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« Building a Festival: One Beer at a Time | Main | Last Week On Music Think Tank »
Tuesday
Aug242010

If I were a record label and you were an artist, would you marry me anyways, would you have my baby?

Connect the title of this post to Bobby Darin’s song “If I Were A Carpenter”.

This quick post is a fictitious letter from any random label to every artist on the roster.  If you have read any of my prior posts, you know this is a theme I touch on frequently.

From: Any Random Record Label

To: All The Artists On Our Roster

August 24th, 2010

Dear Friends,

It’s been said that over a million songs a year are being uploaded to the Internet, and that number is growing.  In addition, the number of new “artists” entering an already crowded marketplace is exploding.  And as you all know, it’s not only hard to generate a return on investment when promoting artists and music, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to fight through the noise.  The last thing music fans need right now is another PUMP; what fans do need and want…are FILTERS they can trust. 

From this day forward, this label will cease to PUMP out anything and everything you create.  Moreover this label will no longer support or promote artist websites and brands.  This label is going to have one management team, one fundraising initiative, one website, one set of widgets, a unified scheduling page, one mobile app, one social stream, one streaming radio service and one voice.

For the purpose of this letter, all this aggregated activity and the associated services will be known as The Venture.  Permanent branding decisions will be made over the coming weeks.

The Venture will only feature the best songs, videos, photos and fan contributions that are uploaded each month; while The Venture’s streaming radio and video podcast service (featuring attractive personalities) will also spin songs (with synergy) from other labels around the world.

Before you set fire to this letter, please note that the label is going to be sharing ownership in The Venture.  Ownership and profit sharing will be based upon measurable popularity metrics such as traffic and co-branded merch sales; everything will be transparent; specifics will be forthcoming; and if you are ever unhappy with the arrangement, we will help you move your stuff elsewhere.

The goal of this initiative will be to create a unique music and lifestyle brand that music consumers can connect with in cities all over the world.  Fans connecting through The Venture will find other humans that have overlapping tastes in music, as well as shared values, interests and desires.  Our long term goal is to be recognized as a brand that has unparalleled social sway and social impact within our target niche.

Although you can continue to maintain your own online identity, understand this: artists, songs and Internet uploaders are like ants; they are everywhere now; crawling all over the face of the earth; and building your own brand today is akin to taking on the world as a standalone ant.  The size and scale of the metaphor is that acute.

Our best advice is to thin down your internet presence and co-brand with The Venture.  The network effect of all of us (talented ants) working together will be far more powerful than any of you working separately.  This strategy is the best way to build a platform that’s capable of launching artists, songs, tours, and co-branded products and merchandise.  This strategy is also essential to our survival. 

As for revenue, there will be no advertisements on our website!  In addition to music and live performances, the products and merchandise we promote and sell together will be deftly woven into the fabric of who and what we are.  More details on this part of the program will also be forthcoming.

Finally, you have nothing to fear when it comes to losing your own identity.  Your name and your songs, which are the essential components of your brand, will always travel with you regardless of the label you affiliate with or the website you are on; once you have reached celebrity status, you can’t even hide from fans; they go where you go!  Peace.

Thank you for considering this urgent matter.

About Bruce Warilaon Twitter


Reader Comments (34)

In an ideal world. The part the sucks the most is that, its true, millions a songs are uploaded, new artists pop up everyday. Most of the people clogging up the pipes aren't even concerned with the music. They are just looking to "make it", as if this was some sort of lotto. In an ideal world, the people with know talent or a real passion for the music would just sit down and let the "cream rise to the top". This is like a race to the top and no one is winning. Its crazy because for the first time a "true" artist is able to be heard alongside a so called major artist. Only problem is that privilege has been given to everyone. So now instead of having the people's undivided attention, their attention is divided. Hard pill to swallow.

August 24 | Unregistered CommenterUni V Sol

Bravo Bruce!

August 24 | Unregistered CommenterHessel

I agree whole heartily with the idea of labels serving as filters rather then pumps and also that fans want this sort of filter. But these days promotion is a partnership between artists and labels. The label should do the heavy lifting, but whatever the artist wants to do can only help. That includes running their own web pages, participating in social media, setting up widgets and booking their own shows and collabs.

It helps all involved when the might of two (or more) are working for the same goal. It's foolish to think one brand can reach as many as two in such a diverse net universe when you have to fight through so much "noise" as you point out.

