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« What I would do with a pile of money to spend on an artist? | Main | Experiment: Everyone must have a CD, even if free. »

What would YOU do with freedom and a healthy budget to break a new artist?

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 often bad moves.  Top-down marketing just doesn’t work today, 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.  

Most of the time that I preach the new music biz gospel, I get frustrated - it’s hard to convince the Old Guard that new music business models are worth exploring, that they are real, and that they are the future.  Heck, it’s even hard to convince many young artists that the old rules don’t always apply.  

I’ve often thought, “I wish I had a nice, healthy budget and carte blanche to put a small, bad-ass team together around a talented unsigned artist to create new music, photos, video(s), build an internet presence, put in place a sales and distribution infrastructure, and try to break the artist using best practices in the new music biz.”  

Well, I asked, and I received.  So now I’m here, amongst the rest of the MTT contributors, to share ideas on “best practices” to generate awareness, turn listeners into fans, and generate revenue for this new artist.  We’ll document the entire process as a case study - it’s a blank slate, unlike the other projects I’ve been involved with in the past.  No entrenched management, no stubborn label - no old school boundaries.  

I expect our results to be transparent and measurable, and by sharing the successes and failures of this project we hope to add to the collective repository of new music business knowledge.  We all need to establish best practices for this new music biz.  I’ll share our plans, activities and results, and I’m hoping others can offer thoughts, suggestions, criticism, whatever.  I’m excited to get started, and I look forward to the group’s input.

I suppose this is really an introduction to an ongoing conversation, rather than a single post… looking forward to everyone’s thoughts and input.  


Reader Comments (14)

If I split the strategy into its very basics then there are 2 ways I think.

One would be to do as much cool stuff as possible and see where your fans are at.

The other would be to think about where you'd like to perform or go on tour and work towards those audiences.

Of course, it might make sense to switch between those two as well.

September 22 | Unregistered CommenterEnn

More then anything the important thing i to prove that the new media works. I've been working on the new media/music industry for the last 10 years and still I fight to get the message through.

The point is: Majors sell a lot of records, and from physical sales they get 85% of their revenues... still.

That is my biggest argument problem.

Also, when we say Old Media is down it is not totally true. Masses still listen to top40 radios, don't want to choose and are fine with it. TV and Radio are still central and every time you cross it with new media you see how much more impact you get then when you use only new media.

This is a VERY NICE way to prove the contrary. I'm crossing my fingers :)

If you want any help count me in,

September 22 | Unregistered CommenterSérgio

I would pay their rent and buy their groceries for at least 6 months and let them focus on creating, playing with electronic toys, and enjoying quality drugs.

Your thought experiment is a good remind that the daily life pain-in-the-ass details are necessary to ground us and focus us. (And, fill us with rage which converts to energy and art once it's been metabolized.) I've been in the bills-paid playground twice, with studio rooms and huge instrument collections, and most of the dudes involved wound up...playing lots of video games and watching NCAA tournaments front to back.

It's a rare animal that could really DO something with the opportunities they want.

September 22 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

Oh wait, there was a whole question I was supposed to answer...sorry, here goes:

1. I think more than anyone, Ariel Hyatt and Bruce Warila have stepped up with a really detailed "game plan" answer to this question. (And Derek Siver's PDF is definitely badass and worth mentioning, but less scheduled and detailed.) Bruce has some great material tucked away on the Ricewall site, and Ariel's book is no joke. The post I'd like to link to, a Warila joint about planning complex projects, is currently offline or under repairs or something, though...

2. Although I left a critical comment (which is rare for me) Allen Shadow's recent MTT piece on "Perpetual Momentum" and the relentless content cycles that The Internets demand from artists was excellent and worth chewing on. We're about to launch our site for World Around and the next big move we make won't be getting new artists, but getting a Project Manager -- someone with experience in both online publishing and music management to be the virtual office manager for our management team and our roster.

3. Also, it dawns on me that I've really never been taught how to organize and evaluate my metrics. I'm self-taught in most things because I am a stubborn prick, and I've spent the past decade learning that I really should have paid more attention to older folks...I'm guessing my numbers are no different.

Most musicians "experiment" in a very haphazard way. I'd like to see a post from someone more experienced about how to set up a genuine business experiment so that we're all yielding (lots of) meaningful numbers that can be combined cleanly and learned from.

