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Making Money in the Web 2.0 World — Can it be done?

November 27, 2010 1 comment

Web 2.0 is both a blessing and a curse. First of all, it is easier than ever to do what you need to do to make a record. Digital audio workstations are readily available. Services such as TuneCore and CD Baby allow you to upload your audio files and for a modest fee, they will distribute them to the world’s major online music retailers. You don’t have to be good, you just need to know how to get your hands on the increasingly simple-to-use services and methods. Web 2.0 has made much of our job easier and cheaper. We don’t need to get noticed and signed to a major record label to get our stuff made any more. But, on the flip side, with the ease of using these methods, the market has been flooded with millions of artists all wanting your attention. Overcoming obscurity becomes one of our major obstacles.

Another hurdle we must attempt to leap is simply the newfound laziness of the consumer. It used to be that a person would have to read about an album in Rolling Stone, put on their coat, shoes, and hat, get in the car or wait at the bus stop, drive to Best Buy, shuffle through the inventory to find the physical disc in question, take it to the counter, make a transaction, go back to the car, get back home, unwrap the CD, fight with the damn spine sticker, insert the disc into the player and press play. In this new Age of Instant Gratification, however, it is far simpler to type the artist/album name into Google, followed by the word “torrent,” click the desired link, download and double-click to play. This is easier, and it is lighter on the pocketbook. There are a number of problems with this, of course. First, due to this, consumers are generally not excited about music any more. When a person was forced to shell out $15 for an album, they would listen to the entire album on repeat for days on end at times, building a love for the music and a loyalty to the artist. It’s a pretty safe hunch that only a minute percentage of people do this today with music being so disposable. Listen to thirty seconds and if it doesn’t strike your fancy, send it to the Trash Bin on your system. Possibly more notable is the fact that torrenting music provides no compensation to those who put very real money into producing the music.

With increasing amounts of people believing that musicians and artists do not deserve compensation because they are in an industry of culture, it is becoming harder and harder to break even on our investments. A growing number of consumers believe all music should be free. Therefore, they are reluctant to spend 99¢ or even $1.29 on a single track, when they could as easily download the entire album for free. The question of legality no longer even enters people’s minds, since it is so commonplace to get music in this way.

So these are some of the problems. What do we do?

First of all, we have to make sure that we are doing our art justice. If you do everything “right” and your music still sucks or is woefully unpolished, you’re still not going to get anywhere. Practice like crazy.

Next, we need to realize that we are no longer going to make money off of selling music products. Those days are done, thanks to the sharing technologies of Web 2.0. We are no longer selling our music, but selling ourselves as a brand. The sooner you wrap your head around that notion, the sooner you can get to work coming up with other money-making ideas, using your music as a sort of advertisement for it. To be blatantly harsh, if you’re among the people that believe it’s “all about the music,” that’s totally cool, but you’ll never grow beyond being a hobbyist. The changing industry is not about the music anymore. The music will not get you noticed or discovered or signed (not that we should really want to be signed in this industry climate to begin with).

I don’t have the answers. Nobody does right now. But some of us have some ideas. Take them with a grain of salt and take them for what they’re worth. There are no blueprints. Take these and other ideas and make your own path.

1. Perform and upload a killer cover tune. I don’t mean take a song you like and reproduce it note-for-note. I mean take a cool song that you think people will search for on YouTube on make it your own. Do it in your own style. Rearrange it. Make it unique. Take, for example, Pomplamoose. This duo writes their own music and puts out their own albums of originals and they produce their uniqe “videosongs.” But they would not have been noticed had it not been for their covers of notable songs like “Single Ladies” and “Beat It.” People found these versions of popular songs and latched on to Pomplamoose’s style and feel. They’ve sold hundreds of thousands of CDs, digital downloads and they have recently had their music used prominently in advertising for Hyundai. They were not marketing themselves alone, waiting for their big break. They did a few very creative things and they got noticed. Sure, they probably still have their part- or full-time jobs, but they’re selling themselves and they’ve got a real fanbase.

2. Consider crowd-funding to make your next record. We’ve probably all got friends in a band on Facebook who post a link to their PayPal account where you can donate to their album fund. You might get a couple bucks from this, but probably not much. What’s the incentive? For the most part this approach just looks desperate and lame. There needs to be some reason why the average person on your fan list or email list would give you money. Try offering bonus material. “If you donate $50, you get the album and a one-of-a-kind watercolor painted by our singer.” “If you donate $100, you get the album, a making-of DVD, and you’ll be listed in the album acknowledgements.” Don’t be afraid to be super bizarre and creative. You never know who’s going to bite at the bait. “If you donate $5,000,  you get the album, DVD, watercolor, and strip-tease from the bassist!” (You should probably get it in writing from the bassist before you post it online, however.) There are websites out there to help you achieve your fundraising goals, such as RocketHub or KickStarter. Or if you have the knowledge of web design and necessary infrastructure, you can definitely do it yourself. The more creative and attractive your incentives or bonus material, the more likely you are to receive funding.

3. Give away music for free in exchange for contact information. The cold, hard truth is that people are going to get your music for free. Flat out. They will. So why not offer it to them from the source under your conditions. If somebody torrents your album, you don’t know about the download, who downloaded or any other demographic information. However, if you offer your music for free from the source, you can require an email address and with the help of sites like BandCamp you can gather limited geographical demos as well. You can then add their address to your email list and target them in your upcoming promotions, such as crowd-funding described above. You’re keeping the consumer within your own circle of influence and that is important. Their support may turn into a couple bucks later on. Of course, you don’t have to give it all away for free. Put it on iTunes anyway. There are some people that purchase all their music on iTunes and they’ll be more than happy to buy it. Just offer it for free, too.

