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 ‘music business advice’
I had the opportunity to sit down with a gifted Music marketing executive named Marc Schapiro recently to discuss how new bands should be focusing their marketing efforts. Marc has had a very colorful career working at labels like Mute, Roadrunner, Ferret and Artemis and recently left to start his own marketing company called Branch Marketing collective. During his career he has worked with artists ranging from Prodigy to Steve Earl To Nickelback. Marc is a highly sought after freelance marketing executive / product manager in the world of hard rock and was kind enough to take the time to discuss his craft with me recently.
Marc, first of all thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. It is rare most musicians get access to a marketing executive with the degree of experience that you have. Music marketing can cover a wide range of tasks, can you explain what you consider to be your role when working with a band?
I have a couple roles when it comes to marketing depending on how I’m working with the band. One of my main concentrations is with “partnership” and “sponsorship” marketing. So basically it is figuring out the band’s demographic and then finding partners for promotions around the record, tour, etc. Once we find the right strategic partners, my role gets a bit more creative in coming up with the actual promotions themselves. Starting with things as basic as logo placements or contests, all the way to the more “experiential” things that involve interaction with the band. Experiential marketing is definitely one of the most important things you can do since that is how a lot of “word of mouth” is spread and it gives fans a more personal connection with the band.
What are some must have marketing techniques that every band must have that don’t cost very much?
The obvious answer here is the Internet. I’m beating a dead horse, but if a band doesn’t have an updated MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube page, then they might as well not even try to tour or release a record.
How do you determine who is the right audience for a band or artist?
If I knew the exact answer to this, I’d be a millionaire! What bands don’t realize is that they have so much data at their fingertips. They just need to know how to use it. You can look at your merch sales when opening for certain bands or headlining. You have SoundScan. You have websites like ReverbNation that give you data on your fan base. And if you are running your own site, you need to install Google Analytics (free) which gives you so much information on where people are finding out about you, as well as where they are from.
Besides all the analytical things about the band itself, when finding the right partner, you need to make sure their audience links up. Just because your band is selling a lot at Hot Topic doesn’t mean you should partner up with a hair gel company. The is a term “psychographics” which is like demographics, but its more about the person’s lifestyle. Where do they shop, what do they drink, how often do they go out. I know this all sounds very calculated and more like a college class in statistics, but really it’s just talking about all these things and the next thing you know, you’ll know you fans better than ever.
How important is it in your mind that a band have their own website in addition to profiles on the key social networks and why?
You definitely still need to have some site outside of the social networking worlds. You never know how young or old your fans might be. They might not be on MySpace or Facebook. They might have firewalls at work where they can’t get this information. When you do your own website, you should make sure your news is on an RSS Feed so people can get updates right into their email inbox if they have problems getting on certain sites while at work or school.
I know you work a great deal with branded tours and music and brand partnerships – is this something that you recommend for artists that are just starting out and if so, how?
Everyone saw the article that companies are going to spend over 1 BILLION dollars on music venues and festivals this year. So of course everyone wants a piece of it. If you are a new band, don’t expect to get a sponsorship until you have toured and have a record out. There are obviously cases where you might get lucky because you have a friend at a company that will help you out but you need to form your OWN BRAND as a band first. Down the line you can partner with others and form mutually beneficial relationships.
As a guy in hard rock you work with bands who spend a great deal of time on the road- is there any advice you would have from a marketing perspective on what a developing artists with limited means could do to market their touring efforts?
Yeah, in the hard rock world, we all know that touring is the most important thing you can do. Chances are you aren’t getting on TV or the radio, so the best way to connect with your fans is by putting your stuff in storage and hopping in the van. What if you can’t afford to do this? Well, play local shows. Video tape them. Put them online for the world to see. Also these days, everyone wants limited edition and exclusive items. Look on EBay after ComicCon and you’ll see things going for crazy prices. So, do the same. Make limited edition 7″s and t-shirts. Things people can’t download.
After your show, sit with your fans and sell these items to them directly. Don’t go drinking in your dressing room. I know some bands might want to keep their aura “mysterious” and be the next Tool. But you have a .005% chance of being the next Tool, so go out and meet EVERY fan you can.
Talent aside – how do you go about separating your artists from the pack both on social networks and online in general?
Be creative. You are going to have fans that are in college and do computer programming. Reach out to them and brainstorm, because they will come to you with some of the most creative ideas since they are outside the industry. Having your fans be part of the creation of your marketing will make them feel even more connected and you’ll have them for a lifetime. And not to sound like a jilted industry guy, but put out f**king good quality music. If you are a new band, don’t put your demo on your MySpace, don’t put up a crap video. There are SO many bands out there that you really only have one chance at a first impression these days. If this means delaying the launch of your site, delay it. Music is the most important part of, well, being a band.
In your experience, how important is it to a band’s success that they keep a mailing list and actively communicate with their fans?
Everything I’ve said above is about a band focusing on being interactive with their fans. Obviously you don’t need to email them every day with what you had for breakfast, but if you send them announcements first via email (before they read it on the web), then they are going to feel even more special and will probably spread the news even faster.
If you are looking for music marketing help, I highly recommend you check out Marc Schapiro and his Company Branch Marketing Collective On an Unrelated note if you are looking for a great New York Bourbon Bar - check out Mark’s new Bar Idle Hands on the lower east side
Frank Hajdu, VP Business Development, Myspace Music
I recently sat down with Frank Hajdu, an old colleague of mine from the Elektra Records A&R team and now the VP of Business Development for MySpace Music. As a founding member of the MySpace Music team, Frank offered an inside look at the past, present, and future of MySpace’s core content platform.
Give me the quick elevator pitch on what Myspace Music is all about and how it came to be.
From its inception, MySpace was always a promotional haven for artists of all types – musicians, filmmakers, comedians, fashionistas – you name it. Over time, music became more of a focal point within MySpace, as it started to gain quite a bit of traction with unsigned, indie, and major label artists. Before long, it became an integral part of the marketing plan for virtually any artist, big or small. But despite its efficacy as a promotional platform, artists began to clamor for a means of monetizing their MySpace content in the face of a recorded music industry in rapid decline. Wanting to better serve its artist community, there was a major push from within MySpace to figure out how to do just that – we had the traffic, but now it was a matter of converting those eyeballs into monetization opportunities and allowing artists, to the greatest extent possible, to run their respective businesses via their MySpace profiles.
We became laser-focused on how to achieve that end goal, and the MySpace Music business and product architecture began to take shape. Artists were already uploading promotional content and users were becoming accustomed to a great breadth of streamable audio and video, and we wanted to create an ad-supported environment where artists could actually make money from this streaming activity. In addition, we wanted to create appropriate up-sell opportunities for artists’ digital and physical goods, including digital downloads, albums, and ringtones, as well as artist’s high-margin items such as tickets and merchandise. We ultimately envisioned a music marketplace within our environment allowing users to not just consume, but also purchase and take portable virtually all of the content that they were finding on the site. We certainly recognized – and still recognize – the magnitude and complexity of creating a scalable one-stop shop. I’m proud to say we’ve made great strides in this regard, but certainly acknowledge that there’s still a ways to go.
The official launch of the MySpace Music joint venture took place on September 25, 2008, and it’s been an iterative process ever since. It was and still is a very, very grand ambition to be able to satiate all artists’ needs as far as creating ancillary revenue streams to all relevant content and physical wares, but we’re doing it steadily. We’ve licensed and currently monetize several million audio tracks and videos from major, indie, and unsigned artists. We’re also up-selling digital and physical goods by way of our partnerships with iTunes, Amazon, Ticketmaster, Live Nation, and Hot Topic, to name a few.
I know you’re one of the original founders of MySpace Music, but what is your role there?
As Vice President of Business Development, I’m responsible for a fairly wide scope of partnerships and internal development. The structuring of commercial relationships with external partners is core to my job, whether that’s content licensing, technology partnerships, e-commerce partnerships, M&A – the list goes on. But aside from the transactional, if MySpace Music is contemplating an entirely new line of business, my team handles a great deal of the strategy and analysis that dictates our decision to make a category entrance. Finally, there’s the internal business development piece, where we look to formulate (or reformulate) strategy and operations within. To be candid, there are very few gold standards and rules of thumb in the business of digital media, so we are constantly monitoring and re-tooling our systems to improve the efficiency and profitability of the operation.
Is it too much of a gross over-simplification of your role to state that you are looking for ways to help the artists make money both from their recorded and external streams by creating things on site and partnerships with existing technologies off site?
Probably an over-simplification, yes. But if you’re asking me to articulate MySpace Music’s pledge to the artist community, monetization is really only one part of it. At the end of the day, for many established artists and labels, it often comes down to “Where’s my check?” — we get that. At the same time, what’s really interesting – though obvious in retrospect — is that when you talk to unsigned artists, it’s exposure, not money, which they consistently mention first and foremost. I’m blown away on a daily basis at just how business-savvy and self-sufficient artists are becoming in their day-to-day business affairs and marketing. I’m seeing a deepening maturity and patience, especially in unsigned artists, who are far more keen to first build a relevant audience, with the understanding that the money will ultimately be the by-product of that. So when you ask, “Is MySpace Music trying to build an ecosystem for artists to make money?” Sure, but it’s more than that. It’s, “How do we help break artists — at any level – such that they’ll prosper both inside and outside of MySpace, period?”
So part of your job is to facilitate the tools that help the growth and monetization of artists’ revenue streams. Are these tools available to the unsigned artist yet?
The end goal is that every single artist, signed or otherwise, has access to every promotional and monetization tool. Obviously the promotional tools are available across the board, as are the data retrieval tools such as the freshly-launched Artist Dashboard. As far as monetization tools go, we’re working in earnest to create scalable platforms to allow all artists to participate across all business lines. Suffice it to say, it gets very, very complicated, mainly because we rarely handle sales fulfillment in-house and for certain business lines like ticketing and merchandise, the pool of vendors is hugely fragmented. But artists have always been able to market their wares via affiliate linkage from their profiles, and we’ve recently inked soon-to-be-announced deals with pay-to-play aggregators to help solve for the digital distribution bottleneck. Artists will be able to sign up with said aggregators and present their digital content available for sale through MySpace media players by way of our e-commerce relationships.
From your vantage point, what can you say the real marketing push on MySpace (for an artist) is like? How has it changed?
There are more stories than I can count of artists like Sean Kingston or Asher Roth who wound up meeting their managers, producers, or label reps by reaching out via MySpace. And while artists still do their fair share of mass communication, they’re consistently using MySpace to reach out to potential colleagues and new fans on a one-to-one basis with much more meaningful and personalized messaging. The smartest ones realize that the quality of connections, at least in the earlygoing, is more important than the quantity, and so they take the time to identify users with tastes similar to that of their content. They then reach out directly to explain why said users might be interested in their music. It’s less of a general, “Hey, check me out!”, and instead more of a, “I noticed you like artists X, Y, and Z, and my music is in a similar vein. If you have a second, have a listen.” Those are really important friend requests, as the recipient is far more likely to explore the music if there’s a thoughtful basis for the recommendation.
Are there areas in an artist’s life that you think are at the moment underserved and will be better served by what’s coming?
One of the most recurrent themes in the feedback we get from artists is that it’s difficult having to maintain an online presence in so many different places. Currently, the average artist maintains profiles on anywhere from 3-10 websites …
I call it being in the phone book. The problem with the internet is that there are about 7,000 phone books.
