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 ‘emerging artists’
Mark Bryan is a founding member, songwriter and the guitar player for the multi-platinum band Hootie & the Blowfish. In 2009, he founded Chucktown Music Group, a boutique music company focused in producing and releasing music in new innovative ways while helping local and regional acts get exposure.
Mark shared his own experiences with building a successful music career and some tips about what artists need to do to make a real living in the Digital Age. He also offered some advice for new and emerging artists that want to stay true to their passion for making music and navigate the business side of the industry.
Thanks so much for taking some time to talk to me, Mark. From your vantage point, what do artists need to do to make a living in the current music industry?
The standard answer for that is obviously that artists need to tour, first and foremost. I think if you can establish yourself as a live act with a solid set of music, you can start to make a living right there. Then it’s about finding the right market or markets to be able to continue to do it.
And I know things have changed a lot since Hootie & the Blowfish released Cracked Rear View, your very successful major label debut, which came out in 1994. So, you’ve been through the traditional, pre-digital system of touring and bringing a song to radio. My recollection of your story is that you guys were doing exceptionally well with no label whatsoever; you were touring, making a name for yourself and bringing your music to stores without major label help. While certainly the mechanisms for artists running their own careers have changed in the Digital Age, the ethos behind that process is very similar to how it used to be. How did you manage to get the attention of Atlantic back then?
It’s funny that the same model is still in place. If you talk to any A&R person at a label now, they are still looking for bands that have already established themselves on their own at that level. We went out and toured as much as we could.
Fortunately for us, in the Southeast at that time, it was easy to gather 15-20 markets where we could draw 1,000 people, which we were able to do over three years of really grinding it out and building that fan base. When you’re playing to that many people, and they start buying your CDs, the labels see those numbers and think, “Who is this band I’ve never heard of that is selling as many copies in their region as the bigger acts are?” And they start to pay attention. I think it can still work that way.
But, regardless of whether we’re talking about getting signed or not, the original question you asked was about establishing a real career as a musician in the music industry. And as an artist, I think the way to do that is just to make sure you have that live show you can count on and that is making people come back to see you. That way, if nothing else happens, you have that foundation as your bread and butter.
Beyond that, there are so many ways now aside from record labels to get your music noticed and heard. The first thing that comes to mind is a great video. A viral YouTube video can do as much for an act now as pretty much anything else. I think that’s an exciting thing that should give young artists a lot of hope.
And licensing your music is another avenue now. We’re seeing songs get broken through TV shows and film as quickly as they were through radio in the past. There are just so many other avenues that help artists that are up and coming do something aside from shopping their music to labels, which used to be the only thing they could do.
That was the Holy Grail.
When it comes to live shows, in order for you to be successful, there has to be a certain percentage of people in the room that like what you’re doing so they will come back for more. And there’s no sure-fire way to teach people to write hit songs. You quickly mentioned that when you were starting out, you got 15-20 markets where we could draw 1,000 people, but I would love to know more about that process. Is there anything you think you did well business-wise that your peers did not in order to make that happen? Because, even expanding beyond their home city and home market can be so tough for bands.
Well, you said it a minute ago: It’s about having material that people want to come back and hear. I think we were fortunate to have a sound that appealed to a lot of people during that time. For whatever reason, that’s just how the chips fell for us, so there was some good fortune in there.
We were also listening to what was going on around us. We were big fans of REM and lots of other similar bands, so we also adopted their approach to their careers. I think that really helped us with touring and how we set up our business. But we were also writing songs we knew appealed to people. There’s one element of your art where you’re doing it for yourself and what you feel is right. And there’s another element of it that is you giving a nod to something you know people would like to hear.
Was putting those elements that other people would like in your music a conscious decision?
No. It wasn’t about us changing our songs. It was just a feeling. If you’re going out and buying songs you want to hear, then when you sit down to write songs, you want to write songs that other people want to hear. It’s not a conscious decision you make, where you say, “I’m going to make this song this certain way.” It’s just a feeling you have that informs your creative process and comes through the music.
As a musician, if I hear a song I that makes me feel a certain way, I want to go write a song that makes other people feel that way. That’s the only part of the process that is somewhat conscious: I want to create a thread that runs through the music and makes people want to come back to it. And as you said, there’s no formula for that; it’s just a feeling. And that feeling has always been there for me, ever since I was a kid. And as I’m writing music today, it’s still there. If I’m getting excited while I’m writing a song, then I know that other people will be excited too.
And you guys were also surprisingly adept at remaining down to earth, despite all your success. That was what first struck me when we met at Atlantic years back. What was the hardest part about being in the limelight?
It was combining the business aspect – which we were just learning at the time – with that creativity I was describing earlier and the drive we had to go around and build our fan base, play shows and write material that was relevant. They are two completely different things, and when you combine the two, it can get tricky. We didn’t really understand the business side of it. And as we were learning it, we were trying to adapt. There were certainly some awkward moments for me, especially on awards shows and when meeting with industry people. I was often asking myself, “What does this have to do with what we’re doing?” But in that situation, those things actually have a lot to do with what you’re doing, because they’re how you’re sustaining your career.
You guys also had a label and signed other artists, and now, of course, you’re running a music company yourself. You’ve been on the business side of it for a long time.
