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An industry with a great future behind it

I read a great article today about Sister Ray Records in London. It was my favourite record store in the capital. Or at least - I thought it was. In fact, Sister Ray was not my favourite record shop because I liked Sister Ray. It was my favourite record shop because it fitted a romantic, nostalgic notion about London independent record shops.

And that ‘nostalgic’ bit is kind of weird, because I didn’t grow up in London, but in a suburb about 13,000 miles away at the bottom of the planet. And I’m not nostalgic about Jim’s Record Spot in Panmure, even if that was where I bought my first album with my own money (David Bowie’s ‘Scary Monsters’, since you ask - but it was a toss-up between that and Donna Summer’s ‘The Wanderer’).

London independent record shops mean something. And to me, Sister Ray encapsulated that. Fine. But it’s not a great way to continue to do business. As Brett points out in his article - when you actually look at it on its own merits, and take all that nostalgia stuff away, Sister Ray was dark, overpriced and staffed by people who’d rather you’d just go away. And that might have been fine once. It just isn’t now. There’s no room for any of that. Things have changed.

But that’s symptomatic of a wider problem, rather than a misreading of the times by a single record store.

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Is your album a starting line or a finish line?

People often asked, “How much does the average artist on CD Baby sell?”

Others would take the numbers on the “about” page and divide them: $85 million paid out to 250,000 available albums = $340 earnings per album. Now we know how much the “average” album sells!

Problem is: the numbers are right but the answer is wrong, because it groups together two completely different types of approaches to an album release, giving an inaccurate average for your type.

For some artists, releasing an album is like the starting line in a race. The gun goes off! They work it! They spend hours a day pushing, promoting, selling, striving. For the next few months, they never stop. Reaching new people by any means necessary, whether playing live for strangers in strange venues many times a week, or joining new communities online.

For those types, I’d say the average income (through my one little store) was $5000. (And 50 of them earned over $100,000 each.)

But for many artists, releasing an album is like the finish line in a race. They’ve always wanted to make a record. They did it. It’s done. They give some for free to friends and family, and glow in the compliments. They might do a record release concert and make a website, but in terms of effort spent, they’re done. (Sometimes from satisfaction, but sometimes from entitlement: “Now that my brilliant album is done the world will recognize my genius!”)

For those types, I’d say the average income was $20.

The people who would ask about the average were usually artists trying to predict how well they would sell on CD Baby.

Because 50% of all sales on CD Baby were returning customers just browsing for new music, it was possible to sell a few albums without doing anything at all.

But the important thing is it’s up to you which kind of approach you want to take.

Is your album a starting line or a finish line?

Eco-touring - survival is the mother of invention (or something)

Not sure how I missed this first time round but Geoff Hickman (aka DeadBeatGeoff) was recently interviewed on BBC 5 live about the whole idea of Sustainable, or ‘Green’, touring. Here’s the piece from the radio:

It’s something that’s been getting a lot of interest of late, largely thanks to Radiohead’s attempts to do the low-carbon eco-tour thing (read their road manager’s thoughts here).

But as usual, the Radiohead stuff is a massive red-herring. Very very few musicians are in a position to think about their own lighting show (unless it’s an Orbital-style torches-mounted-on-your-head approach). No, the situation with Televox, the band Geoff manages, is way more pertinent. They are a small club-level band, trying to play some shows and build an audience. They’re not wondering whether to air-freight or charter a plane for their 35 tonnes of back-line and lights. They’re trying to work out if they can get an amp on a train or notLobelia with the touring gear - Europe 2007

This all piqued my interest because Lobelia and I did such a tour last year. Back then, I still owned a car, and was used to loading up my car with my bass-friendly PA, a pile of instruments, whoever else I was working with and driving to the gig. (even at this stage, I’m one step down from the ‘need to hire a van’ stage, but we’ll get back to that). But for our tour, we wanted to do it all on the train - I’d done a two week tour like that on my own back in Oct 2006, and we wanted to get Interail (UK)/ Eurail (US) passes and use trains all over the continent.

