This site is 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.
Posts Tagged ‘DIY artists’
This past week, Pandora sued the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers in order to lower the royalty rate it pays to music publishers and songwriters. And in the days after the election, analysts discussed how the exit of pro-music representatives in the House could affect the industry. Also, Rolling Stone laid out the challenges former major label artists face when they go the DIY route.
Pandora Will Continue to Fight a Royalty War
Pandora Media is continuing to fight royalty rates for streaming music online and Internet radio. Last week, the company added another target to its attacks on performance rights by suing the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).
The music service has joined a battle that has been fought for more than a decade, recently rejuvenated by a bill presented to Congress – the Internet Radio Fairness Act – that could change the way royalty rates are set. Ever since Pandora went public and streaming music sites like Spotify have started to cut into its revenue, which is largely based on the size of the royalties it pays out, it has been lashing out at all those who make money off music and accuse the radio service of trying to get a break at their expense.
The Internet Radio Fairness Act was introduced in September and, if passed, would potentially lower the royalties Internet radio services pay to record companies. Pandora, Clear Channel Communications and many other technology groups are in support of it, because they feel the change it offers would finally align its royalty payments with other digital services like satellite radio that pay less. However, the music industry was disagreed.
Pandora sued the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers – one of the U.S.’s major performing rights organizations – on November 5 in an effort to decrease rates for itself yet again, this time the rates it pays to publishers and songwriters. Pandora’s license with the PRO ASCAP expired nearly two years ago. And in this most recent suit filed in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Pandora asked the court to grant it a new licensing deal that had “reasonable rates and terms.”
Once again, Pandora is asking for fair treatment, comparing itself to regular broadcast radio. Radio stations pay 1.7 percent of their revenue in publishing royalties, less the amount they pay for advertising commissions. But Pandora pays 4 percent without deductions.
A Pandora spokeswoman said, “ASCAP continues to seek rates higher than the current rates and above the agreement that they reached earlier this year with all of the major radio groups, which covers both broadcast and Internet radio usage for the majority of our competitors … As a results, we are initiating the process that has been in place for decades to resolve royalty disputes with ASCAP.”
While ASCAP did not weigh in, David Israelite, president of the National Music Publishers Association, was critical: “It’s outrageous Pandora would try to reduce the already nominal amount they pay songwriters and music publishers, when Pandora’s business model is based entirely on the creative contributions of those songwriters.”
The recently-filed suit is also tied up with the controversial issue of direct licensing. ASCAP provides blanket licenses that cover the material it represents. But because some publishers, like EMI, have decided to work with PROs to manage their digital catalog, Pandora wants to be able to “carve out” the cost of licenses it has to negotiate directly from that fee.
These “carve-out” deals have been proven to be sound by two recent court decisions in favor of DMX, a company that provides music in retail stores and restaurants. Those who support the deals feel that publishers can make more money if they are able to negotiate for themselves. But those against them feel this undercuts the strength of collective bargaining through organizations and diminishes the worth of music licenses, which hurts artists.
Did the Election Hurt the Music Industry?
The big news on November 6 was the re-election of President Obama, but the day also brought about the loss of one of two major music-business supporters, according to an article on Billboard.biz. Howard Berman lost his seat in the House after 30 years in office, and Mary Bono Mack, widow of Sonny Bono, was ousted after serving 14 years.
However, there were other friends of the music industry and those working on laws impacting webcasting royalties who were reelected and those that were already going to be in Washington in 2013. And the music industry could have pro-music-industry politicians acting as the chairs of judiciary committees in the House and the Senate, which will be important to continuing the conversation about copyright issues.
Berman’s loss was the result of redistricting and a top-two primary system when he was pitted against another popular Democrat, Rep. Brad Sherman and lost, only earning 39.5 percent of the vote. Berman has been a longtime advocate for content owners, supporting anti-piracy legislation and co-sponsoring the Copyright Royalty and Distribution Reform Act. He also co-sponsored the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and was in favor of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). He is also on the Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet.
RIAA chairman and EO Cary Sherman said, “In his 30 years in Congress, Congressman Berman has been a shining example of leadership and public service … His ability to legislate and his keen intellect have left an important legacy that will benefit creators and the country at large for many, many years.”
Many in the music industry feel that the loss of Bono Mack will be felt by artists and the larger music business, especially since she is co-chair of the Recording Arts and Sciences Congressional Caucus and, being a copyright holder herself through her late husband’s works, understands many of the issues faced by artists, publishers and songwriters.
However, the music industry will still have friends chairing Judiciary committees in the House and the Senate. Sen. Leahy will be heading up the Senate Judiciary Committee because Democrats kept their hold. Although Republicans kept control of the House, the current chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Lamar Smith will run into term limits. And Rep. Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition, and the Internet is expected to take over chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee in 2013.
On the state level, music industry proponents in Tennessee – Bob Corker, Jim Cooper and Marsha Blacburn – were re-elected. And Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, a songwriter and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee was re-elected for a seventh Senate term.
Politicians at the heart of the raging war over digital performance royalties will also be in office next year. Jason Chaffetz and Jared Polis, who sponsored the Internet Radio Fairness Act, were re-elected to the House. And the author of a competing bill, the Nadler Bill, Jerrold Nadler also won his reelection to the 8th District of New York. His bill is backed by SoundExchange and the RIAA.
President Obama’s reelection also means that the two biggest people working on intellectual property law enforcement, Victoria Espinel (IP Enforcement Coordinator for the White House) and Director of I.C.E. John Morton will remain.
Major Label, to DIY: What Are the Real Challenges?
What happens when major label artists decide to go DIY? According to Rolling Stone, they face the same challenges as anyone else, and sometimes find the landscape of the music business more challenging than they expected.
Garbage is an example of a major label band that got a “crash course” in the new realities of the music business as they were recording their latest album Not Your Kind of People. After the members left Geffen, they started to investigate their options. Front woman Shirley Manson revealed, “We’re used to the old system … so we thought, ‘Let’s see what’s out there’ …” She and her band mates had been out of the game for so long that she admits they had little familiarity with the possibilities.
Because none of them wanted to sign with another major label, Garbage members decided to take a cue from Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails and release an album on their own. However, they quickly discovered how expensive the process of recording and making videos can be. Manson said, “The freedom it affords you is so amazing … but it’s nerve-wracking. We’ve put our own money into it. Bringing the record out on our own label poses some problems for us.”
Bands like Garbage that came to life in the music business’ profitable ‘90s as well as new bands that do not realize it has changed are learning the hard way that the industry is not even what it was five years ago, let alone 20. In the past, bands enjoyed sizable cash advances from labels to help them record albums and videos. And after their records were released, they would tour for anywhere up to a year. Mass outlets like MTV would promote them, and then the band would be able to take a break before starting the same cycle again.
But in the Digital Age, recordings and touring just are not making money for labels or for artists. CD revenue has declined, and to compensate, musicians have to go on exhaustingly-long tours, then find multiple ways – from licensing songs to TV shows or video games, to asking fans directly to contribute to their recording costs – to put together a modest living.
Dan Reed, music director of NPR’s World Café sees a lot of artists come through his studio. He stated, “I used to hear the word ‘overexposure’ more than I do now … In this crowded media market, I don’t think there’s such a thing anymore. Bands are vying for any spot they can where they can reach a sizable number of people. We’re all working harder. The music business is no different.”
And musicians have to keep pushing out new material at breakneck speed in order to keep apace of the rabid music fans that are used to the bounty the Internet provides. The band Tennis decided to release its second album Young & Old just 13 months after its first in 2011. Singer and keyboardist Alaina Moore shared, “The demand for music and output is so high … If you stop altogether, which bands used to be able to do, people will assume the worst and move on and forget about you.” She added that the band’s management will even call asking for new tracks when they are out working on the road.
The band’s manager, Rob Stevenson said that while Twitter and Facebook certainly brings about closer relationships between bands and their supporters, they provide an unfortunate distraction for artists that can take time away from honing their craft: “Fans expect things to come directly from the artist … You have to get yourself to the next gig and do a good gig and do all your social media stuff. And there are still only 24 hours in a day.”
Amanda Palmer echoed the ridiculousness she feels sometimes trying to connect to her fans via social media. She tweeted with fans while sitting at her piano and writing a new song for her latest solo album. She said, “I felt kind of silly, and my superego was saying, ‘Really, Amanda?’ But hundreds of people were writing, ‘I can’t wait to hear the song.’”
