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Investors, Making It, The State of the Music Biz

This isn't so much a turd, but an interesting discussion I had with a person on Craigslist about the state of the music biz.

Yep - on of all places, an intelligent debate on craigslist. Not talk of dick size, what chicks really want, ya know - important things.

Since CL's users are a sordid lot, it was flagged. One mentioned it gave him a headache.So of course it was flagged.
The original poster, tho, did post and mentioned  trying to continue it - but that got flagged too...

Knowing that would happen, I captured it in a webpage, in chronological order.

To keep it easy to follow who wrote what,  the original poster's comments are in red/brown - my responses are in black:

Date: 2008-01-31, 5:27PM EST
This is from the
Having followed the OP and subsequent responses to her search for an investor, I figured I'd throw in my 2 cents. I am motivated as much by her attackers as by posts from young, ambitious players who dream of making it in the music biz.

DISCLAIMER: I don't claim to be an authority of any kind. I have been involved with, worked around and been in touch with the music biz since I was a teenager. I started out playing garage band stuff like a million other kids, I worked in retail record shop management, commerical music radio, I worked with major labels from a marketing perspective, have worked with nightclubs and promoters, and I have been published in mainstream and trade pubs writing about music. I tell you this as a point of reference -again, I am not trying to be any kind of authority, but simply someone who has some experience and background with the music industry. I offer my opinions for whatever they're worth to whomever might find them useful.

Rarely has the cliche, "it was the best of times it was the worst of times," been more appropriate than to the current state of the music biz.

Clearly for the major labels it is the worst of times. Staggering double digit losses in sales, tighter restrictions of airplay, fewer broad based outlets for traditional exposure of new artists, major artists making high profile departures from labels with whom they had long time affiliations, bad press regarding the RIAA and the whole illegal downloading scapegoat they use to explain their problems. The results - layoffs, fewer and worse signing deals for unknown artists, lower revenue, falling stock prices, and no way to really fix it. The model is broken.

For the unknown, unsigned artist there is some good news. Thanks to the internet and technology there has never been a better and more affordable opportunity to record music and push it through non traditional, ground level marketing avenues. In some ways the playing field has been leveled like never before. Where there was once a huge chasm between the brass ring of a major label deal/release and being an unsigned band, now there are tons of options in between and they don't have to lead to a major label to spell success. In fact it is becoming less desireable to be with a major all the time. They don't have the resources they once had, they are out of touch with the street and they don't have the towering hits they once had to carry the young acts and actually nurture them and build an audience.

So, what can an unknown, unsigned artist do to have a shot at "making it," in the music business today? Here are a few ideas and advice that will no doubt be dismissed as tried (and to some tired) but are none the less true:

         1. First and foremost, be about the music and care about your audience. Think about the magic of music for yourself. What inspired you? What excited you and turned you on? What made you want to listen to that tune over and over again? What made you want to do this in the first place? Hopefully you want to make it in the music biz because you have talent, passion, drive and something to say that people want and need to hear. It's your job to inspire. That means doing all the basic things to build and improve on a foundation of what you have to offer. It means doing the grunt work. Practice, practice, practice. Listen, listen, listen. Get the skills to make yourself great. Find your own unique voice. It should be your goal to NEVER have anyone say, yeah, he/she/they sound like a young (fill in the blank). Write, perform, do whatever you do earnestly based on that unique thing YOU have that no one else has. Your job is to put yourself out there, not what you think will sell, not what you think someone wants to hear. Passion, conviction, belief, commitment should be your guiding mantras; exceptional performance and delivery your goal. Nothing less, nothing else. You do that, the rest will follow. Without it you'll join the thousands of mediocre artists who either never go anywhere or at best a flash in the pan and those are becoming shorter lived and more forgettable by the second.
         2. NOTE: In practical terms in the music biz, people have to understand something about what you are and most importantly who you will appeal to, but you should define yourself and your music in that regard by who you will appeal to, NOT who you sound like. Think AUDIENCE, NOT ARTIST COMPARISON.
   1. Music - Don't record until you know you are ready. That means all the elements have to line up:

You have to have great songs, period. Sure there are novelties, and mediocre songs that are played everyday, but you, as an unknown have to have something better. How do you know you have a good song? Well it's a little hard to codify, but for a start, you should be able to play it on just a piano or guitar and have it work. Having it work means it's interesting, it's compelling, solid evidence of song structure is there, a great hook, lyrics that aren't tired and cliched, chord changes and structure that doesn't sound like 10,000 other songs. All that and a dose of that magical thing that is as elusive as chemistry between a man and a woman, and MAYBE you have a good song.
<>You have to be able to play/sing them exceptionally well, you have to have the right arrangements, the right musicians. You have to have the right engineers and recording. You are better off having one greatsong that is representative and perfect than 2 or 3 or 10 songs that you have to make excuses for. Demos doesn't mean it gets to sound lousy. There is never an excuse for being out of tune, straining to hit notes, lots of "clams" not having solid time and meter. IF your goal is to sell songs to other performers then they should be stripped down as described above so the basic song can be heard. The performer or producer you are trying to sell will be able to hear what to do with it, they don't want it obscured with your "vision" or "arrangement" especially if it isn't top notch.

If you can't afford to have your incredible song recorded perfectly then either wait or work out an arrangement of the song that can be recorded to sound great. If you have a band including a drummer and the place you are recording doesn't know how to mic drums properly, then go somewhere else or figure out an an acoustic version with percussion limited to what can be recorded properly to sound good. An acoustic, small setting of a great song that is well recorded will always be more impressive than a full band recording where there are obvious shortcomings and flaws, even if the musicianship is great but the recording quality isn't. Your goal has to be to let people hear your stuff without excuses. That doesn't mean you can't tell them you intend to record it with a full band, it means you don't want to have to say "the drums/acoustic guitar/whatever doesn't sound so great, but we're going to do it again."

When playing live, have some stage presence. That doesn't mean you have to drss like Kiss and spit fire, but connect with your audience. Miles Davis was about the only one who could come out and disregard his audience and have it add to his mystique...but you ain't Miles Davis. Be accessible to your audience, especially when starting out. A literary agent once said of writers, "today anyone with a word processor thinks he's a writer," and the same is true of music - everyone with Garage Band on their Mac thinks they are singer songwriters. Point is the whole "rock star" thing has changed - it's about accessibility.

3. Promotion - There are more outlets than ever before to promote yourself. Myspace is a given, your own web site should be too. If like lots of "artistes" you don't have it together to do self promotion then you should figure out how or find someone to recruit who believes in you and knows how to do it. You need MP3s/samples of your great, well recorded song(s). I would suggest if you want to do a video, like the audio recording, if it can't look pretty slick and sound great then don't bother. I can't tell you how many half assed home camcorder videos I've seen of some band playing live, shot from a single cam, often handheld, from the same angle, sound from a condenser mic, people walking past the band/stage, etc. and it's boring and in some cases downright awful. If you can't get a decent video, then get decent still shots. Perspective club owners are harsh and they get hit by a zillion unknown bands everyday. I've sat with them looking over press packs (including clubs in this town that you all know and many would love to play). The band/artist gets about 30 seconds or less before the cassette/CD/MP3 is shut down and the press package trashed. Your stuff has to look and sound great and be representative...but more than ANYTHING it goes back to the music. Bands that look good and don't sound good rarely get far (other than some mediocre cover bands).

Some ideas for promotion: Myspace, web site, cross promotion with other bands, flyers, street teams, email lists, sending to labels big and small, sending to ad agencies for commercial exposure, send to people creating web content for exposure, film companies, create pictorial videos with your song as the bed and put them on, send to internet radio stations. Figure out the best radio formats for your music and find out who programs them and how to submit, NPR promotes unsigned bands, offer to play charity gigs, make yourself available to play for local events and promotions by local radio stations, play open mics, host open mics, look for sponsors, endorsement deals, offer your music for promotional purposes. Figure out alternative ways to get paid for making your music downloadable for free. Come up with deals to bring audiences out to see you like telling your audience that at the live gig that they can download some, any, all your songs, the one you just played, whatever, to their device right NOW or point them to where to go later. Send your stuff to the any/all the appropriate web sites and magazines among the tons of them out there that review music. Come up with reasons why they should review are coming to town, your song just got used, 10 zillion people just caught you on myspace, youtube, whatever. Buy a tee shirt, get an EP/CD, code for free download, whatever.

These are a handful of off the top of my head ideas, some are obvious. You have to do all the above and anything else you can think of and do it continuously for the long haul. Then MAYBE you get a shot to make it.

Finally, to the woman looking for an investor - you may find yourself frustrated by trying to find and investor to give you a bunch of money to record when you don't have an audience (if that is the case). Recording is pretty affordable these days. I don't know how good they are but there are studios who advertise here every day/week with deals to go in for a few hours and record for in some cases as little as a hundred some dollars. If you plan properly and have it together any band/artist with a normal number of players, say 3-6, should be able to go into a studio and come out with at least a song or two within four hours. I know, I've done it without even that much prep. This may be a bold statement, but if you can't nail something within under 10 takes, then you aren't ready to be recording. Ask for samples of the studios work first. Ask about engineers, understand the setup. Really question all micing of acoustic instruments, especially drums which are hard to mic. Listen to how they sound on other recordings from the studio. Find realistic examples of production and recording work you like and sounds you would like to have and ask them to listen to them with you and be honest about their ability to get that sound. Every studio is a little different, but there are so many software packages and tools out there today to alter and emulate after the fact that you should be able to get pretty much whatever you want/need if it was recorded properly upfront.

Good luck, thanks for reading. I hope there was even one little nugget of value for your time.
Date: 2008-02-01, 9:00AM EST

Good points... Here's a bit of my rant I posted a while back to some "industry folk":

How many sports figures, in all the pro sports, make over $100,000/year? How many do that well in the music industry? How is the sports industry able to pay that many people that much?

Why does the sports industry have no problem in jiggling loose an ever shrinking entertainment dollar from a consumer that has the highest short-term debt load we've ever seen?

Especially in a market with so many things vying for that shrinking entertainment dollar?

And the core entertainment product they produce is sponsor-driven. Consumers don't directly pay-per-performance for the actual media delivered.

Short of the chronic gamblers (is poker on ESPN a fad or a real sport?), even MILF's are into a crazed frenzy during football season...

Why is it that even someone like me - that grew up in the drug-induced daze of the 60's-70's when a perception of pro athletics was one of being part of the "establishment" - willing to spend $350.00 for four NFL-licensed shirts?

What are the differences in the way pro sports markets their product vs. the major labels?

After asking myself these questions I sat there with two web browsers opened up side-by-side. On the left, On the right, either Billboard or Rolling Stone. (1 of 4)2/1/2008 9:45:10 AM

The first thing you’ll notice is the difference in the amount of people listed on each site. On the left, tons of well recognized names; each known to be making zillions of $$$. On the right I see the same 12 names, some I’ve seen for the past twenty years.

What gives?

It seems to me that the main difference is that pro-sports doesn't rely on some stale-ass pre-recorded product for their revenue stream.

They market human ability, not so much the last touchdown, the last basket, etc...They market a very dynamic product, one that emphasizes what the pros are capable of, not just what they’ve done in the past. I think that’s the basis for the success Dave Matthews, the Dead and other musicians have tapped into with their live shows.

And unlike the record industry, they've educated their consumer as to how difficult it is to be really good, then have skilled people ("scouts" as you will) look for actual talent that the consumer can recognize with their newly found knowledge of sports.

Good musicians can do it too…

Everyone's thrown a football, played basketball, and knows it's not easy to dedicate your life to it. They even encourage it, through high school and college, for people to try; then the process weeds out those that, even though they have some talent, can't cut the mustard as to ALL the work it takes to actually be good at it. And the consumer seems enamored by human achievement and the issues that surround these “pro’s” doing their thing.

I mean, if ESPN can make poker a “sporting event” why can’t the music exec’s get their act together and actually start doing similar things?

Now, what does the record industry do in response to shrinking revenues?

Elvis has left the building…

Figuring they run their business model similar to when Elvis was still alive, when there were only three networks stations, books/magazines, and movies (in theaters mind you) competing for the 200/yr per capita debt load consumer entertainment dollar.

They, again, try to rely on the old glitz and glamour, shallow things at best, and pull the wool over people’s eyes with what they deem as “safe product development”, sexy kids with totally contrived presentation.

So what to do?

My feeling is that with Karaoke nights, easy home studios so that 30,000 titles are released a year (vs 3000/yr), American Idol like shows, and the proliferation of WAN technologies, it will educate the consumer and allow that consumer to have many more choices and more exposure to truly be able to recognize developed artists that ARE at the top of the heap. Then market and merchandise it, with recorded music being only a small part of the ROI. Similar to how the games are on ESPN/network TV.

So now that the industry no longer has their revenue emphasis on prerecorded material, post the expansion and shrinkage typical of industries going through this type of change (from railroads to autos they've all been there), the file sharing and such are not as major a concern.

I mean, yea they'd be pissed if people we're to share digital clips of the Super Bowl (am I allowed to even write Super Bowl without a license?) illegally on the internet, but hey it's old news.

And that's not their main revenue generating element anyway... they present fresh material daily from pros that are worth the consumer’s $$$$.

Date: 2008-01-31, 5:27PM EST
This is the
First Response
From the
OP here. Some of your concepts are interesting. Although there are common elements between sports and music both from a consumer and business model standpoint, there are some major differences that account for a lot of the great financial success of sports.

