TPM 42 | Talent Stacking

Many of us have probably written a number of songs that don’t get to see the light of day. We’re creating a hard drive graveyard waiting for the right opportunity to come. Well, it is time to create that opportunity for yourself, take them out, and let them be heard as they should! Singer-songwriter-producer Kris Bradley is someone who can help out. She is the founder of Produce Like a Boss, an online coaching program geared towards the songwriter/producer rather than the engineer. Her non-techy and simplified style of teaching is helping tons of artists learn how to produce their own music. In this episode, she joins Bree Noble to teach us exactly that and more! She tells us all about talent stacking, where she shows why, beyond being a great engineer, we also need to become smart business people to create income-generating systems. We need a hard drive revival! Follow Kris and Bree in today’s conversation to learn how to become not only a music producer but one who knows how to make money while at it.

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Talent Stacking: How To Make Money As A Music Producer With Kris Bradley

I am here with my friend, Kris Bradley. She is a returner to the show and it’s because I love everything that she does. We’ve been friends for several years. We met a long time ago when I played her music on Women of Substance. She’s doing many awesome things in the music industry to help other musicians. She’s helped hundreds of my students. I’m excited to talk about something new and a new direction that she’s going to help musicians make money and even more cool and interesting ways that they haven’t even thought about. That’s what this show is all about. We’ll get into that. Kris, do you want to give them a quick synopsis of your journey in case they don’t know anything about you?

I am a singer-songwriter-producer. I started as a singer-songwriter years ago. I found that I was doing things like trying to pitch my music for opportunities, whether it be to get another artist to cut my song or to get my music into film and TV. It was like, “I need demos for this,” which forced me out of necessity at that time to learn how to produce because I could not afford to hire a producer every time I wrote a new song.

I started learning how to produce out of necessity and it opened up all these different doors for me that were so that I had never even imagined. I started doing songwriter demos for other people to producing albums for myself and other artists. All of a sudden, I was able to get my music into film and TV. I started doing custom songwriting. I started a podcast and many other doors opened for me once I learned how to produce. I fell in love with producing after doing it for a couple of years and here I am.

I can’t believe you were able to do that so quickly because I’m sure it’s been such a twisty, turny journey as mine was as well. You started helping musicians to learn how to produce themselves and especially singer-songwriters because we’ve got all these great song ideas. I love what you say about you don’t want them sitting on your phone or this vault in your computer and not getting heard just because you can’t afford to pay somebody to help you produce it or you don’t know how to do it on your own and what software to use, all of that stuff.

What have you found from your students since you started helping people with this that opens up new opportunities for them? Where are they when they start and then where are they after you teach them these skills? Did they start getting all these amazing a-ha moments, “I could do this. I could do that with this?” Are they still focused on producing their own songs?

I call it the hard drive graveyard. We have all these songs that we write. Whether we’re writing them for ourselves and we want to release them one day, or whether we’re pitching them for opportunities to try and monetize our music, they end up piling up on our hard drive graveyard. Let’s say we pitched it for an opportunity and it didn’t make it or it didn’t get selected. We move on to the next thing and we don’t realize that we’re accumulating this gold. If we would just have the opportunities and the resources to pitch it for other things, we could be placing our music.

That’s what I’m finding with these students. They came in to learn how to produce their music. I’ve got a couple of students doing voiceovers, editing podcasts, and doing custom songwriting. They’ve started a business of custom songs and writing songs for other people as gifts for celebrations and for brands ever since they learned how to produce. It doesn’t mean that they have to be this over-the-top, super experienced producer to be able to do some of these jobs. You can do anything from session work where someone’s hiring you to sing a vocal on a song or a demo vocal, to arranging for somebody, to putting together a simple demo.

As you were talking about that, I was thinking back to my experience. I certainly was not a production guru in any way but I did all of those things. I think about it now and I’m like, “How did I sell myself as a person that could do those things? How did I end up doing those things for people when I didn’t have any certifications.” I hadn’t even taken courses truthfully because back then, you didn’t do this stuff. Back then, no one was teaching this stuff and I figured it out on my own. Somehow I was able to say, “I can arrange your song, I’d love to record that book, or I’ll mix all of your songs.” I’ve mixed an entire CD for multiple people. Did I know what I was doing? I don’t know. I thought I produced a pretty decent song. How do people get the confidence to put themselves out there to say, “I’m offering this as a service?”

There was that little bit of imposter syndrome of, “Should I be charging for this? Do I know what I’m doing?” Here’s the competitive advantage you have if you have a home studio, but also if you handle yourself as a professional. I am a big fan of what they call talent stacking. A lot of people are aspiring to be experts. They’re like, “I need to be the best at what I do and then success will follow.” I don’t feel that that’s how it works.

Through talent stacking, you get a competitive advantage above other people because now you know how to mix and sing, but also you know how to run a business, correspond with clients, file share, and guide somebody through the process professionally. What’s more valuable? The person who’s the best mix engineer in the world but has no systems and doesn’t know how to run a business. You’re not able to find them because they don’t know how to market themselves, or the person who is a pretty good mixer, but they’ve done the leg work to understand how to build an infrastructure that can facilitate a business relationship with a client. Does that make sense?

It’s so true. I do think that that’s 80% of it. It’s making people feel like you can deliver what you’re saying you can deliver and following through with that. For me, I ended up getting a bunch of referrals. I didn’t put myself out there and say, “I do mixes, arrangements or anything.” It was songwriters or other people that I work with telling other people about what I did. It’s only going to be built up by having that set of systems where you’re proving to them like, “I’m a professional and I’m able to deliver what I say I’m able to deliver.” How do they go about setting up? What kind of systems do they need to be able to do this as an income generation option?

The results equal the success. Click To Tweet

The first thing first is they have to have a home studio set up. We’re talking about running a business out of our studio where we can provide services that go anywhere from podcasts, custom songs, session work, producing songs, producing demos, and producing for film and TV. We’ve got to have a home-based setup. You have to be able to record and produce yourself.

The next thing you need to have inline is to think about, “What is the name of my company?” You need to be able to set that up so that you can function as a production company. You can also decide to use your artist name if that works for you. You’ll find as you start diversifying what you’re doing that it’s best to come up with a company name that becomes an umbrella that goes over you as the artist, but can also encompass all the other random side odd jobs. You wouldn’t say, “I’m Bree Noble, the podcast editor.” You’d be like, “I’m Bree Noble, the artist but my production company is called Bree Noble Productions and we also do podcast editing.” It’s these little things just like that. Setting up your business is not as hard as a lot of people think. I functioned as a sole proprietor for years and years before I moved to be an LLC.

Me too. I only became an LLC in 2020.

Me too, in 2020. A lot of people get into this procrastination where they’re like, “I don’t know. What am I going to do? Is it a DBA? Is it an LLC?” It’s not the paperwork that you’re filling out that starts the company. It’s the systems that you’re putting in place. A couple of examples of systems that I have is if I have tasks that are things that I do on repeat, I automate them. I have a whole file system of where to keep my new clients. I’ve got project management boards of the process that I take a client through from beginning to end. It’s a step-by-step system so when I onboard a new client, I’m not like, “What do I do next?”

There’s a welcome email. I’ve got to collect some assets from them. They need to get an invoice from me and pay a deposit. That’s external. Internally, what do I do once all those things are in place? I’m going to work with this work tape and do the arrangements. I’ve got all these checklists that I keep as well on my end. It comes back to having systems.

Another thing that people choke up on is they go, “I don’t know how to correspond with clients.” No problem. Let’s get a set of email templates together that are locked and loaded, and ready to go. They’re always going to be about 80%. You want to customize that final 20%. For example, someone wants to hire you for a vocal, you could have an email template ready to go in your Gmail templates that says, “Thanks so much for reaching out. I’d love to sing on your track. My rate is XYZ and I’d love to hear some song references that you had in mind for the style you’d like to go with this track.” That is a copy-pastable template. You just go and fill it in. What is the rate? It might change depending on the project. What are the references you’re asking? So on and so forth.

It’s these little things that don’t sound super sexy because it’s not getting to make the music part. It’s these little things that you put in place and it creates this system that allows you to function. I always say it’s like, “We’re used to working for other people and having a boss breathing down our neck.” You need to become the boss that breathes down your own neck and says, “This needs to be done. We need to have a system for this.”

I love all of that because I see many service providers where everything falls through the cracks. I’ve had people come to me several months later and be like, “I forgot to charge you for this. Can you send me the money?” I’m like, “How are you still working?” Also, you want to eliminate that back and forth. Having those systems like an intake form and invoices all automated and everything, you don’t want to feel like you’re constantly in your inbox going back and forth. You could spend hours going back and forth with clients about what do I need next and all of that stuff.

Speaking of spending hours, one of the things that I’m trying to hammer in my training with people is that you need to start valuing your time as the entrepreneur that you are. If you want to make money with your music, you’re an entrepreneur. Whether you start a production company or not, you are in a business of service. A good thing to do is to get intentional. A lot of artists don’t do that. They go, “I want to make it and get my music into film and TV.” I don’t know if behind that they’re leaving out the details. They think there are millions of dollars for the first placement they get, but it doesn’t work that. It’s an accumulation of usually multiple streams of income that lead to success. I’m a big fan of getting super intentional.

Back to the time thing. Let’s say you want to make $100,000 a year as an artist. You need to break down, “If I’m willing to work 40 hours a week,” let’s say 50 weeks and you could take two weeks off a year, and you do the math and division. That means you need to make $50 an hour to make $100,000 a year, working 40 hours a week, taking two weeks off.

