Marketing

Alex Day & The Future Of The Music Industry

Alex-dayYouTube star Alex Day is back in the news with the simultaneous release of three singles. Day initially drew attention on YouTube with a variety of entertaining videos that allowed him to get his music in front of lots of folks and subsequently sell quite a bit, reaching #4 on the UK's top singles chart. When I wrote about his achievements late last year I referred to him as unsigned but after speaking with him this week, I realized he is one of those artists who has chosen to sign himself.


When I spoke with Alex Day, I was interested in finding out more about what he's doing and why. Yes, he's posted impressive stats and that's what's validated his perspective but we didn't talk numbers. Instead we discussed his approach to navigating his way into a music career from the perspective of someone who views industry norms with a webcentric perspective.

Silver Surfer Summer Songs

Day contacted me recently to let me know Ryan Holiday had written not just one but two posts about Day's approach in the wake of his release of three singles:

Is YouTube and Chart Sensation Alex Day the Future of Music?

Tracking Indie Musician Alex Day's Next Big Move

They're both good pieces but I have to admit I kind of bristled at this claim in the second post:

"Where is the music press on all this? Sleeping of course."

But even though I did write about Day, I have to admit I can't recall seeing much coverage in the States though he has made Billboard chart news. But here's the thing, Day doesn't do normal industry pr and I bet there's no industry writer that would really buy into his happy, poppy music so I doubt any writer at a major industry outlet has been following his activities very closely. No disrespect but that's real.

Day also suffered a bit of a pr mishap with music outlets in the States. Day sent an email to a list of 2000 to let folks know what he was doing and mentioned that he was wanting to get some attention from various State-side outlets like Hypebot, Lefsetz and Pitchfork. He says he was hoping that some of his fans and friends might have contacts to put in a good word but instead they sprung into action and began bombarding the above outlets with email.

Day wants folks in the industry to know he didn't mean to have his supporters spam them. That's cool but you can see how the lack of doing more typical approaches to press contact combined with overenthusiastic fans contacting outlets that mostly wouldn't cover him anyway (Lefsetz & Pitchfork? no) would lead to non-attention.

And that's where I started our conversation. I know reporters typically save the difficult questions for last but I decided we needed to clear the air and I found Day's response as convincing and sincere as I do his work. It's not my kind of thing but that's not really important. What's important is that he's finding his own alternative to traditional industry approaches and that's what we discussed.

Alex Day – Good Morning Sunshine

Yesterday Day dropped the above video for Good Morning Sunshine, one of his three singles released earlier this month. I watched it just before speaking with him by phone and assumed it was a bunch of his friends. As it turns out, they are his friends but they're also other YouTube stars that would be recognized by his fanbase. It's also a good representation of his pop aesthetic and happy, positive approach to life, at least in his public presentation.

Day said he decided to release the singles as a batch because he wanted to do things differently from both the industry but also from how he's done things in the past. His release of the single Forever Yours in late 2011 focused on leveraging his fanbase and media attention to get the single to #1. He made #4 partly with a simple trick. He released multiple remixes of his single all of which counted towards his sales.

This spring he released another single, Lady Godiva, which did quite well. He didn't do the remixes this time but did manage physical distribution in the UK due to a young fan who convinced his dad to give Day a try.

For his next singles, Day decided to release them in a batch and numbers are looking good there as well. Along the way he talked to the Lady Godiva distributor about his plans which kind of boggled the man's mind. Day explained that there was no lead single and that he wouldn't be working it to radio. They apparently left it at that but the relationship stands.

This time around he says he's not even concerned with the charts because nobody really cares. Obviously that's not entirely true, especially given that he does want media coverage and that much of his media coverage in industry outlets has been focused on or validated by his chart positions. And that's where things get even more interesting.

Day is clearly working from the perspective of someone that is outside of the old industry but helping create the new music industry. Yet he does want ties to the old industry and sees value in those relationships. He just doesn't want to give up creative control or change what he's doing to get additional support.

I immediately thought of Odd Future's approach and suggested he check them out. Though the aesthetics are seemingly at opposite ends of a musical spectrum, the business side of things seems quite similar. For example, they turned down magazine covers if they didn't read the magazines. And they've become successes by doing things their own way while building a strong fanbase via the web.

