As you know, typically we write about protecting your rights. This post is about musicians, of all types, having the right to make music in any format he or she may want.
Every decade or so a new type of music becomes popular amongst the teen to twenty-somethings. With the onset of a “new” hot genre of music an inevitable reaction is harsh criticism. The thirty-plus-somethings who still are fond of the trend that was tops when they were of a “taste-making” age cannot help themselves and shred the quality, craftsmanship or artistry of the the music trend du jour.
I guess it is a right of passage; you get to a certain age and you automatically are permitted to present your opinons on why whatever is hot right now sucks compared to what you like. In my formative years, rap took shape and took over. When I started rolling around in my Chevy Citation with a sideways tape deck and front-only speakers blasting Poor Righteous Teachers, De la Soul and NWA (when I was feeling especially hard) I definitely got some nasty looks from inhabitants of my white-bread suburb of Minneapolis. I immediately dismissed my parents and other elders who disclaimed that Rap was nothing more than unoriginal shouting and noise. They (Parents) just didn’t understand (thank you Will Smith).
Every generation has a similar story. Elvis and Chuck Berry were nothing but trouble makers with all that electronic nonsense and rotating hips. The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and the Almond Brothers were pot smoking hippies who made noise that was only audible to people on acid trips. Ramones, Sex Pistols and the Misfits were screamers who couldn’t play more than one chord on a guitar. Hair bands came about, and well…I don’t know what to say about hair bands. The point is, every generation has its own thing, its own view point on music and society. That point begets the counter point that the preceding generations typically hate the succeeding generations music and viewpoints.
Enter Electronic Dance Music. EDM has taken the world by storm. DJs who seemingly have no traditional musical ability or knowledge are selling out tours and arenas with their version of music. Is it melodic or overly complicated in production and writing? No. Will it stand the test of time? Maybe. Is it actually music at all? Who cares?
Kids love it and are paying to see it. Yet, the music industry cannot help but get in the way of itself. Complaints by critics and label execs complain that it is destroying the professional musician and his/her chance at a career. Stories of musicians making less money because of the large number of computer programmers currently “acting” as imposter musicians are all over the industry blogs and postings. Complaints of so-called talentless button pushers are rampant amongst the “purists”.
What we can’t seem to understand is why are all of these critics complaining about anyone in the music industry making money? Jealousy is the obvious answer. Laziness or stubbornness are additional answers. The point is, in an industry that has completely changed in the past 15 plus years, another change in popular genres or fan patters should not be surprising. EDM is just another example of a new generation making a choice of what it wants to party and dance to; nothing more. No one is saying you should listen to it and no one is forcing you to buy a dub-step or die t-shirt. Just don’t hate on the kids that do.
EDM has had a huge impact on recent sales from pure DJ’s like Skrillex and Bassnectar to the EDM producers like Guetta and Afrojack. The Pop world has embraced it with acts like Bieber, Usher, Britney and Madonna jumping on the bandwagon and incorporating Dubstep and EDM styles into their major label releases. New festivals and concert series are popping up all over the place and bringing in huge revenue for the promoters, vendors and, oh yeah, the musicians.
So whether you can get down to “wub wub wub” or it makes you stroke out, try to accept it as the natural evolution of music. If you make EDM music, do what you can to learn the ins and outs of the music industry. If you are good, no doubt the late to the party label folks are coming around. Know what you are getting into before you get into it. Your music, whether created on a piano or a keyboard, carries the same rights as any other music. Make sure you protect it and make sure you cash in before the next craze takes shape.
Perusing the local trade magazines or attending a music based conference can lead a musician (or someone who works with musicians) to believe that Armageddon is truly here. If we hear one more speech or read one more article about the end of the music industry as we know it, we will certainly collectively go nutso.
The truth is the entire economy is in the crapper. We don’t know one industry that hasn’t been touched (well, maybe crime, if that is an industry). Music has certainly not been immune. However, we here at L4M are here to say that Debbie Downer needs to turn her frown upside down. While the days of multi-multi platinum records and huge advances are certainly on death’s doorstep, the savvy musician can do more than just eek out a living. Here are some things we think musicians should be happy about:
1. The Internet. Long hailed as the assassin of the music industry, the world-wide web offers more opportunities than it does problems if you know how to ride the waves. Not only has the internet introduced the fan to new (and mostly legitimate) ways of finding new music, collaborative websites now allow musicians a means to create, promote and distribute their music. Sites like TopSpin, BeatPort, BandCentral, SoundCloud and Facebook have become essential and typically inexpensive methods for sharing talent, ideas and product. If utilized properly, the internet’s social media platforms can completely replace a label based pr system. Access, affordability and a global reach are definitely something that the Internet provides to the musician willing to navigate it.
2. Music Festivals. Music festivals breath new life and huge opportunities to major label talent as well as emerging bands. Bringing great music to enormous crowds coupled with innovative festival organizers oftentimes bring great results. Not only are festivals bringing tremendous revenues to musicians and the organizers, they offer great opportunities to buzz bands to play in front of huge crowds and important taste makers. On top of that, every festival brings with it industry parties, opening slots for after shows, and tons of press. Emerging bands who strategically plan ahead for a visiting festival can really cash in (maybe not as much as Perry Farrell, but still…).
3. Music Licensing. It used to be that in order to get your music licensed your label or publisher would have to cozy up to a music supervisor. With the amount of media content around the world growing at a record pace (think tv, radio, satellite radio, internet programming, commercials, film etc.) there is a matching need for quality music. Jingles are a thing of the past. Ad agencies with unlimited budgets for music is also rare at best. Quality music that may originate from lesser known musicians but do not carry with it the rigors of publisher and label demands has become imperative. Musicians who work to get their music to savvy music libraries can make money on both up front music licensing sync fees as well as the oftentimes lucrative performance royalties.
4. The Remix. Want to resurrect an old single? Want to make some money as a producer by resurrecting that old singer? Never before has the remix been more important. DJ’s like Skrillex and Guetta have become über rich by making a name for themselves as talented remixers as well as great djs. For popular musicians, remixes by producers or other bands can lead to revitalized sales of a falling single. The remix is a handy promotional tool as well (Lady Gaga will be ever-present again for a while as she announces the release of an entire remix album). Another means of collaboration, oftentimes between artists who would not otherwise work together is definitely a trend that we can all be thankful for in 2011.
5. Vinyl. The LP appears to be back for good. Collectors as well as a new generation of music purchasers appear to be favoring holding something cool in their hands and not just in an electronic file living in an Ipod. While still expensive to manufacture, vinyl sales in 2011 continue to defy the rest of the industry. A positive trend that began several years ago, there does not seem to be a slow down to the sale of the old school vinyl record.
What about you? What are you thankful for as a musician or a music fan in 2011? Please comment below. Let’s stay positive and bring in the joy during this holiday season. Having trouble doing so, slap on the collector’s edition of Justin Bieber’s Christmas album. We have no doubt that you will soon be smiling!
Recently I was on a panel at Northwestern Law School with another lawyer, a musician (who happens to ba lawyer too) and an ASCAP representative. Our topic was the effect that cloud or subscription based music services will have on performers and songwriters. While I definitely had my own opinions on the topic, it was ear/eye opening to hear from my fellow panelists.
Most music lovers seem to have their own private way to listen and enjoy their music. While there is a lot of overlap amongst listeners (iPods, satellite radio, pandora, car radios, home stereos) everyone has their own unique method to purchase, stream, listen and (now most importantly )travel with their collection. In the past we would break out our record collection and play records in the family room. Then came the cassette and the walkman. Our record collections became somewhat mobile and we could grab our favorite tapes and walk around or drive while listening to our collection of music. Technology allowed for better sounding recordings to travel along with us with the invention of the CD. However, like one of my panel compatriots aptly pointed out, a music fan was a prisoner to his cd collection; still rather bulky and highly scratchable, you would have to lug a box/book of cds with you on each road trip and hope that they did not fall between the seats or get scratched on the dashboard.
Enter the MP3. A computer file that is quickly dowloaded and containes cd quality sound. The digital album revolutionized the way we consume music. As with most revolutions, the infrastructure that existed prior to the revolution (the big music label system) fell. Brilliant entrepreneurs and crafty opportunists from Apple to Napster entered the fray and came out making billions of dollars from the shift. For the everyday consumer of music, it became easier to listen to music wherever you wanted to do so. Your entire record collection can now fit into the palm of your hand, be programmed to your car’s stereo or be shared with people in your office with a click of a button.
Now that the digital age of music is over a decade old, there is yet another shift occurring. Technology again is making it easier for people to listen to their music collection regardless of where they are. The clouds have come rolling in.
Pandora has already helped put the cloud on the map with approximately 80 million users (1 new user every second per the www.digitalmusicnews.com). But services such as Spotify, Sony’s Qriocity and Google’s delayed cloud service will take it one step further. While Pandora allows you to listen to music based on bands or songs you tell it you like, the cloud subscription services allow you to pick all of your music. Essentially, you will no longer have to actually purchase a song, let alone an album. Rather, you will pay a monthly fee that will allow you to pick your favorite songs, categorize them, rank them, etc. and, most importantly, take them with you. Whether you are listening on your hand-held device (smart phone or iPod type device), on your computer, in your car or listening to your home stereo system, your music will be there waiting for you. As long as you keep paying the monthly fee, that music will be with you.
As a consumer, I think cloud based systems are the bees knees. Technology should make things easier and better. Allowing me to go from my office to my car without missing a beat of the song I was just listening to (I’m very fast) and without plugging anything in, is amazing. As a lawyer who represents musicians and songwriters, I’m worried. For interactive internet based music providers (where the user gets to select the songs he/she wants to listen to) the royalty rates are negotiated between the labels/publishers and the cloud provider. This means that the labels and big publishers negotiate pre-determined revenue shares for each stream of a song; typically a teeny tiny fraction of a dollar (in England the rate is thought to be around 0.00085 pound). A famous example of how potentially horrible these rates can be is the report that Lady Gaga who had over one million streams of Poker Face on Spotify in the UK earned $167.00 (click here for more on that).
The labels and publishers in the US are fighting for more per stream. But don’t go rooting for them quite yet. They are negotiating deals so that they actually get an equity or ownership stake in the cloud based service. So while it appears as though they are fighting for the artists (which some of them might actually be doing), they are also positioning themselves to make as much money as they can in the process. If the clouds make it unnecessary to ever download and actually own a song, how are the songwriters and artists going to recapture that lost income? As of now, the songwriter lobbyists are doing a good job of asking that question and fighting to establish fair payments for musicians.
The laws in place that cover interactive internet radio and subscription services did not imagine the day when streaming would eclipse downloads. That day has clearly arrived: “Streams of music are eclipsing everything,” Universal Music Group UK chief David Joseph recently told the Guardian. “It’s a different digital currency to downloading. You’re dealing with 175 million single tracks bought a year compared to 7 billion streams of music.” (from The Digital Music News). Just as technology has adjusted, the laws dealing with fair payments to the providers of content need to be modified.
The bottom line is that just as the cassette replaced the record, the cd replaced the tape and the mp3 replaced the cd, the cloud is going to replace the downloaded mp3. The clouds are rolling in and the artists may be left in the impending dark.
We are constantly writing about the pitfalls of the music industry, the changes in the music scene today and the problem with the overal label system. Let’s focus on some of the positives of today’s music industry (there are more than you may expect, especially if you read our content regularly).
It has never been easier to get music recorded, produced and distributed to the masses. With today’s software, the home studio has become a reality for a ton of musicians. That means that the prohibitive costs of a studio, a producer and studio musicians can be avoided. While sound quality may not be as amazing as it would be if you spent the money to record at Abbey Road or Paisley Park, decent recordings can be done with equipment you can pick up at Best Buy.
Once the recordings are complete, the plethora of web sites and web based software that offers digital distribution is pretty amazing. Whether it is through www.tunecore.com, www.cdbaby.com or one of the hundreds of other sites out there, your music can be on the world wide web in a matter of minutes for little to no cost. The question then is: NOW WHAT??????
Getting noticed in today’s music industry has become the biggest obstacle for bands. The quality of music that is out there hasn’t necessarily dropped, there is just so much music on the web that trying to find something worth while is near impossible. In speaking to some industry experts, including major music supervisors and licensing agents, trying to get noticed by posting your music on myspace, facebook, bandcamp,etc. or by submitting unsolicited discs to supervisors and labels is pretty much a waste of time. The ease of production and manufacturing has left everyone in the music industry drowning in its own cash crop: music.
In the past, spending money on a radio campaign could help break a band. However, terrestrial radio has lost millions of listeners to the internet and satellite radio, so paying to get your music on the radio doesn’t even work anymore. If you can’t get noticed by creating a wicked cool website, submitting your music to supervisors/labels or paying to get your music on the radio, what is a band to do?
