Coded Sounds

Founded by a graduate of Curtis Institute of Music, Coded Sounds is a music production company that works with independent songwriters and musical artists to create powerful, current, and marketable recordings of their songs and facilitates the distribution and marketing through targeted social media campaigns. We believe music makes the world a better place, and it is our mission to help great musical ideas become fully realized and captured in records that sound polished, musical, and make people move! That is why the Company mantra is:  Bringing music to life.

Watch the Coded Sounds recap video here.

Developing a Focus

Over the last year, so much progress has been made on this business. When I first met the leaders at the Corzo Center, I had a strong desire to start a company that would involve creating music and doing great work, but beyond that, I had little idea what that specifically looked like. I tried on several different ideas, with different models and different marketplaces. Corzo helped me shape those ideas, refine, focus, and ultimately come to something that could be viable, was planned out appropriately, and seemed like a fit for me.

Getting to Pay

There were many steps in between now and then. Many successes, failures, challenges, ideas, and everything in between. Now, I am at a place where I have begun to bring on paying clients for my business, and they are happy to pay because they see the value that me and my company offer, and it’s a very positive and encouraging experience for all involved.

The Value of Persistence

This incubator program has been incredible for me in so many ways. This was not easy. At times I wanted to quit. I felt alone, stressed, and overwhelmed. But I am so glad I stuck with it and persisted. I now feel like I am at a place where I know what I need to do. That wasn’t a very common feeling at the beginning of the process. I have become savvier, confident, willing to stand for what I want and need, and I more fully understand the business of music and feel equipped to have serious conversations with industry players and potential clients alike.

Accomplishments

  • Backroom Dreamers project:
  1. In order to bring on paying clients for this business, creating great music for artists and helping them market and build fans, it was essential to establish a bit of a track record in doing just that. Over the last several months, I have been working with an artist named Noah Scheffey, who is the frontman of a new band called Backroom Dreamers. The work we have done together has been a great learning experience, as well as a great promotional tool, as this project has really been the prototype of what we can do as a company.
  2. When I first met Noah, he had a notebook full of songs, and a lot of goals and dreams. He had talent, and I could recognize that in him immediately. But as far as his career goals were concerned, besides writing the songs, he hadn’t made any progress. No records, not even demo recordings, not even a band name yet.
  3. We worked together in depth over many weeks to develop the songs and ultimately create a 5 song EP which he loves, and represents him very well for where he is at right now. We used those songs to show to new potential fans and followers, and through my company, we offered Noah a targeted social media service which to date has gained the Backroom Dreamers about 1000 followers  on Social Media. I feel this is a great accomplishment for a band that less than 1 month ago, for all accounts and purposes, did not exist to the world.
  • Built the foundation: Some may not consider this an accomplishment per se, but for me, I consider it a huge accomplishment. What I’m referring to is this: creating the platform of my business and getting it ready to the point where I can approach a potential client, show them the good work I’ve done, show them the value my company offers,  and should they decide they’d like to work together, I have packages of services I offer that are consistent yet customizable, and agreements that make it very clear what our working relationship will look like and clearly defines the responsibilities of both parties.
  • Coded Sounds Twitter profile: The Coded Sounds Twitter account has been a big accomplishment over the last few months. Because of the concept I have learned this year about shared reciprocity, I have used that to negotiate a deal where I get free social media services from the contractor I work with. He has boosted my Twitter account by about 5,000 new, real followers in the last several months, and it has been the tool which has brought in the new clients I have found recently. I now post insightful, relevant content for artists and songwriters, and it is not uncommon to receive 10­30 retweets and favorites from the followers my post has reached.

Challenges

  • Selling
  • Marketplace mismatch.
  • Lack of people resources.
  • Lack of industry contacts.
  • Balance of business/creative work.
  • Lack of options for marketing service:
  1. I am not a great sales person. I realize this weakness however, and have invested in training programs to improve enrollment conversations. My life partner, Andrea, is also a very accomplished sales person and is consistently rated one of the top sales person in the country in her field. I have brought her more into the process with me so that we can work together and Coded Sounds can benefit from her expertise.
  2. Philadelphia is a marketplace that is growing very quickly, but it is much smaller than some cities for the type of music that we create at Coded Sounds. That is why I am moving the business to LA, and tapping into that market which is already very established. One could say there is more competition there, but I see competitors as potential partners and collaborators, and that prospect excites me just as much as more clientele.
  3. As a solopreneur, I have started to feel the limitations involved, and am actively seeking to grow the team and incorporate more people into the business, if I can find the right fit.
  4. This is something which I believe will be soon rectified when I get the business out to LA. This is where many of the contacts I need to meet are living. Labels, Publishers, managers, and more.
  5. I have found it to be a great challenge to balance working on the business and  taking care of business­related activities with doing the actual creative, musical work of the business. One side of my brain tends to dominate the other, and I naturally tend to want to do one or the other, despite pressing needs in the other department. For example, I sometimes get into creative moods and work on artists projects for days at a time, while emails and other responsibilities pile up, or I could fall completely into the other side and work for days on the business  without having any desire to create and make progress on the musical side of things. It’s something intend to continue working on and improving over time.
  6. Because much of music marketing is done through industry contacts, I anticipate this improving upon the move to LA and as our network grows.

Key learnings

  • Value propositions and what makes a good one.
  • Budget and money management.
  • Partnerships and shared reciprocity:
  1. I have found that my value proposition is always slightly evolving, in search of finding something truly effective and representative of where we’re at.
  2. It’s been difficult to stick to the budget, especially since underestimated some of the expenses. I have recently started using a program called “You Need a Budget” and it has proven incredibly helpful.
  3. This is how I see the business truly growing and thriving in the future. Setting up some great key partnerships and relationships with other businesses.
  • Team building.
  • The importance of contracts.
  • Showing versus telling.
  • Sales funnels.
  • Project management.
  • How to refine and focus:
  1. At first, contracts seemed alien to me. Now I have a contract for everything.
  2. Now offering a “free demo’ to potential clients as a way of showing them what we can do with their songs. Has been very successful thus far! And for the people who hear the demo and say “no,” it’s good we discovered it wasn’t a fit before we took on a whole project.
  3. Thanks to Aaron McLean, I understand the basic concepts of sales funnels and are applying the concepts in my own marketing.
  4. These creative projects have many moving parts, and I have learned to implement project management apps/software to keep everything organized.
  5. In this case, specifically it refers to saying no to some ideas or propositions in order to maintain the focus and clarity of your venture and what it does. This has been so helpful for me.

Next steps

  • The move to LA: This has been covered in earlier segments, but it is the most immediate next  step, and will create a huge change for the business in many ways, good and bad; however, I believe strongly the benefits will far outweigh the challenges, and feel very good about this move.
  • Develop even more solidified, clear, and consistent package offerings.
  • Develop and implement a new marketing strategy: Until now, Twitter has been the primary and really, the only marketing tool. It has garnered some success and some new clients, but the truth is it’s a great supplemental marketing tool, probably not the best main marketing tool. It’s not focused enough, and not targeted enough for my goals. When we get to LA, one of the first steps will be developing, implementing, and mastering a new marketing method for this business.
  • Expand the creative and administrative team.
  • Personally develop in several key areas: As the driving force behind this business, I see my own weaknesses as holding back the whole company right now. I intend to develop in the following areas:  enrollment conversations, organization, and personal health/fitness. If I improve these 3 areas, I think it could have incredible results on the success of Coded Sounds.

Plans for sustainability

Many of the above steps, strategies, and goals are all pointed toward this ultimate goal of sustainability. I feel strongly that I need to focus on this business full time and take relatively few unrelated jobs or gigs in order to reach the goals I have for this business. In order to do that, the business needs to take in at LEAST $2500 per month after expenses to pay for my personal expenses, and have a few hundred extra dollars to reinvest. Obviously the goal would be higher than that, but I am identifying the baseline for being able to focus on the business without pursuing other distracting income­generating opportunities. The next few months will be very formative, as I will be doing exactly that. I anticipate being able to reach that cash flow by month 3 after the move, through a combination of team building, marketing, and developing my enrollment conversations.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank, from the bottom of my heart, the Corzo Center for the Creative Economy, the Curtis Institute of Music, and the Knight Foundation, whose generous support made this business possible.