But Odd Future was also sought out by industry figures such as Christian Clancy who recognized that their approach simply needed more support and an understanding of available options. Clancy saw that Odd Future was about a new way of doing things and he was able to work with them by honoring and building on that. Clancy's not the only industry figure involved but I think it's clear that Alex Day needs to find his Christian Clancy to realize his goals.

Day claimed his biggest goal is not to be famous but to have his music well known. He says he wants to be able to ask random strangers if they know him or his music and would be quite happy to discover that they didn't know who Alex Day was but loved that song, Good Morning Sunshine, they'd been hearing everywhere.

Day also says he isn't driven by money but then again he's also making a living at this point from his music. Which is good because Day says he's really not that interested in touring. Day claims it's because it seems somewhat unfair to perform in one place when folks in another can't see him. But he also expressed his desire to do different things and the grind of touring doesn't really appeal to him though he would consider a major world tour at some future date.

Day also isn't really interested in crowdfunding though he does respect the accomplishments of individuals such as Amanda Palmer. He says his basic approach is to make it possible for his fans to preview his music and then, if they really like it, to buy it. He doesn't want people buying his music just because they like him. Doing a Kickstarter campaign puts him in the position of having to create after getting paid. For some this position is a luxury but when you can sell music, you can take such stances.

Last but not least, Day doesn't like using the term fans. To a large degree, it's reflective of the egalitarian position he takes on his work and his relationship to others. He feels that calling his listeners and supporters fans assumes that he's in a position of superiority rather than an equal who's making music that they like. Also, at the end of the day, just because somebody bought a single doesn't truly make them a fan and he seemed to feel that it was somewhat dishonest to label someone a fan who may not really hold that status.

I hope these points from my discussion with Alex Day give readers a sense of where he's coming from and how that relates to emergent approaches to the music biz. If you want to know more, he has a quite detailed Wikipedia page courtesy of some of his enthusiastic fans.

You can also check out his website, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts depending on your preference.

Back to Ryan Holiday's question, Is YouTube and Chart Sensation Alex Day the Future of Music?, I would have to say no. Instead, I think Alex Day is very much situated in the chaos of the music industry's present and, along with a heck of a lot of other people, is helping build that future.

Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (@fluxresearch) blogs about business at Flux Research: Business Changes and about dance at All World Dance: News. To suggest topics for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.

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12 Comments

  1. Just wanted to say thankyou, this has been really useful to my assignment. Its interesting to consider how he views his supporters. Many articles don’t touch on details like this, but it is important. It might be possible to consider Imogen Heaps relationship with her fans is very much similar. this got me thinking: Are artists more successful online if they communicate personally with their fans, without adopting a position of superiority (in the words of Alex)? Debate?

  2. Sorry to nitpick, but the Lady Godiva single did in fact have remixes made for it, several of which I have on my iPod! Otherwise, a really great article about a nice guy making his life and career happen the way he wants to.

  3. Actually that’s a good point to make. There are some other things one could pick at as well but it seemed to me to be more about how the artist was thinking about his process than whether or not every detail mirrored his thinking.
    But to actually take the information and make something happen, it is good to nitpick. There are way too many people making business decisions based on stuff they’ve read that was essentially media spin.

  4. Seriously, the consumer does not care about the charts. No one looks at itunes top 25 and buys them based on that. it’s only companies who think the charts have an effect that care about the charts. Alex is transcending the usual mediums which result in less control and less money for the artist, and instead doing things his own way without the help of companies. Companies are obsolete in the face of the internet, in which people can become famous all by themselves.

  5. Dear Mr Smith,
    I am a silver surfer and an Alex Day youtube subscriber. I read your article because Alex was clearly pleased with it and has “linked” to it from his free music site.I hated it. The tone was patronizing and referring to Alex as “Day” was downright rude. Anyone who matured in the 60s can understand Alex’s attitudes and ethos perfectly, and so apparently can a whole new generation. I shall continue to enjoy and buy most of Alex’s songs and to follow the snippets of his life on youtube. I doubt I’ll read you again. Your articles would be better if tried sounding less of a stuffed shirt, and having a bi less Ned’s Faith. regards, anne at the pigs

  6. I really enjoyed your article because you’re clearly trying to understand Alex’s approach to the music industry. You’re thinking about what he’s trying to do and succeeding. I found this really interesting to considering you’re not a ‘fan’ of Alex.
    However, I also think you’re incorrect in your assumption that the charts matter. In my experience the only effect the charts have on a single is whether or not it gets much play on the radio which would widen the number of people listening to the artist and hence, the number of sales. Alex claims he’s earning enough to live off his music and he also gains subscribers (and therefore people who listen to his music) daily so his music is clearly spreading without the charts. And really… who actually listens to the radio these days? The only time I ever listen to it is when I’m driving and my iPod has run out of battery… I believe this is not an unusual situation!

  7. Glad you enjoyed it. I’m a business writer so my personal taste in music is beside the point. If I just wrote about bands I like I would run out of business topics pretty quickly!
    Even though the radio business is going through difficult transitions like all legacy media, the most recent numbers I saw showed that huge amounts of people still listen to terrestrial radio and discover music that way.
    I think the charts are a big marketing issue and validation for artists. Doing well in the charts gets you lots of media coverage. Much of Alex Day’s media coverage came about because he charted. And artists need media to grow their audience.
    All you have to do is look at the comments on this post I did this week on Ginger Wildheart charting off fanfunded presales:
    https://www.hypebot.com/hypebot/2012/07/did-ginger-wildheart-cheat-by-charting-off-crowdfunded-presales.html
    People take that stuff seriously. In fact, Wildheart took it so seriously that even though my post was incredibly supportive, he viciously attacked over the headline which was an open-ended question inspired by an article on Billboard.biz.
    https://twitter.com/fluxresearch/status/222486214509477889/photo/1
    But I don’t listen to radio and I don’t pay attention to the charts unless I hear through media coverage that something out of the ordinary happened like Wildheart getting in the top 40 on the UK album chart via crowdfunding presales. It was a great accomplishment and I’m sorry he couldn’t simply appreciate my support.

  8. haha. I’d like to see a link to your statistics that radio is still prominent outside of small local community radio.
    I’m studying journalism, and there’s less hope for radio surviving in its current format than print journalism. Nearly every major radio station offers a podcast for its shows.
    While you took a unique spin on Alex Day’s foray into the world of music, your article falls short on the assumption that the current generation dictates the future. That’s far from over because the upcoming generation will never allow that kind of control.
    We live on the internet where next to all of our music is discovered through self-discovery, relation to another artist we like, or through our communities. And our communities exist globally on the internet. And nearly all of that music exists on the internet for us to listen to at will.
    Alex Day recognizes that the future of music is online communities for marketing and selling your music. Fans, Listeners, and Artists all exist within the same space, there’s no need for the middlemen anymore.
    You’re right in saying that the charts are the only way to get media attention. But that shouldn’t be, and as a journalism student, I’d say from what I’ve learned that the next generation of journalists will probably adapt and change to this new face of music. Because the charts died when MTV stopped playing music.

  9. You’ve jumped to a lot of conclusions and outright falsified some of my statements.
    If you’re hoping to be a journalist, you need to learn to read more accurately and consider removing the chip from your shoulder.
    Only example I’m going to take the time to give you:
    “You’re right in saying that the charts are the only way to get media attention.”
    I didn’t say that. I said:
    “Doing well in the charts gets you lots of media coverage.”
    It’s certainly not the only way. I write about all sorts of other ways.
    Good luck and try to take your work more seriously than you do yourself and maybe someday you’ll amount to something.

  10. Tough love, baby.
    If you’re going to tell me you’re training to be a journalist and then immediately misrepresent my words, you need a bit of a slap.
    Interpretation is one thing. Poor reading comprehension is quite another and that’s what we’re seeing in this case.
    Plus some generalizations about her generation that are only partially true.
    I let a lot of weak ass nonsense slide but sometimes you have to draw the line.

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