Thursday, March 18, 2010

Establishing Your "Tribe"

Here's another excerpt from "Music 3.0: A Survival Guide For Making Music In The Internet Age."

Establishing Your Tribe
According to Seth Godin, the originator of the tribal concept (from his landmark book "Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us"), a tribe is  “…a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea…” In M30 (Music 3.0), a tribe is connected to each other and the artist via their passion for the artist’s music, but the leader is the integral part of the tribe. In fact, without a leader the tribe is only a “self-organized group.” As an example, a blog may have thousands of readers who never add a comment, so this makes it a group. The blogger could be the leader, but if she’s the only one that posts, there’s still no tribe.
Now we’re assuming that there are more than 3 people that are passionately connected to the artist, since this is obviously essential to the creation of a tribe. The music is what connects them to the artist and to each other.
The Leader
The most important thing that the tribe needs is a leader. Although the artist is the most logical leader, a representative that speaks for the artist could work as in that capacity as well. In the old fan club days, the fan club president acted as leader and today she still could be the leader of the tribe, but unless she directly represents the artist, the tribe isn’t as powerful or as dynamic as it could be.
So how does one become the leader of the tribe? The leader initiates contact with the tribe and leads the conversations. For instance, the artist/leader might send or post a tour schedule with a list of “meet and greets” especially for tribe members. She makes it easy for everyone to participate and rewards the members that do so. Before the artist makes a new recording, she might ask the tribe what direction they’d like her to go in, then reward the ones that respond with a link to download a special mix of the song. And most importantly, she gives projects to tribal members to work on. The artist might ask for suggestions on venues in a certain area or to pass out flyers before an upcoming gig. Remember that tribal members are passionate and truly want to be part of something. Active participation fulfills that longing.
However the leader reaches out, it must be authentic and show true caring for the tribal members. Tribal members can feel in an instant if you’re just going through the motions and the tribe will begin to dissolve. If you’re posting just as an exercise because “That’s the way M30 works, dude,” then you’re better off finding a surrogate leader.
The next thing that a tribe needs is a place to meet. This is pretty easy in M30 as there are a variety of alternatives from blogs to Myspace, Facebook, Twitter or a custom social network on Ning. Whatever the online technology used, the tribe has to be able to communicate with each other easily or the glue that holds the tribe together will be weak. That being said, even a simple mailing list can be enough to connect the tribe.

The Relevancy Of Record Labels In The Digital Age

Mark Mulligan recently posted "Three Key Questions For Record Labels In the Digital Age" on his blog which goes over some points I made in my Music 3.0 Internet Music Guidebook. Here are the questions asked:

1) Are record labels relevant any more? 
Despite all the talk to the contrary, they sure are, just not in the same way as before. Once upon a time (back in the Music 1.0 through 2.5 days) a label was virtually the only way to go because there were so few legitimate alternatives. In Music 3.0, artists have more ways than ever before to do it themselves without label help, but there comes a time when you need a label's infrastructure if you wish to go to the next level popularity and sales-wise.

Take a look at every big seller on the charts today. Almost all of them are on a label, and the ones that aren't on one used a label to propel them to where they didn't need one any more.

Can the labels do a better job? Absolutely. Can an artist or band or artist do it themselves? Yes, until you hit that certain point when you need the infrastructure to really blow up. That being said, the point where you need a label is getting further and further away each day.

2) Are they innovating enough?
I think the industry as a whole stopped innovating by 1980 when it was taken over conglomerates like Vivendi, Time Inc., Thorn and Sony and the bottom line was more important than the nurturing of talent. If there's one thing that could turn the label's fortunes around, talent incubation is it. We'd get better product, artists would view them as a viable alternative because of long-term support, and we might even see some new superstars and trends arise as a result. It's probably a pipe dream to ever expect this to happen though.

3) What role should they play?
Certainly not the 360 deal where they take a piece of everything from merchandise to touring along with record sales. The record labels were only ever good at a few things - marketing, sales and distribution. Even those core competencies have diminished greatly over the years, so why would anyone ever let them assume what is essentially a management role? If anyone is ill-suited to be someone's manager, it's a record label.

But if they would concentrate on marketing, sales and distribution in the digital domain (to be fair, some are trying), they could remake themselves into a viable alternative to DIY. Until then, hello DIY.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

SoundExchange Money

A few weeks ago, Billboard magazine reported on the dismal returns that artists were making from digital royalties, and we even followed up with a post about it here. Now SoundExchange, whom we've also talked about a couple of days ago, has responded with some numbers that they claim are reality, and they're quite a bit different from what was previously reported.

Here are the numbers:

  • a total of 1,602 artists were paid more than $2,000 in 2009 
  • 500 of those received more than $9,000
  • more than 60 earned more than $50,000 
  • 4 cleared $100,000

The amounts are only for royalties paid on recordings played on non-interactive digital streams in the US (Internet radio and satellite) and don't include publishing.

As I said the other day, there may be some money waiting for you, but you've got to register to get it. Do it at

SoundExchange is currently at SXSW attempting to match an estimated $1 million in royalties to performing artists that are not yet registered.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Importance Of Deep Links

Usually most bands and artists always provide a link to the landing page (top page, home page, they're all the same thing) of their site in any correspondence or social network post. Of course this is better than no link at all, but it might not be the best strategy. There's now some evidence (according to many SEO gurus) that "deep linking" can bring you a higher Google ranking by also providing some value to the person following the link as well.

Deep linking is any link on your site that's not your home page AND has the appropriate information. For example, if you have your picture taken with Jeff Beck, it's better for both you and your visitor if you link him directly to the page that has the picture, rather than sending him to your homepage which does not, and forcing him to dig down. Not only is it annoying, but you can get penalized by Google for providing a less than perfect user experience as well.

