Taylor Swift Vs. Dave Grohl (Record Sales Vs. Streaming aka I'm too busy selling out arenas to care)
If you're even remotely interested in music, or I guess pop culture at all, you know Taylor Swift recently released a new album... and there was a big fuss over her pulling her music off streaming service Spotify.
I'll admit, I only have time to skim these articles but at the core is something that crosses my mind every day... especially as someone who makes records for a living.
What's more important... album sales? Or giving your fans access to your music through much lower paying subscription services?
... there can only be one right?
We have Taylor Swift stating recently she believes music shouldn't be free, and we have Dave Grohl's response that he's basically too busy playing arenas to care about album sales.
First off... it's safe to say both of these artists already built their careers and made their money before or during the collapse of the old music industry/restructuring of the new. We can't fault them for that, but we need to factor that into the choices they make and positions they defend. I don't think either have to sell records at this point (really) in order to eat.
... I'm just realizing now how all over the place my thoughts are trying to wrap my brain around this... apologizing in advance!
Let's start with Taylor Swift... she releases an album, her camp pulls her back catalogue off of Spotify because she feels music shouldn't be free and the royalties are too low for the streaming service... and encourages her fans to buy it... and then sections of the music industry applaud her for making a stand against crappy low paying royalties.
Keep in mind she was making a push for the first (and probably only) platinum-selling (1,000,000 copies) artist of 2014.
This is the goal here... selling copies... 1,000,000 I'm assuming.
I think she was en route to hitting that number anyway...
I saw a post pop up on my Facebook feed where she'd retweeted a fan's selfie holding her new album in the store... and then encouraged all her fans who bought the album to tag and share pics.
... this is a huge incentive for fans to buy the new album.
Who knows how much was spent on her promotional campaign at this point, but that probably cost all of $700 for her smartphone, whatever her phone bill is, and however long it took to set up the Twitter account and hit retweet... that's going to add some sales!
There was also a lot of focus on all the bonus material included with the physical CD.
This is something I stand behind firmly... if you want people to buy your album, make sure it's worthwhile for them! Make sure your core fans feel like they're getting more than their monies worth! Include the lyrics, posters, handwritten notes (*cough* copies *cough*), photos from the studio/live, etc. Basically anything you think your core fan might enjoy. Give them a little behind the scenes look, make them feel included, make them feel like part of a club.
That's what Taylor Swift did with the album package and that's what she solidified simply retweeting a fan pic.
So where does Spotify fit in with her? Well... call me cynical, but my guess is it's simply marketing/PR. The iron was hot, and this pushed her new album (and noble stance) on the state of the industry, record sales and no platinum selling artists (for better or worse) right in our faces.
Again, "music shouldn't be free"... except it has been if you think about it... it's the medium we pay for... and that Apple took all the money away from the record labels by providing a medium (iPod) that replaced the CD (medium), which replaced all the other mediums before it... and now we're in the process of replacing the iPod.
... "music shouldn't be free", keep that in mind for a minute.
Let's hop over to Dave Grohl's side of the fence... where he's too busy playing arenas to care about album sales.
Dave just spent a fair amount of time and money travelling and documenting the making of Foo Fighters latest album Sonic Highways.
Again, let's just pretend the video/documentary aspect of making the album isn't the actual product and that the album isn't just the soundtrack to the documentary.
Do the record sales of Sonic Highways really matter to Dave if he's too busy selling out arenas?
Well... let's Google what Foo Fighters make (according to the internet) per show...
Foo's are sitting around $500k+ a show.
Let's check T-Swift while we're at it...
... so being conservative... $1,000,000+ a show.
... let's pretend for a minute, using easy math, that both of these artists are independent and selling their album for $10 on itunes. iTunes takes around 30%, leaving the artist with $7. We'll assume physical sales are the same.
$500,000/$7 = 71,428
... doing some further easy math, we can sort of compare those number into album sales... obviously needing to factor in all the overhead with touring, but touring at that level, we're assuming they're touring at a profit regardless.
It'd take Foo Fighters around 14 shows (1,000,000/71,428) to hit "platinum status" and Taylor would need 7.
I love easy math!
... I think you get the point though.
Another important thing to keep in mind, when an artist sells a record, that's a one time cost and unlimited use/access to the music. With ticket sales, that ticket has value up until the show starts and rapidly declines (unless it's a collectors item which is another blog post) until the show's end. If you want to see either artist again, even if it's the exact same show on the same tour, you pay for it again.
How many people do you know who attend multiple shows of the same band or the same tour? Maybe not so much here in Canada but I know a dozen living in the US who do.
Pearl Jam? Phish? Dave Matthews Band?
Back over to Spotify/streaming, yes the payouts are low, but streaming is a subscription service... which means continuous money (for listening to music) coming in, and being paid out.
Considering how things have changed... I think in the long term, subscription/"free" is better for several reasons (another blog post). We're still going through growing pains over what people think is fair price/royalties... but then considering how badly most artists were treated financially over the last 3-4 decades (once they saw the numbers), they should see streaming as a step in the right direction to more importantly, increasing their reach and increasing their fanbase.
... then again, the labels could probably launch their own subscription based service if they really wanted to.
To sum this up... what I think most musicians are failing to see at the root of this... is the focus of music is going back to what it was... performing live... in whatever form the audience demands and accepts.
I'd say these top tier artists know where their water comes from, and everything else is a drop in the bucket... record sales included. In my opinion, Team Swift used all this as part of marketing hype for (at the end of the day) touring, just like Team Grohl is using the Sonic Highway series as a piece of the promotional puzzle for their core fans... before the big tour.
Both artists know who they are and understand what their product is.
Both are too busy selling out arenas to care about album sales.
... and we can assume both are paying big money to have their singles played on radio... which is sorta like... paying to have people listen to your music... for free... what a second.
... my brain just exploded again.
"Why aren't people taking us seriously?"
That's basically what it gets down to when I hear people grumble about why they can't find shows, or a manager, or a label, or sell cds, or merch, or get more people out to shows... or find investors. You name it, there's a good chance it falls under this umbrella.
This video might seem a little harsh at times... and you can sense the hesitation they have on certain topics (so they don't come across as assholes), but in my opinion, it's right on the money.
I've decided to do a sort of "Coles Notes" version for those who might not have the 30 minutes to watch right now. Oh by the way, I tried to setup the link to start at 6:46... the time before that is spent talking about a dog, new born babies, and poo.
So... in a short... this is why people don't take your band seriously.
... and I'm putting the headings in bold caps so the super impatient can skim through... and so you feel like you're being yelled at. I know what your hearing is like... since most of you don't wear ear plugs.. and most of you reading this are probably guitarists or drummers.
1. YOUR BAND PHOTOS AREN'T GOOD ENOUGH.
It's the awful, honest truth, we judge a book by its cover. Life is too short not to. Make sure you stand up to what's going on (aka considered professional) in your genre. Hiring a great photographer doesn't have to cost a fortune and that one great pic can last you a year or two.
If you look like hacks, you get treated like hacks. It might not seem original, but at least try to look like a band... as much of the time as possible. You will anyway if it becomes your career.
2. YOUR RECORDINGS AREN'T GOOD ENOUGH.
We've entered a stage of very affordable record production. There's a lot of misguided carobbyists (career hobbyists) who think they can produce, record, and mix their own albums... or their buddy can do it for a case of beer in his spare time. There's been a few great albums made in the past this way (often demos remixed after being shopped for a deal), but most often they fall short.
Experience, time, and talent... those are three important elements to the outcome of any creative project. When it comes to recording, rarely someone with all three is in the band or doesn't do it for a living already.
Will that change in the future?
Are we there yet?
... lol. No.
I could go on for a while about this but bottomline... do your recordings stand up to what's out there?
Don't just ask your friends and family what they think of your recordings. Actually put your best song between two successful songs on your iTunes playlist. How does it sounds? Then factor in the time/money spent, and people involved on theirs versus yours.
Does it stand up?
Do you need it to? <-- be honest
If it doesn't and it does, perhaps change your formula, and try again.
... backing up for a second... how are the songs?
