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.