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Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Few Thoughts On The Biz: Where We Are Now

This is a note to all the supporter of my kickstarter funding project, about the changes in the music business and the fresh opportunities for independent artists. If you'd like to pledge, hit this link:

Welcome to this creative project funding platform, a part of the new normal in the music biz. The change in the business over the last couple years means exciting times for independent artists and music entrepreneurs. In this new era, the traditional gatekeepers are disappearing, and new distribution outlets, marketing techniques, and business models are popping up all the time.

Because of the internet, every artist is a world artist, with the ability to reach fans in other countries. And the business change affects musical content too—although this new record of mine will be a full length cd, in the coming year I would also like to release a 6 song cd after it, or a 3-song EP every three months or even a song every month. The new model is about you, and my musical relationship with you. Much is possible.

No excuse exists with today’s technology to wait for the star-making machinery to make it happen for you, but that’s always how I’ve conducted my career. In fact, so much of what’s happening now has been my reality for many years as an independent, DIY musician—funding production, using smaller distribution on a budget, talking personally to radio about airplay based on the quality of the songs, working in a niche creatively, doing regional press, investing in your own career, being a part of a music scene and playing shows in unusual venues.

Over the past several years we’ve worked hard to firm up quality business relationships, with publishing administration (Casablanca Media in the US & Canada, Open Times in the UK & Europe), distributors, licensing companies and all areas of the media. But the most important aspect to success as an independent artist is to keep it fresh. New songs and new shows and new ideas. This is where your funding is crucial right now; I’ll get new music out on a very consistent basis.

The marketing and promotional ideas we’ll be using once this record is released include reaching out through social networks, blog tours, traditional print and all forms of TV, satellite and terrestrial radio, online and physical retail, and continued communication through the website with all of you.

The new model hinges on the fact that recorded music, in downloads or physical cds, is now the loss leader of the entertainment industry. Downloads are free, by and large, to a lot of music lovers, especially younger ones. Whatever the many reasons, the old model has disintegrated, and the reality is that fewer and fewer people are paying for music.

It seems like arguing against file sharing or free downloads is kind of like getting pissed at water for being wet--it's something that simply is, and is here to stay. And from where I sit as an independent artist, if I'm candid about it, free music is both angel and devil--my primary interest as a musician is to communicate and connect with my audience the emotion and ideas in a song, to pass the buzz of creation along and have it become part of your life.

So songs passing freely from ear to ear is what I want to happen! But I also need to continue to do my job as a functioning, air breathing, bill paying, food eating artist who lives in the commodified real world. Mozart went to Emperor Josef, one sole patron. With this model, there are hundreds and eventually thousands of supporters, and it’s a healthy conversation -- the artist creating their music, the fans communicating directly with the artist, although I ain’t no Mozart.

With free music as the norm, the fear is that we'll eventually just have records from superstars on one end and hobbyists on the other, squeezing out the regional artists and bands, the older singers and songwriters, and the crucial contributions of the more eccentric and avant garde. But I'm surely not telling you to stop downloading free stuff or file sharing—on the contrary. I’m just saying a) make sure it’s not my stuff (smile) and b) I think it’s a mistake to think we’re making some grand statement against corporate fat cats and their out-of-control capitalist ways by downloading free music.

And I'm also saying to all of you how much I appreciate your support in this, how important it is in today's new world, and how you're making our world a sane, thinking and fair one by sanctioning this transaction and others like them. Thank you for having some faith in me, my work and my commitment to it.

Making a record--from the writing of melodies and lyrics, arranging, casting musicians, recording basic tracks, myriad overdubs of vocals, solos, strings and horns, rewriting, re-recording, hiring art design for a cover, then mixing and mastering and manufacturing--takes every bit of focus and vitality I have to give. If I do it with full emotional wattage, (and there ain't no other way), it allows precious else in its orbit. It's the most demanding of any possible mistress--imagine the Glenn Close character in Fatal Attraction on steroids, even crazier, screaming “do it again!” Devoting yourself fully to it makes your knees weak, makes your roof leak, makes your bones squeak--and there's nothing else I'd rather do.

Then, when the record's done and coming out, it calls for an entirely different skill set that involves: promotional persistence (which leaves you feeling spent and icky--imagine asking your father in law for money 200 times a day), marketing moxie, an understanding of brand and image (that feels contrary to the very real human connection you seek when actually writing and recording the music) and most importantly, functioning as a bandleader and employer of other musicians and taking the songs out in front of people--maybe the most thrilling and challenging part of this large process.

It’s very fashionable these days for small labels and bands to use analytics and other online marketing data to try and determine who their audience is and what they want. These tools eventually have their place somewhere in the post-release process, but I think it’s contrary to the pure artistic impulse. I make music that satisfies its own standards and traditions and tells my story, songs that will then hopefully reach you the same way I want to be reached. I want to be moved and move you, be excited and excite you--not market to you. I hope this update gives you some idea of how your money will be applied, and how we’ll make it work as efficiently as we can, in many different areas.

A VERY Brief History of the Record Business

1. Early 20th Century: Musicians play live music in symphonies, operas, chamber ensembles, pubs, houses, bars, fields and the workplace.
2. 1930s: The wide use of radio transformed time and space and made it possible for huge numbers of people to enjoy free music. Vinyl LPs allowed folks to take music home and play it.
3. Post WWII Expansion -- Record labels brought recorded music to market while publishing companies found ways to exploit the “song” through licensing.
4. 1960-2000 Motown, The Beatles, 45rpm vinyl singles, modern recording methods, Rock Star era, cassettes, cds, computers & mp3s.
5. File Sharing: Napster, itunes & the iPod -- The power shifts from the record companies to the tech companies, the music fans—and the artists themselves.
6. The End Of The Corporate Record Labels? -- When the labels realized people were trading MP3 files online--their own customers interested in music—they decided to aggressively sue them.
7. Where We Are Today—and why success for independent solo artist has never been more in focus. Large labels are becoming banks, and their problem is that the single income stream they have traditionally participated in (sales of recorded music) has drastically shrunk.
8. The New Artist Model --- The traditional record business has never really been good for MOST of us musicians. Technology has shifted the power base from the record labels to the artists and managers—but ultimately to you, the music fans. A middle class of musicians is forming where people can make a living or part of a living in music more predictably. They are pursuing a business model that puts them in the center of the equation and gives them more choice about their career path.
9. Creative Funding Platforms -- where performer and fan/patron are meeting with direct relationships enabled by interest & technology. Can't make a fortune anymore, but you can make a living. You are surrounded not by fad and infatuation, but by music Fans.
10. The Future -- Mobile music and images (content) on the UMD (Universal Mobile Device). Listen to music, watch your favorite artists rehearse, read lyrics, call home, call friends—limitless immediate involvement with music and artists. Artists can record today and get a new song to you tonight, with artwork & lyrics and video.

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