I’m Sorry, But It Was Never Just About The Music

"Musicians should concentrate on being musicians."

"How can I make music when I'm expected to spend all my time on Twitter and Facebook?"

I'm sorry if this comes as a surprise, but it has never been enough to just make great music.  Every generation of musicians has had to face their own challenges which forced them to go beyond creation and recording.

Frank Sinatra made movies to reach a bigger fan base.  Elvis's hips and haircut were as much a part of his success as his recordings were. David Bowie learned that image and imagery could propel him to greater heights.  After Saturday Night Fever, dance steps helped propel many live shows and for a time MTV made being visual an important component of success. 

Whether it's getting in a van and giving an endless string of memorable performances or sitting on the phone for hours talking to journalists, there have always been skills beyond just making music that, if not required, certainly made success more likely. – Bruce Houghton

So when Amanda Palmer tweets her latest exploits and Imogen Heap spends hours answering questions in a forum, they are just doing a modern version – their own version – of costumes, haircuts and dance lessons. 

Great music is where it all begins and ends, but in between the path to success is always changing.

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  1. Great points, Bruce.
    It’s also true that precious few artists who are looking for a record deal (or an investor) are willing to show that they’ll be giving 1000% to the partnership after the papers are signed… the evidence for which is plainly visible by examining how hard they’re working before the deal is struck.
    The truth of the matter is, as you’re well aware, by the time an artist is doing the amount of work found desirable by a record company, they might be close to making the Big Official Record Deal irrelevant… as we’ve seen with the growth of individual indie artists over the past decade or so.

  2. Unfortunately, many artists still believe that it will damage their mystique and credibility if they’re seen to be too accessible to the general public, especially if they’re unknown and trying to build an image. It’s not that these musicians can’t or won’t become a success, as talent is usually recognized at whatever level you place yourself, be that MTV or The Leather Lounge in Winchester, OH. What I don’t believe is that they can actually transcend the niche market, and sadly, that rules out making money from their music, too.

  3. @Daniel Holter
    It’s ironic that artists that are willing to embrace the platform the internet has given them and create a fan base on the strength of their own hard work and dedication (not just musical talent) probably don’t even need that Big Official Record Deal any more. But those that are clueless or unwilling, who truly need the mass distribution and marketing dollars, are seen as non-starters by the labels.
    Makes for an interesting landscape going forward…

  4. It’s very true. However, artists like Joni Mitchell and Jimi Hendrix were so creative that dressing themselves up was just an extension of the artist who wrote the songs. Sitting at the computer is a much more clinical way to spend your time. My concern is that we’ll never end up hearing new artists like Joni who don’t own a computer much less know how to use one.

  5. Reality TV has shown us that celebrity/exposure itself lands you a following and press. You don’t actually have to do anything or have any talent to have fans and press.
    I used to be involved in sports marketing. A major turning point for me came in 2000. I was watching the Olympics and also the first season of Survivor. And Survivor was the better show. I knew then that if I, a hard core Olympics junkie, found a made-for-TV show more compelling drama, the Olympics were in trouble.
    I like those stories about athletes who spent a lifetime of hard work preparing for the Olympics. But when you have a show like Survivor, where a few weeks on TV rather than years of training, gives you an equivalent amount of name recognition, then the game has changed. The Olympics used to be the ultimate reality TV where people watched your life transformed with a win. Now you can get that same transforming moment with American Idol, or Survivor, etc.
    So now we have musicians who can get a following via their fan relationships. It’s good to have quality music, but if you make your fans happy with your chat, then your music might be secondary.

  6. Artists need to stick to what they are good at and find the right management or team around them to handle online marketing.
    Too many artists in todays marketplace think it’s as simple having a MySpace, Facebook and Twitter page put teh track on iTuines and voila! It’s NOT – it takes time to develop any artist, it always has, and always will – it’s no different online to the ‘real’ world.
    The question is, as an artist, do you want ‘real fans’ or just a bunch of hyped numbers that are meaningless in translation but feed the ego?
    Keep it real, and get help when it comes to maintaining your online/web properties.

  7. Hypebot, please stop pressuring artists into becoming obnoxious commercially-viable product-pushing sellouts and please start helping them visualize realistic expectations. According to you, all artists should be starring in movies, obsessively tweeting, attending sales conferences, and taking dance lessons. Seriously? Of course being a successful musician takes hard work. But writing, practicing, touring, recording, promoting, releasing records, etc is one thing. Movies, commercials, merchandising, blogging, costumes, etc is quite another. One is worthwhile, creatively satisfying, intrinsically valuable, vital to the community, and is “just about the music” – while the other is something entirely different.

  8. Jason – As I said in the post, it begins and ends with the music. But along the way there are many things that artists can do to help their careers. Can success come without it? Of course. But I’ve always been one to do all that I can to move my (admittedly non-musician) career forward.
    Maybe others can answer Jason as well.