Absolutely. For the artist, it’s exhausting. We feel that the concept of posting once and publishing everywhere is absolutely crucial for the artists of today. The concept is starting to proliferate, though most implementations I’ve seen are still a bit clunky and have yet to be headquartered in one simple, consolidated place. We’re going to get there. In the meantime, my advice to artists is not to get too overwhelmed with maintaining a presence on every site imaginable. Focus on the 2-3 most significant sites and go deep. I’d argue that you’re actually better served by having a more meaningful, dynamic, and frequently-updated presence in those places than by spreading yourself too thin.
You’re looking into solutions that would essentially let you be everywhere at once.
Yes. One great example is the recent MySpace–Twitter implementation. Updating your MySpace status immediately posts to Twitter and vice versa. This is certainly not the first such implementation we’ve seen, but it’s that kind of thinking that will prove incredibly valuable artists. It could be as simple as updating all your information in one place and completing the checkboxes for your syndication destinations.
Any advice for artists to effectively use MySpace?
Keep it simple. Artists often have a tendency to take the customizable canvas of MySpace and turn it into something very visually loud. Sometimes this works, often it doesn’t. Implementations range from gorgeous and elegant to discombobulated and seizure-inducing. One of the reasons that platforms like MySpace can work so well for marketing artists is that generally speaking, the profiles follow a template. One visits a MySpace profile, he knows where the audio lives, where the video lives, the photos, the blogs, and so on – there’s little to no learning curve for the visitor as he peruses each new artist profile. But when profile hosts attempt to go overboard with custom design, it can obscure the landscape, make the content less accessible, and altogether frustrate the visitor. Color and character are great – but I’d advise not to alter the skeletal landscape much. Decorate the house, but don’t reposition the furniture.
Above all else, users want ease and simplicity – they don’t want to relearn a web environment, which is why aggregated artist sites garner so much more traffic than artist-specific sites. This will sound ridiculously self-serving, but as a matter of pure ROI, I implore artists not to overspend time, money, or resources on their official sites. We’ve done the research and have seen that an artist’s MySpace profile traffic is typically 5-10x that of their official websites, even in cases where the official sites are cleaner, prettier, or more technologically advanced. Aggregated sites simply yield far greater bang for the buck, so you tell me where you want to invest your time.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t quickly plug MySpace’s “MyAds” platform. We’ve been very pleasantly surprised by how much artists have been using this. While I’m not permitted to quote numbers, an extremely significant percentage of MyAds clients are artists looking to market themselves within MySpace, and they’re seeing incredible returns. Even for those with meager budgets, artists can effectively target themselves at users throughout MySpace based on hundreds of demographic and psychographic dimensions. It’s surpassed every expectation we had as far as how much business that’s driving and how much of this business is coming from artists.
Artist / Executive Interview: July 09’ Alex Lasarenko
Recently I had the pleasure of sitting down with a friend and client of mine Alex Lasarenko. Alex has been making his living at writing and recording music for over twenty years and now runs his own studio making music for commercials, film and TV. You may or may not have heard of Alex but you have heard his music as it has been featured in dozens of films and national TV commercials. I thought I would sit down and ask him a bit about how he built his business and started making a living in music.
I met Alex in his studio Tonal in the West 20s… I sat down and started the tape recorder just after explaining what my artist coaching service was about and that I was looking for him to offer helpful advice to the struggling musician. Without having really started the interview he said:
Alex: “you have to believe that what you are doing is the right thing to do. Because there will be a ton of people telling you what you do is just shit… It really is a rollercoaster ride…which is a problem if you don’t like rollercoasters”
Music Coaching Question: So I guess bring me back to the beginning to how your career in music started…
Alex: Well I’m from Ohio from a family of working class immigrants so there was nothing in my background that suggested that moving to New York was the right thing to do. I was getting a degree in piano performance. There was nothing in my cards that said I should move to New York and start a band.
Music Coaching Question: But that’s what you did?
