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Ted Cohen: Breaking Through The Noise

ATTENTION ALL ARTISTS, THE WORLD NOW BELONGS TO YOU!

By

Ted Cohen

The Internet was supposed to be the ultimate leveler, great music would be able to find its audience, the ‘big label’ gatekeepers would no longer control access to the masses. It hasn’t exactly played out that way. According to my friend, Tommy Silverman/Tommy Boy Records and the co-founder of the New Music Seminar recently told me that he did the math and only 228 artists broke 10,000 units for the first time last year out of 105,000 albums. That’s 2.17% but only 15 of those did it without the help of a real label. That’s not very encouraging to the other ninety-eight percent.

While tens of thousand of artists are self-releasing their music, their ability to get noticed in a meaningful way is stifled by the sheer volume of music that is arriving daily at iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, MySpace Music, Yahoo, Rhapsody, Pandora, iHeart and others. Ten years ago, there were roughly twenty-five thousand album releases a year. In 2009, it is estimated that there will be over one hundred thousand albums put into digital distribution. That’s roughly a million new tracks a year, four million minutes of music, or almost three thousand days-worth of song. But, maybe, if I listen really, really fast, I could….nope!

The competition for my attention is overwhelming. I’ve got a spare hour this afternoon, I can listen to fifteen new songs, how do I find the fifteen new artists that will rock my world?? That is the career making-or-breaking question.

From my perspective, you have to be in business with the majority of these players to succeed:

Digital distribution can be easily achieved through aggregators such as:

  • Ioda
  • Iris
  • The Orchard
  • InGrooves
  • BFM Digital

Indie Artists can directly secure digital distribution by paying a fee to, among others:

  • ReverbNation
  • Tunecore
  • CD Baby

Artists can establish direct fan communication through these key outlets:

  • Facebook
  • MySpace
  • Twitter

If you want to insure your success, availability is mandatory on:

  • iTunes
  • Amazon
  • Zune
  • Rhapsody
  • Pandora
  • Slacker
  • Spotify
  • MOG
  • Yahoo, AOL and iHeart Radio

There are some great marketing services, metadata providers and digital tools, including:

  • Topspin
  • ReverbNation
  • CyberPR
  • Chain Reaction Media
  • The VirtualCD
  • GigMaven
  • Rocket Science
  • Hello Music
  • All Music Guide
  • Shazam
  • LyricFind
  • Gracenote

Through my involvement this past year with Sara Haze,  an amazing nineteen year-old singer-songwriter from Los Angeles, I’ve learned that it’s a full time effort to build a fan base. Creation and availability is just the start. You’ve got to continually engage with your fans, encourage and incentivize them to ‘spread the word’. BLOG, TWITTER, POST, make at least some of your music available for free to your public, let them know how good you really are! At every gig, grow your mailing list and your army, make some noise, it will pay off.

While global stardom might be your ultimate goal, focus now on making your music career your day job, Starbuck’s, McDonald’s and HomeBase should not be part of your resume going forward.

The point of my post today is to motivate you, not to intimidate or dissuade you. The good news is that you are finally in charge of your career. The bad news is, that face in the mirror, it’s the only one to blame if things don’t go well.

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21 comment on this article

  1. On December 17, 2009 at 8:13 am Suzanne Lainson said:

    “While global stardom might be your ultimate goal, focus now on making your music career your day job, Starbuck’s, McDonald’s and HomeBase should not be part of your resume going forward.”
    I agree with you. The more time you and your team can put into your music career the better. Unfortunately if you are just starting out, you may have little to no money coming in from music. So unless you have a way to get by on minimal money, you may need to either have a day job or find someone who can invest in you, loan you the money, or support you.
    Those are the details people tend not to discuss when telling musicians that now they can run their own careers. How do they live while they are building their careers?

  2. On December 17, 2009 at 2:09 pm Ted Cohen said:

    Suzanne, I know it’s not trivial to make music your full-time career, I am not trying to over-simplify the enormity of the goal. But, whether it’s teaching piano to elementary school students, or finding an acoustic gig in a restaurant, just do all you can to find work that uses and nurtures your musical talent, instead of honing your ability to make the perfect latte. It really is a more rewarding path.

