You might be surprised to learn that the chart-topping duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are not signed to a major label. Neither are veterans like Peter Gabriel and Wilco. They’re all self-releasing albums.
But if you self-release, you still need someone to get your name out there, get your product into the marketplace, and get it sold. In other words, you need someone to do all of the stuff record labels used to do. You could do it yourself — or you could hire someone like Kevin Wortis of Girlie Action, a leading music marketing agency based in New York.
"Here we offer sourcing, distribution, sales. We also handle marketing, digital marketing, social media, press and radio promotion," Wortis says. "We have clients that come in who have chosen not to be with a record company; they want to control all the revenue and they want to do things in their own way."
Girlie Action’s clients include Pretty Lights, Amanda Palmer, and The Crystal Method. The French recording label Naïve hired the agency to provide label services for Marianne Faithful’s last record. Girlie Action is now working on its third album for Meshell Ndegeocello.
In the good old days of digital music — say, five or six years ago — high-tech talent scouting by record labels meant trawling MySpace for hot new bands. Labels still hunt for acts online, but the pools of data they consult have become much more vast, and access to them highly competitive.
On Wednesday, the Warner Music Group, the company behind Bruno Mars, Wiz Khalifa and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, will announce a deal with the music app Shazam that will create a label imprint for new artists who are discovered through Shazam.
Shazam, used by more than 88 million people worldwide, identifies songs playing on the radio, on television or at a nightclub. According to the company, it is used about 500 million times each month to identify, or “tag,” an audio signal, which each year leads to more than $300 million in download sales.
The deal would let Warner executives use Shazam’s data to see what songs are catching on and where — potential signs of a breakout hit. Warner could use this data to sign new artists to a special Shazam imprint, and market them with Shazam’s help. Specific terms of the deal were not disclosed.
“There’s so much information that we’ve never had before as an industry, and Shazam is at the forefront of that,” said Rob Wiesenthal, chief operating officer of Warner Music. “When a consumer hears something he or she likes and holds up their phone, that enables us to learn more about the likes and dislikes of fans.”
Rich Riley, Shazam’s chief executive, said that big hits represent “a relatively small percentage” of the music tagged on the app, and that it is often used for songs by unsigned artists — the acts that Warner will be most interested in.
For Shazam, the Warner partnership is also an opportunity to move beyond its “name that tune” function and become more of a conduit for various forms of content. Last November, the company struck a deal with the media-services agency Mindshare to make it easier for advertisers to incorporate Shazam in campaigns.
“We want it to be the place you go for lyrics, the place you go to see video, the place you go to engage around a particular artist,” Mr. Riley said. “This is a big step in that direction.”
For the music industry, data is the new gold. A number of music companies have struck deals recently to help them comb through the noise of social media to see the early flickers of hits. Twitter is working with 300, a new company led by Lyor Cohen, Warner Music’s former head of recorded music, and last month Gracenote and Next Big Sound, two music data specialists, said they would work together to develop a customizable Internet radio app.
But whether all this data can lead to more hits is unclear. Jim Lucchese, the chief executive of the Echo Nest, a music data company that works with Spotify, Sirius XM and others but was not involved with the Warner-Shazam deal, said that the challenge is not so much getting access to information as having the expertise to interpret it.
“The massive amount of data that’s available is incredibly exciting,” Mr. Lucchese said. “The reality is that there is a scarcity of people out there who really know how to make sense of it.”
ARTISTS / LABELS: Get your music on Shazam now with ONErpm! Click HERE to get started.
Getting a record deal is the musician equivalent of a high school ball player making it pro, only with fewer head injuries and lower odds of an overdose. Two albums into my career as a rapper, I had a hit song, and the recording industry whisked me off to Hollywood. My fairy tale lasted 11 months before they abruptly dropped me from my recording contract without ever releasing my album, despite my first single going gold (selling over 600,000 copies in just a few months).
In that short time, I got a crash course in the recording industry: how it works, how they exploit and manipulate young talent, and how to go from having nothing to everything to nothing again in a very short period of time. My name is Spose, and this is an inside look at how the sausage is made.
In any industry you go into, there are always two types of people: People that take action, and people that don’t. In fact, let’s not limit that to industries people are in. In LIFE, there are two types of people…
The people who take action are the people who usually end up getting further. They are brave enough to make things happen, and even if they don’t work out as planned, they can always give it another go.
So why am I talking about taking action? Simple, because this is exactly what a lot of musicians fail to do!
I recently wrote a post about how to get a record deal. I can imaging that a lot of people would have opened that article and thought I’d start telling them exactly how to contact record label bosses and A&R people. In fact, what I advised was the opposite. Focus on your own music career, and when you are ready as an artist, they will come to you.
No longer is it as easy as having a talent, sending a demo into a record label, and getting signed soon after. These days you need to prove you can sell units, draw in crowds, and build a fan base that is willing to follow you through think and thin. Only then will record labels start taking an interest.
This article isn’t about signing to a record label though, it’s more about the steps you need to take in order to start moving your music career forward. I call it your music ‘career’ because that’s how you need to see it. Even if you’re not making money this very moment, I’m sure you want to be doing so at some stage? If so, you’re building up your career. If you’re happy being a bedroom musician, then you probably don’t need to be reading this article.
Whether it’s your aim to sign to a record label or not, you have to take things into your own hands to start off with. You need to do everything that a record label would do to get you out there, and you have to do it without any major help. This is the life of an independent musician, and one that can be very rewarding.
There is one thing I’ve noticed about many people in the music industry: They aren’t making as much money as they could! Now I’m not saying there’s a huge amount of money in the music industry or even that every one of you will get rich from it, but I know for fact that a lot of people can make more money then they currently do. Small things that simply aren’t done can be the difference between earning a part time living and earning nothing at all, and unfortunately a lot of the time these things simply aren’t done. But why?
