We Got A Review!

Hey guys,

We got reviewed by a good and nice man, outstanding human being. Is the only criteria for being a good human being liking our music? Who can say.

Anyway, czech it out: The Music Snob – Review: The Dead Letters

Subscriptions

I reread two exceptional pieces by Umair Haque about the music industry, and it made some of the stuff from the GrammyTech conference make more sense. There’s no doubt the music business is in dire straits, but the music industry has an opportunity to do great things for fans, yet that seems to be the last thing on every executive’s mind. Ironically, a lot of the tactics major labels are using do nothing but accelerate their losses.

The business model of all the majors is to go for the short-term and easy money instead of fostering a fan base. They target an audience that will buy the single, then never listen to the band/artist again. They go for the quick cash.

This stems from the problem of being a publicly traded company. The scenario goes like this: majors will project their quarterly earnings for the shareholders, but one of the hardest things in the world is to predict when art will be ready. Then Clive Davis and the like come in. He is the master at taking soulful, great music, removing all of its character, then taking the base elements of what works and applying it to a TON of songs. This is how you get boy bands, pop stars, any manufactured acts. They take music and try to put it in a formula, but unfortunately, music is not inherently formulaic. Majors love hip-hop, because it’s one of the easiest genres to make (note – I said make, not make WELL. Good hip-hop is as difficult to make as any other genre).

This isn’t the only problem with the major’s business model. For as long as the music industry has been around, records have all cost about the same amount. Bob Dylan’s greatest hits and Katy Perry’s new album cost the exact same on Amazon. Gee, which album is going to be a better deal? It’s like having a broken bicycle cost the same amount as a Rolls Royce.

Umair talked about how file-sharing is not only about saving money, but about risk-sharing. So much of mainstream music is terrible, fans don’t usually want to take the risk of spending money on something that could be awful. Majors don’t understand that when they screw the fans, they only screw themselves.

Ultimately, the jobs of labels isn’t to serve the artist, but to serve the fan. Priority one should be giving fans great music to listen to. How do they do this? They foster the artist, making sure they have reached their full potential as a band. They stop indulging on things that don’t matter, like private jets, and invest in making themselves the best possible label they can be.

Labels should be thought of aggregates, people who do the dirty work of finding all the good bands, so the listener doesn’t have to. Unfortunately, the labels have not done their jobs. The myopia at the conference about “legacy” is even more apparent, because what labels don’t get is that they failed completely at being the aggregate. They failed at being THE place to get good music. Labels have fallen so far that people use their most expensive resource, time, to get good music

So, how do labels get people to stop stealing music? Focus not only on making better music, but insuring the fans. The answer is subscriptions. People should pay a base amount to download any type of music, that way they can compensate themselves for lost money and time of terrible music, by gaining great music they might have not spent the money on otherwise.

The answer isn’t to cut costs until profits are so marginalized the business doesn’t work, but to give listeners some sort of insurance that their money won’t be wasted. With a $15 album, if you don’t like it you’re gonna be pissed off. With a $15 subscription each month, you won’t care because you can download as many songs as you want. If the labels give the consumer a certain guarantee their money won’t go to waste, why wouldn’t they spend the money?

I could go on longer, but this post is long enough. In short, the major labels need to wake up and realize that it’s about the fan, even though they forgot that decades ago. I don’t have high hopes for the future of the big guys, but if the indies start turning around and fostering great music, the industry will be just fine.

Maybe Not

Cat Power’s Maybe Not

As performed by Ashley Bullock of The Dead Letters

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Grammy MusicTech Summit – Notes

I also posted this on my website.

I recently attended the Grammy MusicTech Summit, a 2-day long music business and technology conference. It was an awesome experience for me, as I learned a ton, and I was WAY out of my comfort zone, which forced me to be more outgoing than I usually am. Some things I noticed:

  • Surprise, surprise, the record labels are not looking for any radical change.
    • There was a great panel with solely record execs, and one of the startling things I heard was “we haven’t changed very much over the past 10 years”. Umm, what?? Labels should be saying “yes, we have changed a LOT, here’s why and here’s how”. Not one of them did that.
    • A rep from one of the four “majors” was there (Warner Brothers). Now don’t take me wrong, this guy was very smart and knew his stuff. However, I did not once hear the word “connections” from his mouth. I heard a lot about statistics, merch, iTunes, record sales, merch, how many people they sign, merch. Oh, did I mention merch? You get the idea.
    • Record labels LOVE the idea of a vinyl comeback. I do as well, but not for the same reasons.
    • This panel did make me rethink my position on record labels. The Sub Pop rep really puts in perspective what it’s like to be a working band: wake up at 6am, drive. Do interviews on the whole on the way there. Radio interviews when you arrive. Party. Do it again. The time for business and organizing simply is not there.
    • Unfortunately, what they did not do was show why an artist who hired people to do those things independently would be better off with a label. At least to me. Wake up guys, “legacy” doesn’t mean what it used to be.
  • Contracts and lawyers are very important
    • The panel on “New Media Contracts” frankly, scared the shit out of me. It was very alarming to see how out of touch I was with the legal side of the industry.
  • Bands need to be more involved
    • Like it or not, this is a business, not solely art. Bands today cannot be afraid of the marriage of art and commerce. Bands who take heed the advice of tending to their brand and their fans will be much better off than those who do not.
  • As much as the new system has changed things, the old things are still most important.
    • To me, this is the most important concept I took away from the conference. Yeah, there are a ton of new ways to distribute music and protect it, but it really doesn’t matter until you have something to protect and distribute: good music. The number one priority should always be making great music and working hard. Part of this is touring. No matter what, if you’re not touring or between tours, you are probably not a full time musician.
  • What about connections?
    • This is something I was sad to see so neglected. A lot of the record labels were like “whoo email lists”, but I think it goes beyond that these days. Message boards I think should become increasingly popular, and if not that, foster commenting (Mike Shinoda is a great example).
  • Transparency is important.
    • Another missed opportunity, a lot of the labels still want the “mystique” of artists to be maintained. Now, this is a great point if your artist is a dickhead or dumb as hell. Slim Moon, a very experienced and savvy music exec, said “I think that some bands are too transparent, they reveal too much of the personal side that directly conflicts with the image they’re trying to project”. Great to say, but I can’t think of any reason why an artist, when capable, shouldn’t communicate directly with fans. With fans having more and more options every day to both find other music and download the stuff you like, you have to give them a reason to listen. When you mass mail, you get someone interested. When you respond to an email, respond to a comment, you hook them.

That’s the bulk of it, I could write a ton more, but this post is long enough already. On a more personal note I would like to give a sincere thank you to Derek Sivers. This guy didn’t know me from Adam, but I emailed him a couple of times before the conference, and the first day I had a nice long lunch with him. For one of the few times in my life (from an adult at least), I felt like my opinion truly mattered despite my age.

If you want to learn social skills, watching Derek Sivers would never be a bad idea. Great listener, very smart, and doesn’t discount anyone. I hope that if I become as successful as him, I’ll stay as grounded and nice. Plus, the guy sold his company and put almost ALL of the profit (22 Million) into an account that will go to indie musicians when he dies. Who the hell is that charitable and nice?

All in all, a great experience and I would recommend that anyone who is interested in the future of the music industry attend this conference.

For another summary, go to KEXP’s blog.

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