Success in the Music Industry

The music industry is currently a pretty rough business. At the same time I say that, I can say the music industry is flourishing. Many Doors are closing, yet even more are opening. Becoming a successful musician today is more difficult than in past years, but there are definitely more possibilities.

One important aspect of being successful musicians often times forget is sustainability. I know for a fact, in the small town of Sioux Falls, South Dakota the one band that’s hit it big failed their sustainability test. “The Spill Canvas’s” hit All Over You was all over the radio for about a year. You couldn’t go ten minutes listening to the radio without hearing it. They rode that high for about a year. They toured cities all over the world, sold out venues, and came back to Sioux Falls, recorded a new album, and then broke up. They had one hit, but couldn’t sustain their career, and it abrubtly ended.

Sustainability. One thing I frequently ask myself is how can sustain my career as a musician. There isn’t really a straightforward answer to this. Some things I plan on doing to help sustain myself are to always be writing more songs. If one song doesn’t appeal to the masses I’ll write another song. Albert Einstein created 10,000 light bulbs before he made one that work. If you fail keep trying. Another way to sustain your career is to work hard, but work hard in the right places. I’m really good at promoting. I can whip up a stellar EPK in a couple of hours, and can design a kick-ass poster in no time, but I can’t for the life of me write a good bio. So instead of trying for hours on end to write a good bio, I’m going to call up my buddy who plays in another band, and make an EPK for him while he writes my bio.

That brings me to a second point. DIT. Commonly known in the musicians world is the phrase DIY. I’ve discovered through my own life that this is impossible. I cannot completely manage my band by myself. I still run the ship, but now everybody has certain tasks. I’m in charge of promotions and booking, while another member is in charge of all the writing, and yet another member is in charge of all the photographs and videos, and etc. There is so much to do when your trying to become a successful band, and saving money by doing things yourself can be lifesaving, but you’ve got to work together, or you’ll just get overwhelmed.

Creating a fan base is the first step to become a successful musician. This isn’t easy. Ask my band. We’ve got a whopping one hundred fifty likes on facebook. (Our target audience is people over the age of fifty but you get the picture). Getting fans is all about making a personal connection with people, and forming a relationship with them. Fans love it when there is a person behind your band name. When they can write on your wall, and get a response.

Of course you will never get fans unless you have a great product to begin with. Personally I’m trying to think of new products that people are willing to invest in that are new, different, and exciting. Thinking of things is tough, but I’d like to refer to my new favorite album as of this week, The Legendary Roots Crew, “Undun.” This album is a concept album about a man named Redford Stephens who chooses a life a gang violence and drugs. The album begins with his death, and traces his life and the events leading up to his death. What makes this so brilliant is The Roots put out an iPhone app with a short film, and interviews or Stephen’s friend. I’ve purchased the app for a friend, just so I can see it. Brilliant. Creative Ideas like this are what fuel the future of profitability from music.

CD’s are a thing of the past. Many people have strong feelings on this topic and I’m no exception. Musicians need to find ways other than CD sales to make money. Music piracy has proven to help bands. Band need to discover new different ways to make money. For example, my favorite band of all time, The Dave Matthew’s Band, thrives completely off of piracy. The Dave Matthews Band, when they were first starting out, were being pirated so much, the band decided to sell special tickets to tapers so they could plug directly into the board to get better sound quality. They made money of pirating! Musicians need accept the fact that it’s nearly impossible to make money of CD sales, and find new ways to become profitable. One great area to dive into is licensing. There is so much money to be earned putting your music into commercials, movies, and TV. Shows. Another way is building iPod apps, like The Roots just did. It’s time to find new revenue streams.

Finally, it’s important to keep integrity within the arts community. It’s important to help each other out, and stop the cycle of dishonesty the music industry has a rap for.

The music industry is going through some tough times, but now is the time to take advantage of the new, exciting opportunities.

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The Music Industry Is Changing.

Bob Dylan once wrote, “The times they are achangin.’”

Bob Dylan’s career began in the early 1960’s. He got his first break when the New York Times gave him positive review of a concert, and he signed with Columbia Records. His first record “Bob Dylan,” sold only 5,000 copies, and barely broke even. Long story short, his legendary songwriting ability soon broke out and he became one of the greatest artists this world has seen.

However,

The music industry is changing.

I’ve been searching a lot lately about musicians and music fans talking about how the music industry has gone to shits, and how big musicians back in the day would not have made it in 2011. So this brings me to the questions…

Would Bob Dylan have hit it big if he started in 2011?

Would Bob Dylan have become a successful musician in 2011?

These two questions are completely different in nature and I’m going to break down each one of them individually.

First off, would Bob Dylan have hit it big if he started in 2011? My answer to this question is no.  This morning I played the first thirty seconds of “Like a Rolling Stone” and asked my roommate if he liked it and he shook his head. Bob Dylan’s voice is not one to be imitated on American Idol, and frankly to be a big, rock star touring musician that’s what you need today. Secondly, Dylan’s signing with Columbia Records was a huge tribute to his success. Today Columbia Records would not sign a little guy from Duluth, Minnesota with no voice, and furthermore, keep him on the label after barely breaking even on his first album. Could he have gone independent and produced his own stuff Bon Iver style and gotten big that way. Maybe, but his voice still would be his downfall. Overall the chances of Bob Dylan being as big as he was starting in the 2010’s are slim.

