Too Many People "Playing Record Label"
This is really starting to get annoying. There are so many supposed aspiring artists, labels, producers in the un-industry right now. And by “un” I don’t mean “Underground”, I mean “un” as in “Opposite of; contrary to.” And I’m tired of having to watch them play “record label” the way people used to play house when they were kids…totally and utterly make-believe.
The advent of new technologies and media is awesome. Don’t get me wrong, but it is also allowing for more and more no-talent, no-drive, no-budget-having pretenders to take up space in the universe. Anyone can have a page on twitter, tumblr, myspace, facebook, reverbnation, soundcloud, …etc. Anyone can download a music software program to use from home (for free if they’re even a bit resourceful). I understand all that and I appreciate it. However, my complaint starts when people make a mockery of the music industry by giving themselves titles that people used to have to earn. Having a cool name and a logo does NOT make you a record company. Having a software program or fruity loops does NOT make you a producer.
I am proud to call myself a Music Producer. I am proud to call myself a Songwriter. In some circles, those titles still hold weight. I earned them through years of hard work, dedication, spending money and most importantly, actually accomplishing goals and MAKING MONEY IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY, with major and indy artists, established record companies, film, television, radio and more.
Along the way, by default, I had to learn many things. Besides learning how to use SSL boards and 2-inch tape machines (back in the day) and all the top tier music software, gear and hardware, I also learned to use Excel, Photoshop, Powerpoint, Flash, HTML, …etc. Those are necessary tools of business, music or otherwise. I learned how to write Offering Memorandums, Executive Summaries, Business Plans, Grant Proposals, contracts of all kinds, cue sheets, split sheets, bios, Marketing Plans, Promotions Campaigns and more. I learned how to register music with Mediabase and BDS (easy things to do btw) and, furthermore, how to access those sites and track and report spins and record progress. I learned all these things working for myself and working for various labels throughout my life. I know there will be people reading this who are saying to themselves, “Ummmm, that’s not very impressive. Those are simple things.” And that brings me to my point.
It is not rocket science. The music business is NOT some enormous enigma. It is a business like any other business. It has its key differences of course that make it extraordinary, but in the most basic aspects…it is still a business. And as a business, it contains rules and norms. I am not talking about the creative side here. Creatively, I am an artist and I would never try to assign rules or parameters to music. However, the business, by nature, does have its own set of standards and practices. In order to have success, you must learn what these standards and practices are and you must either run your business according to them or choose to go against the grain and set new trends. I am not saying be a part of the machine, but you must understand the machine in order to join it or find ways around it. All of that is beautiful. I love the music business.
What is not beautiful is lazy, un-inspiring, complaint-filled wannabe’s taking over the internet and social media with their half-ass musical attempts. Stop playing record label. Stop saying people are “hating” on you because your “career” is not going anywhere. Your city is not hating on you. Radio is not “hating” on you. You just don’t understand that you are really not playing the game. You are watching from the stands and asking why no one is passing you the ball. You want in the game? Good. Congratulations…so does everyone else. “Wanting” it is not good enough. You have to be ready and willing to sacrifice and fight for a chance to play. It will take time and money and lots of hard work. Here is my advice…Go play something else. Especially when it comes to Hip-Hop. Hip-Hop is sacred to some of us. Some of us have given our blood, sweat, tears and money to Hip-Hop for over 30 years. So forgive me if I sound like I am taking this onslaught of wack music personally. I actually am.
I know I am no authority on what is hot and what is not. There are so many different genres even just within Hip-Hop music that it would be too hard to find a unanimous definition of dope. I get that. But what I don’t appreciate is seeing so many “record labels” and so-called “artists” all over youtube claiming to be the next big thing and using titles that were once reserved for serious people. If you make beats, cool, but that doesn’t make you a producer. Anyone can rap. Rhyming is taught in schools ever since kindergarten. Being an emcee requires skill and talent. Work on your delivery, tone and song concepts before calling yourself a Hip-Hop artist. Maybe you are just a rapper…be honest. If you came up with a name for you and your people and your music…cool, you have a club of hobbyists, NOT a record COMPANY. Unless you are creating a REAL business with REAL money and a REAL plan, you are only “playing record label.”
I can’t think of any other industry where people “pretend” and “act like they know” as much as they do in the music industry. Guys play basketball at the park. You may find one or two delusional guys who think they are on their way to the NBA from there, but the reality is…most people playing in those pick-up games understand and accept it as their hobby. Adult baseball leagues playing on Sundays do not expect to see big time MLB scouts on a regular basis. I understand there are exceptions, but honestly, most people play for fun and don’t “pretend” it is their path to a million dollar signing bonus.
There is a path to real success in the music business. People like Wendy Day (follow @RapCoaliton on twitter), Paul Porter (@RapRehab and @IndustryEars) and Jesse Jess (@UrbanThreshold) tweet daily with useful information. I see people re-tweet and thank them for their knowledge, but how many really listen? Wendy Day recently wrote an amazing book called, “How To Get A Record Deal,” Paul Porter launched a website this year called raprehab.com and Jesse Jess launched newmusicbiz.net.
I wonder if the industry will start to change based on this easy access to information. The easy access to recording tools caused a negative change, in my opinion. This free access to tons of music business information should bring the un-industry to a place of clearer understanding. Maybe our understanding of the business will catch up to our understanding of how to create music. I hope it will drive the talented and dedicated people in the right direction and drive the un-industry into a deep, dark abyss. I learned so much the hard way, through trial and error. If you are paying attention and following the right people on twitter (and reading the articles on their links carefully), you could save a lot of time and money. I named 3 good follows in my rant. I know there are many more.
Much love to all the REAL aspiring artists, labels, producers, songwriters out there. And much love to the REAL people still left in the REAL music industry. For whatever its worth…I can be a resource, a weapon to use in your fight. I am launching a webinar style show soon and it will be FREE. Just a place to video blog and interact, answer questions and get some cool guests to add their two cents. I plan to do my part and give back and teach the REAL up-and-comers. I am down to network with positive people…always! I am here. Get at me. @shystimusic on Twitter.
From Piracy to Profits, Part 2: A Radical Suggestion For Rebuilding the Music Industry.
From Piracy to Profits Part 2:
A Radical Suggestion For Rebuilding the Music Industry.
(Exert from ‘This Open Business Of Music’ - By Max Gaines)
As Machiavelli once said: “It must be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to management than the creation of a new system. For the initiator has the enmity of all would profit by the preservation of the old institutions and merely lukewarm defenders in those who gain by the new ones.
What gives something value? Is it the set price? Is it the quality? Is it the content?
When people began sharing MP3’s and changed the way the music business does business once again – they created a better distribution system. iTunes and Prince’s NPG Music Club were the first attempts at making major steps towards legitimizing this business model.
As Steve Job puts it: “If you want to stop piracy – the way to stop it is by competing with it” Today selling of plastic discs only accounts for a quarter of what we consider to be the music business. Piracy was a market signal. 3
CD sales in 2009 have dropped nearly 55% since their peak tin 1999 –including digital album sales.
When something is given away for free, the conventional wisdom is that it hold no value – it makes no money. But this might be wrong. What gives something value? Is it the set price? Is it the quality? Is it the content?
Paulo Coelho wrote a book called The Alchemist. It was released in the late 80’s and has become a worldwide best seller – until they reached Russia. For one reason or another his publishers couldn’t figure out why this book, which is loved everywhere else, wasn’t selling in Russia. So behind his publishers back Coelho started a blog called the Pirate Coelho – and started posting links to where fans could get pirated e-books of The Alchemist for free. 3
The Alchemist went from selling 1000 copies a year to 100,000 copies a year in Russia? Coelho realized that the free e-book was information and the hard copy was property – he used one to sell the other.
The same is true for cable network AMC’s recent hit series The Walking Dead. Not only did this television series break ratings records for the network, but also it was the most pirated television series of 2010. 7 Piracy didn’t hurt the series – it enhanced it. It allowed the message of the show to spread without borders or restrictions thus adding to its popularity. 7 Freely consumed content through piracy acted as information – information that increased the popularity of the series which is the property.
Popular British sketch comedy series Monty Python was televised from 1969 to 1975. In recent years Monty Python decided to launch a “crazy” campaign which included posting all of their Monty Python content on youtube, for free. They asked, in return, that those who view consider buying the actual DVD through a provided link. And you know what? It worked. Python’s DVD’s climbed to No. 2 on Amazon’s Movies & TV bestsellers list in 2009, with increased sales of 23,000 percent. 10 The freely distributed content on their youtube channel acted as information – the property in the form of DVD’s was helped. 10
Just as commercial industries are under like the music industry are in a state a chaos – so to is the role of a designer within these industries. We no longer pay attention. Bad advertising is no longer working. You now have a choice as to whether you engage with traditional advertising. Traditional roles for designer include crafted forms of communication – that are becoming less and less relevant to people’s lives. People are now able to filter out the crap. It doesn’t how big you make your logo or your price point, we can filter it out and our brains will just ignore it.
Chicago ad agency BBDO Energy came to the same conclusion in a study done in 2005. “Consumers are no longer buying what everyone else is selling,” they announced. “What happened? For starters, being ‘different’ is no longer a difference for a brand. And being disruptive no longer gets consumers attention. After years of being of being told what to buy, consumers have changed their minds. They view brands as less relevant, they say they feel disconnected and unimportant – bystanders rather than participants.” 3 So many ads shout at us all the time, one on its own is about as relevant as a single scribbled tag in a train car full of them. We simple tune them out like white noise.
As we spread this world with complex technical systems – on top of the natural and social systems already here – old style, top down, outside in design simple won’t work.
Since 2000 the music industry and their political platform the Recording Industry of America (RIAA) have spent over $90 million in lobbying policy makers in the United States alone for copyright protection and to maintain the status quo. 8 It is clear that any effort to bring about change in the business of music will require change copyright laws - change that will actually reflect how a growing section of the population consume content.
Many content creators who have copyright available to them clearly don’t value that copyright very much. A huge percentage of content creators simply chose not to renew their copyrights, because they knew there was little or no value in the copyright itself. Only 35% is ever renewed. In fact, the only type of work that had a renewal rate higher than 50% was movies, which came in at 74%. 9
The content creator clearly is no longer getting any benefit out of the copyright at that stage, and thus reverting the work to the public domain makes the most sense. 9
Music is content that can and should be available to make the public domain more fruitful and to enable new creative works — and yet it gets locked up anyway, even though the very people copyright law is supposed to protect clearly don’t value what copyright gives them. So why do we still automatically give them copyrights, thereby harming the public domain, while adding little to no benefit to the content creators themselves? 9
What is called for is a counter to the lobbying efforts by the RIAA and change the course of the music industry.
A collective platform modeled after political lobbyists and think tanks for the formulation and promotion of the structural reinvention of the way content (popular music) is distributed and consumed.
This platform will take its message directly to policy makers and individuals alike by pushing for:
(1) The decentralization of the music industry
(2) Copyright reform to reflect how content is currently consumed that will free up content from its current restrictions.
(3) The systemic design necessary for a legal, open and free form of file sharing for the creation, sharing and distribution of popular music.
(4) Realization that such reforms and such will equal a viable economic model.
Parenthetically, the aim of such a platform will not be to destroy the music industry, but rather to save it. We will not call for the abandonment of physical music (in whatever form it may take) but rather a new system for its enchantment.
