HELLO, THE FUTURE!
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Pre-order of Giant Robot Album is now live!

 - by Nicole

After long last, the pre-order of Giant Robot Album is now live.

Ordering now gets you three tracks: The Swan’s Name Was Ingrid, The Endless Summer of Adulthood, and the long-requested Skeptic Love Song.

Ordering now also gets you the complete album on June 25.

This album is nearly 100% true-story songs, much more honest than anything I’ve ever done. But don’t worry. It still has Easter eggs. ;)

Music and lyrics written by Nicole Dieker of Hello, The Future!
Arrangements written and performed by The Long Holidays.
Recorded by John Axtell at Sunburst Recording.
Mixed at The Signalhouse, LA.
Mastered by Mustin for Mustin Enterprises, LLC.
Album art by Jade Gordon.

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This Week in Independent Musicianry: What My Mixing Guy Said

 - by Nicole

Money earned this week: $747.72

Shows played this week: Shaker and Vine

Next show: Victory Tour, June 19-22, an online convention where all the panels and performances are shown over webcam

——

Giant Robot Album is getting so mastered right now.

(Rock on, Mustin Enterprises.)

We’re scheduled to get the mastering back on Monday, and then as soon as we finalize the liner notes and send them to Jade Gordon for her beautiful kerning, we go to print.

SERIOUSLY. :D :D :D :D :D

At our last session, my “mixing guy,” John Axtell of Sunburst Recording and The Signalhouse, gave me three specific compliments:

1. The Long Holidays are one of the best-prepared bands he’s ever seen. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. They arranged all my songs on their own time, had a few rehearsals with me, then showed up at the studio ready to record.

(Apparently other bands just show up and see what happens. This is why I chose to work with The Long Holidays and not other bands.)

2. He congratulated me on actually completing my album. This is surprisingly rare in the music industry. Musicians either run out of money or lose interest before the project is done. The fact that Giant Robot Album got done – and got done within a reasonable timeframe – is an achievement in and of itself.

3. As we were listening to the final tracks, John and I agreed that one song (The Endless Summer of Adulthood) might be good enough to send to radio stations.

And then John said “if you don’t mind my saying, your real strength is in your writing.”

And… I agree with him.

——

It’s interesting that what I learned during the Giant Robot Album process is, in many ways, what I already knew.

I am a perfectly fine musician. Nobody is going to hear me sing and say “you suck, go home.”

But when we were listening to the final product, John didn’t say “hey, we made a great album.” He said “hey, you got together some great people, executed a well-run project, and you are a strong writer.”

And I suspect you will like Giant Robot Album primarily for the stories it tells, which is exactly what I hoped would happen when I wrote the songs.

It also means that my next project (and I mean “next work and life goals,” not “next album”) is going to build on these strengths. I’m not sure what that project will look like yet, but I have some ideas.

Until then: I am so excited to get to share Giant Robot Album with you soon. <3

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This Week in Independent Musicianry: Q&A

 - by Nicole

Money earned this week: $529, but I also have $384 in client income due that I totally want, please pay up.

Shows played this week: None

Next show: Tomorrow (Friday) in Phoenix! I will barely be in Phoenix for 24 hours, but I will be playing the Phoenix Comicon Captain’s Cantina at 9 p.m.

Next show after that: Wednesday May 29 in Portland at Shaker and Vine. 8 p.m.

Next show after that: None for two whole weeks (not until Victory Tour), and I am kind of glad of it.

What else am I doing? Copywriting, copyediting, trying to put together a talk that I’m giving on Sunday, and figuring out how to get Giant Robot Album into your arms.

What’s the talk? Can I go? Wish you could, but it’s invite-only. I’ll probably put my notes online.

Okay, where is Giant Robot Album? Giant Robot Album is continuing to slip behind schedule in a way that makes my project management heart gently weep. I am at the “no seriously these are the LAST EDITS we can make” stage. It doesn’t help that I am traveling way too much; often, I am the literal roadblock in the project timeline.

But doesn’t The Internet mean you can just make the album online or something? With… like… version control? Not exactly. It helps if people are in the same room.

So how much are you traveling? More than I would like, right now. I wrote a song two years ago about how I wanted to go on tour every other month, and I have somehow made that dream come true.

But isn’t that the goal of independent musicianry? I think it is one of the goals. Traveling and musicianry go hand-in-hand. But I am starting to get that Bilbo-stretched feeling. I am also beginning to wonder if perpetual travel perhaps shouldn’t be the goal of my independent musicianry.

