Dec 23, 2009

CDs are for Old People

2 Years ago as I was wrapping up Aderra's first full year I started to think about all of the dysfunction and confusion I was witnessing first hand as I spoke with artists. By 2007 the record industry had fallen into disarray and while far from dead one thing was certain:
The future of the recorded music business was going to be quite different than it had been in the past.

I sat down one night and typed up a one page manifesto (ok, so it was more like a bullet point list than "manifesto", but my blood was boiling with a manifesto-ish fervor...)about how I would tackle the difficult task of developing new artists to create sustainable careers in that late 00's.

A couple of days later I stumbled across an article that David Byrne had written for My first thought was "Dammit, this is way better than my manifesto." but upon reading further I realized that he had written a thoughtful, thorough assessment of the past, present and possibly future "recorded music business". His take on the present:
What is called the music business today, however, is not the business of producing music. At some point it became the business of selling CDs in plastic cases, and that business will soon be over.

Two years later and CDs are still selling. It hasn't been a crash as much as it has been a slow deflation but the words of the prophets are written on the studio wall: CDs are not long for this world. When Aderra was out on the road with O.A.R. one of their fans told us
"CDs are for old people!!"

We have taken this drunken declaration to heart. But to be fair, my parents got an iPod Nano 2 years ago and have not bought a CD since. (Sorry Mom and Dad, didn't mean to lump you in with "Old People", I am just getting scientific with age demographics...)

Byrne goes on to make several keen observations including, "Touring is not just promotion. Live performances used to be seen as essentially a way to publicize a new release — a means to an end, not an end in itself. Bands would go into debt in order to tour, anticipating that they'd recover their losses later through increased record sales. This, to be blunt, is all wrong. It's backward. Performing is a thing in itself, a distinct skill, different from making recordings. And for those who can do it, it's a way to make a living." Word to that.

He also lays out six scenarios for recorded music distribution, from the trendy "360" deal to the other end of the continuum, completely independent distribution by the artist. You can read the full article and listen to accompanying interviews with Brian Eno and others about the state of the music biz HERE.
In 2008 Byrne followed some of the path he had laid out in the article and released and new collaboration with Eno, "Everything That Happens Will Happen Today" in conjunction with TopSpin. Following the TopSpin model, several tiers were offered for fans to engage. This included a free widget that could be embedded on any web page or Blog. Here it is:

On top of the free widget three price tiers were offered on including a $69.99 Deluxe package.

It is not CDs in and of themselves that are old fashioned but the notion of selling music as product surely is.

Dec 19, 2009

New Artists - Killola's Top 5 Strategies for winning new fans

Here are the top 5 Strategies that independent artists Killola are using to win over new fans:

1) HIT THE ROAD - Where are new fans to be found? Not in your hometown. If you are a musician your imperative is to play music for other people. Go on tour, play to new audiences. Take smaller gigs than you are used to. Use resources like E.I.Y. to find gigs, places to stay, other bands to book shows with.

2) GIVE IT AWAY FOR FREE - Killola released their "I am the Messer" album for free through True Anthem. Fans who supplied their email address were able to download the album tracks for free but the band got paid through a sponsorship set up by True Anthem. In addition they captured a database of new fans who were able to discover and explore their music with no "risk".

3) MAKE IT COOL FOR THE FANS - At first blush I would say any money or effort put toward the creation of a music video was a waste. MTV is dead and gone. BUT, in the YouTube era a music video created on the cheap is a great vehicle to introduce a new act to fans. Especially if the members of the band have compelling personalities. Check this out:

"Cracks in The Armor". Killola made this video on their own. While the production values are very high here. That is not entirely necessary, you need to let the fans get to know you. At the Aderra Studio we waited anxiously for each Friday so that we could watch a new episode in the build up to the release of the Blakroc album.

4) ENGAGE WITH SOCIAL MEDIA - Actively engane your fans through all of the FREE social media tools available at you fingertips. Just remember: You are having a conversation with fans, don't just shout your lame hype at them. They will quickly de-friend you and disengage.

5) WORK HARD ON THE MUSIC - With all of this "busy" work tweeting, youtubing, touring etc. it is easy to run out of time for the music. WRITE GREAT SONGS. Make every effort to always be working towards writing great songs. Get help with merch, touring, booking shows etc. but NEVER ignore the music.

So, are these strategies working for Killola? So far I'd say it seems good.
Without management or a record label they moved over 50,000 copies of their "I am the Messer" album,
8 songs have been placed in the new "Girltrash" feature film, they have toured the U.S. and UK and are headed back out on the road this March (See number 1 above). Which is all pretty cool.

But in my mind the biggest commitment a fan could make to an artist is to get a TATTOO of the band's logo on their skin. Forever(unless you use a laser to remove it). Not just one fan has a Killola tattoo, A LOT do. Check them out: K)) Tattoos.

If my benchmark for victory as an artist is "One engaged fan", A tattoo is probably the ultimate engagement.

Dec 17, 2009

New Artist Development - Words of Wisdom from an Old Pro

One night back in 1995 I wandered into the Virgin Records store (Remember those?) on Sunset Blvd and heard a drummer warming up. As I moved into the aisles I stumbled on Dick Dale and his band about to play. This was after his Pulp Fiction fueled resurgence. When they lurched into their first song the sound of his guitar made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It was the fattest guitar tone I had ever heard. Absolutely amazing. I have been trying to get that same sound out of my rig ever since. He had 2 black face Super Reverbs just roaring. The only thing I have ever heard that comes close is Rev. Horton Heat's Gretsch + Marshall. (Ironically when the two paired on a RHH track years later neither guitar seemed as big and bad as they should have).

