Is the CDBaby conference worth it? Not for me. Here’s what I learned in Nashville in 2018

From 24 – 26 August, I attended the 2018 CDBaby Independent Musicians Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. My main reason for going to was to learn the “unknown unknowns”—the things I don’t know about in the music industry that I should be doing to help spread my music. To date, my digital marketing efforts haven’t yielded much of a following and my lack of ability to play live (as a one-man band in which I play the guitars, bass, drums, and sing the vocals) has further restricted my ability to spread the word.

My best connections with presenters/businesses at the conference with were Cari Cole and Bob Baker. I met Cari, along with her assistant Nat, at their table which was promoting Cari’s vocal coaching. After speaking with Cari and explaining my story, she seemed to be genuinely interested in me, including my music, recent book release, and other things I’ve been working on. Another 30-plus-minute conversation the next day gave me the impression that Cari was interested in connecting further and I plan to follow up with her to see if her services are right for me in my pursuit of expanding my personal brand, my book, and my music. Connect with Cari on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and through her website.

I was lucky to score the last 15-minute personal mentoring session with Bob Baker, “the creative entrepreneur,” as he calls himself. Bob has published several books and is involved in marketing music, improv comedy, and visual art. Bob’s recommendations that I further brand my “get after it” phrase and develop merchandise for it, start creating video content, and follow Gary Vaynerchuk’s model of providing value were very helpful. I also plan to reach out to him to see if we can work together in the future. You can connect with Bob on Facebook and through his website.

I attended a variety of presentations and seminars across multiple topics. The presentations I attended on Spotify, including the art and science behind getting on Spotify playlists and making the most of my Spotify artist page and other Spotify features were helpful. The notes I took from those seminars are things I will consider and probably act on. In a seminar on YouTube, I learned similar tips, tricks, and tools available to artists to ensure that YouTube music pages are effective in representing and promoting my music.

Best Practices for Spotify

Get on as many playlists as possible, including user-generated, branded, curated playlists. This includes outreach to curators.

Upon releasing new music, use the “Submit to Playlists” feature to get considered for user-generated, Spotify Editorial, and Discovery Weekly/Release Radar playlists. Spotify representatives said that impressions on social media platforms mattered in considering playlist inclusion. The reps said to consider blogging about each song you have to help build media engagement about it. Musicians can also consider uploading their music to Soundcloud to have it available for even more fans.

Determine what playlists your music is on and associated themes for your music like mood, context, and tags.

Promote your Spotify “follow” button, which plays into consideration on playlist inclusion

The Spotify for Artists page allows users to:

  • Check map for target audiences
  • Check playlists on listener charts and sources of streams
  • Add pictures, artist bio, merchbar, links to social media accounts, and post an “Artist Pick”

Musicians can build and curate their own playlists to use popular music as a way to advertise and promote their own. Musicians should brand these in ways that make them relatable to their music and include 25-30 songs while considering flow, fan interest, and branding (covert art, logos, and designs). Musicians can then promote these playlists on social media to help gain traction.

Musicians can also use the following sites to help grow their Spotify fanbase:

It’s also important to check the metrics of other streaming services like Apple Music and Pandora, as it is possible that your listeners could be listening there and not as much on Spotify.

Best Practices for YouTube

Musicians should take control of their official artist channel page and the YouTube Artist support pages and to analyze their viewership. A YouTube studio app is also available.

Once you claim your official artist channel page, you can upload/select:

  • Featured video
  • Icon
  • Name
  • Banner picture

Musicians should also include the following in each of their videos/songs:

  • Descriptions for each song
  • Describe title/metadata
  • Links to music platforms
  • Song lyrics
  • Social media page links
  • Artist bio

Musicians can monetize their YouTube channels once they have 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 watch hours within one year.

Best Practices for Performing On Stage:

The most important thing to remember is that fans at a live music performance come to experience the moment, not the music, so driving the feeling and moments is critical, according to presenter and performance coach Tom Jackson. He compared a performance to building a house, which would include the plan, laying the foundation, building the house with the right tools, and then moving in. Performance, he said, was similar in that you had to have a plan for your performance, build the proper foundation for it (including recognizing the necessary physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual parts of your mindset and your performance), having the right materials (musical equipment, lights, stage set-up, etc.), and then giving a great performance. He said that people in the audience will experience different things about your music, your lyrics, the melody, the music’s groove, and guitar work, and that it is important to ensure that your performance has all of the different parts covered to ensure that you are appealing to your entire audience.

A Few Tips for Digital Marketing:

Mailchimp can help you build an email database and track the effectiveness of direct email marketing. Mailchimp is free for lists of up to 2,000 subscribers.

In marketing videos on Facebook, according to presenter Rick Barker, use a low budget (as little as $1) to help build your target audience demographic, then build more videos/ads targeted that nuanced audience. Be sure to use a Facebook campaign, rather than impressions, and determine your goal (clicks, video views, or something else). A video view a short as 10 seconds can determine the audience demographic. These videos on Facebook can also be promoted on Instagram as long as they are recorded vertically and under one minute.