What tasks are you doing in your business that aren’t worth $50 an hour that you could outsource? Would it be making graphics, posting on social media or even at a certain point, mixing on a project that you fully produced? Let’s say you’re getting paid $1,000 to produce a song. How long does it take you to mix it? Are you a mixing professional? Is that your zone of genius? I know a guy who’s $150 that it is. If you’ve got multiple projects in your pipeline, does it make sense to start outsourcing? That’s how we value our time. The most successful people value their time over money.

TPM 42 | Talent Stacking

Talent Stacking: Through talent stacking, you get a competitive advantage above other people because you not only know how to mix right and sing, but also how to run a business.

 

As you said, there are certain things only you can do. If your magic is the production part, but you don’t love the mixing, or even if you notice in yourself you’re good at mixing, but you tend to spend way more time mixing than you should because you like to tinker. You may be like, “I need to take this off of my plate and give it to someone who I know is going to get it done for a certain dollar amount instead of my hours ballooning into this crazy dollar amount.” I could be spending those hours doing something else.”

A good example that I like to give is I’ve been playing the guitar for many years. I can play the guitar on my tracks but I don’t. It’s because I don’t live, eat, breathe and sleep guitar. I’m not playing every day. I’m running two different businesses. I’m doing a lot of things and producing. It is no longer the thing where I’m like, “If I don’t do that, that’s going to be the thing that makes or breaks.” It’s not only that. It’s probably going to be better if I get the guy who’s like, “Guitar is my jam. That’s what I do.”

Also, we need to be able to release ego because a lot of musicians think, “If I mix, master, write, produce and sing on this, that’s what gives it value.” We’re mistakingly equating the amount of hard work put in to equal the amount of value that something has. That’s saying, “If I go to dig a pool with a shovel, it’s more valuable than using a bulldozer because I worked harder.” It’s not true. The only thing that equals success is the result.

That’s a good analogy. If people “dig” into it and see how you built that pool, they’d realized you’ve leveraged your time by using this other piece of equipment. You’re looking like a smarter business person. It always looks better when someone is working smarter rather than harder. For some of us, at least, I know I grew up with the feeling that the more money you want, you have to work harder for it.

That’s something that’s been conditioned into us.

As musicians too, we’re service providers with gigs. In order to make money, we have to go out there and do the thing or we have to teach lessons or whatever. We haven’t learned how to leverage our time. For example, if you’re someone that teaches lessons, you could start a company that brought in other people to teach the lessons for you. Your job could be to get the students because that’s what you’re good at. That doesn’t devalue you just because other people might be doing some of your teachings. It’s the same thing if you outsource some of the processes, that doesn’t mean that you’re not a full-service shop and you can’t say that.

That’s not even something that gets discussed with the client. Here’s a mistake I used to make. When clients would come to me at first when I started getting paying production clients, I was insecure about my ability to mix. I would say, “I’m just a producer. You should get this mixed.” They would be okay with that, but then they’ll also be like, “Where do I go to get it mixed and where do I go to get it mastered?”

I found that by stepping up to the plate and expanding on my budget a little bit and saying, “I’m the one-stop-shop. You’re trusting me as the producer. I’m in charge of this product, so I will make sure that it gets mixed and mastered. Do you need all mixes for your sync pitches? I’ll get you those too.” How can I create an experience for the client where they’re like, “I feel so taken care of and listened to, and my needs are being met.” They’re not going, “Did you actually program that? Did you play that part or did you mix it?” The job of a producer is the visionary. They are in charge of seeing a song into its fruition. Not necessarily doing all the little tasks in between. That’s what I mean by Produce Like A Boss.

You are the boss and as a boss, you could delegate. It makes total sense to me but the buck stops with you though. You were taking the responsibility of this is a good product that I’m going to deliver to you. It doesn’t mean you have to do every single stitch of it.

To touch on that for a second. When you’re first getting started and I talk about this in some of my training. Let’s say someone hires you to do a vocal. I used to have ten vocal projects in my project management workboard at a time. Let’s say you’re working on ten different vocal tracks and your rate is $150 per vocal. If you can find someone to tune for you for $50, at first it’s like, “That’s a third of my rate.” It feels heavy, but if you have ten tracks and you’re constantly getting new clients or if you’re getting that many, maybe you’ll up your rate. The fact is you can outsource that vocal tuning if you can get someone to do it for $50 or $75, and take that off your plate. As a vocal session singer, you should be delivering tuned files back to your client.

Usually, when the DJs or the producers hire, a lot of the work I get is for that. They want the finished product. They’re not looking to also edit and tune. If you have 1 or 2 clients on your board, you’re probably not going to find somebody who’s good at tuning for less than $50 or $75. You’re probably going to want to go ahead and do that yourself. Learn it. It’s not saying, “Don’t learn how to do anything and delegate it.” Learn how to do it and then you’re in a position to delegate it better when you’re ready and it’s appropriate, but it’s not because you don’t know how to do it.

It looks better when someone's working smarter rather than harder. Click To Tweet

I would even say when you’re first getting started, it might not make sense because you might not be able to charge $1,000. If someone is willing to pay you $300 for a demo, do the demo. Get through the mixing and put in that extra work because the value you’re getting out of it is you’re getting paid to grow and learn. If you’re working on a demo, it’s okay. The difference between that and someone who goes, “I’m going to release this and this is going to go to iTunes and Spotify. We need a bigger budget and get a mixing engineer in here, and being able to learn that process as you go.”

Part of being an entrepreneur is thinking of new ways that you can sell to the same customer or new things that you can offer. What do you teach along those lines? I heard you mentioned, “Do you want all mixes?” What kind of things can we throw in that maybe your customer hasn’t even thought of that are add-ons you could even bring up the price per customer?

All mixes have been one thing for me that I noticed nobody else was offering. I noticed that a lot of my clients were pitching for film and TV, so I built it into my price. A lot of people ask me about discounting and I’m like, “I stay away from that.” If you want to stand out in the market and play the discount game, you’re going to keep lowering your price to compete with people because that’s all you got. If you play the value game, all you got to do is come in and provide more value. For me, all mixes was a big one. I also think that you can increase the value. Let’s say you got a brand new artist. They don’t know anything about the next steps. They’re so excited to get their song produced but they don’t know anything about marketing, promotion or distribution. Could you facilitate that pathway for them? Could you say, “I will also help you through the distribution process?” It’s almost like an administrator.

That’s a great idea because many people come to me and they’re like, “I don’t know what distributor to use and how to set up my album.” It’s overwhelming to them and if that’s secondhand to you, you could help with that.

For us, that’s easy. We just log in and we upload but for them, they’re like, “Distribution? Big, scary word. I’m an artist. I don’t know that yet.” Rather than going, “You can go learn that.” It’s like they’re ready to release. A lot of people are willing to pay for done-for-you services. Could you help them create the album artwork? Are you one of those unicorns that also has graphic design skills? Could you help them find and facilitate that relationship? You’re not the mixing engineer, but you didn’t need to say that. You just go, “I will take care of this for you. Do you need album artwork? I will take care of this.” Get on 99 Designs, Fiverr or Canva if it’s you.

Have a partner that you work with for that all the time. Being a one-stop shop doesn’t mean you have to do everything in-house. You’ve got all these relationships, and then those people are going to send you people. When people come to them and they’re like, “I need album art. By the way, do anyone that mixes?”

Another thing that I’m sharing my process with inside my program is that I’m training people how to hire an affordable virtual assistant for them as a production company that can take some of this stuff off your plate. Also, a lot of virtual assistants are unicorns. They’re great at admin and graphic design. Some of them even do video design. They even know how to build websites. I teach people how to find those virtual assistants that can play that role in their company as well.

That’s amazing because that opens up a whole world of things you could add to your services. I know musicians need it because I hear them ask me questions about it. I get emails all the time. Do anyone that does X? Where can I get this? People need that stuff so it’s great if you can offer it. Let’s talk about the other things that maybe aren’t obvious to musicians. We’ve mentioned them a little bit along the way, but the other kinds of services that you can offer that aren’t necessarily music-focused. We talked about podcast editing or maybe podcast music or audiobooks. Why don’t you mention a few people that you’ve worked with that have gone into those areas?

As far as non-music, those would be the main things. It would be audiobooks, podcasts and podcast editing. As far as listing off the things that you can do from your home studio to make money, I’d give you an example of my revenue streams. You can make and lease beats. This is not to discount how hard or easy it is to make a hip-hop beat, but it’s a lot less complicated than producing a rock or a pop track. There are not as many intricacies to the mix. If even at a basic level producer, you can be leasing your beats. That’s what I’m getting at with that. There are beat leases. This is a fun little fact. Do you know that it takes about 300,000 or 500,000 Spotify streams to make $1,000? Isn’t that crazy?

That’s a lot of people listening to your song.

If you’re leasing your beats, which for me takes 1 to 2 hours to make a beat from top to bottom. I upload to an online marketplace where I then lease it for $29.95. People are like, “$29 95 doesn’t sound like a lot.” That is a non-exclusive digital product that can make me money while I’m sleeping. How many of those does it take me to make $1,000? It takes 30 beat leases. Would you rather make a song that takes 1 to 2 hours and sees that over time? That blows my mind. Thirty beat leases will make you $1,000.

TPM 42 | Talent Stacking

Talent Stacking: We’re used to working for other people and having a boss breathing down our neck. You need to become the boss that brings down your own neck.

