Tuesday, September 30, 2008

How do I get on Soundscan and Billboard charts?

billboard soundscan charts

I get asked this a lot, as if the question was about two different charts. The Billboard charts are based on Nielsen Soundscan data, so it's actually the same thing.

With that said, the Soundscan situation is a lesson in barriers to entry. Because basically, if you want your album sales on those charts, you better get signed to a label -- and you don't want that.

Soundscan works through an international system of reporters. Every time someone buys your CD in a retail store, that's getting recorded and passed on to Nielsen. (The same company that does TV ratings, yes.) Not every store reports to Soundscan -- Nielsen are lazy fuckers, after all -- and of course, the list of which stores DO make reports is a closely guarded secret. Apparently there's over 14,000 names on it.

When major acts are selling CDs on tour, they're submitting a form to Nielsen where they're reporting the number of albums sold, and the venue is signing off on the document to validate those numbers.

In order to submit that form, though, you need to on a label that's registered with Soundscan, and here, things get tricky. First of all, you need to be in business for over 2 years before you even apply. Second of all, there's an annual fee of $500.

Your CD also needs a UPC code -- not a big issue for most people reading this, but those of you who are up on Revelations 13:16 might object to that. When you order your CDs with Oasis, they include a UPC code.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Does Radio Play Still Matter?

HOLY SHIT YES IT DOES. But don't base this on gut feelings or even opinions -- here's some of the most recent available numbers, from American Media Services:

"Radio remains the Number One way that Americans learn about new music. Nearly half (49 percent) cited the radio, compared with 27 percent from friends, relatives or other word of mouth. Lesser sources included TV and reviews in newspapers or magazines."

So obviously, yeah, you want to get on the radio as much as possible. Don't be too quick to throw out the Old Traditions just because Teh Internets 2.0 have changed the entire world. On a similar note, check out this Pro Hip Hop post about the importance and value of promo CDs. More science from AMS:

64% of American adults listen to the radio daily
80% usually turn on the radio when they get in their car
73% are listening the same or more than they did five years ago
39% of Internet radio listeners did so in the past week, up from 23% six months ago
48% expect to listen to radio over the internet in the future, up from 38% six months ago

Always try to find metrics -- numbers, measurements -- on what people are giving their attention to. Where attention goes, money will follow.

DIY Research and Hustle

From Wordsmith, who is a fountain of dirty-hands CEO know-how:

"When I am really free at work, I am making html codes for internet promo and building databases for every college, commercial, and internet radio station in the US. Its terrible work, but you don’t need a label or a radio promoter to work your tracks, all the info is on the net if you’re willing to be patient and research things. Just to give you an example, while everyone else is shelling out $2000 to $4000 for a college radio promoter to get their record charted, I took the time and looked up just about every college DJ that submitted a top 30 chart to Rapnetwork & Rapattacklives. Long story short, a track of mine called “Ode to the Pioneers” peaked at number 4 in a month without burning up a credit card or going in debt. It was a grind to make it happen, but I knew the track was strong and on the college circuit, they are all about underground Hip-Hop."

Remember, if you don't have money, you do have time. So invest the time.

Friday, September 26, 2008

How do I get my music reviewed?

Putin Headphones you suck

You need to have a physical CD. There's definitely exceptions, which I will describe in this article, but for the most part, websites and magazines expect to get a copy of your CD in the mail.

If you've got that, we're in business. You need to start by determining who your audience is, and where they are spending time and paying attention.

Check our list of Hip Hop Website Metrics from September 2008. These statistics can be radically off, being sourced from Compete.com, but it's the only such resource I'm aware of. Leave a comment if I'm missing something -- I'm not cocky, just ignorant.

Obviously these statistics are an imperfect yardstick, since I hear a lot more people talk about a review on Okayplayer.com (37,000 visitors in September) and I never hear people talk about articles or reviews on Hiphopdx.com (268,000 in September). You also need to keep your target audience in mind. Do quick research -- don't get distracted, just gather information systematically. Make a list of sites you're interested and go directly to the reviews page. Scan the artists they're reviewing.

