There once was a time when the release date of an album was exciting. For our favorite artists we knew when the last album came out and when the next album was due. If you loved the artist you bought it. If you didn’t you either bought the single or you listened to the album with your friends and then decided.
As the price of records and then CDs increased year by year, spending 20 bucks for a CD became a purchase you needed to be sure of rather than a no brainer or impulse buy.
Then free became an option.
Then aggregating almost unlimited free music on a PC and then an IPOD became easy.
So here we are in 2008 and the only given in the music industry is that CD sales have and will fall. And fall. And fall.
Reading last weeks billboard, something interesting popped out at me. The song Low Rider by Flo Rida sold 467,000 units in a single week. There were 27 digital singles that sold more than 100k units in that week. The obvious trend continues that people are ready, willing and able to buy singles of songs they like.
So the question arises, why don’t artists serialize the release of songs ? Why not create a “season” of release of songs, much like the fall TV season and promise fans that Flo Rida is going to release a new single every week or 2 weeks for the next 10 weeks ?
Sure, its not easy to come up with a great song every 2 weeks. But isnt that exactly the same problem you have with an album ? Maybe thats not the “creative process” for certain artists. That’s a problem for them.
What we do know is that music fans will spend 99c and that its easier to ask them for 99c a week than it is to get 9.99 at one time from them for 10 songs.
Serializing the release of music also allows for the marketing arms to be in constant touch with sales and radio outlets. Rather than having to initiate marketing plans and hope to reinvigorate the interest in an artist, it becomes a digital tour that never ends.
If an artist commits to release music on a weekly or bi weekly basis, then consumers can make a commitment knowing they are going to get something new and hopefully exciting for their 99c. If the commitment is strong enough its feasible that artists could sell subscriptions to their serialized releases. My guess is that consumers will feel better about subscribing to an artist and getting a song a week or every 2 than dropping 10 dollars at a time for an album.
In reality thats exactly how I buy my music right now. I dont do it by artist. I go to ITunes and I go through the top 10 lists and listen to samples and thats how I determine what music im going to buy.
If there was an option when I bought a single to subscribe to an RSS feed that would send me a sample of that artists song when they released a single, I would add that RSS feed to my browser. Add a 1 click to buy, and chances are Im going to buy a lot more music.
Is this idea so great Im going to start a music label ? No chance. I wouldnt get in the music industry if you paid me. However, as a customer and a buyer of music , if I knew that my favorite artists were releasing music weekly, i would certainly check by every week or listen to what was in my RSS aggregator to see what new stuff they had for me.
Consumser are buying music 1 track at a time. I think people will pay 99c to get a single rather than steal it. I think people would rather steal a full album rather than pay 10 dollars or more for it.
Labels need to make the effort to get artists to deliver in a manner that realizes these perspectives.
The album is dead
109 thoughts on “The Album is Dead…”
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The problem with the music industry today is that people would much rather download a track online and throw it on their I-pod than buy the actual album. The cause, people\’s attention spans are declining rapidly. People have I-pods because they don\’t have the attention span to listen to a whole album, they\’d much rather listen to a minute\’s worth of a song, then switch to another one when they become bored.
Comment by Anonymous -
Nice Stuff… Keep It Up.
Comment by Eliseo -
Just read that the iTunes store is the second biggest distributor of music in the U.S., second only to Wal-Mart. Clearly they are on to something.
Comment by Leo -
It\’s amazing the way that Record companies and \’middle men\’ have taken advantage of Artists and fans by keeping CD prices artificially high all of these years.
If Record companies cut their prices in half, they\’d still make a good profit, because CD sales would rise.
I like what Big Head Todd is doing selling CD\’s on the web, I got their latest album for 5 dollars plus handling. Even though I had to pay handling, the band gets more of the money, and after all, that\’s who deserves it.
It\’s ironic that now that it should be easier to store and distribute a larger amount of music than ever possible, radio stations in the US keeps spooning out the same old crap. Thanks to internet radio, we never have to listen to those stations.
Mark, you should give up on buying the Cubs, and buy the Pirates. I think you would give Barney Dreyfuss a run for his money as the \’first division man\’.
Comment by sidd finch -
I am definitely old school. I really look forward to new CD albums, specially if it\’s an artist that i have followed for years.
Comment by How To Give Head College -
Im doing my part to help out the music business… Im starting a company called Frontline Soulja Ltd,,, Its a clothing company that provides a cd from an underground artist with every t shirt jeans and jackets
Comment by Torrick -
As I can expect from you, unique ideas. How come the recording industry can\’t seem to come up with any new ideas. I have got to start reading your blog every week or so just to keep up with whats going on in your mind. Thanks for a great post Mark.
Comment by stephen summerlin -
There are too many economic problems with albums and too much garbage in singles. There is such a proliferation of excess, (the more a company has the better chance it can hit the mark) We are in a downcycle in between what was and what is. In less than 8 years, the industry will change again, and something new will be chiding the old blood who appreciated the work an album took. Just remember that this industry has been itching to change since 1990. Change is inevitable. I just hope that they stop the likes of the Itunes superbowl ad performer.
Comment by Trey -
I wouldn\’t pay 99 or even 19 cents for a poor quality song with even the slightest bit of DRM. Period.
When the industry can catch up with technology and allow the market to dictate prices I will open my eyes to purchasing digital music.
The idea of serializing music will work for a \”teenie bopper\” POP artist or a \”get rich quick\” RAP artist, but not for a REAL artist. The album as an entity is not obsolete. It is a piece of art. For some artists an album is a 74 minute work of art that just happens to be separated into tracks. Songs are carefully ordered and coupled with interludes for a reason. I agree that for many artists, a RSS feed would be a great way to maintain popular interst but for others the album is a crucial artistic element.
Comment by Zach Weisman -
Erykah Badu has your idea right to the point….here is what she is doing for her next album….I copied and this from the messageboard okayplayer.com that she posted onto last night..
here is what she posted
im putting albulm out on feb. 26 on USB stick AND cd
NEW AMERYKAH pt 1 FOURTH WORLD WAR
-cd reg price
-usb stic 25-30 buks a pop
the content of USB will include :
.full albulm art work
.video comentary of new amerykah pts 1&2
BUT WAIT THERE\’S MORE…
and on the 26 of each month (march – dec.) ,
a song from NEW AMERYKAH pt 2 RETURN OF THE ANKH (10 songs)
will be uploaded unto the stick.
+ on 26th of each month, other bonus material along with each song
ie: erykah reveals secrets about how she really doesnt give a shit … and other treats .
ALL FOR THE LOW PRICE OF ONLY 29.99
(A 10 MILLION DOLLAR VALUE)
in july 08 , you can get part 2 RETURN OF THE ANKH,on cd- the entire albulm ,along with
\’THE FREAQ \’magazine issue #00.. as the cd\’s cover (holla)
mag will be the size of a wax poetic mag.
i\’ll release mag once every quarter spring equinox, summ soltice ..etc.
… keep in mind that the first issue serves as NApt 2\’s cover..
therefore the \”feature article\” and mag cover will focus on NA pts 1&2 content.
get it ?
Comment by Orly Rodriguez -
While I agree with your idea for some \”artists\” (fluff pop music) I disagree when it comes to real music. The stuff that has real merit. I suppose for meaningless pop music, your idea may work well though.
Comment by Music By Day -
I couldn\’t agree more. I do not buy CDs any longer. I download songs when I know I like them. I often download songs in themes (i.e. went on a binge last month and downloaded all the Rush songs I like off different albums). If I were an artist I would release a song at a time or a series of songs that went together or were written at the same time (similar to an album but could be less songs say two or three songs at a time).
Comment by John Travis -
Consumption, we\’re still looking at this as an ultimate form of consumption. We (the general public) are not consuming CD\’s as much as in years past. But we\’re consuming music in different ways digitally. Fantastic! We get the trend. Serialization will help as a conversion if nothing else, but the bigger picture is starting a transition that eliminates the album. It doesn\’t even have to start as a serialization. I consume music as it comes out via different portals all over the net (some legal, some not). This is where I get the base for my sound. What do I want to hear? What\’s coming out? Who\’s got the next hit? Where can I get it first? Singles are mass marketed and over-played as they grow with age. I work retail. I have piped in music streaming the latest hit videos on a two-hour loop only to get in my car and hear the same music on my radio station that I just left at the store. Maybe I do like one of the songs or I hear something I haven\’t heard before in a store or on the radio, why can\’t I buy it then and there? Click & Buy format from my in-dash car receiver with capability to transfer to my perferred mp3 player of choice when I have it available. Too busy concentrating on the road? Save the song to a basket and check out at the next red-light or in the drive-way. Same thing in a retail environment. I see people everyday coming in with iPods on … why not add in the Wi-Fi capability and the availbility to stream the same store\’s audio to my mp3 player. I like the song their playing. I buy it right there from my iPod. It\’s availability, pricing, consumption. Do I still buy CD\’s … sometimes. Am I usually disappointed … frequently. I can tell you now though, if I heard a song now and wnated the album, I wouldn\’t drive to my local Best Buy to pick up the CD. I\’d click straight to iTunes. I think it\’s a lack of unveiling new methods to kill the album all together that\’s the bigger problem. Transition …
Comment by Kieran -
I think the industry just has no understanding of the customer segments within the market. If they just took the time to focus on the different markets and looked at each one\’s preferred method then they wouldn\’t be struggling. Rather than trying to force people to do things with only one or two avenues.
music lovers that want albums should get albums people that like singles should get singles. its the difference between watching a tv show and a movie or a movie and a trilogy.. if they just took the time to divide artists by type rather than genre they\’d do alot better. you have your artists that make singles and want to make hit songs.. those guys should be selling the way they make music. you have artists that care alot about their work and want to craft the new novel version of music they should be able to take years to make their albums. if it\’s that good people will wait for it.. is the music industry a risk due to constantly changing tastes and a lack of understanding of how to appeal to consistent purchasing of course.. its like playing stocks with no leverage, but if you are betting you will make more positive than negative investments you can still do tremendously well..
Comment by nick -
and basically what your saying is cost effective risk reduction.. make the single at X cost rather than album at Y cost and if the customer will purchase x z% more than y you end up being more profitable.. the only reason artists put out whole albums now is so they have enough music to hold a concert and get paid.. yet the current conditions allow artists with less talent to make more money based on singles.. i guess its like walmarting the industry.. so to speak.. good for the business, bad for the art, yet sufficient for the customer.. id rather have an industry with a lower number of good quality artists who made lots of money.. but i don\’t see the industry allowing that change any time soon. they count their nickels and pennys too early and too often to make such a change in their business model. which would lead more to something like your saying… seems inevitable.. i can picture people in 2020: you mean you had to listen to a whole album of the same artist? how boring… you mean you played ten chapters of the same video game? that\’s tragic…
Comment by nick -
should have waited until my thoughts got together… rather than selling songs…. industries should acquire genres of music (have maybe 10+ artists) of a certain fanbase and offer a monthly/quarterly/yearly subscriptions where you can download any song you want. So you dont make money based on the song or the album sales but upon your artists base. people will download as much as they want and distribute to whoever. worst case just add a security detail to the file that counts/tracks the distribution… the final idea would need some thought but it\’s not improbable.. anyone in their right mind whos a fan of those artists would get the subscription.. only interesting thing ive seen recently was rawkus records attempt at loading like 200 songs on sale at once. problem was its too many artists and i didnt feel like spending the time to figure out if i liked the song.
Comment by nick -
I agree with you for the most part however I don\’t believe the album is dead. Reason being when an artist is driven to write a serious album reflective of the time it\’s a beautiful thing and has to be listened to from start to finish the way the artist intended in order to get the full experience of the work. Now there may be marketing reasons why albums don\’t sell the way they use to. Mainly in a market that is money driven singles are particularly what record labels have been looking for the past few decades which may be why sales are sluggish. The truth is it seems like main stream music just sound the same, and maybe the public is saying (we\’re not buying that). Seriously,
I can\’t recall in the past 5 to 10 years the last time I\’ve heard an album I really wanted to listen to from start to finish. So if you want to put a single or two on an album then sell two singles like an album, maybe it\’s best to just release two singles. Rather than piss off the public by selling inferior products. Unfortunately I blame record labels for pushing artist for singles rather than developing them to become better artist. I know you understand what I mean. It\’s like how you take a good basketball player and develop them into a Hall Of Fame player. When they come to the league they may only be a great 3 point shooter, but you put them in a position to become a great scorer and defender thus assuring them a place in Springfield. I think record labels have done the record industry and music lovers a disservice by over saturating the market with sound alike music, and that more than file sharing or anything else is why the music industry is in dire straights. I truly believe the public is hungry to BUY good albums at a reasonable price, to bad now a days they\’re hard to find.
Comment by Ringo D -
I agree, as an artist myself the rapid advances in digital music sales has been challenging. The way things were done in the past most people don\’t realize even major artist were only making 5 to 50 cent per album sale after paying back monies were paid back to labels for advances and production cost ect. Actually I\’d go a step further. Why not as an artist with digital distribution sell singles online at a rate of .50 cent a copy, granted listeners subscribe to that artist RSS feed then sell ad space? Of course incorporating biweekly releases the way you describe in this blog.
Comment by Simon Hood -
Another option is to offer songs for free, but interrupt them at the beginning, at 1/3, at 2/3, and at the end with commercials. Make money from advertisers! THIS would match the television serial model more exactly.
Comment by Pat -
Although I agree with you on some points, the death of the album, or something close to it, is not going to happen any time soon. For most artists, albums represent a complete book – a concept if you will – and most artists don\’t really like releasing singles. I believe the trend you will find going forward is that whether in digital format, or in CD format, artists will want to continue to release a grouping of songs.
This is also very apparent as the industry itself struggles and more and more artists find the power to do things on their own.
I also believe there is a market for collectible CDs, such as your purchase in 2006 of the company Disklive. It seems that people are readily willing to line up and pay premium prices for items they deem to be collectible or rarities. Of course this may not apply to the entire industry, but certainly could apply in the overall life or death of the CD format.
Another interesting aspect is that with the proliferation of Blu-Ray, these formats could be adapted obviously to hold entire catalogs of music – offering yet another medium for the artist to distribute his work.
The industry as a whole has been struggling to find a new revenue model. This is not going to be solved easily or overnight. What I believe ultimately will occur is that some type of subscription model will be adapted, perhaps allowing people to \”rent\” songs. However, there is the age-old desire to \”hold it in your hand\” and read the insert from cover to cover. People like to hold things. That\’s a natural instinct. It\’s pretty hard to hold digital files with the same passion as that first Aerosmith album.
Comment by Devon -
First, I agree with some of the others that, at its best, an album is a thematic collection of songs organized around a specific topic.
To pick a couple of obvious examples, what is \”The Wall\” or \”American Idiot\” if they are released serially? It just don\’t work, as they say.
Now, there are a lot of albums that aren\’t that way, where the songs could stand alone, and releasing them serially would work.
The other problem with releasing serially is that it\’s not really the way that bands tend to work. When they are touring, they don\’t have time (or, likely, energy) to produce songs that are ready to release, nor do they have access to the studio and engineer that they want to work with. Creating the songs to release is typically a concentrated effort between tours or other committments, and those efforts typically yield songs.
Now it is possible that may 3-4, and you might see releases in those chunks between shorter tours, but that might require reworking tours (to fit in new songs), which is also more work for the band and crew.
So, I wouldn\’t be surprised to see smaller chunks, but I don\’t think we\’ll see a ton of singles.
But, I\’m an old dude who has continued to buy CDs because of the DRM aspects of downloads. That may change, though I\’m likely to buy a whole album because I prefer to experience the whole album, and I often find songs that I like that aren\’t the popular ones.
I do think the subscription/notification model has merit for stuff that wouldn\’t make it onto a real album – live stuff from special shows, stuff that the band is just playing around with, interviews, etc.
Comment by Eric -
Saying that all artists should follow the \”song by song\” structure for releases is too simplistic. For a hip-hip flash in the pan like Flo Rida, sure. But there are many music lovers that appreciate a song in a larger the context; a setting where the flow of songs creates a mood and a track can take on a whole new meaning. It\’s the difference between watching a 24-minute sitcom and the movie \”There Will Be Blood\”. Let the \”artist of the week\” concept work for disposable pop, where the 3 minute song is all that matters. For more serious artists with something meaningful to say, the album (or an extended work — whatever you want to call it) is essential.
Comment by Dave -
Thank you for this post , i emailed you regarding this subject a while back, i love my industry, an its all i know, unfortunetly it is like armegeddon, these days, i may as well watch donny duetche, an figure how to make brownies into a lucrative buisness, just a normal middle class dude trying to make a living, BAD TIMING
Comment by Geno Imbriale -
I like the concept about a series of single releases as an alternative to the album. However brilliant, the idea is not unique. In December of 2005, Cordless Recordings was created by legendary music man Jac Holzman, who founded Elektra Records in the 50\’s. He recorded some of the biggest artists of the 60\’s and 70\’s, like The Doors, Jackson Browne, Carly Simon and Queen.
His new digital music group Cordless Recordings, (cordless.com) initially announced they would release groups of songs called clusters, sold only as a digital download, instead of the traditional full length album. They reasoned this would give the artist or band a lower risk but creative environment, while keeping costs low and providing a regular flow of music to fans.
I have also followed \”the obvious trend\” of buying just the tracks I like. A recent example is my purchase of 4 songs off the Raising Sand album. I like both artists, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, but I wasn\’t sure about their album together. So I bought 4 out of 13 tracks. I still call them tracks, because I grew up with the album concept, and it\’s something I\’m not letting go of easily.
I\’m also a musician and there is a certain \”creative process,\” but that can be applied to writing a song or crafting an album. Before CDs when the LP ruled the turntable, albums were lovingly crafted by artists. For example, Pink Floyd\’s Dark Side of the Moon, Traffic\’s Low Spark of High Heeled Boys and the Beatles Abbey Road. It seemed to last for a decade, from the late 60\’s to almost 1980, when the concept album and AOR (Album Oriented Radio) kept the album alive.
Yes I\’ll buy the album every time IF I love the artist. Otherwise, I\’ll buy the single (after an iTunes or
amazon.com sample.) So I conclude that the album is not dead. It is simply not a viable sale in today\’s music marketplace. The single and the video are way out in front with the buying public. The numbers from Billboard & iTunes confirm that.
If anything is dead by today\’s standards, it\’s the record labels. Just look at what\’s happening to EMI today.
Comment by Mike Withrow -
Your blog is very timely: As an artist manager, I have experienced first-hand the same challenges you mention with the drastic decline in album sales over the past several years. I believe there is still plenty of quality music being made, and that consumers\’ demand for music is as high as it\’s ever been. But we\’ve failed as an industry to offer more compelling ways for consumers to purchase music. I\’ve been part of an experiment that is not far off from what you\’re proposing, with an artist I manage named Ari Hest (http://www.arihest.com – he is also my younger brother).
Ari asked to be let out of his major label deal over the summer and started a new project called \”52,\” in which is he releasing 1 new, original song per week, every Monday in 2008, in a subscription model. We launched the project on January 7th and it\’s in its third week right now – it has been very successful thus far.
Ari is a very prolific and diverse songwriter who recently became proficient at producing his own music using little more than his apple laptop, garageband, logic, and a few microphones. Once he was free of his contract, Ari wanted to find an outlet to release a very diverse range of songs he\’d been writing. We decided to stop swinging for the fences and to start trying something different by super-serving his existing fanbase and giving them access to a huge amount of music at a better price, and by trying to create a community where the fans could comment on each song and vote on their favorites. With his recording costs reduced to next to nothing and no pressure from a record label to produce a single for radio, Ari was a little apprehensive about the volume of work he\’d have to produce, but very excited about this new approach.
The model we came up with is simple: we chose 3 price points — $20, $35, and $75 — with each subscription level, fans get a login id to his website and bonus content, swag, concert tickets, live tracks, etc for the higher-end levels. We\’re offering the music in three quality levels: 128Kbps mp3, higher quality 320Kbps mp3, and lossless .flac. All of the digital files are DRM-free. Each week, Ari writes a blog about his inspiration for the song, liner notes for who plays each instrument (he plays almost all of them, with a few exceptions) and the song\’s lyrics. We send an email on Monday mornings letting subscribers know they can log in and get the new track. At the end of the year, subscribers will vote for their favorite tracks, which he\’ll either re-record in a bigger studio or take \”as-is\” for a CD that will be released in traditional retail stores independently.
We\’re also offering the option of buying each song \”a la carte\” through his website (and eventually iTunes – it takes iTunes a few weeks to put music up there) for $1 each, but more people have subscribed to 52 than we anticipated so far, and what we\’ve found is that almost half of the subscribers have opted for the more expensive plans. As lifelong music fans, Ari and I both feel there is certainly something to be said for an album of songs being \”a complete thought\” from the artist. We grew up listening to music in this way, and he\’s spent his career to this point playing by the same rules. But all you need to do is read some of the comments posted on Ari\’s website to see how much his fans are enjoying the experience of receiving new music each week. We\’ve received tons more emails from subscribers saying the same thing.
Money was scarce, so I actually built the website myself. While Ari got to work writing and recording in November and December, I toiled away the subscription site, reading books on a free, open source content management system, and teaching myself how to build a it – in all, I spent $400 (and a good amount of time) building the site, including 2 years of web hosting.
This is certainly not on the same scale as a Radiohead, but the point is that it doesn\’t have to be in order for an artist like Ari to make a good living doing what he loves to do. We have almost 400 subscribers in just over 3 weeks, and now that we\’ve built the site and Ari will also begin touring again, it will continue to grow steadily. Just like his major label was not a great fit for Ari, this solution is not the right fit for many artists (it wouldn\’t work right now for some of the artists on our management roster). But for someone who writes songs often, has a grassroots fan base built up by several years of touring, and is frustrated by the traditional broken model, it\’s an attractive alternative.
I invite any feedback about the model and encourage any suggestions for improving upon what we\’ve built so far – it\’s a work in progress.
– Danny Hest
Comment by Danny Hest -
Not sure if this is exactly on topic but certainly related. When is the first price change going to come for a downloaded single. I guess some could argue that the first change was from free (Napster etc.) to 99 cents. What I\’m getting at is that I don\’t see itunes bumping the price to $1.29 per single. I just presume(perhaps wrongly) that the price will jump to $1.99.
So my questions to you very knowledgeable people are:
1. When is the price going to change?
2. What will be the price of a single when it changes?
3. If the price changes to $1.99 in the next five years will you still buy at the same rate (because hey…its only 99 cents) or be ticked and greatly reduce your purchases. (because those greedy suits doubled the price)
Comment by Andre -
There are some really great points being made on both sides of the discussion here. As an independent band we\’re always looking at various models for releasing our music. We\’re currently recording songs for an album that we are planning to release in 2008. However, we record and complete songs one at a time and move on to the next one. Gives us a feeling of accomplishment. We\’ve recently made these songs available on the Podsafe Music Network for podcasters to play as a way to get them out before the album. So the idea of the serial single is worth considering for us. We\’re kind of already set up in our work flow to do it. I do believe in the album concept though. A collection of songs for a given period in your timeline as an artist. The traditional model has been to record an album and then hit the road to support it performing everywhere you can for a period of time. There is the creative/recording hat we wear and then the performing/promoting hat. Sometimes it\’s easier to compartmentalize these roles. It will be interesting to see what recording artists decide to do in the coming months/years. The nice thing about being independent though is that we can try things out and experiment. I\’m sure we will go for the singles model at some point to see how it goes…
Comment by Olio -
I haven\’t bought a single single in my whole life but plenty of albums. Mostly the songs played on the radio or on TV are not the best songs of an album. In addition, as many have said before, an album is not just a collection of songs.
Maybe there are some \”artists\” who become popular due to one ringtone and so are able to sell their bundle of rubbish, but as I normally don\’t listen to ringtone music, the albums I buy are normally quite good – and they have cover arts and the lyrics. It\’s true, I don\’t use the CDs very often (I nearly only listen music via the computer or ipod), but I can not imagine to spend money for music \”seasons\”.
Comment by Dominik -
Ari Hest http://www.arihest.com is an artist doing this right now… Releasing a new track every week for 52 weeks. Awesome!
Comment by Scott -
While a lot of artists care about their listening public – a majority will also say, \”The music is something I cared about personally, or it was something I felt needed to be created.\” Every issue I read of Rolling Stone (I\’ve been a subscriber since 1971) also reports dismal sales numbers. Mark your idea of serialization has merit. Even the somewhat negative you expresssed of how the artists might have to change their creative process. I do not think however, they would have to change all that much. Artists create songs for the \”so called\” albums (I admit I am a fan of albums; cover art, liner notes, who played, colaborated, etc. as well aa the thematic element – Green Day American Idiot a recent example of theme)one at a time then put the collection of them together in a package. Just think of how eager one might have been to hear the next installment of \”Saint Jimmy.\”
Comment by benn dunn -
marts – \”People who love music love the music world; people who love
songs love the music industry. There is a vast difference between the two.\”
I couldnt disagree with you more. I have been a music lover since I was a child. Growing up I did not go more than a week without getting a new album whether it was vinyl, a copy of a cassette from a friend, or eventually cds. I have been a DJ for the last 10 years professionally, and am more than ever, even with the internet, consuming more music and video than ever before. Albums have had their time and place, but singles stand on their own too. I am a reggae dj but I listen to every channel on the radio dial from country to r&b to gospel. If I find a good song that I want to own and support I will usually start in ITMS but then search wherever else has it available.
Personally I think that this is going to change what level of production is needed to \’put a song out\’. If an artist has a following, who love what they write and produce, artists no longer need to make their music overproduced to reach a mass market. Combine this with the fact the most professional and technical competent artists and producers can now produce great sounds for a fraction of the cost and time, and I think that this is the most exciting time ever in the music world.
I watch movies On Demand all the time, and really wish I could watch my individual shows as a season subscription (like ITMS, but until they get Survivorman and Kitchen Nightmares I am stuck with cable) and not pay for a monthly bill. I think this model is a great one for the music business to follow. It also won\’t take long for a few artists to start doing this and making a ton of money for everyone else to follow suit!
As it has been said there are a ton of ways to make money from the music biz. I highly recommend as a follow up, reading Seth Godin\’s blog with some ideas on this very topic! http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2008/01/music-lessons.html
I think this translated to music is perfect. I also
Comment by phil -
As someone who\’s written serialized fiction in the past, it\’s a good idea.
You mentioned that maybe that\’s not how the creative process works. Honey, if you\’re a pro and you\’re on contract and getting paid, you pull up the darned creative process when you need it.
I wrote four serials in four genres under two names for two years, two episodes a week, at 1K at least per episode. That\’s 8K a week. The way I did it was to write a month\’s worth of episodes on a single serial each week — week 1 is the Western, write 8 episodes; week 2 is the occult, write 8 episodes, etc., etc. With proper planning, you stay ahead of the deadlines.
However, as a listener, I like entire albums/CDs. Of course, I still have all my old vinyl.
I have an MP3 player, and while I enjoy listening to a mix when I travel, when I write, I need long periods of time on a single type of music, usually as instrumental only.
Would I buy a weekly release? Maybe. But then I\’d save it up and play the whole sequence.
Comment by Devon Ellington -
I came across your blog due to a search I was conducting on the \”Business of Podcasting\”. Ironically I set up an office in Nashville to test a business model targeting \”B\” level artists (opening acts). My value proposition is to help artists establish their brand and drive some level of sustainable revenue by thinking outside the box and trying an experiential marketing approach to marketing their brand and music.
One of my crazy notions was to not only release singles in some pre-defined schedule, but give them away free. With all the money being spent on digital advertising (just look at the money brands are throwing at MySpace and Facebook) why wouldn\’t a recognized artist get a sponsor or two to pay the consumers bill for downloading the music in return for promotional consideration. All parties involved win under this scenario.
Not only is the album dead, so is artist development. And for those of us who are really listening to the music, well, someone at the record label better replace the template soon. Not to say there haven\’t been some great releases over the last year, but it primarily has to due with the control both the artist and their producer(s) had on the end product.
I can\’t help but to recognize WalMart and Target for at least trying to keep the album alive. Their exclusive artist distribution deals are driving customers into their stores, but is it the album that they\’re really trying to sell? Unfortunately, the state of consumerism as it relates to music will drive the album over the same cliff that killed the dinosaurs.
There are over 100 million iPods in use throughout the world and growing. People for the most part want to download songs \”singles\”. The playlist has become the new \”customized\” album and that\’s not going to change anytime soon. So if you\’re a recording artist take note- Mark Cuban\’s business instincts are right again.
Comment by Robert Land -
Mark – Digital does change the economics of music distribution…but not music promotion. An artist only gets a window every ten months or so to let the world know what he\’s up to. Releasing digital singles on a monthly basis (the idea occurred to me too) wouldn\’t get and keep the market\’s attention.
Imagine if you couldn\’t sell season tickets for the Mavs. Then imagine the NBA stretched the schedule over twelve months…up against baseball, football AND hockey. It would shoot the crap out of the bizmodel. That\’s where the labels are now. What you\’re suggesting would be as if there\’d be no fixed schedule. Next Tuesday\’s game could be against the Celtics or against the Clippers. Or it might be on Monday. That doesn\’t sound so great for NBA teams does it?
Not saying there\’s something better out there for new music. Dunno. For sure no one wants to be in the situation where the labels are today.
Comment by Drew Robertson -
Ask anyone who has worked on commercial albums a lot of them are were 2 hit singles and a bunch of filler. However there are other Albums where they are a meant to be played together, to work together.
However from a marketing aspect. I agree that there are certain things that we do in the Internet Marketing world that musicians can and should take advantage of. I have had several conversations with musicians and to be honest the conversation is difficult lol. So I await a smart music project that is willing to pay attention to a unique model that will get them traffic and sales. Oh well…
Comment by David Kamatoy -
Mark, may I introduce you to my sound.
I offer singles via a great service called Sno Cap. Actually, it exists right on my Myspace page..
by all means, feel free to reach out to me if you like my sound as I\’ve got other tracks to share.
Comment by jono -
January 20th, 2008
by Simon Napier-Bell
The lobby of the Sony building in New York is 70-foot high and heavy with music business ambiance – gold records, photographs and the Sony Shop of New Technology. Upstairs, the main reception area is like the lounge of an exclusive club. Young people, dreaming of stardom, stand in wonder breathing in the atmosphere, looking at memorabilia – platinum CDs, photos of stars, framed press reports, Billboard charts. For an aspiring artist or manager, just to step into the building is a thrill. The impression is of a corporation dedicated to the success of its artists, almost altruistic in its understanding of their needs.
Yet its nothing but a flytrap. Aspiring artists go there dreaming of being signed. But for every ten artists signed nine will fail. And its always been like that.
A contract with a major record company was always a ninety per cent guarantee of failure. In the boardroom the talk was never of music, only of units sold. Artists were never the product; the product was CDs – ten cents worth of vinyl selling for ten dollars ten thousand per cent profit the highest mark-up in all of retail marketing. Artists were simply an ingredient, without even the basic rights of employees.
Imagine the outcry if people working in a factory were told that the cost of the products they were making would be deducted from their wages, which anyway would only be paid if the company managed to sell the products. Or that they would have to work for the company for a minimum of ten years and at the companys discretion could be transferred to any other company at any time.
Recently, the Wall Street Journal investigated the industry and concluded, For all the twenty-first century glitz that surrounds it, the popular music business is distinctly medieval in character: the last form of indentured servitude.
As long as the major record companies controlled the music industry, artists had to accept these conditions. But the majors grip on things has almost gone. For years they saw it coming but did little to change things. Now each week brings them more gloom. CD sales are down on last year, which were down on the year before, which were down on the year before that. Sony and BMG amalgamated, but bought themselves little benefit in doing so. EMI and Warners tried to go the same route, but failed. So EMI got taken over by someone with no knowledge of the record business. He promised to increase sales but immediately dropped the companys best-selling artist. Amongst company employees theres little confidence he did the right thing.
But outside of the industry, who cares? Pop music has never sounded better or more vibrant, never been more easily available to the listener. The only people who are suffering are the people who bought it on themselves. The major record companies.
In 1966 I came into a business that was alive with excitement and optimism. I was one of a select group – the young managers, like Brian Epstein, Andrew Loog Oldham and Kit Lambert – whod taken over the UKs new pop groups – the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Kinks, the Yardbirds, the Animals. We young managers were on fire. We hustled, and we were free. We werent in any way associated; we werent even friends, yet we knew each other from hanging out at the Ad Lib club or the Scotch of St James. Despite enormous differences between us, we found one thing in common. We all saw our principal job as going to war with the record company.
The first record company I ever went to was Decca in London in 1964. It was a six-storey building on the South Bank of the river at Lambeth. The inside was painted in the same colour olive green as government buildings like the labour exchange or the tax office. With a gruff commissioner on the door, it was pure bureaucracy, the civil service of the music industry. During the 2nd world war, Decca developed radar for the army. From the profits, its stuffy owner, Sir Edward Lewis, indulged his enthusiasm for recording classical music. For him, pop music was a necessary sideline, nothing to be too proud of.
At Decca they didnt like young people. I was 25, but I managed to talk my way into seeing someone in A&R, a small mean-minded man who sat picking his nose while I played my record. It was a group I wanted to manage and Id paid for them to make the record. The man was a pedant; a killjoy. Its dreadful! he exclaimed. The songs not memorable and the musicians dont catch the beat. Then, surprisingly, he agreed a deal. It was a very small one, but I was delighted – my first step into the music business. But if the record was as bad as hed said it was, why did he give me a deal? And if it wasnt that bad, why had he said it was?
I left the building thinking, What a wanker! And its been difficult to think of A&R people in any other way since.
At that time Britain had four major record companies Decca, EMI, Pye and Philips.
These last two were off-shoots of corporations that produced electronic hardware for home and industry. EMI, like Decca, manufactured high-technology equipment for the government, mainly for hospitals brain scanners and the like. None of these companies had been set up first and foremost for music; they made records for extra profit. It was a wonderful trick theyd learnt. They bought vinyl cheaply; added a label, a song and a sleeve and sold it expensively.
When I took over the management of the Yardbirds in 1964 I had to deal with EMI. By 1961, it had already become the biggest record company in the world, and that was before they signed the Beatles. There was an air of pomposity about the place. Artists were from the wrong class – they tended to cause problems. EMI preferred to deal with managers, especially if they were middle-class and public school. The people in the business affairs department were extraordinarily pissed off when I told them I considered their contract with the Yardbirds to be invalid. They doubted I was right, but were too scared to challenge me in case they lost the group altogether, so they agreed to negotiate a new deal. In order to bypass the companys A&R department, I insisted the Yardbirds should produce their own records. I demanded the biggest advance theyd ever paid and the highest royalty – 25,000 and 12% of retail – and they gave it to me. If this was my entrance exam into management, I thought Id passed with flying colours. I soon learned Id failed.
EMI had simply advanced the Yardbirds their own royalties and included a host of tricky accounting clauses, for instance the artist was only paid on 90% of records sold (a hangover form the days of 78s, when records broke easily), and were not paid on over-pressings, although these were usually sold anyway. I asked the groups lawyer why hed let these things pass. If I told my clients not to sign unfair contracts theyd never get a deal.
Never mind! Id learned the first golden rule of management – record companies are not to be trusted.
Management is a wildly up and down occupation. Sometimes – if youre standing at the top of a stadium looking down on a hundred thousand people stomping and cheering at your artist, or popping another bundle of cheques into your bank account, or being hailed as the Svengali behind the new icon of youth culture it feels good. Like standing at the back of the hall in Gaungdong during Wham!s trip to China with the group being cheered back onstage for encore after encore after encore. But at other times – when your nitwit rock-star, out-of-his-head on drugs or drink or self-admiration, tells you to cancel the gig with a stadium full of expectant people waiting for the first chord, or wakes you in the middle of the night with a call from Sydney to say he cant go on stage because he has no clean socks (as the lead singer of the Yardbirds once did) – it feels less so.
In the end, though, the artist and the manager have one great bond in common, to fight their common enemy, the record company.
the contract with EMI sorted out, I decided to visit our American record company. In 1966 the US market was dominated by CBS and RCA, both of whom had the same civil-service atmosphere as EMI and Decca. Their principal business was broadcasting and they held government licenses which required them to keep high moral standards. The other major American companies were Capitol, which had been bought by EMI, and MCA, which had bought the American office of Decca. (Warners was still considered a minor off-shoot of a movie studio.)
