I’ve participated, either in person or online, in several music industry events in the past two years. The speakers and panelists have opined on the sorry state of the industry and the plight of independent muscians, and have pointed a forest of fingers:
It’s the labels’ fault
Technology (Napster) killed the music industry
Music piracy is the problem
Now that everyone can buy ProTools and become a musician, there’s just too much free [not always good] music
It’s just too hard to find good music, so making music discovery easier for consumers is the answer
Streaming is the future of music distribution, and Spotify and Pandora don’t pay artists enough
It’s the fault of radio for being corrupt and paying artists even less
Apple killed the music industry by unbundling the single from the album via iTunes
YouTube killed the music industry by elevating sensationalism over quality of music (and artists don’t make much money from it)
Archaic copyright laws are to blame
Fans don’t really want variety and quality of music, they are content with Psy and Justin Bieber
The only way musicians can make money now is by aligning with big brands
And let’s not forget: Google is evil
It’s all true, to varying degrees, and many people with a lot more experience and knowledge about the business than me are working on addressing these issues.
Yet progress seems slow.
Not a day goes by that I do not read somewhere that being a musician today is both a liberating yet increasingly confusing, disheartening, and economically untenable profession.
In a perfect world, the Direct-To-Fan model eliminates the gatekeepers and creates a music meritocracy, where good music rises to the top and those artists are financially rewarded. Yet that has not happened.
Some would say it always has been so for the 99%, change is good, and this is a brave new world of opportunity for those musicians who can navigate it. Yet we musicians seem an increasingly desperate bunch. It’s not a question of talent or hard work or who you know. Some feel that it is different now, that music is a more irrational business than it has ever been.
Maybe it’s because I’m an outsider, or naive, but it seems obvious that the solution to a problem created by technology is, yes, a technical solution. Bear with me for a minute.
Tom Jackson believes that the most successful artists are those who are amazing live performers. A few weeks ago, Stevie and I attended a two day bootcamp with live music producer Jackson and his team to see how we could improve our own performance. I was not disappointed.
In his many years of experience working with everyone from big name artists like Taylor Swift, The Band Perry, or Jars of Clay to up-and-coming indie artists like the Canadian country duo The Reklaws, Jackson has learned that fans don’t just come to a live show to listen to music. They come to feel emotion. What they crave is to connect with an artist, and to have their lives changed.
As for merchandise, most fans don’t buy a CD because they want to listen to the studio version of the song they heard live. Merchandise, Jackson says, is a prop that help fans relive the emotional moments of a live performance. The merchandise is a memento, and the emotional moments in a show are what it’s all about.
The Steven Spielberg of Live Music Performance
Tom Jackson teaches musicians how to make their live stage show remarkable. He helps artists deliberately create emotional “moments”. Jackson is the Steven Spielberg of live music production. This is the science of stagecraft and performance art. He teaches musicians how to use moments to create true fans, because it’s those moments that bring people back again and again to see your live show. It’s those moments that create the word-of-mouth buzz that propels an artist forward.
Vlogging is an increasingly popular communication medium, and I think it’s a largely underutilized way for indie musicians to communicate with fans, perform live, do interviews, build their YouTube subscribers, and share information about themselves and their lives. Musicians might even find it an unexpected source of additional income.
What is vlogging, you may ask? Vlogging is a contraction of the phrase “video blogging.” Vlogging is what happens when you publish regular, serialized video episodes on YouTube and people “tune in,” or subscribe, to your YouTube channel to watch. Vloggers, some of them quite young, but many of every age, are making a living doing this. If they offer interesting content, and can build a good subscriber base, it can be a very good living for some of the superstars of vlogging. Vloggers provide the content, people subscribe to watch it, and advertisers sell ads on their YouTube channels through the partner program.
Chris Pirillo’s VloggerFair 2013 In Seattle
I just attended VloggerFair here in sunny Seattle. VloggerFair is a combination trade show and giant fan club convention conceived and organized by the fast-talking and very creative Chris Pirillo. Chris is the star of the YouTube channel LockerGnome, a “Geek Lifestyle” channel with 288,000 subscribers. In addition to his fast-paced LockerGnome tech gadget reviews, Chris and his wife, Diana, also vlog about their day to day lives in what amounts, more or less, to a reality TV show on YouTube.
The issues faced by DIY (Do It Yourself), DTF (Direct-To-Fan), AKA indie musicians cut across both musical genre and race. Many of the sources of information for musicians today seem to come in silos delineated by genre: hip hop artists read hip hop books and blogs, and get advice primarily from hip hop industry people; jazz, rock, metal, pop and folk artists do the same. Yet we all face many of the same issues, and these sources of information repeat much of the same advice to those who want to make a career in music. When we all share our experiences, though, we see how universal it is to be a musician, no matter what type of music we make, what cultural background we are from, or what age we are.
How do I make a living in this crazy business that I love, but which changes under my feet every year, every week, every day?
Where is the real money to be made in writing and recording music?
How do I write a hit song? Then, how do I write another hit song?
How do I rise above the noise in the music industry and get my music heard?
How do I register and copyright my music so I can get paid?
How does the byzantine world of music licensing work?
Is the music business still all about relationships and who you know, or is the internet the great equalizer?
What is a mechanical license, what does a publisher do, who is SoundExchange and why should I care?
(and why does Rhapsody hold 30% of their licensing revenue from streaming plays because they cannot figure out who to pay? This amazing statistic courtesy of Jon Maples, Vice President of Rhapsody Product Management)
I had a very full day at my first SF Music Tech. I was impressed with the level of serious dialog, with the fact that women were much better represented here than at many of the tech conferences I’ve been to (35 – 40%), and, perhaps most importantly, with the mix of technology, business, and artist/creative-types represented. Many music conferences attract one type of attendee or another, but this one seems to do a really fine job of bringing them all together under one roof.
Here are my other impressions (taking into account that there was no way I could humanly attend all of the 33 sessions):
Daisy and YouTube: Important But Unrepresented
It was interesting that panel after panel talked throughout the day about YouTube as the most important platform for music discovery, especially among young people. Zoe Keating said she gets more money monthly from YouTube than Spotify. Yet many other music tech platforms are not seamlessly integrated with YouTube, and licensing is a nightmare for smaller musicians. Google was completely unrepresented at SF Music Tech as far as I could see – neither as panelists nor attendees.
Another elephant in the room was Daisy: apparently things got heated at the “How We Will Experience Music in the Future” panel, although I wasn’t there to hear it myself. Daisy went completely unmentioned in the “Music Discovery” panel (with panelists from Echo Nest, Rhapsody and Pandora). I did see two Daisy/MOG/Beats (that was what their badges said) attendees, but no official panel representation. I would think with all the press Jimmy Iovine’s been courting around Daisy and serving data to artists, they would have had someone here to talk to the tech community about this feature. Maybe I’m naïve.
For those of you not familiar with TAXI, it’s a 17-year-old company that helps unsigned songwriters and composers submit their music for a variety of opportunities in film, TV, movies, and with labels. This is very helpful for aspiring artists like me who do not have deals with publishing houses or music supervisors. It’s also a great way for music supervisors to license new music cheaply from unknown artists. I’m just too old to be a rock star, frankly, but I’d love to create a revenue stream from my music via TAXI.
Membership in TAXI costs $300 a year (discounted if you bring others to the service), and there are small per-song submission fees as well. The Road Rally is TAXI’s annual member conference. Michael Laskow, who runs TAXI, said that they have about 10,000 members, and that 2700 of them registered for the conference this year. I have heard others say that the Road Rally conference is one of the best things about being a TAXI member, and I tend to agree. Although free to attend (members can bring one free guest, also), it’s certainly not free when you count travel expenses and your time. There are so many music conferences these days, it’s important to budget for them and to ask yourself if they are really worth attending. We spent a about $1100 per person in real money, as well as the time away from our clients and our own music creation. I always come home with some new information and insights from the TAXI Road Rally, though. Sitting in LAX thinking about the last three days I spent at the Rally, I thought I’d share why I feel it was well worth both my time and money. || Read more
This past Monday and Tuesday, I attended the second annual Seattle Interactive Conference, a mix of presentations, panel discussions, and performance art that centered around the theme of “Game-Changers” in the digital world. And on the third day I rested. My head, and apparently also David Shing’s hair, practically exploded from the firehose of information, insight and interaction at this conference. Interactive was the game, and #SIC2012 was definitely the place to be this week.
Presenters and panelists were a diverse mix: entrepreneurs, new media agency professionals, digital visionaries, musicians, venture capitalists, and big corporate marketing executives in the trenches executing on real life campaigns. Themes like mobile, storytelling, relationships, memes, disruptive technologies, the cloud, reinvention and, above all, clever humor, kept popping up like the undead.
“Attention is the new currency – entertain, inform, be useful - or be forgotten,” says David Shing (@shingy, AOL’s “Digital Prophet”, a reporter for Huffington Post, and also a musician, by the way). “Humor and creative presentation win every time,” echoed Ben Huh (@benhuh) of Cheezburger fame. || Read more
Download my latest EP FREE
Connect with me
Watch my latest video
7 Hootsuite Tips For Musicians || Read More January 31, 2013
Macklemore: Indie Sellout or Savvy DIY Marketer? || Read More February 6, 2013
30 Lessons About Living From A Wise Woman || Read More September 1, 2013