The Beatles signed a record deal in 1962 with Capital/EMI that paid them about a penny for each record sold. George Martin nearly got fired for giving them a raise to 1.5 pennies after their brilliant showing on Meet the Beatles.
Sounds like a horrible deal, right? Well in many ways it was. Certainly by today’s standards that would be a totally unacceptable agreement. However, Capital managed all the numerous and complex production, distribution and promotion chores that made The Beatles, well “The Beatles”. The rest is history.
Fast forward four decades and we find ourselves in a very different world, both as producers and consumers of music. The good old days of oppressive contracts and bad management have been replaced with no contracts and no management. The limited number of artists that somehow made it through the gauntlet to become signed to a bad contract in the early days benefited greatly from all of the resources and channel management expertise that label provided.
Those restrictive channels have been compromised and in many ways forever altered. The labels that used to select a very small number of anointed artists were able to provide significant value to ensure the selected artist’s success. In exchange, the artists signed away the first five or six “albums” of their work for a relatively small percentage of sales. It was the best thing for some and the worst of all worlds for others. Like anything else in life.
Today the artist is more and more on their own from start to finish. The support and abuse of the traditional label structure has being replaced with an almost cottage industry approach to the production and distribution of content.
This poses both a daunting task and an incredible opportunity for the emerging artist.
Technology and internet based distribution has brought the labels to their knees and has somewhat democratized music. The barriers to entry are pretty low. Produce a home made CD on your digital mixer, slap together a YouTube video, throw up a MySpace page and you are a rock star. Right?
Well, not exactly. Here’s the dilemma. Reducing barriers to entry mean the influx of the masses. Democratization. But, like anything else, if there are millions of products to chose from how does an artist stand out as the star worthy of your hard earned money in an environment in which most consumers expect the product for free.
In the bad old days the artists and their product were tightly controlled in order to increase fan hysteria and anticipation of the next album and to maximize and secure all revenue rights against that product. Not a bad deal if you’re on the inside and have the staying power to get beyond that first crappy contract. Lousy deal if you are not selected.
Now, everyone is selected. Want a video? Go ahead and make one. Want a record contract with a label? No problem, just start one. Want distribution? No worries. Just launch a MySpace page and CD Baby widget. Andy Warhol had it nailed.
Sounds easy right? Good freaking luck.
With a fan-base that has the attention span of a gnat exposed to millions of entertainment options on a daily basis your chances are about as good as, well, getting a recording contract with Capital Records. Oh and by the way, Capital Records is not seeking new talent and just eliminated their A&R department. Too tough to make money in this new environment they say.
Welcome to the New World Dis-Order…A wonderful and confusing place where stars are those with the savvy to navigate through the uncharted and shark-infested waters of a newly deconstructed music industry.
“But I thought it was all about my music, man…”.
Sorry, that was the bad old days that you railed about when the labels abused their power and treated the artist like crap.
There is one common theme between old and new. It starts with a great product.
The good news is that there is more great music to choose from than ever before. That is the upside of lower barriers to entry. Great acts are producing great music in ever increasing volumes.
So, step number one remains: Create a great sound and stage act. Fans like that.
The rest is about taking on the responsibility for all those things the labels used to do when they really sucked but actually produced. I would suspect that they still suck, but produce very little as there is increasingly so little money to make from new artists.
Savvy artists know the business. Successful artists are those with a great product and enough sense to not despise the business aspects but rather embrace them as part and parcel of producing great music that ends up being heard by more than the members of their direct family.
MuzikReviews has enjoyed significant growth over the past year or two. I suspect that this is the result of the New World Dis-Order. Smart artists are recognizing that they cannot do everything themselves, but do not want or cannot get the support of a label to do it for them.
We believe that the stuff that the label used to do can be provided to the artists as services on a much more attractive monetary basis that can help fill the gaps left by the departure of the labels while satisfying the artist’s desire for musical freedom.
We like the Dis-Order. We believe it is good for everyone in the food chain, if properly managed. Consumers win by gaining access to a huge and growing flow of new artists and their music.
Smart artists benefit by embracing that which the label used to control, taking some level of control of that themselves, bringing in key partners (shameless pitch) and retaining the lion’s share of control of their own destiny.
Instead of being intimidated or bummed out about all this, we think emerging artists should be excited. The opportunities to leverage technology and social networking methods allow the artist to create communities of fans with deep customer loyalty.
Connecting great artists and fans and creating long term relationships is still what this is all about. Not an easy task by any means, but with the proper support and sustained effort it is all possible, assuming a great product.
If I remember, The Beatles were in charge of producing the product. Some things never change.
Meet the new Boss…Same as the old Boss.