Rocker raises money for first album in Second Life

Keiko Takamura, a San Francisco indie rocker, raised some of the money to record her album and built a following by playing concerts in Second Life. She uses a broad array of other social media to find listeners and sell her music.

Keiko and other indie musicians are worth watching by businesspeople as well as music fans. The music business model has been turned upside down by the Internet, and indie musicians are leaders at using the net to build new ways of finding customers. Their techniques are often applicable to traditional business.

Keiko Takamura

The band Keiko Takamura and the Shebangs are, like many musicians, using a variety of social media, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Tumblr, and MySpace.

"Which social media outlets do you find most effective?" I asked Keiko in an email interview. 

"It depends on what the goal is," she wrote back. "Second Life was great for drumming up fans & support. Twitter is great if you want to get a single message out like 'Look at my music video!' Facebook is great for listing events. I tend to diversify my approach depending on which platform I'm using, because each one seems to have their own culture & etiquette."

For music distribution, she uses ReverbNation and Bandcamp.

"Bandcamp is a simple, reliable, easy way to sell music online with PayPal. They also give you an embeddable music player widget and stats, which are handy," Keiko said. "ReverbNation, on the other hand, has so many tools for artists, it's overwhelming. It's like if Myspace Music, Last.fm, CafePress, and the musician part of Craigslist all had a baby."

Bandcamp charges a minimum price for albums, but allows customers to pay more if they want to. It's currently the band's main revenue channel. "At the moment it seems that I'm making more off people buying the EP on Bandcamp since all my fans are online anyway, and many of them choose to pay a little extra than the $5 the EP is selling for, just because they're nice people who want to see me do well," she said.

Why not iTunes? "It costs money to get online distribution and this EP already has me about 3 grand in the hole," Keiko wrote. "Also, even if I were to submit my music to iTunes, it would take a month or so before it even appears. Bandcamp doesn't cost anything & is instantaneous." Also, iTunes takes a cut of sales, while Bandcamp costs are limited to PayPal fees. She does plan to distribute through iTunes, as well as Amazon, Napster, and other services, when it makes sense to be there.

YouTube is a powerful medium for exposing new listeners to her music. That's how I discovered Keiko's music, through a YouTube video embedded in a post about Keiko in the Second Life blog New World Notes.

Keiko, who is 25 years old, and a San Francisco Bay Area native, has been writing songs "for as long as I can remember. I picked up a guitar when I was 14," she said. But her music career launched in Second Life when she joined in 2006 and began playing concerts in-world.

Second Life has an active music scene, with dozens of live musicians and DJs playing in-world at any time. The performers, and the audience, all appear through their avatars, and musicians play real-life instruments and transmit the sound over streaming Internet media. Another SL musician who's had some real-life success is singer-songwriter Tamra Hayden, who tours the country professionally and has appeared on Broadway in Les Miserables; her Second Life name is "Tamra Sands."

"Keiko Takamura" is not the musician's real name. It's her Second Life avatar name, which she said she chose for no particular reason when she signed up for the service. She uses it as her real-life stage name because by the time she started playing music in real life, she'd already built up a Second Life following.

Keiko raised 40% of the cost to record her album from Second Life donations and playing real-life concerts around San Francisco. She said she's uncertain how much of that came from Second Life. "There were a handful of people who donated $50 or $100, which was shockingly generous," she said. Typically, donations to Second Life musicians are less than $5, payable in the in-game currency, Linden Dollars.

Second Life has been struggling this year, laying off 30% of its staff. The CEO recruited to lead the company in 2008 stepped down days after the layoffs, and founder Philip Rosedale, who had been CEO in its early years, returned to take the lead. The service faces an uncertain future.

Since releasing the album, Keiko has cut back on her Second Life usage. "I just don't have the time. I still love it for goofing off. It's an entirely different experience when you use SL for work instead of play," she said.

But one thing that isn't uncertain is Keiko's music, which is awesome. Turn your speakers up loud and watch the video of her song, "Grayscale," below.

Mitch Wagner

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is a freelance technology journalist and social media strategist.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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