We all want to change the world!
You tell me that it’s evolution! Well, you know!
We all want to change the world!
But when you talk about destruction!
Don’t you know that you can count me out!
Don’t you know it’s gonna be all right?!
All right, all right!
Revolution – Lennon/McCartney (The Beatles)
Revolution was written by John Lennon but credited, as were all their compositions, to Lennon/McCartney. It was unusual in that it was released in two versions, the first a fast rock version on the B-Side of Hey Jude and then a slower more mellow version as a single later. Both versions were included on the “white” album. The point of the song is that change is great but violence is not the way to do it. So since this is January and a new year is upon us let’s talk about change, revolution and resolutions.
As the old saying goes; “be careful what you wish for”. Well, for many years we all wished for a more level playing field in the music business. Instead of the record company as all powerful taste-maker we wanted control for ourselves. The good news is we got it and the bad news is, we got it. The music business as we knew it has been utterly and totally changed by the digitization of music and the internet. This revolution happened in plain view while most of the entertainment industry simply looked on in denial. Look at how the short lived (1980s-2010 or so) movie rental store craze went. Blockbuster as well as others came out of nowhere and vanished into history during that short time-frame. The same thing is about to happen to many other industries within the next few years with the proliferation of 3-D printers and who knows what the future holds as far as the digitizing our world goes. All we can really count on is the revolution will continue to play out in our lives in ways we couldn’t imagine. Ultimately effecting all of us in ways we could not have dreamed of. Oh yeah, one other point about this revolution; it is never going to stop. Instead it will continue and if the last few years are any indication it will accelerate. So, ready or not here it comes…
Complain all you want about the change. It won’t do you any good whatsoever. The music
revolution has happened and now it is up it us to figure out how to continue in this business
without losing our creative mojo. David Bryne and others complaints about the unfairness of the new music business reality is very moving. However as convincing and emotionally satisfying as they may seem, they won’t do you any good. The harsh reality is, the music business has been irrevocably changed. Arguments about unfairness and hardship are not applicable when faced with the new reality. Our chosen job of music, requires that we make money to continue. So it is up to each of us to find our place in this new age of the music business. Rather than complaining about it, let’s examine the new age of the music business and see how we might approach in order to stay relevant, build and audience and hopefully make money in the process.
Let us look at the facts of this newly re-minted business. First, you are damned unlikely to get signed by a record company. This has always been true but now even more so. You are almost sure to remain an unsigned, independent artist. But trust me, that isn’t a bad thing. You have total control over every aspect of your business. You decide who you are, what your audience looks like and how to pursue them. Sounds like hard work doesn’t it? I can tell you it that it certainly is but in my opinion totally worth it. You are your own booking agent, promotions team, producer and manager. Now it may not stay like that as your career progresses. Perhaps you reach a point that you are playing regularly and filling venues locally but want to spread out. You know what your audience wants but you don’t have the contacts in other areas. What do you do? You can partner with other artists in your new target area by reciprocally helping them target your area. This does two things for you. It cements your bond with artists outside your home area and builds your fan base. Sounds good doesn’t it? How can that be a bad thing?
One of the most important parts of the new music business is networking. Now networking has always been important but it now includes all the internet based social networks like: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Google+ and many more. I hear a lot of artists saying they want nothing to do with these tools. I am going to come right out and say it. That is an absolutely stupid and destructive business tactic. I assure you, social networks are powerful tools and not toys. To avoid these networks is the equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot. Unless of course your audience is made up of fellow Luddites and then you are going to have a really tough time of it. If your audience is made of such, how are you going to let your techno-phobic audience know about you and your music? Kind of a catch 22 isn’t it? I don’t see how you can expect anyone can have a viable music career without using social networking at some level. I know as well as anyone that this business is all in the connections. But unless you are superman you can’t maintain those relationships by writing letters and phone calls alone. Oh, those things are effective of course but also expensive in both time and/or money. I can assure you I am not rich in either. Can social networking be a time waster? You bet! But then so can anything. Remember this is part of your business; to let people know about you and what you are doing. Posting regularly with interesting posts that engage your audience and potential audience is necessary. Posting political rants and other similar things not germane to your career can do more harm than good After all, social networking is only marketing. Create a persona and stick to it. Hopefully it is somewhat like the real you as that is easier to maintain over the long run. Be real, be honest and thoughtful. I promise fans will follow.
Sorry to tell you but you but because of the revolution, you are gonna have to give some music away. I don’t care what anybody says, people only pay for music they love these days (not just like) and to love it they must first hear it. Once upon a time we bought music (albums) like lottery tickets. Knowing maybe one song off it, hoping we would love the rest to. Often getting burned in the process and sometimes winning with great music. Today your fans for the most part won’t take that chance so you have to change your tactics. Think of your music as an addictive drug. You gotta get the audience hooked first by giving them a taste and the only way to do that is to let them hear it. Unless you are one of the “lucky” ones getting airplay on Clear Channel radio you have to get it out there somehow. In my opinion that somehow is anyway that works. So you can’t view your music as addictive? Well rather than wasting time promoting bland music then I suggest you get to work writing and making better more attractive art. You simply cannot be successful without great product. The market is jammed to the hilt with good artists. You must
become great to be noticed and to be noticed you are going to have to get that music into the hands of those that matter; the influencers. I pretty much use CDs like business cards these days. If I think you are an music influencer to others, a candidate for a house concert or simply a kindred spirit you may get a free CD handed to you. I put my music on Soundcloud, Reverbnation and many other places where I have little or no hope of sales, simply to get it out there. I view myself as niche music guy (smart, quirky songs about science and philosophy). I have to market to that niche where ever they may be. You need to find your niche and focus on it. Otherwise you are simply wasting your time.
So, here we are in the future. The revolution is in full swing. We are gonna have some
casualties in our business because of artists unwillingness to follow the change and embrace
the new. But if we want to be successful change we must. After all, life is change. It has always been and will always be. We either accept it or we fight it. Either way, the change happens. I choose to go with the change despite being an old guy. You have to decide what to do with the revolution yourself. Just remember what John Lennon said. “You know it’s gonna be alright.” And it will. Happy New Year!!
Randy Brown is a full-time singer/songwriter living in East Texas and has been involved with many sides of the music business over the years, from being a sideman, a sound man, touring songwriter, producer, operating a venue, and a recording studio owner/engineer. He has seen a lot of revolutions in 61 years and hopes to survive a few more.