Connect With Us

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner


« Endorsements | Main | Breakthroughs, Bitterness and Biopics »

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?

Honestly.  What year do they think it is?  Every band worth their salt has a Myspace page, a Facebook page - has had them for years in fact, and I can tell you that most of them are also engaging extensively with blogs too.  I get more stuff sent to my blog than I could possibly publish, and it’s not all that big in the grand scheme of things.  It seems, from where I’m standing, that everyone HAS embraced the web, and there is now a cacophony of voices all trying to achieve the same end: i.e. use the internet to get publicity, to sell t-shirts or other, more esoteric concepts such as mentions in song lyrics, and so on.  Which, as these pundits insist, is some kind of answer to the issue that no-one wants to pay for music any more.

The kicker to all that, though, is that all this stuff has progressively less impact, the further it goes along.  Five years ago, giving away a free track would guarantee you some publicity.  Now, of course, producer XYZ can give away all the tracks he wants on blogs and his myspace, but it will pale in comparison if (say) Orbital give away a free track on the NME website; so we return to a situation where those with the loudest voices and biggest marketing budgets get heard.

The clincher, of course, to really nail down the fact that in 2009 a commentator doesn’t know the state of things on the ground and is in fact just parroting what the last guy said, is to cite Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails.  Two great bands; yes.  Two examples of pushing new, creative and genuinely innovative (if arguably gimmicky) business models; yes.  Two examples of what can be achieved with the internet if you’ve got a ready-made fanbase, a few million pounds in the bank, some staff and a couple of decades of major label marketing behind you.  How are they relevant to a band starting up today, who don’t have access to this kind of money and infrastructure?  Certainly, these bands set some balls rolling, but In Rainbows was over two years ago; the pay-what-you-like model is already essentially useless to indie musicians.  The main lesson to take from these artists, I think, is to have an innovative idea and market the crap out of it.  Unfortunately, the average aspiring artist can only get as far as step one there - marketing budgets are not an option.

The reason I say the pay-what-you-like model is useless, is that it falls victim to the ‘lessening impact’ point.  A quick case-study:  Ugress from Norway is an indie musician and film & TV composer.  He’s got a tight website, a popular blog, a great line in self-marketing, he runs his own label, he’s on all the major social networks as well as youtube, flickr, LastFM, thesixtyone, iTunes, iThinkmusic, Amazon, he streams concerts online, flogs merchandise, gives away free tracks, ‘communicates’ via his mailing list and twitter, and all the rest of it.  He has embraced the web massively, has done so since 2002, and is now 23 albums deep(!).  He also released his last album as a ‘pay-what-you-like’ download.  Conclusion?  

“Financially and theoretically speaking, if I could release an album like this every month, with those figures, I could actually make a living directly from that.”


But I digress. 

It sometimes seems like this idea of the lazy, whining musician is something of a straw-man argument - it can certainly be used as a convenient justification for shrugging our shoulders and declaring that if musicians just got up off the sofa and did a bit of work, they wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place.  It rings rather hollow, though, since in my experience no-one (of the full-timers, anyway) is actually like that.  

The truth is actually that everyone is on their hustle now.  We all know about word-of-mouth marketing, everyone is trying to get their friends on facebook and twitter to re-tweet their latest gig details, wear their t-shirts, buy their music, play their music, recommend it on iLike or favourite it on Last FM.  There is no golden ticket - the old rules apply (you still have to write good tunes) but apart from that it’s all (kind of) open.  Which, in many ways, is pretty exciting when you think about it. 

There are a lot of options, a lot of possibilities, and I see people trying them every day.  It may feel like people are not really ‘breaking through’ so much right now, but I would venture that this is because it’s getting increasingly hard to do, not because bands are not trying, or do not understand the importance of the internet.  Suggesting that bands try embracing the web feels increasingly outdated as we head into the second decade of the 21st century: they are already here.  


Ed Bayling is a DJ, dance music producer, engineer and editor of ‘Bass Music’ - a music blog dedicated to rugged dance music worldwide.

Reader Comments (49)

My sentiments exactly. Thanks for saying this, so I didn't have to.

After reading Dave's post a couple days ago, and thinking of musician friends who have been embracing all manner of technology for YEARS, I was incensed but didn't have time at the moment to comment, knowing it would be lengthy, giving credible details and all. Just came back to find you did it for me, and better than I could have...thanks, Ed.

December 18 | Unregistered CommenterDg.

ed, this is brilliant. thanks for telling it like it is.

December 18 | Unregistered Commentereblair

Excellent. It's become one of those things that everyone thinks they're an expert on - just give your music away! But there's not much scope for making a lot of money elsewhere, given that everyone is doing that now. Law of diminishing returns definitely applies here.

December 18 | Unregistered Commentermatthew

THANK YOU. i love this blog, and a lot of really great ideas and conversations take place here. but i get annoyed at reading every other post that says musicians are just lazy, and that's the ONLY reason why we'll never get anywhere. it's insulting. like guys, it's so simple! if we JUST updated our blog, twittered a bunch, stood on our head, turned water into wine, and solved the meaning of life, we could maximize our profits by about... 2.4%!!

certainly, there are lazy musicians. CERTAINLY. but there are those of us that do try really hard, and are good at what we do, and still don't have much success (yet.) and from personal experience, i know it's not like a lot of "successful" acts are all doing all this stuff, either. sometimes it's just luck and the people you know.

December 18 | Unregistered Commenterchantilly

Like me, Mr. Allen spends a lot of time speaking at or participating in various music conferences, trade shows, events, etc. Most of the musicians we encounter there do not embrace technology or understand what's going on. It's both shocking and disappointing.

I'm sure it's obvious for you guys - after all, you're reading and writing on a blog called "Music Think Tank". You're not the people he's addressing.

I've read many articles on this blog that were ill-researched and factually or philosophically challenged. Dave's wasn't one of them.

Perhaps this wasn't the best forum for Dave's comments, as they're unlikely to be read by the people who most need to see them. One of the ever-shrinking print magazines might have been a better choice, or perhaps ASCAP's "Playback".

While I don't think I can call Dave a friend of mine, I know him well enough to say that not only does he "get it", he is well-versed in the state of the modern music business. He is NOT some know-nothing who is out of touch with the world.

December 18 | Unregistered CommenterAnu Kirk

I think the only person here who regularly berates readers for being lazy is Loren Weisman. Most of the authors here are emphatically not "commentators" parroting NIN and Radiohead PR, but actual professionals with decades of experience and ground-level perspective to spare.

For sheer style points, though, I really do appreciate how you wrote an essay to burn down a Straw Man by building a Straw Man of your own.

December 18 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

thanks Ed.

I think you may be qualified to explain in depth one of the ways people are making money from music, which is to say from the "content creators". Simply become an internet music marketing guru (make sure to use the word guru btw) and give seminars, workshops, offer $19.95 pdf's (download NOW!), run a 'net label, etc. List your credentials, including the many "popular" bands you have been in (none of which anybody has heard) as well as things like "and also worked with the Rolling Stones, Lady Gaga and George W Bush". (In what capacity or relevance or veracity, no one will question, because YOU know the secret, after all YOU are a Guru).

Having had a brief distasteful bout years ago away from my real business (making music) in sales, I was made aware of the likes of "sales/motivational gurus" like Zig Ziglar and Tony Robbins..who were pulling this shite long before most musicians wondering about internet marketing (indeed, before the internet itself) were born. Same tactics, marketing.."guru-ness". And the dough these charletons made (and still make, there's a sucker born every nano second) made the above mentioned shills look like the small time hustlers they are.

To end this slightly OT response..something that struck me recently while reading a good book called "The Omnivore's Dilemma". I simply "transposed" it:

“there’s a lot of $$ to be made from music, just as long as you are not a musician”.
transposed in the key of JP from a comment made re farmers and food production vs McDonalds and ConAgra.

again, thanks for the read..

December 18 | Unregistered Commenterjp

Hi Ed,

You make some interesting points, but if you believe that all musicians are on the web and actively using social networking to release their music, then I think you're mistaken.

Yes, it may seem like every musician is doing this, because with the rise of the internet we finally got an idea of how many bands there actually are in the world. But do a simple survey of musicians that you actually know in your city or town. Sure i bet all of them have a Myspace page, and maybe a facebook fan page, but aside from that, (in my experiences) less than 50% will have blogs, twitter accounts, flickr, youtube etc. And many of those that do have a presence on those sites are not using them correctly.

Just having a profile on these pages isn't going to do anything for you. You need to be actively engaging fans. Coming up with new ways to stand out and be interesting. This is hard work. And most of all you have to be able to analyze all the web data you receive. Check your youtube stats. Are all your fans in Asia? Europe? North America? Maybe you should forget about touring in your country and go where your fans are.

Let's not forget. The internet has given us access to nearly every band on the planet. But it has also given us access to all the people just starting out as well. The ones who still need 10,000 hours of practice before they get any good. Therefore even doing all the above right. If you aren't good enough to have an audience yet in the first place, no one is going to talk about you.

Alright I've said enough for now.


December 18 | Unregistered CommenterMike

I had to say it: I love this blog man..


December 18 | Unregistered CommenterBruce Warila

A couple of the above comments seem to (ahem) protest too much, to misquote the bard.

It doesn't really matter that there are still a lot of musicians who don't use the web well - the point of the post is that even for those who do, it ain't all you've cracked it up to be.

And if you think dragging the rest of musical humanity kicking and screaming into the social networks is going to help, then you're probably in the business of helping naive musicians into social networks.

From what I've observed, in my own endeavours and those of many others, a year or so of marketing an unknown act on the web garners less real publicity and awareness than doing a couple of good gigs. The apparently massive amounts of feedback and attention that pretty much anyone with a bit of nous can attract online simply don't translate that well into tangible rewards.

It's much easier to get people to visit your website by playing a gig than it is to get them to your gig by promoting it on your website. Think about your own behavioural patterns in this regard and tell me why you expect everyone else to behave differently.

There are certain opportunities available online which would never have been possible using meatspace alone, but it's got fuck all to do with "be on facebook like everyone else, have a blog, tweet all day" etc etc.

December 18 | Unregistered Commenterfelix

I have to thank you for standing up and speaking the truth. Musicians are some of the hardest working people around, and still they get no respect or money for their efforts.

