Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond

Brainstorming New Models for Music Careers

June 9th, 2009 | No Comments | Categories: New Music Strategies · tips for musicians |

As you know, I was at Unconvention in Manchester at the weekend, on a panel titled Outside The Box.

On the way up there, on my epically crap train journey, I wrote down a load of ideas for the session, some of which I shared, some of which there wasn’t time for – so here’s that post, as a log of some of what was said, and a bit more besides. Feel free to add your own suggestions at the end, and DEFINITELY visit Martin Atkins’ site Tour Smart website.

If you’re not into playing live at all, the current ‘wisdom’ that recorded music is now an ‘advert’ for your live gigs sounds pretty hollow. Artists whose music is entirely studio-bound, whether they be a Steely Dan-esque studio band, or an all synth studio creation that’s not only not playable, but even if it was, would possibly be very dull.

So What Are The Alternate Models?

The traditional ‘publishing’ route, making money from film/TV/advertising/corporate usage is still very much a viable option, but definitely favours artists who either write to order, or are somehow part of the zeitgeist. Worth pursuing, but not a catch-all and certainly not something to rely on as your entire plan for your music.

If we start from the assumption that an audience of hundreds of thousands that aren’t earning you any money is a great problem to have to try and solve, then we can start to work creatively towards that without thinking of making money so much along the way. The truth is that at the moment – given the data we have on the way that people consume music – we can expect a certain percentage to still want to buy CDs, another chunk to be more familiar with iTunes than any other music buying platform, still more to use eMusic or Amazon… So as you pursue the spreading of awareness about who you are and what you do, the fact that some people pay for music they like as a matter of course means that you’ll be making money, based at least in part by how easily your website directs people to their shop of choice. (note – I really need to sort out the shop links on my site!)

So How Does Your Music Get Out There?

Multi-media is one route – while video may have killed the radio star, it has certainly been the launch of many a soundtrack (even established artists often have their biggest hits when their songs get used in films – Wet Wet Wet, Bryan Adams… same for modern awareness of classical orchestral works…)

Therefor, hooking up with film students, sourcing film makers via social networks like Vimeo or using DeviantArt to collaborate with painters and designers on visuals that accompany your music can make it sharable in online communities that trade in video not in audio.

Is your creative process in any way interesting to other music makers? If you’re doing anything innovative or unusual, it’s quite easy to either record a performance of part of the music that visually focuses on that element of your music making, or to do a tuitional video that explains how you do it (my most watched video on youtube – by MILES – is a looping tutorial). These can also serve to let people see a human side to what you do, especially if you’re an instrumentalist. I love hearing my jazz/improv heroes talk about their process, ideas, etc.

Promote others to promote yourself – do you know another bunch of musicians in your area that you could interview for a podcast about music making? They don’t have to be in your area even – the delineation could just as easily be sylistic and you could do the interviews on Skype instead of face to face. If you choose artists who have a bit of a following but aren’t particularly web-savvy, you’ll be doing them a big favour too – my interview with Alex Webster of Cannibal Corpse on youtube has been watched by thousands of people – gave him a chance to talk about his amazing technique, and has lead to a lot of ‘I didn’t know you and Alex were friends!’ type comments from people who know me and listen to Cannibal Corpse. I’m not likely to pick up a load of new death metal fans off the back of it, but the association is one that broadens our audience’s perception of both of us.

Provide music for gallery shows – you may not be able to play live in the conventional sense, but if you do have music that would work for a specific event, it’s quite possible to collaborate on a gallery event with a visual artist. You could even do a limited edition CD that featured their art and your music, in a much higher value package – a catalogue for the show that also features the music that was playing on the night. That’s much harder to do with live music, but easy to do if you’re the ‘music curator’ of the event, and the music is pre-recorded – look for situations where being prerecorded is an advantage over live, and make the most of it, maximise your strengths rather than pretend you don’t have weaknesses…

One of my favourite experimental marketing thinkers at UnConvention was a guy called Vijay Nair, and I grab a little interview with him via Audioboo to get some of his ideas recorded:

Merchandise is a particularly fertile area, and one I’ll leave to you lot in the comment – what are the best music-related merch items you’ve ever seen? What would you like to see from the artists you listen to? Free your mind, and the comments will flow 🙂

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  • Terence Eden

    When I was a kid, the merchandise that I loved most was posters. Often great artwork, a talking point and, crucially for you, an implicit advert.
    With the rise in Print On Demand, it wouldn’t be too hard to create personalised posters / artwork.

    Given the industry I’m in, I still see a lot of potential in phone wallpapers & ringtones. Whether you give them away or try to charge is up to you. But I’d suggest that selling a CD with some extra embedded content (pictures, ringtones, etc) is a pretty good idea & fairly cheap.

  • Bryan Chalmers

    One merchandising idea that I like is USB pens (of the writing variety) that could also hold a few tracks and would of course have the band URL printed on it. I could see myself buying one of these at a gig.

    They could also contain the extra content mentioned above by Terence.

  • Lee Pellington

    There was a band that did a song called Powercut or powersurge, something like that, they had USB drives with the track on that looked like Duracell AA battery branded with the bands details on. Thought that was cool.

    The bonus of this is that people can drag the tracks off the drive and still use it as a normal usb stick.

  • the other steve

    A lot of musicians could generate a lot more income from merch by hooking up with visual artists/designers and producing ranges of products that visually define them as an artist.

    There are people who will buy any old crap t-shirt by a band/artist just because they like them, but there’s an awful lot more people out there who will buy something because it looks really cool, even if they’re not THAT into the band. Make something look really good and people at a gig with money in their pocket are a lot more likely to be tempted to make a purchase.

  • Kevin

    We’re really happy to help any independent or unsigned solo artist or band in any way we can.

    We have the radio site with ‘live’ music playing only independent and unsigned artists and the magazine which we’ve just started which will has interviews with independent and unsigned musicians, artists, photographers and film makers will be in the next issue onwards.
    There are plans for ‘specials’ featuring different individual bands which we will be making available to them for free so they can give them out at gigs or sell them to make a few pennies.
    There is also the tv channel which currently only music videos but we will be adding animations and short films very soon, just as soon as I get the time to upload them.

    The idea is to bring all the different creative arts together in one place so they can make contact with each other and hopefully some interesting collaborations will happen in the future.

    If anyone has any ideas of what else we can add to the mix, then we’d love to hear them.

    Have a great day

  • Andy Roberts

    I got it – “Digital non-music merchandise from musicians” – no hear me out, it sounds crazy but.. well not much. My suggestion is to provide services such as membership sites providing a kind of virtual backstage access pass in return for a monthly subscription. There’s a kind of overlap between the mainstream fans and aspiring musicians which occupies an in between niche which mixes information products with music education and networking.

    Well known musicians only need to put their name to it and show up on private channels from time to time, whereas starting out musicians will need to provide real value through knowledge sharing and remote instruction.
    This is going to be too much for one individual ‘unsigned’ musician though, we’ll need to get together into teams to tackle the task seriously.

  • Pär Berglund

    One key to providing the fans what they really want (and I’m not talking about the music) is to talk to them, and ask them what they want. This is obvious for most other businesses but often not in music biz, where the discussions often are generalized.
    There are large variations and one needs to be creative. Why not be creative together with the fans.
    “So you’re not interested in CD:s, but you do miss going through the booklet?, reading the lyrics. Ok then, so let’s offer some booklets then…”, just to take an easy example.

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  • Bill Canty

    “If you’re not into playing live at all, the current ‘wisdom’ that recorded music is now an ‘advert’ for your live gigs sounds pretty hollow.”

    That gets my vote for Understatement Of The Decade.

    And… I can remember when touring bands here in Oz typically lost money because of the prohibitive costs of touring, but made up for it in record sales, so count me confused.