How to Sing and Not Suck

According to Cari Cole, three keys to immediate improvement in voice that can be done anytime include:

  • Pulling out your upper ribs keeping them in that position to expand your capacity for air intake
  • Stretch out the muscles surrounding the larynx by doing a laryngeal pull down stretch, including massaging the muscles back and forth which will soften the muscles around the larynx letting it sit lower to allow more flexibility in vocal range
  • Pull down on your tongue to relax the muscle, create space in your throat and mouth, and relieve pressure

She also recommending doing the following tasks three days in advance of any performance to ensure you never lose your voice during a show (or even a long tour):

  • Drink 10 glasses of water a day (probably half your body weight in ounces)
  • Eat fruits and vegetables, particularly watermelon and other melons
  • Gargle warm salt water
  • Use salt water spray for nose
  • Drink throat coat tea
  • Sleep eight to 10 hours per night
  • Consider taking a calcium tablet before bed to help with digestion
  • Breathe in steam from a steamer or a hot cup of tea
  • Eat lightly (nothing excessively heavy like large steaks, pastas, etc)

Do none of the following three days in advance of a show:

  • Consume dairy
  • Consume caffeine
  • Drink soda
  • Drink alcohol
  • Eat spicy foods
  • Eat late at night
  • Take antihistamines
  • Smoke

Favorite Presentation: Cari Cole

Cari’s presentation, entitled How to Sing and Not Suck, was my favorite because she created a warm, engaging atmosphere and provided specific, concrete examples of things everybody in the room could do to improve their vocal skills. Her step-by-step process and the description of it was something I welcomed. When she brought up two musicians to provide on-the-spot coaching, she provided nuanced recommendations for each musician and explained to the audience why she was making each recommendation. The musicians improved on the spot and the audience could see why. In the future, I’d suggest Cari stay more within the limits of her time block and trim some of the content on her slides so she doesn’t read them word-for-word, instead providing some main points to which she can speak.

Least Favorite Presentation: Rick Barker

(See my description of Rick’s presentation in the “Biggest Frustration” section below)

Most Confusing Presentation: Colin Thurmond

Colin’s presentation, entitled Demystifying Recording Techniques for Musicians, in my opinion, spoke nothing to the title. I expected that I would hear about general recording issues, best practices, and perhaps some how-to tips. Instead, Colin talked about the history of recording and where he felt the future of home recording was going with apps and constantly in-sync digital audio workstations, among other things. To me, this doesn’t demystify recording techniques, it actually mystifies things further by telling me about upcoming technologies that don’t exist yet.

Biggest Frustration: Constant Hard Sales Pitches

This is only my opinion, but I feel that Rick Barker, who ran the How to Run a Successful $1 Facebook Campaign seminar, and Tom Jackson, who ran the Creating a Great Show Without a Band seminar, created grandiose presentations to hard sell me on their products. The presentations provided some value, but in the end I found myself overtaken by my frustration of the sales pitch.

Rick Barker, for instance, started off his presentation with pictures of Taylor Swift holding his kids and mentioned that he used to work with Taylor Swift many years ago, which I feel he used solely to build a quick connection with the audience. He was an engaging presenter, but he provided tidbits of information while using several “ah ha” moments that kept many the attendees yearning for more, despite blowing through much of the important step-by-step operations of his $1 Facebook ad system. By the end, he had very successfully engaged the audience using humor, proper voice inflection, hand gestures, and audience participation, but only used it mostly to prepare the audience to buy his products, which of course, would be discounted if you bought them immediately after his presentation.

Tom Jackson used humor, audience engagement, stage movement, and outstanding voice inflection to engage with his audience. He did a stellar job of using an artist he coaches to coach her on stage in front of the audience, illustrating his effectiveness. However, he provided little information I did not already know, just enough to draw in much of the audience and keep them engaged. Much of the last quarter of his presentation, if not more, was dedicated to selling his $99 book and $89 DVD set. He further drove emotion in the audience by encouraging them to sponsor a child in need, at which point, he’d sell you his DVD set for a discount. I feel that instead of hard-selling his product, he could have provided me 15 or more minutes of things I need to know or could do.

Biggest Takeaway: I definitely learned some concrete actions I can take to improve my music’s online presence, which in the end is probably the most important thing for me and my music. Considering I am a one-man band and I don’t play live, the most important thing I can do is try to spread my music using effective social media and digital marketing techniques.

Best Connections: As I stated above, I’m looking forward to following up with Cari Cole and Bob Baker to see how I can continue to build my personal brand larger than, but inclusive of, my music and other projects. The connections I made with other musicians were nice, but I didn’t find anybody who seemed to play music in my genre, limiting my ability to collaborate and build connections that can help each of us grow.

Overall Impression of Conference: Overall I give the conference a C+. I received a lot of value from a few speakers and people I met but little to no value from other presenters.

Will I Return Next Year? Probably not, and that’s okay. My main reason for coming to this conference was to learn the “unknown unknowns.” I’ve learned some things, but I felt like I could have learned a lot more. I doubt that the music world will change so quickly in the next year that I’ll need to come back and hear the latest updates.

Kudos to the CDBaby Conference Staff: You put on a great conference that was run seamlessly. You all did a fantastic job, everyone was cordial and helpful, and you hosted it at a great venue. Just try not to host a future conference when Taylor Swift, Keith Urban, Journey, and the Pokemon World Championship are all happening in the same weekend. That’s why a two-star Comfort Inn was able to charge me $250 a night. 😊

I hope this is helpful. Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.


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