Tutorial

Organizing collabs – How to get your projects out in the world

By November 13, 2020 2 Comments

Intro

Hey hello, thanks for checking out this blogpost on organizing collab albums and releasing music online! I’m 3xBlast and I’ve organized the Kickblips Crew collabs together with DonutShoes! I will share some of the things I’ve learned during the 3 projects we’ve released and will take you through the entire process, from deciding what the collab will be about, budgeting and planning, all the way to releasing the album on Spotify and other services. If you aren’t familiar with the projects we have released, you can have a look on our website: http://kickblips.com/, where we have links to all of them.

Pre-collab

There are some important things you need to think about before starting the collab proper. Having some preparation beforehand will make the project run smoother and it makes it less likely that you’ll run into any issues down the line! By asking: why, what, how, and where, you will determine what you should focus on during the project, and will give you some guidance in what actions to take should you ever get stuck on something! We will go over things like album art, getting licenses for cover songs and publishing them on streaming services, how to get people to join your collab, promoting the project, and more.

Why?

This might be something you haven’t continuously thought about, but I’m sure you have a reason for organizing a collab! Let’s take the first Kickblips crew collab as an example, also named Kickblips, which is a cover album with songs from Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 – 4. Previously, I had joined a couple of cover collabs that had the limitation of only being able to use Famitracker, with some of those being canceled halfway through, with all of them only being published on SoundCloud. This made me want to organize a collab myself, to fix the problems I saw in that. My elevator pitch for myself was this:
I want to organize a collab where people can showcase their own interpretation of chiptune, with the final product being published on services like Spotify and iTunes.

This can be just a sentence or 2, but having that in your mind will help you make some choices in planning and later on. For us, wanting the album to be a showcase of what people interpret as chiptune meant we kept it open to anyone and everyone (within reason of course) who wanted to join. No one would be turned away because of skill level or if their tracks were “chiptune enough.” Wanting the collabs to be released on big platforms also meant we went about publishing songs in a more professional way. That meant getting cover licenses and going through a distributor(more on that later). If your goal is to make a showcase of the best LSDJ artists, then you might do things differently. Maybe you need to have a selection process then. Point is, think about it!

What?

This is usually the thing that comes first. You’ve got a subject you’re excited about, and you want to celebrate that! Getting other people excited for that is important too though, and the premise of the theme alone is something that can get listeners excited and ready to share. I’ve noticed that themes with easy to define boundaries work better. For instance, Kickblips still gets shares and plays because Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater is a very popular topic, but it’s also very easy to define in terms of what it means to music. Sineapple under the sea, our Spongebob collab, also has clear boundaries. Our indie/alt collab Hiptunes has, looking at the play numbers across Soundcloud, youtube, Spotify etc. done less good than the other 2 collabs. I think this is purely because the theme “Indie/alt” is not a clearly defined theme. It has a vibe and a sound, but you don’t have Spongebob or Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater stans like you do with the entirety of the indie/alt genre. Having a clear theme also makes it easier for the artist making the album art to make a clear depiction of it, and people talking about it can describe it better and more accurately. In short, choose a theme that’s easy to explain and gets you and other people excited! 

How?

With how, I want you to ask yourself the question: what do we need to make this collab become a reality? I’ll go over the things we needed for our very first collab (Kickblips). 

We needed:

  • licenses for the cover songs
  • album art
  • mastering for the songs
  • people who want to join and make songs
  • a place to discuss the album and project with the people who are in it
  • ways to promote the album once it’s done
  • a global planning for the project
Cover License

First of all, it is important to set a budget upfront. This ensures you don’t spend more than you actually want. For instance, if you’ve already paid someone to do mastering, you’ve secured the licenses and now you only have enough money left to pay the rent for your house, that’s not something you want to go through. At the start of Kickblips, I budgeted €300,- ($350,-) to get the album out there. The licenses for the cover art were essential. Without these licenses, the album wouldn’t get out there. We used Soundrop.com for these licenses, as well as distribution to all streaming platforms. On Soundrop, 1 song’s cover license costs $9,99 (€8,50), which is the same for any song and will keep it covered for all of eternity. Again, for original songs, it’s free. I set the limit of songs on the album to 20, which means 20×8,5=170 was reserved for licenses.

Album Art

Album art is something that can make your album look cool even before someone listened to it, and the artist’s following also gets to see the album which means more reach! I allocated €100 ($118) for the album art, based on how much I knew artist friends would charge for a similar project. I approached an artist I like (Thomas “Noppy” Noppers) and asked if he could do an album cover for €100, which he said yes to. He also said that it was a bit low for his usual work, so I took that info into consideration for future projects.

Mastering

Now, having spent almost the entire budget, I made the decision that I would do the mastering, since I didn’t want to ask someone to do this for free, and it was something I could do myself fairly confidently. Mastering, and making sure that your album sounds like a cohesive collection is an important part of the process. If you don’t feel confident in your ability to do that, ask around for help from people who have either already done something similar. Don’t forget though, this will probably cost some money! From what I’ve heard, this can be between 20 – 50$ per song.

Finding people who want to join the project

Getting people who want to join is something where you just have to be a bit cheeky. I posted the project on Twitter, discords I was in, some subreddits, and even LinkedIn. I made it very clear that the collab was open to any type of chiptune and that anybody who wanted could join! You gotta be your own biggest stan in this part; if you’re not hyped about the project then it’s hard for other people to be too. Also, don’t be afraid to spam it a bit. The chances are very slim that everyone sees all your tweets or messages in discord, so post about it multiple times!

A place to discuss the project

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, it is now easier than ever to stay in contact with the people who are choosing to collab with you: Discord! Make sure to share important updates there like: the album art, any updates in planning, any issues you’re running into. I think it is important to be as transparent as possible with this. If you think you’re going to have an issue, don’t wait to see what happens or if it’ll blow over, share that with the people that depend on you for the project. It is better to give a second “turns out it was nothing” update, then to wait until chip really hits the fan. 

We re-use the same server for every new project. Over time, more people will join and stay in the server so finding people who want to join for future projects gets easier and easier!

Let me go over a couple of the most important channels in the server:

  • FAQ: this is the place where I put the most important details for every project. Things like deadlines, restrictions and how to submit tracks. Basically, everything you need to get started. This is also the place where I share my planning document (which you can see later on in the article)
  • General: here, everyone can discuss and talk about things that relate to the project. This is usually the busiest channel during a project, and it’s important that you, as an organizer, keep an eye on this channel in case there are questions that need answering.
  • Announcements: whenever there is something that I want everyone to see, I post it in announcements first. This is a channel that only me and DonutShoes can post in, which prevents important messages from being buried under responses. Discussions about announcements happen in General.
  • Claim a song: here, people can find a link to a google form to claim a song they want to cover. Participants can also find a link to all responses to that form here, so they can check if the song they want to claim for the album is not taken yet.
  • Finished track: the place where people can post their finished songs. You can also choose to have this as a google form, that’s up to preference!

Below is the Kickblips Crew server, which can give you some ideas on how to set up your own server. 

Promoting the album once it’s done

Promoting the album is something I’m still figuring out myself, too. A couple of things that worked for me in varying degrees of success is this: arranging release/listen parties online, sending the music to relevant youtubers and content creators, and just spamming the project on every channel you have. Arranging a release party or listen party online is surprisingly easy. The people who organize online music shows (like GeekBeat Radio, NightrideFM, Neuvoids) want to play new and cool music, and you have access to new and cool music! Why not send them a message? Sending your music to youtubers and content creators is a bit trickier. Kickblips Crew has a Tony Hawk, an indie/alt, and a Spongebob album, and so far only the Tony Hawk album has been used by YouTubers, despite me sending emails to 50-ish different people for every release we had. Some projects just interest people more than others, and there’s not much you can do about that. And of course, just post the link to your project everywhere! For all Kickblips stuff, I’ve made a website almost specifically for that. This way, everyone can be sent to 1 spot, and everyone can share 1 link to all music projects we did. Reposting your own links multiple times is also something you should definitely do! Think about artists you follow, do you see each and every tweet they put out? Every retweet? You’re bound to miss messages by artists you’d love to have seen, so don’t be afraid to spam a bit.

