I spend a ridiculous amount of time thinking about the music industry, and particularly the new independent music industry. This is partly because I am an independent musician, and partly because I write a blog on music biz stuff. I’ve also got a natural interest in patterns and systems (and the music industry is one). I like watching things emerge, and I like the ideas that people are forced to come out with to try to make a little money in the current climate.
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This article is part 1 of a 4-part series by guitarist Cameron Mizell. For more information about self-releasing your album, visit the series home page: The Self-Released AlbumIn what seems like a past life, the only way to release an album was through a record label. The label had the money to pay for your recording, the ability to distribute it around the world, and the marketing resources to make sure people knew your album was hitting the stores. Today, any resourceful individual with a little bit of money and a lot of creativity can make an album commercially available to the same number of people as a major label. I have been involved with coordinating the release of about 200 albums, ranging from my own self-released album to Herbie Hancock’s Grammy winning River: The Joni Letters (2008’s Album of The Year). My previous job at a record label taught me a great deal about this process, and it’s definitely helped me when I released my own albums.
We can all stop waiting for the “new music industry” to arrive. The new music industry is not coming, it is here already. The only thing that will change is change. New models reshaping the way music is marketed and distributed will continue to change the landscape, and there will be many. Right now we have an emergence of abundance within the music industry. There are countless new artists emerging and the same goes for the ways of consuming those artists. This will not change; the emergence will continue to evolve as humans will continue to evolve. With that being said, there will be a shaping and weeding out process. The shaping and weeding out process will define which artists and which models work best for you individually, the consumer. The process of definition for the music consumer will cross all boundaries including race, gender, and age. I would like to include money, but I can’t help but to imagine the rich kid who only wants to see their favorite artist live, so they pay for live shows whenever they decide to.
Humans have the amazing gift of dreaming. It allows us to imagine things that are absolutely crazy, and completely out of our reach. Like flying, staying hours under water – or world domination. That’s what we do. Ambition is a great source of energy. Being able to dream big will give you guts and make smaller dreams feel much more attainable. Ambition will make you creative and more resourceful. Dreams are only dreams until you write them down. Then they become your goals. – Anonymous The difference between a dream and a goal is just a question of attitude. Dreams are by definition something that’s out of reach. A goal is something that you plan and work towards. If you start treating your dreams as your goals, then you have already taken the first step towards making them come true.
A general rule of commerce is this: You cannot demand money until you have generated demand, or at the very least, the perception of demand. And a sure way to generate demand is by using a loss leader. Your music is your business. And in business, in order to spike sales and increase the bottom line, you have to pick and put into play a loss leader. A loss leader is a part of your whole product offering that you will lose money on (or not make money on) in order to get potential customers through the door. Once they are in, their experience with your “brand” should cause them to buy other products you also offer as well as become repeat customers. This adds to your bottom line. This is what a loss leader does.
With the present state of the music industry, the chances of landing that entry-level, dream job in the music business is even more difficult than it may have been ten or even five years ago. As an intern in the music business working for companies that may be in the realm of record labels, music publishing, marketing or other types of social media/digital companies, you may be asked to do anything and everything.
This post is slightly at odds with one of my mentors, Michael Branvold. Strange considering it’s based on his great advice on what musicians should do online daily. It’s not that I disagree with what Michael says. It’s that, well, there’s not enough time in the damn day! Time management is a bane to my existence.
I used to be afraid of always talking about my music to people, whether it was online or offline. Mainly because I was afraid I would annoy and lose them. I found myself in a dilemma of sorts because the promotion of my music was inconsistent as result. And inconsistency doesn’t breed success. So I had to check myself. I was taking this music thing too personally. I needed to step back and be a bit more objective with my career. I needed to think like a businessman. After all, I’ve spent 6 years building my own marketing company.
As I understood business, when you have a good product, the main task at hand is to figure out ways to let your target audience know it exists and raise your product’s profile in their lives. That is your focus. You are the owner. You are the marketer. The success of that product is in your hands. And, being in music makes no difference. If I ever want to make this passion my “9 to 5”, I had better pull things together. What I’ve found is that it took just as much creativity to be in business as it did to make music. Both requires you to take what is seemingly nothing and make it into something. Except when it comes to the business side of things, your job is to make your music, which at the start is nothing in the mind of a consumer, become something meaningful to that consumer. And the key to great marketing is one word: frequency.
I’ve spent my teenage and adult life obsessing over my music collection. Meticulously arranging hand labelled tapes and CD’s was FUN, but when the same job arrived for mp3’s, it became a massive chore. But I still felt compelled to own something, and so I continued for many years, wasting hours arranging an mp3 collection I’d not paid for. I passionately argued that I’d always want to own what I listened to, until the Spotify mobile app made that notion extinct.
I know what you’re thinking. “There’s no such thing.” That’s what I thought too. Until I started to piece together the stories and advice I heard after going to several music industry events. It all came together for me when I attended the recent ASCAP NY Sessions. The light came on. I saw a common denominator - an overarching theme in all of their stories and thoughts. There it was. Could it be? The silver bullet for music business success? Except it wasn’t the shiny silver bullet I expected to see.
As we rush headlong into an ever more connected society, the preponderance of technology is increasingly inescapable. As entertainment continues to bridge gaps we’re sure to see the growth of more hybrid events anywhere that an entertainment dollar is at stake. For bands like Umphrey’s McGee that are already involved in creating interactive experiences, there will surely be no shortage of those willing to attend and participate in them.
It was June 2009 when Radiohead and TOMS shoes produced a ‘love child’ in the business side of my brain. Flying from Dublin to New York on the US leg of, what has now turned into, a house concert world tour I was reading the inspirational story of TOMS shoes when the epiphany hit me….
This is a matter that I’ve struggled with, going back and forth. Should I release full length albums in this new music era or should I be releasing singles once per month? I was leaning towards releasing a single each month for one reason: consistent fan engagement. It’s good to always have something new to talk about with your fans!
But then, I ran into a problem - a few weeks isn’t enough time to promote a song in any kind of impactful/effective way, especially when you are an independent artist. You’ve barely promoted that song before you’ve moved onto the next one. And from the fan engagement standpoint, I found many of them didn’t know I had certain songs out. For whatever reason, all of the fans don’t pay attention all of the time. So if there’s no sustained attention/focus on the promotion of a particular release, it’s hard for people to know it exists.
I played keyboards on my first Broadway show a few weeks ago. For me, this is a milestone in my career and marks the achievement of a major life goal that I’ve been working toward for over 20 years. When I first decided I wanted to play keyboards on Broadway – and this will be a reoccurring theme – I had no idea where to start. There were a lot of very generous musicians who helped guide me along the way. So in an effort to pay back that kindness, and in the hopes that this might help somebody out there with similar goals, I’m going to tell you the story of how I got my gig.
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(Updated Sept 29, 2014)