How To Be a Studio Musician Without Leaving Home

Musicians are always looking for ways to supplement their income and find new performance opportunities. If you have always wanted (and more so if you already are) to be a session musician, but didn’t have the right contacts or weren’t located in an active scene, you might want to look into offering your services as a virtual session musician.

A virtual session musician provides their interpretation and instrumental or vocal performance to anyone, anywhere in the world in need of their particular expertise. It is not rare to find songwriters, producers, or solo artists in need of extra instrumentation to complete their production.

How hiring a virtual session player is advantageous to the employer:

  • The quality of the musician is not limited by proximity to studio.
  • No hourly studio rates to pay or union rules to workaround.
  • Receive high quality tracks from specialists.

How offering your services as session musician is a great gig:

  • Ability to work from your home studio for clients all over the world. Leave your equipment setup and tweak for specific purposes.
  • Work on your own schedule. Take the time to experiment with parts and send only the best performances.
  • Set your own rates and accept payment online.

Of course it would not be fair to only mention the positive aspects of online session work. The most obvious disadvantage of creating a full production in this manner is that the magic could disappear. When you gather great musicians in a room together, they interact, play off each other, and create a vibe that translates into emotion in a recording. That being said, great performances are still being created online.

The process in a nutshell:

  • Songwriter records guitar and vocals to a song she wants to be considered for film.
  • She finds a drummer in NYC, a bassist in Berlin, and an electric guitarist in LA, who she thinks would be a good fit for her song and contacts them in this order. Each player has great experience and can produce great recordings of their instrument.
  • She provides each one with a simple MP3 of what she has so far, a tempo map, and basic references of what she wants where (charts or midi generated tracks are nice).
  • Each player takes the time to review the song, record their performances, and send the tracks back for review.
  • The songwriter requests any changes and the changes are revised tracks are promptly sent back.
  • With her completed tracks, she now forwards the song onto a virtual mix engineer and finally to an online mastering engineer.

How to begin offering your services?

Ensure that you can record your instrument WELL.
You don’t to have a studio with 96 inputs, or a cabinet of vintage mics, but you do need to have enough quality mic preamps, microphones, and knowledge to record your instrument well. You may need to do some research and experimentation to find the best approaches to recording your instrument, but once you’ve got it – you’ve got it. You don’t necessarily have to worry about processing it as this will be done by the mix engineer, your goal is to get a solid, clean recording of a great performance which compliments the production.

Offer the service on your website.
The basic steps you need to complete are to create a rate sheet, gear list, provide audio examples of your playing, and setup a Paypal account to receive payment from clients. Add anything else to show off your skills and convince potential clients to hire you. Try to answer their questions before they have to contact you such as your revision policy, if you provide processing, what your turnaround time is etc. The more you can differentiate yourself, the better.

Offer your services on other sites. is setup specifically to allow individual musicians and engineers to offer their services online. They provide easy search capabilities and a very cool plug-in called “Virtual Glass” which allows realtime video and audio streaming from within your digital audio workstation. Also check out IndabaMusic, a newer collaboration site with a built-in, online audio workstation.

In addition to specialty sites, make sure that your social networks know that you offer this service. Participating in online forums and simple including a link to your site in your signature can be a great way to drum up business. Connecting with producers and songwriters directly should be your main goal.

Whether you plan on making this your full time gig, or just offer the service to get occasional gigs, offer you services as a virtual session musician can be a great way to build up your contact list and play on numerous, international projects.

How Do I Get a Job After Music School?

T., a guitarist and soon-to-be music school grad, wrote us last week with this question:

I’m getting my degree soon, but I feel that I don’t really have a lot of actual work experience to flesh out my resume. How far do you think a degree can take me and where would be the best place to help get some work with my skills?

That’s a good question, T., and I’m sure there are other MW readers that are in the same boat.

So, you’re about to leave music school and you need a job. You don’t have a lot of credits on your resume and you’re not sure how to get started.

