Tag Archives: music business thinkpiece

A Glimpse Into An Odd Future

Lyrics about violence, raping under-aged women, swag and smoking copious amounts of cannabis – LA based rap/skate collective Odd Future is not exactly primed to perform at the next PTA convention. Nonetheless, this clique of teenage rappers has generated a lot of attention the past few months. They performed on Jimmy Fallon’s show, were recently featured on the cover of Billboard magazine and Odd Future captain Tyler the Creator signed a one album deal with XL records. Odd Future’s quick rise to fame is both bizarre and fascinating, eccentric and extravagant. However, there is one aspect of the group that I want to focus on and it’s summed up by Billboard writer Andrew Nosnitsky.

Nosnitsky says, “Some speculate that Odd Future will do to the polished hip-pop of Drake and B.o.B what Nirvana did to hair metal. The charisma, intelligence and sheer destructive impulse are definitely similar, spearheaded by hyper-creative music nerds who play the rebel role artfully. The members of Odd Future have of course yet to produce a “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and it’s unclear if that’s even their goal. Today’s media is perhaps too fragmented to even support such a big bang movement. Instead, Odd Future moves horizontally through word-of-mouth.”

This is the phenomena that I want to analyze. Years ago, Odd Future may have indeed sparked a big bang movement within the music industry. However, the current state of media and pop culture is definitely fragmented. I did a quick Google search on music consumption habits and discovered that 2008 was a watershed year for the music industry, many of the statistics I found were dated back to 2008 (However, I would like to include the most current data, if you have it feel free to leave it in the comments section of this article).

According to the data, the majority of music fans listen to music using a digital platform and over half of the music fans in America and the UK (65%), download illegally and this is coming from the reported statistics, not including individuals who did not participate in polls or poll participants who flat out lied. Personally I feel the number now is closer to three quarters of young music fans downloading illegally.

Moreover, according to ZDnet the majority of the people downloading are under the age of 24 and do so to “give in return to others.” Oddly enough, the actual price of the music being too expensive is one of the lowest ranking factors on a list of eight reasons as to why people upload music online. The top reason for why people do not upload is due to computer viruses, security/firewalls, and overall technical caveats that protect digital systems from being tampered with.

What is even more interesting is that the number of tracks legally purchased vs. the ones illegally purchased is almost half and half. In this particular scenario, I would say some of the poll participants definitely lied and these statistics may be skewed. However, these statistics do reveal much about music fans’ consumption habits and reveal a trend as to where these consumption habits are headed. Now how does all of this relate to Odd Future?

From a social perspective, big bang movements, specifically from pop culture and entertainment vantage point, are spearheaded by young people.  These movements start for a variety of reasons, but these movements cannot exist in environments deleterious to the foundation of the movement. Moreover, the drive behind a social movement is contingent upon the appeal of a charismatic and authoritative figure, but also once the movement gains success, it becomes trendy at which point it gains more followers. The hardest part of making a social movement stick is disseminating the actual knowledge that exists at the core of the movement.

In the current media environment, it is highly fragmented. When I look at groups like Odd Future, I wonder what makes them stick- how can the mainstream be informed of this phenomenon and is it possible for young music fans (the Odd Future target demographic) to reach a galvanizing opinion on this collective?

Those are tough questions and I don’t have all the data and ground level research, however, I would bank on this not happening now, but possibly in a few years. Odd Future’s rise to fame reminds me of a young Eminem in his rebellious and cantankerous Slim Shady years.

Eminem dissed every possible celebrity figure, said everything you’re not supposed to say on a record and he became a household name. No doubt, he had a mega press machine behind him courtesy of a major label and he came out in a time where the national media outlets were a bit more united across all borders, television, radio and the press appeared to be in sync when buzzing about new music acts. You could break an act on TRL, have them appear on the cover of Rolling Stone and play their latest hit single on a mainstream radio station all in the same week.

We have found similar alternatives; however, I feel the demographics are much more widespread now. It may be easy to sell Odd Future to the 15 and 16 year olds who read the hypebeast forums, but what about the more traditional media outlets like Rolling Stone or David Letterman’s late night show which may have a very wide target demographic of 18-49. One can even look at the sales of Tyler the Creator’s singles “Yonkers” and “Sandwitches,” both have collectively sold less than 25,000 digital units on iTunes. I feel it’s harder for a movement to produce energy across all entertainment mediums before addressing this question, how do you define the “average” music fan?