Of course, to get around shrinking recording budgets and the need for record labels, some artists have started using crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter. Fans contribute, on average, $25 apiece to music projects. And some bands often raise around $20,000, giving contributors autographed records, concert tickets and other items in return for their support.
So, how do musicians really make money? Amanda Palmer made news when she raised over $1 million via Kickstarter to pay for and promote Theater Is Evil. While this seemed like a lot to many critics, she said she actually ended up with less than $100,000 after expenses: “People say, ‘Don’t you feel awful begging your fans for money?’ And I say, ‘You don’t get it – I’m doing my job.’ Musicians used to think if they worked hard, they’d be a star like Madonna. Hopefully we’re seeing a new understanding of what it means to be a working-class musician. It’s a job.”
The truth is record sales have never brought in major income for artists. The cost of creating and promoting albums was simply charged against their accounts. Today, artists can count on album sales even less than ever before. And digital streaming has not yet settled in as a lucrative channel for artists.
Touring is how a lot of bands are making ends meet, but making a living at it means spending huge stretches of time on the road. Party band Fitz and the Tantrums and the band Dawes each left home to promote their albums in the wake of dismal sales, and stayed out for almost three years, playing multiple shows per day at clubs and for online outlets. Lead singer of Fitz Michael Fitzpatrick said, “It’s really exhausting. You’re doing a performance for a website and you know they have almost no readership, but you do it anyway. You’re in somebody’s garage doing a taping and you know no one will see it, but you think, ‘OK, five more fans here or 10 more there.’” The band has to earn $3,000 per night just to earn its overhead. And it only consistently hit this amount after touring for two years.
Despite all the heartache, musicians say that the music business is giving them huge opportunities they never had before such as incredible creative freedom. Manson said that after enduring huge creative debates with Geffen, “We were immensely relieved not to have any major label influence whatsoever … I turned in some songs and they were met with unbelievable contempt. They were telling me that because they weren’t pop songs they were worthless, and I should make a record like Duffy.”
And selling music and tickets has become easier thanks to social media. The band Dispatch cut a deal with Facebook recently to sell tickets to shows at Madison Square Garden. The band spent no money and sold 58,000 tickets. Fitz and the Tantrums gave away free MP3s of their music in an effort to sell more tickets to their live shows and ended up increasing their album sales by 120,000 copies.
Julia Rogers is the Editor in Chief of MusicianCoaching.com. She is a classically-trained musician, published author, journalist and music writer. She also writes about business strategy, social media and emerging technology for corporate clients, including The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur and American Express. She was previously a grant writer and development/marketing strategist for several New York City-based non-profit Arts organizations and has written business development materials and produced online media for a variety of small technology companies. As a songwriter, cellist, bassist, singer and pianist, Julia plays out regularly in New York City in various original projects. She has been working with MusicianCoaching.com since 2009.
Because I write so many bios for “DIY” artists, I invest a lot of my time helping people discover how to tell their compelling stories and define the specific qualities of their music and personalities that make each of them different from every other musician out there. Something interesting I have realized as I take people through the challenging self-discovery process is that a lot of artists, at all stages of their careers share a common issue: They are reluctant to celebrate their accomplishments. And they often feel uncomfortable announcing even the major milestones – like EP releases, show and tour announcements, notable press interviews, etc. – that are the product of their hard work as they invest in their growth and development.
Part of this mental and emotional block artists experience is based on crises of confidence that are understandable given the saturation of the modern music market and the fact that the world trains all of us (thankfully) to be modest and realistic about our place in it: “Why is what I do important when there are so many other people basically doing the same thing?” But as someone who aspires to truly make a living making music, the pull to avoid inviting fans and potential fans to applaud your successes and join you on your long and winding journey is also the result of simply not knowing which of your plot twists are newsworthy.
Last year, I wrote an article about how musicians can get the attention of music journalists writing for blogs, magazines, journals and other publications and inspire them to invest in the story of their on-going evolution. Despite all the wonderful online free marketing and PR tools that are available to you as an artist and all the chances you have to engage meaningfully with the press and your fans, sometimes when you have a major milestone to announce in your career, you need a formal press release.
Even if you are not reluctant to announce your accomplishments and are sharing your story on a regular basis through Facebook, Twitter and email newsletters, as well as through your music and compelling live shows, sometimes all this engagement is not enough. As I have repeated many times to artists I work with and in the articles I have written about communication and marketing, just throwing some tracks up on Facebook, expressing your excitement on Twitter about a track you recorded or emailing your mp3s to someone at Pitchfork with a subject line that basically begs an editor, “Listen to my music” will not make you the darling of blogs, podcasts, online music communities, music websites and magazines … nor will it get you to Madison Square Garden, Carnegie Hall or the Grammys. And, yes, you really do need to go beyond your current fan base and get the attention of media “influencers” in order to forge ahead successfully.
When you are managing your own career without the help of a PR firm, you must think like an entrepreneur and build marketing strategies that not only show you are a professional, but also drum up excitement about your music and your unique “You, Inc.” brand. And to be a successful entrepreneur, you have to figure out stunning ways to call attention to your bright, newsworthy items as an artist through press releases.
Once you’ve found that exciting item, shout about it! Hiring a professional, experienced press release writer to put together your announcement for you is a great way to capture the moment objectively. But when you are a self-funded music entrepreneur, hiring out is not always an option. Below are 6 tips to help you craft an eye-catching, personal press release that can act as a compliment to your on-going marketing strategy.
- Understand the purpose of a press release. A press release is a written statement to the media that announces a news item, such as a scheduled event (a live show, a record store appearance, a radio performance and interview, etc.), an award or the release of a new “product” (a single, an EP or a full-length album). Some people also use press releases as a way to generate a feature story, because writers, reporters, bloggers and other press people are more likely to consider a full-length story on a band if they first see a formal press release.Many consider press releases to be part of “old fashioned” PR strategies, but when used in conjunction with technology-based promotional strategies, a well-written press release acts as strong support for the other elements of an artist’s press kit and overall marketing campaign. It provides yet another way for you to tell your story as a musician and enrich your brand by shedding light on the fact that you are in motion, proactively putting yourself and your music out into the world and working hard to hone your craft.
- Your press release should have laser focus. The best press releases are short and to the point. The headline needs to go beyond the mundane “Artist Plays Guitar on Stage in Front of People” and provide some juicy detail without being overly clever. (Here is an example of a headline I recently wrote for a pop/country artist releasing her debut album: “Homegrown Pop Singer/Songwriter Kelly Campbell Releases Sweet Therapy EP.”) Also, the first short paragraph – the “summary” – of the most compelling press releases is not more than three sentences long. These sentences need to draw readers in and keep their eyes moving down the page while still expressing all the very specific details about what has happened or will happen.To stick to the “short and sweet” rule, only announce multiple events within the same press release if they relate directly to each other – for example, an EP release combined with an official release party or an extended regional or national tour.
- Cut the “BS.” Use real, meaningful language in your press release – not lofty, empty “BS” that you think will sound impressive – to describe your event. Using big words and industry terms, name dropping or otherwise “padding” your release to convince others that what you are doing is important is just going to make you look like an amateur.Even major PR firms – especially those that churn out a lot of press releases – can fall into the pattern of just “going through the motions” and plugging in information, forgetting that while press releases do follow a set format, there is still a lot of room for creativity and meaningful “audience” interaction within that format. The gist of the two most commonly-made announcements in press releases are “Band Releases Record” and “Band Plays Show(s).” The ability to tell an absorbing story about events that happen often in the music industry within the parameters of the press release format is certainly a challenge. But your job is to grab the attention of and provide something valuable to those that will read hundreds, if not thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of press releases in their lifetime, so you simply must.
- Freshen up your bio. Your biographical information is an incredibly important part of every press release, but resist the urge to just directly copy a section from your professional bio verbatim. (And if you do not have a professional bio, please read this article before you even think about writing a press release!) Add a few special details to your artist bio section that offer readers a new spin on you and your music. For example, if you are releasing an EP, you can provide a bit of insight into your songwriting and recording process, which will make people feel more personally connected to you and also compel them to want to buy your music, come to your live shows and interact with you.
