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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Total Money Makeover: Live Like No One Else

This is the twelfth of twelve parts of a “book club” reading and discussion of Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover, where this book on debt reduction is teased apart and looked at in detail. This entry covers the thirteenth chapter, finishing on page 218.

The Total Money Makeover ends with a very brief chapter that includes a few thoughts about what comes next once your finances are rolling along. Since this chapter is just a very brief coda, I’m also tying in my thoughts as a whole on the book, as well as links back to the older entries in the series.

Wealth As a Prison

On page 219, Dave hits upon the idea that it’s not a good idea to let wealth control your life:
The wealthy person who is ruled by his stuff is no more free than the debt-ridden consumer we have picked on throughout the book. Antoine Rivaroli said, “There are men who gain from their wealth only the fear of losing it.”
I think that anything in your life that fills you with more negative feelings than positive ones is a prison. It might be debt. It might be your job. It might be your wealth. It might be anything.

Whatever those things are, you need to eliminate them. If it’s your wealth, you need to give some of it away. Seriously. If it’s your debt, you need to get hard core about repaying it. If it’s your job, you need to focus intensely on a career change. If it’s your marriage, you need to face it and work hard on it.

If you don’t, it’s just another prison. People wonder how I can feel sympathy for famous people – I often do – when they have all of this wealth and stuff. What they don’t have is the freedom to go on a walk in the park.

Is it their choice? Sometimes it is, but sometimes they’re trapped by their own fame and their only choice is to completely drop out of their career – and for some, that isn’t even enough (a la Kanye West, circa 2008-2009, when he was obviously trying to take a time out but kept getting hounded nonstop).

If it’s causing you more hurt than happiness, you need to do something to change it.

A Few Thoughts on the Book in General

Here are a few general thoughts I had on The Total Money Makeover from reading through it again in detail.
First, there’s more than a little “marketing flavor” in this book. Dave makes a lot of references to his other media properties – other books, his DVDs, his radio show, and so on. While I don’t mind it when those other resources are free (like the radio show), it seems a bit disingenuous to talk a lot about saving money while pitching other books and DVDs. I didn’t like this part at all.

Second, some pieces of the book have surprising depth. It’s easy to come away from this book just remembering the big points, like the “baby steps,” and Dave’s folksy tone often disguises things. However, if you peel away that stuff, you find lots of interesting things under the surface, ideas that, if you let them, guide you to reflect deeply on your life in ways you may not expect.

Third, the Christian overtones aren’t as strong as I remembered. On my original reading of the book, I had a perception that it was very full of Christian overtones. Reading it again, I realize the Christian themes are actually pretty sparse. He hits upon a Biblical idea perhaps once a chapter and spends maybe two sentences on it.

Of course, it’s not hard to see the connection between many of the other ideas and general Christian teachings, but if you study religions, you’ll find that many moral teachings are common from religion to religion.
Why? I think they’re part of a moral code that exists in most humans, religious or otherwise. Dave’s book calls to the good side of our morals.

Finally, the central theme of this book is obviously “intensity.” If you’re going to do something big in your life, you have to hit it hard. You can’t do it half way. I find this really true in my own life: the things I’ve been successful with (getting my money in order, getting a writing career launched) were things I did with a deep passion and focus.

Do You Want to Know More?
Here are the previous eleven entries in this “book club” series on The Total Money Makeover. Please, dig back into the earlier entries – there are tons of good ideas and comments there.
1. The Challenge … and Denial
2. Debt Myths
3. Money Myths
4. Two More Hurdles
5. Save $1,000 Fast
6. The Debt Snowball
7. Finish the Emergency Fund
8. Maximize Retirement Investing
9. College Funding
10. Pay Off the Home Mortgage
11. Build Wealth Like Crazy
Do you have any other thoughts on this chapter of The Total Money Makeover, the book as a whole, or on how this book club went? Please share them in the comments – and feel free to respond to any of my impressions as well. After all, a good book club is all about discussion!

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Total Money Makeover: Pay Off the Home Mortgage

This is the tenth of twelve parts of a “book club” reading and discussion of Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover, where this book on debt reduction is teased apart and looked at in detail. This entry covers the eleventh chapter, finishing on page 202. The next entry, covering the twelfth chapter, will appear on Tuesday.

Is It A Crazy Goal?

My friends parents recently finished off their home mortgage after paying on it for thirty years. They’re pretty much debt free at this point for the first time in their marriage. So, for me, I have a great example in front of me that you can get rid of all of your debt. However, many people don’t have that example and it seems like an impossible goal. On page 186:
Anytime I speak about paying off mortgages, people give me that special look. They think I’m crazy for two reasons. One, most people have lost their hope, and they don’t really believe there is any chance for them. Two, most people believe all the mortgage myths that have been spread.
The “hope” factor is something I see popping up over and over again whenever I talk to people about money. Many people I talk to view their mortgage as simply a fact of life. If they were ever in a position that their mortgage became really easy to pay, it wouldn’t be time to double-up on the payments – no, no, it would be time to upgrade their homes.

I think this points to a prevalent mindset out there when it comes to debt. Many people simply view debt as a way to leverage the lifestyle they want now. It comes from a lack of patience – people don’t want to live in a small apartment watching their savings grow slowly when they could just get this loan and be in that house now – even if it costs them hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I think patience is one of the biggest tools a young professional can have when it comes to his/her money. Just wait for a while – you’ll be way better off over the long run.

The Tax Deduction Myth

Owning a mortgage just to get a tax deduction is something of a fool’s game, as outlined on page 187:
If you have a home with a payment of around $900, and the interest portion is $830 per month, you have paid around $10,000 in interest that year, which creates a tax deduction. If, instead, you have a debt-free home, you would, in fact, lose the tax deduction, so they myth says to keep your home mortgaged because of tax advantages. [...] If you do not have a $10,000 tax deduction and you are in a 30 percent tax bracket, you will have to pay $3,000 in taxes [...] According to the myth, we should send $10,000 in interest to the bank so that we don’t have to send $3,000 in taxes to the IRS.
All the tax deduction does is lower the effective interest rate you’re paying on your home loan a little bit.
In fact, Dave doesn’t even make the case as well as he could. If you’re using your mortgage interest on your tax return, that means you’re foregoing your standard deductions because you have other things to deduct. So, take a typical situation – you have two adults in your home. your standard deduction in 2010 is $11,400. If you choose to itemize your taxes (which you would have to do to deduct your home interest), you have to have more than $11,400 in interest on your home mortgage (or other deductible expenses) to beat what you would already get.

So, if your only significant deductible expense is your home mortgage – and your mortgage isn’t gigantic – you’re not actually gaining much of anything at all in terms of taxes.

The Risk of Having a Mortgage

Another disadvantage of holding on to a mortgage is the risk – if something goes wrong in your life, it’s a lot better to not have a mortgage payment than it is to have one. On page 189:
If I own the home next to you and have no debt, and you (because of your investment adviser guy) borrowed $100,000 on your home, who has taken more risk? When the economy moves south, when there is war or rumors of war, when you get sick or have a car wreck or are downsized, you will run into major problems with a $100,000 mortgage that I will never have. So debt causes risk to increase.
I think this is a vital, overlooked point. Having a mortgage – or any debt – is a type of risk. You’re gambling that your future will be stable, no different than putting cash down at the roulette wheel. With a mortgage, your life is simply more at risk than it was before.

I have a teenager at home. Risk stares me in the face every day. I encourage my son to push his limits a little, but I still stand very close by when my fifteen year old does wild skateboard tricks. Having a mortgage is something like telling my fifteen year old to jump off of a rail for the first time while I stand far away. Sure, he might jump for a while and then drop without a problem, but my distance increases the chance of a hurt elbow or a broken arm.

The risk of owning a fat mortgage is much like the risk of putting your child on a bike for the first time and shoving them down the sidewalk. Sure, they might ride like the wind, but they might also fall flat on the pavement. Instead, it’s better to do a bit of planning (like saving for a home) and then let go when they’re ready (like when you have enough saved up for a house). No broken bones, no broken lives.

Thirty Years Versus Fifteen Years

Many people advised me to get a thirty year mortgage instead of a fifteen year mortgage, arguing that I could make an extra payment each month and get the same speed benefit of a fifteen year without the risk of the larger minimum payments. That’s a bad idea because something will often come up, as is spelled out on page 190:
A big part of being strong financially is that you know where you are weak and take action to make sure you don’t fall prey to the weakness. And we ALL are weak. Sick children, bad transmissions, prom dresses, high heat bills, and dog vaccinations come up, and you won’t make the extra payment. Then we extend the lie by saying, “Oh, I will next month.”
A higher minimum payment is actually a good idea, because it forces us to work with what we have left over. A lower minimum payment means that we just have more to work with – if that extra payment isn’t required, it’s easier to argue that something else is more important for the moment.

With expenses like prom dresses, heat bills, bad transmissions, and dog vaccinations, you can always find ways to make it work. If you have a decent emergency fund, it shouldn’t be too tough at all.

What do you get in exchange for these little sacrifices? Your mortgage goes away in half the time. You find yourself free of that load much, much faster. Plus, the interest rate on a fifteen year loan is lower, meaning your payments won’t actually be anywhere close to double what they would be for a thirty year mortgage.
The New Rules for Mortgages

Home Equity Loans Make Poor Emergency Funds

One common question I get from my clients is whether or not they should take out a home equity loan to deal with some problem in their lives. My feeling is that if you’re in that situation, you need to rethink about your emergency fund. Sure, the home equity loan might be the right solution for right now, but if you’re living your life in such a way that it has to be used, you might want to rethink how you’re managing your money.

On page 197, Dave dips his toes into this idea:
Even a conservative person who doesn’t have credit card debt and pays cash for vacations can make the mistake of the HEL by setting up a loan or a “line of credit” just for emergencies. That seems reasonable until you have walked through an emergency or two, and you realize very plainly that an emergency is the last time you need to be borrowing money. If you have a car wreck or lose your job and then borrow $30,000 against your home to live in while you make a comeback, you will likely lose your home. Most HELs are renewable annually, meaning they requalify you for the loan once a year.
Think of it this way. You’re using your home equity loan as an emergency fund. You lose your job, so you take out $30,000 to live on – it’s fine, since you have tons of equity in your home, right? Well, the end of the year comes and you still don’t have a job. The bank says, “Sorry, we’re not renewing your loan,” and they call in the $30,000. You don’t have it. They repossess your house. Any equity you built up is gone.
An emergency fund needs to be cash, period. If it’s not liquid or it puts you at risk to get it, then it’s not an emergency fund.

Paying Cash for a Home Is Impossible

I agree with Dave that it is indeed possible to pay for your home with cash. So why don’t people ever do it? It’s not easy. It’s a lot harder to go this way than it is to just go get a mortgage.

On page 198:
Paying cash for a home is possible, very possible. What’s hard to find is people willing to pay the price in sacrificed lifestyle.
I think the problem is that many people view their home as more than just living quarters. They view it as a status symbol – they need a house they can show off to family and friends. It’s more impressive to live in a house than an apartment, isn’t it? So, if you back up and think about it, you pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest, home maintenance, and other costs – not to mention time – in order to impress others.

Again, the only people impressed with such things are people that you never speak to, who don’t matter in your life. They look at you and admire your home, but they don’t build a relationship with you. The people you build lasting relationships with like you, not your house.

Do you have any other thoughts on this chapter of The Total Money Makeover? Please share them in the comments – and feel free to respond to any of my impressions as well. After all, a good book club is all about discussion!

On Tuesday, we’ll tackle the twelfth chapter – Build Wealth Like Crazy

Friday, September 24, 2010

How to Find the Right Music Licensing Partner

There are thousands of synch licensing opportunities created by hundreds of buyers that are seeking independent music in the United States. Yearly, this is a billion dollar market that is rivaled by an additional billion dollars generated by international buyers. So who’s buying? Television and film remain the largest purchasers in the industry, but new niches such as interactive usages are also appearing as new forms of media/content emerge. 

Hey, That's My Music!: Music Supervision, Licensing and Content Acquisition (Hal Leonard Music Pro Guides) 
Although the number of placements available to independent labels has increased, the budgets have not. However, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing! Stricter budgets translate into a world of potential for independent labels to dominate a niche that once belonged exclusively to major labels. Also, A demand for better quality music and branded artists has created an opportunity for independent labels to capture business from the (cheap) production libraries. 

Many labels seek the perfect concoction of strategies to address the question of “How do I get more placements??”. There are a variety of tactics that you as a label owner or licensing representative can employ to capture a chunk of this two billion dollar market. The most common method is to use a third party to seek licenses on your behalf. There are many third party licensing firms, each with its own way of navigating the (sometimes) muddy waters of synch licensing. In order to find the partner that best accommodates your situation, take the time to assess what is crucial to your synch licensing strategy, assess which partner offers the greatest penetration in your target market segment, and which partner offers a suite of services that complement rather than impede your own efforts. 

Here are a few research tips to guide you during the decision-making process: 

-       Call: Try to get a human on the phone. Employees can reveal much more information than automated voice dialogs and email robots. During the contractual process, ask a representative to go over the agreement with you. Should you feel that the terms are not clear, be cautious of signing anything.
-       Protect Your Rights: Ask if the potential partner will re-title your copyrights and retain a portion of your royalties (this is important!!). Some partners will require that you grant them the right to re-register your music with a new title, under their publishing entity in exchange for placement opportunities. In most cases, revenue from royalties amounts to more than the original licensing fee – this is definitely an issue that you will want to address with every potential partner you research.
-       The Importance of Brand: If you’re concerned about branding and making sure that your music is in good company, ask for a list of the partner’s top artists. Partner’s with larger names often attract more buyers. Having branded artists also indicates that the partner has generated enough sales, buzz, and happy artists to retain those larger names.
-       Prove It: Ask for potential partners for a list of clients and placements from the last 3 months. This will indicate whether or not the partner is selling music in volumes that are meaningful to you! Since numbers (and placement reels) don’t lie, you should be especially suspicious of partners that cannot provide this information.

-       Strategize: Ask potential partners how they plan to get your music to interested buyers and not stuck in a massive dormant catalog. A good rule of thumb is the larger the catalog, the less you'll be heard. Because of this, labels often find that partners with smaller selective catalogs are more appealing than larger production libraries.

-       Where’s The Money?: Ask potential partners how you will be paid, and how often. Will they notify you of each placement and when you can expect to be paid?

-       Personalize Your Experience: If having someone that will update you personally and work with you on a one on one basis is important to you, factor this into your decision process. Larger pre-cleared libraries may not be able to provide such a personalized service because of the sheer volume of licenses they execute. Although they do not generate as many sales as libraries, smaller partners (like song-pluggers) work very closely with labels.

Whether you go with a song-plugger or a library, working with any third party service requires a great deal of trust and understanding between both parties. For example, your partner needs to know that the information you provide is 100% truthful (especially concerning rights clearances) and you need to be able to trust that your partner will not license your music for pennies. 
 This Business of Music, 10th Edition 

Moreover, understand that despite the size of the industry and opportunities available, you may not achieve your desired outcome immediately. Synch licensing can be a tedious, drawn-out process, so work with your partner to craft and re-tool your strategy frequently. Most important of all, be patient and keep the lines of communication open!

Mr. Dangerfield is an I.A.P.D.A Certified Debt Specialist whom has worked in the finance industry for over a decade. He manages , is the author of "A Dangerfield Manifesto" and co-founder of SMG Holdings, the parent company of Squad Music Group, Dangerfield Artistic Entertainment,SMG Publishing and Taboo Dangerfield Publishing Follow me on twitter  

The Total Money Makeover: College Funding

This is the ninth of twelve parts of a “book club” reading and discussion of Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover, where this book on debt reduction is teased apart and looked at in detail. This entry covers the tenth chapter, finishing on page 182. The next entry, covering the eleventh chapter, will appear on Monday.

When I was growing up, my mom didn’t save any money for me for college. Not because they were neglectful, but mostly because there weren’t resources for such saving.

Where are we at now? I’m doing just fine,This experience, when I reflect on it, makes me question the value of college savings. I do understand the benefits of helping my children through school, especially if they realize the value of it. However, if I were looking at things from a post-college perspective, I’d actually much happier that my mom be safely retired than I would be if they had floated a college bill and were still working.
For me, at least, it makes sense to focus on retirement savings and make absolutely sure that it’s covered before even considering college savings. I think we’re there.

What to Expect from College
Fiske Guide to Colleges 2011, 27E

Many parents seem to expect that once the kids are out the door to college, they’re well on their way to a lucrative career. Ha. On page 169:
If you are sending your kids to college because you want them to be guaranteed a job, success, or wealth, you will be dramatically let down. In some cases, the letdown won’t take long because as soon as they graduate they will move back in with you. Here me on this: college is great, but don’t expect too much from that degree. [...] Because we have turned a college degree into some kind of “genie in a bottle” formula to help us magically win at life, we go to amazingly stupid extremes to get one.
This kind of talk is anathema to some. How dare someone impugn the value of a college education!
Here’s the thing: the actual college education only teaches you a bit of what you’ll actually need to know in the workplace. The value of college comes in other areas: the relationships you build and the skills and ability to actually get through the minefield. The college degree merely says that you were able to navigate the minefield, not that you picked up invaluable knowledge that will help a business make money.

I found that the “cramming” skills most of my friends learned in college didn’t pay off until they secured a job. The relationships built paid off by helping them get their foot in the door for a big job interview, but most had other opportunities on the table that weren’t connected at all to those relationships. An actual college degree? It is a nice resume filler, but it was not what is going to get the job and it is not what will help you succeed when you get there.

Devaluing the Pedigree

Page 171 discusses the idea that where your degree comes from doesn’t matter that much:
In some areas of study and in a very few careers, where you graduate will matter, but in most it won’t. Pedigree means less and less in our work culture today.
The panic that people feel about how they “must” get into this certain college is completely overblown, from my perspective. You succeed or fail based on what you do and the relationships you build, not the environment around you. You can flame out just as well at MIT and at your local tiny state school. You can also succeed dramatically at both if you work at it.

I would far rather have a child that went to a small school without a great pedigree, took advantage of all of the opportunities there, built some great relationships with people, and got good grades in an area they’re passionate about than to go to Harvard and flunk out after two semesters.

Pedigree matters less. What matters more is the individual: did they take advantage of their opportunities, or let them idle around them?

College Lifestyle Adjustments

Dave riffs on this on page 171:
[T]hose precious kids can probably get a good degree if they will suffer through lifestyle adjustments and get a job while in school. Work is good for them. In past generations, students lived with relatives, slept in dorms, ate cafeteria food, and endured other hardships to get a degree.
I do not want the path my son have to college to be incredibly easy. For me, the aspects of college where you actually learn things were the areas where kids are pushed and challenged. Having everything paid for makes big swaths of college incredibly easy – and many college students, especially those lacking self-motivation, will fill those gaps with gratuitous wastes of time and money.

Obviously, the path shouldn’t be impossible, but no path that is a cake walk is one worth taking.

Tuition Inflation

College tuition goes up by leaps and bounds. On page 174:
College tuition goes up faster than regular inflation. Inflation of goods and services averages about 4 percent per year, while tuition inflation averages about 7 percent per year. When you save for college, you have to make at least 7 percent per year to keep up with the increases.
In other words, if you want your investment today to actually grow faster than the rate of tuition growth, you need to be making more than 7% on your return.

How can you do that? Well, there’s no guaranteed way to get that kind of return. However, if you start early in your child’s life, you have a period of almost twenty years to watch your dollars grow in a long-term investment, which means you can take on more risk than you could if your kid is fourteen.
 College Savings Calculator - Excel Spreadsheet

I have my son’s college savings almost entirely in stocks. As he is getting older, I’ve slowly begin to shift his savings towards bonds and safer things, but for now, the potential growth of the stock market and the time frame I have for saving makes stocks a great choice.

Will Baby Life Insurance Work?

I know of several grandparents who have written to Being Broke Sucks asking whether buying whole life insurance for their newly-born grandchildren is a good option. I told them no – I suggested starting their grandchild a 529 if they’re saving for college and if they really wanted life insurance they should buy a small term policy for the grandchild.

Dave seems to concur on page 174:
Baby life insurance, like Gerber or other Whole Life for babies to save for college, is a joke, averaging less than a 2 percent return.
Whole life insurance is never a good deal. If you’re tempted to invest in it, consider something different. Instead of dumping, say, $100 a month into a whole life policy, buy a similar insurance policy for $10 or so a month, then invest the other $90 or so into a dedicated investment – a 529, a Roth IRA, or even just a taxable account. Put it into index funds through Vanguard (that’s what I do with my dollars) and just sit back.

You will be ahead. Why? The $90 you’re investing in index funds won’t have commissions taken out – the cost of a typical index fund is about 0.2% a year, while whole life funds have commissions so large that they often eat the entirety of your first few years’ worth of contributions.

If you’re thinking about it, get the information and projections from your insurance salesman, step back, and run the numbers yourself. Compare your investment in that policy with an investment in an index fund like VFINX and see where things wind up.

What Kind of Account Should I Use?

On page 175, Dave points towards a Coverdell account:
I suggest funding college, or at least the first step of college, with an Educational Savings Account (ESA), funded in a growth-stock mutual fund.
An ESA is often referred to as a Coverdell, named after the late Senator Paul Coverdell.

What’s the difference? The Coverdell has the advantage of enabling you to choose your investments on your own instead of choosing among the plans offered by various states.

The big drawback to a Coverdell, from my perspective, is that it has to be used by age thirty or else given to a younger relative. I don’t like this at all, which leans me towards the 529. Many students who go on to graduate school often wind up in school past age thirty; others may make the choice to go back for a different degree after some years in the “real” world. If I invest in my child’s 529 and they have money left after getting that four year degree, I’d like it if that money sat around in case they chose to go back to graduate school or for another degree later on in life. That option is cut off with a Coverdell.

