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“Artists Are Still Afraid Of New Technology,” Says Kevin Breuner of CD Baby. Interview Part One.

Capture5555 Recently, I spoke with Kevin Breuner, who is the Marketing Project Manager at CD Baby and host of the DIY Musician Podcast. In the first part of this interview, Breuner talks about the two main shifts that make online possible for artists, why it’s often erroneously stated how technology savvy most artists are, and gives his perspective on the digital dilemma in music.

Why must artists not just be artists—aloof and solely creative nature? Why must they embrace not only new technologies, but the techniques of online promotion and participation that go along with them?

Kevin Breuner: There are two main shifts in the industry that I think makes the online promotion a must for those who want to pursue music on a professional level.  1. Technology has killed the gatekeepers and now allows anyone to make a decent sounding album for relatively little money.  The result has been more recorded music than the fan community knows what to do with (or can support financially).  It’s overwhelming.  Music fans are inundated with music everywhere they go and it all just starts to run together.  Most of it is of decent quality, and it’s harder to make that true connection with the fan just based on the music existing.  There needs to be more for the fan to grab onto. 

"My personal estimation is that music fans
like more artists and bands than they did in
the past, but they like them less." 

Meaning a music fan used to really follow 5-6 bands that they absolutely loved, but now the average fan has enormous catalogs of music that they can’t possibly love with as much enthusiasm.  2. The internet has changed the way the fan community consumes entertainment.  The idea of releasing a new album every 2-3 years with no content in between seems totally ridiculous.  If a band is not generating content online (blog post, social media updates, photos, videos), it’s often assumed that they broke up or are no longer making music.  At very least, with no online presence, an artist’s fan base will begin to look other places for that same musical experience.

Bylin: It's been said that any artist worth their salt will already be using new technologies—on many levels. In Clay Shirky's latest book Cognitive Surplus, he urges companies and consumers to stop clinging to old models and embrace what he characterizes as "As Much Chaos as We Can Stand" in adopting new Web technologies. In respect to artists, they should  try anything they like with new technology, without regard for existing cultural or social norms, like artists should just be artists, or potential damage to current social institutions, like record labels.

Does the concept of artists needing to embrace "As Much Chaos as We Can Stand" in adopting new Web technologies ring true to you? Why must they try anything they like with new technology?

Breuner: I think that it’s often erroneously assumed that musicians and artists are on the cutting edge of the web.  I think this assumption is due to the fact that music has become such an important part to marketing, TV, film and just about anything with Pop culture significance.  Some artists are very web savvy (OK Go comes to mind), but many of them are not.  Just because an artist like Arcade Fire releases some very innovative music videos doesn’t mean the band knew anything about how those were created.  It was probably some marketing persons idea. 

"A band like Arcade Fire can pay
for someone to innovate on their behalf,"

but for many artists, it’s not a matter of whether or not they want to innovate with new web technologies, it’s a situation where they don’t know where to begin with new web technology and they don’t have the money pay someone to do it.   Other artists just don’t know where the web is going; they just see where things are.  The other issue is time.  There is only so much time the average artist can give to efforts outside of music creation.  There is a growing class of musicians who are really online marketers who play music, as opposed to musicians who use the web for promotion.  One is most likely advancing the creative arts.  The other is learning a lot about marketing and the web.

Bylin: Across generations and backgrounds, many artists have different perceptions of new Web technology and how they integrate it into their careers.

How do you think that artists tend to differ in their attitudes towards technology, new and older acts, and why is there such reluctance to allow them to redefine reshape the interactions they have with their fans—to, in a much larger sense, actually redefine their functions as cultural creators in society?

Breuner: I’m always surprised to see how many artists are still afraid of new technology.  Especially when it comes to file sharing and people stealing music.  I hear about it more from the older crowd, but there are plenty of younger artist who are concerned about it as well.  The main issue is that just like the big industry, they see the loss of control.  I think it’s just going to take the passing of time until for most artists, the new way is the way it’s always been.

Bylin: "For every institution that failed, for every business model that outlived its usefulness, new and better ones rushed in the fill the void," Florida writes in The Great Reset. "Past periods of crisis eventually gave rise to new epochs of great ingenuity and inventiveness." He argues that, that crises—perhaps ones much like the record industries'—"are the times when new technologies and new business models were forged, and they were also the eras that ushered in new economic and social models and new ways of living and working."

How will new ways of working and living, and new ways of organizing the record and music industries, help drive post-crash prosperity, and provide a foundation for growth and recovery?

Breuner: To me, this is the digital dilemma that we’re in for the music.  There are amazing ways to get music directly to fans, but for many of the artists I talk to, they aren’t necessarily adding up to as much as the hype about direct to fan would lead you to believe.  The profit margins in the digital world are much smaller.  Not to mention that now an artist has to be a musician, a marketer, and a retailer.  All three very different things.  I know the direct to fan idea has been around a while, but I think we’re just seeing the beginnings of that idea working for the average artist. 