Let’s start off with what jobs are available these days. I often think about jobs in the musician industry split into to categories:

  1. Your music
  2. Other people’s music

Your Music

There are two of us that maintain – Cameron Mizell and myself. Cameron is an expert in category #1, so instead of rambling on about things I don’t know, I’ll defer to his incredible breadth of knowledge.

Here are some of Cameron’s articles that will help you create a career with your own music:

Also read the archives of Cameron’s articles, I’m sure you’ll find a ton of useful information.

Other People’s Music

Although I do write and record my own music, I make my living playing other people’s music. I freelance as a Broadway musician, a church musician, a for-hire accompanist, a music director for theatre, a vocal coach, and many other things.

So let’s say you’re like T. and you’re about to graduate college and you want to be a freelance musician like me. Aside from experience (which I’ll get to later), what do you need to succeed?

  • Sight-reading

    I would say that this is the real value that I give to my employers – if you take everything else away, this is the one thing that they are really paying me for. I show up and I play whatever they put in front of me. It saves them time and money – it cuts down on prep and rehearsal time, it allows them the convenience of thinking about other things, and allows them the flexibility of changing music at the last minute.

    If you’re sight-reading isn’t up to par, you can improve it. I’ve written about the subject before, and it basically boils down to practice. The more you sight-read the better you’ll become.

  • Recommendations

    I never audition or apply for positions in my business, all work is passed around through word-of-mouth. That can be really frustrating for someone starting out, but I promise it gets easier. Make sure that you keep in touch with your fellow classmates from your music school – those will be your first contacts. As they find work, they will pass work to you and vice versa.

    Giving away work is worth pointing out – you should have a small list of colleagues that you pass work to now and then. They’ll do the same for you when they have gigs they can’t take.

    There are some colleagues that will take the work and never pass anything back to you – and those are probably the wrong colleagues to have on the list. Generally, creating a sense of generosity and community around you is much more effective than creating a sense of competition.

  • Geography

    Look, if there isn’t any work where you are, you should move somewhere else. If you want to work as a freelance musician, I’m very sorry, but you just can’t live anywhere you want. You’re career will always be limited by the amount of work available (divided by the number of musicians) in your city. I just don’t see any way around that.

    When I was just out of college I moved back to my home town in the suburbs of Chicago. I took all the gigs I could get. I music directed local theatre shows, I played cocktail music at the country club, I accompanied at the local schools, I joined a band, I taught lessons. I made about the same amount of money as my friends that had entry-level day jobs. It was cool for awhile.

    But check it out – I was playing every gig in town. I’d already hit an income ceiling and I was 25. I tried Chicago for awhile, but I felt like the scene in that city was locked up tight and paid worse than the suburbs. So I left.

    I worked the regional theatre market for awhile, and eventually settled in New York – not because I necessarily wanted to live in New York – but because there was a lot of work here for my skill set.

    I think I’ll always live in New York. I can make a living here. Other players like me are making a living here. It’s not a musician utopia or anything like that – but there is a need here for musicians and I am a musician – so this is where I ended up. Luckily, I’ve also grown to really enjoy living here.

    You don’t have to live in New York. There’s a good discussion in our forums about the best cities for musicians. See what other musicians have to say.


Ok, so now on to your actual question – how far can a degree get you and how can you get more experience.

Your degree is a piece of paper, and it won’t get you a gig. What you really paid for at your college, as I touched on before, is the connections you have with your faculty and fellow students. This is for real – stay in touch with your fellow students. That’s where your work will first come from.

There are several entry-level positions for freelance musicians. None of them are particularly well-paid or comfortable, which is why they are relatively easy to get.

  • Cruise Ship Musician

    Cruise ship musician is the route I took. It’s pretty easy to get a cruise ship job – you take an audition with a talent agency and then wait for a call. Read this article for more info on how to book the job.

    If working on a cruise was a totally amazing, satisfying, well-paying gig, nobody would ever leave it. But in reality, it can burn you out within a few contracts (see: What Was There To Be Dark About?). But if you are just looking for some experience, it’s perfect. Take a contract or two and hone your chops in the real world. Think of it as your internship.