  9. To some extent the value of the music creation as a stand-alone concept was already lost when DJs and remixers gained popularity. They showed that you don’t actually have to write or play music to gain a following or attention.
    Music has become a tool, one of many that creative types in today’s digital world can draw upon to express themselves and connect with others. Writing and performing great songs requires talent and training, but in some cases the fans don’t care. They may prefer artists who are online more, who put together dance beats from others’ work, etc.

  10. RANT ALERT: apologies in advance.
    I wouldn’t normally bother with all this but I’m sufficiently grumpy and pissed off anyway today so I feel like getting involved… 😉
    OK first of all Hypebot, I do love a lot of your posts but really – Bruce – what possessed you to write this patronising short-sighted claptrap, grasping at straws to make a vague point, badly built on horrible assumptions and ignorance?
    And who are all these pedlars of music biz propaganda who agree so readily, and state the obvious (ooh you have to work hard!), rounding on some hypothetical artists as if they must be a bunch of lazy, clueless, self-indulgent narcissists just because they want to make great art but are struggling in a new digital landscape to uphold un-ending web duties, the call of the cyber-Sirens luring them to frustration, stagnation and mediocrity…?
    Allowing for the initial premise of your opening sentence (which I’m guessing would define the word “enough” as being ‘professionally viable and having some kind of success’), the whole point of those who express the kind of frustration behind the statements in your sub-title is about a struggle with TIME which (and I’m ‘sorry if this comes as a surprise’) your nebulous wankery about “every generation of musicians” facing “it’s own challenges” firstly assumes the odious myth that to be a “musician” means to be trying to “make it” and “be famous” like some kind of pop star or ‘artiste’ working in the narrow genre of personality-based recorded music post 1940, sweeping aside literally millions of musicians and composers whose work environments (classical orchestras, world music community groups, film studios, folk clubs, music therapists anyone?) who don’t need to give a fuck about updating their myspace; and secondly even if we take that assumption about recorded music it completely misses the fact that the current “generation” quite clearly has to tick ALL the boxes that have gone before (minus a few cheesy dance moves) and ‘life-stream’ the results AS WELL– oh and find the TIME to try and make halfway-great, meaningful, or god-forbid groundbreaking new music; which is no mean feat in a post-post-modern unshockable, over-saturated and shrinking marketplace, where all culture and media is utterly fragmented and a new digital paradigm is irreversibly changing the face of humanity, just as we begin to approach economic and ecological apocalypse on a planet that will bear the burden of 9 billion people by 2050!!
    Wow I’m really ranting aren’t I? Sorry.
    So – going back to TIME.
    I’m talking about proper long, uninterrupted, indulgent, absorbing, good old fashioned t…i…i…i…me. Like, more than half a day…
    No phones, no twitter, no blogging to do – yes there have always been interruptions but being ‘always-online’ fragments the mind and distracts the soul like nothing else.
    Bob Dylan, when he was bumming about Greenwich Village absorbing a thousand folk songs had TIME.
    David Bowie, back in the day when people were funded to ‘develop’ more than just a web presence
    had TIME.
    Great artists need real TIME to explore and freewheel, destroy and create.
    Sure there are plenty of ‘non-musical’ web-based skills and good habits that Amanda Palmer and Imogen Heap have in spades which when embedded in an artist’s working lifestyle will empower them – but we still only have 24hrs a day and this is so very far from a mere ‘modern version’ of costumes and haircuts (which have not been replaced!). It’s a brave new digital world and we are in a new paradigm, did you get that? A new PARADIGM – uncharted waters, a city paved with jelly, and we’re lost, we’re floundering, we don’t know how it’s going to work or even IF it’s going to work to try an sustain a long-term artistic vision in anything remotely like the old glory days (yes I’m torn between digital freedom and a dream of cultural power beyond niche)…
    This is NOT like Elvis swinging his hips – in ANY WAY!
    I mean COME ON – Sinatra, one of the greatest interpreters of song ever, didn’t make movies to reach a “bigger fan base” for his MUSIC – NO! He made movies because:
    a) he could
    b) he wanted power and money
    c) he liked the hollywood party life
    It was by no means intended as a leg-up for his musical journey in the vein of having a twitter account linked to a youtube channel in an attempt to ‘go viral’.
    MTV’s contribution to the obligatory visual element of an artist (for good and for ill) has certainly not gone away now we’re on twitter – it’s still there we just have to be on twitter too.
    For these reasons when you say “it was never just about the music” (the “it” being a careerist approach to personality-based popular recorded music) well – duh – and well done for saying that “great music is where it all begins and ends” (obviously no-one should even contemplate whoring themselves online before they’ve written a song they think is great, and if they haven’t they should piss off and write one!)… BUT…
    Bruce! Please hear the cry of a hundred-thousand passionate music makers staring, blinking into the cyber-abyss at the sisyphean task before them and take a broader and slightly more sympathetic view for fucks sake! Your analogy is WAY off when it comes to the new eco-system – we’re in a totally new world, so realise what’s really going on here before all the poor artists that slavishly nod to your beat finally wake up in failed obscurity and come a-knocking on your door for a hand-out.
    Now please excuse me while I post this to twitter.

