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

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

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
  1. November 30, 2010 at 4:58 pm

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