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Scattered Monkeys - “An Insiders Perspective on the Evolving Music Industry”

I am in the middle of hosting my Music Success in Nine Weeks Blogging Challenge, Wave 3

What’s that? You may be wondering…

It’s contest I launched to challenge to read my book and apply the 9 steps.  What I can’t believe is that over 200 artists in 7 countries have so far taken me up on the challenge.

I have no idea what an artist feels like when she stands on a stage and sees an audience sing along to lyrics that she wrote, or react to her music. But if it feels anything like what it feels like to see musicians read and react to my book. It’s humbling, touching, and I feel deeply moved.

Without further ado I want to share a post that deeply moved me by Christina from Hudson K in Knoxville, TN

Her blog posts as she moves through this challenge are here:

 Christina, thanks for this wonderful piece…. I’m proud to run in your pack.

(MSi9W Week 5: Blogging: This is my offering for week 5. I decided that I would post a freshly written article concerning the music industry as I now see it through the information I have gathered from “Music Success in 9 Weeks.”)

Imagine you are a wolf.

You were raised to hunt buffalo. You could take down one buffalo and feed your family for the long haul. Then one day the buffalo disappear.

There is a new species in your environment. You have never seen this creature before. They are hairy with beady-eyes, funny tails, and look almost human; they are monkeys.

Yes, oddly enough there are now monkeys everywhere. They are swinging in the trees and bathing in your watering hole. Monkeys as far as the eye can see. You are soon sick of banana peels and your mouth waters every time you hear that annoying cackle.

This is exciting. Surely these monkeys will be easy to catch. The smell of monkey is intoxicating. You can feel your instincts kicking in so you run. Yes! Exhilarating! You are on the chase after your monkey. You run and run and run. Except the monkey climbs a tree. You don’t know how to do that. You begin chasing another monkey…they scatter and confuse you.

Wolves are not made for chasing monkeys…(yes musician friend, you are a wolf.)

You do this all day, scattering monkeys all over the place and running in circles. This is what it feels like to be a musician these days. New prey has descended upon our environment and we don’t know how to catch it or which one to chase. There are 264 species of monkey. Upon consulting Wikipedia you realize that, “monkeys range in size from the Pygmy Marmoset, at 140 to 160 millimeters (5–6 in) long (plus tail) and 120 to 140 grams (4–5 oz) in weight, to the male Mandrill, almost 1 meter (3.3 ft) long and weighing 35 kilograms (77 lb.).” You decide to pursue the fatter “Mandrill.” But which is the tastiest? Wikipedia does not disclose that information. Which will provide sustenance for the longest time?

This story represents all the changes and choices we have in the new music industry. We can no longer hunt the buffalo (symbol of the record label), they are rare and almost extinct. The monkey itself represents the change in our environment and the new opportunities we have to chase. The plight of the wolf is that it does not yet have the refined skills to hunt the monkey and must be creative and adapt so that evolution will continue.

Enter the age of monkey overload

When old regimes fall their is a sense of euphoria. Freedom that sets the soul on fire and creates a motivated kinetic stream of energy. Suddenly the industry is a level playing field. The old model where you had to work your butt off for years until you were “discovered” has cracked. (I’m sorry, if you were lucky and knew the right people is how might have been discovered.) Major record labels are crumbling. Indies’ don’t have to chase after record deals anymore. We can navigate our own course, fund our own records, book our own shows and promote our own brand. What do we do with all this power? Nobody is blocking the doors to success. This should be liberating.

Ahh, but just as wolves are not made to hunt monkey artists are not designed for thinking about marketing and brand development. Or are we?

There are hundreds of websites that track music industry news, the best ways to cyber-promote yourself, the hottest social network to be on, the quickest way to make a “viral” youtube video, the best blogs to get your music reviewed on, etc. They are all supposed to help us figure out how to navigate our own self-directed careers. You can spend all day just reading what you need to know on the internet. There is nobody in the corner telling you that the monkey you are chasing will eventually end up in the tree-tops, or will provide dinner for you and your family for the next week.

Suddenly, the one great gate to which we all wanted to pass through has become a thousand tiny doors. The options and possibilities are endless. The choices make our eyes bleed red for miles.

When people ask me about the future of the music business I tend to think this is my answer: you must bend or be broken. You must use your creative mind to raise yourself up above the sludge and scream out with all your megaphones LISTEN UP! You are a creative being and you have all the tools you need to succeed! If a teenager from Nebraska called “Fred” can reach over 100 million channel views and over 633 million video views for stupid antics he self-recorded, then you really have no excuse. (Just Google “Fred” to see what I mean.)

I predict that the future will be as such: independent artists will band together into conglomerates which help each other to succeed. We will book shows together and cross-promote to our lateral fan base and share ideas. We may even create our own mini-labels or unions like specialized cliques that focus promotion into niche markets. We will use our abundance of skills to trade design work, production, and we will provide guest work on records. We will even band together with other like-minded bands to run our own festivals. This is already happening in small waves. It has not completely caught on yet.