Yes, and when Hootie & the Blowfish was making our second record, Cracked Rear View was doing really well on the charts, and Atlantic was really cool about letting us go in and make our second record, because we were just ready to do it. Then, all of a sudden, nobody could decide what the first single should be, because the label wanted to sustain the success of the first album; they wanted that same feel, and we had written a bunch of new material that represented where we were at that point. There was suddenly this rift in opinions about what the next song we put out should be. We wanted the single to be representative of the new direction we were taking, and the label wanted the single to sound like our older material.
Issues like this come up as you’re going through the process of building your career, and it can be awkward. Many of them are good problems to have, but they are problems nonetheless.
It can be hard to take for an executive or a music business person when they hear, “It’s a business decision based on my gut feeling about a song.” Single picking is very difficult.
Tell me a little bit about what you are up to now with Chucktown Music Group. You’re producing and writing with artists. I read somewhere that you’re also doing something with music education.
Yes. I’m still active creatively – writing songs and producing other artists. I will always do that, because I just love it.
Also, the College of Charleston came to me about five years ago and asked if I wanted to be involved in this burgeoning music industry concentration they were developing. I said, “Yes,” and designed an intro to music industry course that I started teaching as an adjunct professor. Then, they offered me a position to help develop the whole concentration. I took the job.
We now have 18 credit hours of music industry courses at the College of Charleston. I’ve been helping decide which classes we can develop, who should teach them, how we can get kids internships and jobs within the industry. And I’ve been also helping develop an advisory council and several other different aspects of the program. It’s been a great job. It’s a perfect thing for me to be doing while I’m off the road. It’s a great use of my contacts and experience, so I’m really enjoying it.
Good for you. That’s great.
I imagine that when you’re producing a band now, you’re playing both therapist and mentor to a lot of the people you’re working with. Are there any new challenges you notice they are facing today that you didn’t face when you were coming up?
It’s not that much different. As a producer, my job is still to present their music in the best possible way and bring the best out of the artists I work with. That’s the same as it was when we were working with producers as we were coming up. I learned that craft from all those producers and that I have to be the coach of a project.
I think the difference is in digital recording and how much you can do now. Back then, everything was analog and acoustic. Now you can technically make a whole track without anyone even playing an instrument. That’s the big thing I notice: If somebody brings me a certain song, we don’t necessarily have to put a band on it. Back in the day, you had to find the players to help you. Now you can make the whole song in the box if you have to.
I’m sure bands are asking you business questions, too. Are their concerns about releasing music similar to what yours were back in the ‘90s, or has digital changed those concerns as well? What advice are you giving them?
I always first tell them, first and foremost that they have to be able to go out and play live. Unless you have a sustainable live show, you’re going to fall away quickly. You need to get that going.
From there, it’s about using all the tools that are available and doing the most you can with your own music. You need to do everything a label would do for your music for yourself until you can get signed. And as I said earlier, there’s so much you can do with your music in this day and age that managing all of it becomes a 24-7 job for whoever is managing you or your band.
I tell bands I work with that they need to take the music we’ve produced and make a video, get it on TuneCore, register it with ASCAP or another performance rights organization and put it as many places online as you can. And as you know, there are so many ways to market and sell your music online now. It’s up to the artist to decide which ways are best for them to market what they’re doing. If you do this, you can start making little bits of money right away – within the first year. If you can combine all these efforts with touring and build a touring base, you can do really well.
What would be the one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were just starting out, based on everything you’ve learned throughout your career? I know it’s a difficult question.
It’s actually easy for me to answer, because it’s what I’ve done, and it’s worked well for me: Stay true to the music. I know that sounds sort of cliché. But if this passion that you have for music is what got you into it and to whatever level you’re at – making a recording or releasing a recording – then stay true to that passion in all the decisions you make, regardless of whether those decisions are about touring, signing a record deal or digitally distributing your music. You have to keep the core of it about what got you there in the first place. It’s so easy to lose sight of that once you start getting involved in the business side of the industry. This advice applies to artists and managers, because a manager would not have become involved in music if they were not passionate about it. For everybody, it’s about staying true to that initial passion that got them going with it and keeping that fire burning. Because, once things get tricky down the road, that passion is this great thing that you can always go back to. It feels good on the inside, and you wonder, “Why didn’t I just think about this in the first place?”
I can sit here at 46 and say that I am just as passionate as I was at 16. I have a lot of different skills and different interests in the industry than I had when I was 16, but I still have that burning feeling I felt the first time I heard “My Generation,” and it made me jump around in my bedroom. I still feel that way about what I’m doing musically, and even feel that way about helping students and kids get involved in the industry. It feels so good to say I am just as passionate about that as I am about making my own music. It feels so good to have someone come back to me and say, “Wow, that was great advice you gave me, and this is really working out for me.” That’s just as exciting to me as when a song I wrote connects with somebody, and it’s all still coming from that initial passion I had for music.
Music business analysts discussed why small tech startups could prompt the beginning of the best years the music industry has ever seen. Also The Grammys announced prizes and opportunities for aspiring artists. And The Independent explored how commercial brand sponsorship is helping the British music industry rebound.
Will Small Tech Startups Rejuvenate Music?
“We’re in the early stages of the best days the music industry has ever seen.” This was the declaration of business expert Rocco Pendola of The Street, who said he believes despite battles over royalties, changes in the music business climate could be headed towards a time of prosperity, led by the many entrepreneurs who are embracing new trends in digital technology.
