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Anyone can join the discussion and contribute relevant articles to Music Think Tank.  Begin by signing up and then logging in to publish your posts directly to MTT Open. Please make sure that your posts are in the proper format before posting (see previous posts) and that there are minimal errors such as grammar or spelling. Popular articles are occasionally moved to the front of the site. Contributors own and operate this blog (more info).


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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Get Your Music On The Radio

Below is an article reposted by request from my blog Musician Coaching about what the way Radio and indendent promotion works.

Meg MacDonald is a Triple A (AAA) independent radio promotion executive and the founder of M:M Music – one of the top independent promotion companies in the country.  She has brought singles from brand new artists to radio as well as huge artists like Coldplay, Paul McCartney, Dave Matthews, Nora Jones and Jack Johnson to name a few and last year was named Triple A Independent Promotion Executive of the Year as voted on by Radio and Record labels at R&R.

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Business idea: Put buskers online

Here’s a business idea, inspired by an email from Stephen Brown today.

Put the street musician / busking process online. (“Busker” = “a person who entertains people for money in public places, while asking for money.”)

A website where videos of street musicians are collected all in one place, each with a PayPal link so anyone watching can give some money directly to that musician.

See a great musician playing on the street in Cuba, Argentina, Egypt, India, or anywhere else? Make the best recording you can with a video camera.

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But it makes sense to me

There are a lot of musicians and groups that artistically want to stretch people’s minds and make people think, figure out and really dive deep in to the meanings of their songs, their name, their image, different elements of their marketing and other underlining elements that many artists think will add that hip or cool edge to them. The problem that can occur though is flat out confusion or actually deterring more people away from your music and you than helping bringing them to listen to you and want to find out more about you.

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In Defense Of 1,000 True Fans - Part III - Amber Rubarth 

I met Amber Rubarth through Derek Sivers who wrote a wonderful profile on her on his blog.

Here is what Derek wrote: Amber Rubarth is a 26-year-old singer/songwriter from Reno, who only started playing music five years ago, but is making a full-time living touring, including four tours of Europe, booking it all herself. She’s also one of the happiest musicians I’ve met. Most musicians I know feel it’s tough, but Amber seems to glide through it all effortlessly.

My interest was peaked and I concur with Derek’s assessment! I am delighted that she was willing to be the subject of my ongoing conversation about 1,000 true fans.

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Notable posts on MTT Open

There are some great posts to be found on MTT Open.  Anyone can post just about anything relevant on MTT Open.  Please keep the self-promotion to a dull roar. 

Here are some recent posts:

Important stuff for artists approaching labels/ managers/ bookers by Sebastian Hess

Think Outside the Venue To Get That First Gig by Refe Tuma

Music Marketing DIY - Amanda Palmer tells All
by Kevin J Ryan

Mix Tips that I tell my clients by AC Mastering


Here’s the RSS Feed for MTT Open.


Staged performances and thoughts about the future.

Here are two things that you may want to consider when planning out your life as an artist that earns a living by staging performances (live and not).

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The unprecedented shift from multiplication to division. 

If you are contemplating the future of music sales revenue, the most alarming thing about inexpensive (they actually call it “premium”) all-you-can-eat streaming models (Spotify, MOG) where music fans pay roughly $72.00 a year (for example) for endless access to all the music in the world (anytime, anywhere, anyplace), is that the $72.00 is divided by (all songs consumed times each song’s play-frequency). 

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9 out of 10 dentists

I’ve read two very interesting related articles this week. The first suggested that people who download music via peer-to-peer services spend more money on music than their non-filesharing peers. The second insisted that the net drop in CD and download sales overall has increased concurrent with, and as a result of filesharing.

It’s difficult to argue with either, since they’re both backed by respectable-seeming research and surveys - and yet they can’t possibly both be true. Until you realise the fundamental logical flaws in both positions: the presupposition that unauthorised downloading of music has a causal effect - indeed, is the only causal factor - on the fortunes of the music business.

Clearly, as soon as you take a step back and think about it logically, so-called ‘piracy’ cannot possibly be anything more than one of a whole range of factors affecting the music industry as a whole, simply because the world is a complicated place and people are complex and interesting. There are political, economic, social, cultural and technological factors all influencing the industry’s affairs - and it stands to reason that different influencing factors are pulling in all sorts of different directions.

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So now you get it, but do you really?

It’s a hard thing to admit when you’re wrong. Whether it’s in an argument or approach, at work or at play, it can be incredibly challenging to suck it up and admit that it’s not someone or something else’s fault, but your own. You know the people who have a thousand reasons for why they’re not getting somewhere, and the reasons always have to do with all these other people and all these other things, but let’s be honest: the world at large is seldom solely to blame.

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