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Entries Tagged as 'New Music Strategies'

Being Small – Sustainability, Scale and Success

June 11th, 2015 · 1 Comment

It’s that time of year again – one of my favourite conferences began last year, and this year continues as an annual event – Small Is Beautiful. Billed as ‘Insight, intelligence and ideas for micro-enterprises’, it’s a wide ranging exploration of how life and work play out for those of us who neither work for nor run corporations. Sole traders, freelancers, entrepreneurs, artists, makers, educators… an amazing collection of people gathering for inspiration, solidarity and encouragement in an evermore perilous financial environment.

Last year I wrote how being a ‘micro’ was my Plan A – it wasn’t a 2nd choice, it was always the aim.

This year, I’m going to explore a few of the reasons why, on the themes of Sustainability, Scale and Success.

Sustainability is such a buzzword in every field that we quite often lose sight of how it applies to us. There are so many kinds of sustainability that I need to consider in my work, perhaps it would be helpful just to list them:

  • Economic Sustainability – that’s obvious: can I keep doing this and no end up broke?
  • Creative Sustainability – alongside the economics is the task of maintaining the level of creative exploration and control that is right at the heart of my reasons for staying micro.
  • Environmental Sustainability – one of the joys of being self employed is that I can (and do) turn down work if the environmental impact of doing it is going to outweigh the benefit of the work. I can choose to spend more and get a train, rather than a cheap flight, and soak up the cost because I think it matters. That control feels vital…
  • Political Sustainability – this is a more tricky one, especially as every area of life involves compromise, but I’m deeply wedded to the aspect of being small that gives me political agency within my work. Being micro and stay micro is itself a counter-cultural act, and carving out a space where you can make art that is explicitly political without being beholden to someone else’s agenda is a luxury we’d do well to cherish. I certainly don’t take that freedom for granted, and make a lot of my decisions about the future with that freedom in mind.

Scale is another area that requires unpacking – especially in music, where the aims of so many people are unquestioning and depressingly hyper-modernist. Much of the music world is still obsessed with the metrics of success that applied in the late 20th Century, the triumph of giantism, and it’s inherent rush for the middle ground creatively and culturally, the competitive element that left so many crushed by a system built to push everyone through a funnel towards huge sales and huge gigs… Choosing something other than that is still often seen as ‘what you do because you can’t play stadiums’.

But realising that the kind of interactions with my audience that I cherished only really happened at a small scale, that there was an upper limit to the size of event that really worked for me was liberating. It took me out of that particular conversation about growth in numerical terms, and allowed me to think of growth in terms of creativity, consistency, how regularly I can do shows, reputation, the kinds of collaborations I was able to make happen… How to increase your standing as an artist or practitioner without playing to ever-bigger audiences is a really tricky question, but one that we micros are well placed to ask.

So how does the desire to scale in terms of impact weigh against the need to stay small in terms of the experience? It’s a juggling act I’m still working through, and one that requires a different conversation about priorities. And that leads us onto the third of our ’S’s…

Success… what is success? Is it a place you intend to arrive at, or is it a state of being? Is it your ability to navigate change successfully, or will it be something that is measurable only in hindsight? I have a mixture of ‘targets’ that help me with planning, but ultimately, success is about the ongoing curiosity of my creative exploration. So many other people have an expectation of what my ‘success’ should look like, what I should be pursuing and how I should go about it. Sometimes it’s to the point where they consider me irresponsible and/or lazy for not pursuing the business side of my work ahead of the creative side, and I have to be sure what it is that I value in order to push back against that.

But I also have to have some kind of idea of what order of success in those kind of economically measurable and observable terms is needed for me to be able to keep doing what I do, and to reach whatever creative targets I set for myself. Where is the perfect balance of creative freedom and audience size for whatever venture it is that I’m involved in? These are conversations I have to revisit on a very regular basis so as not to get sidetracked.

So, what are those questions for you?

  • How do you prioritise sustainability in its myriad forms?
  • What do you imagine is the perfect scale for your venture? At what point do you think growth would start to inhibit your other aims, personally, creatively, philosophically?
  • What is success? In what ways are you already a success? How can that success be maximised?
  • What is it that you value most, and how does your business plan help you to maximise the impact of those values on your life and the lives of those around you?

Last year’s Small Is Beautiful provided a lot of food for thought in asking and answering those kinds of questions and I’m looking forward to exploring them again in new and different ways this year, and maybe finding some new questions, new aims and new goals.

See you there?

Tags: New Music Strategies

Bandcamp and the New EU Vat LAW…

December 16th, 2014 · 6 Comments

[EDIT – Scratch all that, Bandcamp have rescued musicians! http://blog.bandcamp.com/2014/12/30/eu-digital-vat-changes-and-bandcamp/ ]

Right, finally, a follow-up with some clarification after my last post and all the edits. This may not end up being the last word on the subject – we’re still pushing for an 11th hour change to the law, or at least a year’s delay while people work out how the hell to comply with this. There are an awful lot of businesses that can’t deal with this at all…

Anyway, the important bit for us is Bandcamp’s updated info on tax.

https://bandcamp.com/help/selling

Go read it. All if it. It’s important stuff. [Read more →]

Tags: New Music Strategies

Selling Downloads of Your Music In The UK? Read This:

November 17th, 2014 · 35 Comments

[OK, I was lying about that being the final edit… THIS is the final edit – http://blog.bandcamp.com/2014/12/30/eu-digital-vat-changes-and-bandcamp/ :) ]

[final EDIT: read the follow-up post here, with Bandcamp’s new tax info – http://www.stevelawson.net/2014/12/bandcamp-and-the-new-eu-vat-law/ ]

[another EDIT: Read this by Rachel Andrew: http://rachelandrew.co.uk/archives/2014/11/25/how-small-companies-and-freelancers-can-deal-with-the-vatmoss-eu-vat-changes/  it’s looking more and more like there is no loophole, unless you a) stop selling downloads to people in the EU or b) distribute your ‘downloads’ via physical media. Read on for the historic discussion, my initial understanding, and the comments thread that is helping to make sense of this…]

I’ve been somewhat aware of this for a while now, and couldn’t quite believe that a piece of legislation so utterly insane was actually going through.

The laws around paying VAT (Value Added Tax) and ‘Supplying Digital Services‘ within the EU are changing, as of January 1st 2015, and it may well affect you. Here it is, as I understand it thus far (I asked the Musician’s Union what their position on this is and they say they’re going to be providing info to members in December). If you have more info, please include it in the comments [EDIT: especially if you work in tax law/accounting: For clarity’s sake, I’m NOT a tax expert or lawyer, so my interpretation of the legal situation should be viewed in that light, but I have been dealing with my own tax affairs for 20 years, without the help of an accountant, so am definitely in the ‘experienced amateur’ camp here]

  • WHO DOES THIS AFFECT? Anyone who sells music downloads (or eBooks/videos/any other digital product) off their own website.
  • WHAT DO THE CHANGES MEAN? For a full exploration using software companies as an example, see this brilliant post by Rachel Andrew. [EDIT: and this follow up piece by Rachel about implementation]
    In short, the arrangements around selling digital products to people in the EU are now defined by the country the customer is in rather than you. Meaning you’ll need to be registered for VAT no matter how much you earn, if you sell your music direct from your website. This means you’ll have to charge (and pay) VAT on ALL your work unless you set up a company to sell your digital products that’s distinct from your self employed business as a musician/teacher etc. You’ll also have to file a quarterly VAT return (which is WAY harder than a self assessment form). In short, it’ll ruin your business.
  • IS THERE A LOOPHOLE? YES.

This is the important paragraph on the government’s page describing the new arrangement:

Supplies via internet portals, gateways or marketplaces

If you supply digital services to consumers through an online portal, gateway or marketplace then it’s important to determine whether you’re making the supply to the customer or to the platform operator. Where the platform operator sets the general terms and conditions, authorises payment or delivery, or doesn’t clearly state the name of the supplier on the receipt or invoice issued to the consumer, then they’ll be seen as making the B2C supply even if they’re contractually only an agent.

