Brian Hazard

Today’s guest is the owner and mastering engineer at Resonance Mastering, the frontman of electronic act Color Theory, and curator of the passive promotion website.

With a deep love of 80s “depressing music” and a Bachelor of Music and Piano Performance from California State University, comes with a stack of accolades including winning the John Lennon song writing competition, and was resident of sunny Huntington Beach, California.

Brian Hazard, welcome to the show.

Thank you for having me.

In my chaotic world I often feel overloaded with my studio, band commitments, and family, but you appear to take it to another level altogether. How do you manage such a huge workload?

You start with the potentially longest answer ever!

I get up early, I try to get up before 6 every day. I meditate and then I run and then sometimes I’m so tired I have to take a little nap. But managing the workload it’s really hard to say, you know? I try to take it in strides.

Some days I can get a lot done, and some days stuff just comes up. Like for example, we have something with our heater and there are guys working for 4 hours yesterday and 3 hours today, and constantly bugging me. I could get bent out of shape about that, or be frustrated, or feel like I have to somehow make it up, but I just kind of let that go.

And the same thing with the kids. There’s always… my son could have a tennis match that I’m going to go watch, or my daughter has dance and I have to wait. I guess I don’t think about it too much, there’s 162 hours in a week if my mental math is correct there.

Even if you’re working 40 of them, and you’re sleeping 8 hours a day, that’s 56. There’s still plenty of hours left so you just need to be smart about how you use them. And don’t watch a lot of TV!

Try to utilise that downtime because there is a little bit of downtime there, isn’t there?

Oh, yeah.

When you’re at the tennis match you can sit back on your iPad and do some work, perhaps?

Oh no I try not to do that. I try to be fully present with whatever I’m doing. And I’m not big on multi-tasking, as a parent, I’ve got screen time set up on my kids’ phones, you know, on the iPhones.

And my son will be like 5 hours a day, with YouTube and Instagram and stuff, and supposedly while he’s working. And then I pull out my phone and it’s like an hour a day and it’s only playing podcasts back in the car. I just find it so much easier to just not mess with that stuff.

For example social media, I try not to even hit social media until after 5pm, when I’m not productive anymore. And I won’t even check in every day, but maybe every couple of days I’ll check into Twitter and Facebook and just scan really quick and try not to look at other people’s feeds.

Just get in and get out, because that’s such a huge time waster.

Yeah, what do they call it? The scroll addiction, it’s really bad isn’t it, you’ll just start going down and down before you know it, 20 minutes has gone by.

And the thing is, all you’re doing is feeding the algorithm. So know it knows what’s going to get your attention next time. And so you just exacerbate the situation.

What a trap. The Passive Promotion website has been an enormous help to myself and many others on our DIY journey. Your research transparency and generosity is staggering, I’ve got to say and we all thank you for that. What was it that got you started on this epic quest?

Well, thank you for saying that. I almost feel like anytime the blog is introduced, I kind of need to apologise because I’ll go a couple of months easy without writing anything. But every time I do write something, I want it to be my experience not as a promotion guru but as an actual recording artist.

That’s my first-hand experience with some actionable advice. That’s kind of my goal.  But I started with – I think it was around 2007, 2008 when I was releasing my seventh album, and originally the idea was just to kind of document how I promoted the album to my fans.

I think my fans quickly lost interest, but it was clear that other musicians were interested in what I was doing. So I kinda just took it from there and it’s been… I think it really has been almost 10 years! God, that’s the kind of thing I should research and make a little milestone on, 10 years.

Absolutely, it’s funny because it was a bit of a turning point back then. I remember I was wrapping up a band called Prettymess in 2006 and we had a website. It was like, “Wow, we’ve got a website. This is great.” But that was just on the cusp of the whole Facebook revolution.

We had an extended break in that period of time, so we missed out on all that, but I could see what was coming. And that’s about when you were getting on board through that period there when all this incredible stuff was emerging online. 

It’s still kind of an interesting landscape out there with music promotion. I read Hypebot on a regular basis, I scan the feeds there because they seem to publish a lot of articles from other sources that… It just eliminates the need to follow a bunch of other sources because they all feed through Hypebot and Hypebot carries my articles.

