Oh, I know the music industry’s taken a real beating these last 17 years or so: musicians and artists are struggling financially (when they’re not crowdfunding their medical bills) and so many of them feel too much of their time is spent promoting themselves online instead of writing songs or playing gigs. The context is both more complex and less fluid : the streaming platforms are growing and competing diversifying every day, while the streaming rates remain abysmal and radio airplay and recording revenue is increasingly concentrated in the hands of the 3 majors players. Not to mention the regular sparring spats between copyright owners and broadcasters (old and new) as to how much music is worth and how much artists and songwriters should be paid.
I totally noticed.
Nevertheless, I’ll say it again: now is a fantastic time to start a label because our era is brimming with opportunities. Still not convinced? Let’s look at the reasons…
The opportunity to go back to what being a label was originally about
We often underestimate how widespread the notion was that the music industry’s backbone had to be recorded music. Indeed, that branch of the music business progressively consolidated the industry around it and dominated all other branches through its capacity to leverage traditional mass media exposure (namely radio and television) so as to boost album sales, claiming the privilege of being the most legitimate entity to determine artists’ positioning and image as a result.
With the ‘death of labels’ tune and the familiar conception that the recording industry equated the music industry, a simple (die-hard) fact was understandably overlooked: despite so many labels struggling, the desire to create recordings and share them with the world hasn’t abated, hence the continued necessity and relevance of labels as promoters of the recordings they own. The difference today is that new members of the ecosystem are taking this role on, often in addition to their previous activities such as publishing, booking or being a full-time artist for example.
Bottom line (no pun intended): starting a label certainly isn’t the gold mine it used to be, but it’s still exciting if your starting point is a recording you are passionate about rather than capturing ever more rights.
The opportunity to promote music with meaning
Things can get crazy, and with the industry moving so fast, you want to catch up on trends and stay on top of trends at all times. Yet the pitfall here is to lose focus on what really matters and that is only signing artists you love, music you are proud and excited about.
Art matters. Music counts. And artists are more necessary than ever. Do read Jesse von Doom’s brilliantly galvanising post on the topic: it is important to push music that means a lot, be it for personal reasons or moral imperatives. When you have the luxury of being in a position to sign amazing music and the privilege of working with artists who trust you to do the best job in championing them, it’s a no-brainer.
Now is the time to enrich and deepen our approach to promoting the music we believe in: of course strategy and media exposure are important, but the sense of meaning has expanded the horizon of potential partners.
When traditional if not institutional entities’ very mission is to promote access to culture in general, some songs represent precious gateways to a broader dialogue (the French even have Master Degrees to learn how to do just that, they call it “Cultural mediation”). Here is an opportunity for music to break out beyond the limits of pure industry-to-consumer logic.
The opportunity to approach things differently
The music industry is a particularly fast-paced one, where technology impacts all levels of artist discovery and promotion. As a result, the approach has to change. It is vital to move away from the one-size-fits-all mentality and adopt a more tailor-made one, without losing sight of the fact data is a wonderful tool but gathering ever more of it cannot become a finality in itself.
There are now so many ways to qualify and quantify music fans that the surest way to understand them is go to back to who they are as people and try to answer this simple question: why do fans feel an emotional connection to a particular song or artist, what makes them click ? It is only once we’ve figured out the answer to that, that we can move onto the next question, i.e.: how can we reach them in a lasting and meaningful way?
I wrote a whole book on the topic, exploring how an artist’s message and values can be the starting point from which it is possible to corelate causes people root for, the places they gather to act (be they online or offline) and the way they connect with each other.
So rather than overfocus on a recording being the right fit for a certain type of market or moment in time, it is an open playing field for each new song that we want to promote, all the more so today considering the potential of serendipity on a massive scale that algorithmic recommendation represents.
The opportunity to experiment with new technology that is beneficial to all players involved, artists included
The music industry is a complex one, especially when it comes to tracing the millions of micro-payments and ensuring all revenues generated are effectively perceived by the artists. Starting a label also means putting real thought into who the technical and administrative partners will be. I value technology that increases transparency for all and saves precious time to allow everyone involved to focus on what counts most: the music and the artistry.
Which is why starting a label is both a humble and wonderful opportunity to implement change at one’s own level and start figuring out what could be set straight on a daily basis.
I’ve chosen to combine an ‘effective-immediately’ solution with an ‘experiment for the long haul’ one : the first is with Details, an incredible tool, company and team based in Berlin that simplifies management, booking, distribution, accounting and more. And reasonably priced, too. The second is the Dot Blockchain Music project, to which I have signed up because of that technology’s enormous potential. It’s early days yet, but I’m itching to experiment concrete ways of enhancing the way artists are swiftly compensated for their work. Last but not least, if you’re an artist self-releasing, you should really try cashmusic.org : free open-source tools tailor-made for your needs.
So. I know the music industry’s taken a real beating these past two decades. I totally noticed. I’m still starting a label for all the right reasons. Hope you will too !
This is the latest in a series of posts from key industry influencers from the world over, whom you’ll be able to meet at Midem 2017. More soon!