Fear not our loyal minions, we think we have some viable options. We’ll explore one at a time over the span of several posts. Here’s the first way:
1. The missing link in today’s independent music scene is competent, affordable and effective PR. As discussed above, a band can produce its own music, package that music in a brilliant way, promote the music to its own fans in its own region and send the music out to anyone it sees fit. However, without the right contacts and knowing where to send the music or the link or the super sweet low budget video that your cousin shot last night, your project, just like so many before you, will fall into a black hole.
In the old days labels had scores of PR/Marketing employees who got paid to promote their clients to radio stations, concert promoters, magazines, television stations etc. Now, those employees are looking for jobs and the labels have either cut way back on in house PR or outsource PR just like independent bands need to do.
Today, there are some really solid PR/Marketing companies out there servicing both major and independent labels. While a healthy budget is still required, we have worked with some PR companies by getting creative with budgets. Check out Riot Act, Flower, and Big Hassle to get some ideas. If you can scrounge together enough money to pay one of these companies to help you get your music in the right places, it will be one of the smartest investments your band can make.
What if you have a budget of $500 or less? Time to hire interns! Get your friends, class mates or family members together. Figure out which one understands your music and where you want your music heard. Make sure they have a computer and access to the internet and then…start posting! Smart teens and 20 somethings know where they go for new music (usually free). Figure out submission policies and be relentless. Finding the right blogs (the “tastemaker sites”) and getting your band’s music, or better yet your band itself featured on such a site can be a huge boost. If your music finds its way onto HypeMachine or Allhiphop or even Pitchfork, more doors will open. We’ve seen bands featured on these sites end up with sponsors or even tours. After that, if capitalized correctly, the added exposure can actually lead to money, which in turn, may lead to the ability to hire a PR company to expand the reach.
Obviously everything that a band does is predicated on actually having a playlist of high quality music. If your music is bad, eventually, the public will reject it (regardless of your budget). Speaking of good music, here’s our SHAMELESS PROMOTION OF THE MONTH: CHECK OUT ELEPHANT STONE. Our Canadian friends are on tour and will be hitting up CMJ. Find out more about them here: ELEPHANT STONE
As Chicagoans, we are spoiled with great music and great music festivals. Whether it is a local street fest with unknown but talented local bands, one of the many venues (Metro, Bottom Lounge, Park West…), Pitchfork Festival or the grandaddy of all commercial festivals, Lollapalooza, the Second City has to rank as one of the best music cities in the world. As a music fan the choices are too numerous to count. Often we are left with a sense of regret if we choose to check out Schubas while there is a great show going on at Double Door or we pick the wrong stage at Grant Park and find out that MGMT actually tried during their live set this year.
As fans, these dilemmas are pretty minor. As a band, getting noticed or better yet, getting booked can be overwhelming, frustrating and just flat out depressing. There is a wicked catch 22 situation between labels and bands these days and booking gigs is just one part of it. Labels and investors look for many things when determining whether to sign a band. The label will look at the number of units sold (digital/physical), the number of fans (facebook/myspace), the amount of press garnered, and the number of shows booked (taking into account the quality of those shows).
So a band is then faced with proving itself by doing a lot of work itself. The band and management (if management is in place) must grind it out to show that it can sell or give away a sufficient number of albums, generate its own press and social media statistics and book its own shows. Booking agents are out there but agents will only take a band onto its roster if the band has already proven itself by booking a ton of shows on its own. The band is left with the nauseating decision of whether it is better to not play at all or to play their uncle’s picnic just so it can “book” a show. All of this has to be done while also factoring in that touring and playing live shows may be the only source of income for a band. (You sure you want to be a musician?)
The best advice that we can give to a band who is in this type of crappy situation is to forget labels and booking agents. Just pretend they don’t exist. Once that impossible task is completed, the band can focus on a plan of attack. Let’s assume that the band is talented, has a local following and can book a few decent size venues on a regular basis within its home town. No band is going to make a comfortable living doing this, but being able to take up a residency at a solid venue in a metropolitan area is a really good first step. The band then has to find other bands from the same city and from surrounding cities and states and get them to play at their venue with the hope of reciprocity. Assuming that goes well and the bands from other cities like your band, you now have an invitation to play in a new city or state. As momentum grows, small local tours can be arranged all without the almighty aid of a booking agent or a label. The band has to team up within its own community. Take solace in the fact that there are a million other bands in the same situation as yours. When you team up you are that much stronger.
