The last time I earned a nickel in the music business was almost six years ago. At the time I was killing off a 34-year career with a one-year stint as the head of sales for a record label that had enjoyed great success with it's large catalog of early roots, country, and bluegrass music, and it's uncanny ability to market all sorts of tribute albums to fans who were completists. With a good 10- to 15-year run of new and expanding big box retailers (think Best Buy and Circuit City, Tower and Virgin, Borders and Barnes, Sam's Club and Costco), a nice profit could be made just by filling the shelves up with inventory and enjoying what is known as incremental sales.  Ones and twos. 

When the physical retail business model fell apart and we ran out of places to merchandise our plastic discs and great cover art, we went digital, cut overhead, and life went on. The staff got small, signing artists and putting out new releases pretty much went away. Producers, musicians, graphic designers, warehouse folks and salespeople were no longer needed, or at least not at the same level. I went into an exile-semi-retirement phase, began to again enjoy the act of listening to music rather than monetizing it, and started to post articles here at No Depression. 

Over the years, I've watched and written about the change in revenue streams and it's impact on musicians and composers. When it seemed like digital downloads (both legal and dubious) were going to eliminate the need for real and tangible product, vinyl records started to get released again, and a small but sturdy group of indie stores have held on tight. Although vinyl sales alone don't account for very much in terms of dollars, vinyl's  appeal to a new generation of fans has been very positive.

For musicians who are traveling, performing, and selling tickets to gigs, there's always music product in various configurations and other merchandise available to fans who want to enhance their concert experience or simply support the artists. And, the proceeds usually go straight into their pockets. Most folks, at least in the roots music genre, won't retire on it, but it can be a nice living.

If you've hung on so far and have been waiting for a "but"...here it is.

The newfangled version of streaming -- something like your Spotify Premium account -- is now cutting into digital downloads for the first time. And it's going to kill it off. With the ability to choose from millions of songs, create your own playlists and then put them on your mobile devices without the need to maintain a cellular or internet connection -- all at $10 a month -- the party is over. And, with this model, there is very little money left to be spread to the label, musician, composer, publisher, and producer. Yes, people will continue to purchase physical product or download it, but (there it is) the masses will move on. Turn out the lights.

All of which brings me to this.

Last week an article written by Van Dyke Parks (Google him if you don't know) was discussed ad nauseam by folks who used to be in the music business and now spend all their time talking or writing about it. (Ahem...it's my day off. I don't spend all my time doing this.) The bottom line from Van the Man was that he wrote a song with Ringo (Google him too) and if its streamed 100,000 times (wishful thinking), it will yield them $80. Never mind that his math was off and it's more like $800, because even that seems sort of anemic for a former Beatle and the lyricist for the Beach Boys to make. Welcome to the new world.

Which brings me finally to BandPage. 

What was launched in 2010 and destined to become another social networking footnote in history ala MySpace (forgive me while I chuckle), has in the last year taken off as the #1 platform to connectivity and monetization. What? Ok...they put you and/or your band into the digital world and, among other services, help you create EXPERIENCES. At first only available to the elite,  EXPERIENCES will soon be available to all.

Here's a few examples:

-Zack Wylde will give you an online guitar lesson for $2,500.

-Meet George Clinton after the show for $150. Or take the family to hang with Ozzy Osbourne for $4,000. Not a typo.

-John Legend's guitar player will do a 30 minute backstage lesson for only $75 at his solo show.

-Get your picture Photoshopped on the cover of Sgt. Peppers for $150,000! (Made that one up.)

You get the idea.

"Want your bio, profile photo and tour dates (and ticket links) listed on iHeartRadio, Rdio, SoundCloud or Xbox Music when your song is playing?  Want your VIP meet and greet, T-shirt or tour dates listed on the sidebar of lyric sites such as SongMeanings.com when a fan is reading your lyrics?  Get your info updated on BandPage.  Currently BandPage is connected to 10 outlets that artists can choose to send their info out with the click of a button.  Many more outlets are being announced very soon." Here's the video plug:

If you thought Kickstarter was fun, and I loved that Jeff Black gave away a car for a $1000 pledge for his last album, having musicians create EXPERIENCES for you to spend your money on will be so much better. Or not. The idea of me onstage with Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock (Suggested Retail Price: $1,000,000) is unnerving.

Welcome to the new world. 

Views: 379

Tags: BandPage, Easy Ed, Spotify Premium, Van Dyke Parks

Comment by Kim Ruehl on June 13, 2014 at 7:15am

As a fan, the experience is a nice added bonus, but I can't help but wonder how much it takes away from the creative experience for the artist. A certain amount of separation is healthy for the creative juices. The more time one spends greeting people, the less time one has to Consider Things Deeply. I suspect this is a route a certain kind of artist will go and the people whose work I value the most will probably keep doing what they've always done: finding every possible way to focus on the most important experience: the music itself. 