Alex: Yes I moved to New York and started off paying keys and writing all the music with a partner Chris Ocasek who would write all the lyrics. We started in a band around age 21 and got signed to EMI / Manhattan records by Bruce Lundevall. Bruce was probably the nicest gentleman and a great first person to meet in the music business. It was an excellent experience. Someone must have thought something of what we were writing. I think it was partly that and partly that EMI was looking to exploit Chris’ lineage (Chris is Rick Ocasek’s son).
Music Coaching Question: What did you guys do up until the point of getting signed?
Alex: We were always writing music and playing out locally. Since I was classically trained and Chris wasn’t it was an interesting combination. Performing live was never my favorite I used to get very nervous or sick.
Music Coaching Question: So Touring musician was never your first pick of careers?
Alex: No, and the band was never set up to be like that it anyway, it was more like a studio project. The label wound up trying to take away what the band was and wound up trying to promote the record we made as the Chris Ocasek project. I wound up suing the label. So very early on I learned how to stand up for myself. I wound up winning and got the courts to prevent the record from being released as something that it wasn’t.
Music Coaching Question: Wow, I didn’t realize that.
Alex: It was an interesting experience that uh…you can be this kind of flakey creative artist but it is the business of art and the art of business…the two are intertwined no matter what you think, whether you like it or not.
Music Coaching Question: So you were in your early 20s and you were signed for a year or a year and a half and I am guessing the lawsuit ended that?
Music Coaching Question: And the left you with a degree in Piano Performance and living in New York.
Alex: Yes, the producer of the record that Chris and I made was Jonathan Elias and he got so sick of the whole label’s behavior he left so I wound up doing the whole record myself with an engineer
Music Coaching Question: Was that your first time behind the board?
Alex: Yes – Jonathan left to do a Duran Duran record after the problems started to surface with the label and I wound up producing the EMI record myself. You know, sometimes you get thrown into the deep end of the pool and you either sink or you swim. I always knew what I wanted to do musically, that came naturally so it was easy for me to get it done. When the lawsuit happened I wound up broke and I had a half an onion and I would literally sit in the lobby at Elias studios twelve hours a day waiting on their client meetings to be done so I could go in an eat something that was left over- that was how I ate for 4-5 months
Music Coaching Question: So tell me about Elias studios-
Alex: Elias was a large commercial music house, at that time it was on its way down as Jonathan has lost some interest in it. Jonathan’s brother told me if I was going to sit there all day I might as well write something so I did and it wound up winning some business for the studio. I wound up writing several pieces of music that won business for the studio and after six months they made him the creative director of the company.
Music Coaching Question: From Eating leftover food in the conference room to creative director in six months, not bad…
Alex: (laughs) yea it was $25,000 a year. For me, that was Huge! It was amazing I could afford socks; I could afford to eat and get a shared apartment. And I just worked my ass off…
Music Coaching Question: So for you it was your songwriting and the production and engineering skills you picked up along the way?
Alex: Yep, working on and producing commercials was a great lesson because I would do that from 9:30 in the morning until nine at night and then I would work on an album until early in the morning.
Music Coaching Question: Did you ever have any thoughts of going back to band life?
Alex: No after the lawsuit it was kind of over…but it was a great experience to learn that you can’t let people take advantage of you. And every time I have let me guard down or didn’t go with my gut instinct on that I have gotten burned.
Music Coaching Question: Gothca. So one of the reasons I wanted to interview you Alex is one of the questions I get most often doing what I do is “can you get my music into film and TV and video games?” Now you are someone who makes you living on creating custom pieces of music for those kinds of things. Do you have any advice for people on how to get their music placed in those kinds of situations?
Alex: Well it’s a different kind of a business (creating custom music vs. licensing tracks off of an existing album)…Making an album is a full time job, marketing it is a full time job…and it’s usually a thankless and unappreciated job…but I think it would be hard I don’t know what to tell you if you have one album’s worth of material…. Most people respond better to a body of work unless you have a hit- that makes it easier. When we license music it is because we have a library of material to choose from…
Music Coaching Question: Does having more material help do you think?
Alex: … I think content is king. If you have great success with a band and get traction then whoever you are working with will be able to get it in front of music supervisors…if you ant a long term relationship with music in movies and TV then you have to meet and talk to as many music supervisors you can and get to know them and what kind of music they use…I’ll talk to anyone, it’s interesting what you can learn when you are willing to talk to anybody.
Music Coaching Question: How did you cope with the jaded attitudes you likely encountered when meeting music supervisors as a composer just getting in to the business? Is there any advice you can give about getting heard by these people?
Alex: I made a decision that I was going to devote five years to scoring a movie. What I had to do was create music that was worth being in a movie. I think that nobody would take me seriously unless I had music that they could hear visually – music that they could see being part of their project. Our studio tends to score entire films rather than just portions of films, which is rare. What I have noticed that music supervisors tend to work within a certain budget. Some do 25-50 million dollar budget films
Music Coaching Question: Of course the music budgets for those films is considerably less…
Alex: Oh, considerably less…and then there are other music supervisors that do 1-10 million dollar films. I’ve noticed that when these music supervisors step up into the next category up they tend not to return your calls (laughs)…I guess their feeling is that they are now at a higher level…
When it comes to licensing and music supervisors I think that anytime that you can talk to somebody and get your music in front of them I mean what’s the worst thing that could happen- they say no? I mean you are going to hear no a lot in this business… And you have to be dumb enough to believe that they are wrong (when they say no)…I know that sounds stupid but when someone says no you have to believe that they are wrong and you are right.
Music Coaching Question: I am sure that you know a ton of people who you came up with and played with who are no longer in the business- they either heard no too many times or couldn’t hack it and got straight gigs…
Alex: Well some of them actually went on to be pretty big too…
Music Coaching Question: Sure…but from what you have seen from those who made it who have either continued to make a living at music or have gone on to be hugely successful is there a defining quality that leads to that enduring success?
Alex: I never chased the glamorous portions of the business so it was easier for me to stay in the business…but the people I know who fell away were not able to adapt they were unable to move past their niche. I know a woman who was one of the best oboe players in the world in my opinion and she no longer plays, she takes botanical photographs now.
Music Coaching Question: So the ability to adapt…?
Alex: If you are the best oboe player in the world and all of a sudden there are 3,000 plugins with great oboe sounds that don’t require a real person to come in for a session then…you’re in trouble. Ten years ago I used to file 300 AFM contracts per year. Last year we did two… I’ve had to adapt to, you have to make do what you have these days.
Music Coaching Question: Any other advice…
Alex: Well, while I everyone was out doing coke in the 80s I was in the studio doing work during the day and making time for my own songwriting at night…it’s a lot of work to make a living this way… You can always write music on your own but if you want it to blossom into something epic or beautiful or cinematic you have to keep the hamster wheel going… I would get Pneumonia and I would still go to work, work has to get done…
Music Coaching Question: How did you know you were doing the right thing?
Alex: The best thing that happened to me was a corporate coach came into Elias and asked me with no one else around – “what do you want?”… I gave him the corporate line but he asked again- no – “what do you want”…. What I wanted was to win an academy award for bet original score… all this shit fell away when I realized what I wanted.
Music Coaching Question: you are lucky that your day job supports you in your goal
Alex: absolutely…you know someone is always throwing shit at you but you have to always believe that what you are doing is worthwhile…
Music Coaching Question: Your skill that kept you in the game has been your songwriting and applying that to corporate needs- how did some of your peers use their skills to stay in the game, was it session work or waiting tables or…?
Alex: Yes, Session work, people that do custom studio work like I do… I mean everyone is having trouble but…I don’t really know, I do know some great players. We all have to do the odd job here and there. The motto at tonal is we will talk to anyone, we will do anything…
Music Coaching Question: Do you get calls for sound a-likes?
Alex: no, we don’t much anymore, rates have come down most people can afford the originals…you also have tons of small studios looking to break in who will work for free.
Music Coaching Question: would you warn someone against doing tracks for free?
Alex: My feeling is if you are doing music for free, what do you think of yourself? It’s a business, we provide a service. This whole notion that you have to demo for free for an online free when agencies are still charging their clients a lot of money. People often ask me “should I do this track for free?” and I always say – “do you think you are worth nothing?”
Music Coaching Question: Enough said about that…
Alex: it’s a nerve wracking moment in business right now…everyone is walking around like a zombie…in the end if you believe what you are writing is great it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks
Music Coaching Question: One final question- Would you do anything different?
Alex: No, no regrets.
You can check out Alex’s work @ http://www.tonalsound.com
This is a 20/20 piece that ran some time last year about OMC (the one hit wonder who gave you “how bizarre”) front man Paulie Fuemana. It’s pretty amazing how you can make five million on a song one year and be broke the next.
I was invited down to the Sound Control event last night at S.O.B’s by a friend (Ariel Hyatt – press tycoon) and saw lots of interesting people from my past. There were several folks I had met while an A&R guy, mostly music managers and record company people. I’m kind of shocked that more of them don’t show up at events like this but I digress…
The panel was called Artists Disruptors and featured Chrisette Michele, Toby Lightman, Rik Cordero and was Moderated by Daniel Weisman from Elitaste. I was most familiar with Toby Lightman as she was signed to Lava just as I was leaving there for Elektra records but it turned out I had seen many of the videos that Cordero had made and as near as I can tell (I can’t hold a camera to save my life) he’s quite talented. The panel started with just Lightman and Cordero being asked questions about what tools they used online and what it was like being a modern artist.
I was better able to hear Toby Lightman – and from her I heard the familiar tale of how being on a major was limiting. She described (accurately from my experiences) the frustration of being tied to promoting only the latest single and not being able to do creative projects out of the scope of the genre that she felt confined to by Atlantic. Since being dropped Lightman has had success with music licensing and even turned around an independent album in three weeks when a last minute offer to be on the home shopping network occurred. She made a point of saying that while tethered to a major she would have never been able to make such a tight deadline.
I understood her feelings completely I had watched the eyes of artists signed to the labels I worked for go from shining with childlike glee to the dull eyes of an animal in a cage that have learned only that it is has no control over it’s destiny. Okay…enough melodrama. Christ, sometimes I make myself sick… The point being there is a lesson in all of this and it isn’t as black and white as major labels suck, be independent (as described we have flogged that dead horse long enough.)
The lesson in my mind is simply “don’t wait.” I watched dozens of artists get signed and undergo the remarkable transformation I began to call the shiny shirt phenomenon. It used to go like this:
1) Band starts making noise locally and / or regionally. Doing great work, directly in touch with the fans, they have self released an album that people are buying, more importantly ticket sales and merch are almost getting these guys to make a living provided they live like college students. They even start getting some support from a local radio station and / or some decent press. The band or artist finally gets the attention of a “real” manager, agent or label…life is good!
2) Band signs with label and appropriately celebrates for several weeks. Best case scenario they pay off their credit cards with the advance and hopefully have enough to put some aside for the proverbial rainy day or better yet they establish a fund for future band projects. Worst case scenario they arrive at their next meeting with their label partners in a new sports car. Artist and label formulate a plan – perhaps re-recording their record, re-writing their bio, helping them find new strategic partners. Publicity department looks over the artist or band and if they are just kind of average looking folks they get new rock n’ roll by numbers haircuts and their flannel button down shirt is replaced by a shiny button down shirt that is a bit too form fitting to make anyone but a CK underwear model feel comfortable.
3) Artist stops doing all of the things that made them a local and / or regional success and stares blankly at label partners with hopeful eyes. Label purchases an opening slot for the band on a huge tour where they are the first of four to go on and they play to significantly less people then they would have on their own regionally. Tour support is spent with reckless abandon lessening the artist’s chance to ever recoup. The single goes to radio and misses.
4) Band is back to where they started having destroyed the momentum they had built with a local album release. They have diminished their local or regional roots by trying to break new markets and neglecting their existing fanbase. Their shows aren’t as well populated as they were before this process and they begin to feel as if there is the stink of major label failure on them or they are “washed up” or “has beens” or “no hit wonders”. Odds were about 50/50 the band breaks up or artist gives up completely and gets a 9-5.
5) Artist tucks old band press photo and new band press photo into a drawer they will rarely open and cover it up with a shiny shirt that never really fit their person or personality.
I am SURE…well…I HOPE it has gotten better than this and labels have adapted but this truly was a common phenomenon as recently as five years ago. If there is an upside to the 360 deal it is that labels are now acquiring bands like major corporations buy smaller corporations and they now have a vested interested in all of the artist’s revenue streams… I somehow doubt they would still make these mistakes again…
The take away from all of this and the lesson, if there is one, is that you never stop remembering that you serve your community of fans and you should never take your eyes of of your goals. The goal for most of us is to make a living doing something we love. Don’t let the sex appeal of the big deal (of any kind) deter you from building your living one fan at a time.
Would love to hear your stories. Email or call.
P.S. – there was more to SoundCntrl than this…they seem to be an interesting music and technology community building organization.
I just got back home from the New Music Seminar which was held today Tuesday, July 21st at one of the NYU buildings just south of Washington Square Park. The last time I had stood on that spot I was watching Elliot Smith perform at the building that preceded the one I stood in today- at the time it was called the Loeb Student center. It was also at the Loeb student center that I attended my first music conference as a musician trying to get my band signed or be a famous musician or whatever unrealistic albeit wonderful thoughts danced around my marijuana soaked head in those days. I guess it was fifteen years ago, and it was NYU’s “Independent Music Festival” 1994 that I tried to get my band noticed with a cassette of three of songs from my band. I got the only advice that ever really resonated with me as a musician that day, just six words: “play out as much as possible.”
The band broke up, I got an internship at a big record label that became an assistant job and so on until a few years later I became a jaded A&R executive who had spoken dozens on panels and had done my best to answer the same old questions that I had asked when on the other side of the panel.
It was wild to be back in the audience after having been on both sides of the stage and now somewhat removed from the emotional attachment of clearly belonging to either the artist or the executive side. (I still play for kicks and on the other side- I don’t quite consider myself an executive in the same way I did when I was a label guy).
I stayed for the keynote speech by Courtney Holt (President of MySpace Music), a panel called “Welcome to the New Music Business: Everything You Know is wrong” which featured Ian Rogers, Matthieu Drouin, Mark Ghuneim, Bruce Houghton & Jeff Price and a second panel called “Fan relationship management: Quit your day Job” which featured Tom Silverman, Steve Greenberg, Terry McBride, Ted Cohen, Tim Westergren & Emily White.
This is not an insult to the New Music Seminar- I am very glad I went but it’s funny how the company names had changed, most companies were now followed by “.com” or “music” rather than “records” and it is now thankfully much more acceptable to say “I don’t know” rather than slinging some incredible amount of bullshit. It does seem however, as if the music conference is much as it was fifteen years ago. There is a big disconnect between the panels and the audience. In my opinion people who come to panels desperately want very tangible solutions to very real problems about the basics of building their business rather than abstract conversations about the problems of artists who are several rungs higher than they are on the food chain. Granted I missed the “your live show and tour” panel which featured many successful artists who had done it themselves – I’m told it was great. It just never ceases to amaze me how the majority of music business professionals can’t articulate anything about the process by which an artist builds their business on their own so that they are even worth the attention of those same professionals.
I am off and running now but I am going to do my best to provide as much information as I can that worked for me building a local following when I was playing regular shows. Sure, I was armed with cassettes and only got my first email account in 1994 but some of the principals are still the same.
PS – We can all stop flogging the dead and decomposing horse that is the major record label – we get it already.