Now that you have a plan of attack (which may take several months or more to put together), you can attract more fans, sell more merchandise and book more gigs. Wait a second; isn’t that what labels and booking agents are looking for? Ah-ha. Obviously, this takes a lot of hard work, committment and organization. If those attributes are not your strong suit, you better quit the business or get a team together who can help. As we consistently tell our clients, being in a band is a lot of hard work. We turn down clients who are looking for a quick fix or for someone else to get them to where they think they want to be. If you are not committed to making music a full time job, it most likely will not happen for you.
Hopefully this was more motivational than depressing. Either way, we are off to Lolla to make some bad decisions about who to check out and marvel at hipsters in skinny jeans.
SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION (SORT OF) OF THE WEEK:
THE BOTTOM LOUNGE – CHICAGO
L4m is psyched to partner with one of Chicago’s best live music venues, The Bottom Lounge. The place is large yet intimate, the beer list is large and amazing and the staff is not large but also awesome. We plan on working with them to showcase both our clients and other bands who will eventually be our clients (or not). If you haven’t gone to a show there yet, shame on you. If you have, then you are super smart. Stay tuned for updates on our collaboration.
Welcome to the first volume of the L4M: How to Make Money as a Musician.
The music industry has fundamentally changed. Because of this shift, the way musicians make a living (and consequently the way all of the people that depend on artists to make money) has changed. The goal of this series of postings is to provide a forum amongst musicians, managers, lawyers, accountants and anyone else associated with music to discuss how to make a living in today’s new music industry.
Building off of my last post (Concerts are the New CD’s), the number one way that a musician can make money is by performing live. Most artists are not selling out Wembley Stadium, the Staples Center or Madison Square Garden. However, even in today’s economy, the clubs, bars, theaters, and parks of every size are still booked solid for most nights with live music. Part of the reason that live music is not as effected as other segments of the industry is that it is usually associated with or tied to alcohol sales. In a bad economy booze is king (think of people drinking away their sorrows). To get people to spend their money on alcohol at their venue, club and bar owners will try to attract patrons with music. So whether it is your local VFW, the town pub, or the neighborhood street fest, as long as their is liquor, there will be live music.
Concerts, specifically summer concerts, are still a huge part of the teen and college age crowd’s social scene. For example, Lollapalooza ’09 sold out every day. If you were here in Chicago during Lolla, you would have witnessed some of the most horrible weather in recent memory (torrential rain followed by Amazonian heat). Yet the kids and their discretionary income were still there in full force.
Concerts and festivals still draw enormous crowds. They have become a place to be seen and to discover new music. For an artist, booking a gig at a festival or on a tour, such as the Warped Tour, will expose them to new audiences who are now discovering music by going to concerts rather than hearing it on the radio. Musicians have told me that they sell more of their cds after a show then they do for an entire month at store. Which brings us to another reason why playing live is still the number one way for a musician to make money.
While the asking rate for a band may fluctuate depending on their “hottness”, the possibilities of making more money by playing live is always there. The obvious secondary income stream from playing live is to sell merchandise. I haven’t been to a concert in recent memory, whether at a stadium or in a dive bar, where there wasn’t a booth with a pissed off looking girlfriend or boyfriend peddling t-shirts, cds, stickers, etc. Direct merchandise sales at a concert combined with directing new fans to a band’s website, can account for a good amount of cash. Maybe enough to keep touring.
The not as obvious income stream that may develop from playing live is that you never know who is in the audience. The dream of being discovered by an A&R guy cannot come true by playing in your mom’s garage. Bands are discovered by playing live and getting a reputation for putting on a good show or having a unique sound. It is true that with the Internet you can get your music out to more people then ever before without ever performing live, but once you are discovered by a label or an investor, the first thing they are going to want to see is you playing live. In addition, you will undoubtedly develop relationships with other bands by playing a lot of concerts. Booking with other bands, that are maybe more popular than you can lead to bigger venues and more money.
The bottom line is that people still love going to concerts. Last time I checked, Ticketmaster and Live Nation were still in business, so that means that people are still willing to pay the ridiculous service and “convenience” fees just to go see their favorite band play. Festivals are still selling out and clubs are still packed with thirsty fans. Playing live not only can pay the bills, but can lead to even better opportunities.
Let me know what you think. Leave a comment or shoot me an email about how you make money as an artist.