December 18 | Unregistered CommenterKevin


hey, it was primarily in response to Dave's article (as opposed to MTT in general) - surely that qualifies it as a wicker man? ;)

You'll have to forgive me if I'm not familiar with the views or backgrounds of the regular crew of posters on here - I'm only an occasional visitor, and I wrote the above before seeing that Dave's essay was on here (I saw it on his own site first) - but it feels like the kind of view I've seen espoused a lot on different sites around the net - and as such it was really a venting of frustration (which I know most of my peers share).


that's a good point - it does seem that every band in existance is on the net, simply because there are so many of them. Of course, one can't speak for all artists, but thinking of where I operate (i.e. the dance music field in Bristol, UK) literally everyone I know that makes a living through music related stuff uses the internet for at least the basics:- a homepage, facebook, myspace, forums, free tunes, free DJ mixes/podcasts, selling t-shirts, limited edition vinyl runs to go alongside mp3 sales etc - and perhaps half also go deeper, with youtube, twitter and so on (in general, it's the younger ones who got more into this; in fact it's their default mode of being!).

So perhaps my viewpoint is skewed, I'm sure there must be people who haven't embraced the web, but I don't know them! As such, I genuinely believe that if a band in their early 20's started tomorrow, they would be twittering and webbing about it immediately; since they were probably doing that anyway...

December 18 | Unregistered Commenteri.d.

Here's part of the problem: indie artists aren't always aware of the difference between "embracing the web" and "dicking around on the web." It's hard to describe the latter as sometimes it feels a lot like the former.

Couple that with something Bruce W. says that I believe is true: lots of artists don't know how to be entertaining on the web. It has to be learned, just like performing on stage. There's a world of difference between starting a blog and actually being an interesting blogger. And just like anything else, you have to put in the hours before anyone even notices.

Artists need ideas. They need to try different things and learn not to be discouraged when the results are less-than-stellar. They need relevant one-on-one guidance and not "this worked for Amanda Palmer" one-size-fits-none advice. And they need advice that emphasizes growth over revenue.

Above all, they need to realize that web-based activities are not replacements for the real-world stuff: writing, recording, performing, shaking hands, kissing babies, etc.

December 18 | Unregistered Commenterscottandrew

bah sorry, I wasn't used to the commenting and logging-in setup on this site! That comment was me.... :)

December 18 | Registered Commentered bayling

Great rebuttal post, but I respectfully suggest that it misses the crux of Dave's argument. He's not saying that simply embracing the web is the solution to all problems for musicians. He's suggesting that artists need their own strategy for creating a remarkable brand and the internet is a necessary tool to do so, but that it also requires some effort and innovation to be of any real use.

“Control has moved from the few to the millions of many. If dull labels and dull bands keep offering dull, flat, non-experiential product – e.g. a CD, they will go the way of the Dodo. Consider what Cirque Du Soleil provides as an experience compared to Barnum and Bailey’s circus. Or Burning Man compared to your average music festival.”

I think we can now replace 'CD' with MySpace, Facebook, etc. as examples of "dull, flat, non-experiential" products. If musicians believe that throwing up a MySpace profile and offering some free downloads and a few videos on YouTube is enough to be an effective promotional strategy, then there is clearly room for more innovation.

And if the pay-what-you-like model isn't ones cup of tea, for example, then the idea is that it's now their own - not some other entitiy's - obligation to come up with something else that will draw the attention of fans. That new level of control should be exciting, not tedious, as Ed rightfully points out in his post. Sure, being remarkably innovative is difficult, that's what makes it remarkable. But we're talking about musicians here; their very nature it is to be creative, right? So what's stopping them from creating newer, better, more exciting, and more interesting promotional strategies to differentiate themselves?

I think Dave's analogy of the Big Business Music Industry teat is apropos. Musicians used to rely on a large organization to point the way for them. No longer, though, are they required to suckle their directives from Big Mother. Instead, they're free to forge their own way, and that can certainly be a scary thing.

But the internet has removed the barriers to entry when it comes to marketing and promotion, and it's easier than ever to try new things without any real risk or any real budget. But as we well know, the problem is that attention is getting pretty scarce.

So the thing to remember - and the key to Dave's argument, I believe - is that sheepishly following the same 'strategy' that everyone else is using isn't a strategy at all. I think the title of the essay sums that up quite well. "Be Brilliant, or Get Out of The Way"

December 18 | Unregistered CommenterMike Munro

Very well written and thoughtful Ed - thanks.

I'm unsure if everything is black and white with what musicians know and don't know...

I can tell you I have been shocked at what I have gotten from people who found me through Google searches. People asking me for record deals and managers and to listen to their music - without knowing who I am or what I do (I don't work at a label, I don't hook people up with managers). I get calls from "Online music marketing companies" and "agents" who collect fees for online marketing sending me to their corporate website at Http://

I'm not going to speak ill of musicians (especially since I am one) but I can tell you when asked the question - "Why do you collect money up front?" and I respond "Because I work with musicians..." I have never gotten questioned further about it...ever.

We are all at the breaking point with over saturation on social networks and blogging. So whether or not there are still many musicians not engaged in web activity - there are enough to make it less effective.

I recently spoke to the CEO of a media monitoring company who said that there is a direct correlation between how tech savvy you are and how tech savvy your fans and followers are and he concluded with access to some of the best data online that the amount of music that is stolen from an artist illegally is directly correlated to how tech savvy and present they are on the web.

Mind blowing...

December 18 | Unregistered CommenterRick Goetz

An excellent essay. Well said, and true.

I'd say a musician's best promotional tool is a song that grabs the listener's heart and mind in the first few bars and doesn't let go until they sigh gently a few seconds after the last chord has faded away. And then they look for the replay button to do it again.

That's the brand. Not a quirky "look" or lifestyle...that's the Paris Hilton style of celebrity and brand.

