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
Websites that serve as independent fund raisers for artists are not new. Over the past decade several sites using the fan funded model have popped up (some have subsequently disappeared). The sites are natural offspring of some entrepreneurial and creative musicians and film makers realizing that the label/studio system probably is not going to work form them.
The basic premise is that you offer your friends, family and fans (the 3f’s) an opportunity to participate in the creation of your new album or film. In exchange for buying a piece of the project the 3f’s will get extras that the general public will not get. Examples of the extras that participants get are: exclusive tracks, t-shirts, signed copies of vinyls, screenings with the cast and crew, etc.
Some models have tried to take it to the next step and share income with the 3f’s who go from participants to investors when they provide money to a project. Sellaband.com is probably the most well known band investment models (now in bankruptcy, this concept obviously has some issues to figure out still). On the film side of things sites like kickstarter.com and indiegogo.com have had success in getting independent movies with fairly small budgets into production via fan participation.
But what happens when you want to raise more than $5,000 or even $50,000? I guess it depends on how wealthy your 3f’s are. For most of our clients we are trying to raise money in the several hundred thousands or millions for their projects. Their 3f’s are typically not looking to get a t-shirt or dvd out of their participation when they are putting that much money into a project. In most scenarios a participant becomes an investor and will want to see a monetary return on his investment.
Equally as important, the method for raising money with the promise of a financial return on investment follows very strict rules and regulations. When you try to raise significant funds for your project you are essentially selling securities or stock in your product. The Securities and Exchange Commission governs these type of transactions and you must follow their guidelines or risk serious consequences. Unfortunately, the legal fees for setting up an Offering (offering of a financial interest in your project) are high and you definitely cannot create an Offering on your own (even if you find an example on line). Oftentimes, musicians and film makers must go to their 3f’s just to get the money to pay for the Offering.
So with all of these barriers why to musicians and film makers go through the trouble? Several reasons. First, the old days of being discovered are over. The quantity of product is simply too high and the methods for finding talent are too vast. A&R departments are decimated and studio budgets are tighter than ever. Risks are averted on all levels. It is now a necessity for the independent to truly be independent and make their own way in the industry. Further, most musicians and film makers feel that if they get their first project produced and into commerce, the sky is the limit. This sentiment is justifiable. Film makers who are able to get a movie made and actually distributed immediately create a brand for themselves and their production company. It is far easier to sell the second feature as compared to the first. Same for musicians. A musician who has released countless EP’s and singles may not be interesting to an investor until she produces and distributes a full length album.
So as the annoying saying goes, you have to spend money to make money. Whether it is strictly as a participant structure or through an Offering, a lot of work, time and money goes into the process.
I am interested to hear from those of you have used this method; whether it is through a website or on your own door to door fund raising effort. Here are some of my friends who are using the participant method. Check out and if you like them, PARTICIPATE!
Film maker Carey Bruce and Road’s End Films are producing Forests of Mystery and using Kickstarter.com:
Talented Singer/Songwriter Levi Weaver has funded his own projects through 3f participation. Check him out here:
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.
Huge issues, such as how to compensate musicians who have content ripped off or used without permission on Goliath’s like You Tube, do not seem to be any closer to being resolved. One lawyer from a large internet file sharing site expressed her frustration that it took her client 8 years to work out a comprehensive license deal with the labels. The labels countered that with a complaint that the country’s Anti-Trust laws prohibit the labels from meeting in the same room let alone coming up with a unilateral price for licensing music and come up with a fair price for licensing; music. The result will be years of musicians losing out on mechanicals and licensing revenue.
But, like I said, the weekend was not without some optimism. Focus groups discussed new ways for musicians to make money and reach their fan groups. Several of the methods they discussed were ideas that this site previously discussed (Click Here and Here). Using new and creative ways to get your music to your fan base (USB drives, t-shirts, treasure hunts) and utilizing social media were stressed by those in the know. Creating an interactive experience with the buyer should be the ultimate goal of musicians. With all of the utilities currently available, the one on one fan/artist experience is easier to achieve.
The byproduct of the new methods of reaching and interacting with fans is the steady decline of the traditional album (Something I mentioned in last week’s post: See White Chocolate and the Soul Berries). Rolling Stone is picking up on this trend as it is reaching beyond the indies and making headway with some major artists. In Issue 1090, October 29, 2009, David Browne cited to the death of the traditional album in his article entitled “Artists Break Free of the Album”. In the article, several artists, including Billy Corgan, Modest Mouse, Sppon, Blitzen Trapper and Radiohead, are testifying to the need and the appeal of a new model for getting music to the masses. Finally catching up to the public trend (or disease, depending on how you feel) of severe Attention Deficit Disorder, the music industry is coming to the realization that if you are going to get new music out and grab the public’s attention, you better do it quickly and in a new and interesting way. EP’s are becoming the new LP’s and on-line releases, once deemed leaks, are becoming a cheaper and easier way to reach the entire world and not just the big box store customer.
