10 Truths About the Modern Music Business
Although going it on your own was all the rage in 2010, reality has shown that the majority of artists still need a team around them to reach any substantial level of awareness, sales, and revenue. However, this team doesn’t necessarily need to resemble the traditional record label department structure. For many artists, surrounding themselves with a few tech-savvy friends and some seed money can generate the momentum necessary to fuel a moderate indie career. To reach far and wide enough to live off of one’s art, the task list is simply too long to tackle alone. In reality, DIY can work just fine if you modernize the traditional definition of the term.
Technology has removed many barriers and allowed almost anyone to play the game. It has also removed the need for some of the team members that have always been needed. Recording, mixing and mastering music can be done faster and cheaper than ever before. Distributing the output digitally is near instant and inexpensive. Anyone can create digital tools that collect email addresses, stream music, sell tickets, and engage with fans. Just remember that with technology, “build it and they will come” is pure fantasy.
Even with all the hype, direct-to-fan (D2F) has proven itself as a valuable strategy when implemented correctly. D2F, when viewed as a set of best practices, can supplement list growth, sell high-margin offerings, and give artists a chance to engage their biggest supporters in innovative ways. However, the idea that D2F is simply creating a Topspin account and building a splash page is a myth — proper D2F involves content and offer curation, a well-planned timeline, some existing reach, and savvy marketing both online and off.
Very little has changed in this area over the past couple years. With a few clear leaders emerging, artists have no problem getting their content to the marketplace. Other than some simple distinguishing features, most digital aggregators provide an identical core service: Get your music on iTunes, Amazon, and many other digital storefronts. Tunecore, CDBaby, IODA, Reverbnation, and a few others have effectively cornered the market.
The emergence of multiple tiers of artists has also allowed products to follow suit. Companies that offer similar products are finding their own market niches by catering to specific classes of artists (hobbyist, middle-class, established, legacy, etc.). The distinction between services is often based on feature sets, and that typically correlates to price. We’ll see this trend continue as the tiers further solidify and the realities of what different artists can spend (and need) come to light.
Traditionally, email has been the Holy Grail of communicating with fans, but as social media and SMS adoption grows, Facebook and text messages are giving email serious competition. Many bands are turning to Facebook as their core communication channel; for many types of audiences this makes perfect sense – Facebook allows for standard communication but also offers sales, research, and data collection opportunities in one location. By owning the entire ecosystem, Facebook makes the call-to-action process much simpler.
I’d argue this has always held true, but most artists in most genres have begun to truly grasp the importance of an official site. Official sites allow levels of control that are unrivaled by any other platform. Artists can have full control over sales, data capture, and fan engagement on their own site, whereas other platforms such as MySpace and Facebook have limitations in these areas. However, some artists are keeping it simple and can implement those core functions on even the most simple of platforms; the benefit here is little to no cost and minimal administration and maintenance. The right strategy is to understand the value of different platforms, and find the right mix based on audience and needs.
The hardest logistical part of running an artist’s business is physical fulfillment. This is an area that has always been tough and it’s only become marginally easier through new services and technology. There are a number of ways to fulfill physical goods — do it yourself, find willing partners, use an established fulfillment house, or sign a formal distribution deal. These each have their pros and cons, but ultimately it comes down to the complexity of the offerings and the quantity of business a band is doing. No matter what method, someone must be managing the process at all times; with so many moving parts (manufacturing, delivery, shipping, stock levels, customer service, etc.) fulfillment management can be a full-time job.
The music space in mobile is still somewhat like the Wild West. Their are certain sectors that are entering adulthood — SMS marketing for example, where Mozes has become the clear leader. However, other areas are far from fully formed. Music apps for mobile phones are plentiful, but they rarely generate acceptable levels of revenue. One thing has become clear — for almost all artists, charging for a music app is the wrong business model; give it away for free and utilize in-app purchases.
There is no excuse to not know what events and metrics surround an artist or release. There are so many analytics platforms that the challenge is figuring out exactly which data is important to the current state of a project, and then finding the easiest way to aggregate the information. Check out RockDex, Next Big Sound, BandMetrics, Radian6, and BuzzDeck to see the range of platforms and services. Although they cater to different audiences, they are all racing to determine the ultimate set of useful data and develop the most effective ways of interpreting and displaying it. The real challenge is then telling the user what to do next.
What truths have you discovered about the modern music business? Please share them in the comments.