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« Future Now: At The Coalface | Main | On My Mind: The State of the Music Business »
Tuesday
May042010

Barking Up The Wrong Chart

U2, Dave Matthews Band, Coldplay and every other artist are failing as independent media channels on the web.

With music sales declining, moving up the web traffic charts is more important to revenue generation than ever.

All media brands…are just web pages with stuff now.
When you separate broadcast antennas and satellites from any media brand on earth, what are you left with?  You are left with a URL attached to a one thousand pixel-wide web presentation that often includes video, music, images, text, some interactivity, social bolt-ons and a wireless app or two.  It doesn’t get much more complicated than this.  My website is as wide as yours, and I can do everything you can do now.  The technical playing field has been leveled.

It’s not the content silly…
With access to capital being equal (although plenty have shown this doesn’t matter much either), no media brand on the web has a distinct advantage over another.  Furthermore, the content that goes into media presentations on the web matters less than you think.

Click over to the Top Sites page on Quantcast.  Scroll to the very bottom of the page and download the file called Top-Million-Sites-Ranking.  Open the file up within an application like Microsoft Word and search for your favorite, established artist.  With minimal exceptions (I spotted www.taylorswift.com at 14,077), there are 20,000 websites that rank ahead of almost every artist website on earth.   

Why is it that sites like underjams.com, mudcat.org, museum.tv, and twenty thousand other sites are more popular than the websites run by U2, DMB or Coldplay?

It certainly has very little to do with momentary entertainment value of the content.  You would be hard pressed to find someone that would not enjoy U2’s or Coldplay’s content over the content presented by most of the top 20,000 sites on the Quantcast list.

It also has very little to do with being established or not.  Look at the list.  Most of the top 20,000 brands didn’t even exist five years ago.

The reason that artists don’t rank high on the Quantcast list is that the websites (and Twitter accounts) operated by standalone artists can only deliver the “this-website-informs-me” value proposition.   Compared to 100,000 other sites on the Internet, even established artists fail to deliver anything valuable on the web but informative (who, what, when) information.  Click here to learn what I mean by the term value proposition.

Although many artists present valued entertainment, their websites cannot compete attract in “this-is-where-I-go-to-be-entertained-for-more-than-ten-minutes” category.

Never mind the music charts, artists are going to be permanently stuck on the long tail of the web charts unless they deliver something different.  And given where music revenue is trending, combined with the fact that all media channels everywhere (including radio and television) are going to be delivered via Internet protocol, this is not where artists hoping to tap into new digital revenue sources need to be. 

Hey, you’re not comparing apples to oranges…
Although I am comparing artist websites and media channels to everything else on the web, consider this: everywhere you go on the web, information, entertainment and commerce are collapsing together.  Traditional push marketing is giving way to the reliance upon social promotion.  When intertwined with commerce, your ability to command attention on the web (your web attention capital) will have tremendous value to brands looking to tap into your audience.  If artists want to thrive as independent media channels on the web, they have to find ways to move up the web traffic charts.

Just to be clear, being an independent media channel equates to absolutely no middlemen taking percentages, and zero to minimal reliance upon other media channels to reach your target audience on the web.  At number 38 on the Quantcast list, The Huffington Post is an example to ponder, albeit a music site will most likely target a different value proposition. 

The solution: excel at delivering a value proposition to a niche.

Although they are great advertisements, hit songs don’t seem to generate reoccurring and continually growing web traffic (see above).  Artist sites just fall flat when it comes to delivering the value that makes a website popular.  A limited selection of songs, a few videos, a pile of images, a schedule and some blog posts are not going to cut the mustard.  To tap into the revenue streams that are available to media channels with significant numbers of repeat and loyal visitors, artists have to seriously reconsider the value proposition(s) they intend to deliver on the web. 

Yes, the type of site every artist has now can be a perfect compliment to your offline business, but this post is about calling attention to the work that needs to be done to climb the (web) charts as independent media channels in a converged world where all media is accessible via a web browser or a wireless application.

There’s strength in numbers.  Consider starting here:
To begin with, ten major artists, thirty to forty mid-level artists, and fifty up-and-coming artists on the same site can deliver additional and expanded value that standalone artist sites cannot.  A multi-artist site can go far beyond the “this-site-informs-me” and the “this-site-entertains-me-for-more-than-ten-minutes” value propositions.  As someone that has been working in software for twenty years and tracking this industry for the last five, this seems like one of the best places to begin.  There are other ways to get the job done and execution is everything, however multi-artist sites/brands are where I am investing my energy today.

