Sunday, November 20, 2005

Creative Differences

(Originally Posted Nov 20th, 2005)

Among the many events that have happened to Beatnik Turtle in the last few months, the most significant is that our bass player, Mike, has decided to leave the band. Dealing with this is part of why you'll find a gap in the blog entires for a time.

Mike had been playing with us for over 8 years, and he's a fantastic bassist, a great guy, and funny as well. These kind of splits are always difficult, but we promised to take you backstage, and so we will talk about it here, in the blog.

The primary reasons that Mike is leaving, as told by him, have to do with creative differences. Some of them are with the direction of the band, the music that we play, and other aspects of the group. There were also differences of opinion with other band members. Although it got thorny at the end of this, he had been going in a different creative direction for some time with other bands that he has been playing with. After 8 years, he said that he had a good run, and was ready to do other work.

We all wish him the absolute best in what he's working on next, and we hope that he finds great success. Mike is someone who just loves to play music. He is especially happy to play live music, and his other groups do a lot of that which is just perfect for him. We are going to miss him a LOT.

This is far from the first time that a member has left Beatnik Turtle. The interesting part is not that we've lost people, but that we are a band that has been together for over 8 years in spite of losing people. It would have been nearly impossible to keep a band together for that long with the same members, especially for people that do not do this for a living. On top of this, we're a large group, with a new norm of 9 members.

When the other members of Beatnik Turtle found out about this, our reaction was to be pretty bummed. Then it was to wish him well. After some time passed to let it sink in, we do what most bands do in this kind of circumstance. We looked at each other and asked: "Do we want to continue?" The answer was: "Yes!" So we are in the process of finding another bassist at this point.

In the meantime, we can't play live, but we can do work in the studio. Fortunately, we just finished a process over the last three weeks of upgrading to a computer system rather than the older component-based system that we had been using. We will use session bassists that we know for recording, which is our focus lately, and continue to make our music. Because we were going to have a recording focus in the next year, we can press forward for next year, although it is a hard loss.

This has happened too recently for us to have a perspective on this particular event. We hope to have one of those posts much later, after we find another bassist and see how this changes our band. We can tell you what happened in the past as we've lost people, and some advice that others have given us that has came in handy, which we are keeping in mind as we deal with this change.

A number of years ago, after we had been playing for 5 years, Beatnik Turtle was losing a key member of the band, who was newly married, and had his first child on the way. This took up both his time, and his attentions. He was a member of the rhythm section, and we couldn't play out live or do much without him, and he was not able to offer us much time to rehearse or record music, but did not want to leave the band. He was also one of the original members, and was a person that gave us a distinctive sound. The band was grinding to a halt, and we didn't know how it could continue. We couldn't imagine finding someone to replace him.

We had recently been making some new friends who were in theater, and when they heard of our plight, they were casual about it. "Find someone new," they said, "and it will be better than before."

We were skeptical. Theater was different than music, we told them. Bands play the same songs for years, and part of the sound was based on the people. Theater has a run of a show, and then you move on to something else. You can always get someone else, or even put together an entirely new crew. Bands need to know each other and react to each other, and only get that after playing with each other for a long time, sometimes for years. And we'd been playing with this individual for 5 years.

We eventually lost this band member, and even lost another one who was not a rhythm section member because of the difficulties. While it was a traumatic time, we put out an ad, auditioned, and the first one that answered turned out to be a fantastic musician and a great guy to get along with. He proved our theater friends right. It was better than before because of the energy that came with getting a new member. And we also got reinterpretations of our music, which you don't realize is becoming stale until someone new gets to work with it. Our new band member turned out to be a quick study, and we were able to play out in a matter of months. We will always miss the original band member, and certainly some things don't sound the same. But when a project like a band continues, it does get better, because it continues to grow.

We're now in a different place than we were before when this happened to us. We're more willing to move on, and avoid being paralyzed. Partly because we have weathered this kind of thing before, and partly because we are VERY excited about the projects that are coming up in the near future. We're looking forward to auditioning new bassists, and are looking forward to how we're going to be changing this time.

An indie band sells a song to Television

(Originally Posted Nov 20th, 2005)

We promised that we would talk about the deal that we were able to get with ABC Family, and we've made you wait long enough. Actually, we've been very busy with the release of a major project that is coming out shortly, and some other band developments that we will talk about in other posts, one in the one right before this. Although we were occupied for a time, we will continue to keep you backstage as we do things.

Beatnik Turtle was fortunate enough to get a little deal with ABC Family, who licensed one of our songs from our Cheapass Album for use underneath commercials for a reality TV show. The main question that people have asked us about this is: How? We're wondering that ourselves. But we want to share what we've done in order to make this possible. If you are an indie band, maybe you'll find this useful. We'll bring you backstage for this deal to talk about how it came together.

