Bob Baker's Indie Music Promotion Blog

News, notes and ideas on music marketing, self-promotion, artist empowerment and more

February 02, 2005

The End of the Music Business as We Know It?

You have to check out the January/February welcome letter from Ritch Esra and Stephen Trumbull at the Music Registry site. I've met Ritch a couple of times at conferences and have heard him speak. As a former A&R guy for Arista Records, he's a veteran of the music "industry" who maintains a great perspective on the current realities of the music business.

Read these comments. They reinforce what I've been preaching for years: Stop having knee-jerk reactions to your music career based on outdated systems.

Here are some excerpts from Ritch and Stephen's letter:

"In looking back over 2004, we're reminded of the many conversations we had with various Music Business Professionals on both sides of the Atlantic concerning the current state of today's Music Industry. Without exception, there seems to be a very sobering sense that the Record Business we have known for the last 25 years is now gone. This is extremely troubling for many, sad for some and terribly exciting for others.

"I see these times as an incredible opportunity for a total re-invention not just for Record Label A&R Depts., but for the entire spectrum of the Music Industry. If you as an Artist, Band, Agent, Manager or any other Music Business professional cannot see that the old paradigm of artist development (the actual long-term process of building a career from the ground up) has been completely re-invented over the last few years, then you need to get out of this business.

"The old methods of doing things no longer apply. This may sound obvious to most of you, but you wouldn't believe how many fairly well known Music Business Professionals within the Industry today still believe that the only way an act can have a viable career today is to get that act signed to a major label.

"What's so sad is that these people who believe this (and there are many) can't even see that the very system they feel can & will accomplish this for their artist no longer even exists! We've said this before, but it bears repeating - though no one will actually come out and say it -- Major Labels today, with very rare exception, are no longer willing to be in the business they have built over the last forty years.

"The train of thought today is that the 'old' process of signing, recording and developing talent takes far too long and is way too costly to achieve the results they desire in the time they have allotted. As a consequence, whether intended or not, (and this is the part many simply can not see) is the Major Labels are now in the Promotion and Marketing business -- but only for those experienced artists who have already been developed that they feel can be turned into Multi-Platinum sellers.

"Of course, there will always be Platinum sellers in the future, but far fewer of them. Today, there is simply too much choice available. It's fascinating to observe some of the most influential Music Publications out there today such as and Blender to name two, have hardly any mainstream artists in their Top 50 of 2004. Today, it's all about choices.

"The future of this business will be the thousands of niche artists selling fewer records much like cable television, which has a fraction of the audience, but is profitable! And this is the most profound difference from the past in terms of A&R signings and looking at what can and will work in the Marketplace.

"Under the old paradigm, the public (the majority of the time) only wanted what the Major Labels signed and sold to them. Today, choices of music being vastly wider, a far more diverse artist selection available to us, not to mention the various new formats, provides an almost infinite selection for today's listeners and consumers. And, as most of us have known for years, the market is far broader (yes, people between the ages of 30-50 WILL BUY MUSIC when presented with Artists they can connect with) than the Major Labels ever cared to acknowledge.

"The Revolution has begun! The opportunities today are vast and limitless for those artists, bands, managers, and other individuals and companies who truly understand and embrace what is actually occurring, who can step back and see the decaying mechanism that many are still struggling to maintain for what it is - not only a crumbling business model, but an entire way of viewing the world in which we used to live, but no longer do!

"The personal, business and artistic successes we are seeing today are from those individuals who can peer through this fog of delusion and see the business as it actually is; not as they want it to be or hope it will become, but how it actually is! Those individuals are moving freely and creatively interacting with our new social order while others are still clinging to a world or a way of thinking and being that no longer exists.

"Careers are not supposed to be events that have a huge build-up and then are over like The Super Bowl. As we all know, the best careers (The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Elton John, Neil Young, U2) are long journeys that have been built on solid and viable foundations that can (and do) sustain a wide array of paths and experiences. Each of these artists was able to build extremely solid and viable foundations without a Major Label, and in most cases, had no mainstream radio airplay at all.

"What these artists (and their managers) do have in common (regardless of genre) was an entirely new way of thinking and approaching the marketplace with regard to the development of their careers. They all utilized new and non-traditional methods that did not have the luxury of an enormous marketing push behind it to create awareness.

"Today, with so many more marketing and exposure options available to artists (iPods, Internet radio, websites, non-traditional retail), the artists who develop and build careers for themselves won't necessarily be household names in the first few years, but they will have built a very solid base of fans that actually want their music and will attend their live performances.

"These artists will have built their followings over a long period of time, not through hype and over-exposure on MTV, VH-1 or other media outlets that in so many cases actually damage careers instead of enhancing them. More than ever, today's youth culture is looking for something real, something it can feel a genuine connection with, not something it's oversold on!

"This is the tragedy of The Major Labels (tragedy in the classic definition is defined as "the fall from greatness through an unseen flaw in ones character). They keep looking for the formula that will give them the huge Multi-Platinum sellers that they once enjoyed. Only problem is, the system today doesn't allow these types of massive sellers like it did in the past. Today, we have far too many choices. And that's their tragic flaw. Major labels do not see that the harder and louder they continue to market their acts, the more the audience they're trying to reach doesn't seem to hear them or care for that matter.

"The most fascinating aspect of the process to us today is how many artists and bands today WANT NOTHING WHATSOEVER TO DO WITH MAJOR LABELS AT ALL! A lot of Artists today, have seen too many acts over the last 10 years break up, implode or simply get lost in a system that they truly had no business being in the first place.

"If Major Labels are to survive in the future they are going to have to completely re-invent themselves. They are going to have to start seeing their business as it truly is today - not how they would "like it to be" or "how it was" but how it actually is. Like Werner Erhart so brilliantly said "The Truth will set you free, but first it will really piss you off!"

Again, read the entire letter here. Thanks to Ritch Esra and Stephen Trumbull for this cold (but much needed) slap in the face.

posted by Bob Baker @ 1:48 PM   6 comments


At Feb 3, 2005 11:03:00 AM, Blogger Pete said...

Thanks for this info. I feel like I've been seeing this coming ever since the digital technology changes. But most of my personal music aquaintances don't seem to think about any of this. I've been hoping that the changes in the music industry would be positive, and it's good to hear this from professionals.

Here in Texas, this is exactly what some Americana artists do...produce their own CD's, under their own record company, and do their own distribution and promotion.

At Feb 13, 2005 5:12:00 PM, Anonymous WW said...

You got it all wrong. Money brings money. It's not changing, it's coming back. It will bring to controlling the internet (i mean properly), blocking and forbidding indie productions and sales under the government law... It'll come to this. Trust me.

At Feb 13, 2005 6:13:00 PM, Blogger MoonDogGreen said...

We've been talking about this for years now at United Global Artists. Welcome to the Independent Music Revolution. Technology has leveled the playing field. Isn't it about time ?

At Feb 13, 2005 7:01:00 PM, Anonymous John Ludi said...

I have loathed the majors for the 20+ years I've been making music...I can't even begin to name all the people I've known who have been pimped by them. I used to rant and rave to to no avail to all my fellow musicians that the majors were ultimately doomed to extinction at the hands of a business model that makes such a deserved fate inevitable and to avoid the lure of "The Coveted Record Deal" at all costs. I really am starting to feel vindicated these days. Watching these companies fumble around in the dark to try to control technologies that vastly outpace their dinosaur-like ability to adapt cracks me up to no end.

At Feb 14, 2005 4:28:00 AM, Anonymous Debra Carey said...

It's great to hear what's happening 'across the pond'. Here in the UK things are very much lagging behind. Musicians still insisting that the 'industry' will look after them. We decided about 7 years ago to go it alone and set-up our own record label. I'm so glad we did, it's paid off tenfold and now we are building for the future and embracing new technology. There seems to be a blend of the old and new happening here but will the last few years of being saturated by 'Pop Idol' TV programs, people have just had enough and what their music to be unique. People seem to get a real buzz out of discovering someone new and telling their friends 'have you heard ****'s music?'. I just hope that the majors don't get their fingers into the indie pie and completely shoot all the work we've done to bits.

At Feb 16, 2005 5:51:00 PM, Blogger AndyMartin said...

The truth has to be told and what the major labels didn't want any of us to know about is a thing called "market share". The 5 major labels compete with each other for roughly equal slices. Technology has closed the gaps and ruined the monopoly to a large extent which was in the grip of the major labels. The only real way the big 5 make money is on publishing rights and back catalog which they re.release on new formats as re.compilations/re.masters etc etc. Most artistes you see on MTV etc NEVER recoup what it cost to make them STARS. U2 is an exception, so is Rod Stewart, Elton John and Neil Diamond. The cost of "creating" stars is hideously expensive but the big 5 don't know how else to operate because they built their own Frankenstein and now have to keep it alive. Of course, we all know that Frankenstein returns to his creator in the end and seeks to kill him off. It is for this reason that monopolies implode eventually. Never forget, the music business is a rights business!! Never sign away your copyrights under ANY circumstances and only enter into licensing agreements! - all publishers do is license your work to someone else and later, sell it to the highest bidder. You will not get a cent more than the day you signed away your copyright on a 50/50 basis. Never accept on any grounds! Say NO! Say "I will license it to you". I mention this because although the business is improving in the favour of real talent and not the manufactured variety (!) the real poison to us is the publishing side! We must all take a stand against being asked to sign away our copyrights for LIFE and 70 years after our deaths!! You know who will benefit from that I hope! It will not be you or your sons or daughters. If you sign away their heritage how are you ever going to be able to live with it? Only ever do licensing deals - NEVER EVER sign away your copyright - you have been warned!!


Post a Comment

<< Home