  11. I find this topic fascinating. We used to say, “The music you hear on radio isn’t necessarily the best. It’s just got the most promotional money behind it.”
    Now we are pondering, “Will the most popular artists of the future be those who spend the most time engaging fans online?”

  12. I really dig the way you formulate that, Suzanne. I’m also still pondering your earlier riff about Survivor vs. Olympics.
    Everyone here should direct your attention to the website for Brother Ali, an artist with the independent label Rhymesayers who have been posting up major label album sales in the past 2 years. What he’s doing on his site is shaping up to a be a future textbook case on fan interaction. It’ll definitely be article fodder in the immediate future, so check it out while it’s happening…he’s really opening himself up.
    What interests me about his experiment is the story behind it — Brother Ali is already doing “bigtime” humbers by recent standards and he came up very quickly, building his reputation on a knockout live show (it got me to purchase his album at the gig, for sure). I’m also interested because the forum he’s prepared is about life stories and struggles and way more deep than the “current topic X” + “hey buy our album” level of conversation you see in so much artist-to-fan interaction.

  13. Thanks Justin. I’ve been pondering all of this for at least 20 years. I got interested in sports and event marketing because I knew a number of Olympic figure skaters.
    A lot of athletes make their money through sponsorships. So I’ve been studying the connection between the audience and the event and the extent to which those emotional connections cross over to sponsors.
    I’ve read as much as I can on audiences, events, theater, leisure activities, etc. Some of the issues being talked about in music are topics I’ve tried to research over the years. While music brings some unique attributes into play, many aspects of fandom and audience behavior extend into areas beyond music as well.
    I have worked closely with musicians for the last eight years, watching how fans react at shows and online. There are changes in audience engagement as the fans have more interactive tools available to them. Lots of them now go to shows and then spend their time on phones texting friends and sending photos and videos. They are engaged in their own “show” as much or more than in the music itself.
    And I find more of them saying that they’d rather see four bands each playing 45-minute sets than see one band playing for 2-3 hours. Music consumption is changing.
    We talk about the importance of fan loyalty to sustain bands, and yet we also see less fan loyalty.

  14. I think most of these posts are missing the “big point” (including Bruce’s)..
    There are many non-creative aspects of an artist’s career that have traditionally been handled by a label. Publicity and marketing, sales and distribution, accounting, and backroom logistics certainly weren’t managed by Elvis or Sinatra. They were managed by a record label that had staff with expertise in these areas, and they took a hefty % of sales as a fee.
    Now that we’ve spent the better part of 15 years burning labels to the ground, reinforcing the belief that you cannot make money selling music because people just download it for free, all of these services, which used to be handled by labels, are now falling into the lap of the artist. There isn’t a product manager, or junior publicist, or sales guy out there that BELIEVES in the band and will kick down doors to make other people believe. The labels have stocked up on MBA twerps who know nothing about music and certainly ain’t gonna do your tweeting for you. So an artist must now figure out how or who to manage the modern iterations of sales, marketing, publicity and promotion.
    For the most part, the third party companies an artist can employ to manage these areas are competent, even brilliant when it comes to technology. But when it comes to the art of making music, working with an artist to truly understand them, they’re lost. So the artist must keep a steady hand on the wheel, and be involved, because no one else is going to do it for them.
    Although some may not agree with me, I think the labels had an important part in the music economy food chain. They’ve committed terrible sins against artists, but they also brought thousands of musicians out of obscurity and into the public eye. I have deep personal experience working for majors, and while I saw a lot of slimebags taking advantage of artists, I also saw a lot of caring label people who worked their asses off to break bands that no one cared about. When any link is lost in a food chain, there is an impact on every other organism in the chain, and that’s what we’re seeing here. That’s why artists are stuck figuring this stuff out for themselves.
    With the labels dead or dying, who’s going to give your indie band a $500K advance – Topspin? Reverbnation? Twitter? Facebook? Who’s going to book your photo shoot, get the car service to the airport, route your tour, hang posters at indie retail, set up that radio station meet and greet?
    Maybe that stuff isn’t needed anymore. Artists can rely on help from fans for much of the above. But when the labels did it, it was a hands-off effort for the artist, all they had to do was show up. And a lot of them still fucked that up! It’s not like that any more – Amanda Palmer might work her fan base to get a place to stay for free in London, but it’s a lot of work to scale, and I’m sure there are some (rare) moments when she just wishes she could be alone and not have to deal with fans.
    What is needed is a new type of label, that manages the above in a way that suits the ARTISTS needs, for a reasonable share of revenue, or a small fee. Someone who’ll help where they’re needed and not take ten pounds of flesh from the artist to do it. So if they don’t want to tweet, or deal with iTunes, or send pitch emails to 50 music blogs, they don’t have to. So they can write songs and play live. So they can be a musician when they want to, and do the other stuff when they feel like it.
    This is like any post-revolution, after the King and his court are beheaded, everyone has a big party with endless debauchery and drinking of ale, and the next morning, they all wake up and nothing works. So for a while, everyone stands around saying “does anyone know how the fuck to turn the lights on?”
    Off with their heads, indeed!

