Thursday, August 7, 2014

How The Music Industry Created Its Own Worst Nightmares

Music Business image
Once a sector committed to the bleeding edge, the recorded music business has gone from an industry adept at incorporating the latest technology into its products to one that’s become its own worst enemy by its refusal to adopt and adapt until its too late. Over the last 30 years, not only has the industry made a series of grim mistakes that has emboldened its competition, in some cases it has even created it.

For the better part of a hundred years the recorded music business had an impressive track record of staying on top of the freshest technology. From adopting the vinyl record to replace the fragile shellac discs that were its original core business, to welcoming the cassette and its new-found portability, to the random access and digital sound of the CD, the industry managed to rise to greater and greater sales heights with each successive tech breakthrough that it incorporated. 

But a series of short-sighted mistakes starting in 1981 have turned the industry from the master of its own domain to one that’s now primarily reactionary, with each latest response putting it deeper and deeper in a hole as it loses control of its own destiny. Where once the industry controlled every aspect of its business, now it has ceded control of virtually all of it, but especially the distribution of its products.

This has occurred due to many factors, but historians will look back at three major turning points that altered the industry’s fate. 

The Rise Of MTV
Up until 1980, recorded music was an ecosystem totally run by the major record labels. They were responsible for creating the product by finding and recording the artists, to manufacturing the product in its own manufacturing plants, to distributing the product to a series of retail stores, to promoting the product via print media and especially radio. The record label was at the center of each of these activities, none of which could progress without its approval. The money flowed and life was good.

But by 1980 the industry was in a major doldrum thanks to a backlash against the disco era and a general spending malaise. Luckily it was soon bailed out by new musical trends (punk and new wave), and an upstart cable television network called MTV.

Suddenly there was a new way to promote music and every label jumped in feet first as viewers and record buyers couldn’t get enough of watching videos by the artists they loved. Soon, a new stable of MTV-ready stars was created, the CD was introduced, and music consumers were buying more product than ever before, with MTV at the center of it all. Read more on Forbes.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The "Happy Birthday" Song Could Cost Publisher Millions

Happy Birthday Song image
If you ever went to a chain restaurant and heard the wait staff sing a lame birthday song instead of the real thing, that's because the parent company didn't want to pay the high licensing fee connected with the singing of the "Happy Birthday To You" that we all know and love.

For 120 years Warner/Chappell Publishing has been demanding payment for the use of the song "Happy Birthday," but a new documentary and lawsuit provides some strong evidence that the song has actually been in the public domain all this time. Such a ruling would mean that Warner/Chappell would be forced to not only forfeit the high licensing fees it now receives from it, but also potentially have to return hundreds of millions of dollars as well.

During the making of a documentary on the song, researchers have uncovered evidence that the song has actually been in the public domain at least since 1920, a claim that many copyright scholars have maintained for years.

"Happy Birthday To You" actually started its life as "Good Morning To All" which was published in 1883. The "happy birthday" lyrics appeared in 1901 with a note that the song was sung to the melody of "Good Morning To You" in an edition of the Inland Educator and Indiana School Journal. This was reiterated in a book in 1907, then published with notation in 1911. There were a variety of copyright claims since, but virtually all were held to be invalid or expired.

It seems that Warner/Chappell might hold a copyright on the original song (might being the operative word here), but not on "Happy Birthday To You," although the company has claimed copyright of the song even though the original copyright has long since run out. Now that a suit has been filed, it should be very interesting to see how the company responds.

While it won't shake anyone's world to have "Happy Birthday" back in the public domain, at least it will get rid of the substandard efforts to take its place in restaurants everywhere. You can read more detail, and see the complaint document here.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

5 Things Music Bloggers Hate Most

Music Blog image
There was a great post the other day on Digital Music News by Nina Ulloa about the "9 things not to do when emailing music blogs." It's something that you should definitely read, but I've created my own version of the things to avoid when email a music blogger (although you can find a similar list in my Music 4.0 book).

1. You get the blogger's name wrong. No one will take your email seriously if you misspelled their name.

2. You send a generic email blast. This is especially bad if you happen to CC all the other blogger's addresses for everyone to see. If you're going to do this, at least do a BCC (blind carbon copy, which means that no one other than you can see the addresses).

3. You place them on your mailing list without advising them first. Most email service providers prohibit this anyway, as they want everyone on your lists to voluntarily opt in. Music bloggers particularly hate this though, so don't do it unless they ask.

4. You turn on the SPAM machine. Music bloggers hate when you keep badgering them with the same info. It's OK to follow up or send a reminder, but if they don't respond after a couple of tries the chances are low that they're going to respond at all.

5. You don't read their blog before emailing. Bloggers hate it when you send them something that blatantly indicates that you've never seen their blog before. It's the ultimate turn-off, and will probably get you permanently banned from the site.

Want to know the way to a music bloggers heart? It's simple really. Contribute to their blog with regular comments that are not self-serving in the least. When you become a part of their community, you're much more likely to get a blogger's attention when you need it.

Monday, August 4, 2014

3 Reasons Why An Artist Website Is So Important

3 Reasons why an artist website is important graphic
Many artists are tempted to just rely on a Facebook or Tumblr page as the main online point of contact, but that strategy can have a number of unforeseen problems. Here's an excerpt from my Social Media Promotion For Musicians book that explains why.

"Unfortunately, a website many times gets overlooked as an integral piece of your digital promotional life because there are so many other places that you can use as your online focal point. Having a Facebook page or Tumblr blog, or relying on another social network as your online central focus has a number of potential flaws, not the least is control of your message. Let’s look at three scenarios where relying on a social media site as your main contact point can prove disastrous.
  • Scenario #1: Our first scenario is a real-life example of a band I’ll hypothetically call “The Unknowns,” since one of the band members asked me not to reveal their true name. During the heyday of MySpace around 2004 the band was hot and eventually developed a following of over 900,000. This led to a number of record labels becoming interested (remember that they sign you for your audience, not your music), with the band eventually signing a big deal with one of the largest major labels at the time. The label immediately told the band to suspend their MySpace account because “we can do all that better in-house than you can.” In typical record company fashion, the label ultimately did very little for the band’s online presence. They did create a new slicker label-managed MySpace account, but they were not able to transfer any of the band’s previous followers, thus leaving them with a presence that was far less than they had before they were signed. Of course, when The Unknown’s album was released they had no way to alert those 900,000 followers since they didn’t have any of their email addresses, and they didn’t even have a website where their fans could go in order to discover the latest news about them. Needless to say, the album bombed and the band was dropped from the label. They never recovered that massive fan base that they had before they were signed.
The moral of the story is that if they had redirected those fans from their MySpace account to their website in order to harvest at least some of the email addresses, things might’ve turned out a lot differently, since they could have alerted their fans when the album was released. And that’s the problem with relying on an external site that you don’t control as your focal point online.

It's too easy for today's artist who only dabbles in social networking to get complacent and comfortable with the abilities of a single social network, but that can spell disaster for maintaining your fan base if you're not careful. As those artists who formerly depended upon MySpace now know, what's hot today can be ice cold tomorrow. But other negative scenarios also exist that can be far worse than the network falling out of favor.

This scenario was recently played out again early 2013 in a slightly different manner when MySpace relaunched an updated version of their site. Every single artist lost all of their followers, and every MySpace user lost their previous settings, and any affiliation with the artists they were following. All users had to reregister again, and all artists, regardless of how popular they were (even owner Justin Timberlake), started all over again with zero followers!
  • Scenario #2: Let's say that you've cultivated a huge following on Facebook. What would happen if Facebook was purchased by EXXON (highly unlikely, but let’s pretend), who decides that all it wants is the underlying technology of the network, and shuts the rest down? If you didn't capture the email addresses of all your followers, you'd lose them to the nothingness of cyberspace. Don't laugh - a scenario like this could happen, but most likely on another smaller network.
  • Scenario #3: What would happen if Facebook (I'm picking on them because they're the big dog on the social block) changes its terms of service, and now charges you $.25 for every fan past 100? If you're lucky enough to have 8,000 fans, it's going to cost you $2,000 to continue. Or what if they decided to limit everyone's fan connections to 100? Both are unlikely, but something similar could happen, where suddenly you’re unable to access that large fan base that you've worked so hard to develop.
The point of all of the above scenarios is that when you depend on a social network for your online presence, you’re ceding control to an unknown, unseen force that can change it’s will at any time with no regard to your online well-being. That's why it's imperative that you don’t count on a single social network for your total online presence or even your social media presence. If you rely on an external network, sooner or later you're going to get burnt. It's the nature of the Internet to constantly change, and it's too early to get a feel for the life span of even of the largest sites and networks. 

Just to illustrate the volatile nature of social networks, in 2005 MySpace was the most visited social network online with 100 million users. A mere five years later and it had dropped below 25 million, yet has recently doubled that number and is growing again. What this means is that you must pick and choose the social networks that you participate in wisely, and always engage in a number of networks in case one suddenly falls out of favor."

To read additional excerpts from Social Media Promotion For Musicians and my other books, go to the excerpts section of

Sunday, August 3, 2014

How Streaming Hurts Digital Download Sales

While this blog has posted many times about the decrease of download sales as streaming music has taken off, this chart from Statista illustrates the trend very well.

In comparing the first half of this year with the first half of 2013, you can see that on-demand streaming (which means from a service like Spotify or Beats Music) is up about 50%. Add to that the increase of on-demand music through video services like YouTube, which is up another 35%, and you can readily see why digital album sales are down almost 15% and individual track sales are down 13%.

CD sales are down by more than 19% from the same period, but that most likely would have occurred even without audio streaming becoming as big as it is. CDs will stay around for a while, but the format has long since seen its peak.

The anomaly is still vinyl album sales, which are up a whopping 40% over the same time last year. While that seems like a lot, the revenue derived from that facet of the business is still a figurative drop in the bucket compared to the rest of the recorded music industry, but it's still nice to see.



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