What this means is that if you sell your music via another service, you’re OK. If you sell it via a ‘hand-rolled’ site (off your own server with your own CMS), you’re screwed. So this means that iTunes, Amazon and crucially Bandcamp sales are all exempt [EDIT: see comments for an exploration of this…] . Those sites are all platforms that “set the general terms and conditions, authorise payment or delivery” .

So, if you sell your music direct from your site, you may want to switch to Bandcamp for your sales, or get your VAT situation in order. The same goes for eBooks (I use Leanpub) and Video (any suggestions, please put them in the comments)

 

You may also want to sign this petition to provide an exemption to this very, very stupid piece of legislation. Cos it’s going to royally mess things up for so many creatives and small businesses.

 

Tags: New Music Strategies

Why The Major Labels Love Spotify

November 11th, 2014 · 5 Comments

Oh yes, another blog post about Spotify. Just what the world needs. I’ll try [edit: and fail] to keep it brief.

There seems to be, at the moment, a massive gulf between the opinion of many artists-still-making-music and the labels that many of them are signed to. The major labels LOVE it. But artists are talking about Spotify as a wholly bad thing for artists – not enough money… ‘free’ music is bad… Rosanne Cash (a woman for whom I have an enormous amount of respect as an artist, writer, thinker and human) called Spotify ‘legalised piracy’. Why the gulf?

Here’s my take – The financial world of the major labels has, for a LONG time, been focused on back catalogue – music that’s already been successful. Reselling something that’s already in the public consciousness is WAY cheaper than marketing new, untested music. Licensing old tracks is also easier, because people know them. And there’s the simple question of scale.

Reality check: for the Majors, the vast majority of the music they will ever release has already been released. [Read more →]

Tags: New Music Strategies

More (long) thoughts on subscription services.

October 28th, 2014 · Comments Off on More (long) thoughts on subscription services.

Right, now the subscription is up there, we can have a chat about what it might mean, right?

After all, the word “subscription” has become somewhat tainted amongst musicians by the conversation around Spotify’s pricing model. Little work seems to have been done to look at what in particular people are listening to on Spotify and the degree to which its impact on sales is asymmetric (sales lost and streams gained not being to the same people) not to mention the whole ‘correlation or causation’ conundrum. But generally, lots of musicians are now thinking subscribing to ‘everything’ = booo!! hissss!!

So what does it mean to subscribe to just one artist rather than ‘nearly all music’, and what kind of artists and their listeners are going to benefit from this?

First up, it’s important to acknowledge that this isn’t new. It’s new to Bandcamp, and as a service integrated with the Bandcamp platform, it may well end up being revolutionary, but the idea has evolved from the pioneering work of quite a few people, not least of all (as is so often the case) Kristin Hersh, whose Strange Angels supporters club is exactly this – an annual subscription members club that gives those subscribers access to all kinds of things. Her pricing is tiered, so you can get all kinds of awesome exec perks if you pay a tonne of cash, but for not very much you can get a whole load of music and sometimes cheaper tickets at gigs, things like that. For someone as prolific as Kristin (she has three main projects on the go – her solo work, Throwing Muses and 50 Foot Wave) it’s the ideal way to not be reliant on the vagaries and speculation of the standard model of

  • borrow money,
  • make a record,
  • hope it sells,
  • wait to recoup before doing the next one,
  • or just pile up the debt in the hope you get a track on a film soundtrack and clear the decks at some point’ deal…

[Read more →]

Tags: New Music Strategies

The Future Is Here: Bandcamp Steve Lawson Subscription Launched!

October 23rd, 2014 · 2 Comments

This is some SERIOUSLY exciting news. Partly because it’s just an amazing bit of news, but also because of the half a million or so artists on Bandcamp, I’m one of the first 2 or 3 to get to try this out.

Which means that YOU get to be part of this experiment in the future of music. In keeping music alive, in turning back the (quite possibly non-existent and hugely missplaced) tide of despair about ‘the way things are going’.

Here it is – £20 a year, and you get my 10 solo albums for free when you sign up!

 

This model works SO perfectly for me – since I started releasing almost everything as ‘digital only’ the ‘per album’ model was a compromise at best. It didn’t make sense for things to have a ‘unit value’ like that.

What this allows me to do if focus on making as many varied and wonderful musical projects as I can. You get more music, don’t have to worry about having ‘already spent enough’… you pay for it all in one lot, ahead of time, and get as much as I can make.

Subscribing becomes a club of sorts:

  • there’ll be access to cheaper gig tickets wherever possible
  • other subscriber only releases
  • merch
  • snacks*

(*probably not snacks)

At the moment I’m putting together a subscriber only album of things that are currently only streamable on Soundcloud or Youtube. I get asked ALL the time about releasing them, and this is where they’ll go. If you want them, subscribe.

This Is The Future

This Is Sustainability

This Is Exciting

You Get To Partner With Me

More Music Will Happen.

Sign up here: http://stevelawson.bandcamp.com/subscribe

Tags: Music News · New Music Strategies

Why the ‘no platinum albums’ story in the US probably doesn’t mean the sky is falling.

October 21st, 2014 · 1 Comment

There’s one story that’s been circulating a lot over the last few days amongst musicians on social media“2014 is first year ever with ZERO platinum-certified records” – it tells us that 2014 is (barring some kind of unforseen massive sales surge) the first year ever (ever??? no.) when no single band has had a platinum selling record. In the US. Even though the Frozen soundtrack has sold 3 Million copies.

Meanwhile, 60 songs HAVE sold a million copies in the US.

So what does this tell us? Without some much deeper analysis, not much. [Read more →]

Tags: New Music Strategies

How Much Do Artists Make On Bandcamp? Thoughts On Reaching A Milestone

January 4th, 2014 · Comments Off on How Much Do Artists Make On Bandcamp? Thoughts On Reaching A Milestone

So yesterday, we crossed the £10,000 mark on Bandcamp. That’s sales on my main Bandcamp account since Sept 2009. In reality, we crossed it a while ago, because there’s other money that we made when I had separate accounts on there for each project, and also the money that Lobelia has made, but this is the first time it’s actually displayed it on screen…

So before we get to the main bit of the blog – here’s a special £10K offer – all 10 FingerPainting albums to download for £10. Click here to buy[Read more →]

Tags: Music News · New Music Strategies

Best Of The Blog – 2013

December 31st, 2013 · Comments Off on Best Of The Blog – 2013

So, here are my favourites of my blog posts from 2013. Hope you find something useful in here:

Steve, Why Is Your Music So Cheap?
http://www.stevelawson.net/2013/12/
steve-why-is-your-music-so-cheap/

Being A Good Citizen Of The Internet:
http://www.stevelawson.net/2013/10/being-a-good-citizen-of-the-internet-what-would-the-internet-be-like-if-everyone-behaved-like-me/

Who Is Your Audience?
http://www.stevelawson.net/2013/09/who-is-your-audience/

What Do Singles Sales Tell Us About The Health Of The Music Industries?
http://www.stevelawson.net/2013/08/what-do-singles-sales-tell-us-about-the-health-of-the-music-industries/

How To Talk About Music On The Internet:
http://www.stevelawson.net/2013/08/how-to-talk-about-music-on-the-internet/

“Conversational Hegemony” or, How Lobbyists Hijack The Terms Of Engagement:
http://www.stevelawson.net/2013/06/conversational-hegemony-or-how-lobbyists-hijack-the-terms-of-engagement/

Expanding Audio Orthodoxy: Recording/Mixing/Mastering
http://www.stevelawson.net/2013/05/expanding-audio-orthodoxy-recording-mixing-mastering/

Twitter Brain Dump About The New Music Economy:
http://www.stevelawson.net/2013/05/twitter-brain-dump-about-the-new-music-economy

How To Send Bandcamp Download Codes Via Mailchimp:
http://www.stevelawson.net/2013/04/how-to-send-bandcamp-dl-codes-via-mailchimp/

Our Glorious Dilemma: How To Release A Huge Amount Of Music:
http://www.stevelawson.net/2013/03/glorious-dilemma-how-to-release-huge-amount-of-music

Tags: New Music Strategies

“Steve, Why Is Your Music So Cheap?”

