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.
I’m on the way to CMJ music marathon in NYC. CMJ and other similar music events are good barometers for the industry as whole. Who will be the next band? What are the labels going to do know? How has piracy effected music sales? Etc. Etc.
In the past this indie music conference and pseudo music festival has proven to be a great place to find new music talent and network with creative industry types. This year, the line up is more representative of the changing music scene: a lot of bands that are great, but that you probably haven’t heard of yet. The Antlers, Pitbull, Japanroids and Das Rascist are recognizable names to those in the know and will hopefully CMJ will take them and the hundreds of other bands to the next level.
The networking that had gone on in the past was between labels, pr firms, distributors and radio folks. This year, many of those people are looking for jobs. Perhaps CMJ will have a job fair day?
I’m looking forward to seeing if the unprecedented ease of getting music to the masses (i.e. the Internet) has truly watered down the musical talent or if it has afforded those that never would have had the opportunity to perform in the past to have their talent seen and heard. I’m obviously hoping for the latter. I’m also curious to see what pearls of wisdom the overly entrenched New York industry types plan on sharing at the various panels. My prediction this year is that a lot of the label types have new jobs with smaller (both in size and revenue) companies. So, chances are that the theme will be battling piracy and identifying new ways of getting paid for making music.
We shall see and I’ll report back after my trip.
SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION OF THE WEEK:
Speaking of new ways of getting music to the masses in a creative way, check out my friend Whatzisface’s newest project (click the link below). In the past hip hop artists have been found via the mixtape. Mixtapes were and still are to a large extent, full length albums without a particular theme or concept. They are given away for free usually on a burned cd or now, via myspace download. The hope is the same: someone with decision making power and a budget will listen and choose to develop the artist. Why not change it up? Why not re-invent the mixtape so that people look forward to it like a new album release? Add a concept to it. Make it funny and release it in a cool way. That’s what ‘face has done. Here is one of his latest installments in the White Chocolate and… series. Enjoy.
Welcome back to my multiple part series on how to make money as a musician: Volume 2, Licensing.
No point dwelling on the past, making money selling records has gone the way of the 8 track, the ferbie and the Hummer SUV. The antiquated system of big advances and platinum record sales has died (or is at least on life support) along with the major labels. So while it is harder to make money the old fashion way, there are new and, more importantly, more ways of making money as a musician.
Performing live at concerts is still the best way to make money. It used to be that bands would perform to sell albums, now the musicians give away their music to sell concert tickets. However, not everyone can sell out stadiums, concert halls, or even high school proms. So, what is another great way for musicians to make significant income or supplement their concert income? Licensing!
Think of how many commercials you heard or saw today? Consumer Reports estimates that the average American is exposed to 247 commercial messages a day. The vast majority of the radio and television ads, as well as a growing number of internet and new media ads, are accompanied by music. Whether its Budweiser, which spends approximately $90 million a year on advertisements, playing the newest Dodo’s or Santigold (See Above) song or Apple promoting the newest IPhone with Feist, music is an integral part of advertising all over the world. Musicians can lay their claim to the billions of dollars spent on advertisements each year.
Licensing does not end with advertisements. One of the most common terms of art used in license agreements drafted by folks like me is describing the use of a song in “any medium now know or hereafter discovered”. This industry phrase means that a song can be used or synched to movies, television shows, internet programming, video games, radio programs, or any other programming or format which hasn’t even been discovered yet. Think about, when is the last time you watched a movie that didn’t have a sound track, a television show that didn’t have a theme song, or a video game that didn’t have background music? Watching old silent movies does not count.
As satellite and cable television expands and internet programming continues to grow the opportunities for music licensing grow proportionally. Budgets may vary, but mechanical royalties (the statutory rate that must be paid every time a song is broadcasted) must be paid. Licensing music can be a quick substantial pay day or a long term and consistent money maker.
The dollar figures for global music licensing are staggering. According to a 2007 report by eMarketer, the projected budget for music licensing in 2010 will reach $4.4 billion! How many artists would be happy with just a teeny tiny percentage of that huge pot?
Just knowing that the licensing money is out there does not make it a reality for most independent artists (I’m anticipating your questions). For independent artists who are not signed to a publisher, it is still difficult to get your music in front of the licensing decision makers. There are several services out there via the web which offer solutions: Pump Audio, Taxi and my favorite (bias added) Music Dealers. These sites allow artists to upload their music to catalogs with the hope that a music supervisor seeking independent music visits the site and selects their song. Some sites are non-exclusive, meaning you can upload your music to more than one, while other require exclusivity. Always read the contract (even the click through contracts)!
Other options for getting your music licensed is to attend music seminars, panels, events, conventions. Research where the industry people are going to be. Buy a badge to CMJ, SXSW, Midem, etc. Music supervisors and a&r types are always at these types of events networking and trying to find the right sound for their project. If you don’t run into the right folks there you can start networking on your own to find managers, lawyers or other independent licensing reps of music. A lot of times these types have the inside track (which is usually a coveted list of contact info for music supervisors in all types of media like movies, tv, and video games) to the decision makers. For a split on the fee, independent reps will submit your music for your. While there is no guaranty, your chances of having a supervisor actually listen to your music is much higher when it is submitted by someone like this.
Just like everything else in your career as a musician, you will only go as far as you and your talent take you. Having great music alone is not enough. You have to treat it like a business. Licensing opportunities will not just come to you. Go out there and sell it. Network, meet the right people, create a buzz and capitalize on every opportunity (no matter how small) that is presented to you.
Bobby Buscher (aka the Waterboy) really just wanted a friend other than his momma and their family horse. Bobby, like you, knows the value of friendship. I’m hear to tell you how right you are.
I don’t know the cold hard numbers of how many people under the age of 30 have some sort of virtual community profile, but I do know that amongst my peers it is about 90% (it would be higher but some people can’t log on to Facebook from work). Whether its MySpace, Facebook or LinkedIn people are “virtually” expressing themselves. As in the past, music is a normal way for any individual to express himself. Now instead of blasting music from your dorm room or dressing like your favorite hair band, people are including their favorite music on their homepage. MySpace profiles are laced with personal media players and Facebook allows you to become fans of your favorite band. So when a friend invites someone to view their page or to become their friend they are not just passing their pictures from their wedding or their latest vacation pics, they are also “virally” passing along their favorite music.
Smart musicians or their management team will allow their music to be added to profiles, but in a streaming only format (don’t want to give it all away without being able to track it). The minute your one fan passes or shares their profile with your music to their network of friends your audience has just increased exponentially (depending on how popular the fan is).
I have written about the viral loop effect of music before (see https://lawyer4musicians.com/2008/06/19/turn-your-music-into-a-virus/), but it is definitely worth writing about again. As our economy suffers and pirated music continues to run rampant, musicians need to capitalize on all of their available resources. One seemingly obvious resource that is consistently overlooked is a musicians friends and colleagues.
Case in point: here in Chicago there has been a huge burst in the “underground” hip hop scene. With the help of the mainstream rappers like Kanye West and Common, other windy city acts have been able to jump on the scene. The Cool Kids, Kid Sister, and Kidz in the Hall have been able to capitalize on the attention Chicago hip hop has garnered over the past several months and launch their own careers. Using the buzz of a growing music scene, brilliant use of community websites, the success of their colleagues, oh yeah, and good music, these once obscure artists have attained national and international recognition.
Now the next generation is climbing on board. The Cool Kids were helped out by Flosstradamus, so in turn they lent a hand to Mickey Factz, Hollywood Holt and Mic Terror. Collaborating on tracks, producing beats, appearing on stage, or hyping each other on their own community webpage, one artist helps out the other. This isn’t just hippy pay it forward crap, this is good business. The buzz becomes tangible and concerts with more recognizable lineups are packed, merchandise is moved and careers are launched.
Check out friendship in action: http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfmfuseaction=blog.view&friendID=7240921&blogID=425195126
As Tenacious D brilliantly crooned: “Friendship is rare. Do you know what I’m saying to you? Friendship is Rare.” Think of your friends as friends first and your potentially viral network second and things may go a.o.k. for you and your music.