Like most industries when challenged with change to the status quo and the way business is done, they change, they adapt, or they die. Why the music, film and book publishing businesses have morphed to this moment in time has not been by accident, business forces with insight have crafted this new industry for their benefit. While these industries have been declining, there are quite a few players making a lot of money.
Musicians are viewing the open doors to distribution and digital retail shelf space like those many years ago during the many gold rushes. Hardly anyone got rich just panning for gold on their own, but during the gold rushes, many smart people did; they were the shovel sellers and those granting access to areas where there just may be gold!
The people making a lot of money in the present day music business are the aggregators and the publishers. They have many, many items needing only to generate a little profit, by virtue of the numbers game, they get titles from time to time that make a lot of money, bonus time!
Recall the story about the man who worked in the bank, who thought he could supplement his income by skimming the 4th decimal point of each transaction, thinking nobody would miss it and quickly found that all these millions of transactions made him tremendously rich and sentenced to prison. Aggregators and Publishers are working with this business model now, with little overhead for their growing catalog in the digital space waiting for the break out hit.
Musicians who believe in the myth “If I build it they will buy it” are just having fun or investing in a dream, no planning, no industry research, knowledge or education = no return on investment, just the rush to the open door of the digital distribution space, hoping praying and dreaming. By virtue of having your music on the digital services and in the same channels as working artists by no means puts you on the same footing as the touring, grinding musicians who pour their ‘everything’ into trying to grow their music careers. The music itself may be very good but that doesn’t mean you have a career in the music business.
Open doors to Digital Distribution have created one big multi level marketing scheme. Think about who buys most or the sales by new bands? friends and family that’s who. Then after that, very few sales even occur, why? Because the music industry is a business, if you want to sell your musical works, you have to promote them within a plan and have the capital to support that plan. You have to have a long-term view. The music business is not too different from any other business, the fundamentals are the same; you produce a product, and you try your best to sell it over time.
So what does the musician do that really wants to make music their career?
First you have to get out of the All Skate, you have to practice more and play more, dedicate yourself to your career, play the spaces that no one else is in, you have to put yourself in unique niches, (and wait for it,) think outside of the box. You have to be special, separate yourself from the crowd, make yourself a professional skater, not just someone who owns skates and can skate a bit. Michael Phelps and I can both swim, but I am not in the Phelps league, I do not get up at 5am and swim hundreds of laps daily. I don’t deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as him when it comes to water, let alone swimming.
I know the self-esteem’ers reading this will be bummed to find out that life not only isn’t fair by nature, but also, that just because a few friends like my music doesn’t make me an artist on par with someone who does it daily for a living. Musicians thrive on ‘the exception to the rule’ to keep their drive alive, but the exception does not make the rule. Just because some band got discovered on Youtube or iTunes and became a success does not create the new investment model for the music biz.
Most startup businesses of any kind need to have a product or service they believe in, then, they need to put together a marketing plan with a cash flow analysis, followed by securing the capital to give their business idea a real chance to make it. I have always been a proponent of making sure you have a solid concept before asking how much it will cost. Doing it any other way is just grasping at straws and knowing many smart venture capitalists, will never get you a cent of investment.
The music business has shed thousands of jobs over the last 10 years and some really smart music biz people with great connections are out there. Reach out and find them, ask for advice, better still, get one of them to manage your career or consult you, they may charge you but probably will save you more than you will waste mining for gold in all the wrong places. It may cost you more upfront but you won’t waste years of your life not knowing if you are on the right track. And for those who would say, “If you believe in my music, you would work with me for free” step back and think about how ridiculous and arrogant that is. You would never have that test for a mechanic by asking them to listen to your music first and then ask “If you believe in my band you’d fix my transmission for free” or the music store “If you believe in my band you’d give me that guitar for free” the further up the music ladder you get the more things you pay for, look at radio promotion, coop advertising, etc.
Obviously, not all bands and artists are going to be able to approach their career this way because not everyone will have the access to capital, but that goes for anything in life that people want to do, there is always disparity. But once you sit down and put numbers in a spreadsheet you may be surprised by how less expensive it is than you originally thought, and you might just get some angel investment because you are seen to be taking your career seriously.
Ask yourself this about your music, “Do I want it to be my career? Do I want to get paid for my music? Do I want this to be a business?” If the answer is YES, then approach it correctly, set it up as a business, set yourself apart from other musicians and you will find that you will end up achieving more and it will be a lot more fun because the business side of things will be handled correctly.
Remember, you can always take part in the all skate, but when they are calling, requesting and booking you, because people want to see you! Then you know that you have the start of something really special, a MUSIC CAREER.