September 22 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

I am actually involved in a situation EXCTLY like this where my artist and I have an opportunity to completely break the traditional mold. We have a healthy budget and no rules so I'm excited to see if a lot of the ideas that we're using show up in your future posts :)

September 22 | Unregistered CommenterKO THE LEGEND

My big question from your post is, who is on this "bad-ass team"? By that, are you referring to manager/agent/lawyer/PR, or to a less traditional arrangement?

And who's this lucky artist? I'm sure we'd all like to hear them.

Actually, that brings up another note.... I would argue that the genre of music would, in part, determine where one should focus the promo money. If it's indie-rock sounding, then I would put more into the web. If its country or rap, then maybe less so.

September 22 | Unregistered CommenterJustin

^^Why less so for rap?

September 22 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

I'm in the middle of a case study just like this at the moment. I'll post the results on

September 22 | Unregistered CommenterMichael

What an awesome opportunity. What kind of artist have you been able to assemble this crack team around? To get right to it, I see branding as one of the most important aspects in this new digital age. While all music can definitely benefit from a digital presence, its much easier to reach out to the younger generation that is more comfortable and aware of the internet than the 'old folks' who are mainly going to use mainstream retailers such as itunes to buy/discover new music.

As far as best practices go I would assemble a strong social media backbone from the get go. Depending on demographics, the average facebook user spends 3+ hours a day on social media, making it one of the best ways to attract and keep fans engaged with music. I would try to develop and push new practices of social media where a band makes an honest attempt to reach out to fans and establish a direct connection. Talk to them, recognize their patronage, take an active effort to engage them. Crafting this rapport is crucial to gathering an idea of what your current fan base is and from there developing a marketing plan that keeps such factors in mind. Basically, strengthening your artist's brand on a sustainable platform.

September 23 | Unregistered CommenterJake

This is immensely interesting - I'm involved in a project ( that's just about to kick off that is very similar in many respects to what you're describing in the post above. We'll be developing an artist with a very similar outlook and documenting all or processes, successes and failures as well.

It's an exciting time and the minds involved are top-notch. I'd value all of your inputs as we move foward with this (I've taken many of the points here on board already!) - and I look forward to seeing how things develop for sure!

September 24 | Unregistered CommenterNick

Most of the time that I preach the new music biz gospel, I get frustrated - it’s hard to convince the Old Guard that new music business models are worth exploring, that they are real, and that they are the future. Heck, it’s even hard to convince many young artists that the old rules don’t always apply.

September 25 | Unregistered Commenterjeux pour enfant

looking forward to what you find. I'll be visiting often.

September 27 | Unregistered CommenterTheAnonymousDJ

Looking forward to this experiment....

I think what is mostly overlooked far too often is just quality of content. I don't think listeners are stupid, they are just bombarded and blitzkrieged with so much music that it's far less time consuming to just stick with something than to sift through it all for the quality work. New business models are structured around making an artist stand out above the rest and finding a good story or image to make them stand out. With the amount of groups and artists out there it is becoming increasingly hard for artists to find a way to stand out, even if their music is truly incredible. Now that Junior's high school band can record on Garageband and shoot a low budget music video using iMovie and artists can get their music on iTunes so easily through CD Baby or TuneCore the mentality of everyone can do it is causing everyone TO do it. Don't get me wrong, all of those tools are remarkable and very beneficial to promoting oneself, I am just stating that with those tools, it is becoming harder and harder for quality to stand out.

I do believe that people respond to good music, to truly gifted artists, but don't have that opportunity to be discovered because of the amount of music out there today. It used to be about talent, now it's about selling records. In school I learned there needed to be an equal push/pull relationship between the business and the creative side of the music industry. Most days I feel that the business side is winning.

All in all, this is to say that when you're looking to make a business move in any industry you want to make an investment that you will see a return from decades from now, but I feel like most of the deals being done now revolve around quick little fixes that die after 4-5 years and then they invest in another quick fix that lasts 2-3 years instead of cultivating and building something that will last for 20-30 years.

My advice to the new business model, start focusing on quality music again. Invest in the artists and their God given talent to create music not because it's trendy or because it will sell, but because that is what they were created to do. Screw fame, screw glory, screw drugs and all that nonsense that engulfs the music industry today. That's the reason the industry is in the crapper already. Cultivate the truly talented and gifted and the fluff bands will die off while the talented live long. It's a process, but I believe that people are not stupid when it comes to music choices, they just don't know what they're missing because all they know is sub-par.

September 28 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

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