Entries in Music (42)
Lou Reed is an iconic rock star who’s bands and music changed the face of rock music decades ago - as Brian Eno said about The Velvet Underground.. “although few people bought the album, most of those who did were inspired to form their own band.” And it’s not because I begrudge Lou the chance to cash in on his brand by selling an iPhone app. No, it’s because the app is not a creative move for Reed, it doesn’t add a jot to his pantheon of work.
If there’s any doubt about the disarray and desperation afoot in the music business, just check out the Internet’s affect on the media business – music, print and broadcast – overall over the past decade. A recent article in the New York Times covers the waterfront on this issue quite well.
While the devastation of digital democracy vis-à-vis the Web made its first blitz through the belly of the music biz, the print media was next in line, and the battlefield there rivals Antietam.
As we approach 2010 and the new decade, I decided to revisit this essay, one I originally wrote and posted in June of 2008. For much of this decade, social media as an idea, term or simply a phrase, has been willfully bandied around by agencies, social media “consultants,” PR folks et al, as if it was the cure-all for any brands’ online presence. White noise engulfed common sense; nature, particularly how humans behave in society, was hardly ever considered as marketers embraced what they considered, the white hot future wrought by technology. That lack of consideration of human behavior on the web when it came to an online brand strategy, I believe, was an early mistake that really muddied the waters. This post is in reference to one I wrote here earlier this month - Dear Musicians - Please Be Brilliant or Get Out of The Way. Simply put, it’s my argument that social media or social networking are very natural activities for us, both online and off. Therefore a musician or musician’s digital strategy requires an understanding of how people actually use the web. Here’s the link to the post - Anthropology, Technology, The Social Web and Advertising
Music biographies mesmerized me when I was a kid. Whether it was Glenn Miller or Elvis Presley, it was always the same fascinating formula: talent and tenacity leading to the precipice of success, with the artist always searching for that one elusive element to define his signature sound, to breakthrough. With Miller it was the addition of trombones. The proceedings always put me on the edge of my seat and the breakthroughs set me reeling. I guess it was in my blood.
It persists. The other night I watched two great documentary-style biopics on TV, one on Johnny Cash, another on Willie Nelson. Willie, as many of his fans may not realize, was actually a Nashville songwriter penning such classics as “Crazy,” which Patsy Cline etched into the music lexicon. Despite his preeminent status as a writer, Willie couldn’t get arrested as an artist in Music City. His quirky phrasing was way too off-beat for the 60s sound, which was infused with sweet strings and pop arrangements.
Towards a New Music Business Model And The New Thinking That Is Required.
“The future does not fit in the containers of the past.” – Rishad Tobaccowala
“..we are now in an era where spectatorial culture is giving way to participatory culture”. Henry Jenkins director, Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT.
I give thanks once again to Brian Zisk and his incredibly motivated crew for inviting me to speak at the upcoming SanFranMusicTech event on December 7th in San Francisco, and later at the SXSW Conference in Austin in March 2010. Brian is one of the organizers of SanFranMusicTech and is moderating the panel that I will be on at SXSW. [If you’ve never attended SanFranMusicTech I would encourage you to do so. It’s a wonderful, energetic mix of entrepreneurs, tech experts, musicians and thought leaders in the digital space. In other words it’s not just for musicians or techies…] The panel discussions will revolve around the premise of how, or if, musicians are using the tools available to them on the Social Web.
I have written this essay as a prelude to the upcoming panels, both to outline my views on the subject in advance, and also as a way to organize my thoughts and past essays into one place. The debate surrounding online music distribution still evokes passion from critics and supporters alike, the most vocal being musicians who believe that I am working to make music free online and therefore deny them income from CD sales. Nothing could be further from the truth, I simply argue that musicians need to monetize everything around their musical output and stop dreaming that CD sales will one day return to previous levels; where the 2009 equation means 100k is the new 1mm, 10k is the new 100k etc. I should point out for the record that I am focusing almost exclusively on non-mainstream, independent musicians. [Although there is no reason at all that mainstream, commercial artists shouldn’t be doing the same thing.]
Babe Ruth mouthed that ungrammatical gem, and a slumping Nick Swisher of the New York Yankees just invoked it at a critical moment in his career.
Hang with me a moment, and you’ll see what this has to do with us music artists. Swisher made the last out in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series the other night. It was a frustrating moment, since a hit in that spot could’ve finished off the Angels and put the Bombers in the World Series.
My wife, Roxanne and I saw Jamey Johnson last weekend in an awful club in Clifton Park, N.Y. Johnson’s a country songwriter cum recording artist who’s anything but awful. He’s one of those rare artists who come along once in a generation in a genre, in this case country.
He’s so raw and real it hurts. He’s of the outlaw breed, and his songs — even some of his hits – hold a bare light bulb to reality.
He’s a Montgomery boy, an ex-marine, ex-family man, and ex-rebel rouser, and his voice is as perfectly imperfect as his life. I’m not writing this to pitch Johnson, but country fan or not, this plainspoken poet is worth a listen.
I’m reminded of Steve Earle, who blew me away with his 1986 debut album “Guitar Town.” One literate bad boy with a voice to match. The first time I heard him I wanted to burn my guitar and typewriter (remember those), but eventually returned to my auteur senses.
Over the past several years, I’ve spent much more (non-billable) time than I should have trying to convince old-school label execs, independent artists, managers (both big and small) and others that the traditional rules don’t work any more in this new music business.
When trying to “break” a new artist independently, spending a large amount of money on radio, downplaying internet marketing and direct-to-fan communication and spending a lot on expensive videos rather than producing less-expensive but more interesting/innovative videos (e.g., the now famous OK Go treadmill video) are usually bad moves. Top-down marketing just doesn’t work any more, unless you’re a very young pop act signed to Disney/Hollywood. As my marketing friend would say, it’s all about “pull” rather than “push” marketing.
It’s no longer the flavor or the month or what used to be called 24/7 or wall-to-wall coverage. The new media cycle, at least for this nanosecond, is called “perpetual movement.”
In other words, spin or die. That’s the latest from Internet guru Michael Moritz, a Sequoia investor who backed Google, Yahoo and the Sugar Inc. blog-networks.
Quoted in a recent New York Times article, Moritz says:
“Perpetual movement is the essence of survival and prosperity online. If online media and entertainment companies don’t improve every day, they will just wind up as the newfangled version of Reader’s Digest — bankrupt.”
Baimurat Allaberiyev – a YouTube sensation – has a major record deal but still has few teeth, literally. And those teeth are planted on the cutting edge of the latest boom-and-bust trend in the music industry: viral-video microfame.
So, let’s get real about the sobering statistics of enduring Web 2.0 success among music artists. To that end, I will explore the verities of the viral-video trend.
But first, this exploration is not meant as a discouragement. It’s simply a reality check. Like a sound check, it gets us in tune, so we can perform at our best. And, as with the old industry, the new music model presents real, if limited, opportunities for enduring success. So, as in the past, the motivation for the serious artist is the very challenge of the overwhelming game itself.
As music artists seek notice from fans and the industry, it’s vital to observe a key factor concerning peoples’ ability to recognize talent, even greatness.
You may have already read about the social experiment the Washington Post conducted two years ago with world-renowned violinist Joshua Bell. It was actually Bell’s idea to perform undercover as a street musician for a day at a Washington Metro station. What many don’t know is that the Gene Weingarten story earned a Pulitzer Prize that year for feature writing. What many do recall is the fact that a venerated violinist went virtually unnoticed, unappreciated and unrecognized.
What the public took away from the story — rightly so — is the fact that people pass up life’s jewels, even when they’re right before their, well, ears. But this tale holds a much greater meaning for artists of all stripes.
I recently posted about discovering a wonderful band called Arizona. I found them while attending PopAsheville in January and I wrote - “I was invited to give the keynote speech this year. I spent an hour reminding the musicians in attendance that they are no longer in the music business, they are in the T-shirt business and they all seemed to agree. They also agreed that the music industry is not hurting, it’s the cd business that is in decline.” The whole post is here.
I am not being facetious when I say that bands are in the T-shirt business as I believe very strongly that as music slips down to zero in dollar value then artists must move quickly to find different ways to make money from their art.
Does last weeks announcement of another fan funded music business model called bandstocks, reinforce the feeling that labels are beginning to loose their attraction to release established artists records? 2006 saw the first real roll-out of fan funded model sellaband.com. Since then sellaband has gone on to have 23 artists reach the $50,000 US dollar threshold to record an album. In 2007 Slicethepie.com appeared on the fan-funded radar and now we have another twist to the model in the form of bandstocks.
What are the differences between each of these fan funded models and what are the pros and cons for artists, fans and the entrepreneurs who have established them? What are the wider implications of these new models for the traditional recorded music labels and publisher’s alike?
Lets drill down on what each of these models offer the artist and fans/investors.
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(Updated April 6, 2015)