December 4th, 2013 · Comments Off on “Steve, Why Is Your Music So Cheap?”

So, at the end of my post about the FingerPainting Sessions best-of albums, I said I’d blog about why I sell my ‘complete works‘ USB Stick so cheap.

It’s a question I’ve been asked a lot. It’s even caused some skepticism about the contents from people who can’t work out why 24 albums, a 45minute live video and my novel on a USB stick would *only* cost £25.

There are a couple of different reasons, but the existence of the question, I think, stems from a somewhat strange anomaly of the old recording industry. That of there being VERY few artists as unknown as I am that have extensive back catalogues. It’s growing, because the internet makes it possible for people to do what I do (it’s made it possible for ME to do what I do!) and more artists are taking advantage of that, but it’s still pretty rare to have put out 34 albums as an artist who still sells on average a few hundred copies of anything they release… Mostly, with a label, you got to try and ‘make it’ with your first album, or sometimes two or three, but if you weren’t selling quite a few thousand by then, it just wasn’t feasible to go on making records. The fixed costs were too high…

So all of our perception of what people do with their back catalogue is based on what famous people do with their back catalogue. and for a large number of those famous people, they or their label are trying to squeeze yet more money out of their uber-fans. Boxed sets are often remastered, repackaged, even reformatted (DVD-A/Blueray Audio/108gram vinyl etc) to try and get people who already love the music to buy this ‘exclusive’ version again.

And, buried in there is often the desire on the part of the person selling it to not have to make any more music like that. If I can sell enough of these premium packages, I’ll be able to retire… Which is great if you’re Led Zep, or The Eagles or whoever.

If you’re me, the story’s a little different:

  • I don’t have anywhere near enough ‘super-fans’ to make creating ‘product’ just for them remotely viable. The wider community of people who are interested in what I do runs to several thousand. The inner core is just a handful (as far as I can tell!)
  • I have neither the desire not the likelihood of being able to retire on the sale of my music.
  • I’m actively involved in making more and more music. I’ve released over 10 hours of music in the last year, and will probably put out another 4 or 5 albums in the next 6-12 months.
  • Most of my gigs are house concerts, and at house concerts, I’m generally playing to people who haven’t heard me before but who mostly have had a fantastic evening by the end, and would often like to take some music home. A £180 25 LP set isn’t going to be that…

So a USB stick allows me to bundle it all up, at a pretty low unit cost to me (the USB sticks work out about £6 each, which is about the production cost of 3 short-run CDs) and because I put the music on them myself (it takes 8-10 minutes per stick to load them up) I can keep adding to what’s on them – I’m not stuck with those 24 albums until I’ve sold out of the current stack of merch. I can keep adding things as I release them.

But most importantly, I can make my ENTIRE back catalogue an entry point. It’s a thing that someone whose just seen me playing a support slot might buy (that’s happened a few times), it’s something that people on Twitter, who previous have downloaded an album or two for free, or for a couple of quid, might buy (that happens a lot). And at £25, it’s even an investment worth making to save yourself the trouble of downloading it all off Bandcamp. You get the stick, plug it in, drag all the music off it, and you’re left with a perfectly useful 4Gb USB Stick :)

£25 for 24 albums is an invitation into my musical world, a ticket onto the bus. It’s a chance to catch up, to drop it all into iTunes and put it on random while you work, switching to album-mode when you hit on a track you REALLY love. There are PDF sleevenotes, and the aforementioned video and novel. I’m sure I’ll add more as I go along.

But at it’s heart it’s a friendly, sustainable way of getting lots of music out to curious people. So it works perfectly for me. 

Tags: New Music Strategies