Posts Tagged 'music industry'

Deep Artist/Fan Connections Critical to Success in Music 2.0

More than nine million musicians are trying to connect with more than 200 million music fans, according to some estimates. The huge numbers alone would suggest the odds are in their favor. Yet the channels musicians have traditionally relied upon to get their music discovered, promoted and sold are increasingly irrelevant and as a result, musicians are increasingly on their own, without labels, record stores or radio to help them.

“The artist’s challenge is to convert casual fans into loyal fans, and loyal fans into paying customers,” said Charles Feinn, CEO and co-founder of music technology innovator MixMatchMusic. “Getting your music discovered just isn’t enough. Musicians have to engage and involve casual listeners in order to build deep and lasting connections with them, and to convert them to loyal fans. These connections are what drive sales of the concert tickets, band merchandise and CDs artists need to pay the rent and put gas in the van.”

According to Feinn and many other music industry observers, record labels play a smaller and smaller role in breaking new bands or even promoting signed bands. Record stores are disappearing and radio is less and less of a factor in promoting new music. And it’s hard for a new band to breakthrough amongst the millions of songs in the iTunes Store. It’s also true that music fans have changed, acclimated to the read/write web and the social interaction that comes with it, and looking for the same experience with music and the artists who create it.

“While the business part of the traditional music business is breaking down, music is alive and well and there is more music than ever,” said Feinn. “We’re on a mission to help keep music alive, and we’re doing so by helping artists forge deeper and more meaningful connections with fans.”

Feinn said a growing number of artists are turning to new Internet-based initiatives, such as the remix promotions pioneered by Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead, to help them engage with and connect with music fans.

“Involving fans in the creative process by encouraging them to remix and mash up a new song from the musical building blocks provided by the artist, is catching on as one of the best ways to make the artist – fan connection stronger,” he said.

Feinn said that more than 60 artists have launched remix promotions based on MixMatchMusic’s Remix Wizard, a simple-to-use widget that any fan with a broadband connection can use. Artists including Pepper and Zion I have loaded the building blocks of songs – the guitar, bass, keys, drums and other elements called stems, into customized versions of MixMatchMusic’s widget, and invited fans to remix the stems to create new sounds and songs with them. He said the company’s site has received more than half a million impressions since the beginning of the year, and more than 80 thousand plays of fan-created remixes.

Feinn said the Remix Wizard is a fan-friendly approach to the more complex remix technologies employed by Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead. Bands such as Pepper feature remixes submitted by fans on their sites and MySpace pages, and some artists even promise to incorporate especially imaginative fan-created interpretations of their music in future albums.

Feinn said the Remix Wizard is the first in a series of artist and fan friendly technologies from MixMatchMusic designed to forge even stronger and deeper connections.

“Music has the power to bring people together,” said Feinn. “It’s exciting and also humbling to know we’re playing a small part in making those connections happen, through our technology-based products and services that help musicians convert casual music fans into loyal fans, and loyal fans into paying customers.”

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Slot Music

The record labels, and of course those standing to make a lot of money, are apparently unwilling to give up on the physical album sale. SanDisk, who has been making huge strides lately in the world of mini memory cards and cell phone integration has announced that with the backing of four major labels, EMI, Sony, BMG, and Universal, they will be selling albums in mini-SD card format. While not quite the trend we’re seeing in terms of more and more people switching to the mp3 format on players as opposed to hard copies of albums, the format here is an interesting step for the labels as they will be embracing non-DRM mp3 files on these mini-albums. You’ll buy the album in a Target or Wal-Mart, slide it into the micro-SD card on your cell phone and listen. It will be interesting to see how much this gains traction in a market place continually being re-invented to create more purchasing power at home as opposed to in-store physical sales.

Fight With Tools – The Flobots Are Impressive

Can you ride your bike with no handlebars? Most likely, the image has crossed your mind lately if you listen to the radio. Radio stations all over the nation are getting flooded with requests for the single “Handlebars” by the Flobots. I gotta say… the song is catchy, it grows on you. Although, the Flobots are SO much more than the song “Handlebars.” Last night I attended the Flobots, People Under the Stairs and Busdriver concert at the infamous 9:30 Club in Washington, DC. Last week I had the pleasure of chatting on the phone with Flobot #5 who is one of the lead MC’s of the group. After the interview and seeing these guys on stage I realized they’re out for so much more than having a hit single, selling albums and moving t-shirts. These guys (& girl) are out trying to engage with young minds and encourage people to go out and make a change. The Flobots are extremely passionate about their message. I usually hate musicians who go on stage and “preach” but this was entertaining and motivating. They got the crowd involved with their music & their message. Absolutely one of the most exciting live concerts I’ve ever seen. Also, their encore was too cool. The viola player came out and sang “Heartbreaker” by Pat Benatar. She was fantastic… rocking out all over the stage. It was like the cute, geeky, orchestra dork busted out of her shell and became a hot female rock star in flip flops. At the end of the song the MC’s came out and freestyled while the band played the “Heartbreaker” melody in a super amped up rock style in the background. It made for a great ending to a great show. The Flobots are 2 MC’s, a viola player, drummer, bassist and guitarist. They have a ton of energy and I feel like we’ll be hearing a lot more of them in the future. Honestly, it’s refreshing knowing that there are still musicians out there who don’t focus on the glitz and glamor of being a rock star. The interview with Jamie (Flobot 5) proves true…