Now you could challenge this assertion and say what about pop stars like Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus?  Both of these music acts have managed to crossover from radio to television to film, their access and exposure amongst media outlets and age groups holds no boundaries. I would argue that these kinds of artists are manufactured to have the greatest possible appeal, yet their music is not created or steeped in the beliefs of starting a social movement or making a statement. Rather it’s about selling a fine crafted product, buying a Justin Bieber album is like buying a Coke, it’s not meant to challenge you, but leave you with a familiar and refreshing taste.

Music acts like Odd Future cannot be marketed as mere products, but they have to sold as a phenomenon that appeals to individuals in large societies who feel socially detached or insignificant. Moreover, they have to be exposed to people who feel that the industry is lacking in certain goods or resources. The overall discontent of both of these parties can generate a catalyst that springs forth into a social phenomenon, hence selling Odd Future as what appears to be a product, but is really a lucrative social movement.

I suspect that there is some sort of wizard behind the curtains acting as a source of funding and promotion for Odd Future. This source may have been present even prior to the release of Tyler the Creator’s stunning debut Bastard. I am curious as to how they will continue marketing this collective and what moves they plan to make in the next few months. Nonetheless, I’m going to be rooting for their Internet fame to manifest into real world success – SWAG.


Beyond the Blogosphere pt. 1

*I apologize upfront if this article appears to be somewhat injudicious. I had a great conversation with one of my friends in the band Attention System and essentially this is the end result.

Blame my imaginary editor for grammar errors and lack of cohesion. She works in a remote office with Charlie the Unicorn on Candy Mountain.

Over the past few years there have been major changes in the music business. The music industry will never be what it used to. Nonetheless, in order to gain media exposure, music artists still have to find a way to sort through all the clutter and mess of the Internet and without the old gatekeepers of yesteryear this has become increasingly difficult. These keys have been passed onto new heirs. Now music fans are relying on music blogs to get turned onto new artists and people aren’t purchasing magazines off the rack to see who the next hype is. Blogs have become very important in the new music business and many blog writers are extremely influential.

That’s fine on one hand, but on the other hand, blogs do not have to adhere to the same code of media ethics and journalistic standards that the major media outlets do. Many blogs are started at the grassroots level and may consist of only one of two people operating out of a basement or office cubicle at their real day job. In addition, many music and entertainment journalists are primarily concerned with maintaining their street credibility amongst other writers. Blog journalists have a tendency to push the envelope too far and feel a persistent need to promote music that is avant-garde and very abstract. What happens is at the ground level you have several blogs mirroring the same obscure content. This leaves a major gap between what’s underground and music that actually has the capacity to break through and connect with the mainstream. It appears at times as if nobody, but handpicked corporate creations, are making it above ground because the underground has become too extreme, too isolated and too insular.

But, in all fairness to bloggers, if music blogs have indeed become the defacto gatekeepers of the media industry, they deserve to be compensated for it. Music magazines and radio stations have always made the majority of their revenue from ad sales. An ad agency typically identifies and approaches various media outlets for ad space based on their circulation numbers and target demographics. Megablogs like Pitchfork Media, Stereogum and Gorilla Vs Bear have already established relationships with some of the bigger indie labels; however the vast majority of bloggers have little to no ad revenue and sales. If record labels want to advertise for the artists they feel will connect with the mainstream, they need to pay for it. However, once this happens, music blogs must remain wary of the fact that they now have a readership to maintain and circulation numbers to worry about. Traditionally, if you were or are a blogger, it’s been easy to skirt off fears of having a low readership. It didn’t matter because you were laboring strictly for the love of the subject that you blogged about.

The enormous breach between music that is covered on blogs and what is featured on mainstream radio still exists. If the blogs represent the press side of the mass media spectrum, why is their content not aligning with what is being put in rotation at Clear Channel stations? I feel this answer lies in the concentration of media ownership and reveals that there is an corporate oligopoly within one given media industry that inadvertently relies on a citizen driven media industry. In other words, one side of the mass media spectrum is highly concentrated, commercially driven and vehemently loyal to sponsors. The other side is much more relaxed and free-wheeling, showcasing content based on the love, not sponsorship dollars. It’s the classic case of corporate media versus citizen media. However, I will cover more of this in my next installment, stay tuned.



Why Music Should Cost $3.99

“Been working for nine months on something that will sell for 3.99 on Amazon MP3. That’s about the price of a whoopie cushion” Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes

Wow, what a whining baby, Robin Pecknold should get over himself. The same goes for that Sufjan Stevens guy who complains that his albums shouldn’t be priced the same as a Starbucks latte. Where do these musicians get off criticizing lower priced albums? We live in a digital age now and anything can be found online and downloaded. You can even find super top secret government files on Wikileaks for free nowadays.