Pendola added that the revolution will not only be led by giants like Pandora and Spotify, but also smaller, tech-minded companies like Patreon, Kickstarter and live show platform Concert Window, run by musician and entrepreneur Dan Gurney of the indie band The Yanks, who runs a blog chronicling his life as a working musician and recently wrote a post about emerging business models.
Gurney observed, “But here’s what’s happening: the music industry is undergoing a fundamental transition. The old model of record labels and other intermediaries is going away. Thanks to the Internet and the level playing field it creates, musicians can now communicate directly with their fans, and that’s a new dynamic … As the intermediaries are disappearing, power is shifting to the musicians.”
He added that one of the best things about new business models that are emerging is that they take out the “middleman,” give musicians more control over their own revenues and allow them to personally honor the fans that support them: “Because here’s what the old model didn’t appreciate: fans want to support musicians. As long as there isn’t a monolithic, cold-hearted middleman in the way.”
And Pendola concluded that while musicians and record label executives are looking for Apple to fix everything, its ultimate focus on selling hardware will prevent it from affecting the change necessary to raise music revenue: “Apple rides both sides of the fence – between downloads and the access model … This company is nimble enough to shift to wherever the consumer market shifts. Plus the revenue it derives from selling music means little, if anything, to it … for Apple, it’s all about selling hardware.”
Grammys Presenting Prizes to Aspiring Musicians in 2014
The Recording Academy will be giving out awards to aspiring and emerging artists as part of next year’s Grammy® Awards, reported The Wall Street Journal.
The Academy will be taking submissions for the contest – co-sponsored by Hyundai Motor Co. – from the public for the next five weeks on its site GrammyUAmplifier.com. Submitted acts will be competing for a list of prizes, including a recording session with a top producer and the chance to be an opening act on a major tour or music festival. Contest judges will be rap artist Kendrick Lamar, pop icon Ariana Grande, jazz pianist Robert Glasper and country star Hunter Hayes, who will choose their top-three favorite songs, based in part on how well they perform on social media.
The program was first launched in 2012 and is an attempt to reach younger fans, according to an Academy spokeswoman. Academy President Neil Portnow said it is also part of an initiative to better develop “the next generations of music majors,” as he feels that school music programs are in “such a pathetic state.”
The Grammy-attached contest for new artists is open to anyone 13 and above, but Portnow stated the Academy is particularly focused on college students and will be sending out special notices through the “Grammy U” program being operated on hundreds of college campuses nationwide.
Winners will not accept awards on national television as part of the Grammy®s. But Hyundai spokesman David Matathia said they will be promoting last year’s winners in the months leading up to the awards ceremony, releasing footage from winners’ festival performances and recordings through the Hyundai’s social media channels.
Commercial Brand Sponsorship Re-Energizing UK’s Music Business
UK brands injected significant money into the music industry in 2012 – £100 million, cited The Independent. And this amount is up six percent from 2011, according to a study conducted by PRS for Music.
Fifteen years ago, this type of collaboration was often seen as “selling out” by musicians, but it has now become a critical revenue stream for big names like Professor Green, Avicii, Jay Z and even for growing numbers of indie artists.
Professor Green, who has been working with major energy drink producer Relentless for 18 months explained, “[In] the music business, all you’ll hear everyone talk about is how different things are … There’s not as much money in certain areas and really it’s just trying to find ways to move things forward.”
And he added that the fact that brands are making an effort to reach fans in interesting ways has also helped make the experience more appealing to fans. And this helps artists get access to new marketing techniques and also personalize relationships. And the brand-artist partnership also helps reach new potential customers.
Many record labels have added on teams dedicated primarily to managing deals between artists and brands. Universal Records’ Marc Robinson said the goal is to bring in more money in a time when everything in the industry is changing: “Everyone thought file-sharing was the death of the music industry but actually it has given us a whole new lease of life … There are so many different platforms and ways to communicate music to get it heard … Working with brands sometimes brings platforms that we won’t get through traditional media.”
Dom Hodge of branding company Frukt iterated, “The traditional ways artists have made money has changed. They need new income and brands can give them that income … But also I think artists are wanting to do interesting new things and brands can give them the money to try those things out.” His company helped with the study conducted by PRS for Music that revealed the amount of money injected into British music in 2012.
Hodge also revealed, “Over the last five or six years it has really exploded and particularly over the last 24 months … Almost every artist in pop, and increasingly outside of that, is working with brands in some way.”
But Professor Green clarified that while artists working with brands is not as frowned upon by fans anymore, they still need to be selective about the partnerships they establish: “You can’t be financially driven … It becomes very obvious to people if you say yes to everything and you do things purely for the money despite not having any belief in what you’re endorsing.”
Pandora surprised the industry with reports of a significant ad revenue increase. Also, Ticketmaster claimed bots have been buying over 60 percent of the best seats to artists’ shows. And the chief executive of the British Arts Council talked about why artists need more support than ever before to build sustainable careers.
Pandora’s Skyrocketing Sales Adjusting Business Perceptions
Internet radio service Pandora reported a $28.6 million loss in the first quarter of 2013. But it also made $125 million in sales during the same period, a 55-percent increase from the same quarter in 2012 and a gain that can be attributed largely to ad revenue from unpaid subscriptions. And according to an article on Wall St. Cheat Sheet, many analysts are wondering what the implications of a streaming music service surviving and even thriving off its unpaid listeners could mean for the industry.
Pandora’s 49-percent jump in ad revenue to $105 million accounted for 80-percent of the company’s total sales. And the company is making moves to grow further, as it has also recently expressed that it would be moving into some of the same spaces as FM radio stations with its Pandora Premieres station, a station dedicated to playing unreleased songs from upcoming EPs and albums.
