Monday, August 22, 2016

The Past Three Days

It's Monday morning, and I am seriously tired. I am usually great at getting to sleep quickly, but that didn't happen last night, and I'm running on about four hours (which is four hours less than I generally need). I think that after everything that's transpired over the last few days, it's pretty understandable why my mind was awhirl while laying in bed. Let me try and quickly relate some of that to you.

It was actually late Thursday evening that we released the They Stole My Crayon album. Why? Because Bandcamp, our choice for the place our music would be available, runs on UTC time. That meant that here on the West Coast, August 19 actually started just after 5PM. We also wanted to get it up there so we could make sure everything was functioning as it should before fully unleashing it on the public. It also allowed us to tip off the album's availability to a few close friends who'd been following the album's progress, who went and nabbed it right away. They certainly deserved the early heads-up.

Anyway, Friday rolled around, and it became time to start promoting the album in earnest. We didn't do much beyond making sure that our respective friends and colleagues were aware of its availability. We did take out one "boosted post" ad on Facebook for the princely sum of $15, but beyond that, it was completely word of mouth.

Our album. Give it a listen. Every song will offer something else.

It was a typical Friday. All three members of The Crayon had to work, because... life. So work we did. But we discovered quite a bit about Bandcamp that we didn't know before. One is that it has the most amazing statistics reporting of any music site we've ever seen. We could not only see each time someone listened to any of our songs, but tell which song they heard, and even how much of it they listened to. Insane. And then each time someone purchased our album, we would receive an email notification.

By complete and crazy coincidence, on that very day, the New York Times ran an article with the headline, "Is Bandcamp the Holy Grail of Online Record Stores?" in which the author writes about the qualities of Bandcamp that offer a huge appeal to artists and listeners alike. He called it, "... one of the greatest underground-culture bazaars of our time," and I have to agree.

So the day went on, but something crazy happened. I'm not really sure what we were expecting; we never once spoke about "how many people will listen to our stuff?" or "how many will buy the album?". Not once. But the stats on people listening started piling up quickly. Crazy fast. By day's end, our songs had been heard over 1,000 times. Being in a band and releasing music is a new experience for Christina, but not for Bunny and I, and nothing we'd ever done previously had that kind of response. I'd say we would have been very happy if there had been 100 listens on that day, much less 1,000.

And then, the emails started lighting up with notices of people buying the album. Note that I said "the album". Not individual songs, as has been the standard for the last couple of decades in the iTunes/Spotify era. The whole album. And, despite the fact that we priced the downloadable 12-track album at a reasonable $7, people were often choosing to pay more than the asking price. About half of our sales were in the $10-$20 range, which blew our minds.

We went to bed that night with our heads spinning, not yet fully comprehending what had transpired. That became more apparent the next day.

It's no surprise we were pretty excited the next morning. We got up to check our stats on Bandcamp, but stumbled across something entirely unexpected. Our album was starting to be listed among the best-selling alternative albums for the week. Now, to put this in perspective: each week, thousands of new albums are made available on Bandcamp. Thousands. And ours was gaining on some well-known names as one of the best-selling alternative albums in the world on their platform. It didn't even seem possible, but there it was.

We had a planned task ahead, which was to begin talking to some select record labels about the idea of working with us, now that the album was available for listening. We only chose a few labels whose artist roster seemed aligned with the style of music we appreciate. I have no idea if they will have any interest in a band like ours, which bucks what they traditionally look for in new acts on a number of fronts. What could working with a label give us that we can't easily do on our own? Awareness and attention on a wider-spread basis than we can successfully accomplish. That means reviews, radio play, and more. To be frank, we find it extremely unlikely that this will result in anything. I'll be very surprised if any of the labels we contacted on Saturday even respond to our message. But that's okay; if we were the label, we probably wouldn't respond to us either.

The day went by like a blur. Listens kept coming in (which was a shock, after getting 1,000 on the first day). It wasn't at the same frantic rate as before, but we still compiled another 500 listens of our songs on the second day. What did come rolling in was a shit-ton of sales. Let's just say that if we had any expectations of how well our album would do, the numbers sailed past that pretty quickly. We don't make music for money; that, to me, is a ticket to disappointment. But for the first time, it seemed like we'd created something that, in its own little world, was commercially viable.

By Monday morning, our album sat at the #8 spot for the week in Bandcamp's list of best-selling alternative music worldwide.

This whole process continued on Sunday. We continued to let as many people as we could know about the album, but not because we wanted to keep the sales numbers rolling. That, as I want to be very clear on, is a side effect of people hearing and enjoying the music. All we wanted was for people to listen to what we'd spent the last four years doing, which shouldn't be hard for anyone who's devoted themselves to a project to understand.

Early that afternoon, I was more than happy to take a break from watching our stats and promoting the album; oddly, that break came in the form of a live music show I was scheduled to do. Christina and I are headed to Minneapolis next month for what will be a fun Second Life Jam in the Twin Cities, and they had a series of artists perform live as a preview for the event, and to get some funds for pizza (how musician-ish is that, I ask you?). My 30-minute show was at 1PM, and I had a lot of fun doing Crayon songs as well as my own solo stuff and a few covers as well. It was held at Ground Zero, a great SL venue run by a couple of friends of mine (Thea Dee and GMetal Svartur), and the crowd was lively and enthusiastic.

After three days completely focused on our recorded music, it felt great to get up on a stage and play some live tunes. Photo of me rocking Ground Zero by Kat.

By the time Sunday evening came around, I felt like I was tired, and who wouldn't be? But as I stated up top, my mind was going in every direction as I lay in bed. "What happens next?" I asked myself. The answer is pretty clear: probably nothing, which is what I expected to happen in the first place. The massive attention the album got upon release will fade away pretty quickly, as will the number of listens and sales. But still, we're over 2,000 listens as of this morning, and remain in the top ten of all alternative albums on Bandcamp for this week, at least for now. I think the real payoff to the whole effort is knowing that people are listening and enjoying what we did. I can't ask for more than that, which was our only goal from the start.

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