"To me, the biggest issue that is almost always overlooked when talking about new music business models is whether or not the music consumer will actually want to buy music that way. "

I’ve seen many companies try new things by assuming that if they get the artists excited, the fans will automatically embrace it.  It doesn’t work that way. So for starters, it’s a process of retraining music fans that if you want to get an artist’s music, you go directly to them.  More and more former major label artists are going direct to fan, so I think that part is happening naturally.  After that, the artist community will have to learn how to create a good customer experience on their own site.  This is the biggest challenge and pitfall in my mind of the direct to fan relationship.  It’s easy for an artist (who aren’t known for organizational skills) to really screw up a fan relationship by not fulfilling orders and leaving them with a bad customer experience.

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11 Comments

  1. I think Breuner has hit the nail on the head. Connection with the audience, good songs AND and internet presence are all necessary. Business sense to recognize the difference between assets and cash flow is also helpful. After successfully using DiscMakers/CD Baby/Apple iTunes for exposure I have found that iWeb, Jango Radio, and LicenseQuote seem to be very user friendly, useful and economical tools. This article is a good thought provoker for independent musicians.

  2. more bullshit. never have i read so many words that said absolutely nothing. cdbaby, like tunecore, et al, make money off of as many AMATEURS and hobbyists it can. they LOVE the fact that the “gatekeepers” are gone cuz it means more no-hopers will use their services in a misbegotten belief that they will “get somewhere.” i cannot understand why you would give this guy a forum and act like he’s some dispassionate analyst of the digital music landscape. clearly you see the conflict of interest here, right?

  3. I would hate to live in that cynical of a world. I'm sorry, but I think Kevin had some very interesting things to say. Moreover, I think your comments are completely off base. I'm really doubting the existence of the evil plans you speak of.

  4. So true, It’s not enough to make great music. You have to wear so many hats. Which is why I am glad Kevin and CD baby bring me industry information through the podcast and easy access to the distribution channels for my music.
    http:\\www.ronnierecords.com

  5. @kyle
    so, it’s not in cdbaby interest to ENCOURAGE people to DIY? really? so sorry! i have fundamentally misread cdbabay then! my apologies! clearly they are a dispassionate voice on digital music and such.
    give me a fuckin’ break…
    if you cannot see the FUNDAMENTAL conflict-of-interest here, i really have to question your level of sanity. seriously. sure, kevin might “had some very interesting things to say” as you put it but it is COMPLETELY self-serving!! don’t you see how that mitigates if not completely invalidates his perspective?? come on! you cannot be this naive. i mean, i knew you digital utopians were naive but even i had no idea it was to this level!
    you would better serve your blog readers by posting some honest-to-god different perspectives on music in the digital realm instead of the same old utopians and hucksters you have on here constantly. you could do with more than a little CYNICISM, my friend…it would be good for you…

  6. Jesus, dude. Smoke a bowl or something and chill out.
    If you don’t like what you’re reading on Hypebot then:
    a)Make your own blog site that has the content you want to see
    b)Shoot an e-mail to Hypebot with some peeps you would like to see interviewed
    c)Go somewhere else

  7. I’m about to release my 5th LP on CDbaby. It’s the third self-release. I also put out two LPs on Portland label Tender Loving Empire–releases that had budgets for both college radio and PR campaigns. I’ve been thinking about these issues A LOT, because my goal with this release is to spend NO money and see what happens. It’s an experiment, of sorts.
    As an artist, I think “we” are naive about the internet and how music listeners interact with it. Here are few thoughts to that end:
    People don’t like or dislike art in a vacuum, but rather how it relates to them culturally. IE–you can’t just send a music reviewer a link to your album and expect them to listen and get a reaction. They need a cultural perspective. “How does this fit into the universe and why should I care about it?” Music writers don’t write about music–they write about the culture of music.
    Likewise, you can’t just link *most* people your album and expect them to have the proper context to delve into it. They need a place to store it. “How does this relate to me? Who likes this and what are they like? What is this artist like and how does their overall image fit into my tastes?”
    Technology has made it possible to give everyone all of the art in the world. But that’s not good enough, because people aren’t robots, engaging art on a purely mathematical level.
    In conclusion: The internet is a great tool. People need more though.

  8. kassin,
    I had a nice response all ready, but I decided not to post. Your angry, blathering tone completely invalidates your perspective, in my book, and my time would be better spent talking to someone else.

  9. Thanks for the great article. As someone who has worked mostly full-time in the music business since 1996 (promotions, marketing, reviewing), I have to agree with much of what Kevin said. As a reviewer for QRO Magazine, I am inundated with new music constantly. It actually is a bit overwhelming some days. There is not much time for me to really enjoy new music from artists I enjoy because each day brings more new music. Don’t get me wrong though. I’m not complaining. I love hearing new artists. But today, for me, the music has to grab me immediately or it gets deleted. That’s just the way it goes. For the most part, I will not review anything that doesn’t excite me (unless I’m asked to from my editor).
    This a great time to be an artist, but you have to work harder if you want an audience. Be savvy. Ask questions. Ask for help. Stay in touch with your fans, but don’t go overboard and bug them. They will unsubscribe and move on. There are a lot of options for fans out there. They do not have the same relationship with artists as they did in the past (generally speaking. Some fans are still “fanatics”). Engage your audience. Don’t be afraid of piracy. Give some music away. It just like a relationship. cultivate is or they will stray.
    There’s many other points to be made but I’ll wait until Part Two of this.

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