But, what is evident to anyone who experiences these things first hand, is that word of mouth – my listeners telling their friends and family about the wonderful music they’ve just discovered – is worth more than all that mainstream press put together. [Read more →]
A few thoughts on the relationship between cost, value and the action of sharing music:
As I’ve said before, £10 was never representative of the real value in an album. It was less than the value of the time the person takes to listen to it, and certainly not anything like the value the artist places on their finished work.
And of course, given that all albums sell in different amounts, and all the cost of making the album is upfront – before anyone knows how many it’s going to sell – it couldn’t really be described in any fractional way as a share of that value.
No, it wasn’t an expression of ‘value’, largely because the most natural way of expressing our sense of value in music is to share it. [Read more →]
In case you’re not able to see the list, it’s a visual representation of how many instances of a range of online ‘music payment events’ you’d require to make a living wage solely from that service.
Not surprisingly, streaming services come out of it badly, especially when compared to sales of CDs.
However, the problem with presenting data in this way is that implicit within the list itself is the assumption of linearity: the list itself says “these are distinct events between which there is at least conceptual parity when comparing how many instances of that payment event are required to meet a particular sum.” [Read more →]
So, you’ve taken the advice and started blogging. You’ve put your music up on Bandcamp for ‘pay what you want’ download. You’re chatting to your audience, friends and fellow musicians on Twitter and Facebook. Now you want to be able to measure how much impact all this stuff is having, right?
Almost all web-hosting comes with some kind of statistics option for tracking how many people are visiting your website, and what they are doing. The most widely used 3rd party option is Google Analytics, which is available to be added to any website (and particularly easily integrates with publishing packages like WordPress and Moveable Type). [Read more →]
Following up my last post about recommending awesome things, I want to tie the same ideas into putting on events. The trigger for this was the Antwerp Looping Festival which I played last Saturday night.
A bit of background – the ‘festival’ was one night, 6 artists, in a gorgeous little theatre venue in Antwerp, organised by one of the performers – Sjaak Overgaauw.
The whole idea of a ‘looping festival’ or any other non-genre- or personality-specific festival is fraught with possible marketing pitfalls – if there’s no inherent style of music, or artistic/culturally-thematic link, how on earth do you make it work? What are people coming to, and why? Who are you going to market it to? [Read more →]
I’ve mentioned a few times on here that I’m not a big fan of reciprocation-dependent deals between musicians to plug each other’s stuff. Let me expand on that a bit.
One of the most valuable currencies that anyone (music-person or otherwise) has online is their recommendation. Loads of people have written about this (Chris Brogan wrote a book about it called ‘Trust Agents’ …that I haven’t read.), but basically, if you talk about things you believe in, the people who hear those recommendations are going to find things that are awesome to someone. They won’t necessarily agree, but that’s not the point – you’re not pandering to an audience, you’re getting excited about greatness.
So, how does this work in a world where we’re all meant to help each other out? I mean, I also talk a lot about the way that collectives and coalitions can work in favour of musicians…
The workable reality is as always somewhere in the middle – there’s nothing wrong with feeling grateful and acting on that. To take your impetus to finally get round to blogging about a band from the fact that their drummer just tweeted about how awesome you are is perfectly natural and fine. Contrast that with the ‘if you put us in your top friends on MySpace, we’ll do the same…’ mentality. ‘Do this for me then I’ll do this for you’ is a recipe for the survival of the pushiest, not the awesomest. And it also overstates the value of a recommendation, link or ‘top friend’ in and of itself. The existential value of such a thing is negligible. It just being there means next to nothing. It’s only real value is in the energy that’s behind it. And that energy is cumulative, but can also be diminished by dilution.
If I get an endless stream of links from someone about lame-assed music, it doesn’t suddenly make me like rubbish music. It makes me think that either
their taste and mine really don’t match, or
they’re not to be trusted cos they link to any old shit that may lead to them getting a link back.
That’s the death of value.
Same goes for only ever linking to stuff in which you have a vested interest – if the only bands you ever plug are people you’re working with, it looks like you just want more people at your shows. It stands to reason that you’re going to want to work with musicians you think are awesome, so this isn’t some unworkable call to never draw any benefit from the stuff you put out there – of course not, almost all of us want to have more listeners, more gigs, more people to play to. (Or at least, have more people wanting to see us so we can pick and choose the gigs we do!) It’s all about finding the balance, and building a social DNA chain that points to you being not just a producer of great music, but a curator of great everything.
The principle is one of ‘value-added’: how many extra ways can you make your story – and the media, events and supporting cast that surround it – compelling to the people who are discovering it? You can be exciting, funny, sexy, distracting, educational, passionate, inspiring, consoling, wise, dangerous, scary.. you can be a node-point for finding great things, a recommender of great books or films or food, a philosopher, theologian, comedian, curator, historian, essayist, guitar-ninja, recording advisor, producer, svengali…
When I hear musicians saying ‘I just want to make music, I don’t want to have to be a social networker or marketer’, I do have to wonder what they really want to fill their days with. The big question becomes, ‘yes, but what do you want to make music about??’ Great music – world-changing, awesome music – never exists in a vacuum. It’s always part of a story, and its inspiration is very often a big part of the value in it. Don’t try and tell me that the success of the Beatles wasn’t down to their personalities, stories, controversies and cultural experimentation/boundary-pushing as much as it was the notes on the record… Whether the music was the gateway to the story or vice versa is largely moot – they feed one another in a loop. Story leads to music about the story when leads back to the music.
And the music you talk about is part of that story ‘check out my friend, cos he wants you to check out me’ is a really really shitty story. ‘Check out this amazing film, it changed my life’ is a far more compelling story, and one that will make me want to hear your music. Srsly.
In Pt II, I’ll talk about this with live gigs.
For now though, have a listen to Premonition Factory’s album – pure, gorgeous ambient goodness. Got this at the weekend in Antwerp. Fabulous stuff:
The eBook itself is a really interesting idea, in that with it you get a bunch of audio interviews, and then updates – more interviews as they come along. It’s a great way of fairly easily ‘adding value’ to a digital product. Much harder to do if you have to mail out hard copies of extra chapters to a real book, but for digital services like this, it makes a lot of sense to continue updating them (I know that a lot of authors continue blogging on the same subject to update the info in their physical books. that works too!)
So, check out the book by clicking here– it’s interesting that so much of the advice in it is about visual art, rather than music or writing, but that actually makes it more fun (and perhaps easier?) to abstract principles from it rather than getting caught up in the details of someone else’s execution of their ideas.
Anyway, here’s the interview with me – it’s an hour long, so set aside a little time, or download it and listen to it on the bus on the way to work
A few days ago, MusicThinkTank published this post in response to this post, pulling out the ‘headline’ that “in 2008, 1,500 releases broke the “obscurity line” (sold over 10,000 albums).”
The context for the quote is this (it’s from some bloke who works for TommyBoy Entertainment):
“So in the whole year only 227 of the artists were artists that had broken what we call the “obscurity line.” When you sell 10,000 albums, you’re no longer an obscure artist; people know about you.”
So this is a made-up measurement – it’s what ‘we’ (no mention of who ‘we’ are), arbitrarily decided, that selling 10,000 records makes you not obscure. Why? How? Nope, nothing. Just that ‘people know about you’. Very scientific and verifiable. ‘People’.
It’s also based on ‘Soundscan’ statistics. By Soundscan’s reckoning, I’ve sold about 3% of my actual sales across my career – that’s how many have gone through the Soundscan system. Not a single one of my gig sales, my own website sales, bandcamp sales, CDbaby sales have gone through Soundscan. So this tells us that 1500 artists have reported 10K sales to Soundscan. And that’s apparently a story about obscurity?
No it’s not. Not even close:
Are there only 1500 acts in the world playing music professionally? No. There are hundreds of thousands. Possibly millions.
Are there only 1500 acts in the world making awesome music, and continuing to be able to make awesome music? No. There are tens of thousands for each of us. And tastes differs so much around the world. There are millions of artists that are awesome to someone and keep being awesome to someone.
How many outlets are there for music that don’t report to Soundscan? Thousands.
Where do most indie artists make the vast majority of their sales? Their gigs, then their own website.
So just how specious is it to whack a label as pejorative as ‘the obscurity line‘ onto a statistic that just proves itself to be utterly meaningless if you, y’know, listen to music because you love it rather than make money from ‘breaking artists’.
So, the whole notion of an ‘obscurity line‘ is so bogus as to hardly be worth responding to.
If the figure here is that only 1500 reported more than 10,000 album sales to Soundscan, the REAL story is the hundreds of thousands of bands who make awesome music and are able to keep making awesome music without selling that many records through the mainstream. The old industry. The ‘established path’. That it’s quite possible to have a sustainable, successful, fulfilling, enjoyable, liberated, creative career in music without selling 10K ‘albums’ a year through those outlets. That, my friends, is proper awesome!
So why ‘Obscurity’?
Obscurity is an utterly meaningless word in this context – obscure to who? Where? Obscure meaning unheard of?
There are a lot of artists in the world who are known to millions but couldn’t sell 10K copies of a new album if they released one. Not obscure, but certainly not ‘current’.
And there are others who are selling hundreds of thousands of records, and feel like abject failures because their label promised them more and spent as though they were going to sell millions. (in the same article, the TommyBoy bloke says that of the 112 albums that sold more than 250K, HALF DIDN’T BREAK EVEN! What industry, after 50 years of experimenting, of statistics or measuring trends, or gauging audience reaction, still can’t make money on a product that sells 250,000 units?? A broken, insane industry, that’s what.)
All these two statistics prove is that some people still equate industry success with ‘gross’ figures rather than ‘net’ figures. Gimme a 300 grand marketing budget and I could fairly easily sell 20K+ albums in a year. The problem would be that that would only gross, at best, 200 grand. Net would be a lot lower. So I’d be selling WAY more records than I am now, would no longer be ‘obscure‘ (ha!) but I’d be a failure in every other sense because I’d be a hundred grand in debt, and my self esteem would be shot. Or if someone else paid for it, I’d be beholden to them for what happens next to try and get that 100K back.
Forget obscurity metrics and think about what matters – making the music you love, finding the people who share that passion, and not killing yourself with unrealistic expectations of how much money it’s going to make you.
Here’s a suggestion – 10,000 listeners is a much more creatively inspiring target than 10,000 sales. How would you get 10K listeners without spending a penny, OR worrying about earning anything. Cos 10,000 listeners and no money is a really great problem to have to try and solve… Answers in the comments
“devalue[s] our artists, they damage this country economically, culturally and morally”
Why’s that then, Pete?
“The big stars are a tiny percentage; the rest are broke, including a lot of well-known faces. Who is developing new talent? Without money, new acts are strangled before they mature. We all suffer.” [Read more →]
This was originally written for MusicThinkTank, and the comment thread there is well worth reading. But you lovely regular readers here haven’t had a chance to mull it over and chat about it, so I thought I’d repost it here. On you go
OK, I’m going to try and explain why Big Music genuinely doesn’t get what’s happening with the online stuff. It’s easy to dismiss the thoughts coming out about ‘3 Strikes Laws‘, and Bit Torrent being to blame for the death of musicians’ livelihoods etc. as being a bunch of really rich people want to keep their massive piece of the pie – and there is some of that, for sure. But there’s also an entire way of thinking that explains why they feel the way they do.
The problem is to do with the difference in response required between transformative change, and incremental change.
Sticking with the music industry, let’s have a look at some examples of both, starting with incremental change: [Read more →]