If I’m so fearless, then why am I afraid to shoot music videos? | The Grounds
August 2nd, 2022 by Jesse Gillenwalters
Hi. I’m Jesse.
About 13 years ago, in 2009, I asked for a microKORG for Christmas, and got it. I also had a friend whose tipsy dad gifted me an acoustic guitar for no money. It’s still the only one I own and the only one I’ve ever used. Between the microKORG synthesizer, this guitar, a microphone used for the video game Rock Band, and a dying Gateway desktop PC --I had everything I needed to start my music project, Basic Printer.
I wanna tell you how I went from hand-me-down guitar to $40,000 in revenue on my weird ass music project on this chapter of The Grounds.
Before I get into what I’m working on these days, I want to explain where I came from because I think you might be able to learn a lot from it.
I was 17. I was a senior in high school. I had a Rock Band microphone, acoustic guitar, basic synthesizer, and a Gateway PC that was shared by my family. That was my studio setup at the time. I was able to record song concepts that had been stagnating in my head in anticipation of the day I could finally record music in SOME fashion. As soon as I finished a song, I wouldn’t even try to master it. In fact, I didn’t even know what mastering was. I’d bounce a rough mix and upload it to a place called last.fm, where I would promptly share the link on my Facebook. I did this as much as I could, as quickly as I could. I was addicted to writing, producing, and most importantly -- RELEASING music. I didn’t care that it was scratchy, badly mixed, and just absolutely inscrutable to the average person. I felt like an artist and a visionary. I didn’t really care who was listening or how many people were listening…at least I thought I didn’t at the time.
Shortly thereafter, I spruced up some of these shoddy songs and strung them together into an EP which I put on Bandcamp. I was so proud of myself at the time - I had no problem texting every single contact in my phone to tell them about it. I urged people to buy the downloads on Bandcamp. I burnt random copies and hid them in Barnes & Noble with notes attached…That EP had a mild concept that I was excited to flesh out, because I learned about the Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd in a music history college class - and I had gone through a breakup recently. A perfect pair of motivators.
I completed my first album, which was a 52-minute concept album that was swiftly put together. I used CDBaby to distribute it to DSPs - and let me tell you, it was a wild thing at the time to tell someone that my weird lo-fi electronica album could be bought on iTunes! No one in my small musical ecosystem in Binghamton, NY had that clout except for me. By some miracle, I was playing shows in my hometown and on my college campus. Covering obscure synth artists and singing mostly in a scary mask with a vocoder and all manner of other odds and ends. I have no hesitation saying that I was probably one of the weirdest musical artists in Binghamton’s history.
No one had any sort of palette for this thing, they just watched me with their head cocked sideways, mildly intrigued for 30 minutes.
We can fast forward several years now. After that first album and seeing how I could be more legitimate in the form of distribution and shows, I ended up finding a pace that would have me putting out almost 2 albums a year. On my winter breaks from college, I’d write and complete an album. On my summer breaks, I’d write and complete an album…During college, I released 6 albums. For some of them I did Kickstarters which both failed and succeeded. I ended up doing some CDs, shirts, and posters for a few of the releases. So…what’s the point of me giving you all this long-winded back story? It’s mostly to show you that I’m still very much this guy.
To start, I’m extremely grateful for how confident I feel about my music. I have very little fear of rejection when it comes to music. If someone doesn’t like my music, my reaction is usually “yeah, it makes sense that it’s not for you. It’s way over your head.” When it comes to forging a music career and marketing my albums this fear of rejection is a major asset. It’s something that we almost assume you have as an artist with music ready to release. And you know, it’s probably much harder to embrace rejection for the average musician than it is for me. I think I am uncharacteristically unbothered by haters. Maybe it’s a problem. But I say all of this to hopefully show you that you’ve got a lot less reasons to be afraid of haters if I wasn’t afraid of them when I was doing….this...you're really going to have to just watch the video at the top of this article to get the full scope.
In 2017, I was introduced to Indepreneur.io via an ad, having no idea I was one click away from one of the biggest life changes I’d ever experience. And…you probably know a bit of the story by now, because your story may be similar. I started learning digital marketing that would just straight up work for me. I quickly learned strategies like the Fan Finder Method and had them working overnight. I remember the first morning of waking up after I had turned on my Fan Finder campaign and thinking, “There it is. There it finally is. People who actually get what I’m doing that are PUMPED about it.”
That’s another thing I wanted to touch on. The first 8 years of my music making; hiding CDs in Barnes & Noble, playing weird shows in a mask, releasing my glorified demos and cramming them down my friends’ throats; even with the successes I saw there, I knew that it wasn’t coming from that earnest, real place of artistic understanding. I knew it wasn’t coming from REAL fans who wandered into my world because they were so attracted to my actual MUSIC.
This Fan Finder campaign absolutely changed me. I was sold that using digital marketing was the main way to finally generate a true fanbase. And for me, it really was. Nothing has worked better for me than that. With my newfound skills, I’d go on to do two album launches, go on three tours, play to hundreds where I’m based in Nashville, TN, press my first vinyl album, and cross the $40,000 mark in terms of revenue. The engine behind all of that was absolutely social media ads and email marketing, really.
