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No One Has the Answer, But Sivers Told Us That

If there’s any doubt about the disarray and desperation afoot in the music business, just check out the Internet’s affect on the media business – music, print and broadcast – overall over the past decade. A recent article in the New York Times covers the waterfront on this issue quite well.

While the devastation of digital democracy vis-à-vis the Web made its first blitz through the belly of the music biz, the print media was next in line, and the battlefield there rivals Antietam.

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Eight things I plan to put into our new music-related website…

When digitized, all of the photos, images, text, comments, sound, video, songs, lyrics and any media that’s posted on a site - represents the sum of the values, interests and desires (the V.I.D. DNA) of a web site’s contributors and users (this is true for any website where humans have a voice).  Google repeatedly indexes this media, and then makes it easy for humans to find humans with similar V.I.D. DNA.  This is how people find and form communities on the Internet, not by demographics but by shared V.I.D. DNA (learn more).  I believe we will shape the process of forming our own V.I.D. DNA by trimming around the edges, but eventually the community will dominate (and grow) the brand, and this exactly what we want to happen.

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The case for online-only promotion

I promote to establish and nurture a genuine relationship with my fans. I measure my success by the number of subscribers to my mailing list. Notice I said mailing list, not Twitter followers or MySpace “friends.” I’m talking about the people who grant me permission through a double opt-in process to email them directly on a regular and consistent basis. Right now there are just over a thousand, but there are plenty more out there who might love my music if they heard it. So how do we reach those potential fans?

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Right sort of rage, wrong machine

You may be aware that last week’s UK number one single was Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Killing In The Name’. It was a pretty big deal, and it prevented what otherwise would have inevitably been the surefire ‘X’-mas number 1 from reaching that spot.

X, in this instance, standing for X-Factor.

The campaign was started on Facebook, which is an interesting story in itself, and you could possibly do a fascinating case study in online activism and social media around that very point. That’s not what this blog post is about, but it’s worth a mention.

There was a lot of noise made about the RATM campaign. Some people said it was wonderful, because it kicked against the corporate nonsense that the Christmas charts had turned into. Others said it was a shame, because it stole the rightful place at the top of the charts from a young lad who had earned it fair and square in plain view of the British public.

And another bunch of people said that the whole exercise, while well-meaning, and coming from the right anti-corporate perspective, was essentially flawed and pointless. After all, Rage Against The Machine is a Sony artist, just like young whatsisname who ‘won’ that TV contest. And so any protest centred around a chart battle between those two artists simply filled the coffers of the people who stood to gain had nobody done anything.

Personally, I disagree. With everyone.

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Getting Started

Whether we plan to create the likes of a recording, composition, concert tour or promo campaign, we have to launch our project and work on it regularly. But we all know that creative ventures often fizzle because we, the would-be creators, stall. We convince ourselves that no one will care. We procrastinate. In the end, far too many of us never get started on the things we hope to create and thereby cheat ourselves out of meaningful accomplishment.

Personally, I don’t intend to miss out on forging a meaningful life. I’m committed to doing the creative work that matters to me. The key to my output is that I live by the following six habits that enable me to get started on my projects every day.

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Global Self-Promotion License Application

Beginning in 2010, anyone self-promoting on the Internet has to obtain a Global Self-Promotion License (GSPL). Failure to do so, will result in the revocation of your Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and YouTube accounts; moreover, repeat offenders will lose their license to blog and comment on the Internet.

We all have attention capital accounts. Attention capital accounts are recharged via great user experiences and energizing content; whilst overwhelming choice, bad design and unrefined content have the opposite effect.

Music Industry Self Promotion Privileges Calculator
Please use the Self-Promotion Privileges Calculator (SPPC) below to determine which self-promotion license you qualify for.

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A Musicians Roadmap To Setting Goals for 2010

What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School (a bestselling book) talks about a research study that was conducted at Harvard between 1979 and 1989:

“In 1979, the MBA graduates were asked, “Have you set clear, written goals for your future and made plans to accomplish them?”