As for actual just musicians sharing their experience, I mean, Ari Herstand, his blog, and mine are the ones that I think of. So it’s still rather desolate out there, I think. Or you hear about Zoe Keating a lot of time sharing her experience but I don’t think she has a blog. Kind of a divergent. 

It’s still hard to get really solid advice out there.

That’s part of the reason why I’m doing Indie Confidential. I’ve been in the industry over 30 years now, and of the 18 records I’ve released, including two top 20 EPs in there, were often done with the support of record labels.

The game has changed so much now, with the churn and the burn of the major three labels it doesn’t look as attractive to take that route anymore does it? Do you reckon in 2019, this DIY is the way to go for young bands?

I guess I would say now… this is speaking as somebody who has never been signed to a label, so I don’t really know what it would be like to have a team behind me like that. I know a lot of people think that immediately all sorts of work that they don’t want to do would be lifted off their shoulders, and I know that that’s not the case.

I think more than ever now, the artist needs to represent themselves on social media, and it has to be that… nobody can do that for you. It’s got to be you. And that’s a big part of the work out there; it’s having a content calendar, keeping up on social media. I will say though, in my mastering business, a lot of my clients have signed with labels.

Not the big three that I can remember, but I can’t remember any time that they have been happy with what the label has done for them.  And this also goes for PR companies. I know a lot of people have spent thousands on PR companies and pretty much every time they come back with – and same with the label – “they didn’t do anything or me that I couldn’t have done myself”.

That’s the great thing about what you’re offering here. It’s giving people that opportunity to learn. And it’s another feather in your cap is being able to learn some of these skills and techniques required that you carry through your whole career. I think it’s absolute gold.

Well thanks, yeah. It’s funny, you do take it through your career, but at the same time, the landscape changes so quickly, it’s almost like that old experience doesn’t really count for much. For example my experience with promoting to radio, is not very useful to me at all anymore. But that was a huge part of my life right back around the turn of the century.

Way back when!

Literally, the turn of the century.

The Passive Promotion website is a veritable treasure trove, I reckon, with great ideas and tips and tricks for all these people navigating through the industry, and I’ve used a lot of your research in my own way of promoting.

But I’ve noticed however there are still a number of people who feel that scams abound and many of the services you’ll interact with are just a quick grab for cash. What are your thoughts on that?

I think that’s really, really farfetched. You hear that a lot.

“They’re fake, they’re bots, or maybe some of them are fake.” And what goes through my head is that it would be so much more difficult to create a system that was able to fool everybody.

With the level of transparency in the stats that you get, it would just be… That seems like an incredibly difficult task relative to creating a service that actually does what it says it does. 

So we’re talking specifically about radio airplay, which people think is a scam. Even reputable services like TAXI – I’ve written about TAXI, I haven’t been a member for a long time – but I mean they’re totally legit, of course.

People seem to question in the face of, I think, incontrovertible evidence that somehow that’s a scam too. I just don’t get it.  Even things I’ve written on recently the SubmitHub, which allows you to submit to bloggers directly. Somehow that’s a scam? Because you have to pay a dollar?

I just don’t follow the logic. I understand the bitterness and the cynicism because it’s really tough to make any headroom out there. I do understand that.

But I do think that the vast majority of these services, and certainly all the ones that I cover are legit, or I wouldn’t really bother covering them.

It’s good you brought up Playlist Push. I’ve used it a number of times and I’ve got some great results. How have you found it at the other end, as a curator for Playlist Push? Has that been a bit weird?

Yeah. Well, I only did that a little while. So interestingly, it’s the same thing as Submit Hub, right. So Playlist Push, from the curator end, it’s the same idea – you review material, you get paid for your time. And I quickly found that it is not worth the money.

It’s just not very much. If you’re gonna do a serious job, and you really care about your playlist, it’s just not worth it for… it would be 10 bucks an hour maybe, for me to go through them. So I’ve got better things to do.

And also, I felt like I was holding my playlist at too high a standard, but I felt like I was letting some stuff in because I couldn’t just turn down everything.

Yeah, it didn’t really work for me so I let go of that. But a lot of people are having great experience with Playlist Push. My experience, as I wrote about twice, wasn’t the most thrilling. But the music didn’t really fit any of the genres, and the last one was categorised as disco.

