Making It In Today’s Music World
Once upon a time MTV went begging for music videos. They even had “basement tapes” which was a segment donated to homegrown videos from local bands. Today, MTV almost doesn’t play videos and in order to get your signed act on MTV you have to show them you are getting substantial radio airplay!
It was only 15 years ago I was working in a studio that hosted a band signed to a label with an alternative cut climbing the charts on the “KROQ” type stations. In order to get their album into the bins at Sam Goody’s they did a luncheon with an “un-plugged” concert. Just because you are on a label doesn’t mean you can get a chain store to stock your CDs!
There’s a local female artist in the North East area who producers her own CDs and has managed over a period of a decade to sell over 50,000 units without major label support or distribution. She does so well that she can get on Later with Conan O’Brien.
Jazz artist Omar Sosa does much better. A well respected artist in his genre he, too, is not truly affiliated with a major label to any degree. At least not like Nora Jones or the ECM artists we’ve profiled such as XXXX and XXXX. Sosa tours a lot and with his huge fan base plays some pretty impressive venues including the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC and the Staples Center in Los Angeles. He’s also been on the A&E network.
I used to work in a band with Ron Wasserman and Ron Kenan. Both Ron’s ended up doing work with Saban Entertainment as producers. Wasserman was a freelancer while Kenan was a staffer and executive in the company. Both did music for shows like the Power Rangers and got major songwriting credits on ASCAP lists with their names as producers on the crawls for the various Saban productions. One would think this type of credit would open a few doors and maybe it did but it still took Ron Wasserman a long time to place a singer he was producing independently with Interscope Records, which led the both to a slot on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. To get this artist over took years or work and recordings. They eventually placed one song in a TV commercial and thought that would impress the world. It didn’t. They finally invested in MP3.com feature artists (which is a pay to play type venue) and that got one of her songs so much play they eventually broke the million mark on the MP3.com. This, plus the commercial, plus Ron’s association with Saban, plus networking and connections they garnered over the years eventually led them to push sessions with Interscope Records.
Ron was no stranger to this process. He saw the same thing happen first hand with the band Felony, who aligned themselves with the alternative station KROQ in Los Angeles, people who had previously worked with Foreigner (which netted them a slot in the movie “Graduation Day” performing “Gangsters of Rock” on camera) and later with Donnie Ruben (who had worked with the Lovin Spoonful) and Artie Cornfeld (who had worked with The Cowsills on MGM records). This got them a CBS affiliated record deal with Scotti Brothers (who also produced the Kasey Kasem Top 10 on TV) which an album and their hit song “The Fanatic” in the movie “Valley Girl.”
The same thing happened with the Bussboys. Lots of hard work, networking and building an organization with the strength to push and lobby eventually nets you a slot in a movie. In there case it was the Nick Nolte, Eddie Murphy vehicle “48 Hours” and they were the band performing on stage at the club, featuring a tune written by Kevin O’Neal (whom I worked with) and his brother Brian O’Neal (who wrote the primary song of the movie “The Boys Are Back In Town”). They also did, essentially, the alternative theme for “Ghostbusters” which was used twice in the movie, including over the ending credits (“Those Ghostbusters Are Cleaning Up The Town”).
When I was working with one band I got a connection with a pre-production person working on the Michael Keaton movie “Pacific Heights” and they were looking for a video to use, however by the time I got my copy ready for the pitch a major label had already given them one to use for free! Yes, a freebee! The label was trying to get a new band some exposure and this is one way to do it!
I teamed up with producer-writer Richard Scarano on promotion for a new independent artist. Rich was very well into the internet culture and managed to get some MP3 songs well placed and moving up the lists, plus he also worked with us on the web site. We managed to make a few sales of merchandise and draw in over 5,000 people the first year to our site! The singer worked the karaoke and chat rooms dealing with fans directly. That, too, was a plus and it took a lot of work. The singer spent hours each week on the internet cultivating a remote audience in the Pacific rim, South America, Europe and across the United States. We also got distribution of song videos with established cable access distributors and producers.
The Internet is becoming a major marketing place for the independent artist, be they musician, author, fine artist or filmmaker. It’s not yet a goldmine, but it’s getting to the point where it will become a major player in the fiscal world of the major players.
A few years ago Stephen King attempted to directly market an E-book on a pay per download basis. He gave up after a few chapters, but did manage to garner about 400,000 paid users. That’s a far cry from selling millions of books in hard cover and paperback, but it also means not sharing with publishers, agents, distributors and retail outlets! Still, King can now command ultra premium advances for his work, even if the publisher doesn’t make a profit having a Stephen King title is worth the losses. Had King been able to sell 400,000 downloads after his first major work, Carrie, came out, he wouldn’t have gone back to his day job! But to make one or two million dollars on-line versus a five or ten million dollar contract advance from a publisher, plus movie rights and paperback rights, well it just isn’t fiscally sound.
Most independent authors don’t fare this well. If they get a hundred paid downloads they are lucky!
Like I said the Internet is not yet a goldmine!
Neither is the club scene. Unless a band is already on a major label with some radio airplay they are lucky to make $50, $100, $200 per show at a small club, which a signed act can easily get a $2,000 or $5,000 guarantee.
Pretty soon a band on a major label is going to be lucky of they get a CD pressed and into mass distribution. The sales of CDs are dropping like crazy, but the new buzz-word is starting to become MP3 and more importantly I-POD.
This last holiday season saw I-Pods selling like crazy at $500! Other vendor’s MP3 players are also selling, as are SD memory cards used by most players.
Download services like those from Apple for the I-Pod, plus MP3 suppliers like Wal-Mart and Napster are now starting to become big business at 75 cents to $1 for a download of a very high quality audio file you can install in your portable player or burn onto a CD and play on any stereo system! That’s less then $13 for the average full CD of songs (generally 15 cuts) and, of course, you don’t have to download the songs you don’t like.
Is this the end of B-sides? Probably. The writing is on the wall. Only the strong survive!
While labels will still press a few thousand copies for distribution to magazines and radio stations, somewhere down the line in the future only artists who get enough radio airplay and on-line downloads may see full albums released to the music stores on CD.
With “on-demand” services and eventually on-line downloads of video materials, the days of Sam Goody, Warehouse, Blockbuster and other CD and DVD stores may be coming to an end. Well, it may not be a total end, but they will cut down the number of stores around the area if “on-demand” pay per view starts taking the place of rentals and downloaded MP3’s start taking the place of CDs!
Meanwhile the independent artist still faces the fact that if they put up a MP3 cut on their site and sell it for even 10 cents a download almost no one is going to buy it!
The independent artist still has to face the fact that they need “a major” behind them, be it newspapers, magazines, broadcast TV shows like Conan O’Brien, major club venues, world tours, the ability to get product on Amazon.com, Wal-Mart, Napster and the Apple download sites.
Still the Internet is the up and coming thing and still a viable venue for promotion, marketing and even made limited sales. You just have to understand you’ll make hundreds while “they” make millions, but then again your name isn’t Stephen King, is it?
2005 Music Special |
Making It In Today Music Scene
Our Music Special Issues Continues With These Other Offerings from 2003:
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Articles and Information from the 2003 Music Special:
Articles and Information from the 2002 Music Special: