Jim Griffin on the pho list asked the question today, ‘What “rules of the road” from your business do you offer those traveling this information highway?”‘
My response, as an artist trying to get my groovetronica project heard:
– The internet is not a panacea. It’s getting there, though. —
1. The internet is not a replacement for capable hands, doing work.
You can’t do this on your own. Enlist the help of others who share your dream, but are interested in a different parts of it. There will always be lots and lots of work to do. It’s a competition thing – anything a machine can do for you, it can do for others, and probably is.
2. The internet is the great equalizer, but only among peers.
The competition out there isn’t just massive – it’s complete: you will soon be in competition with practically every other musician on the planet. I picked up a new piece of gear for the studio, and the manual came in a bunch of different languages, including Russian. I’d never seen a multi-lingual manual in Russian before.
Also, the vast majority of the concerns being discussed and addressed in terms of emerging media are of only peripheral relevance to you – the focus is still on the haves – current owners of the music industry Your principal concern online should be obtaining sticky listenership. Give away product – don’t try to sell stuff until you have people hooked.
However, you know both of those facts already. I’m merely restating the obvious to lead into:
3. The internet is not a replacement for personal relationships
Personal relationships are more important than ever. Why? Because of #2 (the internet is the great equalizer, among peers) and #1 (the internet is not a replacement for actual work). You are going to get ahead because someone likes you music enough to work it for you. You are going to get ahead because your music is reviewed by the right websites and people, and played by the right djs. Your chances of this happening increase considerably if know the persons doing it.
And people are also how we make sense of the web. It isn’t intelligent enough to make sense of itself – Google will not be replacing your dj for a while. Review blogs, webjay and other things are only going to increase in prominence.
What’s more: you can form relationships in ways you couldn’t ever before: Unless they don’t want to be contacted, you can find and contact almost anyone, these days – so do it. The promoter who has put on my live shows in the past has flown in people from around the globe for his shows. How? He emailed them. On another project, we needed a female voice for a narrative part. The animator heard a girl on the radio and a week later she was in my studio. You need to be more creative than ever in your networking, because there are more opportunities for networking than ever before.
4. The internet is still not a replacement for advantageous geographical location, yet.
In the large or the small. You need to be in the right town, and friends with the right record store owner/web radio dj/night club owner/promoter. You can’t do this over the net, even if you never intend to sell anything but downloadable mp3s.
The is no ‘scene’ for the kind of music I create, in my town, despite the easy going appeal of downtempo, and jazz influenced electronica everywhere. There is one large indie label, to speak of. Lots of former live venues have wholeheartedly embraced the lowest common denominator, or gone under. Isn’t San Francisco supposed to be one of those big cultural centers of America? It used to be mentioned in the same breath as New York, L.A. It’s tough. Thanks, dotcommers…
5. The internet is not going to change the status quo.
The grass will always be greener, and you are always going to be fighting an uphill battle. Your local scene and opportunities may seem relatively barren, but it’s not like there are is a magical place where people have fun all the time and go out to shows 6 days a week, and there is indie record store on every block. If such a place ever existed, is would attract so much competition that it would become as difficult to breath, let alone to get ahead of the game, and everyone would be saying ‘why does the local scene suck?’.
Furthermore, you ignore your local scene at your peril. It’s a plethora of personal connections you can’t make from anywhere else – it’s a source of connections that the internet can’t get to. So work it, damn it.
And labels, radio stations, online distributors, promoters, that you approach will always treat you like shit. Why? Because you are a dime a dozen, and they have bills to pay, if they want to remain in the label, radio station, online distribution, promotion business. It’s not you – it’s the nature of the process, online or off.
6 The internet is not some electronic version of the status quo.
Get rid of your conventions – today’s new music has already moved away from the one size fits all category. Audiences have more access to music, so they can be more selective. There is more music being made, so there is less attention to share. Smaller audiences means you will require a larger share of the revenues from your art in order to make the art. Tomorrow’s music will not support the giant system that feeds of the bulk distribution of plastic music on plastic platters. (But that’s been retreaded enough)
Get rid of your conventions – I firmly believe that the old ‘play out or die’ adage is no longer applicable. It’s ‘get heard, or die’ or perhaps, ‘get sticky, or die.’ I’ve gone to live shows of maybe 1% of the musician’s whose work I own. Only a fraction of my music collection was even made in the same country as me (thanks, Ninjatune and all the U.K. labels).
Your fan base is going to be way smaller and way more widespread, but more sophisticated and devoted than those of the past. Capitalizing on them, and monetizing them, is going to be more intensive process. I’m not talking about hard sell – I’m talking about keeping them interested in your product, and making them your evangelists. They are going to be evangelizing you in corners of the world you will not visit in your lifetime. How cool is that?
You >need< stickiness. It's not enough to be heard on web radio, if the listeners aren't able to access your website from it, or played on the radio, unless your name is announced. ou need email addresses, physical addresses. You need to get back to them and remind you of your existence - they are few and far between. They are also more devoted to you, since they picked you out from a lot more choices that they had.
Keeping the discourse alive is not spam: be careful not to cross the line. Example: I have my fan database sortable by zip code, so I only tell people about things I am doing if it is going to be geographically relevant to them.
The internet is never going to be some grand altruistic place, where people treat each other nicely, or pay for anything they could otherwise steal.
Peer2Peer is a massive challenge for anyone trying to be remunerated for the work that goes into making music. For the time being, it's not the biggest worry of a musician, but as the other obstacles fall to the side, or change their shape, this elephant isn't leaving the living room.
As the fan base gets smaller, more widespread, and more selective, as the number of middlemen is reduced through technology, the artist is going to be taking a bigger share of the revenue from the sale of their product. As the share increases, so does the pain from piracy. If you think that unbridled pirate2piracy is not a really bad idea for anyone who had to worked on the files being nabbed then I have $5 billion dollars waiting to transfer to your account from my Nigerian Oil fund.
8. The internet is going to be in a state of flux for further into the future than anyone can foresee. Use whatever you can to get ahead in the now, for that future.
Tailor your tactics to the environment as it changes. Peer2peer may swallow be swallowing revenue, but it’s also (in some of it’s forms) a way to get your stuff heard. So use it – use anything to be heard, and to establish a sticky relationship with fans. Build audiences over shipping product. Until the whole DRM thing gets sorted out (and it will, one way or another) prioritize relationships over revenue.
Some good pay sites are emerging too, or have been around a long time – cdbaby, magnatune, etc. Use them too. Use anything you can get your hands on, that you have the time for. However, be discriminating – your time is precious, and there are lot of places to waste it – like people’s tiny ‘internet radio stations’ that are listened to by three of their friends.
Furthermore, the success stories of tomorrow are not the success stories of yesterday. We are in the position to be those success stories, if we play it right, but the rules are not the same. In a small part, we are getting to make up the rules.