Talk is Cheap, Music Shouldn't Be

I've got to get this off my chest because it is driving me absolutely nuts. I've been reading a lot of coverage regarding the music industry where commenters in blog posts, Twitter, and even in industry "analyst" Bob Lefsetz oft cited newsletter-rantathon (where he calls David Byrne an old fart) complain about all the cry baby artists and how they only care about the money and blah blah blah. Hipster Grandpa tells Grandpa he's not hip. The irony is about to make my head explode. 

 Here's my problem: It's called the Music Business, not the Music Charity, braniac. It's called that because people work and create something that people in turn pay for, and that revenue goes back into the same system which creates more products that people pay for and so on. This simple exchange of labor and currency is the basis of the music business and in fact this is how most businesses work.  Something is made, money is exchanged. When your grocer does this, it's called commerce, but when an artists does this its called greed. Perhaps the way to combat this "artists are greedy" straw man argument is to stop calling them musicians and change it to music business people (or music grocers?).

Since artists, er music grocers, are really the face of the music business, everyone holds them up as an example of largess and excess and come up with some fallacy that somehow, their success was at the expense of the rest of us and their suffering is simply because the oldsters ain't with it. 

"We don't pay for music these days grandpa. Sheesh." 

What all of these people fail to take into consideration (because it requires deeper thought than 140 characters) is that there is a whole ecosystem that employs thousands....maybe millions of other people...because people pay  for music. It isn't free...it's a novel idea these days, I know. 

We create jobs and have innovations in music technologies because artists take their money and invest it back into their product. That's what a business person does in any other industry, music isn't any different. Computers, software, musical instruments, microphones, pedals, cables, mic stands, repairmen, electricians, producers, studio engineers, gofers, secretaries, assistants, utility companies, HVAC companies, carpenters, and so on...all depend on musicians. 

Artists also innovate, often coming up with the very ideas that have made music sound better, and these innovations have a trickle down effect, as it's the artists who pioneer the newest technology that later becomes available to the amateur musician or music fan. Hello digital...hello iPod...hello cheaper/faster hardware. I'd go as far as saying there would be no more Apple if it weren't for musicians. There certainly wouldn't be a Spotify. 

 The democratization of music technology all exists because someone before you paid for it, and it was paid for with their hard work and money, which you gave them because you valued it. If you didn't value it, who was it that spent $14 billion dollars back in 1999? Apparently we were all forced to buy music all those years, against our will.  

And now you're complaining because those same artists are upset they aren't making enough money to support themselves in an industry that saw half its sales vanish in under 10 years (obviously because people stopped loving music). Now think about what that means. It means that if they can't make music, they can't support their industry, and if they can't support their industry, people will lose their jobs, and you'll stop hearing great new music. All that will be left are more and more manufactured versions of It's Friday. Then you'll be sitting there wondering how this all happened and looking to point fingers, when what you'll really need is a long look in the mirror.   

Who's the crybaby now?

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You know, tech entrepreneurs are not simply the only source of innovation in the music industry, just because they've found a way to put someone else's work in your phone. If it weren't for the hard work of the music business  there would be no iTunes, no Spotify, no Pandora, no YouTube worth watching. Pandora is a publicly traded company because someone else made a product they could build a business on. Did Spotify save the music industry or did the music industry create Spotify? This isn't chicken and egg. If it weren't for artists and their music, many of the revolutions in technology would simply not exist today.

 In fact the Internet itself would look very different, considering music (and porn) has driven the development of web protocols, increased storage technologies, increased bandwidth, wireless advancements, etc. That's how much we love music, although we're not showing much love to it's creators at the moment. Sure, tech guys are today's rock stars, and sure, we'd all like to be an Internet startup and just bleed money and not have to be profitable or anything, but most people in business want to see more money that comes in than goes out.   

Now I'm not defending the past behaviors of labels and the RIAA for fighting innovation (I'm on record years back tearing them a new one), but I am saying that the more you misplace your anger at them and instead attack artists as the enemy, you take away attention from the fact that a whole ecosystem is about to collapse that goes well beyond a handful of labels. I get it, you think Thom Yorke is a whiner and David Byrne it and old fart, that's your prerogative, but try to also remind yourself that both of those artists created work that influenced you, impacted your life, and probably created a great deal of wonderful memories, that you paid to experience and wouldn't trade for anything (except that breakup you had where you crawled into a fetal position and listened to OK Computer about a million times in a pool of your own tears). So what are you complaining about again? That you paid too much for something that brought you joy and now you feel that somehow you were ripped off for rewarding David's work and now you deserve a rebate going forward? Sure it was embarrassing that I was singing "Wild Will Rice" for years, but I'm not going to penalize Byrne for that (enunciate, David, enunciate).

Now I'm a fan of streaming and again, I'm on record supporting it years ago, but this idea that if artists just get with the program, stream everything, connect on social networks, tour your ass off, sell more Tshirts, and give all your music away...it's all going to work out is absurd. Perhaps Ford will start giving cars away and just charging for the gas? Stupid car company expecting to sell cars. The nerve.   

The problem is that what we've done is systematically started to dismantle the "value" we once had for music and have instead placed value on convenience. That's what we pay for today. There's no direct cost to music (especially when it's a service bundled as part of another service), so there's no tangible investment and no pride in having a "music collection," since we all have access to the same catalogues. I certainly miss pre-judging someone by flipping through the CD collection in their house. "What no Ramones? Yeah...this isn't going to work out."

I know everyone is all To Boldly Go...and let's ignore the past because what do the oldsters have to teach us, but that's a mistake. In the past 10 years we've created a system of "free" that destroyed industries surrounding the written word. We didn't want to pay for anything, so we either scraped/reposted it or hoped online male enhancement ads would pay for it all. Seriously, have you seen the state of news reporting today?

Embarrassing. 

