A record deal, huge sound carrier earnings, and finally superstardom? These times are over. Nowadays hopeful musicians won’t rely on a music industry shaken by digital change. They prefer to find their own way through the internet, as ”unsigned artists“, caught between aggregators and e-shops, webradios and streaming services. It is a bumpy road. And a fascinating one. ’Cause just in this merciless Brave New Music World of all things a global community of artists is fostering a prominent eighties trend: synthpop & synthwave. In the thick of it: The German project Buzzing Sound Candy. Insights into 21st century music production – and an exciting virtual microcosm.
Unsigned artists“ are artists without a ”record deal“. Artists not tied to any sound carrier label, having no contract with anyone. It is a state, which applies for the majority of hobby and professional musicians. Whereas „unsigned artists“ in the 20th century had to lead a rather ’unheard’ existence, the digital age offers them limitless possibilities. Nowadays self-made songs and tracks can be released without a record label and completely single-handedly – via internet and its manifold platforms. That is, no question, a useful thing: ’cause music consumers of today tend to buy digital sound packages rather than conventional sound carriers like CDs. Or – and that is the main trend – they abstain from ”ownership“ of a song completely, which means, they are just streaming their favourite music for a small monthly fee.
Which leads us to the dark sides of these limitless possibilities. In the year 2019, especially ”unsigned artists“ are caught within a global virtual competition of countless other artists. They invest loads of love, time and money into their own music and into their public relations work, but their chances of earning noteworthy sums of money with what they are doing are worse than ever. To present themselves with a band profile somewhere might be relatively easy. But in order to reach a higher degree of popularity, they have to overcome several obstacles – aggregators and streaming services, for example, or the struggle for entering important playlists and winning the favour of influential webradio DJs.
”I’m fed up with nervous A&R guys and dubious distribution partners, they are constantly trying to interfere with your work and coming up with unacceptable conditions. I prefer to keep doing my own thing.“ Says Rossi, composer, lyricist and sound wizard of Buzzing Sound Candy. The German project’s strategy and way of working seem to be a blue print for the ”unsigned artists“ of today. Rossi lives in Frankfurt/Main, where he started as bass player in punk bands, until he discovered synthesizers and began to produce house and electro music. Over the last few years he also released some interesting tracks as DER AXIOMATOR. On virtual musicians’ platforms and through other contacts he finds vocalists. Sometoimes they meet and produce together in the real (i. e. analogue) world – sometimes their collaboration happens mainly via internet, where they send their audio files back and forth. It’s a creative ping-pong. Very often Rossi delivers preproduced tracks, sometimes with melody and lyrics, sometimes the guest singers write their own lyrics or add a self-composed melody. Following this method, a track gets reworked and extended over and over – until its final version.
Selecting artists by AI?
Quickly the project has established a website, which was probably the easiest task of the creative journey. There B.S.C. introduce themselves, put up audio files for sale, fix the prices and are in control of everything. The artwork is homemade as well, and for running the webpage Rossi has to pay a manageable monthly fee. Just running a webpage, however, won’t take you very far. Your aim is to be present in all virtual music stores and in all streaming services – iTunes, Amazon Music, Spotify & Co. And how do you achieve this aim? With the help of a so-called aggregator. Aggregators, which often are subsidiaries of huge enterprises, even from the music industry, are something like the interface between artists on the one side, and music stores and streaming services on the other side. They see make sure that artists and their music are available everywhere – a service they want to get paid for, of course. But that’s not all: They also check out the music, and sometimes they even impose censorship. ”The harmless B.S.C.-Christmas dance song EMPATHY!, which pleaded for a meatless, vegetarian X-mas, was rejected again and again by a German aggregator,“ Rossi recalls, ”a scandal actually!“ And: ”Who knows if not some algorithms were already responsible for that, looking for key words like ’slaughter’ or ’blood’ and selecting ’politically correct’ music. I really assume that in the near future Artificial Intelligence will influence even the music business, more than we ever could have imagined.“ Anyway: B.S.C. didn’t make compromises and went on to another service. Now they are using an American aggregator, which hasn’t caused any problems so far.
Is a good aggregator enough to make Buzzing Sound Candy successful? Not at all. The ideal case would be to enter the huge Apple and Spotify playlists with their millions of followers. ”To be included there leads to thousands of additional listeners within a second, which means your music will be streamed much more often,“ Rossi says. ”And every stream brings you at least a little sum of money.“ However: ”Unsigned artists usually don’t have any chance to be included in those lists. In order to enter the popular playlists of so-called ’music influencers’ you have to pay a lot of money, which has led to the establishment of a huge untrustworthy market. Everyone knows that.“ Pay for a Play – this strategy is out of the question for B.S.C. Therefore they are tirelessly promoting their music via social media like Twitter and Instagram, hoping to get played regularly by the worldwide internet radio stations, especially in the shows of renowned DJs. Such internet radio stations are thick on the ground, and even here every musical genre has established its top stations and DJ stars. The Mixcloud.complatform offers a first impression, it is the self-claimed ”global community for audio culture“. Mixcloud invites you to discover more than 15 million radio shows, DJ mixes and podcasts.
The PR and marketing efforts to get web radio stations around the world to feature Buzzing Sound Candy in their programs are enormous. Elaborate promo packages have to be sent to the radio stations and DJs, and then the task is to dig deeper. ”You have to be virtually always online on Twitter and Instagram,“ Rossi explains. Being featured in such radio shows ”doesn’t bring you money in the first place, but nice advertising effects.“ And it can move listeners to support B.S.C. by purchasing songs. The same applies to the remixes produced by popular DJs for the project. These DJs – who also need to be convinced, of course – have a large fanbase, and so their remixes get a lot of attention.
Are friends electric?
So, by and by we’re getting the whole picture. Buzzing Sound Candy are running their own website www.buzzingsoundcandy.com. An American aggregator called DistroKid sees to it that their songs are available in the global internet music stores and streaming services. The music of Buzzing Sound Candy pays homage to a wonderful eighties genre which survived in the worldwide web and today forms a vital microcosm there. We’re talking about synthpop – or synthwave, it depends. With verve, musicians all over the world are celebrating an era when pop discovered the synthesizer and managed to breath soul into drum machines; when hair was backcombed and faces were painted, when clothes were styled in New Romantic fashion; when Kraftwerk shyly adored a model, Depeche Mode just couldn’t get enough and The Human League listened to the voice of Buddha, while Visage were fading to grey and Gary Numan wondered if friends were electric.
”In other European countries synthpop and synthwave have got a large fanbase,“ Rossi says, ”in Germany, however, the genre is somewhat underrepresented.“ B.S.C. are holding up the flag in their home country. The band name Buzzing Sound Candy is a kind of motto, in the best sense of the word. Their songs rely on catchy tunes and combine the classic electronic soundscapes of the eighties with modern house and dance beats. They come across with idiosyncratic lyrics and a touch of melancholia, if not morbidity: striking synth-dance-tracks featuring genre topics like dark passions (Tasted Heaven), retro-feeling (Back in Time), euphoria (You Take Me High) or machines (Rise of the Drum Machines).
Heart and soul, skills and a digital strategy
Rossi is very creative and prolific, and he stands to his principles. He disapproves of prefabricated company sounds and quick notebook production. He’s a virtuoso autodidact, considering music as an artistic challenge and a solid, inventive craft. No wonder that his studio is filled with a fine arsenal of analogue and digital synthesizers and drum machines. In order to be able to make the B.S.C. songs fit for broadcasting he taught himself the skills of an audio engineer. Every song has to go through a professional mastering studio before it is released, Buzzing Sound Candy place importance on industry standard. ”Our enthusiasm leads us to spend a lot of money“, Rossi explains with a touch of sarcasm. ”It is money we surely won’t see again.“ Everyone knows that even successful stars are struggling against poor earnings: Believe it or not, artists receive less than 1 cent per stream. In order to generate noteworthy sales you have to be a megastar.
Which leads us to the question: Why for God’s sake are musicians taking the trouble? The answer is simple: They love their music. They are working with heart and soul, they just can’t help it. They are part of an exciting scene, meeting exciting fellow musicians and producers. And maybe, secretly, they are hoping to be successful with their music in the end, against all odds. B.S.C. seem to have found a reasonable approach: With farsightedness they send their digital promo kits to relevant multipliers in the worldwide web. Their songs are great and convincing, which is the reason why they get played by internet radio stations and in mix shows around the world, on Artefaktorradio (Mexico), Radiocoolio (Canada), Radio Dark Tunnel (Germany) or in the ”Electric Family Tree Radio Show“ (UK), to name just a few. ”Electric Family Tree“ showrunner is no less a figure than Rusty Egan, once mastermind of the synthpop heroes Visage (We Fade to Grey) and nowadays an influential DJ in the synthpop scene. His unique style of presenting the show and the amazing transitions between the tracks he plays are worth listening to. On Bombshellradio (Canada) B.S.C. once even hosted a radioshow themselves – which was another smart move to gain more attention. Needless to say that they managed to have their songs remixed by influential DJs as well, for example by Mark Kendrick aka Fused. He reworket Back In Time, which led lots of Fused followers to focus their attention on this interesting synthpop duo from Germany. In autumn B.S.C. plan to release an album, accompanied by a limited vinyl edition. Vinyl? „Of course,“ Rossi says. ”Vinyl has become hip again and goes perfectly with the retro feeling of our music.“ Moreover, vinyl releases and live shows plus merchandising offer further possibilities to make at least a little bit money.
Artists are being left out in the cold
”The fact that even celebrated musicians don’t get paid adequately is and remains the biggest problem of today’s unsigned artists,“ Rossi sums up. ”In exchange for a small monthly subscription fee users get offered the complete spectrum of recent music by streaming services. That turns complex songs produced with heart and soul into cheap mass-produced goods, into worthless acoustic accessories. It’s the internet giants that take most of the money, and they’re generating additional earnings by commercials they place between the tracks for users who only use the free version, not the subscription version. The artists, however, are being left out in the cold.“
That’s the reason why journalists like Kabir Sehgal demand: ”Spotify and Apple Music should become record labels so musicians can make a fair living.” Sehgal’s suggestion: Streaming services are making deals with artists and pay them money in advance, so that they are able to keep on working and to produce new music, which in turn generates new customers and additional streams. ”It’s a nice utopian dream, which won’t come true,“ Rossi doubtfully says. Nevertheless he looks forward to the stir that the recent B.S.C. song You Take Me High featuring guest vocalist Fériel might create. The German synthpop project has tasted success already – and maybe they will reach cloud nine with their music someday.
Band info and sound clips: www.buzzingsoundcandy.com