Tagged: James L. Walker

Full Speed Ahead: Navigating The 21st Century Music Biz

I decided to put an article I did for brooklynbodega.com on THE MUSIC BUSINESS REVISIONIST in it’s entirety. It outlines just a few of the things 21st Century artists can do to begin working towards success independently. Feel free to pass it along and spread the word. Thanks!

Business is never so healthy as when, like a chicken, it must do a certain amount of scratching around for what it gets.”–- Henry Ford

In a recent survey conducted by VIBE Magazine entitled The VIBE Ultimate Music Survey, the current landscape of the brave new music world that engulfs us was placed in crystal clear perspective. VIBE surveyed a pool of music fans and asked them about their listening, purchasing, downloading and sharing habits. Some of the key statistics go as follows, so take note:

-On an average day, 34.8 percent of respondents spend between 2 and 3 hours listening to and consuming music.

-28.4 percent of participants claimed to discover new music exclusively from music blogs.

-Nearly 30 percent of participants felt a sense of indifference to free music service LimeWire being shut down in 2010.

-33.2 percent responded that the purchase price of $1.29 for a song on iTunes is “very reasonable”.

-Over 25 percent of respondents said that they would not at all feel guilty downloading music that was unknowingly leaked and unauthorized by an artist.

Now, don’t get too down in the dumps, all you aspiring and seasoned artists out there. None of this is to say that there aren’t still rays of sunshine and glimmers of hope. The very same study reveals a few facts that may be interesting and surprising about today’s music consumer. For example, 71.3 percent of respondents still own some type of CD-playing device that is not a computer. And 34.2 percent still swap music via physical compact discs. So hey, this whole making-a-career-as-an-artist might just work out pretty sweet after all, right?

Well, hold your horses. Because even with these surprising and eye-popping results, the honest-to-God truth remains: it’s getting harder and harder to make a decent living, let alone a buck, as an artist. And that truth is only magnified if you’re gonna claim Hip-Hop as your bread and butter. Physical CD sales continue to crumble, technology is moving at break-neck speed, potential fans are bombarded with a ka-trillion marketing messages per day, more and more entertainment outlets are competing with each other for consumer dollars, and music has become a disposable good. And to top it all off, the economy STILL sucks. Hell, even VIBE itself has created a new mobile music app for aspiring DJs! The times they are a-changin’, and a-transformin’, and a-morphin’…

So what’s an artist to do these days? Let’s face it: these are, at best, very questionable economic times for many people, and artists seem to be feeling the affects like no other group. Which begs the question: how does one navigate such a pessimistic sales landscape in the music and entertainment industry, while still doing all they can to keep their integrity and make good money in the process?

It’s important to realize a few things from jump street about today’s Internet-drenched, 24-hour news channel, digital-driven Hip-Hop and music game, no matter what stage you’re at in your career. First, when it all comes down to it, this is a business. If you’re an artist in the 21st century, you’re automatically an entrepreneur/businessperson. You are your own brand and your own entity. Second, you can’t do it alone. Every great talent needs an even greater team around them of people that are dedicated to their success. And that means in all areas, especially the ones you may not necessarily want to deal with or feel you shouldn’t have to: management, legal, marketing and PR, promotions, publicity, operations, sales, press, communications, design, distribution, social media, retail, the list goes on. Third (and arguably most important, as well as my favorite consideration), the music business is about a whole lot more than just music. Meaning that, eventually, it’s necessary for an artist to look beyond just CD, Mp3 and iTunes sales and do whatever possible to branch out.

True, it’s a lot to swallow. And yes, it’s easier said than done. But hey, like many have opined before, challenging times also present great opportunities. And there are many a music industry expert out there that continue to hold fast to the idea that this is actually one of the best times to be an artist or musician in the industry. Sounds kinda crazy right? But there may actually be some method to their madness. So, with all of that to chew on, here’s a list of a few of things that today’s Hip-Hop artist can do to wade through all the muck, mire, damage, desolation and craziness that is the 21st century music biz, while actually making some money and keeping that all-important sanity thing that we all need to get through life. And away we go:

Look beyond the standard record label model
It’s a standard practice, especially when it comes to Hip-Hop. Wanna go indie? Fine, just start your own label. Unfortunately, it’s quite obvious that the label model isn’t the most profitable anymore, be it indie or major. So how about taking a good, long look at some of the areas of the business that might not be as glamorous, but might still put some extra change in your pocket over the long haul? Among them, music publishing and music licensing. How about forming your own publishing company for between $25 and $100 if your music is already released on a recording? Or, possibly licensing your song for a commercial, website or mobile game app? It takes a little research, but yes, it can be done.

Sell your music and merchandise on a tier system
A few years ago, there was a pretty popular story on an indie singer/songwriter named Jill Sobule. A struggling artist that was looking for a way to fund her next music project, she eventually created the website Jillsnextrecord.com, where she gave fans the opportunity to make donations of as little as $10 to her cause. In return, she offered goodies such as free digital downloads, free admission to her shows, and even executive production credit on her album. Now, how about taking that idea and adapting it to the music you already have? The more of your music and merchandise your fans buy, the more they get in return. It’s important to know that today’s music fans loves to feel as if they’re part of something and had a hand in helping you get to where you want to be as an artist, on top of the fact that people always like getting stuff. Has the little light bulb gone off in your head yet?

Think like a fundraiser
When the word ‘fundraiser’ comes up, many folks either think immediately of an elementary school contest or a handout to a non-profit organization. But the definition has changed in the new age music industry. In the past few years, there have been a great number of websites/companies that specialize in this very practice. Over here in the states, one of the most popular is KickStarter.com, which bills itself as the largest platform for creative project in the world. Over in the U.K., there’s SlicethePie.com, which specializes in artists raising funds for their own projects and fans getting paid to review new music and support emerging talent. Even Hip-Hop veterans Public Enemy raised a reported $75,000 through the website SellABand.com for their next project. Many of these sites and companies have come into existence in response to record labels cutting costs, jobs, artists and whatever else they can to save a buck. So take advantage if you haven’t already.

Stay educated, informed and adaptable
Yes, I understand, it’s such a cliché. But there’s so much importance in staying informed in this day and age. This is mainly because there is so much information out there! To be honest, there’s not much of an excuse to not educate oneself as an artist about how the industry continues to change. From free eBooks that you can download to new music business websites that are created day-by-day, you’ve gotta take advantage of all that’s being offered to you, many times for little or no money.

How about we start with a few websites? ArtistHouseMusic.com’s tagline is, “helping musicians and music entrepreneurs create sustainable career.” The site has a series of videos, articles, case studies and strategies that many artists have taken advantage of throughout the years. ProHipHop.com actually has it’s own Music Business News section that focuses specifically on Hip-Hop. And Music Business Solutions (or mbsolutions.com) has tons of articles, books, consulting information and even a resource directory for any artist looking to take that next step.

It’s probably a good idea to grab some physical books, too. A few of the best that have come out in the last few years include This Business of Urban Music by James L. Walker, Esq., I Don’t Need A Record Deal by Danyelle Deanna Schwartz and Music Marketing: Press, Promotion, Distribution and Retail by Mike King.

Seek out sponsorships
Truth be told, the economy really isn’t anyone’s’ friend right now. But there are still companies that are either just getting off the ground and make a name for them or are going through a period of reinvention. As an artist, you may be able to take advantage of this. The key is to seek out a sponsorship from the right company. And the easiest way to do that is to get with a company whose products or services you already support on a regular basis. Be forewarned: not as many businesses are willing to let go of actual dollars. So your next step is a product sponsorship. Who knows? Maybe it could lead to some money from that very same company in the future.

Tap into other talents
Be it graphic design, journalism, teaching an instrument, having a radio voice, or just about anything, you might just have a hidden talent that others don’t know about. Maybe you don’t know about it yourself. The point is, as an artist, you might have to make due with some pretty slender pockets these days. So, if you aren’t already, why not supplement your income? There’s no time like the present.

Take a closer look at what’s happening in other genres and see if you can apply it
Hip-Hop has always been a genre where those that succeed have a hustler’s mentality. And as opposed to other kinds of music, at least to some extent, Hip-Hop has bred success while simultaneously enduring some of the greatest resistance and criticism as an art form. That being said, there are many artists from many genres that have taken cues from Hip-Hop to breed their own success stories.

Well, maybe now it’s time to turn the tables. There are advances happening all over the music industry from Indie rock to Electronica to World music. It might be a good idea to keep your eyes and ears to the street wherever you can. Yes, you definitely want to keep up with websites like HipHopDX.com, AllHipHop.com, Vibe.com, TheSource.com and Brooklynbodega.com, among others. But hey, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being wired in to publications like Rolling Stone, The Fader, Paste, XLR8R, SPIN, Blender and Complex. You’ve also got a plethora of alternative music blogs at your disposal right now, like Obscure Sound and Gorilla Vs. Bear, and online music charts like WeAreHunted.com.

The bottom line? The music industry is a big, wide-open space where cross-collaboration is happening more than ever before. You never know where your next great idea is going to come from, so it’s important to be open-minded and willing to seek out success from resources you hadn’t thought to consider before.

Create your own community
Some people would say that social networking is the best thing that ever happened to the independent music artist. Others contest that it opens up the doors for more crap to come crashing through. But whatever your position may be, it’s an understood fact that if you don’t have any type of social networking tool at your disposal in this day and age, you’re pretty much screwed.

But understand, the whole social networking thing goes far beyond, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace (or whatever it’s called these days), Reverbnation, and all of the standard tools that everybody’s using. For example, Talib Kweli and 50 Cent are two artists that have done great at taking advantage of creating their own social networking sites, Kweli with his YearoftheBlacksmith.com and 50 with ThisIs50.com, of course. If you didn’t already know, you too can create your own social community of fans where you can sell your music, update fans on upcoming shows, have people comment on your music, connect with other artists, and so on. The two main sites that folks use to do this are SocialGo.com and Ning.com. And there are plenty of specialized social sites specifically for artists where you can build a profile, connect with fans and artists, sell your music, create contests and potentially secure more funding, including IndabaMusic.com, Amie Street, JamGlue, MOG.com and Buzznet.com.

In the end, making it as an artist in music and entertainment takes what it always has and always will: determination, sacrifice, adaptability, networking, knowing the right people, and a bit of stubbornness, among many other attributes. And the times we’re living in have magnified this fact tenfold. So it’s more important to seek out advantages in whatever form they might come. It’s just a matter of taking that first step. Hopefully, these tips can start you in the right direction.