4. Draw attention to yourself in another way. I don’t even need to tell you who OK Go are. They’ve made their mark. But what are they known for? Their music or their videos? They had already captured the attention of a major, but it wasn’t until they started making their own brand of super-creative videos that they took off. Their millions of video views on YouTube have translated into tens of thousands of legitimate download sales and physical CD sales as well.

Like I said, these are just a couple of ideas. They obviously require real thought, ingenuity and creativity. The music business is not dying, it is changing. It’s up to us to determine the turn it takes next.

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Categories: Music

Braaaaiiins

November 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Tasty brains tempt the undead in "28 Days Later"

I have grown partial to zombies in the past few years. I never really got into the earlier, dare I say “campy” classic zombie movies. As a kid they terrified me. I’m not even sure I’ve ever seen Night of the Living Dead. If I did, it was when I was little and I’ve since blocked it out. I did see some other zombie flicks as I got older. The Resident Evil movies were okay, I guess. That’s probably mostly because I’ve had a crush on Milla Jovovich since first seeing her on screen in 1997’s The Fifth Element. The Resident Evil movies were cheesy, but fun, I suppose. The video games were better. At least the one title I played was fun. Furthermore, I encountered some zombies in the original Xbox’s version of the classic 3-D shooter, Wolfenstein. There’s something pretty satisfying about delivering unforgiving head shots to Nazi zombies, I’ve got to say. Not to mention the sound effects. Disgustingly accurate, I assume. The Halloween episode of the NBC comedy Community also featured the cast turning into zombies. Luckily, it was just a brief food-poisoning-type illness that subsided when their fevers broke. There has been a surge of zombies in literature as well. The Zombie Survival Guide has sold well, as well as Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. I haven’t read it yet, but my wife thought it was great. Stephen King tackled zombies as well in his recent novel, Cell, in which everyone using a cell phone at the moment in which a certain “pulse” hits becomes a murderous cannibal, or zombie.

Photo by bowwowmeowmeow, featured in City Pages

Photo by bowwowmeowmeow, featured in City Pages

Zombies are alive and well in popular night life as well. There is a Zombie Prom back in the town I used to live in, and the Twin Cities host an annual pub crawl. People love zombies, it seems. There’s apparently something relatable about mindless, stumbling, undead cannibals.

My current interest in zombies came first from the film 28 Days Later and its sequel 28 Weeks Later. In this British film, a twenty-something dude wakes up in a deserted hospital and emerges into a completely deserted London. He wanders around London aimlessly, wearing a hospital gown, looking for water and food and picking up money he finds in the street in the financial district. Oh, but then he’s set upon by zombies. Long story short, he meets up with a small band of survivors that are fighting against the undead. In this universe, being a zombie is a result of a viral illness referred to as “The Rage.” The zombies aren’t sluggish and slow. They can run pretty damn fast, but their coordination is horrible. And they are hungry. If they bite you, it’s all over. If you get their blood in your mouth, or in your eye, you’re infected. It’s scary stuff. But this concept of the zombie-ism being viral is very intriguing to me. It makes sense, it makes it relatable, and it makes it scary. You think that this could conceivably happen to you if such a horrible disease came into existence.

The zombie genre was greatly enriched recently with the premiere of the new AMC television series, The Walking Dead, based on the graphic novel series of the same name. I don’t know if this is actually the first ever zombie television series, but it’s the first one I’m aware of. And it is awesome. If you like zombies, you must see this show. The writing is solid, the directing and cinematography are crazy good, and the makeup design and application is phenomenal. A small-town Georgia sheriff awakes from a coma to find his hometown in shambles and zombies walking about. He sets out to find his wife and son and ends up in Atlanta, which is overrun by the walking dead. It’s incredible. Watch the sneak peek of the season below.

What do you think? What are your favorite zombie flicks? What is it about the modern zombie that you do or don’t like? Will you be following the adventures of our hero on The Walking Dead?

Categories: Stuff I Like

Brief, disjointed thoughts on the changing face of music

November 12, 2010 Leave a comment

I haven’t truly made up my mind yet. What’s going on with the music business? Is technology helping or hurting the entertainment industries? What do we do about copyright law? Is it fine? Should it be amended?

These are tough questions and I really have no answer yet. There are truly valid arguments on both sides. As a creator of content myself, I feel that it should be somehow protected. I don’t want some advertising campaign to pick up one of my songs and use it to make a million dollars while I’m wondering where my family’s next meal is coming from. Most of the arguments made on this subject pertain to the major music labels and artists that already have a comfortable savings account, rather than we artists who dream of doing our craft full time. Sadly, it seems that dream is just that — a dream.

A couple of films I’ve seen recently (Steal This Film and Rip! A Remix Manifesto) put forth the philosophical notion that all artistic content belongs to culture and should be distributed freely and at no cost. They argue that no one can own an idea. This, of course, is coming mainly from a contingent of people sitting at home on their computers with little to no creative urges or talents of their own. There is a lot of entitlement out there, and it’s not fair to the artists that work hard to do what they do. If an artist wants to put their stuff out there for free, that’s a marketing practice. That’s their decision. I have no problem with free music. I like free music. What I have a problem with is the philosophy that I shouldn’t be able to get by on my musicianship and business savvy alone. I have to come up with some other method of creation. My music becomes an advertisement for the bonus material. That’s not cool at all. So, you’re an accountant. You went to school for it. You’re good at it. Wanna do my taxes for free? Of course not. That’s ludicrous. But, that’s the mindset, just in a different industry.

There are many, many arguments that go into this on both sides. There is no easy answer. Some people say these problems help creativity, some say they destroy. I’m not entirely sure where I sit just yet. I work hard for my art and I do give most of it away for free. But I resent the notion that because I create art I should have to give it to culture for free.

What do you think? Watch these films and see what you get from them.

Categories: Music