Rome is Burning! Where's My Fiddle?

Media companies are running scared these days. Their failure to embrace technology has put them in a delicate position. For the first time in history, the bread and butter of the media enterprises like music, film, and television are faced with the fact that they may no longer be in control of their business. They’ve been confronted with the terrifying fact that artists and consumers could actually perform direct transactions without their help. I’ve personally supported many independent artists without a label ever coming between us. When I buy an album online from Prince, I buy it directly from him, not Warner Brothers.

And although many technology firms have tried to work with the RIAA towards a positive solution, the RIAA feels they can legislate and prosecute technical innovation back 10 years. Stifling technology through legislation is a small price for them to pay, if it secures their profit margins. Though historically, the creation of new technology has always created new markets and increased sales, this time the media companies have been the last to jump on the bandwagon. This time they got caught with their e-pants down. Instead of following the trend, they ignored it. Now the only way they believe they can catch up is to stop technology dead in its tracks while they figure out what to do.

I wrote that in 2003

The fact is the technology sector has always pushed the sales of media, when media sales began to decline. The CD injected new life into the music industry. The DVD increased sales in a video industry gone flat. Each time a new technology was proposed, however, large sections of the media industry fought tooth and nail to prevent it from ever seeing the light of day.

The RIAA argument is that technology encourages the average citizen to steal. The fact that I own a checkbook has not turned me into a bad check felon. The connection the RIAA tries to make between technology and piracy is absurd. Simply having a high speed internet connection and a MP3 player has not made me more prone to breaking the law.

The success of the Apple Store is proof that if consumers are presented with a simple and affordable solution for purchasing music online, they will. And if the RIAA had worked effectively with the tech sector six years ago, we might have made more progress towards curbing piracy through solutions, not lawsuits against 12 year old girls.

I wrote that in 2003

What's my point?

My point is it's been 10 years and we're still talking about this and the music industry is still trying to get on board a train that left the station 16 years ago.

Let's just take a look at opportunities lost for a second.

RIAA tries to stop CD duplication. Around the same time they sued the RIO MP3 player out of business. And while they wasted time on CD's and the RIO player, within 4 years we had the iPod. Years of opportunity wasted fighting the inevitable change in how we get music. All the signs were there. You know when I knew it was all going to change forever? It was 1998 and I was reading my niece a story about Barney the Dinosaur playing a record and she turned to me and said:

What's a record?

Oh snap!

Flash forward to 2013...

I was just at an event where a moderated panel was discussing whether or not the Internet has been good for creativity in the music industry. That's like asking has the sun been good for farming. Here I was in a room of people from the music industry and you could just sense the palpable frustration that everything they knew was on fire. I was literally waiting for someone to scream:


Yes, everything is on fire and we're too late to talk about fire prevention. But, sometimes fire is good. It can be cleansing. It can stimulate new life into dead areas. And while it can destroy everything you understand or love, it can also present an opportunity to start again.    

Before the advent of all this technology, it wasn't like artists were particularly happy with the way things were. Artists complained that they had very little control over their art. They complained about the brutal and unbalanced recording contracts that essentially amounted to usury. They were often treated like cattle, one day the prize bull and the next off to the slaughterhouse. 

But those days are ending and a new age is beginning. Is it frightening? Of course it is, but technology and those that build it are not your enemies. We love music, which is why we wanted to free it, not make it free. Which brings me to something else I wrote in 2003:

“Do we need to protect artists, their work, and their livelihood? Of course, but that comes through empowering people, not rendering them powerless.”

The world of technology has given you a unique opportunity. It's made you powerful, not powerless. Using it is hard and discovering how you'll survive is right now a challenge, but that is no different than the struggles you've been facing for years under an oppressive system that kept you chained to a check at the cost of your art and your soul. This is the beginning of something truly wonderful and while it's frightening, it's also exhilarating.

So, grab a fiddle and make some music. After we clear away all this debris, we can start building again.

A Tweet is not a marketing strategy

I've been involved in some fashion of online marketing for almost 20 years. I was there for the transition of bricks and mortar to online. I was part of three pioneering online sales technologies. I survived the first tech implosion by becoming a writer. I covered technology and media and have been blogging for over 10 years. I created the first book to take blogs seriously as literature in 2004. Even with a high power agent, every publisher laughed me out the door: 

“No one’s going to care what a bunch of nobodies online have to say about anything.”

That’s an actual quote. I'll bet you $100 those people are still employed at major publishing houses (probably running the place). 

I've been involved with countless disruptive technologies and business models. Over 10 years ago I wrote, as a prediction, many of the failures the music industry would face with their current strategies. 

What's the point of the above paragraphs? To qualify as truth the following statement:

Run away screaming if record labels, PR firms, and traditional marketing companies give you advice as to how you, the artist, should run your business or position yourself.

