YC: Today I’m speaking with Tom Smith about bespoke music and songs. Hi Tom, how ya doing?
TS: Great! Always love an opportunity to hear myself speak! hahaha…
YC: Excellent, that’s good. So you’re involved with this whole bespoke song thing eh?
TS: I had been doing it for decades, but only recently realized I could offer it as a paid service. There are a lot of musician friends of mine doing well at it.
YC: Interesting. Just for people who aren’t aware, what is bespoke music?
TS: It is just a fancy way to say “custom-written songs”. Save a syllable or two…
YC: What’s with the word bespoke? Where’d that come from?
TS: I had to go to Wikipedia to lay that out for my subscribers, so here it is: The word bespoke is derived from the verb to bespeak, meaning to “speak for something”. The particular meaning of the verb form is first cited from 1583 and given in the Oxford English Dictionary: “to speak for, to arrange for, engage beforehand: to ‘order’ (goods)”. The adjective “bespoken” means “ordered, commissioned, arranged for” and is first cited from 1607. It is more commonly used in British english.
YC: Ahhh that puts it in perspective thanks. And so this somehow extended to songs at some point. I guess that probably goes back a ways as well.
TS: Yes…I found lots of established services online. Looks like they’ve been around a while. The demand can come from individuals, companies, churches…
YC: Hmm, I see. I do some paintings by commission. I’m sure it’s similar to that in some ways. So is that who you’re working for.. all of the above? Or do you focus more on one type of client?
TS: In some ways, yes. But with a visual medium, you paint what you see to a greater extent. There is usually a lot of discovery needed to get enough detail to write a song for or about someone or something specific. I would work for any of the above, but it has been individuals so far.
YC: Have you found it to be fun, or do you run into any difficulties? For instance, with my painting stuff I used to run into trouble when they didn’t like how I interpreted the subject matter
TS: The problems arise only if I fail to dig deep enough to get what the client really wants. It is a lesson I learned the hard way in my software career. Also, sometimes it is only when they hear a first attempt that they grasp what is possible. Then things can start rolling a little better.
YC: Ah, i see. So how long would the average song take then? and what would be the purpose, generally?
TS: It is usually someone who wants to give a song as a gift to a loved one, or memorialize a loved one that they’ve lost. Honestly “discovery” can take much longer than the writing itself. I’d have to have a very solid idea of the kind of music the client has in mind. A ballad? A rocker? Something jazzy? Then, you want as many specifics as possible. Also, all thoughts of commercial viability have to be out of my head…the song isn’t for a vast audience…just a couple, or a family, usually.
YC: Right, that’s logical.. hm.. So what do you charge for this type of thing?
TS: I had to research that too! I needed to start with a reasonable price. So I offer a simple level of one acoustic guitar track and one vocal track for $150.
YC: So this doesn’t get into the covers arena then.. people don’t just say, hey will you cover Hotel California for me instead?
TS: I add more tracks, it takes more time, so the price goes up. For a full band arrangement (electric guitars, bass, drums, multiple vocal tracks, etc) I’d start at $500.
YC: I see. yeah, that sounds very reasonable actually
TS: I would consider it. If a cover was for their personal use, I would likely not have to worry about buying a license…but that needs more research too. It would hardly be custom-written…
YC: Do you get into that as well with the bespoke stuff? who owns it after you write and record it?
TS: I looked into that and unless specifically agreed upon, I would retain the copyright and the right to release it as a commercial venture. Given the hyper-personal nature, though, it would probably not be viable commercially – but one never knows. Ti give up the copyright would cost a LOT more.
YC: Right, right.. so how does one spring a bespoke song upon someone else? Do you hear about that part or have any idea how it gets “delivered” as it were
TS: There was a legal case surrounding the concept of “work for hire” that I looked into. It is hard to beat a songwriter at that game unless you are already in a business that produces music.
YC: right, i guess in any case it’s not generally a problem.
TS: That is up to the person commissioning the song, but I would deliver a WAV or MP3 file and let them take it from there!
YC: right, yeah.. but do you follow up at all? or is that sort of beyond the scope of what you do?
TS: I generally get the positive feedback – not a of of specifics regarding delivery..
YC: ah.. so you have some portfolio of your stuff you’ve sent no doubt…just to keep track and also because that’s a lot of time you’re investing.
TS: Yes…it can always be “repurposed” with more general lyrics. I have a habit of falling in love with a musical arrangement..I don’t lose track of those!
YC: so i assume you have no geographical limits at this point, with your website and all that
TS: WE be world-wide!!!
YC: so how are you finding your reach with this type of thing through the site? getting people from Tazmania etc?
TS: For some reason, folks from South America are hot for our stuff right now. I really just put out an email about the bespoke song service, then added it to the store page on our web site as a service. It will be something I will rotate back to, promotionally speaking.
YC: ah.. interesting, i guess the site is getting the word out
TS: The site gets some traffic, but not enough to create a bunch of bespke song clients. It would need to be my focus for a protracted online campaign. And it will be after I am satisfied with the current focus: Patreon!
YC: what’s up with Patreon?
TS: Patreon is a platform that lets an artists fans pledge on an ongoing basis (usually monthly), and in return the artist gives them a much more in-depth behind the scenes perspectives and a deeper more personal relationship.
YC: So you’ve been doing music for quite a while? And patreon is going well?
TS: I’ve been doing music for over 40 years – I was writing stuff before I ever learned a cover song all the way through! And yes – I have 3 patrons so far and I haven’t even got to The Big Push yet…There are independent artists making 5 figures a month on Patreon…
YC: I don’t know Patreon really..should probably check it out
TS: Here is ours: patreon.com/themerryjaynz There is a GREAT TED Talk by the founder of Patreon….definitely look for it. (actually here it is we found it)
YC: Cool.. You mentioned cover songs…
TS: The last custom bit of work i did for free was a cover song.
YC: Nice what was it?
TS: Someone asked me to do a rock version of one of the songs from the 1982 musical Annie…”Little Girls”. I did it as The Beatles “Fixing a Hole”…it was TOO much fun and propelled me to consider offering custom songs as a service.
YC: Oh cool.. interesting project definitely! So, the bespoke thing is more of a side biz right now?
is the focus for you the band? and gigs or…
TS: The focus is the band – and mainly growing our online audience. With kids, touring is out, so a day job is a fiscal reality. It is a growth phase, but it can become sustainable – the numbers are undeniable. One just has to let go of the old obsolete Record Company paradigm.
YC: very cool man i’m on that page with you…so the day job is what then?
TS: Local original bands get little love. I would charge more than most clubs pay just to haul the equipment. The day job is software/database/tech support work.
YC: yeah, i’m in the same boat.. i play shows now mainly for fun…they are far from a viable “job”…that said, i love playing music too.
TS: Once you taste it you’re hooked. How can anyone stop?
YC: Yeah, i know.. it’s the best …But we all need money to function…and me touring Canada isn’t going to pay my bills.
TS: I got lucky with software…met the right people at the right time and showed a bit of aptitude.
YC: yeah that’s a whole other world that is
TS: Hey…I know a guy who books one-man tours – 30, 40, 50 shows at a clip and 75% of them are house concerts. Good money in house concerts.
YC: i mean that’s awesome.. you gotta be organized and have your thinking cap on that’s for sure
gotta be done right…you can do anything if you apply yourself right?
TS: Yes. Sometimes putting yourself in a do-or-die situation brings out amazing stuff!
indeed. I have been involved in a music entrepreneur course for a year now. Best step I ever took.
YC: really? damn
TS: No prob I recommend the course highly!
YC: wrapping up there Tom, with regards again to bespoke music, do you have any cool tips or a last insight you might share with our readers?
TS: Never say “no” to any opportunity when you are an entrepreneur. Growth starts where your comfort zone ends. Bespoke music is obviously a huge topic with lots of little nuances, and i feel we gave it a good general overview as to how someone’s business might operate in regards to that type of music
YC: Yeah that’s good advice.. don’t hang out in your comfy zone because you might not get anywhere…there’s a lot of cool stuff out there in life if you can break out of the matrix, am i right?
TS: Yes..I can see a popular artist painting themselves into a corner by taking on too much work.
YC: But that is a good problem to have!
TS: YES indeed!
YC: yeah work is better than no work that’s for sure…always something to do…no reason to be bored ever
YC: anyway, thanks again Tom for broaching the topic for any newbies out there who didn’t know about bespoke songs.. i think you shed some light on this for us common folk.