In which the author apologises for the lack of critical insight into the deeper workings of the music industry, and provides an explanation for the specific focus on new technologies, rather than broader business advice.

toolboxA reader of New Music Strategies who runs a record label emailed me yesterday in response to the website, and the kind of topics I’ve been dealing with here. He was keen to point out that he was an appreciative regular reader, but he wanted to raise the idea that in the post about mp3 blogs, my dismissal of the older medium of radio was indicative of some troubling broader recurring themes of the website.

To this record company owner, New Music Strategies and other sites like it advocate a tearing down of the past, without any real provision of a replacement for existing revenue streams. After all — it’s hard enough to make a living in the music business without somebody coming along telling you you’re doing it all wrong…

With every new post, I get lofty ideas or instructions as to what I should do (which always seems to be give my music away — easy for others to say: you try that when your house is dependent on you making some actual cash not hopeful future net dollars and new technology warm fuzzies) but very little that deals with the actual realities ie. artists aren’t really changing how they do their stuff so much, the new business modes are unproven and most often have no actual financial prospects, the old record companies aren’t going to simply crawl off and die (and hey guess what? I don’t want ’em to. In the real world they also serve a purpose) and personally I’m really scared that we are creating something that is more like the wild west where a lot of people are going to get taken.

And that’s fair comment. Here’s how I responded:

I’ve really got to watch the way I come across with this stuff, because what you describe is not at all what I’m trying to achieve.

I do think things are different — but I agree with you about the fact that things ARE changing, rather than HAVE changed. I think we’re in transition, and if you’ve got the product, then you would be mad to stop using distributors, pluggers, flyers or anything else that helps you make a living.

The answer is, I suspect, to continue to do what you do best — not because it’s the only true and right way to be in the music business, but because it works. What you’ve got to be prepared to do in this transitional phase is to take up any new tools that also work, and drop any that stop working.

My problem with the major labels (until very recently) was their unwillingness to accept the possibility of any sort of change. It was an unrealistic, reactionary protectionist stance and entirely counterproductive. Not the best model for the music business.

That said, 90% of the music business is in traditional ‘old music strategies’. There are far better people than me to tell you how to maximise traditional business. I mean, I have some informed ideas, but it wouldn’t be my specialist topic on Mastermind. There are always better ways to do marketing, retail, recording, tour management, design… and there are experts out there that can be helpful.

Where I do feel more confident, and have something to contribute, is the online environment, because I’ve spent the past couple of years studying it and I examine it professionally every day.

Yes — it’s Wild West stuff. Absolutely. Not ideal, but stake your claim anyway.

There are a range of tools available to small-medium music business (my intended target audience) that most people aren’t really aware of with any real clarity. I’m definitely not saying “throw out all the old tools”. I’m saying “here’s a range of new ones”.

This is why I call them ‘strategies’ rather than ‘rules’.

The whole point of the blog is to try and spark some ideas that will make people like you more money — not make you redundant. The best response you could have to my blog is to look at it and say ‘is there anything useful for me in this one?’ and ‘is there anything that makes me think of something different that might be useful?’.

The other thing I do is point at trends. It’s one thing to argue about whether or not music should be given away for free, and quite another to point out that in the last 12 months, music WAS free, comparatively speaking, at a ratio of 40:1. Interestingly, in that same period, revenues from live performances skyrocketed, with some fairly significant touring companies reporting a 15-fold increase in sales. I don’t want to deduce something as gauche as a simple causal relationship, but I do think those two things might be connected in some way.

But one thing I am absolutely 100% clear about, and that’s the fact that copyright as it currently exists is no longer fit for purpose. It needs to be entirely thrown out and rewritten from scratch. Like it was when sheet music came along. And when recordings came along. And when broadcasting came along. New media environments need new rules. The only people getting rich off the music business these days are lawyers.

My biggest concern with the blog at the moment is to be regular, and to avoid the temptation to write 10,000 word essays. My target, as I say, is anyone in independent music business. That includes, but is not restricted to labels. I suspect most of my readers are ‘unsigned’ MySpace bands (which is great, if you ask me), though most of my related mail comes from ‘real businesses’ (quote marks added here to indicate the contestability of all of those terms).

But there’s one rule I try and stick to at all costs: Never predict the future.

Futurologists make a career of being professionally wrong every single time they open their mouths. I always remember the story about the computer scientists who predicted that by the year 2000, there would be five computers on earth, and they’d be the size of skyscrapers.

What I try and do instead is point out any organisms that seem to be new, try and figure out how they are reshaping the ecology — and how they could be useful to it. In this way, hopefully we can learn to adapt and thrive.

Hope that’s helpful.

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