What Makes Hereit Different?

I have held off on posting a comparison between Hereit and other digital music sites for awhile, but a few people have been asking what makes Hereit different, so I figured I’d better get one together.

Before jumping into it, though, I should say that I like to think that my critiques of other music services are best expressed by what Hereit is, what it does, and why it does it. Hereit is the best solution I could come up with, and the way I think things should be. (Pay as you go, no cuts to artists sales, no ads or data capture, organized by locations and genres so playlists are coherent and relevant.)

But if other sites work for you, that’s great. And I mean that sincerely. Different artists need different things. Hereit is young, small and grassroots; it is just getting going. There is some functionality I still want to build out and build on. As the site grows, with more artists and locations, the more it will be able to do what it has been designed to do. Go with whatever you think is best for you.

The last thing I would ever want to be is some guy with a website who tells artists what they should do. Those types just love telling musicians how to do things, and what their “business model” should be. Even though, if you take away the venture capital and the Wall Street valuation that is far more central to these companies than music, some of the big music sites are less profitable than the average busker on the corner with an acoustic guitar and a fedora in front of him.

My advice is to get legal advice from lawyers, medical advice from doctors, and avoid taking business advice from companies that manage to lose $12 million a quarter even when they are barely paying for their core product. But I am old fashioned that way.

Think about that, though: Pandora and Spotify–data mining operations masquerading as music platforms–each lose more than a $100,000 a day.

A friend of mine used to earn about $100 a day playing Neil Young songs on subway platforms. And he only paid about half a penny less than the streaming sites. And if he played a song from before 1972 (like anything from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere or After the Gold Rush), he actually paid Neil Young the same: Nothing. Because Pandora exploits a tenuous legal loophole to dodge paying royalties on pre-1972 recordings. Stay classy, Pandora.

But, as usual, I digress. Suffice to say, don’t follow leaders and watch the parking meters.

There is a longer description of Hereit pricing for artists in this blog post, but here is a quick overview, followed by some information on other music services for independent artists to sell music. (Soundcloud, for instance, is more a service for hosting and streaming your music than selling it, though you can do it by integrating other services. And I’m not going to even dignify the streaming rates paid by sites like YouTube, Spotify and Pandora by including them. [Edit: Well, actually, I guess I am.] You can read about them in detail on the Trichordist.)

Hopefully some of this will help you make an informed decision. The choice, and the music, is yours.

Hereit
(sell direct to listeners)

Costs: A buck a song a month.

A Hereit profile costs $3 per month and comes with space for three songs ($3.40 total; 40 cents goes to cover the e-commerce provider’s service fee). Each additional published song is $1 per month ($1.03 with the service fee).

Hereit has been built to give the musicians who use it maximum control over their work. Artists set their own prices for songs and keep 100 percent. You can swap songs out as often as you like and all charges are prorated for actual time the songs are on the site, to the second. If songs are on the site for less than a full month, credit is given on the next month’s charges.

What it does: Hereit is a site to discover and support independent local music.

…(And if I might take a moment to expand on that: At a certain point, “support” means “support financially.” Seriously, just buy songs. It is ridiculously easy. Most are only a dollar, and you get to keep them forever and not be dependent on a monthly data plan just to hear ’em. And you actually help another human being, one who theoretically created something that you actually enjoy. Trust me, you have a lot more in common with an independent artist than the kinds of people who own and run the companies that tell you music can’t be devalued because it is priceless, and then pay artists 1/10th of a penny or less for use of their song, which they tack an ad in front of with a cpm rate of $7.60, keeping 45 percent. That’s some pretty specific “valuation,” there, Google.  And last year, Brian McAndrews, CEO of Pandora, made $29 million dollars–not bad for a guy whose company is losing a hundred grand every day–while Pandora lobbies aggressively to lower royalty rates to artists. For cryin’ out loud, forget these clowns. Just give your dollar to the kid who needs guitar strings.)…

Hereit is organized by locations and genres, and it dynamically generates a playlist of songs by artists on the site when selections are made. If you want to listen to alternative rock, acoustic blues, garage rock and folk music from Calgary, San Jose, Memphis, Portland and New York, you make those selections and the site builds a playlist of songs by artists on the site, ranked by the most liked songs for that day. Listeners can buy and download individual songs on the homepage, or click through to an artist’s profile page to buy whole albums. The e-commerce fee for the purchase is paid by the listener. So if an artist sets the song price at $1, it has a total cost of $1.34. The e-com provider gets the 34 cents and the artist gets the whole dollar direct deposited into his or her bank account in 48 hours. Hereit doesn’t add any additional fees or make any money off sales of the artists’ music.

Here is a little more detail:

  • $1 per published song per month, $3 minimum plus actual service fees for Stripe, the e-commerce provider (2.9 percent, plus 30 cents per transaction). Three songs costs $3.40 per month; four songs costs $4.43; five songs costs $5.46; six songs costs $6.49, etc. This covers the hosting and bandwidth costs. All charges are prorated to actual time a song is published on the site, to the second, with credit given on the following month’s bill. No contacts or commitments. Artists can stop or start at any time and can swap out their songs as often as they like.
  • Artists set their own prices for songs and receive 100 percent of the sales. The site sets artists up with their own private e-commerce account with Stripe, and they receive payments by direct deposit into their bank account within 48 hours. The site doesn’t tack on any additional fees or take any cuts from the sales. Hereit adamantly believe that artists’ sales should be theirs entirely, 100 percent. And that listeners have a right to support the artists they like, directly, without having a percentage of their money siphoned off by the platform.
  • There is no advertising or data capture of any kind. Here’s why. And here too. And because, short answer, I hate it. Hereit is totally artist supported and pay-as-you-go, and free and completely private for listeners.
  • Here is what Hereit does not do: The site doesn’t help sell merch, or write bios, or solicit tips, or fundraise in exchange for home-cooked meals and handmade thank you cards, or offer press kits, or charge you to pretend to market your band, or give social media strategy, or let you give away music in exchange for listeners’ personal information, or “connect you with today’s hottest brands to forge deeper engagement with prominent online influencers!,” or help you “discover alternative sources of revenue in the digital music ecosystem,” or show you how to “move stakeholders up the pyramid of engagement” by giving your songs away for free to people who don’t know, like or care about you which will somehow make some of them then want to pay you for the music you just gave them for free and–ta da!–new revenue streams appear. (Guffaw all you want, this is actually what Google tells artists to do. The digital types sure love to talk about streams–music streams, revenue streams–that will somehow, some way, someday benefit artists. In the meantime, these magical streams just trickle off majestic Bullshit Mountain and form limpid pools of money in scenic Silicon Valley.)
  • There are also no featured artists or staff picks or tiered levels of service, or upsells of any kind. The site has been designed to be simple, equitable, transparent and affordable. All Hereit does is coherently organize artists and songs by locations and genres for better music discovery and give artists an affordable e-commerce platform that lets them sell songs without taking any cuts. That’s it.

Here are some of the other services and sites for musicians. Now, keep in mind, I flunked 10th grade math. But as you’ll see, with some of them, you could be selling music on Hereit, keeping 100 percent, for nearly two years for the cost it takes you to recoup the money you spend on some of these sites. And–just a heads-up–whenever a digital service claims to be be free, consider it a huge red flag.

Bandcamp
(sell direct to listeners)

Costs: Free for basic service, $10 per month for “pro” service; plus 15 percent of sales.

Bandcamp is a popular, much used service for independent music that also enables artists to sell directly to listeners. It is not awful by any means. It has a tagging system for locations, which is jumbled and only seems to allow one selection (you can search by location, or genre, but it doesn’t seem like you can look by both or by multiples of either). If you try browsing “blues” or searching by “Nashville,” you’re gonna find pages and pages of thumbnails of different artists. Some will be blues artists or bands from Nashville, but lots of it will just be stuff that has those words in the title or music that has that tag. Still, better than not having it at all. There are many, much worse sites for sure.

It is free to post music on Bandcamp (though, of course, there is a Bandcamp Pro version that costs $10 per month) and the site takes a 15 percent cut of music sales up to $5000, and then lowers to a 10 percent cut. But they also pass along their Paypal fee to artists–2.9 percent plus 30 cents per transaction. On a $1 download, that equals 48 cents in fees, though how they calculate and distribute those payments is a little confusing.