Just like evolution in the predator-prey archetype, this new industry will change again and again. I have decided to embrace change and evolution and promote it in every effort I make, whether it be a business pursuit, my hair, or an artistic endeavor. I also know, just like dogs in a pack, that if I team up with like-minded people I am more likely to catch, and not scatter, those monkeys.

(No monkeys were harmed by any wolves in the making of this article. I do not hate monkeys or any other animal. I just think they are funny and annoying creatures. I do sometimes hate bananas, but only when they are stringy. )

Christina K’s Website
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Reader Comments (16)

It's a pretty cool extended metaphor. I think, though, that while a wolf could theoretically survive eating monkeys, it wouldn't succeed as well as a leopard.

Rather than re-learning to survive as a wolf, maybe the solution is to become more leopard-like. If you're lucky, maybe you're already a leopard, in which case a monkey-filled landscape suits you just fine.

November 17 | Unregistered Commenterscottandrew

I love the perspective and metaphor here. Great post!

November 17 | Registered CommenterNatalie Cheng

What a great metaphor! I'm very interested to see how the the wolves adapt... I'm sure they will. Personally, I've been trying to use combined efforts as you suggest here. It's early days yet but there is still a huge lack of understanding among the people I meet regarding working together...

November 18 | Unregistered CommenterJay Harris

I love this post, and the metaphor totally works for me!

We all have to bend or break in order to adapt to the landscape of the new music biz.

Now I'm hungry like the wolf!!!

(one of Ariel's blog judges)

November 18 | Unregistered CommenterCarla Lynne Hall

God I hate Fred

November 18 | Unregistered CommenterRonnie

Great post Christina, funnily enough, i have been working with another web developer on a website where bands can collaborate, online/offline and get things done 'together'.

Its something i definately want to try in my band, which goes live in a month or two as creating a good grounding will help future prospects, but creating a more solid grounding with other like minded enthusiastic bands/singers/musicians will be an even better journey for sure!

Thanks again for this, MTT makes me smile in so many different ways :]

November 19 | Unregistered CommenterMartinT

Extending the metaphor: when wolves catch monkeys they are no longer wolves.

Paul Morley (the UK journo) recently pronounced the death of pop in the Guardian. I think he has a point. The idea of pop music being the noise made by rebellious teens and troublesome twenties, exploited by men in suits.

If it's dead, older people like me helped kill it (by not letting go) and so did the idea of pop and entrepreneurship being combined in the same pair of skinny jeans.

Brian Wilson was the abused mess-up made cool by his pop genius. Brian's great love, Phil Spector was the skinny white kid made funky by his. The successful business pop stars were always considered inherently uncool (Phil Collins/ the clean Mick Jagger/Ted Nugent) for good reason: they were! If the future of pop is young people making business plans then pop is dead.

If the future of pop is panels at conventions attended by musos, then pop is dead.

Sure, it will continue as an industry and, despite Ariel's wishful thinking, the big beast companies are still with us and doing rather well, considering the meat and potatoes of their existence are busily setting up shops to sell themselves.

The advertisers will still have kooky ukulele strumming female singers and faceless new prog bands to soundtrack their perfect-skinned television spells. Jools Holland's TV show will still feature the same inevitable line up and there will always be a 'cutting edge' act for the Late Show. But it won't matter culturally any more.

The ad's, the telly, the saturday light entertainment, the MTV vids, the cross pollination of pop stars to TV series, to film, to merchandise industry - all becomes a big blob of entertainment and dollars and what made pop music an interesting phenomenon (the unpredictability, the stuttering mess of the performers, the generational outrage) will be codified, satirized and watered down into a homeopathic remedy for people suffering from mild boredom.

The sense of euphoria felt by Ariel and others at the 'regime fall' is accompanied by the kind of lethargy only a teenaged boy in blue jeans and outrageous hair can feel as he lounges on a log in the sunshine, watching all the squares go to work. Now he's not picking up a guitar, I wonder what he'll be doing next...?

November 19 | Registered CommenterTim London

@ Tim

This final point is one of my big things. When the majority of us were kids, one of the big ways we defined ourselves was by the music we liked. But this wasn't just the trend for folks who went on to become die-hard music fans; in high school music was a big part of the definition of self for preps, jocks, freaks, & geeks. I look at my nieces & nephews & I have no idea if there will be an equivalent that goes across the board like that. Maybe it's television shows & the kids will make video content....

November 19 | Unregistered CommenterBrian John Mitchell

Brian, I don't doubt young people will be doing something groovy and music will always feature.

But the creation of the industry that is referenced by this site and the morphing of the other most connected industry, fashion, were a result of a generational revolution that has now ended.

The idea some have of revolution is that it ends in change. In fact, revolution is the change, which is why it's so much hard work. With the revolution over, stasis means the plates that were spinning come crashing to the floor. Stasis means it's possible to make a career out of advising how to maximise long term profit in an industry that exploited a product that was once too volatile to predict.