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In the late 90's I was a tech writer making $1 a word online and in print. I actually was able to make a living after the first tech bubble collapsed. I was able to write longer pieces and spend more time on quality than worrying about quantity. After I went back to tech, but later returned to do some writing in the mid-2000s, I was now paid on page views, which worked out to be about $.02 per view. This focus on traffic as a metric for success (ignore the words on the screen) drove my editors to split up articles from one page to three or more, sometimes ruining the flow of the piece, all to eek out a few more clicks. Years later I worked for a billion dollar media company where I no longer wrote (ran social stuff), but still sat in weekly editorial meetings. By that point, writers were making $25 a post, having to write 3-4 posts a day, and getting most of their money from traffic bonuses which were almost like a kill or be killed Thunderdome competition:

  • Most Viewed Gallery: $150
  • Top in Category: $50
  • Lowest Bounce Rate: $100
  • Editor's Pick: $100

This meant more clickable tricks like increased use of galleries and whatnot. Each weekly meeting was less a discussion of content, but analytics.

"This worked great last week...let's do it again...but make it even more sticky." 

We've taken the value of words and turned them into a formula which has made it nearly impossible to find really good writing anymore. Our Buzzfeed/Huffpo business models have ensured that we'll never again get the best writers out there, but only those machines who can churn out product with every clickable editorial trick they can think of. 

This is where we're taking music. This is what Lefsetz calls the Golden Age. We are devaluing something that most of us would gladly admit is a cornerstone to our lives by making a statement that all music is worth is $10 a month. We're telling artists, as long as you hustle, there's plenty of money to be made as soon as the whole world adopts this "all you can eat" buffet of music, where the lobster has the same value as the lettuce. Then when David Byrne writes an op-ed saying maybe we should really just think all this through before we jump headfirst into the pool, you're telling him that only old people check to see if there's water first. 

This is the same mentality I saw when the first tech bubble blew up.

"I'm not sure how we're going to make a profit selling discounted 50lb dog food bags with free shipping, but trust me it will all work out. Look over here, we have a cute sock puppet for a mascot."  

Only now it's:

"Don't worry, the tech industry is here to save you all. This way to the future...we're making all music worth the same ten dollars a month, regardless of whether you are Bruce Springsteen or Milli Vanilli. We're all equal now!"

 Fool me once...

 

 

Bob Lefsetz: Old Fart Complains About Old Fart Complaining

I've been following Bob Lefsetz since someone turned me on to him a while back. It's been fun listening to an old record industry guy rant about the record industry. As a tech and new media guy, it has been refreshing to see (as I've been doing it online for 10+ years). That said, there's always been a little something that's bothered me about his rants that today I've finally been able to put a finger to.

  1. Bob's understanding of disruption, technology, and social media are limited in scope, because he's never worked in that space. 
  2. Because of that his views are often one-dimensional  
  3. He's like a streamed music track on repeat. 

You see Bob loves to be the Old Guy/nouveau-hipster yelling at the world about his epiphany regarding music and technology. Gotta stay relevant!!! He's found the religion and he's preaching it with all the fire, brimstone, and snake handling he can muster. He's always preaching the new economy of attention and social media and how artists need to be baptized in the new faith. Then, a few weeks later, he'll rant against the same technologies and platforms he's been preaching about

Bob Lefsetz Tech and Music Philosophies

 Bob also doesn't have a long career in technology or social media, and with all of his ranting, he's really short on solutions. It's all bone, no meat. His latest piece I just find annoying in it's lack of scope and breadth of knowledge.

This time he takes on the recent piece in the Guardian by David Byrne where Byrne laments that today's evolving music industry and streaming is heading artists off a cliff from where they will not be able to recover. This is a theory I not only believe, but can give one hell of a powerful argument towards (and will in another post). Bob's answer to David's well worded piece is of course name calling: 

Old fart hates change, what else is new?
So I went to the Mill City Museum. Once upon a time they had sawmills on the Mississippi. Back before they cut down all the Minnesota timber and other states got into the lumber act. But if Luddites like Byrne were in charge, we'd still be sawing timber with water power, got to keep those jobs.
And then came the flour mills. But they disappeared too. Because with the advent of electricity, the mill didn't have to be on the water.
Change. It's constant.
The only people who don't get this are the musicians.

David Byrne. Musical pioneer, fan of technology and culture, friend to one of the best modern blogs on society and culture (boing boing)...a luddite? 

See I think Bob's found his niche being a ranter who offers up great commentary, but doesn't actually have any real solutions and hasn't actually done much in the space he comments on. He talks incessantly about how disruptive technologies are changing the music world, but he's short sighted in understanding certain fundamentals and being able to look from above at a larger picture.

I actually do know a little something about disruptive technologies, since I've been working in them for over 20 years (I'm an old fart when it comes to Internet years). In the past 10 years I've written many articles covering new media, given many interviews, and made many documented predictions on media and technology. I also created and launched Discovery Channel's first music property, where I learned first hand of the dysfunctions of the music industry. I say all this to qualify why I'm about to take Bob's schtick apart and why he's gotten under my skin.  

It's comments like this: 

As for those who don't get Spotify, you're completely stupid.
Here's how it works.
First and foremost...IT STOPS PIRACY DEAD! It doesn't make sense to steal.
And it only pays when your music gets played. What a concept. So different from selling an album with the aforementioned one good track. And it pays FOREVER! Even into your old age, when they no longer have turntables to play your vinyl records, never mind the software to play your MP3s.
But I could rant forever and Byrne still wouldn't get it.
But Byrne gets ink because news outlets know the Internet loves a controversy. Fellow Luddites e-mail people like me, pounding their chests, claiming another has-been is on their side!

I totally get Spotify and I've been a proponent and fan of streaming technologies for years . So I think I can say with some conviction that not only am I not stupid, but I think many of the points David Byrne makes are not only valid, but critical to the future of the music industry and the artists who comprise it. What's stupid is Bob's statement:

First and foremost...IT STOPS PIRACY DEAD!

Spotify does not stop piracy dead. Lefsetz should understand one thing well, since he's worked in an industry that forever has had people singing to us to fuck the system. That mentality is part of how you understand piracy. While there are cheery numbers on curbing piracy coming out from one tiny country where Spotify was founded, it completely ignores the dark parts of the Internet where piracy still runs rampant. You see, there exists a vein of people in society who view Spotify just as they view anything else, part of a system they want no part of. Spotify, for all its new "feel good" bullshit, is still the man. For Bob, piracy is stealing. For most pirates, it isn't about theft, it's a big middle finger. 

It's these blanket and overly simplistic statements he makes all the time which are damaging to his readers because they don't really consider the scope of the larger picture. It's all, "Yeah Bob, go man go, speaking truth to power!" Sure, people from the tech side will all yell, "AMEN," but the balance of truth is not being employed here. Bob has simply had too much of the new media/tech kool-aid to be critical. The tech industry wants you to believe that they have all the answers, and as someone from a world where I've always professed that information wants to be free, I can tell you that this non-critical view without a balanced approach is disingenuous and serves only one side of the argument. 

And then there's this gem from Bob: 

But if you don't think we're in a golden age of music access, if you're not thrilled that the history of recorded music is at everybody's fingertips and there's a monetization plan, you're positively ignorant.

It reminds me of a lyric from my friend Rupert Hine's great track, "A Golden Age"

I can't go on believing this
Have I lived just to witness the last decade
Or a golden age

A golden age of choice to some, a last decade to others. This golden age we're in does nothing to put value to music, but in fact devalues it. When I was a teenager, it took me 8 hours to earn enough money to buy one CD. At the end of the month, I'd drive 30 miles to the nearest record shop and I'd spend hours deciding on which three CD's I would buy. It was remarkably personal and powerful. It was tangible and had deep meaning. This is part of how music shaped us. It had a profound impact on me and that's coming from someone who had the first MP3 player on the market and ripped his entire CD collection 15 years ago and never looked back. I was primed for iTunes years before iTunes.     

Today a teenager only needs to work an hour to afford a month's subscription to more music that you can wrap your brain around. They have no real loyalty between one streaming service or the other. No one album or song has any real value because, just like in an all you can eat buffet, the lobster is the same price as the iceberg lettuce.*    

*I'll write another piece in the future of why this is a problem. 

Another problem I tend to have about Bob is he loves to hold artists like Amanda Palmer up as icons of the new system, but Amanda is the exceptional exception to the rule. I love what she's been able to accomplish, but it's simply not going to work for the vast amount of artists out there.

Bob often rants on and on about Twitter and Facebook and merchandising and touring and connecting with fans, because his primary focus in his narratives is on artists. What about songwriters? They don't record albums or have tours, they don't generally do gigs, they don't sell merchandise or special edition vinyl albums. How does the modern songwriter survive in Bob's vision of the future? T-shirts?

In Bob's world, only the strongest will survive, and they will be those adept in the new world order of social media re-invention. This is an absurd and unbalanced view on the reality of where music is heading. It's also short sighted and disingenuous. As someone who in 2004 proved that you could sell something through social networking (in this case selling out my book through blogs), I understand the power of crowds and connection, but this ideal is doing nothing to stem the devaluing of music in our a la carte, all you can eat world. But what's even worse is when we have people with big voices, like Bob, who belittle those who aren't actually luddites, but in fact concerned about not only their own living, but the artists that they are fans of as well.

Bob's world is that you can't fight the future, you can't fight progress. So join it. Don't stop to think about whether or not you can swim, just jump on in. It's a swift current, but you'll learn fast. Deep breaths.   

David Byrne is right to say:

As Lowery has pointed out, there's no reason artists should simply accept the terms and join up with whatever new technology comes along. Now I'm starting to sound like a real Luddite, but taking a minute to think about the consequences before diving in seems like a pretty good idea in general. You shouldn't have to give up your privacy, or allow all sorts of information about yourself to be used, whenever you go online, for example.
I don't have an answer. I wish I could propose something besides what we've heard before: "Make money on live shows." Or, "Get corporate support and sell your music to advertisers."
What's at stake is not so much the survival of artists like me, but that of emerging artists and those who have only a few records under their belts.

It does not make David Byrne a luddite to suggest that perhaps (in many aspects of our technological lives) we should think a little before we commit to every new thing that comes along. And his cautionary flag and well written and reasoned commentary does not make him an "idiot." 

Shame on Bob Lefsetz for taking such a complicated issue and dumbing it down to something so trite as get with it grandpa! I think I'm done with Lefsetz and his dumbing down of the dumbing down of the music business.  

 

Dealing With Trolls and Bullies Online

In my time at the Discovery Channel, I dealt with a lot of difficult online personalities. And when I say a lot, I’m referring to hundreds of thousands of passionate people who don’t always see eye to eye. More often than not, it required a little hand holding to keep the pot from boiling over into complete chaos. So basically it was a daily affair of rage management.  

I’ve handled celebrity PR scandals, bullying, stalking, and threats of all kinds. In fact, during one incident, I had my own life threatened to the point where the Discovery legal department had to get involved. The one thing scarier than an insane online troll is a pack of Discovery corporate lawyers. 

Over almost three years I saw people from all political spectrums call each other every conceivable name to the point where terms like “nazi,” “fascist,” “socialist,” “commie,” and the like became meaningless and comical.

Good times.

Suffice to say I’ve learned how to handle everything from the horribly vile to the insanely annoying while keeping not only my cool but my own sanity. I’ve thought about writing a short book on this subject, but in the meantime, why not share just a few things 

Online, There Is No Such Thing As Shame

I’m sure I’m not the first person to suggest that one of the best things about the Internet is also the worst thing about the Internet, which is the perception and sometime reality of anonymity. Since people typically don’t have to actually post their real identities online, there’s a tendency to feel a sense of unfiltered freedom which allows them to basically express their deepest hidden feelings. These are things that in polite company, a person would never admit to. Online it comes out as an expression of deep seeded inner rage. Most of the time you’ll see this manifest itself as some form of prejudice. 

Difficult People

The problem with difficult people is that they disrupt and derail conversations. This also causes good standing members of a community to leave. In the beginning I would try to reason with difficult people, yet it becomes apparent that their disruptions were part of a psychosis that was beyond something you could simply rationalize with them. What ends up happening is that initially you think you can turn them around, talk them back to sanity, and bring a calming zen to your community. You realize over time, this is impossible, and if you are smart you recognize disruptive behavior and simply ban it immediately. 

There are many types of difficult personalities one encounters online, but here’s an example of one of the worst. 

The Self Hater

This person has some deep seeded hatred of themselves that manifests online into some nihilistic hatred of everyone and everything. They always take a contrary position. They can’t have any honest discussion because all they want to do is tear everything down through name calling, vile comments, intimidation, and derision. They look for the weakest members of any community, latch on, and destroy whatever they care about because they derive pleasure from the pain of others.

You simply have to ban this type of personality immediately. You cannot rationalize with them because they don’t want to participate in any discussion, they want to ruin it for everyone. However, if you are a member of the community, and not a moderator, there are several ways to handle this type of person. Here’s three:

1. Ignore them – easier said that done, but if everyone simply ignores them, they lose interest quickly and go away. If you are well vested in the community, you can generally get others you know to follow your lead. 

2. Do not show you are upset. The moment you show emotion, is the moment you lose. Typically what happens is that you’ll get caught up in some long argument hoping that there will be some middle ground or consensus between parties. This never happens. You waste a lot of precious time, while on the other end of the conversation, the self hater is simply looking at your arguments and analyzing them for way’s to turn it all upside down and get you to react on an emotional level. Once that happens, they’ve got you. Keep your emotions in check.

3. Sticks and Stones – one of my favorite ways to handle self haters is to give a little bit back to them, like a credit card rewards program. Remember their goal is to get your goat. Once you show anger or frustration they win, and they’ll keep going. I recently had an exchange with a Reddit commenter who came into my discussion with the following (referring to an upcoming book I’m releasing):

“I guess if people would waste their money reading homo erotic shit like “The hunger games” or “the Holy Bible” they might pay for this crap too.”

Now if you research this gentlemen you’ll find he regularly posts inflammatory comments because he gets a lot of fun out of it. Now I could flag him (which might get his comment removed – in time), or I could ignore him (in which case someone else might egg him on), or I could engage him on his level. Self hater’s cannot handle being fed their own garbage.

I engaged him and here’s how the conversation went down. 

Him: “I guess if people would waste their money reading homo erotic shit like “The hunger games” or “the Holy Bible” they might pay for this crap too.”

Me: “I guess you’d know.”

Him: “Is this supposed to be funny? I bet your a mormon”

Me: “It’s totally cool whatever you are into…Mormons, Hunger Games, Biblical Erotica, Furries. I’m not judging. If you are looking for more homo erotic reading, you might try leaving your parent’s basement, hop on the bus, and head over to an adult bookstore.”

Him: “Are you asking me to join you in the Big Black Gay cock section? Try not to be so pushy, it makes you seem desperate and kind of creepy”

Me: “Funny…that’s the same thing I said to your Dad.”

And he’s done, not to mention it entertained some of the other commenters who were also tired of his bs. Is this the mature way to have a discussion? Not at all, but then this type of person has no desire to participate on any level of maturity. He wants to derail the discussion and start a war. Simply mirror his behavior and he’ll typically leave because there is no fun in having your ass handed to you. 

Everything in Moderation 

Probably the biggest problem I find in any online community, where bullies or trolling is common, is poor moderation. You need to have a no tolerance system in place. I had a team of moderators that would bring difficult people to my attention. I'd look at the offending posts and decide if this was immediate banning or would it be worth having a private discussion. Most private discussions prove quickly to be a waste of time and you eventually end up banning the person, but I never liked being accused of censorship just because I didn't like someone's point of view. However, at the end of the day, the safety and wellbeing of the community was my responsibility and if you violated those guidelines, you were gone. 

I don't see enough of that in today's online communities. There either aren't enough quality moderators or the moderators are more concerned in protecting the trolls than the rest of the community. Whatever the case may be, no one deserves to be treated without respect...well no one except perhaps the bullies.  

 

There's More To Life Than Music

Not long ago, on a panel, I mentioned that artists are people and people have lives outside of their work. Fans are interested in those lives because they are also people. So if all you ever talk about is your work, you seemingly lead a very dull life. Therefore, when I see artists I follow putting up post after post of:

"Here's my new track"
"I'm playing here"
"I just posted a new photo"
"Please buy my..."

I get bored very quickly, and I tend to gloss over their entries.  

The most successful people online are those who not only have something to say, but those who branch out from their day job and are willing to engage people in discussions about things that have nothing to do with what they are working on.   

Next time you plan on making a post, consider talking about your favorite restaurants, foods, tips on traveling (if you tour you have lots of experience), where you shop, your strengths, weaknesses, who you admire, favorite books, movies, where you grew up, childhood memories, favorite lyrics, how you came up with a song idea, news items, pet peeves, etc. 

These topics help drive conversation. No one cares about PR speak. They want the real you. Deliver that experience and you'll have a more engaged audience who actually cares about your continued success, because they feel vested in who you are.

Oh and if you are in a band, make sure everyone participates. Nothing feels more staged than the feeling that everything emanates from a single source.  
  

 

Google's Not So Organic Search

http://blog.tutorspree.com/post/54349646327/death-of-organic-search

Great blog entry on the demise of Google's organic search. If you are in the music business, you should keep an eye on this stuff and watch out for how it may affect you in the future. 

Reflections from Youbloom : Part II : How To Succeed in Music

Yesterday I reflected on some of my impressions of the Youbloom conference with the observation that emerging artists are just like startups. I've worked almost exclusively with startups my entire career, so I thought I'd impart some "wisdom" on how those same experiences directly apply to artists who are trying to succeed. Here's 10 Tips.

