It’s Hard to be Surprised on the Internet Now

I wrote this in a recent Metal Bandcamp Gift Club newsletter:

I don’t know when I’ll be able to thumb through any used CD bins, or be surprised by an opening band on a Tuesday night. At the moment everything is laid out in front of our face. There’s no surprises.

That’s why each birthday wishlist is hidden, a mystery! No mention in the subject of the email of whose birthday it is, and you can’t mouse-over to find out who it is, either. Do you dare click?!

When can we dig through a friend’s record collection again? Well, not today, probably. But today you can scroll through someone’s Bandcamp wishlist (today’s has over 800 releases), or their collection, and probably find something new, or a release you forgot about. 

It’s not the same, but it’s the best we can do for now, I guess. Thank you for clicking.

In those newsletters, the link to someone’s wishlist doesn’t mention their name, and mousing over the link only reveals a Mailchimp-created tracking link (at least in your inbox, on your desktop), so you still don’t know who it is. You have to click.

In this world of click bait headlines, it’s hard to trust any link. Thankfully the Metal Bandcamp Gift Club newsletter has a click-per-unique open of like 60%.

Build trust by giving, serving, filling.

Metal Bandcamp Gift Club exists to funnel traffic direct to people’s Bandcamp wishlists, where people buy albums as gifts for their birthday. In 2020. This is driving album sales, and putting money into the pockets of artists. It’s a wonderful thing.

Fresh, brand new, just for us

Okay, two weeks in a row of this stuff?

Another Bandcamp Roulette, and I’m so made this one today because I found this album from Brendan Byrnes – and it came out yesterday.

I’m as shocked as anyone that I go from geeking out on that sort of music to making another Goodnight, Metal Friend mix, with some of the darkest, grimmest, foreboding tunes on Bandcamp. But I tell you what – they put me right to sleep, and that’s the point.

And I don’t know… these two things aren’t for everyone, and that’s by design. Think ‘1,000 True Fans,’ or “minimum viable audience,” as Seth Godin says:

Stake out the smallest market you can imagine. The smallest market that can sustain you, the smallest market you can adequately serve. This goes against everything you learned in capitalism school, but in fact, it’s the simplest way to matter.

In search of the minimum viable audience

Will either of these things get a million subscribers anytime soon? Probably not, and that’s okay, because I know if I had “just” 1,000 people who were really into either of them, it’d be cool.

And the best part is this; I’m doing it anyways. I’m making sleep mixes for me first, to fall asleep to. Sourcing the music, arranging the mix, making the mix, crafting the artwork – it’s all meditative to me which helps me (wait for it)… sleep.

And the Bandcamp Roulette? I legit do this several times a day when I work, now I just take some extra steps and make them into videos.

I dunno… I just geek out to this stuff, and I’m stoked I finally slowed down enough to realize it.

Making Some Content During the Pandemic

Haven’t really made much “content” since shutting down Skull Toaster back in 2018. Got nearly 40 episodes into making a thing called “Later” in 2019 (archive of the audio available on SoundCloud), but that fizzled.

Now, though, I feel some good momentum.

Got a jolt to get working on Metal Bandcamp Gift Club again late last year. Moved the whole thing to an email list, redid the website as a hand-coded HTML site. The subscriber count is going up! Yay!

Started watching DJ sets on YouTube, you know, to sort of stay sane and experience people doing things besides just my cat yelling at birds. That inspired me to try my hand at the process, which led to making my own metal-leaning sleep mix called Goodnight, Metal Friend.

And now “Bandcamp Roulette” (at the top of this post) is a thing now, maybe?! I just really enjoy digging for and finding music, and it’s not that hard to set up. Two video shots:

  1. The initial Selling Right Now scroll, and the actual clicking around to listen to the individual band pages are captured with ScreenFlow.
  2. iPhone Xr on a tripod, which I then sync with the video captured using ScreenFlow.

I don’t have to prepare or research anything, as I’m picking stuff on the fly. I guess I might recognize some of the releases from time to time, but I’ve been writing about music since 2001, so I’ll be able to draw from that experience, and I love the free wheeling, spontaneous nature of this format. I guess it could even be live-streamed, maybe too? HMMMM.

These three things – running Metal Bandcamp Gift Club, making sleepy time metal mixes, and Bandcamp roulette have just been something nice to rattle my brain, and keep things fresh, and keep the curiosity stoked.

