Sudohuman was designed in response to the extreme difficulty individual music creators face in finding exposure and success for their craft. As an artist and music entrepreneur myself, I spent more than two decades learning every aspect of the industry by trial and error and then completing each of the tasks on my own.
It is utterly exhausting, and exhaustion crushes the creative impulse… quite literally, trying to become a successful artist on your own ends up killing the artist in you.
Even if your plan is to chase the Golden Egg and attempt to get signed by a label who will ultimately do all this boring backend work for you (the chances of which are unbelievably small in this day and age), no label will even reply to your submission if you haven't already established a brand presence. That means that beyond the art of creating quality music, an independent artist can easily become absolutely overrun with basic administrative tasks.
Any artist should of course have a web page that potential fans can visit to find out about you when they find your music, so you start down that rabbit hole and get a domain name, hosting, deciding on what CMS to use, learning to use that CMS, getting images together for use in the page, writing bios and blurbs, setting up the email addresses, adding music to the page – do you use a plugin player? Or do you use something like the Soundcloud embedded player? Now you’ve got a Soundcloud to administer. Should you get Soundcloud Premium? The space provided for a bio is smaller than on your website, how do you whittle it down?
Now you’re already $200 into it and a week of full time development and nobody even knows you’re there. You need to market yourself, so you need a Facebook Page, and nobody’s going to find it unless you do promoted posts. Now you’re learning about writing ads and watching hours of videos about how to effectively target your posts, as well as spending possibly hundreds of dollars without even having the opportunity to sell a single thing.
This entire process spirals out of control quickly – what about Instagram and Twitter? What about Bandcamp, Reverb Nation, CBCR3? YouTube is the most widely used music search engine today, you need to be on YouTube, which means you need videos, which is a whole other nightmare that people have spent their entire adult lives learning to master..
Every single one of these sites requires countless hours of learning curve, setup time, administration, and maintenance. If you decide to tweak your bio, you don’t just type it up, you’ve got to log in to every one of these pages and update it and screwing around with the mind numbing menial tasks like making sure it formats correctly.
Pretty soon, you’ve spent months at your computer doing everything but what you want to do, you’re good at, which is of course MAKING NEW MUSIC! We haven't even started on what's involved with actually selling music, be it online, in stores, for sync licensing, etc.
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Over all these years I made many friends and professional connections, and we shared a lot of experiences back and forth. What I noticed is that we all wanted each other to succeed, and we were all trying to do everything by ourselves and becoming frustrated at the complexity of it. No single person can be everything, there are always going to be certain things that you’re good at and other things that you’re not so good at, and everyone’s different so we’re all struggling with different aspects.
Something as simple as being able to release your music to the online retailers, which likely won't even make you enough money to buy a case of beer, can take literally months of research and effort to get in with a digital distributor or record label, or else will cost you money for every single release and will incur additional expense every year after if you want to maintain the release on those stores.
I should know, because back in 2008 I did just that, and managed to secure a rare, coveted agreement with a digital distributor that doesn't incur per-release expenses.. which is pretty important, because online sales account for very little revenue for the majority of indie labels these days, and if you're paying to release music online, where there really shouldn't be any overhead to begin with, then you're already chewing into what little margin you might have.
In other words, you should be releasing music with the intent of hopefully making some money, not more likely losing it. I'll expand on this in a later post.
Recently I was speaking to a friend who's been engaged in the same struggle as myself (and the vast majority of other independent artists) for a few years and he was telling me about how he was deciding between two different pay-for-release services for his next release. Since I've had this distribution agreement for years, I hadn't even really realized what a sorry state it had come to, and it got me thinking about this concept of Sudohuman that I had developed a few years ago with a couple of friends.
Why aren't we all working together?
Why are we each toiling away in the trenches on our own, making the same mistakes and discoveries by ourselves? We should be pooling our resources.
We should be sharing our knowledge and connections and discoveries.
Music is art and art is a business unlike traditional business.
I, as an artist, am not in competition with other artists. It's not like I'm selling a roofing service and if a customer chooses my friend who is a roofer then I don't get the contract so I should keep my suppliers a secret so their costs are higher.
People can listen to my music as well as my friend's. There's no reason for me to keep my trade secrets to myself. In fact, unlike most traditional forms of business, my friend's success can help spur my own.
Consider the Seattle grunge scene in the mid 80s and early 90s. Once word got out that there was a cluster of great music happening there the world started to take notice and as a result we all ended up getting to hear bands like Soundgarden, Nirvana, Screaming Trees, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, just to name a few.
It's not as complex or abstract as it seems - we all benefit when any one of us succeeds. Every time one of us gets booked for an out of town show or festival, we're putting another pin on the map and drawing attention to the vibrant community that has been growing here for many years.
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So, how does this actually work then? What are the nuts and bolts of this Collective Machine we're building?
Here's an example of what can happen:
One of us has put together enough material that they feel like they're ready to put out an album. A group of us get together in a roundtable and listen to the material and provide constructive feedback. Are the songs ready? Is there something we as artists could contribute to the project to help elevate it further?
As experienced artists, what advice can we offer about what has and what has not worked for us in the past?
Someone mentions that college radio is an important target for sub-pop music, which prompts another member to mention that they have a show at the local station and can definitely get it added to the collection there and into the hands of the right DJ for airplay.
Another member has previously spent months researching stations and sending out demos across the country and still has the address list in addition to having some valuable advise on where to get inexpensive mailers. They still keep in touch with a couple of influential DJs at some of the key reporting stations and can send off an E-mail letting them know to watch out for it when the time is right.
Meanwhile another member pipes up to say that they are very familiar with SOCAN and can help the artist set up an account and register their works so the artist will be able to collect royalties off those radio plays.
Yet another member has a particular talent for writing release blurbs as well as a list of bloggers and print reviewers who should be getting an advance digital copy for promotion.
As for me, besides the distribution access, I also have professional small run CD replication capabilities and for about $4 per unit can produce anywhere from 10 to 100 full color on disc printed retail ready shrink wrapped physical CDs in cases.
A few of us get together one Sunday afternoon and produce 80 CDs, half to be sent out to college radio stations and the other half ready to be sold through Bandcamp, in local stores, and at gigs for $10 each. Selling those 40 CDs covers the cost of producing and shipping for the promos. If the sales go well, we can always produce more. If the sales go crazy, we have relationships with larger run production facilities including pressing vinyl and having all manner of swag manufactured, from stickers to T-Shirts.
The net result is that the artist has, in short order, professionally released an album to over 250 online retailers and streaming services, put the release into the hands of key influencers in both print and online as well as college radio, is set to collect any royalties that might arise from such airplay, and is selling physical products, all without going into debt or losing their minds trying to navigate it all themselves.
And what does it cost them? The next time someone else in The Collective is getting ready to put out a release, they volunteer to help put inserts into CD cases and do a little leg work to contribute to the success of the others.
It's so simple.
The ants united will conquer the elephant.
So, fuck "doing it yourself". Let's DO IT TOGETHER.
With boundless love,
James Bethell, Dark Overlord