This is about music, after all.

Until you have songs that people want to play again and again, it's WAY too early to be thinking about "promoting your brand." What are you promoting??

I think that is what is being underplayed or missed in so many of the "musicians, embrace the Web" essay and blogs I see.

Oh yeah, they briefly mention: "Make sure you don't suck." And every new musician says, well, *I* don't suck. I listened, and I am probably as good as everything I hear on the Web from people starting out."

Yes, indeed.

But that's the showstopper right there.

Writing songs that moves people like I mentioned is SO hard, and takes a lot of listening and thought to get there.

There's way too much talk about branding before the songwriting, singing, and playing has been attended to properly.

I know I am still working hord on it!

December 18 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Galen

I think that ugress is a poor example - he only has a few hundred followers on Twitter - sounds like he has no real social media connection to his fans.

December 18 | Unregistered Commentermatt stevems


thanks for the comment, I think perhaps you even articulated the position more clearly than Dave did! One other thing I forgot to mention in the comment just now, was that another motivational factor in my writing the essay is the finger-jabbing at these 'whining' musicians who declare that "the business owes them a living". Which is a touch insulting, and although I heard such sentiments from fellow musicians around the middle of this decade, I really haven't heard it in a long while - everyone's a lot more philosophical about filesharing, how they can use the internet to their advantage and so on. But anyway.

It's interesting you mention the 'teat' argument though, as that is one of the parts of Dave's essay I don't think stands up very well at all. No doubt some bands rely on this setup - but in order to do so, they need to be in the top 1% (or even 0.1%?) of successful artists, and they need to have been well established for a while (to build up at least an album or 2 of back catalogue).

So I don't think that it's particularly useful, in a discussion of bands who are trying to build a fanbase and reach such a stellar level, to suggest that they are at fault because of the laziness of their predecessors. (But yes, of course these bands who are already on MTV need to up their game in order to avoid the slide back down into obscurity....)

December 18 | Registered Commentered bayling

@matt stevems : judging an artist's popularity by the number of Twitter followers is like judging them on whether they get played on the radio or not. Low numbers don't mean people aren't paying attention; high numbers don't mean people are. Signal to noise is what counts.

December 18 | Unregistered Commenterscottandrew

Any marketing/promotional technique that works will be copied by most musicians, so unless you are one of the first to try it (and then to move on to something else), at best you are just keeping up with everyone else.

So I tend not to see any clever ideas as solutions for music marketing because as Ed pointed out, they lose their effectiveness pretty quickly. That doesn't mean there isn't value in some of them (like maintaining an email newsletter), but their ability to help you stand out lessens as more bands employ them.

I think trends being what they are, bands/musicians are going to make less money. It has become so easy for many people to become involved in music creation that I think we will have lots of people making at least a little music and fewer of them buying music. And I'm not sure that is so bad. If everyone makes music, even if only for themselves, their friends, and their families, and spends less time being passive music consumers, society might be better off. Maybe not enough money to go around to pay people a living wage in music, but lots of people feeling fulfilled by participating in music.

What I try to do, to keep it all in perspective, is to tell most musicians that they shouldn't expect to make a living in music (unless they are giving lessons or have a salaried music-related job), but that making music is its own reward and I encourage them to do it.

All those little girls who take ballet lessons don't expect to grow up to be full-time ballerinas. All the kids who learn to ski don't expect to grow up to be professional skiers. All the people who make music shouldn't expect to do it for a living.

December 18 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

Thanks for replying, Ed. I think you bring up another interesting problem in addressing the teat argument, though. I believe that musicians trying to reach a 'stellar' level of recognition are, perhaps, a little misguided. That was an old 'reality' that quite likely isn't achievable for most artists anymore, but that's another discussion altogether.

However, the flip-side to that, which is what I was trying to shine a light on, is that it's never been easier to build up a base of fans around the world using the democratizing power of the internet. Sounds pretty catch-phrasey, I know, but it's definitely easier than it was to get a major label deal 10 years ago, wouldn't you agree? It still requires a lot of hard, dedicated, and innovative work, though.

I'm certainly not trying to advance the whiny, lazy musician stigma. I agree with you that that sort of finger-jabbing isn't productive. I'm just saying that plodding along the same old path on the internet (or otherwise) that everyone else is taking is not going to get you anywhere. Things like MySpace have become the 'easy route' and there now needs to be more, and that 'more' is the responsibility of the musicians.

And with all due respect, the argument that it's pointless, as Suzanne reiterates, to come up with new ideas only to have them copied and then lose their effectiveness, doesn't hold any water when you think about musicians either. That's like saying a musician shouldn't waste time writing new songs because they'll just become influences for other artists and then they won't be uniquely theirs. Artists are constantly coming up with new musical ideas, why not promotional ones, too? Or if they don't want to do it, why not partner with someone else who does?

The fact of the matter is that the onus to promote now falls squarely on the musician, not the major label, and that should be a good thing.

I guess the point I was trying to make with my previous comment is that simply saying "musicians need to embrace the web" is like saying "musicians need to embrace their instruments". Of course they do! And they have, too, we both agree on that. And I realize that a call to 'embrace the web' is exactly how Dave closes his essay, but I believe the real suggestion is that the web is just the newest instrument in every band, and that its player needs to be as remarkable as the other members for the band to succeed.

December 18 | Unregistered CommenterMike Munro


Your "remarkable brand" is your music. Nothing more.

Marketing gurus say that a brand is actually a promise of excellence.

Until you have excellent music, you have no brand worth promoting.

Innovative or otherwise.

Work on the music first. With time, you may have a brand to promote in an innovative way.

December 18 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Galen


There's no disputing that there must be excellent music before musicians are concerned with innovative promotion. You're absolutely correct there. No amount of marketing ingenuity will make up for bad musicianship. It's a shame that some believe otherwise.

However, I'd say that a more accurate definition of a brand is actually the promise of an excellent experience. So the idea that a musician's brand is nothing more than their music seems a bit limiting when there are so many other ways that we can experience, or interact with them. And yeah, promotion is one type of interaction that we have with musicians ;-)

December 18 | Unregistered CommenterMike Munro


I don't know - I'm certainly under no illusions about the fact that I'll never be on MTV with my tuneless nonsense, but I think the world would be a poorer place if we didn't have anyone who aspired to be the next Dave Lee Roth or Liam Gallagher! I agree that it's probably more possible for artists to come to prominence now though - in the dance music world there are (for instance) produceres in Angola getting exposure now who would never have been heard 5 years ago...

I think you misinterpret Suzanne's point a little, too - she's not saying that it's pointless coming up with new ideas, rather, that any given idea is pointless unless you're the first person to use it (in which case it's extremely useful!)

I have to say I'm rather ambivalent about the whole 'shifting of the onus' (fnarr fnarr) from labels to artists. On the one hand, it opens up a lot of possibilities to artists, and will let a lot of people come through who might otherwise have not. Which is a great thing. On the other, I'm rather fearful that the artists we will hear most from in future are the ones who have dedicated their time to SEO and self-marketing rather than composition...

Also, while the burden of promotion may shift away from the label, I'm not sure it will drop squarely onto the artist: I think consumers/fans will still want 'trusted sources' like blogs, online magazines, friends with similar tastes to do some of the legwork for them. Whether that will mean blogs etc, or a shift to 'community' stuff a la MOG and LastFM will be interesting to see. I can certainly see a scenario where blogs 'release' music (in fact it's already happening in dance music') and it's then in the blog's interest to promote the music, because if they can help it be successful then the association could help both sides...

December 18 | Registered Commentered bayling

Here's what I am saying. Generally the first artist/band to come up with a new promotional idea gets media coverage for that. The focus is on the promotional idea rather than the music. By the time the fifth or the tenth artist is doing the same thing, the promotional idea just becomes one more tool. Therefore, any promotional idea you come up with either needs to be unique or it needs to be very useful for reaching and connecting with your fan base.

I've talked to musicians about Twitter. They ask me if it is worth their time. I tell them probably not if their fans or potential fans aren't on Twitter.

Most musicians have limited resources to work with. Not enough money and not enough time. So they have to pick and choose what is most effective for them.

If you've been in music a long time, you've probably had discussions about whether it's worth postering and giving out handbills. Talk to experienced bands and many of them will tell you for the cost and effort in putting posters up around town, they didn't notice a lot of people coming to shows because of them. Postering is no longer considered an important promotional tool.

Talk to bands about MySpace. I still recommend that every band have a MySpace page. But is it useful to getting people to shows? It depends on who your fans are. If your fans have abandoned MySpace, sending them bulletins about shows probably isn't going to help you.

I talk to bands daily about what works and what doesn't work for them. Some techniques work pretty well for everyone (e.g., maintaining an email list and connecting directly to fans that way). Some techniques turn out to be gimmicks that worked well initially but don't help anymore.

I do believe that as more bands enter the field and more of them are competing for the same audience dollars, there's not going to be enough to go around. The consumer isn't going to buy merch from all the bands they listen to. So if we are going to be honest with bands about their chances, we have to point out that music fans only have so many hours to attend shows and so many dollars to buy merch and it it won't be enough to sustain everyone who wants a career in music.

The one tool which I think is the most important marketing tool (even more important than the quality of the music itself) is word-of-mouth. If people are recommending you to their friends, then you have something. And they may not even be recommending you because of your music. Maybe they like your shows because you are fun, or because there are hot chicks at your shows, or whatever.

December 18 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

Here's a good example of marketing and promotion in music: Amanda Palmer.

She's gotten a lot of attention over the last year for using Twitter and also for feuding with her major label. So to some she represents the potential of social media to generate income for musicians. For others she is a symbol of the independent artist fighting the evils of the major label system.

In neither of those cases is she getting attention for her music, though the media attention may ultimately result in new music fans for her if they listen to her music.

I pay attention to Palmer as well, but not because of her music (I actually haven't listened to much of it, though I like what I have heard). She is important to me for her writings on being an artist. I think she has thoughtful things to say about her motivations and how she makes a living creating art. She presents herself more as a performance artist than as a musician and I think that is significant.

In sum: Amanda Palmer is many things to many people, not all of whom pay attention to her as a musician. Musicians who primarily want to be musicians and who want to be perceived as musicians may have relatively little interest in participating in the marketing, promotional, and social media tools that have been suggested to them. So for them, it may not be a good or satisfying use of their time.

December 18 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

I read it as... ‘Be Brilliant’. Innovate and work as hard to create an ENTERTAINING experience as you do creating original music. I did not see it as Dave Allen saying musician's were lazy at all... only that new THINKING is required. Try things out, see if they work but all the while please ENTERTAIN. I deal with MANY bands, and I know they work pretty damn hard. However, that does not make them "Brilliant". To be honest, many of them are quite mediocre (and I'm not talkin' just MUSIC)... I'm talking the overall experience a band brings to an audience. Perhaps the songs are great but the band has an unremarkable live show. Perhaps the band is amazing live but has to focus on writing better songs. Perhaps a band has decent songs and a decent live show but no branding or image. Perhaps they're WEB-GENIUSES with no live show or songs to speak of. To me, ALL these things need to work together to move people and to create an emotional response. That's how I read Dave Allen's essay. Anyway, just my 2 cents, take it or leave it.

December 19 | Unregistered CommenterHank

Thanks to Anu, Mike Munro and Hank for having read and understood the salient points in my essay.

For musicians, it comes down to this I believe - 1. Be brilliant as there are millions of bands out there. 2. The only thing that's scarce on the internet is attention. 3. A MySpace page is not an online strategy. 4. Releasing a CD in 2010 will be considered dull and non-experiential by the younger generations, you know, the ones that the RIAA spanked into not buying your music.

I am not sitting around making this stuff up, I am re-telling it for the benefit of musicians. CD sales are in the toilet so all of you in this forum who produce music for sale, I ask of you, what are you doing about improving your sales and/or your income streams?

In March of next year, I will appear on yet another panel, at yet another conference (SXSW) where some so-called "pundits" will attempt to unravel what's happening on the social web. It will be my last appearance on a panel or public stage where I will discuss this particular subject. Most musicians simply don't get it as can be witnessed here. In future I will be using my energy better by working with students, particularly students who are studying communications strategy, journalism and PR, some of whom I have spent time with at the University of Oregon annex here in Portland. These students have no interest in the web, there interest lies in mobile technology and communication.

If musicians think that today they are embracing the web in large numbers, they are seriously mistaken. As I've said, the barrier to entry is zero, but musicians can't get their heads around that. How on earth then, are musicians going to get their heads around mobile technology, cloud computing and the simple fact that kids do not have a desire to "collect" and "store" music.

I wish you all well in the next decade.

December 19 | Unregistered CommenterDave Allen

The challenge for many in music today is trying to figure out what people will pay for. They may love the music, but since they can often listen to that for free, to what extent will they then come to shows, buy merch, etc.?

We have seen artists/bands who seem to be very popular online, but then don't actually generate sales. YouTube is trying to monetize this through advertising, so maybe online popularity will be sufficient.

Right now I don't take for granted that anything a band or artist does will lead to sales until those sales are actually there. And given current economic conditions, I am even more cautious about projecting how any artist/band will do.

December 19 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

Dave: A very interesting add on post about the youth of today not having a desire to "collect" or "store" music. I've been talking about this with my 18yo son and my 16yo daughter, they have grown up with FREE downloads and music tends to be disposable (like a lot of things these days).

Myspace was the start of Social Networks and we are seeing the growth of that as NEW players come on the market using Web 2.0 technology. Social Networks will continue to redefine themselves narrowing down into smaller niche markets.

Mobile tech is the new thing and I see XBOX now will integrate facebook & twitter as well as Movie's on demand and of course they have music. What we are seeing is the beginning of new ways to get info and products into the hands of consumers.

It doesn't necessarily mean the end of making money in music or people wanting to collect or store music. Maybe that's a by product of a lack education? Is it our fault we have not replaced Hifi listening yet and that today's youth have been white washed with poor quality music? (what I mean by that is, mp3, streaming, smaller files for easier storage and sharing)

I believe there is still a place for hifi in the future, there will always be CASUAL music fans and DIEHARD music fans. As musicians we need to diversify our income streams and realize that YES we may have to give a way a portion of our product (the lower quality stuff) in order to generate interest and we may have to find innovative ways to get our FRIENDS to recommend us.

The finding of and listening to new music will be "streaming" and through Mobile apps which would satisfy the CASUAL music fan but we still need to innovate a NEW Hifi product for those who want to KEEP and COLLECT music. I'm surprized how long CD has lasted (it's going on 30yrs now).

When are we going to replace it and with what? I think it needs to be a platform that can STORE and PLAY closer to MASTER quality (24bit) ... perhaps USB the answer I don't know but I know that right now is just the beginning.

Though we know that the general YOUTH don't have a desire for STORING or COLLECTING in it's present form, maybe they will in some other form on the back of some new product aimed at a particular market.

Ok starting to ramble... great posts everyone!

December 20 | Unregistered CommenterPazaz


I can agree with you in large part, certainly in points 1 - 3 of your comment above, and I can see where you're coming from in 4. What I can't really agree with though, is your differentiation between 'musicians' and 'young people'. The musicians ARE the 'young people', - have always been - and these are exactly the people who will be au fait with cloud computing in 5 years time.

I think the demographics of this site may mis-represent it a little bit - just because we're a bunch of old codgers in our 30s and 40s, it doesn't really follow that most musicians are! My estimate, based on the musicians I know, work with and field promo bumpf from, is that the majority are in their 20's. It's why I'd argue now that they're very aware of the web, and why I'm certain that in 5 years time, their younger brothers and sisters will be happy to deal with streaming, cloud computing and the next evolution in music distribution.

Good luck with your future ventures though, it's certainly an interesting time.

December 20 | Registered Commentered bayling


That's a great response. The idea of storing and collecting is simply an older demographic's need for the tactile experience. Albums, CDs, newspapers and magazines were the preferred containers for decades. (NB: weird that photographers moved quickly to digital without much complaint; they grasped the new container very quickly.) Young people have what McLuhan would call an "extension" to their bodies - it's called a mobile device. As technology brings fatter, faster bandwidth, many people will access music via the cloud. No need to purchase, download and own. The key word is access - how musicians get paid for that access is why owning your own copyrights is very necessary. Getting a slice of aggregation $$s won't pay the bills.

December 20 | Unregistered CommenterDave Allen


When I mention "young" people, I have in mind those savvy 8 year olds that I mention at the end of my essay. And I do realize that this arena is for the more, shall we say, mature musician (I'm no spring chicken.) So the 8 year olds will change the face of both musical style and its delivery because they will, like musicians in the past, be catering to their own generations.

For me personally, I prefer "slow music" just as I prefer slow food. An album on vinyl, where you have to stand up and turn it over after about 20 mins is perfect for me. I just bought a ltd edition version of Radiohead's Kid A on 2 x 10" vinyl. Great artwork, great analog sound = happy customer, even though I also have the MP3s..

Thanks for the chance to debate these issues here.

December 20 | Unregistered CommenterDave Allen


Re the Mp3 quality conundrum, kids prefer them apparently. Here's a study by Jonathan Berger, a professor of music at Stanford University.

December 20 | Unregistered CommenterDave Allen

The author here has taken the most superficial reading possible of Ball's article. Ball wasn't merely saying that musicians need to have a Myspace page and a Facebook page, he was saying that artists need to come up with radical new strategies for connecting with fans entirely outside of the traditional industry channels. Merely creating a social network profile or a Twitter feed that says "new album out!" and "Concert in Glasgow next month!" is an old media strategy. We're not broadcasting anymore, we're having a conversation.

If you post about how you're really starting to get into the Hammond Organ after rediscovering some old 45s or about how went down to the local junkyard to record hubcaps banging together or cars being crushed, that gives your community something to talk about. Hell, they might start banging their own hubcaps together and send you the recording. Now you have to let them talk back. Does your site have a forum? Does your blog have comments enabled? Are you conversing with people via @replies? Finally, it's your turn to respond. Make a reply video to someone's ukulele cover of your song on youtube, put up a track you don't think you'll finish and let the fans have at it, and answer questions the fans post in your forum. You don't get to just record an album and have done with it, anymore. Music is a relationship now.

There are already musicians who do this extremely well. Imogen Heap videoblogs her entire creative process ( and lets her fans remix her tracks (, for one. If you think she's too well known to be a good indication of what obscure artists can do, take a look at what the musicians on CD Baby's DIY Musician Podcast have been doing ( You can also see bands experiment with the ransom model on Kickstarter (

Connecting doesn't just mean posting music online and making social network profiles; that isn't even the bare minimum. Connecting means building a community around your music and interacting with it. There is no formula for making this work, so Ball is telling musicians to go out and experiment, try things, and have the courage to move beyond the industry model. If the "pay-what-you-like" model doesn't work for you, try the ransom model, try something else, but keep trying.

December 20 | Unregistered CommenterGrimp

A little typo: replace "Ball" with "Allen" please.

December 20 | Unregistered Commentergrimp

Connecting means building a community around your music and interacting with it.

What I have been wondering, though, is if you are giving away your recorded music and if you are depending on non-music items (like t-shirts) to make a living, do you even need the music? The community-building techniques that people are using can be used just as effectively for non-musicians.

So in some cases the music is just the aside. Or the music is a branding tool that can be used to brand non-music items. The music becomes one way to describe oneself to people, but the community building may have more to do with the personality and the communication skills of the artists/bands than the music itself.

That's how I think about Amanda Palmer. She is an artist. What intrigues me about her isn't her music per se, but her view of the world. She could just as easily be painting, writing, performing theater, etc.

In fact, when I look for ideas about music marketing, I usually look beyond the music community into the greater arts community because I think they have been dealing with their roles as artists much longer than most musicians. To get people to theater productions or to donate to local artists groups, arts organizations have had to do more than just upload songs on the Internet.

Maybe it's time we stop talking about music per se and talk about arts and creativity, etc. I think the people who talk about the future of the music business are still too myopic.

December 20 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Lainson


Sure, being remarkably innovative is difficult, that's what makes it remarkable. But we're talking about musicians here; their very nature it is to be creative, right? So what's stopping them from creating newer, better, more exciting, and more interesting promotional strategies to differentiate themselves?

Musicians are creative, but they're musically creative, not necessarily creative in terms of business and plans and marketing. That requires a whole different set of skills, which is why the most successful musicians [in terms of $$$, which is what we're talking about here] tend to have very good management teams behind them].

December 21 | Unregistered CommenterPS


I agree, and I've thought that when it comes to online strategy, musicians would do well to borrow ideas from online comics creators. There's a whole cadre of comic artists whose whole business model revolves around posting a new comic for free with clockwork regularity. The money comes from limited edition prints, bound collections, ad revenue, donations, commissioned works, and yes, even t-shirts and other merch. But the core item that draws reader interest -- the comic itself -- is extremely difficult to monetize on it's own.

December 21 | Unregistered Commenterscottandrew

PS makes a pertinent point. Many (certainly not all) musicians are creative and many (even fewer) have a great work ethic. But the error made so often is to assume that a proclivity for musical brilliance necessarily means that they will make great record producers, visual artists, art directors, video directors, marketers, etc. Too many made the self-assured jump to want to direct and control all aspects of the process, ignoring or even defying the experience and advice of potential team-mates or business partners.