  15. I’m not trying to be sarcastic, I’m seriously asking:
    Can’t everything you’re asking about be handled by a single manager? Pretty much everything you listed is what artist management does, right?
    That’s definitely a common thread with all the artists who are negotiating the new era profitably: good management teams.

  16. My frustration is with people who aren’t doing the DIY music biz day-to-day and who think these are the glory days for artists. It’s a lot of work and what money there is available is being spread among more artists.
    Bands that used to be on major labels, got the benefit of that promotion, and who are now independent probably are making more money because they are keeping a higher percentage of music sales.
    However, if you have never been on a label, you’re music sales have gone down just as they have for other people. So while you might have been able to sell 3000 – 50,000 $15 CDs a few years ago, now you are probably selling fewer of them and you’ve had to drop the price.
    I’ve talked to musicians who have been playing local and regional gigs for the past 30 years. Most of them say they are making about the same per gig, or less, than they were then. Bars used to pay higher guarantees, and they didn’t ask four bands to split the door.

  17. Justin, if you find a manager that will do everything mentioned in my post, by all means, sign with them, invite them home and give them a nice warm place to live right next to your Golden Unicorn. I’d love to see Benny Medina or Jeff Kwatinez updating Amanda Palmer’s Facebook page – in fact, I’d pay to see it! (I AM trying to be sarcastic, btw!)
    A good manager should do a lot of the above, or at least figure out a way to get it done. But they don’t have the bandwidth to do this full time for one artist, let alone multiples. Managers have been around longer than labels, their place in the food chain has been affected too. Maybe between artists, managers and some key technology companies, the label of the future is already being built.

  18. Hey Suzanne, like I said, this is the downside of the collapse of the music business food chain.
    On the bright side, you can download all your music for free….although anyone who complains about things falling apart, but gets their music this way is the true definition of a hypocrite.
    Personally, I’d rather pay (reasonably) for my music, so artists, journalists, club owners, managers, and yes even label people can afford to keep making it.

  19. About six months ago I got so tired of reading about conferences where everyone was talking about monetizing music, with very little success, that I decided I’d start telling everyone there was no money in music. Do it because you love it, as a form of self-expression, to bond with friends and neighbors, and so on, but don’t expect to pay your bills doing music.
    Of course, there are some people who do manage to survive on music as a means to make a living, but most don’t. They have day jobs, or someone is footing the bill for them. And that is perfectly okay. Most people who play sports aren’t going to be professional athletes.
    If we clear out all the people who have unrealistic expectations, and then are left with the people who do music because they are passionate about it and don’t really expect a financial return, then we can see where we stand.
    Yes, fans do get music for free, so they are consuming it more (though I’m not sure they value it more). I’d rather the artists get compensated, but I think the norm now is that music is free, whether we like it or not. And because of the recession, there’s less money for shows and t-shirts. Whenever I talk to musicians, I intentionally paint a grim picture so that they understand the sacrifices involved. If they want to do music, knowing that they may not make enough to have even a lower-middle class existence, then I’m happy for them.

  20. The real problem is the gap between the value which record labels, performing rights societies and publishers put on recorded music, vs. the perceived value of music amongst consumers.
    Most people believe music has some value, even those who get it for free. But every service built so far which offers access to music at low or “feels like free” cost to consumers has been unsuccessful because the various right holders base the value of music on what they used to get for a CD, and therefore, the services cannot make the numbers work.
    Until the current generation of consumers, many of whom have never paid a dime for music, ascend to power & are in charge of the industry, we will remain in the dark ages. The cavemen won’t be free to reign until the dinosaurs are extinct.

  21. “Until the current generation of consumers, many of whom have never paid a dime for music, ascend to power & are in charge of the industry, we will remain in the dark ages. The cavemen won’t be free to reign until the dinosaurs are extinct.”
    I have been wondering about that. If I develop a music world based on what I want as a fan, it may look different than the designed by the artist or a company that owns the artist’s content.
    My music focus is primarily at the community level, because for a lot of families with kids, if they are going to hear live music, it’s going to be a free outdoor concert where they can bring the kids.

