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.
For the record… no pun intended… I'm on Team Grohl.
I agree 100% with the idea that musicianship should be viewed not only as an art form, but a discipline. As musicians, or creatives in general, we're always striving to be better… and despite how good we are, we'll always hear or see someone better than us, that makes us smile and inspires us to keep learning.
With that out of the way… I haven't seen Sound City yet. I've heard mixed reviews from "It's amazing! It'll change the way you feel about recording… Dave Grohl is a genius!!!" to "It's basically a 2 hour promo for Dave Grohl to start producing albums… oh, and he's also got a boner for some recording console."
I'm cool with the overview my friends have passed along… which is sorta why I haven't watched it yet.
One thing that's evolved from Sound City, is this current movement Dave's spreading about keeping things raw… you know… just getting in the jam space, hacking out some songs, playing loud, and keeping it real! Play from the heart! That's the way it should be! Just go! Just hit record, giv'er, and go!
That's cool Dave… but there's a lot of bands out there who now have this idea that whatever they come up with, if they care about it enough, and work from the heart, it'll get noticed, and should do well. That "keeping it real" is better than that overproduced, co-written (or worse, pro-written) Nickelback garbage on the radio.
Over the last year, there's absolutely been an increase in bands choosing to shy away from production, having no idea what the word actually means.
'Production' - It's basically hair, make up, and lighting for your recording.
Yes, it can be overdone… but typically "overproduced" is the result of someone who doesn't know how to use the tools, and/or abused them and/or chose the wrong production style for the song altogether.
Recording to 2" tape involves its own style of production and if you don't know what you're doing, there's a good chance you'll throw it in the weeds. The right amount of cleaning up and complimentary production style is what separates pro from demo… or worse… the insanely expensive professionally recorded demo. There's an analog equivalent to most of the "studio magic" we can do in digital these days. We can simply do it much quicker in the digital realm. Use the technology as a tool, not a crutch.
Even with Dave swingin' from the rafters shouting "we didn't use Pro Tools! We didn't edit anything! We recorded on tape! We kept it real!!!" There's still a couple crucial things to keep in mind... besides the talent level and experience of the people involved on that last album.
Foo Fighters has done really well. They played by whatever set of rules applied at the beginning of their career and now they can afford to do whatever they want. Foo Fighters have a lot of value. Dave's already made his money.
…a similar case could be made with Radiohead releasing the first really talked about "name your price" album and Beyonce's recently released "overnight, zero promotion, iTunes video album"… these are established artists. They already have a fan base… arguably more to lose if they mess up but more to lose means you had something to start with… again, they've already made their money… and they can still fall back on their old hits if need be.
Back to Foo Fighters… I can remember my brother commenting on how much better The Colour And The Shape (1997) sounded than their debut album (1995). I would've been 13 years old at the time… and I heard the difference in production. But it not only sounded better… it had more, "good" songs.
They say you learn the rules so you can break them. That's this in the real world.
… what a great lead up to my last point about Grohlology!
"because the deep [album] cuts don't keep the mansion running."
I was trying to find the quote I read a while ago where Dave basically said "I only record songs I think are hits… there's no point in recording anything else."
This should kinda feel like a gut punch to a lot bands out there waving Grohlology flags.
Does that mean you shouldn't record those other songs anyway?
... even though they might not be hits?
I still believe if it resonates with you, there's a good chance it will with others. But when Dave says "don't bore us, get to the chorus", and encourages bands to shove their idea in pop structure to start… I'm laughing on the inside when a band waves the Grohlology flag in my face and argues boring pop structure... meanwhile they can't even identify their own chorus… yet they're thinking their song should be a single… and should get them noticed... and help get them signed... and should be able to get on the radio... because it's that good. It's that much better than all the crap that gets played on the radio these days.
I encourage people to read the article above or at least check out the video that's included.
Just to clear things up, yes, lots of music out there is not aimed at radio and is quite successful despite never having a "hit". Music needs to resonate and I think that's what we all love about Dave… regardless what he's doing in music, he radiates the passion... he's giving 100%… or I guess 1 Dave Grohl Unit. Just don't confuse passion and hard work with a ticket for attention and riches. Dave's done well because he came from a great band in a booming pop culture trend that *cough* figured out how to write a hit *cough*, and then went on to figure out the formula to start writing hits for Foo Fighters.
… anybody want to tally up the similarities between Foo Fighter and Nickleback songs… err hit songs?
- Mike :-)
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!