It's said that within the eye of a Hurricane there is a calm, almost zen like environment. Scientists have proven that the barometric pressure within that space is the lowest in the overall Hurricane. One can also expect unusually clear skies above, a "breeze," and an eerily picturesque 360* wall of insanity surrounding them.
Kind of sounds like, feels like, and even looks like the music industry for those creators in "the eye" of the storm. Realistically speaking, the ability to create, record, mix, master, edit, film, enhance, and distribute art has never been easier. QUALITY METRICS AND OPINIONS ASIDE... for well less than $100 one can utilize garageband (studio), their iPhone (video), their "label" (Distrokid), and in no time present the WORLD with their new music & videos to a potential 8+Billion person market. In addition that same artist can use, for free, Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, TikTok, and more, to immediately run a Global PR-Marketing campaign for the new release. Seems pretty Zen right???
But we all know that the "Hurricane" is real. We know that with such a low barrier to entry into the "Global Jukebox," that the competition has shifted from "good vs. bad music" to who can win the social media PR race that just might result in music sales. This has arguably, in most people's opinion, resulted in a flood of average to bad musical content, burying a large supply of GREAT music, amongst the 40,000+ singles a day that are being released. The real race is for impressions, engagement, likes, and comments, that HOPEFULLY lead to a spin, view, or imagine this, an actual purchase of said art! All of that work for fractions of a penny on the dollar in the digital world:
The vast majority of creators attempting to make music their primary, or sole income source are struggling. Paid bar gigs & wine room sets are paying about the same amount they did 15-20+ years ago. Record/CD release shows historically were home run's once the merch sales were tallied... not anymore. That $20-25 vinyl is hard to justify for most common music fans when $9/month on Spotify handles it all for them. Artists are then caught in a release conundrum:
A- do you hold off on digital releases in order to drive up demand for physical copies
B- do you focus on digital releases and social media tools in an attempt to grow fans that might come see you and buy the excess, heavy, cumbersome, profitable records???
And to add insult to injury, purchases are dwindling at these shows, the unit cost on the pressings is going up, and the only way most artists can sell more of their inventory is to hit the road. That's not cheap. Which is a whole other beast.
TOURING FOR REAL MUSICIANS:
What it's not.
What it usually is.
So what's left but to ask for money earlier in the process, right? But think about it... Kickstarters, or GoFundMe's, or any "Crowdfunding" campaigns that are advertised as "Help us make our record!!!" are really not about actually "making THE record." Those $'s are generally not going towards actually making the record because the cost to make a record has been steadily declining for years, to the point made above... IT CAN BE DONE FOR FREE!!! Again, let's save the quality argument for another Blog. Sure, a small % of these campaigns might be spent engaging a real producer and or engineer, that has the toys and the experience to dial in sounds and help make great songs. But those recordings will generally only stand out within the industry, IF YOU HAVE ACCESS, and that access is expensive and held tight. At the end of the day, it doesn't necessarily mean the kids are going to like it.
Realistically, and justifiably in my opinion, those Crowdfunding campaigns are looking to fund ad campaigns, Spotify playlist push's, a PR agent, and possibly a booking/management agent. For example... a top tier PR rep, you know, those NYC/LA/Nashville types, they are usually very effective, but they're undoubtedly expensive. One can easily spend $3-5k per month on just PR services. And it's never just a one month campaign... assume a minimum of 3 months, average of 6, that is generally focused on one album. I know you did the math... don't say the number out loud. It's like "He who should not be named" bad. But without a real, thought out, concise, fully funded PR campaign, good luck. Because all that does is get you to the table. It's the "Then What" that matters at that point.
So at every turn it seems as if things are getting artificially easier, cheaper, and more expensive at the same time, all while the "eye wall" fortifies itself and becomes even more and more impenetrable.
THEN along comes our friend... "Covid-19."
A virus. A microscopic organism with Shrek like ears all over it, that has literally SHUT DOWN THE WHOLE GOD DAMN WORLD! And here in the states, who were the first to be taken down??? It was artists. The creative community. "But wait wait wait!" you say, "It was the restaurant/bar industry first!" Duh. What do you think most working musicians do when they're not playing cover songs for 3 hours for $100 bucks while that restaurant/bar does $3-10k+ in sales? When those individuals aren't avoiding your eye contact for the inevitable "Wagon Wheel" request, they're pouring your drinks, taking your orders, cooking your food, and cleaning off those tables. And please don't say, "But the bailout!" Most creatives, on paper, live below the poverty line and generate virtually no taxable income. They're "business" is predominantly a turnstile of cash tips, transferring from plastic buckets or Venmo, to landlords, gas, guitar strings, and grocery stores. There's no healthcare premiums in this equation because even their "industry" job doesn't generate enough for that. So their physical/financial "at risk" is even higher in the event they were to unfortunately contract the virus.
So now these individuals who rely upon YOUR social interaction, YOUR reserved tables, and a strategically placed barstool and PA for YOUR entertainment, have been indefinitely shelved. Their art, their music, their "widget" is currently subject to an exclusively digital marketplace. Now, a large number of artists immediately jumped on the streaming bandwagon with varying degrees of financial "success." This germ free fan engagement mechanism has become a lifeline for artists ranging from your annoying neighbors garage band, all the way to Keith-freakin-Urban's garage set. Streaming has allowed individuals to still be engaged, with the hope of seeing some virtual tips. But it's not going to be anywhere near enough. We're staring at an indefinite amount of time in "quarantine," that will only slowly diminish fan engagement as time goes by.
Politics aside, it's easy to feel like we have all been let down by industry and governmental leadership for many years prior to this mandatory isolation. Now, thanks to this life threatening bug, we're all being forced to reflect on our art, our businesses, our relationships, and more in physical isolation. Our government was clearly not prepared. However... neither were musicians, performers, creators, producers, GROCERY STORES, and virtually every other industry in the world. The music industry in particular has been rapidly shifting and focusing it's attention on digital branding and streaming margins for a while now. Both represent significant shifts from investments in artist development and unit sales that drive artist compensation. Festivals, a long reliable lifeline of sorts for artists over the years, have become more and more cost prohibitive, and gobbled up by a handful of national players. CD & Record unit sales are wayyyyy off and realistically never coming back. And now, as we look at the potential of recovery, focusing on restaurants and bars, these businesses will inevitably be looking to control costs upon re-opening. This does not bode well for the previous entertainment when an 1/8th inch line and Spotify account is a "free" DJ.
Every single industry in the world is re-evaluating it's operating procedures, it's engagement strategies, and what is "necessary vs. not" on the flip side of this virus. The music-gig economy is no different. It is up to the creators, the artists, the problem solvers, to forge a better, more prepared, more diversified way, because help is not coming. By hyper focusing on what's next, artists can take the lessons learned from personal experiences prior to "Shelter in Place," along with the digital results of successful streams and engagement, and look to reinvent an engagement strategy that works for you. The antiquated procedural steps in making, recording, releasing, and monetizing music simply doesn't represent a viable path forward for the vast majority of creators (see PR expenses above). Technology has been artificially benefiting these creators with "social" placebo's, while financially paying off the gatekeepers with real money on the backs of their art.
Take this time and ask yourself some of the following questions:
Are you taking this time to make the best possible art you can?
Who do you think is your target market?
Who has been your market?
What do they want?
Where do they reside... physically vs. digitally?
How do you engage them regularly?
Are they paying you for this artistic engagement?
Are you having fun?
Note... these questions apply to just about every industry and job really. Now, look for a way out of the hurricane. It's possible, because right now we are all part of the storm. It will subside. The question is, will you be prepared?
PS... forgive the grammar. Siri told me to F' off about 1200 words ago.