 

If there’s beat leasing, there’s the instrument. You can license original music. I have some partners that I work with where they have a licensing platform where you can go and upload your original songs, whether they’re in demo form, that could be an acoustic guitar and a vocal, or whether they’re fully produced. You can lease those songs to independent artists that don’t know how to write music for themselves. Think about all these kids that are blown up on YouTube and TikTok, but they don’t write songs yet. They’re doing covers. They need original music once they decide to pursue an artistic career.

Not everybody is in Nashville, LA or New York where it’s like, “I know the publisher to get me the song.” They go to websites like Rocket Songs, for example. In order to work with somebody like that where they’re going to go and put your original music out there, you got to be able to give them that demo. It comes back to, “Can you record yourself?” Here’s something cool about that too. I’ve had people license those songs at low license fees from me when they didn’t want the master because maybe it was a basic demo. If the demo was good, I’ve had people pay me as much as $1,000 just to lease my master. That’s not even giving away your song. You’re just giving someone a license to use it. It’s like sync licensing. Now, you’re going to get royalties. When that artist releases it, they are paying you to cover your song and for the master.

I’ve done that on my holiday album. I wanted to use a song that some of my friends wrote. I was going to pay them royalties but then I was like, “I like the actual instrumental track for this. Can I use it? It’s going to save me a lot of money having to go recreate it myself.” They’re like, “Sure. We already paid for it. Here’s an amount you can pay us for it.” It saves me money and gave them money. You have to think about those things.

Here’s another good one. If you’re feeling, “My production chops aren’t there yet.” Don’t worry. I have gotten hired to do kids’ songs before, where all they needed was an acoustic guitar and a nice warm vocal. They didn’t want crazy processing. I’m talking like a little bit of reverb and they said, “Keep it simple.” I played a little marimba or a little vibraphone on my MIDI keyboard. I did that for an audiobook and they ended up hiring me to do twenty of these songs. Each song paid $150 to $200, but it was a guitar vocal. It was so easy. It didn’t take me more than 1 to 2 hours to do each song.

There’s a lot of work out there like that. We can take the pressure off of, “If I’m making a song for Disney, it needs to be at this level.” They’ve got the budget for that and they are connecting with those people, but the market has expanded so much with the new technology and music industry. You have content creators that are making things like TikTok videos and YouTubes. They want to lease music as well and they are not going to Adele or to Imagine Dragons to license those songs.

They can’t afford that.

I have a producer but if you listen to my podcast on Produce Like A Boss, I didn’t make that intro. I licensed that intro from another content creator and another producer because it was the perfect beat that I needed for my show intro. I probably paid $20 or $30 for it and I’ll have to renew after a certain amount of time. He probably has hundreds of other customers that pay him the same thing. That person’s making bank on that one song. It’s all about getting out of the mindset of trading your time for money also and thinking about how you can create digital products like that, where you’re leasing beats or songs you already wrote. Talk about the hard drive graveyard. This is the hard drive revival because now it’s things you thought, “That didn’t make the thing I thought I could make.” Put it on this online platform and watch it make you money while you sleep.

I’m glad you mentioned all of that because that’s a world I don’t know about. I’m not currently making a lot of music. That’s cool that there are these places you can go to put stuff up. I have some of my stuff up on AudioSparx and places like that. It’s still making me money after many years. You never know what’s going to happen with that stuff and what’s going to catch on. I remember when I was doing this thing. It all was referral and people telling people about me doing this or getting hired to do a vocal, and then them saying, “Do you know anyone who mixes?” Me being like, “I could do it.” How do people get started? The hardest thing is to start building this network where you start getting referrals. Are there ways nowadays where you can go and put yourself out there and find people cold?

There’s one little step before that that I want to go over, which is this portfolio. Part of building our company is you’ve got to have systems in place and those email templates. You also need to have a very solid portfolio ready to pitch because that’s your job resume. Even if you’re good at what you do, but you don’t have a solid representation of it, it’s going to be hard to get any client to pay you. You’re going to want to make sure that you build an amazing portfolio of at least 3 to 5 songs that demonstrate what it is you’re trying to go out there and get work for. It’s basically a demo reel. If you’re a great singer and looking for session work, don’t put all this pressure that you have to write five amazing songs. Do a demo reel of five different covers.

If you’re only trying to get hired for your vocals, not for your songwriting, then that’s an appropriate demo reel. If you’re trying to get hired for songwriting, then write five great songs. The point is we got to go in there with a killer resume first, and then what I do is I hit up the online marketplaces first because you can capitalize on other people’s traffic. When you’re first learning how to start a business, the last thing you need to know is to become a Google and SEO expert. How do I build a website, get traffic to it, and then try to beat out websites?

Let me write a million blog posts and hope one of those keywords gets ranked.

