Product “Out There”

This is where the copyright part of the course came in handy. I ended up copyrighting the five songs on the EP as a collection. That cost $55. I also joined BMI, which was free, and then I registered the songs with them as well. Then I used a service called DistroKid to get the song in various online outlets like iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, and YouTube.

Basically, DistroKid charges a flat fee per year, so an artist can put out an unlimited amount of material each year for $20. So to make this investment worthwhile, I should start putting out more material.

The real expense is the copyright fee. There’s no limit to how many songs a person can copyright at a single time, so what I should have done was copyright all of the songs I’ve written and recorded over the past five years or so as unpublished works. Then I’d be able to sort them into separate collections and put them out without paying the copyright fee each time. Oh well. Live and learn.

Total expenses so far: $75

Promoting the Product

Most of my promotion knowledge comes from my days as an indie book author. Back then, I’d find out which blogs and journals did reviews of books like mine and interviewed authors like me, and I’d get in touch with them. So I did the same thing with my EP. To date, I’ve gotten two reviews, which I’ve featured prominently on my website. One of the reviews also clued me into which genre I’m working in: Lo-Fi. Which makes sense because I’m always asking myself how Beck would approach any given song I’m working on.

In addition to continuing to seek out music blogs that might review my EP or individual tracks from it, I’m trying to redevelop my web presence. To this end, I did the following:

  • I changed my blog title from Abominations to Zapateria: The World of Zapatero. I also changed the address from marcschuster.wordpress.com to zapateromusic.com. Over the years, my focus has shifted from literature to music, so this change was part of an ongoing progression. The reason I converted the old blog as opposed to starting a new one from scratch is that I had a little over 1,000 followers that I wanted to keep. All told, upgrading my blog (which included getting rid of any ads that would pop up from time to time) cost $35.88. That’s a yearly fee.
  • On my blog, I’ve started posting reviews of music similar to mine. I’ve also reached out to indie bands I like and asked if they’d be interested in interviews. The idea here is twofold. One, I want to learn from other people who are doing what I’m doing. Two, I want to be able to share that information with other people who might need it. Essentially, I want my website and blog to be a place where people can learn not just about new music but what independent musicians are doing to get their music heard.
  • I’ve gone back on Facebook after a five-year break. I probably won’t stay on for long because I hate it.
  • I have a separate Zapatero Twitter account that’s tied to the blog. The idea isn’t so much to drive sales as it is to put my “brand” in front of people and, in turn, to potentially find listeners who might like my music.

The ultimate goal at this point is to establish a foothold, and the main thing tying everything together in terms of promotion is the tree image from the album cover. It’s also the image in the background of my website.

So, add what I’ve spent in promotion to the $75 I spent on distribution and copyright, and the total is $115.88.

The Goal

The goal is to reach an audience that’s about the same size as the audience my books have reached. The trouble is that I don’t have exact numbers for the books. If I had to put a dollar amount on “success” at the moment, it would be enough to recoup all of the money I’ve spent so far. So we’re looking at $115.88.

So far, it’s tough to say how close I am to reaching either of my goals. I appear to be getting a few listens a day on BandCamp, but only two people have downloaded the EP so far. A couple of people have told me that they bought it on iTunes or elsewhere, but there’s a two- to three-month lag between sales and payments. Then again, even if everyone who told me they bought the EP actually did, we’re looking at a total of about $10, which puts me at about $105.88 away from my goal.

Hmm…Probably need a better business plan.

Next Steps

I’m working on a live set so I can play out at a few local venues. At the moment, this involves figuring out how to use Reason to control some external synths, which isn’t hard, just a pain to set up. Not sure whether I’ll ask my robot friends to join me, but I probably will since they work for free and seem to enjoy dressing like robots.

I also started working on my next collection of music. I have a couple of weird tunes that might fit together as another EP—“Sweet Chocolate Jesus” and “Spongecake.” If I write a few other songs along these lines, I’ll make it a dessert-themed EP. I’ll try to get this one done before the end of summer. Then I’ll start working on another one that’s a little punkier and synthier. This time around, though, I think I’ll try to copyright as many songs as I can in a single go. That’s turning out to be the biggest expense.

Somewhere down the line, I might think about starting a label. I have a few friends who’ve written and recorded some good material. After I get a little more experience getting my own music out into the world, I might ask them if they’d like me to get their songs out as well. I’m thinking three or four acts at most.

Timeline

Part of the assignment was to create a timeline for our business goals. Since I’m a teacher and we’re in the middle of finals, here’s what my timeline looks like:

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