Would Bob Dylan have been a successful musician if he started in 2011? My answer:

ABSOLUTELY.

Before I can answer this question I must define the terms given.

A Successful Musician     :a person living entirely off of income based on music, that may not live in a 20 Million dollar mansion in L.A. but can support themselves pretty easily, and has the luxury of lets say going out to eat when they want to.

Bob Dylan is arguably the greatest songwriter of all time. If he started in 2011 he might not be a huge grossing touring musician like he was, but I thinks it’s safe to say he would be pretty well off. How might he do this? Songwriting. Songwriters these days are behind the scenes workers that make the good artists sound great. For example the song, “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera was actually written by a lady named Linda Perry, an extremely successful songwriter. Where does her money come from? Every time that song is played at a show, bought on iTunes, played on a T.V. commercial, streamed, listened to on the radio, covered at a wedding, or played in a coffee shop Linda Perry is getting a cut. I think it’s safe to say that Bob Dylan would be doing something like this, and he’d be successful.

With all of that having been said, one thing is sure.

The music industry is changing.

First off, the traditional way of making money as a musician is out the window. The traditional way, CD sales, has been cut in half in the last ten years. In 1999 total sales were at 14.6 Billion dollars, and in 2009, just 6.3 Billion. Best Buy is slashing their CD floor space. 40 billion tracks were illegally file shared in 2008. Streaming services such as MOG and Spotify make it unnecessary to own your own music. An article in the Wall Street Journal by Daniel Kulash Jr. of OK Go, one of the top bands in the country states that OK Go has only sold 600,000 records total. They ditched EMI, their record label, and are doing things their own way. And their doing great financially, and making music the way they want too. The traditional ways are gone, and the formula for making money as a musician no longer included signing a major record deal and selling millions of albums.

So how make money? How do you become successful? If you’re the next Bob Dylan what should you do? Do you sign with a label? Do you hire a publisher? Do you book a tour?

There is answer to this question. It’s all about being creative.

Once again to go back to OK Go, they make most of their money from touring. But their popularity came from their videos. I’d be willing to bet most people wouldn’t have enjoyed the song “Here it Goes Again,” if it wouldn’t have come with four guys dancing on eight treadmills. Each music video they come out with seems to somehow top the last one, and this concept really works for them and brings fans to their shows. This equates to money in their pockets. Another example of making money by being creative is addressed in an interview between Thom York of Radiohead, and David Bryne from WIRED magazine. Radio’s album, “In Rainbows” digital release was offered at a Pay-What-You-Will rate. Fans could enter their own price and get the album. So if I wanted to pay ten cents, I could get the album, but I could also get it for 200 bucks if I wanted. This seemingly ridiculous idea grossed the band 3 million dollars.

David Bryne in another article of WIRED magazine gives tips for emerging artists. One big thing he stresses in this article is go digital. Less people are buying music, and the people that are, are buying digital. Another idea David Bryne talks about and is even more stressed in a blog written by Steve Albini, who produced for Nirvana, is go independent. Steve Albini in his article (see sources at the bottom) lays out exactly how labels work, and how they can control an artist and take money out of their hands. If a band writes all their music, produces it themselves, and sells and promotes it by themselves, this does not only cut the costs of these things WAY down, but also gives the artist 100% profit. They don’t have to pay royalties to the label and song writer.

This wasn’t possible to do back in the days of Bob Dylan but today technology is on our side. When Bob Dylan hit it big in the late 1960’s, he didn’t have Facebook, or Internet for that matter. He didn’t have a cell phone. And he sure as hell didn’t have a portable MacBook Pro with the brand new ProTools 10. But we CAN have these things  Why pay two thousand dollars a day in a studio when you can get a condenser mic for a couple hundred bucks, buy ProTools for your laptop, and record an unlimited number songs in your basement. You can then get on Facebook from your new iPhone 4s create a band page that links users to your Reverb Nation account which sells merch and Cd’s, gives links to all of your upcoming shows. You can also link it to your twitter account, which tells your fans about anything from what your favorite restaurant in Chicago to your thoughts on the new Jack’s Mannequin album. The role labels used to play can now be replaced by free, easy to use media that can be accessed with the click of a mouse.

The music industry is changing.

And that’s the beauty of it. It will never stop changing and the way things work today, will be completely different tomorrow.

Sources:

http://www.wired.com/entertainment/music/magazine/16-01/ff_yorke?currentPage=all

http://www.negativland.com/albini.html

http://www.wired.com/entertainment/music/magazine/16-01/ff_byrne?currentPage=1

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703727804576017592259031536.html

http://money.cnn.com/2010/02/02/news/companies/napster_music_industry/