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Friday
May232008

Go Straight to the Fan!

spuddy_welcome.jpg 

A recent blog post by Bob Lefsetz echoes the direct “focus on fans” mantra I’ve been preaching for years. Here’s an excerpt that addresses the age-old need artists have to “get the word out there”:

“Realize the focus should not be on the media, but the fan. Just like the Internet rid the music business of the need to manufacture and ship, this same Net allows an act to forgo interacting with the media, to go straight to the fan. You must go straight to the fan.”


Here’s another gem I highly endorse:

“A Website is no longer just a repository of information, it’s the front door to your fan club. You may be a musician, but second to that, you’re running a club. You have to spread the word on your music, you have to create demand for your tour.”


That’s right. You’re no longer simply an artist. As Andrew pointed out so well here, you’re also a community builder, a party planner, and a social director all rolled into one.

-Bob

P.S. I’m not suggesting you should ignore the media. The real lesson here is that all of your marketing efforts should be for the sole purpose of attracting fans and building relationships with them.

 

Tuesday
May132008

It's kind of not ABOUT you

I went to a blogging conference in Chicago the other week. I learned a lot about the business of blogging - how to attract an audience, how to monetise your website (see all the ads all over Music Think Tank? No. Obviously.) and how to rank more highly on the Google searches. All really useful and interesting stuff for someone who does what I do. Oddly, there was almost nothing about how to write - but it wasn’t really that sort of conference.

However, I guess the one ‘takeaway’ point is that when you blog - and if you’re involved in marketing at all (hint: you are), then you should be blogging -  it’s important to remember that your blog’s not about you.

I mean - of course it’s about you - but it’s not about you. 

Click to read more ...

Saturday
May102008

Aging with music

First of all, I feel I should apologise. I’ve kind of been like an absent parent with Music Think Tank recently, and it seems to have grown up an awful lot in my absence. Mostly I’ve been speaking about this kind of stuff in real life and doing a lot of writing and the background invisible work - but I’m back now, and like any parent that abandons his child for a period of time, I’m going to assuage my guilt by showering gifts - or at least blog posts.

I’ve been thinking a lot about music consumption recently, and the ways in which the music industries understand music consumption. It occurs to me that a lot of thought goes into the teen audience, and what will attract their attention.

Historically, this is good thinking. Teenagers and the popular music industry go hand in hand. Rock and Roll was at the birth of the teen phenomenon when the first wave of babyboomers wanted to distinguish themselves as something other than just slightly smaller and more youthful versions of their parents. Performers from Jerry Lee Lewis to Marilyn Manson have understood that the best way to appeal to the teen crowd is to at least alienate - if not terrify and mortally offend - their parents.

Click to read more ...

Sunday
May042008

Using a Momentum-Toward-Celebrity Strategy for Marketing Music

On the first version of this post, I left it up to other “thinkers” to connect the dots.  That didn’t exactly go as planned, so here’s version two with more information.  I plan to delete the first version soon.  I saved it so people could copy over comments if they wish.  Everyone’s comments helped me to create this version; I think there’s a blogging strategy that comes out of this.

Food or the lead singer’s sweaty t-shirt.  I’ll take the shirt…
Jake Halpern writes in the Wall Street Journal (Oct. 4th, 2007 “Britney Spears, Breaking News”) that our need to stargaze [celebrities] may be primal.  Halpren goes on to point out a study done at the Center For Cognitive Science at Duke University that shows that monkeys will choose to view images of other dominant monkeys instead of eating…if given the choice.  

This reminds me of the influence that celebrity has over consumer decision-making when it comes to music.  Songs don’t sound better and artists don’t get sexier when their songs make it to radio, but that doesn’t stop the average consumer from getting hot and hormonal, or standing in long lines without food, or buying tickets instead of…food, for any artist that’s in heavy rotation on pop radio.  

The more momentum toward becoming a celebrity, the more “dominant” an artist appears, the higher the level of commitment any artist obtains from fans.  Sadly enough, the opposite seems to be true.  Momentum toward becoming a celebrity (or not) is like virtual Viagra; it generates ups and downs for every artist.

It seems to me, that record labels are experts at exploiting the (primal) need, the desire and the want in fans to connect to artists that have momentum toward becoming celebrities, and that perhaps every artist should consider consciously creating a Momentum-Toward-Celebrity strategy as part of his/her marketing plan.

What is a Momentum-Toward-Celebrity Strategy?
I’ve been selling and marketing things for twenty years.  A Momentum-Toward-Celebrity Strategy is something I never considered until I began observing, learning and practicing the art of marketing music.  In fact, I wish someone had sat me down and said “look forget about what think you know about marketing, you need to make sure you have a Momentum-Toward-Celebrity strategy that begins on day one.  Cars and computers don’t become celebrities, but artists do.  People get passionate about people that demonstrate momentum”.  

Here’s what I think: a Momentum-Toward-Celebrity strategy is:

  • First, it’s simply acknowledging that you need momentum toward becoming some sort of a celebrity to maximize your promotion efforts on every level; no matter how big or small your budget or fan pool is.
  • Second, it’s the conscious act of communicating momentum.
  • Third, it’s planning beyond next month.  I believe you need to plan now, and then work like hell to accomplish the things you plan to communicate as momentum over the next 12 to 14 months.
  • Fourth, your slips into reverse momentum should be minimal (frequency) and barely measurable (the occurrences).

Momentum-Toward-Celebrity - The Things People Measure
There are a thousand little things that I could point to, that you could do and then report as momentum.  However, for this post, I am going to list some general/broad ideas for you to think about.

  • Find known people from the industry that fans can Google and/or recognize.  Simply ask these people to advise you, and if you can list them and their short bios on your blog.
  • Are you playing the same songs, at the same places you were playing at last year?  Continually upgrade the places you play at and the music you perform.
  • Find cool sponsors to support you, even if it’s in the smallest way possible.  Appearing as though your financial support is growing is part of demonstrating momentum.  
  • Constantly upgrade.  Some people are natural recruiters, they know how to attract and convince people to help them CONTINUALLY upgrade everything about their presentation, including their music.
  • Obtain reportable momentum data from every site possible. (Important: Read next section on Song Quality.)
NOTE: Those of you that are great at constantly upgrading everything and everyone around you, have to be skilled at keeping everyone happy, especially when you don’t have cash.  There are ways of doing this with integrity, and there are ways of doing this without leaving the people that supported you out in the cold.  Email me if you need advice in this area.    


Momentum-Toward-Celebrity and Song Quality
The way pop music is marketed today, you may get the impression that momentum toward celebrity is more important than the quality of your music.
simplecircleA.jpg    simplecircleB.jpg
The circle diagram on the left represents what happens today.  Song quality is the inner circle and the core, and everything outside of the core represents all of the other activity that adds up to success.  Although song quality is proportionately smaller, it’s still the core and a necessary component to success.

The circle diagram on the right with the larger song quality core represents what I believe the near future will look like.  Song quality will be the single most important factor that drives your momentum toward celebrity status.

What’s the difference between today and tomorrow?  Social networks built around music, recommendation engines and data analysis (of iTunes data for example) will make it extremely difficult to fake momentum.  Decisions will not be driven by a couple of guys working at a record label.  Decisions will be based upon the data that demonstrates your momentum.  Consumers will act upon this data, record labels will act upon this data, and programming directors at radio stations will act upon this data.  In addition, every bit of data you acquire, such as a win on OurStage or numerous recommendations on Aime Street, become your reportable (and observable) momentum.

Communicating Your Momentum-Toward-Celebrity
First and foremost, start a blog.  Websites were cool in 2004.  A blogsite is the way to go now.  Learn about RSS and use your blog to communicate your momentum.  Feeds from your blog can be reposted on Facebook and MySpace and on other social networks.  For advice on how to report momentum to the press, I will recommend Ariel Hyatt or Bob Baker, both are also Music Think Tank authors.  Also, Justin Boland (AudibleHype) and Julian Moore (Frontend) are bloggers and artists that think about communicating momentum and gorilla marketing every day. 

Does Momentum-Toward-Celebrity Matter to 1,000 Fans?
Different people have different ideas of what celebrity means.  Furthermore, everyone evaluates momentum differently.  What seems like great progress to some, may seem like old news to others.  If you are pursuing a small group of loyal and dedicated fans, I want to ask you this question: if a small pond is all you need, do you ever want to appear as a shrinking fish in the little pond?  I agree that your music may become timeless to your true fans, and that your lack of celebrity status may never matter again, but what if you are just starting out, isn’t momentum toward celebrity still important to establishing true fans?  Pleases be mindful of the importance I assigned to song quality when answering this question in a comment.

Commenting on Momentum-Toward-Celebrity
I would love to hear from people that have more experience at marketing music than I do.  I have given a name (Momentum-Toward-Celebrity) to, and perhaps oversimplified a component of artist/music marketing that deserves more attention from someone that has a list of success stories that they can point to.  If you have more ideas/examples on achieving the appearance of momentum toward celebrity, please leave them in a comment.

 

Wednesday
Apr302008

The Myth of "Almost Zero" Recording Costs

There’s a myth being perpetuated these days that recording costs are approaching zero.
 
For example, in his popular article “Survival Strategies for Emerging Artists” David Byrne states:

Artists used to need the labels to bankroll their recordings. Most simply didn’t have the $15,000 (minimum) necessary to rent a professional studio and pay an engineer and a producer. For many artists — maybe even most — this is no longer the case. Now an album can be made on the same laptop you use to check email.

That last sentence sure sounds exciting, and I’ve read similar statements by other people. But it isn’t really true.

I think it’s fair to say that most musicians today could make a decent demo-quality recording themselves for a negligible amount of money. But to suggest that most artists can create a professional quality, commercially viable recording at almost no cost is misleading. Making a great recording that can capture people’s attention in a very competitive music environment still requires a reasonable investment of money and time.

Digital technology has certainly given artists unprecedented access to most of the hardware and software they need to record and produce music. These days you do not need label money just to access recording equipment. But let’s be clear on one point: your favorite artists are not churning out finished albums solely from the laptops they use to check email. You should not expect to either. Depending on the type of music, an investment of $5,000 to $20,000 will buy most musicians a very capable home studio. Over time, you will probably need (or want) to buy additional hardware and software for your studio, but $5k - $20k should do the trick to start. In the scheme of things, that’s a pretty modest investment and well within reach of the average person.

Of course, the tools themselves are just part of the story. How you use them is just as important, if not more so.

Creating recorded music is an art in and of itself. I’ve heard many indie acts that sound absolutely incredible live, but whose albums fail to capture the magic they produce on stage. Despite having excellent songs and phenomenal musical talent, their recorded music falls a bit flat. I’m not referring to cases where something is obviously wrong with the musical performances or the recording technique. I’m talking about albums where everything sounds well done, but ultimately it doesn’t move you or excite you or grab you as a listener. Why does this happen? I think it can usually be attributed to shortcomings in one or more of the following areas:

Engineering/tracking. Where you place microphones, the volume of your instruments, the size and shape of your room, the combination of gear you use and the order of your signal chain will affect the sound of each instrument you record. Good engineers understand each of these factors and are able to get the best results out of the equipment and recording environment at hand. Seemingly slight differences in the tone and character of each sound you capture can have a big impact on how the recording sounds overall.

Production. A producer is essentially the creative director for a recording. Producing involves determining the musical arrangement of each song; deciding what elements are needed at each moment in a song; deciding when particular elements need to be re-recorded, re-worked or eliminated; and coaxing the best performances possible out of each musician. It may also involve digitally editing the performances of certain instruments as needed. Arrangements that are too cluttered, combinations of instruments/sounds that sonically interfere with each other, arrangements that fail to emphasize the strengths of the artist, or elements of the track being slightly out of sync with each other can all cause a recording to fall short.  

Mixing. Mixing involves two main tasks: balancing the relative volume of each instrument in the song appropriately, and adjusting the frequencies and panning of individual instruments so that they each sit in their own sonic space without interfering with each other. The differences between a mediocre mix, a good mix and a great mix can appear subtle to the untrained ear. But the quality of your mix will greatly influence how listeners psychologically perceive and respond to your music.

Mastering. This is the final step in the recording process. Mastering involves adjusting the overall EQ, compression and volume of each song. The goal of mastering is to not only make each song sound as good as possible on its own, but also to make sure all the songs on an album sound consistent in terms of volume and sonic character. High-quality mastering typically requires a perfectly tuned room, specialized high-end equipment and an experienced mastering engineer. A good mastering job can be the difference between an album that sounds amazing and one that sounds dull, harsh, or unexciting.

If you really want your recordings to be on par with the pros, all of the above tasks must be done well. And doing them well typically requires years of practice and experience. So if you or your bandmates don’t have experience yourself in any one of these areas, you’ll need to find people who do. At the very least, you’ll probably need to hire a legitimate mastering engineer. (Don’t be fooled by  “auto-mastering” software or producers/mixers who claim they can master your project too – mastering is a very specialized skill that few people can do well.)

Hiring good engineers, producers, mixers or mastering engineers doesn’t necessarily require outrageous sums of money… but it’s not zero. It’s difficult to say generally what these services will cost, because they vary widely depending on many factors. However, in my experience:

  • Mastering will typically run you anywhere from $100 - $500 per track, assuming there are no major problems with your mix.
  • Hiring an experienced mixer can cost a couple hundred dollars per song all the way up to several thousand dollars per song.
  • Engineer and producer fees vary quite a bit, but they can easily add up to several thousand dollars or more for an entire album.

Has digital technology lowered the costs of recording and created new opportunities for independent artists? Absolutely. But if you are serious about your music and your career, you still have to do some spending in both cash to buy equipment and/or hire professional help, and in sweat to develop your own engineering, producing or mixing skills over time. It will be very hard to survive as a professional artist if you don’t.

Saturday
Apr262008

If I had a record label, would you be signed to it?

I never liked the idea of having a record label, because you’re too deeply invested into something you don’t control.

So if I were to have a label, my decision on who to sign wouldn’t be decided just by the quality of the music. There are plenty of people with great music but destructive work-habits or an unsustainable approach to their career.

To confidently invest in an artist (as a label), I’d want to see:

  • every song has been absolutely improved repeatedly - every note/syllable crafted to be the best it can be
  • vocal performance is not just perfect but head-turning, striking
  • arrangement is everything it can be to bring out song/vocal
  • arrangement offers a new idea to the world, and not just the usual paint-by-numbers
  • photos/image are striking and amazing, and capture the essense of the music
  • live show is so entertaining that even a deaf person would enjoy it
  • band has been around, recording and gigging, for at least 2 years
  • artist has done this for a few years and still believes that this is their real calling in life, regardless of external rewards (or total lack of)
  • band members don’t need unreasonable amounts of money to perform (can perform profitably)
  • band can entertain a crowd without props or big sound system (in-store appearances)
  • off-stage persona is sustainable (stamina, dealing with fans well, etc)
  • no addicts - to anything
  • an unflappably healthy attitude to the immense amount of work it really takes to be successful at anything

And so you see why I’ll never have a label. Who could possibly fit this list? Garth Brooks? Dave Grohl?

I haven’t talked to any labels about this yet, but I wonder what their perspective would be. I’m friends with Jac Holzman who discovered the Doors and obviously didn’t regret it, despite Jim Morrison being the opposite of everything on my list. I should ask him. (Jac, not Jim.)

Thursday
Apr242008

Looking Ahead Into The New Music Business (aka What I Learned From Terry McBride, Again)

2035856-1516219-thumbnail.jpg
Terry McBride & Ariel Hyatt 
I had a distinct honor and privilege to be in the audience where I saw the unflappable music business icon Terry McBride of Nettwerk Music Group (Avril Lavigne, Dido, Sarah McLachlan, Barenaked Ladies), be interviewed as the keynote for the Le Recontres conference in Montreal last Thursday.

Terry was, of course, engaging, interesting, and controversial. I have long been following his career, and was moved deeply by his profile in Wired magazine in 2006 which got many music business entrepreneurs like me really thinking…

This talk was so perfect and it so succinctly summed up this point and time in the music business, I don’t think I need to insert my opinion here, I for the record agree with everything he said.  I would also like to point out that during this time of complete music business turmoil Terry McBride’s company is doing extraordinarily well.  So without further ado:  Here are some highlights from his interview, I think most traditional record industry people probably find Terry a bit on the radical side he is outwardly pro artist and anti mainstream industry mentality. It is my genuine hope that all independent artists and music business professional take a page out of Terry’s insight and apply just one nugget –

On why Nettwerk was structured the way it is:
“Artists are inherently lazy, so we had to do everything for them.”  

On the 360 deal & The Barenaked Ladies:
“To control aspect of an artist’s career of a 360 deal is a disaster. It’s not a solution. It’s a paradigm created by fear.”

Terry says he thinks he’s got his artists somewhere between 180 and a 270 deals, but he believes that a 360 deal is fraught for disaster. He talked about his experiences with Sarah McLachlan. “At first with Sarah we had a 360 deal, but as she grew, we gave her publishing back, and she owns half of her merchandise company. There is no business without the artist.”  

Barenaked Ladies started their own label called Desperation. They own the masters and publishing, and so far they’re on $10M in sales using only Nettwerk as their label and management firm – Nettwerk’s team manages all of the aspects of their career and leverages them through their own management company and connections.  

Bands are brands and emotions
Terry talked a lot about artists being both brands and emotions. Consumers attach their own life experience to every song. These songs become the fabric of the people’s lives who listen to the music. With the advent of the CD and computer, we went from pushing to pulling, and it created a change of behavior with having the “repeat” button on all CD players and listening to the same track over and over, which was something that was not possible with cassette tapes or LPs  

Music is free
Terry has always believed that music is free. Back in the 1930’s, music companies were terrified about radio and it took an act of Congress to get music played on the radio. His question is: How do you monetize free now that the fan owns the song, and the fan is part of a tribe?

