What should an artist be planning BEFORE making the steps into online distribution?
For years you're like so many other musicians. Chasing "THE DEAL". Boring. Musicians should chase ideas, not contracts, right? So after a few "could've been a contender" moments you rock back into making music for the right reasons. But then that the little thing called the internet sticks itself into the equation and suddenly those few songs posted online start illiciting curious listeners, then genuine fans, then media interest. Suddenly the idea of "THE DEAL" starts rearing one of its seven ugly heads again. Full circle? Please God say it ain't so.
Is the internet the saviour? Can the independent musician with a modicum of organizational ability and intelligence REALLY pay the bills through on line distribution in the same way a successful record through other channels would? Or is the ultimate cost of entry in promoting an album going to force out the small guy? Is distribution in what ever form it may take always going to held by the boys with calculators and not the boys with guitars? No one's looking for the yellow brick road here guys, we're well stocked up on snake oil and all of our pensions are firmly rooted in Miami time shares. Give it to us straight. Because I have read reams about this and possibly like 000's of musicans reading this forum, I still haven't a clue.
Peter Wells, SVP Operations, Customer Advocate - Tunecore
You want it straight? Here it is.
Define your own success, then pursue it. Period.
I'm not even sure what "success" is from your post, JL. Do you want to be BIG BIG BIG like Poison or Conway Twitty or Caruso? Do you want to be in small, indie-only record stores? Do you want to be The Spice Girls or The Monkees? Do you want only to have a few truly devoted fans know you and love you? Do you want to just make enough to quit your day job, or three mansions on two continents?
I'm not being flip. Any one of these sounds like heaven to some and hell to others. If "success" is to follow the career path of a supergroup like Genesis or something that requires stadiums, your disk on every shelf in every supermarket, in a big display dump right by the cash registers of WalMart and Borders, well, no, the Internet is not going to hand it to you, any more than television could have. You want that, you have to play with the majors, only they have the power, money and connections. And to do that requires avoiding the independent route, because independents almost by definition keep their own control, and NO ONE is going to promote you on their own dime unless they get control of your masters and much, much more.
Here's what the Internet has produced: companies who, for a percentage or a fee, give you PARTS of what you need to be successful, however YOU want to define success. Use them, or not. But that's it: a market, with services and goods to buy, trade, sell, leverage and work at, no more, no less. I think it's a damn fine improvement over the days when megacorps owned all the means of production and distribution if you wanted to get past your small town's record store: the Internet has given these services RANGE and OPPORTUNITY like never before, but that's it: no "savior," nothing magic. It still takes talent, luck, tons of hard work, risk and finding the right partners and managers.
Decide what you want, select your tools, determine your risk tolerance, limit the amont of influence luck can have, then go for it and don't let up!
Thanks for the responses guys. I can honestly say that this is my favourite guest forum on Gearslutz so far. The fact that Jules has you all here makes me, as an independent musician, instantly give kudos to you all. And that is part of what's behind my post. You guys may know you're the good guys offering genuine services that are equitable for both sides, but as musician it's tough to see the trees for the forest. I am bombarded by offers of various on line music promo/distribution/booking/placement every week. So many of which are plain dodgy.
Even taking an evening out to read the various T&C's and offers of the big players to find which one suits best can leave your head spinning. No one expects it on a silver platter, but simply getting informed can feel like pulling your own teeth.
Derek Sivers: The reason I ask for opinion is because after a long break from music and a cynical attitude towards traditional labels/distribution, the whole concept of online distribution really, really, really appeals to me but it's hard to make an informed decision about which route to take when the options seem to grow by the week. I've got a couple of months to decide and I intend on doing what I choose to go with 110.9%. So I want to get it right. If my post was overly facetious I apologise, but I'm still going to ask questions because I want to learn more.
PeterTuneCore: Great info, thanks. To answer your question, my idea of absolute minimum success is a self sustainment. Basically, enough to live on at an average level, pay the accounancy/admin/tax bills, and be able to finance further recordings and all the promotion and marketing around them. Is that the level I wish to aim for? No bloody way. BUT, it's the base level I'm enquiring about the feasibilty of.
I don't want to be an online version of the band with 5,000 CD's in boxes under their beds. I never was, and I could tell that band how to get their ass into gear and what to do that worked for me. But online? I'm not as confident. It all feels so new. Exciting? Absolutely. But I personally don't want my music to be a casualty during the net's R&D of online distribution. So, perhaps like a lot of other musos, I'm trying to get my head around it all. And I really appreciate a forum like this alot.
Here's a pie in the sky thread I started on this a while back. Maybe it'll one day happen!!
I've got a couple of months to decide and I intend on doing what I choose to go with 110.9%. So I want to get it right.
Two bits of advice (not that you asked, again):
You won't "get it right" because there is no "right" to "get".
Business is a constant state of flux, taking advantage of CURRENT opportunities.
Start NOW. Dive in. Learn by doing. Make mistakes. Adapt. Improve. Try, fail, learn. Try, fail, learn. Try, succeed, learn. Try, fail, learn. Every day. That's the only way to make anything happen.
If you try to wait until everything is perfect you will never do anything. Get rid of the word perfect, completely. Stop thinking like that.
A "couple of months to decide"? WTF? In a couple months everything will be different again, companies you were thinking of using will have shut down, new ones will have opened, new revolutions will have already happened, etc.
Decisions happen in minutes, not months. Does it excite you? Go do it! Does it drain you? Don't! Will you learn something from it? Go do it! Is it old-and-boring? Don't!
Derek Sivers: Thanks for taking the time to reply. But I'm a little lost. I'm on here looking for nuts and bolts advice about moving into self distribution online and you're either telling me to "Go. Shoo. Scram. Get out of the way." And questioning the validity of why I have a few months before I start. Maybe I have extremely valid reasons?
Perhaps this is a cultural difference and that is the kind of talk your customers respond to in the US but that's exactly the kind of gung ho spiel that I mentioned in my original post that I'm trying to cut through. I won't speak for the UK or mainland Europe but I can safely say that it would jar here in Ireland. Straight answers to straight questions are great. I'm bombarded by emails telling me WHAT I'M DOING WRONG WITH MY MUSIC & HOW TO FIX IT, every week. My music is actually doing pretty damn fine. I don't NEED anything that I can't get for myself quite happily. I'm just here to learn a little more. And I have experience starting a company in another area of the music business so I understand the value of preperation. But unless I'm missing something about online distribution, we'll agree to disagree there.
I hope this post doesn't get me black listed by your promo people when I start using CDbaby!!*insert canned laughter* You've got a great product and yes, you've got a new customer. I'm just being as straight with you as you are with me. Now, for my real question; Will online distribution of a bedroom 4 track cassette rap recording make me rich, famous, fabulous and happy or not?!
I totally understand juicylime's point, being German and somewhat allergic to "motivational coach techniques", although I appreciate Derek's stance very much. There is a cultural difference; here in Europe we probably procrastinate a bit much, but we like to be prepared and informed when decision time comes :-)
(On a side note, the other day I sneaked into a university lecture held by a famous German economics professor. He is the first scientist who has conducted profound research into people's willingness to take risks, because this is an important economic factor in many walks of life. He looked into a plethora of factors which might have an impact on people's willingness to take risks, and compared Germans to Americans. Guess what? Germans, and probably most Europeans, are far more risk-averse than Americans!)
This only goes to show that we have a tendency to try to avoid at least some of the "try-fail-try again" recommended by Derek. It IS a cultural thing, I'm sure. We want hard-and-fast information IF it's available.
I'm thinking of getting married. Do you think it'll work out?
Sorry for my confusing "go away" and "go for it" posts, above.
It's just that nobody can tell you the future. Nobody can say, "Yes you can make a living selling your music" and nobody can say, "No you won't make a living selling your music", because the ONLY way to find out is to go do it.
(Kinda like asking, "I'm thinking of getting married. Do you think it'll work out?")
There are some people making a living selling their music independently, yes. I'm actually surprised to find out how many of our clients are full-time musicians.
Then there are many more people who don't earn enough from selling their music independently to make a living doing it.
But that doesn't help you one bit, so let's get back to your 2 original questions:
is the ultimate cost of entry in promoting an album going to force out the small guy?
No, because independent artists usually use their lack of budget in their favor. They call attention to themselves using creativity and a unique niche, instead of throwing money at it.
I think they're doing well because they're the kinds of projects that a big label wouldn't gamble on. Their unique, noteworthy, remarkable projects that have great word-of-mouth because they're so unusual.
Is distribution in what ever form it may take always going to held by the boys with calculators and not the boys with guitars?
No - distribution has already been blasted wide open. Distribution means almost nothing, now. Everyone's got plenty of it. It's all about doing something remarkable. Read Purple Cow, by Seth Godin. Marketing genius. Thesis point : you can't afford the millions it costs to make the public buy something unremarkable. Instead, design your "product" (in our case, music) from the beginning to be "remarkable" - something so unique and curious that it makes people tell their friends about it. Something the fanatics will embrace with a passion because you've done something that nobody's done before.
The encouraging point of this is that it doesn't cost any money. You can win this with creativity and a clever angle. No money needed.
Juicylime, I think Derek can't answer your question straight because he doesn't know the answers himself. I don't mean this in a negative sense - just that this is so new that even the business leaders don't know what's around the corner.
Digital delivery has turned everything upside down even for the major players. I work in one of, if not the, biggest media organizations in the world and no-one knows how to deal with delivery of content anymore. We've spent nearly 100 years building up the most well-known brand on the planet and then youtube take 2 years to knock us off the top!! How does that work?
Right now there is a lot of creativity and instability in the media business but there is also more opportunity than ever before. I can't answer your question either but I hope this will explain why you feel like no-one can be straight with you about what is going on.