R. McCabe asks:
For the way that the recording business is right now, what do you think would be the best way for a band to spend its time? Would it be better to be out as much as possible starting at the smallest venues with very little exposure? Or, would it be more efficient to get your content on the Internet where there is a more accessible audience, but a better chance of being over looked?
There is no proven template for pursuing careers in The Music Renaissance. Entrepreneurs and artists must recognize that the traditional pathway to The Big Top is melting. Hundreds of record labels have been consolidated into four monolithic, distribution organizations. Universal Music Group, SONY, EMI and Warner Bros. are all foreign owned companies that are collapsing under their own weight. Their top heavy infrastructures can no longer anticipate the highly lucrative income streams previously afforded for compact disc sales. The game is forever changed.
The live performance arena has always provided a refuge for artists to escape the domination of the major labels. For decades the creators of music and their managers have precluded record companies from participating in the personal appearance business. They have been further excluded from the other income streams that accrue to artists from publishing, merchandise sales, film and television activity. This paradigm can no longer prevail in the music industry.
The labels themselves have introduced a new form of record contract called the 360 Deal. It took a hundred years for the traditional recording agreement to evolve into what is generally perceived as a document that is not friendly to artists. In a desperate attempt to preserve their power bases the big four have invented this new formula in order to participate in all the income that an artist receives regardless of the source. Considering that the labels are not offering anything new in return for this broad participation, the contracts are more convoluted than ever.
The record labels are sustained by income from their vast catalogs of master recordings and publishing copyrights. The building of new artists is an activity they no longer control. Low cost digital recording and Internet distribution systems, legal and otherwise, have rendered the old mechanics obsolete. Millions of artists are in play on various web sites. With so many careers in motion, discovering the talented ones has become much more difficult than in previous times.
Performing has abruptly switched places with recording as the primary activity of the music business. The digital switch has been flipped and the power has shifted to the live arena. There are some golden needles among all the millions of brass ones on myspace.com. Ten percent of the artists might deliver enough of the requisite talent and charisma to make a living in the music business. That means ninety percent will fail. One percent will achieve enduring success.
Baby bands must invest their time in perfecting a repertoire for a live show and developing a booking mechanism. Performing personal appearances provides the opportunity to polish the material. The audience will reveal the effect you are having on them. Pay attention to what part of your music exposes their emotions. The object is to blow their minds. You want them to buy your merch. You want them to come back. Involve them. Entertain them and get their email.
The other half of the equation is to create a universe on the Internet. Artists must have an on line apparatus, under their own control, that directly enrolls members in their "club." Interactivity with the fan base should offer special programs, music downloads, merchandise mart, news and personals. Building, nurturing and maintaining a constant communication with fans is imperative.
The music itself should be considered a loss leader and offered as free downloads from the home site. Most hard CD sales will occur at live events. Income from these sales and efficient marketing of other branded products will be vital to an acts survival. The songs that are polished in performance should be recorded live and sold to the public as "the show you just saw." Other recorded product could be for medleys, suites, extended plays and concept records. It doesn't have to be a twelve song album. The peer-to-peers share the best stuff one song at a time.