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Entries Tagged as 'tips for musicians'

Quick Thoughts On “Obscurity”

January 21st, 2010 · 25 Comments

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 🙂

Tags: New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

Dear Rock Stars…

January 6th, 2010 · 27 Comments

Pete Waterman holds a press conference, yesterday2010 is – rather tragically – shaping up to be the year when Rock Stars (and old-industry millionaires) complain about the state of music on behalf of ‘the little people’.

Here are three examples:

Peter Waterman, in an interview with The Times, said that Spotify was a terrible thing. It, he says

“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 →]

Tags: New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

Transformative Vs Incremental Change

December 16th, 2009 · 18 Comments

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 🙂

—o0o—

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 →]

Tags: New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

The Futility of Fighting Fire with Fire

December 10th, 2009 · 23 Comments

Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the madness of the music industry. To want to fix it. To put it right. To ‘reclaim‘ the territory for ‘real‘ music.

Remember back in the 80s, when the charts were full of music we liked? Top Of The Pops had a point, the chart show was a way to discover music. It was good.

The problem with that idea is that it ignores the fact that the situation then was us making the best of the limitations. We learned from the charts because we didn’t know any better. Most of us moved on to specialist radio as soon as we discovered it and developed the patience or the dadaist affectation required to sit through the more extreme outlying regions of John Peel and Andy Kershaw’s record collections.

[Read more →]

Tags: New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

If Spotify Is The New Radio, The Artists Are Winning

November 25th, 2009 · 25 Comments

[EDIT – this post is a couple of years out of date – for a more recent appraisal of where I stand with Spotify, see Why I’ve Taken My Music Off Spotify]

There were a few articles kicking around yesterday touting a figure that ‘Lady Gaga earned $167 from Spotify for over a million plays’ – I think the story originated on TorrentFreak.

Perhaps not surprisingly the writers at TorrentFreak aren’t too au fait with the way that payment systems work for artists. The figure quoted is a publishing royalty – it’s from STIM (The Swedish Performing Rights Society). It doesn’t reflect payments due to the performer direct from Spotify (outlined in somewhat confusing detail in this Guardian article) which, according to the CEO of We7, are roughly ten times the PRS-collected royalty payment. It’s this figure that may or may not have been negotiated downwards by Spotify with the major labels – the labels have pretty much no say over the rates that the PRS set (other than through lobbying). [Read more →]

Tags: New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

Lily Allen Invents The Criminal Commons License

November 24th, 2009 · 6 Comments

Wow, now this one we didn’t expect! Lily Allen, following her heartfelt protestations that Mandelson’s plans to cut off the internet connections of ‘persistent file sharers’ were destroying opportunities for hard-working record labels to put money into young bands, has flipped to the polar opposite position.

No, she’s not saying file-sharing is OK. She’s now saying that it’s only bad if you DON’T charge for it. Yup, she’d rather you bought bootleg copies of her album from the crim in your local market than got it from a friend who bought it legitimately.

She has, in effect invented a whole new “license” – The Criminal Commons License: “please only breach the legal copyright on this work if you intend to profit financially from it.” [Read more →]

Tags: New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

Share and Share Alike.

November 19th, 2009 · 15 Comments

A wise man once said, ‘do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.’ Advice that works incredibly well online.

In my wanderings round the web, I’m seeing two very distinct groups of musicians.

  • Those who are part of a sharing/discovery/recommendation culture, and
  • Those who are (often incessantly) requesting help from that culture, but not demonstrating any willingness to be a part of it.

Not surprisingly, they don’t tend to get much spill-over outside of the people who are already their fans. [Read more →]

Tags: New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

Online Music: Balancing The Scales Of 'Free'

November 12th, 2009 · 7 Comments

I’ve just been reading Helienne Lindvall’s latest blog post on the Guardian site, entitled, “
Behind the music: Can we ever measure the impact of downloading?

It’s well worth a read, as it talks about vested interests on either side (though doesn’t mention that Helienne herself was a signatory on the patently loony pro-Mandelson AIR statement from the Featured Artist Coalition – she probably has mentioned it in previous posts). It does contains a couple of interesting points that I thought I’d throw out for discussion. [Read more →]

Tags: New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

"Piracy" And The 3 Strikes Law – A Few Thoughts From A Working Musician

October 28th, 2009 · 16 Comments

Right, so “Lord” Mandelson has announced that the Government is indeed going to go ahead with their unenforceable nonsensical plans to “cripple the internet bandwidth of persistent file sharers“. Here’s a few highlights of the plans:

  • the cut-off is a ‘last resort‘, used if people don’t comply with requests.
  • the cost of monitoring will be “shared between ISPs and content providers” – that means that the labels that are already incapable of making money for the musicians signed to them are now going to fund this Wile E. Coyote-esque plan to catch people sharing files.
  • The ‘trade-off’ is that copyright ‘law’ will be rejigged so that now – WOW – “someone who has bought a CD would be able to copy it to their iPod or share it with family members without acting unlawfully.” (does he not remember listening to tapes made from his mum’s record collection in the car in the 80s??) [Read more →]

Tags: New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

Posterous: Blogging For Everyone Else

October 26th, 2009 · 7 Comments

OK, so the thought of maintaining a blog full of pontifications on the state of the world, the web, music, whatever is a bit daunting. The self-imposed expectation that there needs to be loads of amazing stuff to read about on your awesome blog is just too much…

…So what do we do? Clearly, the web these days – and in particular, music on the web – is ALL about sharing. Without sharing, we’re all screwed.

Enter Posterous – it’s a blogging platform that’s been around for a while, but seems to be really gaining in traction of late for a whole host of reasons. I’m going to focus on what an awesome service it is for embedding, and posting links to, things you really like online. [Read more →]

Tags: Geek · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians