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.
State of the Music Industry Pt. 1
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 is one of the main executives who has revived the New Music Seminar. I was grateful he took the time to speak with me. Please check the bottom of this post – Tom was kind enough to offer my readers a code for two for one admission to the L.A. New Music Seminar coming up on February 1st & 2nd.
Tom, you have a unique worldview given your history and current position in entertainment. Tell me what you’re seeing out there. Some of the statistics I saw at New York’s New Music Seminar are a little daunting. What is the reality for the aspiring artist these days?
Last Thursday, the new 2009 statistics came out from SoundScan. I’ll go over the most recent things because that just came out. Interestingly enough, and this is what we’ve been identifying at the New Music seminar is that overall music sales are up by 2.1% — 1.545 billion sales were made. That includes physical, digital, singles, albums, everything, video, music video. Total album sales including digital are down 12.7%. Digital tracks are up 8.3%, which is pretty great considering everyone is saying digital is leveling off, and I find that to be a hype. The percentage of increase is slowing down, but that’s because it’s a numerator/denominator thing. The actual amount — the number of additional units was almost 100 million more digital tracks sold this year than the year before, and 100 million is nothing to laugh at.
When you want to talk about vinyl, it’s up 33% and it went from 1.88 million to 2.5 million; so, the increase on that was about 700,000. Full-length digital albums are up 16%, but then again they started at only 65.8 million, so they’re only up to 76 million. The interesting trend we follow at the seminar also is the ratio of singles to album sales; In 2004 there were virtually no singles sales- it was all albums. Last year there were 2.5 times as many digital download singles as albums, physical and digital combined. This year it’s moved to 3.1 times as many, so look to see the ratio of singles to albums to increase. A lot of this comes from the radio hits. What’s happening is that where the major labels play, they’re getting marginalized faster than the indies and the smaller artists. We identified that the Top 10 has dropped 65-70% since 2000, probably 70% as of this year. If you just take records that sold over a quarter of a million that’s down 65%; but if you take records that sold under 10,000 it’s only down three or four percent.
I don’t recall the exact figure but I heard the number of albums that went platinum in 2009 was frighteningly low.
There weren’t that many. In 2008 there were only 112 that sold over a quarter of a million. So if you think that the major labels only make money – they can’t justify their existence at the size they are on records that sell over a quarter of a million. A good part of those records that sell over a quarter of a million they hoped would sell over a million or two million, and only sold a half a million or less. So they overspent on them and didn’t make money on them. So those 112 records are the only records they could make money on at all. Probably 25-50% of those didn’t make money either. So only 60 releases make money, and the amount of money they make except for maybe four or five giants hits – the Lady Gaga and Black Eyed Peas level of hits – aren’t really making significant money. In the old days, one hit used to pay for 20 stiffs. Now one hit doesn’t even pay for one stiff.
Depending on what’s spent, one hit doesn’t always pay for one hit.
Exactly. Half of those 112 didn’t even make money or broke even. To sell 300,000 albums and not make money? That’s not a good thing. It’s because they were hoping to sell 600,000 or 700,000 or 800,000. The labels are getting more cautious. So here’s what’s happening, and this is what we discuss at NMS. There are two major concerns we have. One is, the labels, both majors and independents are more conservative; they’re not going to take risks on artists or invest in artists just because they hear the demo and they like the songs or just because they can pack a house. That’s not enough – at least not the major labels. They need to know the artist is going somewhere between 30 and 60 miles per hour already to make an investment in it. They can’t start from scratch anymore, because so few artists are breaking. Here’s another statistic in 2008 there were 1500 releases that sold over 10,000 album units. Out of that there were only 227 of them that were artists that had broken 10,000 for the first time. So in the whole year only 227 of the artists were artists that had broken what we call the “obscurity line.” When you sell 10,000 albums, you’re no longer an obscure artist; people know about you. You may not be a star yet, but you’re in the game. That gets you out of the glut and into the game. We looked at the 227 and identified that only 14 of them were artists doing it on their own and all the rest were on majors and indies; a little more than half were on indies. And that includes Lady Gaga in that number of 227. It includes the biggest artists and ones that sold 10,000 as well, whether they sold a million or 10,001. That’s a pretty daunting number.
How have you adapted with Tommy Boy Entertainment? How has your personal business adapted to this shift? You seem intimately acquainted with how things are going. How have you weathered this transition?