Musicians are babies. They work hard at a craft their entire lives, learning scales, chords, music theory and how music functions. They put their heart, blood, sweat, and tears into writing songs that they feel reflect not only who they are, but music that describes their community and surroundings. This may be music that has the capacity to touch the hearts and minds of people on a global scale.

Musicians rent elaborate studios with engineers and producers for thousands of dollars to create their works. Sometimes these albums can take months even years to produce and everyone has to get paid. The studio hours are long and vocal takes and instrumental takes can be repeated for hours on end. At the end of the recording process, the music has to be copyrighted and sent through slow government offices full of bureaucratic red tape. At the same time, a pr firm is usually hired for an outrageous and pretentious price, all with the hopes of getting a bit of press coverage at the regional and national levels.

Once the album is released, it has to be promoted. The band or music artist will go on tour for months; dealing with booking agents, tour managers, roadies, bizarre fans and in general oddball personalities. At the end of this long and arduous process, the artist may hope to make back a quarter of what was spent to produce the album. The great thing is you, the consumer, can get all of this for $3.99…or free.

But it shouldn’t stop there. Michelangelo spent four years painting the Sistine Chapel under the commission of Pope Julius II. Wouldn’t it be great if we could buy it on Amazon for $3.99 and then upload it onto YouTube? I wish we could also get the works of Salvador Dali, Jackson Pollack and Andy Warhol for free, stick it all on an iPod and share them with all our friends for the price of nothing. As a matter of fact, this principle can extend past art. When a couple tries for years to get pregnant, when they finally luck up and have a child, we should take that newborn baby’s social security card and sell it online for $3.99 to illegal immigrants. Then we can let the immigrants take copies of the social security card and pass them out to their friends at the work sites. Why not, it would only cost $3.99?

Robin Pecknold is a big baby. He spent his whole life dissecting songs and mastering his craft. He works hard to write beautiful songs that may one day become classic records like his idols’. He goes on tour for months at a time, does countless interviews, all in the hopes that one additional person may be turned onto his sound. But if the music is not priced at the same level as a whoopie cushion or Starbucks latte, why should I purchase it?

3 Things the Music Industry Can Learn From Gaming

This is a reprint from Hypebot.

The video game industry is excellent example of an evolving sector with a successful history of quickly adapting to new consumer trends and behaviours in order to constantly realise new revenue opportunities. Similarly, the music industry has been greatly impacted by evolving consumer habits, and as we move away from the historic business model of selling a physical format, we can leverage several valuable lessons offered by the video game industry example.

Lesson 1: Consumers like to be social while they are entertained
The video game industry went from selling consoles with multiple controllers to networked games to purely multiplayer universe games to games that integrate into social networks (you go social first, then plan the game). The music industry also needs to make this transition.

While concerts, clubs, mixtapes and other social outlets have historically been a part of a music fans life, the current environment necessitates ingraining social aspects into the actual music itself. Consumers want to share, discover and connect as, or even before, they listen to music. Today’s “albums” in the form of music apps need to allow consumers to connect with the artist as well as with other fans and give them the ability to instantly, easily share the music they love. We are making strides in this direction, but the more aggressive we can be in not just socialising music, but monetising the social features, the more successful we’ll be as an industry.

Lesson 2: Consumers like to personalise their entertainment.
First, video games sold add-ons. Then they let consumers build their own add-ons. Now, they allow you to design your own character, make in-game purchases and drive story lines for a truly personalised gaming experience. Music has sometimes allowed some remixing or karaoke and a few bands allow taping of concerts, but that is as far as personalisation has gone…until now.

Artists and labels are just now starting to let consumers personalise tracks through mixing or create new tracks through sampling. This fits into the natural desires of consumers – to personalise what they love and to help contribute directly to the artist (yes, including providing the artist with samples). Moving in this direction can not only create more opportunities to sell music, it can create new opportunities to sell the same music multiple times in the form of different personalisation apps.

Lesson 3: Consumers want to gain status through competition.
Michel Reilhac, Head of Arte France Cinema, makes the point that the gamification of life is all about status.  If you can gamify an activity, you can feed both the social and competitive nature of people by giving them a new social status.  There’s no reason we can’t do that for music on an every day basic.  Instead of simply telling friends about this great new song one heard, a person can tell them how your remix of that song was highlighted by the artist…thus elevating ones status.

How to leverage these lessons?
Today’s fan wants more than just a track. They want a participative, personalised experience in a social environment.  This is something they had in the analogue world as they listened to LPs with friends…and now they are seeking it in the digital world. But, as an industry, we can take it farther and create more opportunities as fans that are socialising around music in networked environments can also conduct transactions in these environments.

Success isn’t just a matter of respecting what your customer wants, but also anticipating what they’ll want in the near future. How long would the video game industry have succeeded if innovation stopped with Pong?

Your Favorite Band Has a New Price Tag

I was born in Chicago and my entire family resides there. I’m also a Yeasayer fan. So when I heard that Yeasayer was performing a show in Chicago on New Year’s Eve, I was ecstatic. I would get the chance to see my relatives and jam out to an amazing indie act. All of this enthusiasm and joy was flushed down the toilet when I saw that Yeasayer is charging $55 for advance tickets (I’m sure it will be more expensive closer to the date of the show). In addition, they’re charging $250 for “VIP” table seats. Honestly, this infuriates me, but I want to take this opportunity to address a much greater problem that we’re seeing within the music business. The costs of concert tickets has gone into the stratosphere and only the pampered, rich and NASA can attend concerts.

Well maybe it’s not that bad, but you catch my drift. In the last five years, concert ticket sales have grown by almost sixty five percent (economist Alan Krueger discovered this back in 2002, so I’m sure those numbers are even higher now, see the link at the bottom of the page). If you take a look at the entire decade, in 2000-2001, a music fan would spend around $40-65 for a high end act i.e. Jay-Z, Madonna, Justin Timberlake, etc. Now that fan is spending close to $200 sans ticket fees for the same mainstream acts. In addition, music fans are paying almost three times as much for merchandise. Yes, that’s right, I’m sure you remember when you could purchase a t-shirt at a concert and it wasn’t the price of an oil change and tire rotation.

Now indie acts have caught a whiff of this price-gouging trend and are engaging in similar practices. Naturally when I heard Yeasayer was charging $55 for tickets in my beloved hometown of Chicago, I was a little pissed. And it’s not just Yeasayer, I have no intention of singling them out – there are several indie bands doing this.

I find this highly problematic for a couple reasons. If indie bands start charging ridiculous prices for their tickets, the concert experience becomes classist and elitist. Not every person can afford to pay $60+ for concert tickets nor are they willing to pay that amount. So the artists end up excluding people who might have even spent $30-40 for the same tickets. At that point, the indie artist is telling the fan that their concert at a mid-level venue is more valuable and precious than other experiences that you can obtain with the same amount of money. So let’s see, what can you buy with $60?

  • New clothes and shoes
  • Tickets to Six Flags or another theme park
  • An iPod
  • Groceries (single person household)
  • Movie tickets and a dinner date
  • Music equipment (if you’re a music gear freak like me)

All things considered, the aforementioned list is fairly limited. I encourage you, the readers, to draw up a list of ten things that you could purchase with sixty dollars. Now compare that list to a music concert being held by an indie act. How much value does that concert hold now?

My intentions are not to push people away from concert venues, by all means that would defeat the purpose of this blog. But I need to illustrate a point and I want to touch upon an issue that is delicate and has become a very thorny and troublesome practice.

The second reason why indie acts have no business charging what major acts do is simple. The income distribution within the music business is skewed and biased and it always has been. More and more music fans are investing in the “tried and true” acts, the artists they feel have consistently delivered year after year. It’s not the indie bands; it’s the Rolling Stones, U2, Prince, etc. Music fans are shelling out their hard earned dollars to see those acts and not the next hype on Pitchfork Media. In addition, the more established acts have older fanbases who have more personal spending money to allocate towards a greater variety of entertainment options. The access simply isn’t there for your average 16 or 17 year old kid who heard about a band on Gorilla vs. Bear, but can’t afford to check out their concert.

Nonetheless, there are two sides to every story. Yes, this is a direct repercussion of rampant downloading. I also realize that there are very high production costs attached to tours and its hectic moving in full stacks of equipment, huge mixers, dinosaur-sized light rigs and a staff to assist with all of that. But is that really feasible or efficient for an indie act? I always felt the beauty of being an independent artist is that you could pack less on tour, bring only one or two trusted consultants and move as quickly and efficiently as possible. Moreover, if I was an indie artist doing a regional tour, I would call all the college radio stations in the towns I was touring in and ask if they could do ticket giveaways for the shows.

