On the first of the year I took over as curator of the RCRDList music discovery email list. It was created by my friend Zoe and she doesn’t have the time to maintain it because she’s in grad school. It’s presumably a temporary takeover, with me assuming she’ll want it back when school’s over, but we haven’t figured that out yet.
It was a bit of a rough start. I did well enough picking music, but there were a few bad links or mis-sized images here and there, but nothing terrible. It was obvious that I misunderestimated the phenomenal amount of work she put into it.
I also rewrote the MusicSrch search engine to fix a bunch of broken things and add some services that weren’t in yet but would be useful for RCRDList. That has been very helpful and has saved me a lot of time.
Then I got into a bit of a flow and managed to get a few days ahead fairly consistently. That’s how Zoe used to manage it — create a buffer big enough to absorb the fluctuations of day-to-day life. I think she was usually pretty far ahead, certainly more than two or three days.
Then life happened. My band Emergency Brunch played 3 live shows in January, with two in the same week. And my old band from 2004, Dr. Kilpatient, reunited for a brief show because the third member was in town. And, of course, those things require time and practice and hauling stuff all over the place, made even more complicated by riding public transit. Things became even more difficult as a wave of the winter blues overtook me and made me lazy/distracted/befuckited for a week or so.
Not only did I miss a day, I missed a few. And some weeklies. A whole group of very important people was left in the dark.
Zoe, I failed to feed your baby. More than once. I’m sorry. I will do better.
I also haven’t spent enough effort on descriptions and headlines. In the mad rush to get emails out, many of the descriptions were pretty uncreative. It was enough that RCRDList friend Trixie pointed that out on Twitter. Thank you for caring enough to say that, Trixie. You’re absolutely right.
I thought about asking for help. And I might at some point, especially for the genres that I find hard to listen to — country and folk. The trouble is that getting someone new up to speed on the selection and editing criteria would be a serious time investment on its own. RCRDList is far more detailed than “pick and random thing and email it”. But, even having help with just the selecting would make life easier. I listen to about 4 hours of music for every band that’s featured, and finding time for that is not always easy. The day job gives me some time to listen while I work most days, at least.
As I write this, I’m a day ahead and working on the next and I have enough time to finish Monday’s weekly. There are problems with the workflow that I need to solve, with the most obvious being that I have to enter every URL twice — once for the dailies and once again for the weeklies. I can copy and paste from the daily emails, but it’s still a manual process. The thing with computers is that you should only ever have to enter a piece of data once. Anything else is extra work. I have an idea that involves saving links from a MusicSrch search and using them to generate (at least partially) a daily email and save those links toward a weekly, but I’m sure I’ll need to do a significant template redesign and many hours of codemonkeying to make it work, but it will pay for itself in time savings if I do.
I’ve also done some work toward growing the list.
It’s the same amount of work whether an email going to 1500 people or 15,000. As it is, when a band finds out they’ve been featured it’s more of a morale boost than anything that really moves the needle for them. You can’t pay the rent by selling an extra 1-2 copies of an album. I’d love for it to make a meaningful difference for a band to be featured by RCRDList. Sometimes it does. With more than 1000 features by now, the odds are good that at least one musician who was ready to give up decided to keep going because they were on the list. I’d really like it to make a meaningful difference every time an email went out.
I used a Facebook ad to grow the following there a little. It wasn’t much, just enough to change the “seen by 3 people” post average to “seen by 5 people”. It’s still a tiny following — less than 100 people. It was enough to figure out how much it costs to grow the audience. 76 cents per like with a really basic ad. If I had a better ad it would be a little less, but that still means increasing the reach is no small (or cheap) task.
Twitter has also grown a little. I made it official policy to follow a featured band. Sometimes they follow back. It’s also useful for the “have we already featured them?” check, and it might also be neat to do a “where are they now” for featured bands in the future.
So far the thing that has made the biggest impact for the smallest expense is Project Wonderful. It’s an ad network that lets you target specific sites with specific bids. It doesn’t have that many music sites in the network since it’s geared more toward webcomics, but there are a few that have been really effective for growing the list. It’s grown by about 3% in the past month. That’s not amazing, but the ability to hypertarget ads means that each new subscriber costs less than 10 cents to add. I started by using a terrible ad that I made and then switched to a few nice ones made by a talented graphic designer in Venezuela. I always hate contributing to the race to the bottom in wages that a place like Fiverr causes, but the alternative would be my horrible programmer art, which probably has a greater long-term negative effect on the world.
Even though RCRDList includes some affiliate links, during its lifetime it has still made less in commissions than I’ve spent on ad experiments in the past six weeks. That’s OK. Money isn’t the point of this thing. It’d just be a nice side-effect if it took off. Even if it is a labor of love, nobody wants to work for free if they don’t have to.
I’ll never understand people who are bored. My problem is and always will be running out of day.