Friday, April 24, 2015

Digital Downloads: Does the Future of Buying Music Rely Heavily on an Impulse Buy?

With digital music sales holding 46% share of all music sold in 2014. We have to wonder: Is the future of music sales banking on impulse buying?

Mobile phones, iPods, iPads and other mobile devices have revolutionized both the way we consume music and, in turn, the way that we purchase music.

The process of idenfying your next music purchase has changed so dramatically over the past decade that it is practically not comparable to the process that exists today. And yes, this is thanks to mobile phones, iPods, iPads and the like.

The age old process of hearing your favorite tune on the radio or live at a concert and memorizing a lyric or the bands crazy name and hoping you can store it long enough in your short term memory for that weekly trip to Best Buy days later has now been replaced with music identification apps, online streaming sites, on the spot lyric searches and more. These resources not only tell you who the artist is but they often allow you to instantly download the song and syndicate it to every device you own for future listening.

In comparison:

Sure, we've all done it - Went to your local Target for a couple things and left with 8 additional random items that enticed us on the spot while shopping, so we added them to our cart. You know, an impulse buy. An item we may never use, or barely remember wanting that badly because our decision was made within seconds - throwing product research and caution to the wind. This setup was no accident. This store setup was built just for you - the less cautious buyer with disposable income.

The process of purchasing music - through mobile technology - has become a bevy of impulse purchases based on convenience. - And Is it a problem?

Perhaps, not. After all, the artist just sold a copy of their song to you within minutes benefitting their and the labels bottom line. Selling music is the goal right? Mission completed. And it is perhaps a purchase the listener may have never made had they not had the resources available to them to make it so quickly. Maybe the listener would have had to hear the song and the artists name 5 or more times before their name or their song was memorable and loveable enough to get the listener to head off to the store and make a physical purchase. Maybe.

But what about that retail scenario from earlier? Does the process of impulse buying random music instantly take the passion, research, and love out of owning or being prideful of your music collection? Sure the marketing of yesteryear is gone, but back in the day I had pretty much fallen in love with every aspect of an artist or song before finally buying their full album. And once I owned it, I was proud. Regardless, Instead of forcing a listener to do the research and put forth a reasonable amount of effort to attain new music, does the song and the artist just become something they bought in passing? Something that heads to the shuffled playlist of thousands of songs on iTunes and is inevitably neglected? Just like that magic mop you bought on an endcap at Target that's still in the package at the back of your attic. Can you name the brand? Have you ever bought their products again?

Maybe, within this argument, it makes sense to note that the argument of many of the artists that were at first adverse to selling songs INDIVIDUALLY on iTunes, was that they believed each album was a COMPLETE piece of art and that splitting it into 12 pieces cheapens the whole.

Name the last five digital downloads you've made off the top of your head? If you know what they were, what do you know about the artists you purchased from, or the album the single is a part of? While technology makes attaining music more convenient it may cheapen the traditional artform of creating an album. Does impulse buying simply build and support downright sales or the artform of creating music? Maybe that's an argument for another day.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Major Media Role Confusion: Playing it Safe Hurts Artists

First a simple equation/Flow Chart:

Unique and compelling content creates ratings
Ratings lead to advertising buys
Advertising creates revenue

This is the business model certainly of radio broadcasting and for the most part television.

For the longest time both radio and television have been where consumers look to find new artists. MTV leading the way within TV and radio stations across the country exposing their regional audiences to new artists everyday. Sure the buzz within the music industry and even amongst fans is "I hear the same artists on the radio over and over... even on "variety" stations. So why/when did this happen? How is it hurting the growing artist and how is it hurting the public?

Sure. Not all that long ago you could flip to MTV and see music videos - A LOT of them. Especially at night. In addition to that, there were numerous countdowns that left room for multiple genres and tons of NEW artists. This was the same with radio - in the 90's it wasn't uncommon on Top 40 Radio to hear Dave Matthews "Crash" right after a Ja Rule song. Or Limp Bizkit's "Rollin'" right behind Vanessa Carlton's "1000 Miles." Variety stations were blasting familiar 80's songs and taking chances on new 90's artists.


Advertising revenue dwindled..
Especially in radio

And going back to the business model for mass media - like any business would - they started to be conservative with their content. Stick to the most popular of, well, anything. Only the biggest artists. By sticking with the most popular artists and cycling them as often as possible it could conserve ratings, which in turn create and sustain advertising revenue -but for how long?- What's immediately wrong with this picture? Besides the moral dilemma of not utilizing their access to a large audience to expose the latest and greatest content even when it's not the most popular artist- thus building the industry they are in the business of supporting? - The major problem is that diluting content causes audiences to no longer trust you in bringing them the latest and greatest music.. and they tune out or they look to new sources to find what they are looking for.. IE the Internet.

Here's the new model:

Identify the most popular artists/songs (In essence utilize content from other sources rather than BE the source)
Sustain ratings through PPM systems (15 minutes at a time) by recycling content
Sell advertising based on these ratings

And we wonder why revenues are dwindling?

The funny thing is that nothing has changed. All major mediums require the channel/station/website to create compelling content. What is the most compelling content? ORIGINAL content. The role confusion comes in when TV and radio believes that this is not what drives in new and loyal audiences just as it always has. The role of the medium is to identify this content. Tying this back into music - This means it is still the role of the major medium to offer up new artists to their audiences and continue to feed a music industry that is no longer getting any love.

Playing it safe becomes a slippery slope that has only gotten more slippery over the past 10 years. And maybe I am naive, but I am still waiting for the day when content again becomes king. A victory day for artists.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Singing Competitions: PR on a Platter for Record Labels

June 1999 - Inception of Napster and online guerrilla music promotion
June 11th, 2002 - The inception of American Idol
August 2002 - The inception of MySpace
February 14th, 2005 - The inception of YouTube

This is perhaps the day that the music industry found their new calling. They found the answer to the answer less questions.  How do we stay afloat in an industry that has flipped on its belly since the inception of Napster. Music being stolen = Labels not making any money. Labels not making any money = no longer taking chances on new artist because they can't afford to market and promote their records to only have them stolen OR even worse have the power of Napster and single song downloads steal the smoke in mirrors power of what a WHOLE album would or could sound like. Leading a listener to decide they don't like the artist far before they buy the album or come to a show.

So, what happened:

Labels drew back funds on Marketing and Promotion for artists that weren't already famous or proven to create powerful sales numbers started to only invest in new artists if they were a sure thing.  If they had already put in the legwork.

What is Legwork:

Legwork is slang in terms of music for doing your own Marketing and PR. Building a perception for your music and for your image as a musician. Legwork was the MAIN job of any record label from their inception up until very recently. American audiences often do not build their own perceptions of musicians and artists or much of anything for that matter.  This is often done through advertising and promotion.  Because there are SO many great musicians and singers their job is to pick one and sink millions of dollars into building an audience perception of the artists talent and their personality.  This connection leads to a major return in dollars.  ONLY if people are buying records.

Whats Guerrilla Marketing?

The most powerful form of promotion is guerrilla marketing and word of mouth advertising.  Building a perception that doesn't appear to be through traditional means.

In steps the power of MySpace (back then) YouTube, and most importantly Singing Competitions

For the sake of this blog I want to talk about singing competitions such as American Idol, X-Factor, The Voice.  This form of promotion is still perceived by American audiences to be versions of guerrilla marketing and artist discovery.  Meaning that the audience feels as if they are discovering the artist themselves. They get the power to say who is good and who is not, they vote people through to the next round.  Unfortunately, the power of these shows are not only the ones that are advertised:  An amazing opportunity a singer to follow their dream.  This is the opportunity for a music marketer to literally TRY OUT an artist from start to finish and dump them with no contract or guarantee.  A few years ago this was called a "Development Deal." The best and most positive aspect of an artist that appears on a singing competition is the Public Relations that has been at work for them throughout their run on the show.  Not only do we get to hear their talent, we get to hear their personal story and we get to see them "live" their dream. Artists on singing competitions perhaps get more face time with their potential audience within a few months than some artists get in their lifetime.  This is GOLD for a record label seeking new artists.  WHY?  Because they don't have to spend the millions building a perception of a new artist as mentioned above.  It's all been done for them.

American Idol and Damaged Goods:

How many times have you heard an artist that didn't win American Idol on the radio within months?  How did this happen? Well, a record label cashed in on the free marketing and promotions produced by the show itself, they rushed an album into stores and onto the radio knowing that the current MASSIVE audience would recognize that voice immediately and perhaps buy their record.  Why?  the audience has a connection already.  The connection that used to cost money and years to create.  But are singing competitions the future of the music business? Are we headed into a generation where thousands of potential stars get herded through the offices of radio executives and the best wins?  That's a competition too.  The same competition it's always been for all the artists trying to make it.

Perhaps singing competitions both exacerbate and accelerate the perception of an artist within the music industry that is called Damaged Goods.  Been there, done that.  You're good, but we tried.  If another label, promotion company, etc spent money on you and it didn't work then forget it. "Damaged Goods Artists" are created faster and more painful than any other mode of promotion through singing competitions.  Labels are looking to cash in on free promotion.  The fastest and easiest way to sell and new artists and records is to hire a artists that didn't get a deal through the show. The artist is easy to pick up (they are still looking to fulfill their dream desperately) and they are easy to drop if it fails.

The long story short is that as the artist a singing competition is something to pursue with caution.  Think about YOU as an artist while participating in a show like this.  Who are YOU? and are you being molded and marketed in a way you don't want to be?  As the audience, recognize that you are being exposed to a concentrated group of pre screened individuals that are being MARKETED to YOU.  This is the future of the music business.  It's important to still take time to look for new artists, go to local shows and follow/support artists who aren't being marketed through a major medium.  Allow artists to create their own fate within the industry once again and force record labels to seek out talent again, force them to NEED to believe in their artist before they are signed and force them to not create damaged goods out of amazingly talented people by pursuing a free pass on a money/time investment needed to thoroughly create a dedicated audience to their artist not to a game show.

Friday, April 3, 2015

The New Business Model: Spotify

It's definitely no secret that the music business has been shifting throughout the past 15 years, but what does still seem to remain a mystery is which solution is going to prevail as the best way for artists to continue develop new material and, well, get paid for it?

May have cracked the case on
consumers 'new' attitude toward music
I think many artists/musicians might agree that Napster was to 'blame' for introducing the idea that a potential listener might be able attain art (music) without paying for it.  Obviously, at the time many people were up and arms about this idea, including both fans and musicians alike.  Some argued the positive:  More exposure is simply better.  A listener that is able to attain the music for free might be more likely to "try out" the artist as one of their potential favorites.  In turn, they learn more about the artist and become attached in a way that may not have been possible had they not been able to test out the sound of a particular artist.  More importantly, they might do one of the only things that seems to get an artist paid nowadays (at least a major label musician) which is to actually go to a live show.  More than money, for the musician, this is a chance to make a more eternal connection to a fan.

But then, some argued the negative:  Exposure isn't the full reimbursement for time spent, or better yet; emotions spent.  Some people simply want a collection of songs and just because they download yours for free doesn't necessarily bring any additional benefits.  Regardless it was illegal.

To me, I felt this was, more than anything, a chance to re-analyze our consumer.  The fan.  Rather than ask pro/con questions about giving music away for free maybe the better question is WHY the fan wants it, and is WILLING to take it for free?  Is it possible that our consumers attitudes toward music creation, and dare I still call it: "art" has now changed?  And might it have happened before Napster cracked the case wide open?

Why and when did this shift happen?  Without research and without any real basis for an argument you might say this all happened around the time that record labels were doing what I call:  "Hire for Single."  Nowadys this would be called a "Development Deal." But "Hire for Single" worked differently in the early 90's.  My definition of this, was when a record company would hire a band/group/artist based on a single song they were interested that the artist had written.  At that time, people would buy records for a single song.  Why?  Because if they wanted to listen to that song over and over they had two choices:  Buy the 12 song record for about $13.99 or pull out your overdub tape and record it off the radio (In hopes the DJ didn't attempt to ride the 12 second lyric-less ramp of your favorite song talking about the stations latest promo.)  Simple as that.  Here's the other kicker.  You had to listen to the radio A LOT (maybe 2 or 3 hours) to get a chance to hear that favorite song because then, Top 40 radio played an amalgamation of hits from ALL different styles.  There was competition.  There was open mindedness.  Let's say most people opted to buy the CD if they loved a song, many times only to find out the other 11 songs on the CD were nothing but fluff more than likely produced by someone else and even sometimes was overtly different in terms of lyrical or musical content altogether.  To me, this is where the notion that a group might "Only have one good song" was created.  And to be clear, YES, I am blaming the record labels.  Mostly for pushing through a radio worthy single to sell a fourteen dollar record and fully understanding while doing so that the artist would more than  likely fall off soon after never to be seen again.  Then, it was a proper investment.  You could make a lot of money off of one song.  But this put many artists as a group in a danger zone with their fans.  Why do consumers want music for free?  Because they don't TRUST that they are going to receive a great all around product.  The music, just like large canvas painting, is an investment in their eyes.  It is also a reflection of personal taste.  If, as a sample (a radio hit), we deliver a certain taste in order to sell records, only to deliver a lower quality or different taste all together once the money is exchanged we run into a problem.  We gave them a good reason to be skeptical before buying.  Bad move.

But, back to our question:  "which solution is going to prevail as the best way for artists to continue develop new material and, well, get paid for it?"

Spotify is one of many streaming services.
As online resources for bands have evolved we have seen MANY artists somehow break through the overpopulation and be offered opportunities.  YouTube, namely has stayed consistent as a common vehicle to both stream videos, but in a lot of cases also stream simple audio.  As usual (and rightfully so) the labels have pulled back on the reigns and cried copyright infringement as people are posting songs they don't own for free streaming.  Still, there is something lurking here that works.  Streaming songs but not "owning" them is quite possibly what our consumer wants.  The chance to test the waters in a controlled and quality environment.  So what is the new business model?  I think at this juncture it might be safe to say that music streaming based on a Freemium approach will bring back a lot of what we lost over 15 years.  Here, we can restore the the almighty payment that artists have been missing as their music continues to get exchanged for free.  Also, maybe over time, confidence in music can be restored among those "fans" we always talk about.  Non-committed access to an artists catalogue gives the fan a chance to test those waters with a nominal investment.  Better yet, they don't even need to commit to ONE artist in particular.  The benefits to streaming services could go on for days, but most importantly the chance to restore interest in exploring music and to me, that is what they offer.

Will these services become the way that potential listeners consume music?  Maybe.  But for now, we can at least continue to restore the relationships these investors have in the music we are creating.  If you are an artist, give them a chance to stream your music by getting on Spotify or another service and continue creating whole hearted records that you believe in front to back.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Personal Post: Thin Line Between "The Basement" and "Accomplishment"

So many times throughout my musical endeavors, I feel I have been confronted with the same question over and over (only acknowledging sober individuals) often from potential or aspiring musicians, but not always. This question is usually first coupled with a various compliment. The question? "How long have you been playing guitar and singing." I can't tell you how troubling it is for me to answer this question for a world of reasons. The foremost might be met with my insecurity that I feel I should be so much better at my craft (singing, songwriting, guitar playing) in ratio to how many years I have been playing. I look around me at the local musicians, their strengths, their weakness and there is a constant comparison, perhaps a silent competition going on. How long did it take so and so to begin headlining at said venue? Get a management or record contract? What have they achieved since, if anything? I often wonder how I stack up, what I have accomplished in the time I have focused on music.