With the New Year approaching soon, we are going to see an all-time high in price-gouging and exploitative ticket prices. And it won’t be just the “greedy and commercial” music acts engaging in these practices. It will be the nice, new indie band that you read about on a music blog similar to this. If it’s going to cost me $75+, I’d rather sit at home, pop some popcorn and watch Song Remains the Same on blu-ray.  You decide what works for you.

For about this, read economist Alan Krueger’s pricing of concert tickets

Why Bands Need Managers

It’s not groundbreaking news that the music business is changing. The music business has been in a state of flux for the past seven or eight years. The biggest thing now is that artists no longer feel the need to rely on external forces to create and promote their products on the market. DIY is bigger than ever and not even the DIY punk movements can rival an uprising of this magnitude. While I strongly advocate artists writing and structuring their own material, finding an image that comfortably works for them, and targeting the right audiences with their works; overall, I feel many artists still need to rely on some of the external forces that helped to build the music industry in the first place. One of those major forces is management.

The basic premise behind any manager is simple. A manager is someone who provides practical advice and positive direction for the group. Over the years, the title manager has evolved into something sullied and unclean. Managers may be viewed as soul-less and mechanical human beings whose sole purpose is to provide a fat Rolodex for the band. While some artists may feel they just need managers for their networking skills and contacts, I feel the artist-manager relationship should delve much deeper and into something more significant.

Artists need managers – let’s face it; we are our biggest enemies, especially when it comes to group scenarios. On a daily basis, music groups create more tension and friction internally than any slick-talking record exec, pr person, or anyone outside the group could create for them. We are our own enemies and largely responsible for our own failures. I can’t express how many times I’ve heard band members chime in and say we’re going to make it the top, but in their actions refuse to create a brand or a signature sound that will differentiate them from the crowd. Too many musicians refuse to see the music business for what it is, a business.

Often times, groups become subject to the classic groupthink syndrome and fail to evaluate and understand outside perspectives and angles.  Managers can and should provide an observer’s perspective.

A manager’s number one responsibility should be to be to mobilize the team. On top of that, managers need to be able to execute insightful and strategic game plans for the groups they manage and keep those members abreast of everything happening within the organization. The manager acts as the glue of the group, keeping people bonded and motivated, but they should also distance themselves at times so as to always keep their outside observer’s perspective intact.

Music groups need coaches and instructors just like sports teams or any other team. The manager’s job is to provide strong leadership and direction within the group; band members should trust this individual and not fight against them.

Nonetheless, it is still very important that musicians are astute and hard-boiled when picking their managers. If you lay in bed with a wolf every night, expect to be bitten.

As the music business evolves; musicians will continue to experiment  with new DIY marketing tactics, engage listeners in their social media lab experiments and in general, try to grasp at the what the heck is going on. While all of this happens, the manager or at least a trusted consultant should be at the core of the team, working to further the group’s career as much If not more than the group members.

1 Reason Why Fans Are File-Sharing Your Music

Music Think Tank recently posted an article by Kyle Bylin about the consumption habits of music fans. The author believes that the main causes of why fans participate in file-sharing is because it’s a coping mechanism. In addition, technology is “biased” and mp3 files are taken by fans, “…because they’re there, not necessarily because fans want them.” You can read the article here.

That last sentence opened a lot of questions for me. Kyle Bylin is obviously an expert on the subject of consumerism and advanced economics and he understands that people take things because they’re there and not because they want them. Bylin listed four reasons, but I’m no ph.d in applied microeconomics like him, so here’s my meager list (one reason) of why people engage in file-sharing.

Here is one reason why fans file-share and artists can’t do anything to change it:

1. Fans engage in file-sharing because they can

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that is my thesis statement, body paragraphs and conclusion all wrapped into one cozy sentence. Fans engage in file-sharing because they can. It’s not a coping mechanism, they just know they can get the single for free or 99 cents.

As for mp3s being taken because they are, “…there, not necessarily because fans want them.” That sounds funny to me, I never downloaded a single from Taylor Swift. I’m not the least bit interested in her music, but so much of her material is ubiquitous…hmm maybe I should download her entire album, I’m not interested, but it’s there right? Then I should share that album with all my friends (none of whom care about Taylor Swift).

Fans engage in file-sharing because they can, you don’t need a 2500 word article to convey this.

*For further reference on the consumption habits of music fans, feel free to read my friend Moe’s brilliant thesis about  file-sharing, it’s titled, “Fuck You, Pay Me.” Read it here