A couple months ago I posted this for our pledgers on PledgeMusic. I updated the text slightly but it’s mostly the same and is background information on what 92 Keys has been working on as we are preparing to release our first full length album.

Spring of Fire

With Spring of Fire, we hope this album will be a strong boost for us building out a portfolio of music that continues to define what 92 Keys is about; energetic and uplifting instrumental music that is fun to listen to. And someday, fun to see performed live!

I have so many ideas for songs and different types of projects for the future, and we are working towards getting to a place where we can work full time on nothing but 92 Keys content. We’ll get there!

We are kind of in an interesting position though because as it stands right now, I work fulltime as a freelancer in Idaho so am not able to dedicate enough attention to 92 Keys. We have spent a lot of time the last two years working on all the new arrangements for “Spring of Fire”, but ideally I’d love to write full-time morning, afternoon, evening, and night with the people we collaborate with. That’s the dream haha. This is the biggest reason though why it has taken me so long to get this album ready for release, when it’s not your full-time job, it just constantly gets pushed back.

But now we have our release date! September 4, 2018. Woohoo!

I have had quite a few people ask me what the actual goal is for 92 Keys. And there are actually two separate answers to that question, a creative answer, and a business answer:

Creative Goals

From the beginning, my creative goal has been quality over quantity. I have no interest in being a content production mill, even though that’s honestly how you build an audience the fastest way possible these days. I want to write music that is constantly changing and sounds fresh. It’s very easy to write a nice progression and then repeat ad nauseum to fill out a 3-4 minute song, then repeat that 12 more times to fill an album. But we really do put a lot of thought and go through a lot of drafts before an arrangement is finalized and ready to be produced.

A secondary goal to this is to really create content that inspires children and shows them how fun it is to play these instruments. At 14 years old, I was an extremely frustrated piano student, I was never any good and found it incredibly difficult to do basic things on the keyboard. But then my mom took me to a Bill Gaither concert and somewhere in the middle of the concert the pianist for the group, Anthony Burger, played a solo at the piano. He shredded both the piano and the audience, I didn’t even know what hit me. But it was a giant eye opener and I haven’t looked back since.

Business Goals

The goal on the business side currently is to work towards positioning 92 Keys to have a strong portfolio of content with a robust audience behind it so that our brand begins to appeal to bookers. We don’t necessarily need a manager, but we do need a reputable booking agent to represent us. The value they provide for getting band gigs and working through all the logistics, networking, scheduling, and everything else is priceless.

This may be intuitive knowledge or it may not be, but the real revenue in this business is live performance. Making videos for YouTube, streaming revenue on Spotify/Pandora/etc., sheet music sales, is all not enough to cover costs. And really, it’s best just to think of all that as marketing costs to build brand awareness so that when the day comes and you see that 92 Keys is going to be performing at a local venue near you, you’ll know what you’re getting into and want to go!

I’ve watched carefully the last few years as other brands have built up their portfolio from scratch and have a pretty good sense at what point the brand starts to become appealing to bookers. The data never lies and when you have the data to support your brand, doors start to open.

Personal Goals

And then this all fits right in with a personal goal of mine. Awhile ago I finally got honest and admitted to myself that I don’t enjoy playing music on the piano that someone else has written. There is a level ownership and accomplishment that comes with creating your own music and then getting to play it live with people who really love to listen to this style of music. I can’t imagine anything more fun to do as a career both on the creation and then the performance side. Everything involved in all of this scratches so many itches of mine, it’s actually kind of surreal.

One topic that’s always scary and interesting to talk about is the robotization and computerization that will continue to reduce human capital needs within lots of sectors. But there’s something about getting out of the house and seeing a live play or a music set from a band you enjoy that I have no doubt humans will always need and want to do. Going out and doing something is required for sanity. And giving people a break from their lives for ~90 minutes for an evening performance, a moment to lift the mood and forget about everything else. That’s priceless.

100% Record Label Free

Honestly, good riddance. Labels definitely had their place in the past but their time is up now. I have read countless horrible stories regarding contracts and other fiascos with labels. Just one of many you can read about is Phillip Phillips going through three years of limbo.