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Social Media, Blogs and Music: Some Philosophical Thoughts

These days the music marketing world is all abuzz with phrases such as - Social Media, Social Advertising, Facebook Ads, Mass Media Networking Advertising…..etc, etc.. In recent months I have been a panelist at the L I S A seminar in Portland and the Hawaii MusicTech Conference in Honolulu. L.I.S.A., which is an acronym for Lessons In Social Advertising, was aimed at marketers and advertisers who [for some reason] don’t understand social networks or haven’t yet worked out how to advertise effectively to them. It focused on topics such as ‘What is social advertising?’ and ‘How do you get young people to recommend your brand?’ The Hawaii MusicTech panel was presented by the Northwest Chapter of NARAS [The Grammy Org] of which I am a Board Director, and we discussed how musicians could effectively use social networks such as Facebook and MySpace to reach an audience and communicate with them.

Two sides of the table as it were. One group wants to advertise, or push, their messages to a mass audience, while the other wants to create a network of like-minded people who hopefully will pull content such as free MP3s and then “evangelize” on behalf of the musicians by spreading messages by electronic word of mouth. With no hint of schizophrenia I happily migrate between both camps. What follows here is an attempt to share my thinking with bands or musicians on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to embracing the many social networking sites that are available to them.

To understand and embrace social networking is to place the idea that says “technology makes this possible” to one side and embrace the idea of the basic human need to stay in touch with other like-minded people at all times. As Clay Shirky says “The desire to be part of a group that shares, cooperates, or acts in concert is a basic human instinct.” Think about rock concerts for a minute…..

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New posts on MTT Open

Check out Justin Boland’s post (The DIY Hip Hop Business Master Class) on our new blog MTT Open.

From Justin’s post…

Nothing beats having a mentor. Helpful guidance and advice from experienced elders is solid gold, no matter what you’re doing in life.  Unfortunately, DIY Hip Hop is a cut-throat and over-saturated business. Even once you’re getting things done, the people who reach out to you are acting strictly out of self-interest. This is a culture where information is valuable and connections are everything — so “sharing” is not part of the game.  That needs to change. This is a collection of the best, most useful highlights from interviews with hip hop legends and DIY entrepreneurs.

6 things I wish I knew the day I started Berklee

Talk I gave to incoming first-year students at Berklee College of Music today (September 5, 2008)

#1 : Focus. Disconnect. Do not be distracted.

My favorite part of the movies is the training sequence, where a young Bruce Wayne, Neo or Kung-Fu Panda goes to a remote location to be trained relentlessly, nonstop, past all breaking points, until they emerge as a master.

The next few years can be your training sequence, if you focus.

Unfortunately you’re not in Siberia. You’re surrounded by distractions.

You’re surrounded by cool tempting people, hanging out casually, telling you to relax.

But the casual ones end up having casual talent and merely casual lives.

Looking back, my only Berklee classmates that got successful were the ones who were fiercely focused, determined, and undistractable.

While you’re here, presidents will change, the world will change, and the media will try to convince you how important it all is.

But it’s not. None of it matters to you now.

You are being tested.

Your enemy is distraction.

Stay offline. Shut off your computer. Stay in the shed.

When you emerge in a few years, you can ask someone what you missed, and you’ll find it can be summed up in a few minutes.

The rest was noise you’ll be proud you avoided.

Focus. Disconnect. Do not be distracted.

This is your #1 most important challenge. If you master focus, you will be in control of your world. If you don’t, it will control you.

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Are fan-funded models the future of the recorded music business?

Does last weeks announcement of another fan funded music business model called bandstocks, reinforce the feeling that labels are beginning to loose their attraction to release established artists records? 2006 saw the first real roll-out of fan funded model Since then sellaband has gone on to have 23 artists reach the $50,000 US dollar threshold to record an album. In 2007 appeared on the fan-funded radar and now we have another twist to the model in the form of bandstocks.

What are the differences between each of these fan funded models and what are the pros and cons for artists, fans and the entrepreneurs who have established them? What are the wider implications of these new models for the traditional recorded music labels and publisher’s alike?