  • Theme Parks

    There are other gigs like the cruise gig. There are summer gigs at theme parks. Try this link at and search for “Theme Parks”. Expect the gigs to be long, hot and poorly paid. But don’t worry, just work the gig and get the credit on your resume. You gotta pay your dues.

  • Non-Union Broadway Tours

    Non-union musical theatre tours are a step or two up from entry-level. They can be pretty cool gigs if you get on a good tour. They can be brutal if you don’t.

    Jobs at this level start to be word-of-mouth placements for musicians, but you can submit your stuff. Networks is a major non-union touring company. Bookmark their jobs page and send your resume and website to You can also visit (search for “Musical” under the Departments category), they sometimes list these kinds of jobs.

    Also, dive into this discussion in the forums for more info about non-equity tours.

  • Jobs Board

    I have to give a plug to our musician jobs board here at MW. We have a growing list of musician jobs categorized by instrument and location. Subscribe to the RSS feed and have the jobs sent to your feed reader. I moderate that list myself, so it’s only good stuff going up. You might find a gig there.

I hope that helps – good luck T!

Why Every Musician Should Use iTunes Ping

Apple’s recent rollout of iTunes 10 included a new feature called Ping, dubbed a “social network for music” by the creators. Ping’s release was followed by a good deal of criticism from the tech and music blogs, and for the most part, I agreed with them. Coming from a company that’s notorious for unveiling gadgets and software that impress from the moment of Steve Jobs’ keynote, this feature kind of felt like it wasn’t ready for public use. But despite it’s downfalls, and perhaps because of it’s small splash in the online music and social networking community, there are several reasons why every musician should be using iTunes Ping.

There are two types of profiles on Ping:

  1. A user profile, such as this one.
  2. An artist profile, such as, wait, Bob Marley?

As of the writing of this article, there are very few differences between the two pages. The main difference is that the artist profile has a link to the artist’s page on iTunes. Also, artist pages aren’t necessarily managed by the artists themselves, because I know for a fact Bob Marley is not very good at using the internet.

If you’re an independent musician that has music on iTunes (such as myself), it is possible to get an artist profile. Contact your digital distributor, ask them what you need to do, and then be patient. It’s a first come, first served process, but while you’re waiting in line, there’s no reason not start using Ping anyway.

What’s to lose?

Being an early adopter of new ideas or technology can reap it’s benefits. Early adopter’s can influence the way a new technology or social network is used. It’s also much easier to build the foundation for your network with other early adopters before everyone else is doing it. In a smaller crowd, your actions will be noticed.

Setting up a user profile is simple and takes only a couple minutes. Once your profile is set up and you’re logged into your iTunes account, any actions you make in the store will show up on your profile page and in the activity feed of anybody that follows you. Once you’ve set up a Ping profile you’ll also notice a little “Ping” button next to whatever track is selected in your iTunes library:

Ping button in your iTunes library.
Ping options in your iTunes Library

If you’re like me and listen to music in iTunes on a regular basis, you can very easily keep your profile active by taking one action each day that will show up on your profile. In other words, using Ping requires very little time or effort, so there is really nothing to lose.

Actually, you will lose one thing: Anonymity.

Once you’ve created a Ping profile, your actual name will appear on any review you’ve ever written on iTunes. So all those third person reviews you wrote for your own albums might need to be deleted.

One of my reviews on iTunes.

Anonymity relieves us of accountability, and I believe it’s good thing, especially as a musician, to let everyone know who is writing the reviews. As you’ll learn, this actually makes it easier to find like minded people to connect with on Ping.

Using Ping to Connect with Others

My brain is hardwired to approach everything online with the question, “How can I use this to get more people to hear my music?”

Follow people with similar tastes as you. Search the iTunes store for your favorite albums. Leave a review or at least rate the album yourself, and then look for reviews by people whose full names are written as a blue link, like mine in the review pictured above. You can click through to that person’s profile and see what else they like and read their other reviews. If Ping users have written reviews for your album, you should definitely follow them!

Once you’re following a decent number of people, you’ll see an activity stream similar to Facebook or Twitter. This makes it easy to learn about more music (the whole intention behind Ping, I suppose), and also find more people with similar tastes in music.

People who like the same music as you are more likely to like your music. There’s really no direct action you need to take to tell people about your music. Ideally, some of them will go to your profile and learn that you make music of your own.

Using Ping to Promote Your Music

Your Ping profile should both tell people what kind of music you like, but also that you make music. There’s room to write a bio, and it’s important to not make this a hard sell marketing pitch about your latest album. Unfortunately, you can’t create any links in your bio. To link to your music, simply put links to your albums in the “Music I Like” section–something you select when setting up your profile.

Avoid putting your music in your activity stream. Everybody is going to start doing that, and it’s going to look tacky and turn off people from wanting to follow you. Most of your posts should be about the music you like. For every 20 posts about other people’s music, perhaps post a link to one of your tracks and say something interesting about it. This is simply a good practice for any sort of social networking tool.

One way of working a link to your music into your activity stream is by “liking” somebody else’s review of your album. There’s nothing wrong with highlighting what somebody else thinks of your music!

Staying Ahead of the Curve

I’m sure that as newer versions of iTunes roll out, improvements will be made to Ping. While the social networking aspect of it is somewhat limited, it does exist in the most popular digital music store (at least in US market share). As I discovered years ago by making playlists, the best place to promote your music is within the store itself.

I can’t guarantee results from using Ping. It’s still too new, and I don’t have enough experience with it. To be honest, there’s really not that much TO experience. But be it Ping or any other resource that has potential to get new people to hear my music, I believe it’s well worth the small investment of time and effort to stay ahead of the curve.

Visit my artist profile on iTunes Ping.

Allison Weiss on Building an Internet Presence

Allison Weiss is one of the hardest working singer/songwriters I know. We met through Lauren Zettler, who I play with regularly, and I’ve been able to watch Allison do her thing online and in person, from the audience and behind the scenes. I can honestly say that what you see is what you get with Allison. It’s her ability to be herself online has attracted a massive but well targeted internet following across several social networking platforms which she weaves together using tools freely available to anybody. In other words, she uses no tricks and doesn’t have a team of web gurus hiding behind a curtain. She really does it all herself.

Allison Weiss, photo by Shervin Lainez
Allison Weiss, photo by Shervin Lainez

I asked Allison if she’d share her secrets with us, and as I suspected, there are no secrets! She is just a creative and savvy musician that is willing to try out new technology to stay ahead of the curve (something I believe is a key to a successful DIY music career). But don’t take my word for it, read Allison’s responses and see for yourself. There’s a lot to learn for any independent musician trying to get their music in front of the right people.

CM: You’ve built an impressive online audience. How did that start?

AW: I could say YouTube and I could say Tumblr, but I think it all started because of how much I really love the internet. Since I first got online in my early teens, I’ve loved what the internet has done for communication. Social networking is a beautiful thing. You can find someone who loves what you love in a second, even though they may be halfway across the world. When I started playing music professionally it seemed obvious that just being myself online was going to be the best form of promotion (I didn’t know any other way). I’m also an early adopter. When new technology comes along I don’t look at it as another burden to bear, but another tool to utilize. I jump on the bandwagon immediately rather than waiting until someone forces me on it.

Considering how quickly trends change online, do you think somebody doing that today would have the same results?

Absolutely, but nowadays it definitely takes patience. Back in 2005 you could put an acoustic cover up on YouTube and everyone was watching it. Now the market is saturated, so you can’t just complete the task. You have to be good. You can’t start a Twitter account and expect the fans to come pouring in. You have to use it and get good at it and learn how to make the technology work for you.

Did you have a vision of what you were building, or did it just kind of happen?

It definitely just kind of happened. I’ve never had a solid plan. I get excited, I have fun, and I roll with it. It’s hard to tell what’s going to be successful, which is why I do a little bit of everything. I set up my Kickstarter account in a couple of hours and set it in motion with a mentality of “Here goes nothing, let’s see if this works…” and it blew up*. Recently I posted a couple tracks to because a fan recommended it, and out of nowhere I was gaining a ton of fans through it. Like I said, sometimes you just never know and you have to figure it out by trial and error.

*Editor’s note: Allison created a Kickstarter project to fund her latest album, Allison Weiss Was Right All Along. She gave herself two months to raise $2,000 and ended up hitting that goal in 10 hours. She raised $4,000 by the end of the week, and ended up with $7,711 total, allowing her to expand the EP she intended to make into a full length album.

I’d say your online following is genuine, not like you used some scheme to get a bunch of MySpace friends or Twitter followers. What’s the key to attracting a real, honest fanbase?

The key to attracting a real, honest fanbase is to be a real, honest person. Most of the time I try and think of things from a fan’s perspective. How would I like my favorite bands to communicate with me? I try my best to be as interesting as possible, and I always stay true to myself. I’m open and inviting, because the bottom line is that I truly believe music is about community. I love being able to interact with fans. I love meeting people in real life who I’ve seen online. I think that if you’re a nice and genuine person, those relationships you form online will last longer than the hottest new site, and people who love you will follow you anywhere.

What do you do to keep your fans engaged online?

I post a lot of stuff. Not just show dates or album announcements. That’s super boring after a while. I update my blog and twitter like people would care about where I am or what I’m doing. I want people to feel like they know me, so I let myself be known. I have contests and give away free stuff, I try and make everything as entertaining and fun as possible. That way when I throw in a show date here and there, people are paying attention because they care.

How often do you try to do these things? How often is too often, and how little is too little, if there are such boundaries?

Tweeting and blogging (on have become natural parts of my life. I do it so often that I can’t imagine not. When something interesting in real life happens, I think about whether the internet would like to know about it (usually they would). In fact, I’m trying to stop differentiating between Real Life and The Internet, because the fact is The Internet IS Real Life. Every username is a real person who matters just as much as someone standing in front of you. As far as how often is too often, I think it totally depends. I know celebrity musicians who tweet every two minutes but still have hundreds of thousands of followers. Most of the time I wish people would post more. To me it’s more important to think about quality than quantity. You could tweet a thousand times a day and think every post you make is hilarious and incredible, but this usually isn’t the case. I say pay attention to ‘Likes’ and ‘Reblogs’. Stay entertaining and use your best judgement.

So I’d say we’ve established your web savviness by now. Can you share your 3 favorite online resources that help your career as a musician?

I’m going to give you six, is that okay? Two categories: Tools and Communities, because half of these are technical and save a lot of work, and the other half need to be used frequently and skillfully to really help a music career:


  • – I use this website to update information across the net. They’ll sync up to a ton of event-listing websites and post it all over the place when you add a new show. One of the best things is that for about $5/mo, they’ll send your show listings to local press, which means you’ll always be on the physical calendar. Saves me a TON of time.
  • – Mailing list and email marketing tool. I love them. Your mailing list is a hundred times more important than number of Twitter followers or Facebook friends. They let you target fans by location and offer free downloads for joining.
  • – I just discovered this site. It’s a simple and easy way to sell physical merch online. Adding a new item is as easy as a few clicks. A basic account is free, and more options are available for a small monthly fee. PLUS it’s all linked up to PayPal so it’s really easy to deal with money. And I think they just added an option to sell downloads.


  • – Blog here. It’s the best. Follow and be followed. It’s Twitter’s big bro who’s smarter and has more to say.
  • – If you don’t have one yet, you’re only cheating yourself. If you can text, you can twitter. Stop wondering if people want to know about your day-to-day and just accept that they DO.
  • – I haven’t quite figured out this site in it’s entirety, but I know that I uploaded a couple tracks, left it alone, and suddenly found myself swimming in new fans. It’s an incredibly innovative and experimental new music discovery site where fans choose what floats to the top. Explore it.

I could go on and on.,,, there are a million.

