Brian Hazard of Color Theory has been an extremely active member of the ReverbNation community for years. Though he started using ReverbNation mainly because of the FanReach email product, Hazard has taken advantage of many of the tools and opportunities the site offers. A few of these opportunities, such as the Windows Sponsored Songs and Playlist7 campaigns, were so successful for Hazard that he was invited as a special guest on behalf of Windows to the Ultra Music Festival and Winter Music Conference in Miami last year. We recently got the chance to catch up with Brian and wanted to share our conversation.
ReverbNation: How long have you been making music? How did you get into it?
Brian Hazard: I told my parents I wanted to learn the piano in 7th grade. My best friend played and I thought it was cool. So I had a bit of a late start, but I took lessons, played in my high school drumline, and messed around with a Korg M1 synth and a cassette 4-track. I didn’t get too serious until college, where I essentially trained to be a concert pianist, though I never had any desire to be one. I graduated in 1992 with a Bachelor’s in Music and started writing songs for the first Color Theory album.
RN: What is your definition of success in music? Have you ever reached that point where you were like, “I have to do so much business this year, or I’m out?”
BH: I define success as the gradual achievement of any worthy goal. By that yardstick, I’m already there, and so are a lot of my musician friends. My specific goal right now is to grow my mailing list. I have no desire to be rich or famous, or to “get signed.” In fact, I’m happy where I am right now. My music is better than it’s ever been and my audience continues to grow. I feel like I’ve got the best fans in the world, and their feedback and support keeps me motivated and pushes me to new heights. I’ve got quality equipment and I’ve developed my technical skills to to the point where I can do everything myself, except the graphic design. No complaints.
RN: I know that you do mastering, and that’s sort of the way you make your living, if I may be so presumptuous. Do you ever hope to reach the point where you’re able to make money from your own music full-time, or do you prefer that it not take over your life that much?
BH: I like to look at it this way – I make records. My role varies from self-producing, to collaborating, to mixing and mastering for others. While I sometimes wish I had more time for Color Theory, I learn more from working on other peoples’ music, and the pay is better. A 50/50 balance feels about right to me.
RN: Do you have ways that you usually keep in touch with current fans?
BH: Lots of them! All of which serve to direct traffic to my web site, colortheory.com. I update the site several times a month with news, lyrics, songs, and my latest sales figures. Fans who don’t want to miss anything can subscribe to site updates via RSS or email. Beyond that, I use Ping.fm to post two or three status updates a day to Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, and a few others. The majority of traffic to colortheory.com comes from Facebook and Twitter via the links I include in those updates. Finally, I maintain a mailing list through ReverbNation’s FanReach Pro platform. Only the most important updates go out to the mailing list, usually once or twice per month.
In order to encourage mailing list signups, I offer three or four songs at a time as fan exclusives on my ReverbNation profile. I try to rotate them out with fresh material every few months. I’ve got a page on my site titled “free mp3s” that explains how to sign up and download the songs. It may sound overly complicated, but what I like about the system is that it revolves around my own web site and mailing list. If the rest of the internet were to disappear tomorrow, I’d still be in business, unlike bands who just have a MySpace page.
RN: How did you get started using ReverbNation?
BH: My last album took five years to create, and during that time I let my mailing list lapse. I was in the market for a new mailing list service, and decided on AWeber. I gave it a shot, but half of my old subscribers either didn’t click on the confirmation link or didn’t receive the email. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice half of my remaining subscribers, so I decided to try FanReach, and the results were dramatically different. Dozens of people told me they never got the AWeber email, but they got the ReverbNation email just fine. I ended up losing only a handful of subscribers, who had probably forgotten about me after five years. Once I was sold on FanReach, I experimented with the rest of the ReverbNation ecosystem. I started using the widgets, tracking my stats, and building my street team. It’s nice having everything in one place!
RN: How did you get involved in the Windows programs? Have those been successful for you?
BH: An invitation showed up in my ReverbNation inbox and it sounded too good to pass up! Both programs were hugely successful from my point of view. It’s one thing to ask your fans to check out your song, and quite another to tell them you’ll get paid if they do. I had 2515 downloads through the Sponsored Songs program, and thousands more through Playlist 7. The exposure was great, and the money was a nice bonus.
RN: What happened with the Windows opportunity in Miami? How did that come about?
BH: Windows 7 sponsored an event called the Sunset Soire at the Delano Hotel in Miami, and wanted to bring along someone from the Playlist 7 program. The event was in the middle of Winter Music Conference and Ultra Music Festival, which draw the best DJs from across the world. They wanted someone whose music was a good fit and who produces that music on Windows 7. So I lucked out.
RN: How was the opportunity, what happened while you were there?
BH: It was spring break in Miami Beach, so it was pretty much like what you see on TV: sun and sand, fedoras, bikinis, cab-lined streets, and the constant thump of bass. I attended a couple panels at the conference, walked seven miles back to the hotel from Ultra at 2 a.m. because I spent my cab fare on paella, and hung out with the Windows gang at the event. All in all, a great time.
RN: What’s the number one piece of advice you would give to artists starting out?
BH: Give away your music – all of it! Post each song for free download in exchange for an email address. Nurture those new fans by communicating with them on a regular and consistent basis. Measure your success by the size of your mailing list, and don’t think about selling anything until you’ve got at least 1000 subscribers. Probably not what a new artist wants to hear, but that’s honestly what I would do if I were starting from scratch right now.