Lets drill down on what each of these models offer the artist and fans/investors.

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The Futility of Flogging Music

Music Think Tank reader Wayne Myers sent in this great cartoon in reference to Rhodri’s hugely popular post on Music Think Tank last week.  Thanks Wayne.


The only thing wrong with Music 2.0 is your mental model of how it should work.

Metaphorically speaking, this is a post for those looking to become rock stars and their advisers.

I loved Rhodri Mardsen’s article on Music Think Tank.  The post was entertaining and it perfectly expressed the sentiment that I hear from artists and managers everywhere.  Moreover, the comments were equally telling.  The music industry is a bitch. You have to do it because you love it.  Music 2.0 hasn’t changed anything for artists.  It’s harder to earn a living than it’s ever been.  The consultants, the promoters and the bloggers - all their talk is a bunch of repetitive, give your music away, start a blog, post banner ads, sell t-shirts, build a brand, and other blah, blah, blah bullshit.

Ok, since I’m not one to swim in the tide of current sentiments, I spent the last seventy-two hours asking myself what’s wrong with that picture.  After all, artists have gotten just about everything they asked for…  

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Please Buy My Record: The Futility Of Flogging Music

This is the rough text of a talk I delivered at Oxford Geek Night, which was held at The Jericho Tavern in Oxford, 27th August 2008. It’s quite long. Sorry about that.


I was pondering the other day whether I actually have a field of expertise. I thought for ages, and couldn’t come up with anything, and then in a blinding flash I realised, with a slight sense of despondency, what it might be: being in bands that people have never heard of. I’ve been doing it for years, now, and it’s incredibly easy. You get together with a few mates, write some songs, play some gigs, labour over some half-baked recordings, and fail to achieve any success whatsoever. It’s like falling off a log, seriously, and if you haven’t tried it, you should give it a go.

One thing that nearly all my bands had in common was a complete inability to get people to give us money in exchange for the recordings we’d made. As I’ll explain later, the MP3 revolution – if I’m allowed to call it that – has made that failure even more apparent, and the pain even more acute; it’s just few weeks since I went down to my local tip and recycled approximately 1,500 unsold CD albums in order to make room for my girlfriend’s burgeoning magazine collection. Her tatty copies of Vogue and Elle Decoration are worth more, square foot for square foot, kilo for kilo, than my CDs. I’d always suspected this, but that trip to Wandsworth dump confirmed it.

This talk was going to be called The Futility of Flogging Music. I’ve tweaked this slightly, because I’ve noticed that Columbia Records seem to be effortlessly selling CDs by The Ting Tings. So I changed it to The Futility Of Flogging Your Own Music. Although, actually, it’s probably just possible to flog your records to gullible family and friends, so let’s call it The Futility Of Flogging Your Own Music To People You Don’t Know Very Well.

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What does it mean to be a 'professional' musician.

One of the things that constantly amazes me about the discussions around the future of the music industry is how often it’s taken for granted that

  • a) all musicians are trying to become celebrities and
  • b) behaving ‘like a rock star’ is an acceptable reason for famous musicians not bothering to interact with fans.

I had a conversation the other day with a bloke who works in new media for a large independent label (I say ‘conversation’; he actually shouted at me at a party for 20 minutes, but I’m told he’s rather nice when he’s not drunk). While talking about musicians and social networking, he shot down the idea that musicians should be part of their own online strategy by basically saying that it’s ‘too hard’ to get them to do it and they ‘don’t understand it’.

The problem with this line of thought is that it’s predicated on a myth about musicians playing pop stars. It’s based on the notion that their unwillingness to provide the necessary online material to make their web presence worth having is excusable because hey, they’re a rock star, you can’t expect them to help out.

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Should you go digital-only, and skip the CD?

Should you go digital-only, and skip the CD?

The real question is: How much of your potential audience are you willing to exclude?

We’re in transitional times. A lot of people have iPods. But most still don’t. A lot of people get all their music online. But most still don’t.

