It used to cost a lot of money to record and promote new music. Artists struggled like hell to find a patron to support them (i.e. a label). Everything was controlled and only a few artists became stars. That was the major label system. Most artists learned quickly when the recording advance money ran out that they needed other sources of income like performing, songwriting and the sales of merchandise to survive. The new artist model says anybody can make and distribute a recording. It is much less expensive to make a record today and recorded music is only going to become less valuable to everyone over time. The real hard part is promotion. The true nemesis of the artist is obscurity. There is a glut of music out there and the situation is only going to get worse. This is the reality of the future of music, abundance and saturation.
Record companies alone cannot afford to invest in the future of artists. They are like the Detroit auto makers of the mid 1980’s. The business model that drove the music industry for the last 70 years is almost dead. Unfortunately, the economics of today’s popular digital music splits (iTunes) do not make any sense for artists. Why make $0.06 off an iTunes download, when you can make $0.80 doing it yourself? If you don’t own your masters then you have nothing.
Personal connection with a fan base is the hallmark of the masterful entertainer. Truly great artists engage their audience while playing shows by working the room. Today artists can establish meaningful virtual relationships directly with their audience by building an online fan base and answering online posts and comments and taking the time to interact with their fans. The reach of a live show can be magnified with the orbit and power of a networked online community. To be sure, it is a lot of work to monitor the boards and keep up with the postings, but it is a lot easier than touring 250 nights a year, and the payoff can be massive.
This is just like employing street teams to build buzz and selling CDs out of the back of the tour van, both of which are proven tactics to build audience and create direct relationships between artists and fans. Only now the street teams are virtual and the van is open for business in every city across the globe all the time. The name of the game for bands is to know who your audience is and what they like and where they are coming from. You cater to that and you might just have a chance at a career in the new music economy.
Artists, songwriters and producers of the future need to find ways to break through the noise and stand out without significant recording revenue. That model is no longer going to work. Artists of the future are going to need musician businesses built around them that attract audience without relying on recordings to finance the machine. We have already seen how this is possible today, and it is going to become more commonplace over time.
The recording has lost much of its perceived value and musicians are going to have to struggle with that new reality. Sales of records and CDs will never again be the cash cow the major labels got fat and happy on. But recorded music can play a major part in the promotional strategy of new musician businesses and even make some money.
The future of music distribution is going to be mobile and oriented toward mobile devices. Think Nokia. The culture of payment that exists in the mobile space will support transactional and subscription models for music that will capture people’s attention. It is going to become more about having access to music than actually owning it.
Sales of CDs are falling off a cliff as people find it easier and easier to get music digitally. The value of recorded music is plummeting and not even Apple can make money off of it. About iTunes, Steve Jobs says “Most of the money goes to the music companies, we would like to break even/make a little bit of money but it’s not a money maker.” It has just kept Apple out of court with the labels.
The packaging and sales of recorded music is being ripped apart with full albums and CDs being cannibalized by the new digital single track downloads. New bands are going to have to try new formats for recorded music to extract any real recording related profits in the future.
The broadband Internet, 3G mobile phones and MP3 players have fundamentally shifted the balance of power in the music industry forever, especially for the young. Owning CDs is so last century.
The big money for artists has always come from live performance, sales of merchandise, DVDs, personal appearances, publishing and alternative revenue streams – all promoted and supported by the free and nearly free distribution of recorded music. Live performances and t-shirts cannot be digitized at least at the moment, and the experience of being at a live event is going to have to get more appealing, for many bands to survive in the coming years.
New Artist Model
In reality, this is the way is has been for most artists for the past 50 years. Only now the tide has turned, and the shifting sands of the music business will form around an entirely new promotional model that puts we, the music fans, at the very center of the circle. It’s going to be entertaining to be sure.