Flobot #5 Phone Interview: 7.30.08

LG: MixMatchMusic really digs the Flobots’ mixed style of genres. How did your sound piece together? Was it an idea that you searched after to create?
F5: “I think it came together out of a general openness on the part of everybody in the band to stretch themselves a little bit genre wise. The other MC and I were performing with Mackenzie the viola player… so at first it was just the 3 of us with some DJs. Then Andy suggested hey, why don’t you combined this into a live band? I think if you had a cool band behind you it would work. So we tried it for one show and the audience responded and we enjoyed it and then it became what you see today.”

LG: What was the Flobots’ first live performance like and where was it?
F5: “it was a Rock the Vote sponsored show in Denver. We were also involved in this effort called voter cruise. We had founded this effort to do youth voter engagement through music. So we had been getting good responses, the 3 of us with DJs. Having the live band behind us… with people moving around a lot more… it just felt more full. I think just for our particular combination of people it worked the best.”

LG: What online platform helped the Flobots promote themselves the most?
F5: “We have our own site… FightWithTools.org specifically for our street team. Basically what we did… a lot of people find our music powerful and leave our show all charged up with no where to go. So we created a non-profit organization that has its own infrastructure set up to provide a place for fans to go. It’s FightWithTools.org. It’s a way for music fans of all sorts can connect with each other and start making a change in the community, beginning with voter registration and moving on to other things next year. We’re really excited. We hope it can be a model for how music can be harnessed for social change.”

LG: Is there a certain sound or instrument that the Flobots would like to add to their band in the future?
F5: “You know… a 6 person band is a lot of people and a lot of dynamics. I don’t think we’re looking to add anything. I think we’re excited to write new songs ourselves, stretch our instruments… stretch our sound in new directions. There’s a whole lot more that we can do and we’re really excited to do it.”

LG: What overall message would the Flobots like to give out through their music?
F5: “I think it’s several things. One, that music is powerful. I don’t know if people are recognizing how powerful music is. If you look at any social movement in the United States, music has been a big part of it. Look at the Civil Rights movement. People were singing songs as they were being threatened with beatings and threatened with arrests. As they were in jail they kept themselves energized by singing. They were able to stand up to folks and claim the moral high ground by singing. There’s a lot of history there… the music being powerful. We wanna try and reclaim that and do it in a way that’s relevant for 2008.”

LG: How do you feel about what’s happening in the music industry (ie big labels crumbling, CD sales dropping, everything happening online, indie artists promoting themselves online, etc)?
F5: “I’m actually pretty outside the loop with the music business. I’m not honestly affected by it or a part of it. Personally…. for me, the most important thing as an artist, is for people to hear something I’ve created. That’s the most gratifying thing. Obviously it is good to make a living off of it as well. My feeling has always been when you’re really small you want people to hear your music. So I don’t care if people burn the CD while I’m small cause I want them to hear it. When you get big enough… you get to the point where you’d kinda be an asshole if you got too upset about it because you’re doing what you love. You’re living off of it. In the middle… there’s an artist that really makes a lot, there’s a sense of support any way you can. Truth is … people make their money off of live shows. I think the way that it is changing… it’s inevitable. People that understand that and adapt to it will be the ones that come out on top. We don’t focus all of our energy on loss of CD sales. We focus our energy on our live show and word of mouth. We get people excited enough that they want to support us however we can. I think that’s the way to succeed.”

To conclude, I was pleasantly surprised by The Flobots in concert. They’re touring the country right now. I strongly suggest you go see their show if they’re coming to your town. The shows have been selling out everywhere so get your tix quick! Check out their tour schedule.

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Check Out “Fight With Tools” (my personal favorites are “Rise” and “Stand Up”)

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Is Last.fm the Profit Mechanism DIY Musicians are Looking for?

The $18 billion music industry includes a relative handful of famous acts and tens of millions of independent and semi-professional artists who have very limited opportunities to profit from their art. Because of the Digital Audio Workstation (music software) revolution, more people are recording music than ever before. And through the use of music discovery sites, more people are distributing music than ever before. But, what we haven’t seen from the music discovery model is a way for DIY and unsigned artists to profit from their art online. Last.fm hopes to change that, apparently.

Starting July 1, Last.FM (or rather, CBS, I should say) will have an Artist Royalty Program, where artists get paid whenever their music is streamed from the site. The most important thing is that this program is intended for and marketed to unsigned/DIY artists, as Last.fm already pays royalties to signed acts via SoundExchange. According to Last.Fm: “This is a big day for DIY artists. We’re leveling the playing field by offering them the same opportunities as established bands to make money from their music. The young musician making music in a bedroom studio has the same chance as the latest major label signing to use Last.fm to build an audience and get rewarded.”

Here’s how royalties will be paid:

  • If your track is played on their free radio service you will accrue a 10% of the share of Last.fm’s net revenue from the free radio service.
  • If your track is played on their personalized premium radio service, you will accrue the greater of either 10% of the Share of Last.fm’s Net Revenue from the personalized radio service, or US $0.0005 for each complete transmission on the personalized radio service.
  • If your track is played on their free on-demand service, you will accrue 30% of the Share of Last.fm’s Net Revenue from the on-demand radio service.
  • If your track is played on their premium on-demand service, you will accrue the greater of either 30% of the Share of Last.fm’s Net Revenue from the premium on-demand service, or US $0.005 for each complete transmission on the prepaid or subscription on-demand service.

While the royalties to be paid aren’t much, they’re a good start, demonstrating the larger issue of finding ways for DIYers to profit form their works. Since most people have their music on several (if not all) music discovery sites, hopefully other sites will follow suit (myspace, are you listening?). Imeem implemented a rev share program last year, but it has failed to produce any real revenue for unsigned musicians. With these moves, however, Last.fm has elevated itself past the clutter of music discovery sites, to become a premiere destination for on-demand music discovery. While I personally prefer music recommendation sites like Pandora, after I discover an artist on Pandora, I want to hear more tracks, see more content, and learn more about the artist. That’s where sites like myspace, last.fm, and ilike come in. And while music recommendation sites would be crippled by paying royalties, sites like myspace and last.fm should do so.

Unfortunately, neither Last.Fm nor Imeem is the answer. Rather, they are both part of a solution that will require DIY musicians to aggregate many sources of revenue in order to make some money. But, there are not many of these sources currently available. A lot of DIY musicians have been distributing under Creative Commons (“CC”) for the last 7 years, but nobody has figured out exactly how to monetize CC works. You would think that the collective strength of CC music could be leveraged to make some money for the artists, but this hasn’t happened. The only caveat to this is Magnatune. For this reason, CC has proven to be a valuable alternative to copyright law for reference and informational works, but not for works of art.

So what other profit mechanisms are there for unsigned musicians? There are a ton of iTunes style sites where people can purchase MP3s, but lets face it, most people aren’t buying tracks from us DIY guys. Certainly sites like PumpAudio, YouLicense, and AudioMicro have helped, but the go-to-profit mechanism has yet to be unveiled. Stay tuned!

Immortal Technique Interview, Part 2

On Monday I posted part 1 of my interview from last week with Immortal Technique. In it, he touched on his method of writing music and creating albums, his inspiration, his time in prison and his previous work with DJ Green Lantern. In part 2 of this interview, Tech talks more about his upcoming release The 3rd World (due out June 24th), capitalism, the foreign policies of the US and perception of Third World countries. Check back Friday for the third and final installment of this interview.

AC: It’s my understanding that the title of this album, The 3rd World, is also a metaphor that looks at the recording industry as being almost US Imperialistic-like, and the underground scene being more of a 3rd world country, is that correct?

IT: Absolutely. And even in the way we’re presented, they present the underground as some little backwards ass place where nothing really gets done, the same way they say, “the only way that some of these 3rd world countries can be efficient, the only way you dark people can have any sort of success is to privatize everything. Privatize your water, your communications, your transportation industries, sell us your diamonds, sell us the rights to your oil.” And that’s what the industry does when it comes in to deal with another artist. “In order for you to get on, what you have to do is change your image, take the political content out of your music, change the way we market you, sell us your masters, sell us your publishing, sign a 360 deal where we get a huge percentage of your merch and your fucking shows.” And I’ve always looked at that as utter ridiculousness, and I can’t accept stuff like that.

In the same way that that’s done to our people overseas, that’s done to us here. And we’re not any more efficient than anyone else. We think that because of the technological advances of our society that that makes us morally superior and more civilized than anybody else? America still has election fraud just like West Africa; we just had that in 2000. We still assassinate our own presidents; we just did that what, 35, 40 years ago? And after that, Bobby Kennedy? And we’ve had political assassinations after that. We have a high murder rate, we’re a gun culture, we’re no better than anybody else. We’ve definitely funded horribly authoritarian regimes, and then we sort of step away from that.

I look at the example of El Salvador, where we put 1.8 billion dollars a year into a Civil War to fund paramilitary death squads. And because we’re not physically on the ground doing it, we step away from that as if we had nothing to do with the repercussions of it and the horrible human rights abuses, the torture, rape and murder that even ended up claiming the life of an Archbishop of the Catholic church simply because he was telling the troops that were funded by American money and the CIA that it was un-Christian to oppress their own people. And it was un-Christian to commit political genocide against people who thought differently from them. And that it was the will of God and Jesus Christ to show mercy to the poor and to realize how corporations were exploiting people. That’s not Christian Socialism, fucking idiot, that’s Christianity, that’s the spirit of Jesus Christ.

If I come into a room and you’re having a debate with somebody, and I give you a set of kitchen knives, or I give you a gun, and I leave the room and I say, “Handle your business,” and lock the door behind me, just because I’m not in the same room as you when you do what you need to do, or when you do what I put you up to do so I can gain the benefit of you controlling that room economically, that doesn’t alleviate me from the moral responsibility of what has happened there. And I think that that’s something that the American empire will have to admit or it will destroy it in the long run, because truth crushed will always come to light. I’m afraid that Leo Strauss, father of Neoconservatism, was deathly wrong. It wasn’t that Liberalism failed. It was that America became schizophrenic, because on the one hand it claimed to be the bastion of freedom and democracy, and on the other hand, it was a racist police state for Black people and it was spreading its own brand of Imperialism to the rest of the world, just like Russia was. What Russia did to Eastern Europe and Asia was the same thing that America was doing to West African and all of Latin America and the Caribbean. So where’s our moral high ground? Didn’t we do deals with the Taliban before? You want to find excuses for all of this, that’s fine, but you’re just lying to yourself. These aren’t conspiracy theories, these are real life issues. We created the Saddam Husseins, we created Manuel Noriega, because we needed people like that.

AC: Now tying that back into the labels of the underground, what do you think the underground labels need to do, both separately and together, need to do in order to create the kind of backlash needed to change the current industry structure?

IT: Really just make music that has soul. Make music that you want to. I know that there is a trend to just make music that’s radio friendly, this one’s for the radio, this one’s for the bitches, quote unquote. I just make music and then after the album is done, I say to myself, “ok, what can I see playing on the radio? What is more for the streets?” Whereas other people tailor their music for this or that, or they’re like, “Oh, yo, this isn’t a really dope song, these aren’t really great lyrics, but this would probably make a really hot ringtone.” Like, at that point, what the fuck are you really doing?

AC: That leads me to an interesting question. Lately, I don’t know if you’ve been reading about it, but there’s been a few really well publicized stabs at independently releasing albums for free on the internet by Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails. Do you think those releases were an important step in the way the industry is changing, or does the fact that both of these groups were already well established and wealthy enough to release an album for free make it more of a publicity stunt than anything else?

IT: That’s an interesting argument. I mean, can you have Capitalism without capital? That’s essentially what the argument is. Could America have had an Industrial Revolution without the capital it built up from slavery? Probably not. The reason that we abolished slavery was not because we had some sort of guilty conscience. Even in the beginning of the 1900s, they kept African people in the Bronx Zoo as proof that they were the link between man and monkey. They used to keep Pygmy Africans there. I mean, this is reality. Racism was backed up by Eugenicists, by racial science, by the church even, in order to justify continuing the profit margins of slave traders and one subsection of the country. Whereas the other side realized, “You know what? It’s much more efficient for us to be able to have free men do their labor. They work much more efficiently than slaves, and we don’t have to pay for anything. They have to pay for their own things.” The money that they get is regenerated and recycled into the economy itself, it creates a stronger economy.

In the same respect, I have to say that that’s a beautiful concept, and if someone blew up just doing that and giving away their music for free, then obviously they had some other job, but I guess these cats have the benefit of already having a multi-million dollar success. But I wouldn’t necessarily categorize it as publicity stunt or something that was done with some sort of two-faced attempt at garnering even more of a fan base. I mean, it seems like they were just honestly putting their reputation to the test with their fans. They could have miserably failed, and it could have done nothing, and it could have been broke, but they gambled the right way. Obviously they have a very loyal fan base. It’s something that I guess, you’re right, can only be done with a fan base that’s committed to the artist.

AC: Now going off on fan bases, you tour and you make a point of spreading your music outside of the US. What have you seen as the state of record industries in other countries, and how has going abroad helped you spread your message and build your base?

IT: Well I can spit in English and Spanish, so definitely anytime I’m in front of a Latin American audience, or a Spanish speaking audience in Spain, we’ve been able to look at that and think to ourselves, or I think to myself, how far this hip-hop culture has actually come. In other ways though, I look at it and think that in Africa and Latin America, when I’ve been there, people don’t buy anything but bootleg albums. No one goes to the store to pay the equivalent of 10 dollars for a CD because that’s literally like a week’s wage.

AC: The word of mouth surrounding you obviously has been increasing greatly in the last few years, and you’ve done this all without the major labels’ help. For someone like you who was told that the marketing of your music would be difficult, and your content would be difficult to sell, how have you attacked self-marketing, and what has the growing success meant in terms of changing your strategy now?

IT: Lots of people, not just the record labels, told me that this wasn’t going to be lucrative or that no one was going to care, but I was fortunate enough to believe in myself and say, listen, I’m going to do whatever I want, with or without the express permission of other people. There’s no gatekeeper for me. I don’t need somebody to co-sign me to put me on.

Anyone who has supported me has never been because I twisted their arm, it’s been out of the goodness of their own heart because they felt the truth in the music. So I think in terms of marketing myself, I don’t need to create a rap persona, or a different personality in order to sell records. For me, it’s just as simple as getting the word out and getting the music to people. The music sells itself, and the message sells itself. It creates an even stronger support base because we’re drawing in from lots of people who don’t get their struggle talked about, lots of people who never really had the benefit of Hip-Hop addressing some of the issues that they’re dealing with.

For example, I have a song called “Harlem Renaissance” on The 3rd World, wherein we take the struggles like what goes on in Bosnia or Kurdistan, where people are being ethnically cleansed, and struggles in Palestine where people are losing their land to a foreign government’s occupation, and we relate that directly to what goes on in the inner city communities where we’re being ethnically cleansed economically. Where gentrification is changing the face of the neighborhood, but not for us, because the only reason they’re making the neighborhood better is so we can get the fuck out so they can raise the rent or create condominiums that go for 1.5 million dollars, and in the hood, you know people don’t have that type of money. So essentially what you’re saying is “Get the fuck out.” Like one of those rich country clubs, where it’s like, “You know what, it’s not that we don’t want Black and Latino people here, it’s just that it costs $150,000 to be here, so we know who’s going to be here, we know who’s not going to be here.”

In the same way that in the future, there will be a racism based on the reality that there will be different races. There will be a race of people who can afford to be genetically modified and say, “I don’t get AIDS like the rest of you fucking people. I don’t get cancer like you. I was fixed from the point that I was conceived and had different genes added to me to where I’m not as susceptible to levels of cold and heat the way you are, my skin doesn’t develop cancer the way yours does when exposed to this climate.” There will be people who are specifically tailored that way, and that’s going to be based on money as well. All of these things, whether or not we know it, are creating even more divisions in our society, so we know who’s going to be able to afford that sort of modification, and it damn sure ain’t gonna be the majority of the people in Africa or Latin America or Southeast Asia. It’s going to be rich people living in the 1st world. And those of us that look like our people, that will be able to afford that, are only that because they’ve been working for people who have been exploiting our land, and those traditionally are the people who control this country. (Editor’s Note: For an interesting fictional representation of the type of expensive genetic modifications Tech envisions here, check out Gattaca.)

Click on this link for the third and final installment of the interview where Tech talks about the current music industry, remix work, internet piracy and the upcoming Presidential election.

A Music History Primer

The music “industry” has always been an extremely dynamic field that has paralleled the steady evolution of technology, business and society. The industry as we know it is more appropriately referred to as the record industry that began in the early 20th Century with the invention of the gramophone. But, the emergence of modern music is a relatively new development, as for the majority of its history, music was neither considered a form of entertainment nor a secular art.

Music (in some form or another) was an aspect of every ancient civilization, but was used in connection with religious rites/ceremonies. Similarly in medieval times, music was almost exclusively affiliated with social and religious rites and ceremonies. The secularization of music did not commence until the Renaissance, which began in the 14th Century and lasted until the middle of the 17th Century. Yet, until the 18th Century, the process of composing and printing music was mostly commissioned by the royalty and the church. In the mid to late 18th Century, performers and composers began to be commissioned by members of the aristocracy, thereby giving them commercial opportunities to market their music and performances to a more secular part of society. As such, music came to be viewed as a secular source of entertainment, evolving with the tastes of the public. As society grew to become more and more secular, so did music.

