The problem with the music business today in trying to capture today’s youth is they’re trying too hard. There are record labels that are admitting to the fact that they’re trying to copy the ‘model’ that has worked for Taylor Swift and Big Machine Records. And the thing is, we just didn’t know any better. I was 16 years old and wrote all these songs about being in high school and sophomore relationships, not thinking that people would relate to it, hoping they would, but there really was no business model to make it work for the younger demographic. If we can relate to lyrics, then we’re going to buy the music and I don’t think that’s a hard formula to figure out. People my age are really, really honest about what they like and what they don’t and they know it when they hear it and they know if they can relate to the lyrics.
Taylor Swift talking about what the music business needs to do to engage today’s youth (x)
Azoff has a new performing rights organization called Global Music Rights and he has said that songwriters signed to it will receive royalties 30% higher than those of ASCAP and BMI. This is big news for songwriters!
Pharrell Williams, Ryan Tedder, as well as some of the members of Fleetwood Mac and Journey have already signed up.
The issue of how much musicians theoretically earn from their work has moved out of the trade press and into social media’s trending topics recently, whether that’s Taylor Swift demonstrating her clout via a successful protest of Apple Music or Jay Z’s Tidal promising artists higher royalty rates than other streaming services. In the background of these debates is the question of whether songwriters and performers are actually getting all the money they’re owed.
I know that what we’re doing flies in the face of the Kickstarter Amanda-Palmer-Start-a-Revolution thing, which is fine for her, but I’m not super-comfortable with the idea of Ziggy Stardust shaking his cup for scraps. I’m not saying offering things for free or pay-what-you-can is wrong. I’m saying my personal feeling is that my album’s not a dime. It’s not a buck. I made it as well as I could, and it costs 10 bucks, or go fuck yourself.
The best-kept secret in the music business is The Publisher.
Most of you have heard of the publisher. On every CD booklet, you’ll find something like “all songs published by ASCAP” or something similar. What exactly does the publisher do?
Many years ago, before the invention of recorded music, the Publisher printed songs, much like a book publisher does and made them available to the public. If, for example, Beethoven wanted an orchestra to play one of his symphonies, it had to be published first.
Nowadays, they essentially are responsible for making the songs public. What they are always looking for are songs. Salable songs. Their main business is buying songs and reselling them to recording “artists”. For example, if Celine Dion is looking for songs for a new album, she’ll go to a publisher and see what material is available.
Often, though, the artists won’t buy the songs, but borrow them. That costs nothing, yet the publisher is the one who collects all royalties. That is because the publisher owns the copyrights. Let’s backtrack a bit… You write a song, you own the copyrights. You want the song published by someone else, you sell it. Selling it means selling the copyrights.
Hence, you sold a song for $25,000 to a publisher. It became a huge hit and all the royalties amount to $750,000. The publisher makes a profit of $725,000.
Then why go to a publisher? Because he has access to more resources than you’ll ever have. These people have better relationships with folks in the industry than anybody else. They have to: they provide the songs.
In our example, if you hadn’t accepted the 25K, you might never have sold the song.
A publisher, especially early on in your career, can be a godsend. It doesn’t matter that you may lose profit if you sell your songs, in the end, you’ll still be making good money. You see, publishers tend to be logical people. If they like your songs and think that they can sell them, they need you to continue writing them. How can you write songs if you’re working eight hours a day? You still can, but not as many as if it were what you spent most of your time on.
If a publisher likes your songs enough to do business with you, he’ll make sure your bills are paid. Even if it takes five years, he’ll be paying all the bills and you’ll be writing songs full time.
Also, you don’t need to sell a publisher your songs. You can enter some sort of deal with them where they’ll take a percentage of the royalties. Everything is negotiable.
What is more difficult is finding these people. They don’t go around with signs on them saying who they are. And very few advertise.
The Internet is one place for looking. You may come up with a few. Other places are guidebooks. Most countries/states/provinces will have a sort of guidebook called, more or less, “Who Does What“. These should contain contact addresses for music publishers. Call first, some of them are not in the song business at all, but instead collect old material that’s now in the Public Domain.
As we’ve mentioned before on this site, presentation counts a lot. As for the recordings, with a publisher, always try to be as minimal as possible. If you can, a simple guitar and voice is perfect. They don’t care for your arrangements. They can take a country song and turn it into a dance song. So don’t try to impress them with arrangements… You won’t.
And don’t despair if a Publisher doesn’t like your songs, they’re not always right. Bach, when he started composing, tried to sell his music to publishers. He was ridiculed. He was told he had no talent. He never again tried to sell his music. After he died, his brother discovered the more than 3,000 pieces of music he had written. Not one published. And nobody had known that he composed… Today, only Beethoven outsells him. And not by much. To give you an idea, Beethoven would have to stop selling altogether and Celine Dion would have to double her sales, for over a hundred years, before she even came close to selling what he’s sold.
Earlier this year, Zack & I produced twoepisodes of our podcast, Off The Record, in which we concluded that going to school to get a music business major degree isn’t always a good idea. A few friends have decided to follow our advice. They asked a crucial question: “If I’m not going to school for music business but want to work in the field, what should I read to get an education that puts me ahead of everyone else?” I came up with this list.
Get More Fans: The DIY Guide To The New Music Business – Yes, this is my own book. I wrote it to be the most exhaustive guide on the music business ever written (725 pages!). I just updated it for 2015 and obviously I think that it is great. They teach it at over a dozen universities around the world and I will end the self promotion here.
Hack Your Hit & Future Hit DNA by Jay Frank – I wrote my book because I didn’t see anyone writing anything for musicians that was relevant to today’s music business. These books are the two exceptions. Hack Your Hit is an excellent book full of inspired, fresh ideas on how to market your music. Futurehit DNA discusses the way music is changing, along with other aspects of the music business, and is a fantastic read.
Appetite For Self-Destruction by Steve Knopper – This is the book that tells the story of the dumb moves the music business made to get to where it is today. Not only is it a thrilling ride, it’s incredibly informative. If you ever plan on dealing with major label types, you need to read this to grasp how ridiculous and inept this world is.
The 22 Immutable Laws Of Marketing by Jack Trout – Most of the music business today is about marketing. You need to be amazing at this skill. This is the book that every ace marketer recognizes as THE guide on how to do it well.
Quick note: Hey there, everyone! We apologize for the lull in content, but we’ve been traveling the country and speaking with college students about the state of the industry today. We had some great chats and brainstormed some great solutions to better the business. We also forgot to update the blog, and for that we apologize. To make amends, please enjoy this post from Paul Resnikof, founder of Digital Music News.
1. They aren’t creating a compelling, heartwarming story that works.
Why did Spotify fire their PR agency? The reason is that a lot of artists now hate them, including the most powerful artist in the world. Spotify has simply failed to craft the right message and effectively deliver that message to the people they need the most: artists.
Hi readers, listeners, friends, and enemies – Off The Record, the podcast I co-host with Jesse Cannon, is taping an episode focussed on what anyone can do in high school, college, after graduation, and in between the three to get involved in the music industry via an internship or an actual job.
We get asked questions in that vein more than any other, so if you have questions, we’d love to hear them. See below for more: