Strong Opinions Are Like Strong Odors Or Speak Softly And Carry A Thick Skin

Hi everyone! In keping up with a semi-regular output, I thought I’d share another excerpt from my Amazon Kindle book, Selling it Versus Selling Out which may have a perspective that’s helpful for you.
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If you’re a musician, it’s easy to forget that you probably listen to music differently than non-musicians (i.e. most people).  That’s not to say that other people don’t listen to music passionately. It’s more about the fact that the number of times you need to listen to a piece of music to learn it is substantially more than it takes to merely appreciate it.  Learning parts to a song (guitar parts, vocal parts, etc) and getting those parts right requires a learned type of obsessive attention to detail that is alien to many casual listeners.

Consequently, you may find that you have a number of strong opinions as a result of familiarity with the subject matter.  You might know why you like a particular act or musician that your friends can’t articulate.  If you’re the type of person to strongly focus on one thing, you may be prone to carrying that focus over into other areas.

  • If you do something a lot that you care about, you’re likely to have a strong opinion about it.
  • If you’ve studied something intensely, you might have a strong opinion about it.
  • If you have a certain code of conduct that you adhere to and other people tell you to chill out; you might have some terse words for them.

Strong opinions are like strong odors.  Your friends won’t tell you that you’re rank, but your phone won’t ring either.

People generally meet strong odors and opinions with strong reactions rather than indifference (particularly in regards to opinions as they often feel threatened by strong opinions that aren’t their own).

My advice is to start building some calluses.

The difference between strong opinions and odors is that getting rid of an odor is much easier than getting rid of your opinion.

The good news for artists is that people are looking for strong opinions.  Audiences are moved by people who have a need to express something so strong that they need to physically manifest it.  I have collected music for years.  I have 122 gigabytes of mp3s from CDs I converted.  The last I checked, this is about 3 months of continual music without repeats…and  I still look for new music.  Even though I could never mark out the time to continually listen to all the music I already have!  I still look to be excited by what other people are doing, and many other people do as well.

People searching for something new is generally the market you want to reach as an emerging artist.

One problem many symphonies face is the demographic that had traditionally supported them is older and shrinking.  On one hand, showcasing new music (like the video game live tours) brings symphonic textures to a new audience.  The problem is that audience doesn’t want to pay $100 to hear Bach in a concert hall (which is something the people who are willing to pay that kind of money often want to hear at a symphony).  The people with money who go to the symphony generally want to hear the tried and true pieces that moved them in that (or a very similar) symphonic hall years ago.

Symphonies have a real battle in balancing contemporary programs with safe gentle pieces that won’t rattle the dentures of anyone sitting in the expensive seats.  Given the astounding production costs of maintaining an orchestra and performance hall outside financing (underwriting, etc) becomes increasingly important.  Even with fundraising, many orchestras have to tighten the belt and turn to alternative revenue streams and more diverse programming to try to get the bodies in the seats.

And now a word from Mr. Ives

You’llll have to search to find a non-vhs copy, but I highly recommend that you see a film called, A good dissonance like a man, which is a biopic about Charles Ives.  In addition to some excellent acting, the script is based on accurate historical research and comes across as a telling view into the life of a true maverick (Before people scoff at the term “maverick” – real mavericks almost never refer to themselves that way and instead let history make that distinction for them. Charles Ives was a true maverick.)

Ives also had a lot to say both as an artist and as a human being.  His comments below regarding consonance (versus dissonance) predate some sentiments expressed in this essay.

“… Consonance is a relative thing (just a nice name for a nice habit). It is a natural enough part of music, but not the whole, or only one. The simplest ratios, often called perfect consonances, have been used so long and so constantly that not only music, but musicians and audiences, have become more or less soft. If they hear anything but doh-me-soh or a near cousin, they have to be carried out on a stretcher.” from Charles E. Ives: Memos

Artistically, there’s no value in being all things to all people

Everyone wants to be accepted, and some opinions and ideas are confrontational and polarizing by their very nature, but by watering down your opinion, you also water down your message.

Watering down your message

(to paraphrase another Ives quote);

disappoints the artist, it disappoints the art and ultimately it disappoints the audience.

This isn’t to say that you should never compromise.  While some amount of compromise is necessary just to be human (much less an artist) you should recognize the difference between compromising and selling out.

