Coin a Phrase: The Leveling

I do believe (largely because of Moore’s law) that – in the music/creative world at least – we’re reaching a moment where the technological barriers that provided advantages to those with the most resources is nearly over.

There is a sort of leveling occurring now that — with only slight variance — we all have access to the same tools.

The first moment of leveling occurred with the advent of ProTools. No longer did one need to collateralize their creativity in exchange for funds from a record label to create a competitive recording.

The second moment of leveling arose via firms like TuneCore. No longer did one have to be signed to a label to have distribution.

The third moment of leveling revolved around the emergence of social media. While not completely obviating the need for traditional promotion, the rise of social media certainly shifted the power away from people like publicists and into the hands of the creator.

We now arrive at a place where musicians/artists are comparable to chefs. All chefs, within reason, have access to the same ingredients. Certainly, geography plays a role for access to ingredients, in a similar manner as geography plays a role for musicians/artists – if you don’t like your geography/feel it’s a competitive disadvantage, move.

What then separates the hack “chef” with a failing restaurant from the thriving restaurateur with lines out the door every night – who is next door to the failure?

We’ve all seen this. It’s sad. Some hapless Babu Bhatt stares forlornly out the window of his restaurant at customers lining up for the place next door. (Oh, and by the way, all you unqualified “gurus” out there: you’re Jerry Seinfeld in this episode; proffering destructive “advice” …. “Very bad, very, very, very bad man.”)

So what separates the success from the failure when each has access to the same ingredients, the same customer base, etc. I suppose it’s like Hugh MacLeod says, “The future belongs to the artists and the Chinese…I am not Chinese.”

Being an “artist” today means coming to terms with this leveling. How will you put your ingredients together in a manner that creates attraction and retention. These ingredients go beyond the musical notes, obviously, and relate to all facets of your work: your relationship with your market, your “brand,” etc.

What I think I’m most looking forward to, beyond the emergence of music/art that never would have emerged prior to this Leveling, is the lack of excuses that will exist. At whom will artists point their fingers when their art isn’t greeted with the commercial success they feel it deserves? Since forever the artists’ fingers have wagged at: the label, the distributor, the publicist, the radio person, the web designer, the booking agent, the management … pretty much everyone but themselves.

With the exception of the booking agent/management above, all of the others (labels, distributors, et al.) are pretty absent from a realistic survey of this Leveled landscape. You really think a publicist is the difference between the success and failure of your music? Really?

As for booking agents and management. Playing live is now, was then, and always will be the most important thing you can do. If you can’t do it with some frequency and excellence, keep your music as a hobby, share it with friends, etc. Whatever the case, don’t wait for a booking agent; look for non-trad gigs, etc. With respect to management, you’ll know it when you need it. For the vast majority of artists, you don’t need it yet.

The future belongs to those like Thomas Keller, David Chang, Ferran Adrià, Chris Bianco. Artists who use the ingredients that are available to everyone else, but combine them – in an alchemical manner – to create something truly remarkable and unique.

So…no excuses, right?

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  1. PeterTuneCore’s avatar

    That's how we thought of it when we started TuneCore. The idea was the DEMOCRATIZATION of a heretofore closed, insular industry.

    But I like “leveling” too! 🙂

    Thanks, happy new year!

    –Peter
    peter@tunecore.com

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  2. George Howard’s avatar

    I remember. I was there.

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  3. CLCmusic’s avatar

    This is a bit too socialist for my liking. I'd like to think everyone has the same chance and that we've all got access to the same tool set as everyone else, but that's just not the case.

    All of the “obsolete” players you mention are still out there, still doing business as usual, and still dominating the market/industry.

    Sometimes, the DIY community feels a bit too insular, hanging on to a handful of examples where the indipendent artist is succeeding; we assume their success is applicable to countless others.

    I've seen too many talented acts/musicians perform, who make next to nothing for what they do, to know that there is no leveling, nor will there ever be.

    Success can now be obtained in a way it could not before, but very few are actually experiecing it… I hope that in the future more people will as well, and I intend to work towards making that possible. In the meantime, I hope we can all be a little more realistic about what it takes to actually have a sustainable career as a musician.

    (commenting from mobile)

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  4. scout66com’s avatar

    As a music marketing specialist and publicist for 25 years, I do take exception to the fingerpointing, and specifically the pointing at PR. But in reality speaking strictly to new artists you are right. Most new performing/recording artists don't need PR. But, if you are teaching people to be successful in a music career, then do not dismiss this very important ingredient so quickly.

    Most musicians record an album and sit back and wait for the masses to come to them, as if by osmosis. By definition osmosis is diffusion. Music is fussion and needs the necessary ingredients to bond for action and reaction.

    On the new playing field most are calling for a marketing only strategy. Advertising is out and marketing is in. But it's too early to make that call because the process is a complex recipe unto itself. Even so, is the artist going to do the marketing themselves? If they are to be creative, I don't see how they can do all things alone. Someone must assist. And managers are not marketing specialists either.

    You can't successfully bake a cake without baking soda. This very important ingredient, though old as dirt, is necessary to make the cake rise into a sumptuous, tempting mound meant to be consumed by the masses.

    Since I've been doing this professionally longer than you've been an adult, I do want to point out that perhaps teaching a bit of music history versus music futurism would be a better strategy. Music in all it's glory and the process of making it available to the public is cyclical. All good things in good time.

    There are a very large number of talented established musicians who rely on their careers to make a living, which they've been doing well at for years. They contribute greatly to very weak economy by paying mortgages, car payments, and tuition for their children's college education. Displacing them with irrelevant, under developed talent does not help this business. In fact it is the very thing that is wrong with it.

    Allow the process of time and essential ingredients to marinate and marry the flavors in your recipe for success.

    Janet Hansen
    Scout66.com

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  5. scout66com’s avatar

    Being a music publicist and marketing specialist for the past 25 years, I do take exception to the fingerpointing; specifically at PR. But in reality if you're talking to new artists you are correct. Most emerging musicians do not need a publicist.

    Most new artists record their dream album and sit back and wait for the masses to come to them as if by osmosis. By definition osmosis is diffusion. Music is fussion and needs the necessary chemical bonds for action and reaction. PR and marketing are two chemical bonding sources. The “new” model points to a marketing only strategy. Advertising is out and marketing is in. You cannot have successful marketing without some form of PR. But again, in reality it's too early to tell if the old model should be dismissed so casually. Marketing is a complex process unto itself. Internet advertising will take hold at some point.

    If you are teaching emerging artists to be successful, then make sure they know what will indeed help them rise above the unlevened playing field. You can't successfully bake a cake without baking soda. Though old as dirt, baking soda is the ingredient that allows the cake to rise into a sumptuous, tempting mound meant for consumption by the masses.

    Since I've been doing my job professionally longer than you've been an adult, I'd ask that you teach a bit more music history than music futurism. The entire process of making music and bringing it to the people is cyclical. Cavalier statements made in posts like this do more harm than good to the overall business of music due to mass circulation; and an unclear definition of whom you are speaking to.

    There are literally thousands of very talented successful musicians who contribute greatly to this very poor economy by paying mortgages, car payments, and provide tuition for their children's college education. Displacing those who play a very important role in music with irrelevant untrained musicians is also very harmful to the business at large.

    All good things in good time. Allow time for the ingredients to properly marinate and flavors to marry in your recipe for success.
    Janet Hansen
    Scout66.com

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  6. George Howard’s avatar

    Janet,

    Thanks for the response. Thanks mostly, however, for the kind words about my age. I'm not sure how you know how old I am or how long I've been doing this, but the longer I can be perceived as a youngster, the better. I do think, however, you may be underestimating my experiences that have formed the basis of this post (and all my posts). In any case, I'm not going to put forth my bona fides here.

    I respect your point of view, and certainly meant no disrespect.

    I think we frankly are closer in opinion that might appear:

    You say: “Most new performing/recording artists don't need PR.” I agree.

    You say: “Most musicians record an album and sit back and wait for the masses to come to them, as if by osmosis.” I agree, and have spent considerable energy trying to disabuse people of this “approach.”

    You say, “Even so, is the artist going to do the marketing themselves? If they are to be creative, I don't see how they can do all things alone. Someone must assist. And managers are not marketing specialists either.” I agree, and, in fact, have written at length about how managers must focus on business development.

    You say: “Music in all it's [sic] glory and the process of making it available to the public is cyclical.” I agree, and without sounding cocky, I feel very confident in my knowledge of music history. Further, I have *never* purported myself to be a futurist. I'm not comfortable with futurists, and work very hard to focus my work on the present. I am a practitioner first, so *everything* I write comes from experience in the present – right now. Doesn't mean that I don't suggest ways we can improve, but I ain't no futurist (in fact, I wish futurists would just go to the future, and stop bothering me in the present. I keed, I keed).

    You say: Displacing [a very large number of talented established musicians who rely on their careers to make a living] with irrelevant, under developed talent does not help this business. In fact it is the very thing that is wrong with it.” I couldn't agree more. I am fond of saying that unless you're willing to really put in the effort, time, devotion, etc., you should really keep music as a hobby, and not gum up the works for those who are not doing it as a hobby.

    My problem is that I see too many publicists/marketing gurus providing false hope to too many hobbyists, and getting paid to do so. I am certain from your thoughtful comments that you are not one of these people, and I apologize for the generalization (I certainly know and have worked with some (though not many) fine publicists).

    Last, I thank you for your food metaphors. As you may have seen I write about food with some regularity, and just got done making ice cream with my daughter. Perhaps we can make a meal together some time and continue to talk this through.

    best,

    George

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  7. George Howard’s avatar

    Wow, I've never been accused of being a socialist before.

    I don't agree that – for instance – terrestrial radio or print publications or traditional distro – are dominating the market. Certainly, not any market I'm interested in.

    I agree with you that “Success can now be obtained in a way it could not before.” I, like you, hope that more begin experiencing success.

    I'd love to hear how I can be more realistic about what it takes to have a sustainable music career. Having done this for over 20 years (wink, Janet), I see it as a combination of remarkable music, remarkable drive, remarkable persistence, a remarkable team (not label), and a remarkable belief that your music must be heard.

    What am I missing?

    thanks for the post.

    best,

    George

    Reply

  8. CLCmusic’s avatar

    George,

    You're not missing any points whatsoever as far as your own experience is concerned. But, as a leading voice of the DIY movement (you are, you know) I think you should more clearly communicate to the hopefuls out there that read your blog what it really takes to build that sustainable career.

    When you say, “I see it as a combination of remarkable music, remarkable drive, remarkable persistence, a remarkable team (not label), and a remarkable belief that your music must be heard,” I couldn't agree more. THAT is your 20 yrs experience boiled down to one sentence, which does those of us with little to no experience no good.

    What does “drive”, “perstitence”, and “a remarkable team” look like on a day-to-day basis? Other than ian roger's recent experience managing, I've seen no hands-on experience shared in the blogosphere regarding just what goes on “out there” in the big and scary music industry.

    Chris

    p.s. Some of the best “teams” out there are labels. Don't dismiss them all just because a few big ones give the label “label” a bad name.

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  9. George Howard’s avatar

    Chris,

    Thank you. Your kind words mean a lot; I've never set out to be a leading voice of anything, but it's nice to think that whatever I have learned along the way (and continue to learn daily) is registering a bit.

    That said, your point is very well made. There are not enough “hands-on experience[s]” being shared.

    I have attempted to share:

    http://www.9giantsteps.com/?p=1039

    http://www.9giantsteps.com/?p=1099

    But, again, your point is taken, and I resolve (on this day of resolutions) to try and be less obtuse/more specific.

    I will say (and I'm not trying to defend myself or come across as defensive) that the Artists House chats are an attempt to be very specific: bring in an artist, talk about their experiences and offer some suggestions (not just from me, but from the community at large) on how to move forward. We need to get back to those.

    If you're willing, I'd love for you to be a guest (either in person or remotely) on the next Artists House chat. We can talk specifically about your experiences, and I will do my best (as I know the community will as well) to offer “best practice” suggestions on a way forward. Email me gah650 [at] gmail [dot] com, and we'll set it up. It'll be towards the middle/end of January (I also extend this invite out to Janet if she's reading).

    I will say, that neither I nor anyone else have *the* answers. My work is about raising as many questions as it is offering suggestions. I do rely on my experience to inform my thinking and try to help those who are newer to this than I to not step on the same land mines as I did/do. In addition to past experience, I'm relying on my current experiences, and my education (MBA, Law Degree, etc.) to try and make sense of the landscape, but, again, I don't have *the* answer.

    What is valuable – imho – are these types of conversations, which, I hope, will lead to more people conversing and sharing information.

    Thanks again.