So…where am I at now? And where do I plan to go? Well, since I started using digital marketing to power my music, I’ve found myself in a pretty healthy position. I have about 1,750 email subscribers, 1,100 of which are former customers. After I released my last album and started to write some new music, I decided I wanted to try to get to another album as soon as I possibly could. I just wanted to write music until there was clearly a releasable album in front of me, then pull out all of the usual tricks and see how big it might be received this time. I have HIGH hopes for this album, because I had so much data to work off that would allow me to accurately forecast my potential sales. I was hoping to make about $8k to $11k in revenue on preorders alone. I ran three different models to reach this number. This was extremely motivating and allowed me to hone in on a merch line and a plan for moving it all. My plan for this album is as such:
1. Release the merch line with preorders to my membership community for a week via email...
2. Then, open it to my former customers for 2 weeks via email...
3. Then, open it to my non-customer subscribers for a week via email…
4. Then, finally have a public announcement for the preorders where I post about it on socials and try some advertising as well.
That announcement would coincide with a single release that would begin a single release plan.
I will be releasing 3 more singles one month at a time until November, where I’d release the full album…and hopefully be able to culminate that around a local album release show in Nashville as well. The idea with this preorder + single release strategy is that every time I release a single, I can make a very clear and valuable case to the preorder campaign I have going on.
For example, when I release my 3rd single and do some marketing around that, if anyone discovers me through that one song and is really into it, it’s very natural for me to explain that it’s part of a larger album that’s not coming out for months…but they can hear it immediately by preordering, and get the biggest and best version of the album before everyone else. I think that will be a great one-two punch. Now - here’s my one big weakness…I DREAD the thought of doing proper performance music videos. I love when they finally come together and they always become something I’m super proud of…but the thought of practicing, getting a performance or band together, getting a setting dialed in, and doing multiple takes, yadda yadda…it makes me freeze up before I can begin. Add in the fact that I have a great email list and organic reach and it makes it really easy for me to be lazy. These videos are crucial for me to actually generate some new fans of my music and to keep growing, I need to make new ones regularly.
To promote these singles, I will absolutely need a performance video for EACH one…and this scares the hell out of me. It makes me want to try to find a way to get by without doing them. But I know in my heart of hearts, that’s some bullshit. One COOL thing that’s born out of procrastinating these performance videos is that I started learning some basic 3D modeling and animation in a free program called Blender. Using this I’ve generated single arts, basic social posts, and Spotify Canvas stuff. Not the most crucial thing to have sorted out, and definitely not as important as performance videos, but it’s been nourishing to see how my music is always bringing me to new creative areas and having me learn new skills. Plus, these are just cool and satisfying.
That being said…where am I in the release process at the time of recording?
Well…I’ve gone through all my private preorder rollout, announced the preorder campaign and album release schedule to the larger world, and released my first single…without a performance video. However, I HAVE begun planning and practicing for 4 music videos. One for each single. One thing that’s great about marketing is that you can pretty much create relevance whenever you need to. So even if I don’t get this first video for the single out for a while, the advertising I do on it will still be valid and generate first time traffic on that single.
So. Where are sales at? Did I hit my $8k mark, conservatively speaking?!
…No. I haven’t.
I’m at $4,000, which is so much less than I was planning for. This covers my mastering costs and vinyl production costs, but I’m still going to need to generate about $2,000 more to cover the costs of the apparel and CD portion of the merch line in the short term. But, the road is long and the world changes every day! My projections could have been inflated for several reasons. Things don’t always go as you think they might. And, I have to remember that I am overachieving a bit. Breaking even on the entire merch line before it’s put into production is in many ways, a reach goal. If I could do that, that’s brilliant. But if I can’t? It just means that breaking even or profiting is just a ways off instead of it being perfectly accounted for in the first couple months. There are still MANY advertising pushes left for this album to move the merch that I’m selling during this preorder phase and potentially get me to that $6k break-even goal.
I just really wanted this album release to prove to me that the audience I had built was way more powerful than I’d thought. And again, maybe that’s still the case and I just need to keep moving. We’ll see!
So…where does this all leave me? EMOTIONALLY?
I have to say, laying out my musical history has me appreciating the very clear growth I’ve been able to see over the past 13 years. And it REALLY has me grateful for the obvious no-fucks-given attitude I’ve had about releasing music over that time period. If there’s one thing that frustrates me, it’s when my artist friends say they’re gonna release stuff and they never do. As I move forward, I find myself craving more in all ways. I want to learn more skills, learn how to make more and better music even faster than before, and release it to more and more people. It’s just been my natural inclination this whole time. And you know what? What’s with this fear of music performance videos I have, anyway? I’m afraid to do that, yet not afraid to jump headfirst into a 3D modeling program I’ve never learned before?! I mean, something’s clearly off. So, getting over that fear and making it something I have a process for and do more regularly is a priority of mine. Otherwise, I’m standing in the way of this really great hunger for “more” that I just laid out.
Well. Thank you for joining me in the trenches of my music career and seeing where I’m at lately. Hopefully you get some extra clarity from it with your own pursuits…Maybe next time I’m on here, I’ll be talking about how these single releases are going, the production of those music videos, and the big ol’ slog that is putting on an album release show…
And MAYBE, just maybe…i’ll have hit that $6k mark.
Who knows. But for now…I love you.
See ya round.
About the author: Long-time Indepreneur student and community member turned team member; Jesse serves as a dedicated instructor for our IndieFounder Coaching program. As "The Future", Jesse is also responsible for testing new strategies at the front lines for the Indepreneur knowledge base. Originally from Binghamton, NY, Jesse moved to Nashville in 2015 to spread his unique style of synthpop (see: "gloitchpop").
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