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Photo by smaedli

Photo by smaedli

The bigger the industry, the more powerful it’s smallest players. That saying is derived from John Naisbitt’s book, “Global Paradox,” and while it was meant to describe the global economy, it holds true for most industries as well – especially the music industry.

The music business is a huge multi-million dollar industry with hundreds of thousands of players. Big record companies can throw around huge amounts of money to make things happen for their artists, and as a result, super star acts seem to snowball out of control while smaller artists struggle to just get by. As an independent artist, its easy to feel trapped by your small size. You can feel like you can’t possibly get the same kind of success without the big marketing dollars and top-of-the-line production quality. That’s one way to look at it.

There is another way to see your situation. Instead of that depressing outlook, keep Naisbitt’s thoughts in mind. The bigger the industry, the more powerful it’s smallest players. This means that the most powerful player in the music industry is YOU – the indie musicians, indie labels, and music entrepreneurs. Power doesn’t have to mean money, influence, or even fame. Power can be the driving force behind the industry – the force that brings about new ideas, the force that paves the way for the future of the industry.

Big companies can’t be as creative with their business.  When there’s that much money being thrown around, safety is key. They stick to the tried and true for the most part. If they try something new for the release of their top artist’s album and it flops, they will miss out on the millions of dollars in sales that keep their business running.

The small players, on the other hand, don’t have as much to lose. A musician just starting out can experiment with a new album release strategy or promotion campaign. A music entrepreneur can start a business around a completely new concept that the big players are afraid to experiment with.

More often than not, its the smaller players that come up with the new ideas that drive the music industry forward. After they have been proven, these ideas are adopted by the big companies and artists.

Don’t look at your size in comparison to this massive industry as an inhibitor. Instead, view it as a freedom. You don’t need to be afraid to experiment and try new things. YOU are the driving force behind the music industry.

The music industry is being reinvented before our very eyes. Learn how it is developing from today’s entrepreneurs including Ian Rogers from TopSpin, Steve Schnur from EA, and Derek Sivers and how you can capitalize on the changing opportunities.

MPN is my latest project and an online service for music business people and music and artist managers creating the future of the industry. MPN provides online music business lessons, exclusive video interviews and advice, career and business planning tools and thousands of specially selected resources designed to help you achieve success in this ever changing industry. MPN gives you the tools, expertise and guidance to help you get organized and take your music career to the next level. Learn from industry experts, set your goals and realize your vision.


(Friday Feb 6th, 2009) the digital distributor to college campuses Rukus shuttered its doors with this notice: “Unfortunately the Ruckus service will no longer be provided. Thank you,” That means lights out for a number of colleges, universities and students who had signed up for “free” ad supported music.

Ruckus, first hatched in 2003, was acquired by TotalMusic, a collaboration between Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment.

TotalMusic itself (reported on here in 2008) is also now being shuttered, at least according to details shared by Vice President of Product Management Jason Herskowitz in Digital Music News.

“I regret that we didn’t get to show you guys more about what we built – but in these extremely hard economic times it’s hard to blame them for pulling the plug on a still-highly-speculative offering,” Herskowitz offered. “I only hope that someone else figures out how to crack this music-on-the-web nut in a way that is a win for everyone in the value chain,” Herskowitz continued. “The problem is that to make a music service a win for everyone, all of the famished participants have to sit at the table – and be content to let all the others have a little bit to eat, even though they are still hungry themselves.”

It is clear that protected music locked up in a highly controlled service is just simply not what the consumers want anymore, if ever. Continued pursuit of a rights-managed solution that attempts to preserve the status-quo of copyright holders controlling the distribution of music is futile. No more money needs to be wasted on looking backwards.

Instead, lets all come together and help to create systems that embrace frictionless distribution of music and respect the desire of the music consumer to select what they want to listen to. If we make it easy for them to find what they want, more will come. If we make it cheap enough so that the music appears to be free, move will come. If we make it possible for people to spread the word on a new service that suits their needs, more will come. We need to look forward, not backwards and admit that the old game is over and a new game has begun.

I met with Derek Sivers this past weekend (founder of CD-Baby) and asked him what he thought about the recorded music business and the decline in CD sales. He said “well I’m not quite sure what you mean Dave, as sales of indie music at CD Baby have increase at least 30% in 2008 over 2007.” What CD Baby does is provide a way for indie artists to sell their music online in CD form, to sell their music online in digital form and to provide distribution for artists who had none. Many of these artists are thriving now because Derek was willing to think different.

TuneCore is another service that lets artists put their music online for distribution through iTunes, Rhapsody, Amazon, eMusic and other services for a small up-front fee. This is a radical business model that looks forward, not backward, and pushes indies artists ahead on their journey.

New companies such as Lala, iLike, TopSpin, ReverbNation, SonicBids, Nimbit and many, many others are taking radical new approaches to indie artist promotion and distribution that will change the way that the music business functions. Connecting artists directly with their fans in a meaningful way that respects that relationship and lets it thrive is the way of the future.

Artists need to band together to assemble the knowledge and power that is required to propel them into the future. Watch this space for much more on this subject in the coming months. It is time for a revolution in thinking about music commerce and sustainable models for artists and their fans to connect and engage and prosper and interact. This is what the future of music is all about.