So much has been written already about the devastating effects that COVID-19 is having on our industry. Social distancing, whether suggested or mandated, means no live performances. No live performances means no money for venue owners, security and staff, ticketing companies, the artists and their teams. Without live performance revenue all of these individuals are without the revenue that normally pays their bills.
While some of the potential and actual legislation and ordinances put forward by government officials will look to help our industry, specifically bartenders, wait staff and other hourly workers, the musicians and their teams will likely not benefit from the same. As we have highlighted so often, the music industry has shifted in such a way where the majority of musicians who make a living via music depend almost entirely on live performances and the merchandise and sponsorship opportunities they afford them.
We, like the rest of the world, do not have an immediate solution to make up for the loss of income caused by COVID-19. However, our experience allows us to make a few suggestions specific to our musician friends and clients to help during this uncertain time.
1. Create more content. This should really be the primary focus of all artists right now. Take advantage of this odd period of time where the world is forced to stay at home to give your fans new content to consume. There is no doubt that people will be glued to their devices now more than ever. Fresh content can keep current fans engaged and introduce you to a new and bigger audience. Whether it is releasing new music, creating video content or streaming live on the ever growing digital platforms like Twitch, Mixer or Caffeine, keep active and keep in front of your fans. Maybe accelerate that release plan and delay that tour schedule.
2. Plan ahead. Hindsight is always 20-20 and it is far easier said than done to save money for a rainy day or a pandemic, but take this time to plan out the rest of your year. Plan financially as well as creatively. While very few people expected this type of event to occur on a global level, now that it is here, we can all plan for it to happen again. Get with your team, including your business management or financial planner, and figure out where you stand and how to maximize revenue for the future.
3. Review your current status. Remember those contracts you signed last year or the year before? This would be a good time to review them and see where you stand. Are you recouped? Have you delivered everything you were supposed to deliver to satisfy your obligations? Is it time to request an accounting or an audit to find the royalties that still haven’t arrived? Take this time to talk to your counsel and look at your contractual situation.
We are living in a crazy time right now. Focusing on what you can control rather than the unknown is solid advice for everyone at a time like this. For musicians and creatives, controlling their careers by following some of these suggested steps is a great way to start taking back some of the control that has been lost due to COVID-19.
PLEASE STAY SAFE AND CONTACT US WITH QUESTIONS, CONCERNS AND IDEAS.
Sometimes speaking out works.
@SoundCloud listened and modified its new artist contract.
Thanks to some solid journalism (take that #fakenews), and the power of artists and their representatives (like yours truly), SoundCloud revised its new artist monetization agreement. The program introduced by SoundCloud four years ago allowed select artists to earn a share of ad revenue and subscription fees by monetizing the use of their music. Finally ready to go to the masses (and keep up with competitors), SoundCloud announced the ability for all Premier Members to monetize. With the announcement came a long form, click-through, agreement. That agreement left quite a bit to be desired.
The biggest outcry from the artist community was over a “Covenant Not to Sue”. Basically this means that if SoundCloud screwed you in some way, you would have no right to seek retribution in court. We were less concerned with that clause as we were with the completely ambiguous payment schedule, the improper method for notifying artists of changes to payment terms and the extremely short amount of time to review statements (if and when the statements were ever delivered). While the Covenant Not to Sue is concerning, there was arbitration language included which offered artists the ability to challenge any issues with SoundCloud through the arbitration process rather than in court. There is a definite difference between a law suit progressing in court versus a matter in arbitration, but it is not extremely unusual to have this type of clause in this type of agreement.
The ambiguity was far more concerning to us. How can anyone agree to enter into a business relationship where the party who is owed money has no idea when or how they are going to get paid? How could you agree to enter into an agreement when you aren’t sure if the agreement has been modified and you could actually be earning less than what you originally agreed to? To us, these types of unclear and unfair terms were the main issues with the SoundCloud artist monetization program.
With the help of @verge and others, SoundCloud, took heed and modified its agreement. Unlike our current government, when the people are outraged and nothing gets done, SoundCloud reexamined its agreement, agreed there were fundamental flaws and took the necessary steps to make the needed changes. Kudos to a company who caters to musicians for actually listening to musicians. I hope this trend continues.
Great question. With so many ways to get your music out to the public it should be easier to break into the music scene, right? Definitely Wrong!
We could write an entire book on the importance of your team as an artist. For the sake of brevity and sanity, let’s focus on networking and management for this post.
The number of individuals who post music to Soundcloud, YouTube, Facebook, ReverbNation, HypeMachine, Spotify, Pandora, MySpace (I think that site is still live), etc. is staggering. So while it is definitely easier to get your music on-line where it may eventually (randomly) be heard by the public, it remains just as difficult, if not more so, to actually get traction and make a career out of being a musician.
There is no one or best answer to this question. Unfortunately a lot of what permits an individual to “make it” in music depends on connections. So much of what happens in music is still based on who you know. While there are many stories of individuals grinding it out in coffee shops, selling cds out of their trunk, submitting demo after demo until, finally, someone with some clout (aka money) opens the magic gates to true exposure, the majority of musicians that have made it take a different route. Networking, schmoozing, pestering etc. are as important as great lyrics, production and stage presence. Going to panel discussions, meeting the right people or people that can lead you to the right people is hugely important. Please don’t mistake the necessity of having great music. You can be the best networker in the world and get your music in front of the exact right people, but if that music is not up to par, the door will quickly be closed.
Let’s assume your music is great and you just need the right people to hear it. What should you do? We at L4M consistently advise our clients to pick the best team members when embarking on a musical career. Try to find the right fit and figure out exactly who/what you need. A lot of artists assume they need a manager immediately. If the right manager is selected and he/she is utilized correctly by the artist, a manager can be an essential key for success.
Managers can quickly become a crutch or an excuse for an artist. Why am I not getting any gigs? Why am I not getting a publishing deal? My manager must not be doing something. While a good manager can secure some opportunities, a manager at the beginning of a musician’s career should be there to offer advice, tough love and help set up a plan for future success. Connections are a huge plus but having a level head and understanding the artist and his/her goals is equally if not more important.
Other key team members include a booking agent, lawyer and publicist. We could write long articles about the importance of each person, but in the very beginning of a music career, these people will most likely come with a certain modicum of success. L4M is obviously partial to lawyers being part of the team, but you will know when you need one (first deal, or band agreement or manager agreement). A good manager should be able to make introductions to all of the other team members you need. In fact, a good way to judge the skill set of your manager is to find out who he/she knows that can help build this team.
How do you find a good manager? Ask around. Don’t rely on websites (many of the best management teams don’t even have a website). Find an artist you admire and see who is on their team. Chances are that Scooter Braun isn’t going to take you on, but find out who he is taking on for clients. Those artists did not start with him as their manager. Reach out to people that know. Lawyers, publicists, other musicians should be your target when trying to find the best management fit.
Remember that there are two sides of a career in music: first and foremost the music followed closely by the business of music. If your music is great, your business skills and team need to be up to snuff. If your team is below par, your music will not get to the masses and you will sadly be lost in the (sound)cloud.
We at L4M represent musicians from all over the country. Yet, deep down, we have a special affinity for Chicago musicians. Is it because we live in Chicago? Well…yes, duh. Anyway, some of the best music at some of the best venues happen here in the Second City.
The time has come (again) for Chicago artists to get the attention that they deserve. L4M and the Bottom Lounge has teamed up to present a “This is Chicago” music series featuring many of our clients at one of the best Chicago music venues in the city.
The first concert will be SEPTEMBER 16, 2010 at 8:00pm (doors) and feature Blah Blah Blah, of1000faces (featuring Matt Walker), The Blind Staggers and DJ Yours Truly. It’s five bucks online with code: Blah or eight bucks at the door. Please come out and support goood music, a good musical venue and some decent lawyers. We want to make this a regular event, so let’s pack the first one.
Here’s the Bottom Lounge’s Promo Page:
BLAH BLAH BLAH • THE BLIND STAGGERS • of1000faces
CHIRP RADIO WELCOMES: Thursday, September 16, 2010 – 9:00pm
BOTTOM LOUNGE AND LAWYER4MUSICIANS.COM PRESENT
Doors 8:00 PM / 9:00 PM.
17 & Over
Ever since Napster and its sinister brethren appeared on the scene a lot of my peers (even those with the purest of hearts) have added to their music collection without spending a dollar. In addition to getting music for free, the actual method of creating and distributing music has fundamentally shifted. Threats of lawsuits from the RIAA may have slowed the free music exchange sites, but social websites, blogs and China have continued to make music available to the masses au gratis (that’s french for free or with cheese, not so good with the franscais).
It is far from original to state that the way the public obtains, shops for or even listens to music has changed over the past decade. Countless reporters, bloggers, industry experts and politicians have noted the fundamental shift in the music industry. Your humble author has also contributed to the rhetoric. But now it is time for musicians and their respecitve teams to stop talking about the change and adjust their own business models in order to succeed in this “all-access-all-the-time” era of music. Here’s my roadmap:
THE NEW TEAM MODEL FOR MUSICIANS AND THEIR MUSIC
1. Amazingly good music. If you don’t have number 1, there is no point in reading past this point. Because of the ease of getting music out to the public without the cost restrictive hurdles of cd manufacturing, warehouse and transportation costs there is more music available to the public than at any time in history. While the digital shift has seen many positives, the overhwelming result is an overly saturated market full of average music. No one likes to think of their music as average, so I’m assuming that you are still reading to see what else you need for your team. I don’t want to belabor the point, but seriously, if your music isn’t good, you are not going to get far (except for the aboritions of people like Lady Gaga, Soulja Boy and Nickleback). It all boils down to the music; and that’s a good thing.
2. Hire A Lawyer. Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m a lawyer and I’m telling you to hire an attorney. But it doesn’t have to me. As you will see in steps 3 and 4, you will be consistently entering into contracts. Hand shakes are cool, especially funky ones with fist bumps included, but they are not cool for agreements that will involve money and your career. A lawyer who understands new media, intellectual property protection and more importantly contract interpretation and law is essential. The new music model involves, digital distribution of music, corporate partnerships, website policies, copyright and trademark protection, royalty collection, license deal, etc. etc. A lawyer who you trust should be step number 2. (If a lawyer tells you she will “get you a deal”, you need to politely excuse yourself from her office and never look back. This old school model is as dead as Chris Brown’s Drink Milk ad campaign.)
3. Hire a Manager. Your buddy might be a fun guy and is good at working a guest list, but you need a professional that will not only manage your day to day career but find new opportunities for your music. The manager needs to think as creatively as the musician, but instead of making music, they should be making deals with new partnership opportunities, tour deals and promotions. A manager should get a percentage of the money that the musician makes for the work that the manager actually does. DO NOT sign a manager agreement that blindly gives your manager 20% of everything you make unless that manager used to work for U2 or Jay Z. Another old school tactic, managers should get paid for what they bring to the table and not just feast on all of the opportunities that come to the band without the managers’ help. Your agreement with your manager should spell this out in great detail (NOTE, having a written agreement with your manager is a mus. See point #2).
4. Get a PR/Marketing Firm. A firm that understands the music business is obviously important. But what is more important is a marketing team that understands your music and your niche. If you are trying to cross over from a hip hop audience to a more mainstream pop market, look for a PR firm that has both clients on its roster. PR firms can be expensive but if you have a budget to spend they can typically tailor their efforts to match it (see point #2, again). Posting your music on popular blogs and on social sites is definitely worthwhile. However, if you want to take it to the next level, you need the network and reach of a competent PR/marketing firm. Yes Fakeshoredrive.com is cool, but spin.com is better.
If you have the “new team” assembled you are in a good spot. This team should be able to act in much the same way as the archaic labels once did. One remaining step is physical cd distribution. While the CD is dying it still makes up a large percentage of music sales. However, unlike the old days, your team can approach physical distributors after you have enough buzz and digital sales racked up. If a distributor sees good numbers, a deal can be inked for small distribution of physical copies of your album.
The DIY artist has a lot of opportunities now. But like many experts have noted, (click here for a great article on the perils of a DIY artist) just because an artist can produce and publish her work for the public to hear, does not mean that she will succeed. If your music is good (and your mom thinking it is good does not count), start building this team and you just may be able to achieve success in the music industry.
SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION OF THE WEEK: FRENCH HORN REBELLION
Speaking of a DIY band, check out French Horn Rebellion. Originally from Milwaukee, now embedded in Brooklyn, these guys have made their own opportunities and have worked hard to get a foot hold on the indie electro pop scene. Good music and a sense of humor make them a popular band with cross over appeal. Now with a good TEAM behind them, you are undoubtedly going to hear a lot more french horn in your music.
Recently I was asked to write an article about anything currently happening in the new music industry. Not really an exciting proposition for most, but for me, my heart went a flutter. Should I write about fair use, the death of the CD (again), the exploitation of copyrights (again) or current trends in the indie scene? I decided to write about something that is current and personal to me and my clients. A new model (which is not so new) for a band/label contract.
Using a combination of the current 360 deals and traditional investments into start-up companies, a fair, equitable and potentially lucrative partnership can be formed. Realizing that the industry is not what it used to be and that the old model is “old” for a reason, there is a potential to do something new that will benefit the artist as much as the investor or label.
The playing field has leveled to a certain degree. If a band has done much of the hard work to start out and has a competent management team and lawyer on its side, the need for the old school label is not as necessary as it once was. Using the same model that many start-up companies use, a band can attract investors and forge a partnership that will allow the band to reach new heights and the investor to realize attractive financial returns.
SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION(S) OF THE WEEK
Check out my favorite jewelry designer at her exclusive Steven Alan Trunk Show by clicking here.
After you are done shopping for jewels, check out the latest offerings from one of Chicago’s top indie bands: Empires by checking out their latest plans by clicking here: Bang PR
Music in general is awesome. It is a social utility which allows all types of people to relax, escape, dance, party, sing-along and just have a good time. People identify others and themselves by the type of music that they listen to. For musicians music is a way of life. It is something that musicians are born with; it is truly a part of them.
Those of us who cannot make our own music depend on the artists to give us what we need. Today, there is no shortage of music. In fact, there is a plethora of music, just a dearth of quality. For those musicians who know nothing else in life but to make music, how do you get recognized or more practically how do you make a living doing the one thing that makes you happy?
Obviously the world will always need waiters, baristas, bartenders and temp workers. But in today’s new music industry, is there a way to still make a living for a lifelong musician?
I try to provide some general ideas and thoughts for musicians and the music industry, but for this post, I need your help. I know how the musicians I represent make a living. I am constantly working on license agreements, concert proposals, royalty agreements and the like. So I have a general idea of how you can still make money as a musician today. But the original idea behind this blog was to get interactive with musicians and their teams. Tell me how you are surviving as a musician. If that means you have 3 other jobs but are eeking buy playing at a Potbellys during the week, let me know.
My next post will hopefully be part my thoughts and part yours. I will share the best responses that I got and combine them with my own money making ideas and experiences. If you have an idea or think you know how to survive without royalties and big label advances, write to me: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks, L4M.
I had a lengthy internal debate over whether to join the endless number of blogs, articles, tributes and montages in honor of Michael Jackson. Even though I was big fan of MJ and I did rock the moon-walk on numerous occassions during bar and bat mitzvahs and family weddings during the 80’s, I decided that for purposes of my posts, we should learn from Michael rather than add to the endless fluff pieces circulating our globe at the moment.
So, what can we in the independent music industry learn from the King of Pop? One glove is better than two, Emmanuel Lewis (aka Webster) is cool, living on a ranch with children, monkeys, and an amusement park will definitely get you noticed. All joking aside, Michael Jackson was one of the biggest grossing artists of all time. He single-handedly changed the way music was marketed to the masses. He was one of the first truly international (Asia to Africa to Australia) superstars. Along the way, he purchased the Beatles catalog.
That purchase, along with some of his other buisness decisions is what I can’t help but focus on when thinking about MJ’s legacy. Michael and/or his management team had the foresight to purchase a large chunk of the greatest rock and roll band’s publishing catalog of all time. In 1985 he puchased ATV Music Publishing for $47.5 Million. ATV controlled around 200 Beatles songs. This investment, at a time where the value of music publishing was still unknown, was one of the best investments anyone could make.
Every time one of the Beatles’ songs was played on the radio, which is virtually every minute of every day, Michael was earning money as the publisher. For every song that was licensed in advertisements, tv shows, movies, greeting cards, etc. Michael got a check. At the time of his death, the Beatles catalog would have been one of his most valuable assets. Think about that; Michael Jackson albums sold in the 100’s of millions but he had more earning potential from another artist’s songs.
Obviously when we discuss the Beatles and Michael Jackson we are looking at musicians who are in a different stratosphere when compared to most indie musicians or even most major label acts. However, the lesson that any musician can learn from both the Beatles and MJ is that control of publishing, control over who owns your music and how it is maintained, can be the life-blood for your retirement, and even for future generations.
When you sign to a label you need to think about what you are signing away. If you choose not to sign with a label but pursue a publishing deal, the same rule applies. Most major label deals will come with a publishing deal wherein the label or a division of the label will get the right to publish your music. While this is not always a bad thing, just remember what you are giving up and what the financial repercussions may be. A good warning flag that indicates that a musician may be giving away her music forever is an offer of an advance. Typically, publishing deals, like label deals, come with an advance. BE WEARY OF ADVANCES. If you are getting money up front, it usually means that you are leaving something behind. The length of publishing deals can be for the life of the copyright (95+ years in some cases) or can even be perpetual (never ending). Is a $50,000 advance worth the value that publisher is going to bring to your music for the next 100 years? Maybe…
Publishers are ideally supposed to act as your world-wide agent. They are supposed to help advertise your music to the world and seek money making opportunities for that music. Also, publishers are there to collect the money that is earned for music which is actually “published”. The typical split with most publishers is 50/50. The even split looks better than it is (of course). Many artists need sub-publishers to reach different markets around the world. A sub-publisher will take its percentage which in turn reduces your percentage.
The easy argument to make in favor of publishers is that without them: are you going to get your music out to the public en masse and more importantly are you going to collect once that music has been published? While the new music industry has seemingly endless opportunities to get your music out to the public, the publisher still plays an important role. Several new bands and even labels have either formed their own publishing company or partnered with a publisher. The partnership or the self-publisher model will reduce the endless percentages that go out to people and companies who are not in the band. But, just like everything else in the D-I-Y music model, it takes a lot of work and a strong team to accomplish what established publishers can already provide.
God willing your catalog of music will be worth as much as Michael’s or the Beatles. Realistically, you might not get to that level. That does not mean that you should not think about the value of your music before you hastily sign it over to a publisher. A quick advance from a publishing company may look great now, but as I have ranted on several occassions, advances are simply loans which must be paid back. Look at all your options first and go with the one that is best for you and your band. Think before you ink.
SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION OF THE WEEK: NALEDGE’S (AKA MR. BRAIN) CHICAGO PICASSO
Some of us who work with businesses that are on the periphery of the music industry (clothing manufacturers, software and computer companies etc.) have been babbling about the trend of coupling music with another consumer product for some time now. Finally the idea of bundling or packaging new music with other merchandise appears to be taking off. Artists like Mars Volta, ACDC, Mos Def and, oh yeah, the Beatles, are getting into the game providing major steam to the indirect music sales category.
Most of the readers of this page are not signed to major labels (at least I don’t think so). So the idea of getting your next single on Guitar Hero IV is not very realistic. However, in the past we have discussed creative ways of getting your music out to the masses. Mos Def, a true indie hip hop legend, has taken this approach with his latest release: The Ecstatic. As Pitchfork, Digital Music News and NME have reported, Mos Def’s newest release will be presented to the public via a “Music T-Shirt”. Each t-shirt will have a unique code that will allow the buyer to download the album (not to mention rock a new sweet t at the same time).
This cross marketing and cross selling idea is clearly the wave of the future for music sales. With continuous drops in physical cd sales, limited and dwindling numbers of stores selling cd’s and the tight economy, musicians and their labels have to think of new and creative methods for getting the new music to the people. The majors may be too slow and too entrenched to re-invent their sales method in time, but creative indies and mid-size labels can definitely get on board.
The t-shirt idea is brilliant, but how about including music with the purchase of a particular sneaker. If Converse knows that their shoes sell particularly well to the hipster community, why not include download codes for music from Passion Pit, Santigold or MGMT? If you are a band that has identified your target audience, approach a company whose products are popular amongst your fans. For young bands, their fans probably only buy music digitally. Why not get custom usb drives made with music embedded on it and sell those at your concert instead of cds? The cost is about the same (check out CustomUSB and Molotalk ) and the chances of a fan buying a wicked cool usb drive far outweigh a crappy cd with a handwritten label.
Musicians are creative by nature so the possibility for this secondary revenue stream for the sale of new music is seemingly endless. As with all licensing and merchandise deals, the same “lawyerly” warnings apply. As this trend grows and more non-music companies approach musicians to ask for music, more shady deals will be presented. As always, be careful before you agree to sell, license or give your music to anyone. That sweet t-shirt compilation idea may wind up as a not so awesome singing laxative container.
SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION OF THE WEEK
I already plugged (no pun intended) them in this article, but check out Custom USB. They have already worked with many big named musicians on really cool USB drives that can come in any shape, size or quality. They can embed software that not only includes music, but also creates a fan based intranet site that pops up once the device is plugged into your computer. Awesome stuff.
I’m a bit spent after SXSW (read below). Or maybe I’m just old. Anyway, I’m going to suck it up and head down to the party that is the Winter Music Conference.
While I’m sure it will be fun, I’m there to work and spread my knowledge of copyrights and publishing (which is also fun). In my on going quest of getting musicians to treat their music like a business, I’m fortunate to be speaking on a panel with other lawyers and industry execs who feel the same way. In the ever changing industry which is seeing the rise of the do-it-yourself artist and the demise of the major label, it is even more important for the independent artist to protect her work and capitalize from all available avenues of income. We will be focusing on the steps necessary to do just that.
I’ll be speaking at the Copyright and Publishing Panel on Friday, March 27, 2009 at 1:30 (EST). Here’s a run down of the details:
1:30 PM Intellectual Property: Songwriting & Publishing Forum
Panel Room: Valencia Panel Ready Rm: Madrid
Learn how to protect your songs, programs, and ideas effectively. What are the pros and cons of publishing under a label or independently? Can you copyright your songs years after the release date? This panel takes an in-depth look at copyright laws and publishing contracts.
|Moderator:||Brandon Bakshi – BMI|
|Panelists:||Corey Boddie, Esq.- Boddie & Associates, PC
Steven Greenberg- Carey, Rodriguez, Greenberg & Paul, LLP
Josh Kaplan- Lawyer4Musicians.com/Stahl Cowen
Frank Liwall- The Royalty Network
Mark Quail- Q&A Music Rights Admin. Inc.