- Gather strong press quotes. Press quotes provide essential third-party endorsement of you. Of course, you may very well be sending out a press release because no one has ever formally reviewed your music (aka, you have no quotes), and you want to get people to talk and write about you. Often a very exciting and objectively-written bio can make up for lack of quotes about your band. However, also consider reaching out to popular local bands and musicians you have collaborated with on shows or other projects and ask them to jot down a few thoughts about you and your music, or about the experience of playing with you live and then include the best one or two as quotables for your press release.
- Rally around your press release. As with anything else you put out into the world – whether new music, a new website or live performances – your press release will not magically get attention just by existing. You need to rally around it with engaging email and social media interaction. Many musicians use services like PRWeb, expecting that they will pay the fee and the press release will get read by fans and everyone else they want to reach.Services like PRWeb act as tools to help your press release filter through some of the other meaningless noise that shows up in Web searches for the type of music you play. But they cannot provide the genuinely sincere touches that you provide when you energetically write about your event on Facebook and Twitter and respond personally to the excitement of champions for your music. Even when your press release finds a permanent home on the Internet, you need to keep momentum going in the weeks prior to your notable show or album release by reaching out to your fans regularly and sending personal emails to those journalists and music industry professionals that will be thrilled to be among the first to discover you.
So, what about you is newsworthy enough to warrant a press release? The truth is, almost anything you do or that happens to you; you just have to put a spin on the happening that expresses why people should care. Of course, you are not going to formally alert the media the first time your band gets through a song without stopping, every time your band’s drummer shows up for rehearsal on time, or when you finally get more than 10 people to show up at one of your gigs. But you can and should announce anything that really gets you revved up about playing music – especially those memorable events that give fans and potential fans the opportunity to experience your excitement right alongside you.
Last week, experts and artists alike analyzed the new music business and discussed methods for surviving in it as New York Magazine presented a breakdown of pop music’s new metrics, and industry veteran David Byrne released his new book outlining where the music business is headed and how all musicians can take charge of their own careers. Also, Rdio introduced its new Artist Program, which helps artists maximize earnings from streaming digital music.
Do the Music Industry’s Old Metrics Matter?
There is a new math attached to Top 40 music in the Digital Age, according to an article in New York Magazine. And artists need to start coming to terms with reality, change their goals and define and manage their careers very differently.
One of the biggest signs of change is that the record for the #1 album that sold the least number of copies (since 1991 and the SoundScan era) was broken three times in the first part of 2011. Previously, it had only been broken three times in 16 years. Still, since 2008, there have been 66 #1 songs, and just six artists have been responsible for half of those: Katy Perry; Adele; The Black Eyed Peas; Rihanna; Flo Rida; Lady Gaga. 1986 saw 31 #1 songs created by 29 different artists. But in the new music industry, “new” is not always better, as this piece pointed out. Catalog albums – those that are over 18 months past their release date – outsold brand new ones in 2012 for the first time in history.
Despite lower album sales numbers overall, stadium-oriented acts like Radiohead are no longer the only ones filling giant venues like Madison Square Garden. Artists that would have been considered small and indie in previous years, like Phoenix, Interpol and The Black Keys have all sold out The Garden and other huge performance spaces, in large part due to their abilities to build up a following of anywhere from hundreds of thousands of fans, to millions of fans on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
As the article also highlights, in the new “rock star economy,” while there is money to be had by everyone from DIY artists, to major label acts, income varies wildly between those groups. The average five-piece DIY band that is making an album every five years pulls in just under $11,000 annually per member. A Pitchfork-beloved indie label four-piece group earns about $126,000 per member per year. And a major label act, as big or bigger than Beyonce, can expect to pull in a total of almost 33 million.
How Music Works: How to Be a Musician and an Entrepreneur
Where is the music business headed, and how can artists make a living and create great art within the space? These are questions industry veteran, musician, writer and entrepreneur David Byrne asks and attempts to answer in his new book How Music Works.
In his latest tome, Byrne tackles the concepts behind making music in the current world for the first time, focusing on the future rather than the past and revolving around his own personal business dealings and experiences, which he presents in pie charts and real stats. He told Wired, “I want folks to see the fairly simple math that pushes us towards making certain musical and career decisions … The book is about how myriad external factors influence the music itself, and money is one of those factors.”
The book is also a way for Byrne to help other artists see an example in someone who has been making his own way in music for a long time and help them make some better sense of the music world. In a universe where everyone is now being forced to take charge of their own careers, he feels his story – full of successes and also, as he admits, some failures – can provide some insight into how decisions all musicians make shape their careers: “I also thought that by being transparent and using my own experience as an example, I could let other musicians see what their options are – and how their decisions might pan out … It’s all very confusing until you bring it down to what exactly one makes on a record for a year’s worth of work. Then it hits home, and the reader can sense what it takes for a musician to survive.”
In large part because most other artists – especially not those at Byrne’s stage in his career – have ever been upfront about their incomes, How Music Works breaks new ground. He felt that presenting the realities of his earnings – despite the fact that it made his business managers uneasy – was important to creating an honest depiction of the landscape for others.
The book also goes beyond just business aspects and outlines what Byrne feels to be some of the most exciting movements in music outside the U.S., further expressing his long-held belief that the term “world music” is generic and distasteful, and American music fans need to rethink the way they receive and define music outside the U.S.: “I stand by my disdain for the term – it implies that there’s an ‘us’ and then there’s everybody else … Have things changed? A little. You might see Rolling Stone or maybe even Pitchfork review a new Caetano [Veloso] record, or one by Lenine or some other Brazilian artist, but given the amount of creativity that exists in the world, we’re pretty much locavores.”
He added, “The interweb allows us greater access to many of these artists, which of course is great in my book — I follow a lot of them and order their records online — but on the other hand, the web also allows us to stay exclusively within our little tribes more than ever.”
How to Earn More Money from Streaming Music
As options for streaming music evolve, artists continue to complain about how much money they are earning from these digital services. But a new offering from Rdio is hoping to help musicians maximize their income from this channel. Rdio CEO Drew Larner talked about this new Artist Program in an interview with The Musician Network last week and about why building up awareness of social music discovery and techniques to make it more effective is important to artists of all sizes.
The Artist Program is a way for an artist of any size to get rewards for successful fan engagement through Twitter and Facebook. Artists will be paid $10 for each new subscriber they bring to Rdio and also get access to a customizable Rdio artist page and a dashboard that allows them to track metrics and see their referrals accrue. Through this dashboard, they can convert any link on Rdio to a unique link associated with their account and share those links with fans on social media sites. Anything, whether a song from their own albums or a song from their favorite new inspiring artist can be shared and attributed to them, so they earn money for any type of Rdio-related interaction.
The new program is also designed to help artists earn money more immediately, above and beyond licensing deals, since Rdio does not pay royalties directly to artists. He said, “… We have agreements with labels and distributors and they have deals with their artists. This program is meant to complement the licensing deals we already have in place with labels and distributors for access to music on the service, adding an additional direct revenue channel to artists and providing a new element of transparency around the streaming music model.”
Last week, the past, present and future of online music sales were front and center as a new study showed that the music industry may at long last be learning how to manage digital sales, and Digital Music News updated its artist earnings infographic to express how independent and major label artists are faring in the current climate. Also, DIY Music released a new social commerce app to help artists and labels make more money through social media channels.
Music Industry Finally Embracing Online Music
The music industry may be finally figuring out how to make money on the Internet, according a recent study conducted by accounting firm Price Waterhouse Coopers’ (PwC). The Entertainment and Media Outlook revealed that feelings about digital music within major organizations that have been resisting the transition from old business models have finally started to change.
The Outlook analyzes the current climate and predicts what could happen in the entertainment industry through 2016. It is used by thousands of media, technology and communications executives as well as by professionals within the financial services sectors and advertisers in order to inform the steps they will take in the business during the next four years.
The research offered some major findings. According to Marcel Fenez, Global leader, Entertainment and Media, the industry has finally arrived at the “end of the digital beginning.” Companies will finally start to restructure to prepare for what is “the new normal.” The Outlook looks at challenges the music industry will face when digital is just part of “business-as-usual” and in many cases the core of entire companies. Those who are successful within the industry will reshape businesses around three ideas: an understanding of the “connected” customer through analytics while paying close attention to privacy concerns; creating new business models in order to provide more value to the customer and created more targeted advertising strategies; re-designing new organizational models and building partnerships that will help create revenue from the fact that consumers are now living and breathing online.
The Entertainment and Media Outlook also explores how copyright issues and piracy will continue to shake out in the coming years. But the study predicts that despite the need to overcome some of these obstacles, innovation will continue in the music space, and talent will become an important factor in success for musicians as well as technologists and other music business professionals. And more companies will continue to embrace – with greater confidence – that the way forward is by accepting the Digital Age.
Digital Music News Infographic Bringing Good News to DIY Artists
Digital Music News updated its 2010 infographic “How Much Do Music Artists Earn Online?” this past week to reflect data from 2012. And the news for major label artists is, not surprisingly, bleak for major label artists, who are still having a hard time making a living from many of the digital music channels. And record labels’ income is continuing to dwindle even more, even as digital sales increase. However, for DIY and indie artists, the opposite is true, as streaming payouts are steadily rising, on a percentage level, according to sales information shared by indie labels and bands who participated in the research process.
An analysis by industry attorney Steve Gordon further delved into major label artists’ lack of income from Spotify and determined that most of them do not get a cent from their Spotify streams, save rare superstars like Lady Gaga. The reason is that most artists signed to major labels are “urecouped” and owe their labels money. Because of the high production costs labels pay to get products into the marketplace, only huge artists who can sell millions of records get rid of their “unrecouped” status. So, it is not that Spotify is not paying – it is that the money earned is being used to repay debt to labels.
The infographic also showed that ringtones and download payouts have been particularly low for label-owned artists. Yet vinyl seems to be surprisingly lucrative for artists across the board if they are able to set a fair price that also takes into account production costs.
The last infographic was released in 2010, nearly two-and-a-half years ago. Like its predecessor, the 2012 infographic contrasts payouts from older products like CDs and iTunes downloads with streaming formats such as Spotify.
DIY Music Helping Artists Monetize Social Media
DIY Music released their new and improved social commerce platform geared towards musicians and record labels this past week, according to a release posted by MarketWatch. DIY Music, first launched in 2006, now gives artists the ability to build their fan base and sell products and interactive experiences online.
Using the platform, fans can listen to music, share videos and also buy music directly from a Facebook post, tweet or online ad. And artists can build highly-advanced social media storefront campaigns, search for new fans through an advanced filter and sell their music simultaneously.
The platform is compatible with Facebook’s Timeline and News Feed, Twitter, Tumblr and many other blog formats, which allows artists to reach and monetize fans through many different channels and also gives the fans the ability to share the experiences they encounter with friends without getting buried in redirects.
David Robb, CEO of DIY Media, the parent company, stated, “Our platform improves the bond between artist and fan. Bands and artists are able to give their fans a rich media experience and in turn collect clear analytics. The result is a more direct path to building a fan base and the increased capability to convert fans into buyers.”
DIY music allows artists to promote and sell songs, albums and entire catalogs through one campaign, increase engagement by directly embedding video and audio into a campaign, exchange email addresses for their mailing lists for free downloads of tracks or albums, and get important stats and analytics through the DIY dashboard to help improve future campaigns.
DIY Music is currently partnered with SoundCloud, The Orchard IRIS, BFM Digital, Audiosocket and a large array of indie artists.
Rob Reid is a L.A.-based author and entrepreneur, and the founder of Listen.com/Rhapsody, the first online music service to get full-catalog licenses from all the major music labels and one of the top online music services, with over a million paying subscribers. He got his start in music growing up as an avid guitarist and songwriter, eventually choosing to focus on business when he attended Harvard Business School and wrote his first book, a first-person account of what it was like to be a student at that particular business school, which was published by William Morrow & Co. After business school, he got involved in the Internet as it was just beginning in the mid-‘90s, initially working at Silicon Graphics, a company that made graphics workstations, supercomputers and web servers. While there, he wrote his second book, Architects of the Web, in 1996, which chronicled the rise of the Internet as a commercial medium. Eventually, Rob decided to start Listen.com, which he grew from a barely-funded startup with just a handful of employees, into the now-renowned Rhapsody music service. At the 2012 TED conference, he presented his now infamous “Copyright Math” theory, the term he uses to explain the often confusing and intangible numbers cited by the two major organizations within the entertainment industry – the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) – in an effort to get others to rally against piracy. He has written pieces and features for various magazines and websites, including Wired and The Wall Street Journal. His first novel, Year Zero, is closely tied to the “Copyright Math” theory and releases on July 10 via Random House/Del Rey. It is a comedic science fiction story set mainly in present-day New York City about a society of highly-advanced aliens who are so enamored of American pop music that they accidentally commit the biggest copyright infraction of all time, thereby bankrupting the entire universe.
Rob was kind enough to chat with me about his background in the technology/Internet and music space, his book Year Zero, and how writers, artists, musicians and other creatives can best connect and share their work in a world where the distance between creators and their audience continues to decrease.
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me, Rob. How did you get into the music, technology and publishing business?
I was a fairly committed guitarist and songwriter with a 4-track. But I never went the band route. I decided pretty early on that if I was going to be a creative person, my strengths lay more in writing. It took me a long time to actually get around to doing that.
I got out of college and did a somewhat weird thing: I went to Cairo on a Fulbright Fellowship. I lived there for a year and went to school on the then obscure and now very famous Tahrir Square way back in the day. I came back and got involved in business by going to Harvard Business School. I was a pretty serious writer throughout the very business-oriented first part of my career. I wrote my first book while I was Harvard – a first-person account of what it’s like to be a student at there, which was published by William Morrow.
When I came out, I went into the tech industry and became an Internet full timer very early. It was 1994, and I came back out to California, where I had originally gone to college, though I grew up in Connecticut. Because, I really liked the Bay Area.
I thought I was progressive for having an AOL account in 1995.
You were. I came to work at a company called Silicon Graphics, which was great at the time and pretty much at its apogee, and now is pretty mourned – may it rest in peace. We made graphics workstations and supercomputers and web servers in the very early times of the Internet. Our founder, a guy named Jim Clark, took off to start Netscape, which was the first true Internet company, in my opinion. I came over to Silicon Graphics because it was the big, sexy company. All the graphics supercomputers we made were dominating post-production studios in Hollywood and at game studios at that time. It was a great place to be, because there was such a talented crew there in the mid ‘90s. It has become an alumni network in and of itself. My Silicon Graphics alumni network matters even more to me than my Harvard Business School network.
That’s one of the interesting things that people sometimes don’t realize about picking the company they’re going to go to; that’s going to be your network.
I think that’s a good lesson even outside the corporate world.
Always be on your best behavior, because it’s a small world, and your reputation will precede you. The people you hang out with for two or three years doing anything are going to be the experts on you in the future. And you want them to say good things about you.
So, I was at Silicon Graphics for a while. I ended up becoming the business development interface between Silicon Graphics and Netscape, which hauled me into the Internet somewhat inadvertently at a very early moment. After working for about a year and a half, being a writer at heart, I took some time off and wrote a book about the rise of the Internet entitled Architects of the Web.
This is actually good advice for anybody: If you want to really wrap your head around something that’s going on in society and also get to know everyone who is doing anything within it, a very good way to do it is to write a book about it. Even people who are too busy to talk to journalists will usually take the time to talk to an author, because authors don’t call them that frequently, whereas journalists call them all the time. And the act of stating to yourself and the world, “I am going to write a 400+ page tome about an interesting phenomenon” is a terrifying proposition that really forces you to crystallize your thinking, because of the acute risk of enormous public embarrassment. I think to a lesser degree, it’s true of any kind of writing – blogging, writing articles for magazines and websites. But the book puts you in an ivory tower for eight or nine months, because it’s all you do for a very long period of time. It’s a license to meet lots and lots of people.
I got to know everyone who was doing anything remotely interesting on the Internet in 1996, which was a great year.
That’s really why I have a blog, by the way, though it’s not the same thing as a book. It’s to be able to have that conversation.
Yes. It’s that same idea. You get to reach out and talk to people. The book is a monster dose of that. But I think it’s entirely true of blogging, writing any kind of articles. It’s a license to talk to interesting people, pick their brains and think about what they have to say. Then, as you find with your blog, when you’re going to put that out there into the world, it really forces you to make your thinking rigorous, because you’re going to put it into concise paragraphs as opposed to chatting about it over beers, which is what we usually do when we expound upon ideas that are important to us; it’s usually casual and off the record.