I’ve heard so many good things and obviously it’s legit in the sense that curators are actually hearing your music and they’re making their own decisions, there are no guarantees, but the service does what they say their gonna do.

That’s what I think as well. Has there been a genuine ‘hallelujah’ moment in your research that’s really stood head and shoulders above the rest? Has there been that one thing that you’ve thought, “My God, what a discovery”?

I can’t think of one thing. The only thing I’m really doing right now is I have some ads on YouTube that I feel like have been worth the investment. So I’m not advertising on Facebook right now.

I even tried advertising on Reddit, and I didn’t write an article about it because it wasn’t really very useful for me. Again with my Synthwave music, I didn’t feel… a big part of the problem was you couldn’t reach the larger – well, even the larger Synthwave groups aren’t very big – and so you couldn’t target them. 

I would say that YouTube advertising on very specific channels and even specific videos has been helpful, but it could just be a Synthwave thing. 

It’s true. It could just be a style thing. It’s hard to know, it’s hard to quantify that. Going back to Playlist Push, I’ve had some really good results and I do that kind of Indie Rock thing. So I don’t know. It’s really hard to know with it.

It is. I think the ultimate difficulty here is that sales are so few and far between that you can’t really use that as your measuring stick anymore to see what worked. Even mailing list sign ups, that used to be my main metric; if people are signing up for my mailing list, then they must be interested in my music and so let’s go by that.

But I don’t see that as much anymore because most of the interactions take place on social media. So it’s again, how do you measure success? And I don’t have a good answer for that.

You were saying recently that Patronage is where it’s at right now, not withstanding current uncertainties and fee changes, how has Patreon worked out for you? Can you explain to the listener what exactly Patreon is and are you able to generate any sustainable revenue?

Yeah. Well this is interesting that you asked me because I was at the Patreon conference in November, and they have really changed their messaging around what the platform is and what the purpose is. When it started, everybody had said, “Well, it’s like Kickstarter, but it’s ongoing.”

And apparently that messaging does not convert very well, and that’s not the way to think about it. It is a membership platform. So people instead of supporting a particular project that you’re doing, they sign on as members and provide ongoing support.

You can choose whether that’s, you can choose per song – every song you release maybe they chip in three dollars.

I have it set, and I believe most creators have it set so people contribute every month. There are a variety of tiers. I have for example a 2-dollar, 3-dollar, 5-dollar and 15-dollar tiers.

And so people sign on to one of those tiers and there are benefits associated with each of those tiers. 

Every month then they’re billed that amount. Right now I have about 165 patrons and that amounts to about $600 a month, so it’s not ‘quit your day job’ level just yet, but it is a very real and substantial part of my music income, because I don’t make a lot of music income. 

That’s pretty impressive really, isn’t it? If you can build on that, which you are obviously working on?

That’s actually my big goal I haven’t really announced it yet for 2019, but… One of the really cool things about Patreon, they’ve really stepped up their game on helping their creators build their, what they would call their membership business.

So the conference was part of that but they’ve also done smaller workshops with livestreams, and I even had a one-on-one call.

One of their team, we talked for like half an hour and I can get in contact with them any time and bounce ideas off them, bounce specific email copy off them. So it’s really cool. I should say, I don’t think those services are going to be in place for somebody who is launching and they have 3 patrons, which you see a lot.

You know what I mean? Obviously, Patreon can’t afford to spend hours helping every patron that’s bringing in $5 a month when they only get 5% of those revenues. That wouldn’t be a sustainable business model. But the resources they provide, the guidebooks, I think things are really looking good.  So my goal for 2019 is going to be to “quit my day job”.

I’ve estimated that that would be the equivalent of about $3000 a month. So going from 600 to 3000 is huge leap, but my music has always been the thing that I do when I’m done with every body else’s music. Whether that’s mastering or mixing. And so sometimes, my music will drop off the radar for months at a time. If I have a big project.

Like, I used to do a lot of music for Microsoft Games Studios or we had some projects for Ubisoft video game stuff. So I would just stop working on my music for 3 or 4 months. I don’t want that to happen anymore.

I want my music to be my primary focus and I think with Patreon, at least the person that I’ve talked to on the Patreon team, thinks that it’s doable.

They’ve looked at my numbers across platforms. So it’s kind of a bold and potentially embarrassing goal to put out there if it doesn’t work but…

You’re the man for the job though, because we all love and appreciate your transparency and honesty with all of this. I grew up in the 80’s listening to electronic pop and I love your approach to your sounds and aesthetics with Color Theory.

I often inform my listeners there’s still good money out there for acts performing live. Yet you don’t play live, why is that?

Well okay, so the easiest answer is that I don’t enjoy it. And that sounds a little weird coming from somebody who was a performance major in college with piano. But up until 1999 I did – I don’t know if you had Borders out there, Borders books and music but it was a really large chain?

Yeah, we do.

Okay, so I played the Borders circuit. They carried my CDs and you’d go play and it would be, they’d pay you anywhere from $50 to $125 plus usually some gift credit for the store. So I did that for a few years.

The thing is for me is, I’d had have good nights and then I’d have not-so-good nights, I have asthma, I have allergies, if you put a cat within 20 feet of me on the day of a show, that’s it. The show is just going to be terrible.

But I mean, what it really comes down to is that I don’t enjoy it and I didn’t see… I tried it because I felt like I had to do it because that was ‘the way’ to grow your fanbase.

But I didn’t really see the growth. I’m totally open to the possibility that I’m just a lousy performer, so that wasn’t… You know what I mean? If I were better at what I did, I would gain a following that way. But yeah, just not my thing.

It is a hard slog to it. There’s no doubt about it. Particularly when you’re in a band situation like the world I come from. You’re working with other people. A lot of rehearsing, a lot of organising. There is that money there, but you’ve got to do the work, and it’s not for everybody.

Yeah, other people. You lost me at other people – not interested!

$5888.35 spent on Facebook ads so far for you to date. I must say, I’m probably not far behind you in my Facebook expenditure. It’s certainly crept up on me unaware. Has it been worth it for you, do you think?

I’m going to say no. I think a lot of that money, a big part of that was when I had my Depeche Mode tribute come out, which was way back in 2003. So reaching Depeche Mode fans who – I got the best response from that album because I grew up on Depeche Mode, they were my favourite band.

I think people really connected with the tribute album because I was a fan too and I created an album that was very much in the style of something that Depeche Mode might release and it had album tracks instead of hit singles.

Anyway, being able to reach them on Facebook, I think, for that project was definitely worth it. And I actually made money on that album, and it’s on iTunes.

Wow.

On iTunes of all things. But more recently, I think that – the articles talk about this – I’m sending people, it might be an ad like “The new track this is out for fans of x, y, and z. Check it out at this link.”

And then that link would be a feature.fm smart link. You know, one of those pages where you go to it and then you can choose whether to play it back on Spotify or Deezer or Amazon or Bandcamp.

And just the drop off from people clicking the ad and then going to a service. When you actually look at the people who are actually getting to a service and playing the record, at least we assume playing the record, we don’t know, it’s just too expensive. It’s took expensive for what I could potentially make.

Even gaining a Spotify follower, you know, how much should I be willing to pay for that? If it’s a dollar, I don’t think it’s going to be worth it. I don’t think that could ever pay for itself. 

Versus, you know, YouTube advertising where I can target an ad for a specific channel and the ad is my music, so when they click it, they’re taken straight to my song without having to go through any intermediate steps. I believe that’s more valuable.

At the very least, my view counts are going up as a result, I’m getting a lot of really nice comments. So that’s my thought now that at least for Synthwave because music discovery really seems to take place on YouTube so much, I feel like that’s a better route.

That’s interesting.

I could be wrong. On Facebook, maybe if I had an actual music video for the song, and then I hosted the video on Facebook and promoted that directly, I could see great results. I haven’t tried that. That might, again, eliminate that intermediate step where I’m losing so many people.

That could work, so I guess I shouldn’t say Facebook advertising doesn’t work. It just doesn’t work for me when it becomes a multi-step process for people to hear my music.

Yeah. I was looking over your impressive album launch promotion list a few days ago on your site. And even though you suggested it’s more a brainstorming session than a definitive list, it is exhaustive. Do you think that kind of workload is beyond most beginners?

I did it. Also every year, I get at least a handful of people asking to intern. Whether that’s from the promotional angle or they kind of intern for the mastering stuff so they can learn mastering.

And every time, I rack my brain and I cannot come up with anything for them to do. You know what I mean? There’s nothing I can kind of offload.

