Here are 10 recommendations for strategies that can lead to success in music, and in life. Take them with a grain of salt. With this new decade comes the promise of digital music, the power of the entrepreneur and the tools to connect with an audience and deliver the goods.
1. Living a life in music is a privilege. Earn it.
There is very little more satisfying then spending time making music. If you make this your life’s work, then you can be truly joyful. However, the chances of being successful are extremely low and the only people who are going to get there are going to have to work hard and earn the right to be a musician. Respect the privilege of being free enough to have this choice (if you do) and honor the opportunity.
2. No one is in charge of your muse but you. Be happy and positive.
People can be their own worst enemy. Countless times I have heard artists tell me the reasons why their career is not working out. Most of the time they are putting blocks in their way and pointing fingers at people and things that are holding them back. Stop whining and blaming other people and make the conscious decision that you are going to be successful and that things are going to work out in your favor. You are creating your own reality every day, so make it a good one and excel.
3. Practice, practice, practice – then go for it. Over prepare.
You can never be ready enough for opportunity. Your live shows can always be better, your songs can be more amazing, and your playing can only improve. As the CEO of your own musician business, you can learn how to run the company more effectively, reach out to more fans and be an more effective social media marketer. Don’t hold yourself back by not being ready. Be a professional.
4. If you suck, you will never make it. Find a way to be great.
Lets face it, it is really hard to be amazing. Some people have the natural talent and you can see it in the first 5 seconds of meeting them. They are truly blessed. The rest of us have to find our niche, our passion, our calling and then reach for it. Ask people around you for feedback. Find what you are good at and focus on that. Get other people to help you. If you don’t stand out and rise above the pack, you will struggle forever. Be amazing.
5. Learn how to breathe and keep your focus. Stay calm.
There is nothing more pleasant than working with someone who knows who they are and what their goal is. Remember the old adages of thinking before you speak, and taking a deep breath before you lay into someone. Most of us have a lot going on in our lives and we can all benefit from staying focused on our goals and remaining calm in most situations. Learn yoga, exercise, run, meditate, sit still, breathe, learn who you are.
6. Don’t take yourself too seriously, no one else does. Have fun.
I am amazed at how many people spend so much time looking backwards and trying to understand what people think of them. This is worrying about the past and not embracing the future. Reviews are important, but don’t run to them or let them ruin your day. Not everyone is going to like you, but more people will if you are having a good time.
7. No matter how difficult things get, move forward. Don’t give up.
The only thing that will help your career take off is forward momentum. That is how you are going to reach your goals. A lot of people are stuck in their own mud. Take action, make a move and then see what happens. Don’t spend time procrastinating or worrying about how hard it is, just do something positive to advance your cause. You will feel much better by acting instead of waiting or worrying.
8. Find a way to make money. Start small and grow. Avoid being in debt.
This is probably the most important strategy of them all and why so many artists have gotten into trouble in the past by taking label advances. All that is, is a big loan. Get some kind of cash flow happening right away, no matter how small. Sell merch, play for the door, license your songs, play sessions, teach, write, start your musician business. The biggest mistake you can make is to borrow a lot of money and then spend it on things that don’t matter.
9. Be unique and true to your vision. Say something.
The people that we remember are the ones that are unique, exciting, special, provocative, fascinating, original, inventive, interesting. Music is a basic form of communication. The really successful artists have something to say and work on delivering their message. Your chances of success go up exponentially if you have a unique position and message and create a following of fans who really listen to you because you have something important to say.
10. Work and play with people you like every day. Collaborate Often.
Music is a tribal experience. You cannot make great music alone. Surround yourself with talented people, write together, play together, try new things. Bounce inspiration off of each other and learn. Listen to each other and let the music weave it’s way around you. Find a producer, songwriting partner, other musicians and dive in together. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Wonderful things are waiting to happen to you.
Want more strategies for success? Download my most popular ebook, Hack the Music Business, for free here.
This is funny as hell, and probably not all that far off from what’s coming…
The Ultimate Rack:
Make Sound Like
Creative Difference Engine
Satire created for:
Great info-graphics at:
My friend Ian Rogers, CEO of Topspin has started to co-manage the band “Get Busy Committee“. He has begun to blog about ALL the activities that an artist manager needs to drive their band to success. It is a fascinating read and a real world education on how to take a band to market in the new music business. This is going to be really fun to watch as Ian lays out step by step what he is doing to break this band and “get busy” in the marketplace.
To bring a band to market in today’s indie music market is a hell of a lot of work. You need to be an entrepreneur and you need to build a team of people to help you market, package, promote, distribute, brainstorm, license, and develop a successful artist. Ian is taking the indie artist management route described at Music Power Network.
Here are some excerpts from his blog. Required reading for the indie artist and manager today:
The first thing we did was define success: as I mentioned earlier, the goal is to get this music to as many people as possible, connect directly with the ones who like it, build products those people want to own, and turn a profit. Sure it would be great to make enough money that Get Busy Committee could be their primary income, but we definitely aren’t starting with the “if we don’t get a song on a radio this is a failure” mentality. We are starting at zero. The goal is to grow every single week and not lose money.
We started by putting together a release plan. I opened a Google Doc and started dropping ideas and info into it, and encouraged others to do the same. We needed a team, so we started assembling the roster of people, services, and tools which would help us get this record out the door:
Building a Team
Press Relations and Marketing
Web site design and development
Non-traditional physical manufacturing
Performing rights organizations
While getting the album to iTunes is the main thrust for a lot of artists, it’s only part of the story (and a very small part so far) for us. We’ve been preparing for this release for months, started selling the album in six different package two weeks ago, are selling the album for $1 on MySpace all weekend, and much more.
The object was to make the site:
Home base. The top SEO result for “Get Busy Committee” and anything else related to the band.
Vibrant. It should update with the latest information about Get Busy Committee with very little effort, from a variety of sources. Furthermore, we weren’t going to spend time or money building any of these tools from scratch. We integrated WordPress and Twitter to make sure it was easy to update with long or short-form updates (respectively) easily.
A fan acquisition tool. The site should be sticky like fly-paper. If you visit the site you should have an incentive to leave behind your email address, follow GBC on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook, a friend on MySpace, friend on Flickr, subscriber on YouTube, or subscribe via RSS. We may only get one chance to make a connection with you. We don’t want you to bounce in and bounce out without granting us permission to reach out to you later with an update.
A tool for fans to create other fans. Every page of the site is instrumented with simple ways to share on Facebook and Twitter, and feedback for having done so either in the form of a counter or free music for having done so. We want it to not only be easy to spread the word but for you to be recognized for having done so.
A place to convert at whatever level of fan you happen to be. Never heard of Get Busy Committee? No problem, you can stream the record or download a few songs for free. Super fan? How about the T-Shirt/USB Flash Drive combo for $55? Somewhere in between? No worries. We have something for you.
Useful. If you’re a college radio DJ who needs a clean version to play on your show or a beatmeister who wants an acapella to remix that should be easy to find. If you’re a blogger writing about the band there should be, even if it’s not linked from the front page. Anything you email to people regularly should be on the site and easily linked to.
Patronage of the arts is a time honored practice that is still alive and well in the music business. Many examples of fan financing from Ellis Paul, to Jill Sobule and many others have been reported and detailed recently in this blog and others. Now a group of musicians from California have put together a very interesting program to raise money for commissioning projects that I hope catches on. We need more thinking like this in the music industry today. Effective and creative methods of connecting music fans to artists, writers, composers and producers will help propel the next generation of music making.
Symphony of a Million
“Symphony of a Million” is a 6-month campaign, a commissioning project that brings together composers, performers, and the general public.
The goal is to sell 1 million notes. Purchased notes will be used in not just one single million note work, but rather many new works. Composers will work with performers and compose pieces of varying lengths. The first work to be written will be a 1000 note work for solo marimba composed by Music Academy Online founder, Dave Schwartz, and written for percussionist Nobue Matsuoka. The second work will be a 4000 note composition for saxophone and harp and it will be composed by Anthony Lanman who will be working with saxophonist Dr. Noah Getz and harpist Jacqueline Pollauf who perform together as the duo Pictures on Silence.
* Buy a note for $1
* Each note becomes part of a piece of music composed by award winning composers. Throughout the process we will be commissioning composers to write new works of varying lengths using the notes that you purchase.
* A special “Symphony of a Million” concert, sponsored by Music Academy Online and featuring world-class ensembles, will premier all of the works created using the notes you buy. The concert will be held May 18, 2011, the 100th anniversary of the death of Gustav Mahler, the man who composed the “Symphony of a Thousand.”
* Buy as many notes as you wish. Dedicate the notes to someone special. Help to shape entire sections of new music with the notes you select! Your name (and theirs) will forever be part of the final scores.
* Encourage your friends and family to buy notes.
I did a radio show yesterday on NPR on the Future of Music along with Jeff Price from Tunecore and Tim Westergren from Pandora. You can listen to the show online here or download an MP3 of the show.
In a 2002 New York Times article, David Bowie said that “music itself is going to become like running water or electricity….it doesn’t matter if you think it’s exciting or not; it’s what is going to happen.” Now, seven years later, the music industry has continued its rapid metamorphosis. Often referred to as an industry in crisis, coming up Where We Live, we’ll be talking with writers and innovators who say the business of making music has never been better. Ignore the closed up Virgin MegaStore in cities across the country—listening to and making music is still big business. David Kusek, author of The Future of Music: Manifestor for the Digital Music Revolution joins us to talk about the new truths that govern the music world. Also, The founders of Pandora and TuneCore chime in and we’ll be joined in-studio by WNPR’s own Anthony Fantano. From the Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network.
Great post from Mashable about how artists are creating upgrades and enhancements to music business models. Earlier Mike King reported in his blog how Amanda Palmer made $19,000 online using Twitter on a Friday night. The important thing is not the fact that she used Twitter, but that she found a way to engage her fans and make money, on top of the traditional approach of trying to sell CDs or tickets.
“Amanda is not producing money out of thin air, or by swindling some people into buying something they do not want. She’s engaging her fans who are glad to be able to buy some merchandise directly from the artist. Secondly, she’s not a professional PR or a marketing professional; she did it by engaging her audience through the simple tools at her disposal.
Which brings me to my most important point: Twitter is just a tool in this case. Her 30,000 Twitter followers aren’t just people who she followed and then they followed her back; they’re not some random mass of people who just happen to be following Amanda Palmer. They’re her fans, which means that any artist who has fans can do the exact same thing. It’s not a one-time thing or a passing fad: true fans will always be interested in buying a t-shirt, attending a secret gig, or getting their record signed.
We’re still at a very early stage in the online music revolution. Soon, artists will have a multitude of tools to help them communicate with their audience, offer them extra value and, last but not least, make money.
Ultimately, we’re not talking only about replacing current business models; we’re talking about upgrading them; finding new, better business models. You think that the music business is fine as it is? It’s not. It scales awfully. It’s great if you’re hugely popular, but if you’re an indie artist, the big record companies don’t care much about you. As Amanda bluntly puts it:
“TOTAL MADE THIS MONTH USING TWITTER = $19,000
TOTAL MADE FROM 30,000 RECORD SALES = ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.“
These new tools, such as Twitter, will help the entire music business scale much, much better. Very popular musicians such as Radiohead will still make a lot of money. But relatively unknown artists, by promoting their work and selling stuff directly to the fans, using free or inexpensive online tools, will be able to make a better living than they do right now. The future might not be very bright for the big record companies, but it is indeed bright for the artists.”
Read more here at Mashable.
Kevin Kelly has written extensively on the need to create value around digital copies in order to create the revenue opportunities that are falling away every day for digital media. Here is an excerpt from his great essay “Better Than Free”.
Eight Generatives Better Than Free
Immediacy — Sooner or later you can find a free copy of whatever you want, but getting a copy delivered to your inbox the moment it is released — or even better, produced — by its creators is a generative asset. Many people go to movie theaters to see films on the opening night, where they will pay a hefty price to see a film that later will be available for free, or almost free, via rental or download. Hardcover books command a premium for their immediacy, disguised as a harder cover. First in line often commands an extra price for the same good. As a sellable quality, immediacy has many levels, including access to beta versions. Fans are brought into the generative process itself. Beta versions are often de-valued because they are incomplete, but they also possess generative qualities that can be sold. Immediacy is a relative term, which is why it is generative. It has to fit with the product and the audience. A blog has a different sense of time than a movie, or a car. But immediacy can be found in any media.
Personalization — A generic version of a concert recording may be free, but if you want a copy that has been tweaked to sound perfect in your particular living room — as if it were preformed in your room — you may be willing to pay a lot. The free copy of a book can be custom edited by the publishers to reflect your own previous reading background. A free movie you buy may be cut to reflect the rating you desire (no violence, dirty language okay). Aspirin is free, but aspirin tailored to your DNA is very expensive. As many have noted, personalization requires an ongoing conversation between the creator and consumer, artist and fan, producer and user. It is deeply generative because it is iterative and time consuming. You can’t copy the personalization that a relationship represents. Marketers call that “stickiness” because it means both sides of the relationship are stuck (invested) in this generative asset, and will be reluctant to switch and start over.
Interpretation — As the old joke goes: software, free. The manual, $10,000. But it’s no joke. A couple of high profile companies, like Red Hat, Apache, and others make their living doing exactly that. They provide paid support for free software. The copy of code, being mere bits, is free — and becomes valuable to you only through the support and guidance. I suspect a lot of genetic information will go this route. Right now getting your copy of your DNA is very expensive, but soon it won’t be. In fact, soon pharmaceutical companies will PAY you to get your genes sequence. So the copy of your sequence will be free, but the interpretation of what it means, what you can do about it, and how to use it — the manual for your genes so to speak — will be expensive.
Authenticity — You might be able to grab a key software application for free, but even if you don’t need a manual, you might like to be sure it is bug free, reliable, and warranted. You’ll pay for authenticity. There are nearly an infinite number of variations of the Grateful Dead jams around; buying an authentic version from the band itself will ensure you get the one you wanted. Or that it was indeed actually performed by the Dead. Artists have dealt with this problem for a long time. Graphic reproductions such as photographs and lithographs often come with the artist’s stamp of authenticity — a signature — to raise the price of the copy. Digital watermarks and other signature technology will not work as copy-protection schemes (copies are super-conducting liquids, remember?) but they can serve up the generative quality of authenticity for those who care.
Accessibility — Ownership often sucks. You have to keep your things tidy, up-to-date, and in the case of digital material, backed up. And in this mobile world, you have to carry it along with you. Many people, me included, will be happy to have others tend our “possessions” by subscribing to them. We’ll pay Acme Digital Warehouse to serve us any musical tune in the world, when and where we want it, as well as any movie, photo (ours or other photographers). Ditto for books and blogs. Acme backs everything up, pays the creators, and delivers us our desires. We can sip it from our phones, PDAs, laptops, big screens from where-ever. The fact that most of this material will be available free, if we want to tend it, back it up, keep adding to it, and organize it, will be less and less appealing as time goes on.
Embodiment — At its core the digital copy is without a body. You can take a free copy of a work and throw it on a screen. But perhaps you’d like to see it in hi-res on a huge screen? Maybe in 3D? PDFs are fine, but sometimes it is delicious to have the same words printed on bright white cottony paper, bound in leather. Feels so good. What about dwelling in your favorite (free) game with 35 others in the same room? There is no end to greater embodiment. Sure, the hi-res of today — which may draw ticket holders to a big theater — may migrate to your home theater tomorrow, but there will always be new insanely great display technology that consumers won’t have. Laser projection, holographic display, the holodeck itself! And nothing gets embodied as much as music in a live performance, with real bodies. The music is free; the bodily performance expensive. This formula is quickly becoming a common one for not only musicians, but even authors. The book is free; the bodily talk is expensive.
Patronage — It is my belief that audiences WANT to pay creators. Fans like to reward artists, musicians, authors and the like with the tokens of their appreciation, because it allows them to connect. But they will only pay if it is very easy to do, a reasonable amount, and they feel certain the money will directly benefit the creators. Radiohead’s recent high-profile experiment in letting fans pay them whatever they wished for a free copy is an excellent illustration of the power of patronage. The elusive, intangible connection that flows between appreciative fans and the artist is worth something. In Radiohead’s case it was about $5 per download. There are many other examples of the audience paying simply because it feels good.
Findability — Where as the previous generative qualities reside within creative digital works, findability is an asset that occurs at a higher level in the aggregate of many works. A zero price does not help direct attention to a work, and in fact may sometimes hinder it. But no matter what its price, a work has no value unless it is seen; unfound masterpieces are worthless. When there are millions of books, millions of songs, millions of films, millions of applications, millions of everything requesting our attention — and most of it free — being found is valuable.
The giant aggregators such as Amazon and Netflix make their living in part by helping the audience find works they love. They bring out the good news of the “long tail” phenomenon, which we all know, connects niche audiences with niche productions. But sadly, the long tail is only good news for the giant aggregators, and larger mid-level aggregators such as publishers, studios, and labels. The “long tail” is only lukewarm news to creators themselves. But since findability can really only happen at the systems level, creators need aggregators. This is why publishers, studios, and labels (PSL)will never disappear. They are not needed for distribution of the copies (the internet machine does that). Rather the PSL are needed for the distribution of the users’ attention back to the works. From an ocean of possibilities the PSL find, nurture and refine the work of creators that they believe fans will connect with. Other intermediates such as critics and reviewers also channel attention. Fans rely on this multi-level apparatus of findability to discover the works of worth out of the zillions produced. There is money to be made (indirectly for the creatives) by finding talent. For many years the paper publication TV Guide made more money than all of the 3 major TV networks it “guided” combined. The magazine guided and pointed viewers to the good stuff on the tube that week. Stuff, it is worth noting, that was free to the viewers. There is little doubt that besides the mega-aggregators, in the world of the free many PDLs will make money selling findability — in addition to the other generative qualities.