To conclude, has all the online activity carried over into the real world? Does it all help sell music or bring people out to your shows when you tour?

Definitely. It’s pretty awesome to see it all really working. I think it’s important to note here that you have to remember to ask your fans for support. Make sure you get names on your mailing list, send out Facebook events, and keep people updated on what you’re doing. The unfortunate thing about the internet is that there’s so much of it that will distract people from paying attention to you, so you have to give them a reason to care. Whether that means giving away an album for free in exchange for email addresses, or streaming yourself from your bedroom, or covering Lady Gaga songs on YouTube, that’s up to you. Stay honest, stay entertaining, and be good at what you do. Don’t be afraid of the internet. Embrace new technology. Get creative. Make it happen.


Learn more about Allison Weiss and see her internet skills in action at

Theatre Music Directors: Connecting with Other Music Directors

Music directing is usually, by its nature, a solitary profession.  Artistic directors and producers only hire MDs one at a time, so we rarely get to work with or even meet each other. We hear about other MDs by reputation or perhaps we’ll meet if there’s an overlap from one show to the next.

Despite the isolated nature of a music directing career, its also an industry in which networking is key.  MDs rarely audition for jobs, and are usually recommended for jobs by word of mouth or sub for friends when needed.

Nothing can substitute meeting face-to-face, having a drink, playing together in a pit or collaborating on a project – but nevertheless, here are a few ways to connect with other theatre music directors online.

Theatre Music Directors Facebook Group

This is a group for professional music directors in the theatre industry. You can find it at this link.

Please leave the group a wall post including something about yourself – where you’ve worked, where you live, etc.

Theatre Music Directors Twitter Group

There are several ways to put together groups on Twitter, and most of them are pretty unsatisfying.  The best one at this time seems to be, which automatically adds you to a group if you are kind enough to send out a tweet that promotes their site (you’ll see).  Shameless, to be sure, but not a bad way, in the end, for us all to find each other on the Great White Twit.

Here’s the link:

The theatremusicdirectors Twibe

Theatre Music Directors Listserv

Lastly, there is a email list at Yahoo Groups that music directors can subscribe (and contribute) to, although this list is currently invite only.  This is a (new and tad bit sleepy) group for MDs to discuss current topics and find out about new job openings.

You can find this group at this link.

Which One Should You Use?

As with any niche topic online, which group you join and how you connect all depends on your internet habits and interests, but at least one of these options should help you connect in the industry.  Try them all out and see which one works best for you.

Submit Your Concerts to Social Networks All At Once

The actual number of social networking websites for musicians is a state secret, but scientists estimate it to be around eleventy-billion. There’s the big guys – MySpace, JamBase, purevolume – but also tons of smaller ones like Buzznet, BandsinTown, GrooveShark, and others.

One of the problems with having eleventy-billion sites is that it spreads too thin the promotional power of social networking. Of course, I don’t need to tell you that. If you’re reading this site it’s likely that you are a computer/tech-savvy musician already. If you’re like me, you’ve received 12 emails just today for shows that you should go see in places that you don’t even live. I imagine you understand the problems and limitations of social networking for bands. As Derek Sivers has said, “there are more Web 2.0 companies set up to help musicians than there are musicians.”

I stumbled across a site today that could help everyone with the dillema. Visit or watch their website tour below. If you sign up for this site, which is free, you can submit your show and concert schedule to them and they will in turn post it to all of your social networking profiles for you. In other words, you post the show, location, time, etc., click enter, and BOOM! It’s loaded onto every site you have a profile on.

They also have some interesting features like submission to local press at your concert location, an automatic Kayak search for hotels close to your venue, or Google maps searches for coffee shops, or music stores.

On one hand, I wish I’d thought of this. On the other hand, what a strange industry we work in that we all have joined so many different social networks that we need to join another social network so that we can keep up with our social networks. Why not just all decide on one?

But that wouldn’t be very web 2.0 of us. The internet is about having choices. And now your fans and colleagues can choose whatever social network they prefer and you’re schedule will be there too. So now, instead of 12 emails a day, we can send them eleventy-billion emails a day.

