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« The Futility of Flogging Music | Main | Please Buy My Record: The Futility Of Flogging Music »
Sunday
Aug312008

The only thing wrong with Music 2.0 is your mental model of how it should work.

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.      

Reader Comments (20)

Personally, I'm baffled by the concept that art ends where your promotion and marketing begins. That's failure by design.

My marketing and promotion is an extension of my art, it's built on the same principles and I have just as much fun brainstorming publicity concepts as I do writing songs. Whether that makes me a lucky mammal or one of Them is a matter of the reader's perspective.

I run a collective that does hip hop -- now hip hop is one of the most over-saturated genres with the lowest barrier to entry of all time. You just need to speak English and be arrogant enough to start doing it. It's dominated by negative, ignorant and mediocre artists. And you know what? None of that bothers me, because I view it as an opportunity.

Everyone agrees that telemarketers are assholes. However, once musicians decide to take the helm of their own career, most of you immediately start promoting like telemarketers. Of course it's frustrating, it's an iterative and slow process, but resist the temptation to plaster your logo everywhere.

Where I parted ways with Rhodri was the title -- if you're "flogging" your album, obviously you're doing something wrong to begin with. The example of harassing people on their way out of the bar is perfect: give your CDs away for free to people who ask you about CDs. Nobody else in that bar wants your CD. If they did, they'd ask, too. Harassing them is just harassing them...a waste of time and money and a small little chunk of your soul.

I realized in 2008 that what I've been most resistant to is the fan relationship. It made me uncomfortable because I was attached to the sense of entitlement that comes with being an artist.

It's a good thing to let go of.

September 1 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

Great post, Bruce.

As usual - my response is a 'yes, but...'

You're absolutely right - and you've overgeneralised again. But since the gravitational force of the new era is towards collectivism, it would be churlish for me to argue the point too strenuously. I agree with you - I just don't want to leave anyone with the impression that acting collaboratively is the new only way to make money online.

The thing I'd add to this is that partnering with technologists will provide the rocket fuel that will take your collective idea forwards into previously uncharted financial territory. Dream something cool - and then find someone who can build it.

But all the ingredients will need to be right: the framework, the content and the idea itself.

Music Think Tank is a great example of leveraging a collaboration of creators - but let's be honest: we're still fine tuning and tweaking to find that perfect mix that will create a wave of momentum to carry the brand forward.

Which is sort of a not-so-subtle 'watch this space'.

September 1 | Unregistered CommenterDubber

Thanks Andrew,

Yeah, I am still trying to work out how to write so un-definitively. I agree, collaboration will not be the only way to make money.

-Bruce

September 1 | Registered CommenterBruce Warila

Very good article Bruce. Your articles always give me somethings to think about. I definitely like the idea of having tools that help you find artists that you have synergy with. Something Pandora-like (or maybe Pandora itself).

I agree, this blog is an example of good synergy. The last few articles have definitely grabbed my interest and if they continue with this amount of frequency and substance, this will definitely by my first go-to blog on my music industry reading list.

September 1 | Unregistered CommenterEric Campbell

Justin: Hell yeah! I whole heartedly agree. I want the "marketing", packaging, presentation, and pretty much any possible part of the music to be part of the artistic expression.

September 1 | Unregistered CommenterBowtie Daddy

Wow...another great post. So much food for thought. It was only yesterday that I was discussing the doom of being an artist in a city where we can't get through to promoters, that we thought we'll become the promoters and put our heads together.

I guess this extends beyond the gig to. We can create our own compilations, video's, web presence, merchandise....everything. The only thing stopping us is probably ego and time.

Thanks again for some great thought provoking content.

September 2 | Unregistered CommenterDave

great post!

but I tell you another story far away from the "big" money and hits.
as a small niche label some web 2.0 services work great for me. most not.
but what was before? about 10 distributors went into bankruptcy. needless to say what I lost.
now I sell my stuff direct to my consumers via net. they are not a grey mass anymore, I know who they are and where they live and some become more than consumers over the years. I get feedback on my products immediatly, not a year later.
lot of work to be done, but the success is mine.

great blog, respect

wolfgang
www.base.at

September 2 | Unregistered Commenterwolfgang

Every time I come here, I learn something new.