The industry insiders and taste makers at CMJ were not necessarily revealing any new or earth shattering information that the informed musician did not already know. Yet, it is important to realize the significance of the simple fact that these industry and label types are finally catching on to the truth. If you really needed proof that the industry is not what it once used to be and the old model of releasing a cd, touring, sitting back and living off of royalties is dead, then hearing it from a label owner, label lawyer and label A&R executive is all you hopefully ever need.
A not so new fact in the music industry is that musicians can make more money touring then they can selling music. Whether it is digital or physical sales, fans just don’t want to spend the money. One thing that I write about a lot is the fact that giving music away for free, if done correctly, might be the best move an artist can make (See these posts Turn Your Music Into A Virus and Free Today, Paid Tomorrow).
As witnessed at the summer’s festivals, bands who do not necessarily top the Billboard Chart are still able to pack the open fields in front of their stage. Bands that have a habit of giving music away or making it available at a discount (NIN, Andrew Bird, the Decemberists, Radiohead) have a large following and make good money from touring off of that music.
As a precurser to my next posting of How to Make Money as a Musician, I thought I’d share these thoughts and a great article that was in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. Check it out here: The Music Festival Grows Up. Read what Jim Fusilli has learned from today’s musicians who rely on touring over selling their music.
Also, keep the thoughts and ideas coming on how you make money as a musician. I need some more info for my next post. Either leave a comment or write me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
Similar to songs titles, there seems to be an infinite number of band names to pick from. However, unlike song titles, band names can be protected. Trademark protection is a tricky but hot topic these days. With the numerous licensing opportunities presented to successful bands and musicians the protection of a band or artist’s performance name is extremely important.
Bob Marley is a perfect example. Marley has become more than just a musician’s name. People who know Marley’s music immediately associate it with Reggae, Jamaica and a certain “laid back” lifestyle. Over several decades, the Marley name has been exploited by thousands of people for millions of dollars. A protectable name has gone unprotected.
Bob Marley’s estate recently reached a global licensing deal with Hilco Consumer Capital, a major private equity fund that licenses well known brand names to equally well known merchants. The Marley family had grown tired of the millions of dollars it lost out on thanks to sales by unlicensed dealers across the globe. Think of all the Marley paraphernalia that can be bought on the street or in your local head shop. Not to mention the schwag manufactured in China and India that finds its way into the US and European markets.
After years of sitting by and allowing trademark infringers to profit off of the Marley brand, the Marley’s took appropriate action. Hilco with hits large corporate infrastructure and influence will be able to secure specific approved relationships with merchants. Any sales that are occurring outside a relationship developed by Hilco will be an obvious infringer and can be dealt with accordingly. Bootleggers will be less likely to sell their unlicensed goods to retailers. That is not to say that you will no longer be able to pick up a Jamaican Flag with Marley’s face on it at Panama City beach during Spring Break ’09. However, you will not be able to walk into Spencer’s Gifts at your local mall and pick up a “Bob Marley, Legend” t-shirt or hemp necklace. The family through its new corporate partnership have taken the necessary steps to register all things related to Bob Marley and his musical goods and services. Those trademarks can now be policed and enforced if need be through the court system or the mere threat of a law suit.
Most likely, you and your band are not fielding offers from Hilco or other major license distribution companies. Chances are you are not worried about having your band’s name emblazoned on backpacks or hoodies at the mall without your permission. Yet, get a little bit of buzz going and unlicensed merch will start popping up online and even at your shows. Bootleggers love to capitalize on new bands because most do not know how to protect their rights. That’s why you should be prepared.
Registering your band’s name as a trademark will give you statutory protection. Statutory protection will allow you to enforce the rights you have through your unique band name or logo (assuming its unique). By registering your band’s name as a trademark, you can take the steps necessary to stop infringers from using the name or logo, recover monetary damages from those who infringe those rights and even, in specific cases, get the attorney’s fees that you spent to enforce your rights back from the infringer.
Sounds great, right? It is, but like most things with the government, the trademark process is not exactly easy. You have to do your research first. You can’t just pick a name that you think is rad without determining if someone else beat you to the punch. You also cannot profit off of another band’s name and notoriety. While Jon Bovi may think they are the “opposite of Bon Jovi”, chances are, Bon Jovi doesn’t think so. If there is a likelihood that the public will be confused as to the source of where the music is coming from, the government is not going to approve your application. Our friends from SNL may think that they have nothing to do with the actual band, but there is no way they could ever make it with a name that is so similar to the original.
Find out if there are any other bands using the name you want for your band; see if that band registered its name with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Do a MySpace and Google search. Go to www.allmusic.comand look up your chosen name. While there are a lot of variables to determine if a band name is trademarked or protectable, if you find a band name that is still being used by a band today or was registered in the past, its time to go back to the drawing board for your own band name. Do not start a marketing campaign, release an album or start multi-state tour with a band name until you are sure you are the only ones out there using it. As with most things involving the law, its always a good idea to talk to a lawyer to help you out with the process.