Comment by Easy Ed on June 13, 2014 at 7:46am

My friend pointed out to me that some experiences have an effect on the presenters and venues as well. The large and established sheds and halls take a percentage of merch, so how will they react to this? And for musicians who are selling the 'after concert meet and greet' and such, there is a cost to the facilities for keeping staff on hand, that they are not inclined to spend. By the way I was thinking, perhaps you (@Kim) should start charging a premium for people to see pictures of The Baby.

Comment by Kim Ruehl on June 13, 2014 at 8:40am

Funny you should say that. I called People magazine to offer to sell them a photo, and they still haven't called me back.

Comment by TenLayers on June 13, 2014 at 9:20am

I'll admit I don't know too much about it.  There are two main places I see live music, in bars and in "venues".  The bands in the bars are there to sell drinks and the bars want the bands to stay as late as possible.  Then there are the venues that do "shows" and after the music stops, the lights come on and the staff starts to hustle people out the door.  I'm assuming it's because of some type of zoning or license that only allows them to be open for x number of hours.

Why don't the venues keep the bar open, encourage more after show hanging out, the merch table then draws for the musician and the venue sells more of that high profit booze?

Don't bring up the house lights, don't have the staff start putting the chairs upside down on the tables. Keep the party going.

Comment by Shannon Turner on June 14, 2014 at 12:33pm
I tend to agree with Kim; many musicians are creators, not PR folks who can easily work a room. That's why they hire PR folks, because they themselves aren't necessarily "people" people. In fact, they shy away from people and choose to speak through their music.

However, as these more Serious Artists begin to see the economic value in providing these experiences to fans, most of hem will have to consider it a serious income option, especially when they start seeing it work so well for the more-inclined. I don't these artists will ever necessarily enjoy it; in fact, they may dread every upcoming event and grimace their way through the endless
photo lines and meet and greets. It may become an uneasy, but necessary, part of attaining their ultimate goal of getting people to really listen to what they have to say in their music.
Comment by TenLayers on June 14, 2014 at 12:56pm

S.T.

There you go, the way it should be.  Why make people head out to other places after the show to spend their money when you can keep it in house?

Comment by Ron Myhr on June 14, 2014 at 8:29pm

The whole revenue issue is complex.  No doubt streaming services are compromising download services, and the revenue implications for artists are dire. 

However, we need to really take a close look at the big picture.

It's never been easy to make a living as a performer, and aside from the very lucky and (mostly) talented few, much harder to make a decent living.  But if it becomes impossible to make a living as a recorded performer, then no one will record.  If you play live at your local venues, all well and good.  But streaming services rely on recordings, and who will record if there is no prospect of ROI?

Streaming services are leeches -- they leech on the music recorded primarily for distribution in other ways.  If there are NO other ways, there won't be new content for the streamers, and this will not be tenable for long.

My guess is that some new distribution model will emerge.  It may be that the streaming services will have to pay more to the artists, and that ways for artists to promote their content will emerge.  But if music listening migrates almost exclusively to the cloud than something will have to happen.

Comment by RP N10 on June 15, 2014 at 4:31am

Aha. The eternal battle in the world of music between the performers (producers) and fans (consumers) on the one hand and the intermediaries on the other for the dollars, euros, pounds or whatever that the fans are happy to part with in order to see an/or listen to the former.

I remember reading of an early example where a gangster helped himself to a share of a composer’s royalty (memory suggests this may have been Frankie Lymon’s Teenager In Love but I may be wrong).  No rational producer or consumer wants to share a slice of the pie with an intermediary so those who want to leech off the process have to find ways of inserting themselves in it so that they control access in some form or another – usually through distribution but sometimes offering death as an alternative.

Ed has described before the amount of cash the intermediaries siphoned off in the 1960s and 1970s, not just a reasonable profit for a service performed but also grossly inflated expenses and outright fraud.

The piece above describes two trends – on the one hand the fat cats’ latest attempt to corner the market with streaming where the royalty stream is good news for the major record companies but not for the artists or the independent record companies who have less clout in the negotiations.  On the other, the artists attempt to create something which is personal to artist and fan and into which a greedy and undeserving snout cannot be inserted.

One aspect of this we see is the VIP experience including meet and greet.  I want to see the performers perform as musicians, not as paid clowns.  I’m happy to exchange a few words over a merch table as part of the consummation of the night’s entertainment (no, that’s not implied!) or have a longer conversation with an act with a small audience, but that’s as far as it goes. [Personal aside – the US practice of plonking the VIP zones in between GA sections is a total no-no.] 

The performers who use stageit and/or concert window which are both relatively low cost have found a good way of keeping in touch with a distributed to fan base.  Ditto the Pledge and Kickstarter pre-sales – but both depend on non-rapacious business models unlikely to survive and IPO.

Incidentally, my daughter just cancelled her spotify sub as she told me she ended up listening to relatively few albums and it was cheaper (and nicer) just to buy the records.

Let’s see how the next couple of years shape up.

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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.