curious 2know the status of my album? tweet BlackgroundMG. They control the $ & album date. In the meantime, I’m gonna keep working LoveUAll
Choosing a manager will be one of the most important decisions you make as an artist. Who you let represent you to the outside world is a direct reflection of how you handle your business, and a great manager can do magical things for your career. More often than not, you come across the not-so-great managers that are slowly putting your band’s career in a dank, dark corner one email at a time. The wrong fit can quite literally sink you. Here’s some common manager archetypes we recommend steering clear from if you’re looking to grow a long and steady career in the music biz.
#1 - The Too-Busy-To-Call-You-Back-Ager
We know… they’re busy and ‘important’. Being a busy manager is usually a good thing, but not taking time to hear their artists’ needs, cater to them, and collaborate with them will often cause fractures in the relationship. Beware the chronically-busy manager. As the artist, you need to be able to reach your manager at any time for advice and late night strategizing. A constant dialogue is essential; after all, your manager is out on the industry front lines hustling for your career. When the manager is too busy to prioritize communication with the artist, it can lead to career decisions that the artist doesn’t support being made on their behalf. More importantly: what other calls is the manager not keeping up with? Opportunities are likely being missed if the manager is too disorganized to see them. Sometimes this type of manager is closely related to the my-career-is-more-important-than-yours-ager… which I’m sure I don’t have to elaborate on.
One of the best ways to grow is to look at what’s worked for other indie musicians and adapt it to your own career. Here are 5 great strategies with real examples to get you going. A lot of musicians think they can’t start making strategies to move their career forward until they’re making money, until they take some business classes, or until they get a manager. The coolest thing about these strategies is that you can start using them TODAY.
1. Make a Plan from the Start
Making a great plan is one of the best ways to get to that music success you deserve. Not only do concrete goals give you something to aim for, they also help you decide what your first step should be.
Try to make your goals as specific as possible. Instead of saying “I want to be rich and famous,” try something specific like “I want to be able to be a full time musician with a yearly salary of at least $75,000 and be able to tour outside my home state.” Break down your lofty goal into smaller tasks like “gather contact information for local venues,” “contact 5 venues this week,” and “connect with another band to share a gig.” Suddenly finding a way to reach that goal becomes more manageable.
For many people the term “marketing” conjures up images of cheezy advertising or pushy sales people or wack gimmicks to catch the attention of the press. So if you’re a musician that equates marketing with those things, it’s understandable that the idea that you need to market yourself and your music makes you really uncomfortable. But if you understand that marketing is part of everything you do, you can then begin to spread the word in a productive positive manner.
Musicians who only see marketing as an annoying, interruptive process of shouting at people aren’t going to see it as something they want to do. And if they see marketing as something pushy and rude, then when they embrace marketing as a way to spread the word about their music, they go into full-on spam mode and alienate everyone around them.
Even many business people look at marketing as a necessary evil, something that’s somewhat beneath the creativity of the true entrepreneur. For example, noted venture capitalist Fred Wilson once wrote a blog post telling startups to avoid marketing as a component of their business plans. Instead he advocated that they do a lot of other things that ultimately sounded like a list of marketing tips.
Fred Wilson proposed that instead of marketing, one should spread the word through such things as:
Of course, these are all forms of marketing and these are all things that any good music marketer will suggest you do as part of your ongoing activities. Because marketing is about spreading the word about what you’re doing. At its best, marketing is spreading the word by speaking to other humans in a human voice.
Good social media marketing is what The Cluetrain Manifesto describes as having conversations in a networked market:
"Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice."
"Corporations do not speak in the same voice as these new networked conversations. To their intended online audiences, companies sound hollow, flat, literally inhuman."
When one starts to understand marketing in these terms, as spreading the word and as having human conversations, one can begin to understand how marketing is part of everything a musician does.
But it’s also important to understand branding as a component of marketing.
Some people think of brands as logos or as corporate identities but a brand is essentially the image or thought that immediately comes to mind when people think of you. So your brand can be thought of as your personal and professional identity in the minds of people other than you.
If marketing is what happens when you are showing who you are to the world and are spreading the word about what you do, then marketing is part of everything you do, at least, when it involves other humans.
Marketing is what happens when:
You choose a name for your band that communicates what your music or larger aesthetic is about.
Marketing is what happens when:
You pick an image for your cd cover or flyer that creates a first impression.
Marketing is what happens when:
You tell people you have a show coming up, whether you’re pushy or polite.
Marketing is what happens when:
You post fliers around the neighborhood and share the space with other events or plaster over those fliers like a total jerk.
Marketing is what happens when:
You publicize your new single by sending out emails to a list of people who’ve signed up or to a bunch of people who never gave you permission and may not give a damn.
Marketing is what happens when:
You get drunk at your show and say crazy things on the mic that alienate people.
Marketing is what happens when:
You get drunk after the show and start hitting on women (or men) inappropriately.
Marketing is what happens when:
You get drunk, show you can handle your liquor and maybe even buy the house a round.
Marketing is what happens whenever you interact with people because, as a performer, you’re a public figure and you’re always on stage. That can be a difficult thing to handle but, if you’re trying to build a career in music, it’s something you have to face.
So wo/man up and realize that marketing is everything you do from what you name your band to how you present yourself in public to how you spread the word about your music.
Source: Hypebot (by Clyde Smith)
As an independent recording artist, do you think of your music as a service or as a product?
When the phonograph debuted in 1877, the traditional service of music (live performance) was transformed into a product (recordings). This product was stored on physical media — wax cylinders that eventually evolved into vinyl records, 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs, digital downloads, and other formats. This single innovation, through its ability to reproduce recorded sound, forever changed the way we experience music.
It wasn’t long before people started thinking of music as something to own and collect as much as experience. When someone bought an album containing the music of Louis Armstrong or Benny Goodman or Les Paul, they owned it. They could keep it or they could sell it. It was theirs. And they could enjoy and appreciate that music without ever seeing the artist perform it live.
Virtually no one alive today remembers a time before vast, personal record collections, a day when music could be experienced only in the moment in which it was performed. But that is exactly how it was experienced for thousands of years before Edison.
Something surprising is happening in the 21st century. Recorded music is becoming less of a product every day.
In 2000, when digital downloading was gaining steam through Napster and other file-sharing platforms, sales of CDs started a precipitous decline. And they declined throughout the decade, losing more ground each year to iTunes and Amazon and other digital retailers. As the digital snowball grew, consumers learned to think of their music as a non-physical commodity — as digital files on iPods and computers rather than as pieces of molded plastic stacked on shelves. With the advent of music streaming via Rhapsody, Pandora, and Spotify, the transition of recorded music from product back to service was underway.
Suddenly you didn’t need to “own” a collection of non-biodegradable products that inefficiently held your favorite music recordings. You could simply pay for a service that granted you access to virtually all of the commercially available recordings in the world.
You could just summon the music whenever you wanted to hear it — in much the same way you might have asked a performer to play your favorite song in a public square in 1840. Or in 1540.
And the physical recordings you owned? Well, they sure did take up a lot of space.
So what does all this mean for you as an independent recording artist?
An interesting thing happens when people switch from buying CDs to paying for music-streaming services: the secondary market disappears. There is no equivalent to horse-trading in the streaming world. Your recordings on streaming services are always yours, no matter how many times people enjoy them, no matter how old they get. When someone listens to one of them, you’re paid. Every time.
No question, CDs still make great takeaways along with the merch at your live shows. But if you follow music commerce in 2013, you’re probably not spending too much time selling shiny, little plastic widgets with copies of your recordings on them. Instead, you are allowing your recordings to perform for your audience. When someone spins one of your songs on Rhapsody, you receive a payment of a little under a penny. On Spotify, you get about half a cent. And sure, that will probably never pay the light bill. But the transparent tracking of plays isn’t just about revenue. It’s about knowing how frequently your recording is being played, and understanding the nature and quality of the interactions between you and your audience.
It’s about building that essential relationship.
Streaming is changing the way we experience music. The recordings you’ve released into the world are now standing up and being counted every time they’re played. And their intrinsic value as a creative service performed — original to you — is here to stay.
Source: Music Think Tank (by Mark Doyon)
Independent artists can make more money than ever before. The walls of major label distribution have crumbled, and have been down for a decade. Social networks make promotion to fans easier and cheaper. Add in home recording, crowd-sourced artwork, and other cost cutting maneuvers and DIY musicians can be financially successful.
Or so goes the myth.
Reality is far murkier. Yes, it is possible to make money as a DIY artist and many are doing it. However, they are not making it from selling recorded music. That can certainly bring in money, but even modestly successful DIY artists generally gross $20,000 to $50,000 from sound recordings annually. These are artists who have many songs in their catalog with some momentum. After you take into account recording costs and splitting revenue amongst band members and the producer, there’s not a lot left. Even those with a big enough fan base to do deluxe packages get a decent gross, but profits can be elusive.
Yet, DIY artists living below stardom are consistently finding profitable careers. How are they achieving this if iTunes and Spotify revenues aren’t paying the bills? The ones who are making a profit mostly fall into one of these three buckets:
Complain all you want about musicians making YouTube covers and goofy videos instead of being “serious”. The reality is many of them make a good living from this. Costs are minimal compared to professional studio time. Distribution costs are near zero. The casualness of the content also allows for more rapid creation than one might find for “official” recorded work.
Companies such as Maker Studios and Big Fra.me have grown to help these artists monetize their music with better-leveraged ad rates, production assistance, and channel cross-promotion. Once ramped up with a lot of content, successful artists in this area can clear mid-to-high five figures in revenue. Since they are often solo artists, they also don’t have to split it up much.
2) LIVE TOURING
It’s a rough life trudging from city to city, especially with gas over $3 a gallon. Yet many artists have figured out a way to make this work. The rise of house concerts has allowed some to make thousands per night when a club in town might have previously paid them hundreds.
Social networking has made promotion in new cities cheaper and easier to find the dozen “super fans” that might bring friends to a show. Smart artists also tour in areas where they know a fan base exists from mailing list and social network data points.
Once at the show, with an audience primed to like the band (instead of grumpy locals), these artists sell more merchandise. Easier access to creative items like sunglasses, jewelry, and handbags also leads to increased sales. Add this up, and musicians who aggressively work these approaches take in mid-to-high five figures in profit. As tough as touring can be, artists focused on this are clearly leveraging it into a career.
3) SYNC PLACEMENTS
The proliferation of cable channels and niche online audiences has meant more content and advertising that needs to be created professionally. This has also led to more needs for music around the world. Creators also can’t settle for mediocre library music. They need professional, contemporary songs that fit the mood of the creative.
Artists who fit the sound requirements and have a certain buzz amongst music supervisors are often rewarded with multiple placement opportunities for their music. Rates can be as lower than $100 (on sites like Audiosocket, The Music Bed, and Cuesongs), but they can also be upwards of $100,000 for a worldwide television spot. Even after paying a placement company, an artist can still end up with a mid-to-high five figures in profit. This is also before they may get lucky with the “magic sync” that results in larger sales and popularity.
There are multiple examples of DIY artists who could fit into each of these buckets, but there are very few that were actually succeeding in multiple buckets.
YouTube artists don’t get enough road experience to draw well and their music lacks the “cred” music supervisors want. Touring artists mostly have “road” content to post on YouTube (which doesn’t perform as well), and they are in the studio less often to make tracks for sync placements. Meanwhile, sync artists tend to avoid YouTube for fear of diminishing their brand with covers, and don’t get much name recognition for their sync placements to draw on the road.
While success in multiple categories is elusive for most, success comes to those who focus on one revenue stream. By putting their energy in growing that one element, a musician quickly learns what works for that bucket. Then they refine their trade to fit the medium and achieve greater success. Laser-sharp vision allows them the financial resources to make a living at what they love.
The disadvantage is that this singular focus makes it difficult to get the career momentum most artists desire. Those that want to be rich and famous in music need to be succeeding on radio, the Internet, press, TV, and touring. For the DIY musician, much of that is cost prohibitive anyway, so a focus on what you can achieve makes smart business sense. However, it also explains why most major labels continue to dominate the biggest selling artists. Even when the artist comes from an indie, they usually have a partnership with a major label to generate success.
If you are truly DIY and don’t have a team, focusing on one area to succeed is a wise business plan. If you achieve a lot of success in that bucket, then you can evaluate how to grow on your terms. The new music business may look different, but it’s clear that a focus allows a greater chance towards DIY success.
Source: MTT (by Jay Frank)
In 2004, 13-year-old Joanna Levesque became the youngest solo artist ever to have a number one single on the Billboard charts.
Levesque, who recorded as JoJo, had been building to that moment since she was just a little girl, giving electrifying performances on shows like Kids Say the Darndest Things with Bill Cosby at the age of 6. When Levesque was 12, she signed a seven-album deal with Blackground Records, and later her debut album JoJo was certified platinum. Her 2006 follow-up, The High Road, pleased critics and included at least one bona fide hit, the breakup ballad “Too Little Too Late.” She was quickly becoming a rising star in R&B.
And then she went silent.
It’s been almost seven years since JoJo has put out an official release, though that doesn’t mean she hasn’t been trying. “I’ve recorded about three incarnations of this third album,” JoJo tells BuzzFeed. “We’ve chosen the track listing, we’ve done multiple album photo shoots, chosen the cover, chosen the credits, everything.” But every time her team tried to present the album to her label, Blackground Records, they never received a response.
“Blackground Records lost their distribution deal through Interscope, and if you can get the answer from them on why that happened, that would be a miracle,” JoJo says, “because I am sure they would not engage you in that conversation.” While JoJo says she has no problem with Interscope, she says she’s lost all communication with Blackground.
JoJo’s case is an extreme one. But whether it’s a new artist waiting to release their debut, or a successful musician who’s seemingly disappeared, many artists have found themselves fighting either to release their music or release themselves from their contracts. It happened to Lupe Fiasco. It happened to Sky Ferreira. It happened to Bow Wow, and Metallica, and Big Boi, and Amanda Palmer. The list goes on.
In most cases, even through politics, artists and labels can eventually reach a place where they mutually agree that it’s not working out and it’d be better to part ways.
But what happens when they can’t?
The label merges with or is acquired by another company.
“It is a little confusing because most of these companies, they get bought and sold several times,” says Ben McLane, an entertainment lawyer whose past clients have included DMX, Keith Sweat, and LL Cool J. Repeated changes in ownership caused problems for Blackground Records, an independent label that was distributed by Interscope, a subsidiary of Universal. Blackground’s CEO Barry Hankerson (uncle to the late Aaliyah, and responsible for launching her career) is known for making abrupt business decisions that leave his artists in a constant state of flux. “He’ll have a hit, and then he’ll have hard times with his label, and he’ll sell it to some other distributor and then the artists just kind of float around,” says McLane. “That’s part of the problem — there are a lot of mergers and acquisitions that go on, and the artists get stuck in the middle of it. If you’re not U2 or Justin Bieber, at the top of the food chain, a lot of times artists just get lost in the middle.”
The music industry has changed rapidly in the digital age. Where there were once six major labels in 1998, now there are just three remaining: Sony, Warner Music Group, and Universal, which became the largest international record company after merging with EMI last year. The mergers have left many artists lost in limbo. “Sky Ferreira’s label has gone through four or five label presidents since she’s been signed, and a big merger,” says McLane, who calls Ferreira’s experience “the worst-case scenario.”