The Recommendations Game

Word of mouth has always been the most invaluable form of marketing. In fact it’s so invaluable, you can’t buy it. People have a way of seeing through paid actors or manufactured buzz for what it is, traditional marketing. But with the internet, websites can generate recommendations based on consumer buying habits, which are basically the same as word of mouth (if not better, since somebody actually spent money).

Amazon is great at this. I get regular emails recommending new products or books based on what I’ve bought in the past. In fact, when I log in, they even tell me what I searched for last and what other people who did the same search also looked at and ultimately bought. This makes it so easy to look past the hype that I feel like my online shopping experience is quick and painless.

iTunes and a whole list of other online music destinations are also good at this game, and it’s a great benefit to lesser known independent musicians like myself. More people listen and by more music online, the more likely my music will be recommended to the right crowd. On iTunes, people that buy music by Grant Green, Soulive, John Scofield, Greyboy All-Stars, Global Noize, Robert Walter, etc. will be pointed in the direction of my music via iTunes’ “listeners also bought” section and the new Genuis sidebar. My tracks will get streamed on thanks to user tags or listening habits that match up similar artists. I love it.

So how does one get the ball rolling? How do you get people that don’t know who you are to find your music in the first place so it those connections to similar, better known artists are established? Simple. Playlists.

Your Music + Playlists = Discovery

Remember when you’d make tapes off the radio? Sit around, wait for your favorite song, and hit record? If you really wanted the first note, you’d hit record before you even heard the song and stop and rewind when it was something else. Then you prayed the DJ wouldn’t start talking over the last chorus. Maybe I’m dating myself a little. I’m only 28, but talking about tapes seems ancient. I don’t even have a cassette player anymore.

That was the first time I’d make custom playlists. Then I’d make tapes for my car when I started driving. I made tapes to listen while running. Now we have iPods, so I make playlists for commuting on the subway, running, Saturday mornings, reading, Monday mornings, rainy days, doing dishes, long walks on the beach, lists of songs to practice, songs to learn, songs I haven’t listened to in a long time, my favorite tenor saxophone solos, favorite jazz rhythm sections, funky bass lines…

Today, playlists take virtually unmanageable digital catalogs and organize them by usefulness. Music is now so readily available that we need help knowing what to listen to, even in our own collections.

Enter websites like, Pandora,, etc. that let either let users create custom playlists or create them for you based on recommendations (a subject I’ll address later). iTunes has allowed users to post iMixes to the store since 2004 and now create them for you with this new Genius button (see Dave’s piece about the genius behind this button).

When done right, playlists are very powerful tools to get your music to the masses. But doing it right is the trick, and I see a lot of indie artists making some pretty misguided playlists. Here are some considerations

– Make playlists you actually like. If you wouldn’t want to listen to it, why would anyone else?

– Don’t throw all your music into the playlist. Unless it’s a Best Of playlist, which sort of defeats the purpose here, use about the same number of songs for every artist in the list.

– Use artists/songs that are either similar to your music or fit the mood of the playlist. Jack Johnson would not work with my trio’s music, unless I was creating a playlist for a backyard barbeque and used one of my laid back tracks. But going to far out of your genre could encourage negative feedback.

– Include some obscure tracks. As more and more back catalog gets digitized, it’s possible to find a lot of rare cuts online. Use these to your advantage. Especially if it’s an underrated cut that you love, people with similar tastes are going to love that you found it for them.

– Own up to what you’re doing and don’t be shady. People aren’t dumb. After they see your music in a bunch of playlists with their favorite artists, they’ll put that together with the fact they’ve never heard of you and figure you’re making the playlists. As long as you’re making good playlists though, this is a good thing! I’ve received emails from people that truly enjoyed my playlists, discovered not only my music but some of the other lesser known artists I love. These folks have always bought my CD, told their friends, etc. Musical tastes truly connect people.

Most importantly:

– Don’t think like a marketer, think like a fan. Better yet, just be a fan.