A blog for musicians and music industry people. It is a free educational resource and it is also the way I advertise my music consulting services. I am an entertainment professional with deep roots in the music industry. Throughout my music career I have been a major label A&R representative, a music supervisor, an artist manager, a reality show producer, a bass player and the head of a digital record label.
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This is a re-post of an article I originally wrote in June, 2010. Even almost three years later, it still represents the mindset of a lot of musicians looking to succeed in the music business.
“How do I find a music manager?” “How do I find a booking agent?” “I just need to find someone to get my music to the next level.” I’ve heard these questions and statements before. And fifteen or so years ago, I sounded exactly like this. As it turns out, I wound up on the industry side of the fence and traded in the crowded smelly van for a record company desk job, but I do have some answers for you. If you showed up here via Google search chances are you won’t like what I am going to tell you, but I implore you to keep reading.
Let’s start at the very beginning: Do you have anything to manage?
I know – sounds like a stupid question … but is it? I’m not asking you if you have lots of work that you could use help with, nor am I making light of the pure volume of work that is the creation of both recorded and live music. What I am asking you is, do you have something ready to bring to market that needs managing … or are you still building out your product?
There is no shame (I’ll repeat it again, NO SHAME) in being in the developmental phases of your career. We live in an instant-gratification kind of world, which is why when I write articles like this I know statistically that a majority of people won’t have made it this far because they were looking for a “get famous now” button. Take your time and develop your product; this will help you rise above the MILLIONS of other people who went out to guitar center purchased their first instrument and recording gear and had the first song they ever wrote up on MySpace the next day, hoping for some kind of miracle that won’t ever come.
Back to management: Let’s talk about what you should have together before even considering approaching someone to invest in your career. *** Notice I said, “invest,” because, whether or not they spend a dime on you, management is an enormous expenditure of someone’s time.***
Before approaching anyone to manage you, you need to have most of these items together:
- No apology recordings of your music
- Professional looking photos of you or your group
- A basic, findable website (custom URL) you can update yourself
- A Mailing list and a place where people can sign up on said list
- A social network presence (Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube)
- Live performance footage (preferably in front of a crowd)
- A well-written bio highlighting your accomplishments
These are the building blocks and the marketing materials you will use over and over and over again. There are no words, no email sales pitch and probably not even naked photos of an executive in compromising positions that will get you taken more seriously than having the items above in place. Many of these items can get pricey, so do your homework and shop around if you feel that any of these items are best done by work for hire. Having these materials will get your more gigs, get you taken more seriously by your peers and potential fans and ultimately (if you have a product people want) will help you build a business in music.
“Okay – wait – isn’t this super basic? Does he think we are idiots?”
No, absolutely not. But I can tell you that statistically aspiring musicians are looking at the wrong things to get ahead. Check out what people search for online for music related terms according to a Google AdWords query in April 2013.
Term: “Get My Music Heard Online”
Global Monthly Searches: 58
Term: “Get more people to my shows”
Global Monthly Searches: 28
Term: “Make a Living In Music”
Global Monthly Searches: 800
Term: “Marketing My Music”
Global Monthly Searches: 140
Term: “Get a Music Manager”
Global Monthly Searches: 1,900
Term: “How to Get A Record Deal”
Global Monthly Searches: 9,900
Draw your own conclusions, but I think too many people are looking for a shortcut to fame that — barring an act of God or Justin Bieber — just doesn’t exist.
I will be back with the subsequent portion(s) of this increasingly poorly-named article early next week and I will actually get up to the part where you approach someone, and what you should discuss.
In the meantime, do a search under “manager” in the search bar at the top right of the blog to find lots of fun interviews with very experienced music managers.
…Or continue to part 2 now.
Tom Silverman is the founder and the head of TommyBoy Entertainment. Throughout his amazing career Tom has worked with and broken artists like De La Soul, Digital Underground, House of Pain, Queen Latifah and Afrika Bambaataa. In addition Tom helped revive the New Music Seminar and is now one of its principal executives. He’s been kind enough to allow me to feature his candid thoughts about the changing music industry on the Musician Coaching site on several occasions. In January of this year, he shared some insights about what he termed “The Music Business Resurrection.”
After our conversation about “The Future of New Music Business Models,” Tom and I went onto talk about what artists are going to need to do from a business and artistic perspective to be successful in the evolving music climate. We also talked more about what is in store for artists attending the New Music Seminar – where we will both be speaking – in New York City, June 17-19.
Thanks for continuing this conversation, Tom. We obviously hear a lot about artists that have achieved legend status, like Lady Gaga. The attention on her made Polaroid decide to give her a title and a stipend. They wanted to bask in the glow of her celebrity. But on a smaller level, can you identify anyone that does monetize the attention their music career has bought them?
Not really. We’ve talked about Vevo before. Vevo was really the first attempt by labels to monetize attention. All of Universal’s, Sony’s and EMI’s music videos are monetized by Vevo across all the platforms. They have a team that does the sales, and that team controls the flow of all that. That’s a good example of the labels using the monetization of attention model.
What I don’t quite understand about Vevo is how their service involves synchronization licenses, but they haven’t paid a single independent publisher.
I don’t know about that. I’ve really just looking at the ideas surrounding labels getting into that business. All of these online technologies, for the most part, have value based on the amount of visitors they have; their monthly average users or weekly average users are how they value themselves. If you can get to “X” million, it’s worth “X” dollars. That’s why Huffington Post and Daily Candy sold for as much as they did. The value is in the eyeballs. That’s why they say we’re in an attention economy.
So, if you collect all the eyeballs that are affected by The Beatles’ songs, The Beach Boys catalog, all of Frank Sinatra and everyone else that still get played everywhere in audio and video formats and were controlled by Capitol and EMI, the value of Capitol and EMI could be monetized at a number much bigger than what Citibank sold them for – another zero, at least.
If you were a company like Instagram, you could say, “I had 30-million active users. And my 30-million active users monetized out to a billion dollars when I sold it to Facebook.” Obviously there were other factors involved, so there’s not necessarily a direct correlation there. But if EMI could monetize on a similar level, based on the amount of attention its collective, aggregate artist roster and catalog generated across all platforms – online, on the radio, in venues and any other place the music could be heard – those impressions would be in the tens and hundreds of billions. But they can’t monetize them right now, because they only think of themselves as creating a music product and selling that product. If they were able to sell the attention, they’d be worth way more.
I totally get it.
But the labels don’t see it. They still think they’re in the business of making and selling records. They need to say, “We make records and sell records to build brands and build attention … and then we sell the attention.” One of the ways they sell the attention is with records. But it’s not the only way. And based on the calculations that we currently have between 200- and 250-million people buying records, the business of selling records doesn’t have room to grow much more than that. Maybe it could double. And even if it doubled, it still wouldn’t be as big as it was in 1999, so it wouldn’t even be an interesting target. We have to come up with a paradigm shift that allows the business to monetize on a much bigger level.
That should be the lesson we learn from Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and from Mark Zuckerberg and all these other guys who figured out how to do that. It’s not just the technology, it’s the aggregation of attention. And now they’re selling the aggregation of attention. The fact that I can communicate with you on Facebook isn’t what they’re selling; they’re selling the ads to the eyeballs. And it’s the same thing with YouTube, with SEO and AdSense and all those other companies who are selling attention.
That’s why I applaud Vevo. I’m not saying it’s perfect. But it’s the first time the music business has said, “Let’s get into the business of monetizing attention.” I don’t even think they knew what they were doing when they did it. But if you look back at it historically, you can say, “Vevo was the first.” Let’s hope it’s not the last.
It looks like Makers Studios is giving Vevo a run for its money.
Yes. Exactly. You get it. I read the description of your NMS talk – “Everything You Need to Forget about the Music Business” – at the seminar and I got very excited. It’s very similar to what my keynote is going to be. We’re almost exactly on the same page with what we’re talking about, and I can’t wait to hear it. Of the descriptions I’ve seen, it looks like you’ve picked the most interesting, new and provocative subject. And I haven’t shared what I’ll be talking about yet. But what I’m thinking about and you’re talking about are so close, it’s almost scary.
Well, and I’m going to be talking about some positive things people can do, the things they can take into their own hands. But I’m also going to be talking to them about how there’s a really big disconnect. Mass media has sold us a lie. One of the things I’ve done to prepare is, I’ve watched VH-1 Behind the Music, and I’ve measured out exactly how much attention was paid to the different phases of artists’ career, particularly the developmental phase – when the artist is actually in the van or in the studio. That’s only about three percent.
The way we perceive things on television is interesting. If you’re watching Friends, you realize you’re watching Jennifer Aniston play a role. But what you might not understand is that a waitress can’t afford a three-bedroom apartment on Central Park West. So, there’s this peripheral information and lack thereof that trickles through to people. And so many people are so dismayed by the journey.
You mean people are dismayed because they have expectations that aren’t being met?
They’ve come to believe that there is somebody out there to save them. There is so much data around passive music search terms, like “how to find a music manager,” “how do I find a booking agent,” “how to get a record deal.” And I knew this when I went to build my website several years ago, because I went and targeted all these people. And before I did research, I thought I knew all the right terms: “music marketing and promotion;” “book your own tour;” “take charge of your career.” Nobody searches for that. 10- or 15-times over, people just want to be saved. And I think a lot of the reason is because we’re exposed to this false idea. The story, “They worked hard for 15 years, and then eventually, people started to care” is not interesting.
When you and I did that notorious interview a couple years ago that was so hotly contested on the Web, that was my point: There were so many hobbyists out there that really were not interested in doing what it takes to take the Malcolm Gladwell road to fame, where you persist, work very hard, practice and hone your craft and redirect yourself until you get it right. They just wanted to send a demo to a label, and have the label roll up in a limo with a bag of money and have their career begin.