Side plug:  I am working with a new startup that is developing methods that will make collaborative funneling and the selection (of which stuff to feature and promote) scalable, efficient and transparent.  Contact me for more information. 

Profit and Loss
Although some media brands operate at higher margins than others, the variable expenses associated with media storage and distribution are no longer the reason why ANY media brand can’t operate profitably on the web.  It’s the fixed costs (i.e.: salaries and legacy costs), and not the lack of revenues that drive media brands out of business.

And not be overlooked, artists on multi-artist sites should have cost advantages over other media channels, as collectively, you should all (eventually) own the content you feature.  This may not matter much to consumers, they expect digital content to be free, but it matters on the royalty cost side of the profit equation.

Nothing to loose and everything to gain. 
If you are looking at sites like www.friendsorenemies.com or www.audience.fm or www.worldaroundrecords.com, I believe these sites are glimpses into the future of multi-artist sites aspiring to become productive media channels.  If I were an artist, I would seriously consider starting or joining one of these ventures.  Moreover, I wouldn’t hesitate (details aside) to drop my own site to pool resources with others that share the same vision.

about Bruce Warila

Reader Comments (29)

Finally, a very definite bet placed on a future system! Well done Bruce, for the positive vision.

But here's a lesson from the past, recently documented on the BBC: when International Times, the UK hippy alternative newspaper was busted for obscenity they decided to put on a huge benefit night at the Alexandra Palace in London in 1966, which would be the first major public coming out of the new UK 'underground'. Constantly referred to as the 'house band' of the underground, The Pink Floyd were booked to play, alongside many others.

This was a multi-sensory experience; people on acid and dope watched massive light shows, listened to bands playing simultaneously at either end of the hall, dipped in and out of proceedings, falling asleep, dancing and trying not to stare at John Lennon who wandered about off his gourd.

Roger Waters, Floyd bassist talking many years later, remarks that he didn't really notice an 'underground' just an audience, and that the band had just come from another gig in Amsterdam which is why they went on at the magical dawn slot. Essentially another gig in the life of a jobbing arty r&b muso.

Transpose this happening into a website.

So the first problem for me with a multi-band website would be that the value given would be from the POV of the website, not the band. It's the website that people return to, not the artist. The artist is almost incidental unless they epitomise the lifestyle or ethos of the site. The music itself retains the same value as it would when listened to under almost any circumstances, so the website is incidental to the band, who, hopefully, are performing all over the place and have a wide media presence.

If the website kind of sums up a scene of sorts, maybe for a city or type of music then it can function like a specialised magazine, like Kerrang! or maybe Vibe, or a music festival. But we have all seen TV stations that exist to promote just one product and it can get pretty tedious after a while. If the TV show itself is the product, like Saturday Night Live or other variety shows then, again, the artists are incidental to the whole experience and are also competing with each other for attention.

Which is problem number two. You hit a multi band website. Either you know one of the artists and that's why you're there or you click on one randomly to see if you like their music or face. You don't. Maybe you go on to another artist. Still not happening... the likely hood is you will abandon the site and head back to Spotify or Pandora. Unless the site is designed to engross you despite how you feel about the music. In which case the music is incidental and it's the website that wins out. If it's your website, you're quids in. But that's a website you've created, when perhaps you should have been writing and recording and being a decadent musician.

Bruce, I'm dead interested in the start-up you mention; if it's as easy as setting up a Bandcamp page but also sites you in a community specific to your genre, for instance, it could definitely be another useful tool for the artist to use in this game... as long as it doesn't become the game itself.

May 4 | Registered CommenterTim London

Tim, Love the way you write. You are correct in many ways. I am kind of burnt out on writing today, so I will just summarize and say that "execution is everything".

Yes, that is how the software from this startup will work.

Let's connect next week.

And this is where you could call ?uestlove a genius.

www.okayplayer.com has been working on this model for over 10 years now

And guess what? It's currently ranked #5,967.

Great comment from Tim.

I think it's a mistake to think artist online initiatives are failing if they're not putting up the numbers of the most popular websites. Let's face it... traffic and page views are flawed metrics that don't tell a story of mindshare captured or potential revenue. If you can use your website/facebook page/mailing list to speak to those inclined to support/fund/evangelize your efforts, that is a success.

Also, although I love that ?uestlove quote about the power of being part of a movement, i think it's basically just as unlikely for a collection of artists functioning as a single website to become a trafficked destination as it is for a single artist.

May 4 | Unregistered Commenterrafi

Rafi, don't forget, all those other sites on the list have the same social tools and online initiatives available to them. Moreover the traffic data will be equally "flawed" for every site on the list; artists are not special exceptions.

Re Will's comment, the thing is OkayPlayer had some huge advantages that none of this blog post's readers will. The Roots were already a somewhat famous beloved band. There was a void for online hip-hop communities then because they started so early. That was a huge niche with very limited competition and one the roots were already a large stage player in. With famous buddies who were all kind of aligned ideologically against the more mainstream pop or gangster hip-hop.

What drove OkayPlayer's success was the community. And to quote the above post it's "not the content silly" OKP filled a major void for people who were looking for a site that reflected their identity - a hugely popular genre / culture that wasn't being repped online.

Sure, it's creation was brilliant. And sure we can learn from it. But to think that anything close to that level of success can be acheived without similarly fortuitous circumstances (timing, gaping market void, fame) is nuts.

May 4 | Unregistered Commenterrafi

Lets see.. I believe friendsorenemies is already passing Coldplay, DMB and U2 in traffic. How would you explain that?

"Rafi, don't forget, all those other sites on the list have the same social tools and online initiatives available to them."

I don't really agree with that. Sure they can use social media but many of the qualities that are important for alternate business models (inspiring love, inspiring trust, serving your community) may run counter to sites that focus on ad dollars by running their ad revenue as high as possible with more and more page views.

"Moreover the traffic data will be equally "flawed" for every site on the list; artists are not special exceptions."

My bad. I wasn't referring to flaws in collecting traffic data. I'm speaking to traffic being flawed as a metric for success. My 2 blogs are running low on traffic as ever but have actually generated thousands of dollars over the past year and karma is running at an all time high.

May 4 | Unregistered Commenterrafi

Well it seems as though there are 20,000++ other sites that are inspiring something in somebody.

Flawed as a metric that traffic may be, it's what advertisers are paying for.

Also. I never really said that ads had to be part of the equation. I can think of numerous value propositions that humans would pay for that artists could transparently deliver without violating "love, trust, or community". However they will not be able to do much from a standalone website.

I'd never heard of friendsorenemies before but visiting the site it's quite clear why it would be more popular (wider focus, more content, more effectively integrating community) than those other band's lame sites. That said, it's more apples to oranges, isn't it? It's not the web presence of a collective of artists as much as it's a music / music news aggregator. In the end it's just another music blog. Comparing it to the stale, impersonal one-way broadcasting websites of uber-successful rock acts is a canard! And yet even with poor traffic numbers on their websites I think DMB and the rest are going to be ok.

Fallout Boy isn't going to give up having their own website because they have a blog on friendsorenemies, are they?

I'm with Tim on the questionable benefits for the actual artist. The Roots made off great with OkayPlayer because it was their site. When traffic is the game, the aggregator always wins. Ask the myriad of passer-throughs if OkayPlayer did so much for them and I think you will find different answers. How much did Pharoahe Monch or deadprez benefit from being part of the OkayPlayer collective?

May 4 | Unregistered Commenterrafi

Rafi, did you just say "wider focus, more content, more effectively integrating community" and then go onto say that friendsorenemies is "just another music blog"? Huh?

As I said to Tim - execution is everything. If all you can see is the possibility of some sort of ad-supported music blog (from anyone ever), then you are seriously limiting yourself to numerous possibilities. Think wireless and location-based, and about ten other things that can make a difference.

It's interesting how you have hiccuped on OkayPlayer and then had to back your argument over it's very existence. I do that sometime also.

Undeniably, when it comes to multi-artist sites (even if they have only been around for months), they will all have greater traffic than their constituent parts.

Cheers.

**********

Rafi, did you just say "wider focus, more content, more effectively integrating community" and then go onto say that friendsorenemies is "just another music blog"? Huh?

************

When I say those pluses I'm talking in comparison to the corporate rock homepages you cited. When I say it's just another music site, I'm talking in terms of content as opposed to being a base of operations for any specific artists.

Clearly it's well executed, and again there's obviously access to a bunch of famous artists blogging from the get-go. This isn't a bootstrap out of someone's garage venture, right? But at the end of the day, it's not the place for Katy Perry fanatics or whatever. (Do those exist?) That's why I say it's apples to oranges. This isn't a knock on friendsorenemies, it's just not really what you're talking about in the post as far as I can tell. This is an aggregator. Look, the topics on the homepage aren't even about the artists that blog there.

