Thursday, November 5, 2009

Music and The Curse of Knowledge

One of the greatest sources of alienation and disillusion for professional musicians is the profound sense that their deep love of music and lifelong commitment to developing their skill, is completely invisible and unappreciated by non-musicians. It’s easy to becoming bitter when you see a crowd jump out of their seats for ‘The Chicken Dance’ at a wedding, yet the original piece of music you have rehearsed for weeks is completely ignored and/or misunderstood by the few people that hear it (often friends showing up out of sympathy for the disenfranchised artist).

There is a tendency to try to balance this phenomena by dumbing down the music, making a more ‘commercial’ record, hiring a mediocre singer simply because they look good on stage and bring in a crowd. This only leads to furthering the distance between musician and listener, deepening the cycle of bitterness and isolation (“...nobody likes my stuff anyway, so I’ll just climb into a hole and write really weird music…”).

We want others to be as moved by music as we are. Why is this so difficult for many of us to achieve? The explanation for this phenomena, and the way out of the artist’s conundrum, is understanding The Curse of Knowledge. This principle is well articulated in Chip and Dan Heath’s book, “Made To Stick”, which I heartily recommend. The idea is that, once we know something, it is very difficult to imagine what our experience would be without that knowledge. A professional musician has spent years developing their ability to hear, perform, and understand music. The simple act of listening to a commercial on television triggers a complex array of associations, emotions, and physical reactions that a non-expert does not experience.

So, how do we bridge communication and understanding between musician and audience? The behavioral change must come from the artist. The key is to find common ground for both parties. It has to be real to avoid the ‘dumbing down effect’. Put yourself in the listener’s position. How will they respond to your music, emotionally, physically, the visual presentation, etc.? Of course, appreciating music is a very personal experience, built on exposure throughout a lifetime, but there do seem to be certain musical phenomena that resonate almost universally and stick with people for hundreds of years. How can you use this idea to connect with your audience without compromising the deepest, most personal elements of your work?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Leveraging Internet Music Distribution

In a recent survey by British think tank Demos, researcher Peter Bradwell found that music listeners who participated in illegal file sharing behavior spent more money on music than listeners who did not admit to using illegal services. Two key paradigm shifts created by Internet distribution come to mind:

  1. Distribution, whether as playlists, recommendations, or downloads, is largely controlled by fans, not record labels or content creators.
  2. The per unit cost of ‘digital copies’ is essentially zero.

This creates a situation in which even an unlicensed transaction has value for the content owner; a possible new fan, and marketing data. The first challenge is to leverage that value. The second is creating legit services that provide a vastly better user experience than illegal file sharing at a competitive price. In addition, why not simply license file sharing behavior, leveling the marketplace? I know, easier said than done. The issues of copyright infringement are significant, but a major roadblock is the complexity of the traditional royalty model.

People will pay for innovative, superior products. Apple is a great example. Everyone grumbles about the proprietary nature of their business model, but folks are still lining up for iPhones in a recession. The music industry has the potential to transform itself, ushering in a new era of compelling, competitive, Internet marketing and distribution services. Executing will take hard work, visionary thinking, and cooperation.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Future of The Professional Musician

As the music business continues to shift, the future vision for professional musicians remains a work in progress. By professional, I mean a person who has devoted themselves to the mastery of one or several of the musical arts. This would include instrumentalists, composers, orchestrators, songwriters, recording engineers, educators and producers. Music is a deep and profound human language and I think Malcolm Gladwell is fairly accurate when he sets the bar for mastery at 10,000 hours. For most people pursuing music on this level, a professional career is essential to that process.

To the general public, ‘The Music Industry’ is about pop music entertainers who may or may not be truly accomplished musicians. The topical conversations about freemium and direct-to-fan marketing have been focused on self-contained bands or singer-songwriters. The fact is, there are many complex business models contained within the music industry and all are been shaken up by the rapid changes in technology and the global economy. How do you plan your career if you are not primarily a singer-songwriter or performer?

Professional musicians have always relied on multiple income streams to make money. Today, the business is changing so quickly that musicians will need not only a thorough understanding of the traditional elements of the business, but will also need to master the Internet to brand and market themselves. As you start your career, think about what you do best. What strengths do you have that can be applied to marketing, networking and business? Frank Zappa used to ask people he was auditioning, “What do you do that’s amazing?” That’s a great place to start.

Who is your target audience? Whether they are music fans, film producers, music supervisors, educators, technology managers, or other musicians, be clear about your unique brand and use every tool at your disposal to get the word out and build your network. Educate yourself about the intricacies of music publishing and licensing. Get involved in the conversations about the future of copyright. See how you can apply direct-to-fan marketing strategies like Mike Masnick’s CwF + RtB = $$ to your career goals.

There are many excellent blogs and resources on the web. There’s a good article in the latest issue of Berklee Today on Gerd Leonhard and his ideas for collective licensing and web marketing for musicians. Don’t get stuck on old paradigms. Even traditional aspects of the music business such as publishing, are in flux. The process of change will only accelerate and the successful business models of the future will be entirely new.

The challenge is finding a balance between the need for self-promotion and the passionate pursuit of music. It’s not easy to spend twelve hours a day immersed in music and then put on your marketing hat. Planning is key. First figure out what you do best, then set specific goals for your career. The tools for self-promotion can be overwhelming. Having strong mission and vision statements and clear milestones and benchmarks will help you identify the tools and strategies that will work best for you.

Above all, stay connected to the music inside you.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Impermanence & Innovation in the Music Biz...

Michael Masnick’s great presentation at NARM 2009 really lit a spark in me. While many of us want to hold onto or modify the old business models in this industry, everything has changed.
The supply of digital music far exceeds the demand, and most everything is available in one form or another for 'free'. The devaluation of recorded music mandates the development of new, innovative business and collective licensing models.
As Tim Hurson states in his book, Think Better, reproductive thinking can only go so far. No amount of incremental improvement will ever turn an adding machine into a spreadsheet. Creative problem solving, the back and forth between out-of-the-box thinking and structured strategic planning, is the key to breaking free from old paradigms and dead ideas into new, productive territory. The urgent need for new ideas increases daily as the globe shrinks and technology continues to disrupt.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Rudder: Matorning

I'm loving the new disc by NYC-based Rudder - Matorning. This is what might happen if Eddie Harris, Medeski, Martin & Woods, Zawinul, P-Funk, and The Prodigy had a BBQ in The Fun House. Killer trippy, electro-funk wackiness. Takes me back to Miles in the 70s...

Friday, May 1, 2009

Thoughts on the DIY Utopia...

Reading Paul Resnikoff's article, The DIY Utopia, struck a chord with me. Jazz musicians and composers have been living under the radar of the pop music biz forever. Typically their 'art' is one of multiple music-related income streams.

The quality of the music and the musicianship is key. Good music moves people, brings them together, and naturally creates community. A powerful piece of music can create a relationship with the listener that lasts a lifetime. This shouldn't be too hard to market, particularly if you have a defined niche. Mediocrity on the other hand, is a hard sell. The question is, "Can this model scale to the mainstream music industry?"

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Appaloosa Review

OK, I have seen enough Westerns that I am more or less done with the genre. But I am always open to something new. I am a big Robert B. Parker fan, I love Ed Harris, Jeremy Irons, Renee Zellweger and Jeff Beal’s music so I had to see Appaloosa, although I regretfully missed it on the big screen.
Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen play two hired guns, brought into Appaloosa to do battle with the violent, power-hungry rancher (Jeremy Irons) who has shot the former sheriff and deputy. The classic Western setup...good guys take on evil sociopath and his large posse and clean up town. Of course, there is a mysterious and beautiful woman (Renee Zellweger) to keep things interesting.

What sets this film apart from the standard fare are the many unexpected subtle twists and turns. The plot never quite goes where you expect. The film focuses on the relationship between Harris and Mortensen and the gradual unveiling of Renee Zellweger’s enigmatic character. Mr. Harris is a brilliant storyteller and skillfully balances the classic Western backdrop (the film looks absolutely gorgeous) with fresh characters and plot twists. For example, Harris’ character reads Emerson and uses $50 words unexpected from a gun slinger. The gag is, he tends to forget words, and continually looks to his strong, silent sidekick, who even more surprisingly, completes his sentences. Shades of Spencer and Hawk...

There is some classic Robert B. Parker-style dialog as well. In one of my favorite scenes, Mortensen’s character is attempting to start a difficult conversation with Harris about Renee Zellweger’s indiscretions. Harris interrupts him, explaining that while he is the perfect sidekick, he will never be the fastest gun in The West because he has feelings, and “Feelings get you killed.” Mortensen asks him about his feelings for Zellweger and Harris replies, “I cared about Allie in town and I’ll care about her when I get her back, but right now there’s something runnin’ and we’re trying to catch it.” Great stuff...

Jeff Beal’s score provides the perfect backdrop for Ed Harris’ masterful character development; expansive, understated and slightly whimsical. He covers the requisite Western territory (nods to Morricone) with a light touch and strong melodic themes. He introduces new flavors, including his own trumpet, and atmospheric textures, without straying far from the genre. There is great fiddling by Sid Page throughout the score. The end credits feature a well-picked Tom Petty tune and a Johnny Cash-ish original penned by Harris & Beal. Ed Harris’ vocal performance is a real kick.

At first glance, Appaloosa appears to be a semi-standard Western. In the end, it feels like a personal, independent film; a slightly quirky, character study in Western clothing....not any easy feat to pull off. Highly recommended!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Now hiring...

Great Job For The Right Marketer

This is a great time to think about what is really important; building community, connecting with others, giving back. Put your energy into solutions that are grounded in reality and make the world a little better place each day.

Seth, thanks for sharing this!

How Will MySpace Music make money?

Courtney Holt at EconMusic

Personally, I have never liked MySpace. It's ugly and I don't get the brand. There is too much going on. It has become the default bulletin board for musicians, but I don't hear of anyone making money.

With the majors onboard they have an opportunity and Courtney Holt has some good ideas. Let's hope they can focus and build a tribe around a clear identity & business model. Independent artists and major labels have very different marketing needs and require different strategies but the line between the two camps continues to blur. Perhaps the killer app will be a marketing model that works equally well in both directions.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Music As a Career, Pt.1

Over time, professional musicians can lose their spark after years of unexpected challenges in an ever changing and highly competitive industry. The profound love and commitment to the power of music can become tempered by the harsh realities of making a living. There’s an old joke:

Q: How do you get a musician to complain?
A: Give them a gig.

We spend years mastering every page of Slonimsky’s Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns, only to discover a certain lack of relevance in the real world. The reality TV guy is just looking for some ‘wacka-chucka-wacka’ to move the thing along, and if there is any way he can get music for free you are cut out of the deal altogether! Perhaps the initial disappointment is our first ‘day job’. Or, when the glow of supporting ourselves full-time in music begins to wane, we realize that the challenging and lucrative work we seek remains elusive.

The way out of this box is to learn the art of separating your love of music from the realities of building a career and making a living. Musicians have developed many unique and valuable skills that can serve them in a variety of contexts. I had a good run supporting myself composing and playing, well into my forties. My first 9-5 job (not counting the stuff I did as a kid) involved defining, creating and implementation complex, enterprise telecommunications call routing systems. Go figure. I knew nothing about this industry at the time, but was hired because of my experience as a musician, thanks to some very astute managers. The job involved figuring out and troubleshooting complex, proprietary technology, communicating effectively with a diverse array of personality types (uh-huh), synthesizing someone else’s needs and vision into a new entity, and keeping the clients happy. Sounds more than a little like modern day composing doesn’t it? Since then, I have been involved in a number of professional endeavors while continuing to stay active as a musician. In every situation I have drawn on the years of study and hard work that went into my musical development.

If you find yourself in areas of the industry that don’t feel creative anymore, look at it from another angle. Think of yourself as an entrepreneur, building a business. If you are playing, ask yourself if you would be more comfortable booking other people or perhaps teaching. If you are composing for commercial applications and things begin to dry up creatively, consider stepping back into the producer role. There are many young composers that would love to do the leg-work and learn from your experience while you build a successful business.

Above all, don’t lose the connection with your musical muse... No compromises... Whether it’s playing or composing every day, creating your own projects on the side, or teaching and sharing your passion with younger musicians, go back to the well continually. The benefits flow in both directions. Music is a conversation. Remember, nothing stays the same for long. If you can hold both realities in your mind without judgment, you will always be ready when the next opportunity presents itself.