My call with Todd McCarty didn’t go as planned.
And not in the good, “wow-what-an-awesome-rabbit-trail-we-ended-up-on!” kind of way.
Keep reading if you want the backstory. Click here if you’d rather get to the main stuff.
I found Todd online a few years ago (probably by Googling some question I had about Spotify) and was immediately impressed by his detailed knowledge of the music industry. In addition to good hair, Todd has the gift of being able to explain pretty complicated concepts in pretty straightforward terms. Check it out:
When I read his bio, that ability made sense; Todd was the general manager at Fearless Records for over a decade and then a senior VP at Sony Music USA. Impressive resume, right? Basically, he’s got a ton of experience and he’s also a smart guy.
So I was pumped when he agreed to chat with me about his indie-education-focused project, Band Builder Academy.
At first, everything went swimmingly. We found a time that worked for the call with surprising ease (given that we live on opposite sides of the world). We confirmed the meeting day-of. We logged seamlessly onto Google Meet.
And then everything went wrong.
First, I realized as we got started you can’t record calls on the basic version of Google Meet – and I was planning on having the audio transcribed so that I could write this article. So, we decided to switch to Zoom. The recording button was familiarly placed there, but when we hung up after an hour-plus of good conversation, this happened:
Technology is the worst.
Todd spent like 45 minutes trying to figure out how to fix that error, but, long-story-short, he couldn’t. Moral of the story: I should’ve taken better notes.
But here we are. The good news is that I did take some notes, and Todd’s reviewed this article to make sure I’m accurately representing things. While I can’t present Todd’s content in a quoted, Q&A format (like I’d originally planned), I’m going to touch on the things he shared that resonated with me – and hopefully give you an insider’s look at Band Builder Academy and some tips to succeed as an indie musician in the process.
With all that said, let’s get to the main stuff. While there’s no longer any audiovisual proof of it, here’s some of what Todd and I talked about.
The main stuff:
1. The big labels aren’t all bad (because the music business is ultimately about people).
I started off by asking Todd to compare his experience at big labels with his experience working with indie musicians, and I was a little surprised by where he took the question.
The first thing he noted was that big labels aren’t all bad.
There’s a tendency in the indie community to vilify major music industry organizations like Sony, Universal, Kobalt, and the like – and it’s understandable. First, labels haven’t always treated their artists well (Todd mentioned that one of the key changes he’d like to see at labels is more equitable pay for artists). And, second, as an indie, it’s easy to be envious of the resources major labels have. The playing field doesn’t feel fair, which naturally leads to a bit of dislike.
But Todd was careful to note that any organization is ultimately made good or bad by its people. And, in his experience, there are a ton of good people working at major labels who are trying to do great work for artists, while there are also plenty of people working at indie labels who kind of suck.
Ha, I’m not sure if there’s any actionable takeaway here – maybe just a general reminder to reserve judgement. But this really stuck with me, so I wanted to share it.
2. Direct-to-fan marketing is still an indie advantage.
After Todd convinced me that I needed to get off my high horse and stop hating big labels, he told me that there are pretty notable differences between working with signed and indie artists.
The crux of it is that big labels are still driven by big numbers.
This makes sense; labels need to have hits if they want to stay in business, and hits happen when you get a bazillion streams and sell a bazillion records, and you don’t get those numbers by talking to individuals one-on-one.
But the downsides of hit-seeking are two-fold:
- You get caught chasing numbers instead of making good art (very lame), and…
- You tend to focus on broad, big-data marketing instead of personalized marketing (which ultimately can build deeper fan relationships).
Todd told me that, if he were still working at a major label, he’d push to bring in “stealth” and “guerrilla” marketing tactics – stuff like retargeting ads, social media engagement, and personalized email list building. Big labels often push straight to high-level promo, like radio play or major press campaigns.
It’s still an advantage for indies to market direct-to-fans.
3. It usually takes five to seven years to “make it” as an indie artist.
I asked Todd what the standard timeframe was for artists to actually make it (meaning, create a sustainable career from their music). I loved his answer:
To create a sustainable career around your music – to the point where you can quit your day job and focus on your artistry – usually takes five to seven years.
Yeah, you’ll see stars made seemingly overnight, but Todd told me that if you dig into backstories, you’ll usually find that the people who went viral were working to do so for years. Building a band is a marathon; it’s the process of pushing a snowball and getting steady growth.
You should probably only pursue artistry if you really love it. If you’re looking to be famous and rich right away, a) probably reevaluate your goals and b) being an indie artist is not a shortcut. Successful artistry is a long game.
4. The path to sustainable artistry is easier with the right support.
Todd told me that the reason he left Sony was because what he loved most about the music industry was working with rising artists to build meaningful success, and he felt like he wasn’t able to do that as often as he wanted to at a big label. He realized that too many indie artists were stuck in their journey – they felt ignored by Spotify and Apple Music, they struggled to get followers to turn into fans, and they rarely felt momentum building (even after album releases).
So, he built a community to help – Band Builder Academy.
