I currently have a love/hate relationship with the music industry - in general. I love being part of it and get to work with some amazing talent. I hate what it has become and how it has slipped into prostituting itself to the lowest bidder. I ran errands today with my wife (yeah I know exciting rock star stuff). As she was driving, this thought went through my head, "I hate the music industry". Let me clarify by saying I love music and artists, but hate the "industry". The dictionary defines industry as, "Commercial production and sale of goods", and that is what I hate so much about the "industry".
We have gone from artists who played music for the love of the art, to artists who play music for fame and fortune. I do not see anything wrong with making a living making music, but I have a real problem with artists who get into the business just to make a fortune. I despise record companies who rip off their artists to make a fortune for themselves. I loathe radio stations who take payment from record companies to spin certain artists and songs. If you think that practice died off in the 1950's payola scandal, it is as prevalent today as it has always been (even as recent as 2007). Money wins and great indie artists lose out - as does the music industry as a whole.
When I hear about the loss of big profits from major labels, I laugh and smile. It makes me happy (weird I know). I wouldn't be so happy if record companies were integrity filled corporations looking out for their musicians and people, but they are unfortunately not. While they accuse other people of being pirates and ruining their business, they have been pirate kings from their inception. Their downfall can be directly correlated in the way in which they have conducted themselves and their businesses. There is the old cliche saying "what goes around comes around" (which ironically was also a Ratt song back when). What the major labels have sown they are now surely reaping - and I do not feel sorry for them.
I like the word Jay-Z used - "purging". there is currently a purging happening in the the industry. The indie movement has garnered support and steam. The internet has opened up a whole new world of bypassing the major labels and has allowed great artists being able to break away from major label bondage. Recently, some good friends of mine lost their major label. Instead of hanging up their instruments and "calling it quits", they took their career into their own hands. They reached out to their fan base and asked them for support on Kickstarter. Their initial goal was to raise $20,000 for their new recording project, but they ended up raising almost $30,000. $30,000 clear without having to repay a major label....big win! They can now record the album that they have always wanted to record, but couldn't due to a major label dictating their every move. I will give credit to the major label for allowing my friends the opportunity to build a fan base large enough to support their current endeavors, but that is where the praise stops (the label was horrible).
I would like to imagine a world where the fan fully supports the artist through funding. Fan funded record labels and fan funded music industry. The old model was the fan buying the album at XYZ retail store and "supporting" the artist that way. The unfortunate truth of that model was that the artist saw very little of that money (the majority went to distributors and the record label). Now revamp the model to where the fan actually has the ability to fund the album through Kickstarter (or any other crowd funding service) and that is a big win for both the artist and fan. I do not believe that major labels are going away anytime soon, though I could be wrong. I believe there will always be a need for major labels to handle major artists like U2, Madonna, Lady Gaga and so on. But, I also believe that the days of the major labels reigning supreme are coming to a quick end - and that is great news for everyone.
We have entered a brave new world, but I believe a better world. If you liken the music industry to universal health care ((just track with me here I'm having an ADD moment) you can see parallels. Right now hospitals and healthcare companies are big businesses with little regard (for the most part) for a patients total well being and health. Doctors are multimillionaires and health insurance companies are seeing record breaking profits. Offer universal health care and you "weed out" doctors who are in it for just the money vs. doctors who are in it to help out the people. Then healthcare insurance providers start losing their power in Washington and have to revamp their business models. It becomes a win for the patients and people who need good quality healthcare. The same could be said of the music industry. If artists are not able to make their millions - or major labels - then that will purge the industry of people who are in it for themselves and not for the love of the art, music, or the people they entertain.
The state of the music industry is hanging in the balance with the fans holding the scales. It is a great time to be in this field (I no longer want to refer to it as an industry). My hope is that through these past years and rough patches we have learned a few good lessons. I hope we have learned that the number one reason for wanting to enter this field is for the love of the art and communicating with people on deep emotional levels. My hope is that each musician has learned to fall in love with the music again and not be infatuated with fame or fortune. My hope is that each fan has learned to invest in artists who have connected with them on multiple emotional levels. And finally, I hope we have all learned that a world without music is a mundane world - colorless and boring. Music is life and the music industry is the cancer killing it.
I am all for new technologies and the rise of social media sites. I believe they can be used to expose people to new ideas, artists, other like-minded people, and creative ventures. However, I have seen a total withdrawal of person-to-person interaction recently in the music industry (and in everyday life).
Every year I attend a festival called Kingdom Bound in upstate, NY, which draws around 50,000 people over the course of 4 days. As a family, we have been attending that festival upwards of 25 years or so, and have seen some good and not-so-good changes within the festival. One of the big changes I have noticed, in recent years, is the lack of networking and camaraderie that use to be so prevalent within the festival. There would be all kinds of "rubbing elbows and shaking hands" going on at the festival - in other words, a lot of human to human networking.
While at the festival, I was telling my wife that I remember a time when bands would stay the duration of the festival. The festival is held at Darien Lake theme park, which provides a great get away for bands, managers, artists, stage crew members and family. For many years, I would see bands stay in the rental campers with their families, and fellow band-mates enjoying not only the festival, but other bands performing. It would create a synergy that was rarely seen back then, and something that is even rarer in today's music climate. I remember our camp site being filled with band members every night as we sat around the campfire reminiscing of the day's events. Of course, there were plenty of jokes, practical jokes and laughs too. It was such a different time, a time where the future of the music industry was uncertain, but knowing we would all be OK if we stayed tight as a community.
I miss that camaraderie, and networking. Back then (and back then was not too long ago - think 1999 to about 2002/03) networking was talking face to face with the person. It was interacting on human levels, and not all through machines. Real humans, real hand shakes and real poking (literally) were the staples of the day. We handed out real paper business cards and physical copies of CD's...all in packets called promo packs complete with photos. This was all before social media and the rise of the internet, as we know it. I am not saying that we have stopped this practice all together, but I have seen a steep decline in recent years.
Music has been and should be a community of artists all coming together for one purpose...art. There is a common saying "strength in numbers", and that applies to the music scene. When artists unite together and form communities, people take notice and want to become part of it. In other words, people networking together to form something new, something fresh and something very different that people want to support.
Not too long ago, I formed an entertainment group whose sole purpose was to launch new and exciting bands. We were heavily involved in the festival circuit and sponsored the fringe stages. We would set up a booth at the festivals with the purpose of finding new acts and artists. At the end of the various events, I would leave with a suitcase full of promo packs, CD's, phone numbers and business cards. But it wasn't the suitcase filled with promo packs that made the event special, it was interacting with artists, bands and festival goers. Talking, laughing and hanging out with some of the coolest people was the highlight of many a festival. Did we find great bands to launch? Absolutely - but what I thought would be scouting opportunities only, became something much more meaningful...deep networking, deep human interaction.
I believe that we need to get back to networking - and not NET-working. The internet should be a tool to connect people with each other, but only after initial human contact is made and relationships built. When I talk about this at the college, many of the students totally agree that the internet is isolating and cold. They agree that the rise of the internet and social media sites have caused people to withdraw from human interaction. This generation feels more alienated then ever, yet it is the most connected than any other. Technology isolates. As a human race, we are wired to interact with each other. When we stop interacting, and get absorbed into our technology we start to feel more like machines than humans.
A recent study showed that when a person is touched by another, the person's life can increase anywhere from 1 to 12 years! I am not saying we go up to a person, hand them a promo pack and start giving massages, but we need to start shaking more hands and giving more pats on the arm or back. If I am signing a band, I want to know that band or artist before I work with them - and not through a chat conversation or e-mail. I want to find out what they are about, what makes them "tick" and their passions. Music is still about community, human emotion and interacting with each other - and community can be interchanged with networking. After all, it is through this amazing thing called a music community that we all get to network - and that is what makes the music scene so cool. Let's start networking again....coffee anyone?
Recently I was in a talk with my wife and made the comment that I am finding something very alarming which is the lack of promotion amongst my friends and indie artists. When I talk with my friends or various musicians they all tell me how much they want to do the "music thing" for a living, how they get excited when they think about making music and how it is their passion or calling.
When I hear an artists talk like that I get excited and start dreaming with them about the present and future. After my talk, I will often start searching for my friend, the artist, band or musician online. Some I find on Soundcloud, others on Indaba or like places. I search for websites or YouTube channels...basically anything that will point me to the artists and their art. Then it all starts to hit me, many are not promoting themselves.
In the technological age there is no excuse or reason not to promote your music or craft. Soundcloud has given anyone the opportunity to share their music with the world and what I have found on there is just plain sad. Out of all the friends and artists I know (which are hundreds of people), only three had anything to share on Soundcloud. Almost all of them had an account but when I went to listen to their music ....birds tweeting and tumbleweed blowing around their site.
Of course there are other sites as well to promote your music on. Sites like YouTube, MySpace (yeah I know its so 2005 but still a place to point people to your music), Reverbnation, Indaba, Bandcamp and many more offer services so a person can promote their music. So the questions this...if you don't post your music, or promote yourself, how are venues or anyone else for that matter suppose to know who you are or what you are about? If I were running a venue and an artists didn't have anything "out there", I definitely wouldn't be having you play my venue.
So, here are a few tips for promoting your music grassroots style:
Kevin "Danger" Jackson is a New York-based producer, engineer, composer, performer, educator and Berklee College of Music alumnus. He writes, produces and engineers music for a wide range of artists in the pop, hip-hop, rock, R&B, classical and electronic genres. His work can be heard daily on a multitude of albums, radio and television stations worldwide.