3. YOUR SONGS AREN'T GOOD ENOUGH.
Now a good song is subjective... but... if you know your genre, and you know a few people with "great ears" within the genre, you'll know what your best songs are... and if they're in fact, good enough at all.
I've met a handful of people over the years who I think have "great ears" regarding "great songs". My old assistant Tyler, even at 17 years old, could pick out hits by new artists well before anybody else I knew. He loved discovering new tunes and has a real ear for it.
This is the #1 piece of advice for bands out there trying to do something serious with music... you can write cool songs that are self serving and please your imaginary fanbase... but you'll learn to love those "hit" songs that put you on the map... they're what can actually launch your career. It's hard to name a successful band that doesn't have a "hit" song behind them... regardless how far in the rearview mirror it is.
4. YOUR WEBSITE ISN'T GOOD ENOUGH.
Update it often. Constant quality content is queen these days.
There's also this misconception that simply buying your domain name and linking to your FaceBook or Reverbnation page is good enough... well it's not... and it's stupid to rely on these things in the long run.
What if they disappear overnight or fizzle out? What happens when people move on? You want these sites to feed into your main, personal website. The one you have ultimate control over. That's where you need to direct your core fans.
I use Weebly for my site... it's easy... and at least someone in your band should be able to figure it out in an afternoon... if not, you've gotta know at least someone who can help you.
I'm gonna go out on a limb though and say a weebly site is better than majority of the dated and clunky sites I see built by friends and family. Keep it simple and don't pad your content if you have nothing to talk about in your bio... nobody needs to read 37 paragraphs about a band that hasn't done anything worth mentioning.
You need three paragraphs basically... who are you, what have you done, where are you going. Your blog/YouTube/Twitter updates are for what you're doing.
5. YOU DON'T TAKE YOURSELF SERIOUSLY.
So many bands play the "we just want to get together in the jamspace and see what happens... it's just for fun... if it goes somewhere, cool" card. Well... as long as you know it's just for fun, have fun! My men's league hockey is just for fun... despite all its glorious moments (W 3-0 yesterday, 1 G) I ramble on about to friends and family.
If that's your attitude, it'll go nowhere... or the people in the band that want it to go somewhere will eventually dump the rest of the band once they find better people to work with.
Lots of successful bands are a collective of what I call "heavy lifters". The ones who get sh*t done... or at least don't make things more difficult for the ones getting things done.
The successful in any industry are hardcore lifers. If you want to do something that's hard, you have to make your goal not to simply "accomplish it", but to see it through... it's the difference between having a kid and raising one... since there's no real end goal if you're in it for the right reasons.
P.S. It was a garbage goal... but that isn't what they mark on the gamesheet. :-)
Right off the bat... some will argue this is the problem with music today. It's not about the music! Oh, it's still very much about the music... just as much as any other time period if you really want to argue the score. The thing is, we're typically introduced to new music online... and we don't browse the web with black screens... I've tried it on my barely functioning 2006 macbook pro... nobody wins.
... so assume their eyes are always connected to their ears.
Odds are if someone shows you a new band/artist, it's on YouTube, or Facebook, or SoundCloud, or Reverbnation, or Myspace (cough), etc. There's always a way to catch the eye right off the get go, put the listener in the head space/mood you want them in, and THEN deliver with your awesome music.
Don't underestimate how much we value appearance... as a species in general.
Think about something as simple as picking apples off a stand. There could be 500 apples, but given the choice, we choose the ones we like, and pass over the ones that are bruised... unless you're one of those people who intentionally pick bruised apples just to tell people you only pick bruised apples... you know who you are.
Care about your image... you will learn to depend on it.
It's what keeps the door open with potential new fans.
Pick some bands you like (that are appropriate), go through their photos, discover what you like about them and how they could apply to your band... the common thread!.
Hire a pro photographer, or at least someone you trust that's semi-pro. Same goes for stylists, graphic designers, videographers, etc. You don't have to spend a fortune but don't be cheap... aka budget of around 1/4 of what someone good and affordable costs. At least test the waters working with pro's to see what you're missing and/or what you could be doing a whole lot better.
Whether you're on a date, a job interview, or you're trying to sell a pile of dirt on Craiglist, present it in a way that catches the eye and creates interest. Effective and efficient advertising (dirty word I know) takes a little time and costs a little money. Be smart about it and you'll always be above those who were too cool to care about their image... since even if they say they don't... you can always tell when they do... you know who you are.
(... yeah I'm hurrying... I have a system though.)
Sometimes it's hard to find the time… and sometimes finding the time to find the time is a problem in itself. I do my best to write these near the end of the month instead of the beginning of the next month but honestly, sometimes there's just so much I'd like to talk about that it's overwhelming... so before we get into double digit days of November *cough*… here's October.
Early in the month, Breached finally used their prize from last years CMW "demo listening panel thing" which was a day at the brand new (and hugely big large) Revolution Recording studio. This place is huge… and awesome.
The plan was to film and record an acoustic EP with the time instead of record a song or something. For the type of band they are and the production style involved to "do things right", recording a song just didn't make sense. If you plan properly, odds are you can maximize your time and energy… all without leaving the other side (who donated the prize) feeling taken advantage of.
(...or sad... confused... and alone.)
The day was pretty relaxed… the Love & Crossbones (film/video) crew were all very fun and professional, while the house engineer(s) and staff were all very pleasant to work with... something I sort of miss from my days at Pocket Studios.
Having my own place, I work alone a lot, which has it's pros and cons. If I had to choose one over the other though… working with a great team is the way to go for sure. Dynamics are important in life and the dynamic you get from being part of a great team can be one of the best things about any job. Often it's a delicate balance, but so far, the vibe is good there. Revolution beyond a studio really, it's a creative space.
I skipped out early to play hockey that night but it was reassuring to know they were in good hands. It's a nice change to just enjoy hanging out in a studio… as a fan… even though I was technically there to produce it.
UPDATE: The Breached EP is mixed and ready to go… just waiting to finish up the video aspect and hopefully I can share it soon!
(... and now...)
The last few years I've been quite active during Toronto's big 3 indie music festivals/conferences (CWM, NXNE, Indieweek). This was the first time in a while I didn't really get out too much. I'd typically check the schedule, plan my route, hope the weather co-operates, and then enjoy my evening(s) checking out bands with a friend or two. I found the schedule tough to navigate online this year… serious side note for a minute… why can't these festivals get the schedules right? I understand there's a lot of info to organize but really… they always seem to be missing something I'd consider important… like genre, hometown, set time, etc. I'd be awesome if you could quickly scan through the schedule or filter on an app by genre... then at least you'd know what kind of acts to expect... you just can't get enough info from the artist/band name and venue.
So the last couple years I've been asked to judge for indie week… all good... it's fun to watch some bands and give opinions… the latter being something everyone has to and loves to do in this line of work. I can't remember how behind schedule the show was, but when I got there, on time, there wasn't much going on at all… just the bar staff and a few volunteers milling about. Classic. At least I had time to grab food and meet up with some friends in town close to the venue. Eventually I got a text from another judge that the show was starting and I made my way back over to the venue.
If there's one thing that sets pro shows apart from amateurs regarding shows… it's set times. Pro shows run on time. I don't know how they do it, but rarely do bands hit the stage more than 5-10 minutes later than they're scheduled at a well run show.
Oh wait, I do know how they do it... people get in shit for showing up late and not going on stage on time. There are penalties, consequences and repercussions for not doing things the way organizers had planned to run the show.
A personal favorite is the excuse to push back a show until "our fans get there".
Seriously... if you tell them you're on at 10pm, and they show up at 10:45... they aren't your fans... they are your friends... and apparently your friends don't care enough to see your band... they care enough to come out and have a few drinks whenever they feel like it.
(... make sense?)
The thing is... trying to schedule hundreds of bands in a weekend and not having a strictly enforced schedule screws up peoples evenings. If you're trying to showcase bands and people can't see the bands, this defeats the purpose of buying a wristband that gets you into multiple venues over several nights to see as many bands as the festival encourages. There's been times I've shown up to find out a band isn't on for 30 minutes… and times I've shown up, on time, and a band is already halfway through their set.