If you're seeing a ton of mixtapes from Jeezy and Wayne, maybe you don't want to be sending them your experimental conscious hip hop masterpiece. If the entire staff is from Harvard, maybe your militant afro-dub album will scare them enough to love you forever. Make calculated decisions, but still take risks. It's just a single f'ing CD after all.

START HERE: A List of Good Reviews Pages

Art of Rhyme
Baller Status - best name ever
Hip Hop Linguistics
Hip Hop DX
XXL Magazine


Include a personal note with the CD. Include biographical info, tell them who you are, get their attention and be honest. Within a week, followup with an email. It's not being rude, just consistent. Your followup email isn't to pester them, just to confirm that they did in fact recieve a CD.

Wisdom: from the unbeatable Martin Atkins book, Tour Smart:

"I get 20-30 and sometimes 40 CDs a week. No kidding! The first thing I do is open all the mail and put it in a big stack. One on top of the other. I'm rarely able to listen to it all in one sitting: so many CDs will stay on the ever-growing stack as time goes by. Then eventually, I'll get an email or a phone call asking if I've recieved the disc. So I'll turn to my "stack" to locate the album in question. The only CDs I can read are those in regular, large, CD jewel cases. All the CDs that are forwarded in paper or thin jewel cases are lost from my quick view. Sometimes lost forever.

--Chris Payne

Exceptions to the Rule

One major avenue for getting attention and fans without having an album done: make a truly creative and awesome-looking video and post it on YouTube. There's actually a huge social networking component to YouTube that I never saw until we signed up for a World-Around account.

Of course, telling you to "be cool and original" is about as useful as telling you that if you really believe, you can fly. For an over-detailed, link-heavy analysis of what "viral marketing" actually means, check out Be Innovative, Episodic and Interesting to Get Free Publicity. Also check out The Five Core Elements of Success Without Touring.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

How can I make sure venues, club owners and promoters will pay me?

live hip hop promoters contracts

The blunt answer is: you can't.

Although the standard protection for larger events and concerts, known as the AFM Performance Agreement, offers detailed terms and rigorous legal protection, it's not something that gets used for small, local events. Odds are, if you're reading this you don't even have a booking agent -- if you ask a club owner for a contract they will probably laugh at you.

For a great breakdown of the AFM Performance Agreement, check out Music Biz Advice, which is a horribly designed but still useful resource.

Further Reading

Tour Smart Martin Atkins
There is absolutely no better book on the subject of doing a tour than this one. Martin Atkins has the experience, the intelligence, but most importantly, the HONESTY to give you straight advice about how things really work. I've read way, way too many books by lawyers who have only worked with successful clients and frankly have no fucking clue how things operate outside their expense account rock star fantasy land. Atkins is the polar opposite: down-to-earth, very human, and an entrepreneur who works from the ground up. Although Atkins comes from metal/industrial music, I would still recommend this as the single best music business book a DIY hip hop artist could want. At least until Slug, Wyclef Jean and RZA write a book together with Wendy Day.

Related Articles

How Can I Get More Shows?

Is Touring Really Nescessary in 2008?

Is "Pay-to-Play" a Good Idea?

How can I put my gigs online?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

How Do I Break Into the Global Hip Hop Market?

First of all, what is the global hip hop market?

Basically, it's just four countries: Japan, the UK, Germany and France. In 2007, the US music industry made $6 billion in sales. The top four international markets made $7 billion dollars, and the overall world market (in other words, every single country except the United States) was $13.4 billion last year.

IFPI LogoAll of these figures are from the IFPI, which is basically an international version of the RIAA, with smart lawyers and much better graphic designers, too. If you're not already up on it, their Digital Music Report 2008 is a motherfucking goldmine of free information. So important I'll do the link again:


One important piece of background information: the exponential rise in digital music sales has a lot to do with why everyone is so excited about "the global market" -- this graph should summarize things nicely:

From the DMR 2008 report above, the IFPI raises an important point: "globally, the digital market is split roughly 50/50 between online and mobile sales."

Here's some more important statistics: this is a quote from Alan Moore (source link):

The internet reaches 1.3 billion people (of which an increasing proportion are already using their mobile phones as their primary - or often only - internet access device.). But there are over 3.5 billion mobile phone subscribers today. Every one of those mobile phone users can be reached with a basic SMS text message (and 74% of us are active users of SMS, so they will be able to respond to your communication).

Out of the internet’s 1.3 billion users, only 1.2 billion are active users of email. So the most powerful communciation method on the internet - email - has a possible maximum reach today of 1.2 billion. If we take only the active users of SMS - remember the reach via mobile can reach essentially every mobile phone subscriber on the planet - the 74% of 3.5 billion - is 2.6 billion.

Also, as we will see shortly, the global market split might be 50/50, but the details make for interesting reading, and complicated marketing challenges. Not every country approaches hip hop or music purchases the same way...actually, none of them do.

For an overall look at international hip hop, check out Flight 808 -- an overdose of information, laid out in an easy-to-find way. There's also a decent body of work at Hip Hop Linguistics and a huge archive at World Hip Hop Market.


First and foremost: Japan is the second largest music market in the world, and they love hip hop. This is very good news. Last year the Japanese music industry made $3.5 billion in profits, more than half of the US market. Japan buys a lot of music online, but primarily through mobile phones -- 91% of all digital music sales in Japan were bought via phone in 2007.

Japanese music sales are monitored on the "Oricon Charts," but the industry fundamentally mirrors the US model, with many of the same companies.

Recommended Reads: Guardian UK looks at Japanese Pop Culture, a 2007 interview with female duo HalCali, some token BBC Coverage, and professor Ian Condry jacking off his ego...some gems in that last article, though. Dig deep.


In the UK, digital sales more closely resemble the US figures, where 67% of digital purchases happened online. (In the United States, that figure is 71%.) UK hip hop has been undergoing a pretty amazing renaissance in the past several years, but they're still having a hard time making any serious inroads into the US market. Aside from Dizzee Rascal on Def Jux and Lady Sovereign on Def Jam, UK hip hop remains an isolated scene.

For hip hop entrepreneurs reading this, the UK presents your best bet. Allegedly, they speak the same language, and you will find enough in common with the UK audience to communicate effectively.

Recommended Reading: The best place to start is the outstanding website UKHH.COM, full of quality interviews, reviews and articles. You can get caught up very quickly here and decide who to reach out to.


France is skewed towards mobile purchases, although not as radically as the Japanese: 61% of the digital sales in the UK last year were bought over the phone.

Common Sense Methods and Strategies

1. Speak the Language. If you're really serious, you'll get a translator. Babelfish will do more harm than good -- despite huge advances in technology there is still no Universal Translator.

2. Get a Street Team. Nothing beats having people on the ground. The quicker you can establish a motivated fanbase in a foreign country, the better.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Statistics: What Hip Hop Websites Matter?

What websites should you be trying to reach? What websites should you put your music on? If you're looking for answers, check Audible Hype out, but stick around for some statistics I collected today for another project. Feel free to suggest additional sites I missed -- drop a comment.

Hip Hop Sites by Traffic, March 2009

484k Ourstage.com
457k Reverbnation.com
238k Allhiphop.com
233k Hiphopdx.com
154k XXLmag.com
135k sohh.com
95k amiestreet.com
86k garageband.com
66k 2dopeboyz.com
61k nahright.com
58k okayplayer.com
52k ballerstatus.com
48k Hiphopgame.com
48k loud.com
22k thesource.com
14k mzhiphop.com
12k rawkus.com

Hip Hop Sites by Traffic, September 2008

784k Ourstage.com
287k Allhiphop.com
268k Hiphopdx.com
261k Reverbnation.com
153k XXLmag.com
130k sohh.com
68k garageband.com
67k Hiphopgame.com
63k rawkus.com
58k ballerstatus.com
58k ohhla.com
54k amiestreet.com
50k nahright.com
48k loud.com
44k 2dopeboyz.com
37k okayplayer.com
25k prohiphop.com
17k hypebot.com
15k thesource.com
08k rhymesayers.com
08k cocaineblunts.com
07k definitivejux.net
06k cratekings.com
05k ohword.com
03k unkut.com
02k blogsiswatching.com
01k artofrhyme.com

Source: Compete.com

Futher Reading

...from Audible Hype: "The No-Bullshit Guide to Hip Hop Demographics"

...from New Music Strategies: What Websites Should I be on? and The Sequel. Andrew Dubber has been doing excellent work for the past year, and he's a founding author of Music Think Tank.