Only 3 percent had clear written goals and action plans to achieve them.

Thirteen percent of the graduates had goals, but they were not in writing.

The other 84 percent had no specific goals at all.

In 1989, a decade later, the researchers again interviewed the students of that class. Surprisingly, they discovered that the 13 percent, who had goals that were not in writing, were earning on average twice as much as the 84 percent who had no goals at all.

The truly amazing finding was that the 3 percent of students, who had written, clear goals when they left Harvard, were earning over ten times as much, on average, as the other 97 percent together.

There are many other similar recorded research studies that seem to conclude with approximately the same results – that only 3 percent of people set clear, written goals and action plans for their achievement.

These people clearly achieve far more success and happiness in their lives and careers than others. Goal setting ability is the skill that separates these top performers from the rest.”
(I quoted this from an article written by John Llyod).

So – really? 

You are still NOT going to write down your goals?

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Free stuff! Everybody wants it. Getting free gear and being able to say “I endorse so and so” is a very interesting topic, and one that is often approached from the wrong angle with the wrong intentions that deliver the wrong results. First of all, a lot of people talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. These people claim to endorse companies that have no idea who they are. There is a fine line and a fine, keen difference between a musician that exclusively uses a product and that musician actually endorses a company. I find it completely foolish when people lie about their endorsements, or overly advertise that they are endorsed, but do not mention any of the elements that are involved in endorsing a product.

Simply put, whether we speak of you endorsing a product or a product/company endorsing you, we are talking about you as marketing avenue connected to that product/company, an avenue from which they can gain exposure and revenue. It is the endorsers’ responsibility to exclusively use a given product, of course, but also to use it in a way that showcases the quality of that product and the quality of the player (ie: you!) that is now associated with the product. An ideal endorsement is more than the sum of its parts: both sides gain.

It’s not all about a free ride

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Pundits - Do Keep Up!

I have had my hackles raised all week by an essay from one Dave Allen - the provocatively, excellently titled ‘Musicians: Please Be Brilliant Or Get Out Of The Way’.  It’s a long essay, and I think he’s somewhat wrong in various respects, although here I’ll try not to engage with with the essay itself; rather my concern at the tendency I’ve seen on many ‘industry’ blogs recently, of which I think this particular post is an example.

Dave concludes, “Musicians, please embrace the web”.

Embrace the web!  It’s the same mantra that we hear day in, day out, from various sources; always those who have a vested interest in convincing us that artists are not doing so.  These people seem to be the pundits, or people who want music to be free, and artists to make money in other ways - either by touring or by ‘monetising their experiential awareness’.  Are these people the only people in the world who don’t receive a thousand spams a day from bands on Myspace, from people on Facebook suggesting that they become a fan, from dullards on twitter?  Are they the only people who can’t seem to visit a music website without tripping over a free download from this producer or that band?

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Breakthroughs, Bitterness and Biopics

Music biographies mesmerized me when I was a kid. Whether it was Glenn Miller or Elvis Presley, it was always the same fascinating formula: talent and tenacity leading to the precipice of success, with the artist always searching for that one elusive element to define his signature sound, to breakthrough. With Miller it was the addition of trombones. The proceedings always put me on the edge of my seat and the breakthroughs set me reeling. I guess it was in my blood.

It persists. The other night I watched two great documentary-style biopics on TV, one on Johnny Cash, another on Willie Nelson. Willie, as many of his fans may not realize, was actually a Nashville songwriter penning such classics as “Crazy,” which Patsy Cline etched into the music lexicon. Despite his preeminent status as a writer, Willie couldn’t get arrested as an artist in Music City. His quirky phrasing was way too off-beat for the 60s sound, which was infused with sweet strings and pop arrangements.