  22. I agree with Old record Guy’s assessment. It takes a village to make a career….Record companies were not perfect but they filled a vital role. There provided a structure and distributed the workload. I used to work on the lot at A&M Records. I was an engineer at the studio there. There were a lot of happy faces at A&M. It felt like a family. I bet some of the artists didn’t make a lot of money, but Sting wasn’t frowning when I worked with him. Is he really better off now with a higher % of his individual sales (ok maybe he’s moved to another label, DGG).
    As far as Bruce’s contention that Sinatra doing movies or David Bowie dressing up is the equivalent of twitter posts….that argument is off the mark in my opinion. It was career growth for Sinatra and Bowie’s makeup and androgynous presentation was purely an outgrowth of his experimental artistic nature.

  23. Suzanne, the scenario you described is how it’s always been. Nothing has changed. It’s always been very hard to make a decent living as a musician, but people have tried it anyway. There have always been people who are driven to create art no matter what, just as there have always been people driven primarily by money.
    Even the band Nirvana slaved away in the underground for a couple of years in the late 80’s, touring the states with only a single and an album recorded for $600, not making a dime. They were nobodies. Not to mention the hundreds of other bands who were doing the same thing at the time. Of course, through hard work and some luck, Nirvana did end up breaking and became household names. 99% of the other bands didn’t.

  24. You know, most people work menial day jobs their whole lives. They start out flipping burgers for $4/hr as teenagers, and hopefully work their way to more decent jobs. That’s how it’s been for millions of people. You’re not going to win the lottery, and you can’t sit around moping because of it. You have to get off your butt and start flipping some burgers. That’s life. In the end, hopefully you’ll look back with satisfaction with what you accomplished with your career.
    Getting a major label record deal is like winning the lottery – it’s not going to happen. So why do some artists have this expectation? You can’t sit around moping because you don’t have a record deal. You have to get off your butt and head down to the dumpy bar and play for 4 people and hopefully work your way up to something more decent. That’s the life of a musician. In the end, hopefully you’ll look back with satisfaction with what you accomplished with your music.
    Not to mention that some of us find the lottery mindset (and the major label mindset) completely unethical. Bruce, I’m sure you can think of plenty of things you actually wouldn’t do to further your career.
    My gripe with Hypebot and so many other Music 2.0 blogs is they seem to be giving artists ridiculous tools to help them win the lottery. “Elvis, Bowie, and Sinatra all hit the jackpot – so do what they did!” And so artists burn through 500 scratch cards without winning.
    Get off Twitter, cancel the sales seminar, walk away from the movie set, stop with the hairspray and makeup. There are 4 people down at the corner bar waiting to get their minds blown.

  25. Yes, we are in agreement. What I see happening now is the “play music and get a label deal” fantasy is being replaced by the “do-it-yourself and make a living at this” fantasy.
    The implication, with all the social networking articles, is that if you put in the time with that, you’ll develop a sufficient fanbase to support yourself.
    Most bloggers never make any money from their blogs. It’s quite likely that most musicians won’t attract enough paying fans to make money. But as long as their expectations are realistic, it’s perfectly fine to play music and being online.
    And I think the fact that so many musicians have the tools to record music and upload it means that it will be that much harder to get the necessary attention among the flood of aspiring rockstars. But again, if your audience is primarily your friends, neighbors, and family, you should find playing music satisfying as a way to have some fun and connect with people.

  26. While I’ve been largely away from the “music market” for a few years now, I think you are dead on both counts, Daniel. Many musicians think that signing the deal is the finish line. In my limited experience, it was painful trying to represent artists with those expectations.
    However, most of the smaller indie labels I am familiar with took a similar attitude. They were not prepared to explain the “value add” for a band that was already producing decent sales and revenue. My favorite question was “if you want 4/5 of the net, tell me how we are going to sell 5 times as much!” Unfortunately that question usually ended the conversation.

  27. A Great original point, and a great discussion here, thanks everyone for their input.
    I’ve always mentioned that one of the pitfalls of artists being too involved in social media and online marketing is the risk that they become not so “rock n roll” and a bit more “tea and biscuits”. Sure, there is a balance into how much and what kind of information you share in order to connect with your fans, and with this balance, I don’t know many artists who don’t want to connect, establish and grow those relationships. If it means spending an hour a day online, or getting up an hour earlier to take hip-shaking lessons, most would be happy to do so.
    When we move onto bigger fan-bases, hiring an intern and getting fans to help out is the first port of call, but even then you should want to “check-in” with progress and you should be fed the key bits of information. A few personal replies will go a long way still.
    Beyond that, I believe we get into artist management territory, and designating more interns / marketing teams / PR people for much of the footwork. Managers (/Management companies) will still be an important player in the new emerging music industry, and they can essentially take the roles of the old record label and assign distributors, plan tours, design websites etc.
    It has always been about doing that little bit extra to support your music and give you an edge, not turning into a PR machine and forgetting to practice or record.
    Lee Jarvis.