Goodnight, Metal Friend

I love falling asleep to music, and for the past year or so I’ve been using the Headspace app for that very purpose.

When listening to radio (like NTS), I never know what might come on at 3am. And with playlists, songs stop and start, so there’s never a consistent volume.

And while I love the Headspace offerings, they’re very robotic. As someone who works in music, I really like to know who’s making the music. I feel like music needs some humanity to it.

My initial thoguth was to create my own music. I have Abelton Live, a bass, and a MIDI keyboard – how hard can it be? Well, it’s hard. And I want some music to fall asleep to sooner rather than later.

That meant finding music made by humans, and arranged as a “mix.” I’ve been watching a bunch of DJ sets on YouTube recently, and I’m sort of intrigued.

So, I knew I was going to need some DJ software for this project. The first program I downloaded is the one I’ve been using; Serato DJ Lite. It’s free, and does the big important thing I need: fade into and out of separate tracks in real time.

So then I hit Bandcamp for some suitable tracks. I searched by tags and mostly dug through ambient drone, sorted by recent arrivals. I found about 6-10 tracks, paid for and downloaded each one, and threw them into Serato.

Learning how and when to fade out of tracks, and into others – IN REAL TIME – is exciting. Even though the music is quiet and peaceful, the process keeps me on my toes. By the time I settled on my playlist, and practiced a few times, I had a 25-ish minute “set” ready to go.

To record my mix, I used Rouge Amoeba’s Audio Hijack, capturing the audio from Serato, and recording it as an MP3 file in real time.

Again, you have to pay attention during this entire process, because if you mess up the transition between songs five and six, you gotta scrap it and do it again.

I uploaded to Mixcloud, because they’re artist friendly; “We also make sure that the artists, songwriters and rightsholders played in the shows receive their fair royalties.” I have a three month trial, and after that’s up it’s $15/mo, which seems fair.

I did my final mix after a day of work. Being that we’re in the midst of a global pandemic right now, this was the mental break I needed on a Monday night.

It’s not perfect, but it’s done. Hopefully I make nine more of these, and the tenth will be better than my first. Hope you like it.

Getting the Band Back Together

http://www.metalbandcampgift.club/

My day job has me working in WordPress and Square Space a lot. Hours every week. So when it comes to my personal projects, logging into these services is just… a bummer. And a bit of overkill.

WordPress just has so many options and features and choices. Square Space is the same. And really, I just need to update some text and links for my Metal Bandcamp Gift Club project.

Inspiration arose from randomly finding the Web Design Museum, and the late 90s / early 00s versions of the Yahoo homepage.

That’s where I got my start, back in 1995. Hitting View > Source, saving the contents to a text editor, and then messing around (and learning) HTML by saving and refreshing a local file over and over again.

The Metal Bandcamp Gift Club website was using WordPress.com, and I really didn’t need a full blown new post every time someone had a birthday, especially when all I wanted to do was link directly to their Bandcamp wishlist.

Sure, I probably could have done all this with WordPress.org, and lots of work, but I honestly love hand coding static HTML sites. It’s something I miss. It’s honestly like picking up a musical instrument and playing a few riffs and songs from years ago. The concepts and ideas are still in the brain, and it’s fun to let them loose.

I had a blast hand coding the new Metal Bandcamp Gift Club website. It’s a bunch of ugly tables, and it doesn’t look great on a phone, but oh well – it looks okay in a browser, and that’ll do.

The whole site is less than 900KB, and it’s hosted on my Dropbox account and served via Site44. I use TextMate as my text editor.

UPDATE: I ditched the Dropbox / Site44 set up and moved to a real webhost (I Heart Blank) that my buddy runs. I then use Mountain Duck to mount the server, update the HTML files, and save directly in my Finder window. I love it.

Again, this was meditative for me. It goes back to how I got started on the internet, how I began my career. I know there are all sorts of other programming languages to use, and even CSS (HAH!), but really I just had a lot of fun with this. The hours flew by, and before I realized it was midnight! That’s when you know you’re having fun.

Make ‘Em Feel Good

I’m part of a project called Metal Bandcamp Gift Club, which is basically a bunch of metal nerds that gift albums to each other from their Bandcamp wishlists.

If you want niche, that’s pretty niche.

But it’s been going on since 2016, and my sources tell me we’ve helped sell a shit ton of music during that time.

Our website fell stagnant for awhile, but I got it rolling again in October 2019. A few months later we had our biggest month ever.

That big spike is from our February fundraiser, where we raised almost $500 for girls’ rock camps (we eventually broke $500 in March), from Dallas Texas to London and Canada. It was pretty awesome.

I’ve been working on “content strategies” in one form or another since 2001, and what’s really worked for me is this: make the reader feel something, the happier the better.

When I did Skull Toaster (my metal trivia project on social media from 2011-2018), I built the questions with the answers in mind. Some questions were pretty damn obscure, but I usually knew someone would get it, and what would they feel? AWESOME. It wasn’t about driving clicks to my website, it was about that feeling of answering metal trivia.

With this recent fundraiser, people felt pretty good – especially the organizations that got some money in their accounts.

Deadspin Writers Are Back for the Super Bowl

So Dashlane asked the former writers from Deadspin to write a blog for Super Bowl Weekend.

But wait, a BLOG?!?! IN 2020?

I think we’ve had over 1,000 comments now on the site. It wasn’t supposed to go live until today, but then it got leaked last night. And after that happened, our traffic spiked so much that we had to get upgraded on WordPress to a dedicated server just so that it wouldn’t crash today.

Tom Ley, founder, CEO, and publisher of Big Cool Tom Media LLC

Just remember – all those social media posts are pointing to WEBSITES. Buy tickets, pre-order an album, read an interview, watch a video – they’re all on websites, and websites are still plenty relevant in 2020.

Social media posts come and go, QUICK. But the web sticks around forever.

And it’s just the CONTEXT of the web. When you’re scrolling on your phone it’s usually to kill some time, or unwind, zone out. Not saying these things don’t have happen when you’re sitting in front of your laptop, but serious work happens on the computer; coding, producing, editing, researching.

The Unending Scroll

Well, if this doesn’t hit between the eyes…

Each night I lay in my bed beside my boyfriend with one eye closed against the pillow, the other eye open, and wheeled down Instagram’s infinite scroll. Each morning I woke up to my phone alarm and rolled over to tap it off and, if I had time, looked at Instagram half-asleep. I easily spent an hour on it a day — in bed, on the subway, or at my desk during lunch. Compared with the hours I spent elsewhere on the internet, it felt like nothing.

DAYNA TORTORICI

Catching myself more often, though, asking myself “why?” What am I gaining? Am I learning? Growing?

It’s far easier to pass the time on Instagram that it is to write (like this), or to create music, or do 20 minutes of stretching.

Mind you I found my run coach via Instagram. I find inspiring quotes from runner friends, which gets me out the door some mornings.

It’s just wild how Instagram has become my routine, my habit, my ritual. And not just for me, for so many others, too.

Growing Things

Last year I rebooted Metal Bandcamp Gift Club. Started in 2016, it fizzled quite a bit, and by 2019, it was running on fumes.

In October, I shook the dust off, kicked the tires, and got things rolling again. While the initial idea was formed and grew quite well on Twitter, I chose to move things to an email list.

Sure, the Metal Bandcamp Gift Club Twitter account has over 500 followers, but I know every time I send out a Tweet, not everyone sees it.

My last birthday Tweet had 712 impressions and 7 link clicks. That’s a 0.9% click rate.
My last email went out to 67 subscribers and got 6 clicks. That’s a 8.9% click rate.

Think of the work I have to put into growing my audience on Twitter. If I have 1,000 followers then what? Maybe 14 clicks?

But I’ve grown the Metal Bandcamp Gift Club email list from nothing to 71 subscribers in just three months.

It’s the Seth Godin idea; people like us sign up for newsletters like this.

Not everyone wants to get an email with a link to an absolute stranger’s wishlist when it’s their birthday, and that’s okay. This isn’t for “everyone,” this is for a handful of people who understand the power of surprising and delighting people they don’t know with music on their birthday.

And right now, and into 2020 and beyond, I believe that the audience who gets what you do, who knows what you’re about, they’re going to subscribe to your thing because not subscribing is missing out, so yes, you are that special, and you absolutely matter.

While you can continue to build on social media, make sure you’re building your email list along the way. When (not if) those sites shut down, you won’t be able to export any of those fans, followers, or subscribers.