I don’t know if you were at the last seminar, but I said, “Anybody who has a CD, give me your CD now.” Then, I talked about what the odds would be of having their CD ever heard by anybody. And if it was heard, I discussed the odds that they would get a call. And if they got a call, I discussed the odds they would get signed . And if they did get signed, I talked about the odds of the record ever coming out. And then I talked about the odds of the first song being a hit if the record did come out. And if the second song came out, I talked about the odds of it being a hit and actually leading to a career. All the different things that could happen after they gave their CD to someone pointed to the fact that the odds of that CD turning into a career were only about five times greater than the odds of winning the lottery. And the lottery ticket only costs a buck.
So, I said, “Rather than waste any more time or money on your career, you should just buy lottery tickets, if you think you’re going to give someone a CD, and that’s going to help you get where you’re trying to go.” And I gave them lottery tickets. I bought about 36 lottery tickets and gave everyone who gave me CDs a ticket.
That’s the mentality you’re talking about. Nobody’s searching for “how to book your own tour” or all that great Hypebot stuff that’s out there about how to do it yourself and build your audience. I hear all these stories of Hoodie Allen, Mac Miller and all these guys who are building it up for themselves, and I think, “These guys are the new heroes.” And we’re really going to be putting them up as the new heroes at the New Music Seminar. Hoodie Allen is going to be on the artist panel this year and maybe perform. Mac Miller’s team is coming in. We’re going to tell that story of the people who have persevered. And none of these people had a limo full of money show up at their doors. In fact, they still are controlling their own destiny. And as I mentioned before, we’re also doing a YouTube Innovators panel of people who broke off YouTube and are selling out venues and selling songs and doing it on their own. Because, these are the examples. I think people respond better to examples. When everybody reacted to that interview a couple years back, the big thing was “1,000 True Fans,” and it was all theoretical. But now it’s becoming real, because YouTube and all the other tools are really starting to work.
The point is, there are a lot of things that are going to help more people do this. Things like YouTube and Makers Studio are becoming important. The Collective has a whole department just signing people like this. And Sony/ATV has Larry Mills trying to sign everyone up for publishing who is on YouTube, because they’re seeing a new section of the business where they can really dig in. And nobody is doing it yet. In a minute, everyone will be doing it. It makes you wonder if YouTube will be dead in a few years because there are so many people filling it with crap. The model for YouTube now is still, “Cover, cover, cover, original.” You do a million covers, and if you’re good at doing covers, like someone like Karmin, you get picked up. But it begs the question: Is Karmin going to be a star on Epic, or does Karmin work best on YouTube doing covers?
I did an interview with a guy named David Choi, who had 90-million views. And it was mostly covers. But something took off. He was a guy with a Warner/Chapel publishing deal who has co-written a bunch of songs for people. He’s making a living at it. Does he have a chance to become an icon outside his niche? I have no idea. I’m very comfortable saying, “I don’t know” these days.
And it’s the same question you ask when you ask, “Is this American Idol finalist going to have a career just because they just because they were seen?”
I think you can count on one hand the people who have been on American Idol or any of the other shows in America that have built lasting careers. I think there are probably only two or three.
This goes back to my days at Atlantic Records. I’ve told this story many times before, and it always has me scratching my head. Atlantic was mining the Southeast looking for the next Hootie & the Blowfish. They would sign a band, and the band stop everything, quit their jobs, wait, spend the advance money a little bit. And the publicist would come in and say, “You, cut your hair. You, wear leather pants. And everyone get shiny shirts.” And they’d re-master the same album, maybe put it out and stop all the momentum.
I’ve heard that’s what has happened to Karmin since she went to Epic. She stopped her regular communication with her fans on YouTube, because now she’s in the major label system. I think people think that once you “arrive” you can stop doing all the things you did before. But you can’t stop.
The point I was making is that I rarely see it work for people when they get thrust into these situations where they are overnight sensations and suddenly get tons of exposure. A switch doesn’t just go on and allow you to stay.
I was lucky enough to work peripherally with Kid Rock. The guy had been building his career for twelve years, fan by fan. A label can’t replace that.
And he still thinks of his career that way. When he makes his records, he still thinks about the screaming guy in the balcony – the guy half-a-mile away from the stage who came to the show. He makes his music for him and tries to serve the fans. Because, he knows that’s why he is where he is. He’s not trying to serve radio or labels. He’s trying to serve his fans. That’s what you’re supposed to do. If you always follow that policy, I think you’ll always be successful. He’s very smart.
Not all artists are that smart. Many of them think their fans should serve them.
I’ve watched a big, fat wallet try to replace development time. You can’t force or speed up artist development. It happens on its own terms. Patience has never been the major labels’ forte, particularly since they’ve had to report to their parent companies on a quarterly basis.
That’s true. And that’s not getting any better. Unfortunately, because the seeds they have to plant right now in order to make their business be ten times bigger in ten years, they can’t afford to plant, because they can’t fund it. They need to say, “We have to change our business model. And while it’s being changed to the new model, we have to support the old model.” And that’s going to be a cost center for five years, just like Spotify or Pandora will lose money for a couple years before they start really making money. But that’s the way it is when you’re transitioning into a business that didn’t exist before. You have to be willing to invest and wait.
I’m sure the process of inventing the iPod and iTunes probably cost Apple hundreds of millions of dollars if not more over time before it bore fruit. We only saw it coming out and being a really big thing. But they didn’t know it was going to be a big thing when they came out with the idea. There were a million things that could’ve gone wrong between labels, publishers and everything else. And it paid off. It’s the same thing with the iPhone and iPad. The cost of creating all those products, physically and from a licensing and programming perspective, before any revenue comes is hundreds of millions of dollars. And it takes years.
If the music business wants to become a business that is a $100-billion business, they will have to invest hundreds of millions of dollars over the next few years, and I’m not sure they’re willing to do that.
Let’s hope somebody does.
I’m optimistic, though. And at the New Music Business Seminar this year, we plan to be optimistic – no whining and complaining. If you don’t have a way you think the business can be better or that artists can do better, get more exposure or make more money or do something better than has been done before – if you don’t have a way to improve things – stay home. This is not a whining session.
At a lot of the other conferences, people talk about what a mess everything is, but, that’s not the way we want to look at it. It’s the way it is. So, let’s get beyond that and say, “How do we get to Point B?” If “Point B” is a $100-billion business, how do we get from where we are, to that $100-billion point? What do we have to do in the U.S. and around the world? And what are some of the various ways we can get from where we are to where we need to be?
I have a bunch of ideas. But I want to hear what everyone else’s ideas are. That’s why we’re bringing people like you in, because you’ll have ideas, too. And in your talk, you’ll likely talk about these artists who are waiting for success to happen to them. Whether it was the new era or the old era, there were always people like that, and they never achieved success. The people who have always been successful go out and get it; they don’t wait for it to come to them.
I totally understand that frustration though. That’s why I changed the seminar this year. For the last five, we tried to cater to artists and give them the tools to do it themselves and lift themselves up out of obscurity and into success. But what we continue to find that some artists don’t necessarily care about that. All they want to do is give an A&R guy their CD.
It is amazing. But I decided that rather than complain about it, we should just shift the model and make a bigger music business. Because, people need to stop their fear of cannibalization of the record business. They need to stop complaining about illegal downloading. The people who are stealing music probably never paid for it in the first place, and probably will never pay for it. Does illegal downloading have an impact? Sure. We might be able to get another 10 percent out of it. But who cares about another 10 percent? We need to figure out how we get 30-times more than what we have now.
That’s what I want to talk about at the seminar and beyond. While people are arguing about how to get rid of piracy, the music business has gotten 75-percent smaller in inflation-adjusted dollars. Obviously, the protectionist model is not working. It’s like winning the war on drugs: It doesn’t look like we’re winning.
I hope we’re at a place sooner rather than later where those that have the power to change the system aren’t incentivized to keep it broken because they stand to make more money that way.
Well, but maybe they’ll just be dis-intermediated by companies like Makers Studio and The Collective. These companies are probably the biggest threats to labels that are out there. Anybody who thinks about managing and monetizing the artist-fan relationship as the thing you need to do is a threat. If the labels don’t get into that business, somebody else will, from a different angle. The labels will wake up one day and realize their industry has been disrupted, if they haven’t realized this already.
The New Music Seminar is really about how we can stop being disrupted and start being disruptors.
Be sure to also read the first part of this conversation with Tom Silverman, “The Future of New Music Business Models.”
Barry Heyman is an entertainment attorney with a focus in the areas of entertainment, intellectual property (copyrights and trademarks), and new media law. He has helped me out in the past by answering some important questions regarding Copyright Law (and even answered a question that had me stumped about how to license a cover song here on Musician Coaching last fall). He has worked in the Copyright Administration department at PolyGram and Universal Records and was in-house counsel for Eagle Rock Entertainment (producer, publisher, and distributor of music programming for television and DVD, comprising live concerts and documentaries). He has also consulted clients such as MTV and Razorfish. Barry currently runs his own practice out of New York and was an adjunct professor at NYU where he taught a graduate course entitled Law and the Music Industry.
Copyright law and artists’ rights are topics that come up quite a bit around here. And Barry was kind enough to share an article he published recently entitled “Termination Rights in Sound Recordings” about some big changes that are in store for copyright law in the next year that will directly affect the music industry.
Starting in 2013, for the first time in history, authors of sound recordings might be able to regain ownership of their sound recordings based on rights they originally granted to the record companies during and after 1978. Works by legendary artists such as Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and many, many others will be some of the first to be eligible for this termination process. And chances are good this will cause recording artists and record companies to clash, as many artists will start the process of taking over ownership of their own recordings so they can start commercially exploiting them, while record companies fight to keep their ownership interest so they can continue to freely exploit and profit from these recordings.
So, how exactly will this shift look, and how might it affect musicians and other industry professionals? As Barry states, “The Copyright Act grants an author termination rights in all types of copyrighted works including books, photographs, and musical compositions (as may be embodied in the sound recordings). Since Federal copyright law protection was more recently extended to sound recordings in 1972, 2013 marks the first time a grant of rights in sound recordings under copyright law may be terminated.” This termination right was originally created so the “author” (which, in the music industry would be the recording artist) and the “entity to which the copyrighted works (sound recordings) were transferred” (aka, a record label/company) would be on more equal footing.