If you decide not to put your music on iTunes or Rhapsody - (say, if you have cover songs and don’t want to bother with the paperwork) - your music will never be heard by the millions that get all their music on iTunes or Rhapsody.

But if you decide not to have your music on CD, your music will never be heard by the millions that still do all their listening on CD. (Even if they listen to streaming clips while sitting at their computer, they do all their real listening in the car, or on the home stereo.)

So the answer for 2008 is : if you’re serious about being a professional musician, you need to do both.

If you’re just playing around, and never expect even 100 people to want your music, then just upload to MySpace like everyone else does, and don’t make a CD.

But in these long-tail days with over a million bands on MySpace, having a professional CD - a beautifully designed and manufactured CD - really sets you apart and shows you’re serious to anyone in the music industry receiving your CD. Investing $1000 into manufacturing CDs shows that you plan to make at least $1000 selling them. Not spending the $1000 is like saying, “I don’t think I’ll ever make $1000 doing this.” Then you wonder why a booking agent or label is not interested?

To close with a telling example:

When visiting Apple iTunes, I had lunch with the guy who’s in charge of independent music editorial - the one who chooses who gets featured placement.

I asked him, “What’s the best way for me to turn you on to something I think you’ll love?”

His answer? “Send me the CD.”

I said, “Uh.. really? What if it’s already on iTunes? Shouldn’t I just send you the link?”

He said, “Yeah. I commute an hour each way to Apple’s office. I do all my real listening in the car, so I need the CD.”

Could The TechCrunch Tablet Be The Final Nail In The Music Sales Coffin?

The tech world is buzzing today about the TechCrunch Tablet concept announced on TechCrunch this morning.  Regarding the music business, I have to ask two questions:

1)  Could the TechCrunch Tablet be the final nail in the music sales coffin?

TechCrunch speculates that a device like the one shown in the picture above, could be built for under $200.  Now, I realize that everyone has a mobile phone, so why is this different?  Why would this product be more disruptive to the music industry?  

Imagine every kid carrying one of these around in his or her backpack.  Full screen browsing!  Go to any music 2.0 site and interact with the full kit; not the watered down version you experience on a smart phone; you get it all: commenting, friends, music players, blogs, schedules, videos, sharing, streaming, etc.  What do you need to buy or own music for?  Moreover, this thing becomes another form of entertainment that subtracts from the pool of entertainment time you compete for.

2)  What can artists do to prepare for the day when everyone has something like this?

Music will not be your primary product; it will be a component of your brand.  Imagine your blog filling the screen above.  It’s imperative that you build your own brand, or become part of a boutique brand on the Internet.  To build the most value, you should do this under your own URL.  

One of the easiest and cleanest ways to build a branded blog under your own URL is with SquareSpace (powers this blog and my own).  Buy me a beer by clicking my SquareSpace referral link here.  Read this related post titled Communities Dominate Brands for more info on building your own brand on the Internet.

I read this great quote on Kevin Kelly’s blog: “You would starve to death in a field of wheat, if you had never heard of flour.”  Study the picture.  Learn how to make flour.




How To Get From Full Time Day Job To Full Time Musician - Meet John Taglieri

A few weeks ago I spoke at Bob Baker’s Indie Buzz Bootcamp with 5 other music industry vets: Derek Sivers, Nancy Moran, Bob Baker, Tom Jackson and John Taglieri. We all delivered same message: Make great music that is a full expression of your creative self, then go out and connect your expression to people using technology and with a little learned marketing knowledge and discipline you will earn money. John Taglieri delivered an inspiring talk about what he did to go from full time day job to full time musician

As a social networking cheerleader who works full-time creating exposure for artists online I often find myself asking in my head: Why all of my artists be more like John?  John Taglieri is a rare breed of musician: A natural sales person who understands the importance of working just as hard on his musical craft as he does on his marketing and sales and for him it comes naturally.

I know that this is not the case for a lot of artists who can get fully frustrated with the idea of sales and marketing and they “just want to play.”  I’ve heard it thousands of times: “I just want to play, I hate doing that online stuff,” if you hold on to this attitude you will be left behind in the dust.

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