Today’s Music Business
Stars are smaller than ever before. You might be number one on Spotify, you might generate a lot of ink in traditional media, but tons of people still might not know your name and those who do often only know your single, your album is for hard core fans.
There is no unity. You are on your own. Fight for recognition in your scene. That may be all you ever get.
If you’re not in the Spotify Top 50, if you’re not hip-hop or pop, you make your career on the road. Start practicing. Play wherever you can. All the criteria irrelevant in the pop world are incredibly relevant in the rest of the world. You MUST have a good voice. If you write great lyrics but your voice is a croak, hire somebody else to sing them. Roger Daltrey sang Pete Townshend’s words and Neil Peart, the drummer for Rush, wrote the lyrics. Auto-Tune, all the studio tricks, are irrelevant on the road. As for hard drives…the more real, the more honest your sound, the more people will relate to it. On the Top Forty, sheen is the goal. On the road, it’s edge, mistakes are cool, you want to show your humanity.
Every genre plays today. It’s not so much a long tail as a small head of hip-hop/pop and then everything else.
Only your hard core fans are interested in the album. Sure, if you’re in the Spotify Top 50, new fans might clamor for more and check out the rest of the album, but the truth is the acts on that chart are the most innovative, the ones who will release singles and three albums a year.
Are you satiating your fanbase or looking for something more? You can do good business giving people what they want. But oftentimes your business doesn’t grow. Sure, your fans are your greatest ambassadors, but if your music is niche, it will probably stay that way unless you switch it up.
We live in a mash-up culture. I.e. you can mix anything with anything. You can rap in country and you can sample rock in hip-hop. Broaden your horizons.
You need a manager. But if you’re starting out and are employing an amateur, DON’T SIGN ANY PAPER!
Agents only want you if they think they can find you gigs. But, despite all the hoopla about arena-level acts, most gigs are not booked for stars, but journeymen and up-and-comers. Agents need acts. Agents will leverage their power, especially with their other clients/roster, to build you.
You can be outrageous on stage, but you’d better not be that way in business. The music business is mature. When it comes to business, people expect you to be organized, with a team that can deliver. Don’t show up, break a contract and you’re out.
Credibility is the key to a long career. In other words, be wary of taking the short money at the cost of the long. Selling out may not matter if you’re in the Spotify Top 50, but it damn does if you’re not. Your fans are not momentary, but for life. They believe in you. If suddenly you prefer the corporation, if people get wind they’re paying more or losing access because the man comes first, you’re toast.
Ticket fees are here to stay. StubHub went all-in and sales went down.
Someone always bitches, isn’t that what the internet has proven? Your tickets will always be too expensive, the fees will be too high for a certain class of people and they’ll complain online. But if you don’t amplify their anger, it will dissipate. Anger wants an audience, without it it dies.
Production is irrelevant unless you’re selling arenas, where the belief is the audience expects it. But in smaller shows, the lack of production puts the focus on music, makes you more authentic.
More people can play, fewer can climb up the food chain.
Your first job is cutting through the noise. That’s a very slow process. If you’re not in it for the long haul, give up now. The Spotify Top 50 phenoms may make it their teens, you probably won’t make it until your thirties, if at all.
You need a hit. Every band should focus on creating that one indelible track that not only excites the base, but anybody who hears it. Who knew Portugal. The Man before “Feel It Still.” I don’t care how well you play, how cohesive your album, without a hit, forget it. Don’t confuse this with Tom Petty’s the A&R man didn’t hear a single. You’re not playing for the radio, you’re not adjusting your sound for anybody else, forget the radio, you’re speaking to the online audience, i.e. everybody, your music is available to all, you want to create something that people can talk about and share.
Artists know when they do something great. If you don’t think it’s great, it’s not. You’ve got to write crap before you can write well. You’ll look back at what you wrote in the past and wince. The key is to exercise the muscle, to the point where if you get inspired, you can lay it down.
Plenty of people will charge for advice, say they can help you, but the truth is you’ve got to help yourself.
Crossing over is nearly impossible. You’re in your genre, accept it.
Forget the traditional markers. Chart position, awards. Only you know how well your business is doing. You want to grow active fans, who sustain you. They don’t care about chart numbers, etc., they only care about you.
Touring numbers, not streams. It all comes down to the gross, and you can gauge how fervent your audience is by merch sales, how many bucks per head.
Don’t worry if you don’t get it, it’s not for you. The Spotify Top 50 is a sideshow, bigger than other shows, but there is no Big Top in the music business anymore.
Gain strength and then negotiate, the hotter you are, the better the terms.
You want to own as much as you can. The songs, the recordings…
Money breaks up bands. Figure it out early or people will get angry.
Money makes Top Forty records. That is the labels pay beaucoup bucks recording these tracks and ensuring they’re played on the radio. It’s a closed system, and unless you sign with a major you’re out.
The young audience is digital-savvy. It follows trends. If you’re young, or kids are your audience, you want to be where they are, this week TikTok, as opposed to terrestrial radio.
Successful acts communicate with their fans on a constant basis. Mystery is history. If you’re not willing to post on social media, don’t complain that you didn’t make it.
In the miasma of music, with so much stuff available, the old middle level acts have been dragged down in most cases. They were supported by label money and scarcity. Their revenue is not going down because streaming is the devil, but because with everything available their music is less desirable.
If you’re not breaking ground, don’t start. It’s too hard to get ahead today. You want to be great and you want to be innovative, otherwise you’ll have no longevity.
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