Archive for the ‘News’ Category
Last month I was fortunate enough to get a chance to visit the offices of my friend Omri Mor’s Seattle startup, ZIIBRA. What a great team of highly motivated and creative people (their office Halloween pumpkin-decorating contest was, how do I say this? Inspiringly Awesome).
While I was there visiting, I also did an interview with their charming community manager, Mia Myklebust, about one of my favorite subjects, music marketing.
Omri founded ZIIBRA in 2011 “with the goal of helping artists turn their creative projects into full-time gigs.” ZIIBRA is a crowd funding or online patronage service that strives to harness the internet to make creating art sustainable. It caters to various types of creative “makers”, from visual artists to musicians to herbalists, perfumers and artisan food producers.
Here’s the interview I did with Mia Mykelbust at ZIIBRA:
Solveig Whittle has had a number of different careers from Microsoft to Marketer to Musician. Her many interests and talents have given her a unique perspective on the artistic community and how they go about making a living from their passion.
“I started out as a programmer many years ago and worked at a big company,” Whittle said. “I worked at AT&T and then I kind of got into the business side and worked as a product manager in the high tech area.”
She has now found her way back into marketing, which is really where her heart lies, while at the same time pursing a career as a musician. Her diverse background has given her the tools to start her own successful music career as well as help musicians hoping to break into the industry.
“Think about it as starting a small business,” Whittle says.
“If you’re an artist and you don’t think about it as starting a small business – you can’t fathom that – it’s going to be difficult unless you partner with somebody who can do it.”
Particular early in their careers many musicians will inevitably be doing their own marketing and promotion. Whittle says that though it’s important for artists to have a broad understanding of what going on in these areas of their business, oftentimes artists are more successful when they partner with someone they trust to work on these sides of their career.
Almost exactly two years ago, I wrote a blog post called 8 Things Indie Musicians Can Learn From Taylor Swift’s Red Release. That post has become one of the most popular on my blog, so I thought it appropriate to do a follow-up regarding the release of Swift’s newest album, 1989. Plus, analyzing and writing about the dynamic marketing duo of Taylor Swift and Scott Borchetta is downright fun. (If I were a graphic artist I would have a picture here of Borchetta in a Batman outfit and Swift as Robin).
The release of Swift’s 2012 Red album was a remarkable success from a marketing perspective. It propelled Swift from country into the mainstream pop market and made her one of the most powerful artists in the industry with a large and loyal fan base.
This year’s 1989 album also did not disappoint. Swift topped even her own record (no pun intended) with 1.29 million copies of 1989 sold in its first week (as compared to 1.21 million copies of Red in its first week after release). While selling 80,000 more units in Week 1 doesn’t seem like a huge accomplishment, remember that overall, the music industry has shown a significant decline in sales in recent years. Until the release of 1989, 2014 looked to be the first year no single artist album would go platinum (sell over a million copies). Sales of CDs for the first half of 2014 were down 19 percent from the year before, to 56 million, and even digital downloads declined by 14 percent in the first six months of 2014 (RIAA figures). 1989 comprised 22% of the entire US album sales the week of its release. In a declining industry, this was no small accomplishment.
As I did with my first article, it’s important to consider what the marketing goals were likely to have been for this release. In 2012, I proposed the marketing goals for Red were to expand Swift’s fan base beyond the country demographic into a broader demographic. I think the goals for 1989 were different: in this case, to maximize total net profits for the release. I mean, isn’t everyone already a Taylor Swift fan? Do we really need more Taylor Swift fans? (See Saturday night’s perceptive fake ad for Swiftamine for proof of her expanded demographic.) OK, just kidding. Sort of.
During a recent Twitter exchange regarding the Taylor Swift/Spotify/streaming debate, I was labeled as having “become a professional problem identifier.” I was exhorted to instead “Be a problem solver.”
— Steve Rennie (@renmanmb) November 12, 2014
Many more knowledgeable and successful than I have certainly already waded into the fray. Even Dave Grohl! Why bother to add my perspective? Because every time I hear the argument that musicians should just “get over it,” or “stop complaining about streaming” I realize that many of us are not on the same page. We don’t even agree what the problem really is. I subscribe to the philosophy that solutions are built on consensus and common understanding, not on forcing a solution that doesn’t fit, or a model that only benefits one or two key players in the industry at the expense of the others.
It seems to me that there are a lot of things that get all confused up in this debate, and the refrain I keep hearing that musicians should just shut up and “focus on making great music” ignores the reality of how screwed up the music industry is and how hard it is – even if you’re a great musician with great material – to make a living at music.
I’m not a famous musician, or a tech entrepreneur, or someone with years of experience managing bands or running a record label. I’m just a musician, an anonymous musician who, like most of the musicians I know, doesn’t make a fulltime living as a recording artist. Oh, and fifteen years ago I was the VP of marketing at a startup whose product was distributed software as a service, bringing Microsoft Office to corporate desktops as, essentially, a streaming product. I do care more about the long term future of musicians and the music industry than going public with my music tech company and cashing out (something I also know a bit about). And I am an engineer by training. I have a sensitive radar for arguments that don’t square with my version of reality.
I don’t frequently post my own press releases on this website. I prefer to interview and feature artists other than myself. I have a few amazing musicians whom I met through NARAS (the Recording Academy) on deck in the coming weeks with some very successful music marketing and social media stories to tell – so hang in there. It’s also the middle of Grammy season, and believe me, I will have a follow-up post to my Grammy submission experience from last year.
But in the meanwhile, as those other musicians finish laboriously typing their detailed and informative interview answers, I’m making an exception and promoting some of my own recent achievements as an artist. Plus, this post isn’t just about me. It’s all about indie musicians collaborating to make things happen, and it features my good friend and musical collaborator, Elizabeth Butler, whom I have written about before on this blog. As you know, I’m not just a marketer and blogger, I’m a musician. I try to live by my own advice, which includes tooting my own horn once in a while. So bear with me, here’s a bit of self-promotion.
October 20, 2014
Do you have to be 19 and able to twerk in a bikini to receive recognition as a female musician these days?
Solveig Whittle and Elizabeth Butler are proof that you don’t. These two indie female songwriter-musicians from Seattle, Washington and Houston, Texas, were notified recently that they both have songs and albums up For Consideration in the 57th Grammys and nominated for the 2014 Hollywood Music in Media Awards (HMMAs). The Grammys will be awarded in February of next year, but the HMMAs will be awarded sooner, on November 4th, 2014 at the Fonda Theater in Los Angeles.
The two women have been strategizing for months and working together to promote their music in an industry in which it is notoriously hard to stand out – and one that also tends to favor younger artists. They remain undaunted, however, and now their musical and co-promotional partnership has created some very visible results, such as their Grammy and HMMA nominations.
Like many indie musicians, Whittle and Butler have been hobbyist musicians their whole lives. Only within the last few years, however, have they gotten serious about putting resources and time into pushing their individual music careers forward. By sharing information with each other and honing both their musical and promotional skills, they have proved that collaboration is the new route to success in the music business.
I have to say, I love the song, “Chandelier” by the female Australian singer, Sia Furler (known simply as Sia). I’ve embedded the Vevo music video at the bottom of this post. It’s a beautiful, simple but visually compelling video, although you won’t see Sia’s face in the video, just her doppleganger.
You may not have heard “Chandelier” yet. Being a female vocalist, as well as a mother, I listen in the car to a lot of current pop music. In the Female-Vocalist-Fall-Back-to-School-Pop-Hit lineup, “Chandelier” is up against some heavy contenders, like Taylor Swifts newest, “Shake It Off” and Katy Perry’s inane “This is How We Do.” Not to mention the octave-defying Christina Aguilera-sound-alike, Ariana Grande, whose numerous collaborations this summer with every female hip hop artist in America (she’s moved on from Iggy Azalea to Nicki Minaj) dominate the airwaves.