1. Reset Your Expectations

While we're being a bit coy regarding what we are doing at REBOOT, I can say that the core focus is helping people build a business around their art. It doesn't really matter what type of media this is, but we do try to focus on something or someone with a music connection. We are re-imagining what management, PR, marketing, A&R, and being signed to a label means in this age. From my own perspective, I had a long tech career with no experience in the music business until I went to work for the Discovery Channel. I was naive enough to think I could as easily build a music site, as I would launch any other site. It was an exercise of herding cats, if those cats had gone to law school. From Rupert Hine's side, he's had the long view of watching the industry change, yet not being satisfied with business as usual or standing still.  

If you are holding on to some remnant of what "being signed" means or that you've made some level of success and from now on it's easy street, you need to wake up. There are many artists out there who are doing very well with no label support at all. So a "record contract" in this day and age means very different things and you need to be prepared to get your hands dirty to make it work for you. 

2. Your Identity Is Your Brand/Your Brand Is Your Identity

The very first thing I try to convey to any artist is that you are a brand. Most artists cringe at the thought of this, but if you break it down it's less upsetting to think of your art in this fashion. All successful artists have something that their fans can connect with. Therefore, a brand is really no more than something that people identify with. If you always lead in everything you do with the internal visualization of who you are and what you represent, you'll often make good decisions. 

It isn't that you don't have any fans, it's that you simply haven't found them. 

Once you can visualize who you are, you can move on to develop a plan for the business side of your art.

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I saw one artist this past weekend who was mind blowing. The moment the band started playing and she started singing, I was enthralled by the sound. I thought she was a new artist, but turns out she's about to release a third/fourth album (I can't tell). She's got all the elements musically to be a wildly successful, and yet I've never heard of her. She's got all the social marketing sites, but doesn't have her own website, so of course I can't really tell who she is or glean any real sense of her identity. Her top search returns include Myspace, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Facebook, Last.fm, and Twitter. Where exactly should I go first? MySpace is first, let's start there. 

She has no photos in her gallery and only one video. I love the sound, but as a fan I've got nothing really here to work with. I'm now completely disinterested in being a champion of her talent, because I don't have any sense of her as an artist. She's relied entirely on the basics of other platforms to present herself, instead of building something more personal. Because there is no real anchor, within a week or two I'll probably completely forget who she is and never look back. 

When I was a teenager I would scour magazines for any information on the bands I liked. Much to my grandparents chagrin, every possible blank space of my walls was covered in posters and clippings of The Cure, The Cult, Pogues, New Model Army, Depeche Mode, Sisters of Mercy, Eurythmics, Big Country (yeah I was all over the place). I would draw their logos on my notebooks and tennis shoes. I felt a connection to these artists, and this, plus all the obscure trivia I had picked up, was my anchor to them. The platforms have changed, but this feeling is as strong as it's ever been.

3. Develop A Business Plan

When I started in the tech business, it was expected that to gain funding you'd develop a giant bound paper business plan with detailed information on who your customers were going to be, how you made money, and what all of this was going to cost you. Over the years these documents have gotten shorter and shorter to where the last one I wrote was less than 5 pages. Now, I've never put much faith in them, because they are basically asking you to make a lot of assumptions that never turn out as you planned it. However, what's truly valuable about writing a document like this is it's a great exercise in thinking through your business. It's a great way to set some goals, communicate those goals to others, and be able to reflect on that progress as you move forward (or backward). It can also be a hoot to dig it out 5 years later and see what you got right and what you got wrong, and how dumb you sounded back then. 

4. Understand Your Business

Too many artists over the years left many or all of the details of how their business worked to other people. They were either disinterested because it was boring, or couldn't be bothered because they were too busy with their art (or too busy enjoying themselves). Many of these artists found themselves in a lot of trouble and in some cases without a career. 

I'm not great at math (not even good at it) and I'm not a programmer by trade, but I did learn programming and I did have a part of my career where I programmed for a living. The reason I learned programming was out of a personal need to understand the process of how things worked and also not to be entirely reliant on someone else. If you are lucky enough to surround yourself with good people and those people are passionate about your work, you still have a responsibility to yourself to pay attention to what they are doing, how they do it, and understand what's going on. Show the same passion in their work as they do in yours. Also, ask lots of questions. Nothing will kill your career faster than not being curious.

5. Get Good Outside Advice

There is no room for your fragile ego or pride. While some labels or managers in the past would craft an artists identity or music to be more appealing to masses, it doesn't have to be that way any longer. That said, it's important to get the advice from others that's unvarnished and honest. If you are a band, but onstage you look and play like a bunch of strangers who just met, you should be open to hearing that. If you write 12 songs and 6 are crap, you should be open to hearing that. Nothing is worse off for your career than a bunch of ass kissers who are either too afraid to tell you what you need to hear, either because they fear you or because they want something from you, like a check. 

6. Spend Where It Counts

There are so many great ways to waste money, but as an emerging artist, you likely have a limited budget to spend, so you need to spend it wisely. For example, you can hire an expensive web developer or you can save the money and use something like Squarespace. Then, put your money into a great graphic designer. I could write an entire blog entry on this topic alone, but here are the basics (this applies to photographers & etc). 

Don't just hire your best friends sister because she does logos for local restaurants and she's cheap. Your visual identity is something that will follow you in both physical and virtual space for years, so make it good. Communicate in very descriptive terms of who you are and what you are. Don't be ambiguous, use definitive language. The more wishy washy you are the more iterations it will take to get what you want and the more it will cost you. Also, I've seen a lot of people get shafted on design because they didn't understand how to be prepared to work with a designer, or they had lofty expectations but no budget to back it (this goes back to having a plan). Remember that this person is also an artist, so afford them the same respect you'd expect for your work. 

This work will later translate into web, social, business cards, print material, t-shirts, etc., so the better your design, the better your identity.

7. Life Happens/Recognize Opportunity

I went to University 24 years ago as a composition/theory major with a focus on electronic music. While I was passionate about music, I stumbled on building a business by accident and realized that there was an opportunity for me. That company led to my starting a tech career on the internet in the early 90's. I recognized that while I was passionate about making music, it was really the technology side that I loved. I've never regretted that decision and I've had the pleasure of a career full of diversity. What I learned from my journey was that my "art" was not so much music, but ideas. 

My point here is not that you should have some type of back up plan, but that you should always leave yourself open for opportunity. If you have a linear view of how your career will look, you will fail to see wonderful chances that appear before you. If your blinders keep you looking forward, you may miss those waving to you from the side. I've known artists who started in bands but found their greatest success in composition and scoring. I've known other acts who were fearless in throwing away what they did before, starting all over, and finding greater success.

While I talk a lot about knowing who you are and where you want to go, those are simply guidelines. We don't present ourselves to life, it presents itself to us. We embrace it or we deny it. While I say you should have a plan and identity, be sure leave yourself open to recognizing opportunities as they are presented to you. Be fearless in accepting them.

8. Make Mistakes/Make Connections

I'm not saying to go out of your way to make mistakes, but you will make them. Most of us learn from our mistakes by making the same ones again and again and then hopefully a light goes on and a connection is made. This is why it's really important to open yourself up to feedback and learn from those who have come before you. 

I think networking is critical to this. The more you read and research your business, the more you find and talk to mentors, the more everything will open up for you. Don't simply stay active with your fans, get active with other artists and professionals. Foster relationships with them.  

Again, why I think there is a need for more Youbloom-like conferences.   

9. Careful What You Sign/When You Sign

We won't work with an artist who doesn't know or understand their identity and have a point of view. It's not my job to figure that out for you. So if you want to sign to a label or management company, you need to be prepared in advance and adjust your expectations accordingly. Most labels today don't have the budget to promote you. If it's a good label they focus on fostering your art and getting it out there, but don't think for a second that means you can sit on your ass and just show up for the gigs. Today, you are a major part of the process of marketing and promotion. If you hustled before you were signed, you should hustle twice as much afterwards. If you are approached or find a label interested in you, ensure that you already have much of what I've mentioned above done. The worst thing that can happen to you is not being prepared for success.

10. Work With Technology & Social Media

You have a Twitter account. You have a Facebook page. You have a YouTube channel. You have a website. Congrats, you have the same thing everyone else does. Having something and understanding something are two different things. Learn how to analyze the data behind the platforms you use. You should know the difference between unique views and page views, what's a bounce rate mean, how did these people discover me, what search terms brought them to me? Are you a member of Amazon/Google/iTunes affiliate programs (gets you paid twice)? When you promote your music are you using your own affiliate links? Are you collecting information at shows? Can you come up with a way to suss out contact info from fans at the shows? Are you making it as easy as possible to purchase your materials? Are you thinking of Crowdfunding? Do you have a plan for that? Are you not simply thinking of it as a funding option, but more importantly a way to market yourself? 

You should find new ways to engage your audience online and off. I remember when I was a teenager, They Might Be Giants had this answering machine you could call and hear a new song each day. I can't tell you how many times I must have called that number. It was almost like a private joke amongst a small group of insiders. What's your inside joke? What's your "dial-a-song?" It's not enough to look at all that's out there and think "Let's Do This." You also have to think,

 "What if?"

Your social platforms are your voice. It should be authentic and come from you. That said, don't feel you have to say everything that comes to your mind. Having 45 Tweets/links on one day...in a row...saying, "I've posted a new photo to Facebook," is obnoxious. Having Tweet after Tweet composed of hashtags is obnoxious. Posting day after day, hour after hour about meaningless shit is one way to turn me off to your feeds. Some things should be kept to yourself. And don't engage people who are trolling you online. All that ever comes of this is both parties end up looking like assholes.

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While I could go on and on about these topic and others, suffice to say that my experience with Youbloom was one where I realized that musicians are struggling with the same issues that tech startups struggle with. We took what was inherent to the technology (connecting people) and started creating ways in the physical space to share our knowledge base, our stories, experiences, mistakes, hindsight, etc. There is this same need in music, but often artists have seen themselves as islands unto themselves. This needs to change, which is why I not only found the initial Youbloom conference the germination of a good idea, but saw it's potential for the future. Beyond that here's a need in larger cities, like London, for regular mixers where artists and potential mentors and labels can simply get together and connect. 

I know I'll be there.  

 

 

Reflections From Youbloom: Part I : Artists Are Startups

This past weekend, Rupert Hine and I participated as panel members/advisors at the Youbloom conference in Dublin. We were of course joined by some great music industry vets like Dave Robinson, Nigel Grainge, Donal Scannell, Stuart Bailey, Alex Von Soos, Ralph Simon, and many more. Billed partially as...

A part of this youbloom@Dublin weekend is also to nurture this emerging new talent. With this in mind youbloom is hosting a music conference to be held in the College of Surgeons on Saturday 29th & Sunday 30th which is open to any musicians and members of the public wishing to attend. The conference will include panels, speed sessions and rountables with panelists. Roundtables will focus on songwriting, performance, social media, demo creation, and international marketplaces.

...there was a pretty good showing, but not good enough. *This conference should have been packed, because there is absolutely a need for this type of meet and greet in the music industry.  It became apparent to me, during my marketing one-on-one sessions and discussion panel, that many artists are feeling stuck, sometimes lost. All of them seem to be hung up in just about the same place, and almost all of them are having issues reaching their next level of success.

To put this in perspective, I was one of the founders of a successful Tech mixer in San Francisco, called SFWIN. It was a great opportunity to once a month hook up with other startup founders, tech professionals, VC/Angel investors, etc. One thing that we tech people kill at is networking. I've been going to tech mixers and conferences for almost 20 years, and I'm always amazed at the amount of connections and ideas built out of these events.

Since I came into the music business, I've found that musicians and other music professionals I've met often operate as if they were an island unto themselves. They all share the same issues and problems, and yet they don't do a very good job of connecting and sharing with each other. There's a serious lack of cooperation and collaboration on the business side of things. I had never really thought of it before Youbloom, but it dawned on me, as someone who has spent 20 years in emerging tech -  emerging artists are really just startups.

They have the same problems. 

I have a product (music), I struggle funding it (investors), I don't know where my revenue is going to come from (business model), I can't seem to find my fans/get more fans (users/customers) , I have trouble communicating/marketing my product (music), I don't want to go back to a real job (clock is ticking). 

It was remarkable to meet artist after artist, who almost always told me the exact same story about their career. As I asked similar questions of each band member or manager, I found that I almost always got the same answers, which to me was astonishing. Here's some of what I discovered. 

Artists Struggle With Communicating Their Identity 

One of the first things I asked each artist was to describe to me their music. You'd be amazed at how many artists struggled with this. Perhaps two or three answered me immediately, while others just kind of danced around the subject. I'd then ask, who do you sound like? Many artists don't want to be compared to anyone else, because of course they are all unique unto themselves. In some cases, when I asked this, it was as if I committed some artistic social faux pas and insulted them. While I understand that you feel you are unique unto the world, there are a number of issues I have: 

1. There's no one on the planet who hasn't put on a pair of headphones, closed their eyes, and been transported by a piece of music. Music's inherent intimacy is magical, and we often not only feel things when we hear it, we see things in our minds. It's that same emotional connection in hearing music that is creating music. You are trying to create something that connects with someone else. If you can't imagine that in your minds eye, you can't effectively build a fan base or a business around your music. 

You need to know who you are and what you are trying to express and then visualize how to bring that to your audience. Every step you make, from building a website to making T-shirts, has to stem from this visualization. Every word you verbalize comes from this. It's your narrative...your story. An author may not know where his story will take him, but sure as shit knows the core of the story, the germination from which it grows. Without this a writer has no path from which to begin the journey.

If you don't do this first and foremost, you aren't going to be able to connect with fans of your work. Fans want to be a part of what you are doing, they want a shared experience. If you can't communicate this, you will not succeed. 

2. If you can't describe your sound then you can't market your sound. You may believe your sound is like no other, but most music lovers aren't going to give you a listen if you can't intrigue them with a point of reference they understand. The best answer I got was one band member who without batting an eye said: "We're like Wilco meets Willie Nelson." Fucking A...that's a sound I can imagine and something I want to hear. 

The other reason this is so critical in today's music industry is that many of the new artists people discover is completely by chance. While I don't have the statistics for it I'm relatively certain that (judging from my own experiences), people are often looking for something else, and then stumble upon an artist by accident. But that "accident" isn't necessarily accidental. If you don't take the opportunity to get media like videos online and properly tag them or describe them well, you won't get discovered. You're simply posting things for your own echo chamber. 

BTW, if you want a great example of a guy doing the above right, knows who he is and everything comes from that wellspring, check out The White Buffalo

Most Artists Don't Understand How The Internet Works

1. Don't put all your eggs in one platform. I heard from a lot of artists who were predominantly using Facebook to build a fan base (because everyone else is), and quite often didn't have an effective website.

A website might seem "old school" in this day and age, but the importance of them cannot be overstated. Your website is your opportunity to help visually reflect who you are. It's your base of operations. It defines your brand. You control every aspect of it, not someone at Facebook. Also, platforms like Facebook are often walled gardens. They aren't indexed properly by outside sources, and they don't give you all the SEO (search engine optimization) control you need to get discovered. 

If I go to google and search for you and I find a link to Soundcloud, myspace, Facebook, etc., I'm not sure where to click first and I may be dissatisfied with what I find at the first link. If that happens, I may not go any further. Your website should be the first search return and the best source of what you are up to, or at least where to find that info.

A website also allows you to present who you are in a way that's not only familiar, but personable. It's your opportunity to invite people to explore all of the facets of who you are, not simply visiting a wall where you espouse on what you had for lunch on tour. Do not underestimate the power of having a well designed site, with social media aspects plugged into it.  

2. The above leads to understanding how to use online tools and strategies. Most artists I spoke with know how to do a web search, but they certainly don't understand the mechanics behind how it works. For example analytics, or knowing how to make sense of what's happening in your world. If you don't have a website, you likely don't have great analytics to understand how people are finding you, why they are finding you, and where they are coming from. If you don't use these tools or understand how they work, you won't likely spot trends that are affecting your career, nor will you be able to act on potential opportunities. There's a tremendous amount available to you in useful information and control over your career if you understand the basics of SEO, inbound links, bounce rates, trends, patterns, etc. 

3. Step outside the box. Not every video you post need be a musical one. Try posting things of a personable nature or some type of tip or trick. I've worked with people who like to throw the "viral" word around, as if everyone was able to do Gangham Style. In one instance I was able to show someone how a simple "Tip/Trick" post was able to generate more traffic (400,000+ uniques in 3 days), than they typically received in almost a year of organic traffic. Stop assuming your only value to a potential fan is your music. Last time I checked you were all people with your own perspectives and views on issues or ideas about how to do something. There are tons of videos with hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube on guitar tuning. I'm sure every artist has some tip on how to do something that people would love to discover and share. Stop being boring and start kicking some ass.      

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While I have other nuggets to dispense from my time in Dublin (Part II tomorrow), it's obvious that artists could stand to play fewer mixers and attend some. There is an absolute need for networking with their peers as well as industry vets, tech folks, and marketing people. This is something that's simply not as effective online as it is in person. Nothing can really replace those "in person" connections.  If I were Youbloom I'd double down on this next year, but before that I think many artists would be well served here in London by having a monthly mixer to exchange ideas as well as business cards. Stop thinking of yourselves as simply musicians, and start thinking of yourselves as startups. 

*Major props to every artists that showed up for the conference and stuck through it. It's obvious you were all very passionate about what you are doing and give a shit about making it. You show you care about not only your craft, but learning from others and that's a great sign! Keep at this and it will pay off.   

 

4 Things to Prepare for Success in Today's Music Business

Social Networking is simply a phrase. It isn't a plan. It doesn't ensure success. Countless articles will espouse the virtues of social without truly understanding what that means. There's simply too many news deadlines and clicks needed to keep the eyeballs of the public, so inevitably writers jump on whatever new platform exists to keep the board rooms of the world buzzing with new "paradigms."