Rhodri's post allowed me the opportunity to assess what I was doing, and give me the headroom to adjust accordingly. I can't thank him enough for that.

As a musician (whatever that means now), it's sites and posts like these that really help navigate across the marketing waters. I'm not a businessman - and it becoming more and more apparent that that's what you have to be.

I'm experiencing minor success from two years of constant work. It's been worth it, but I haven't got the energy, support or finance to do it again. I agree with Justin - it's a good thing to let go of.

If we don't, this already destructive, unproductive cycle will perpetuate further across all art forms - and we already know from our experience that we don't want that.

September 2 | Unregistered CommenterAsh

I don't want to beat a dead horse here, but you DON'T have to "be a businessman" in the sense you mean it.

You DON'T have to view all your actions through the lens of ROI, you DON'T have to target specific demographics when you're creating your art, you DON'T have to follow trends and read Fast Company and Forbes.

You DO have to learn to use spreadsheets. You DO have to get a steady bank account, PayPal, and web hosting. These are just tools, though, not a change in thinking, not a new way of life. So much of the internet business architecture is automated that setting it up is really the only hassle.

The only thing that really matters is your relationship with your fans. Treat them with respect, give them incentives for staying in the loop, and you'll have a future in music.

Remember, "being a businessman" is how the music industry took billions in assets and a global customer base and burned it all down to the ground out of dumb lizard greed. Don't be a businessman, please -- we've got too many already.

September 2 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

I didn't say I was a businessman; I said the opposite.

Which simply means I don't have a head for business. I don't know what ROI etc...means either.

I just believe that you do need someone detatched from the music on your team who can excel at pushing your product, regardless of emotion: if that is, indeed, what's desired.

September 2 | Unregistered CommenterAsh

"ROI" = return on investment.

"Etc" = Abbreviation for "et cetera," latin phrase meaning "and so forth."

Yeah, that last one was me, kidding. I realize you know what Etc means, just like I realize you're not claiming to be a businessman -- you kinda made that clear when you said "I'm not a businessman."

September 2 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

A lone band is like a grain of sand in a desert. Becoming part of a sand dune will not make life any easier (even if you own the dune), as the sand and the dune are effected by the winds of change and the diseconomy of scale. And as each independent band strives to be an oasis (pun intended, ha ha) and flourish in an hostile environment they should remember, there will be a lot of thirsty and greedy visitors that will drink their cool water and eat their sweet fruits and when the visitor discovers oil, all hell will break loose and the green haven will be lost.

September 2 | Unregistered Commenterian

A lone band is like a store renting space in a shopping mall. If there are no other tenants (renters), nobody will come to the mall; it's just not entertaining. When one of the stores becomes really popular (the anchor tenant) everyone else benefits.

September 2 | Registered CommenterBruce Warila

Bruce --

That was a thought provoking post. I particularly like the idea of a network that can help you find synergistic acts. That said....

Isn't promoting "we" still manufacturer-centric view? Isn't the market success about solving problems or providing values for the consumers -- "their" problems? The reason aggregators succeed is because they're doing that -- their primary customers are music fans, not musicians. They make their offers to fans by including indie bands, widening the range of their offering.

I personally think that the next tide of internet will throw back to the voice and personas of individuals. By that, I mean, a well-articulated opinion coming from a well-defined taste. It's like radio DJs who can choose their own tunes. I know reviewers and major music magazines used to be that, but not any more -- the industry lost its individualities.

Because unlike other industries, listening to what everybody else is listening to doesn't necessarily solve one's problems. Music is a highly diversified, subjective art. What aggregators do reasonably well is to help you find others with similar taste. Or look at Pandora -- they mechanically tried to break down music so that they can be grouped and fed based on similarities in construction.

People are always looking for good, new music. Music industry will never go extinct, though it may have to change radically. I'm guessing that Seth Godins and Roger Eberts and Franklin Coveys of music appreciators may emerge and start picking out "good" music for like-mindeds out of the sea of millions.

I think the name of the game with internet is personalization -- or personas, period. It's an impersonal media. Even if 2 or 3 bands got together, it'll make it easier for bands but still not that much easier for fans to find them. I think industry can really use a pool of tastemakers and trend setters -- with name, face and a very recognizable voice.

ari

September 2 | Unregistered CommenterAri Koinuma

I've been thinking a lot about band consortiums and the idea is failing to resonate.

