Sean Pope asks:
Do you think that the decline in CD sales, and the rise of music piracy, has forced many artists to rethink the "CC-first, touring-second" model and turn to a more touring-centered model in order to make the same amount of money they once were able to do only through CD sales?
Hartman's Law #6 - "If it's not good live, dump it." Careers in music can no longer be built from the top down. For five decades the A&R men, from hundreds of record companies, have scoured the cities, towns and villages of America in search of what they perceived as commercially exploitable talent. In most cases the process required some vision and risk taking. Often the A&R choices were about local music trends and movements. Almost always the focus centered on talented individuals who were making a significant impact in their local communities.
If more than one star appeared to be rising from one location the industry flocked to that city and signed up every act in sight. This tradition spawned the British Invasion of the early 1960s as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones achieved world wide fame simultaneously. The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and The Doors inspired a similar explosion in Southern California later in the decade. Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead led the "psychedelic" rock genre out of San Francisco. The "grundge" movement from Seattle was attached to the emergence of Nirvana and Pearl Jam.
All of these popular music trends were born without the stimulation, or investment of major record companies. The artists created a grass roots constituency and the record business followed. The infusion of recording industry capital into the process provided the systems and protocols that expanded the fame and fortune of those innovative artists. The net result was a vibrant touring mechanism that allowed performers and bands to gain significant control over their survival. Personal managers were able to keep the labels from participating in this income.Record companies are the historical enemy of artists. F
rom the beginning of the antiquarian record business, through the traditional, modern and postmodern eras the nature of recording agreements has grossly favored the company. The formulae offered in record contracts are designed to keep the artists share at an absolute minimum. The profit to labels, on per unit sales, is enormous. Digital piracy has shattered that system, the brick and mortar stores are gone. Only the giant "budget" chains carry packaged CDs and this does not carry a broad based catalog.
By controlling the flow of product to AM and FM radio the record companies imposed their choices of artists and records on the fan base for decades. This was a reversal of the traditional flow. No longer were the fans choosing what they liked. Instead, A&R committees offered a narrow selection of choices that resulted in a formulaic approach to the process. The labels decided what would be offered and radio, as the primary promotional vehicle, channeled the current trend to the fan base. Music was a closed shop and quality was dictated from the top.
Absent the enormous profit margins, previously enjoyed, the postmodern record business is rapidly shrinking. The big four companies, UMG, Sony, EMI and Warner Bros., who distribute ninety per cent of the non-digital "purchased" product, can no longer move millions of units. A number one album today rarely sells more than two hundred thousand copies to achieve that status on the charts. This fact has taken the discovery and development of new artists out of the labels hands and placed it back where it all began; in the market place of local communities.
If you can't make it at home you can't make it anywhere. The hammer now meets the anvil in the home town of the act just like at the beginning of the postmodern era. The high cost of national touring no longer has monolithic record companies to bankroll the short fall. Nor is it necessary.Careers in music must now evolve organically. It is way too easy for an act to participate in the process.
With Pro Tools and Garage Band software readily available, anybody can make a record without a governing arbiter to judge the quality of their product. This has created millions of would be artists steeped in mediocrity. The resulting haystack of brass needles conceals the few golden needles that have the potential to reach The Big Top. Searching for the gold among the millions of artists demonstrating their talents on myspace.com is a vain quest. The fog of showbiz is just too thick. The shear volume of choices dilutes the talent pool and blinds the searchers.
In my fifty year career in entertainment, I have never met an actor or musician who didn't think he was going all the way. However, the statistical history shows that one hundred percent of the money will be earned by ten percent of the artists. Ninety percent of that money will be earned by one percent of the competitors. The rest of the artists will be sucked down the black hole of broken dreams. To avoid that fate, an artist must develop a strong live attraction through which to purvey his music. That act need not tour the world until the world is already aware of it.
The digital age has created The Music Renaissance. There is more music in play than ever before in history and this will continue to grow. The challenge for today's musicians is to develop a new business model that will monetize recorded music and facilitate live performances. Touring is no longer necessary until the first level of success has been achieved. When you have become the dominant musical force withing driving distance of your home, you may worry about the road. Until then, you must build your business in music where it matters, in your own back yard.
When you can survive in that local arena, you will be ready to spread your gifts to the region, the state and the nation. After that, the world will be yours for the taking. The Internet is your weapon of mass distribution. Your home town is your garden. Carefully cultivate your local music market. Bond with your fan base through the live experience and market your albums and merchandise through direct sales on site while they're hot. Control all the income streams and keep the profits as part of your survival mechanism. Tour when there is a demand for your services elsewhere. The future of music will be built from the grassroots up and the sky's the