  28. “building a career” is nonsense. I think its what we all want to believe can happen, but theres not exactly a precedent beyond a lucky few. I get that theres a good deal of leg work both real and virtual, but where do you draw the line? So I’m supposed to be my own publicist, manager, promotion department, web master, producer, engineer, tour manager, ect ect? These are unrealistic expections for anyone let alone creative types who are usualy less than “normal”. What is due diligence then? Whats enough?
    My guess is nothing, because it all seems based on luck anyhow.

  29. Ouch. This is very much the sort of conversation I’ve been seeking, about how to build music 2.0. The picture is grim, indeed, but I’m not an artist to make money; I don’t expect to be catered to, or even particularly well-clothed or fed. I’m an artist because I can’t help myself. If you’re an artist by choice, get out now, go to community college, get some training or you’ll end up making yourself miserable-which could lead to a good blues song, heh. What I do expect is that we’ll figure out how to turn the lights on, and use new technologies to streamline our efforts so that we’re not frittering and twittering away time that might be put to better use in making better art.

  30. From my point of view we need to frame this conversation with the background that many experts believe we’ve left the information age and moved into a “connected age”. The “Connected age” designates a societal shift from valuing information to valuing meaningful relationships, association and connectedness. If you are observing this shift, then my point of view might make sense to you:
    In our connected world, it’s no longer good enough to just have a great product. People want to know what you stand for, after all they are supporting the lifestyle and the vision of the artist though their financial contributions. In a connected world we’ve started to move past consuming: in that folks want to participate in the products and brands they get behind, they want to be in a relationship of authenticity with a brand, artist or an cause.
    For those with the courage to nurture authentic relationship with their fan base incredible things can happen and do happen. It’s those who aspire to use celebrity to enable the “one night stand” lifestyle that will get left out in the cold by a changing world. In this way I agree with Bruce, that the techniques artists must employ today to earn a living are not that far off what Aritst have had to for hundreds of years. Find their rabid fans, get to know what makes them tick, then tickle them pink! It’s interesting to distinguish that this conversation seems fitting for artists who have achieved a critical mass of awareness. It is unclear to me to what extent an emerging artist can employ these tools to achieve break though.
    Once break-though has been achieved, it would seem that social media is a great way to nurture authentic relationship with a fan base.
    I believe that the million dollar question is this: “How can a emerging artist achieve sufficient awareness to reach the mainstream market without the push of a record label or old school radio promotion?

  31. @ Jason:
    No, getting a major label deal is nothing like the lottery. Anybody can win a lottery with the first ticket they buy.You have to be good AND lucky to get a major label’s attention, and once you have that, you’ll still need to be good, preferably great, AND lucky (and stay that way for a long time) to have a career. There is one similarity, though; if you don’t buy a ticket, you’re not in the game.

  32. Well, to put it simply, they can’t. Amanda Palmer and Imogen Heap are exceptions, even Ani DiFranco would be a significantly wealthier artist, were she to have given up a little control earlier in her career, but Old Record Guy’s right; labels abdicated their responsibility when they became more about the money than the music. But if Alpert and Moss could build something great and artist-driven, it can be done again. People love music, music loves people back; there will be a music business of some kind. I think it’s great we have the opportunity to decide what kind.

  33. If you excel at the fan management business, if you know how to meet the psychological and community needs of your fans, you can offer them something online even if you don’t play music or play only marginal music.
    That’s what is at the core of this discussion. If you are an interesting, funny, empathetic, and/or insightful communicator, your fans may send you money or support you in some fashion for that reason alone. If you have already given your recorded music away, they don’t have to pay for that.
    If they want a relationship with you (and it can be because you look beautiful, or have a cool personality, or are famous), maybe they will pay for that.
    That’s what’s disturbing a lot of people. We’ve made music only one aspect of having an online relationship. If you are only a marginal musician but are a great online friend, you may end up with more fans that a great musician blows off his or her fans. It’s the same in sports. Sometimes athletes who are funny or good-looking end up with more friends/sponsors than those who win competitions but who are jerks or are uninteresting.