This is how Bandcamp details their revenue sharing process:

For simplicity, let’s say the revenue share rate is 10%, and you sell an album for $10. All $10 of that sale would go straight to you, but your revenue share balance (the amount you owe Bandcamp) would now be $1. Then you sell another album for $10. All $10 of that sale would again go straight to you, and your balance would now be $2. As more orders come in, the payments continue to go to you and your balance continues to grow by 10% of each sale. Upon the sale of your tenth $10 album, your balance would have reached $10, so that $10 sale, and only that sale, would go to Bandcamp, and the balance you owe Bandcamp would be reduced by $10. You can view your current balance at any time by exporting your sales history from the Sales section of your Tools page.

Got that? (Though, like an insurance company premium, the math they use depends on you having already sold $5,000 of music. And they don’t mention the additional Paypal fees.)

So here is how that math breaks down if you sell $5,000 worth of songs for a buck each, individually, on Bandcamp in one year:

5,000 transactions x 18 percent (15 percent for Bandcamp, 2.9 percent for Paypal): $900
5,000 x 30 percent per transaction (Paypal’s additional 30 cents per transaction): $1500

So it would cost you $2400 to sell $5000 worth of songs directly to fans on Bandcamp. That’s a 48 percent cut for an allegedly “free” service.

On Hereit those same sales would cost you $40.80 if it took you a year to sell them (less if you sold them more quickly). That is less than 1 percent (.82 percent, to be exact).

Digital Distributors

While Bandcamp, like Hereit, allows artists to sell directly to listeners, many sites are actually distribution platforms. You pay them and they get your music onto iTunes, Amazon, etc.

Giant digital music outlet malls like iTunes and Amazon certainly offer listeners a lot of convenience. (I once bought about 200 Ray Charles songs for around $5, which, as a musician, is awfully discouraging.)

Once you pay the fees to these distribution services, though–some of which then take additional commissions on your sales–they deposit you into incredibly convoluted and glutted marketplaces. There are more than 37 million songs on iTunes. Independent releases are buried, and receive limited attention. So you are on your own. The only way someone will find you is if you deliver them directly to your music.

And here is what happens when songs are bought on iTunes, which takes a 30 percent cut off the top.

From Rolling Stone:

Adele, who is signed to Sony Music, sells “Rolling in the Deep” for $1.29. Apple, as the retailer, keeps 30 percent, or roughly 40 cents. The rest, 90 cents, goes to Sony. From that, the major record label must deduct 9.1 cents as a “mechanical royalty,” paid to Adele and her co-writer, Paul Epworth (although they might split it with their respective publishing companies). That leaves about 81 cents.

Typical record contracts give artists 12 to 20 percent of sales, depending on the hugeness of the star, so let’s split the difference and say Adele’s percent is 16. That comes out of the original $1.29 price – so the artist’s cut for sale of the master recording is about 20 cents. (This is assuming Adele has made enough to “recoup” the expenses for her album – otherwise, it just contributes to paying off her debt to her record company.) And the remainder, a grand total of 60 cents, goes to Sony to pay for marketing, publicity, videos, executive salaries and obviously, profit.

Of course, many artists don’t want to share nearly half of their revenues with a major label like Sony, which is essentially a middleman. Before the Internet, and stuff like ProTools, an artist had to sign with a label even to be heard. That’s obviously no longer true. Today, an artist can pay a service like TuneCore to be included in the iTunes Store. At that point, after Apple takes its cut, the entire 90 cents goes to the artist.

Well, theoretically. Here are the fees for the companies that deliver you into a retail environment like that.

TuneCore

TuneCore does not take cuts from artists sales, though they do take a 10 percent cut of publishing if you use their publishing service. They also have a host of additional services you can buy, like TuneCore Track Smarts: “Get reviews and ratings from music fans, plus insights and analytics on your track to help you improve your music and advance your career.” (That’s what is so frustrating about the Internet–it is so difficult to hear people’s opinions. Thank goodness there is now the option to pay TuneCore $15 to hear what strangers online think of you.)

Here are their basic service costs. Like many of the digital distributors, you pay to have each release, album or single, distributed for an entire year, making it very difficult to do any kind of content strategy or limited-exclusivity to encourage sales.

Cost per album: $29.99 first year; $49.99 each following year
Cost per single song: $9.99 per year
Ringtone: $19.99 per year [Time travel to and from 2006 not included.]
Publishing: $75 one-time fee, 10% of publishing royalties.

CD Baby

CD Baby charges a one-time fee to distribute music to digital retailers. They also take an additional 9 percent commission off the purchase price. (They also distribute CDs & vinyl, and take $4 per unit sold.) So, with the cuts for iTunes and CD Baby, that’s 40 percent taken from each sale. Plus their fees:

Standard: $13 single, $49 per album.
Pro: $39 per single, $99 per album.

ReverbNation 

In addition to digital distribution, ReverbNation also offers a morass of other services, with tiered pricing levels. There is Basic ($0, “For All Artists”); Pro ($19.95/month, “For Emerging Artists”) and Max ($41.67 “For Rock Stars”–that’s right, for rock stars.)

ReverbNation is fairly notorious for how aggressively they upsell their services, and that upselling is woven pretty tightly into their fuctionality. Some users who don’t read the fine print of the site’s terms and conditions of the distribution package are surprised to find themselves charged to remove their songs. The takedown fees are $30 for those on the Essentials Package and $45 for the Pro Package–but hey, those people are rock stars, right? If you don’t pay the fees, your songs are considered “abandoned releases.” ReverbNation can take down your music, with or without notifying you. When they do, “aggregator will earn all royalties from sales of your music” until you pay the fee. That means that if you sign up for ReverbNation and don’t like it, you have to pay to stop using it. And if you don’t, they continue to sell your songs and keep all the money.

Here are their prices for digital distribution:

Cost per year per single song: $9.95
Cost per year per album: $19.95 first year, $49.95 each additional year

ReverbNation also has location functionality and some type of “trending” system to help discover scrappy independent artists like this. She’s only 22 and just got her first kitchen, but she’s doing pretty well–she’s got 145 video plays and 40 widget impressions on her page. (To be fair, lots of independent artists use ReverbNation, of course.)

DistroKid

Now, for digital distribution, DistroKid looks interesting, and a lot cooler than the other options. It is a lot newer as well.

For a yearly fee of $19.99, they will upload unlimited albums and songs to iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Amazon, Beats, Rdio and Deezer. DistroKid takes zero cuts to royalties, and while some of the other services appear to take weeks to get music into these online retailers, DistroKid does it in a matter of hours.

Like I said, there are many downsides to being on those platforms–from the cuts they take, to the set pricing and discounting, to the challenges of being found on them. But there are conveniences as well. If you choose to distribute your music through the platforms, DistroKid looks like a pretty logical choice when compared to all the others. I like that it is a simple, flat and transparent rate and that they don’t take cuts from artists sales.

So there you have it: the long and winding competitive analysis. If you are an artist, double check everything, do your own research, read all the fine print and then go with whatever best helps you get paid and make a living from the sale and use of your work.

If you are a listener, think about foregoing the cheapest route and spend a couple more cents on something that best benefits the people who made the music you are buying. Look around and find local music, made by bands and artists who live and work all around you, or independent artists from other cities or countries.

But, whatever you do, buy the songs–don’t just stream them. Streaming is far from free and you’ll probably like the songs a lot more if you actually buy and own them. More on that in How Much Does It Cost If It’s Free, in case you haven’t read that one yet.

In the end, none of the problems that artists are now experiencing can really be solved by a website. They can only be solved by musicians and people who love and care about music working together. Hopefully, more and more listeners will get tired of being forced into the passive, unsatisfying role of music consumers (and all the exploitation of their personal information that comes with it) and find ways to be more active participants, even citizens, in their own music communities. And that artists will find ways to help and encourage them do that. Because being a part of something is so much more rewarding than having thousands and thousands of audio files you got for free and never listen to clogging up your hard drive, or being able to stream any song you think to type into a search field. Music can be totally meaningless or deeply meaningful, and a lot of the time, that just depends on how you come to it and what you put into it.

The best thing a website can do is bring musicians and music lovers together and then just stay out of the way. That’s what Hereit hopes to do. If there are other sites or tools or platforms that do that better for you, that’s cool too. Whatever helps.

Thanks for slogging through all this. I hope to hear you on Hereit. And if I don’t see you there, in a long, long while, I’ll try to find you left of the dial. Best of luck and no hard feelings. Get out there and give ’em hell.

How Much Does It Cost If It’s Free?

“How Much Does It Cost If It is Free?” That’s what renowned artist right’s advocate Col. Tom Parker always threatened to title his autobiography. Catchy. But he never wrote it. He was too busy managing Elvis, for a cut that grew over the years to 50 percent of all Elvis’ earnings–in some areas, it was rumored to be as high as 80 percent.

Fun fact: The Colonel’s real name was actually Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk. He was born in the Netherlands. Some people think he was from Sweden, but they are probably just confusing him with Spotify. (An honest mistake, but Spotify would never give an artist that generous a cut.)

Still though, it is a good rhetorical question. One that deserves an answer… How much does it cost if it is free? It reminds me of something a friend once told me that he learned in prison: “The cheapest way to pay for something is with money.”

Wise words in this age of allegedly free music.

Before we take a look at how you pay for music if you don’t pay with money, though, let’s take a look at the actual money, because it is surprising how much you need to enjoy all this free music.

For starters, what are you listening to the music on? Despite what they pay people to make them, an iPod is not cheap. Shuffle: $50. Nano: $150. Classic: $250. Touch: $300 or $400. Neither is an iPhone ($200 to $400). And if you’re streaming all this “free” music from “free” platforms like Spotify or Pandora, you are going to need some kind of service as well. Basic home internet with Comcast is about $40 to $50 per month. A 2 GB mobile data plan with AT&T is going to run about $80 per month and a 4 GB plan is $110 per month–with a two-year contract. Plus taxes and fees.

Yeah, I know, sometimes you get the phone for free with the contract and I guess you could just stream music over wifi at some corporate coffee shop all day. Point taken, cost cutter.

But actual money aside–what else are you paying with? You pay with you. Even if you don’t think your personal information is all that valuable, Pandora, Spotify and Google’s All Access sure do. In fact, it seems like that may be one of the main reasons they exist.

Check out this article on Google All Access: “Google’s music service could fail to capture market share from the big players and still be a success. That’s because delivering music and new accounts is yet another way for Google to amass personal, intimate details about its hundreds of millions of users — information that enables it to better target ads.”

Guess how much of Google’s $50 billion in revenue last year came from advertising? 95 percent.

Or as the New York Times puts it: “Listen to Pandora and It Listens Back.”

“Pandora has collected song preference and other details about more than 200 million registered users, and those people have expressed their song likes and dislikes by pressing the site’s thumbs-up and thumbs-down buttons more than 35 billion times. Because Pandora needs to understand the type of device a listener is using in order to deliver songs in a playable format, its system also knows whether people are tuning in from their cars, from iPhones or Android phones or from desktops.

So it seems only logical for the company to start seeking correlations between users’ listening habits and the kinds of ads they might be most receptive to.”

The article goes on to quote Eric Bieschke, Pandora’s “Chief Scientist”:

“It’s becoming quite apparent to us that the world of playing the perfect music to people and the world of playing perfect advertising to them are strikingly similar…The advantage of using our own in-house data is that we have it down to the individual level, to the specific person who is using Pandora. We take all of these signals and look at correlations that lead us to come up with magical insights about somebody.” 

Magical insights! Wow. Isn’t the Internet amazing? But insights into what exactly? From the Times story:

People’s music, movie or book choices may reveal much more than commercial likes and dislikes. Certain product or cultural preferences can give glimpses into consumers’ political beliefs, religious faith, sexual orientation or other intimate issues. That means many organizations now are not merely collecting details about where we go and what we buy, but are also making inferences about who we are.

“I would guess, looking at music choices, you could probably predict with high accuracy a person’s worldview,” says Vitaly Shmatikov, an associate professor of computer science at the University of Texas at Austin, where he studies computer security and privacy. “You might be able to predict people’s stance on issues like gun control or the environment because there are bands and music tracks that do express strong positions.”

Pandora, for one, has a political ad-targeting system that has been used in presidential and congressional campaigns, and even a few for governor. It can deconstruct users’ song preferences to predict their political party of choice. (The company does not analyze listeners’ attitudes to individual political issues like abortion or fracking.)

