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Music Indie News Beat - December 10, 2003

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Finally, It's About Music Dot Com!
By Chris Burnett, MusicDish.com

There is an exciting new company named, ItsAboutMusic.com, that is making a tangible difference for independently distributed music of all genres. The success of this company gives hope to those who still believe in the viability of using today's technology to distribute good music - regardless of label affiliations. You could also see this as vindication for those legions that have been actively involved in relevant aspects of the Online Music Distribution scene over the last five years or so.

The fact has been well documented by now that significant voids existed within the area of credible online distribution platforms - that also allow independent artist participation. This is inherently due to so many of those less than positive recent developments in online music where indie artist opportunities are concerned.

The concept and operation of ItsAboutMusic.com seems so logical that you will probably wonder why no other company thought of it too. Yes, artist and fans of independent music, there finally seems to be an OMD company whose brain trust has qualified experience in the field and also seems to be in it for all of the right reasons.

Visions and Solutions

The music community at ItsAboutMusic.com is handpicked for reasons of quality and mutual musical appeal to the fans. With that standard in mind, they accept only the best artists they can find to participate in their venture and web site. The E-Label is based in Pennsylvania USA and there is a relatively nominal fee for artists once accepted on the label.

The credo is simple: to introduce the world to the best new music rendered by the best artists. ItsAboutMusic.com is among the first E-Labels of its kind, that is, an imprint that exists and thrives exclusively online. Founded three years ago by Dean Sciarra, music journalist, editor of the FM Radio trade publication - Walrus, artist manager, and head of the independent record company - 7Records; ItsAboutMusic.Com boasts a growing roster of exceptional independent artists from a myriad of genres including Pop, Rock, AAA, Americana, Alternative Rock, Classic Rock, Celtic, Blues, World, Folk, and Jazz.

Dean Sciarra provides smart answers to the hard questions artists, consumers, and music industry pundits are raising about the future of music as an art form and a commercially viable product. By addressing such topics as: the need for artists to define a niche market, the fallout from strict radio formats, new artists making inroads via online marketing campaigns, customer feedback, music patronage programs, new trends in the college market, the future of brick and mortar, and the mounting confusion over listening format, Dean Sciarra and ItsAboutMusic.com are practicing the future of music marketing, promotion, and album sales today.

Artists on this E-label are included in all marketing services that the company offers, such as the creation of a graphic interface at his site that will offer streaming and paid downloads of the artists' catalog. Other perks include free digital distribution via Rhapsody and EMusic.com among others, and inclusion in free CD compilations. ItsAboutMusic.Com provides a marketing advantage that translates into income for the artist.

This strategy and practice has garnered positive results for current label artists. For example, the group "Grey Eye Glances" receives more than 4,000 streaming plays per day. Independent artist, Kati Mac has garnered over half a million plays with an $8,000 profit and counting.

"Few from the business side of the music industry operate from a place of total commitment to their artists. Dean Sciarra is one of those rare and few. As an artist on his roster, I know him to be truly heartfelt and impassioned in working endlessly for the success of those that he represents. As an Independent Artist, my gratitude is for the myriad of his efforts," states Charlie Elgart, who offers one among many positive artist testimonials regarding a relationship with ItsAboutMusic.com.

Great Music Is Forever

Fast-forward to today and we find Dean as the President and Music Marketing Manager of ItsAboutMusic.com. His E-Label has a roster of more than 75 exceptional independent artists. Dean's goal today isn't much different from what it was more than 25 years ago - find great artists and tell the world about them.

Many have participated and watched as Online Music Distribution companies came and went over the years. Part of the advantage of being an independent recording artist is that you are not encumbered by the individual debts and associated expenses that are common to major label contracts. Independent artists also generally remain so for artistic and creative freedom, in as much as to earn the rightful profit from their artistic endeavors. The challenge to date has been how to make both of those dynamics work in reality for the artists, while still making such an arrangement equally profitable for online distributors and labels.

