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I’ve been posting a lot of interviews here on New Music Strategies of late. This time it’s my turn to get interviewed.

In my office

One of the easiest ways to write a good blog post is to get someone else to do it. You tap out a few questions, send them to someone intelligent, and then cut and paste the response onto the website.

I’ve been getting away with this a fair bit lately. Now one of my interviewees has turned the tables on me.

I spoke last month with Christian from Last.fm. He’s also a musician and keeps a blog. With his permission, here’s the interview he did with me in return.

CHRISTIAN: Getting press/promotion for your music remains the hardest part of any music strategy – and there are no online solutions in the way there are for distribution (e.g. Finetune). What would be your advice? Pursue traditional press avenues? Or just concentrate on the online channels, i.e. social networks, music blogs etc.

DUBBER: Actually, getting press/promotion for your music is the easiest bit these days. It’s just time consuming, and sometimes it’s worth bringing in a professional just because it’s such a job of work.

As you say, there are so many avenues from traditional press to social networks — and a decent PR strategy should include as many of those things as you can muster. Online channels are different to offline ones — but they don’t replace them.

C: With the advent of new retail models like We7 promoting free downloads, is the RIAA justified in continuing to sue file-sharers when it seems possible that all music will be free within 2 – 3 years?

D: Music’s already free — at a ratio of about 40:1 (free downloads to purchased). We7 is just one way to extract revenue from all that value being generated.

The major record industry’s never been justified in suing file sharers – and particularly not from a business perspective. It’s suicidally change-resistant, it’s the worst PR strategy an industry has ever managed to come up with – and it’s costing more than they’re recouping.

It’s a legal moneypit. They may have massive resources, but they’re not limitless.

Sadly, it seems that the best way to make money in the record business these days is to become a lawyer.

C: As they continue to garner negative press for their sometimes tenuous lawsuits, what would your advice be to the RIAA?

D: Stop. Apologise. Backtrack. Refund.

Spend the next five years on a concerted positive PR campaign. Give better deals to your artists. Contribute to green charities. Release the other 98% of your entire back catalogue in digital format. Give generous gifts and bribes to your customers — whatever it takes.

You’re in a hole. Stop digging. Jettison old ideas and spend the money you’ve been spending on lawyers on things that will make people feel more positively about what you do and how you do it.

It will take time. It will be expensive. The alternative is irrelevance and ruin.

And while you’re at it, consult some of the smartest minds on the planet from organisations like Creative Commons and the EFF to talk about ways to make money from a more open, technology-friendly, Long Tail-ready business model.

I reckon it will take around five years for this to work, and you’re going to have to start sooner or later if you want to still be in existence 10 years from now.

Think you’re too big and powerful for that to happen to? 80% of the most powerful companies on the planet listed in the Forbes 500 guide 20 years ago simply don’t exist anymore. Their fatal error? Resistance to change.

But it’s astonishing to me that an industry that has the capacity to generate so much pleasure and value in people’s lives by making music available have managed to so royally screw that up and make everyone hate them with a passion. It’s absolutely pathological.

Let’s not forget here though that I’m not talking about ‘The Music Industry’. I’m talking about the Record Industry, which is a small subset of the Music Industry. And even then, I’m only talking about a minority of organisations who command the lion’s share of the economics of that section of the industry.

The fact that they aggressively pretend to be the music industry is kind of laughable. It’s like the lion claiming to be the zoo.

Let’s not make this mistake: the music industry is NOT in any trouble.

By and large, the music industries as a whole are doing just great — particularly live music, music education and the community music / social enterprise sector. Mismanagement on a global scale may attract headlines, but as long as people derive value from an engagement with and experience of music, there will be money to be made.

C: Do you think subscription stream-on-demand models are the best option for the industry – e.g. people have access to an unlimited online jukebox for £3 a month, rather than downloading anything to their computer? If not, what would be your ideal for a future model of music consumption?

D: The answer here, as with most things to do with the online music environment is ‘Well, it’s complicated.’ What you propose sounds like a good model, and I’m sure there’d be a lot of people taking you up on it.

But complexity and choice are factors in online music consumption. People like to collect, organise and understand their music as an expression of themselves. Some people self-identify as jazz enthusiasts. They may not want to take home the whole record store.

The point is that looking for ‘the business model’ and saying ‘this rather than that’ means that you’ll overlook thousands of other useful, interesting or lucrative arrangements of production, promotion, distribution and consumption.

I think you’re just as likely to make a decent business model around metadata than you are around the recordings themselves. But the point is, as soon as you choose one to the exclusion of all others, you’ll be wrong.

C: Do you think that the internet has empowered the amateur to the point that it’s become almost impossible for the good voices to be heard above the noise? Is it about who shouts loudest or who has the best gimmick (e.g. Sandi Thom)?

D: No. 90% of everything is always crap. The more stuff there is, the greater the 10% pile becomes. All we need are effective filtering systems to sort what we consider to be wheat from what we consider to be chaff.

Advanced internet users are advanced to the extent that they have better filtering systems than everyone else. RSS feeds and social networks with built-in recommendation systems (such as Last.fm ) are examples of online filtering processes that bring the good stuff to your attention.

There’s a service industry revolution due in terms of customised and personalised cross-media content delivery. If it comes, and it’s done right, it will be of the same order as the call centre phenomenon.

Sandi Thom was a good story because it was the first time that particular PR stunt was done well. Like the million dollar homepage, everyone who tries to replicate that stunt will fail — because we’ve seen it and we know how it works now.

That’s the great thing about the online environment. You have to be clever, and you have to be innovative every time you go to work.

C: I’m a musician – if I was offered a major label record contract tomorrow, would you advise me to sign – if so/if not, then why?

D: That depends on what you want out of your musicianship.

If you want to be famous, have a number one single in the charts, a music video played worldwide on television and a concert tour where hundreds of thousands of people turn up, buy your merchandise and sing along with your songs — then your chances are still much better with a major label deal than without it. That may not always be true, but it is currently.

However, if you want to have a sustainable career, manage your own repertoire, have creative control, earn a decent living, not be in debt to a major corporation, have all of the decision-making power about what you are and aren’t prepared to do and — over the course of your career — earn more money and reach more people that care about your music, then your chances are better as an independent.

Statistically speaking, your chances of being ripped off, prevented from working, in a lawsuit, stopped from using your own music as you wish and generally creatively constrained are much higher in a major record company. However, there are some world class marketing people working in major labels who would be good to have on board if fame is your desired outcome.

C: With all this drive to connect with fans, open up access to you and your music, sell relationships etc, do you think something of the mystery has been lost? Could you imagine someone as compellingly aloof and enigmatic as Dylan or Bowie emerging from the Music 2.0 era?

D: I can imagine all sorts of things. The world is a bizarre and surprising place.

There are people who are genuinely aloof and enigmatic — but to answer your question more directly, just look how accessible and folksy Bowie, Dylan and David Byrne have become, given the choice and the access through technology.

Music is a form of communication and expression, and they have all made the most of the new music environment to enhance that aspect of what they do.

Most genuinely interesting artists (and I’d definitely include those three) turn out to be genuinely interesting, intelligent, creative and engaging human beings once they have the platform through which to express that side of themselves.

I think that makes them more fandom-worthy — not less (and in a much more palatable and sensible way).

While it’s nice to have a priveleged position as the artiste, and while for some there may be a degree of frailty of the image that’s been created, which comes under threat from accessibility and close scrutiny, I actually think that directness of expression, connection and communication has been a goal of most songwriters throughout history.

Technology doesn’t make you directly connect with fans, but it does allow you to.

Frankly, the alternative way for audiences to see behind the screen is through the lens of the tabloid. An information vacuum will lead them straight there. With that in mind, it makes a lot of sense to me that most artists are choosing to control their own message and be deliberate about what they reveal about themselves — no matter how famous or mysterious they are.

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Your turn to interview me. Ask me one question in the comments, and I’ll compile a list of answers for a future blog post.

If you could keep it to things around music online, I’d appreciate it. If not, then at least try and stay in an area I might know something about…