If you play the value game, all you got to do is come in and provide more value. Click To Tweet

It’s not to say that we shouldn’t be working on building our own businesses. It’s the difference between if you get on Facebook or Instagram and make a post about something, you’re going to reach a lot more people than if you just post it on your newsletter on your website. You’re going to jump on another website’s traffic. There are online marketplaces like SoundBetter, AirGigs and BeatStars to name a few that you can go and upload your information.

People will come to that platform looking for a singer or a producer. You’re going to pop up in the feed when they’re searching based on what you put about yourself in your profile. You still are going to maximize your keywords. You’re going to want to say what influences you sound like and what your experience is. Make sure you got a killer bio and good headshot, and then that demo reel of your songs, so your portfolio is displayed, then people can find you and hire you.

You are going to pay a fee to that site. That site does control who gets to see it. There are cons and pros, but it’s the traffic you otherwise wouldn’t have had access to. I’m willing to pay that fee. If it rubs you that wrong, then build it into your fee. You can choose your price. If you normally charge $150 and you’re like, “I can’t take the hit on losing that fee,” charge $185. By the time the money comes to you after they’ve taken your fee, you’re still getting what you need.

That’s a good point and I do the same thing. I’m on AirGigs and I love how people find me on there and I did nothing. They show up in my inbox and I’m like, “I got a demo gig.” I’m not even promoting it at all, but for those who are and you can pay for that, being bumped up in the categories. It’s so worth it. I want to shout out too. I interviewed someone who’s going to be on the show who founded Melody Nest and it’s a similar thing to AirGigs and SoundBetter. I hadn’t heard of it before. It’s another place that you can post as a producer as well.

That’s a new one. I got to write that down. That’s awesome. Do you know what else I’ve discovered recently which is popping up all over the place? It’s a custom songwriting business. I started seeing ads for this and I was like, “What is this?’ I checked it out and there are companies that are putting in the work to get the traffic. You could do your own custom songwriting business, get your own ads going, and try to do this. You can also hop on a moving train until you can launch your own business doing it and get with these companies like Tuneriver.

I had them on the show.

Leo is awesome. There’s a handful of them. You can be writing custom songs for people and getting paid. You know what I love about Tuneriver is he’s taking your current catalog because some of them are different. He’d say, “Let’s take a song you already wrote, and then as long as you have the ability to get in there and edit your own song, let’s change a couple of these details so that we can customize it to the buyer, and then make that sale.” I love that because the rate isn’t super high. If all you got to do is take a song that was making you no money on the hard drive graveyard and go in and replace a couple of words to customize it for a person, then you get to make that money. It’s worth it.

If you write an evergreen style of songs like Valentine’s Day love songs, and then you can go in and put people’s names in it or whatever details about how they met. A few lines are changed. It literally should take you no more than 30 minutes to go in there, change, remix it and it’s done. That’s all about systems and you talk about having everything all organized so you can jump in and easily do that. I know you talk about having markers and things like that. You could set it up with markers and go, “This is the spot. I’m done.”

I’ve even got it down to a science now. Talk about intention and I go over this in my program too, but I have this song info sheet and metadata sheet, even if I’m not writing for sync. I’m still using these sheets to organize my session so that when I go in there, I know exactly what I’m creating, who it’s for, and what the objective is. On these sheets, I’m going to have things like BPM, tempo, keywords description and everything, so that when I go to upload this anywhere, whether it’s BeatStars or SoundBetter, or anywhere that would let me put up songs that I’m trying to sell, that information is just there. If I’m uploading it to YouTube to do marketing, the information is just there.

Many times, I’ve opened a session when someone’s like, “What’s the BPM on that session or what’s the key?” I’m like, “Hold on. I got to open it.” It’s little things like that that slow you down where you realize, “I need systems for this where there is a spreadsheet that I can have my entire catalog. If I open that spreadsheet, it will give me all the information I ever need to know.”

I will go out on a limb and say that I feel most musicians don’t do well in sync because they don’t have this organization in place. They don’t have their metadata set up or the spreadsheet where they’ve got all their songs, and they know that all the clearances are there and everything. It’s not like someone hears a song and they want to sync it, and they’re like, “Hold on. Let me go find this and that and the other thing.”

TPM 42 | Talent Stacking

Talent Stacking: Even if you’re really good at what you do, but you don’t have a solid portfolio, It’s going to be really hard to get any client to pay you.

 

That’s why the doors are shut even more tightly because music supervisors and libraries don’t get time to play.

You’re making us look bad, people. Don’t do that. We want them to love indie artists.

The problem is we’re so excited. We don’t understand that we’re starting a business. We handle ourselves like indie artists. We reach out, “I got all this music.” We got a template, blast it out to 30 different supervisors, and hope for the best. That doesn’t work. I used to be the person who I’d hear something and I go, “I’m better than that person. Why did that person get that song synced?” That was me years and years ago in scarcity and a much different mindset. I realized that it isn’t just talent. My talent is never going to be enough.