What I hope for is that my son will earn enough scholarships to cover his undergraduate degrees . If that happens, he can keep that 529 for any graduate work they might do.
How to Pay Zero Taxes, 2010
Do you have any other thoughts on this chapter of The Total Money Makeover? Please share them in the comments – and feel free to respond to any of my impressions as well. After all, a good book club is all about discussion!
On Monday, we’ll tackle the eleventh chapter – Pay Off the Home Mortgage.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Indie Record Label Economics

It seems the way money flows at a record label is largely a mystery to most artists who haven’t worked in the music industry for an extended period of time. It’s always interesting to lift the veil a bit on an unknown. Let’s take a look at one side of the economics of an indie record label, getting a new release to market. What They'll Never Tell You About the Music Business: The Myths, the Secrets, the Lies (& a Few Truths)

Below is a summary of the actual expenses an indie record label incurred for a new release: 

Recording advance: $15,000
Tour support: $2,100
Mastering costs: $934.96
Marketing: $13,433.23
Advertising: $2,067.50
Publicity: $5,153.34
Manufacturing: $16,581.04
Artwork / photos: $200
Misc: $587.71

Total: $56,057.78 

Here is an overview of each of the line item in a little more detail: 

Recording Advance – The money for the recording advance is used to cover the cost of recording. Including studio rental, mixing, session musicians, sound engineer and producer. 

Tour Support – Artists have traditionally sold more overall units when they tour so record labels will often times financially support a tour. Tour support money can help pay some of the expenses of touring such as gas, insurance, hotels, food and supplies. 

MasteringMastering is a post production process that takes the final mix of the recording, edits minor flaws, adjusts volume and stereo widths, equalizes tracks, etc. It’s usually expected that the person who masters the recording will be different from the person who mixes it so there is typically a separate line item in the budget. 
MarketingThe marketing line item is entirely for retail co-op marketing expenses. Co-op marketing dollars are expenses distributors incur from retailers for special product placement, in-store promotions, listening stations or advertising. The amount of co-op marketing dollars the distributor (and ultimately the label) are willing to spend on a new release has a direct correlation to the amount of product the retailer orders. 

AdvertisingAdvertising expenses can include any print, radio and online advertising the record label incurs to promote a new release (outside of retail co-op dollars). 

PublicityIt’s fairly common for a record label to hire an independent publicist for a 90 day period to help promote a new release to press, print and online media, bloggers and anyone else who can help influence music fans. 

ManufacturingThe manufacturing costs for a CD with jewel case can vary but is still around $1.00 per unit for a distributor or label with measurable volume.

Artwork – The cost of custom creative and / or photos for the release. 

Miscellaneous – Just like the name implies this is the catch “everything else” expense category related to a new release. For example, legal fees or video production expenses charged to a new release could end up here. 

For this particular release to break even it must generate $70,072.23 in gross sales ($56,057.78 + the 25% fee of sales paid to the distributor ). The typical deductions a distributor takes on sales including return reserves and breakage (to name a few) further impact cash flow on sales back to the record label. 

It’s important for artists to fully understand how the basic economics of an indie label work since they will not get paid any royalties from sales until the record label recoups all the expenses incurred in getting the record to market. This is true of both traditional record label agreements and even “50/50” licensing agreements. It is very common for artists to never receive royalties on sales from their record label since many new releases never fully recoup their expenses. 

Being signed to a record label is no guarantee of sales success. Artists need to carefully weigh what a record label is going to spend on a new release to determine the level of sales that will be needed to achieve profitability before signing a recording contract. Even though the artist might sell a lower number of units on their own there is a very real chance they can actually earn more money without a record label being involved.  

Most indie record label owners are simply trying to get music they love heard by fans. They aren’t in it for the money. In addition to the above mentioned costs of getting a new release to market they have to cover multiple other expenses such as insurance, rent, payroll, travel and mechanical royalties . Making money as an indie label is no easy task. Needless to say, label owners give it a great deal of consideration before signing a new artist and committing to releasing their music. 

It does take a lot of money and resources to get a new release to market. However, real transparency in accounting for these expenses is still largely lacking. Inevitably this leads to conflict between the record label and artist around recoupment of expenses and payment of royalties. Hopefully, as artists better understand the economics of record labels they will be able to make more informed decisions about when it makes sense to sign with a record label and when go it alone. 

Mr. Dangerfield is an I.A.P.D.A Certified Debt Specialist whom has worked in the finance industry for over a decade. He manages , is the author of "A Dangerfield Manifesto" and co-founder of SMG Holdings, the parent company of Squad Music Group, Dangerfield Artistic Entertainment,SMG Publishing and Taboo Dangerfield Publishing Follow me on twitter 

The Total Money Makeover: Maximize Retirement Investing

This is the eighth of twelve parts of a “book club” reading and discussion of Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover, where this book on debt reduction is teased apart and looked at in detail. This entry covers the ninth chapter, finishing on page 167. The next entry, covering the tenth chapter, will appear on Friday.

A few weeks ago, I downloaded  Up. I had seen it previously in the theater and my friend loved the movie, particularly the friendly dog character, Dug.

I was much more entranced by the central character, Carl Fredricksen. Unlike me, he married an adventurous girl he’d know since he was a child – But I couldn’t help but see myself in Carl right off the bat.

Watching him progress forward to retirement – and finally realizing that this is his opportunity to do something he had dreamed about with his wife for their whole lives – really hit me with the idea that retirement isn’t just about stopping your work. It’s about continuing your life’s work, except without the constraints of having to beat the pavement each day.

The Total Money Makeover touches on this theme right off the bat.

Fantastic Mr. Fox (Three-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)

Retirement Isn’t the End; It’s Security

On page 152, Ramsey makes the point that retirement means security, not just freedom from work:
When I speak of retirement, I think of security. Security means choices. (That’s why I think retirement means that work is an option.)
I agree wholeheartedly with this perspective, to the point that I no longer think of 401(k) savings or Roth IRA savings as retirement savings. In fact, I often have to change things I write about both accounts for simplification.

If I don’t think of them as retirement accounts, what are they? I think of them as “crossover point accounts” with some very nice tax benefits.

Here’s why I think of them this way. I have 1 child. Realistically, I know that, unless a major windfall comes my way, I won’t be reaching my own “crossover point” (the point at which I can survive on my own investments) until after he is out on his own for at least a few years. This puts me at an age that doesn't begin to approach the minimum ages for non-penalized withdrawals from my Roth IRA and my 401(k).

Do I intend to “retire” at 39 1/2? Not at all. I have a lot of plans for my life after the point where I am financially self-sufficient that don’t involve golf and fishing. They involve large volunteer projects and activities that simply wouldn’t be feasible without a large financial cushion. The last thing I want to do is waste away.The Smartest Retirement Book You'll Ever Read

The Job You Hate

I really like this bit, from page 152:
If you hate your career path, change it. You should do something with your life that lights your fire and lets you use your gifts. Retirement in America has come to mean “save enough money so I can quite the job I hate.” That is a bad life plan.
This idea really hit home for me at a time when I was becoming unhappy with my career in many ways. Over the course of several years, I went from being very passionate and involved and pushing forward a fascinating project to being a Debt Settlement Supervisor charged with also maintaining a team, something I absolutely didn’t want to do.

To me, the idea of simply switching careers was anathema. I had invested so much effort into my career at this point that I didn’t want to lose it. I was also trapped financially – I needed that income to keep coming in.
I knew what I wanted to do – creative-oriented work that really got people to think about their lives – but that seemed light years from what I was doing. But the investment I had already made and the financial state I was in kept me mentally locked into the idea of keeping on with it.How to Love Your Job (Even When You Don't)

Don’t let your life be controlled by the need for a few more dollars. It’s not worth it.

15 Percent?

On page 155, Dave encourages people to invest big in their retirement plans:
The rule is simple: Invest 15 percent of before-tax gross income annually toward retirement.
In other words, your 401(k) contributions plus your Roth IRA contributions should add up to 15% of what you earn before taxes in a year, not what you bring home.

I think that 15% number is a bit loaded in a way that Dave doesn’t discuss. I think he makes an enormous assumption in this book, that people reading it are at the very least over the age of 30. The thought process behind this is simple: if you’ve dug yourself into an enormous debt hole, figured out that this is a problem, and dug yourself out, you’ve likely got quite a few years under your belt already.

The catch is that it’s those under the age of thirty that can really make a killing with retirement savings. If you save 15% a year from age 22 to age 30 for retirement in an account that returns 8%, you’ll make more just from those early years than you would if you started at age 30 and saved until age 65. Thus is the power of compound interest.

I think Dave’s absolutely right – if you’re over 30 and have peanuts saved for retirement, 15% is a requirement. If you’re just getting out of college, 15% would be sweet, but you can have a healthy retirement for less if you’re committed to contributions throughout your entire adult life.

What About Employer Matching?

Dave offers up his thoughts on how to consider employer matching on your 401(k) on page 155:
When calculating your 15 percent, don’t include company matches in your plan. Invest 15 percent of your gross income. If your company matches some or part of your contribution, you can consider it gravy. [...] By the same token, do not use your potential Social Security benefits in your calculations.
Why not include these things in your calculations? We all know about the lack of stability in Social Security – I, for one, have little interest betting my long term stability on it. But why not the matching?

Dave really doesn’t give an argument for why he believes you shouldn’t include it beyond “consider it gravy.” I tend to think the reason that ignoring matching is a good rule of thumb is that quite often employee matching money has special investing rules tied to it.

Another good reason – perhaps even more important – is that it’s better to save more than you need than less than you need. If you wind up at age 60 and have more money than you expect, that’s a good thing (provided, of course, that you’re not negatively affecting your life along the way).

