I’m a big fan of indie music, and an even bigger fan of indie musicians. But even if it’s getting harder and harder to land a recording deal with one of the big labels, it’s getting easier and easier to bypass them completely and bring your music directly to the fans. Of course, as in self publishing, there’s a big difference between self producing an album that a few dozen of your friends and family buy and actually becoming “successful” enough that you can quit your day job.
But English expat Rhoderic Land is on the verge of doing just that. Like many aspiring musicians, Land spent his college days (in Montreal) writing songs and performing in a punk band called “The Red Army Chambermaids”. Then he decided, again, like many aspiring musicians, that he’d better get a real job, and returned to his native England where he embarked on a business career.
Of course, he always planned on returning to the music. It just took a bit of time. About 23 years, to be precise. After working in corporate positions in the UK, the US, Switzerland and France, he finally turned his attention back to singing and songwriting. What this “homme d’un certain age” lacks in youth he more than makes up for in business acumen and – of course – talent. When his PR man sent me the link to his first self-produced video “King Kong Tonight” I asked when we could meet for an interview.
We met for afternoon tea at Le Fumoir (I forgot it was Fashion Week, so I was lucky to snag a good table). And, of course, since both of us have lived in Paris for well over a decade, we started out playing the “Which friends do we have in common?” game. Let’s just say Paris is a small town in many ways, and the members of the expat community have about one degree of separation. I even discovered that he was quoted in the late and great Polly Platt’s second book, Savoir Flaire.
“You actually caught me in a good week,” says Land when we finally get around to talking about his music. It turns out that his video went viral in Spain over the weekend, being featured on several Spanish music sites alongside David Bowie and Rolling Stones. “King Kong Tonight got over 17,000 hits in the past five days in Spain alone.” This brings his YouTube hits up to almost 34,000 views, enough to get the attention of several music executives. “I was told that it would take 20,000 views on YouTube to get lunch with one of the big labels,” says Land. “And on Tuesday they called, as if they were watching the numbers.”
So how does a corporate type with over two decades outside the music industry suddenly become a YouTube star? Well, it wasn’t exactly overnight. “A few years ago I was writing songs after work, on business trips, whenever they came to me. Then I started taking singling lessons.” I stop him there. “Didn’t you already sing in a band when you were younger?” “Yes, but I didn’t actually know how to sing.” And of course back in the late 70s he was singing in a punk band, quite a different style from the retro lounge tunes he does now. So now that he learned how to sing, all he needed was to record a few of the songs he’d written.
Back in the old days you’d have to book time in a studio to record, and it was not cheap. But Land made the best of new technology, investing in all the digital recording equipment he needed to do it all from home on weekends and after work. It took several years, from 2003 until 2007 for the initial recordings, and many tweaks until the full album, “Land of the Living” came out on the internet in September 2009. He is the singer, the musician, the mixer, the producer…I forgot to ask him if the PR guy was also him under another alias. Sometimes I wonder if maybe I’m too polite to be a good journalist.
So Land’s music goes “live”, but how did he get the attention he needed to make “King Kong Tonight” (the catchiest song on the album, for sure) go viral in just one year? In a word, cash. Land sells his album on iTunes, Amazon and other online music stores, but his ultimate goal was to get an international distribution contract with a record label. But instead of approaching them, he decided he’d build his audience and let them come to him.
Now listen closely, kids, as this is very good advice from a man who knows the numbers business. As I mentioned earlier, he was shooting for the 20,000 YouTube views that it would supposedly take to get him noticed. When first released, he immediately got 10,000 views (it didn’t hurt when Chris Anderson of the TED conferences Twittered “Is this the best low-budget music video ever?”). But to get even more, he placed targeted ads on Facebook. “If you look at the price per click, it doesn’t make financial sense to do this if you’re selling low margin items, like CDs, so no musicians have ads on Facebook,” says Land. “But I wasn’t trying to sell CDs, I was trying to get people to watch my video.”
It was particularly successful in countries where the pay-per-click price for ads was much lower, like Argentina, Brazil and India. He honed his text, placed with the photo from the album cover showing how suave and debonair he is, and monitored his results. He figured out exactly how many clicks he got per page impressions, what time they happened, and where. And although the money he invested is quite a pile of cash (“a few thousand”), it’s about the same you’d shell out for a PR firm, and he succeeded in getting exactly the result he was looking for: over 20,000 views and meetings with two major record labels.
So if all goes well, Rhoderic Land will sign a distribution deal, quit his day job, and start touring by the beginning of 2011. “So you’re still working?” I ask, a bit surprised that none of his clients or coworkers have seen his video. “Oh, I don’t use my real name,” he says. “Although I guess they would recognize my face if they saw it. That might be a bit embarrassing if they discovered their company’s CFO is moonlighting as a YouTube star.”
Maybe. Or perhaps they’d be grabbing up all the personal items from his desk — coffee cup, pens, mouse pad – to sell on eBay once their colleague hits the big time. I tell him to enjoy his last chance to hang out incognito at a Parisian café. He smiles and says he needs to start preparing his live show. But from what I’ve seen and heard so far, Rhoderic Land is more than ready for the big time.
Become a fan of his Facebook page to keep up with the latest news on this very talented singer…