Exclusive Interview with Matt Diamond: The Science Behind “Features”

MD PressPic2 500x750 Exclusive Interview with Matt Diamond: The Science Behind Features

1. Introduce yourself to the readers

My name’s Matt Diamond – I am a music entrepreneur that started the indie hip-hop label Coalmine Records back in 2005.  I’ve since launched Diamond Music Group – a full service marketing one stop that specializes in consulting, online marketing & pr, digital distribution, radio promo, production, graphic design and so forth.  I’m also the stateside rep for producer M-Phazes.

Alkota:  Let’s be honest, there is alot of music out there. Everyone is an artist in 2011. Getting an artist with some buzz on my record with me seems like a good way to get some buzz of my own.


2. Will getting a feature from a well known artist get me more plays, attention, clicks?

When used effectively, the right guest feature can make an impacting difference.  When done right, it can help tremendously with both your online marketing campaigns and at retail.  Features should to be selected carefully, taking the following factors into consideration.  From a sonic perspective, do the artists sound good together?  Are the artists lyrically compatible?  Are you getting outshined on your own record or did you step your game up, without coming across like you’re trying too hard.  Does the record sound manufactured or forced, or does it sound organic as if both artists recorded their verses together, taking full advantage of the creative process.  Does the guest feature make sense; will it help draw attention to a fanbase that represents your market or are you trying to test the waters with a new audience.  If the latter, make sure you have already begun to carve your own lane before riding the co-tails of another artist’s market.  At the end of the day, a feature should bring some attention to what you have already have in motion, it should not define your movement.  Is the same site or blog going to post your next song that doesn’t have a feature….even if it’s a better record?  This is scenario that occurs often, and when it does happen, it doesn’t mean that the feature was all for naught, it just means that your name as an artist hasn’t resonated enough with the online gate keepers just yet.  The use of a strong feature will prove to be successful if the internet is receptive to your next record that does not have a notable feature or producer.

3. Am I always buying into their fanbase, or is that a misconception having other artists featured on records?

There are some misconceptions to be wary of when selecting a feature.  If you’re a lesser known artist with a notable feature, you can certainly expect more activity.  It of course could be the difference between having your song posted on a blog (or not) or even receiving a “New & Notable” feature on iTunes, which can certainly help boost your retail sales campaign.  The misconception typically lies with the perceived potency of the campaign, meaning a strong feature is not going to make you an overnight success and cause all the fans of the featured artist to go out and download or buy your record.  The success is typically scalable to the success that you have already carved for yourself, so expect a spike in the reach of your campaign, both through the amount of sites that post the content, total number of downloads and/or sales, but do not expect anything astronomical.  Your success is also relative to the job that you and/or your team is able to do to promote the record.  You may have a buzzworthy or even major label as a guest feature, but that does not mean that you have their team or marketing staff promoting your material, so keep your expectations realistic.

If you don’t know the right people to send your record to, you still won’t with the addition of a good feature.  You might have the correct email address for a given website, but do you have the relationship.  How do you know your email is being delivered and not sent to spam – this happens more often than you would think.  There was this one very popular website that I was trying to build a relationship with for the longest, they would never post any of my artists’ material.  I was finally able to get in contact with the content editor via G chat.  It turns out that he was very receptive to our music and claimed never to have received any emails from me.  After a little research, he found out that my emails were getting trapped by his spam filter.

Another important factor to take into consideration is that just because you have a strong feature on a given record, doesn’t mean that it will be promoted by that artist how he would promote his own material…if even at all.  You may have the feature, but you may not have the co-sign.  It’s tough to buy into an artist’s fanbase if it’s not presented to them.  Remember, the duration of a record being featured on a blog or website is very limited, so if the featured artist’s fan doesn’t stumble upon the record within that given window, it may remain undiscovered.

Another example of when a feature may be a dud is if when you select a feature based on their likability by a given site or blog.  Blog “x” loves this artist, so if I have them featured on my track, I’ll get posted on their blog…right?  I made this mistake once, where I had a particular artist in mind as a feature to get some shine on a particular site that co-signed dude heavy.  We cut the record, emailed it to all the sites and the one site that we were aiming for was the one site that slept on it.  Point made, lesson learned.

4. Everyone has got 16′s for sale. How do you select features for Coalmine artists and records?

I’m very particular about the side-artist selection process.  There are several factors to take into consideration: skills, buzz, compatibility, market and budget.  Since Coalmine is an east coast underground hip-hop label, we tend to work with artists that represent our market.  From this perspective, my goal is to magnify our current audience/fanbase.  However, I always begin the process with my ears.  Sometimes the selection is made off the instrumental and sometimes it’s made after one of our artist records a verse or two.  I’ll listen to a version of the track as either an instrumental or a version with one of our artists’ verses followed by an open 16. Without thinking of any particular artist, I’ll just imagine a voice rapping over the beat until it becomes someone identifiable.  Then I ask myself the following: 1.  Is this artist compatible with my artist? (does the feature make sense, will they vibe with the theme of the record?) 2.  Are they buzzworthy? (is this an artist that people are checking for, will this combination of artists’ peak people’s interest?) 3.  What’s the marketability (does the artist represent our market and if not, what’s the chances that we will be able to use our resources to reach that market and will fans of that market care for the finished product?) 4.  The last question I ask myself is with regard to budget.  How much is this going to cost, are they signed and if so is it practical? (will I be able to have their label sign-off the record company waiver of a side-artist agreement?).  If it’s a retail-based project, I of course have to think about the bottom line.  I’ll get soundscans of that given artists catalog from previous album sales to random songs that they are featured on.  *Remember, their feature on our song is just that…a random song that they are featured on, so let’s keep things in perspective.  With the state of the industry today, it’s not easy for indie labels to recoup, so although I start the process creatively, I ask myself the likelihood of me seeing that money again and/or how long it will take to recoup and start turning a profit.  If I’m not making money after a couple quarters, it will be difficult to pump money into future pipeline, which can stall our label’s activity, and hurt us in the long run – and so I ask myself, is it really worth it just for a feature.

If the feature is a straight to the internet promotional leak, I’ll always try to barter services or see if the artist is open to do it on the strength, knowing that it will be promoted well and could even help them.  The barter system is the smarter system so see if you have something to offer in return, but do it tastefully knowing that cash is king – if you don’t have a relationship with a given artist, they might think you’re coming at them sideways if you’re proposing a barter.  My suggestion would be to do your homework and make sure that you have something of real value to them if it’s not going to be money.

Alkota:  Ive heard horror stories of “up and comings” paying $1K-$1500+ and possibly more for a feature from an artist who never delivers.

5. How can artists without proper contacts, connections, etc. protect themselves from these types of situations?

No upcoming artist can afford getting beat.  A $1,000 – $1,500 loss can be very damaging and can be paralyzing enough to put a serious dent on their movement.  There’s several precautionary measures you can take to ensure that the ‘side artist’ delivers and delivers a quality job.  Here’s five things to consider:

  1. Business First: When you enter into a business agreement with an artist, the business needs to take precedence over everything else.  It’s great to be a fan, but it sucks to get beat, so treat the relationship and the transaction professionally with your best interests at stake.
  2. Eye to Eye: Artists make a large portion of their income from features, so do not for one minute undermine your business inquiry – it’s acceptable and reasonable to approach an artist for a feature, in exchange for money.  It’s one thing to put an artist on a pedestal for their talent, but if you are approaching them with a business inquiry, you are equals and to be respected equally.
  3. Paperwork, Paperwork, Paperwork: Any guest feature should be accompanied by a professionally drafted, legally binding side-artist agreement.  This is not only a way to prevent you from getting burned, but a way to ensure that the verse is your intellectual property.  If your intention is to have a record get featured on websites and blogs, then you are severely limiting the rights that you have to campaign the single through other channels, ie; retail, licensing, etc.  If you’re going to go about this the right way (which you should), make sure you protect yourself and the artist/guest feature.  Remember, if the artist is signed to a record contract, you will also need a record company waiver, which should accompany your side artist agreement.  Many artist’s have stipulations in their agreements that allow them to record side-artists features without the expressed written consent of their label, especially in today’s climate, however many do not.  When in doubt, have it signed.  An indie label may be more tolerant to sign off a record company waiver, since it’s doubtful that they would impede on their artist’s ability to make additional income.  If the label also doubles as management, then chances are they may earn a percentage of the feature, so the opportunity is in their interest.  However the cards fall, be wary of any artist that gives you a hard time or is reluctant to sign off paperwork.  My advise, keep it moving, it’s not worth the headache, nor the convincing.  I’ve worked with well known, signed artists that made the process simple and effortless and I’ve dealt with virtually unknown artists that made something customary and reasonable in to way more then it was…next
  4. Deposit/Balance: I’m skeptical on the business acumen of any aspiring artist or label that is willing to throw $1 – 1.5K at an artist for a feature without paperwork on the promise that it will be delivered within such and such time.  I’ve heard it all before “yah, just send me the beat and when I get home from tour I’ll knock it out, but you gotta just PayPal me the dough now”.  That’s just asking to get burned.  Your money will be just as green when the artist is available to record.  Most agreements require a deposit to be followed up by a balance upon goods or services, why should dealing with a rapper be any different.  The deposit is good faith of them signing the document and agreeing to negotiated terms, fair enough.  Chances are, they are going to want that balance and so they’ll deliver.  If you get burned on your deposit, well at least you have legal recourse and you didn’t get burned on the full amount.  Remember, rappers can talk that talk, that’s what landed them there careers in the first place, so don’t be pressured into parting with a dime without agreeing to terms.  If your money’s no good…their loss.
  5. Deal With Management: In this world of social networking, rappers have never been so accessible – well guess what, so is their management.  Most people think that dealing with the artist direct is the better way to secure the relationship and get a better price, but if the artist doesn’t deliver after he’s been paid, then what does that say about your relationship – deal with their management.  It will make the paperwork an easier process and will help ensure that the terms are met and that the service is delivered.  Label/Management relationships are an incredibly valuable recourse.  Chances are they could end up managing another artist that you would like to work with at some point, or maybe you’d like to book the artist for a show that you’re putting together.  If the previous experience worked out, expect the second or third time around to go even smoother, maybe you could get a better deal or perhaps they could give consideration to a barter.

Alkota: Producers have as much, and often more buzz than rappers.

6. Is buying beats from producers with buzz a good look for “up and coming” artists? Does it help sell records?

 

A notable producer will always draw more attention to your record.  The heads love good beats and always wanna check out a new track from their favorite producer.  However, when it comes to retail, a noteworthy producer does not always translate to sales the way a feature does, but there are a few tricks you can learn that could help.  For starters, a producer’s name isn’t typically revealed at the track level.  Therefore, if you have a track that’s produced by a notable producer, how will anyone know, if that information isn’t exposed.  My advice would be to include the producer’s name on the track level following the track, ie:  “My Song” (prod. by Your Favorite Producer).  Be careful, because listing the producer after every song of an album typically doesn’t fly with iTunes, especially as of late, where they seem to have been really cracking down on extra data, or anything that extends beyond the featured artist.  It’s more likely to get away with this on a single than it is for a full album.  If it’s a single that you’re campaigning at retail, be sure to include the producer’s name on the cover.  Listing album credits and producers on an album of course is just too busy, but for a single it’s fine if done tastefully.  This will certainly help bring more attention to the record and brand it accordingly.  The branding effect of an artist and producer can resonate with fans indefinitely…this process often begins with the artwork.

