The music and entertainment industry has changed radically over the last two decades, to the point that it would be unrecognizable to someone who had just woke up after having been asleep for the past twenty years. This complete metamorphosis came about primarily as result of the ascendency of the Internet as a medium and the concomitant changes in society and in the globalized economy that followed from this phenomenon.
The world seems to have gotten smaller, now that everyone is connected to everyone and information and entertainment can be made accessible to millions of people with a simple click on a handheld device. The barriers to the creation and distribution of high quality content have been nearly erased, compared to twenty years ago. This is a double-edged sword for artists, of course.
On the one hand, it is possible to market and sell directly to consumers. There are fewer “gatekeepers” to hinder the artist from connecting with their potential audience. On the other hand, precisely because it is so easy, everyone is doing it. This makes it difficult to cut through the noise, to get noticed, and to differentiate your music from everything else out there.
These aspects of music marketing have always been challenging, now it has become much more so. We now need to perform “Search Engine Optimization” (SEO), worry about outright theft of our digital content (piracy), and carefully manage a plethora of Social Media platforms while protecting our digital reputation and image. It wasn’t like this not too long ago.
Even more troubling for professional artists, is the fact that revenues from digital downloads over the Internet haven’t even begun to make up for a small portion in the decline in sales of recorded CD’s. For most artists, concertizing was never a means to build wealth,rather the primary objective was to promote sales of recordings. Touring is an expensive undertaking and ticket sales often do not cover the overhead; many artists are pleased to just break even. Licensing deals for film, television, and advertising can be lucrative, but they are very hard to get and often do not produce a consistent or reliable stream of revenue for the artist.
How are artists supposed to survive in this environment? As I pondered this question some time ago, and while these gigantic changes in the industry were taking place, a comforting thought came to me; namely, that there have always been musicians and they have always found a way to survive. Bach was employed by the Catholic Church and composed Masses. Mozart entertained at private parties. Musicians were making their living somehow before the invention of recording, and if the money from recording contracts disappears completely, I’m certain that there will be musicians who continue to earn the food on their table and the roof over their head. The question for every musician embarking on a career is “How?” What are the steps we need to take, what knowledge and skills will be required of us, and what do we actually need to do?
This challenge, which we call “Monetization of Art” is what we face if we want to be successful, and it has become both easier and harder as a result of the changes I referred to previously. The answers to all of these questions will be different for each individual, but as you have likely guessed by now, I have some ideas about what the answers might be. Keep reading, and I’ll share a few of them with you.
Sometimes it seems as if everyone in the world wants to be an artist, and believes strongly in their ability to do their music professionally. If everyone in the world is an artist, in the end who will be left in the audience? Music has always been a business where supply far exceeded the demand. There are so many talented individuals in the world, there just isn’t room for all of them to make a living with their art, because there aren’t enough people ready to pay for it. This is the reality. The question is actually how do we go about marketing and selling our music? First, we need to view ourselves as business people.
As professional musicians, songwriters, performers and recording artists, our challenge is to transform our art into a lifestyle (or standard of living). As soon as we decide we want to be full-time musicians we face this reality. The medium for this exchange is money, so we need to make sales of some kind. Before successful sales can occur, there must be successful marketing.
To be effective marketers, we need to study the various components and create a strategy that includes such things as demographic profiling, differentiation strategy (what makes you different from everyone else who does what you do), creating an attractive image, and the psychological aspects of marketing that image. With both sales and marketing, there are many techniques that are learnable by anyone who has access to the right information. As I wrote in a previous article (“Art Versus Commerce, Musician Or Merchant? -The Artist’s Dilemma”), managing the business of your art is actually part of doing the art and can be approached with the same level of creativity, attention to detail, and technical prowess.
To begin with, we must bridge the gap in our thinking by shifting focus from the creative and technical side of music to what I call the “End User” side, for lack of a better term. In the simplest terms, End Users are the folks who open their wallets to buy what you are selling, so that you can pay your bills. Having your bills paid frees up your time from doing other things to sustain your living costs and focus your time and energy on making music. This is what I wanted the most when I started my career as a musician.
In the past, artists depended on the record labels, publicists, promoters, managers, lawyers and others to handle our business affairs. There was a group of people in place, called the “Artist Development Team” whose job it was to figure out how to best package and market the artist’s music to a target demographic. As the revenue shrank from recordings, these people saw their diminishing returns from the ever-shrinking piece of the smaller pie, and many of them decided to leave the business to do something more lucrative. As a result, the artist had to take on more of these functions his or her self if there was to be any chance of success. This led to the rise of the D.I.Y. ethos, which of course stands for “Do It Yourself” and became popular in the 1990’s.