These eight qualities require a new skill set. Success in the free-copy world is not derived from the skills of distribution since the Great Copy Machine in the Sky takes care of that. Nor are legal skills surrounding Intellectual Property and Copyright very useful anymore. Nor are the skills of hoarding and scarcity. Rather, these new eight generatives demand an understanding of how abundance breeds a sharing mindset, how generosity is a business model, how vital it has become to cultivate and nurture qualities that can’t be replicated with a click of the mouse.
In short, the money in this networked economy does not follow the path of the copies. Rather it follows the path of attention, and attention has its own circuits.
Read more from Kevin Kelly here.
Here is an excellent post by Gerd Leonhard that is well worth repeating.
“We are indeed heading into a future of Attention Revenues exceeding Copy Revenues – and I am talking within 3-4 years here, and probably much sooner in Asia where ‘selling copies’ has never been the #1 money maker for content creators.
A Future where all kinds of attention-based revenues (i.e. not just advertising-as-we-knew-it but revenue sharing of flat-rate offerings, next-generation ‘2.0’ advertising, up-stream selling and marketing, sponsorships and branding, linking and referring, etc) will very likely surpass copy & unit-sales revenues. A Future where many content creators of all kinds, in all locations, and within all levels of accomplishment will make more money based on what their brand stands for, based on their fans aka users having real, meaningful experiences with or through them, and based on who pays attention to them, when and where.
Selling enough copies of one’s work (whether physical or digital, whether books, songs, movies, software or games) to make this the sole pillar of one’s livelihood has in reality always been reserved to those very few creators that are at the top of the heap (i.e. not in the so-called longtail or even the body). And of course, being hit-driven, the companies that have marketed those that can sell millions of copies globally are the ones who will have the most to lose in the short term and during this paradigm switch-over – Hollywood’s latest disaster movies are not going to be themost-watched movies in India, China and Brazil in the future, anymore.
In our immediate future as content creators and companies that serve them, it’s all about gathering and converting Attention – at least until the world is so well-served with feels-like-free content in return for attention that physical copies become desirable again (and they will).
Most musicians and songwriters will make more money with performance-related activities (i.e. concerts, web-casts, life-streams, on-demand and regular Radio, TV, synchronization, sound branding, music in public spaces, etc) then with selling copies of songs or albums. In fact, in less than 3-4 years it probably won’t matter anymore whether it’s deemed a copy or a stream since all content will be available in the network cloud, anyway, and it will be Access that counts, not if it’s a copy or copy – at least if you’re not a recording industry lawyer. We are already seeing this trend if we look at the steadily increasing revenues of public performance organizations (such as ASCAP, BMI, BUMA etc) while observing the rest of the recorded industry’s unit-selling revenues (and so-called mechanical revenues) heading for the vaporizer.
Of course, most book authors (and there are increasingly many – with an estimated 3000 new books published per day) already know that the real money in writing books is not in selling them. Instead – just like with free / open-source software creators – it’s in the increased reputation, in the bolstered credibility, in the enhanced public perception where the income is: book authors get hired to speak, ask to sit on boards of companies, join academic organizations, advise governments, provide input on film and TV productions, and so on. While nothing new, this is a nice example for the rising importance of the Attention Economy: a lot more people can now become their own publishers and can have a go at becoming Author-Brands; the gates are now wide open to either prove yourself or be demolished by your peers (yes… it does work both ways).
The likes of Twitter, Friendfeed, Google, Amazon and Youtube have now given all of us a fairly reliable way of checking what a writer’s reputation and buzz is – and faking it will become nearly impossible to do. The reality is, of course, that 99% of book authors have nowhere to go but up: their revenues from unit sales never did amount to a meaningful income, anyway, so if Attention Revenues are the way forward… it’s all up from here.
Film-makers and TV/Video producers have a lot to gain from this switch to attention-based revenues, as well, even though high production costs will be initially hard to justify for small, niche audience productions – as many web-based TV startups have found out, there is no real money in the long-tail TV/video market yet; mostly because only 3% of the world is on broadband at this time, and those that are are paying too much for it (imho). But let’s keep in mind that public performance (i.e. showings) of motion pictures, TV shows and videos have always generated a very large part of the cash that came in: box office revenues are, after all, nothing but performance i.e. converted attention-based revenues — selling the experience not the copy. And as this won’t change in the future, the movie industry still has a real leg up on the music business.
So let’s take a look how creators (and even their representatives) can turn attention into real cash:
* Public Performance (whether in person or through an increasing choice of media)
* Contributions to other productions (contract work, licenses, remixes etc)
* Endorsements by sponsors and brands (that’s pretty much how the music industry in China does it)
* Referring, linking and connecting to others (generating affiliate and referral fees)
* Lending Credibility and adding value by their participation (events, campaigns etc)
* Generating an increasing number of new up-stream revenues – once you have attention there are many ways to upsell your users to the next level of engagement!
Read the whole post from Gerd Leonhard here.
By Dave Kusek
I actually think the possibilities of making a living in art today are as good, or perhaps better, than ever before primarily because of the communication tools that we have online and the ability to develop relationships with the audience. I think the juice is in the do-it-yourself area of a sole-proprietor musician or a band or a writer on their own or with a publishing company, trying to figure out how they can penetrate the market, make a living, and break through the noise without all the traditional trappings, because all of that is pretty much gone for most people. The opportunity is really in the redefinition of how you go to market with music on a much smaller scale and develop a user base. That’s really where the action is.
From the recorded music side, the reality of the past 50 or 70 years is that a few percent of the people involved in recording ever made any real money off the records. Just a few percent! And if you made any money at all, it was through your songwriting or your touring or your merchandise, or something else that you came up with to provide you with a living. So on one hand, things are not all that different than they’ve ever been, in that you’re not going to make a ton of money making recordings and you never were. The reality is nobody is going to take care of you—you have to do it yourself or you have to form a small team around you to help.
We’ve just begun to scratch the surface of live, interactive experiences enabled by communications technologies—the smart phone, the internet, the broadband connections that we have—where you can create musical experiences between you and a relatively small group of people. Everyone is saying that the concert can’t be digitized, so at the moment that remains a reasonable way for people to make a living where the majority of your income comes from touring. And if you think about interactive experiences that can be created—virtual living room tours, behind the scenes events, having people participate in writing parties or creating music on the fly to suit the audience that you happen to be connected to—I think there are a number of wildcards in there where people have begun to experiment with mapping the live experience onto a communications network. There’s a long way to go there and there’s a lot of opportunity, especially as you see the iPhone and the Google phone and some of the devices from Nokia and others that are giving you video-enabled computers connected to the internet in the palm of your hand. That allows for the distribution of content at a very high level and interaction with your audience that you really never had before, on that one-to-one level or one-to-a-few level. And by making it mobile, you’re getting away from your fan having to be sitting at a desk in front of a computer. As people begin to write for that platform and that potential, I think we’ll see a lot of innovation.
And you can monetize that. I think people will pay for access to artists that they enjoy, and they will help support artists that they respect if they know that most, if not all, of the money is going directly to the artist rather than to the combine. If you have 5,000 fans willing to pay $20 a year for access to your music and the ability to participate and interact with you, there’s a nice pool of money for you to make a living off of. If that blows up to 100,000 people, you’ve got tremendous potential there.
What is your definition of success? That definition tends to be all over the place, but what do you need to sustain yourself in order to focus on your art fulltime? Can you live on $60,000 or $80,000 or $100,000? Probably. Can you make that kind of income writing music, performing regionally, licensing your music into various outlets? Yes, you can. If you focus on creating a career at that level, it’s entirely possible and many people are doing it using the tools that we have today. Instead of chasing the brass ring, you’re just basically trying to be a middle class artist making a middle class income. If you’re realistic about your expectations, you can make a living and spend most of your time focused on your art, whether it’s writing or performing or recording or drawing or painting of photography. It’s certainly possible—way more possible than being famous was ever going to be. You need to think through that because it’s really probably the only opportunity that most people are going to have in this environment—keep reasonable expectations and build up a little business around yourself that’s not grand scale but human scale.
One of the things that I think is holding a lot of this back is it’s very difficult to license music for global consumption. You’ve got to figure out who the rights holders are at every country, there’s often a publishing side and a recorded master side, there may be multiple writers, and the control that has dominated the industry for so long is holding us back. I think it’s something that people need to pay attention to: How can copyright law better serve artists in the digital age and what the digital age will bring?
The record companies have felt the pain of the changes in the marketplace ahead of the publishers. And you can see that the record companies are beginning to change their approach and they’re more willing to experiment because their revenue is down 50% and they’re absolutely scared to death. The publishers are following behind that curve and in my opinion are the larger road block in making deals than the record companies are. So having publishers look at their record company friends and what they’ve gone through and avoiding that is really key to remaining relevant.
With all of these interaction opportunities and non-traditional distribution opportunities, if we had better licensing, easier licensing, more transparent licensing, a more global approach, potentially everyone could make more money. If we stick to the laws the way they are and the sort of country-by-country rights, people who are in that camp will have a disadvantage against new artists who decide to open up their rights with a Creative Commons approach or perhaps another blanket licensing approach. If it becomes easier to license new music from new composers than it is the old composers, guess who’s going to win?
There is nothing new except what has been forgotten. Things have a way of cycling around, and if they are effective, becoming novel again when more recent methods of making progress fade away. Fan financing is picking up steam as a way of raising money to support artists in the face of falling label support. Like the patron model of old, artists are reaching out to their fans, offering incentives and various forms of access for fans that donate money in support of their artist’s work.
This model is not new, but is gaining steam once again. And why not, it works. In the 70’s Cris Williamson, who just spent a week in residence at Berklee used fan financing to raise money for her album projects which helped to start the women’s music movement. She started the first women’s music label, Olivia Records using fan financing as a strategy to fund numerous projects including the label itself. Now lots of artists are returning to this strategy to fund their careers. James Reed has a new story in the Boston Globe on the subject. Enjoy.
Lighters down, checkbooks up
A growing number of musicians are looking to fans, not record labels, to help fund their albums and tours. And giving has its perks.
By James Reed, Globe Staff | April 12, 2009
Ellis Paul, a veteran singer-songwriter who first made his name in New England’s folk clubs in the 1990s, found himself in a disconcerting position last year. He had decided not to renew his contract with Rounder Records, his longtime label, but wanted to make a new album.
With no immediate ideas for funding, Paul took a novel approach: He enlisted his fans, posting a letter on his website asking for donations. Since July they’ve surprised him by contributing more than $90,000 through a Framingham-based online service called Nimbit, along with checks sent in the mail.
“When you’re only selling 20,000 or 30,000 records, you don’t really need a label,” he says. “We figured we could do this in-house, but we just needed the money, and where was the money going to come from?”
In a growing trend reminiscent of the old-fashioned ways of artists and patrons, musicians around the country – including local singers Mieka Pauley, Mark Erelli, Kris Delmhorst, and former Throwing Muses singer-guitarist Kristin Hersh – are depending on their fans for unprecedented financial support. And it’s not just limited to American artists. In France, singer-songwriter Grégoire channeled fan funding through the website MyMajorCompany.com and released “Toi + Moi,” which peaked at No. 2 spot on the French album charts.
Even as the economy deflates and the record industry continues its downward spiral, indie artists are finding that their supporters are eager to help. In a sense, the fans are replacing – or at least augmenting – the traditional role of a label, which previously would have financed the album with a monetary advance and then taken care of the promotion and distribution.
Piano-playing songwriter Seth Glier, who lives in Western Massachusetts, is only 20 but has already built a fan base that supported him on a recent monthlong tour. Through online efforts, Glier raised $2,500, which came in handy as he and a bandmate zigzagged across the Northeast and had to pay for gas, tolls, and the occasional hotel room.
The initial goal was to raise $500, which Glier accomplished within two hours and then kept going. Glier admits it takes a certain caliber of artist to ask fans outright for money. “It was an idea I had a couple of years ago, but I have a really hard time asking for help,” he says. “When I was able to unclench my fist, it was great to realize how many people were there for me.”
The fans aren’t technically just giving money to these artists: They’re buying services.
To fund “The Day After Everything Changed,” his new album out in the fall, Paul allowed fans to buy different tiers of sponsorship, ranging from $100 (the “Antje Duvekot Level,” named after the local singer-songwriter) up to $10,000 (“the Woody Guthrie Level”).
The higher the contribution, the greater the goods. For $100, you got an advance copy of the album with a bonus disc of demos and outtakes, along with tickets to one of Paul’s shows. For the top-level contributions, of which Paul received a few, fans got several perks – everything from a one-year membership to Club Passim to a signed acoustic guitar to a credit as an executive producer of the album.
One $10,000 contributor, a Boston-based fan who wished to remain anonymous (“People are losing their jobs and homes right now. I don’t think it feels sensitive,” she explains), says she and her husband couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have him write a song for them, one of the perks at their donation level. They even visited Paul in the studio.
“We left feeling that our donation – as well as everybody else’s – is in very good hands,” she says. “In this day and age, to pull out your pocketbook, it’s got to be something pretty compelling.”
Karen Zundel, a librarian in Pennsylvania who’s been a devoted Ellis Paul fan for 12 years, says she even saved up for her contribution because it held more importance than your typical splurge. “The arts are what sustain us and bring individuals and communities together and help us to connect with our innermost beings,” Zundel says. “A new car won’t do that. When you buy a new car or a new outfit, you get that little thrill that lasts very temporarily, and then it’s gone. But I think art really sustains me. It lasts.”
But the way that art gets to the consumer is changing. Dave Kusek, vice president of Berklee College of Music who co-authored the book “The Future of Music: Manifesto for the Digital Music Revolution,” says the role of record labels is declining.
“I personally think unless you need massive radio airplay, there’s very little reason for record labels to engage with artists anymore,” he says. “It’s a relic of the past in that artists today can find other ways to get to the market, to get money, to distribute their product in a way where they have a lot more control.”
Kusek acknowledges there are pitfalls to blazing a new trail with fan funding, though. “I do think there’s some risk if you don’t deliver,” he says. “Essentially, you are relying on people’s trust in you. They’re effectively loaning you money in the hopes that they’ll get something in return. So if you don’t come through, you’re running the risk of alienating your fans and eliminating those relationships.”
Jill Sobule, who rose to fame in the mid-1990s with the ubiquitous hit “I Kissed a Girl” (long before Katy Perry swiped the topic), recorded “California Years,” set for release on Tuesday, with the help of $80,000 from fans after establishing a website, www.jillsnextrecord.com, specifically for the project.
“I know some people say that’s a lot to record a record,” she says, “but it’s also for everything a big label is supposed to do: publicists, marketing, promotions, distribution. I’ve pretty much used all of it.”
Like Paul, Sobule offered various services at different price points. For $10,000 one lucky contributor got to sing on a new song. Sobule says she vetted the idea with her fans first. “That’s really important: You leave out the middleman and go directly to the fans and talk to them,” she says.
The one thing she hadn’t counted on was the level of freedom fan funding brought her, both financially and creatively. “In the old model, you’d have to sell 150,000 albums for people to think you were successful,” she says, “and now you don’t have to.”
“It definitely is humbling,” she says of asking fans for money. “I feel like I better do the job for my fans. I better bow down to them more than a record label. They’re the ones in control now, in a way.”
James Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My co-author and friend Gerd Leonhard was recently interviewed by Carter Smith of Rollo & Grady. Here is the interview:
R&G: How did you become interested in writing about the future of music?
Gerd: I was involved in various online ventures during the Internet years, in the late 90s. I was trying to reinvent the music industry, so from 1998 through 2001 I ran a company called licensemusic.com. It was a real dotcom venture. Because of the work I had done, I saw what was going on. While I was recuperating from the dotcom craziness, I figured that since I had looked at it so deeply that I might as well write about it. I wrote “The Future of Music” from 2003 to 2004, and it was published in 2005. Ever since then I’ve written and blogged about the future of music, the media business and the content business in general.
R&G: In the book, you focus on the concept of music being like water. Can you describe that?
Gerd: I had a co-writer, Dave Kusek, who you might know. He teaches at Berklee College in Boston. The concept of Music Like Water wasn’t entirely ours. David Bowie once said in an interview with The New York Times that music would become like water, flowing freely. That stuck with us and we built this whole theme around it, saying that digital music needs to be as available as water. In other words, there has to be a licensed pipeline, just like licensed connections for water or electricity. Everybody pays for electricity and water, but nobody feels it’s a big effort to do so. Of course, people are up-sold with Evian, Pellegrino, or filling the swimming pool. It is very much the same logic. You have a license to use. You’re all in. Then you do an up-sell towards other variations. The principle fits pretty well with the idea of content distribution on digital networks. It’s a blanket deal – a big deal rather than a unit sale.
R&G: Is that similar to the labels backing Choruss? [Note: Choruss is a proposed plan that would build a small music-royalty fee into university tuition payments, allowing students to legally access and share music.]
Gerd: Yes, totally. A friend of mine, Jim Griffin, is doing that. Jim and I have talked about this for the last ten years, pretty much since Napster came to light. It’s a very similar idea, even though they’re thinking of this as more of a “covenant not to sue.” I don’t think that is taking it far enough. One has to be realistic. I think that the major labels are reluctant to give up control of the ecosystem in a flat out strike, so they will probably take a bit longer to get used to this.
R&G: If I understand this correctly, it’s a university tuition tax?
Gerd: It’s not so much a tax as a way for universities to say, “Whatever people do here, we can legalize it.” It’s fighting against the criminalization of sharing, which is great. And for the students it’s not a tangible expense. It’s wrapped into their tuition. It’s like 911 calling on your phone bill; nobody is going to complain about it. Then, I think a completely new ecosystem could pop up that would essentially be part of the way to access and up-sell to people. I would be against any such tax, levy, or any of those things, but if it can be made to feel like it’s free, which is what it is, I think that is an ideal solution that gets the ball rolling.
R&G: Once a digital network customer pays a fee, how are funds distributed to the artists?
Gerd: It’s very much like traditional radio. Every action on a digital network is monitored. Whether it should be is a different question, and, of course, there are privacy issues. But whatever action people are doing on the network, it’s captured in some anonymous way and then the revenues are paid pro rata. When you click on a song and share or download it, whatever network you’re on can say, “Okay, this was downloaded. This was streamed.” Artists are paid out strictly by popularity. So if your band is busy doing lots of gigs, you’re very popular and you get 100,000 people following you on Twitter, they will click on the song, download it, and you get more money. It’s just like radio.
R&G: Can the labels regain the trust of “people formerly known as consumers?”
Gerd: They may not be able to, and this is the Number One problem. I think it’s a very tough road. The only chance they have – and that goes for everyone, not just the majors, but also the indies – is to drastically open up, put their cards on the table and start doing business like everybody else. This means being transparent, sharing, putting deals on the table and making them public. They need to create real value rather than pretend to do so.
R&G: You’ve previously mentioned that music blogs are the new record labels.
Gerd: Yes. Music blogs have enormous power because people trust the blogs not to pitch them stuff that they’ve been paid to pitch. If they can keep it up, they will be the next BBC. When you look at mechanisms like Twitter or Facebook or FriendFeed, these people become the default recommenders for us. They are the ones who say, “You should pay attention to this band, to this artist.” That’s what radio used to do.
R&G: Serving as filters.
Gerd: Yeah. You have to keep in mind that the biggest problem we are having is not that music isn’t available, because even though it’s not legal it is available. The biggest problem is that once the legal issues are solved, everything will become available. Our problem will be that we have to pick, and nobody has time to pick through 62 million songs. That’s the total universe of currently published music, and it’s going to increase. We don’t really need to solve the distribution problem. We have to solve the attention problem. That’s what Amazon does for books.
R&G: You’ve talked about how the record industry should adopt Twitter. Can you elaborate?
Gerd: Twitter is a mechanism of micro communication, like RSS feeds. Therefore, it becomes something that is completely owned by the people who are doing it, rather than by the people who are making or receiving it. It’s a completely viable mechanism that is cost-neutral, at least to us. It becomes a very powerful mechanism for peer response and viral connections. That is the principle of what music is all about. It’s word of mouth, connecting, forwarding and sharing. A musical version of Twitter would be a goldmine. It already exists to some degree in blip.fm, but the music industry should use that mechanism to broadcast directly to fans. They’re starting to do that, but the problem is that many music companies perceive their primary mission as gatekeeper for the artists rather than getting the music out. That is a big problem today, when you’re in an economy where everybody wants a snack before buying a sandwich.
R&G: What other technologies do you think are necessary for the do-it-yourself artists and managers of the new music world?
Gerd: Widgets and syndication have made YouTube the world’s leader in video. 60% of videos are not played on YouTube.com but on blogs and other people’s sites. Music has completely overlooked that very powerful tool. That is this whole idea of syndication – getting people to transmit music to each other and then reaping the attention on the other end.
R&G: Many of the kids who grew up with Napster are now in college. They’ve never owned a physical CD and only know how to click and download music. They think music is supposed to be free.
Gerd: Yeah, and it can be free in the sense that it’s not as painful as paying per action. The question is not so much about the payment or the fact that people may not be willing to pay right away. It’s about controlling the marketplace. Who gets to listen to what, where, when and how much money do I get? We have to get back on the same page we were on a hundred years ago. We’re all on the same boat. Everyone wants an audience. Until we have that, we have nothing.
R&G: When do you foresee the end of the CD?
Gerd: I think we have another 18 months maximum for CDs to become a Step Two rather than a Step One. They have a 25% decline for 2008 pretty much around the world. How much steeper can they drop? In 18 months, the CD isn’t going to be the cherished moneymaker anymore. And this year people in the music business are going to be forced to say, “Okay, what is the next model? Do we have to loosen up to actually participate in this, or are we standing in our own way?”
R&G: Are you saying they need to recognize any revenue stream they can generate from their content? Sell CDs, subscriptions, etc.?
Gerd: The flat rate is the next CD. Its simple mathematics. If you charge or indirectly earn one dollar from each user of a network, that dollar can be ad-supported. It can be supported by bundling, so the user won’t feel it, so to speak. If you look at the total number of people who are active on digital networks, which is somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 ½ billion people, they’re not all going to pay a dollar because they’re in different countries. But the money that comes in from such a flat rate is humongous.
R&G: You are currently working on a new book, “End of Control.” When is it coming out?
Gerd: I’m working on it right now, and it’s kind of a painful process because it’s always changing. The first couple of chapters have already been published at endofcontrol.com, and people can download those. It’s a free book, so I’m working on various ways to make that more powerful. The control issue is key. It used to mean that if you had more control you would make more money, especially in the music business. You control distribution, radio stations, marketing, everything. Now all that is completely falling apart. Artists are going direct. Radio becomes useless to some degree. It’s all on the web now. People are doing their own thing. Control is a thing of the past. The question is, “What is the next business model?” That’s what I’m working on.
R&G: Who are the current music business visionaries?
Gerd: This is one of the most unfortunate things. There aren’t very many. I always say we need an Obama of the music business, or at least a Steve Jobs, even though Steve is kind of egomaniacal, but brilliant. I see a couple of people, like Terry McBride from Network Records in Canada. I firmly believe, however, that the biggest innovation will come from people who are not in the music business.
R&G: Is this the year we will see considerable change within the music industry?
Gerd: I thought it was going to be 2008, so I’m quite disappointed. I think we’ll see new things emerge in 2009 that will be completely disruptive, like the iPhone and mobile applications of music, new kinds of broadcasting, people sharing stuff through mobile networks and high-speed, broadband, wireless Internet. I think 2009 will be a key year because the current economic crisis will make it worse. People will stop buying content the old-fashioned way.
My friend Terry McBride was recently interviewed by Carter Smith of Rollo & Grady. Talk about the Future of Music, Nettwerk is doing it now. Here is the interview:
R&G: What made you decide to focus your business on digital products versus physical ones in 2002?
Terry: It was an intuitive thing for me. Obviously, digital had been seeping into our world for about three years and the Napster effect was apparent. Being a small company and working directly with artists, we could really hear and see what was starting to happen. It was a realization that fighting it wouldn’t work; understanding it and being able to grow it was what was going to work. It was a psychological shift for us. It took a few years to get the rest of the company and analysts focused towards that, but that was the psychological shift for me, which means that the company shifts.
R&G: About 80% of your business is from digital sales now, right?
Terry: Yes, that’s correct.
R&G: Why did you drop DRM in 2003?
Terry: I didn’t see any purpose in locking down files; it made no sense to me. People have always been sharing music. Why would I want to stop them? Why would I want to tell them what to do? The way to win was to get them to support my artists, not to force them to do it a certain way. I know I wouldn’t like anyone telling me that.
R&G: You recently spoke about cloud-based servers, mobile applications and smartphones being the future of the music business.
Terry: What’s happened in the last ten years is kind of moot. The next 18 months will determine the future of the music business. It’s a situation where the turnover on phones by the average consumer – now I’m being generous here – is every two years. It’s probably shorter. The smartphones that are starting to dominate the marketplace are specific platforms now open to applications that are being developed outside of the R&D departments of all of the various carriers. Apple, when they opened up their App Store, I think they sold, what, 150 million apps in maybe 9 months. It stunned the world, and Apple is a small player. They might be a noisy player, but they’re a small player within the mobile space. Research In Motion launches their store this month, Nokia is launching Ovi in April and Google has already launched their Android site. You’re going to see millions of applications come onto the marketplace. You’re going to see social filtering of the really good ones, and what’s going to be in there are applications that change the behavioral habits of how you consume music. The need to download music will no longer exist. If anything, it will be a hassle. You’ll have smartphones that can probably handle two to three hundred songs. That’s a gradual download; you’re actually not streaming it. It’s actually on your phone but it’s pulled from some sort of server, whether it’s your own server or a cloud server. To make all of these applications work, you have to have really good metadata, which means that business has to focus its efforts on really good metadata. Rich metadata is going to work with all of these applications. You’re going to see digital maids, digital valets. You’re going to see applications for maybe five bucks a month where you can access all the music that you want, how you want it, when you want it, imported to any device. So why would you want to download? Why would you want to go online to try to find it for free? Besides, something you find free might not work with these smartphone apps. Five bucks is no big deal to have unlimited access. That’s where everything’s going. All of the current arguments and debates are moot. I would even say that the ticker has now started on when the iPod goes away. I think Apple saw that.
R&G: So their primary focus will be to promote the iPhone?
Terry: They’ve been pushing the iPhone more than anything, and when they opened up their App Store, their intuitions were proven right. It is the App Store that has driven iPhone sales.
R&G: Do you think the major labels will sign off on these applications?
Terry: I don’t think they have any choice in the matter. It’s really just a subscription model, but it’s the application. A subscription model has never worked to date because it’s always been a hassle. It only works on your laptop, you can’t port it between devices, and it’s always streaming and always a pain in the ass. Last.fm and Pandora have been nice, but transferring that around has been really difficult. The applications coming with these smartphones will change all that and make it a hassle not to use them. Downloading will seem like a hassle two years from now. It will be like, ‘Download something? Are you nuts? Here, I can instantly access it. Watch, I’ll just type it in and my valet will go find it for me.’
R&G: Your valet, meaning your filter?
Terry: It’s an app. You’ll program your valet to look at what your 20 closest peers are listening to and create something for you to listen to. Maybe you’re a Led Zeppelin fan and all you want to hear is Led Zeppelin today. Maybe something bad happened and you want to listen to Sarah McLachlan today. Your valet will do that for you, and your digital maid will clean up your library for you.
R&G: That will be huge. It will make music consumption easier for the end user.
Terry: I always call it the hassle factor. It’s a hassle right now to be part of a subscription model. It’s even a hassle to download. These smartphones are radically going to change that. I mean, with Shazam you go, ‘What is that song?’ and you can instantly know what it is and instantly buy it, if that’s what you want to do. Slacker is the first one that comes close to being a digital valet. It’s only going to get better. Anyone with a really good idea can actually make it happen. You’re going to see this coming out of garages and university dorms, not Apple and Blackberry campuses.
R&G: You’re a member of the RIAA. What are your thoughts of them monitoring ISP usage?
Terry: Here’s my whole view of this, and this hasn’t changed for quite a long time. Out of all of the sharing of music, who’s making an economic return? Whoever is should then share that with all the people that allowed it to happen, creating a nice alignment of interests to grow any business. A lot of the providers have viewed music as free content, while at the same time paying for the cable content to grow their networks. They’ve been making money off the backs of the artists without any compensation for the artists at all. I think that’s fundamentally wrong. I’ve also said it’s fundamentally wrong to go after the consumers that are using that opportunity. That’s not the right approach either. The phone companies and the cable providers have gotten away with murder in this whole situation.
R&G: What’s your opinion on music blogs?
Terry: I love music blogs because they’re music fans. They’re authentic and passionate about music. They’re no different than me. All they’re doing is spreading the word about stuff they like. The authentic will rise to the top, which is why I like aggregators like The Hype Machine. I think it’s brilliant. It’s a great way of seeing what music fans are talking about versus some other filter. I’d rather the filter be a social filter, and then you can go into niches. Maybe it’s a bluegrass filter or a country filter or a hard rock filter or an ambient filter. Whatever. Those people are really passionate about that music. You know what? That’s what it’s about. Songs are not copyright. Songs are emotions.
From TED 2009
While not exactly on-topic, I think you will enjoy this insight into the creative process from Liz Gilbert – author of Eat Pray Love. She riffs on the impossible things we expect from artists and geniuses — and shares the radical idea that, instead of the rare person “being” a genius, all of us “have” a genius.
It’s a funny, personal and surprisingly moving talk and – interesting.