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Farewell to the Casual Music Fan

One of the recurring themes of the recent Future of Music Policy Summit in Washington, DC was the necessity, for musicians, to develop an “active fan base.” There wasn’t one specific panel about this, or one discussion; it was instead a constant thread through many different panels and discussions, and the seemingly inevitable answer to the industry’s $64,000 question: how on earth can musicians earn a living in the digital age?

We all know the basic plot by now. Musicians are on their own out there, lacking both the imprimatur and promotional budget once afforded by big record labels. And by the way no one wants to buy music anymore either. What’s a poor singer/songwriter boy or girl to do?

At the conference, something like a consensus emerged in response: foster the artist-fan relationship. Any number of experts in any number of different ways ultimately said the same thing: succeed with so-called “fan engagement” and you’re on your way. (Well, okay, musicians were also told, repeatedly, “not to suck.” Another worthy goal, but outside of the purview of this essay.)

And luckily for today’s musicians, the internet is just one big crazy fan-engagement machine, if properly operated. Through regular forays into blogging, Twittering, and Facebooking, musicians can get up close and personal with their fans, and use this interaction to—let’s be blunt—make money.

In the minds of those pinning the future of musician well-being on fan engagement, what they’re talking about is really a sort of fan engagement on steroids. It’s not just about collecting email addresses and talking to fans at the merch table after the show. That’s relatively easy, old-fashioned, and, now, inadequate.

Fan engagement as newly conceived is relatively difficult. It involves managing an arsenal of 24/7 social media pages and being ever on the lookout for creative avenues of interaction and out-of-the-ordinary sales opportunities. Needless to say, this is time-consuming. And—it should be noted—the path from this new, aggressive kind of fan engagement to revenue isn’t necessarily clear.

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Have I got a bridge to sell you.

It seems everyone has an advertisement up for some kind of teaching/ consulting thing when it comes to music. I scan some of the classified sites online as well as in the papers and occasionally visit a couple websites and am always blown away by the people that not only claim they can make you an amazing player in a few weeks or give you all the tools to be successful in the music business. Then of course you have those that cannot only teach you to sing, but can also teach you stage presence, marketing, booking, promoting, style, and much more. One advertisement I saw in the north east was from a guy that could give you everything you needed in the music industry as well as do tune ups for your car and band photos.

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Dear Musicians - Please Be Brilliant or Get Out of The Way

Towards a New Music Business Model And The New Thinking That Is Required.

The future does not fit in the containers of the past.” – Rishad Tobaccowala

“..we are now in an era where spectatorial culture is giving way to participatory culture”. Henry Jenkins director, Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT.

I give thanks once again to Brian Zisk and his incredibly motivated crew for inviting me to speak at the upcoming SanFranMusicTech event on December 7th in San Francisco, and later at the SXSW Conference in Austin in March 2010. Brian is one of the organizers of SanFranMusicTech and is moderating the panel that I will be on at SXSW. [If you’ve never attended SanFranMusicTech I would encourage you to do so. It’s a wonderful, energetic mix of entrepreneurs, tech experts, musicians and thought leaders in the digital space. In other words it’s not just for musicians or techies…] The panel discussions will revolve around the premise of how, or if, musicians are using the tools available to them on the Social Web.

I have written this essay as a prelude to the upcoming panels, both to outline my views on the subject in advance, and also as a way to organize my thoughts and past essays into one place. The debate surrounding online music distribution still evokes passion from critics and supporters alike, the most vocal being musicians who believe that I am working to make music free online and therefore deny them income from CD sales. Nothing could be further from the truth, I simply argue that musicians need to monetize everything around their musical output and stop dreaming that CD sales will one day return to previous levels; where the 2009 equation means 100k is the new 1mm, 10k is the new 100k etc. I should point out for the record that I am focusing almost exclusively on non-mainstream, independent musicians. [Although there is no reason at all that mainstream, commercial artists shouldn’t be doing the same thing.]

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