Pandora Premieres will be modeled after classic radio stations that gave music fans an inside look into an artist’s new album and will also present interviews about the studio experience and their careers. And Pandora will likely be getting this content for free from record labels, which will be getting much-needed publicity from parting with it.
Google’s All Access service has been labeled a competitor for Pandora, but experts claim that because these two services follow an entirely different formula – with All Access charging a monthly subscription – they will not share the same type of subscribers. Pandora’s user base – which grew by 700,000 in 2012 – and continued attempts at finding creative ways to earn income could help give it long-term viability.
Bots Hindering Ticket Sales
The summer concert season typically brings in significant revenue for artists, labels and venues. However, everyone involved the concert industry as well as fans could be fighting against bots in New York, Russia and India, grabbing up the most desirable tickets (many of which go unused) and contributing to low attendance and other disappointments, reported The New York Times.
Many fans are finding buying tickets impossible, as shows for major artists like Justin Bieber and others often sell out within minutes thanks to computer programs run by scalpers that can buy up seats faster than humans. To get to the bottom of the problem, Ticketmaster hired machine learning expert John Carnahan of Yahoo at the end of 2011 to head up its anti-bot initiative.
Ticketmaster and parent company Live Nation Entertainment have both become aggressive about battling bots both to put more tickets into fans hands and improve the reputation of the company, which has been in decline for several years. Bots have been causing problems in live music for years. And now, these programs are cheap, easy to procure and helping pump money into a secondary ticket market that has become its own multi-billion-dollar industry.
Investigations by Ticketmaster uncovered that bots have been used to purchase over 60-percent of the best tickets for some shows. And recently, the company sued a group of scalpers claiming it had used bots to purchase as many as 200,000 tickets daily.
And anti-bot initiatives have brought on new problems. Live Nation’s chief executive Michael Rapino admitted, “As with hackers, you can solve it today, and they’re rewriting code tomorrow … Thus the arms race.”
Still, because Carnahan and his team is closely monitoring each visitor to the Ticketmaster site, the company can figure out differences between humans and machines. Humans might click many different buttons at different speeds and different spots on the computer screen, whereas bots often click quickly in the same spot on the screen every time.
Carnahan’s traffic reports recently showed that suspiciously-bot-like visitors were sometimes making 600 times more ticket purchases than humans. Systems have been put in place to “speedbump” bots rather than kick them off the system entirely. They get slowed down, or, in essence, sent to the end of the line in order to let in more real customers. “We’re not trying to stop anybody from buying tickets … We’re jus trying to make sure that a fan can buy the tickets,” stated Carnahan.
Ticketing bots are often cheap and created in countries outside of the jurisdiction of American law enforcement, like Russia and India. Rob Rachwald of computer security firm FireEye revealed that one site in Russia charges only $13.90 for the keys to 10,000 Captchas. Ticketmaster replaced its Captchas in January with more difficult-to-crack versions. The company hopes to implement a new, secure mobile device system that will get rid of Captcha tests.
Live Nation did not reveal how many of its 148-million annual tickets are bought using bots. And few ticket resellers will admit to using them. Sanctioned groups such as the National Association of Ticket Brokers publicly disparage them and claim to be cooperating with anti-bot procedures.
But bots are still getting blamed for low attendance by the industry, particularly by concert promoters, artist managers and ticketing services. Jim Glancy of the independent concert promotion company The Bowery Presents stated, “There are sold-out shows in reserved-seat houses in New York City where we will have 20 percent no-show, and that 20 percent will be down in the front of the house … It’s speculators who bought a bunch of seats and didn’t get the price they wanted.”
Ticketmaster sued 21 people in federal court in April for fraud, copyright infringement and a slew of other crimes related to using bots to look for millions of tickets over a two-year period. But bots may not even be illegal. They have been banned in a few states, but enforcement of the law federally has not panned out well for the industry.
Not everyone agrees that bots are really casing problems for concertgoers. StubHub’s nonprofit group The Fan Freedom Project has been supporting ant-bot initiatives nationwide. But its president Jon Potter has also criticized Ticketmaster’s “holds” policy, which reserves large groups of tickets for sponsors, fan club members and industry contacts, preventing the general public from buying them, even when they go unsold.
Live Nation is also in a tough spot, because it actually profits from the resale market through its TicketsNow arm as well as through deals with some major sports group. Rapino does not feel this takes away from its anti-bot stance: “I have no problem if you bought a Justin Timberlake ticket and you decide to go sell that ticket to somebody … We would first and foremost want to make sure that the first ticket sold, that the fan has a shot to buy that ticket.”
Alan Davey of Arts Council England, on Perceptions in Popular Music
Chief executive of Arts Council England Alan Davey recently said that shows like X-Factor and the Idol franchise are bringing down popular music. In an interview with the BBC, he said that the perpetuation of the myth of “overnight celebrity” is causing more major record labels to drop artists whose first or second albums do not do as well as expected: “They want talent to be delivered to them ready-made. They’re not prepared to take a risk over a long period of time investing in talent.”
He also said that this phenomenon is something that happens in many industries under pressure, as the music industry has been under throughout the Digital Age as it struggles to make sales: “… They’ll concentrate on giving the public what they think the public want, rather than exploring and getting the public to find thing that they didn’t know they want.”