Okay, so if travel isn’t the goal, what is? Well, “travel” was never the goal. “Connecting with music” is the goal, but since it happens on a one-to-one, human-to-human basis, travel is inevitable.

What about a residency in a city, so you didn’t have to travel so much? Been there, did that for a year. The first month I had a full house. The last month I had zero people. Turns out when you play the same city every month, it gets dull.

What about making good music and selling it online? Wait, people pay for music online???? Because I am a storyteller and a comedian, I always sell more in person than I do online. (Also because people don’t like to pay for music online but they do like to buy CDs if they enjoyed your show. Usually they’re not actually doing it for the CDs; it’s more like a way to thank you for your work.)

So is there a way to be an indie musician without continuous travel? This seems to be one of the larger questions in my brain right now.

Does that mean that when you travel to see us, you’re all secretly resentful and everything? Nope. When the show starts, all that’s there is me and you. And I love that part; the music, you singing along, and the thing that we create together. And then afterwards I go to the airport and THEN I’m secretly resentful. But it’s not of you. It’s of the airport.

What else are you thinking about? I think I have three major questions right now:

1. How to tell bigger stories

2. How to perform without constant travel

3. How to write and perform music and be something else

Wait, you mean something else like a day job? Um… I’ve had a freelance day job since last November. What I mean is I thought I wanted to hang my entire identity on being the voice of Hello, The Future!

And that’s kind of hollow, in the end.

But the catch, at least in my brain, is that if I start rounding out the other parts of my life I’ll have less time to spend traveling the country and sharing music with you.

It sounds like you want to quit. Are you going to quit? Because I already invested in your Kickstarter and you promised me a Firefly EP this fall. I don’t want to quit. (And you’re going to get your Firefly EP.) But I do want to step away from the travel cycle for a minute, to gain a freshness in the same way that you suddenly understand a problem when you take five minutes to go outside and get some fresh air.

Anything else? Only that it’s late and I have to be on a plane early tomorrow morning. How about I say goodnight now and write more next week.

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This Week in Independent Musicianry: No New Developments

 - by Nicole

Money earned last week: $639

Shows played last week: BlasterCon

Next show: Phoenix Comicon, Fri May 24 at 9 p.m. in Captain’s Cantina

Giant Robot Album: mixed and tweaked

——

I don’t have much of anything to say this week, nor do I have any great insights for you. :)

I did think, a bit, after watching The Great Gatsby on Tuesday, that a good deal of my indie career angst has to do with what Past Me thought my current musicianry career would be like, and how that particular vision is fading away as I am finding something new.

(Also. How did Tobey Maguire get away with reading that final paragraph as if it were one sentence? It is NOT “And one fine morning so we beat on.”)

Giant Robot Album is so very close to being done, and then I have a Firefly EP to put together, and then we will see what happens next.

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This Week in Independent Musicianry: Advice to Other Musicians

 - by Nicole

Money earned this week: $749

Shows played this week: Gaslight Gathering

Next show: Blastercon in Los Angeles, Friday May 10 at 9 p.m.

Is tonight the final mixing session for Giant Robot Album: I sure hope so

——

Yesterday I did a shop-talk Google Hangout with Nerds With Guitars and Debs and Errol. They asked me for advice on making music, making money, and growing audiences. Here is a summary of the best advice I have to give.

1. Make good work.

Nothing else matters. The first goal as a musician or as an artist or as a HUMAN is to make good work.

(The definition of what constitutes “good,” as well as the complicated intersection of “good” and “popular,” is not always clear. And yet “make good work” stands.)

2. Figure out the money thing.

This is different from “how to earn money as a musician,” which I am including last on my Advice For Musicians list because it ranks so far below everything else.

Independent musicianry is harder than other forms of freelance/indie work because it has so many associated overhead costs. You physically have to travel to perform shows. You also are responsible for 100% of the cost of your own merchandise in a way that other freelance artists (authors, I’m thinking of you) are not.

So you have to figure out the money thing. Often this means another flexible type of job. Sometimes it means savings. What it doesn’t mean is “do what you love and the money will follow.” Instead, figure out the money so you can do what you love.

3. The concentric circles model is back.

In Jonathan Coulton’s 2007 essay How I Did It, he explains that the standard audience growth model was to play in ever-widening concentric circles of fans, but the internet and sites like Eventful had made the concentric circle model obsolete.

Six years later, the concentric circles model is back.

Because there are so many talented musicians all using Twitter and Bandcamp and Eventful and all the other social networking sites, the fact that the internet exists no longer matters. Having an Eventful site is the equivalent of tacking a flyer to a coffee-shop bulletin board. You have to build your audience the old-fashioned way, by playing to small groups of people and using your talent combined with word of mouth to gradually increase the concentric circles.

(As with all things, YMMV. Some people hop out of the initial few circles very quickly due to luck or a high-profile promotion or something. And yet even getting BoingBoinged or Slashdotted isn’t enough to push you out of the noise anymore.)

4. Look for something no one else is doing.

The reason I started out writing songs about webcomics was because at the time nobody else was writing songs about webcomics. (This has since changed.)

That got me the initial attention from conventions and my initial group of fans. I then slowly increased my fan count, one show at a time, based on my talent and tenacity (the latter, in this case, just as important as the former).

There’s a balance between being gimmicky and finding something that hasn’t yet been done. Don’t be the nose-flute dude, because that just puts you in a box forever. Do look for topics, angles, instrument combinations, etc. that haven’t been tried before.

The other side of the coin, of course, is that people always seem to get mileage out of songs about Star Wars or Firefly, for whatever reason. (It is interesting that people are still writing songs about Firefly even though they’ve stopped writing songs about Harry Potter. I guess we know who won that round.)

5. Apply metrics and create reasonable goals.

I got this far in the conversation before actually addressing Nerds With Guitars and Debs and Errol’s questions about how to make money and build audiences.

So here we go.

First, start tracking your metrics. This includes inventory, money made every month, Twitter followers, Facebook likes, whatever feels important to you. (Facebook likes don’t feel all that important to me.)

Then set some reasonable goals.

For example: I suggested that both Nerds With Guitars and Debs and Errol should aim for 50 new Twitter followers by the end of June 2013. This will probably require a combination of tactics, including:

  • Sending thoughtful, conversational @replies to people with whom they share common interests (that’s how I started following them, and please note that this is a one-by-one relationship building technique, not spammy spam spam)
  • Creating cross-platform things like YouTube videos in which audiences are asked to follow on Twitter (this is a lot of work for little return, but then again everything is when you’re starting out in this field)
  • Appearing on podcasts, blogs or otherwise showing up in other people’s work, which is what they’re doing with this post (so go ahead and follow @nerdswguitars and @debsanderrol)
  • Writing new music about some type of creative content that isn’t completely oversaturated and then sending it to the creator of that content, who may or may not repromote it to all of his/her fans (Nathan Fillion is not going to care; The Oatmeal might, and right now there is no song about the Goddamn Tesla Museum)

I also suggested they figure out how to sell $100 in downloadable music by the end of June 2013. How are they going to do that? Probably the first step is to get started on that Tesla Museum song.

Anyway, those are my advices, and I am curious if you have anything else to offer Nerds With Guitars and Debs and Errol.

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This Week in Independent Musicianry: All The Thoughts From My Brain

 - by Nicole

Money earned this week: $545.07

Shows played this week: four

Next show: Gaslight Gathering in San Diego, tomorrow (Saturday May 4) at 2:00

Giant Robot Album status: my mixing engineer told me last night “congratulations, your record is coming out this month.” Cross your fingers. :)

How tired am I? ALL THE TIRED

——

I am feeling either like online promotion is no longer working or I am Doing It Wrong. The engagement on my Facebook events has dropped considerably in the past six months. (Yes, I used the word “engagement,” whatevs.)

This is either a larger internet-cultural thing, in that we are finally collectively getting tired of Facebook events, or it is a Hello, The Future! oversaturation thing, in that we are finally getting tired of *my* Facebook events.

Holla back, team. Have you started to tune out The Facebook? Is there a better way for me to let you know that I have shows happening?

——

So I made it on German Wikipedia (for who knows what reason) and my entry focused entirely on this one choral composition I wrote OH GAWDS TEN YEARS AGO.

My publisher is after me to write more choral music. It is on the GTD list in the Someday/Maybe/No Really You Should Do This column.

The trouble is that writing for-serious choral music is a large time investment with a not-so-great payoff. I earn about $12 per year on the three different arrangements of I Wish You Peace that are available for sale. Sure, I could strike gold by accidentally writing the next Dirait-on, or I could continue writing music for which I earn around $4 per piece per year.

And yet when I think about The Future in which I want to continue writing music but maybe not tour with my dang guitar so dang much, choral writing is totally on the list of things to do.

Essentially Future Me with my gray hair and my Boob Taco sitting at a piano creating new arrangements of Psalm 121 (I Look to Mountains High). Because I’d like to do that, and I suspect I would be good at it. But I need to figure out how to earn more than $4 per piece per year before I go out and buy the piano.

