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The Changing Of The Guard

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While oldsters were focused on piracy and streaming payments, youngsters swooped in and stole the music business, and it’s definitely not business as usual.

First and foremost you must be part of a culture, otherwise you don’t succeed. Acts are built online, radio is at most a cherry on top, and you gain interest and gravitas by aligning yourself with other successful purveyors. Starting from scratch alone is anathema, it’s almost impossible to climb to the top, because you can’t gain attention. Which is why the one stop promotion that used to work no longer does. You go on late night TV, you get a review in the newspaper, that used to mean you were on your way, now those are just isolated events. SNL is seen as a victory lap, not a way to break. Because the truth is you have to have broken before. Sure, if you’re an oldster act you can benefit from “CBS Sunday Morning” or a feature in the “New York Times,” but oldsters are waning as an influence and as part of the marketplace.


Is done by yourself, not the label. Everyone can record at home, post video to YouTube and finished tracks to Spotify, et al, never mind Soundcoud. When you hear someone complain, always an oldster, that labels no longer do artist development, ignore them, they’re operating on a past paradigm.


Their only function is to make you bigger. They used to be repositories of acts with no traction, now they only want to make a deal if you’ve already proven yourself. They’ll promise cash and promotion, both of which are waning in importance. Cash… You can get paid by Spotify by yourself, on a regular basis. Promotion… Majors have a stranglehold on terrestrial radio, but that will mean less and less in an on demand culture where everything is available at a click online. The acts the majors can help most they don’t want. If you can’t make big bucks, the major is not interested. So all you middle class acts can forget about it. Because even though the recording costs might be less, the marketing and promotion efforts are just as big for a small project as well as a niche one, so the major doesn’t want to waste the effort.


You’re complaining if you’ve got no traction or you’ve got a bad deal. But the youth aren’t complaining, oftentimes they’re giving away mixtapes to further their brand, gain new followers. If you want to get paid by streaming companies, go direct, through Tunecore or CD Baby. Also you must garner tens of millions of streams. This is where the rubber meets the road, if no one is listening, you’re not getting paid. Yes, this is a change from the physical paradigm, even the file paradigm, but those are never coming back, so forget about them.


Yes, you can get paid from recordings, but the big money is what the fanbase they generate delivers. Live appearances, sponsorship, privates. Focus on audience, not immediate payment. In a business where it’s always been about the now, this is a reversal most antiques can’t fathom, especially in a business of historical untrustworthiness. But the internet companies are not record companies, streaming doesn’t interpret a contract to your detriment, it just pays. And now touring is run by giant operations that will never stiff you.


After putting up so much cash for so little return, promoters are focusing on festivals, where they can make so much more. And they pay well and you get exposure. Don’t think of a festival appearance as breaking your act, but just another brick in the wall. The festival appearance is the opening touring slot of yore.


The public is confused by the plethora of product. There’s so much music and promotion thereof that all but the most intrepid fans are overwhelmed by it. Therefore, people gravitate to the hits, and it’s only gonna get worse. So you think you’re getting ahead via publicity, but unless you’re part of a culture, which really exists only in hip-hop and country and to a smaller extent EDM, you’re screwed, you can never make it. Sure, you can garner a small audience, maybe play clubs, but graduating to arenas, even theatres? Nigh near impossible. So either accept your fate, pivot, or get out.


We are in a non-progressive era where it’s so hard to make it that people don’t want to take risk. You can understand why the track’s a hit, but it doesn’t move you. Whether it be “Uptown Funk,” literally based on a hit of yore, or the latest Foster The People track. It’s akin to ear candy. Very few want to take a chance where your new project you slaved over can stiff in a day.


Ran its course. There’s no culture. Everyone moved to hip-hop. This is why Katy Perry and Taylor Swift and Kelly Clarkson failed in the marketplace, they’re starting at square one with their records. So, their fans might buy in, but everybody else ignores them.


There’s no disgrace in failure, especially if you’ve got no traction, the key is to get right back up and play. This is how Justin Bieber went from mid-career wilderness back to the pinnacle. If you’re slaving over an album for years, you’re doing it wrong. Chances are it won’t hit. Focus on singles, put them out and see what happens, it’s about your body of work, not the album itself. People are always ready to pay attention if you deliver once again.


You’re nothing without your music. So keep putting it out. When you’re on tour, making bucks, playing to a small fraction of your audience, your casual fans are moving on to something else, such that when you release a new album years down the line you’re starting all over again.


You must have a relationship with streaming services that playlist it. You must do your best to climb the ladder. If you just release it, they will not come, except in maybe hip-hop, certainly not in country, never mind pop. Rag’n’Bone Man’s “Human” was a hit everywhere but the U.S. It’s the same song, but it wasn’t worked right and it didn’t fit into an obvious culture. Furthermore, Sony was operating with an old playbook, start it on AAA and cross it over, whereas Top Forty looks at streaming numbers and is not in the business of making hits, but capitalizing on them. You build your story online, not on radio.


Check the headliners at all the festivals. Used to be they were baby boomer acts, but that’s no longer the case. Because baby boomers don’t go to these festivals and it’s been a long time since the heyday of classic rock.


Promotes your own brand, but gets no traction with others unless it goes viral, which is very hard to do and is usually based on a combo of infectiousness and a je nais se quoi in the clip itself, like “Despacito.” Just being on YouTube with millions of views does not mean anybody other than your fans is aware. Hell, there are tracks with 50 million streams on Spotify you’ve never ever heard.

So what we’ve learned is the oldsters, who grew up in a major label dominated world, have been left behind, and they don’t even know it. When you hear septuagenarian David Crosby complain about streaming payouts know that most kids have no idea who that is, and their heroes are not complaining and are selling more tickets. This is akin to how the media missed Trump. The landscape changed, and everybody who’d been in the game forever thought they knew better and didn’t.

Going forward it will be about being elevated by your culture. The noise will start in the community, will burgeon online and will be evident on streaming services. Hell, compare Spotify with Mediabase, radio is months behind and it will only get worse as terrestrial tightens up its playlists. Radio is selling advertising, the goal is to get you engaged and keep you there. Whereas streaming services don’t care whether you listen or not, hell, it’s better for them if you just pay and don’t listen at all!

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