During the next federal election cycle, for instance, Pandora users tuning into country music acts, stand-up comedians or Christian bands might hear or see ads for Republican candidates for Congress. Others listening to hip-hop tunes, or to classical acts like the Berlin Philharmonic, might hear ads for Democrats.

Because Pandora users provide their ZIP codes when they register, Mr. Bieschke says, “we can play ads only for the specific districts political campaigns want to target,” and “we can use their music to predict users’ political affiliations.” 

Valuable insights indeed.

In 2013, out of $427.1 million in revenue, Pandora generated $375.2 million from advertising. (Imagine how much additional user information Spotify and Facebook receive through the integration of their platforms.)

Spotify has seven different ad formats: Audio, Display, Homepage Takeover, Branded Playlist, Lightbox and Advertiser Page. And here’s some advice for how brands can use them, such as, “Add to the listener’s experience by integrating marketing messaging into their Spotify ecosystem.” And, “Encourage listeners to build playlists around your brand.”

But the one that sums it up most succinctly is this: “Leverage users’ musical passion points and positive affiliation with music to accentuate your brand’s message.”

Because that is what it is really all about.

Music, as much and maybe even more than any other art form, can inspire pure, deep and powerful emotional connections and associations. Advertising and marketing–whose role in the experience of listening to music has become completely commonplace and accepted now, under the incredibly insidious and disingenuous ruse of “compensating artists”–is completely parasitic to that connection.

Advertisers are so drawn to these platforms not only because how we interact and respond to music reveals to them more than we ever would willingly or consciously–but also because it provides them the ability to feed off the genuine feelings that music creates in listeners and forge an association and emotional connection to a brand. Like a virus looking for a host.

So you pay for this free music with your time, sitting through these absurd and obnoxious sub-radio ads, and the mindshare that they try to extract from you. But you also pay with the potentially permanent association they forge between music you like or even love and  some stupid brand.

But the worst part is what it is doing to that actual emotional connection. If advertisers are hoping to take advantage of listeners’ strong connections and associations with music, there may be less and less there to exploit.

Now that it is so easy, so banally convenient to have tens of thousands of songs at your fingertips–legally or illegally–it feels like the process and the act of discovering and experiencing music grows less consequential and meaningful every day.

When you expend no energy on something, you have no personal investment in it. Songs become meaningless, just files on a computer or a passing stream. As music itself grows increasingly toploaded with convenience and stripped of the relevance that comes from expending effort on something, it becomes more and more disposable. You wind up paying for all this endless free music with something far more valuable than money–your actual emotional connection and love for the music itself.

Now, certainly, paying money for something is not the only way to expend effort on it. But it does–as the marketers like to say–“add value” to the experience. So does going to a show, so does jumping around in a crowd or somehow experiencing something collectively. To be a part of something–not just as a passive, marginalized consumer, but as a citizen and an active, important participant.

It is bleakly but oddly fitting that performance royalties are paid on streams based on an audience of one–as opposed to royalties for terrestrial radio, which are based on broadcast market size. Instead of listening to and experiencing something together–baby, they’re playing our song–the image is of one person, alone and disconnected, with ear buds on, streaming songs on a platform that is tracking their information to exploit with advertising.

That’s why Hereit doesn’t have any advertising of any kind and doesn’t engage in any kind of data tracking either. It is also why Hereit is constantly trying to encourage people to buy music. Don’t just click the Like button. Don’t just stream it. Buy it. Own it.

The artists on Hereit receive 100 percent of the song price. Not only does actually buying music directly, entirely support independent artists and bands at the community level–it also feels good. It feels good to buy music straight from the people who created it, with no cuts siphoned off by some digital platform, and to know that you have made a difference in their lives, emotionally and financially, through your support and encouragement. It’s like voting for something–a very clear way of making your opinions known and your voice heard.

And it feels good to actually own it too–to be able to play it whenever you want, and to do it without connecting or exposing yourself to predatory companies looking to exploit your love of music for their own financial benefit. That’s a lot of freedom, power and peace of mind for the buck or two that songs cost. And that’s a lot to give up in order to pretend you’re not actually paying for something. Because you are probably paying a lot more than you think. The worst thing about free music is what it costs.