When that little voice in your head says that people are uncomfortable with what you’re doing, you should take a long look to see if you’re doing something wrong or if other people just need thicker skin.

That’s a really difficult conclusion to come to objectively, but it’s certainly one worth investigating.

If you like this post, you may like two of the Kindle e-books I currently have out, An Indie Musician Wake Up Call and Selling It Versus Selling Out.

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Deciphering What’s Actually On The Page or Don’t Believe The Hype

Sony Records sent out a press release today that will surely set the internet a flutter.  Here’s the AP (In this case – Alternative Press) Story Line:

Middle school metal trio sign $1.7 million record deal with Sony Music

Boy that sounds great!  Here everyone is talking about the record industry tanking and Sony steps up and signs Unlocking The Truth with a big-ass old school record deal!  $1.7 million huh?  Time to get those middle schoolers in your house some lessons and up on a stage so you can get that Middle School Metal Money.  (I’ll give credit where it’s due – I can’t come up with a better catch phrase than Middle School Metal.)

But the numbers here mean nothing.  Look at my underlined quotes from the AP article.

“Brooklyn, New York based middle school metal trio, Unlocking The Truth, have inked a record deal with Sony Music potentially worth $1.7 million, according to a report from the New York Daily News. The band are guaranteed two albums, with a $60,000 advance on the first, and up to $350,000 for the second. If the efforts prove fruitful, the band could reap the full benefits of the six-record, million dollar-plus contract. “

So here’s how I read this:

Unlocking the truth signed a record contract with an OPTION for 6 records.

I will bet dollars to donuts that they signed a 360 deal with Sony – which means that any revenue streams generated by the band will find a percentage going back to Sony.

That $60,000 advance will be recoupable – which means the band won’t make a dime of the record until they pay back the label for the money that the label spent on them.  You’ve seen the spotify stream articles.  How many digital plays and downloads does it take to pay back $60,000?  A lot more than any other band playing in this genre is getting right now.  Hell, probably more than EVERY other band in this genre is getting right now.

That’s IF the record comes in on budget – which it won’t – you’ll have to factor out the producer’s percentage, the lawyer’s percentage and anyone else getting a cut from this as well.

Oh..and then there’s the video.  IF the record gets released, the label will demand a video to help promote it.  That’s also recoupable against album sales so, again, the band won’t see any money from the record until that gets paid back as well.

They’ll have to tour to promote the record.  The label may offer tour support but if they do – it’s also recoupable.  That’s also problematic because if they signed a 360 deal (and I don’t think there’s any way the label would sign them and not demand a 360 deal) – the label is taking additional cuts on top of any money being made.

So in the past, tour support might be renting a tour bus and paying for the PA – but (in addition to whatever percentage of the door you got) whatever shirts or other merch you sold you got to keep.  In a 360 deal – your small percentage on shirts or ANYTHING else you have to sell – just got a lot smaller.

Note that the article says that the label will pay UP TO $350 K for the second release.  That also means that they could pay nothing and then the band is screwed because they won’t be able to record with anyone else until that release comes out.  That also means that the label could record the album and then just refuse to release it.

Guess who sits in limbo unable to do anything else with anyone else until that happens?

So:

  • IF the first record makes enough money to warrant making a second record that gets released and
  • IF the second record can be recorded and makes money

Then the label MIGHT pick up the rest of the releases with advances (i.e. money that mathematically can never be paid back) that MAY make up to 1.7 million.  Again –  IN ADVANCES – not in income.

So for the type of music the band plays –

I’m betting that this is solely a PR move.

It’s smoke and mirrors.

Sony’s gonna ride the publicity on this, record an album and then push the novelty aspect of that.  “Middle School Metal” is easier to get press on than “Middle Aged Metal”.  Then like every other novelty (“Pac Man Fever” comes to mind) it will fade.

This irritates me for two reasons:

1.  From the “news” angle – it’s irresponsible hype that sends the wrong message to people about the state of the industry.  People look at the headline and come to a conclusion that has no basis in reality for artists.

2.  Malcolm was a student of mine, very briefly, at a music summer camp I taught at.  If you see him sweep-picking something live –  it may well be a form I taught him.  He’s a nice kid and I dig his energy and enthusiasm.  I dig that he’s gotten the press and gigs that he has and I don’t want to see him get taken advantage of.

But is it a bad decision?
Oh, probably not.  But really it depends on what you think the outcome is going to be.

If approached as a money-making venture – yes, definitively it’s a colossally bad idea.

But if this is an exposure play…if this is just a springboard for them to do something else POST Sony – it might not a bad play because right now they’re 13 years old.  They don’t have to make money because they have a parent (or parents) who will make sure that they’re fed and have a roof over their head.

In other words, they’re in a radically different situation than the average band.  They might be able to afford to be indentured to a label for a couple of years.

But for the average band – the last sentence of this: which does a great job of breaking down real money for major label acts…. is where they’re really at.

Public Service Announcement:

Friends Don’t Let Friends Sign 360 Deals.

Is Music Dying?

[Please note: This is a re-post from guitarchitecture.org]

(Before we start – a quick plug for the BuckMoon Arts Festival)

As a reminder to anyone who happens to be in the upstate NY area, I’ll be performing live accompaniment for a staged reading of The Exonerated as part of the BuckMoon Arts Festival on July 12-13, and leading a series of panel discussions with working artists and industry experts on how artists can monetize their art.  You can read about both of those here.

In doing some research for the panel discussions I was listening to the CD Baby podcasts this week and I caught up on two interesting, and somewhat related stories to the panel.

1.  Apple’s Eddie Cue announced that Apple bought Beats because “Music Is Dying”

2.  Indie artist Shannon Curtis came on to promote her new book, “No Booker, No Bouncer, No Bartender: How I Made $25K On A 2-Month House Concert Tour (And How You Can Too)”

Is Music Dying?

I’ve never seen anyone at Apple make any kind of negative statement about the music industry, which is why iTunes Eddie Cue’s quote is somewhat telling:

“Music is dying,” said Cue. “It hasn’t been growing. You see it in the number of artists. This past year in iTunes, it’s the smallest number of new releases we’ve had in years.”

As quoted from  http://readwrite.com/2014/05/28/apple-beats-eddy-cue-jimmy-iovine#awesm=~oHLbiOYNIxpYCB

My guess is that he’s talking about the smallest number of major label releases, as there is no shortage of independent music being released.  and that might be true. A recent Variety article entitled, Music Sales Continue to Plummet for Albums and Digital Downloads, brought up the following statistics comparing sales for the first 1/2 year of 2014 with sales from 2013.

  • Total album sales (any format) dropped nearly 15%.
  • Sales of individual digital tracks were down by 13%
  • Streaming was up 42% (but streaming revenues for music are almost nothing)
  • Vinyl sales were up 40%, with Jack White’s Lazaretto selling over 48,000 units.
  • The year’s best seller is the Frozen soundtrack which has sold over 2.6 million units.

As the article’s author, Christopher Morris put it:

“To put the steepness of the decline in perspective: Just 18 months ago, Adele’s Grammy-winning “21” – the bestselling album of 2011 and 2012 — finished the latter year with sales in excess of 10 million. It is conceivable that such a phenomenon will not be seen in the industry again.”

In contrast, check out the story about Indie Artist Shannon Curtis who went from playing clubs to making $25,000 on a 2-month tour of house concerts.

So, is music dying?

Well….music itself isn’t dying (that quote is just silly) but music making is being altered in a way that professional musicians are not able to make a living at it with traditional means. The traditional major label model has moved from a terminal status to life support and musicians are having to find ways to try to make money with more revenue streams than ever, that pay less money than ever, with more people competing in the market forever.

Shannon Curtis was able to bring in some money doing house concert shows to audiences who wanted to see her in a non-traditional venue (but I’m guessing she’ll make more money from her e-book from musicians looking for a new angle than she ever did from her concert tour!)  But the real problem most new artists face is that culturally we’ve created a Vine audience with a short attention span.  One that demands immediate gratification and doesn’t want to have to wait to experience something.

Having said that, people still want to connect with things on a deeper level, and the artists that can weather the storm and actually touch people – consistently in an honest emotional way, are the ones who will be building a career and those artists are going to face even bigger challenges over the next 10 years.  Perhaps that struggle will make some great art.

Back to the panel prep!  As always, thanks for reading!