Gearfest 2019 Key Music Biz Take-Aways for the D.I.Y. Rock Star


What happens during the music biz workshops, yo?!

It occurred to us that it might be interesting to know some key advice that might help fellow D.I.Y. Rock Stars like you move the needle forward for your music biz-related goals and vision. In other to serve that need, we have taken notes from the sessions that we attended at this year’s Gearfest (see the video here), here are the key take-aways. (—Keep in mind that Gearfest is mostly about discovering—and buying and using—great musical gear, there are opportunities for music business enrichment, as well as live performances.) (Check out the video.)

“Using YouTube to Get Discovered”

Moderator: Mitch Gallagher

Panelists: Casey Cooper, Jared Falk, Kristina Schiano, Rob Scallon, Tim Pierce

Even though this was a session that they had last year—and seems hugely popular—we decided to attend again. It was well-worth checking it out again, since there was slightly different wisdom that was shared. (—We did decide that the name of this session is a misnomer; since these tips are more for figuring out how to be successful to achieve your own success versus trying to attract the attention of a major label, manager, etc.)

The key take-ways for us were as follows:

  • Post regularly. Pick a schedule and stick to it. Imagine you went to watch your favorite show, but you never know when it’s going to come on?

  • Try new things. Keep trying as many ideas as you like until you figure out what works.

  • Have fun on camera. Folks seem to like to see you having fun on-camera.

  • Enjoy what you’re doing. If you don’t, you will not commit to the long-game.

  • Put a twist on someone else’s idea. Don’t copy directly, but don’t reinvent the wheel.

  • There are a lot of good ideas that can be used with the twist of your own personality.

  • Diversify where you try to earn money; don’t just depend on AdSense.

  • Start today. You can’t get big, if you don’t start small.

  • It matters more what the idea is than to have fancy equipment. Fancy equipment is no guarantee of success.

  • Mix evergreen and time-sensitive material. Some things folks will find interesting for years and some things need to be up to keep up with current events/topics.

'Like to watch the video for GearFest 2019?

“The Career of a Songwriter”

David Pack

As a founding member of Ambrosia, David Pack had specific wisdom to share regarding the art and culture of songwriting. It was an interesting, thoughtful, and entertaining presentation.

The key take-aways were:

  • Analyze songs we like (to see if we can incorporate some that technique into our own songs).

  • Experiment with laying down parts (like fitting together pieces of a puzzle).

  • Finish songs even if they’re not great; it takes finishing songs to learn what works and what doesn’t over time.

  • Write a song that reminds you of your favorite artist. This will help you become empathetic to that spirit and allow you to flex your songwriting muscle.

  • Write many songs that may not seem useful at first—he calls them “trunk songs”—that you can come back to years later.

  • Try to write timeless lyrics—not related to a hot trend/fad.

  • Set your goals high and work at getting better. Even if you don’t hit the goal, you will find that you consistently do better and will see improvement over time.

  • There are some songs just meant for special occasions. Write for weddings, birthdays, and/or whatever is a fitting one-time occasion.

  • Record song “seeds”—song clips on your phone (or wherever). This is an easy place to start when you need your next idea.

  • Write down titles as they come to you. When you get stuck, you can refer back to your list and instantly become inspired again.

  • Write with others when possible. Collaboration can breed some awesome results.

  • Re-work cliches to make them special. Try to find another way to talk about love, etc.

  • Draw inspiration from everywhere—books, other songs, etc.

  • Use tools (like classical practice books) to infuse unexpected chord elements.

  • Be mindful that arranging can make the difference in whether a song “works.” Try mixing up the ways in which you structure your songs.

  • Don’t be afraid to re-write. Sometimes the best results come from a re-write.

“Modern songwriting Workflow”

Craig Anderton

We were pleasantly surprised to realize that the person responsible for so much technical information—articles and books that we have been reading for over 30 years—puts the craft of songwriting above any and all technical correctness. (—I don’t remember us coming to this realization last year, when—I swear—we attended a similar session!) Anyway, we were overjoyed to know that we’re not alone in thinking that, if we have stop in the creative headspace, to troubleshoot a technical issue that we are knocked out of the zone.

Here are the key take-aways:

  • Try to stay in the zone. Set yourself up, so that you do not have to do ANYTHING that takes you out of that headspace (i.e., change strings, wait for a computer update, set up the patchbay, etc.).

  • Keep a creative environment accessible at all times. Make it where all you have to do is sit down, pick up the instrument, and start recording.

  • Try to write as quickly as possible (so as not to lose the idea). You can always tweak it later, but value the idea that is being given to you in real-time.

  • Use templates and online tools to help shape the song idea. Templates make it where you don’t have to set up your mixer—or your software desktop—each time.

  • Use online rhyming dictionaries. It’s worth consulting when you’re looking to shape your songs’ lyrics.

  • Do not mix or update software or troubleshoot when you are in that songwriting mood.

“Being Successful in Today’s Music Business”

Mark Hornsby, Marcus Scott, Nick D’Virgilio

I was prepared to be dis-satisfied from this panel, since many of these types of sessions turn into lectures about writing “good songs and you’ll do well” kind of affairs. I am happy to say that this session turned out to very pragmatic and action-able, which is how we like it around here. D.I.Y. Rock Stars create their own luck and unearth their own opportunities and this is what have come to realize how true this is.

Here are some key take-aways:

  • Cultivate engaged fans. Take the example of Sweetwater’s founder, Chuck Surack, artists/bands who spend time talking directly to people and trying to be of service to people, will find that people remember this and give back in-kind.

  • Diversify what you do. Even as you drive toward your ultimate goal, be prepared to look for opportunities in other unusual places as you head toward to your larger vision. For instance, you may need to play coffee houses for free in order to start to make a name for yourself in your small town. Or you may need to take odd jobs to be able to support you as you are recording and mixing your album. You get the picture.

  • Be able to do whatever is in your power to move your vision along.You never know what opportunities will come and be ready for anything. If you are a singer, you may want to consider all kinds of singing gigs on your way to achieving the types of success you seek.

  • Present yourself well. Marcus Scott shared that he was hired for a high-profile job after he made such a well-dressed, well-spoken impression on that potential employer.

  • Don’t hand out cards; collect cards and find a way to help those folks. Cards that are handed out without folks being remotely interested in you or your services generally does not yield the desired results. Instead of handing out cards, strike up a conversation, collect contact information and regularly contact them to find out what their needs are. They may eventually have a need that you can help with.

  • Contact folks regularly just to check in. Maintaining relationships is way more important to advancing your long-term goals than to get chosen for one opportunity.

  • Music business is a people business. People tend to forget this. Think about salesmen who are pushy from the moment they meet you; don’t be THAT guy/gal! Approach them in an effort to develop a casual relationship and the rest will take care of itself.

Also check out 9 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Music Business Conferences: http://bit.ly/musicconftipspost

How to Get More Done? Here's how...

“Five Steps to Distribute, Promote, and Make Money from your Music”

Bobby Owsinski

We had such high hopes for this one, but somehow, the name did not match the actual aims of the material that was shared. Let us give you some backstory: We attended Owsinski’s session, “Social Media Promotion for Musicians” last year and found some change-the-game information that we started to put into practice right away, so perhaps our expectation was extremely high—our bad, I guess. While we think this was going to be a practically applicable session, it turned into an extended treatise on how streaming isn’t as bad as we are led to believe—when compared to!

Having said all that, here are the few take-aways that we could use:

  • Have a SoundCloud account to distribute your music. It wasn’t extremely clear how this is helpful, but, check. Here are ours: Soundcloud (Gab & Jam podcast) http://bit.ly/gabandjam and (music) https://soundcloud.com/prejippie

  • Try to court playlist curators (since they are the new gate-keepers that can make or break your music biz success).

  • Music blogs help curators find your music. Music bloggers do not hold the sway they used to; except to help the all-mighty curators find your music.

  • Playlists are the new album. Good info. It’s more about singles.

  • Albums are irrelevant. (Check out our discussion on this: http://bit.ly/albumsirrelevantyoutube )

  • Being on a playlist helps make you viral on more playlists. (—Success breeds success.)

  • Check out a list of playlist curators. Try to find diplomatic and considerate ways to approach them, so as to have your music considered. —It’s harder than you think, according to Owsinski.

  • Form an independent label and join Merlin (who will negotiate a better streaming deal).

“Creating Compelling Mixes”

Craig Anderton

Anderton is quite a presenter, so even though I was sure we had seen this talk before—at last year’s Gearfest??—we voted to check it out again. The best surprise was that we were thoroughly entertained, informed, and inspired to go out and create great audio renderings of our original music—but NOT at the expense of the creative quality of the music. Awww, refreshing! Somehow all the myriad of practical tweaks and hacks that he had to share were worth wading through and some seemed instantly helpful, but they were too numerous to share in this post. What we’ve done, instead, is to provide the very broadest of concepts here.

Check out these take-aways:

  • A mix is a performance. Therefore, it can change the final expression of the song. It is not trivial and can add to—or detract from—a song’s character.

  • Consider the room where you’re mixing. By listening on multiple systems and in multiple environments, you may be able to come to a compromise in sound; since inevitably, the room you’re mixing in may lie.

  • Set speakers on blocks (to avoid slide and added noise).

  • Move the lava lamp from your workspace. It will add hum that you won’t like.

  • Pitch correction allows the singer to focus on just singing. It is not meant to be a crutch nor an instrument, but can allow the singer to simply feel the song, knowing that minor corrections can be made later.

How can you determine

if you really have what it takes to make your vision of

your successful musical future a reality?

Take this 7 question quiz to find out.

While we thought that would not be much—we only attended a few sessions, we thought—now that we are reviewing this, we see that there was a wealth of knowledge made available through this conference.

We appreciate that though this isn’t strictly a music business conference, Sweetwater Sound attempts to deliver relevant free content for those are most interested in this area of music as a business.

What recent experience has left you

feeling enlightened and emboldened?

We’d love to hear about it. Tell us in the comments below.

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Until next time we meet, here’s wishing you love, peace, and chicken grease.

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