Wherever there is fear, there is always opportunity
You will never change the behavior of tens of millions of teenagers, but you can monetize that behavior. If you shut down one avenue of dispersing free music another opens. Terry asks: “How many tens of millions of songs are being sent via IM?” and points out that we are so focused on suing the kids that we forget that they’ll just go around us, and I’m not about that type of negativity. Litigation is an awful thing to do.  Terry also made a great point: There are millions of hackers versus thousands of programmers.  Kids will always find a way around the system.

The consumer does not understand copyright. They never have and they never will. So, educating the consumer on “why it’s wrong” will get us nowhere.

Bury the suing paradigm and figure out how to monetize.

The new paradigm = more profits
A CD in the old paradigm of traditional printing and distribution used to cost something like this: $3 for the disc, $2 to get it on the shelf, $1 for marketing, $1 for the publishing royalty, and maybe $2 went to the artist, then you get 20% to 40% of those CDs returned on top of all of this.

In digital, there is no manufacturing, no distribution, and no return. The profit on digital is so much higher. When you go digital, you will be more powerful and more profitable.

Digital profits are currently up 300%.

Controlling intellectual property worked for between 30 and 40 years, and it does not work anymore. All of his peers disagree 100% with his philosophy. Terry thinks from their standpoint, they are right. Trying to control music is right. However, Nettwerk has another vision.  They see a lot of opportunities and they are having a lot of fun.

If a share of the profit from cable companies could go directly to artists
music industry profits would double overnight

Terry is always looking at who is making money from this and are they sharing it?  Cable companies, tool manufacturers like Apple and iPods, blank CD manufacturers — that’s where laws and litigation should be pointing their fingers. Litigation and legislation should work in the realm of business to business, but litigation should not be business to consumer.

Now kids are getting sued for something that we’ve been doing for years. I used to make mix tapes and share them.

Terry also thinks there should be a compulsory license, and if there was, the music business revenue would double overnight.

So where is the music business in 10 years?
Terry thinks music will be available everywhere. You won’t pay for it
10 years from now, music will be in the clouds. You will be able to audit one company to get all of the numbers. It’s not going to be Bell, it may be Google. Consumption of media knows no borders.

I believe the price of music has to come down. The millennium generation looks at value, and the value of music is not 99 cents a track.

Music is the connective glue between the fans and the artist.
People love artists, they love what artists stand for. They don’t love all of their songs. We need to re-evaluate free.  We need to understand that music is the connective glue between the fans and the artist.

We must ask: What causes that artist is related to? What causes is that artist supporting? What does that artist stand for? Who is this artist? Using those pieces of information, we can put ads on websites and links on websites to monetize the fans’ behaviors. Everything you do around or about needs to be directed back to a lifestyle and back to that artist.

Last Advice?
If I were a long-term investor, I’d buy servers and the buildings that all the servers are going in.  The millennium generation does not care about ownership. They go where the data is.
http://www.digitalmusicforum.com/mcbride_bio.html

And, if you have been living under a big rock and did not see the article on Terry Mcbride in Wired:
http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.09/nettwerk.html 

Tuesday
Apr222008

1,000 True Fans - Another Perspective

If you have not read Kevin Kelly’s Technium today - artist Robert Rich has a very interesting perspective on 1,000 True Fans.  Here’s a quote:

I don’t want to be a tadpole in a shrinking puddle. When the audience is so small, one consequence of specialization is extinction. I’ll try to explain.

Evolutionary biology shows us one metaphor for this trap of stylistic boundaries, in terms of species diversity and inbreeding (ref. E.O. Wilson). When a species sub-population becomes isolated, its traits start to diverge from the larger group to eventually form a new species. Yet under these conditions of isolation, genetic diversity can decrease and the new environmentally specialized species becomes more easily threatened by environmental changes. The larger the population, the less risk it faces of inbreeding. If that population stays connected to the main group of its species, it has the least chance of over-specialization and the most chance for survival in multiple environments.

This metaphor becomes relevant to Artists and True Fans because our culture can get obsessed with ideas of style and demographic. When an artist relies on such intense personal commitment from such a small population, it’s like an animal that relies solely upon the fruit of one tree to survive. This is a recipe for extinction. Distinctions between demographics resemble mountain ranges set up to divide one population from another. I prefer a world where no barriers exist between audiences as they define themselves and the art they love. I want a world of mutts and cross-polinators.  I would feel more comfortable if I thought I had a broader base of people interested in my work, not just preaching to the choir. 

Monday
Apr212008

MySpace Music & Corporate Conspiracies

It seemed simple enough. But who knew it would stir up such venom from my readers?

I’m referring to my recent blog post about the upcoming launch of MySpace Music, which is supposed to allow MySpace artists (both signed and unsigned) to sell music downloads, merchandise and concert tickets from their MySpace profiles.

The opportunity to not only get exposure, but also make a few bucks from a MySpace music profile, seems like a potentially good thing to me. But some readers felt otherwise, mostly because of the involvement of major labels in the new MySpace Music venture.

One reader wrote “How can this be a good thing for indies if 3 out of the 4 major labels have a stake? It smells fishy to me. Why does a major label need a percentage of ownership?”

From what I’ve read, it’s a business decision on the part of MySpace. For any company to take on iTunes and make available a vast amount of music to sell, they’d have to pay the major labels exorbitant licensing fees.

By bringing on the labels as partners in the project, MySpace is most likely avoiding a ton of upfront costs and the labels will get paid later as their music sells, and will likely get a cut of ad revenue as well.

I understand the concerns. Here’s this hugely popular site that was built in part by the indie musicians who flocked there and promoted it to their fans. There’s a fear that the magic will be tainted now because the struggling and desperate major labels are sinking their claws into it.

Hence the fear, the worst case scenario expectations, and the cries of “Chicken Little, the sky is falling!”

But here’s some news for you …

Three years ago, MySpace was purchased by NewsCorp, the media conglomerate owned by Rupert Murdoch. Back then, the conspiracy theorists predicted that life as we knew it would come to an end. But here we are in 2008, and MySpace continues to be a major online force in music.

I’m not saying that all is well and these business entities have the best interests of indie artists in mind. (Remember, I’m the guy who for many years has been saying “You don’t need a record deal.”) My attitude is, it sounds good, but let’s wait and see. Why rage against the machine when nobody has even seen what the new music agreement will be?

If the new MySpace Music lets artists sell stuff (without claiming rights to the music) in addition to what artists can currently do with a music profile, who cares if the majors are involved? Who cares if they’re getting a cut of ad revenue? Heck, maybe they’ll help draw even more traffic to the site. No one knows, so let’s just wait and see what happens.

But what if they change the rules and make it harder for indie acts to get exposure on the site?

Well, that would indeed be very short-sighted on the part of MySpace. But here’s the ugly truth: MySpace doesn’t owe you or any other artist anything. Just because they’ve made all these cool tools available to you the last few years doesn’t mean it’s now part of the Bill of Rights.

There were no guarantees when you first signed on, and there are no guarantees now.

In case you’re wondering, my core message here isn’t one of being helpless in the shadow of a corporation. Instead, it’s a message of self-reliance. If your success depends on the existence of some distant entity, there’s something wrong with your career plan.

I think MySpace is a cool promotional tool (so much so I wrote a popular book on it). But I’ve always warned musicians about making MySpace their primary Internet presence. Every artist needs their own domain name and web site. Then you use MySpace, Facebook, YouTube and other popular sites to funnel fans to your personal space on the Net.

That’s the best plan, in my opinion. That way, if one stream in the funnel dries up, you have multiple other streams to keep fans coming your way.

There’s another aspect of this that concerns me, especially after reading comment threads on this around the Internet. It’s the anger, resentment and fear that wells up in some artists at times like these.

Why get so worked up over something you know few details about? Plus, I believe you are far better off focusing your energy on what you WANT, not on what you DON’T want.

It’s a choice. You can get frustrated and rail against the evil you perceive in the world. Or you can decide what you really want from your life and music career, then go to work making that positive vision a reality.

As Mother Teresa said, “I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. But as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.”

-Bob

P.S. I encourage your comments, whether you’re a lover or a hater.

Friday
Apr182008

A Buyer's Market: The way we purchase online music

The NDP Group published a study this week that found that only 10% of Amazon MP3 customers had also purchased music on iTunes. The study also found some significant age and gender differences between iTunes and Amazon MP3 customers.  

When I read this, it reminded me of an important point which musicians and labels should always keep in mind: There’s not an online music market; there are many online music markets. And each one is its own little world with its own set of core users.

Most consumers I know, myself included, tend to gravitate towards one or maybe two online music services and use them almost exclusively to acquire music. The Rhapsody folks I know use Rhapsody. The iTunes loyalists use iTunes. The only times they venture out to other services is when they really want something that they can’t find on their preferred site, or in certain instances when they want to buy from an artist directly.