By starting the New Music Seminar again and doing tons and tons of research deep in the data, identifying what’s happening and not happenings, talking to people who are making it happen and doing it alternative ways, we’re identifying what the opportunities are out there. Tommy Boy is more than a record company; we don’t consider ourselves a record company anymore, we’re much more than that. Now we’re sort of a strategic artists positioning company, and our job is to take an artist from where they are in revenues to a much higher number. If we work with Artist A that’s making half a million dollars a year, our goal is we take them to a million in year one, two million in year two, and three or four in year three. That’s our goal. And then we take a percentage of that revenue. And we’re talking about dollars, not record sales, because we may decide to give the records away, and we may only make about 10% of our money from the music and master use or 20% and the rest of it will come from touring and merch, publishing and possibly sync and other things. We’re not concerned with where the money comes from as long as it comes. Tommy Boy is known for building brands, from Queen Latifah and Ru Paul, to De La Soul and Afrika Bambaataa, Naughty by Nature, House of Pain, so many household names now that you know. When you mention the name, you can see them; like Digital Underground, when you close your eyes, an image of who they are comes up. Coolio … they all became significant brands, and that’s what we did. Tommy Boy is itself as a significant brand. We’re not just a record company. Our business always was building brands. How we used to make money was selling records; but we don’t see it as the way we can make money now. It’s one of the streams of revenue that we can make money from, but it’s no longer the most significant or even the second most significant way we’ll be making money. We can no longer be limited in how we see artists to the music domain. It’s more than the music. We have to work with the artist’s positioning.
So, back to the New Music seminar. As it’s harder for artists to break, and no labels are going to come to an artist just because they like the demo, that’s hard for artists to take. Artists don’t want to hear that. They’re spending all their time, because they’re musicians making a cool record. And that’s what they should do, but that’s only the very beginning of it. One of the things we identified in that three times as many people buy singles as a whole album, it probably doesn’t make any sense to make a whole album, or it’s a waste of time and money in the studio making an album when they’re just getting started, because every artist breaks with one song. And they might as well focus on finding that one song before they waste the money on the album.
Do you suggest EP’s then as a plausible alternative?
EP’s or even singles. As you build fans, if you’re touring – and every artist should be regardless of genre right now to build their fan base and also sell merch and actually make money – they should be touring all the time. You create music to satisfy your live audience. Once you have fans that are coming to your site, then you need to keep flowing new music to them on a regular basis to keep them engaged, and hopefully good music. You’re going to say, “I’m no longer an album every 18 months or two years. I’m a song every two months or a song every month. I’m a monthly publication or a bi-monthly publication.” You look at yourself as more of a periodical than as an album-making business. I think the album days are coming to an end. Unless you’re already established and you already have hundreds of thousands of fans, in which case the touring and album making might make sense. I just talked to one of the writers and producers for Black Eyed Peas, and they’re going out on tour right after the Grammys. They’re bringing out two tour buses that are studios, so they’ll be recording while they’re touring. I think that’s the new world, is that artists will do their shows and then they’ll go into their mobile recording studio and write and record. Now that recording equipment is so mobile, it’s easier and cheaper to do that, and the top artists are going to do that, and even the smaller artists are going to have to be writing on the road constantly. And whenever they’re in a place where there’s a studio, they may want to drop a track or they can record live tracks to perform and practice and rehearse and do live tracks and record those live tracks and make them available. The flow of music from artist to fan is going to be more important. It didn’t used to be important because there wasn’t the kind of 24-7 contact between artists and fans. So as you build your fans, they’re not going to be happy with one album every two years anymore. That’s not going to work. After three months, they’re off finding another artist that’s going to take your place. If you want to keep their interest, you have to keep at the top of their consciousness, and that requires new creative on a constant basis.
So at the seminar we talked about all of this. We talked about the new model, which is no longer based on records, it’s based on fans and the relationship between artists and fans, and how you monetize that relationship. We talked about the fan relationship pyramid. We have to look at our fans based on their levels of passion and their levels of spending. What kind of content we see delivered to our fans – whether it’s for money or for free – depends on their level of passion and their level of spending. So somebody that doesn’t want to spend any money – a tire kicker – probably shouldn’t get something first. They probably shouldn’t get exclusives. The exclusives should go to the most avid fans. That’s the new world. And there’s a science – we call it “fan migration science,” and we teach fan migration science at the seminar. How do you migrate a passive fan into an active fan? How do you capture fans? The new music business is about getting fans. That was always the business, but we – artists and labels – were always confused. We thought it was about selling records. Record sales were how we used to make money. It may not be how we make money now. But really how we made money from it is that fans bought our records. Passive fans bought the single, active fans bought the album, super active fans bought the album and went to all the shows, and bought the t-shirt. So we have to look at our audience in that way from now on.
Check out the rest of this interview
If you will be in the L.A. Area or willing to travel to the L.A. area you should check out the New Music Seminar on February 1st and 2nd. Readers of MusicianCoaching.com can get a two for one discount by going to www.newmusicseminar.biz. and entering the code “nmsla2”.
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