Being in a band is like running a business. The band like any other product is made for sale. It has to have a certain shape, an attractive look and most importantly satisfy the customer. Unless it is total anarchy, and earning money is not in your plans.
Digital technology is an integral part of the music business that is both helping and complicating it. Art has never been easy to sell in the first place. So what are the main music industry issues bands are dealing with these days?
1. Learn how to benefit from streaming
Spotify, Pandora, YouTube, Soundcloud are offering free streaming, that can be seen as a way of stopping people from downloading. Real fans will support a band by buying a record, coming to gigs and getting merchandising. Don’t waste your energy on trying to take down all the free download links. Instead, focus on creating awesome tunes, making great merchandising, playing breath-taking gigs and find a way how to benefit though streaming.
Unfortunately Soundcloud, Pandora, Spotify and Last.fm struggle to make enough revenue themselves. Currently, music streaming service Spotify pays on average between $0.006 and $0.0084 per stream of each track. And they say that they are paying at least double what popular video streaming services are paying. Most of these platforms make money from a free tier supported by advertising and a paid subscription premium tier. The ratio of Spotify paying subscribers to active free users is over 20%.
Soundcloud announced a partnership with Zefr, the same company used by YouTube to scan content for copyright infringement in videos. How this is going to affect the platform, we will see pretty soon. So far the commercialisation of Soundcloud has been discussed rather negatively: a) the copyrighted content won’t be anymore uploaded freely b) we will have to deal with already annoying enough on YouTube advertising.
So what’s the deal with streaming? Several bands have tried different approaches already. Here is one of them:
Streaming is our only future. Thom Yorke totally rocks the digital era. He uses all the possible methods, while other see them as a danger to the music industry. Recently he released a secret album through BitTorent for €4,50. “Yorke is the first major artist to promote BitTorrent Bundles and take the model to the next level” – says Virgin.
In the end of the day, streaming allows your band to be found via suggested artists. It is basically free advertising. Kiran Gandhi encourages bands to reward for streaming with gig tickets, merchandising, backstage parties or anything that will make their fans stream more. Encouraging fans to stream will also minimize their need for the free downloads.
2. Forget about the old media
Are you still relying on the radio? Forget about it, TV and newspapers too. Those will die sooner than you think. It’s time for the new music distribution tools.
Be present. If you were growing with the radio in the mornings and were getting old with TV in the evenings, it’s time to switch to one medium. Younger generation is automatically less attracted to those old mediums and spend much more time on tablets, phones, and laptops. Using modern apps, platforms, and ways of communication is just a natural way of staying up to date with the world. Online TV, online radio, and online newspapers are the hybrids of the new age. Technically none of them is dead; they have simply merged together. What is YouTube? YouTube is radio, TV and a newspaper in one.
YouTube plays songs, broadcasts and tells you stories: documented in the past or streamed in real time. Yes, there are still countries where the only source of information is radio. But those countries are not dealing with the music industry.
The modern world won’t buy the newspaper to find out about music news. It will follow Pitchfork, NME, music blogs, Facebook pages, will get subscribed to email news, anything that makes life easier. And you as a band have to make these mediums work for you. Because when we look for you online and don’t find you there, we get rather disappointed. Twitter is great for regular updates, without feeling spammy.
New media is what makes your musical presence really powerful. This is an absolute freedom of speech. No one will cut your words, or stream your music only at certain times. Being on a local radio back in the days felt really exciting, being on YouTube might not feel as exciting, but the whole world has access to your content.
3. Accept smartphones at the gigs
Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, Twitter, Facebook – these are all free PR tools, that talk about you in real time. If people choose to look at you through their screens, let them do it. It’s their life.
However, new media has entirely changed the experience of the live show and there is no way back. Front rows will snap and record, and all this data will be immediately available for the rest of the world.
Kate Bush recently joined the long list of artists who have banned recording at their shows. For a big name this might be somewhat logical, but as a small band you might end up in an empty hall if you’re trying to forbid phones. But just imagine security trying to stop video recording during the entire show; this can be much more destructive than the phones themselves.
So learn to sacrifice. The British band Muse was asking their fans at the shows to raise their phones in the air, creating a night sky on earth. Some bands collect fan videos and make them into DVDs, or simply edit and put on YouTube. Either way, fans feel special.
4. Secure your income
Most of the bands cannot survive on their music money. All young band members, unless they come from a wealthy family, have a permanent job whether it is connected to music or not. Many practical musicians will also go to university and study unrelated to music subjects, in order to secure a paid job. And we do not blame them. Digital Music News claims that 99,9% of all music artists cannot live just on their music wage. Only a few of us will call music their lifestyle, and too many will say it is their main hobby. It is important to find a balance, and not live with too high expectations.
5. Surprise your listener
And yet the main music industry issue is the overwhelming amount of bands and musicians. This is what makes the music business a real battle. Easy access to modern technology gives young people the opportunity to learn all the music tricks online and share the content with the entire world.
The listener became much more judgemental too and does not need critics’ advice. A listener gets everything and that’s why does not stick to one band, and quickly moves to another. Like a spoilt kid, who requires more and more new toys. Totally spoilt rotten; so the bands are on a mission, creating that tune that people will want to play on repeat.
Being noticed is the biggest challenge for musicians. Even an original name that has not been taken by anybody else is hard to come up with. The Beatles, The Doors, The Ramones and all those other “the” were first, and that’s why lucky not to have such a competition.
Bands now have to do twice more in order to succeed. Now artists not only write and perform songs, they also sell themselves by getting involved in PR, marketing, and advertising. There is much more communication between an artist and a fan. The interaction that creates this very intimate relationship is an integral part of the music business.
“Songs used to be my main way of communicating with people, now I can reach up to a million people straight away. I tend to spend a lot of time being a general communicator, with less time to spend on artistic songwriting…”
Amanda Palmer to VICE
Once you as a band learn how to deal with most of it, you will find yourself promoting successfully without a major label, unless the aim is to become new Madonna.
Read more on the topic here:
- Social Media – 6 Lessons to learn from stars.
- How to write a song in 10 easy steps?
- Live Performance Basics