Their advice will not only be wrong, it will be disastrous.  

Here's how online platforms work. Something becomes big, it generally disrupts the status quo, all the "cool kids" jump on it, and every marketing/PR person scrambles to figure out how to make sense/money with it.


The marketing and media folks will mention words like "viral." They will ask you what your social media strategy is and tell you you should be on Twitter and Facebook and maybe start with that Pinterest thingie. There will be countless articles written on what your social strategy should be and how to actively target....oh my god I can't stand listening to any more of that horse shit.

Folks, these are only platforms. They are only tools. They do not sell products. They do not make relationships. They do not a business make. Buzzwords are meant to distract you from the fact that anyone using them, doesn't understand what's going on any more than you do. 


The Artist/Patron Model

There is an illusion that the entire music industry has changed in the past 10 years. The fact is it was all an illusion to begin with. The business of being in music or any form of art is one of artist and patron, it always has been this way. However in the bubble of the past 50+ years, there was a middleman who appeared to be your patron, when in fact it has been your fans all along.

The old music business relied on building a wall around you (leaving your fans outside) and got you to pay for the construction of that wall. Now the wall is gone, but the artist is left wondering, now what? Your fans have not gone anywhere, so if you aren't making money, you simply aren't connecting with them and authentically engaging them. Period.  

No longer does having a label or fancy PR agency guarantee a successful music release. For that matter, no longer does having a great album guarantee airplay. And for certain, simply having a large social media presence does not ensure sales.  

By way of example, from Gigwise:

Christina Aguilera - The singer attempted to revive her pop career, whilst riding the wave of the Maroon 5 smash hit 'Moves Like Jagger', but failed quite miserably. Lead single 'Your Body' could only peaked at No.34 on the Billboard Top 100 and the album 'Lotus' sold poorly. A good album, but a lack of live performances or coverage meant for a flop of 2012.

Over 3 million followers on Twitter, big label, PR, money, marketing, media appearances, billboards, and for what? BTW...worst twitter feed ever, but I won't go into what's wrong with it here. 

Nelly Furtado's 2012 single 'Hoops (The Bigger The Better)' was brilliant. Unfortunately, not many people appeared to agree, with the single reaching only No.14 in the UK - and missing the US charts all together.
However, the single's failure is nothing when compared to sales of her new album, Spirit Indestrucible, which sold less than 10,000 copies in the US and UK combined in its week of release. It's been six years since her last hit of note, when 'Say It Right' hit No.1 in America, and 'All Good Things (Come To An End)' reached No.4 in the UK. She has a big label and 3 million followers

Again, 3 million Twitter followers, label, PR, media appearances, etc. No sales. How is this possible?  

Mariah Carey - The singer's new single 'Triumphant' reached the heady heights of 115 on the US Billboard charts this week, managing to sell fewer units than a bonus track from Beyonce's '4' album last year. Selling just 23,000 downloads is a pretty disappointing showing for someone who has sold tens of millions of albums worldwide, and Carey will be hoping appearances later in the year as a judge on American Idol will help revive her fortunes.

OMG, 8 million followers and a label and I'm sure well into six figures in marketing plus front page of the carousel in iTunes and 23,000 downloads? What is going on? 

The three artists above are still in the wall, and failing to connect with their patrons. That's it. 

The title of this post is that a tweet is not a marketing strategy. Simply posting something on someones Twitter feed does not translate into money. The reason for this is the wall. Actively engaging people and participating in their lives gets people involved in yours. Having 8 million voyeurs is pointless. You are better off with 200,000 followers who really give a shit about what you are up to. You have to fire these folks up and as Cab Calloway said in The Blues Brothers:

Listen, you boys heard me talk about Jake and Elwood. Well now they used to live here just like you. And I used to sing to them just like with you. Tonight, Jake and Elwood are going out to sing and play to raise the money to help you children. Your lazy butts are in this too. So get up on that wagon. We're goin' up north to put the word to the streets.

I know it's a movie, but The Blues Brothers is a perfect metaphor for my point. You don't fill a concert hall to capacity by simply posting a tweet on your Twitter feed. You've got to work it. You have to curate your audience and engage them. They need to feel that they're part of your success and they should feel a shared responsibility and joy when you succeed. 

We have left the bubble of old recording labels and have now entered into an age of artists and their patrons...and those patrons are your fans. And I'm sorry to break this to you, but your patrons will expect things from you. You may work in the arts, but the arts are service industry and it is up to you to find out what your patrons want and give it to them. Like many of us in this interconnected/disconnected world of technology, fans want to feel a connection to you. If you find this distasteful, you are in the wrong business.   

Your lazy butts are in this...will you get up on your wagon or get behind your walls?