Although a good producer can help, be sure to take the following into consideration.  Make sure that you’re getting a good beat.  If it doesn’t move you, it’s probably not going to move anyone else – this can cause your plan to back fire.  In this day and age, consumer’s have more buying power, so use your judgement and speak up.  If you’re not impressed with the beat catalog that a given producer sent over, explain what you’re looking for and request to hear more beats.

Another trend I’ve seen as of late is that several sites and blogs are not as consistent with posting the producer credits as they seem to have been in the past.  If a popular blog site posts the track and doesn’t include the producer credits, than the track may spread around the web without the mention of the producer.  Alternatively, it may hinder the track from spreading if the absence of the producers’ name isn’t included with the track details.  If a certain blog doesn’t include the producer details, drop them a line and ask if they could.  More than likely they’ll oblige since they posted the track.  Just remember to be polite and ask kindly.

7. For artists and labels with tight budgets, where would you recommend they allocate their budgets?

 

If you’re an artist or label on the come-up, it’s critical that you cover all your bases.  Easier said then done, especially when taking a limited or fixed budget into consideration.  Through experience, I’ve learned that marketing and promotions is key, however it’s a slippery slope.  It’s hard to first market and promote yourself without giving the public something to sink their teeth into – one hand washes the other.  At the same time, marketing your music to the internet is so much based on the feature or producer, so you may kill two birds with one stone.  Either way, you have to come with an angle.  It’s how you brand yourself and your artistry that will ultimately generate your success.  Either with or without a budget, you have to have something worthwhile to brand for your campaign to be successful.  Artists often come to me with a project to promote and sing its praises until I ask them their angle – this will often leave them speechless.  If there isn’t something that causes you to stand out from the rest of the herd, you won’t – simple.  Skills, quality music, buzz – these are all qualities that are necessary to contribute to success, but not all artist’s that exhibit these characteristics have an angle.  Without one, there’s a ceiling as to what you will achieve.

8. Closing thoughts from you. What do you think about everyone giving out their music for “FREE”? Can up and coming artists and indie labels still make money off of music during this period of over-saturation and “FREE”?

There’s still a lot of money to be made, it’s just not from the sale of music.  The majority of revenue is derived through performance in this day age.  I find a serious problem with the amount free music that’s out there.   We’ve conditioned the buying public that it’s not something that needs to be paid for.  If you’re an established, career artist, I think that you’re singles should be available for stream and sale and that album’s should be make available for sale only.  An album should be discovered and studied upon its purchase, anything less devalues the material.  If you’re on the fence when deciding to purchase, read a review to help influence your decision.  If you still don’t like the material after it’s been purchased, deal with it.  We all go to the movies and see films that we don’t like, but you don’t see studios, directors and actors releasing free movies to promote…a movie.  I also don’t see the point in a career artist needing to drop a free mixtape prior to their album if they have a following.  I realize they do this as a promotional tool and it’s something to ‘give’ to their fans, but all it does it cause an influx of free music that again desensitizes the public from finding the need to spend money on music.  Sometimes the logic back fires, we’ve all heard this one “I was gonna buy his album but I downloaded his mixtape and I wasn’t feeling it, so I passed”.  Free does not always translate into good.  In the end, it’s the artists and labels who are to blame (or praise) for the free content.  If we all stopped tomorrow promoting free music tomorrow, I guarantee it would cause a tremendous increase in record sales over time.  However I doubt that will happen…artists all want to be heard and if their music doesn’t translate to money, at least it can translate to attention.  For the record, I don’t find any problem with video promotion, it’s glorified streaming that allows an artist to display their angle while promoting something that could be purchased.

9. I understand you provide consulting, promotion, distribution, and other services to artists and labels. For the people interested in using your services, what’s the best way to get in touch with you?

Follow me on twitter: @coalminerecords, request for me to follow back and send me a DM for how to contact you.

10.  Stay tuned for Coalmine Records upcoming releases:

El Da Sensei – The Nu World Remix EP

M-Phazes  – Phazed Out (Remix compilation mixed by DJ Rhetthmatic)

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