Saturday, May 30, 2009

Question of the Day - May 30, 2009



J.W. Lonsdale asks:

Many bands with only 100 base fans plan to go on tour each summer. Considering all that it takes to put an act on the road, will this accomplish anything? If they enroll a few hundred new fans across the Nation, what benefit would the band see? Merch they sell at the gigs plus the little pay they get for playing may barely compensate for the travel expenses. What would be the best way to convince them that they just don't have to endure this process?

Hartmann responds:

All bands start out at rock bottom. Careers in music always begin lost in the fog of showbiz. There are many prevailing mis-perceptions born of the postmodern record business paradigm. For many decades the promotion and marketing of recorded music has been conducted on a national and international level. Hit records have always been the driving force in the process of breaking new acts and advancing established artist's fame and fortune. The vanguard in these assaults has been the "single" record. One song from an album, usually selected by committee, would be presented to national radio by the promotion departments of the record companies. These songs suffer through an excruciating process that requires an enormous amount of systemic coordination and a modicum of lick. It is the personal manager's responsibility to unify the activities of touring and radio airplay to effect the life extension of any given record.

The ubiquity of digital distribution, peer-to-peer file sharing, and free music has changed the business model that built the extant infrastructure of the postmodern record industry. The system can no longer survive in its current form. After vigorous debate on all the causes and effects, every musician with vision must embrace the fact that the old paradigm has shifted and the once reliable, established, path no longer leads to the desired destination. Touring was once the most effective way to contribute to the promotion process. The personal appearance induced the record company to take action on the current single in each market where the artist performed. In order to "break" new artists the record company would guarantee the artist and manager that the "shortfall" financial losses incurred on tour would be covered by the label.

The big four major record companies are floundering in a state of confusion that began when they rejected Napster, and decided to sue their customers, instead of embracing digital distribution. Their fears were well founded. In an effort to retain very high profit margins, on per unit sales, they tried to stop the proliferation of music itself. That strategic error has precipitated the downfall of the old system. Downloads are the future and those who deny it are doomed to fail. The challenge becomes how to create a financial business model that can support a new method of marketing and distributing music. This necessity challenges artists and entrepreneurs to reinvent the ancient enterprise of compensating musicians and songwriters for their product.

The two primary activities that must be addressed, in this renewal, are performing and recording. Both are relatively easy things to initiate and very difficult things to bring to profit. Anybody with a guitar and a song can stand on a street corner and sing for his supper. He is immediately a performer and a business enterprise. With a MacBook, a microphone and ProTools software he is a record producer. These two functions provide the core elements of a perpetual motion machine that produces compensation for art, money for music. The organized expansion of this process can lead to fame and fortune.

The first plateau of success is survival. In the music renaissance, survival is accomplished when the artist makes his living, by purveying his music, without the need for a day job. That means all of life's necessities, and the costs of being in business, are paid for from the various income streams that accrue to the artist from box-office receipts, branded merchandise and recorded music sales. Without huge record company investment in touring and record promotion this level of success is very hard to reach.

The spending of vast amounts of money trying to reach a national audience is no longer viable. The future of music lays in the success of local artists. If a band cannot make it in its home town, it cant make it anywhere. If it can make it at home it can make it everywhere. The threshold for entry is very low. Anybody can call himself an artist. There are millions of singers and bands that can be accessed instantly on the Internet, if one knows where to look he might even find something with artistic value. With so many contenders, it is difficult to find the greatness.

The great is always easily recognized, it is the mediocre that clouds our vision. If you think your talent is so magnificent that the world will flock to your concerts, when they know about you, prove it. Conduct your career within driving distance of your home. Don't invest your earnings in hotel rooms, long distance travel and per-diems. If your music has universal appeal, you will build a following that will sustain your survival. Music fans, that bond with your act in the intensity of the live performance experience, will buy your CDs and merch. They will spread your legend by word-of-mouth and text messaging. Your own viral marketing efforts will sustain and grow this fan base. Success cannot be achieved without an aggressive Internet presence.

If you become the dominant musical force in your community and develop a profitable business around music, a national presence will follow. The local promoters and agents will be aware of your ability to sell tickets in your home town. This will get you on the bill with national artists who visit your town. They are eager to move the last thousand tickets on their arena shows. If they see your value, they could take you on tour, as their opening act, in other markets. The years of practice you have invested in your act will reveal to new audiences your polished performance and a repertoire of songs shaped and crafted over time. They will join your fan base and expand your career organically.

The integral ingredient is a great live show. An entertaining performance doesn't happen over night. It requires a practiced integration of musical virtuosity, compelling material, charisma, sex appeal and desire. The passionate pursuit of imagined goals is the most powerful creative process on Earth. If you know what you want and have a clear plan of action coupled with an obsessive commitment to the certainty of your eventual success you are an invincible force. Stay home, become a big fish in the small pond and you will attract the world to your web site. From there the touring of your act will be paid for by the demand for your presence in the global marketplace.

There will be no need for the artificial support mechanism previously provided by record companies. Even if they deliver the radio airplay promised, is anybody still listening? Even if they do "loan" you the money to go on tour, it is of little significance in a world where music fans no longer wish to have their music choices dictated to them by monolithic corporations with a profit agenda. Music is first and foremost an art form. Its role in our culture is to serve and inspire the listener. Personal identification with artists and their music is an act of choice. It all starts with a song that communicates artistic integrity and pure love though melody, meter and message. It ends with a vast legion of followers who will sustain the acts long term success and survival.

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