Just some quick stats for your Monday. According to Nielsen’s US Music Mid-Year report, the United States is consuming more music via streaming platforms than ever before.
Key stats from the report are:
“On-demand song streaming activity is reaching new milestones, with volume surpassing 400 billion, which is offsetting declines in album and track sales. On-demand audio streaming volume is up 45%, having already exceeded 268 billion so far in 2018, and on-demand video streaming volume is up 35% year-over-year.”
Some of us have noticed that the introduction of new record labels popping up all over the place. A few years back reading that a new record label was opening up was on par with an announcement of a new Blockbuster Video opening its doors; it just wasn’t going to happen. Not surprisingly, a lot of the labels that are popping up are actually old shuttered labels that closed their doors a decade or so ago when they were unequipped to handle the digital music revolution. Now, with their parent companies (read the opening of a new label announcements with some skepticism, as they are often funded by a pre-existing major) finally reaping the benefit of deals struck with streaming platforms and the overall ease for consumers to stream music, revenue for labels is catching up. With a better formula in place to collect revenue from the streaming platforms and with the number of consumers steadily rising, it is not surprising to see a renaissance of sorts for record labels.
Let’s just hope that they have learned from the past and that the structure of deals for artists that are clamoring to sign are fair (or at least close to it).
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
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.
Due diligence is a phrase that is thrown around the legal world on a daily basis. “Is that borrower credit worthy? We’ll have to do our due diligence.” “Do we want to purchase that gas station? We will only know after we complete our due diligence.” Does the concept of completing due diligence in the music world ever come into play?
The answer is that it should. Just like a business looking to buy out its competitor or a bank trying to figure out if it should issue a credit line to a borrower, a musician should always complete due diligence before making any decision related to his career.
In my quest to get musicians treat their music like a business, I have often compared a music career to any other type of business. However, even though being a musician is similar to being a manufacturer of tires or a having a shoe store, there are different rules and procedures in the music industry. These different rules and standards are due partially because of the slick talkers and stereotypical music industry professionals but mostly from a successful system that has been in place for decades. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it has been the mantra of the major label music industry for years. In this system, the typical scenario played out as follows: a musician breaks onto the scene or discovered by an A&R rep, the musician blindly signs a multi-album record deal, a manager is provided by the label and the label would control the musicians career for the length of the contract and beyond. As we all know, this system is no longer the norm. Due to the failures of the record industry over the last several years, the system has changed and the process for building a career as a musician has changed along with it.
While a musician was happy to sign the first contract that came from a “reputable” label in the past, that musician now has the ability to conduct her own due diligence. For a musician his or her music is her work product. Today, when that work product gets to a level where it is ready to share with the public and the public wants to hear it, several doors may open for the musician. Behind every door, however, is another business who wants to make money off of the musician’s work product. A manager, business manager, lawyer, label, publicist, publishing company, etc. etc. are all examples of businesses who make money off of your work product. But just like a business owner who is looking to hire a new CEO, a musician must conduct diligence before making a long term committment which may direct the musicians career and check book for the next several years.
So what should you look for as a musician who is looking to sign with a third party (a label, producer, manager, etc.)? How does a musician conduct his own due diligence? First, conduct your own research: google the hell out of the company or individual that is looking to work with you; talk to people in the industry to see what their experience has been with that company or individual; and spend a lot of time talking and observing what that individual or company is really like to work with. A label might have a good reputation, but that reputation could have been built on a success 10 years ago; what have they done lately? Ask for a specific plan for you and your band. How will the label help you get tours? How will the manager deal with finances? How will the lawyer bill you? We know that Sub-Pop has been successful with many of thier artists, but how do their contracts work? Will they enter into a license deal or maybe they are only a 360 deal label? Just because a label or management company has a good name doesn’t mean that they are a good fit for you.
It is always exciting to have someone interested in working with you and in some cases offer you money to work for them. But in today’s music world, you have to ask: is it worth it? Maybe you can do it on your own. Maybe you make your own start and then go with a label. Maybe your best friend is ok to work as your manager for a regional tour. All of these things must be thought about before signing on the dotted line. In the business world if one business is looking at buying out another business, the due diligence period may take months (years even). Lawyer pour over the existing contracts, the amount of money coming in and out of the company, the people working at the company, the systems in place that are working or need to be fixed. Why should your music career be any different?
Musicians should focus on music. That is what they are inherently good at and why they have the exciting prospect of people paying them for what they create. However, saying that “I only want to make music” and ingorning the decisions that effect your career as a musician can have devastating results. Do your due diligence before you make decisions that will effect your ability to continue to make music for a living. Once you have made smart decisions on who makes up your professional team, you can go back to what you are truly meant to be doing: making 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
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.
I am heading east next week to take part in the madness that is the CMJ Music Marathon. New York’s music scene is always great, but during this five day stretch there is no better place in the world to see and hear some of today’s best independent music. For us on the business side of the music scene it also a great opportunity to network, schmooze and drop names without trying to hurt one’s toes.
Last year at this time the word was that the major labels were in serious trouble. That obviously played out to be accurate. While the labels are definitely hurting, I have noticed that they are no longer the slow moving mass that they once were. Sure there is still the old guard pulling the stings of the A&R and creative departments at the majors, but I think it has finally registered that making money off of physical record sales is just not going to buy the CEO his 2nd jet anytime soon.
360 deals are being pushed hard by some labels and industry giants (eg. Madonna and Jay-z with Live Nation). Companies are taking a piece of everything an artist touches from album sales to touring to merchandise. In return the artist is promised national and international marketing and promotion by a label who still has the connections and manpower to launch such a campaign. I am still not sure if this model can be mutually beneficial. Judging by the insistence of some labels to only use 360 deals, I have a feeling they tend to skew in favor of the labels a bit more than the artist. Just a hunch though.
If a band is looking for a more traditional deal, they are still available. A one and five deal (one album with the option for five more) is still commonplace with many of the lables who are still around. These are typically too long of a time period and too onerous on the artist (transfer of ownership your music is the norm), but have been around for so long that they have become the “industry standard”. In the past a label would convince an artist that a long term recording agreement was the way to go and would sweeten the deal with a phat or fat advance. Not so much these days.
Bottom line, an indpendent band that kills it at CMJ next week will probably get an offer from one of the many lurking label execs present at its showcase. Whichever type of deal is offered, rest assured there will be a teeny tiny advance attached. Labels do not have any money. Its gone. The days of six figure advances and seven figure recording budgets are history. The labels’ belt has gotten tighter just like every industry in America. On top of that, we are in the final quarter of the year so any coin that the labels had has most likely been committed to an earlier project.
So what’s my point? Don’t wait for a killer deal. It just isn’t going to happen. Musicians should definitely listen to any offer and be courteous while doing so. Then they should think about this: can they do the same thing the label is offering on their own? If the answer is yes, and a band can forge strong relationships with strategic management companies, booking agents, merchandise companies and lawyers, they may not need a label. If a band can do all of that, they definitely do not want to give up ownership of their music or have someones hands in their pocket during a performance, at the merchandise tent and at the record store.
Lots to think about. Perhaps we should wait to think about it all until after next week when we have completed the music marathon.
SHAMELESS PLUG(S) OF THE WEEK:
Toki is getting well deserved press. Click her wicked cool necklace above for more info.
You may have already seen this, but I think its awesome: