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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).


How Are We Gonna Pay These Musicians?

With the increasing ability for people to access, blog, manipulate, send and receive digital content such as music, many people have been trying to figure out how musicians can actually earn money in 2010. From the excellent work of The Cynical Musician it appears that the various new digital tools, while solving the artist’s problem of promotion and distribution, have not in fact leveled the playing field at all in terms of revenue. 

Conveniently enough, however, many countries are overhauling their copyright law to modernize and take into account these new technologies. I’ll explore here the idea that while these new tools are currently subject to the same power relationships as have always existed, there are options available to update the law in a way that could create a more fair system.

A case study
As a case study I’ll use three categories of songs of varying levels of commercial potential, with examples of each from the band Blur. Examples are from the 1990s, a “simpler time” when promotion and distribution was firmly out of the hands of artists themselves.

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Last Week On Music Think Tank


Russell Rains of St Edwards on 4 Cases You Need to Know About and How They Affect The Music Industry, Part 1

In May, I traveled to Arhuus, Denmark where I attended and spoke at The SPOT Festival. On the first day, the welcome luncheon speech was delivered by Russell Rains, who is the Program Director for the Digital Media Management MBA program at St. Edwards University, (the only university that offers MBAs in this discipline).

At the top of his talk, Russell mentioned something that made me sit up in my seat: “Everyone in the music industry is watching these four cases very carefully.”  I’m not, I thought to myself, and neither are the hundreds of artists who I speak to globally and represent at Ariel Publicity.  In fact, I had not really heard a lot about these 4 cases more than in brief mentions.  So I fired up my trusty flip cam and taped his talk.

Russell was more than generous to co-contribute to this piece by providing a little more insight on why you my dear independent community of artists should care.

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Savor Your Music: The Effect of Abundance in Culture

Thus far, we have explored the paradoxes of choice overload in culture through the analytic lenses of the record store and web, coming to the conclusion that “paradise of music” that we had initially envisioned—may not exist.  As counterintuitive as it may be, the findings in my previous two essays point to the idea that more music is less.  That as the number of cultural options goes up, the amount of satisfaction that a fan derives out of any given choice will be lessened as a result; it may even cause them to opt out of the decision making process all together.  We also found that, in culture, the effect of overwhelming choice has the potential to cause fans to opt for the same old songs as a way to avoid facing unlimited options online and off, to rely on filters like Pandora rather than on themselves, and to become more passive participants in their cultural lives.   

Such insights are quite disheartening and run contrary to the long held beliefs of many, including the viewpoints that Chris Anderson expressed in his book The Long Tail.  The focus of this essay turns our attention away from our discussion of choice overload and the effects that it has on fans when they are purchasing music and brings us to the to the topic of how overwhelming choice may distress fans when they are enjoying the music that they already own.  Within the context of the iPod, we will try to discover whether or not storing thousands of songs in our pockets has forced us—as fans—to increase the amount of effort that we put into making a decision about what we want to hear and if the consequence of having unlimited options, causes us to enjoy any given song less.   

“For many of us, the iPod rekindled our dormant passion for music,” Steven Levy writes in The Perfect Thing.  “It made us want to hear more songs, it encouraged us to go out and find new bands to love, it offered a new ways to organize music and take it with us.”  As well, the iPod released fans from the constraints of Top 40 radio playlists and, for the first time, gave them complete control over their musical experiences.  Prior iterations, such as the Walkman, only allowed fans to play one album at a time, whereas the iPod granted fans the ability to play any song, from any album, at any time.  With the social epidemic of file-sharing that occurred alongside the advent of the iPod, the barriers of music consumption fell and the act of collecting music evolved.  Those who were born digital, among everyone else, gained access to a plethora of music online and could easily download the thousands of songs required to fill the storage capacity of any iPod.  Soon, even fans who previously expressed little interest in the act collecting music, downloaded massive collections of their own, and now, rather than burning single copies of CDs to give to friends, fans either loaded up their iPod full of music or copied and pasted their entire collections to their hard drive.  These common practices and newfound social behaviors had the effect of greatly multiplying the number of music choices that many fans faced and left them with the responsibility navigating collections that expanded far beyond their capabilities of doing so—with any measure of certainty.

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10 Free Google Tools to Manage Your Music Career

Google is constantly developing nifty applications and technologies to enhance the way we communicate and work online.  Because Google survives on advertising revenues these products are all offered at the amazingly low low price of  FREE.  As a musician in a rather competitive market, it’s important to know and use tools that increase the efficiency of your marketing, managing, and networking efforts.  The goal is less time pulling your hair out in front of the computer screen and more time making beautiful music!

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How Man Overboard Made Their Record Leak Turn Into A Good Thing

If you read my blog, you know that we believe the way record companies handle leaks is one of the many holdovers of a bunch of Luddites refusing to adapt to the times. We write constantly about their refusal to figure out a way to take a leak and turn it into a good thing. As circumstance would have it, I had the chance to put my money where my mouth is when one of the groups I manage, Man Overboard, had their record leak 28 days before the intended release date. After the jump we will discuss how we made this become another thing that won us both new fans and the loyalty of the ones we already had. 

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Last Week On Music Think Tank


Frustration, Jealousy and the Often Forgotten- Consistency

You’re in music.  You are frustrated with the Industry and on days where you are honest enough to admit it you are jealous of several of the seemingly talentless hacks that sit atop the pop charts.  Here are some of the conclusions I have come to about my career path in and out of music.