For one thing, since as you correctly point out, people watch sports on TV more or less for free, as opposed to purchasing music, the sports francise major revenue streams come from other places. Those revenue streams are paying for a lot of those salaries:

   1. Broadcast Fees - The networks that run various sports francises pay an enormous amount of money for the right to be able to broadcast those games, ususally exclusively. They do it because they know the audience is there and they sell tons of local and national advertising to pay for those games and a profit. In some cases, like Fox in the beginning, they overpaid just to get those francises because the viewers it brought and the perceived credibility and prestige of having NFL attracted attention, got them press/ media coverage, access to coaches, players and the creation of other shows, pre-post, etc. and last and certainly not least, it brought lots of views during the season and Foxes numbers in the ratings shoot up. Today's Nielsen ratings are used to buy tomorrows and next years advertising. Higher viewership today projects to higher viewership tomorrow and thus higher costs for advertisers. Right or wrong, that's how it works.
   2. Sponsorships - Sure, some rock bands and tours get sponsors, but it is nothing compared to the multiple advertiser/sponsor, ongoing committments made to sports organizations. Let's not even talk about the huge endorsement bucks sports players make for being spokespeople for products outside of sports directly. Other than endorsement deals from musical equipment companies to musicians, you don't see "Hi, Charlie Watts here for Menthelatum Deep Heating Rub. After a big night on stage, my back is killing, my shoulders are shot, that's when I count on MDHR to bring me back from the brink." Just doesn't happen...yet.

Granted, the music business has done a terrible job in arguably the last couple decades, but I think part of their problem and part of the problem by deemphasizing the actual music is that the focus on things other than the actual product is a bad thing. It has to be about making great music and getting it exposed. It hasn't been for a long time. There are no doubt tons of groups/artists that are great and never see the light of day.

In sports it's a limited number of players on a limited number of teams. People watch/consume because of the nature of what it is. It is less subjective than music or film or art. It isn't as open to debate about what is good and what isn't. You are either into a sport or you aren't. Sure, you have favorite teams, and maybe games/teams you won't bother to watch, but in music it's different. There is no "every week" expectation to consume what you like. You don't turn on the radio and spend hours sitting around waiting to hear your favorite song.

For better or worse, music is egalatarian. Exposure is a wild card, but theoretically with determination, great music will be discovered. The major labels have lost sight of this. They are public companies. Their loyalties are to stockholders. Their view is short term. This single, this quarter. They went in just a few short decades from being smaller organizations that were driven by the passions of owners, artists and producers for the music first and foremost and they became divisions of huge public companies run by people who don't really get it.

When you lose focus on your product, you can't expect the consumer to consume.
Date: 2008-02-01, 2:36PM EST My RESPONSE 2
Yea, but the main point is this - Product. What is the product?

In my opinion, once Edison invented the wax cylinder, confusion set in as to the "product". As a recent Dow TV ad states, "... the Hu factor..."

The manifestation of music being a tangible is contrary to thousands of years of music being communicative. The problem is that we, as a society and probably due to the music industry’s desire to productize and package, the consumer seems confused as to what’s important – the recording or the musician. Or if they’re [more likely] separate entities to themselves and should be treated as such.

Many possibilities as to why this happened:

-Recording sound was such a novelty in the early 1900’s, that it developed a whiz-bang allure

-Convenience; in that before audio recording, one had to endure horse-drawn carriage rides over mud-rutted fields in order to hear someone that had mastered the art – either that or learn/do it themselves.

-Packaging and emphasis on “product” in order to make it easier to market, especially since it now being a tangible, those that market it can too, shine in the glory of the art.

I will say that recording is an art form in itself; having dedicated many years of my life to both development of recording technology as well as producing/engineering music. But I feel the distinction of it from all that music has to offer as a performing art form has been blurred, especially with the last 50-75 years metering “success” as to how many recordings a particular artist sells.
<>For instance a lot of bands get really hung up on covers, trying to make their performance sound like the “record”, and audiences of non-musicians they play for seem to gauge how good the band is by how closely it sounds to a recording they heard. Especially a recording that previously had “communicated” to the listener in a way that just so happened to be in their current realm of perception, possibly due to an emotional time in said listeners life. Instead of fostering a true appreciation for the art form in all its facets; from the basic elements of song construction, through to the individualized interpretation one can give, the music industry has developed this desire for tangibility; one that allows all the “big business” as you so well stated, the ability to try and neatly package something that itself is intangible and individual, especially in its communicative form.

For instance, if I were to approach a female and say “Drop your panties” I’d be slapped and arrested; if Sean Connery or Brad Pitt were to do the same, the results would most likely be different. The layperson has never been given the inducement to actually learn what a polyrhythm is, even what a quarter note is, as they have to what a first down means. More people know what a safety does as compared to what a drummer does.

In fact in sports, it seems those sports that are more into form, say gymnastics, only glean the notice of the layperson when someone “stretches” the form. Conversely, it seems sports that emphasize human ability; where, say there’s no same way to score a goal/touchdown, enjoy a more varied audience appeal, one that highlights the human and not the form.

To paraphrase Quincy Jones, not matter how much you do your homework, leave enough room to let the Lord walk thru… Now, I’m not even remotely religious, but every recording I’ve ever played on, engineered, or produced had that redeeming value… someone skilled in their art enough to actually speak with his craft.

As far as sports "...being open to debate...", just look at the R&R section rants about the Redskins. Or for that matter, go into any bar and mention how good X is and see what ensues...

As to being “egalitarian” I’m not sure what you mean by that, but I do feel all humans seem to embrace human achievement, as long as they are capable of understanding what the achievement is…

As to the future of music, I say let’s see the recording as to what it is, a snap shot of an emotion created by the artists, and place more emphasis on the artists themselves. Now, that may leave the record exec’s of the world in a bit of a lurch, since they will no longer have the ego boost, make big $$$, get laid as easy, etc… but it will squarely place the appeal of the artist in a knowing and educated audience, one that understands how much “woodshedding” and development went into it.
Date: 2008-02-01, 4:09PM EST ORIGINAL POSTER REPLY 2
To be perfectly honest, I don't totally understand your last post, perhaps you might simplify your thoughts for those of or maybe just me, who is too stupid to follow it.

You asked what the product is. The "product" can mean several things - the song, the artist, the recording and vehicle on which the music is delivered, i.e. records, CDs, tapes, MP3s, whatever.

I will take a stab at what I suspect you are saying and that is that the song, the performance is the product and the rest is packaging and commerce. If that's the case that may well be true, but it seems rhetorical or semanical.

The product is all of the above, packaged and sold. Before recordings were prolific sheet music sold, that was the product since the only way people were going to hear songs they liked was to play them or have them played live. There was no "artist" per se, there was performance and the emphasis was the song. Just like today, the major yardstick of success was how many copies of the sheet music were sold. From that, how much was it played in public, thus popularity.
<>Since the time or recording technology and mass affordable production of music the emphasis has moved from just the song to include the performer. Until The Beatles there were songwriters and people who performed those songs. The Beatles were one of if not the first artists to write and play their own songs and change that dynamic. They weren't just performance talent dependent on others for material. The packaging and mass production of music is the natural and obvious outgrowth of the ability to mass produce. The ability for radio to play the same exact recording over and over again created a world where people not only fell in love with a song, but the specific popular recorded performance of it and the artist that had the big hit. Still, the song was important. Look at how many songs written by and originally performed by black artists ended up being recorded by white artists and targeted to white audiences. It's all part of packaging and selling of product. That means everything from the song, the artist, the actual recording, the cover art, the push toward a specific artist through venues like radio.

Arguably the introduction of the CD was the beginning of the end of music although for a decade or so this was masked by the tons of people who grew up in the LP and 45 era who spent tons of money to replace their vinyl collections. The labels were more than thrilled to resell us the same stuff again on new "software." While they were busy collecting all that revenue they weren't thinking about what they were putting out and the fact that one day that baby boomer audience will have replaced what they want to replace and it will end. They weren't nurturing new artists or audience the same way. CDs were the first step in the removal from the visceral experience of listening to music. You are right, your average listener not only didn't need to know what a quarter note was, most didn't want to. The more you break music down to elements the more of the magic you lose. Most non musician's just want to hear the songs, it's that simple. They wanted to look at the jacket, look at pictures, read liner notes, turn the album over, drop the needle. CDs moved us away from that. Today, music is an accessory for lots of young people. It's background. People don't get together at someone's house and listen to a new album on a great stereo and share that experience. They download to iPods and listen for distraction sake. Songs are ephemeral. What is coming out today that has a realistic shot of being listened to 5, 10, 20, 40 years from now? But go back 40 years and further and there are tons things we still listen to today.

Today's generation has too many choices for both their entertainment dollar and their time for music to have meaning to them. Couple that with the fact that most of the music that reaches the masses lacks passion, depth, message, meaning, magic and it's easy to see why we are where we are. Young people don't care about looking at album jackets. There are no album jackets. They just want to hear the song now. Next week it will be something else. They don't want to "collect" anything. It's disposable because the music business made it meaningless.

When I said music was egalatarian, I meant just that. Practically anyone that wants to can produce a piece of music and make it available for potentially wide spread exposure. Back in the day it wasn't like that. It was a big deal to make a record. It was even harder to get it played. There was no internet. There was little or no way for an unsigned band to do anything other than record a song and then deal with the cost of producing a vinyl single that was expensive and had no real outlet. Today you can record a song in the morning and it can be on myspace that afternoon and you can inform maybe 100s or thousands of myspace friends about it.

Where all this gets us I simply don't know. In a world where lots of young people have come of age thinking music is free, that it's something you just download it is unclear what will happen as the CD itself becomes antiquated and phased out in the next few years. Some established bands are trying bold experiments to figure out how things will work. Look at the Radiohead album. Others, like Madonna are saying it isn't about the label and they know they can put out their own records their own way without a major label. Still there are guys like McCartney who probably shouldn't be making albums at all anymore, but for some reason that need the validation of not only making them, but the validation that tons of money will come his way, money his albums will never pay back, to go with something like Starbucks.

Labels, artists and music is in a transition into uncharted territory. Technology will continue to evolve and there will be virtually no way to control unauthorized duplication. So the question of "product" is even more unanswerable. I think that at least in the short term what it means for the unknown, unsigned, or emerging artist is that they have to seize opportunities during the chaos. It will mean more touring, more "working the room," for exposure. It will mean less guarantee of making "rock star" money of the past. If they are lucky and real good it may mean they can make a decent living. Or, conversely it may mean you become an online star with whatever following you can develop without leaving your living room. It may mean they never get to quit their day job. It may be enough. In the end those that have the talent, passion and drive will do what they have to do. Those who don't fall by the wayside. If that isn't egalatarian I don't know what is.
Date: 2008-02-01, 6:39PM EST My RESPONSE 3
Ok, first I believe that having to even try and discern a product is the first issue. And recall, this goes back a lot farther than the 20th century; the Beatles as you put it. What about all the rich history of both composers and performers, from Bach to Jelly Roll Morton to Radiohead?

The success of each was paramount on the humans involved, not the packaging. There’s the composition and the performer(s). Most composers are known for just that, the composition. The performers are known primarily for their mastery of the performance, such as Paganini from the early 1800’s, who was also a composer, but was best known for his amazing violin playing. His sheet music didn’t really sell, as say a Mozart, in comparison to his concert performances. He’s considered by many to be one of the first “rock stars” with all the trappings of a Slash, women swooning, sellout crowds, etc… Many were playing violin at the time but he was deemed as one of the masters.

As to writing and playing their own, many artists have been well known for that for a lot longer than the Beatles. Many composers were both brilliant performers as well as amazing composers. Liszt, for example. Talk about egalitarian; ask any pianist how easy it is to pull off some of his work. Lots of people play piano, not many can tame his work… you can make a career out of it.

In the years of available recording technologies what about Dylan? Brubeck? Guthrie? Songs written and performed by Ray Charles? It didn’t all start with the Beatles. That seems to be a pretty narrow, idiom specific statement.

As to breaking music down to elemental knowledge of the craft, look at the success of the video games like Guitar Hero. A billion dollar enterprise based on ‘sort-of/almost” playing music. People do really want to know, really want to try.

I recall working with one of the guys from El DeBarge; the keyboardist at the time- ‘round 1988. I was working with many acts, some with a lot of the most state-of-the-art keyboard gear. Doing lots of “new rock”, early rap, kid’s song coloring book music, heavy/glam metal, pop, even polka bands.

So here comes this guy into the studio, with a crappy DX7 and a small synth, wrapped up in duct tape to keep the back cover on.

Blew me away… this guy knew music. Even the girls in the front office of the studio, none which cared what a quarter note is, were floored. They rarely ventured back into the control rooms, usually just to distribute paychecks. But when this guy's stuff was up on the console, they all rushed back to see who the hell it was - one broke into tears on the one song we were mixing at the time.

On a subsequent session, I’m sitting next to him at the console, and mentioned “you gotta be college-trained…” He came back with, “…yea… then I learned how to play….”

Recall Michael Jackson’s career. Besides the lunacy, his most notable stuff was done with Quincy Jones, one of the most knowledgeable musicians and composers in the industry. Recall my previous post, where I mention his quote, from a book by George Martin called “Making Music”.

Speaking of Sir George Martin, you’ve mentioned the Beatles. Sir Martin mentioned in an interview his doubts about the early Beatles. No one may have directly cared what a quarter note was, but I’m sure Sir Martin’s musical knowledge (classically trained oboist) and subsequent guidance had a lot to do with the evolution of the Beatles’ talent.

Egalitarian – always was. Maybe not as far as getting the recording of a performance to the “masses” as it is now, but that’s the crux of what were dealing with. An industry so based on the “recording” of it that it’s doomed to fail.

And my feelings are, since “anyone” can put something on Myspace or Youtube, more will try. More will learn. More will wonder how to improve it, get above the noise of all these wanna be’s -consequently furthering the knowledge of music, and then the average MILF will know what a quarter note is… what a drummer actually does. And most importantly, why this performer is stronger and more innovative with his songwriting/performance as compared to the next. Might be just as cool as knowing the stats of sports icons.

What I’m saying is the emphasis will be more on the individual, since anyone can now get their art to the masses. More people will have the chance at actually making a living at it, and the ones that have really risen to the top will be more readily recognized.

These will be the intangibles, the humans making it and their skills, their work, their talent.

This reminds me of another industry, computer security. One of the best grey hat hackers I worked with mentioned how they try to package security. “Security’s a practice not a product,” he mentioned.

So the bottom line is, I really don’t think there will be a tangible product that will be a major revenue generator anymore. But I can hope the tide will shift to emphasis on the human, a fragile and intangible at [its] best.

Oh, and I have to agree wholeheartedly with your statement:

“Today's generation has too many choices for both their entertainment dollar and their time for music to have meaning to them”

I mentioned that in my first response. My way of saying it – “…with so many things vying for that shrinking entertainment dollar…”

I was recently at a gig with a local career musician, I play for one of the locals that actually plays music for his entire living. He does about 150-200 gigs a year, at least for the last 10 years. We met up with another, long term, local career musician; he happened by the club where we were playing. He mentioned something along the lines that the crowds seem to have acquired ADHD in the last ten years.

Date: 2008-02-01, 7:53PM EST ORIGINAL POSTER REPLY 3
First off, I never meant to imply that people before The Beatles didn't write their own music. Dylan is for the most part of the Beatles era. Although his first albums came out before them, including his first album which as I recall was all traditional songs and songs written by others, he didn't really hit mass "pop"ularity until he went electric, a direct result of what The Beatles were doing. Ray Charles wrote tons of songs its true, but looking over his massive discography you will see that as many or more were written my others. Woody Guthrie was of course massively influential, but he was nothing by as a recording artist in his day compared to pop hit makers. It is primarily after the fact that his legacy developed and his music has been popularized by others, not him. Jazz music is not pop music. Of course there have been a handful of artists like Brubeck that had wildly successful crossover hits that sold tons, but compared to pop music they are few and far between. Jazz, like classical has had at best a niche audience in the last 50 or so years when compared to pop. It never sold as well, radio stations with those formats never get nearly the listenership and thats just the facts.

My comments in general were regarding pop music, not jazz, not classical...two kinds of music that only occassionally sold in the numbers of pop hits at any given time.

Anyway, you focused on something that wasn't the point. All I was pointing out with The Beatles example was a popular watershed of the merge of songwriter as massively popular artist, which I still maintain for the most part hadn't happened before in pop music.
<>If your point that this is about the artist we have no argument. But in order for these artists who can now easily produce and distribute their own music in ways that were previously unimaginable to make it they are going to need some kind of commerce based structure if they intend to make a living doing it. It doesn't mean it has to be a major label, but one way or another the artist is going to want and indeed need to get paid. If purchasing their "product" comes out of the equation or becomes marginalized through free distribution then they will need other ways to get paid. Touring can be a costly undertaking in terms of life commitment as well as all the attendant issues regarding transportation and accommodations, moving equipment, publicity, etc. It is unrealistic to think that most artists are going to book themselves, make all their own arrangements, do their own set up, perform, break down, work the merch table, get paid from the promoter, then go do it all again tomorrow. How are they going to pay for recording studio time? How are they going to pay for studio musicians, engineers, producers, etc?

We are going into a time when these issues are unclear as the tried and true model of label backing, music production and distribution falls away. If fewer people are interested in music and willing to pay for it the artist won't be able to afford to's just that simple. In all reality I don't know what the answer is and neither do you. In the meantime there will still be new artists signed to labels of different sizes and in some cases they will be a part of the old school model, i.e. production advance, tour support, and chargeback at the end, which can leave artists in the hole if they don't sell enough "product" to pay back advances. This is the downside for unknowns. The guys who need it least, the legacy acts - the Springsteens, McCartneys, Stones, of the world get guarantees and the reality is that most of those deals are losers for the label. In some cases they have crippled labels. The Stones don't want to partner with a label for new albums, they want to get paid. They know damn well they aren't going to sell enough to make the kind of money they can get as a guarantee just so a label can tout having "the rolling stones." But even that is changing as Guy Hand is on the ropes with the stones and EMI. They flat out aren't worth it.

Still the greatest opportunity and the greatest risk is for new artists. They don't have the leverage to force anything. The only way they can really do it is to do what it takes to develop a following using whatever resources they have available to them. As the whole concept of the CD bites the dust in the next few years and unless there is a new "tangible" form for music it is a great unknown as to how much product anyone, especially new artists can expect to sell. The ball is in play. It will interesting to see where it goes.
Date: 2008-02-01, 10:29PM EST My RESPONSE 4
We agree it’s about the artist. But it’s also as much about the audience/consumer. I feel they will no longer support recorded music to the point that they did in the past. It’s just that simple.

The “industry” will vanish. It won’t be as much an industry as it will be an art form, one that will embrace the artist for what they are, their actual skills and not what they “have” done/previously recorded so much. OK… let’s look at some of the things you bring up.

The artist will no longer be able to get advances, a major part of the majority’s revenue. Look at Peter Noone, of Herman’s Hermits in one of the recent Lefsetz “email bags” as he calls them; when talking about the recent bubble band (they stayed in clear plastic bubble during the recording of an album – as a gimmick) he mentioned that he’s still waiting for his royalty check from 1968. And if you recall, HH had given the Beatles a pretty good source of competition in the states.

As to royalties, whether performance, mechanical, or otherwise, that revenue has also taken a hit, with radio garnering less and less listenership and alternates such as XM and Sirius being so fragmented. And look at XM’s dismal performance at customer renewal with GM.

Another thing to look at, one that “made” these pop acts so huge is one of teenage angst – yep, that’s right, the core audience that really supported the industry for so many years.

What’s changed?
<>As both you and I have mentioned, there’s a lot of stuff looking for that ever decreasing entertainment dollar. Tons of stuff; a lot of it targeted at the demographic that for so long supported the industry – the 12 -25yr olds, usually females.

At the tender age in the middle of this demo, records sold like hot cakes in the heyday, one because you really had nothing better to do as an adolescent/teenager for entertainment. TV was mainstream, looking for ad revenue on top dollar items, that means your parents; selling cars, appliances, etc. You had a small circle of social friends, as compared to the current, internet connected generation.

You had few outlets to release this tension caused by all the things growing up. Entertainment consisted of books/mags, a few mainstream movies and network television. Your local circle of friends shared in your frustration with your elders, they too had similar growing pains.

One thing you could do, though, was to utilize the other form of mass distributable entertainment, music, in order to realize, indentify, and basically cope with these feelings. Artist played to those feelings, I mean really, who do really see in all those old B/W films screaming? Adolescent boys? Adults? Not really…

So we had an “industry” during this pop era, really being driven by frustrated, depressed, angst driven youth. How did Bart put it in the Simpson’s Homerpalooza – “… write songs to depress teenagers? That’s like shooting fish in a barrel…”

Even as far as the 1980’s, with the post punk (gee – see a trend here?) advent of grunge, a lot of what was happening that really did the numbers the industry needed to survive was based on the current offerings to the youth of the time, the “pop” culture.

As the youth began embracing the internet’s capabilities to interconnect with others like themselves, music was still a pretty big seller, but its days were numbered. Combine that with true interactive options for the money mom and dad would cough up, things like video games that made them feel good about themselves, the gravy train of youth supporting this industry so based on prerecorded music began its ugly death spiral. As you mentioned, The Stones, Elton John and others from that bygone era ain’t gonna do the numbers; and the kids aren’t listening – they can amass on Myspace, Facebook, and Youtube and feel like stars, as well as have a true camaraderie with others in the same situation.

So, with losing its cash cow, the record industry, as we knew it, ceases to exist. Can’t spend money on artist development, except maybe for the youngest, Hanna Montana crowd, a demo still under the auspices of the doting parent, a parent scared to let ones too young alone on the internet and ones at an age where the rebellion so pervasive in the norms of young adulthood hasn’t been established yet.

Ok so now, as you mentioned how will the artist support himself? Well going into a studio, hiring a producer, studio musicians, etc doesn’t really need to happen, since for about $300.00 one can get a Mbox and PT LE DAW, a large diaphragm condenser mic, that were only available for many thousands of dollars, are now available for under $100.00 (arguably less quality but I’ve never heard the layperson complain – Tone-Loc’s first successful record was done on a 4 track cassette). And since the quality of the typical stream is fair at best, the core audience doesn’t really care.

I mean, look where Bain Capital, Mitt Romney’s previous venture recently invested – Guitar Center (the deal closed on John Lennon’s birthday – Oct 9, 2007). Everyone’s a star now.

So content is a dime a dozen for what was the meat and potatoes of the industry – that 12-25 demo. And it’s competing with a zillion other things that also fill up this demo’s emotional needs. What to do? What will happen?

Again, I feel as I mentioned so many times in these previous posts, kids and adults, being inundated with so much music, as well as the train wreck fascination of things like American Idol (which is already showing signs of wear –fad as you may), and the newly found air guitarist's dream, Guitar Hero, musical literacy will increase, with the consumer now saying, “hey I can understand that – I see why X’s is so good” and discern the noise from the ones that are worth going to see, supporting, possibly enough to open newer means of revenue – not based on recordings, but on very dynamic ability. One that’s more of the performer’s ability than one of marketing prerecorded, as I say, stale assed material.

You’re right, I have no clue. Maybe music will go the way of visual arts, part of it an evolved and ever- increasing commodity skill for the graphics of video games, part of it the MILF stores like Michaels, AC Moore, where you can still buy oil paints, again supported not by the fine arts but more by aforementioned MILF scrapbooking supplies. Who needs to do calligraphy when I can just inkjet print a downloaded font?

But I do have a gut feeling… as this generation of saturated youth ages, their newfound knowledge of music will recognize those that are talented, with the talented presenting music in a very dynamic, non- contrived nor plotted/planned way, and one that will last the test of time.

Oh, and I'm capturing all this in a PDF file, all your and my posts/rants, since really, this is just facinating. I really want to thank you for the debate. You're really awesome (I mean that).

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