I guess in that sense, yeah. I think it’s doable. When I’ve promoted singles before my last album and I kind of had a content calendar where I was releasing a single every month, and kind of going through my steps to promote it and honing that procedure.

It really didn’t take that long. Certainly less than 10 hours. I did see my following build and again, not a lot of money from sales but enough of a result that I feel like it was worthwhile.

I also feel like it’s worthwhile just… on Spotify now and being able to, through their artist portal, be able to select which song from an album is going to go into people’s release radar. And be able to suggest songs for their playlist editorial team.

I think that’s super valuable and just being able to have new material every month so you stay front of mind for people, going through their feeds and showing up in everybody’s release radar.

And there’s an overlap there, month to month that kind of allows you to snowball. I think that’s super important too.

And that’s why you’re with Patreon, trying to a do a single a month. Is that right?

Yeah. Here’s what’s difficult about that, is that I do have two release schedules. Patrons are getting a new song every month. The rest of the world, i.e. Spotify or YouTube and all that, I honestly have not… I should be focusing more of my effort on that, right? Because way more listeners are hearing me that are not patrons.

But Patreon takes so much time and so much effort that I’m really crafting the experience around what they’re going to get and the rest of the world is kind of an afterthought. There was a time when I was releasing publicly a new single every month. I haven’t released anything publicly since my last album, which was in September.

And then I released an instrumental version of that last album in December. But I didn’t really do much to promote it because I don’t know how to promote a version of instrumentals of songs that I sang.

I find that incredibly difficult as a band, getting the drummer in the studio each month, and the bass player’s got to swing by. For me, I find that difficult. We should be trying to get 10 songs recorded in 2 days, and just incrementally spread them over the next 10 months.

Absolutely. Funny you mention that because that is my process now. I’m working on a new album and I’ve been sharing my process in chapters on Patreon.

And I’m batching the whole thing. So for example, the first chapter talks about my inspiration and then I talk about lyrics, and I wrote the lyrics for the entire album.

Then now I’m working on intros, outros, bridges and solos for the whole album. And so working in those batches, it’s a little tough because I’ve got this downtime.

But I’m getting stuff done so fast, it’s going to end up being maybe 3 or 4 months for an at least 11-track album.

So I think there’s a lot of value to that, and certainly if I had to bring in other musicians I would wanna work in a big batch.

This is a tough question, but just let’s say you had a $1000 budget to release a single or EP. As a band or a solo act, how do you think that would be best spent?

Good question. Are we performing live, or not?

No, we’re not. We’re doing your thing.

Okay, doing my thing.

Yeah, because I was going to put money into targeted ads at the locations of the tour. Honestly, having my list of, like the recent article, “How I promoted my latest album”, that would probably help me a lot, but I don’t have that in front of me.

Off the top of my head, for me a lot of that would be… Okay, so I would start probably with ReverbNation crowd review and pick maybe 3 or 4 of the songs that I think are going to resonate best with people. And run that through a crowd review and get some objective feedback.

And figure out maybe 1 or 2 songs to really push – the ones that people are responding to. Then when I release the album, I’d make sure to use the editorial recommendation feature on Spotify to suggest that single to their editorial team.

Because that way it will be introduced into all my followers’ release radar playlists. I don’t think I’ve cost money yet. 

Let’s say I’ve got the money. I would do SubmitHub for sure. And submit to all the relevant blogs. That’s going to be $100 maybe.

Depending on my response there, if I’m able to get some pretty solid response, I might go with Playlist Push also, in the genre, which is helpful because the crowd reviews, there’s a question where they ask what genre the music belongs to.

That might help narrow my focus on Playlist Push to be able to pick the right one. So that’s a few hundred bucks. I would still do Facebook and Instagram advertising around the release in the ways that I detailed in my article.

So the important thing there is not to just boost the posts to people who like your page, because people who liked your page, they may have liked your page 10 years ago, they might be your friends who you asked them to like your page and they did it as a courtesy.

Instead, I would promote it to a custom audience of people who engage with a page. I would still do that on Facebook and Instagram and try to reach fans of my genre and people who engage with my content. And then I still go with Google AdWords. I hadn’t written an article on Google AdWords because it’s super complicated.

They’ve been in the middle of changing over their control panel, the way it looks and feels. And honestly, there’s parts of it that I don’t understand. It’s so convoluted.

But I’ve got something that works for me now and I’m sticking with it. I would probably keep that as an ongoing expense. Maybe $5–10 a day, promoting on the channels that are relevant.

And also, this doesn’t cost money, but I maintain a list of YouTube channels, blogs – I mean of course, we should all have this, right? – a little database of our music contacts that we pitch our songs to.

I’ve had some pretty decent success pitching to some of the bigger channels in the genre. For example NewRetroWave is kind of the biggest player in the Synthwave scene and they featured an instrumental version of on my songs on New Year’s Day.

I think we’re probably close to 30,000 views on that. So that totally dwarfs anything I’m going to spend on advertising.  So the advertising, if the songs resonate well enough with those channels that are really the authorities in my genre, maybe I don’t even need to spend the advertising.

For credibility, I think it looks a lot better to be promoted by those other channels than it does to be pushing out directly.

Absolutely.

Yeah, but I think that’s probably about my budget. I can’t think of what else I would… Oh, you know what? If I had any money left over, I think I would do another feature.fm campaign.

Where you’re promoting to Deezer listeners. Now, my article on that was a bit lukewarm because I don’t know if it’s Deezer at fault, but the stats just haven’t translated into any metric that I can really track, that I’ve seen a long-term effect from.

But I think that would be worth another go because for a few hundred dollars, I know I’ll get a lot of listens, I’ll get a lot of people adding the song to their own personal playlists.

Whether that results in being added to larger editorial playlists, I don’t know. But that’s one of the only platforms you can really promote on directly now.

I know Spotify, I tried doing an ad through their ad centre and it was a total waste. So Deezer isn’t my first choice, but it’s the one that we can reach, so I might give that shot.

Great advice, thank you. So look, I think I know the answer to this question, but what will Brian Hazard be doing in 10 years’ time?

Like, I mentioned, for this year, my Patreon goal of kind of quitting my day job and making enough through my music to be first and foremost a recording artist, I really feel like that’s what I want to make happen.

And if I can make that happen, then hopefully I’m still doing that in 10 years. I have no intention of stopping. There’s just so many different artistic ideas I want to explore, and it’s the hardest thing to do and it’s the thing I want to do the most. It’s so much easier to do anything but sit down and write music. 

With any luck, I don’t know if Patreon will be around, but we just have to adapt to the times. With any luck, honestly, the licencing thing, there should be some sort of universal database where we’re able to manage our licencing directly on our end and hopefully get paid by the streaming services etc directly as well.

Hopefully making some money from that.

Wouldn’t that be nice.

I think it’s got to happen. So yeah, I don’t know what else to say. Just doing the same thing I’m doing now hopefully. Staying healthy and happy and running marathons and doing the stuff I like to do.

If you could speak to the 18-year-old Brian Hazard, what would be the one piece of advice you’d give him?

Oh, that’s good and that’s easy. I would say, ironically, because I know I contradicted what I’m about to say earlier in our discussion, but what I would tell 18-year-old Brian is, “Don’t do it all yourself.” I made the mistake of having to figure out mastering and mix engineering and all that by myself.

These days you’ve got YouTube and so you can learn about almost anything and get pretty good advice. I mean, granted, a lot of it contradicts itself and there’s a lot of voodoo and snake oil in the pro audio world.

But I spent a lot of time trying to figure that stuff out whereas if I’d just tried to intern with somebody else, with a real studio, I think that I could have leapt ahead by a number of years.

Don’t do it all yourself if you don’t have to. It’s worth spending a little money. Whether that means something like Sonic Academy, for a website where you can look at mixing tutorials. Maybe that means voice lessons.

I don’t know what it means for a particular person in their place and their aspirations, but don’t be afraid to spend a little money on something that you want to be your job, and you want to generate income from.

Because it really does take money to make money.

Indeed. Great advice, and on behalf of everybody again, thanks for the great work you’ve done, we all really appreciate it. Brian Hazard, thanks for being on the show.

Thank you so much for having me.

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The next episode of Indie Confidential i’ll be talking about giving up on music. We’ll explore giving up on your music or your life dream. You’ll get to hear about why I never gave up and nor should you. Don’t miss it.

I’ll catch you soon.

 

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