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« Experimenting with new business models | Main | Case Study - First Steps in a Music Start-Up Venture »

The Question of the Decade

For the last few days I’ve been going back and forth in the comments section of my favorite music industry blog, Hypebot with a gentleman by the name of Jason who owns the little known label called Viper Bite Records. The post we were so passionately discussing was primarily about metrics but also rasied the question of whether or not the full length album was still a relvant business model. The conversation struck a nerve among readers and became so intense that I’ve decided to expand on these topics in a post of my own. Here is an except from the original blog written by Alex Mann of Trendrr called, “With Mixtapes & Social Media, Is The Album So Far Gone?”.

“Drake has developed a budding musical career without the release of a full-length album and initially without the backing of a major label. He has already affiliated himself with hip-hop’s most popular stars and is making money from concerts and brand endorsements. This brings us to a final question worth considering: Can artists still afford to rely on the success of an album, or has Drake defined a unique marketing model for emerging musicians?”

Although Drake’s story may not be the barometer that every musicians should follow, it still offers a broader implication for today’s overall talent pool. Can a recording artist sustain themselves by selling full length albums alone? The answer in my opinion is a resounding no. Here’s why:

  • Listeners attention span is shorter than ever. Most of us won’t even read this blog post all the way through let alone listen to a full length album by an unknown artist
  • Musicians are not as good as they used to be. Technology has created a laptop version of our more talented predicesors which is evident in the quality of the music being released
  • Physical albums have lost their value. CD’s are no longer worth the $14 piece of plastic that they are printed on (and are also not very environmentally friendly)
  • Playlists and mixtapes have replaced the full length album. If you’ve ever borrowed an iPod worth of full length albums you know what I’m talking about. Even Genius isn’t smart enough to handle that boring task.

and lastly…

  • Music sales in general are way down. See chart below:

In an attempt to curb some of these strikes against recording artists today, I suggest that we lower our overhead, adjust our expectations, accelerate our learning and diversify our product offering. All of which should be outlined in a good old fashion business plan. I speak more in depth about this in a recent post on Creative Deconstruction. Jason on the other hand feels that the love of the music is enough to sustain him.

Let’s see how long that lasts. Musicians by nature are emotionally attached to their artistry. Businesses on the other hand are devoid from emotion. In order to sustain yourself in the music business I argue that artists must find a happy medium. This of course is easier said then done…but that’s just the way it is.


(via @Bruce Hornsby) Read the original post here.

Kevin English is a product manager, business plan writer and consultant for various entertainment and technology companies. He blogs about the skills and strategies necessary to get the most of your musical career at or on Twitter @eleetmusic.

Reader Comments (6)

Nice post Kevin.

March 12 | Unregistered CommenterBruce Warila

Thanks Bruce. I plan to share a lot more original MTT only posts here this year. I appreciate the platform and extra traffic.



March 12 | Unregistered CommenterKevin English

Has anyone taken a sniff at the data behind Kusek's "We Are All Going To Die" chart? First of all, as someone studying data design I really appreciate how it's cropped to look like a 100% loss, but what really sets off my Bullshit Detector is the left-right combo of Forrester Research (the world's best data on what was happening 3 years ago) and the RIAA ("we're out of ideas but not money and willing to say anything at this point").

I seem to recall Dubber doing a detailed treatment of a previous mythological "Fact" about disappearing music biz revenue and concluding that the music biz is seeing a lot more revenue outside of CDs and digital singles these days. Is it enough to balance that out? Am I about to start staying up until 3 am going through stolen market research and emailing academics and data cowboys again? Is any of this actually relevant to the Question of the Decade?

Kevin, I agree with your "resounding No." Sketchy graphs aside, the facts in this case seem to be almost exclusively on your side of the argument.

(As for those artists with detailed reasons why they're not going to pay attention to reality, you're part of a long, proud tradition in the Western World and I wish you all the best.)

March 12 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

Hey Justin. Point well taken. Forrester and the RIAA are measuring the old model here...which is why I found it relevant to the sustainability of the full length album. Both are outdated in my opinion.

I remember Dubbers myth buster report written on this topic some time last year. Who is right? I side with the independent community on this. However, having a box set will only work if Sales - C.O.G.S. = Profit.

As always, thanks for your commentary and more importantly your work with W.A.R. The data cowboys aren't ready for you. Here's to hoping they catch up real soon!


March 12 | Unregistered CommenterKevin English

To chime in on the Drake discussion.... it's known that Drake's accent was not truly organic. He benefited from having his face on a teen "drama" that was watched by million of young girls.

Also let's not forget the fact that traditional radio (due to his hiring of an Independent Promotion company) played a LARGE part in breaking Drake. His songs were all over the radio. You don't think that the PD's picked up his mixtape and decided that it was so good that they just had to play his songs?

Drake press of rising from mixtapes and social media, while it makes for good press.... it's not an entirely true.

Agree with Universal Indie Records. Drake had a lot of things going for him and didn't just come out of nowhere.

In addition to already having the attention of millions of young viewers in the US and Canada, he had a boatload of money from the TV show to invest in his music. He dropped 25K to get Trey Songz on "Replacement Girl", then hired a solid director to make a high-quality music video; then hired a marketing firm to get that song to be BET's "New Joint of the Day". Not many have those resources, so his case is a rare one.

I think the mixtape is important to the hip-hop scene, but in other genres, artists (and fans) still need and want the album. The only reason I'm going to give (cause this post is getting too long), is there is more money in selling the album. They can take advantage of their 2 or 3 good singles to get customers to purchase the whole CD. 1.99 vs. 9.99 and if customers still want to buy the single, they can. It's more of an option thing. I don't know. I've thought too hard about this.

March 12 | Unregistered CommenterKyle Simmons

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