As Barry outlines, usually artists – especially emerging artists and those at the beginning of their careers – tend to not be in the best bargaining positions and then end up not necessarily getting the best deals from labels at this point. And of course, it’s never easy to predict how valuable a sound recording is going to be before it’s officially out in the marketplace. So, in simple terms, the new “termination right” lets either reclaim ownership interests in the sound recordings in order to try their hand at marketing and selling them, or re-negotiate their original contract. And, this could inevitably lead to quite a bit of litigation, as those on all sides of the industry work to interpret the law and protect their own best interests.
You can read Barry’s full article here. In it, he clearly explains the many different moving pieces of this aspect of copyright law as it relates to the music and entertainment industries, the impending potential complications, and what can be done to ensure that Congress’ original intention with this law – to “create balance and fairness for artists and record companies” – is upheld.
You can also read more about the work he does as well as find a variety of other useful articles and resources about various aspects of the music and entertainment businesses on the Heyman Law website.
Kevin Weaver is the Executive Vice President of the Atlantic Records Group. He is responsible for overseeing the creation and placement of music and artists in film, television and video games. Kevin is also in charge of developing and overseeing soundtrack projects, strategic alliances, licensing opportunities, and marketing initiatives. He has been working with sync licensing at Atlantic since the early-mid 1990s and has managed a variety of projects over the years that have significantly shaped the label’s and other labels’ music licensing business models.
Recently I talked to Kevin about how he got into music licensing, changes he has witnessed in the sync licensing market in the past 15 years and how modern music placement works.
Thanks for taking some time to talk to me, Kevin. How did you come to be Executive VP at Atlantic, and what does that position entail?
I started as an assistant at Atlantic in 1994 working for the Vice President of soundtracks an A&R. I subsequently became an A&R guy at Jason Flom’s label Lava Records in the middle of 1995. I signed some records and was doing A&R. But those records weren’t really happening. Because I was an assistant to this soundtrack executive, I had a ton of relationships in the film, television, advertising and sync communities. And I thought, “What do I need to do to turn these records around and make some value out of them?” I knew I had these relationships, and that no one was pushing content into the sync world; it was a very laid-back business at that time, where you had people at the special markets divisions of record companies fielding incoming requests via fax. There was no sexiness to it, and nobody that had direct relationships with the artists playing the middle. There was no one aggressively pitching and pushing the content for licensing.
I took out the records that I was A&R’ing as well as some of the other records that Jason Flom, who was my mentor for many years, was working with. Jason was very supportive and encouraged me to do this. With his support, I was able to go out and get in front of the relevant folks at the time who were using music in media and basically give them quality content while at the same time help with the process to make sure it was seamless and that things were getting approved quickly. Over the first couple years of doing that we were able to significantly increase the licensing income at Lava.
That subsequently led to me becoming the first shared Lava/Atlantic employee and executive. I started doing the same thing for the Atlantic content in addition to the Lava content. And I was also able to increase Atlantic’s numbers really significantly over a short period of time. And when Lava folded into Atlantic in 2002, at that point I became the head of the department at Atlantic and all the Atlantic affiliate and division labels.
Very few people have as much time in as you do. I remember when I was working on placement for a commercial a few years ago. And everyone was coming out of the woodwork claiming, “Sync and licensing? I do that!”And I knew you’d actually been doing it since the very beginning. How has that sync marketplace changed over the last 15 years that you’ve been working within it?
Obviously it’s become much more competitive. People have realized the value of these opportunities to break artists. The media around these opportunities can be critical if timed right – around the launch of the single or the record. We’ve found that we’ve been breaking records over the last handful of years by way of these opportunities while also putting money back in the till to support subsequent marketing and promotional efforts. And everyone has realized to a certain extent that with the decline in income in other areas of the music business, sync is still a major revenue supplier. The importance of sync has become even that much more significant now. And because of all those factors, everybody is out there aggressively chasing sync opportunities, and it’s become more competitive.
I’m fortunate because I’ve been doing this for so long and somewhat built the model of how this works at a record company. I have tons of relationships that go back 15-plus years. And it’s very important to me that the people I do business with feel good about that business at the end of the day and feel it was an easy process and positive experience. I’ve had people continue to want to come back and drink from this well because they know we have great records, are easy to deal with and get stuff done. Because of this, even though sync is a competitive market, we still do great business.
Do you find that the huge number of independent and unsigned artists and the many aggregators of DIY content have brought the overall price down for you?
It can, and it has a little bit. I think the quality of music that we’re creating with our artists speaks for itself. People who are willing to give their music away for free can hurt us a little bit, but I believe that we’re making really strong records over here, and that people are willing to pay for quality.
We do price super competitively around developing artists. I never want to lose a great opportunity because of money. The visibility is important, so we look at everything on a case-by-case basis. And if there’s a look we can deliver for an artist, but it means I need to waive a fee or help get something approved below fair market value; I’m always willing to entertain those requests and make those deals, if the marketing opportunity mitigates the loss of income on the fee. I’m competitive as it relates to pricing. Wherever there’s a smart marketing play, I’m willing to make the same kind of deal that an indie artist would make, as long as I feel like the visibility is worthwhile.
There have been so many placements since placements really exploded with that first iTunes commercial six or seven years ago. Do you feel the impact of getting music placed in a commercial has diminished because now we have seen it so many times before?
Not really. It really depends on the scope of the placement, how great the song is, and how well it’s used. At the end of the day, great music is going to react, and it just needs a platform. What I’ve found is that you don’t want to just give away music and not look at the place it’s being used and how it’s being used. If it’s a meaningful placement, it’s going to translate.
Going back to your earlier question about competition with independent music, what we have at Atlantic is the whole company going after a record at the same time. I’m not just out there in a vacuum getting placements. I’ve found that it’s very hard for a singular placement to move the needle in a significant way, even if it’s a huge placement where the song is used really well and has great visibility, without other drivers in place. Not many labels – especially smaller labels – are able to use placement opportunities as effectively as we are and work with the other departments within the label. This really makes a difference when it comes to the power of these placements.
What is standard practice once the Atlantic Group gets the placement? How are you supporting the placement with marketing, sales and promotion?
We connect the pieces. We use the artist’s social media platform to create awareness around it and connect the fact that the placement you’re hearing or seeing is the artist’s song. We bring back all of the info and a clip of every placement to every department in the company, so they have the actual use and can take that out to show folks. A lot of it is talking points that help build momentum. But, everyone can use these drivers to show radio, video, digital/new media and sales and show these different accounts and partners the visibility we have going on around an artist. Generally, that in and of itself is an incredibly useful tool, because people see a song is out there and getting plays in a significant capacity. And that helps them feel better about getting behind it as it relates to their specific area of the industry.
You have A&R roots. Do you feel that artists getting placements before they’re on a label contributes to their ability to get signed?
It can. Recently, we signed Christina Perri. She had a single “Jar of Hearts” out before she was signed to a major label. She had her song featured on Dancing with the Stars in a really significant way. She immediately released the song on iTunes on her own, and it sold a lot of digital singles over a short period of time, which immediately put her on the radar of a lot of major labels. She then went on the show and did a live performance of the song, which made an even more significant impact. She went on to sell a few hundred thousand singles around those two uses alone. Every label really jumped in and went after her based on the fact that not only was she getting visibility by way of sync placements, but also, it was reacting.
I think that’s the key to most of these placement situations: If somebody’s getting sync placements but it’s not doing anything – helping with their sales or online searches and hits – then there’s a disconnect, and there’s a reason there’s a disconnect. It’s not often that these placements are going to move the needle significantly without the other drivers I’ve mentioned earlier – having the company and all the resources at the company behind it connecting the dots. I think the Christina Perri example is the real anomaly there; without the real drivers, the use of the song on television a couple times still managed to really make an impact, which ended up getting her a significant record deal. That being said she’s needed the power and the machine of our company behind her to build on this initial success and visibility.
You know a lot about how music is placed in film, and sure you often get asked, “How do I get my music placed in film and TV?” What would your best advice for somebody who is trying to make it happen in their own?
To be honest with you, I think it’s incredibly hard. It’s a very relationship-driven industry. And one of the reasons I’m able to get so many placements is because of the relationships we have with the folks who control this various media. They trust us. And they know when we’re serving something up, it’s going to be at a certain quality level and easy to clear and use. So, that is something that really helps us get placements and visibility that other smaller independent folks don’t have the benefit of.
But the one thing that these people can do is try to be super targeted and really chase opportunities where their music has real relevance. And they should get to people via real relationships – getting to know people who know the right people. And then they need to be really easy to deal with. Anyone who is a pain in the ass, especially in the developing stages, is not going to get much support. And there aren’t going to be many fruits that come out of that. If they are easy to deal with, and the quality of their music is good, they have a much better chance.
To learn more about Kevin Weaver and the work he does, visit the Atlantic Records Group website.
Melinda Lee is the co-founder of Uncensored Interview and Deputy General Manager (GM) of Getty Images Music. A lifelong music fan, she was first attracted to the music industry while attending law school in Philadelphia, where she befriended local artists and developed an admiration for musicians writing their own music, playing constantly and collaborating with other artists. Melinda’s focus in law school was on intellectual property, and she eventually found her way to New York City in the late ‘90s, where she went to work for MTV Networks. During her career, she has worked with networks and companies including MTV Networks, Lifetime and Joost, a peer-to-peer streaming media company started by the founders of Kazaa and Skype. She has over a decade of experience handling content licensing in the digital space. Melinda started the “Web 1.0” version of Uncensored Interview – a video interview site that captures rare moments with a variety of indie artists and other personalities – in the late ‘90s. She revived the concept almost a decade later with a new partner, Marisa Bangash and a new team. The current version of the site launched in 2008 as a source for musician interviews and in 2010, expanded to interview key influencers in other areas of the entertainment industry, including film, food and film/TV.
I recently spoke to Melinda about her career path in music and entertainment, why all artists need to closely monitor their own licensing in the complex, ever-changing climate of today’s industry and how she sees Uncensored Interview and Getty Images Music contributing to the hopefully more artist-friendly music business of the future.