  3. On December 17, 2009 at 3:07 pm Greg Golebiewski said:

    And… very soon, we hope just in time for MIDEM/MIDEM(Net)in late January 2010, there will be one more great online music service available to artists/independent producers — buymyplaylist.com.
    The BuyMyPlaylist site will allow you to publish your own music in the form of a short, maximum 8-track playlist, mix your music with that of others’, to built thematic playlists (and to promote your own contribution), and even earn money. The site will help you sell your playlists for credits or cash.
    There is a lot more, but I do not want to self-promote the services too much. Ted knows about our buymyplaylist.com, and I hope he will add it to his list, as one more great (or even mandatory!) resource as soon as it will be available online.

  4. On December 17, 2009 at 7:58 pm Simon Adams said:

    good post. One of the key things that independent artists must realise for them to make any headway in the new music industry is to treat their music as a business. that means monitoring costs, (there are free distribution models out there that charge zero for distribution to iTunes, so entry for distro is now zero cost, a real profit booster for new artists), make sure you know what you dont know and hire in a cost effective specialist with the experience you lack (know what you dont know), and learn that to make music your business you must not be afraid to learn to sell.
    It’s also essential that you learn how to set goals, work to plans, and work on self development to become the best you can at running your new found “label”.
    One of the key things that artists must do if they are supporting themselves is simplification. If your number one goal is to succeed as an artist then focus as much of your energy and life on that as possible. Think about this, if you sold your car, got a smaller place to live to lower rent, and managed your day to day bills better, could you survive on a part time job instead of a full timë 9-5? you could? then that means you could spend 20 hours more a week on your music career, rehearsing, organising paid gigs and “running & growing the business”.
    its all about choices and organisation and how much ‘burning desire’ you have in your belly:)…
    Thats what we aim to help independent artists with over at http://www.mymusicsuccess.com, with the right mindset and determination, and the right business guidance, independent artists will be the future of the music industry.

  5. On December 17, 2009 at 6:59 pm wallow-T said:

    Why are so few new-music-biz essays willing to utter the classical economic concepts “supply” and “demand”?

  6. On December 17, 2009 at 7:15 pm Ted Cohen said:

    Supply and demand are concepts that really don’t apply in the current digital music economy. There is now an unlimited supply of music available to consumers, the only demand is on their time. We’re now firmly in the Attention Economy, where on the value is in engaging the fan & creating a bond, one that ultimately leads to financial reward.

  7. On December 17, 2009 at 11:04 pm twitter.com/bmull said:

    Ted,
    Great post. I’m not sure how an indie artist gets there music on it yet, but one I’d add to your “availability” list is MOG. I’ve been demoing their new All Access for a few weeks now and to be honest, it’s helped me find more interesting new music than most other services. Pandora is of course great, but I really like MOGs approach. So just one to add to the list.
    Here at ArtistData, we’re working to help artists get their content across as many of these propertys as possible, but we’re focusing more on metadata (tour dates, blog entries, announcements, etc…) and leaving music to the great digital distributors on your list.
    Anyway, thanks for the article!
    Brenden Mulligan
    Founder, ArtistData.com

  8. On December 17, 2009 at 11:16 pm Ted Cohen said:

    Brenden, you are absolutely right, MOG is an essential part of the landscape, David Hyman has built a world-class platform, my bad for not including him, I will use 5am authoring as my excuse!

  9. On December 18, 2009 at 3:22 am Chris Albert said:

    AS one says supply and demand, but without key problems being solved such as piracy no one is going to make any money. I know this technology is good for getting your music out there but I’ve heard complaints from the top artists that after they get the contract they want protection. Its one thing to share your works but artists can’t continue to play for free. Show me one politician, nurse, doctor or engineer who works for free. There is so much a group can do or perform and being on the road 365 days of the year is not much success especially if you can’t enjoy it a few days. Today is no different than when radio played your song and you hoped the record company did’t rip you off. At least you get a shot without selling your soul. But as I said earlier if your want to get paid then quit giving it away.

  10. On December 18, 2009 at 4:51 am Suzanne Lainson said:

    “But, whether it’s teaching piano to elementary school students, or finding an acoustic gig in a restaurant, just do all you can to find work that uses and nurtures your musical talent, instead of honing your ability to make the perfect latte. It really is a more rewarding path.”
    I’ve worked with a number of full-time musicians, some of whom pick up extra work teaching by the hour, performing at private events (including weddings), playing multiple gigs per week at a variety of venues, etc.
    I think all of the above makes sense and I support those who do it. I respect and admire people who play all the time and everywhere. It tells me that (1) they have enough talent to get booked all the time and (2) they are serious about what they do.
    But I’ve found a lot of “music lovers” who look down their noses at such activity. They think musicians shouldn’t play covers, shouldn’t play weddings, shouldn’t play 200 gigs a year if they aren’t touring, etc. In their minds, the kid who works at Starbucks and plays with his band once every three months is somehow more pure than the working musician who takes what he can get.
    At any rate, I’m curious what response you’ll get if you suggest to musicians that in addition to a band that plays originals, they might consider developing a cover band in order to get those private party gigs.

  11. On December 18, 2009 at 4:47 pm David Travers said:

    what about Ditto Music?, They are a major player in digital distribution. I recently joined them,(Dangerous Dave & the Side Effects) my music is getting put up on 700+ stores. Check these guys out, before you spend your money on something inferior link http://www.dittomusic.com

  12. On December 19, 2009 at 5:17 am Wholesale TV Services said:

    Great Work !
    Regards

  13. On December 21, 2009 at 9:01 pm Matt Martino said:

    Great article. Very interesting. As deflating as it can be for an independent artist to read those statistics, one thing it also says is that having a record deal and the muscle of a record label behind you doesn’t ensure success either. And then when you factor in that being independent means fewer people taking a slice of the pie, you don’t need to sell the same numbers to have the same financial gain (theoretically….I wouldn’t know for sure….I’m one of the other 98% :-)

  14. On January 8, 2010 at 11:39 am Marius Kahan said:

    All so, so true, although (and I know this may sound elitist) this makes it all the harder for quality musicians to break through.
    Persistence has always been necessary – it’s just that in the ‘good old days’ there was still some quality control via the majors, and accordingly we did have musical superstars (I’m talking Chick Corea, Jean-Luc Ponty, Pat Metheney et al).
    The jazz scene today is dominated by elder statesmen – there are very few orginal breakthrough artists because the big promoters and labels play it safe (with people like Jamie Cullum, Nora Jones and Diana Krall who, for all their talent, are hardly breaking new ground).
    Meanwhile, in the broader marketplace, people of relatively limited talent but unlimited self-belief go out and succeed by making the biggest noise about themselves – but I’ve met few truly talented artists (in the ‘tortured and sensitive soul’ sense) who possess the confidence, focus, determination and thick-skinned quality required to break through.
    But, as you say, with the plethora of music being released daily, who now exists to triage the good from the morass of mediocrity?
    So, while I’m here, can I include a link to plug my own, original recordings of electric jazz violin ;-)
    http://www.musicalley.com/music/listeners/artistdetails.php?BandHash=203f7c36f806111a6683909606331784

  15. On January 9, 2010 at 8:47 am Sinem Saniye said:

    How does an indie artist go about getting on Pandora? The music I released is practically on every other platform but I havn’t been able to get on Pandora yet. Any suggestions? Thank you!
    Sinem Saniye
    http://www.sinem.net

  16. On January 24, 2010 at 8:50 pm Glenn Galen said:

    Isn’t the music business now pretty much like the motion picture industry and a young person who really, really, *really* wants to be a well-paid Hollywood movie actor?
    There is SO much competition that pure talent is not the determining factor now. Connections and random good fortune (right place at the right time) seem to play the biggest part.
    So, telling musicians that they can succeed by making it their fulltime job is like telling a person fresh out of their first acting class that they certainly can make a good living as a motion picture actor if they simply make getting there their fulltime job.
    And if they fail, “they have only the person in the mirror to blame.”
    Right. :(

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