His concerns – shared by others on the Art Council – have led to the creation of a fund to help financially support emerging artists as they are trying to start a sustainable career in music. The Momentum Music Fund is setting out to distribute £500,000 among musicians that need capital for recording, touring, marketing and other career-building activities.
Vanessa Reed, executive director of the PRS for Music Foundation, which will be responsible for distributing the funds added that artists need more support than ever now that fewer individuals and companies are investing in talent long term: “It’s when artists are actually seen to be professionals, they’re working in the industry, but actually they’re struggling to have their voice heard … They are competing against the huge marketing machines that are supporting the kind of artists that come through X Factor.”
This past week in music, industry analysts highlighted trends that have emerged during the Digital Age as experts claimed January is the best month for artists at all levels to release an album, and a study of the Billboard chart system showed that artists who show up on these charts only spend about five years there. Also, the file-sharing giant MegaUpload was finally shut down by the U.S. Department of Justice and labeled a “mega conspiracy.”
Want to Make it Big? Release Something in January
January has long been labeled a “dead month” in the music industry. But a study of artist releases – both major label and independent – conducted by the Independent showed it could actually be the perfect time for particularly emerging or lesser-known bands to sell more albums and register on the charts. And scoring a #1 hit is a good move for any band, as it increases sales, radio airplay and can garner better spots at live music festivals.
Since 2006, January releases have catapulted quite a few independent bands and artists to #1 on the charts, including The Arctic Monkeys in 2006 (Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not) and The View in 2007 (Hats off to the Buskers). And Adele’s #1 success in January, 2008, 19 inspired her to release her album 21 in January 2011, an album which sold 200,000 copies in its first week and made her the best-selling artist of last year.
What is the advantage for artists of a January release? The biggest benefit is that sales of just 30,000 albums can earn them a #1 spot, whereas in other months, that sales figure would have to be about three-times that much.
This year, new artist Lana Del Rey is hoping to replicate Adele’s formula for success by releasing her debut album at the end of this month. However, in competition with her will be Adele herself as well as more established artists Bruno Mars and London indie band The Maccabees, all releasing their third albums the same week.
Experts say the real reason January can be such a prime month for new artists in particular to get noticed is because it is during this time of year that the media and music fans are hungriest for something new. According to John Hirst from HMV, there has typically been six weeks of silence after Christmas and “…When no one’s released a record for two months the public’s appetite is for something new. It’s easier to get media attention and positive reviews so an album can over-perform.”
How Long is the Career of a Billboard Artist?
Artists who make Billboard charts are there for only about five years on average, according to a study spend on average only about five years A recently-released professional study conducted by Storm Gloor, MBA at the University of Denver’s College of Arts and Media (CAM) and published in the 2011 Music and Entertainment Industry Educators Association (MEIEA) Journal. And according to Gloor, more than one-third who make the charts will be “one-hit wonders.”
This study is based on analysis of Billboard charts and other pop music data and is phase one of a research project designed to figure out how artists’ popularity and the length of their careers have been impacted by the huge music industry shift brought on by the digital revolution and other major events of the past 15 years. This first part of the study analyzed over 50 years of Billboard music charts.
The official results were that artists stay on Billboard charts in some capacity from 3.95-6.16 years and that 34-percent of those whose debut albums – of any genre –hit the charts only appear there once. However, with pop artists, that figure is 50 percent.
Gloor said the results of this study will be particularly important to aspiring artists who want to plot out real, long-lasting careers in music: “The research is important to aspiring artists in understanding their own long-term planning in light of such realities. They need to know what they are facing as they start planning for their careers and beyond.” He also said this information could help labels, as they will be able to use it to create more effective promotional strategies for their artists going forward.
The second part of Gloor’s study will involve an examination of music business trends and how they affect the popularity of artists who make the charts. According to Gloor, his initial findings have been that artists who chart might gain national popularity faster, but will not likely stay in the spotlight for long.
MegaUpload Shut Down by Feds
One of the world’s most formidable file-sharing websites MegaUpload finally bit the dust on Thursday as it was shut down by the U.S. Department of Justice for violation of piracy and copyright laws. The feds issued an indictment declaring that MegaUpload was a “mega conspiracy” and labeled it a global criminal organization stating its members “engaged in criminal copyright infringement and money laundering on a massive scale.”
The indictment also charges MegaUpload executives with earning $175 million through subscription fees and advertisements and taking $500 million in royalties from movie producers, authors, musicians and other copyright holders.
According to an article in The Washington Post, prosecutors stated that the company attempted to hide the fact that they were paying users to upload illegal movies and music and used the financial windfall this practice created for a “lavish lifestyle.” Federal agents confiscated dozens of luxury autos, including site founder Kim Schmitz’s, aka “Kim Dotcom”’s Rolls-Royce, which sported the license plate “GOD.”
Of course, MegaUpload is just one of a number of services that provide file sharing online. Sites such as Mediafire and Rapidshare and also cloud storage services like Box.net and Dropbox also offer easy ways to share content. This shutdown and the potentially impending SOPA and PIPA bills – which brought about internet-wide protests by Craigslist, Wikipedia and Google last week – has many running legitimate services concerned about their future and whether or not the government has the right, even in the absence of a passed bill, to shut sites down for hosting pirated content without allowing the companies to defend themselves in court first. As Eric Goldman, a professor of intellectual property law at Santa Clara University said, “They will wonder if they have done anything different from MegaUpload, and does that mean the Feds will come through their door?”
One detail that made MegaUpload different was that it managed to get celebrities on board to support it with its online marketing campaign featuring Kanye West, Lil’ Jon, Sean “Diddy” Combs as well as Russell Simmons and director Brett Ratner, who all professed their love for the site in a series of promotional videos.
The indictment against MegaUpload was unsealed Thursday, but was issued by a federal court in Virginia on January 5. The Justice Department released a statement with the indictment: “This action is among the largest criminal copyright cases ever brought by the United States and directly targets the misuse of a public content storage and distribution site to commit and facilitate intellectual property crime.”
Authorities were dispatched last week to arrest three MegaUpload executives employed by its two companies Megaupload Ltd. and Vestor Ltd. in New Zealand, including the site’s founder, Schmitz. The indictment also charged the two companies with running a “racketeering conspiracy, conspiring to commit copyright infringement, conspiring to commit money laundering and two substantive counts of criminal copyright infringement.”
In retaliation for the shutdown on Thursday, a hacker group named “Anonymous,” linked to the Twitter accounts @YourAnonNews and @AnonOps took down the websites for the Department of Justice and Universal Music as well as for the Recording Industry of America and the Motion Picture Association of America.
The Justice Department also seized 18 additional domain names linked to the case.
Mike More is the CEO and founder of Headliner.fm, a platform founded in 2010 that provides a social recommendation network for musicians ranging from those that are new and emerging to artists on major labels. Mike has over 18 years’ experience in the media industry as a producer, songwriter and publishing executive and has always had a deep interest in the field of emerging technology. Prior to starting Headliner.FM Mike founded Nabbr, an online video network that provided a way to expose new music to fans that were becoming increasingly more focused on the internet as opposed to traditional media outlets. The Nabbr network is now the 9th largest video network in the U.S., with more than 400 affiliate websites and sees 42 million unique visitors each month and has contributed to the successes of major artists including the Jonas Brothers, Beyonce and Katy Perry as well as film and television studios such as Paramount Pictures and MTV. Mike also sits on the advisory board of Dream Tiger Partners, a New York City-based seed fund for media-focused technology start-ups. Headliner.fm currently has over 65,000 artists and 230 million fans that exchange 6,000 recommendations per day via Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.
I recently had a chance to sit down with Mike to talk about Headliner.fm and how artists have used this platform to communicate with other artists and their fans. We also discussed where he believes artists should be focusing in the digital space if they want to build successful music careers.
Thanks so much for talking to me today, Mike. How did you decide to start Headliner.fm?
I have a long background in the music industry. Prior to having any technology business experience, I was a record producer, a songwriter and a publisher with a small music publishing company that I sold in 2003. I went back to graduate school in New York at Columbia University and was deciding what I wanted to do next. It was a very transitional time in the music business. People saw the future on the horizon, and they were trying various things to capture the lightning. From a sales perspective, I thought it was a very hard problem to solve, and I didn’t come up with a good solution there. I put my efforts into looking at the marketing side of it, because I thought with the marketing side of things there were probably reasonable solutions and ways to help people.
Very early on I started a company that was syndicating video content. That came about organically and holistically through a relationship I had with Steve Greenberg, who was the president of Columbia Records back in 2005. He had just signed a new boy band that he was really excited about called the Jonas Brothers. And he was finding it challenging to market them. I call Steve the “Master of Off-Road Marketing,” because he had a really interesting and innovative marketing background. As an example, Steve signed the Baha Men three different times. The “Who Let the Dogs Out” album was an old record that was very well known around Trinidad, where these guys were from. But in the U.S., no one wanted to play that song on the radio. Steve got them to play the song at Yankee Stadium. It became a sports anthem, and eventually the radio picked it up.
With the Jonas Brothers, once again, no radio or video was responsive to them for various reasons: they were really young; it was the wrong kind of music cycle, because pop music was just cycling out. No one was interested. Steve asked me what he should do, and I said, “I think I know. There’s this social network that’s becoming very popular called MySpace.” And you have to remember, this was 2005, so it was cutting edge then. There were 12 million people on it. And in fact, the guy who had been running the technology department at Columbia told him MySpace wasn’t a good place for any artist, because it was basically just a dating site. Steve a page for the Jonas Brothers anyway. In two weeks, they had 19,000 friends, and he was very impressed that he was basically getting some marketing for free. And Steve’s main goal was to get people to watch the video he created with a song called “Mandy.” We took the video and embedded it on their page. We were able to take their video content and start distributing it to their fans. We made it embeddable so they could start posting it on their pages, which gave it decent distribution.
We wound up finding one of the Jonas Brothers MySpace fans, a young woman named Ashley Quail with a MySpace resource site that was getting three million monthly uniques. We called her up and asked her to put the Jonas Brothers video on her page. And there was a button that allowed people to vote them onto TRL. And that’s how they got onto TRL, into the Number 2 slot, back when it was still a show. Voila, Steve helped break a band using new technology and this very new kind of marketing tactics.
From that experience, I started a company called Nabbr, which was basically a way syndicate video content, whether it was for labels and artists or TV shows, movie studios an d advertisers. And we built up a publisher network with about 400 publishers that reached 40 million uniques. We were able to content and help market it in a new way.
Was this a Getty Images-style content farm or an advanced database? What did that look like?
If you had video content you wanted to syndicate, we had a publisher network of 400 publishers and a video player on the front page. And we would power that video player with any content that we wanted to. It was a way to take your music video and syndicate it out to 40 million people. These people were primarily young Generation Y kids, 60% female, 40% male. It was an interesting concept. But it turned into a video advertising network.
I left that company in 2009 to start Headliner.fm, which actually launched in February, 2010. The thing I had learned from Nabbr was that it seemed like artists online by 2009 had a lot of attention and a lot of people to follow them.
2009 was definitely the explosion of artist tools. People recognized that the emerging artist community was a viable set of people to sell products to and that also had products to sell.
What we saw was that on average even unknown artists had 5,000-6,000 friends, followers and fans. I think your average regular Facebook user today has about 131 friends. Artists seem to have a lot of attention. We knew that in the real world, a very effective way to market as a musician is through cross marketing. You go on tour with similar artists. The lucky ones find a bigger artist and have that artist endorse them. For example, Dr. Dre endorsed Eminem and then Eminem endorsed 50 Cent. It works really well. But it doesn’t happen a lot.
Coat tails and collaboration are some of the things I preach regularly. It’s the B2B (business to business) play that most musicians don’t think about.
It’s powerful, because if it’s done right, it is a recommendation that fans will listen to. When I was thinking of the idea for Headliner.fm, I thought, “Now that you have this whole idea of a social graph – these 13 million artists online that have social media profiles – what if you could build some sort of platform where you could do this kind of marketing by finding the artists that were most like you and ask these artists to recommend you to their fans and share your music and content with them? Wouldn’t that be a really good thing for musicians?” So, we went out and built Headliner.fm, a recommendation platform that would help artists of any size and shape find similar artists and ask them to recommend and share their music with their fans.
We needed to create a lot of things to make this possible. We had to not only create a technology platform, but also an incentive system, because the natural question is, “Why would an artist do this?” In the real world, the reason artists want to do it usually is tightly aligned with money. For example, an artist is probably signed to the other artist’s label, or they’re going on tour together, or there’s some way they mutually benefit. We knew that couldn’t work the same way online, because you couldn’t expect every artist to have that kind of a relationship; that wouldn’t scale. So, we created a simple idea and created a virtual currency called Band Bucks. So, for example, if we are both artists, and you recommend me to your fans, you earn one band buck for every fan you recommend me to. And at Headliner.fm, then each band or artist that does that can use those Band Bucks to ask other artists to recommend them. In other words, no matter who they’re recommending, they’re always earning the right to get their music recommended to other artists. And it doesn’t have to be reciprocal 100 percent. We have over 60,000 artists on there, and you can ask any artist on there to recommend you, as long as you accept from other people. And it’s been working really well.
We’re in an age where there are so many different ways of grading and scoring yourself. The new penis size is how many Twitter followers you have.
It’s interesting you brought up that point, because we also saw as we got started that Twitter followers or Facebook or MySpace friends seemed really relevant for artists. Once you think through why you would want Twitter followers, the people that really understand why they want Twitter followers only want them for one reason: so they can communicate with them. They don’t want a lot of followers because it’s a status symbol. Take Lady Gaga – she has 31 million people that follow her. She never used those platforms to acquire followers. She got those followers through other forms of media. People decided organically they wanted to follow her on these technology platforms, and she uses them to communicate.
For emerging artists, it’s very frustrating, because they’ve been told the only way you can communicate with fans on social media platforms is to get them to “follow” you or “like” you first. You have to, by definition. One of the things Headliner.fm does is say, “That’s not so.” You can reach new people and new fans on Facebook by having other artists recommend you. And ultimately, we think the real value of these technology platforms for artists is the ability to reach and communicate with new fans as broadly as possible. If you get a lot of followers or likes, it’s just gravy. It doesn’t necessarily mean people will buy your music or show up at your shows. This gives you an indication of the difference between someone paying attention to you and opting in to pay attention to your stream, and someone being part of a quasi digital fan club. I would say people that are a part of your email list are much more likely to buy your music and /or support you.
What is working for people on Headliner.fm? Is there a strategy or strategies that are working best? Does reaching out to artists en masse work, or is it better to be very selective if you want to get the most out of the Headliner platform?
The people who win on Headliner.fm are the people that send the best quality recommendations to their fans. And if you recommend good things to your fans, you will build affinity with your fan base and they will be responsive to your messages. So, the people who really win are those that focus on the quality of what they are recommending.
Something we’re really proud of is that all the messages on Headliner.fm are curated. So, you get an opportunity to send an artist a message, and you have to ask that artist if they will pass it along to their fans. A recomendation does not go out until an artist reads the message, listens to the music and really makes the decision they want to pass it along. This process is curated by the artists in both directions. Only about 15% of our messages ever get sent out. That means 85% of them are deemed not good enough. You might think that’s a bad statistic but I would say it’s great, because it means that we have a well curated community. And what we see all the time is that it’s artists that really go through the recommendation process and take the time to make quality referrals are the most successful.
In an age where we seem to want quantity over quality, I’m glad to hear you coming back to a quality vs. quantity philosophy and also glad to hear that’s working best. It would seem that low-level bands could just sit there and send out recommendations and form letters and get popular just based on percentages, but I don’t think that would do much for them.
That actually wouldn’t work. A lot of those lower bands, first of all, would have a hard time recommending everyone. But also, the way our platform works, if you only have 1,000 fans, you can only recommend messages from people that have 1,000 fans. You couldn’t recommend everyone on our platform.
I didn’t realize there was that line. That’s great.