So, the book about the rise of the Internet was my second book. And at that point, I accidentally became one of maybe 10 MBAs in the world who could say they had worked for two years with the Internet. Because of that, I was able to leverage my way into a job in venture capital. Through that work, I saw into the capital-formation process and a lot of great entrepreneurs upfront and got the idea that I’d rather start a company than be a junior investor. So, I started Listen.com, which became the Rhapsody music service. That began a very, very busy seven years of building that from a PowerPoint presentation, to a barely-funded startup with a handful of people, to what it became.
So, I got Listen.com funded, ran it for a few years and then found someone who was better at running it than I was and acted as Executive Chairman for a few years. We eventually sold it to RealNetworks, and they grew Rhapsody much bigger than we could because of their resources. MTV bought half of it, and that helped it grow a great deal more. Now Rhapsody is of course off in the world and doing wonderful things. I left RealNetworks about a year-and-a-half after I sold Rhapsody.
After that, I did a bunch of different things. I started an online video company that did pretty well, but I just couldn’t figure out how to make it grow. It had the opposite problem that most of your traditional startups have, because it was actually profitable. But I couldn’t figure out how to make it a much bigger company than it was. My wife, Morgan Webb is a bit of a celebrity, and we created a video blog. She talked about what was going on in the tech world that day. She hosts a TV show called X-Play, which covers the world of video games and video gaming. We did really well with that little tech video blog, because even in 2007 or so, it was really early for that.
But it was a little too early, because there weren’t a lot of people watching episodic video online at that point. While we could grow that and do well with advertisers by working with a company called Federated Media that does great online ad sales, we couldn’t really figure out a way to launch the next seven shows. We had an audience for our show, because Morgan has an audience. But to do the next six shows, we would have to hire hosts of her stature – which we really wouldn’t be able to afford – or launch it with folks that didn’t have much stature, which would leave us with 400-500 viewers per episode. And we couldn’t monetize that. From my standpoint as a startup guy, I realized this was just going to be a small company forever. And from Morgan’s standpoint as somebody who had and has a national daily television show, it didn’t seem like the best thing she could be doing with her scant free hours. We did the video blog for about a year and then shut it down.
Not long after that, I started writing this book, Year Zero, which is being published by Random House. It’s releasing on July 10 and is deeply connected to the TED talk. It’s my first novel. I’m sure that a lot of the artists in your readership know very acutely – and you do yourself as well – what it’s like to be nursing a creative urge over a period of years. In my case, that creative urge lay fallow for quite a few years, because I was busy running Listen.com, doing all that Internet stuff and writing two non-fiction books, which both had major publishers and were pretty well received. Architects of the Web was published by John Wiley and Sons, Ltd. But I’d always wanted to write fiction.
Morgan and I were traveling in Colombia at one point, and she got a little sick towards the end of the trip, so we were lurking around the hotel for a few days. I started writing this story to entertain her. The story was about a vast universe-spanning civilization of highly-advanced aliens who are so into American pop music that they accidentally commit the biggest copyright infraction of all time, thereby bankrupting the entire universe. All the wealth in the universe is now owed to our rapacious record labels, and we human beings don’t know it just yet.
I love that.
As you can probably tell, it’s absolutely a comedic story. I just kind of got inspired and spent 18 months writing this thing, in kind of the same way people spend 18 months putting together an album even though there may never be any prospect of it getting out there. To make a very long story short, it’s going to be coming out on Del Rey, which is the biggest sci-fi imprint of Random House. Year Zero is going to be Del Rey/Random House’s lead science fiction title for the summer.
And yet, you emailed my 15,000-20,000-monthly-unique-visitors website to promote it yourself. I think that’s brilliant.
Well, and that’s what we need to do. This goes right into the advice I would give to anybody who is in your audience, particularly on the artist side. I think this practice is essential and very few people bother to do it. And 15,000 is a hell of a lot more Twitter or Facebook followers than I have. Hopefully a lot of people will read my book. But I’m in a phase right now where the publication date is coming up, and I’m very attuned to the media that’s out there that’s engaged and interested in issues of music, copyright and intellectual property. Because, those are significant themes in the book. So, I’m really trying to engage in “retail politics” and meet a lot of people who are talking about and responding to my TED talk and other things I’ve been doing. I think that’s what we need to do today as creative people.
Back in the day, there was so much friction that stood between artists – whether they were musicians, authors or anyone who performs as a comedian or an actor – and their audience, that these very large-scale operations with the muscle to pierce through the friction of the physical world became intermediaries between us and our audiences. What ended up happening is that a lot of people ended up misperceiving what was going on in the world as being a statement of the nature of artists and their relationship with their audience, and the nature of public tastes.
I’ll give you an extreme example: The media channel was once very constrained. And when I talk about the physical media channel, I don’t just mean rolling trucks, etc., although that is a part of it. I’m also talking about shelf space, which was once very tight. There were people who were very good at distribution and could pierce through the market and put your work – whether it’s a vinyl record or a book – on a narrow shelf in front of a lot of people. There’s enormous power in that. In music, I would say that the “shelf” wasn’t just referring to the shelf space at the mom and pop store, Sam Goody or Walmart ,etc. – although that was important …
Yes. Price and positioning was critical. There was a whole science to what endcap you could buy and discounted pricing, etc.
Oh, it was immense. And it was bad enough if you were a tiny, independent label or publisher. But if you were a tiny, independent artist, good luck getting on 15,000 shelves from Seattle to Miami. The infrastructure and cost would elude you. But the other piece of shelf space – equally important – in music that we don’t have in writing was the terrestrial broadcast “shelf” space. Again, let’s go back to the ‘50s-‘90s, and to a lesser extent, the present day. There are only so many music radio stations in Milwaukee. And there are only so many hours in the day. With payola and independent promotion, it became a game of scale to access that very narrow “shelf” – the de facto “shelf” of time and broadcast slots.
The extreme example for me is if we go back into the early ‘60s, when there were three channels that the entire nation watched. Being on The Ed Sullivan Show was a hell of a way to launch a band. The Beatles achieved a level of cultural homogeny that will never be paralleled. And it’s partially because they were magnificent in absolutely every regard. (I’m as much of a Beatles fanatic as any true music fan out there.) But also, you just had every teenage set of eyes in the country watching one of three channels. And at that moment, they were just watching that one, because at that point, the shows on the other two channels sucked. Piercing through that physical channel created hits. That was just what you needed to do.
If you could get a major book publisher like I’ve done, or if you could get a major label like the Beatles did and get that muscle behind you to pierce through that very, very congested, friction-filled and expensive channel, you would then be in front of a very large group of people with a relatively small list of competitors. I grew up on the East Coast, so this meant you’d be at Caldor with one of a few hundred records that were available to kids who would get on their bicycles and ride out to Norwalk and look at them. Not every record got to be Dark Side of the Moon, which spent hundreds and hundreds of weeks in the Top 200. But it was a hell of a lot easier to get to that level when there was just a small amount of stuff that pierced through.
We’re in a very different world today. I think the most powerful currency that any artist has – particularly smaller, newer and more independent ones – is the number of direct relationships that we have with our audience, with the people that listen to or read our stuff. We need to do anything we can do in a block-and-tackle manner to get our name, our Twitter handle and our Facebook page name out there, or sample chapters or mp3 singles out there to start building that base of people we can reach – whether through Twitter, Facebook, or through any other method. (I think that Twitter is overrated and Facebook pages are underrated, but that’s a personal bias.)
But building that pipeline is potentially the greatest asset that any of us will have. And it is a career-long project – day after day, week after week, month after month. You need to put enough out there to generate interest and participate enough in that sphere that you get dozens, hundreds and thousands of followers, fans, listeners or readers. If you build that over a period of years and let that growth compound, at some point you don’t need an intermediary to reach your audience anymore. I think it will be more powerful in publishing in some ways, because relatively speaking, it’s so much less of a team project to write a novel than it is to make an album. The role and the need for groups of people to assemble around a band to make it successful is much greater than the need for a group of people to assemble around an author. But building that channel in the manner I just outlined in the creative world is absolutely essential right now.