And it feels dishonest to hold up a site like this and tell the average penniless artist that this is the way forward. 50 Cent launched a Ning site like this too and similarly he's not doing the daily content creating, there's hired help and an instant community just like this one (and a crowd loves a crowd). All the copycat sites that follow these models can then scratch their heads and wonder why they're busting their ass for pennies.

May 4 | Unregistered Commenterrafi

And I don't only think of ad models. Quite the opposite. You're the one judging sites based on if they generate a ton of traffic. If you're chasing all the traffic you can get on your site, that means you're probably aiming to please advertisers more so than your audience.

Let's not play dumb. You can go deep or you can go wide. You can't do both.

May 4 | Unregistered Commenterrafi

I chose friendsorenemies because it's a real live example. This is just ONE way forward for ANY artist (penniless or not), and friendsorenemies is NOT exactly how I would execute.

I am encouraging all to open their minds to what is possible and to consider the value proposition that is currently delivered by artists that operate standalone websites. Moreover I am saying that music popularity does not translate into web dollars - given the way people execute now - and that should change.

Once again, you seem to be completely stuck on the ad model. That's unfortunate. There are other ways to monetize traffic.

The sole of the artist is in his or her songs, and songs are what music fans attach to. Songs transcend the personalities of FM radio stations, critics, record labels (remember Motown?) and (lame and expensive) websites. And, songs will certainly transcend any multi-artist website in the marketplace.

If any artist (large to small) is looking to build the tallest stump in the world where he or she can partly own and "broadcast" songs from, a multi-artist website is just one option to consider.

No multi-artist website has to be locked into just the songs from participating artists. Go to SoundExchange and learn how anyone can be a web-broadcaster. It should start to become apparent that the only thing your local radio station will be in three years...is a web broadcaster. No media channel has a "reach" advantage over any other media channel; all channels are worldwide now.

Your brand is delivered through your songs, not from your website. It seems like job one for every artist is to find or create a platform where they can reach the largest possible audience whilst giving up the least amount of rights and revenue. As far as I can tell, the sites operated by every artist in the world today do not accomplish this objective.

As far as revenue goes, advertising is also just one option. If you have a substantial audience, there are numerous propositions that people will pay for that can be transparently launched or offered from a website and via wireless applications. If you are capable and serious, and if you want help in this area, call me directly.

As far as revenue goes (part 2), if you have a substantial audience (a launch pad), and if you have given up very little to nothing to get there, do you need the site to generate revenue? Or, is just having control of your launchpad reward enough, as revenue can come from other sources outside of the website / broadcast channel?

"I'm with Tim on the questionable benefits for the actual artist. The Roots made off great with OkayPlayer because it was their site. When traffic is the game, the aggregator always wins. Ask the myriad of passer-throughs if OkayPlayer did so much for them and I think you will find different answers. How much did Pharoahe Monch or deadprez benefit from being part of the OkayPlayer collective?"

Well OkayPlayer might not have done much for those who had established careers prior to it's launch but it was the jump off point for Little Brother.

Arghhh. "When traffic is the game, the aggregator always wins"

And if you own a chunk of the aggregator you win. That is the point here!

UIR - I just figured out you were quoting with a big quote. Point doesn't apply to you. You get it. Cheers.

@Bruce..

Yea I definitely get it. I have my own general hip hop site which has been gaining in traffic ( http://www.hoodgrownonline.com ). I feature a lot of major label and indie content and I get a lot more unique hits on a daily basis to this site than I do my label site.

.

nice to hear your still thinking about this! Definately a progressive idea and one i would definately like to help in any way i can. Even if that means as you put it, put something to the side.

A couple of questions; in any way is there going to be a routine for these bands to try and implement so that further exposure of the collabarative group could be found. What i mean here is that if 100 bands where in a group with a subdomain on the services website, 'example.domain.com' This would be the url they pass on, and a potential 100 - 500 people doing so at any given time. Thats why i love this idea!!

Including some form of routine that they adhere too could see major explosions in traffic to the desired groups domain/subdomain on that said service, online and physically.

If the bands see the service in the same light as we do and actually put effort in to promotion, there will be rewards to reap.

I have another question but have forgotten it for the time being..

I use Alexa Sparky on Firefox as i do a bit of SEO work and for other things and i have never seen a bands website be below 100,000 out of the so many billions online right now.

May 5 | Unregistered CommenterMartinT

^^We're creating workflows for maintenance, yeah. The founding members @ World Around will be doing all the work for a few months to refine the process, but our goal is to move some profits into an account so that anyone on the roster can "clock in" and earn $50 doing some of the promotional shitwork. Making that work involves having very clear recipes. Once they're coherent, I will definitely be sharing them as examples.

When you're working out a system of payroll, you're probably getting somewhere! Bruce, I remember you writing an article a year or so ago touching on the same idea, and its a good idea. I think that there is probably an optimal number of artists you would want to have on this team-aggregator site, depending on the conditions. I would argue that 100 different artists is too many, due to oversaturation and dilution of the overall brand.

What this idea requires is a measure of teamwork and stake-holder-status between artists that you are not likely to achieve with so many members. I would think anywhere from 10 to 30 would be a better number.

May 5 | Unregistered CommenterJustin S

Bruce, I second the congrats on moving forward with this idea - remember way back on Unsprung Artists you posted similarly (with an alley illustration, I believe).

This certainly has issues to resolve, some pointed out in comments, but certainly the existing artist website model is hardly generating big profit for many (any?), and the clutter has gotten to be a veritable jungle for indie artists and thier potential fans to cut through.

My question is: Are you planning on including the concepts of serial/theatrical entertainment that you also espoused early on, and if so, could you refresh memories and intro to others - at least link to to those posts?

I always felt that was brilliant visioning, but challenging for a single artist to take on unassisted -pooled resources/coaching could make it fly and go a long way to differentiate the collabo artist site from anything else I have seen, taking the concept to the next level...

May 6 | Unregistered CommenterDg.

@ Martin - I think there are numerous ways to execute. Some people will do it with 10 artists and some people will do it with 1,000 artists. It really depends on the structure (the operating agreement) that spells out the incentives, the ownership, the intended value proposition, and the criteria for featuring / promoting one thing over another.

Here's an example that's not directly related, but to stress my point: MTT has over 1,000 contributor accounts now; numerous sites all over the Internet link to MTT; hundreds of people have contributed; some of the posts are excellent; only about fifty people have made it to the front of the site; anyone can own a chunk of MTT- based upon popularity. Music Think Tank is pretty popular in it's niche. I invest a minimal amount of time into this site each week. It works.

@ DG - I did not post a link to that article here because it's just one way to execute. I did not want to give the impression that it's the only or the best way to proceed. Since the writing of that post two years ago, I have thought of ten other ways to accomplish the same objectives. Here's the link:

A few decades from now, when people have realised what has happened, university courses will explain how attitudes like yours were doing damage to culture. Rock music was born free, and only works with freedom somewhere very close by.

You are its enemy. There will always be people like you, who are only concerned with the business side, and who damage the culture psychologically by overemphasising that side of things. But from the grassroots will always appear new artists, and they will eventually organise well against you, the best music will tend to go there, and they will keep people like you out. And you will... well..... feel left out.

Huh. I can only hope that my legacy attracts that much attention.

David, rock music (whatever your definition) was born in slavery, used and abused, shafted and discarded by everyone from its makers to its exploiters. There's nothing stopping you living as free as you like (I'm picturing a bandana, plenty of denim and the open freeway...). Honestly, I don't think Bruce is coming after your culture, psychologically, or even with a big axe...

Maybe you should go and search out some of the major label heads, they tend to be rather more concerned with the business side than people who freely engage with anyone on this site.

Good lord...

May 9 | Registered CommenterTim London

Bruce, I'm honestly jealous.

The fact that you're going down in the history books as the man who destroyed rock and roll -- the music that began as a bunch of white kids ripping off blues musicians, and evolved into the soundtrack for three generations of TV commercials and corporate-sponsored mass spectacles -- well, that's just badass. I figured rock and roll was totally unkillable, just like hip hop, and that no amount of greed or stupidity would ever matter in the face of the basic catharsis it brings, but I was wrong.

As it turns out, your simple suggestion was about to rip through the industry like the Black Fucking Plague and end it all. Well, I wish I'd beaten you to it, but I'll swallow my pride and say: congratulations. It had to be done and I look forward to what grows from these ashes.

Um. This Rock + Black + White meme is an interesting development to say the least.

Bruce I am a friend of Rafi's, and I took the time to write a post citing some of your comments within this post:

"@Rafikam on Okay Player x Advertising x Community." http://bit.ly/aSqLib


I'm interested in your comments.

~R

May 14 | Unregistered CommenterRenina

@Renina. Great writing. I will try to comment this weekend. Thanks.

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