“It’s a complicated space,” McLane says, “and I don’t want to say just because one artist’s experience is shitty, it doesn’t mean that another artist couldn’t sign with a major label and maybe get treated really well.” McLane points out that Katy Perry was signed to Ferreira’s label around the same time but has had a very different experience. “Maybe she just got lucky, or she just had a better team, or the right timing.”
A record company’s value used to be measured by the acquisition, protection, and exploitation of copyrights. Exploiting those copyrights by selling songs is an easy business model to understand and used to be the foundation of a very healthy global industry. Historically, the record business was the heart of the music industry. Sell a lot of records and you were a successful business. And artists also succeeded through record sales: they became household names when they had sold a lot of records.
From the business perspective, artists and songs could be viewed as interchangeable commodities. If any given artist failed to deliver hits, another waited in the wings to take their place. This impersonal approach allowed the music industry to grow extremely profitable by simply selling “product.”
But the sale of recorded music has taken a battering over the last decade, and it’s no longer smart to judge an artist’s commercial viability on record sales alone — not least when there is a new generation who questions the need to pay for recorded music at all. For many artists and their managers, record sales are now just one of many revenue streams and one of a number of factors with which to judge success.
Despite this dramatic change in the marketplace, many struggle with the concept of uncoupling success from record sales. It doesn’t help that most measures — the charts by which many fans learn about new music — are still based on this notion. For emerging artists this is particularly precarious, since careers are too often ended early if a first set of recordings fail to sell.
So how should a “content producer” behave in this new environment? And what lessons can we learn from this new model of value? Here are the two keys:
- Do not treat artists as commodities
- Value the artist-fan relationship as highly as traditional rights
Smart managers realize every artist is a standalone business that generates income from multiple revenue streams. A manager’s job is to create those businesses and run them well. This requires thinking globally and being agnostic about which revenue stream or territory is the most important. As long as those channels can deliver the aesthetic the artist wants and make a profit, the business is a success.
But the business of relationship building is not a quick one. Artists have to earn the respect of fans, convert that respect into trust, and, eventually, convert that trust into faith. Building communities takes time, and it can only be achieved over the long-term. In this model, artists can no longer be treated as interchangeable hit makers.
The key to artist-management success is identifying talent early and developing it cost-effectively over a long period of time. Artists — and their art — are the only real assets. The systems and structures that surround them should be treated as a means to maximize the commercial value of each artist. As such, the traditional music industry — be that companies that make and distribute records, publishers who collect performance royalties and create sync opportunities, concert promoters, or merchandisers — should be regarded primarily as service providers to artists.
As the digital age gathers pace, managers must engage in the shaping of the music landscape. That landscape is still plagued by a mindset that regards copyright as an instrument of control (which further limits commercial exploitation to traditional models) rather than as a remuneration right that can generate revenue wherever a market may be. The future is about accepting consumer behavior and looking for as many ways as possible to monetize it.
In addition, managers must also simplify the complex structures of the industry and create healthy businesses based on monetizing the behavior of consumers and those businesses that wish to use creators’ works for their own profit. Without a simpler, better structured digital market, the direct artist-to-fan business will struggle to grow. Moreover, it will undermine the modern-day manager’s opportunities to improve their artists’ business.
Managers must also figure out alternative investment for artist businesses. Traditionally, it was the record business that invested in new talent. Restricting investment to direct rights exploitation keeps the emphasis on making money from record sales, which keeps the “investment risk” for would-be investors high. A viable alternative would be a market for investors to put their money into artists’ whole businesses, where artists retain rights and investors participate in all the profits.
The music industry was the first of the creative industries to be affected by the disruptive nature of the internet. But it’s not all bad news. Disintermediation has forced a focus on talented individuals who produce great art. One of the jobs of their managers is to create an environment that allows them to do so. Ways of collecting fans and connecting them to artists are ever changing, but by embracing new technology opportunities, creative businesses will flourish. Other content producers take note.
Article originally appeared on Harvard Business Review (http://www.hbr.org) and was written by James Barton and Brian Message.