When it comes to marketing your own music, it can be tempting to want to sell your album only on those sites that offer the highest payouts. Or to think you can convince droves of listeners to purchase your music from your own website. But the reality is that it’s very difficult to get customers to go where you want them to go.

It’s critical to make your work available wherever your fans like to purchase music. That includes smaller, niche sites as well as the big retailers. Putting your music in more places is like opening stores in new cities. It can only increase your customer base. And the likelihood that you’ll cut into downloads on one site by making your music available on other sites – even for very cheap or free – is low. If I want to buy your album and I’m an iTunes user, I probably won’t even look at Amazon, Amie Street or other sites where I could find your music for a lower price. I’m just going to buy it from iTunes. It’s convenient and it’s what I know.

Instead of worrying about cannibalizing or losing sales, focus on being present everywhere that your potential fans buy music. You have little to lose and much to gain by doing so.

Wednesday
Apr162008

What’s really keeping you from where you need to be? (It’s not piracy.)

I spoke at a conference last weekend, where a woman in the audience was SO mad about piracy that she was physically shaking, red in the face, tears in her eyes, fuming spitting livid, asking how we can stop this rampant piracy.

I didn’t answer her concern well, but I said “More people are killed by pigs than sharks each year, but because shark attacks are more newsworthy, they seem more prevalent. Piracy gets all the attention, but I don’t think most of you in this room have lost more than $30 to piracy.” (I got a big “Booo” from the audience for this.) “Obscurity is your real enemy. Fight obscurity until you’re a household name, then piracy will be more of a problem than obscurity. Until then, worry about pigs, not sharks.”

The woman got so furious about this that she screamed at me with tears in her eyes, “I HATE YOUR POINT OF VIEW, BUDDY!” (and some other angry things I forget.) From her point of view, piracy was Enemy #1 and anybody ignoring this massive threat was hurting us all.

Driving away from the event, of course I figured out what I wish I would have said in that moment:

The thing separating us from where we are and where we need to be is not piracy.

It’s always something more internal, whether writing, communicating, producing, networking, promoting, or taking a wildly different approach to marketing.

Putting so much attention and energy into fighting piracy (as if, when solved, you’ll suddenly start selling 10 times more) - is misguided effort, distracting you from what you really need to be improving.

That’s the real reason I often tell musicians not to worry about piracy. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist. But energy spent worrying about it is energy better spent working on what you know you really need to do.

Sunday
Apr132008

Crowdsourcing for Hits - is it a Mistake?

Two weeks ago I wrote a post titled Create, Validate, Sell.  I have been wondering since - could there be a fundamental flaw in the crowdsourcing methods I described to commercially validate music?  This may not only be a problem for me, but it could be a serious problem for the record labels and festival operators that are relying upon technology that enables crowds to pick the next “idol”, artist, band or opening act.

Crowdsourcing is the practice of enabling a group (usually a large group) of people to pick a winner, a direction, a strategy, or crowdsourcing can even be used to design something (for example).  Faith in crowdsourcing rests upon research that has shown that groups can make better decisions than individuals, even when the individuals are experts.     

In 2004, James Surowiecki wrote a book titled Wisdom of Crowds.  Just about every venture investor on earth has read this book, and it has been the bible for numerous startups that have wrapped crowdsourcing into their business models.  In the music industry you can experience crowdsourcing at work by visiting OurStage, Amie Street, SliceThePie, SellaBand, TheSixtyOne and on many other sites on the Internet.  Investors that have been seduced by the potential of the efficiency and effectiveness of crowdsourcing for the next U2, have funded many of these sites.

Here’s the problem - crowdsourcing really works well when the sum of the crowd possesses more knowledge than the expert(s); after all, an expert can never know as much as one thousand people (for example).  However, when it comes to songs, ISN’T ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW in the package?  Everything - melody, harmony, tempo, pitch, octave, beat, rhythm, fullness of sound, noise, brilliance, lyrics and chord progression - is in the package.  If we are moving toward a world where people are more interested in single songs than albums or artists - what else do you need to know about a song to pick a winner?  Does the expert have all the knowledge he or she needs to make a decision?  Can the sum of the crowd possibly possess more knowledge about a song than the expert(s)?

So, I’m asking your opinion: should those investing in music/songs (like I have) rely on a small group of experts, should we use technology that enables crowds to pick the next hit single, or should we use both?

 

Wednesday
Apr092008

Has Online Radio Growth Stagnated?

From the new Edison/Arbitron study on media platforms comes this headline:

Weekly Online Radio Audience Increases from 11 percent to 13 percent of Americans In Last Year.

What that headline doesn’t say is that this number was evidently 12% in 2006. Thus the statistical fact of the matter is that online radio listening - according to these data - are utterly unchanged over the past two years.

Does that seem odd to you? It sure seems weird to me.

Online_2

Now granted, this is a specialized subset of listeners - the folks who participate with Arbitron. But still.

It’s not clear how this question was asked (What, exactly, is “online radio”? Do listeners know what we’re talking about here?). Laying out that definition might clear things up.

Whether or not the numbers are correct, the headline is abjectly misleading.

But it still puzzles me that in an environment where access to home broadband (as noted in this study) is skyrocketing, where penetration of portable music players - driven by the Internet - is increasing, where radio station streaming grows annually, where online is catching up to radio in terms of its influence on music discovery, in this environment…

…”online radio” listening remains unchanged since 2006?

If true, what does this say about the taste for “radio” online in what is otherwise a growing market for online audio?

Is “radio” what I use primarily when I choose to turn off the PC and the iPod?

Let me ask the most provocative question of all: Why should we stream our stations if the market for online radio is stagnating?

Unless it’s not.

Tuesday
Apr082008

Music Industry Trends have a Lesson for Radio

Natgeo_musicsales1Ah, how things change.

I have spent a lot of time studying the pictures in this post. The data illustrated here is not new, of course. We all know music sales are going to Hell in a proverbial handbasket.

But when you chart the data as National Geographic has done so here (from their December issue), some new insights arise which have implications for radio as well as the music business.

These charts, especially the second one, is incredibly illuminating for several reasons:

1. It shows the transitional nature of all - ALL - recorded technology that distributes music to consumers. That is, one technology shrinks as another expands, ad infinitum. Radio, too, is a technology, a very well established and popular one. The erosion we’re currently seeing in radio usage - especially among the young - is not a hiccup. It is part of a long-term trend we are only beginning to experience. The more we face competitive alternatives which substitute for radio’s core benefits, the more this trend will accelerate.

2. This chart obviously excludes music distributed for free - a.k.a. “illegally.” One can assume that the steady decline of CD sales is matched - and exceeded - by a stunning rise in off-the-chart downloads. That is, demand doesn’t go away, it just moves to something else. Being in the right place at the right time with the right revenue model is the key.

3. This chart shows the amount of time it generally takes for transformation to occur. For example, it took 16 years for CD sales to peak. If it takes as long for CD’s to disappear, then by 2015 the last CD will be sold. Radio’s erosion - and the revenue problems that result in part from this - is not going to stop. We need a model and a strategy that anticipates and exploits the future, not a head-in-the-sand public relations gimmick. We need to surf the trends, not fight them.

4. This chart shows the absurdity of relating the present state of the radio (yes, radio) industry to any time in its ancient history. For example, the birth of FM back in the late 60’s to 70’s lived in a technological environment which this chart clearly shows has completely disappeared. It’s like comparing the Jimmy Kimmel show to the Dean Martin Roast. Let’s compare apples to apples.

5. This chart shows that older technologies yield to newer technologies if the benefits those newer technologies provide substitute for and beat the ones they replace. CD’s are unambiguously better than tapes - they provide similar benefits, but do a better job of what they do. If I can get music in my car delivered in a radio-like experience from Microsoft or Slacker or whomever - and if it has broad enough distribution - then my radio listening will shift - assuming it’s music I’m looking for (and it may not be).

6. Growth and decline in this chart are “steady” in all cases, not “explosive.” It may be strongly steady, but it’s steady. Thus the best reflection of future momentum for any new technology in this space is the momentum among its early adopters. Not the crazy gadget freaks, but the next wave of users, the early adopters. So what does this mean for radio? Well, if the momentum for a new technology, say, HD radio, is slow at the onset it is not likely to accelerate with time. What you see is what you’ll get. Look at this chart and all the evidence is right there. Ah, you might say, but look at the slow growth of cassettes. Would that it could be 1980 again and we could be faced with the slim choices of that era.

7. It is clear that the horse has left the barn on tangible media for the music industry and all things digital are the immediate future. That means it’s inevitable that the music industry will make up the shortfall in music sales with licensing (including licensing revenue from radio) and (drumroll, please) advertising. And a world of music for free with advertising is functionally identical to music-oriented radio. That is, the competition is going to get much tougher, folks.

Enjoy these charts. There’s a lot to learn hidden in those numbers.

[Double-click to enlarge]

Natgeo_musicsales2_6