Having visuals or a supplemental experience is also something you can consider. During the Kickblips album, I got some extra freelance jobs and decided to invest that extra money in some visual assets for a youtube upload of the entire album. I approached Thomas Mc Closkey for some pixel art visuals. Initially, I wanted to only have some visuals for a youtube video, but the sprites Thomas provided soon turned into a game. The sprites cost €300 ($350), and the game took about 2 months to complete. During development, I asked for help from a friend of mine, Maarten Braaksma who took care of some of the features in the Kickblips game. I didn’t have any budget left, so I helped Maarten with some sound design for a game he is making. All these things might be different for you. Your budget might be different, and you may have different needs. Think about the most important things you need to outsource or buy, and calculate how much money you need for that. I’m not a fan of asking people to work for free myself, so providing services yourself in exchange for help is the minimum I consider.

As an additional note, I’ve also experimented with paying for tweets to be promoted. I’ve spend €50 ($60) on both Kickblips and Sineapple tweets, and these were the results! You can decide for yourself if that’s €50,- well spend, I’m not doing it again though.

Kickblips tweet

Sineapple tweet

Not shown in the pic above: nobody clicked on the links in the tweet.

A global planning for the project

As the organizer of the project, people depend on you to arrange all the things above. This can get a bit overwhelming somethings, but having a plan ahead of time to keep yourself to can make things a lot easier! Below is the planning document I made for our most recent album, Sineapple Under the Sea. I’ve found that 12 weeks is a good timeframe to make a song in. Some people will have their songs ready in the first week, some will have it ready 5 minutes before the deadline. In those 12 weeks, there are things you can do like teasing the album online, getting album art, and arranging listening parties. Maybe you want to add some extra time between song submission deadlines and releasing the project depending on who is mastering the album, and how long it takes.

At the bottom of this article, you’ll find the song submission form and song claim form so you can copy those if you want. Having about 2.5 weeks for songs to clear licensing is shaving it close though. I think 4 weeks between the song submission deadline, and the release of the album is safest. There’s always something that goes wrong (you made a mistake during song submission/you forgot something), and having to delay the release for those things is not fun. For future releases, I’m also going to add “get visuals for video upload” to the planning. This will go somewhere around 2-3 weeks in, since having more audio to work with is very beneficial for VJs/people you commission for a video. If you want a video made by someone else depends on your budget of course. Each of these steps is essential to me. Having album art during production is a great way to hype up people, and checking in on every participant and asking how they are doing makes sure there are no surprises, while also ensuring that participants feel like they have an opportunity to ask questions or receive feedback if they were shy about asking for in public. 

Where?

Now, all the tracks are mastered, you’ve got the album art, everything is ready to release… but WHERE?! The best place I’ve found so far is Soundrop.com. There are a couple of reasons for that: 

  • Soundrop distributes to pretty much everything: Spotify, apple music, youtube music, about 10 platforms I’ve never heard of before
  • Soundrop takes care of all cover licenses. Covers on the album are thus 100% LEGAL! No worries about it getting taken down. (on the channels Soundrop publishes to)
  • Revenue sharing is easy!  You can have each artist get the revenue from their own song, and all artists share in profits made from album sales. You can also have profit send to a good cause, or you can have a % split between any number of recipients. 

There are some things you need to keep in mind though. Soundrop has some rules and guidelines that your music, album art, and metadata need to adhere to. For full details you can check out soundrop’s own site, but here are some things that I have run into on multiple occasions:

  • Artists’ names can’t have random/non-standard use of capital letters without proof that that is the official spelling. (capital letter halfway through like 3xBlast, or starting with a lowercase letter like pouale are examples of artists names that need proof) What that proof is is also very specific A youtube video with 100+ views is the best way to get an artist name approved. Make this clear in the song claim form that if an artist has a non-standard casing in their name, that they also submit a link to a youtube video of their music with (close to) 100 views.
  • Album art can’t have prominent text on it that is not either an artist’s name or the name of the album. So don’t put something like “This is awesome!” in big letters on the front if that’s not the album title. 
  • Album art must be 3000×3000 pixels minimum.
  • Soundrop doesn’t double-check if you uploaded the right song to the right metadata (for instance, you could accidentally upload the same song twice and give it different names, and it will go through) so always double-check your release before submitting.

 

Now, for other places like SoundCloud and Bandcamp, as well as any duplicate uploads like a full album video on youtube, there are some things to keep in mind. The most important thing is: covers are not officially allowed on Bandcamp without the correct royalties. If you want to sell your cover collabs on Bandcamp legally, you need to pay for more licenses from somewhere like here https://www.easysonglicensing.com/pages/services/cover-song-licensing/how-prices-are-calculated.aspx 

Soundrop takes care of this forever for you on the services they distribute to, but Bandcamp, SoundCloud, and youtube are not one of them, unfortunately. Uploading to youtube makes it so that the original composition’s copyright holders can put ads on your video or block it in 1 or more countries. So far, I’ve not found a way around this. Soundcloud’s official FAQ says that you need permission from the original composer. I’ve yet to hear back from Spongebob if he’s ok with us uploading our Spongebob cover collab.

DONE!

You did it! Your collab project is officially released! All covers are legally licensed, participants share in the profits, you’ve spammed every discord channe and social media, and the world is 1 cool album richer! Maybe you’ve made some friends along the way, maybe some enemies (spongebob please respond). Ready to do it all over again?! I for one really enjoy the process of organizing a collab. It feels like a good way to give back to the community, and it can help give artists you like a spot to showcase their work alongside other cool people. Before closing off this article, I just want to share some insights and quick tips for when you set up your own collab. Enjoy, and hopefully until next time!

Song claim form example:

Interesting data from a survey under Kickblips collab participants

After our 3rd collab album, I send out a little survey to collect data on what we are doing well, and what we could do better. The survey was anonymous unless you wanted to share your name, and there were different questions depending on if you had joined a collab before. 10 people responded, 2 of them hadn’t joined a collab yet, and the other 8 did. Here are some interesting results. 

  • when asked to rate the time of 12 weeks for making a cover on a scale of 1 – 5, with 1 being way too short, and 5 being way too long, 6/8 people gave it 3 (right in the middle) 1 gave it a 4, and 1 gave it a 5.
  • on how well the projects were promoted, on a scale from 1 – 5, 4 people gave it a 3, 1 gave it a 4, and 3 gave it a 5.
  • rating on how well updates were given, from 1 – 5, 1 gave it a 4, and 7 gave it a 5. This to me says that sharing updates whenever they come your way is good.
  • When asked what Kickblips does best, inclusion, support for smaller artists, and creating excitement for projects on the discord came up.

Some random numbers and data

 

  • On Kickblips, and Hiptunes, 10% of people who claimed a song ended up not submitting one (20 songs claimed, 2 didn’t submit). On Sineapple, this was 0%
  • The art assets for Kickblips, the game, cost €300,- ($350). The game was programmed in about 2 months by 3xBlast and Maarten Braaksma.
  • Album art for Sineapple under the sea was €200,- ($240)
  • Tracks on Kickblips (the album) have been played a combined total of 21,649 times and made $12,- in streaming. Kickblips made €110,- ($140) on Bandcamp, without proper licensing, before I decided to not sell it there without the proper licensing.
  • Kickblips the game gets about 1000 – 1500 plays on sites I upload it to, with 2.5/5 ish ratings. The game has been ripped and reuploaded to numerous sites, and I don’t know the exact amount of plays it gets across every re-upload.
  • Since activating analytics on the Kickblips website 3 months ago, we’ve had about 300 different visitors.
3xblast

Author 3xblast

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Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • casscuttlefish says:

    This is so thorough! It feels like each of these parts could even be a post on it’s own 😀 (not a bad thing). I hope someone reads this and it helps them to start cool new projects!

    > “I had joined a couple of cover collabs that had the limitation of only being able to use Famitracker, with some of those being canceled halfway through, with all of them only being published on SoundCloud. This made me want to organize a collab myself, to fix the problems I saw in that.”

    This is exactly why ABOC started collab albums as well, though, I was less interested in doing cover albums because it seemed so daunting to get licenses. This would have been so handy back then.

    • 3xblast says:

      At the time we started organizing the first kickblips collab, I also wanted to figure a lot of stuff out for myself! Most of the info was available online, luckily, but having it all in one place and with some extra context and tips seemed like a good idea to me too! Hope this will help a new wave of organizers!

      And you’re right about some of the points here being able to be an entire post of their own! I really hope someone can do one on marketing! That’s one I would love to see someone else’s input on! 🙂

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