Based on my understanding (and admittedly subpar notes), there are three pretty incredible benefits that Band Builder Academy provides to indie artists:
1. Detailed information and educational resources on basically every important music business thing.
First, Todd offers a 10-stage roadmap to building a career as a band or artist. It starts with branding (positioning your artistry to resonate with your ideal audience), then moves to marketing and monetization. There are more than 60 video lessons on this stuff.
Second, the academy includes access to Todd’s Spotify Course so that you can generate real growth on the platform. (And based on our conversation, I’d say that if you want to learn Spotify promo, there’s nobody better to learn it from than Todd.)
Finally, new material’s being added all the time on the topics that are most important to Band Builder members.
2. Support from an engaged community of artists – and from Todd.
Todd mentioned that the development of a strong community is one of the most important keys to succeeding as an artist. It’s way easier to move forward in your career when you have others who can hold you accountable to your goals and offer insight and support to help you get over your obstacles.
The Band Builder community is, in Todd’s words, “A supportive and active community of smart artists at all levels and genres.”
Plus, every Band Builder member gets a one-on-one call with Todd.
Access to that kind of support is pretty cool – and definitely helpful if you’ve been struggling to go it alone.
3. Access to exclusive tools and opportunities.
And, finally, Band Builder Academy provides access to a treasure chest of awesome tools, templates, and opportunities.
That includes chances to hear from industry bigwigs (like Instagram’s Head of Strategic Partnerships, Sunil Singhvi). It also includes tactical things like lists of promo tactic ideas, contact spreadsheets, templates for pitches, bios, and even full marketing campaigns.
I think Todd actually undersells the value of all this stuff. If you’ve been struggling to run a press or ad campaign, these kinds of resources are gold.
And I didn’t mention the one I think is the coolest, because I think it deserves its own section. More on that in a second.
If you want to move your career forward as an artist / band, this is a proven path to follow. It’ll give you a ton of awesome support and access to legitimately impactful resources.
5. Todd’s built a proprietary Spotify web app that lets artists see exactly where they sit in Spotify genre rankings.
Okay, I think the coolest tool Band Builder members get access to is one that Todd built himself. It’s a Spotify web app. It’s very helpful. Here’s the idea:
Spotify has 4,000+ genre niches that it uses to categorize artists.
Your music fits into this array of niches somewhere. Todd’s app lets you pinpoint that – like, you’ll see all of the sub-genres you’re being tagged in. But, better than that…
You can see all of the artists who rank at the top of your sub-genres.
This is a game-changer. Todd suggests that you go and research the artists who are ranking at the top of your genre. Once you see what kind of things they’re doing (the playlists they’re on, the press they’re getting, the social media strategies they’re using), you can incorporate similar strategies into your own marketing.
The result is that, with the right info, you’ll be able to move the needle and rise in the rankings to get more streams and followers.
It’s much easier to succeed on Spotify when you know what the algorithm wants from you – and Todd’s tool helps you figure that out.
6. The democratization of music is only going to continue.
We’ve gotten into the weeds a bit; let’s take a step back to the big picture.
I asked Todd what he expected the future to hold for Band Builder Academy, and what he expected the future to hold for the music industry in general. His responses were related.
First, it’s obvious that Todd loves working directly with musicians – so, while he anticipates Band Builder Academy continuing to grow, he doesn’t expect that it’ll ever become something huge and bureaucratic. He’ll likely be personally involved with artists forever.
Second, he sees the music industry as a whole trending in some pretty interesting (and individual-empowering) directions. He mentioned NFTs and the power of blockchain as potential keys toward helping artists sell directly to fans. The tendency for consumers to buy music dipped a bit with the rise of streaming; Todd thinks that might change as blockchain technology becomes more common.
And he expects Band Builder Academy to provide a place where artists can learn and implement any new strategies that arise.
The music landscape is constantly shifting. As more artists than ever get access to top-level recording and production capabilities, and as new technologies make direct-to-fan relationships easier and more profitable, the current shift might benefit indie artists.
7. Todd’s favorite band is Eastern Youth.
Yeah, I hadn’t heard of them either, but here they are. They’re a Japanese alt-rock-ish band that’s been around since 1989, and they’re a good answer to the question, “Who’s your favorite band?” because almost nobody is going to push back and say they suck.
If you’re looking to learn more about music marketing, Todd is one of the top sources I’d recommend. Seriously, if you haven’t already, go watch one of his YouTube videos, and you’ll see why. I’m pretty sure the guy is a master at everything except properly saving a Zoom recording.
And if you’re interested in benefiting from Todd’s expertise at Band Builder Academy, go check that out here.
(It’s an affiliate link because it’s something I’m proud to be affiliated with. I’m very confident Todd can help you define your brand, market your music, grow a meaningful audience, and have a successful career.)
All right, that’s all I’ve got. I hope this interview was helpful, even without the quoted Q&A – and I hope, regardless of where you get your music marketing advice from, that you have success creating art that you love.