How did you get started in the entertainment and music industry?
I was a really big music fan. In the late ‘90s, I was living in Philadelphia while I was in law school, and I ended up becoming friends with a lot of the local musicians and artists. I really started to develop a love for musicians who actually wrote their own music and were out playing day and night, whenever they could, and collaborating with as many other artists as possible.
From there, I finished up law school. I concentrated on intellectual property and found my way to New York City. I ended up getting into content licensing at MTV Networks. I continued to primarily work in TV, but as it goes in the entertainment business, you’re constantly in flux and you go from company to company. I came back to MTV Networks eventually and ended up taking up a role heading music and content licensing for the international group and digital media groups. What was great about that was that it was across all of MTV Networks. So, I got to work with MTV, VH1, Spike, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon. By then, that was the early to mid 2000s, where everything that was on TV was trying to make its entrance into the digital space.
At that point, rights were messy. No one knew what to clear for. But there were a lot of deals going on. People were making deals in the mobile space internationally. And every channel wanted to have an online broadband channel. So, I started to take on less of a clearance and rights type of role and more of a strategic role. I worked with most of the business development and business strategy groups as well as the head producers on how to put content into shows or into other formats and make sure the rights were in place from the get go, so we could actually embrace all the business models that were developing in the digital space, even internationally; because at that point, MTV was growing by leaps and bounds internationally. For example, you’d come across a channel that was launching in Africa, and you would need a different type of strategy for implementing the content on that channel.
What I really learned there was just how to think about content from an overall perspective. I would ask, “As we’re making more content, how can we get the rights in place so that this is scalable and will actually fit into whatever business models that might emerge?” I’ve worked with a lot of music companies doing that type of thing.
I find it wonderful and a bit of a sad statement that you love music and helped found a company that works with musicians, but you probably put together Uncensored Interview because you were looking for non-music content from artists, in part because music licensing is such a nightmare.
You hit the nail on the head. While I worked at MTV, the easier content to work with was images and footage. Of course, there are rights within that too. But music is where it got really complicated. With music, the models were set. And when you’re dealing with labels and publishers, they have this dance – and it was especially strong then – that they did together. It was really difficult to get those rights and to get someone to quote experimentally. You would say, “This is primarily for TV, but you know it’s probably going to be on the internet and on radio. Can you give me one quote instead of options that will address all those spaces?”
What I find really funny about that is that you were calling from Viacom. It’s not like you were Joe from Armpit, Ohio.
Exactly. And I do have to say, I did a bunch of work for other companies. And what was great about MTV is that the publishers and the labels did call us back quickly. They may not have given us what we wanted, because the whole idea was, “If it’s going to be a different kind of use from the one we agreed to, we’re going to need an additional fee.” That gets really difficult, especially when everything is going digital.
Back in the day, you had television with an option to renew and then maybe a DVD quote. But all of a sudden, nobody could really predict whether it was going to go beyond TV to the internet or mobile. The way it was structured was that you had to get a quote on each of those uses just in case. When I was at MTV, one of the few companies willing to go into the new media space as far as giving us those broad rights up front was Getty Images. Pump Audio was the other. And I think that’s what made Pump Audio separate from the rest of the music libraries out there; they put that “all you can eat” blanket option out there that allowed our producers to really create and be able to embrace the new models that were popping out without worrying about uncleared rights.
So, after MTV, you put together Uncensored Interview. And as a result of that, you put together a partnership with Getty Images?
Right. But actually, I did Uncensored Interview prior to joining MTV. My first iteration – a Web 1.0 version – was me interviewing bands and giving them a platform to be able to talk about their music. When I started it back in 1999, if you liked an indie band, you really couldn’t get access to them unless the local paper wrote about them or maybe if they were on NPR. But there weren’t that many outlets. It was right when digital video cameras came out. That was when I got the domain name.
A lot of the things I learned through working with content, rights issues and licensing really helped me develop a fuller strategy with the content we were creating over at Uncensored Interview.
I have a few questions I want to ask you that you’re more than suited to answer given your licensing expertise. First, what should musicians doing things for themselves have prepared in order to increase their chances of their music getting licensed?
There are so many different types of musicians. It’s a different strategy for each category, whether you’re a singer/songwriter, composer, indie band, etc. There are so many other trends that are popping up right now too. But one thing would be to really decide if you want to be a member of a Performing Rights Organization (PRO) – ASCAP, BMI or SESAC. Deciding which one you want to become a member of is an individual choice.
There is also a growing trend for direct-licensed music. What’s really great in the U.S. is you can be a member of these PROs and still retain the option of doing direct licenses.. I think that’s great and overall, in the spirit of what these PROs aim to do, which is protect their artists. Internationally, this not necessarily the case. The second you get into the EU, performing rights organizations and royalties get really complicated. Simplification is really something they should consider; because the back end of royalties today still remains a really lucrative way to generate revenue for artists. You don’t just make money on the upfront sync placements.
What does a direct license look like? Is that just someone saying, “I’m going to pay you a flat fee for this song?”
In practice, yes. Everything’s just bundled in at the beginning. It’s just saying, “All rights to this song, including what you would’ve gotten on the royalties side are included in this price.” At least this is how many licensees see it.
Is it re-titled then, with the royalties going to the person that paid for the rights?
Re-titling is something different. The way re-titling first came about was as a mechanism against being able to figure out how to administer payments based on who placed the music. It emerged because there were a lot of nonexclusive deals with several parties trying to place music. When people started to re-title, it was a way to identify who did a placement. So it’s basically an administrative tool that is far from perfect.
When you look on the production side of things, you note that people aren’t always very buttoned up about cue sheets. When no one is clear about what’s really going on, it can get really confusing on the back end when the producers have to report the song. Let’s say you have a song that is being represented by several different production libraries. Sometimes it’s hard to tell where it was grabbed from. Re-titling was really developed to assist PROs in tracking which party did which placements and then determine who gets the payment at the end.
I figured it was something like that. But I never realized the genesis of it.
It’s all because of non-exclusive deals. If there’s no sharing on the back end, there’s no reason for a production library to re-title. Most of the music production libraries out there that have non-exclusive deals and that also share a backend administrative fee will have a need to track it. A lot of artists have non-exclusives and are working with several libraries. It gets really confusing.
It is what it is. And most people know that it’s convoluted.
It really just comes down to the fact that it’s common among many of the music production libraries to re-title. And it’s really due to the fact that there are so many non-exclusive agreements.
As you’ve built up Uncensored Interview, have you discovered that non-musical content – interviews, stories, etc. – is valuable for artists? How have you seen this kind of content serve musicians?
The idea behind Uncensored Interview is to sit down with an artist or a band – and we’ve sat down with artists and bands on all different levels. For example, we sat down with Henry Rollins. But then we sat down with Margaret Cho, who is not necessarily known for her musical projects. And we also sat down with the up-and-coming bands you’d find in places like Pitchfork.
The questions we ask vary depending on who you’re talking to; because you always want to make whoever it is you’re talking to feel comfortable so they can actually be themselves. It’s video, so you can tell if it’s something that is media trained or rehearsed. We’re after catching those raw moments. What starts to happen after a while is that people start to talk about their experiences. And with any recap of an experience, there’s advice that comes out of that. What we find the most is that people who watch the videos that are also musicians themselves say, “Wow, that was a really great tip for touring. We should try to avoid those things,” or, “Sure, this band that I really feel influenced by get distracted too when they’re writing music. And here are what their issues are.” And what’s great too is to see the differences between different bands that you might classify in the same genre.
What we’ve noticed is the bands that really start to get that buzz and get those placements where they’re generating revenue may not be “famous.” But they’re constantly playing and constantly touring and really buttoned up on the back end. The rights are all sorted out. And the agreements are amongst members of the band if there are multiple writers. They understand that sync licensing is a business, and digital downloads and deals with streaming companies are a different business. Their expectations are set. And then, they’re present for those phone calls to use their music.
You’re somebody who knows exactly where this non-musical content goes, because you take footage of bands – some that are well known and some that are not very well known – and see where it has value. Is there any advice you could give to artists that want to put together, promote and use non-musical content?
There’s no shortage of videos of bands online. There are a lot of slice-of-life-type videos out there. I think that’s cool, especially if you’re a fan, because you end up feeling closer to your favorite artists. However, I think that content is somewhat disposable. I do think it’s helpful to do sit-down interviews. A lot of times you can garner fans just by virtue of who you are as a personality. They may love your music. But they could also love what you stand for, that’s just another in road into a fan base that might really like who you are.
There are ways to monetize that for sure. I think with band videos though, the value has to do with the question, “What do these video say?” What’s the message within a particular sound bite or clip? Is the artist commenting on politics, on his/her music or on the economy? Then, based on the content and context within that clip itself, it can actually be monetizable. What that is, is the building block towards another video piece that can show yet another vantage point. That one clip can tell a larger story.
That’s really the whole core concept of licensing and revenue based off a piece of compelling content. When you’re looking at how valuable it is, you have to first ask, “Who’s in it?” It could be someone that is not particularly famous. But if the person is talking about something that is relevant or something that is compelling in some way, it can make itself into a larger piece and there is value in the context or message. It can be something that’s newsworthy. It can be told in retrospect talking about a certain time from a certain vantage point. All of these elements add value to the clip.
Are there specific artists you’ve seen do this particularly well?
Amanda Palmer is pretty good at it. She gives a lot of really great sound bites about things that are newsworthy at the time of the interview. But she delivers them in a way that’s timeless. For example, if she was talking about Twitter, it matters now because Twitter is important now. But the overall message she’s giving is timeless because she’s saying she likes Twitter because it allows her to connect with her fans. So, whether Twitter is gone next year or not, she’s still talking about music trends and how through technology, artists have direct access to their fans now. And I think that concept and message is never going to change.
And with her, you’ll really see examples of different types of video. She does really high quality interviews as well as stuff that is more fan shot or handy-cam-type videos. She uses video really well. And that’s not that surprising given her roots are in visual performance art.
I know you’re also now working with Getty Images Music. What’s coming next with that?