People with product often want instant gratification and in most cases are happy to write a check for short term gains from gimmicks, rather than in planning a long term strategy for success.

If you asked the average business person today if they wanted a business plan that would keep the doors open for the next 3 months or a plan that would keep them open for the next 5 years, a majority would pick the latter. However, when it comes to a marketing plan, ask the same business person what they want and they will tell you they want attention now, not later. The idea of "viral" has infected the world and its killing off the brain cells of normal people.  

I do not believe in hype. Short term gains lead to long term problems.

As an artist, you cannot afford to think this way, unless your goal is simply to be a flash in the pan. If you just want your 15 minutes, there is certainly a way to get there in a short time, but if you want to be around with a lasting legacy, you need to look further down the road. 

I'm sure most musicians put a lot of thought into who they are and what their music stands for, but do you ever stop to think about the patrons who are supporting you (fans not labels)? I'm not talking about altering art to appeal to more people or listening to labels tell you how to sell more albums by compromising your art. Whether it is your website, social networks, or live performances, you need to have certain things in place to build your audience and a sustainable career. The first three questions are those from patrons...the last is for you. 

1. Why am I here? This is the question your audience is asking themselves, so you best have an answer. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc. are all simply platforms. They are methods of communication, so without a message to communicate and a reason to stick around, there's no point in participating in any of these platforms just because someone told you you should. Whatever message you want to convey to people from your art is the structure you need to build around yourself.     

2. Why do I care? One advantage an artist has over just about any other type of business, is that generally if someone is checking you out it is because something you already did (your art) has piqued their interest and now they want to know more about you or get more from you.  

Christina Aguilera has 3 million more Twitter followers than you do and sales of her last album were disappointing. How is that possible? Well one reason is because the attitude of her Twitter feed (and other social platforms) is as if it were simply a marketing firm churning out 140 characters of copy. It feels cold and staged. It's basically 3 million voyeurs. 

Kim Kardashian, Roma Downey, Jennifer Hudson, The Voice, Blake Shelton, CeeLo Green, Adam Levine, and Nichole Richie are amongst the 19 people she follows.  

She's a very talented singer with a lot of passion, but it just doesn't come across online. Instead I get, "check out my new fragrance," and "watch me on TV." She needs to do something about this. 

If you don't understand why people should care about you and how to be a part of that, then you'll find yourself building an audience with no vested interest in what you are doing and one day when you really need them...they won't be there.  

3. Why should I stay? Okay so you've got some people interested in you, but how do you keep them engaged? This is different for every artist and their audience. They are checking out all of your details, so why not spend some time learning about their lives? If they've opened their lives up to you, then maybe take a look and see why you connect. After all, you are a person and they are a person and people share things in common. You can't tell me that if you reach someone with your art, there isn't something else you don't connect over. If you love food and your fans love food, why aren't you talking about food? Don't simply use your platforms to sell product. 

4. Where am I going? Are you looking for global success and the ability to fill stadiums or are you happy for a long career and a comfortable living that allows you to keep making your art? It doesn't matter your ultimate goals if you aren't planning for it. You have to be open, flexible, and nimble to change. I've been working with startups and technology companies for 20 years. When I built hugely profitable animation systems in the 90's, I knew that wouldn't last and at the height of that industry I closed a successful company to join the fledgling Internet economy. I reinvented myself. When I saw signs the first bubble was going to burst, I became an online writer. When I realized that my writing would eventually go from being paid for quality and instead money for hits, I started working with communities. And so on...

You cannot hold fast to preconceived ideas of the past. You cannot afford not to take chances. In my career I have been involved in at least 10 disruptive technologies that have changed our lives in just 20 years, and I'm watching new ones emerge everyday and shift power rapidly in less than 12 months. You cannot afford to wait, thinking that the world will eventually come back to you.  

It doesn't matter if you are an established artist, or just starting out, you really need to think about what success for you looks like in your mind. Then, before you make another move, think about whether or not you can answer the questions above and what you'll have in place when people start showing up asking them. 

Not Kicking it Old Skool

The cover story of the latest UK issue of Wired Magazine entitled "Talent Tube," covers the emerging YouTube stars who are building their own "TV channels," full of their own generated content...and folks...they are killing it. 

I've been telling people for years (especially when they negotiate deals with actual TV networks) that terrestrial TV is dead, it just doesn't know it yet. This article has some great insight into what's actually going on right under the noses of media execs who are more concerned with protecting copyright than the fact that their marketplace is eroding right from beneath their feet.  

One particular sidebar in the piece is titled " How To Create Your Own Successful YouTube Channel." There's advice that I've been giving "old skool" folks for years that the youth of today already get. Many of today's and yesterday's biggest artists could learn a thing or two from this article, and there are four items in particular that I can't stress enough...here's my take on them. 

#1 Be Authentic - If you treat what your doing as if it is marketing, it comes off as marketing. Fans want the authentic you or the image that they fell in love with. Anything other than authenticity turns people off and they will not only lose interest in you, but in anything you have to say...that includes your music. Find a dialogue, not a slogan. 

#2 Be Patient - It takes time to build or locate your audience, so don't look for instant and short term results. I've been in countless meetings with people who toss the word "viral" around as if it were as easy to obtain as writing a check. Building something that lasts takes some time, but it will help sustain you down the long path of your career. 

#4 Interact - Don't like dealing with people? You are in the wrong business. We're in an age of artist and patron, and from now on your patrons are your lifeblood. I'm not saying you have to have coffee with all 50,000 Twitter followers, but you have to realize that your success is dependent on your relationship with your patrons and they have a vested interest in seeing you succeed. Don't forget their contributions and pay some of that back as well as forward. 

#6 See The Bigger Picture - The world of music no longer revolves around, "I make music, you buy it." Look at the long path ahead and see where your goals lie for you as an artist. Taking the long road into consideration will help you make good business decisions around your art, and enable you to keep making it.  

Excellent planning, innovative ideas, lasting relationships. This is our approach.