Pop music has finally found a niche too cosy to escape. The internet allows the existence of a group like Child Abuse and smothers any outrage at their sound and name with a million other items, just as engaging.

Those who depend on pop music production might find that the quality of the harvests diminish, year on year, as the fertile soil of rebellion and individual expression is poisoned by business knowledge, seeping from all directions as the internet flattens expectation and the special environment that caused this delicious freak of nature, dies.

(Apologies for the amount of metaphors there...)

November 20 | Registered CommenterTim London

@ Tim: I see the internet as enriching "the fertile soil of rebellion and individual expression" like never before! At last we have real tools of self-expression at our fingertips, and can create things we could only dream of before.

The "business knowledge" that you refer to is necessary for all of us who truly want to utilize these new tools, but I don't see it as being a "poisonous" influence. It is an entirely new kind of business, that's why.

It is non-corporate, non-suit ... requires no office or dry formal communication. It is much more akin to a new kind of socializing and creativity than the stultifying conventionalities of the 20th century business world.

This is Business 2.0, and it can be rebellious, expressive, and fun!

November 21 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine Hol

Catherine, your last line makes me shudder!

I was beginning to think the interweb would flatten and democratise the pop business; instead, it's helping to smother its last breaths. But I don't mind. It's had its day. The new pop is Business 2.0, I think I agree. (There's your answer, Brian)

But, just like the use of iconic images of Mao and Che don't make the t-shirt wearer a socialist, the 'rebellion' plug-in for Logic doesn't make for the sound of rebellion.

I'm interested but not overly so to try out the 'Monkee/Hendrix Tension Unit' too, but I don't think it will get the screams right, somehow.

November 22 | Registered CommenterTim London

@Tim: The cheesiness of that last line you referred to was tongue in cheek ...

I've always been more into "alternative" than pop music myself, and see the internets as inherently "punk" in their disruptive effects. I agree with you that the old "pop" business has had its' day.

And I do see all the new media opportunities as really exciting!

As the article says, let's embrace change.

November 24 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine Hol

Catherine, when I say 'pop' I mean the cultural revolution that dominated media and arts for the past 50 years, that was powered on rock and roll. That's what I think is dead or dying. The business won't die - it'll transform slowly into something slightly different but basically the same.

The bigger businesses should be celebrating that they can finally talk the same language as the artist, even if it means a Cadillac won't buy a catalogue anymore.

And I don't think you were being tongue in cheek - not really.

Failing a global socialist/anarchist revolution Business 2.0-istas it will be. Beatniks, teds, surfers, mods, hippies, punks, ravers... business people.

November 25 | Registered CommenterTim London

I am Bill Lone Wolf. I believe that your article has a lot of truth to it. Throughout my music career I have often teamed up with others, but I have tended to want to do things my own way. Your idea about "monkeys climb trees" and most wolves haven't learned to do that yet is great and it's fairly true. The old idea of adapt or starve, bend or be broken, is probably more true than it ever was. Internet Radio is just one item in a sea of change.
One way of having more control obviously, is to write your own songs and music and really
get behind them and stick with them. However, even lone wolves have to band together with others as often as possible to promote common causes and try to have more good results in their lives. This is not always the easiest thing to do, but it is definitely worth trying.
I am often amazed when I post something and others really like it or respond to it. You just have to be yourself, but often you need to be part of good teams, Especially the right team for you . . . a certain individual.
Bill Thurman

November 29 | Unregistered CommenterBill Lone Wolf

@Tim: "an industry that exploited a product that was once too volatile to predict"

One of the problems with the industry at the end of the 20th century was that the product had become all too predictable and had been since at least the SAW era. The genuine revolution of which you speak was long gone and replaced with the sanitised revolution of carefully calibrated angst. The "cosy niche" arrived long before the Internet.

At least now the anger is once again palpable and unfettered - if, as Christina and Catherine argue, somewhat diluted.

For the benefit of wanna-be Indies of people grappling with the problem of Scattered Monkeys, can I point you to my e-book: "How the record industry got it so wrong (and how their mistakes point to your Glorious Musical Future)" and forthcoming workbook "The step-by-step music career" : (or for people who don't wish to subscribe). This is a serious attempt to categorise the monkeys and lay a plan for wolves to catch them. V1.1, including a workshop on the process, will be out before Christmas.

Hope this helps.

Dr Huge

November 29 | Unregistered CommenterDr Huge

Dr Huge, you have a point about the SAW factory, although there are cases to be made for their earlier releases that brought the previously underground sound of Hi NRG to the public consciousness (at least in the UK) in the mid/late 80s.

It's true to say, though, that it was the arrival of Australian soap stars Jason & Kylie (as produced by SAW) to the UK charts that heralded the finessing of the cynical approach so gloriously enactioned by the X Factor business nowadays.

You're right, it's not the internet that killed it, but it is the internet that's finishing it off, with a portfolio of media and pillow-of-many-uploads!

I'll check out your book at some point, thanks.

November 29 | Registered CommenterTim London

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