    George

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  10. scout66com’s avatar

    For as long as I've been aware of ArtistsHouse I've been reading your posts. Connecting the dots with many people involved in this business, I've inquired about your age, and received a ballpark guesstimate…which apparently is correct, 🙂

    With all due respect to you, as I do know at least some of your bona fides, it is never clear in your writing whom you are speaking to. I find myself being very annoyed with a new generation of opinions rebelling against a now disenfranchised infrastructure that I've rebelled against too. It was a quiet revolution due to the era, so there was no pandering to an audience of readers. My revolt was more like true grit, typing press releases on an electric typewritter, sending out as many as 20 physical press kits a day. Ignorant and arrogant opinions from those who've not paid their dues – many influenced by you – has a great number of people cringing behind their computer screens.

    There is a distinct difference between the music industry (the labels) and the music business. The very first project I worked on was the most obscure independent release you can imagine. But because of PR and the artist behind it, the vinyl recording project had legs. My first assignment landed a glowing review in Billboard. And then, actual music and video footage due to PR efforts landed this project as the prologue to the video release of Robert Redford's “A River Runs Through It”.

    As a freelancer in a home office while raising two daughters, I've been credited with three Grammy award winning campaigns. I've also contributed to the legacy of two of history's most popular songs. So I know that PR is effective as sure as I'm sitting here. In the next several weeks over 10 million readers will be exposed to a relatively unknown recording and performing artist, due to the efforts of PR.

    Granted, and this needs to be heard, PR is the messenger. It's always the music itself that makes the statement. Building a story behind the artist is beyond important. But without a publicist, who is going to do that for the artist? Frankly, I can't even write my own story well enough. An objective point of view is much more powerful than a subjective effort.

    If there are predatory publicists and marketing gurus selling snake oil for a paycheck, then shame on them. More, I have experienced it is the artist who is INSISTENT on retaining a publicist. To a certain degree building name recognition before a big break comes is a very smart strategy if the artist can afford it. They generally cannot. But imagine getting a break, and the press has never even heard of the artist before. The credited archives of Google are empty…..what is the media to do? They pass, and move on to the easy story that writes itself. Media will continue hitting on those artists with a bunch of money behind them and not just one publicist, but a team of publicists leaking information like a drippy faucet.

    If there is a modicom of success to elevate an artist above the white noise, it is in their best interest to do so.

    Thank you, George, for your post and reply. I've already marked one New Year's resolution off my list by refusing to remain silent any longer. There is rage against the machine from all angles. I've chosen this path to raise my children and forgo a regular healthy paycheck. It has paid off handsomely in ways I never imagined.

    And yes, let's keep that invitation to make a meal together open.
    Janet Hansen
    Scout66.com

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  11. sambarouge’s avatar

    I love the expression “all things being equal”… because more often than not, things never are. Things aren't fair, things aren't equal, yada yada yada. It doesn't matter who is finger pointing or which finger they're using. The music business does not exist in a vacuum. Trust in so many areas of our lives has been flushed down the toilet. The music business is no exception. So again, it really is about relationships more than it is about roles. Some people don't trust managers. Some people don't trust labels. Some people don't trust publicists. Some people don't trust technology.

    There is so much music out there and yes, so much of it is bad…badly conceived, badly played, badly recorded, badly performed…and badly promoted. The bad stuff isn't always the new stuff and the old stuff ain't always great stuff. All the more reason the good and great stuff needs (and deserves) extraordinary tending….

    I really think that one of the reasons I tend to not want to be labeled with a particular title/role in the music business is that I really do not want to have to carry the baggage — especially the bad baggage, that so stereotypically can be attached to any of those functions. What I am more than anything, is a fan. When I love music, I will do anything and everything to help the music that I believe in reach others who might embrace and appreciate it. For now, what that means is investing time and money in certain technologies and participating in certain forms of social networking. Twitter, Facebook, Topspin, press releases, merch bundling…. next year — or six months from now — who knows?

    But, what I do know I will always be investing in, are relationships with people I CAN TRUST. For me, trust — not technology — is the equalizer. Yes, markets are conversations and markets are relationships… but I think it is impossible to isolate the music business from the issues and forces that have deteriorated trust across the board in all aspects of our day-to-day existence. There is an extraordinarily high price to pay for not only feeling overwhelmed by information, but for not knowing who or what to trust.

    So, for me, step one is finding music I love. Step two… finding people I trust — regardless of their title, tool kit, “techspertise,” pedigree, age, nationality, political affiliation, or astrological sign — who might be able to help me help an artist who I believe in and whose work I love. If you want to create something truly remarkable and unique, create trust.

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  12. PeteK’s avatar

    What about the 'moment' when a personal computer (Mac or Windows) became a cost effective platform?
    Without that little box none of the other moments would have occurred.

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