The industrial revolution of the 19th Century also greatly affected the music industry, shifting its focus from live performances to the exploitation of sheet music. While the printing press was invented in the 16th Century, the technological improvements of the steam powered press and the rotary printing press made it much faster and cheaper to print. Moreover, the industrial revolution created a middle class of society, which provided a wider consumer base for the exploitation of music. The industrial revolution also made it much cheaper to manufacture pianos, which lowered the price so that more people could purchase pianos. Because of this musicians could truly take advantage of the benefits of the printing press because not only did more people have the means to buy sheet music, but they have the ability to play the notes written on the sheet music at their homes. This lead to the proliferation of parlor music in 19th Century society.

Towards the end of this period of industrial growth, the Pianola was invented. The Pianola is a player piano that mechanically plays songs, thereby eliminating the need for any person to actually render the service of playing the music (this is where mechanical royalties entered the mix). Composers were thus given a much larger consumer base because people no longer needed to know how to play the notes on the sheet music. Rather, the notes would be played for them mechanically through the pianola. This caused for the sweeping rise of the sheet music industry, culminating in its dominance of the 19th Century music industry. This is the point where music fully became a product and no longer a service; the majority of money to be made was now in the sale sheet music, and not in the employment of the artist’s services. However, this was only the beginning of the productization that would dominate the business models of the music industry for the next 150 years.

In the late 19th Century, the advent of the phonogram launched the “record” industry and concluded the dominance of the sheet music industry. The gramophone was invented in 1887 and enabled people to listen to a sound recording of a performance without having to be at the performance. This was far superior to the player piano because it embodied a musician’s actual performance, instead of mechanically reproducing the notes written on sheet music through one single piano. An audience could hear an entire orchestra play a composition in exactly the way it was intended to be heard. The fact that the gramophone was cheaper to purchase than a player piano (and took up much less space) also contributed to its popularity.

The popularity of the gramophone became fully realized with the boom of radio in the 1920s. Radio became the primary source of entertainment in society, and as such, it became the primary marketing tool for the selling of records. Via the radio, a listener could constantly be exposed to new music that could be purchased for the gramophone. Musicians could now, for the first time, market to the general public, as since most Americans listened to the same radio stations. Phonograph recordings completely replaced sheet music as the primary source of revenue for musicians and forever changed the concept of music from a dynamic and interactive entertainment experience to a fixed product.

The original phonographic cylinder was soon replaced by a succession of new mediums, namely vinyl records, beta tapes, cassette tapes, and finally compact discs. In the 20th Century, music has become synonymous with the medium in which it is delivered. As technology improved, the recordings grew in quality and the devices needed to play these recordings lowered in price. As such, the notion of music as a product was easily spread throughout the world, and large profits were earned by the greedy labels.

In the 1980s the industry began making a transition from analog technology to digital, beginning with compact discs and culminating with digital formats distributed online. Digital technology has now been perfected and much like the gramophone did, it has completely revolutionized music creation and distribution. Although the digitalization of the industry has caused ramped piracy and copyright infringement, the Internet and the digital form is an enormous source of revenue and an extremely powerful marketing and distribution tool. In the last few years, digital sales have continued to rise, while CD sales have continued to plummet.

Many argue that the digitalization of the music industry, the latest trend in a long history of industry changes, has caused the retransformation of music from a product back into music as an entertainment service, much like it was before sheet music. The digital form has enabled music not to be tied to the media it is played on, and by separating the music from the product, it can be argued that music now exists as content, or rather a service.

So what do you think? What will the music industry look like in the next 10 years? How about in the next 50?

David Ford Interview

After mentioning David Ford in a previous post, the anti-record-label record label (or “new breed of artist development company”), Original Signal Recordings was kind enough to contact us and offer an interview with David.

What was supposed to be a 20 minute chat turned into an hour long discussion filled with witty observations about how fucked up the music business has become as well as insights into David’s determination to be a musician and not a product, to preserve the art in artistry, and the challenges he sees in the collaborative, remixing culture that is emerging in online music. Due to the lengthy nature of the interview (ask me how long it took to transcribe!), I’ve included just my favorite highlights in this post. For a full transcript of the interview, email me.

Sandra: How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it?

David: I would go to great lengths not to describe it. One of the reasons that I make music is so that I don’t have to describe it. It is what it is. And I’m very happy for people to draw their own conclusions based on its strengths or weaknesses. Describing music is really difficult, especially for me because I’m bound to get it wrong. The things that I think are present in my music, what I think it sounds like, is probably entirely different to other people. I think that’s your job not my job to describe it!

S: Are there any genres or categories you prefer not to be associated with?

