It’s been a good run for the music business over the last few days. Really good.
1. First, the obvious one that caught most people’s attention. For the first time since the infamous year of 1999 (see Napster), the recorded music business GREW. I’m not sure if that means anything yet. We’ll have to wait for a trend. But, positive, none the less. The growth only provokes two questions for me… Why? And, how do we do more of it?
2. Billboard has (finally) added Youtube plays to its calculation to determine the Hot 100 singles. ’Bout time.
3. Spotify and Ford hooked up for an in car, voice activated music service. This is a gamechanger if they continue to roll it out intelligently. It makes me want to buy a Ford, and renew my subscription to Spotify. Terrestrial radio is the last shoe to fall in the pre-Napster music business. This could be the beginning of the end for the last gatekeeper.
4. I might catch some heat on this one, but I think the activation of the Copyright Alert System is the right kind of regulation needed to educate and evolve consumer behavior when it comes to piracy. The major internet service providers (Comcast, Time Warner, etc) will begin to caution users they believe are downloading illegally, and point them to a legal purchase option. The devil will be in the details on this one. The user experience can’t be government’y or legal’y. It has to be respectful and easy. Private sector feeling, if you will. And it can’t overreach and become a hinderance to legal file sharing, and all of the good things that are happening in a post-Napster world. We’ll see. I reserve my right to change my mind on this one.
5. Finally, all of the above gidgets and gadgets and apps and platforms are great. But, as I’ve always said, if they aren’t driven by great art and artists, then they’re worthless. That’s why Amanda Palmer’s TED Talk is an absolute must watch for artists and for music business professionals alike. Absolutely inspiring.
It used to be that a song could stand on its on. It was an entity in and of itself. It was the main event. We were limited in how we could consume it (radio, CD, live), and limited in where we could consume it (car, room, venue). Basically, our lives didn’t distract us from that song. We were focused on it, and it alone.
That’s not true anymore. The song isn’t the “it.” The “it” is life, and the song is the soundtrack. They are forever connected, and will only become more connected.
We don’t buy a record for track #3, and then surprisingly fall in love with track #7 anymore. Now, we see a video of a song on Youtube that makes us laugh, or hear a song in a pivotal scene on our favorite TV show that makes us cry, or we’re moved to jump up and down by a song in a live set, or we’re emotionally shaken by a friend telling us what a song meant to them personally.
Now, the songs that we decide to engage with (beyond streaming on Spotify or previewing on iTunes), are songs that come with an experience included.
One… someone to push you down. And two… someone to pick you up. And I mean, reeeeally push you down. And reeeeally pick you up.
And by the way, this applies to a startup company (especially, in the music biz) or just life in general. I am convinced, if you truly want to grow, then you need that person in your life that’s going to annoyingly and frustratingly poke a hole in every grand idea you have. You need that person that lands two left jabs followed by the devastating right hook in every conversation. You need that person to tell you, “it’s not good enough.” You need that person that’s going to piss you off.
On the flip side, taking a beating like that isn’t fun. And it can (and probably will) cut your confidence by about 72% and make you feel like you don’t know what’s up or what’s down. That’s where the second person comes in. These are hard to find. It’s easy to tear someone down. It’s hard, and scary, and risky, to believe in someone enough to pick them up. My advice is to find the good cop before you find the bad one. You’re going to need him or her.
At the end of the day, it’s about your gut and your instinct. Trust it. Follow it. And if you feel as confident in yourself and your ideas as you should, then don’t be afraid to challenge them or have them challenged.
We all know major labels had a choice between adapting or attacking (aka. suing) in the 2000′s. And we all know what they chose to do. That, of course, was the beginning of the end of the major label structure as we knew it. But what can we learn from their poor choice? Or better yet, let’s pretend they did actually choose to adapt. How would they have adapted?
To answer these questions, we must first look at what they were doing wrong in the first place. When the majors had a monopoly on how we discovered music (radio), how we consumed music (purchasing a 15 song piece of plastic, even if we only wanted one of the songs), and how we viewed music centric video content (MTV), they didn’t have to think about goals or how they would meet those goals. They just signed 10 artists, threw them in those machines, and waited to see which 1 got spit out the other end and which 9 didn’t. The 1 got the marketing push, and the other 9 got shelved.
In the 2000′s, these machines were torn down and democratization began to take hold (CDbaby, itunes, Youtube, Pandora, etc.). With that, the bloated revenue bubble the industry enjoyed for the last decade popped, translating into smaller budgets. All of a sudden, you couldn’t afford to miss on 9 of 10 artists anymore.
So, here we are. The point where you adapt or attack.
What labels should have done (and now what they are being forced to do) is become leaner and smarter with the artists they sign. Instead of throwing money at random tactics, they should have focused budgets on setting clear objectives for artists and innovative strategies. They should not have taken a step forward with an artist until they were absolutely certain of where they were walking long term. They shouldn’t have signed an artist unless everyone on the team believed in their art and the potential of their brand.
If the majors would have made this frustratingly simple decision, they might still be the dominant drivers of the music industry.
Hey artists, here are some things that don’t matter anymore…
being more talented
being better looking
being on a bigger label
The only thing that matters now is that you be remarkable. What does “remarkable” mean? It means that if someone sees or hears you, they feel compelled tell someone else about you. They can’t not tell someone about you. Deep down, people want to feel like they’re the first person to discover something, and the first person to tell you about it. Give it to them.
How you get there is up to you. It could be the crazy content of your songs (Ke$ha), the way you present your live show (MuteMath), the fact that there is nothing else like you (The Civil Wars), or a character you create (Lady Gaga). Whatever it is, make me want to talk about you.
I’ve got some bad news… an mp3 now has little to no monetary value (especially if you’re an unknown artist or record label). But wait! There’s also some good news… there’s zero overhead costs to duplicate an mp3.
So, what does this mean? Well, first off, quit thinking of yourself as in the mp3 business. Because business ain’t good. You’re in the t-shirt, ticket, limited vinyl, VIP access, deluxe packages business now. And that mp3? It’s your business card. Think of it as a foot in the door with that potential fan to sell her all that other stuff. So, start slinging those business cards out!