Everyone can agree that the digitisation of content has affected the modern music industry in every way. As chronicled many times in this blog, I see the democratisation of music creation, distribution, and promotion via social media as major positives for the industry. Others lambast the field, citing the words “crash” or “demise.” No matter which side you are on, it has been clear to me as a manager of artists whose company also reps athletes, comedians, and works in TV / film, that the music industry leads the charge for many other industries.
In 2003, while working with The Dresden Dolls when I was in college, we would diligently plan each of the band’s mailers. The Dolls’ frontwoman, Amanda Palmer, deeply understood that this mailer was her lifeline to their fans. What if I went away? Or the band’s booking agent? Or their new label partner? Should all else fail, this e-mail list was the direct communication portal between the band and their fans. No one told us to do that, it just made sense.
Yesterday, 13 years later, I met with a sports executive whose main goal was to get their email list over the 100k mark to ensure their company is attractive to advertisers.
In 2009, I was honored to be asked to join CASH Music’s board. CASH is a non-profit that provides open-source, direct-to-fan tools to musicians. Five years later, I sat in a meeting with one of Whitesmith’s comedians, getting pitched by a company trying to sell us on the “new Louis CK model of direct to fan.” Louis broke ground in comedy by releasing his comedy special via his website (racking up so much income, he gave much away from charity + building a robust email list along the way), yet this is something in music we had been doing as an industry collectively for years prior.
Music has led the charge in the digital space particularly coming before the comedy, TV, and film industries, for a very simple reason: our file formats are the smallest. People started trading MP3s in the 90’s and filesharing with Napster, but can you imagine how long it would take to download a movie in that era? As Jaron Lanier stated in Who Owns The Future, as well as Berklee Professor George Howard reminding me last week, music is the canary in the coal mine.
Why? The music industry is the first to lead format changes. From vinyl to CD, Comedy followed. When Steve Jobs launched the iTunes store with music, TV and films appeared on the platform after. Same for streaming. Spotify launched in 2008 (in various European countries), with Netflix’s streaming service not available universally until late 2014 (to be fair, Spotify really went nuts globally in 2011, but still ahead of TV & film).
There’s often infighting in the music industry over the “right” path forward. But at the same time, we should take a moment to realise that we are leading other industries who either follow our triumphs or learning from our setbacks and mistakes.
This concept has blossomed before me into an entirely new company. In 2012, I began managing the “rock star” of Olympic swimming, Anthony Ervin (top photo). The day I met Anthony, he had literally just returned from the London Olympics. The Guardian had named him The Olympics’ “most interesting athlete” and in general Anthony of course received, a huge spike in overall press, attention, and social media followers following The Olympics. Yet, despite all of that excitement, he was back to square one as soon as he got home. Anthony told me that he wanted to compete on the World Cup circuit for the United States but didn’t know how he was going to pay for it. He was going to put the expenses on his credit card and hope that he won prize money.
I went back to my office and filled in my intern at the time, Lorene Pillin, whom I’d actually met initially at Midem. Lorene suggested that we do a Kickstarter, as that’s what we’d do with a band who needed revenue to do something on short notice, powered by the fans to make it happen. As Anthony was leaving in just a few weeks, there was no way I could guarantee a sponsorship deal in that amount of time. I was very excited about this project and took it to the Kickstarter founders, only to be rejected because they don’t work in sports.
Downtown Music Publishing CEO Justin Kalifowitz and I founded Dreamfuel shortly after. Dreamfuel builds tools for athletes and teams, with our first tool being a crowdfunding platform built specifically for athletes. 90% of the athletes, teams and coaches we speak with have never heard of Kickstarter or crowdfunding, yet 100% of those that we talk to have fundraising and revenue needs. I was even more stunned when I was in a meeting with major sports agents a few weeks ago in New York, who also had not heard of Kickstarter or crowdfunding.
Kickstarter first pitched at Midem 2010. Six years later, I’m explaining the concept to those in the sports market virtually every day. And we are taking similar strides that are TBA with Dreamfuel with regard to on-demand platforms ala to Songkick, who also pitched at Midem 2010’s startup competition.
I’m thrilled to be taking all of the skills and successes I’ve collected over the years working with artists and applying those exact same strategies to the sports field. I’m still a partner at Whitesmith Entertainment and proudly serve on CASH, Future of Music and a few additional boards and music advisory councils. And serve is the right word. I will continue to serve artists both through this work as well as through the countless managers, assistants, and interns I have trained over the years to build businesses around the artist – always putting the artist first, with fans being a very close and crucially important second.
Yet, as I look back at all of this great music work that we have collectively achieved, I am excited to take that experience moving forward and beyond. Music takes a lot of crap. When you’re feeling that, or in the trenches fighting for what’s right remember that you’re not just on the battlefield of evolving global business – you are at the frontline of it.
I’m looking forward to returning to Midem this year as a moderator. Not only to catch up with friends and colleagues at truly the most globally inclusive music conference of the year, but to continue to learn, get inspired, and hear from not only the leaders of the music industry, but the forebears of all other entertainment industries to figure out where we are going next. See you in Cannes!
Top photo: “Rockstar” Olympic Swimmer Anthony Ervin, © FINIS Images/Becca Wyant