The advantages of going 100% DIY are too numerous to list. But there is no need to try and sell your soul to a label just to have them take 85% royalties. No more gatekeepers preventing someone from actually just going out there and doing it.

You may know that in 2016, 92 Keys produced a demo EP, that helped to get our foot in the door with a few endeavors:

MusicNotes.com – The largest distributor of digital sheet music out there, they reached out shortly after we released the EP and we signed a distribution agreement with them. That was great to not only get a boost in sheet music sales, but also they take care of all the cover song royalties for us so I don’t have to deal with making sure we are paying the publisher and owner of each song we cover which is actually pretty annoying to have to take care of.

Kobalt – We had distributed the EP through CD Baby which got us on Spotify, Apple Music, you know, all those places. But with the EP I was able to apply to AWAL (Kobalt) and they accepted us a few months ago and they will be distributing Spring of Fire. There is a lot to be said about Kobalt and there is a great article about them written by Wired that you can read here. The bottom line though is they will really help us with promotion and getting our new music onto playlists. There are so many methods to promote digitally, but getting onto popular playlists is one of the best ways to introduce your brand to new listeners. So we are really looking forward to working with them when we release Spring of Fire.

One fun thing that AWAL has done is they have submitted our EP to YouTube’s ContentID system and in the last few months I was surprised to see that there about 500 videos on YouTube using our music. Lots of weddings and tons of random videos. But it’s really fun to see, I spent several hours one night going through all the videos that had our music on it, definitely a rabbit hole.

Others doors have opened as well including a marketing agency licensing one of our songs, “Little Star”, for an ad campaign. Licensing is good money! Need some more of that haha.

Marketing 92 Keys

I’ve mentioned this to various people a few times, that we haven’t really even marketed 92 Keys yet. We uploaded our EP in 2016 and a bunch of news sites carried the content (NPR, KSL, KTVB, The Idaho Statesman, etc), which was awesome, but there are a billion things that should be done when releasing new content that we haven’t invested in yet. And that’s really my fault that we haven’t gotten serious about a total approach. That’s changing though! Just a few examples:

  • SEO (an enormous universe) and the tedious process of generating quality backlinks (outreach marketing), using schema code correctly on your domain for better looking SERPs, tracking thousands of long-tail keywords (I use SEO PowerSuite software for this), using Yoast correctly, the list is really endless in this arena.
  • Putting in the effort to build domain authority (a Moz metric). As it stands as of this post, 92Keys.com is 16/100. Had I put in real effort on this front the last two years I’m sure I could have gotten it to at least 30/100 by now. But I’m starting to work on building it now!
  • Using Adwords effectively to find people who have a high affinity towards this style of music.
  • Social media – even though personally I dislike social media (I’m not anti-social I swear!) – but we should probably be a lot better about posting more than once every three months. :p

I hope that talking about this stuff doesn’t take away from the magic of the music. But building a music brand really does leverage both sides of the brain. The creative artsy side where there is no limit to your imagination. And then the boring accounting side. Left right left right! It’s like a teeter totter, both tooshies are needed to make it all work.

Preparing to Release Spring of Fire

Everything above and a whole lot more is what we are working on to prepare for a solid release of our first album. Not to mention the actual music itself.

We have our release date for the album set (Sept. 4, 2018), however, I’m not a fan of long lead times from announcement to release so I’m sorry we are doing that for this project. As a gamer, I hate it when game publishers will announce a new title at the E3 expo and then you find out the game release is 1-2 years away, it’s like why are you making we wait that long?! Bethesda did it perfectly when they announced one of my favorite games, Fallout 4, they announced at E3 and then it came out that fall.

I want Spring of Fire to be the only time where we have a long lead time before release. We’re not in a position yet where we can 100% self-fund production of new content, but when we are, ideally we will announce a new project for preorders and then release just a few weeks later.

So thank you again to our pledgers, this is one piece of the puzzle and we really appreciate you joining with us on this first big project of ours. Thank you!

Also, because I really didn’t cover much of it in this post, if you’ve made it this far and are still confused about Spring of Fire, you can read all about the project specifics here! There are nine unbelievably talented violinists that are on the album, it’s going to be amazing.