——

I wish Jezebel had never told me about Boob Taco. Now, whenever I look in the mirror, all I see is Boob Taco.

——

I am now earning as much money each month as I did working my Real Job last year. The freelance writing thing is paying off (and actually the freelance editing thing is paying even more; I suspect there are fewer good editors than there are good writers).

——

I really really really need to buy new clothes. My shoes have a hole in the bottom and my pants have a hole in the back. But dang, I don’t think I have four hours free to go shopping until… checks calendar… May 18.

——

My next show is this Saturday at Gaslight Gathering in San Diego and my show after that is next Friday at Blastercon in Los Angeles. Are you going? :)

——

One particular set of thoughts that I am putting off have to do with how I am going to publicize Giant Robot Album. It probably needs a launch concert and a launch party and some kind of marketing attack. Ideally it needs some kind of tour.

I have been putting this off because thus far we haven’t had actual dates yet. But it looks like we’re going to have an album by the end of May. So this means we have the Internet Launch and then probably by the end of June have the IRL Launch Party and then maybe in the fall take this thing on tour?

I am terrified that the Giant Robot Album launch is going to flop or something and it will be my fault because I am not Doing All The Things, like contacting people to interview me or sending it to radio and podcast people or all of those things that you can’t actually do until you have an album in hand, so I haven’t done them, but that means maybe Future Me won’t do them either.

(I was actually kind of worried about the album for a while; it sounded fine but it didn’t sound great until last night, when my mixing engineer did a bunch of final-touch stuff to the mixes and I was all oh, that’s what you do to make things sound awesome.)

——

Anyway I need to get back to work and process my to-do list and edit a ridiculous number of words and pack for San Diego tomorrow. More news next week, and a large number of Tumbld cute-animal pictures in the meanwhile.

<3

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In which I finally get my Wikipedia entry

 - by Nicole

german wikipedia

I somehow made it onto German Wikipedia.

Here’s the full text, if you don’t want to squint at the image:

Nicole Dieker (* 4. November 1981) ist eine US-amerikanische Komponistin.

Dieker studierte Komposition an der Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, und an der Illinois State University. Sie war Sängerin und Begleiterin der Miami University Choraliers, für die sie 2001 das Stück I Wish You Peace für vierstimmigen Frauenchor a cappella komponierte. Sie bearbeitete das Stück 2006 für gemischten Chor und gab 2010 eine zweiteilige Ausgabe für den Schulgebrauch heraus.

I am not going to look up what “bearbeitete” means because I prefer to believe they think I’m a professional bear-baiter.

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This Week in Independent Musicianry: What to do with Mink Car Cover

 - by Nicole

Money earned this week: $596

Shows played this week: all of them

Upcoming shows: tonight at Temple University; this weekend at Twisted World: Divine Decadence

——

I need to figure out what to do with Mink Car Cover.

For the uninitiated: in 2011 I rallied a bunch of awesome musicians and we put together a full cover of They Might Be Giants’ album Mink Car to benefit the FDNY Foundation.

And in early 2012, we donated $5,161 to the FDNY Foundation.

But we didn’t stop selling the album.

After the initial launch, the album sales dropped considerably. At this point, we sell about two copies of Mink Car Cover per month.

Here’s where it gets tricky.

Because Mink Car Cover is an album made up of 17 cover songs, each album costs almost $10 to just legally exist (what with the rights and all). Factor in shipping, postage, Bandcamp’s percent, Paypal’s percent and all the rest of it, and Mink Car Cover just about pays for itself.

The official Mink Car Cover website indicates that all proceeds from the album go to the FDNY Foundation, but there haven’t been any actual proceeds from the album in over a year.

(In fact, even though we donated $5,161 to the FDNY Foundation in 2012, those were not proceeds or profits in any technical sense. They were the actual gross sales of the album up to that point, and I took all the costs of production/shipping/licenses/etc. as a loss.)

So now we have an album that people are still purchasing, but it feels disingenuous to imply that money is still going to the FDNY Foundation.

It also feels wrong to keep the occasional tiny bit of profit that we get from the album (like when someone pays “and more” on Bandcamp).

My best idea so far is to update the website and Bandcamp/iTunes with the text “in 2011, all sales from this album went to benefit the FDNY Foundation.”

This does not quite solve the problem of whether I should keep the occasional $5 in profit that this album actually generates, or share it with the other 18 musicians involved, but at least it no longer implies that we are actively sending money to the FDNY Foundation.

Internet, if you were me, what would you do?

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