I was so busy in the woodshed trying to get better, “If I’m good at this, then the art will speak for itself.” It doesn’t. Stop doing that. You have to be as good at business, if not better than your music. There are people that are less talented than you that when they get these systems in place will run circles around you. At the end of the day, a supervisor would rather take something that they know is one-stop that is cleared, that they can place right away because this person has their information together. The person that has an amazing song but is like, “I don’t know. Do I have a PRO? What’s metadata?” It’s not going to work.

I find that to be so encouraging because your talent is what it is. You can make it better, practice and do all that. For me, it’s vocal talent. I have a great voice but I’m not any Demi Lovato. I’m never going to be her but I know that I can surpass by being a great business person, someone who’s easy to work with and professional. That’s going to trump the fact that my talent is mediocre many times.

I just have to speak to that. I’ve composed a theme song for a major organization for several years in a row. The first time that they came to me and it was through one of these online marketplaces. They had posted a job on a job board and I bid on it as did many other producers. I’m talking producers with Grammy Awards and far more credits than I have. That’s another thing I get from other people that they get onto SoundBetter. They’re like, “There are all these people that have worked with Rihanna and Beyonce.” I’m like, “Don’t worry because it’s all about the service you provide.”

This person was looking to hire someone to do a theme song that’s not musical in any way. It’s about a business. We’re talking about farming and farmers. I get in there and look at the brief, what they need, and I’m like, “I know exactly what to do.” I communicate that effectively and check in along the way. I’m like, “Here’s what I’m thinking and the whole process that I have and teach.”

I got to tell you, in the end, they said, “We’ve hired a different producer every year for this because no one ever quite gets it there. They seem more concerned with trying to show off what they want to do or what their talent is as a producer. They don’t listen to what we ask them to do, which is include these keywords, match this reference track, and give us this vibe so it can fit.” They put it to a great video that they edit. They said, “You were the only one that listened to the needs of what our company wanted. Thank you. We will keep coming back to you.”

My talent did not get me that gig. I’m not the best producer in the world. I’m a great producer and singer. I’m not the best at any of these things though. It’s the talent stacking that does it. People are like, “This girl is professional. She has a great attitude. Her music is good and she knows what she’s doing.” It’s the combination of all those things that makes it a win for the client, not the talent.

We’ve talked about so much great stuff. Is there anything we haven’t covered here that you think musicians need to know that are looking to try to expand into this area of income?

There’s a difference between what the starving artist is and the boss producer. A lot of people are trying to get out of this like, “Why am I such a starving artist?” I was there and I didn’t understand. I kept saying, “Why won’t people pay me for my music?” I wasn’t getting answers. It wasn’t until the quality of my question changed that I got the answer. I stopped asking that question and started asking what kind of music can I make? What can I do to make music with my money?

Once you're making money, you make the dream artistic project that you want. Click To Tweet

The starving artist is a little bit more self-focused, “Why don’t people want to pay me for what I do?” That’s like showing up to someone’s house with a house full of vegans. You cooked a steak dinner and you’re wondering why no one wants to eat it. You never asked what they wanted. Know your audience. The boss producer is more service-focused, and the starving artists are a little more self-focused. If we can get out of our heads, frame our questions better and say, “What can I do to turn this into a job?” The answers will come.

It involves dealing with your ego a little bit because many artists will say, “I don’t want to sell out.” You have to get past that. Do you want to make money?

Stop saying you want to make money with your music because you can’t have both. You can’t be anti-commercialism and then want the paycheck that comes with creating commercial music. It’s not possible. A lot of people will scoff and they’ll be like, “Art is so precious and all. I want to do this and this.” That’s the same person who’s like, “Why won’t anyone pay me for my art?” Look at it.

If you’re making good money and getting that $100,000 a year that you want, then you will have that money to go out and make your artistic project that is not commercial and makes you feel you’re not selling out, but you’re not hindering your entire livelihood on that.

Here’s a good example, John Mayer. He is a blues guitarist. If you see what he’s doing now and what he’s done for the last several years, once the label cut the reins loose and let him do what he wants, it’s very clear that he is like, “I’m Jimi Hendrix.” That’s his style. He is a shredder and blues lover. He’s got the John Mayer Trio.

You would never know that.

The labels were smarter business people than that. They looked at a market and went, “Blues is not the market that’s going to break you. We need to reach the masses.” Unfortunately, I love blues but blues is not mainstream. It is not pop so they said, “You’re going to come out with Your Body is a Wonderland and make every teenage girl, their mom and their grandma falls in love with you first.” You’ll notice this is a pattern with every artist like Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears and Demi Lovato.

They all come out very vanilla because they’re commercializing. They’re trying to reach the masses. As they grow, all of a sudden, Britney spears is doing Slave and you’re like, “Whoa.” All of a sudden, you see them morph into the artists with their message and what they wanted to do. It comes with the freedom they have by reaching the top first. There is something to be said about playing the game with one foot in and one foot out. Once you’re making the money you want, make the dream artistic project that you want. One more thing here to sit to that, because I used to be that person that was like, “I just want to do the art.” I do a lot of commercial music. There’s not one piece of music that I make for money that I don’t love.

I’m not making crap music. I’m making good music. That’s number one but number two, you cannot help but put yourself into your songs. Even if I tried to go and do a remake of a pop song, someone does that. They go, “Give me this.” It still has a little Kris Bradley in there. My thing is almost like rock meets jazzy bluesy thing in my vocal. That’s not for everybody. It shines through in what I do to where I’ll make a pop track, but it’s got that thing that makes it a little bit different. I call it one foot inside the box and one foot out.

It’s what creates originality because I’m a big fan of using reference tracks. The trick for those who don’t know what that means, it just means you’re using the math of another song to create one song. It doesn’t mean that we’re going to copycat it. That’s a sound-alike but different. A reference track is when you go, “What instrumentation did they use? How long before they got to the verse, and then what did they do in the course?” “They added guitars and synths.” I go, “I’m going to try and make a track like that using that math.” You can get dangerously close to sounding like that song if you don’t tweak a few things. You tweak things. You imitate and then you innovate, but then also you insert yourself at the last minute. All of a sudden, the song sounds nothing like that reference because nobody is you.

I found that so interesting when I saw you demonstrate that because I thought at first, “It’s going to come out sounding almost this with different lyrics and a little bit different melody,” but it didn’t sound anything like it. I love the idea of math because for me, I’m not inherently in a ranger that I don’t have a talent in that area. I do have a talent for making the vocal sound unique to me and the melody. I could employ that and make it sound unique, but it’s interesting because when you did that, I thought it was going to sound cookie cutter and it didn’t at all.

TPM 42 | Talent Stacking

Talent Stacking: The starving artist is a little more self-focused. If we can just get out of our heads and frame our questions better and say, “what can I do to turn this into a job?”, the answers will come.

 

There are a couple of different ways to do it. I’ve had clients where they’re like, “I need this song to sound like this song, but not sound like this song.” It’s almost like they could share a playlist, in which case I can doctor up how I do a reference track and get it a little bit closer so that I’m giving my client what they want. Oftentimes, I’m a fan of using the math only because it is indistinguishable. It helps to break you out of a blank page syndrome. A lot of what stops us from getting in and producing or moving forward is we get stuck. Having that math there is a gentle roadmap that almost keeps us like, “What do I do for this course? What did they do? I should add a tambourine and another synth.”

Kris, this has been such a great conversation and I love getting into the more entrepreneurial side of what you do and how you help artists. Let artists know how they can find out more about you. Check out the previous episode that I did with her on this show. It’s several episodes back but she covers even more of the basics about production and stuff, but I loved having this more advanced conversation on the entrepreneurial side.

I always love chatting with you. Thanks for having me. We do have a five-day challenge coming up in September 2021 and it is called the Boss Producer Bootcamp. It’s a five-day free bootcamp where I’m going to teach you the mindset that it takes to go full-time as a music producer and what it takes to run a business from your home studio. We’ve touched on it a little bit here but I outlined the path from amateur musician, which means unpaid, all the way into what a pro musician is.

I fill in those steps for you so that you have a clear-cut path on how to go from amateur to pro. I’m going to show you how to increase the quality of your productions. If you’re producing but you’re like, “It’s not there yet,” and how to make pitchable, placeable and profitable music. I’m going to show you how to make money online whether you’re a producer, mix engineer, session singer, instrumentalist or beatmaker. The list goes on.

There’s a lot of free crap out there. I don’t want you to treat this like a freebie throw-away because it’s not. I want you to treat it like it costs thousands of dollars because I have people that have been through my training that are like, “I went to Berklee and I didn’t learn this stuff.” I want you to know how valuable it is and treat it like that and I want you to attend.

I’ve heard from my student and now your students that these challenges are epic and very motivating. I’d love for all of you to participate. Thank you so much, Kris. This has been great.

Thank you. It’s been a blast.

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About Kris Bradley

TPM 42 | Talent StackingKris Bradley is a songwriter/producer with credits including Sony BMG, Warner Chappell, Rolling Stone Magazine, Fox, Lincoln, and Miramax.

She is also the founder of Produce Like a Boss, which is an online coaching program geared towards the songwriter/producer, rather than the engineer. Her ‘non techy’ and simplified style of teaching is helping tons of artists learn how to produce their own music.