Friday, September 4, 2009

The Music Biz Then & Now

– Guest Post by Frank Joshua

frankSome 20 years ago I was a struggling musician in London playing every shitty venue in town trying to get a ‘deal’. As I look at the music biz from this perspective I’m wondering;

  • a) what are the connections between what I learned then and what I see now and
  • b) what is the single most important factor in making music in either era?

What I was sure of back then was that without a label or publisher no one could be successful. And barring the odd exception this was true. You made yourself into a killer live band and leave it to the label that was lucky enough to sign you to sort out making a huge album. All you had to have was the talent.

Now-a-days things have obviously changed. Sure there are big name artists who’ve become totally ‘independent’ having benefited from the marketing muscle of the labels for years. And labels are still breaking artists, though they’re desperately looking for new revenue streams in the process.

However it’s also now possible to be a Small Musical Enterprise (SME) running everything from song-writing to point-of-sale from a bedsit, in theory making a decent living, without ever becoming a major artist in the conventional sense.

What I regret most about my previous encounter with the music biz (there are plenty of things BTW) is not spending enough time on recording. The adage of ‘keeping it real’ is still very true as Godamus Prime explains so well in an earlier Evolvor post.

But if I had to pick on one thing that I wish I’d done differently all those years ago in order to give myself a better shot, it would have to be time spent on recording. Don’t get me wrong. There are lots of other things hindsight has taught me but when I listen back to our recordings from those years I wish I’d spent more time on them.

So my plan is to see how far a 40-something guy can take this new world order and to document the process. I’m not deluded enough to think that I can, with no previous track record to speak of, break into main stream music at my age. But I am keen to see how far an old man, with a few good tunes can take the new era.

My experiment involves putting my money where my mouth is. I’ve got myself a great producer in Tony White and am spending the money I have on his time in order to make the best recordings of my songs we can. I’m allowing the process to take a lot of time if it has to, even scrapping whole tracks (much to Tony’s annoyance) and starting again if I feel we have to.

I’m working with great musicians and so far I think we’ve got two tracks out of the ten we started near completion. You can follow the process via my blog. Which brings me on to the second part of the time equation. This involves me leaving Tony to get on with what he does best while I try and work out the other vital part of being an SME.

It’s blindingly obvious that the other essential part of today’s music biz is all the online stuff. And again what this needs it seems is huge amounts of time. For me ReverbNation, augmented by a blog, Twitter and the likes of Digg make up the essential tool kit.

I think MySpace and Facebook have their place but I’m betting that the next big breaking-an-act-in-a-new-way thing will come via ReverbNation. But there are other people better qualified than me to make these sorts of judgements.


I’ve no idea how far this will go or where it’s leading but I encourage you to drop in on me and see from time to time. And to spend time on your stuff and not be scared of the time it takes.

And one final thought. I’m actually enjoying making music now. Something that I can’t say was always true in the past. And maybe that’s the most important thing now I come to think of it.


I was watching some old music footage from the sixties recently and was reminded how strangely uncomfortable the artists were with the promotion process. They looked awkward on TV as if this was an afterthought to the creative process of making records, which was probably true.

And it made me wonder if things haven’t turned full circle. I feel like I often see artists who’ve spent more time thinking about the TV/promotion side of things than the recording. Maybe that’s because it’s easier to make great sounding records these days. Maybe it’s because things like audio quality are less important in an age of mp3.

But maybe in an age of SMEs, what we really need to go back to is focusing on the recording. Maybe we just need to think about making records that sound great and make us feel something without the need for promotion to make it sell. An ‘if you build it they will come’ idea of sorts. Or at least the idea that in a market the size of the internet you don’t need to worry about the lowest common denominator?

No comments: