Metaphorically speaking, this is a post for those looking to become rock stars and their advisers.
I loved Rhodri Mardsen’s article on Music Think Tank. The post was entertaining and it perfectly expressed the sentiment that I hear from artists and managers everywhere. Moreover, the comments were equally telling. The music industry is a bitch. You have to do it because you love it. Music 2.0 hasn’t changed anything for artists. It’s harder to earn a living than it’s ever been. The consultants, the promoters and the bloggers - all their talk is a bunch of repetitive, give your music away, start a blog, post banner ads, sell t-shirts, build a brand, and other blah, blah, blah bullshit.
Ok, since I’m not one to swim in the tide of current sentiments, I spent the last seventy-two hours asking myself what’s wrong with that picture. After all, artists have gotten just about everything they asked for…
- You wanted to break the stranglehold that the major labels had on distribution, and you got digital music.
- You wanted an easy way to be heard and an easier way to interact with fans, and you got sites like MySpace, iMeem, Last.FM, and iLike.
- You wanted a way to find gigs and opportunities, and you got SonicBibs, PumpAudio and Rumblefish.
- You wanted an easier way to sell your music and you got iTunes, Amazon, eMusic and five hundred other sites that traffic in music now.
- You wanted a way to raise money to make an album, and you got Sellaband and Slice The Pie.
- You wanted to show videos, and you got YouTube.
- You wanted to compete for opportunities, and you got sites like OurStage.
- You wanted promotion tools, and you got ReverbNation and now Topspin.
I could on forever. New sites, services and bloggers appear EVERY DAY to solve the problems and meet the needs of signed and unsigned artists. So what’s the problem? Why can’t an independent artist land on the moon, and why are labels having ongoing problems with breaking artists and turning a profit?
Here’s why: you need a truckload of money to build economic momentum, labels are running out of patient money, and nobody is going to get any more money; because you and just about everyone else in the music industry, including myself, have been focusing on solutions that solve YOUR needs, and that is exactly where the problem lies. Consumers (the cattle kind), and more importantly, smart money investors don’t give a shit about what unfamous artists create. It doesn’t matter if you’re the next Aerosmith or the reincarnation of John Lennon, our current culture, this place in time, and the economic realities of the music industry are stacked against YOU and everyone that caters to YOUR needs. Consumer interest is expensive to attract, digital music can’t be marketed (read my rewrite on this subject), and people are more interested in the experience of MySpacing, imeeming, iLiking, LastFMing, Facebooking, surfing, Rockbanding, clicking, YouTubing, and iPodding than they are interested in the presence you painstakingly manicure on any of these sites. As I often read in comments left by artists around the Internet, the “aggregators” are the only ones making all of the money; everyone else just barely exists.
At this point, you could pull the trigger of the shotgun with your toes, or you can extract the solution to your problems by analyzing the last sentence of the previous paragraph. Consumers and smart money are not interested in the paradigm of the individual, nor are they interested in singular, unfamous things; they are however, interested in experiencing the collective, the synergy of the many, and the diversification that investing in multiple things affords. YOU and YOUR whatever are never going to fly unless you become reasonably famous, and the only way you can efficiently become somewhat famous outside of pure luck or ingenious gimmickry, which probably equates to making a bit of money, is to build, organize, unify, motivate, fund and promote a “WE” instead of focusing on “YOU”. Furthermore, I would argue that services and advice that focus on helping YOU and solving YOUR needs are probably pointless in this low-margin industry, and that there is a complete undersupply of advice and services that help you become the successful leader of, or a happy component within, a “WE”.
Consumer preferences are easy to identify. Consumers prefer “inging” (Facebooking, YouTubing, iPodding, etcering.) to your sole existence. But, what about smart money? What are investors, the type that can throw around a million Quid, or brands with eye-popping consumer marketing budgets, what are they looking for? Once again, given the risks, the economics and our current culture, they’re not interested in you either, but they are interested in the magnetic force of music, and I know this from experience. Investor and brands need you to organize the experiences that consumers desire. If you want to raise a lot of money or attract a large brand, you’ll find less friction if you put together a “WE” instead of a “YOU”; because that’s what consumers want. Be the aggregator; build a multi-artist brand on the Internet (see my previous post on this); start a collective; assemble a portfolio of great songs; founder a franchise of artists; and most importantly - forget you. If you are trying to build a music business, investing in standalone artists, including the investment in the self-promotion, is a hobby for the rich, the stupid and for record labels that try the same thing over and over while expecting different results each time. It’s not working. It can’t work. It won’t work. Do the math. There’s not enough ROI to justify the effort.
I love the music industry. My long-term business goals are to make sure great songs never go unheard again, and to put more cash into the pockets of the people that deserve it. However, you won’t find me giving out any more advice on how to promote YOU; it’s a waste of our time. You need something the marketplace has failed to give you, you need:
- Tools that help you find artists around the globe that you have sonic synergy with.
- A new legal framework and sites that enable you to work with other artists with minimal friction.
- Incentive and revenue sharing plans for all the artists you partner with.
- Advertisers and sponsors that will back a brand with 100 to 200 songs.
- Sites, products and tools that enable consumer to do the inging (see above) thing with your brand.
- High margin products that the brand/franchise/collective can sell.
- More ways to cut out the middlemen.
- Vehicles to generate mass-market exposure.
None of this is worth doing for standalone artists; it’s all worth doing for artists and bands that brand together. Think of the difference between single investments stocks versus a mutual fund.
Back to why I liked Rhodri’s article and the comments attached to it. I’ve sensed, and now I fully believe, we have reached the end of an era. All the advice, most of the businesses, the legal framework, and definitely the mindset of most artists were symptoms of a music 1.0 hangover. Everyone tried to replicate Music 1.0 success using Music 2.0 stuff and it didn’t work. The world has moved on and we are all waking up to this fact. When the artists start to write about it and everyone echoes in, you know it’s time to try something different. By the way, if you want an example of banding together to build a brand on the Internet…look no further than this blog.