Yes. You couldn’t just sit there and recommend. And there are restrictions in place also to make sure no one abuses the system. You’re only allowed to recommend three promotions per day. Anything beyond that has to wait until the next day.
It’s interesting to see people pursuing the social media so hard and then leaving out so many things in the negative space: making sure they’re represented correctly in search engines and represented correctly in places where there is no social network activity but there is still an active conversation. It’s so funny that the artist community’s had it drilled into their heads, “You have to be active in social networks. You have to tweet. You have to this, that and the other thing.” I think it’s become myopic in terms of what the web is capable of as a whole. It’s just a very funny time.
I think ultimately these are all good communication tools. For artists, it’s really about having good communication strategies and saying things that are interesting no matter how you reach your fans, whether it’s through email or on the social web – it doesn’t really make a difference. One of the great things about the social web is that it’s certainly opened up many other opportunities to communicate with people. In general, as a musician, you are a communicator. I think people write music because they want other people to hear it and engage. Artists, especially in the DIY community tend to be great at writing music but not great at marketing. We’re just trying to create really easy tools for them. Most artists can understand that if they recommend other artists who play music similar to theirs to their fans, it will make sense. It’s not that far from touring together or collaborating. This is basically the whole idea of collaborative marketing.
Marketing really is a big challenge for the DIY community; there are a lot of really great artists that just don’t have great marketing skills. That’s why I think TuneCore and CDBaby are really cool, because they made it really easy for the DIY artist to go upload music and sell it. You don’t have to have a technology background or something else matching that. We want to take social marketing and make it as easy as that for artist, so they could get something out of this platform at a very low cost, or for free, and do it in a way that makes sense for them.
And you’re coming up on 100 million new fans in 2011 alone. I know success has a thousand fathers, and obviously you can never point to just one cause of it. But, do you have any stories about previously unknown bands that have been very successful on your platform?
We’ve worked with artists in every stage of their careers – everyone from Akon, Diddy and Dolly Parton down to what I would call emerging artists or really small artists like All Time Low, though that might still be a little too well known. Our metric for success and all we can track is how much reach and how many engagements we get. We can track how many people artists get to click, re-tweet and respond to their messages. We actually don’t have a way to track the success on our platform directly to iTunes or ticket sales.
For example, someone that did really well with Headliner.fm was an emerging artist, BC Jean. In just three weeks she was able to reach over 2.5 million new fans, get over 1,200 new artists to recommend her and gain 133 new Twitter followers. Another pop band, Fun, was able to reach over 3.5 million new fans and get almost 1,600 artist recommendations in just six weeks.
I’m curious to know if you, as someone who invests in emerging technology in the entertainment space, think there is a specific area of growth that people should be on the lookout for in the music / tech space.
This is going to sound self serving but I think there’s a lot of opportunity for growth when it comes to organizing data and social recommendations. On the music product side, I think there are tons of good solutions to address the challenges surrounding sales and production, whether it be TuneCore, CDBaby or any of the other sales channels. Because of things like Pro-Tools, the cost to make a great product has gone down. If you look at it holistically, production and distribution have almost been totally solved for DIY artists. I think the big opportunities for artists still lie around marketing. Most of the current marketing tools that are out there are not good for artists, but they’re also not good for brands. Twitter and Facebook are so new. And Facebook is basically running search-based product advertising for social implementation. There’s no way that’s going to be the best way to carry a message across a social network. And Twitter is still trying to figure it out. Twitter has three products now: promoted trends; promoted tweets and then you can buy a big trending topic that’s $120,000 for a day, which certainly for musicians is not going to be affordable. On Twitter, you can actually buy followers, and it’s expensive, though I’m not allowed to say exactly how much it costs. It doesn’t make any sense for musicians to do it. They’re never going to buy a Twitter follower and make their money back. Once again, there’s a huge opportunity there to solve this marketing problem. And I think if you solve it for musicians, you solve it for small business owners and also for application developers and bloggers and a lot of other people.
That’s why I tell people to pay close attention to “search” these days. I feel like I’ve been running around for years telling people they need to pay attention to SEO, and they look at me like I have three heads.
That’s an opportunity as well. I think there are great DIY website platforms like Bandcamp. But there is a lot of competition there already. I think the marketing angle of it in music overall is where there is a lot of opportunity.
You certainly developed a great tool. I don’t think there will ever be a time when marketing can be 100% templatized. However, you’ve distilled something remarkably important and made it very easy. I commend you on that.
Thank you. That’s the whole idea, to innovate around that space. I really think once the marketing problem is solved in a big way for musicians, it will make things a lot easier. And there will be this idea of a long tail of musicians that are online supporting themselves by selling music, selling merchandise and touring. Even now, there are really cool tools to help touring musicians sell tickets. You no longer need Ticketmaster. You can use a service like EventBrite.
There are tons of tools that are working in that direction. But marketing is still one of the big challenges. I think iTunes and the cloud are great things for music overall. Those tools will make music more accessible to more people. And that’s always a good thing for musicians. For the individual artist, the challenge is that their music is there, but how do they then figure out an organic, cheap way to market themselves. I really do believe technology will enable them. It has to. It has lowered the cost of everything else for artists, so it’s going to lower the cost for marketing.
To learn more about Mike More and his marketing platform for artists, please check out the Headliner.fm website.
Please also take a look at Headliner.fm’s “How it Works” video below to learn a little more about how the platform works for artists.