And if I were an artist and you were a record label...? Well, I'd love you to be a filter fans could trust instead of a pump. Isn't that what great record labels are -- albeit at the level of the artist rather than of individual songs?

It seems that you are also posing ideas to labels here...

Thanks for the very interesting post. I like your ant analogy.!

August 24 | Unregistered CommenterFrank

Remember, what's good for M&M Enterprises is good for your country.

And everyone gets a share!

Interesting post. I certainly think there is something in what you say, though not perhaps in the collaborative/sharing area.

The filter part is I think something that could be interesting for both artists and record co's.

I'm thinking here in the UK of people like John Peel and Bob Harris. A mention or play on their shows is an endorsement of quality/uniqueness which definitely drives sales. If record companies could somehow separate themselves from pure commercialism and move towards more knowledgeable/respected filters of music I think they might be onto something.

August 25 | Unregistered CommenterMike Saville

Some great points hidden in there, though some (read: me) may be a little confused as to whether it is satirical or not.

The idea is one that I have been mulling over with some musician friends for many years but never acting on- would it be better to operate as a collective, equal parts Motown hit factory and bohemian haven, from one premises with a shared studio/practice/venue space. All material would be released under one brand.

Certainly most artists and bands (in my limited experience) fail to collaborate, network and collectivise their efforts and have bought into the notion that the musical landscape is Darwinian. The default mentality is survival and creating a bubble around themselves; the default emotion is jealousy and resentment of artists doing better than them, and scorn and pity for those who are doing worse. I'm painting in primary colours here, but perhaps artists wouldn't be artists if the majority had the humility to work as an employee/cog/team-member on a regular basis.

It seems that DJs, rappers, producers and electronic artists find it easier to combine their identities (and cross-pollenate projects with artists, videographers dancers etc.). Bands, however, tend to be islands, and it strikes me as always a touch contrived whenever they collaborate with orchestras/VJs/guests etc.

Bands are Islands? Correction: Boring Bands are Islands.

August 25 | Unregistered CommenterJustin

Interesting read.

The part that struck the biggest chord with me was the bit about 'the network effect of all of us'. This idea was the very basis for starting up the community / label thing that we have going (‘a bunch of DIY artists, going it alone together’).

Although, after reading this article, I think we better get going a little faster :)

August 25 | Unregistered CommenterJeremy

Nice, Bruce - I think this is the clearest, easiest-to-understand version yet of your concept. If I remember past posts correctly (always a dangerous assumption), you're already engaged in building The Venture. Any updates?

August 26 | Unregistered CommenterMike B.

@ Tom - 99% serious. No satire.

@ Mike - You can see some of my work starting to come together. Check my bio page - http://www.echolouder.com/about-bruce-warila/ I don't always have enough control of some of the things I work on to call them my own. New things coming soon (fingers crossed).

The hardest problem to solve is how to easily find the "best" stuff. I am working on this.

August 26 | Registered CommenterBruce Warila

When I think back on the various music taste makers that I've trusted, there aren't many whose recommendations consistently impress me.

I used to buy titles from Narada and Windham Hill based on the label. Anything either one put out consisting of either acoustic guitar or acoustic piano was at least worth considering.

And now I find that NPR and Daytrotter have turned out to be great sources of music. And back when I was watching TV, I rather liked many of the music specials on PBS.

But beyond that, I haven't found any music critics or labels that recommend music that I like as a whole. So I am not sure if any new form of label branding will work better than older forms of tastemaking. It should in theory. But in reality, individual choices seem to vary quite a bit.

August 26 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

This is the typical closed-minded, victim attitude off all major labels. It's for this reason we as artists make more money, progress further, and maintain more control of our art without you now. You've become obsolete, and like the 60 yr old former pin-up girl at the party, sadly & pathetically, you're the last to know. The pump vs. filter idea you mention is very accurate. However it's nothing new, and you're unnecessary to it's development. You come off like someone's dad asking who's heard of this "new fangled myspace thingy". Like everything else with the internet, it will progress without your "help".
On a sidenote, it's also very typical of the passion/intelligence of major label executives to not know how to spell "lose" (see last paragraph), or to (more likely) just not care enough to proofread something. The irony of the release of your "creativity" without a filter is staggering.

