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.
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:
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.