...the New Music Ideas Top 10 most useful sites for musicians.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Should I Get a Record Deal?

You won't be offered a good record deal until you don't need a record deal at all. Unfortunately, that's the name of the game for the immediate future here in 2009.

Unless you're already proving yourself to be profitable and building a large fan base, record labels are not willing to "put you on." They want to partner with professionals who are already "on." There will be plenty of businessmen who think they can profit by fucking you, and they will be happy to offer you a one-sided contract that basically steals your music.

The Real Question

Do you love your music? Is this your life? If so, then you probably want to make a living off it, and that will require work. Start with Audible Hype 101.

Here's a great read from Bruce Warila about looking at your entire operation and getting organized: Are Your Ducks in Order?

Money is frustrating, and that won't change anytime soon. However, there are important steps you can take, right now, to get your online promotions set up right. Here's how: The $0 Promotional Plan.

And finally, for a more complete explanation of the reality behind the Record Deal Dream, here's Bruce Warila again: You Will Never Get a Record Deal.

To Clarify

This means that asking "how to get signed" makes you look stupid. This means that anyone offering you a record deal has figured out a way to fuck you over, and they don't think you'll be smart enough to catch it. This means that pretty much everyone offering to teach you "how to get signed" is selling you bullshit because they know you want to believe it. This means that 50-80% of the "Music Business" books currently in print are obsolete dinosaur garbage.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

How Can I Get More Shows?

Five surefire methods for getting more shows:

1. Get a better live show.

Everyone could play a tighter show. Even the most established and professional acts are constantly tinkering with their recipes and trying new things. Odds are you have poor stage presence, way too much dead space in your set when instrumentals or hooks are playing, and you're not engaging the crowd enough. Get video footage of your gigs as much as possible, and ask everyone who's seen you for feedback -- especially the "haters" -- that's your most valuable source of honest, unbiased information.

2. Reach out to larger local and regional acts.

Offer to help out bigger cats locally, with fliers, promotion, even setting up equipment. If you've got a digital camera, you can be a photographer. Make yourself useful and you'll earn more gigs.

3. Do some ticket buy "pay to play" opening gigs.

It's worth it to bite the bullet once in awhile. If there's a major national act coming through who have a similar style and sound to what you're doing, it's a good investment to do a ticket buy for a real promoter and get in front of that audience. Especially if you've got merch to sell.

4. Advertise and Network.

Flyers are a blind spot for a lot of people -- even artists who get them printed will often use them so wrong, they might as well have saved time and just burned the money directly. Hand flyers directly to interested people, and put them up at venues and businesses frequented by your tribe. Quantity is not quality and never will be. As for "networking," you might think you know what I'm talking about, but read this to be sure.

5. Submit to Festivals Like You Mean It

Small barriers to entry are the most effective. What that means is that a $30 submission fee for a festival will keep the fucktards from wasting your time. Every rapper on myspace thinks they're dope, but ask them to put money on that and watch the confidence evaporate. That's the principle behind submission fees for festivals.

The flipside of that is, they get way less submissions than you think, and they can't afford 90% of the "real" acts who do submit. So if you're a cheap newcomer who just shows up on their desk, you've got a strong chance of getting into the festival.

Audible Hype

Check out How to Book a World Tour While You're Buck Naked -- a guide to using MySpace and Google Maps to organize a tour that's only limited by your ambition and gas money.

Live Shows 101 sums up my advice on the topic of effective gigs. My advice pales in comparison to the body of business wisdom and life experience that Jeri Goldstein provides.

Check out our series on touring -- especially about the necessity of touring for larger artists and the fact touring isn't necessary for smaller DIY artists...like you. (It is fun, though...just not smart business.)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Audible Hype 101

Audible Hype

Audible Hype is a resource for motivated smart kids who make dope hip hop music. Just wanted to say that up front, because otherwise, none of this is going to help you much.

If you’re new to the site, this is where to begin: a concise summary of everything we’ve got, and then some. I also stash a ton of news and information in the Audible Hype forum: news, statistics and research collections about “the competition.”