Getty Images Music is doing a lot of great stuff.. We’re really just looking at music licensing as a whole and saying, “We’re not just one thing.” We’re lucky to have Pump Audio as a collection, which has really done a great job. It was the original crowd-sourced music model, if you think about it. They said, “Let’s get all the rights in one place and make it easy for content creators to license out music for different uses.” It’s a fantastic model. And I think that so many music production libraries are copying that. But Getty Images Music has done some great deals in addition to that with collections like Sony/ATV and Elias Arts.
We’re also partnered with a music production company called Ah2, which was founded by the two composers that compose for almost all of Mark Burnett’s shows – like The Biggest Loser, The Apprentice, etc. These guys pretty much created the “reality TV” sound. Their tracks are so special because not only do we have the original track but we also have stems, which come in handy for editors. Often times the original track may be too powerful for a scene, so with Ah2’s collection we offer different stem options so you can get the tracks with just drums or just the piano – no problem. Our deal with Ah2 is an exclusive deal and we get to be their sync licensing arm.
The world of music licensing is interesting, because there are all these little tools that help you get where you need to go. We’re finding now, with the economy the way it is, fewer and fewer companies out there are doing straight composition, where everything is composed end to end. A lot of hybrids are popping up. And this is a comfortable place for us to be, because not only do we have almost every kind of track and genre that fits the “production music library” label, but we also have cinematic score music, indie artists and bands, and we have music composition services.
And we have imagery and footage as well. For the indie band and artist that also contributes their music to our platform, that is a powerful trifecta. We’re trying to open up different distribution and marketing opportunities for indie artists just by incorporating these opportunities into our licensing model. This is additional promotion that is difficult for them to do themselves. In a way, we are crowd sourcing cleared compelling content in music, footage and photos to content producers and leaving it to these creators to do the tastemaking. What’s cool is these are not just producers or content creators at major media companies that could pick up your stuff; there’s a whole slew of semi-professional producers out there that are creating content and they know about licensing!
I think combining all these different elements together will push where media is going to go as a whole. There are a lot of stories to be told, and this is a fantastic new distribution model for a lot of artists that are looking for new ways to market themselves and their music.
Chris Castle is an attorney with Christian L. Castle Attorneys specializing in issues surrounding the traditional music industry, content-based technology and public policy. With offices in L.A. and San Francisco, he represents artists, producers, songwriters, record labels, music publishers, film studios and technology companies. He got his start in the music industry as a professional musician, working and playing with artists including Long John Baldry, Yvonne Elliman and Jesse Winchester and many others. Chris is an MBA/JD of the Anderson Graduate School of Management and the UCLA School of Law and is a magna cum laude graduate of UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Prior to founding his own firm in 2004, he was of counsel to Mitchell, Silberberg & Knupp in L.A. and to Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati in Palo Alto. He has also held several senior business affairs positions in the music industry.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Chris and talk about some important, current music-related legislation and how it will affect the music industry as well as some advice he has for DIY artists that want to get involved in managing their own rights.
Thanks so much for taking some time to talk to me, Chris. From the perspective of someone that knows digital distribution, music supervision and record deals as they relate to legal policy, which items are currently pending that you think will have the greatest impact on musicians going forward?
In the last year or so, the penny has kind of dropped in the U.S., the UK and France, though what is happening in U.S. Congress is most relevant for this conversation. There are certain things they need to do about regulating some of the bad actions that are going on online. And I don’t mean going after individual users, because all the laws you need to go after individual users are already in place. I’m talking about going after the people who make the big money from piracy online and have very involved structures by which to do that, also known as “rogue sites.” That includes search engines that don’t filter obvious piracy sources and sell advertising that supports pirate sites.
In the last Congress, Senators Leahy and Hatch introduced the first rogue sites bill (the Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act) that passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on a unanimous vote with all members present late in the session. Chairman Leahy introduced a successor to that bill called the Protect IP Act, which has been passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and is about to be introduced in the House.
The legislation is bitterly opposed by Google and Google is bringing its full lobbying weight to bear on stopping it, no doubt due to the financial losses staring them in the face. Because it’s hard to come right out and say they want to support theft and that they don’t care about musicians, film makers, songwriters, actors, grips and directors, Google attacks the solution that Congress is endorsing—of course, there is no effective solution that Google does like.
You can argue about unintended consequences when it comes to these rogue sites bills. But what these bills do is recognize that there are some real structural problems with the Internet that encourages piracy and inhibits a true market from developing. You have a lot of incentives for people to do really bad things. I think that realization on the part of the Congress has been a big step forward toward establishing market rules online that will help artists be successful.
The other realization that goes along with the recognizing the structural problems online is that we’re not seeing pirates in the historical sense of what we’re used to.
I’ve been in the business for a long time, and so have you. Online piracy is not some guy with a duplication plant in Santa Ana who deals a little coke on the side. Now it’s companies like Google. Google is very much involved with selling advertising on these rogue sites and splitting the profits with the pirates (made evident in the April House IP subcommittee hearing). And it’s like that great line in The Untouchables: “Everybody knows where the booze is, Mr. Ness.” It’s not a question of whether people at Google know what they’re doing, because they clearly do know. There are at least five cyberlockers with Google advertising that consistently are in the top 100 websites in the world. It’s just that they’re making so much money at it that they don’t want to give it up.
On a more positive note, I think we are finally seeing a real upswing in companies like Topspin, etc. There’s a site called Patronism.com, which is a cross between Facebook and Kickstarter for artists. And of course then there’s Kickstarter, where artists are able to go out and raise money – crowd funding that actually does work. You’re starting to see resources appear online where artists can get a pretty long way down the path without having to get into 360 deals, etc. early on in their careers. I think that’s encouraging.
And then the next problem after that, which nobody has really cracked yet is the lock on radio that major labels have. I don’t if anybody is ever going to solve that. But there are a lot of ways to get to the fan now that don’t involve telecommunications-related mass media.
What is your assessment of the class action lawsuit that has been brought against the major labels for digital payment issues?
The class action is a follow on to what’s referred to as the “Eminem Case” even though Eminem isn’t really a part of it himself. It’s the case where people are saying that the royalties for digital have been miscalculated under specific contracts and industry practice, and that it should’ve been a 50-50 split vs. a royalty rate.
First of all, I don’t think the class actions are necessarily going to be the best vehicle for addressing this issue because mostly because of what class action lawsuits require in order to go forward; you have to have common facts, common interests and a bona fide class representative, etc.
It’s also important for artists to understand that if a class is certified in one of these cases (like the one against Universal) then unless artists expressly opt out of the class, they are bound by the decision. Which is nice if the class wins, but not so nice if the class loses and you never not your day in court.
I think it is going to be very hard to certify a meaningful class because, not because of anything nefarious, but because the artist deals are not the same. For example, with Eminem, it was really a production deal, not an direct artist deal. So, if they had tried to bring that as a class action – and I wouldn’t be surprised if they had thought about that – I don’t know how it would’ve worked out, because there are relatively few production deals compared to direct artist deals.
I would also point out that there’s a bit of tree-ring aging that goes along with analyzing the relevant contracts for the class. I used to work at A&M, and I can tell you from having gone through many years of looking through old contracts in the file room that there were distinct points in time when the way things were addressed changed on many of the forms. And I think that’s not just true at A&M; it applies to all labels that have been around for a while.
If you’re talking about contracts that were entered into after about 2000 or so – when the labels started clearing large quantities of their catalogues for digital – most of the time business affairs people went through an amendment process that was very similar to what they went through with CDs. In fact, some people may have used the CD amendments as something of a model for digital.
If you were an artist they wanted to put on iTunes or through Pressplay or MusicNet/MediaNet and your contract was messy on the digital exploitation rights, they would go to you as an artist and offer you a more or less favored nations deal. Artists would have to sign those amendments or they didn’t get on iTunes. Most of those deals were fairly generous from a label point of view, usually something like paying the album rate for digital single tracks with no packaging and no new media deductions as the standard. Over time, the demand for back catalog on digital services was so intense that people may have gotten sloppy with getting these amendments, and that’s who the class action lawyers will be looking for.
The artists who are going to have the most play in this kind of litigation are probably going to be the people who signed before about 1990. That’s a pretty deep catalog. Those guys might be able to piece together a class that can get certified. But I really think it’s going to be tough.
This is not to say that a significant catalog artist shouldn’t pick up the phone and call their old label to see about renegotiating their old deals for digital. This is the kind of thing that works well when combined with an audit claim or a 35-year termination.
While I’m going over current topics, what do you think will be the ultimate impact of the publishers settling with YouTube?
That’s a very interesting piece. I will tell you that there are a lot of stakeholders in that situation that read about it for the first time in the newspaper. They were somewhat surprised and are unclear as to what the basis of that decision is.
If you read the press release from the Harry Fox Agency (HFA) – and that’s the only thing written I’ve seen so far – it looks as if the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA) and a handful of publishers were party to the class action lawsuit brought by the Premier League and others against Google that is a companion case to the Viacom litigation. It appears that these publishers released their claims. Viacom is still litigating their case and the class action is going forward, apparently without the NMPA and these publishers.
The short answer is, I can’t really tell what was dismissed and the settlement agreement has not been posted. But it looks to me is that the NMPA, which doesn’t own any copyrights, dismissed their claim against Google, whatever it was, as did the specific publishers mentioned in the HFA press release. But that’s only four or five publishers. So, I’m not really sure what it all means. And then the HFA is also offering a license on undisclosed terms that looks like a standard HFA opt-in structure. So, it says, “If you want to grant a license to YouTube prospectively, let us know.” HFA haven’t posted the terms but would have to tell any HFA publisher principal who wanted to participate.
I have heard that YouTube has what I would call a close to pathological level of secrecy about the terms of their deals. Like anyone in the music business can keep a secret. That’s kind of funny.
I guess it just doesn’t surprise me that the specifics of the deal have not been made public. But in this country, I don’t see how that’s going to stay quiet for very long, because that will have to go out with all the opt-ins. They will likely not say, “Opt into this deal, but we’re not going to tell you what the terms are” however much Google would like that.
Plus, HFA acts as an agent for their publisher principals, so they’ll have to disclose the terms.
What appears to have happened is that the publishers just walked away from the lawsuit, let the past go uncompensated and agreed to a deal prospectively for the future. I don’t really think that’s so great, personally. I don’t think it’s a good idea to sue somebody and then drop your case for no compensation. If you’re going to go to the trouble of suing someone, you should stay in.
Google seems to like its class actions as anyone who has followed Google Books or Google Buzz will know. Google likes to get rid of liability through what appears to be a “prepackaged class action” that limits the amount Google has to pay and gives Google a prospective license. That angle failed miserably in the Google Books case because they tried to make a prospective license part of the class action settlement. (Class actions are designed to deal with retrospective harm, not prospective licenses.) But what they failed to do by settlement they maybe can accomplish by prospective contract.
Does this mean that a large number of publishers have walked away from potential performance royalties? I don’t know whether or not ASCAP or BMI had deals in place, but it seems there would be performance royalties out there somewhere that haven’t yet been claimed.
This situation is really about sync licenses, not performances.
It’s interesting, because I interviewed an artist named David Choi, who has 95 million upload views on YouTube. And he said he never got a single check as a result from his PRO.
And that doesn’t surprise me. The YouTube people are interesting, because they are sending checks. When I talk to label people, I hear that the YouTube checks have gotten a lot bigger if you’re a major. But paying off people who can sue them is the way Google has approached many aspects of their business, including the recent payment to the U.S. Government over Google’s sale of advertising for illegal drugs.
Frankly, until iTunes had been around for a couple years, iTunes approached it similarly; if you were an independent, you got a reduced rate on your wholesale price. That didn’t last very long and iTunes has been great with independents ever since. But YouTube and Google have approached their business model the same way.
I was at a NARM panel a few months ago in L.A. where Sami Valkonen, who is now the international music licensing person for Google Music (whatever that is, because no one knows what that program is yet) confirmed that Google approaches it that way in front of a room full of indies. He said, “All I have to do is go out there and get a few of the big guys. If I get two or three of those, the rest will fall in line.” The indies in the room had a good laugh about that later.
But that’s the way Google thinks of it. So, as far as Google is concerned, if you’re an independent artist that doesn’t have a big label supporting you or someone to whom they’ve paid a lot of money for a license, they’re not that interested in negotiating with you and want you to take what is often called the “hillbilly deal.”
There is also a kind of unholy alliance that goes on in this kind of situation that could explain why an artist wouldn’t get a check: When YouTube makes a deal with a major, there’s an assumption that they will account. So, they’ll pay the major label. And I think the early checks were relatively pretty large – in the $30-$50 million range. Part of that was a settlement, and part was an advance on the catalog. If you are a major, it won’t take you that long – even at the absurdly low rate that YouTube seems to be paying – to recoup that advance at the label level.
So when the advance is recouped Google have to actually start paying checks again. Also, along the way, they have to render statements to the label that show the activity, because the label then is supposed to credit that portion of the advance attributable to the artist’s share of those performances to the artist.
And I’m sure that hazy accounting gets very interesting there, because you wonder if they are really cutting checks for seven cents.
And that’s the thing. YouTube has an incentive to send just enough not to get in trouble. And the labels don’t really want to deal with accounting that is too good, because the worse the accounting, the less money they actually have to pay out to third parties, like artists. And those third parties include producers too. I guess there might be some video directors that would get a percentage too, though not many.
Hazy accounting is nothing new in the record business. Because this YouTube lawsuit is not about performance royalties, rather about synchronization fees, does this mean that people walked away from all the synchronization fees they were owed prior to this settlement and then struck a deal going forward?
It looks that way. But if you read that HFA press release, it’s not clear whether or not there is any money being paid. And if I’m Google, I don’t think I’d want to pay those guys a penny, because as far as I’m concerned, I won the case and this appeal business is just periphery. Google even tells governments throughout the world, “Oh no, we won the YouTube case.” Even though it’s on appeal.
So, for them to pay money to anyone who is still in on the appeal to knock them out is probably not something they want to do, because they don’t want to set the precedent. So, I would doubt whether any money actually changed hands at all. And the license is prospective.
That’s amazing. As much as all this policy interesting, it doesn’t trickle down to the DIY artists, because they’re not necessarily getting paid now, and it doesn’t look like they’ll be paid then either.
That’s right (unless you get your little share of advertising that Google sells on your You Tube “partner” page). And here’s the dynamic that’s also at work out there that’s the counter balance to the good news: they try to turn artists against their record companies, music publishers, and unions. The reason? Google would much prefer dealing with artists who were not able to strike back and as much as artists may have a bone to pick with labels, publishers and unions, that’s a bone better picked in private. Does anyone really believe that Google has their best interests at heart, or is it more likely that Google would prefer their artists served up alone, powerless and broke?
What do all these artist organizations have in common? They are places where artists come together to bargain collectively, because it gives them greater leverage. And of course, these companies don’t like that. Lawrence Lessig, the academic who has had a huge influence on Google and its executive team, has a real problem with the societies.
When largely non-union companies like Google who have no experience with collective bargaining at all try to undermine the artists and go around their representatives and natural allies, they undermine the one last bastion artists and creators have to stand up to people.
So, Google would like to avoid anything that doesn’t scale, and they would love to avoid the labels, the publishers and the societies. And it should not be overlooked that Google no doubt sees itself as occupying the space of these “intermediaries” because Google wants to organize the world’s information whether the world likes it or not.
Which organizations does that include, specifically?
ASCAP, BMI, AFM, AFTRA, etc. To further illustrate my previous point, something came up the other day. Sirius is going around trying to make deals with indie labels to pay them their artists’ share and union share of money that would otherwise go to SoundExchange, which is another organization that is viewed as a middle man. Well, that completely screws the artist and completely screws the unions. And these unions have a side deal with the majors that even if the majors did do a direct license for works that would otherwise be licensed through SoundExchange, the majors will not take that money and apply it against un-recouped balances.
The reason these companies are going to the indies is because they can’t get any traction with the major labels, because the major labels already have agreements in place not to enter into these types of deals. So, how is SiriusXM your friend at that point above your union or your label? They aren’t. That’s not to say you don’t ever have problems with your unions or your label, but that’s your business. What Sirius, etc. is trying to do is turn the labels against the artists and the artists against the labels. And it’s a constant push and pull that really just ends up with huge companies like Sirius and Google making more money by reducing what the creators get.
My problem with YouTube is that when the day comes when they only have content that they’re authorized to have and when they’ve paid for everything that’s already on there, then we can talk about how great it is for artists. There’s a reason why there are no music deals for the Google Music service: No one trusts them. That’s the bottom line, and they’re really trying to come back from that.
Once this Protect IP Act starts in the House, I think it’s going to be a real eye opener in terms of just how deep this goes.
And what’s at the crux of the Protect IP Act?
Are you familiar with cyber locker sites like RapidShare?
Yes. You can basically Google anything.rar and you get it. Megaupload is another one.
Correct. The way those guys make money is they charge for faster access but also publish advertising served by third parties like Google. So, if you have an account with Megaupload and set up a mirror site as an individual, Megaupload will reward you for the number of uploads and downloads with points that actually become money at some point that come through your account: Web 2.0 for pirates.
I never understood why people were so willing to upload on there when there wasn’t any take. I didn’t realize there was an incentive.
Megaupload actually writes a check. And this is all on the Megaupload site. If you look at the memberships, it’s all laid out there. It’s pretty sanitized, so they never tell you what you’re being paid to do, except download from your account or upload to them. They have a direct commercial relationship with their user.
But then, in addition to that – and this is where the real money is – if you have a mirror site, they give you a link back to the locker that has the content in it. What you’re hosting on the mirror site is just the link; you don’t host the file itself. The file is on Megaupload. When a user goes to the mirror site and clicks on that link that takes you to the Megaupload site, a popup will come up. It usually comes up twice, and a user can dismiss it to get directly to the site. If you look at that popup, it has ads on it. And those ads are very often served by Google AdSense. If you want to learn more about this, go to popuppirates.com, which is a site that’s written by a friend of mine named Ellen Seidler, who is an independent filmmaker. Ellen has researched this system into the ground, and she even has videos about it. I didn’t fully understand the concept myself until I saw Ellen’s site.
But, Google then splits the money with the pirate. And Google will tell you, “Oh no. We verify all these accounts.” They do, but they allow you to change the URL once it’s approved. This same kind of functionality is what got the attention of the U.S. Attorney in the ongoing Google drugs case and resulted in a $500 million fine and now a shareholder derivative lawsuit for a very narrow category of their Adsense business.
So when the cyberlocker asks for an account, Google Adsense has a human check out the URL where Google is told the advertising will be served (which is not the ultimate URL that the cyberlocker intends to use), make sure that the fake site complies with their supposed rules, all a bit nod nod wink wink if you read the Google drugs plea agreement. They give the cyberlocker a code, so Google knows who to pay the ad revenue on this site, they know who he is and know who to pay based on what happens, whether it’s a click-through or an impression. Up to this point, they are just like all the other ad serving companies.
The difference is that once the cyberlocker gets the account set up, with most of the other companies, the cyberlocker change the URL without going through the same process over again. That would catch any shenanigans.
With AdSense, you can change the URL after you have been approved, and they typically don’t check the new URL. So, if I’m Megaupload and set up a website “Dimitri’s Kittens and Sunshine,” I get my AdSense account and then the next day, I can change it to Megaupload. And nobody at Google will say, “My goodness. There sure are a lot of kittens and sunshine on Dimitri’s account.” They just serve the ads and make the money.
And it’s a lot of money. They’re in pretty deep trouble right now for selling ads. They were selling ads for illegal drugs that were being sold online – like Canadian drugs, etc. – and the DOJ just announced that Google paid the biggest forfeiture in US history–$500 million. So, if just that little narrow slice of the advertising pie is $500 million, imagine what they make from copyright infringement. It’s really a lot of money. And everyone gets paid except the creator. And that’s what Protect IP is really about.
Is there anything the little guy can do?
The thing the little guy can do with all this legislation going on, that’s really more important than anyone might think, is call their congressman, particularly if their congressman has a leadership opposition (like Ohio, which is where Boehner is from) or you live someplace that people don’t associate with the music business, i.e., outside the centers.
Congressmen need to hear about it from everybody because it’s a jobs issue. The fundamental question is why should we treat bad behavior differently online than offline? No one would question an artist’s right to call 911 if their car was being stolen, but some people would like to keep the artist from being able to call 911 if their life’s work is being stolen. That distinction will not stand.
There’s an impression in the Congress, which is validly obtained but not actually valid. People think that if they don’t have a big entertainment center in their district, they don’t have to listen. But that’s not true. Members like Lamar Smith (Austin congressman who is chair of House Judiciary) understands this very well and has been a great champion of artist rights even though he’s not from New York.
We had some artists from Austin who did a video about what has happened to them, and the voices could literally have been from any part of our country. Members need to hear from their constituents about why this legislation is important to them. That’s not going to make you any money in the short run, but it definitely does help the cause.
On a certain level, we’re all in the same boat, from the big studios, to the little filmmakers, to the major record company, to the independent label, artist or songwriter. There is one copyright law for everyone and it is not being respected.
It’s not like the big guys are suddenly going to get rich if this bill passes. It’s going to start the process of establishing market rules online. The Brits have done it, the French have done it; more and more countries are doing this kind of thing.
The other thing people can do is do things like what Ellen Seidler did and keep track of their experiences with the DMCA. Eventually there will come a time when people are going to say that the DMCA just doesn’t work. There are two pieces to Ellen’s site. One is her analysis of how this advertising thing works. The other is a discussion about her experiences with sending out DMCA notices, particularly to Google, and the singular non-responsiveness of these people.
Also, go to SoundExchange and make sure you’re registered. If you’re a songwriter, make sure you’re with ASCAP and BMI and keeping track yourself of where your music is used. And be respectful of other people’s rights, so when the time comes for you to step up, you can say you tried to do it the right way.
Finally, only let people post your music on licensed sites. The individual artist has to take some responsibility for this too. If the purpose of DIY is to start controlling more and more of your world, what goes along with that is enforcing your rights. And when people start enforcing rights on their own, lawmakers need to understand that going up against the power of the Internet mob is really, really hard to do alone.
People of good will can never let the mob win.
To learn more about Chris Castle and the services he provides to the music community, check out the Christian L. Castle Attorneys website.
Bill Wilson is Vice President of Digital Strategy and Business Development for the National Association of Recording Merchandisers (NARM), the #1 trade association for professionals in the music industry. For almost 20 years, Bill ran Blackout Records in New York City, which originated as a label for hardcore bands and was responsible for putting out albums by bands including Guided by Voices and H2O. He has also worked at a variety of other independent labels and distributors, such as Relativity Records, Caroline Distribution and Earache Records and was an A&R consultant for MCA Records in the 1990s. In 2001, Bill started working with internet start-ups and throughout the 2000s has acted as Director of Business Development for several music marketing and research companies. He currently runs NARM’s Digital Think Tank, designed to address issues surrounding enterprise-level digital music commerce. He is an active member of many music industry organizations, such as the American Association of Independent Music (A2IM)’s New Media Committee and speaks regularly about the digital space at CMJ, South by Southwest, Bandwidth, New Music Seminar and many other industry events.
Recently, Bill shared 10 valuable insights about what it takes to launch a music-based business in the climate of the modern music industry:
- Know the Animal You’re Dealing With.As a mature business, the music industry can be terribly confusing, but it’s necessary to understand the players if you want to do business as an artist or a startup. Educate yourself on the industry food chain, and understand where your product or service fits in.
- “Two for One” = Two Clearances for Every Song.If you plan on using a pre-recorded song from a signed artist, make sure you have clearance from the two main rights-owners – usually the label and publisher, but sometimes the artist themselves.
- Yes, You Need to Track Them Down. In the age of the internet, there’s no excuse for not doing due diligence on who owns what, and there’s no indemnification for ignorance of copyright law.
- But There’s Help. Resources to find out publishing info/to see who owns the recordings include Rightsflow and the Harry Fox Agency and any retailer like Amazon or iTunes.
- “Fair Use” is Not Fail Safe. “Fair Use” is a list of potential defenses for copyright infringement, not a clearly-defined right. It’s a term that gets misused a lot and a grey area that must be adjudicated in the courts … and that is expensive. So if you want to go that route, be prepared for a long war of attrition with deep, deep pockets and a strong possibility of losing … or get the licenses.
- “It’s Cool” is Not A Business Model.When approaching a large content aggregator like a major label, understand they don’t care how cool you are. They need to take care of their needs and won’t disintermediate or undercut customers that drive their revenue.
- It Still Comes Down to “Sex, Drugs & Money.”These three things are key to obtaining a license. Well, not literally. It means: your app or product needs to have real sizzle and marketing oomph behind it (sex), it must be a “sticky” or addictive, repeat experience for the customer (drugs) and of course, it must provide a real, scalable revenue opportunity ($$$).
- Mind Your Ps and Qs … Literally.Metadata – the data around a particular track – is more important now than it ever has been. Names need to be spelled correctly and consistently, songs need to be titled properly, correct release dates and label information must be applied. Collecting and matching collateral contextual information such as liner notes, lyrics, photos and more are also becoming increasingly important to the products of the future, as well as information about how it was recorded: producer, studio, etc. It’s not just the music, it’s all the information that surrounds it – which you can curate yourself – that creates value.
- Context is King. Artist? Album name? Song title? Music isn’t just about those three things. There’s a story in who produced the album, side musicians, additional songwriters and other information. Artists in the studio need to keep track of these details because the products will be based on deeper and deeper levels of information. A picture isn’t just pretty; it’s a wealth of information that can be used to drive people to an artist. Who’s in that picture? What are they playing? What are they wearing? Amazing discovery experiences such as the 955 Dreams History Of Jazz App on the iPad use artist context to build immersive apps that lead to content purchase.
- Rome Was Not Built in A Day … But a Modular Home Can Be. If you’re looking for speed to market, you may want to look to see what APIs are in the marketplace that could apply to your business to get up and running quickly without additional licensing hassles. You need to weigh this against the benefits of having control of your own relationships with the providers of the music and related information.
To learn more about Bill Wilson and the work he does, visit the NARM website.
Rich Bengloff has been the President of the American Association of Independent Music (A2IM) since January of 2007. Rich has been in the music and entertainment industry for past 20 years and has worked at both music labels and music distributors and at both independent (RED, Combat/Relativity/In Effect) and major music companies (Sony Music and Warner Music) as well as WNYC Radio, where he was a senior level operations and financial executive. Rich’s perspective on the music – particularly the indie music – industry has been frequently published in both trade journals, magazines and websites including Billboard, FMQB, etc. and consumer print and digital publications the New York Times, Hypebot, Huffington Post, Daily Tech, etc.). Rich also is often called on to be a panel moderator/speaker at events such as CMJ, Digital Music Forum East, Midem, SXSW and the inaugural International Creative Industries Summit in Shanghai, China in 2009. Rich has an MBA from Columbia University and, is an adjunct professor of Communications and Media Management at the Fordham University Graduate School Of Business teaching the introduction to the music industry course and also teaches the annual NARM/A2IM music business crash course. He also serves as a board member representing the Independent music label community on the boards of the SoundExchange and the Alliance of Artists and Recording Companies (“AARC”).
Recently, I got to sit down with Rich and talk about the mission of A2IM and some advice he has for artists who are trying to build successful careers in the DIY space.
Thanks so much for taking some time to talk to me, Rich. From your vantage point as the president of your organization, can you tell me a little bit about A2IM and its mission?
A2IM just celebrated its sixth anniversary. And there was a pre-formation period, so it’s probably been around for six-and-a-half, to seven years. There were prior organizations called NAIRD, which was a combination of independent labels and independent distributors. But most of the independent distributors are gone now. So that’s almost a moot point. NAIRD was followed by an organization called AFIM, which went out of business in 2002 or 2003. It was not as policy oriented. A2IM was formed in 2005 and got started in 2006 to do three things: advocacy; commerce; member services. But the fundamental was that we had all these barriers to access in the past, and the organization was formed to make sure we didn’t have these barriers to access in the future. That was the main reason. We can call up Apple if we find out we’re getting 67 cents instead of 70 cents, like everyone else is getting on a 99-cent download, and say, “Hey, that’s not fair. Why are our copyrights worth any less than anyone else’s copyrights? Do the right thing.” And Apple has been unbelievably kind to the independent community in terms of parity.
I did a computation the other day and figured out missing out on those three cents is worth 100 million dollars. That’s the difference of us getting a 70-percent share of the download as opposed to a 67-percent share of the download. If you take iTunes volume and multiply it by three cents, both the artist community as well as the label community (the recording side of the industry) – that money getting split between the labels and the artists at 70 percent, and not even including the money that needs to go to the publisher – is over 100 million dollars. It’s a pretty big number. It’s split up among a lot of people, but it’s still 100 million dollars.
That’s how A2IM got started, to make sure that everyone has access – whether it be access to promote, access to monetize or any other access. It’s a non-profit organization – a 501(c)6. No one here makes big salaries. It’s run on behalf of members by members. You can go up on our website and see who is on our Board of Directors. It’s elected on three-year staggered terms. Three or four new board members come up each year. There are term limits to make sure we’re fresh ideas and are a good forum for discussion. That’s important to us. A2IM does a lot of advocacy, and if you go to our website, you can see some of the work we do. Sometimes we’re with the artist groups, sometimes we’re with the major labels, sometimes we’re with ourselves. And sometimes we’re all together, like with the FM royalty we’re trying to get related to the Performance Right Act. It’s been stalled a little bit. But everyone else in the world gets paid when their artists get played on the radio except for the United States. And when I say the rest of the world, there’s the Organization for Cooperative Economic Development with 40 countries. 39 of them have a royalty for the sound recording owner and artist when it’s played on the radio. We’re the only country that doesn’t.
If that went through, would that fall under SoundExchange, or would that be a new organization that would administer those?
Probably. I’m a SoundExchange Board member, and I think the answer would be yes, but it would depend on the government. They would decide if they would use the existing organization or set up a new organization to administer it. But it would be a statutory amount, so it would most likely be administered by a government-directed organization. And given that SoundExchange exists, I would presume it would be SoundExchange.
How have you seen the concept of “access” in the music industry change during your 20-year career?
It’s been a dozen years now in terms of what is known as the “Digital Era,” because I guess most people use Napster as the kickoff, and that launched in 1999. I don’t necessarily agree with that. If you did say it’s been a dozen years now, I’d say the great thing that’s happened – and it’s become more and more prevalent – is that access is great. You used to have all these barriers to entry for indie labels as well as indie artists. You couldn’t get shelf space on the floor; you couldn’t get your music played on the radio. There were issues with old media and old commerce. The great thing today is that there is access for all. You can put your music up on CDBaby and sell it both digitally and physically. You can get your music up on certain websites, whether they be on demand services or streaming services. That’s a wonderful thing. You have all this access, and that’s the good news.
The bad news is that everyone has access. So, everybody is up selling their music and trying to monetize it. Everyone is up trying to promote their music, so it’s really difficult to stand out in a crowd.
That segues to what I considered the biggest event of the past 12 years, which was the closing of Tower Records five years ago. Before that happened, every city had a location where you could find your music. They carried a wide selection and back catalogue, whether you were world music, jazz or reggae. Virgin was still around, and there was Borders and also Barnes and Noble. And now even those have shifted quite a bit. In terms of retail, there as a dramatic change.
The second thing that happened was, we did this thing with the FCC about radio access. There was a consent decree against four major radio groups. There were also these rules of engagement that these four radio groups were supposed to follow in terms of giving everyone access. All A2IM did on that one was shoot ourselves on the foot. Their reaction to that was just to shrink the playlists even more, because they were afraid of regulatory ramifications if they didn’t give certain access to whoever it is that the government decided should have access. A2IM was one of the organizations that spearheaded that radio initiative.
I got a call from a member probably March of 2007 – that’s when the radio court case happened. And of course, Tower had closed in 2006. He said, “Listen, I have nowhere to sell my music anymore, and I can’t get any radio play. I just don’t know what to do.” And that was when I started to focus on the idea that there was a new economy now. This artist that called me was not really old, but he was someone that had been in the business for a while. And I realized we really needed to reeducate our people.
And how have you responded to this need for a re-education of artists to help them navigate the new climate of the music industry?
What happened after that member called to ask is that we started to put out a series of white papers. We have the Independent Music Label Roadmap, and we’ve done it in New York City and Los Angeles and Nashville and at events like NARM. While NARM happened to be in L.A., members from across the country attended that event. And that’s the conference where say, “These are the best practices.”
So, to help educate that member and other members like him, we also have white papers that are created for members by our larger members – people like Windup Records or Razor & Tie. What they do is teach our members how to do email marketing, direct to fan or how to use all the other social networks. And then after you’re using all the social networks they teach you how to use Google Analytics for free, or something better like Next Big Sound if you’re a bigger label and can afford that kind of thing. In the old days, you used to look at your marketing, and if you broke the band Jet, you would sit there and say, “Half our marketing worked. I really wish I knew which half worked.” Now there’s no gatekeeper between us and the audience in many cases. You know what your cost-per-click is if you’re doing something on the internet. You have a much better idea – and it’s not 100 percent, but it’s certainly better than in the old days – about what worked and what didn’t work. You know what resulted in good promotion and what did not, what resulted in good monetization and what didn’t. That’s very important.
You must be in a unique position to observe the independent label environment overall. Is that business expanding, shrinking or changing? Are the perils of staying in business the same as they used to be for the independent labels?
Our numbers are way up. Even with Roadrunner being acquired by Warner and Univision being acquired by Universal over the last three or four years, which is three percent of the business, we’re still over 30 percent of the business and over 38% of digital, which you’ll be able to read online on Billboard.biz in the coming weeks.
There was an op-ed piece I wrote back in February called Being Counted. What happened was, independent labels did really well at the Grammys this year.
I should take this opportunity to ask, because it’s really so confusing when it comes to who has a distribution deal, etc. As a label, at which point are you still considered independent?
That Being Counted piece speaks to that a little bit. “Independent” means you own your record label. So, Mike Curb owns our member Curb Records, even though it’s distributed by Warner Music. Normal Lear owns Concord Records, even though it’s distributed by Universal. Cliff and Craig of Razor & Tie own Razor & Tie, even though it’s distributed by Sony.
From the outside looking in, who is really “independent” can be difficult to determine.
Yeah, and think about it – why should a distribution agreement of limited duration determine whether something is independent or not? If you want to do a distribution chart, I have no problem with that. But, because I happen to use this distributor, do we have a chart by publicist or a chart by an independent promoter? No. These are all outside services which people contract. The people I just mentioned all believe they own their own label. What makes it even more bizarre is a lot of those people have direct digital deals; they have direct deals with iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, etc. They are still included in the majors even though that is not covered by the majors. That concept seems bizarre, because they actually don’t even service that part of the business, and they’re not in it. An “independent” as far as we’re concerned is one where a person owns a majority of the label. How they choose to distribute or publish it are just services that can be bought from anybody.
Well, the division between what is a label owner and an artist and an entrepreneur and an artist has virtually gone away.
To a degree, I agree with you. We have probably 30-40 label members who are artist-owned labels. Some like Burning Spear in Queens. Spear and his wife Sonia run their label out of their house in Queens, and it’s just the artist. Others have evolved over time, whether it be Righteous Babe or Joan Jett, or the Hanson Brothers. They’re the center piece of their label, but they also house other artists.
I assume a majority of the people you coach is artists and not labels.
The people who read this blog are usually people who recognize they’ve been thrown overboard into the Atlantic and there is no help coming, so rather than getting good at screaming, they’re getting good at swimming. Knowing which perils an independent label faces and what that climate looks like is extraordinarily important to them.
And what advice would you give to DIY artists trying to manage their careers now that everyone has such easy access? How can artists get their music out there?
I would say to remember that there are different phases to your career. When I run into artists, they see our little tan cards at events, and they say, “Gee, who’s this from?” And then they’ll come over. And some think that A2IM is a record label, and I dissuade them. And then they ask me to introduce them to members, which I don’t do.
But the artists I run into do ask, “What should I do?” And I say, “What have you done so far?” And the answer is usually that they went somewhere and pressed up 500 CDs. And then they get excited and say, “And I’ve sold 125 of them already.” And I say, “That’s great. How many of those weren’t to your aunt, uncle, best friend, etc., and what are you going to do with the other 375?”
And to other younger artists I run into who say they’ve pressed some CDs and sold a few, I usually also then say, “Do you have an email list?” And they usually say they do, and they use it only to tell fans about their shows. And then I ask them if they ever sell their fans any music or give any away for free. And then I say, “Why don’t you send each person on your list a free download?” And the artist will say, “Yeah. I have some B-sides from the album we put out.” And I say, “No. You only have one chance to make a good impression.”
If you are young artist and looking to send a free download to fans, you want to send them your best cut. Send them the very best track from your new album and say, “Listen, I’d really appreciate it if you’d send this track to 10 of your friends.” You think you have an email list of 500 people, but you probably only have 100. And maybe of those 100, you can get 50 of them to send it to ten of their friends. And you can tell them that if three of their friends email you back and ask for a second track, you’ll send them plus those three friends a second track for free. And now you have a list of 500-700. And that’s a good list.
At what point in his/her career would being on a label be advantageous for a DIY artist?
Once you have 500-700 people on your mailing list, you have people who really care; you’ve created a viral street team. At that point in your career, you probably don’t want to be signed to a label or be that focused on monetizing your music. And you also want to keep your day job and not overexpose yourself with too many shows. Get yourself and your unique selling proposition going to a certain level. And once you get to the next level up from that, you’re going to need an agent and a publicity group behind you to make sure that when you have a show and you’re traveling, you’re doing it reasonably. So, if you live in the New York City area, you would just start out by doing the Northeast quarter and staying at friends’ houses. You can do a show in New England, New York, Philly and maybe as far south as D.C.
But at a certain point, you might need a label to make sure people come out to those shows and to deal with the promoters. And the label can say to promoters, “I’m behind the artist. Maybe you want to do something with this artist. And I’m also going to do an in-store at the record store in that particular city, and I’m going to bring them around and get some online and print press about their shows to let people know. I have an email list of X amount.” And if the label happens to be a brand as well, you can email people on that list as well and potentially sign some new people up.
For example, what Daniel Glass has done is brilliant. He took his Phoenix relationship and applied it to The Temper Trap. I don’t know if you’ve heard them, but they’re fabulous. Phoenix begat The Temper Trap, The Temper Trap begat Mumford and Sons. It almost becomes like bands helping bands within a label, which if you’re by yourself, you don’t get. You get help with touring, your music, etc. That’s the beauty of a label: You have stable mates, so to speak. You have people with relationships and expertise to bring you to the next level. And you don’t have to be with a major label to get to that level anymore, as witnessed by Vampire Weekend last year. You look at the charts, and there are as many indie artists there as there are major label artists. It’s really deep.
And even in the DIY community, you hear a lot of names over and over again. For example, Corey Smith is making a living touring, and he is one of the non-mega stars. It’s not like Trent Reznor or Amanda Palmer, who have made DIY careers for themselves but used to have major label support with other very popular bands. Corey Smith is a real DIY artist, though I find it interesting that he just signed with a label.
But there are different stages to your career, so I’m not dissing anybody. Our member Big Machine was able to break Taylor Swift, and whether Universal or Jeff McClusky did the independent promotion is irrelevant. Again, the label just bought a service; they did the work within their own mechanism. It was just to get the crossover to Top 40 at a certain point. Everything else was done by Big Machine. And I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with going to CDBaby. I think it’s a wonderful way to start to get your music out there.