Submitting Your Music

If you are an artist or band, and believe your work would be compatible with the other artists on this E-Label, then ItsAboutMusic.com welcomes your inquiry. The company asks that all potential artists read and become familiar with its list of services as well.

Since the artist roster is selective, the final step is to send an email to the company with artist bio information and a link to the location where your music can be listened to online. Again there is a nominal fee, once accepted. Artists may initiate the preliminary process in the submissions procedure by sending an email to submissions@itsaboutmusic.com

Or, you can send a press kit and CD of your music to:
ItsAboutMusic.com
Attn: Dean Sciarra
275 Mill Lane
Phoenixville, PA 19460

Interview With ItsAboutMusic.com

Your company seems to have found a viable niche in the Online Music Distribution Market Place. How were you able to bring all of these diverse aspects of OMD under one synergetic umbrella?

[Dean Sciarra] My history in the business has everything to do with what I do today. Every single aspect of what I've done has somehow all become my day to day. As a rock journalist in the late 70's, my vantage point was not to tell music fans about the new Robert Palmer album (back in 1976) as much as the new Jess Roden album that was released at the very same time, on the very same label. Palmer was good - no question. Jess was better but he never got the push Island Records gave to Palmer. In other words, I always championed the talented underdog.

My opinion of music always seemed to matter to readers because I would never badmouth music I didn't like. I saw no point in it. I tried to turn people on - not off. I always looked for the best music I could find and to let people know about it. My position as a rock critic brought me into the music industry as an insider when I met George Meier, the publisher of the AOR FM Radio trade publication called "Walrus." George had worked tirelessly to make "Walrus" the bible of the radio business. Since he never took advertising, he could speak the truth in his reviews about every album ever released by all labels.

Eventually, he gave that job to me and made me the editor of the magazine. My opinions were always accurate and hindsight has proven that fact. But this position was a turning point for me since I had to, in essence, "badmouth" some music because I had to review everything. I was not afraid to tell radio programmers across the country that I felt let down by one of my favorite bands, Fleetwood Mac, when they released "Tusk." I certainly loved some songs on that LP but in my mind, Lindsay Buckingham had strayed too far too soon from the genius he had shown on the two previous releases. I'll never forget that review because it marked my transition from "the music lover" to "the music critic."

Eventually, I got a little bored with talking about music that everyone else made, so I got involved in artist management. I wanted to turn my opinion into a crusade to get artists signed to major labels and prove what I already knew, that I had the best ears in the music business. Little did I know the long and winding road that lay ahead.

During the 80's, I worked with a number of artists. The best was Tommy Keene. We released his first (of many brilliant albums) independently because the labels just didn't get it. What else is new? Tommy went on to be signed by Geffen and released his most ambitious album called "Songs from the Film" but he didn't catch on. To this day, after a dozen releases on various labels, Tommy is still not a household word but has delivered some of the best music you'd ever want to hear. The Tommy Keene experience was one that would repeat itself.

In the 90's, I found a few artists I believed would change the world. A little known band from Philadelphia called Peter's Cathedral and a well received band called Huffamoose. Both of these bands were unbelievably cool so I decided to start my own label. I produced and released the first albums by both of them and began my meteoric rise to the top - or so I thought. I was very successful with both bands but personalities and impatience got in the way and after a few years, the bubble burst and all I could think about was getting out of the music business. I really tried to get it out of my blood but I couldn't.

Then came the Internet. My wife will attest to the fact that in 1996 I told her that someday, we would be able to download all the music we ever wanted onto our hard drives and make CDs for ourselves. Of course, my original vision included downloading the artwork so that we could make "real" copies of the music CDs. I am in the process of accomplishing that at my site to this day.

So after a mere 30 years in the business of music, all of the trials and tribulations that I have suffered in the name of great music have come to pass leaving me with my initial "mission from God" still intact. All I really do is collect all the best recording artists I can find and try to tell the world about them through any means I can. Whether it's digital distribution, film and TV placement, CD sales, management (yes, I now manage two artists - Andy Pratt and a new band from Harrisburg, PA called bravetheday) or compiling CD samplers for national distribution in an effort to shine some light on the good artists, everything I do today, I learned a long time ago. And that has allowed me to get some visibility online simply due to the high quality of the music I represent.

Your personal background in the music industry and marketing undoubtedly are an advantage to your success where others seemingly have failed. What sets your operation apart in this regard in tangible terms for your artists?

[Dean Sciarra] I get so tired of hearing music that simply gets in the way of great artists who are trying so hard to be heard. There's only so much room in the world for music. We have an overabundance of it today. Too many people think they are good enough. They just aren't. But with all of their effort, they make it more difficult for the ones who are since people get inundated with inferior music and wind up getting turned off to the process. I sift through the bad until I find the good. What set's ItsAboutMusic.com apart is the quality. Great music will always survive. My secret weapon is not a secret to anyone who has visited my site. It's the music. Any success I see comes directly from that. It's not a marketing innovation as much as it is consistent quality.

You offer artists the total distribution package. You cover promotion at MP3 sites, distribution of manufactured CDs at places like CDBaby.com, and even have the ability to place your artists' music on the major digital download sites like EMusic.com, Rhapsody, and iTunes. How successful have these initiatives been for your artists?

[Dean Sciarra] I started the process of digital distribution for my artists about a year ago unless you count placing songs at MP3.com, which started for me in 1999. In the last year we all thought that we would never see the "download" business make enough to keep us going. The came iTunes' advertising and all of a sudden the world woke up. In the 3rd quarter of this year we received 169,000 downloads at EMusic.com alone. Of course, we have to spend money to make money so I always promote the sites where the music is available.

As for the future of downloads, my site will transform over the next few months into a stand-alone digital download site. Eventually we will not even offer CDs for sale. What's the point? We all live on our computers and that's where we get our music. CDRs will never go away as a place to store our music, until we all have iPods, that is. Nothing happens in a day. This is just the beginning of the digital revolution. We'll know how true that is ten years from now. But if we don't lay the ground work today, we'll have nothing in ten years. The artists of ItsAboutMusic.com can look forward to always being on the cutting edge of digital distribution. And they all know they have someone who will be prepared to go the extra mile for them. This is a very exciting era and the future looks great for the first time in a long time.

A major area for any recording artist is the opportunity for publishing royalties and music licensing opportunities. You guarantee song publishing through some of the world's best publishers. How do your artist clients take advantage of their option of having their individual works submitted by ItsAboutMusic.com to Cherry Lane Music Publishing and SoundtrackExpress.com for film & TV placement?

[Dean Sciarra] The option you speak of only applies to Cherry Lane Music since the artist makes the decision to sign the deal - or not. Contracts with Cherry Lane are open to all my artists. Inclusion of their music at SoundtrackExpress.com and SongCatalog.com is automatic. I also have started my own relationships with music supervisors in the song placement arena in order to get more visibility for my artists.

Cherry Lane is the number one independent music publisher in the world. They work hard to get placements in TV and film and even in other areas of publishing. Their contract is fair but not all artists want to sign the deal, thinking that their music is worth more to them if they continue to own all of the publishing. Cherry Lane asks for a portion of the publishing. My response to any artist who has no "monetary value" attached to their catalog of music is that until they have placed a few songs into films and TV, there will be no value associated to their catalog. It's simple math. We just cut a deal through Cherry Lane with a Canadian TV company to use ItsAboutMusic.com artists in all of their productions. The artists whose music has been selected for that project are not sorry they signed any deals as they deposit the checks in the bank.

You had thought about providing brick and mortar distribution for all artists on the roster but the way things look today, it doesn't seem a promising opportunity. With CD stores closing and the open stores selling less independent music, do you ever foresee a point of going in this direction in terms of distribution?

[Dean Sciarra] It's not just getting music in stores that I gave up on. CDs sell when the artist is exposed to the public. They have to tour, get airplay, distribution into stores and get press on massive levels in order to sell CDs. That's just too expensive today - with no guarantee they will make any money. The guards at the gate are still there. They used to be at the major labels, deciding which bands got signed. Today they are at the radio stations, record distributors, record stores and in the press. Who cares what they think! The only opinions that matter are those of the people who buy the music, live with the music, tell their friends about the music, have their lives impacted by the music.

We give too much power to industry people who are in the position to make decisions about music that will effect the success of any given artist. Of course, some of those people are cool enough to handle the job. Too many are not. I see no time in the future when we will pursue brick & mortar distribution for an individual artist. However, for the immediate future, record distribution for certain products seems the way to go. Products like CD Samplers, especially the new holiday CD from ItsAboutMusic.com, "It's About Christmas" are prime examples. In this case, you just have to get the CD in the face of the consumer. They're buying the holiday itself - not just the artists or the songs. But once they find out how cool the music is, they will investigate the individual artists on their own.

What other initiatives are you considering to increase the income potential for all of your artists?

[Dean Sciarra] I've begun asking my artists to do what they do best - writing songs. And I have been lucky enough to come up with some ideas that I would like them to write about so that I can construct projects in which to include their songs. We have a primary focus at the moment that has to do with some very revolutionary concepts around kids' music. With all the music programs in schools being removed from the curriculums, we have to pick up the slack so as to offer something intelligent for kids to experience that will develop their musical appreciation. We as musicians and writers owe it to future generations, or else there will be less good music for generations to come.

Will you tell us about your artist agreements and terms regarding profit sharing? Also, is your relationship with your artists, non-exclusive?

[Dean Sciarra] My agreement with my artists is verbal. I will not ask any artist to sign any deals with my company. If we can't trust each other then we shouldn't be working together. If an artist wants to leave for any reason, they can. And they have on occasion. Mostly due to signing record deals that didn't allow them to continue with me. If I want to ask an artist to leave, I can. And I have on occasion asked an artist to do so. Usually that has more to do with them being too "high maintenance" and thinking that I had become their manager.

I do what I do for all artists on the label. I select no one above the others to be favored for anything. My verbal agreement is not exclusive. If they sign another deal with someone else that is exclusive, then we have to part company. As for profit sharing, the sharing comes from their income, not mine. I take a 10% commission from their earnings for which I am responsible. I try to make the arrangement as easy as possible.

Having been around the indie artist community online for a few years now, it seems that artists and customers often balk at having to pay for such things as music related services. How have you overcome this dynamic where your start-up fee is concerned?

[Dean Sciarra] In the beginning, artists just saw that what I did for them was worth the small fee. I certainly wasn't making enough from my commission to stay alive. And if I couldn't sustain my efforts on their behalf, then what would be the point of any of it? Some of my artists were making quite a bit of money 3 or 4 years ago. Most weren't. But the effort I put into their online presence warranted the expense of my fee. Today, the fee is minuscule compared to the income I bring to my artists. I never really did much with the fees other than investing it into marketing on their behalf anyway. And that hasn't changed much to this day. When an artist knows that they will make back a lot more than the fee, they don't seem to have a problem with it.

Thanks for taking the time for this article and interview. I'd like to let you have the last words. Are there any closing thoughts that you would like to leave with our readers?

[Dean Sciarra] My last thoughts have to do with my feelings about the music and the business associated with it. My ideas about both have always been a little ahead of the curve. Consequently, I never fit into this business. For many years I tried to get a job at the major labels. I was given a position at A&M Records in New York as the East Coast A&R rep through producer David Kershenbaum only to have it taken away before I started because David owed a favor to a friend who owned the Beverly Hills Hotel and who needed a job for his son. I then had to deal with the guy who took my job in my efforts to get bands signed. That was my fate. I saw it early on.

I always had to be on my own. I always had to prove myself. Nothing has changed in that regard. I offer this little story to those who feel ignored and neglected. If you know in your heart that you have a contribution to make, just make it. And don't let anyone else stand in your way.

Provided by the MusicDish Network. Copyright Tag It 2003 - Republished with Permission. All Rights Reserved.

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