Sometime in the last year or so I was aimlessly flipping through 400 channels of nothing on when I noticed a familiar face on TV.  My old band mate from college Gabe Roth was playing on one of the late night shows with the band he founded - Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings.  After playing together in college Gabe simply never stopped.  He maxed his credit cards and borrowed money from friends and did anything and everything he could to always be playing.  Although he is most proud of the work he does with his own projects he was recently awarded a Grammy for engineering and doing arrangement on the Amy Winehouse Record “Back to Black”.  Gabe is not one of the talentless I referred to in the opening paragraph by any stretch of the imagination.

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Investing in Artists: Consider a Promotionless To Popular Strategy First

When people search for information about investing in the music industry, about investing in artists, and when they are looking for information on 360 deals, my blog posts often appear within the search results.  As a consequence, at least once a month, someone calls me about investing in the music industry or about investing in artists.  Although this post speaks to artists, I plan to use this post and the accompanying comments as a tool to make my conversations on this topic more efficient.

One Billion True Fans - It Won’t Happen.
Even with overlap, at one thousand fans per artist, one million artists cannot acquire one billion true fans.  All the music lovers in the world are never going to accept and process billions of artist-initiated emails, status updates and text messages.  Pushy self-promotion doesn’t scale.  If everyone is doing it, nobody is going to do it effectively; the same applies to fundraising; fans are going to tune these messages out.  Collectively, artists and their managers are running the risk of appearing like financial planners at a cookout…occasionally invited, but often avoided.  Moreover, the sum of all the effort and capital invested in music promotion generates such a negative return, that it makes investing heavily in time travel machines appear outright attractive.  Perhaps it’s time to consider jumping off of, or avoiding altogether, the self-promotion bandwagon.

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How To Get Bloggers To Write About You - Become a Reader & a Commenter 

I really loved the pieces that Chis Bracco has written here on MTT on Blogging and I wanted to add some thoughts on getting blogs to write about you.  His strategies are rock solid and full disclosure he used to work with my company and he is indeed very effective at getting bloggers to cover artists. Read Chris’s piece here:

I know that blogging seems like yet another unbearable thing to take on so there are 2 ways to approach this

1. Become a reader and commenter
2. Become a reader, commenter and blogger yourself!

Q: How Do You Play Ball with the Bloggers ?
A: Become a reader and commenter

I highly suggest that you try to get familiar with the blogging world by reading blogs and posting comments on blogs you like.

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Last Week On Music Think Tank


30 Tips For The Typical Musician

For those of us who embrace shades of mediocrity, here are some tips for becoming a typical musician:


  • Practice one hour a day. However, feel free to skip practice if there is something more interesting going on.
  • Play the same piece over and over again. Never try to deconstruct the music and figure out how and why it works.
  • Convince yourself that taking music lessons is out of the question, since all your favourite musicians were self taught.
  • Use only tabs and chord charts to learn new songs. Never try to figure it out by ear, it’s simply too frustrating.

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Reality TV Killed The Rockstar. But Is That So Bad?

In a time where reality TV has become the most popular form of programing - everyone from the famous (or infamous) celebrity drug addicts, to the not-so-famous, money-desperate “reality show” competitors have been cashing in on transparency as a way to connect with an audience and build a brand.

Would the sudden death of Corey Haim, the 80’s child-star who seemingly feel off the face of the earth around the same time as acid wash jeans, have made as big of a splash if his addiction hadn’t been documented on the A&E series, The Two Coreys? Probably not. It seems that Reality TV has created a wave of transparency that everyone wants to ride. Even MTV, a MUSIC video driven channel, has since officially removed music television from their name in order to focus on following pop culture in its own element.

But beyond reality TV is the internet, and the continued development of social networking, blogging and microblogging, which has been giving musicians all around the world the ability to be as little or as overly transparent as they would like. So this brings up a very important question: Is transparency a good thing for musicians to take part in?

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On File-Sharing: Are You Smarter Than A 12th Grader?

Back in February, I stumbled across an essay written by a twelfth grader named Kamal Dhillon.  In it, he argues that file sharing may be illegal, but it is not ethically wrong.  The essay had been entered into the Glassen Ethics Competition and Dhillon won.  Out of eighty entrants in the contest, the essay that won the one thousand dollar prize and got republished in The Winnipeg Free Press, argued that yes, copyright infringement can be morally justified.  Though the views that Dhillon expresses in the essay and the sheer intellectual resilience that he displays in it are not characteristic of his entire age group’s attitude towards file sharing, nor does his understanding of the issues seem to reflect that of most twelfth graders, it got me thinking.  What happens when fans are not stupid anymore?  What happens when there are high school students who happen to have a firmer grasp on the file sharing debate than some of the executives and artists who get quoted in the headlines?

I mean, they are smarter than a twelfth grader—right?  Most likely not, I am afraid.  Readers of blogs like Music Think Tank and TechDirt, who live to learn about and make sense of the impact of technology on the recording industry and have observed how file sharing has reshaped our cultural lives—i.e. you—are in fact, smarter than a twelfth grader.  But, what about these out-of-touch executives, commonly relegated to “struggling dinosaurs,” whose only exit from this industry entails mass extinction of their kind and the destruction of the music empires they created?  What about all those artists in recent years who have made off-the-cuff comments about file sharing, only to be criticized for their complete disconnect from the arguments?  Better, how do Dhillon’s arguments stack up against some of the viewpoints that have been gaining traction in recent weeks?

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