There IS a band consortium/limited partnership/mutual fund. It's called the Internet. Links are the tools to unite artists just as they are the link to unite every other piece of information or brand on the internet.

Bruce, there needs to be some objective data that this kind of band kibbutz works and/or what your case studies are. The rationale seems to be that there needs to be an answer so this must be it.

Also, I totally disagree that people want a WE. That's totally false. People want individual connections not artificial brands. Maybe there's a way to create 'group authenticity' through this grouping mechanism but it doesn't feel consistent with my own experience nor actually like a business.

The internet and digital technology don't replace existing human motivation or existing human interest. Artists express as part of an individual need. I thought that was the point.

September 4 | Unregistered CommenterSan

Hi San,

Thanks for your comment. I apologize, a great article would have provided actual statistical data. I am going to try to tackle your statements one by one.

"There is a consortium, it's called the Internet. Links are the tools that unite artists." Don't you think that's rather random? Artists link to artists when they play out together (another random thing) and when they drink beer together.. You are asking fans/consumers to trust that the link will lead to the next song/artist they want to hear. First, that's asking a lot (as in work), and second, I don't think anyone trusts that that method actually delivers what one is looking for. Now, if the link had a TRUSTED brand icon attached to it, such as Same Sonic Sam (I made that up) or anything that's a reasonable indicator of what you will find at the end of the link, then I would agree that "links" would probably serve to unite artists.

As for business examples, look at the success of movie and show soundtracks. I believe High School Musical was the top selling album last year. And, what about the success of festivals versus single-artist shows?

Consumer do prefer an abstraction layer that sits atop the many; it's called radio. Radio brands in any market are still more widely recognized than every artist except legacy superstars.

"Artists express as part of an individual need." Some do, you are right. However, lots of artistic expression is an attempt to tap into collective needs or to "ride the wave". I guess you would call that commercialization of art (which seems to be the easiest way to feed yourself).

You bring up some valid points. However, branding together happens all the time in every industry. It's the easiest way to build trust on the consumer side, and to leverage momentum on "business" side..

September 4 | Registered CommenterBruce Warila

San, if you want case studies look no further than hip hop.

G-Unit mixtapes, the Wu Tang Clan, Def Jux, Native Tongues movement, the larger collective that the Roots have built around themselves...let me drop a quick quotable from Questlove, their drummer/mastermind:

A lot of people accuse of us over-thinking. And that’s OK. But we looked at every successful artist. We pored over charts in industry magazines going back decades, looking for commonality. And what we found was that anyone who was successful was not isolated....every big act was part of a larger movement.

Once Illadeph came out, me and Rich were like, we’ve got to get a movement. We weren’t trying to be the Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer of this. So around ‘97 or ‘98, when we went to Geffen, we told them upfront that the only way this was gonna work was if we could be like Noah and bring a bunch of other complementary artists on board with us.

Those "complimentary artists" are all successful today, especially Common. Another great collective success story is the Minnesota label Rhymesayers, who built their success off one group -- Atmosphere -- and now they're rapidly developing their apprentice artists into huge names, too, most notably Brother Ali. Back in New York, some of the most creative hip hop in years is coming from another collective label -- QN5, founded by Tonedeff.

For a successful hip hop artist, building a collective is the most logical choice. Build a community of producers, rappers and performance DJs and you'll be able to book tours by yourself, strictly off your own roster. This is exactly how Rhymesayers, through the Agency Group, has come to dominate the club-level national touring circuit for hip hop.

Outside of The Rap is not my expertise, but I've got a number of friends who had their lives (and livelihoods) changed for the better by obscure little experiments like Ozzfest or Warped Tour.

Plus, no matter what genre you do, the money is better for a collective. As Chang Weisberg puts it:

“Take Cypress Hill, they had sold 20 million records and headlined almost every tour you can think of, yet as a band they were only taking home their guarantee,” explained Chang. “So when I talked to them, I presented them with the business model, opening their eyes to ‘Hey, you can make $60,000 doing a gig or make $400,000 as the promoter.’

Basically, San, so many examples of the power of collective promotion come to mind that I'd like to extend the opposite challenge your way: show me someone who made it completely on their own.