Another interesting question: is investing in your own business worth considering for retirement savings? I don’t think it is. For one, a small business is notoriously unstable. For another, I think a small business functions more as a giant emergency fund than as a retirement account, since it can be tapped regardless of where you are in life. I wouldn’t include any sort of business as part of one’s retirement plan.

At Age Sixty Five…

An interesting fact worth thinking about, from page 164:
The investing you do systematically and consistently over time will make you wealthy. If you play with this by jumping in and out, always finding something more important than investing, you are doomed to be one of those fifty four out of one hundred sixty-five-year-olds still working because you have to work.
When I read that quote, I immediately began thinking of all of the people I know that are close to sixty five years of age and whether they still need to work. According to my math, seven still have to work and six do not. From my little bubble, it looks like that 54% figure is pretty spot-on.

One interesting difference between the two groups is that the working group tends to spend money more easily than the non-working group. The people I know in the working group tend to go on a lot of vacations and have shiny new cars, but their days are still filled with their jobs. The people I know that are not working for an income at age sixty-five are not doing as many expensive things, but instead are involved in things like volunteer work and actually working at their own small business that doesn’t turn a big profit but is a lot of fun for them. They don’t have shiny new cars and they don’t fly to Europe regularly, but they’re doing things they value.

I’d like to be able to go on some trips when I’m that age, but overall, I’d rather be in the group that doesn’t work for a living income then.

The Rose

On page 165, there’s a short parable about a rose growing from a plain seed into a beautiful bloom. The comment on this parable is interesting:
The story of the rose is about human potential and about not being defined by what you do, but rather by who you are. [...] Push with gazelle intensity [on your savings] to bloom, but know that as long as you take the progressive steps, you are winning.
For me, this all comes back to the idea of spending less than you earn – it’s the engine that drives everything that I truly value in life. Spending more than I earn means lots of little trifling goodies right now, but it means pain in the future – something I learned the hard way.

Spending less than I earn, though, is much like planting a seed and watching it grow. At first, it seems painfully slow, as a seedling barely peeks through the soil and seems to grow at a snail’s pace. But if I keep fertilizing it and working with it, it grows.

Before I know it, it’s a large blooming bush and the fragrance of freedom is in the air.

Do you have any other thoughts on this chapter of The Total Money Makeover? Please share them in the comments – and feel free to respond to any of my impressions as well. After all, a good book club is all about discussion!
On Friday, we’ll tackle the tenth chapter – College Funding.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

How To Get Automatic Alerts When You or Your Group Is Mentioned Online

Receive instant notifications whenever your group is mentioned online -- such as on a blog, tweet, or website.

Estimated Cost: FREE
Estimated Time: 20 minutes preparation with immediate results.

What Do You Need to Do This 

Nothing is needed to do this, but if you think of something you can add it.

Directions The Findability Formula: The Easy, Non-Technical Approach to Search Engine Marketing

1. Determine your keywords.

Define the keywords you want to track. Keywords can include:
  • Your Name
  • Your Band Name
  • Your Website
  • Album Titles
  • Song Titles
Use quotation marks to focus the search alert by grouping multiple keywords. For example, "Beatnik Turtle" rather than Beatnik Turtle (which would pull alerts for both "Beatnik" and "Turtle", rather than just the band, "Beatnik Turtle").

2. Register and set up alerts at various search services.

You will need to create an account at the services listed below. If you already have an account, you need only login. Set up your alerts at all the following:
Follow each service's instructions. Depending on the service, you will get a choice as to coverage (we recommend choosing the broadest as possible), how frequently you want to be notified (we recommend as-they-happen rather than a digest so you can stay on top of mentions), and whether you want alerts to go to your mobile device.

3. Keep track of mentions for publicity purposes.

You will want to keep track and organize positive mentions for future publicity purposes and PR campaigns.

4. Contact them and establish a relationship.

If you get a positive mention such as a review or comment, consider doing the following:
  • Contact the person and send a "thank you".
  • Post a link to the mention on your site and blog to help cross-promote the person.
  • Add the person to your press contacts for future publicity and PR campaigns since people who write about you are the ones most likely to write about you again in the future.
  • Send the person some music or a sneak preview of your next release                                                     Mr. Dangerfield is an I.A.P.D.A Certified Debt Specialist whom has worked in the finance industry for over a decade. He manages , is the author of "A Dangerfield Manifesto" and co-founder of SMG Holdings, the parent company of Squad Music Group, Dangerfield Artistic Entertainment,SMG Publishing and Taboo Dangerfield Publishing Follow me on twitter