You can learn more about Rob Reid and his work on the official Rob Reid website and follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Year Zero comes out on Tuesday, July 10 and is currently available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and IndieBound. (The audio version is read by John Hodgman!) You can read the first chapter of the book here, or check out the trailer. Also stay tuned for Part II of this interview, which will release next week.
This past week, the Future of Music Coalition released a study that revealed that DIY artists can be most profitable when they are organized, educated about business and seek out proper support. Also, digital music sales finally overtook the sale of CDs and other physical music products. Finally, an RIAA executive called Google out for its lack of commitment to helping fight digital music piracy.
Does Pure DIY Pay?
DIY artists without a support team make significantly less money than those who align themselves with competent managers, booking agents, tour managers and other music professionals, according to a recent study based on detailed interviews with musicians and the examination of actual tax filings and conducted by the Future of Music Coalition. The results revealed that those musicians who continue to do it on their own after breaking through the initial barriers of their career are likely leaving money on the table and stalling their careers.
The study results were originally delivered in April by Artist Revenue Streams co-director Kristin Thomson in a lecture “All You Need is Love … (and a manager, an accountant and a web designer). Making it as a Musician in an Increasingly Networked World.” The event was hosted by the Berkman Centerfor Internet and Society at Harvard University. The presentation not only broke down the reality of what musicians earn from three different areas – recording, composition and touring – but also revealed which team members that DIY artists hire stand to bring in the most money.
Thomson stressed that musicians must play three roles in order to reach their earnings potential. They must be composers/songwriters, recording artists and performers that actually tour and actively seek out live performance opportunities. This means they need an organized way to license their compositions, record, distribute and sell their sound recordings and a way to book shows and performances. And those that enlist the help of three essential team members – publishers, record labels (or an entity that performs the function of a record label) and booking agents – end up streamlining their business and being able to actually focus on the important task of making great music.
Composers and songwriters write music and thus need to find a way for their compositions to be licensed for use, which means they must focus on connecting meaningfully with recording artists, record labels, movie producers, cable TV shows and other places interested in recording or licensing their works. All of these connections can be made through a publisher.
And artists also need to go into the studio and record in order to tap into that essential income bucket. They can write their own songs or even cover songs written by other songwriters. And then, they have to find a way to get these recordings to their fans in order to earn money from them. Of course, as Thomson said, this has always been a record label’s job. Many savvy DIY artists have noted that record labels take a large piece of the wholesale price of their music, plus 50% of licensing deals. However, record labels have historically done more than take care of distribution, licensing and taking money from artists recordings. They also act as a source of cash to support more recordings and tours/performances and provide a built-in team to provide booking services, publicity and producers/engineers. And they can get music played on radio and organize press coverage way more powerfully than the typical pure DIY artist can alone.
And record labels give artists important legitimacy, because it tells the world these artists were of high enough quality that they were worth a significant investment. Record labels raise musicians’ profiles to attract booking agents that can bring bigger show payments, bigger tours and better management, thus often significantly impacting income lifetime income. However, many DIY artists have been reluctant to get signed, fearing they will lose control over their compositions and careers. Still, those that decide to add a record label – or individual professionals that can fulfill the many roles of a record label – to their teams end up finding more success financially in the long run.
Touring is the most cut-and-dried point of focus for an artist, because it involves connecting directly with venues and festivals. Performers and bands that hire booking agents – who take 10-15 percent of money earned from the tour – to negotiate dates and details with venues as well as ticket prices and the amount of money they will get paid find more money in their pockets. The Future of Music Coalition revealed that the booking agent actually has the most significant impact on income and often makes artists able to hire professional sound people.
As Thomson pointed out, the many functions of a high-quality support team can technically be carried out by the artists themselves if they are willing to spend significant time, make huge numbers of phone calls and send many emails to music industry people during peak office hours times. However, not many bands actually have the leverage these professionals have in the industry and also find themselves without the power to defend themselves or troubleshoot problems when the going gets tough.
Digital Music Finally on Top
Digital music service revenue finally overtook CD and record sales for the first time in Britain in the first quarter of 2012, according to figures released this past week by trade organization BPI. The amount spent on digital music was up 2.7% and was significantly impacted by tracks bought as downloads, paid-for subscriptions and ad-funded music services from streaming companies like Spotify, Napster and eMusic. The two artists that contributed the most to the rise were Lana Del Ray’s and Lady Gaga.
Digital singles have equaled huge revenue for the industry for quite some time, whereas entire digital albums have taken longer to ignite. And sales of CDs and other physical products – which were still represented the biggest revenue stream for recorded music last year have actually dropped 15 percent already. Thankfully, due to the overall sales growth in 2011, digital revenues can finally make up for this loss.
Geoff Taylor, chief executive of the BPI said, “This is a significant milestone in the evolution of the music business …the industry’s prospects for growth look brighter than for several years.” Still, he said the industry will have to see this trend continue in additional quarters in order to truly declare revolutionary change.
RIAA Leader, on Google’s Lack of Commitment to Protecting Copyright
Recording Industry Association of America EVP for Anti-Piracy Brad Buckles revealed what Google is actually doing – and not doing – to deter piracy in a blog entry posted Wednesday on the RIAA site. The entry was a response to Google’s recent publication of its “Transparency Report,” which showed how many requests the company gets from copyright holders requesting the removal of infringing material.
According to Buckles, Google affirmed its commitment to fighting piracy and eliminating search results that represent copyright-violating items. And he said, the fact that Google does continue to work to try to combat infringement – and openly share the steps they are taking to meet this end – is also positive. However, he stated, “… even more transparency is needed to fully understand the scope of the problem. Knowing the total number of links to infringing material available and the limitations Google imposes on rights owners to search for infringements reveals how meager the number of notices is relative to the vast amount of infringement.” As he noted, the fact that the first results that pop up when searching for the term “mp3” and “free download” are still copyright-infringing materials.
Buckles also pointed out that Google has continued to claim it processes huge volumes of infringement notices, yet data surrounding this is actually misleading. Also, the process of reporting is convoluted and puts a strict cap on the number of instances of violation a copyright owner can report.
Buckles presented five facts about Google’s policies:
- Copyright owners need to find infringements in order to notify Google of a problem. “But Google places artificial limits on the number of queries that can be made by a copyright owner to identify infringements.” And these limits compromise the integrity of Google’s take-down tool and neither allow Google to take down the large number of infringements, nor for copyright owners to fully protect their work.
- As long as limitations are in place, Google cannot get an accurate picture of the true scope of the piracy problem. Also, not only are piracy queries limited, but copyright holders are only allowed to ask Google to remove a certain number of links per day, despite the fact that Google has the resources that would allow it to manage large volumes of take downs.
- “The constraints Google has placed on the tools they promote to deter infringement are well below what is necessary to identify and notice infringements on the Billboard Top 10, much less the entire catalog of the American creative community.” Still, Google successfully found five million new illegal links but openly stated it only received requests to remove 1.2 million links from 1,000 people.
- The data Google actually is using to determine the percentage of a given site that is illegal does not fully capture the magnitude of the piracy problem: “… This number is misleading given the constraints imposed by Google on a copyright owner’s ability to find infringements and send notices to Google. If these constraints did not exist, how many more links on these sites might be identified?”
- Google’s data actually admits it is ineffectively measuring the problem and is often not keeping links down after they come down initially: “If ‘take down’ does not mean ‘keep down,’ then Google’s limitations merely perpetuate the fraud wrought on copyright owners by those who game the system.”
And Buckles stated he feels the solution is complex, but possible: “Google needs to take its commitment to fight piracy more seriously by removing the limits on queries and take downs, by taking down multiple files of the same recording instead of just one when a ‘representative sample’ of infringing files is provided to them, and by establishing meaningful repeat infringer policies.”
Jason Reeves is an ASCAP award-winning singer/songwriter who, aside from successfully building a career as a DIY artist has also proven that collaboration can be incredibly powerful for artists that want to find new ways to reach fans and get their music heard. Reeves has co-written many songs, including the Billboard chart-topping “Bubbly” and “I Never Told You,” with the Grammy-award-winning Colbie Caillat. He also wrote “The Show” with Australian pop artist Lenka and most recently worked with A Rocket To The Moon and Hot Chelle Rae. Like many other artists, Reeves threw himself into music early, picking up piano at five, then drums and guitar in his teens. He cites his major influences as Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin and James Taylor. In late 2004/early 2005, Jason was contacted by producer Mikal Blue who had heard his self-created work on CD Baby and invited Reeves to record in his L.A. studio. It was there that Blue connected him to Caillat, and a career-altering partnership was born. Reeves self-released four albums and an EP before signing to Warner Bros. Records in 2008 and returned to the DIY world in 2011 with his album The Lovesick. His next album, Songs are Silent Films will be released next month.
