Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Music 1.5 - the second generation of the music business where the product was primarily CDs, labels were owned and run by large conglomerates, MTV caused the labels to shift from artist development to image development, radio was still the major source of promotion, and CDs were purchased from retail stores.
Music 2.0 - the third generation of the music business that signaled the beginning of digital music, piracy ran rampant due to P2P networks but the industry took little notice as CD sales were still strong from radio promotion.
Music 2.5 - the fourth generation of the music business where digital music became monetized thanks to iTunes and later, others like Amazon MP3. CD sales dive, the music industry contracts and retail stores close.
Music 3.0 - the current generation of the music business where the artist can now communicate, interact, market and sell directly to the fan. Record labels, radio and television become mostly irrelevant and single songs are purchased instead of albums.
Monday, December 21, 2009
It persists. The other night I watched two great documentary-style biopics on TV, one on Johnny Cash, another on Willie Nelson. Willie, as many of his fans may not realize, was actually a Nashville songwriter penning such classics as “Crazy,” which Patsy Cline etched into the music lexicon. Despite his preeminent status as a writer, Willie couldn’t get arrested as an artist in Music City. His quirky phrasing was way too off-beat for the 60s sound, which was infused with sweet strings and pop arrangements.
At the age of 40, Willie returned home to Texas. Such a move would have meant a life sentence selling insurance had history not intervened. As fate would have it, Woodstock Nation had opened the doors to multiple music movements by the early 70s, and Willie realized that such hippie hangouts as Austin’s Armadillo World Headquarters were ready for a new kind of country artist. He enlisted his buddy Waylon Jennings, among others, and set about launching a novel sound to a new audience. His ultimate success turned country music, and the music establishment at large, on its head. Ultimately, he was responsible for redefining music, establishing its “outlaw” class and creating the Austin revolution as well as worldwide social activism that persists to this day.
Despite his huge outsider success, Nashville rejected this giant yet again. By the 1980s, you couldn’t find a Willie song on mainstream country radio, and forget about a major label deal.
Okay, let’s get right down to the hard part. Cash was just another music god to be tumbled unceremoniously from Olympus. By the 80s, he, too, was cast out like so much trash. His popularity was dwindling, and he was struggling to find an audience and make a living.
So these outlaw outcasts banded together, literally, forming the country supergroup The Highwaymen, along with Waylon and Kris Kristofferson. Talk about a Mount Rushmore of talent. They had taken fate into their own hands and, once again, set out to redefine the music scene, outside the establishment, all on their own.
A Bronx boy, I was still getting my country legs under me, when I hit Nashville in the late 80s. At the time, I couldn’t understand why the likes of Willie and Johnny weren’t getting mainstream air play, why I could eat lunch with Emmylou Harris but couldn’t hear her songs on country radio, why Nanci Griffith was considered a darling in all the clubs, to all the execs, but couldn’t get the chart toppers and eventually carped about it in interviews.
I was just getting introduced to the hard truth of the music industry: bitterness. Griffith was bitter, my friend Artie Traum (from back home in Woodstock) — one of the sweetest guys to ever grace the business — was expressing a degree of bitterness, too, in interviews of the day. I was just learning.
The songwriting trade in Nashville was rough. By year two, I was saying you had to learn to live on a diet of stones. Rejection was the blue-plate special everyday. It took me two years to get my first major song contract and more to get my first staff writing job and my first cut. Everyone who stuck with it had war stories: the song on hold that never happened, the artist cut that got dropped by the label or never got released as a single or didn’t make it above 20 on the charts. But, despite eventual successes and even industry support, I left after a decade to pursue a career as an artist, packing scars and wisdom, love and hate.
But back to Johnny Cash. One of the greatest artists to “walk the line,” he faced the pure pain of artistry more deeply, more movingly than anyone before him. Late in his career, with the help of producer Rick Rubin, Johnny faced his inner darkness, his demons, his truth, his soul. With such albums as “American Recordings” and “Unchained,” he found a vast and vital new audience, just years before his death. His new material was so raw that family members had a tough time listening. They told him it sounded like he was saying goodbye. He told them he was.
In the Cash bio, artists such as Sheryl Crow, John Mellencamp and Vince Gill expressed the true painful tumble that all artists must face. Mellencamp himself recently penned a telling if rambling article on the biz in HuffPost, a blog post that established a wellspring of conversation in the social media sector.
So, this little Bronx boy, who reeled from the Glenn Miller story and cut and broke his teeth on Music Row, finally came to understand bitterness and the role it plays in any music career. No one is exempt. It may be (excuse me) a bitter pill to swallow, but I recommend downing it to develop a good artist-immune system. Another words, one has to learn to deal with it, embrace it, pain and all, and find a way to move on. Carry it on your back, in your suitcase, in your heart, on your skin — the rose tattoo of the music artist.
Monday, December 7, 2009
Don’t get me wrong, adding elements of stretching the mind and being creative is a great thing, but think about it as a later step or being placed a little deeper in your marketing rather than right there where people get their first impressions. Make it something that fans will have to dig in to as opposed to overly confusing the new listener or first time visitor to one of your social networking sites or website.
Wild stories, confusing bios, songs that make no sense or tie in to the more experimental side of you can be red lights for many people to not want to dig deeper. For example, if you are a grunge/industrial type band with fast loops, dirty guitars and in your face samples with brash harmonies and powerful hooks, having song sample number one on your site be one of the tunes that is least like your sound or one of your more experimental and say softer and more trancesque tune that you use right in between two powerhouse tracks, you may loose the interest right off the bat of the listener that happens to pop on to your website for a minute.
Get over yourself.
The reality is that when new people are visiting your website, your networking site or one of your song sample sites, most are only going to be there for a few seconds unless they are drawn in. There are 40 million Myspace music pages and that number continues to grow even as Myspace continues to go down in the rankings in the social networking world. People are being tossed links from spam emails, from friends, from strangers and from third parties everyday.
While every musician wants to think that people are spending a number of minutes listening to every sample, looking at every picture and reading every piece of text, the truth is the majority are only spending seconds and moving on very quickly. We are a nation of ADD, ADHD and every other acronym that points to the bulk of us having less and less of an attention span everyday.
These people have so many choices and so many options so it is up to you to grab them, wow them, explain and showcase to them and pull them in to want more. It is crucial just like having a fast pitch for industry professionals to also have that same fast pitch and grab for the fans and the masses.
Good Ideas vs Bad Ideas
A couple strong examples are the bands that have very fast loading webpages that immediately showcase the logo, the tagline, the image and information easily. Now on the other coin, there is a website for a band that actually has a small animal that walks around the page for some 10 seconds before the page opens and you cant skip it. This may be creative and cute for the band and for fans that know something about the reason behind the path and the creature but for a browsing new person, it just comes off as stupid. Another site has a band bio that is so small and so long with so many applications that have been added to their page that you are not sure who’s information is what, not to mention the slow load from having so much on the page.
Some of these websites or social networking sites where you are forced to scroll down or wait to find or fish out information is not helping you capture the new fans that are coming across your site. On the same side with the music samples. Instead of putting up total songs why not put up samples and a lot more of them?
Think about it, just as you should put together a small demo sample for any industry person so they can listen to the bulk of your songs with out the bulk of time it takes to listen to every song, you can do the same for your fans. Supply 20 to 30 seconds fade in and fade out samples that are clearly marked as samples with the time in the title. This way when a new fan sees the player or what ever you are using to present your music, they know right off the bat, they are getting samples and may just listen to them all.
This also gives you a chance to choose what they listen to and what you want to highlight in the song, instead of them flipping through and potentially just listening to the beginnings of all your tunes if they listen that far. Think of it like giving them a sample of everything and at that point making them want to dig deeper.
It is fine to go deep and make people think, make people have to search and challenge your fans but first get those fans through the door, interested in you and wanting to be challenged. Make sure you have created a crystal clear image that will demonstrate you, sell you and entice them to want more. It is a hard thing to sometimes separate what how you see something against how the bulk of the public will. Remember just cause you get it or it makes sense to you, it doesn’t mean it will to most people. You are the artist, you are right smack in the middle of it all and a big part of pulling in and creating the fan base is working on creating the right appearance and marketing to pull them in the audiences that are sifting through thousands of sites and turning them in to interested fans.
Also remember, with all the other bands on all the other sites and the over saturation of music and artists that are out there, it is crucial to pull them in to want to see more first. Make the first presentation easy, fast and simple so that people can get a clear idea of the overview of you, your music and what you are about, then you can start playing with the intricacies and extra details.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
This has to be said at the start. In order to be approachable, you have to be modest in character. In order to deal with building a fan base one person at a time, you have to be able to mentally absorb the fact that it takes a bit of time. A huge ego will kill your chances at gaining real fans.
Do unto others…
I am going to keep this simple. The Ethic of Reciprocity is a universal thing. People do not like commercials like they once did. I am sure you are no exception, so cut with the “buy my stuff” approach.
Work on your handshake
This goes with the concept of being a friend first, artist last. You can do this by just taking the time to get to know a person. Introducing yourself, getting their name and offering your hand to solidify the connection is a great start.
Ask “What can I do for you?”
John F. Kennedy’s famous quote from his speech can be used here, but instead of country use fans. Set yourself up to be able to help. I have suggested to a few of my artist friends that they will find more opportunities by giving back to the community than taking from it. We are bombarded with people making requests of our time. Sometimes it is the best feeling just to be asked, “Can I help?”
Be a friend
Once you have established a relationship with your new pals, keep up with them! Make sure you know what is going on in their lives. As a musician, this is a great opportunity to get inspiration for your work. Everyone has stories, so seek out some from the very people you hope will support you. At the same time, fortifying your relationship with a few good people is the most important thing about all this.
In summary, do not be “that guy.” Set yourself apart by being genuine and kind. While this approach is a bit slower than pumping a ton of money into juicing use your sexy attributes, it is the most rewarding and the payoff is bound to be more fulfilling than anything plastic surgery could ever provide.