I think “Chandelier” it’s going to be a huge hit, and one by a non-American artist who has been relatively unknown until now, at least here in the US. I wanted to pick it apart and get to know this Sia Furler person. Her music seemed, well… different.
In doing a little research, I uncovered some remarkable things that I thought were relevant to a lot of indie artists like me, especially those of us who are NOT Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, or Ariana Grande’s age:
Welcome to my weekly podcast. I talk about music, music marketing, and the music business where I do some of my best thinking – while walking my dog.
In this 22 minute episode, I discuss the Music Biz Association’s 2014 Metadata Summit on Tuesday May 6 I attended in LA, part of the larger three day Music Biz 2014 Summit. The Music Biz Association, formerly known as NARM and its sub-organization, digitalmusic.org, is “a non-profit membership organization that advances and promotes music commerce — a community committed to the full spectrum of monetization models in the industry” (from their website.) I have written about the importance of standardizing music metadata as a critical component in ensuring artist compensation in the new music industry where digital will eventually dominate.
It’s interesting to note that the board of the Music Biz Association is composed of representatives of all the major players in the music industry, and this list is evolving to encompass players other than the big labels: Warner Music Group, Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Amazon, Microsoft, Spotify, YouTube (ie. Google), iTunes, as well as players like The Orchard and INGrooves. As music moves to a self-published model, I hope to see more representation in associations such as Music Biz for indie artists, too. Right now the industry is dominated by these big players (“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”), but the future of music is a much flatter structure, where streaming micropayments, and thus metadata, will play an even larger role.
Look for a long form blog post later on this website about my experiences at Music Biz 2014, and a larger discussion about music metadata.
Also of note this week is the speculation around the purchase of Beats by Apple, as streaming players being a slow consolidation that (in my opinion) makes for a more rational and sustainable financial structure for streaming music services, as I predicted many months ago. This would be the largest acquisition ever made by Apple, if it goes through.
Finally, I discuss the significance of the incredible success of the soundtrack to Disney’s movie, Frozen. At the MetaData Summit, I sat next to Disney’s finance group, there to hear about the latest advances in metadata standardization. Why do they care? Because the Frozen soundtrack has been on the Billboard 200 13 times, it knocked Beyonce off the charts, and it has sold 2.6 million copies (58% digital – but that means 42% digital). As pointed out in this article on NPR’s blog, “Well Into Spring, ‘Frozen’ Soundtrack Keeps The Charts Cool,” Frozen‘s soundtrack has made a lot of money for Disney in a variety of different ways. Perhaps the difficulties of tracking all the various ways in which songs make money for Disney in the new music model, where digital plays come from a myriad of sources, will motivate a behemoth like Disney to put pressure on the industry to standardize music metadata more quickly, and streamline the monetization process further.
Most every morning I walk my dog. That’s where I do a lot of my thinking about my own music and social media, about music marketing and about what’s happening with music and technology in general. I thought you all might want to come along and hear what was on my mind this Friday morning.
The subject of today’s podcast is gear. What is the role of gear in your music career? Have you recently purchased some new gear and has it made a big difference in your recording or live performance?
In this 5 minute episode I talk about my own experience and also my observations from watching Stevie produce local bands. I didn’t admit it in the podcast, but I’m not immune to the siren song of gear. I’m like a kid in a candy shop at Guitar Center. In fact, I purchased the JamMan Looper/Sampler pictured above in October of last year. I haven’t yet figured out how to use it.
It often seems that musicians are more willing to purchase expensive musical gear than to spend the same amount of money on music lessons, professional performance coaching, song critiques, marketing, or legal services. In my mind, expensive gear is a social signal – but what it signals to others is not necessarily what I think many musicians believe it signals.
I’d love to hear your experience and your opinion on this issue in the comments section below. I’d also love your feedback on this format!