Tomorrow’s business of music will not just be about open source, or free distribution or copyright reform – but rather it will be about the people over the process; about responding to change not following a plan; about collaboration over laws and negotiations; and about designing a business and system for the sharing of popular music that is actionable and relatable in peoples daily lives.
Such a file sharing system will rely on the principles of open source technology. That is to say:
(1) The system must be freely available or it can be part of a package that is sold.
(2) Any artist (content maker) must be allowed to add to (or modify to) with content individually or as part of a package. Modified versions can be redistributed.
(3) And fans must be allowed to freely access (take) and share (put in) all content.
What the Music Industry represents with centralization of ownership and means of production is not the free market at work, but rather an extension of Feudalism. It is the enemy of freedom. Systems based on open source technology work like the youth the youth cultures that dreamed them up, open environments that can infect people with the passion of those who built them and become self-perpetuating, growing sustainable and often substantially. In essence, they are the free-ist of free market capitalism.
Successful open source based projects are driven by the passions of their audience. Open source projects inspire people with new ideas and will gain support because there is nothing else like it. The same is true for such an existing system like Wikipedia whose cause is amassing all out knowledge in one place, for free, is a worthy one. The lawyers who contribute to open source projects such as Lawunderground.org do so for the same reasons Hip Hop DJ’s promoted obscure music in the 1980’s for very little pay: they believed in carving out a different way of doing things.
A business model based on an open free file sharing system will strike a balance between encouraging innovation and creation without giving away so much that you cannot sustain the model. For example, using freely distributed music as information and using the physical form and content. The information helps give fans a reason to buy the content.
Some would also argue that what is proposed is actually digital communication. But this is wrong. In fact is exactly the opposite. What an open and free form of file sharing system for the distribution of popular music will accomplish is the laying of a foundation for new ecosystems of private enterprise that will reinvigorate competition and break inefficient conglomerates.
1) Generation Y-Pay refuses to pay for downloads, Carrie Ann Skinner, 7 September 2009, http://www.networkworld.com/news/2009/090709-generation-y-pay-refuses-to-pay.html, 4 October 2010
2) It’s All Free! Lev Grossman, 5 May 2003, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1101030505-447204,00.html, 1 October 2010.
3) Matt Mason, The Pirates Dilemma: How Youth Culture is Reinventing Capitalism (New York: Free Press, 2008) 174-176, 142
4) John Thackara, In The Bubble: Designing In A Complex World (MIT Press, 2006) 7
5) Peter Mason, The Rough Guide to Hip-Hop (Rough Guides, 2005) 332-333
6) Piracy Fight Shuts Down Music Blogs , Ben Sisario, 13 December 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/14/business/media/14music.html?_r=2&ref=technology&pagewanted=print, 13 December 2010
7) The Walking Dead Currently The Most Pirated Series, Mitch Michaels , 12 December 2010, http://www.411mania.com/movies/news/165075/%5BTV%5D-The-Walking-Dead-Currently-The-Most-Pirated-Series.htm, 13 December 2010
8) Special Report: Music Industry’s Lavish Lobby Campaign For Digital Rights, Bruce Gain for Intellectual Property Watch, 16 January 2011, http://www.ip-watch.org/weblog/2011/01/06/special-report-music-industrys-lavish-lobby-campaign-for-digital-rights/ 20 January 2011
9) If Artists Don’t Value Copyright On Their Works, Why Do We Force It On Them? Mike Masnick, 8 February 2011, http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110207/02222612989/if-artists-dont-value-copyright-their-works-why-do-we-force-it-them.shtml, 9 Febuary 2011
10) Can Free Content Boost Your Sales? Yes, It Can, Stan Shroeder, 22 January 2009, http://mashable.com/2009/01/22/youtube-boost-sales/, 9 February 2011
“Everybody wants to be somebody else. They think if they were just beautiful, thin or rich everything would work. But all these attributes come with a price. Beautiful will get you in the door, but it does not ensure you’ll be taken seriously. Money’s good too, but it won’t keep you warm at night. No, the goal of this life is to become who you truly are. An original. Whether it be a teacher, plumber or rock star. You can’t be everything, nor would you want to be. Not everybody’s cut out to be a rock star. Hell, not everybody’s cut out to be a musician. But if you’ve got no choice, you soldier on. ”—Bob Lefsetz
I should be ashamed, but I'm not.
It’s a really cool job to get to interview bands, but sometimes it starts to get a bit tiring. Do not get me wrong - I love what I do, but there comes a point when your working based on newsworthy over passion. You’re talking to people who are just faces and their managers who are clearly reading off a script and they all think they’re “oh so talented” and “I’m writing a record that really means something” and it all sounds the same and a lot of the time it’s bullshit. I’m not complaining, I promise, but after a while it becomes really easy to be jaded about the state of music and the people “making it.”
Then every once and a while you hear about a band that really is “oh so talented” and are making records that mean something. A friend passed me on to Twin Atlantic earlier this year and I was lucky enough to have a really cool editor who agreed to let me write a story about them, how big they are in Europe and what it’s going to take for them to break in America. I’m not going to lie, it’s really fun to tell people I write for Billboard and see their reactions, but the best part of my job is that sometimes I get to give bands I really believe in a little spotlight. I wrote the band’s first (of many, I hope) Billboard article that was published this Spring and I saw them play live for the first time tonight.
I’ve tried to put my fan girl ways behind me and I think I’ve done a pretty decent job. But after the set (which was KILLER) I saw Sam McTrusty, their lead singer, in the lobby of the venue. After some encouragement and a lot of deep breaths I did the super awkward thing of introducing myself and telling him I wrote the article (it feels really douchey to do this. I always feel like it sounds like I’m showing off and I don’t mean to). He was so nice and seemed genuinely grateful that I wrote it and happy to meet me in person. Ugh, that sounds really arrogant but he was seriously that nice and down to earth. And then my heart did back flips because he remembered the interview specifically. He said it was fun. So I lied, the best part of my job is if the band I really believe in are happy with the final product.
It’s super unprofessional to ask interview subjects for pictures, I KNOW, but I couldn’t help it. Luckily he seemed pretty stoked to do it for me. You can tell I am mentally losing my mind because I didn’t remember to smile with my mouth closed. I had no one to giggle with about this experience on the way home so you have to allow me to be giddy with you, internet. I should be ashamed, but ummm…I’m not! This was totally worth it. I don’t even care if it was blurry, this moment was magic.
If you have not listened to this band you need to do it right now. Their album “Free” just became available in hard copy in the US but it’s on Spotify and iTunes or wherever you listen to music. If “Crash Land” doesn’t move your soul then you need to be tested to make sure you’re human, but really they don’t have one bad song. Not one. They are currently supporting AWOLNATION on a full US tour, but if you can’t make it this time Sam confirmed tonight they’ll be back in the States in January. If you’re in LA and you’re reading this, we should go as a date.
The Best Advice You Will Ever Get
… and I’m giving it to you for free! If you’re in the music, entertainment or marketing field I have some advice for you. Read these 4 books and watch this 1 dvd. It will make a difference and in a few months you will be enlightened. The books and dvd can be found at Amazon if you can’t find them at your local store. Last time I checked $50.89 for all of them on Amazon with free shipping. When you’re rich and famous, remember who pointed you in the right direction.
Make It Happen book by Kevin Liles
Purple Cow book by Seth Godin
Crush It! book by Gary Vay Ner Chuk
Anything You Want book by Derek Siver
Inside Hip Hop dvd
I freaking love my job!
Alkaline Trio is playing at the club tonight. There were one of my favorite bands through middle school and high school. Hell, I still love them! I’ve seen them more times than I can count, but they are playing at my second home tonight. It’s kind of surreal. I’m allowing myself to be giddy and excited for the day, a feeling I so rarely get when it comes to working around bands every day for the last few years. #ughsojaded