  34. I think this conversation is fascinating and one of the few that speaks to the core issues confronting musicians today. From my perspective EVERYONE is right and the energy we bring to the conversation says more about US than representing an objective reality. (Including kitashton, who, by the way was writing from a one-room log cabin in northern Idaho;-). It seems we can all agree that music as an avocation, profession or passion is changing and the important thing, I believe, is exactly these kind of discussions so that music professionals can share what is working for them and to what degree. The entire human race is undergoing the biggest change in our existence; The mega corps are ceding their place to the quantum corps whether we do it ourselves, or a manager or a smaller entity, but everything is smaller, more nuanced. And money, which is merely stored energy, will have an entirely different flow pattern. It may even look more like barter by the time we exchange “credits” for what we do and what we need. I appreciate all of the above contributions and this is a thread I will check frequently, in between writing songs and posting press releases on PR Web. lol

  35. “And money, which is merely stored energy, will have an entirely different flow pattern. It may even look more like barter by the time we exchange “credits” for what we do and what we need.”
    I’ve thought about the barter system as it applies to music. That’s how it used to be done. Have a group of traveling musicians who live on the road. No permanent residence, so no bills to pay. Then have them play at stops along the way in exchange for food, a place to stay, and enough money to get to the next stop.
    And perhaps a concert whenever the van needs fixing. It doesn’t cover medical expenses, but many musicians don’t have medical insurance anyway.

  36. persistance beats talent
    a mediocre artist with a 28 hr a day, 9 day a week drive to succeed will do more than an amazingly talented unbleivabubble band of the most amazing musicians ever to walk the planet (or hover slightly above it)
    365 gigs beats 25 (because the lead singers throat cant take it) any day.
    rock on
    Martin Atkins newark Airport

  37. nappyd said “It is unclear to me to what extent an emerging artist can employ these tools to achieve break though.”
    well, you have to use different tools right! – get out the frying pan and cook them an omellette……
    ok, i’ll get on my plane now

  38. At their core, Sinatra, Presley, Bowie and Travolta, were totally charismatic. Acting has defined Travolta completely and singing for him was a sideline. Singing great songs with voices of the ages completely defined Sinatra, Presley and Bowie. Acting was only a sideline. They were all great stage artists who knew how to connect with their fans in ways that today’s musicians can only dream of. It was this connection together with their great talent and the fact that they were slaves to their professions that made them what they were. Technology has leveled the music making playing field enabling almost anyone with a computer to create varying qualities of music. The Internet and social networks have enabled people to connect and communicate with great ease. However, neither technology nor the Internet can replace on any level the talent, drive, commitment and work ethic each of the above had which made them who they were long before any media ever enhanced their profiles.

  39. I can understand why musicians might be frustrated with all the advice.
    First they are told to write, record, and perform great music. An understandable place to start.
    And maybe they are also encouraged to tour and play various festivals/showcases that don’t pay any money, but are good exposure.
    Then they are told to give away their recorded music for free to gain fans. Not such a great scenario, but what are you going to do?
    Then they are told to blog, twitter, YouTube, and use multiple other forms of online communication to develop a relationship with their fans.
    I’m sure they will be told to do even more once the tools are available and it becomes the norm.
    That’s why I’ve been touting the joy of just making music that you want to make and not worrying about whether you can make a living from it. If the fans find you or if you enjoy seeking out fans, great. If not, you’ve at least created something that meant something to you.

  40. Hats off to everyone who’s making great comments on this post!
    What I agree from Bruce’s point of view is that it isn’t just about the music – it’s about the communication.
    I think that the modern aspect of using social media to reach your fan base is an extension of the music itself – a deeper exploration of the story.
    There are video games nowadays that have multiple episodes launched on multiple gaming platforms under the same franchise name. All this to provide the gamers with a rich experience and story universe.
    In music, I think that blogging, twittering, and other online social activities can be seen as building that universe – building a world for your story to really say what you need to say to your audience.
    I like it better this way actually. The song becomes the hook, and the story is the art.
    Of course this means that as musicians we need to produce good quality engaging music to communicate. I always say that being an artist isn’t only about self expression, it’s about finding a solution.

  41. Nice way to put it, Endy. I wish more musicians embraced the concept. I know too many who refuse to do more than the music itself. In some cases it’s that they feel they can’t express themselves in any other fashion, and in other cases they aren’t very interested in engaging their fans. I’ve even come to the conclusion that a number of musicians aren’t very social/communicative and they got into music to avoid other ways to interact with people.

  42. But whats a enough? at what point do you experience diminished returns?
    If i am what i do, at what point am i a marketing Rep instead of a musician?
    When I’m spending 99% of my time trying to get people to buy into what I’m doing and the other 1% making music?
    Yeah don’t wanna be marketing rep,sometimes obscurity seems more appealing than being a marketing rep.
    Initially i signed with a label to help take SOME of the burden off so I could focus more on MAKING stuff.
    Only to find myself STILL doing it all myself.
    Whats missing is facilitators.
    People who for some fair compensation take on some of the leg work.
    ARG its hopeless.

  43. To add to that, I think that we are seeing, or going to see, that successful DIY artists will have a certain earnestness that is evident in both the music and the online persona. Songs that not only create a genuine emotion for the fan, but that are transparently heartfelt when heard in the context of the artists’ portrait painted by blogging, youtube, etc. It sounds very singer-songwritery, but I don’t think it’s limited by genre — for example, my favorite hip-hop artist both rhymes and blogs about social and political issues; you listen to a track about poverty in the third world, and then you read his blog entry about working on building a school in Afghanistan. It’s all about both sides of the equation reinforcing each other, allowing the fan to really know the artist and what he’s about.

  44. I think Bruce has a right to his perspective. Hypebot is an industry blog- you come here if you want to read about the industry side of things. With that in mind, this blog is very oriented toward indie artists and full of valuable information. If you aren’t ready to market your music or if that isn’t your goal, this may not be the blog for you.
    I live in a one room artist studio in a warehouse. I hardly scrape by. So because I use the resources I have to make a living, I’m selling out? Hardly. I think many musicians who complain about ‘selling out’ have never tried making it with their music.
    Regardless of one’s attitude on musical ‘purity’ if Hypebot and its ilk can’t help you, you can’t be helped. I would take dance lessons, btw.

  45. Endy, Suzanne & Neil I think you are all tapping into the heart of the discussion that is still like a young plant that needs to be nurtured. Because when faced with the titanic of old advice from PR, Marketing, Management and Development gurus it is easy for a single musician who is trying to create community to get slammed to the deck. It seems to me that Hypebot has partially created a kind of greenhouse where a few can discuss ways in which musicians can develop tools for authentic and personal interaction with their audience.

  46. It is not hopeless. It is a matter of balance. There are no formulas– we are the Oetzi’s of the music business now. So every day might be a different balance of creative music making vs. creating community. Finding veins of like minds like this one will help us create a river. I have used tools that are more consistent with DIY and energy efficiency like: iWeb,CD Baby, Discmakers, SonicBids, Jango Radio, PR Web, Newsvine and Google. (In addition to A&R type coaches for songwriting/singing/guitar and performance.) It helps me to think as if I were Pete Seeger with computer skills. I have learned to develop and sense of which tools are DIY friendly and useful. It may not be a living yet but I have a sense that the energy I am putting out is creating an entity with some integrity and authenticity. Just keep on keeping on.

  47. I agree with the general idea of artists as a sort of “business mind” as well as making music, but I dont share the opinion that “it has always been like that” If you look back at bands such as Led Zeppelin back in the 70’s when the record industry started to realize how much money they could make out of one single album, the band was literally doing nothing but to write the music and get absolutely smashed on tour. The record label & management would always do the business work and will let the band be happy living in that unreal illusion while the bucks were going inside the executives pockets.
    Now it has changed to the band being obliged to do everything themselves to call the attention. However, that chased record deal is only dependent on what the artist really wants to achieve, it is just a matter of expectations and goals. Is it fame, recognition, VIP parties or just the possibility of leaving your full time job that is making you start a musical career?
    If you as a musician aim to answer that question, you will know exactly what way you want to make it.

  48. Hey old record guy.. Maybe it’s you. Maybe you should
    be the one to start this new company / label .
    It def sounds like you have the know how and
    that you would be the type of person who actually
    cares about and believes in the music. I would love
    to see a” new ” way of managing and promoting the artist,
    that’s genuine. You (as opposed to so many others who
    make it all sound sooooo complicated) , get it. You just get it.
    Thanks for your post and…. You should consider starting a revolution
    of the music biZ!

    I am THAT artist, the one whose time is cruelly siphoned away daily to a staggering array of marketing tasks, because in order to hope to get a fair piece of this industry and hope to survive (I’m still penniless living on fumes), I have no choice.
    I did pay a king’s / queen’s ransom to a promo company recently to run a campaign for my video until mid-December. They know how to do that, I don’t, and seriously, it isn’t fair that I am expected somehow to be my own: marketer, image consultant, webmaster, web presence manager, blogger, fitness trainer, agent, manager, business affairs manager (I need to be highly knowledgeable on topics of national and international music licensing), promoter, oh, and by the way, still write and produce great music that really competes with “the big boys”…. The list never ends, and I am exhausted. I would also like to add that it did not used to be that an artist was REQUIRED to also write ALL of their own material. It used to be enough and highly valued that an artist had the gift of great interpretation. I do have that, but everyone wants to know if I wrote the song. I have written (and continue to do so), and the songs are good, but it’s a gruelling task to HAVE to come up with a hit all of the time.
    I have alot to offer the music world, I do believe that what I have to give is extraordinary, I’m not just some delusional kid in a corner, but this job that’s been dumped in my lap is too much to handle, and I’m only human.
    I hope that by my continued efforts, I’ll be lucky enough to not run out of gas and just disappear before the “miracle” happens.
    Then maybe I can have a moment to breathe.

  50. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Fame and fortune are (or should be) a byproduct. People interested in financial security should train to become accountants or lawyers. Making, playing writing and recording music should be a labour of love and putting in the hours to spread it around should be as well. If you are lucky enough to make a decent living along the way you should consider that a bonus.

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