August 26 | Unregistered CommenterAn ASCAP member

Uh....that's the '50s-'60s Record Company model, isn't it?
I thought that people didn't want that any more.

August 26 | Unregistered CommenterAlan

@ ASCAP member - thanks for spotting that typo. Got it. On a side note (it's two words not one), you are barking up the wrong tree.

August 26 | Registered CommenterBruce Warila

It's funny you should ask if I want to have your baby. It is perhaps an un-intended metaphor that a woman AND musician must consider carefully. Because you will be stuck with that kid the rest of your life and after the first few years, you don't know what that kid will be like.

So here's a possible perspective: In this period of contraction, consumers are likely to question the value of paying for music, especially if the revenue goes to support a corporate structure whose primary contribution is marketing and possibly money. It seems they have less problem paying when they feel that the money goes directly to the creators and performers of that music. It may be that the idea of a "filter" is a bit out-dated too. If people don't like the music they hear, they are quick enough to turn in off. There are other concepts like "taste-maker" and gate-keeper" that implies a business channel that better supports a corporate structure.

By definition a "label" must choose it's audience and it's "stable" of musicians and one label cannot be everything to everybody. So before I might consider having your baby, I would want to know whether your DNA and my DNA might be fruitful. But from my viewpoint, the concept of "label" is a questionable business model, considering the universal access, supply and individual taste.

I don't think the argument about noise is enough, because we learn to filter the noise in our environment as a matter of survival. It may be an annoyance at first, but the brain adapts.

So I might listen to your beautiful song - but I don't know about the baby part.

August 26 | Registered CommenterJackie Henrion

Haha! Touche.... :) Sorry to go off on a tangent. This is a well written article. Not mad at you, just my experience with major labels vs. now. Not sure if you actually work at a major, but the arrogance and refusal to adapt to the times when it's appropriate to do so is frustrating beyond belief.

August 26 | Unregistered CommenterAn ASCAP member

Jackie,

You have to think out of the box. Perhaps label is the wrong word. How about marketing cooperative. Music Think Tank (I started this site with friends), is a perfect example of leveraging the network effect of numerous authors working together to build a site where we can all obtain the largest audience possible. Poke around this site. You will see numerous personalities, a variety of ideas, a filter (the Open section of the site), a shared ownership structure, etc. It works very well.

If you take the time to read this post (http://www.musicthinktank.com/blog/dont-go-over-the-self-promotion-cliff-crush-your-local-radio.html), you will better understand where I am coming from.

-Bruce

August 26 | Registered CommenterBruce Warila

I'm a marketing professional, so I get the value of branding a collective or whatever you want to call it. As I said in a previous comment, the big problem that has hampered some attempts to do this is that often the artists/bands signed or working with a label are too diverse to benefit each other.

The other problem is money. The more people you add to the team, the more the collective has to gross. If a marketing person can make a living wage working with five different bands, it could work. But if not, then you just add another underemployed music industry person.

Again, marketing a group of bands together should work in theory, but there have been reasons why it hasn't always been successful.

August 26 | Registered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

Thank you for the article and for all the awesome and compelling comments and arguments for and against working as an artist in a collective enviornment or for a label.

Suzanne, I especially have experienced the downside you mentioned when the label I was signed to went under and the booking agent I longed to work with signed way too many artists.

THANKS Y'all!
michelle gold
music described as Celine Dion and Beyonce meet Jesus in Jerusalem!
www.michellegold.com

August 27 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle Gold

I made a typo.

What it should have said:

If a marketing person can make a living wage working with five different bands, it could work. But if not, then you have just added another underemployed music industry person.

August 27 | Registered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

@ Suzanne

IMHO, it has not worked because nobody has done it right yet.

There is plenty of room for diversity (in music) within one of these cooperatives. Personally, I would rather clump artists together within a genre / style, but I could see others doing it based upon other grouping / positioning / marketing (i.e.: lifestyle) criteria.

August 27 | Registered CommenterBruce Warila

Let me toss out several words to see if we can stimulate the conversation:

1. Branding. I think we have talked about this already. Can a label mean anything as a brand?

2. Synergy. I am assuming that would be part of this concept. Each of the bands/artists on this new type of label would enhance the value of all of the others.

3. Efficiency/expertise. Some of the discussions about new sorts of music labels have suggested that bands/artists can outsouce certain tasks to specialists who are especially good at what they do and perhaps already have the necessary contacts.

Are these factors in the Venture concept? Am I overlooking others?

August 27 | Registered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

Suzanne,

Take a look at STS9. I believe STS9 is killing it. They are packing shows all around the country and they are undoubtedly selling tons of merch and live recordings of all their shows.

When you click on STS9s "digital music store" link, the link changes to a subdomain of 1320 records.

As an aside, 1320 record's technologist kicks ass. Great use of Wordpress all around. Great strategic use of domains. Excellent e-commerce for music. Puts bigger labels to shame.

When you are on 1320 records, you can optionally surf, listen to, and procure from the entire catalog / roster, while filling up ONE shopping cart.

I would bet that STS9 is currently the "anchor tenant" (the biggest driver) for 1320 records. I would also speculate that 1320 is in the process of meshing many of the artists they work with into the 1320 site - similar to how STS9 is integrated.

STS9 / 1320 is not exactly what I have in mind, but it's a great start, and you can't argue with the success they are having.

I would like to see (in these Ventures) more branding back to the label; at a minimum, some basic recommendation technology; more infrastructure / shopping synergy on merchandise; and streaming radio that features the best of the best, songs from other labels, and a compelling (live human) personality.

As for "curation", if you run a label, curation has already happened. Moreover consumers still have, and I would say always will have…a voracious appetite for curated music (trusted filters).

The Venture is about driving down costs, leveraging traffic, making money and sharing the upside. In my opinion, most labels are clumsy and they don't fully understand how to use the Internet to their advantage. A bunch of widgets, some Flash, some YouTube videos, me-to social networking, and using the same strategies and deal terms (with artists) that the rest of the herd uses is a recipe for losing money.

I will try to cover some of this in posts - in the near future.

Cheers,

Bruce

P..s: If you (all) don't want to wait for your comments to be moderated, create an MTT account. It takes two seconds.

August 28 | Registered CommenterBruce Warila

Interesting post -- we'd hoped that our (admittedly tiny) label, SongCrew (TM) could become a collective of musicians, singer-songwriters, artists, and videographers -- but it's a lot of work coordinating everything, when we really want to concentrate on our music. Nevertheless, we've already managed to put out 4 music CD's, 2 poetry/spoken word CD's, and numerous audio and video work on YouTube, MySpace, and our own websites (www.songcrew.com and www.leighharrison.com) so it can be done. But it takes an enormous amount of work, and we're still a "collective" (read: "world's tiniest record company" -- three people working together) and we're still putting out our music, CD's and videos. But, again -- it can be done.

August 28 | Unregistered CommenterLeigh Harrison

I've tried to think of music sites which, like STS9, which might lead me to a central location that exposes me other music I might like.

Daytrotter is probably the first that comes to mind. I'm extremely impressed with the collection of free tracks available there.

Here is a collection of some of my favorite curated sites. Twitter / @slainson/design. I never have time to check this list anymore, but much of the stuff I learn about from these people makes me smile.

A site which I think has the right idea is Kickstarter. I don't spend a lot of time browsing there, but because everyone who wants to use it for fundraising doesn't get an invitation to do so, there is a certain level of screening to begin with. I'm not impressed with everything I see there, but it is a good place to see what kinds of projects people have conceived and what they are hoping to do to raise money.

August 28 | Registered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

Thinking about this further, there are design sites which I enjoy visiting.

There are photography sites I enjoy visiting.

There are visual data sites I enjoy visiting.

There are a few news sites (like the New York Times) that I enjoy visiting.

But music sites tend not to grab me. Again, Daytrotter is my favorite, I think.

Maybe it is because I already know about 100 years of popular music and when someone promotes the latest band, I am always comparing it to everything I have ever heard in my life. Is it as good as the Beatles? As good as Dylan? As good as Motown? As good as the Beach Boys? As good as Cole Porter? As good as Sinatra? In most cases, no, it isn't.

Photography I can just enjoy for what it is. If it's a good photo, I can appreciate it. But with music, I don't want to commit 3 - 4 minutes to listen to it unless it really is better than something else I can listen to for 3-4 minutes. So, if someone is recommending music that I'm not all that impressed with, not only am I a bit irritated, my impression of the recommender tends to go down. The same with movies. If what you are recommending isn't as good as the many other films I have seen over a life time, I'm not impressed with your tastes.

August 28 | Registered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

"Can a label mean anything as a brand?"

Motown, Stax, Sun, Blue Note, Chess, even Alligator, Blind Pig,...

course been awhile for most of those but the concept of label as brand should still be relevant, it seems. And we sure could use the filter.

But I do think the challenge of attracting enough talent that TRULY can stand the kind of test Suzanne and most of the listening world applies is questionable, without significant funding and VERY strong artist selection criteria.

August 29 | Unregistered CommenterDg.

Might have to amend that last comment about needed QUALITY artists if rest of 1320 stable is like STS9...listened to parts of numerous songs from live show this month and the words that come to mind are GENERIC and NEUTERED. Like easy-listening, almost elevator music if that was created in that genre.

I know that wasn't the point of their mention and just my opinion, however, I listen to a LOT of electronic music and you couldn't pay me to get through a whole show - so since they are selling out apparently the bar ain't as high as I thought. Perhaps because there are so few live bands (vs DJs), in that genre the novelty gets them by.

Incidentally, Bruce, it was stated there couple times they own the label so your hunch was right - and said they have 20 other acts signed.

August 29 | Unregistered CommenterDg.

DG,

I found out about STS9 from a insightful interview on Rick Goetz's blog (which I highly recommend).

I had the same reaction to the music you did, and the pictures (check out the pictures on the site), did not reconcile to what I was hearing on the site. So I went to a show to see for myself. The show was excellent! I was surprised at the size of the crowd in Boston (reckless estimate 4,000). The crowd was completely into this band. Great experience all around. I will definitely go again.

There are a ton of things STS9 is doing that are noteworthy (merch being an exception). STS9 is a well run business that is taking advantage of most of the strategies that the Internet and technology enables us to do now. If I had more time, I would do a writeup on them. One interesting thing to note, look at the age of some of the band members.

-Bruce

August 29 | Registered CommenterBruce Warila

I know about STS9 because I'm in Boulder. Their manager used to be the talent buyer for the main music venue here, the Fox, which has been a major launching pad for jam bands both local and national going back to Dave Matthews.

I've watched a number of companies develop here starting with a touring band. String Cheese and Madison House have been the biggest, but Yonder Mountain's manager did the same thing, creating a number of music-related side businesses.

String Cheese/Madison House was always my model for the music business. They developed a booking agency, a travel agency, a merch company, a PR agency, a label, etc.

I was 100% in favor of that model, but then I worked with the Fray right up until they were signed, and I saw the benefits to them by having major label backing. So after that, I was willing to concede that a major label deal can be a good way to go if it's the right deal and you have the full support of the label. I don't think there will be similar deals to come along now, because they didn't have to do a 360 deal. And the major label system has been dismantling since then. But it was good for them and it was good for Colorado because they brought a lot of attention to the music scene here which is now booming. Many many talented local bands these days. And recently we've had a number of national music industry types setting up offices here, which helps to legitimize the scene further. I'd say that was directly due to the success/visibility coming from the Fray.

The Flobots, who are part of the Fray circle of friends, have been very active in setting up their non-profit in Denver. In fact, that's why they agreed to their major label deal -- to create visibility for their non-profit work.

Pretty Lights is a Colorado act that is doing well around the country and is on the 1320 label. But they give away all their music as free downloads, so I'm not sure they actually need a label as such.

August 29 | Registered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

Another great article with plenty food for thought Bruce.

This whole deal is SO complex, ....yet there IS headway being made. This post and comments
seem to me to be an inevitable debate, turning over and over the issues and then moving beyond, hopefully. What's clear to me is this: BRUCE, YOU'RE A LEADER. thanks for your work!

-Dale-

September 11 | Unregistered CommenterDale Morgan

Bruce - you've hit the nail on the head. Artists need a community now as well as fans need new heros. Fans need to be able to make informed choices. There's still NO platform out there available on a wide scale to give artists a step up. Television networks, good and I mean good branding labels, a round table of ex-label executives etc. all need to start talking about minimizing risk, spell things out properly to the world and stop the ass kissing and bean counting only.

It would be beneficial for musicians to start thinking of ways to get involved with brands - who aren't yet labels by doing their business planning around partnerships rather than sponsorships etc.

Lot's to do and lots to think about to get us out of the mess created by industry

September 23 | Unregistered CommenterCat

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