There are two main reasons why musicians often don’t reach their full earning potential:
1. They don’t take enough action.
2. They take action, but the wrong kind (A lack of knowledge).
Not taking action is a curse that plagues a lot of people in all different areas of life. We often know that doing something will give us a better lifestyle, but we simply don’t do it for what ever reason. Maybe it’s due to a fear of the unknown, or maybe it’s due to laziness. Whatever the case, we don’t always take action when we should. This in effect lowers our chance of growing, and will keep our music career at a stand still.
Taking the wrong kind of action can be just as damaging as not taking any action at all. If you work hard for a year doing the wrong thing, at the end you’re going to realise that your efforts hadn’t come to much. In effect, you will have wasted a year. Learning the business of music can be trial and error without the right guidance, and lead to you wasting a lot of time and money.
If you have dreams of touring and getting your music out there, remember first that it takes action on your behalf. Daydreaming can motivate you and give you a clear idea of what you want your end goal to be, but it won’t help you get there any faster. Wouldn’t taking action and achieving your goals feel better then just dreaming about them? Without taking action, you will never know.
It’s important to make sure you’re taking the right action however. Don’t spend hours every day adding strangers to Facebook and Twitter, instead get in front of people that have a real interest in your music. Is there a specialist radio station that people go to to listen to your type of music? Then get your songs played on those shows! When you play at gigs, make sure you have merchandise ready to sell. Inform people that you’ll be coming round selling your CDs after your set,and if they’d like to hear more from you make sure they get one. That way, even if you aren’t getting paid for the show, you can still make money. Build a relationship with fans via email marketing, and turn them into super fans (Or a ‘true fan’ as has been discussed recently on MMT).
Small things like these can make all the difference, and will allow you to reach your goals sooner then later. I hope you’re the type that takes action, and more importantly the right type of action.
Article originally appeared on Music Think Tank (http://www.musicthinktank.com) and was written by Shaun Letang.
Warning: The following rant will ruffle some feathers and just might upset your comfort zone. Read with caution!
John McCrea, lead singer of the band Cake, stirred up a reaction when he told NPR’s Melissa Block that he is skeptical about the future of music as a vocation.
“I see music as a really great hobby for most people in five or 10 years,” he remarked.
Keep in mind this was part of a segment about Cake’s historic new album, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts in January. It was historic because the album earned the coveted ranking by selling just 44,000 copies — the lowest amount for a No. 1 in the 20-year history of calculating record sales.
I’ve been seeing a lot of articles and blog posts lately about the doom and gloom of the music biz — including depressing news about the state of independent music. There have been references to the failure of direct-to-fan as a business model, and the harsh realities that aspiring musicians, managers, and promoters face.
Really? Give me a break!
Sure, I agree that things have drastically changed. The “traditional music industry” has crumbled. All the new, accessible promotion tools have created a crowded and noisy world where millions of DIY artists are clamoring for attention. Things are in flux. Nothing is predictable. There’s no sure path to success.
So tell me …
How is this so radically different from the good old days?
When exactly was there a sure path to making a good living as an artist? What year or decade did a healthy percentage of musicians prosper in the Golden Age of Music? And in what era was the pursuit of the almighty record deal an accessible and fair arrangement for all concerned?
Wake up and smell the gigabytes! Please!
The truth is … This Golden Age never existed. There’s never been a time when musical self-sufficiency was guaranteed. It’s always been the case — and always will be — that a majority of people pursue music as a part-time hobby.
Only a small percentage of artists make a living. That isn’t a consequence of the Internet or piracy or consumer apathy or limitless entertainment choices. It’s just the nature of humanity, regardless what business model is in place.
If you find yourself complaining about the current state of music, it’s probably because you feel lost not knowing what direction to go or what “rules” to follow. I get that. At least — prior to the Napster and iTunes era — many people agreed on the steps you needed to take: get a record deal and/or get radio airplay, retail placement, media exposure, tour, build a business team, etc.
Now it seems nobody knows what the sure path is. As flawed as the old system was, at least you had some kind of map, right?
Here’s another cold dose of reality … That system sucked just as much as, if not more than, the current one!
Many musicians struggled then … and they struggle now. Artists fought for attention then … and they fight for it now. Self-promoters were confused about marketing and sales then … and they are just as confused now.
And, back in “the day,” there was never a set path to a record deal either. Nearly 20 years ago I organized a lot of music education events in St. Louis with local artists who had been signed to label deals. Each had to forge their own path to get noticed and get signed. No two stories were alike.
However, the one theme that many of them shared years later was the bitterness they felt after having gone through the corporate record company process. Hmm … I guess that wasn’t the Golden Age after all.
Honestly … Do you really prefer the old system of having to impress a gatekeeper before you are deemed worthy of a music career? Do you prefer the stability of needing commercial radio airplay, retail space, and MTV video exposure to “make it”?
I think not! So …
Please stop lamenting the good ole bygone days (that never existed to begin with). Please stop complaining about the hardships of social networking and all the work required to get noticed and engage with fans. Cry me a river!
Success in music has always required talent, desire, a quest for mastery, and consistent action. That was true years ago, and it’s just as true today.
The modern-day whiners all focus on what’s missing and what’s difficult. Meanwhile, empowered indie artists such as Jason Parker, David Nevue, Rob Michael, John Taglieri, and many more see opportunities, embrace this new era and … heaven forbid … are actually making a decent living doing it.
So … are you a victimized complainer … or an empowered doer?
Article originally appeared on Music Think Tank (http://www.musicthinktank.com/) and was written by Bob Baker.