D.I.Y on the face of it seems to make a lot of sense. After all, the artist development people all had to be paid out of the revenue from the music, and the result was less money left over for the musicians. Artists quickly saw the benefit of learning how to perform many business functions themselves. One of the early adopters of D.I.Y. was AniDiFranco, a singer-songwriter from Buffalo, NY who famously drove all around the country playing gigs by herself and selling her CD’s from the trunk of her car. As her popularity rose the record companies came courting, offering her recording contracts, which she refused. At the time, this was a brand new model. Previously, artists would clamor to “get signed” to a label, here was a popular artist refusing to sign a deal with anyone. She founded her own record label, and called it “Righteous Babe Records”.AniDiFranco was considered a pioneer in the new era of the music business, and became an icon of D.I.Y. There followed a whole movement of “Indie” artists….Indie is short for “independent”.
In reality, no one can exist alone in the world; we are all interdependent in so many ways. When AniDiFranco went on tour in Europe, she didn’t bring her car or boxes of CD’s. She took a band with her. She gave concerts in venues and on TV, where she had to work with different promoters and booking agents. She needed assistance in many areas in order to be successful, because one person can only do so much each day. Somebody had to hang the posters up to advertise her concerts, and somebody had to print the tickets. The result of this structure (or lack thereof?) was that she would enter into many agreements and “partnerships” with other artists and business people to make a tour or recording, create her record label, and to even build her own concert hall.
In this sense, a songwriter or bandleader/musician becomes a self-employed contractor, a small business owner, an entrepreneur, and a sole proprietor. They work with clients (the people who hire them) and vendors (the people they hire). They form partnerships and rely greatly on their professional relationship skills. They build an organizational structure that would be familiar to many independent service-for-fee professionals, such as lawyers, house painters, dentists, and landscapers. They are in control of their business, yet they depend on many other people to remain employed in the field. I call this D.I.W.O., or “Do It With Others”. I view the D.I.W.O. concept as realistic and highly pragmatic; a direct outgrowth of D.I.Y. that is a much more accurate reflection of the reality of being an artist today.
In the past we would refer to these other people as “Intermediaries”; they were the ones who helped artists to bridge the gap to the End User: lawyers, managers, promoters, stylists, videographers, musicians, arrangers, producers, booking agents, graphic artists, live sound engineer, even coaches and teachers were part of the Artist Development Team. We still rely on these professionals to some degree, but with D.I.W.O. as an outgrowth of D.I.Y., the artist is in control of who and when these talents and services will be required, as opposed to these decisions being made by a manager or label personnel. This makes perfect sense, as it is the artist who ultimately must pay these professionals, now just as back then.
Today, we still need these intermediaries, and there are others that didn’t exist a few years ago, in addition to those mentioned already. For example, web designer, SEO specialist, social media strategist, and image branding consultant. Possibly the most important one will be a good accountant. We have to keep track of our taxes and what we owe all these intermediaries here to help us bridge the gap. Since there is less revenue available overall, we can less afford to make mistakes in choosing the people to include in our business plans.
D.I.W.O. can be a useful concept from the very beginning of your career. The first step is to figure out what specific skills and capabilities you will need in your team. Their skills should always be complementary to your own, and they should be as committed as you are to the fulfillment of your collective goals. Having a set of your own professional, career and life goals written down is very important, for you to refer to regularly, and to show to prospective team members. Importantly, they have to “Get It” about you and your music. This will help them to understand you, your music, and what you intend to achieve with it. They need to be able to see the vision you have, and commit to it. This is an absolute prerequisite.
If they don’t, you are wasting your time with them. Don’t ever try to convince anyone, they should understand youright away, or they won’t later on. In the end, it is your organization, and no one (except you) is irreplaceable. Some D.I.W.O. team members will work with you for long stretches throughout your career. Others, such as a photographer or a mastering engineer, might work with you only for a day or two. It is up to you, ultimately, to seek out and build strong relationships with the people you will need in your career in order to succeed in reaching your goals.
So, start building your D.I.W.O. Team today. Make a list of everyone you need, and what their special skills or talent should be. Ask other successful musicians or business people to recommend people to you, and contact them. Go to see them and share your plans for your career. Some will understand, while some won’t get it at all. Keep track of the ones who seem to understand what you are doing, and follow up with them regularly with updates. Do your best to build constructive professional friendships with them, because you are going to need them later, and they will need you, too.
In the end, D.I.Y. is a logical and relevant concept, and it isn’t going away. However, in order to make the most of our prospective careers, we will need to embrace D.I.W.O. as well. We may come into the world and go out of italone, but while we are here we will need to find and work with many others in order to achieve anything with lasting meaning.
Tom Stein is a visionary musical entrepreneur, music producer, artist development consultant, arranger, and performer on electric bass, voice and guitar. He teaches at Berklee College of Music in Boston.