A better strategy might be to mention the picture and provide a link on your homepage to a separate dedicated subpage with the picture, complete with the story behind the picture (don't skimp on the copy - 300 to 500 words is about right), the appropriate metadata (your name, Jeff Beck, the place where the picture was taken, etc.), and the appropriate keyword phrases (your name, Jeff Beck, the place where the picture was taken, etc.) baked into the copy at about a rate of about 2% (that's about 6 times or so for each keyword phrase). If you use the keywords more frequently, Google may penalize you for "keyword stuffing", which means trying to get a higher ranking by using the keywords so much that it diminishes the user experience again. Same thing if you use too many keywords or phrases - the first 5 or so is all that will get Googles attention.

Seems like a lot of work, and it is. It's especially difficult to design copy around keywords. I'm a writer with a lot of words under my belt and I still find it hard. But it's worth it if it helps raise your visibility.

What your aiming for is a lot of backlinks to your deep link, which will raise your ranking and visibility even more.

One last thing - don't forget to submit this subpage to the various search engines and directories. But remember, the subpage has to be able to stand on its own or the entire exercise probably isn't worth it. If it takes the visitor only a few seconds to read the copy, then you don't have sufficient stickiness for it to be any benefit to you.

There's still a lot more to cover on deep linking as well as keyword phrases, but that's for a future post.

Monday, March 15, 2010

How Bad Metadata Costs Artists $$$

If you're an artist and don't already know about SoundExchange, then you should. The company was appointed by the US Copyright Office to collect royalties for artists and performers who's music is played on any digital service, either online or satellite.

That means if you're an artist who didn't write the song you're performing, you can still get paid for your hard work. Performance royalties have been long overdue in the US (Europe has paid them for a while now), and the battle still rages regarding royalties from radio broadcasts, which will hopefully be settled this year sometime. But for anything digital, it's a done deal.

Don't confuse artist performance royalties with songwriters performance royalties; they're not the same. Songwriters have always been paid if they retained their rights, but until now, performers were never paid a dime. It's hard to believe that a group like the Righteous Brothers can have the most played song ever on the radio with "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" and never make a penny out of it, but that's the way it's always worked. At least on the digital side, this has now changed and performers can expect to see at least a little cash.

But a couple of roadblocks stand in the way of a payday. First of all, you've got to sign up with SoundExchange so they know that you exist and where to send the money to. But the second one is the big one; the metadata of a song hasn't been sufficiently logged.

Metadata is data about the data, so in the case of a digital song, it's everything about the song, from the artist to the label to the musicians to the year of release. Surprisingly, the copyright owners sometimes don't include that information. As a result, there's money that sits in an escrow account at SoundExchange for "Beethoven" (who never recorded anything) instead of the orchestra that recorded one of his pieces, or "Various Artists", or "Artist Unknown." You can pay money to someone if you don't know who they're supposed to credit. Gradually, the word is getting out that carefully including a song's metadata gets everyone paid, so expect to see the problem to lessen a bit as the word gets out. Just remember that if you're self-releasing songs online, be crystal clear about all the metadata.

If you're an artist, register with SoundExchange. It doesn't cost anything and you might be surprised to find out that you have some money coming. And treat your metadata seriously.

Check out this article about SoundExchange and monies owed by Laura Williams.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Gaming The System

The sales charts of the music business has always had someone gaming them.  It never gets old and it never goes away, no matter the attempt to stem the tide. Want some examples?

From the 50's through the 80's, a record label would pay off record store clerks to lie about the sales of a particular record when Billboard called in order to get a more favorable chart position. This ended with the institution of Soundscan, which entered the purchase based upon the bar code of the record at the point of sale.

Then the labels would pay off radio station program directors to put a song in heavy rotation. More airplay meant more sales and also meant the song would rank higher on the sales and airplay charts, thereby influencing more airplay and sales. This was the the dreaded "payola" and was eventually declared illegal. The labels got around it by paying third party promotion companies to do their dirty work.

Then the labels began to ship large quantities of a record they wanted to be a hit on consignment to dealers. They'd declare to the press that it "shipped platinum (over a million)", which again would influence programmers, distributors, one-stops and even the charts. This ended when reports started to come in from the dealers about shipping unsold records back in platinum as well. Everyone wised up to listening to sales figures from a label.

Music 3.0 is hardly immune to being manipulated, starting with artists and groups gaming their MySpace accounts by inflating their friend counts by using 3rd party "friend finder" apps, and using bots to inflate the number of plays their songs got.

Now comes the interesting case of Boston rapper Sam Adams, who came out of nowhere to hit #1 on the iTunes charts by selling over 20,000 downloads of his single "Driving Me Crazy" in one week. Sensing there's some trickery afoot, a number of journalists and pundits (like Bob Lefsetz) have questioned the sales. Now comes some informed speculation by Jay Frank, author of the book FutureHit.DNA and the blog of the same name. Jay believes that Sam Adams or people close to him bought the majority of these downloads themselves. He comes to that conclusion by analyzing the sales figures between iTunes and Amazon, Google search data, similar artist recommendations, file trading, and the song itself. It's an interesting bit of detective work that you can read for yourself. For the record, Adams recently presented a 3500 page document showing all the sales as evidence that the sales were legit, but Frank doesn't buy it.

This is just another example of trying to game the system, but in Music 3.0, it's by the artists instead of the record labels like before. The thing to remember if you ever consider trying it is that now there's always plenty of forensic evidence to sniff it out quickly. Get your friends and plays the old fashioned way - earn them.


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