So fast forward 15 years or so and as the music industry stumbles around trying to figure out what comes next after the fall of the major labels, guess who seems to have things figured out: Dick Dale. Watch this interview for some absolute wisdom about how to break a new artist:


Dec 16, 2009

Ted Cohen - "The World is Yours!"

Ted Cohen from TAG Strategic has a new MIDEM Blog post: MIDEM Blog: Breaking Through The Noise

Great post but one thing caught my attention:
According to my friend, Tommy Silverman/Tommy Boy Records and the co-founder of the New Music Seminar recently pointed out to me that less than one tenth of one percent of music released last year sold over ten thousand units.

Off the top of my head I can think of a bunch of artists: 16 developing acts and 11 career artists(who have had a hit song or a career spanning more than 3 decades) That Aderra is working with that would love to sell an additional 9,9999 albums this year. (Or instant concert recordings on USB, MicroSD wristbands or album downloads on iTunes...)
I get Tommy's point, the vast majority of sales go to a small percentage of artists. I'd guess that this is nothing new. In fact, I am sure that most economists would confirm that this is the case across the board, most money is drawn in by a minority of any population.

There are a few problems with framing things in this manner:

1) Why is over 10k in sales a benchmark? This is an arbitrary number at best.
The benchmark should be "ONE new fan who will listen, share and evangelize for the artist".
(If this is the case Ray LaMontagne owes me about $1,000,000,000,00. I bought the "Trouble" CD for just about everyone I know of people and then ripped it and shared it with plenty more...)(and then emailed everyone I know the version of him singing Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy")

Sidenote: "Trouble" might have been the last CD I bought. It was 2004, a little before the death of the CD. Actually went to a Tower Records Store to get them. (You know, the building that is now a Walgreens drugstore on Lake Street in Pasadena.)

So I could dive into a few different directions here:

  • a) what does the artist make per track on those 10k+ sales??

  • b) what do they make gross on those 10k plus sales? Are they better off selling 1000 for a higher profit margin and a MUCH greater value to the fans who are able to participate?

  • c) Does it matter? What if Free is the right price point for most of your fans anyway? (Because they used to Discover you by listening to the radio or watching Music videos on TV for free??)
  • d) what if you're an artist with a message and getting it heard by as many people who will listen is the goal, not units sold?

I'd like to stop with the arbitrary benchmarks (a "gold" record? That is a cool wall hanging for your office, not an achievement in connecting with fans.) so let's say "1 more fan = victory: 9,999 more fans = victory+"

P.S. By coincidence, Aderra recorded Sara Haze's Set at the Dakota in Santa Monica this past Monday and she was awesome.

Dec 14, 2009

Case Study - Successful ad supported streaming on a mobile device

In the late 70s and Early 80s, I remember my grandfather "Pop" Donnelly standing in his kitchen every morning, drinking instant coffee, smoking Kools and listening to a mobile music device that streamed his favorite songs all day long straight to him. When he loaded up and headed for work he had an in-dash version of the same device. He paid no fees, no subscription costs. The entire system was funded by sponsored advertisements. Record companies demanded no licensing fees or royalties from the providers of this mobile streaming service.
Of course I am being cheeky, it was his A.M. Radio beaming Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin straight to his kitchen, his car, and when he he got to work on the job site, a little transistor radio.

This is a proven business model, in place for 87 years. This is what the streaming service companies should be looking to as a way to move forward.
Of course with radio the labels demanded no payments or licensing. In fact they spent a tremendous amount of money on third party radio promoters to get their records placed on playlists (and of course in some cases resorted to straight bribery). This was the single best way for them to run up sales of their recorded releases. Make people aware of them so that they were compelled to purchase the recording after having it burned into their psyche through free streaming. Why the change in attitude by the record labels?
A few things: For one MTV. The sure fire way to success on the record charts in the 80s and into the 90s was through constant rotation on MTV. Then at the turn of the millennium the folks at MTV started to concentrate on reality programming instead constant music videos played 24/7. Their ad revenue spiked as people were drawn to the this new voyeuristic programming. Not too mention that by 1998 we had pretty much scene the music video drowning in its own cliches. So the record labels step back and somewhat rightfully say, "We spent Billions building your brand, supplying you with a free supply of pricey music videos and in exchange you change your format and cut off our supply to new fans".
This has caused them to look at any new opportunity with a wariness that they are not "exploited" this way again.
Another factor is fear. As revenues crashed downward there was an industrywide paranoia that any thing new and "digital" was robbing the labels of their proper place in the food chain.
So they start demanding upfront payments from new vendors that could help them find new fans for their artists. And of course they started suing music fans for sharing files. (This has been written about ad naseum so I won't spend time on how utterly stupid it is to take your most loyal customers to court...)

I think a look back to Pop crooning away with Frank might actually show us the path to the future.
• As an artist or Label (or whatever the new hybrid partnership develops is)use EVERY tool and EVERY Opportunity to introduce your music to new fans without expecting them to pay you first
• Look to sponsors to subsidize the cost of streaming. Keep ad rates reasonable.
• Publishing Royalties should be paid in accordance to a sliding scale depending on listenership, not number of plays. Or in the case of hobbyists that are playing music out of passion - no payments.
• Kill the subscription model. This is bad for fans, bad for labels and bad for the tech companies that have to pay exorbitant licensing fees to the labels.