Some bands do quite a bit to pitch themselves to media companies. Beatnik Turtle is not one of those bands. We certainly were excited about doing this deal, and would love to do more follow-ons of as much of our music as they're interested in using. Getting music onto a commercial in the past was called "selling-out." These days, it's considered a legitimate way to get noticed, and perhaps make some money. Some of the bands from, for example, VW commercials, have gotten a lot of new fans after viewers of the commercials asked about the music. With radio closed out to most of us, it's really just a way to get your music on mass media.

Deals like these rarely come to indies, however. We don't have agents. We're not a member of a label that's connected to media companies. And, most importantly, we're not on the radio or other mass media in the first place, so how would they even hear about us? Some indies use services that pitch their music to the media companies when they ask for a style of music. Although we've had our eye on those, we haven't gotten on to any, instead pursuing other projects. We just never focused on the area because we thought it was so closed.

So how did they find out about an insignificant indie band? The only answer we got out of them was: "It was on someone's iPod." We don't know whether they got it from buying our album, getting it from iTunes, or even file sharing our music. This goes along with two of our favorite pet theories. First of all, the CD is dead, and it's a good thing that someone digitized our album. Second of all, file sharing is nothing but good for indie bands, because it gets our music out farther. Do we care if they got our music by file sharing? Of course not! We hope that our music gets to as many people as possible. We hope that fans of our music will throw us a bone by paying $8-$12 bucks for our albums that cost us thousands to produce, record, master, duplicate, and, for that matter, write. But if they get it for free, we hope they enjoy it, and at least pay us by giving our music to their friends so that more people can hear our music. That's the essence of why we write music in the first place, after all: We hope that people can hear and enjoy it.

In short, we were lucky. But, as they say in sports and business, sometimes you make your own luck. You need to be able to take advantage of a break when it comes your way. We think that we were able to do that in this case. At least, we did get our music on TV for 9 weeks behind a commercial, and made a little bit of money for the band. We think that we created an environment that made it more likely to get this deal; and that's what we'd like to share with other indie bands here to give you ideas. The luck part itself we can't help you with. Sorry!

Our Cheapass Album is probably the most widely distributed of our music. The reason for this is that we piggybacked that album with a successful business who is distributing our music for us, and who has a following. The short story behind the album is that we wrote a song about a boardgame that is produced by a popular little company called Cheapass Games. Their games are tongue-in-cheek, and very widely distributed all over the world because they are, well, cheap. Most of them cost about $8 or less. Because their product is so cheap, they ship tens of thousands of product a year. They posted our song that was inspired by a game of theirs on their website, and we got many thousands of hits. We ended up writing an entire album of music, songs that stand on their own that you would never know that they were inspired by these clever games if you just heard them separately.

The truth is, we love writing music generally, so we just considered it a challenge to do it based on these games as inspiration. Besides, some of them were about topics that other people want to hear anyway. For example, the song on their website that sparked this project asked the musical question: "Were All These Beer Cans Here Last Night?" And it can be fun to write a song about a "Cube Farm," dedicated to the millions of us that work in them. (That one made it onto someone's blog, who posted the song and the lyrics.) What we got out of that project was a built-in audience for our music, and gained fans that would never hear of us otherwise. Cheapass Games has tens of thousands of customers. If we hadn't teamed up, the songs would only have gone to the folks that go to our shows, and the random hits from our website.

The Cheapass Album has a song called "Get Out" which is based on a boardgame of the same name. The idea is that you want to be first to get our of your parent's basement, get a job, get an apartment, and get a life. Writing a song about this was obvious, in retrospect. The first lyrics are: "Livin' life in my parent's basement/Watching TV on the couch/Don't want to ruin a good thing/but my parents want me to get out." ABC Family had just produced a show called "Kicked Out" where they follow a late 20-something as they made their first foray into life, kicked out of their house. It was a perfect fit. It's played in the background of the commercials for 9 weeks on TV. It's very quiet, and in the background, but it's there.

The main point is that we consider ourselves lucky that we followed through teaming up with a successful business that helped us market our album, to get our music out as far as possible. Put another way, getting our music to ABC Family, which is owned by Disney, is nearly impossible, but getting our music to a non-media business was not difficult. And afterwards, this company sold the album, and helped market an indie band, which is unheard of for indies, because they were really marketing themselves. The helped get our music "out there" as far as possible, and thus, we were able to get this deal.

We hope that if you have an indie band that this gives you some ideas. Our attitude about it is simply that we feel grateful, and feel glad that we could take advantage of this when it came by. We want to continue getting ideas to get our music heard, as an indie band is always on the outside. Hopefully, we'll have other successes in the future, and another story to share.