Again. I don't get it. I don't get why 90% of shows that could run on time, don't run on time. It's one of my deal breakers when it comes to sticking around at shows... since I'm actually there to see the bands… so when there's no bands… and considering how much sleep and free time I get… I'd rather be doing something else that late at night… usually involving house pants, a bowl of cheerios, and watching happy wheels.
(... a little window into my life.)
That being said, the show Saturday night was really solid. I think it was one of the strongest lineups I've seen… definitely the strongest I've got to judge. Every band looked great, sounded great, had some memorable tunes, and the atmosphere of the venue magnified the energy. Good times. I felt good about the band that won the night and knew they'd represent well at the finals the following day.
Speaking of… the finals were great too. Being held at Tattoo, there's a great stage, audience set up, and sound system to showcase the finalists. It's a shame Tattoo seems to hate bands and treat them like shit… but that night seemed to be an exception since I hardly noticed.
Right from the get go, the acts were solid, entertaining, and had a nice blend of pro polish and scrappy DIY. Lots of genres represented… folk, rock, metal, instrumental electro jazz… I skipped out to grab a bite to eat at one point, but a couple things I thought were missing were hiphop/urban and RnB.
Last years winners were Tiny Danza (aka Nixon now which is a whole 'nother topic). I didn't catch them that night but I'd seen them before. Even if they weren't your cup of tea, you knew they were good… no argument. There were lots of great acts that night as well, and it seemed like everything was represented for the most part. This year, it just seemed odd none of those acts made it through.
(... I notice these things.)
It was a great night overall though… more a celebration of bands and artists doing what they love, after countless hours in the rehearsal spaces, showcasing what they've come up with. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Congrats again to Burning The Day on taking home the top prize. I had my own top 3 and they were in it for sure. I was surprised the judges gave them the edge in some ways but in others, how could you not. Sometimes it gets down to criteria on a sheet, sometimes it's doing what you know is the right thing to do… and sometimes you do what you feel is the cool thing to do... possibly because you're out of touch. Take that however you want, regardless, Ireland will enjoy what's coming there way.
Finally, the new Morgan Sadler EP is done! Mixed, mastered, and in the can! You can check out the songs here, here, here, and here. I'm really happy with how things turned out and looking forward to posting the songs when the time comes. Morgan's been thinking a lot about how to release, redefine, and basically launch her new music and "brand". It works from the ground up these days which has many advantages… in the long run for sure. We've had quite a few brainstorming sessions and I'm looking forward to where she's at in a year... or two.
... and now to finish writing November.
(... I'm working on it.)
“It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission."
- Grace Hopper
Last night I received a message on Facebook from a friend inviting me to use a new twitter account "group". They provided the account info/password, a few quick and simple guidelines, and suggested I allow other individuals to have access to the account information as I saw fit, in order to tweet from it.
I was horrified.
Luckily, there was a window of opportunity to park the account in an attempt clear up some major (and obvious) concerns I had with this.
Upfront, I don't think anybody can claim ownership on a hashtag… but #DearBands is something I came up with and have been using for almost a full year now on Twitter. Since the beginning, the tweets have been well received and I've been encouraged to tweet more often. While a few think it's a platform to poke fun at bands, there's actually a bigger picture in mind and I believe in order for an idea to grow, some care should be taken while planting the seeds.
#DearBands is an anonymous association of music industry professionals ranting and blowing off steam about bands today.
This is false.
#DearBands is a hashtag created by @HeyLangford to give gentle reminders to bands and artists to be aware of how they conduct, promote, and represent themselves online and in person, with a goal of encouraging amateurs and professionals to engage in conversation through various forms of social networks, in order to share ideas, opinions, and work towards a greater good for the music industry of tomorrow.
This is true.
In response to parking the account, which you can imagine didn't make me the most popular person in the room, I wanted it to be known I felt like my brand (and idea) was being compromised and the "new" description wasn't even close to what my original intentions are… and where admittedly the idea to form the group had come from. Being friends, I'm disappointed with how this has played out the past 24 hours but here are my concerns/issues:
I don't believe in anonymity, especially online.