D: Um, ya pretty much all of them I think. Genres are kind of weird. For me, music is just… it is what it is. Anything that can be overly genre-specified is normally the kind of thing that I don’t like very much. When people say, you know, this is Nu Metal or something… If something sounds so perfectly narrowly pigeonholed into its category then that probably means its more of an attempt at a good marketing pitch than an attempt at a good piece of creative art. Music is something that exists for its own benefit and of its own beauty. If things have to be a member of a club to be acknowledged, then maybe the reasoning for their existence is a little off key.

That said, singer-songwriter is a phrase that I’m not crazy about… obviously I am a singer and a songwriter, but then so is Bono and so is Bon Jovi. It’s kind of assumed that if you’re a solo musician you are a singer-songwriter and then with that comes the assumption that you’re going to strum quietly on acoustic guitar and sing soft little songs about a girl that broke your heart… I turn up at shows at with a lot of gear and I want to make lots of noise and scream and shout and throw things and people, you know, people have got a stool there and one microphone and then just go “Oh, I thought you would just play the guitar and sing.’ That happens to me quite a lot. And all that comes from how solo artist means singer-songwriter, which means one acoustic guitar and one microphone and it means you’re going to be very sedate and not be up in people’s faces…

S: How do you view the traditional big label artist management we’ll-do-it-all-for-you path vs. the newer Do-It-Yourself, promote yourself on YouTube and Myspace, I-don’t-need-a-label approach that many independent artists are pursuing these days?

D: I think the new without-a-label approach has more come out of the fact that labels are doing a bad job. As I said previously, I think the idea has shifted away from labels thinking that they have any kind of creative job or even responsibility to bring great, amazing exciting music to the people. It certainly seems like in years gone by there was a lot more respect or emphasis placed on artists and artistry than there is now. It seems like an artist is a luxury that is too expensive to have these days because they’re unpredictable. If you allow an artist to make their own record, they might end up making a bad record that doesn’t sell and you’ve spent loads of money on something you’ll never see back again.

An example I always like to think of is the Bruce Springsteen model, whereby he makes two relatively commercially unsuccessful records, the likes of which (these days) would get him dropped like a stone after his first record, let alone his second. Instead he gets to make a third record and he makes Born to Run and it becomes enormous and now Bruce Springsteen is the boss and he’s internationally enormous and a fantastically hugely successful high-selling artist who’s made millions for his label!

But, of course, if he were to have the same deal happen these days he wouldn’t get to make a second album and he’d never have the body of work that he’s come up with because the music business is all about how they need everything instantly now and longevity is just too risky a business. They need to have sure fire guaranteed things that are gonna work now so therefore you need stuff that’s going to be on TV or stuff that already has some kind of celebrity attachment to it.

And so quality of music, or quality of artistry, is – although it’s unspoken – I think it’s considered unnecessary. For every person who turns out to be Springsteen, there will be someone else who turns out not to be. So you don’t take a chance on anyone, no matter how much you believe that they might come up with something amazing. Instead you’d rather get a team of tried and tested writers to write something for a faceless replaceable pop nobody who’ll do exactly what they’re told and can be dropped like a stone with very little hassle resulting from it.

I think that’s the reason people have gone down the independent road… not because they feel a spirit of independence but because that’s the only way they can survive because the music business is not interested in music.

S: So it seems to me like we’re being ushered into a whole new era of artist-fan interaction where artists can communicate directly with their fans and fans can influence their favorite artists and get involved in the music-making process. Do see this happening? How would you feel about fans remixing your music? What do you think about what Radiohead has been doing with their song Nude?

D: I wouldn’t object to doing it, but for me things like that would be a novelty. It would be like a marketing drive. It’s a cute little story. There is a chance you might end up with something interesting. But for me, the whole point of being a musician or trying to be an artist is you want to present things to people and saying “This is what I want you to hear”. Not like “Here’s a suggestion. You change it how you want to”.

That’s the point that it becomes a product. Because, with product, you want to give the consumer exactly what they want because The Consumer is King. Whereas, for me, when it comes to art the artist should be presenting their artistic vision. And that’s nonnegotiable. You know, you wouldn’t – and maybe I’m being a little too lofty here – but you wouldn’t say to Leonardo Da Vinci, “Can you put a bigger grin on the Mona Lisa cause she looks a bit grumpy?” You wouldn’t do that because that’s what it is – it’s a finished article.

And I know I’m being way too precious about this but I kind of think we’ve reached a stage where our artists, our great creative entities, are being devalued I think. Because they’re too accessible. We’re too close to them.

And as a result you end up with people who aren’t that good any more. Which is why people go crazy for the person who wins American Idol, when in actual fact, they’re just a regular probably uninteresting, not particularly creative gifted person who’s got a decent singing voice. And that’s all the well.