Yes, some musicians do indeed have skills beyond just the song-writing/performing...but far fewer than give themselves credit for same. I think a large part of what Dave is crying for is embracing it watch, listen and learn while doing - the more the better in the beginning, making mistakes as vital as 'getting it right', so that if a 'team' ever becomes necessary as a career might grow and take hold...the musician at least has an idea of whether or not team members have a clue. In olden day terms: carry your own gear before you get a roadie, try and book gigs yourself before you try and get an agent, manage yourself before you get a manager, and if you ever find yourself getting any sort of label deal (is this really necessary any more?) - spend time around those people doing sales and marketing...watching, listening, and learning.

Dave has seen all sides of these dynamics, as have I...neither of us being 'spring chickens' around this business.

But - bottom line, as many have written here: if you don't have great songs (that connect) and are not great performers who connect with an audience - it's pretty much all for naught.

December 21 | Unregistered CommenterHugo

Musicians are creative, but they're musically creative, not necessarily creative in terms of business and plans and marketing.

You can say the same thing about inventors, web designers, videogame designers, etc, and they figure it out. Taking an attitude of "I don't know how to do this, it's hard!" will not garner you much sympathy from me. If you can afford it, hire somebody to do marketing; if you can't, there are books out there you can read and websites dedicated to online marketing. Imogen Heap and Amanda Palmer do it without being "marketing experts," they're just themselves online.

Here are a few websites aimed at helping out musicians:

How did I find them? Google search. If you're motivated to learn, there's nothing stopping you.

December 21 | Unregistered CommenterGrimp

Musicians are creative, but they're musically creative, not necessarily creative in terms of business and plans and marketing.

Yes, that's pretty much what I have been saying, too. People who get into music do it usually because they like to make music, not necessarily to do anything else.

But now it turns out that music (at least recorded music) isn't really salable anymore. So they need to either add other things to the mix to make money or just do music as a non-income earning activity.

I've been trying to point out that when you start to do things other than music in order to make money, you might as well consider everything you can do to make money, whether it is music-related or not. And in many cases, where you make the most money may have absolutely nothing to do with music. But you do that to pay the bills and then do the music for creativity, fun, etc.

I think too many "future of music" concepts are trying to force combining music with something else to show that music can still be lucrative. But sometimes the suggestions are a bit of a reach.

For example, Amanda Palmer has done some online auctions. Well, she can auction off random stuff because people like her. But she's still auctioning off stuff. If you can make more per hour doing something like running a non-music company, maybe you should do that and then leave a certain amount of time each week for your music, which doesn't make you any money, but is still worth doing for its own sake.

As I have said, many people ski, but most of them have no plans to make money at it. Why do we assume everyone in music should do it come up with ways to make it into a "business?" Part of the reason, I think, is that too many people have a mindset that people who just do music for fun must not be any good. That's unfortunate. We push people into all of these tricks to legitimize their music when just playing music is often good enough.

Here's more on that:

Let's Get Realistic About Your Music Career

December 21 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

Hi Hugo,

And welcome to the debate. (It's consuming my life!) You said it all at the end of your comment "if you don't have great songs (that connect) and are not great performers who connect with an audience - it's pretty much all for naught." Hence the the "Get Out of the Way" part of my essay title...

December 21 | Unregistered CommenterDave Allen

It has dawned on me that indie film makers, who are cursed with similar barriers to entry in an existing system (Hollywood,) beg, borrow and steal to get their films made. Yes its hard work but many of them get it done. They are also not averse to putting large chunks of their work online to help spur interest in their movies...

These film makers have been struggling alongside musicians facing similar hurdles.

December 21 | Unregistered CommenterDave Allen

It has dawned on me that indie film makers, who are cursed with similar barriers to entry in an existing system (Hollywood,) beg, borrow and steal to get their films made.

We also now have ways for people to get their movies seen without having to build a financial structure. YouTube, Vimeo, etc. allow people to create a movie and upload it and find an audience. If everyone involved with the project donates their time and they already have their own equipment or borrow it, and there are no costs in making copies, finding distribution, etc., then the fundraising becomes a non-issue.

A lot of the weekend movie makers won't be discouraged by being told they won't make money with their projects because they likely already know that.

So I'm just trying to get the mindset for musicians to that same point. Telling everyone if they make great music and then do "A," "B," and "C," they will make a living at this seems to be misleading to me. That's what I interpreted Ed's reason for the post. He's pointing out all the people offering advice on how to make money at music when most of musicians, even if they take it, may find it hard to do.

December 21 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

Here's what a lot of our discussions seem to come down to:

1. Make art.
2. Can you find an audience?
3. If so, will that audience support you?

The three elements are essential to making a living at art, but not everyone achieves all three. However, even if you can't achieve the third level (which is to make a living at your art), that doesn't necessarily invalidate the other two elements.

December 21 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

Can you make yourself heard, and when people listen do they like, and can you encourage enough of them to like it enough to spend money to sustain a career?

Nothing's really changed. To engage people you need a story.

The internet, printed media, television and telephony are all communication mediums but you still need a story to communicate in the first place.

For many years the new medium of the internet has actually been the story. But the novelty is gone, the internet is now transparent, and what you do with it is only as interesting as the story you're telling and the message you're communicating.

Your story should always be bigger than your website. A great story will find a way.

December 21 | Unregistered CommenterJulian Moore

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>