If you have something to say, stand behind your words. Praise or criticism, it's not what you say, it's who says it... that's why the pen can be mightier than the sword. The weight of the words are lost if it's said without a face or personality to accompany it. Chances are the account/hashtag would simply become intermittent bite size chunks of comic relief… in my opinion, the lowest rung on the entertainment ladder on something like Twitter.
I've encouraged others to tweet using the #DearBands hashtag through their personal Twitter accounts, and slowly, they have been. This enables us to create a sort of searchable database of information, and that's a great bi-product Twitter. Good advice doesn't provide "one size fits all" solutions so allowing others to attach the tag to their tweets has a lot of value to the reader. Again, while there has been humour sprinkled in at times, the goal is to offer advice and guidance, and encourage discussion. Only fools, especially in present day, would take anonymous advice.
I don't believe ranting and venting about bands/artists is constructive to helping bands/artists.
Sure, we all have times we need to (there are things you tell your best friend, things you tell your mom, and things you'd only tell your dog), but I feel that, and I have 50+ #DearBands sitting my drafts folder, what we put out in the world comes back three fold. We should have positive or at least neutral intent with our words and actions as often as possible. On the top layer, there's humour and/or sarcasm to many of my tweets, but that's part of my personality. At the heart of it though, I believe the intentions should be positive. Say things that provoke thought, a response, and encourage others to pass it on. Considering the amount of bullying awareness going on these days, I'd rather not be part of that problem, and embarrass and/or discourage people from doing what they love. I believe the solution is simply not being part of the problem.
That being said, during a somewhat, one-sided heated conversation on Facebook last night, I provided several solutions. The main one being, if you want a place to rant and blow off steam anonymously, fine… but why attempt to hijack a hashtag I've been using almost exclusively the past year, attempt to redefine it, and pass it off as your own? Why can't it be called something else? I can accept certain places need anonymity (... elections anyone?), so a simple solution for both parties would be to create something new… perhaps along the lines of "Clients From Hell".
I won't name names (they asked for anonymity after all), and I'm sure their intentions are good, but this really caught me off guard yesterday… especially coming from a friend. I'm not the aggressive type, but I'll stand up for who and what I believe is right, and do what's necessary to defend my ideas and opinions… and in cases like this, be open to work together for a compromise. Hopefully this is all resolved soon but I felt the need to say something sooner than later.
The internet is a big place and there's lots of room for everyone, good or bad, to do as they wish. It's unfortunate sometimes others attempt to claim ownership on someone else's idea… considering it's that way of thinking which prevents others from sharing their ideas in the first place.
... yes... I finally gave my website a complete overhaul. Why? Honestly... because my old one wasn't as fun to me anymore... and it was really hard to read... especially on mobile devices... and I knew that.
There was an article I read a few weeks ago, talking about the where and how people are doing their searching online. Close to half, if not most use their phones to look up information.
I guess… but I still didn't think people did that much on their phone though aside from fling birds and text… the problem… is that's coming from someone who until a few years ago didn't have a cell phone… and has been an iPhone user less than a year.
Now I use my phone constantly, for almost everything… especially finding out things I want to know more about, the moment I want to know about it… which is amazing with something like Canadian Music Week here in Toronto around the corner. I'll be out seeing bands… but there's only so many bands I can see.
An important consideration for any type of branding is knowing your audience and where your audience is going to be. We do our homework online and through word of mouth… and just because we're in transit or away from a "computer" doesn't mean that thirst for information and networking stops.
Dear Bands… How compatible is your website for mobile devices?
Check it right now… if the who, what, and where all show up efficiently, in order, and you get your message across in 10 seconds… awesome. If not, you've got homework.
I'm not going to walk you through the steps to do so… your social networks and Google can take it from here. I knew I was doing something wrong and I finally decided to do something about it. How you brand yourself online, just like on stage and on your recordings, should be fun and leave you feeling proud and satisfied. Just make sure it's not too much fun at the expense of the clarity of the content.
Mike Langford - Official Blog
Being on both sides of the glass, I get the chance to wear many hats in the music industry. This is a place to share my thoughts, views, predictions, rants, stories and news!