But, in the past you’d have particularly gifted singers like, I dunno, Whitney Houston or somebody, who would actually come through the proper channels and they would have a career based on their talent rather than the fact that they were famous already for being on a TV show. I think all people are getting from this modern accessibility and all that is that they’re being encouraged to see artists as no different from themselves. Which is fine when they are no different than themselves.

For me, Bob Dylan is some scary otherworldly alien. Some kind of genius… I don’t want to hang out with him! I don’t want to get to know him. I don’t want him to be some guy I can go and have a chat with after the show. I want him to play the show and I want to never see him because I want him to be untouchable and perfect. And I don’t want to remix his song and then send it to him digitally and then maybe have him tell me it’s great. I want to have him make his record the way that he thinks is perfect and then I want to listen to it and react to his work. Who the fuck am I to think I can take something that someone has done and make it better? It’s insulting to the artist and I think it’s very arrogant of the individual to assume that.

So, you know, I’m cool for the fan remix thing. But… it’s not part of the creative process. It’s part of a marketing process. And it might be fun. And it probably is fun. But I don’t think it’s anything to be taken seriously.


S: In a review of your gig at the Gateshead Sage last January on Record Overplayed, Dawn (the editor) writes that your songs “alternate between tear jerking piano poetry and impossibly infectious, impassioned rants.” What are your impassioned rants about? Where do you find the inspiration for your lyrics?

D: Maybe I’ve let off a couple of impassioned rants during this interview…

My rants are about things I feel strongly about. The way that things are headed in music… When it comes to music, the word “artist” now means just anyone who’s singing on a record as opposed to having any level of artistic creative involvement or input into the record. I think the record business is fucked beyond repair. Certainly in Britain it is. I think America has still got some hope. I think it still works in this country, so much better than it does back home.

Britain being such a small country, it’s been very easy to monopolize and so now there’s a stage in Britain where there are like 3 or 4 people who have to give you a green light and if they give you the green light, you’ve got a career and you can continue, and if you don’t get a green light that’s it and you will never ever make it. I think just generally, if you watch the news on TV and you hear some of the nonsense that people talk about. The people who run our country… I don’t believe for a second they have our best interests in mind.

It’s kind of easy to look at the state of things and just think maybe just maybe we are completely screwed! And the whole world’s gone mental. And I can’t see a way out of any of this because the people who drive us as a people and as a society have fundamentally put us on a collision course. So, for me, ranting is… almost like a letting off of steam. And I feel bad for not offering any kind of solution, because I don’t have one.

I think that this point in history is a very very strange time. Optimism seems to have kind of subsided into a kind of resignation that yes, this is all going to happen. And yes, the earth and the environment will be screwed over. Yes, we will get involved with wars for reasons that they won’t tell us about at the time. It seems that people are kind of accepting of all this… and that we’re just gonna watch watch the decline and see what happens. There’s a lot to rant about.

But at the same time, it’s a beautiful world, and it’s a wonderful life and there is so much to think is truly wonderful. But, you know, at the same time, the things that our societies and our structures and our governments are doing are not necessarily helping to increase the overall joy in the world. That feels like a shame because I can’t believe it would be that difficult for everyone to get along and for everything to be cool.

S: Our blog is called Evolving Music. When you hear that phrase, what does it mean to you?

D: Evolving Music… um, I’m not really sure. I think, obviously, the whole concept of evolution is about a constantly moving thing. My worry with evolution is the whole Darwinism thing. Darwin was a very clever man who… used to live in my hometown strangely enough.

But, the whole survival of the fittest thing, which Hitler among others drew upon, and which I think is absolutely fundamental to the very concept of capitalism… it kind of means survival of the fittest but it also means survival of anyone who’s willing to fuck over someone else for their own benefit.

Obviously music is not as cutthroat a business as that. But… I kind of worry, because music is supposed to be an art form. And an art form is often based upon things like vulnerability. Evolution exists partly to eradicate vulnerability and leave you with only the strong and the robust.

My fear when it comes to music and evolution is that what you end up with is survival of the fittest, and the fittest is that which is most likely to survive in a competitive marketplace. And that which is most likely to survive in a competitive marketplace is that which is inoffensive to the highest number of people. And that which is inoffensive to the highest number of people is that which says absolutely nothing.

So, I’m not down on the concept of evolving music. I think evolution is a good thing. But, I worry that the music business is all business and no music. Or that music is the last item that gets filled in.

I think it’s very important that we keep an eye on it and make sure that the weak are still helped and that it’s not just about survival of the strongest because the strongest are fine. It’s the vulnerable, soft, beautiful little things that need protecting. In the spirit of evolving music, we need to look after the pandas and the hummingbirds that can’t necessarily look after themselves.

S: MixMatchMusic and the readers of Evolving Music thank you for your time! Best of luck!


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