September 5 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

Justin,

I love how you mentioned the power of the collective in touring.

1. You can promote each other on stage
2. You can give away or sell (cheaply) a compilation of the collective at each show
3. You can create merch representing the collective that you all share in (costs and profits).
4. If one act in the collective starts to break out, that act can continue to bring members of the collective on tour

If artists can leave their ego on the table and there's talent all around, why not work together if you all can benefit?

Thanks for the post Bruce,

Hoover

The New Rockstar Philosophy

September 7 | Unregistered CommenterHoover

Wow Bruce! I've been out of the circuit for a while and now you surprise me with this.

I'm seeing the ideas I've debated hotly before aggregated into a sensible and potentially useful message. Most of it I can even agree with (Andrew's reservations notwithstanding). Good job.

I wouldn't be myself if I didn't have something to gripe about though. In this case, it's the currently prevalent mental trend that music should somehow be geared towards the consumer.

In itself, it is a very valid merketing approach and in many ways the Internet has made it easier to identify what the consumer wants. The issue gets thorny when we try to apply it to music though.

Music is supposed to be an art. As such, it is very much about the ME. I'd even go further to say that the big artists are bigger than life simply because that's what people want. Most people need someone to look up to. One of the needs that stardom of all kinds satisfies is the need to dream. Celebrity is a value in its own right, as exemplified by Big Brother-style reality shows that generate people famous simply for being famous.

To the point: I am not convinced that blogging and social integration are a particularly useful promotional strategy. They do help cement an artist's relationship with his existing fans, but I'm not sure whether they'll be getting him or her many new ones. Someone who reads my blog because they enjoy it might never bother to listen to any of my songs, even if they can do so for free. I read practically everything Scott Adams posts, but I don't always check the Dilbert strips, even though I enjoy them if I do. As a musician I am much more interested in something that will expose my music to as many fans of my genre as possible, than in getting tons of readers, as opposed to listeners.

I'd also agree with Ari about the need for trendsetters. The problem with the Internet is that it's all noise. What's worse, the supply of music on most sites far outweighs the demand (I'm seeing OurStage suffer for lack of listeners at the moment). Most of the music on offer is mediocre, to say the least and personally I've hardly got the time and strength to sort through it. End result: I mostly check out those artists whom I've read good reviews of. Or those that I heard on the radio. The ones who are being marketed by traditional means, in fact.

The conclusion I reach from my own experience (both as listener and artist with an expanding web presence across many platforms) is that traditional music marketing is still the only way to get your music heard.

Not to go totally negative, I do see the value of multi-branding (or, as I'd prefer to call it, being part of a scene). In fact, that's what I'm working on now (and seeing as there is no scene for our kind of music here in Poland, I'm working from scratch). In the end however, the ME of the artist has to come out on top if the artist is to become recognizable. It's the only way for an artist to achieve any level of success: there is no substitute for any of my favourite artists, simply because all the others aren't them.

To paraphrase Andrew somewhat: if you record a song, someone out there is going to love it. If it's a great song, that'll be a whole lot of someones. It's getting to those people that's the problem and most Internet strategies I've come across are more like a blunderbus than a rifle.

Have a good weekend!
Faza

Hey Krzysztof,

Great to hear from you! A couple of comments..

I agree art should be made for "me", as an expression of myself, and that art suffers when it's created for a blob of demographic data.

However, once you have created your art, it's going to be far easier to gain market traction when you combine forces with others that need to reach the same audience, and I believe we agree on this. Scott Adams is a perfect example. Dilbert obtained initial traction via placement within synergistic content that was contributed by numerous others.

It's almost certain that within any "WE", the cream will rise to the top. It's entirely possible that a brand of bands could spawn a megastar, which would benefit every other artist involved in the WE. Back to the Dilbert example again...the cream rises to the top and a rockstar did emerge from back of the syndicated business page.

Due to the economics of this business, what I am advocating is for groups of artists (not necessarily from the same genre, but artists that have "sonic synergy") to market together, and most importantly, to cut out as many middlemen as possible, as there is not enough profit for everyone in the layercake now. I need to further expand on the practicalities of this, but that's for another post.

Cheers,

Bruce

September 27 | Registered CommenterBruce Warila

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