Up until this past year, I had no idea who the big names in EDM were. Obviously, I knew the big names like Deadmau5 and Skrillex, but outside of that my knowledge was a bit cloudy. Three weeks ago I was in Las Vegas which might as well be the EDM capital of the world. I was shocked. People paid $30 to access EDM themed pool parties. The nightclub I went to could convince my friends and I to pay for a table. Seemingly every nightclub had a big name “DJ” playing. There was a time in my life when this type of music never existed. I am only 26 years old and the music has become the greatest form of entertainment for those just a few years younger than me. I get it now. The music has become so big because it is the most fun genre to listen to. There are lasers. There are dance floors. There are no limits.
James Blake is one of the most talented artists to emerge over the past few years. His opinion matters. He cannot fathom why his label continues to spend money marketing his album when fans can download it illegally or stream it. As an artist he could make more money from selling the album, but even he recognizes that it makes absolutely no economic sense for the listener.
We pay $9.99 a month for services like Spotify so we can listen to not only James Blake, but The Rolling Stones and A$AP Rocky too. Why would we ever pay $9.99 for an album that we have access to whenever we want? In a flash of irony, the iPhone actually made iTunes irrelevant. I have not opened iTunes since I started using Spotify. Few of my friends have either. It makes no sense. We have Spotify mobile.
It is time for labels to stop using a Dixie cup to remove water from a ship that is already 1,000 feet deep. Well done James.
Ok, so I have listened to 187 Kendrick Lamar songs. That’s a lot. That means if I had purchased good kid, m.A.A.d city, I would have listened to the album 187 / 12 songs = 15.5 times through. In my opinion, this album qualifies as a masterpiece, but am I really paying Kendrick what he deserves? Quite frankly, the answer is no. This album has gotten me through morning cardio. It has been used to pump me up in the morning while driving to work. It tells a story like any great movie. It makes you think.
Although we don’t know how much Kendrick nets per stream, lets assume he earns near the high end for royalties, or $.007 per track. This means that from my 187 plays, the most Kendrick could have earned from me is $1.31.
I have listened to this album 15.5 times and I paid this guy with a McDonald’s cheeseburger. I owe it to you Kendrick. I’ll see you on tour and I’ll bring some friends.
No offense to the companies out there that drive short term traffic, but the promote this to win this model is broken. When you tell your band’s fans to send out a link to generate buzz about the band, doesn’t it make you feel a bit like a Buick salesperson? What happened to the natural sharing of music because fans actually like the music? Let’s take off that thrift shop suit and talk about this in more detail.
Kanye West has decided to reward his top fan with a pair of Air Yeezy 2’s in exchange for a little press. His new single is going live and he wants you to get the word out. What he is expecting to happen is for his fans to send the link out to 50 friends to grow the YouTube views and build up hype for his tour. It works for a few days and the clicks go through the roof… until a 55 year old man in India decides he would like to sell that pair of Yeezys on the black market and ends up winning the contest with a little help from his bot friend C3PO. Campaign over.
Although Kanye accomplished his goal of getting an insane amount of views, half of these views were erroneous. The campaign built short term buzz and then it crashed harder than AIG. Once the gimmick was over, no one cared.
So while you are actively tweeting your friends to win that pair of Yeezy’s just remember that old man in India will always have the upper hand. You may be the bigger fan, but you don’t have any robot friends.
Likes and Followers. Have 500 of each? Miserable. Have 10,000 of each? Established Indie Band. Have 500,000 of each? Global superstar. The way we define success in the music industry is highly flawed and here’s why:
1) No other industry measures success based on lead generation. This is effectively what Facebook and Twitter are. They are lead generation platforms. Clicking “Like” or “Follow” is equivalent to walking into a retail store and filling out a form to be added to a mailing list for new products. Are companies successful because they have a high volume of people on their mailing list? No! They are successful because they are able to get people who have at one point expressed interest to follow through on making a purchase. The lead itself is irrelevant. All that matters is closing the sale. In music, the sale is closed when an interested individual buys a concert ticket or a t-shirt.
2) Facebook and Twitter do not operate in real time. When an individual makes the decision to “like” or “follow” an artist, he or she is living in the moment. On my Facebook profile, I can see that at one time or another, there are about 40 bands that I have clicked “Like” for. A quick glimpse at the page is all it takes for me to tell you that of those 40, I am really into only about 15 of those artists. This is bad reporting. In the accounting world, reporting bad numbers is fraud. In music, it is commonplace. It is used to book concerts. It is used for artists to measure their success in relation to other artists. Artists are using bad data to “engage” with fans. But more importantly, what about those fans who do not use Facebook or Twitter? What about those fans who like your artists’ music, but do not necessarily care about their personal lives? Those fans are unaccounted for. They are among the missing. You must hope that these fans read music blogs and stay up to date with venue schedules.
Music is a privilege for the listener. For this reason alone, it is troubling that musicians are satisfied with merely placing their music on these “discovery” platforms. Would a chef at a restaurant cook you a four course meal for free because he wants you to “discover” his culinary ability? Would an auto mechanic fix your engine for free because he wants you to “discover” his ability to fix things? Absolutely not. Why then do musicians place so much value on “discovery?” If being discovered only generates a “like” or a “follow,” the newly discovered musician will only learn that social media platform success does not build a sustainable career. An artist like Big Sean might be able to generate “guap” from one single, but for most artists, success is built over years and starts with getting fans to buy the product.
I’ll never forget taking a trip to Nashville with my brother two years ago when I was deciding which graduate school to attend. The cab dropped us off on Broadway. It was 100 degrees. It was miserable. I was a fish out of water. I did not like country music. Not even a sampling of Jack’s BBQ could convince me to move here.
I am not sure why I decided to move here anyway after spending all summer convincing myself that I would be unhappy here. I think I just needed a change. It turned out to be the right move because just as I was regretting everything about Nashville, I took a class called “Business Models in the Music Industry” that changed my life. Tim DuBois taught me about the seismic shifts that were taking place in the music industry. I learned that music is not just artists and agents. I learned how deeply music is tied into this city’s roots. I learned that the music business is full of opportunity. I realized that Nashville is far less country than people think, but most importantly I gave country a chance, and you know what?…. I like it.
After spending the past 7 months interacting with artists in every genre from EDM to Country, the most quoted phrase regarding Spotify has been “Spotify is a great discovery tool.” A great discovery tool…. This mindset has never quite made sense to me. This is like the Mexican restaurant that serves chips and salsa prior to the meal. Do you think the restaurant owner would ever be satisfied serving up a heaping plate of chips and salsa for free while the customer walks out the door satisfied from a complimentary product?
Artist managers and independent artists need to learn that Spotify, Pandora, Rdio and the like are not discovery tools. They are the bowl of chips and salsa that lure people into a combination plate of tickets, merchandise, and exclusive content. The ability to stream for free is the hook. It is the appetizer. It holds the consumer over. It seals the deal.
It is unfortunate that Spotify has been around in the United States for over a year, yet artists have not found a way to convert attention into dollars. We live in an era of ever shortening attention spans. Fans must be captured in the “honeymoon phase” or else they will fall into the valley of death, never to be heard from again. Going forward, the most successful artists will be the ones that are able to hold attention. Artists must employ strategies to mitigate the decline in interest caused in large part by album release cycles. The world is waiting on a platform that uses listener interest to capture fans. The chips and salsa are there, now the music world just needs to figure out how to serve up the combination plate to the hungriest fans.