I recently got to talk to Jason about co-writing, the process of building up a national touring base and the importance of staying focused on your vision as an artist if you want to have a successful, long-lasting career in music.
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk, Jason. Tell me how you got started as a musician/singer/songwriter.
When I was living in Iowa, I had just graduated from high school. I had started writing songs and putting out records on my own at the end of high school. And when I went to college right away, as most people do, I had no idea why I was going or what I was doing. All I was doing was writing music and not going to class. So, I dropped out in order to not waste my time or my parents’ money.
I decided I was just going to go for it, which led me to California, which turned a lot of things on for me and opened a lot of doors. For example, I met Mikal Blue and Colbie Caillat. They were my first two friends when I first came out here. And everything has come from that. But the whole time, I’ve just been trying to write as much music as I can and see where it takes me.
Correct me if I’m wrong: At the time, you were 19 or 20 and moving out to California on your own. How did you go about networking to even find artists of that caliber? How did that come about?
Honestly, Mikal Blue, the producer, is the reason I came out there. He invited me to come record with him. At the time, I’d only ever recorded in little basement studios in the country in Iowa – nothing that resembled a real studio. And I’d never really been to the West Coast. So, I was really excited. And Colbie had just had her first guitar lesson and had just written her first song when I met her. Neither of us had ever co-written a song before. All of a sudden, we met, started writing songs, and it turned into what it did. We didn’t expect that, and it wasn’t our goal. That’s really how crazy it’s been.
Ever since that happened, I’ve just been able to write with other people. And it’s been amazing. I know I’ve been very lucky.
You said you were putting out your own records. How did Blue come across you? Iowa is not exactly a music business hot spot, unless it’s changed since the last time I’ve been there.
Not at all. He found it on CD Baby. I still actually use them. But this was before I knew what MySpace, Facebook and all those things were. CD Baby was really the only place I knew to put my music, and that was where he found it. It’s crazy how the Internet has been changing everything.
For sure. Tell me about what the process of co-writing has been like for you. I know most artists I work with are initially a bit hesitant. They find it a bit awkward and feel like songwriting is a fairly personal thing to share with someone they don’t know that well. I’m assuming you and Colbie weren’t that tight when you initially started writing songs together. Was it an easy process for you, or was it something you had to work to get comfortable with?
It’s something you have to learn, for sure. But the more you do it and figure out how it works, the better you get at it. I think being comfortable is one of the most important things, because what you said about people not liking to do it because it feels strange initially or too intimate is true. If you’re not comfortable enough to share exactly how you feel or what you think with someone, you’re not going to get the best song. That’s why I, for the most part, write with people I’m already really good friends with and work well with. That makes the process fun and easy.
It sounds like your career was something that you built initially based on your success as a co-writer.
That’s definitely what has brought a lot of attention to my own music. I’ve been touring a lot for the past three or four years. I did do a lot of promotion with my songs, so it’s a balance between the two. It’s about half co-writing and half putting out my own music.
You were signed to a major label and have also put out records on your own. Tell me a little bit about that process.
I was on Warner Bros. Records until last year. Before I was on the label, I put out about an album a year. But the important part for me was that, when I was doing it myself, I could put out music whenever I wanted to. Warner was good to me, and I liked being on the label. But in all honesty, I didn’t get very much done. In fact, it kind of slowed me down. So, the fact that I’m not on the label anymore just means I can actually put out the music I have that’s just sitting around. Because, I write so many songs, it’s hard to even keep up with myself. That’s why I’ve been really excited to be able to have people who are willing to help me do this. It’s amazing. I have a feeling a lot of work is going to get done just in these next couple months by a few people than it did the whole time I was on that label.
I first came up in the Atlantic Records system. And I would watch what I called “The Shiny Shirt” phenomenon happen over and over again. What would happen was, after Hootie & the Blowfish, Atlantic seemed to be mining the Southeast region for the next Hootie. They signed all these bands from the Carolinas and Tennessee and Florida. These bands would be doing all this local promotional, getting on local radio, then putting together regional touring.
Then, the label would come in and say, “This is all great. Quit your jobs. We’re just getting this release together.” And these musicians tended to all stop, say, “Cool, we’re rock stars now” and wait. They would be waiting on the photographer for the photo shoot, for the mastering engineer who was going to spend $20,000 of the band’s money to make the record sound marginally better, or for the publicist to show up and say, “Singer? We’re going to get you into the gym, have you lose a little weight. Bass player? Cut your hair, because you’ll really be cute when we have this whole makeover/reveal thing together.” The guitarist would wear leather pants instead of jeans, and everyone would get shiny shirts as opposed to flannel. That was almost all I saw really change. Then, they would throw it at radio, and it would mostly miss.
That’s an amazing description.
That was just my experience. But, you’re in the vast majority of people I know that have had a major label experience where they saw their name with a major label imprint next to it, and it just didn’t quite deliver the way they expected it to.
Yes. It was frustrating.
Let’s get down to some nuts and bolts. I think a lot of people have the tendency to say, “Okay, I’m going to leave my hometown, and then what?” How did you go about building a national touring base?
It started around the time I put out my album The Magnificent Adventures of Heartache, which was in 2007. It was in about 2008 that I decided I needed to tour. I got two guys I met in L.A. – a bass player and a drummer – and we just rehearsed and did a residency at Hotel Café for a month. After that, we just started touring as much as we could. Eventually, they got really long. One of the tours we had was 37 shows in a row. It was more than circling the U.S. once. It was totally amazing, but crazy. It goes up and down, depending on the day and is really hard to predict how things will go. But the more you play cities, the more people come back to see you. And you just hope you can keep their attention.
Obviously you regularly get feedback on which songs work and which don’t. Other than just playing well, is there anything else you’ve learned about how to keep people’s attention?
I think for somebody that’s touring the way I do, it really comes down to the songs and if they connect to people. At my level, it’s not necessarily mainstream media that’s promoting my music, so people aren’t finding out about me that way. They’re hearing about me through word of mouth and Internet. I’m sure that’s how most music is. But at the end of the day, it’s about a song connecting to the person that’s listening to it enough that they want to tell their friends and come to the shows. Other than that, I think it’s a mystery. My main goal is to write the best songs I can.
It’s something that a lot of musicians lose, for sure. I notice you’re active with Instagram and Facebook. What online marketing strategies have worked the best for you?
It’s so crazy how much is happening with all that and how it just keeps changing and getting more intricate. I can’t even keep up with it, honestly. There are too many for me. So, I try to just utilize a few the best I can. I just got Instagram, because until recently, I didn’t have an iPhone. I just kept holding out and telling myself I didn’t need one. I didn’t realize how amazing they actually are, even though it scares me terribly to own one. But with Twitter, Facebook and everything else, there are so many different tools now.
The fact that you can connect immediately to people anywhere in the world is very wild and futuristic. And it’s happening right now. Obviously, the whole music industry and everything about music today has been changed by it. So, I’m still learning just like everyone else is what all these things mean.
If you had to give yourself advice as you were releasing records in high school, based on what you have now experienced, what would you tell yourself about what to expect, what to avoid, or what to prioritize?
I would say, you have to be more patient than you can even imagine. Also, it needs to be about the music the whole time. That’s still one of my main goals, and I think it’s what being a songwriter should be about. I think it’s about trying to keep everything you do as real and as honest as you can make it.
Do you feel like you ever lost sight of that along the way?
I don’t think I did. It’s just something that I have to keep working on. There are so many things pulling people away from the music and being honest, at all times. And if you are somebody that wants to stay true to the vision of what you want to represent, you have to stand strong on certain things and not give in.
The opportunities for musicians that go fully “DIY” was explored this week as they weighed in on the benefits of fan funding sites, and indie record label head Daniel Glass discussed why artists are misunderstanding the concept and missing out on the full benefits of success. Also, Philadelphia-area classical musicians and other professionals within that space discussed how the classical music landscape is changing – but also staying the same – for artists and record labels.
Fan Funding: Practical Support for Unattached Artists
Many artists are ditching the idea that music executives are the key to ultimate success and turning to their fans for support, according to an article published in The Guardian last week. Up-and-coming musicians like Miss Stylie and Esco Williams and the band The Libertines have all begun to rely on crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Pledge Music to help them fund recording and touring projects, get their music out there and grow their fan base and build viable careers.
Liverpool-based hip hop/house artist Miss Stylie (aka, Jade Jackson) – winner of the Mercury Music Prize – recently appealed to her fans through the crowdfunding site PledgeMusic to raise funds to get her album produced. She stated that today, artists need to prove themselves as self-reliant master marketers and really establish their personal brand in order to get noticed by gatekeepers within the music business: “People think it’s easy to put out an album but it ain’t like that no more … This industry can be cruel, it can run you over. These days you have to create your own platform before anyone will even look at you.”
With digital transforming the music market, even artists like Public Enemy (who have used Sellaband) and the Libertines are using crowdfunding to get help from fans to move forward with their creative endeavors. Since 2009, PledgeMusichas gone from launching two new artist campaigns per week, to two campaigns daily. Managing director Malcolm Dunbar attributed this directly to the decline in popularity of CDs and CD retailers: “CD sales are falling … so creating your own buzz is much more necessary than it was.” And he added that fans could have the sole power to build successful careers for many musicians, so they need to focus on making them – instead of music executives – happy: “Selling direct to fans will be an integral part of the industry. Fans are an artist’s lifeblood so it is increasingly necessary to engage with them and give real value for money.”
Liverpool-based music writer and owner of the Getintothis blog, Peter Guy said that direct-to-fan business models are all part of the new grassroots movement that continues to develop as digital music transforms the way artists make money from their art: “That DIY spirit has just become the norm … Artists and the people in the music game don’t have to rely on that old record label infrastructure; people are just coming together, working collaboratively and doing it for themselves.”
Esco Williams, another Liverpool-based artist, who has been compared to Marvin Gaye recently made a video using fan funds and just hit his £5,000 target, which will allow him to record his debut album. He said that aside from providing him with the necessary money to complete his important projects, crowdfunding – which, he said, includes creating a buzz at his live gigs and building personal relationships with fans through Twitter and Facebook – has imbued him with the confidence he needed to blaze his own trail: “We’re doing everything in-house; whatever we do and whatever we make is for us, we don’t have to sell out. With a big label, you are not a priority unless you are Beyoncé.”
Because many artists are going their own way, major record labels, like Universal are starting to rely on shows like The Voice to feed them new talent. And musicians that want to achieve stardom are having to create totally new routes, according to Jon Webster, chief executive of the Music Managers Forum: “Above my desk is a sign which says, ‘There are no rules anymore.’” Despite a growing “pioneer” spirit, some continue to be reluctant to use fan-funded sites to sell some of the more non-traditional experiences to fans, such as the opportunity to have dinner or go bowling with bands.
However, Miss Stylie’s manager, Andy Ng asserted, “In this day and age, fans are the taste-makers. In the past, you signed with a label because they had distribution, radio pluggers, press team, but that whole system is breaking down now. It’s a democracy, not a dictatoriship …”
“If DIY is Killing You …” You Might not be Doing it Right
Daniel Glass, founder of the indie label Glassnotes Records spoke at Musexpo last Monday about how many artists are taking the term “DIY” too literally and forgetting that the most responsible business strategy for musicians is to give themselves a chance to focus on honing their craft and creating music. Digital Music News highlighted Glass’ belief that in order to be successful, they need to stop thinking of DIY as a “romanticized, religious idea” and instead surround themselves with a hired team of competent professionals who can prevent the DIY process from breaking the bank, distracting them and even demoralizing them.
Glass said, “I think it’s very difficult to do things without a team. I would hate to have an artist or a manager [think], ‘oh that’s easy, I can do this myself, I can just do the site, do the work, get my records loaded in and everything goes well,’ or ‘I can just sign the artist and go to a distributor and it ends there.”
He added that DIY does not mean what artists have come to believe it means – that they do not have to depend on someone or tell them what to do with their music. Instead, it means “the autonomy of the decision-making on the taste within [an artist’s] operation … I still think that either you’re putting together a loosely or tightly knit team of professionals to perform functions and rent them out or use consultants.”
As an example, The Civil Wars recently won two Grammys. The outside perception was that they did it entirely themselves. While this is true, they also put together a strong team of song pluggers, publicists, distribution people, etc. to support them and spent a lot of money to pull themselves up.
Glass’ most passionately-delivered message for artists was that, at the root of everything is the music, so they need to find a way to focus on that and avoid getting distracted by the other tasks: “My advice to people is not to be too DIY … you should focus on the essence of why you got there. And most of us feel that it’s the music, and repertoire, so if you get bogged down in distribution issues, and payment issues, and sub-contracting issues, I think that’s when you kill your business, and kill your spirit.”
The State of the Classical Music Industry
In major classical music hubs like Philadelphia, classical musicians and industry experts have been examining the effects the digital shift has had on their piece of the recording industry, according to an article published Thursday on Philly.com. Despite many reports that classical music labels are dying or already deceased, a closer look at sales tells a different story and points to the possibility that classical music is simply – like other types of music – growing new legs as the industry changes.
Recordings including the late, great Philadelphia Orchestra music director Eugene Ormandy has enjoyed a resurgence recently in digital stores like rural-France-based Pristine Classical. And Pristine’s Founder Andrew Rose said that Arturo Toscanini – another deceased conductor – also continues to sell “spectacularly.”
Despite the potential for sales, more money can be lost than made by musicians and artists on these recordings. Donald Nally, founder of the new-music choir the Crossing admitted, “One does not record for residual income.” Still, classical musicians are still clamoring to record and spend hundreds of hours on recording after working to raise anywhere from $18,000,to $100,000 to create masters of high enough quality to send to record labels to be distributed as physical and digital product.
Why do they keep at it? Artists see it as invaluable marketing to help them get more live performing opportunities. Flutist Mimi Stillman recently spent $20,000 to put together a two-CD set called Odyssey of 11 new flute works by Gerald Levinson and Mason Bates. For her money, she scored a May 18 radio concert on the coveted Soundcheck radio show on WNYC-FM. Stillman also noted that part of the allure of recordings is the joy of being a memorable part of the very long-standing, prestigious tradition within the classical music world of highlighting new composers who will one day become part of the canon: “When you’re responsible for the creation of new work … you want to launch the pieces so they can enter the canon and have others play them.”
And for long-standing classical music organizations, recording keeps them relevant by building awareness of their presence and keeping funding in place. The Bach Choir of Bethlehem recently re-released its St. John Passion on the Analekta label. Recordings like this help the organization promote its biggest performance of the year, held in May by having something fresh to give to radio stations.
In terms of major recording contracts with labels like Deutsche Grammophon, Sony and RCA, they still exist, and help showcase the talents of music school graduates like those coming out of the prestigious Curtis Institute that might be the next big virtuosos. However, the Digital Age has also breathed new life into nichier releases, because the recording and distribution processes are less expensive than they were in previous decades.
In terms of funding for albums, creative business models have emerged in classical music just as they have been developing in other music markets. Classical music recording guru Ward Marston of Swarthmore, known for putting together lush box sets on his Marston label has found a way to make discs for as little as 40-cents apiece and can thus focus his funds on well-designed,eye-catching booklets. He used to propose projects on his website and wait for interest to grow before moving ahead with a 1,000-set run. Now, foundations have started to come forward because of his focus on recordings of historically-important composers like Chopin. And because of foundation grants and other gifts that help offset the cost of recording and distribution, many classical music labels are able to give more royalties to the musicians.
Classical artists, like artists in other genres are also using crowd funding sites like Kickstarter to raise money. Brooklyn-based composer Missy Mazzoli used Kickstarter to fund a recording of her opera Song From the Uproar. She raised $7,698 from 103 supporters in just 10 days.
Many classical musicians agree they will continue to record because the recording process is a critical part of honing their craft. It requires them to stay disciplined and stay technically proficient. Stillman admitted she still pays for the best sound engineers possible because the quality of the recording is more important in the classical world than it is in any other market.