The Yardbirds were with CBS whose New York headquarters was known as Black Rock – a gaunt, black-bricked, black-glassed, skyscraper. Its lobby was as austere as a high security prison and I was accompanied to the elevator by a guard. I was meant to be seeing Len Levy, the head of the Epic label but the company really didnt want me there. They had the rights to the record, they were going to release it, theyd decided on the budget and they didnt want the manager turning up demanding things.
The Yardbirds manager is here. Aw Jesus, is he? Well Lens out at the moment. Ask Ernie if hell have a talk with him. That should do the trick.
So I saw Ernie Altschuler, one of their old time staff producers. He knew nothing about rock and roll or British pop or Swinging London; he produced Tony Bennett and Ray Conniff. But he was a charmer and we became immediate friends.
Ernie was twenty years older than me and wildly disillusioned with things. Ive made CBS more hits than any other producer but Ive never been paid a royalty or a bonus. They see me the same way they see the artists just part of the process.
I wasnt ready to believe such doleful news. I was excited, I was in the USA, I was managing a top band. America felt good. This was the real record industry the corrupt, tough, no holds barred, American record industry – NOT the whingeing, always-changing-their-mind, record industry we suffered in the UK.
Nevertheless, I was totally in their hands. Here there were six thousand radio stations. Four thousand of them were said to have playlists under mafia control. To promote my groups record would require cocaine and sex and suitcases full of cash. I hadnt chosen to be with this company, that had been done by EMI. In America I had just one job to persuade CBS the Yardbirds were worth promoting. But since that was already decided there wasnt much left to do. So I went and had tea with Ahmet Ertegun.
Since the mid-50s, a lot of small record companies had been growing up. The people who owned them also ran them. They gave a more personal service than the majors, made the artist feel cared for. The royalties were no more and the profit margins no less but there was a feeling of compromise between commerce and art. Four of them dealt only with black artists – Motown, King, Chess and Atlantic.
Atlantic was owned by Ahmet and Neshui Ertegun – sophisticated, jazz-loving, multi-lingual Turks. With a view to discovering more about the explosion of music coming out of London, Ahmet invited me for afternoon tea and muffins. Id only been there five minutes when the door opened and Joe Tex, one of the biggest black recording artists in America, stuck his head in. Ahmet, man, I was just wondering if you could loan me ten bucks.
You want ten bucks, Ahmet told him. Go downstairs to the studio, find a backing track you like and put your voice on it.
An hour later we were still there when Joe came back. Ahmet buzzed the studio and asked the engineer if Joe had done a good vocal. Then he doled him out ten dollars and offered him a cup of tea.
When Ahmet left the room for a minute I asked Joe how much royalties he got. He wasnt sure he got royalties at all. I dont know exactly how it works, he confessed, but Ahmet and Neshui are like brothers. Whenever Im in New York I gotta place I can hang out. And I always come away with a few bucks.
Ahmet and Neshui, by the way, were making themselves very rich.
Owners of other small companies were getting rich less pleasantly. For a while I was producing records with Ray Singer and we went together to see Roulette, rumoured to be connected with the mafia. People told us not to, but what the hell, we wanted all the work we could get and dealing with the mafia sounded fun. We arrived early and were shown to a waiting-room. Only when Ray wanted a pee did we notice there were no handles on the inside of the doors. He held it.
We were taken to meet the boss Morris Levy as famous as any of the heads of the majors, a Jewish record company executive with lots of Italian friends. His office was long with his desk at one end on a dais. We arrived before hed finished with his last guest and Morris was standing mid-office. His hands were round the collar of a slightly-built black guy, lifting him off the floor, shaking him furiously. You fucking black cocksucker. You promised to make me a hit record and you screwed up.
The little black guy was shuddering from top to toe of his shaken body. Then we recognized him.
It was Micky Stevenson for Gods sake!! One of the top black producers in the world. Hed written Dancing On The Street for Martha and the Vandellas and What Became of the Broken-hearted for Smokey Robinson. Now he was being shaken to death.
When Morris realised wed come into the room he let go of Mickey who fell to the floor like an empty sack. While Morris motioned us to chairs by his desk Mickey crawled to the door and fled.
So you want to make some records for me? Morris boomed.
Ray and I eyed each other awkwardly. What wed seen seemed accurately to portray how the American music business dealt with people who failed.
Extraordinarily, Morris Levy was hugely loved in the music industry. In 1973, when he was voted Man of the Year by the United Jewish Appeal, the entire hierarchy of the music industry turned out to his celebration party. Morris loved to play the mafia chief he behaved the way all the other executives wished they were able to behave. Whenever artists asked Morris about royalties, he yelled at them, Royalties? Try Buckingham Palace.
Other small companies popped up all over the place. In the UK, there was Island Records, owned by Chris Blackwell, a white West Indian who spoke Oxford English and Jamaican patois with equal panache.
Charisma Records was owned by Tony Stratton-Smith who was much loved by his artists despite a lifestyle that revolved around fine wine, race horses and rent boys.
In California, trumpet player Herb Alpert started A&M Records which zoomed to success with the Carpenters and Carole King.
Jac Holzman started Elektra records specifically to sign non-mainstream artists like the Doors and Judy Collins. Like all the other owners of small record companies, he liked rock stars for what they were – self-obsessed and irrational. When he signed the group Love, he gave them a $5000 dollar advance ($100,000 in todays money). There were five of them, all living together in a single hotel room and they needed transport to get them to gigs with their equipment. They took his money and went to buy something suitable. An hour later they came back with a gull-winged Mercedes capable of taking two. Jac shrugged and shelled out for a van. At a major no-one would have done that.
Whenever a rock singer experienced success, the ambition lobe in his brain seemed to develop a permanent, painful erection. Small companies understood how to deal with this, the majors hadnt a clue. Seeking to solve this problem, CBS appointed a charismatic figure to head of the company, Clive Davis, a charming young lawyer. Clive camped it up, put on love beads and a hippy Nehru jacket and signed Scott McKenzie, Donovan, Laura Nyro and Blood Sweat and Tears. CBSs market share suddenly shot up.
Warners were now close on their heels. Steve Ross, whod made money from car parking and hobnobbing with the mob, headed an investment group which bought the company out for 50 million dollars. Free of all controls, and with no worries abou
t radio licences, the new company could go hell for leather for profit and forget about the niceties. To run it, Steve Ross found a guy called Mo Ostin who had a talent for picking off-the-wall artists and standing by them the Kinks, Jimi HendriX, Frank Zappa.
Steve Ross also took Warners on a buying spree and snapped up the best two small companies together with their owners; Elektra, with Jac Holzman, and Atlantic, with Ahmet Ertegun. Suddenly stuffy old Warners had become WEA.
At that time I was producing a lot of records for RCA. They too were trying the friendly president approach but couldnt get it right. Each time I visited them there was a new face at the top. Each new person signed new artists and stopped promoting the artists his predecessor had signed. Eventually RCA had over a 100 artists who were not achieving chart success so they had to hire yet another new president especially to fire them all. Still, they had the Elvis back catalogue to keep the cash-flow going.
By the mid-70s, in both the UK and the USA, there were six major companies RCA, MCA, CBS, WEA, EMI, and Polygram (which was an amalgamation of Philips and the German company Polydor, with the addition of Decca and Charisma). In the UK, there were three new small companies – Chrysalis, Zomba, and Virgin who had signed my group Japan. After four years Japan had finally broken in the UK so I decided to head for the States. Virgin had licensed America to CBS, who by now had fired their charismatic president Clive Davis in the wake of a payola scandal. The company was being run by two lawyers Walter Yetnikoff and Dick Katz. I liked Walter but fell into the half of the company run by Dick Katz – a very dull man indeed.
I finally got a meeting with him but had no sooner arrived in his office than the buzzer sounded and his secretary\’s voice said: \”Bob Dylan on line one.\”
\”Can I call him back?\” Dick asked.
\”No. He says he wants to talk to you now.\”
Dick was about to have a conversation he didn\’t want. Eighteen months previously there had been publicity about Jewish-born Dylan becoming a born-again Christian. Hed made a couple of albums full of evangelical zeal but theyd bombed. Now his contract had come up for renewal. Dick especially didnt want to have this conversation in front of me. He took the call anyway.
To begin with it wasnt too interesting but then Dick suddenly yelled down the phone, Ive told you Bob no fucking religion! If you cant agree to that, the deals off
Bob was arguing the point but Dick was having none of it. \”Look, I\’m telling you. There\’ll be no fucking religion – not Christian, not Jewish, not Moslem. Nothing. For God\’s sake man – you were born Jewish, which makes your religion money doesn\’t it? So stick with it for Christ\’s sake. I\’m giving you twenty million bucks – it\’s like baptising you, like sending you to heaven. So what are you fucking moaning about? You want twenty million bucks from us? Well you gotta do what we tell you. And what we\’re telling you is… No Torah! No Bible! No Koran! No Jesus! No God! No Allah! NO FUCKING RELIGION. Its going in the contract.\”
As a devout atheist, I could hardly object, though it seemed tough that a contract should include such specific artistic restrictions. When we finally got back to the subject of my group Dick had rather lost interest. He eventually agreed to release one album. There were three to choose from, each a cohesive musical whole, but he wanted bits from each of them. It was like introducing a new film director with a composite of three of his movies – the album wouldnt have a chance. And to make sure it didnt CBS gave it no promotion. That way, Dick was able to tell me, You see, I was right. Theres no market for a group like yours in the States.
A year later I was back with Wham!. By now Walter Yetnikoff had seen off Dick Katz and taken the whole thing over for himself. He took artist friendliness to new levels. In his book Howling At The Moon, he describes his fifteen years at the top of the company. He was there, he explained, for the artists. He relates tales of sex and drugs spanning his entire period and how, as president, he hung out with his stars. Yet from beginning to end of the book, he only talks about seven artists with whom he spent time – Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger, Barbara Streisland, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, and Labelle (and the latter only cos he was screwing one of the singers).
During that fifteen-year period perhaps seven hundred artists would sign to CBS, only ten per cent of whom would have hits. Six hundred and fifty others would see CBS as the dead-end that killed their career as a recording artist. Yet Walter saw himself as the man who nurtured artists seven of them. In a greater or lesser way, that had been the ratio of care meted out to the recording artists by the major record companies since the beginning of time. Even so, the desire to get into the pop business was as great as ever.
People are so anxious to record, they\’ll sign anything said singer Tom Waites, like going across the river on the back of an alligator.\”
They flocked to the majors asking for a chance. The failure rate was still the same. Count the names of every artist who appeared in the Top 100 from 1980 to 1990 1000 perhaps? Multiply by nine and thats the number who signed to majors and were never heard of again.
By the mid 80s, WEA was as big as CBS, and Polygram wasnt far behind. But as companies got bigger, everything grew more corporate and less personal. Ron Weisner, who managed both Madonna and Michel Jackson, told me, The biggest frustration is always dealing with the record company – cajoling them, bullying them, charming them, threatening them. Theyre totally insensitive to the artist or his well-being.
At BMG, a company newly arrived from Munich, the insensitivity extended to their employees too. The company had burst on the scene when it acquired RCA. Now, in the newly taken-over building on 6th Avenue, German became the language spoken on the executive floor And in the canteen, lunch had changed from hamburgers to Sauerklopse mit Kartofflen.
Polygram got in on the act too. They bought up every small company left to buy. But they were no more subtle in dealing with American employees. At the annual conference the new German MD started his speech by saying, The first time I saw America was through the periscope of a German U-boat
In the UK, Chrysalis, Zomba and Virgin had grown fast and were opening offices in the States. At Virgin they were trying to boost income, waiting for someone to buy them, using age-old accounting tricks. On one occasion I noticed the royalty statements for Japan had arrived with the artists royalty less than it should be. It was because the company had first deducted the producers royalty of 4%. Lower down on the statement it stated the producers royalty as 4% and deducted it a second time. A call to the accounts office soon set things right but when the next statement came it was calculated in exactly the same way. A quick call round other managers established it was the same on their statements too.
Never mind, the company was soon hoovered up by EMI, as was Chrysalis. Meanwhile, Polygram grabbed A&M and BMG took Zomba. The majors were now being run by financial people. Dinosaurs that are too big for their boots, complained Rolling Stone Keith Richards. Accountants may be good at adding figures but they know nothing about music.
Ed Bicknell, manager of Dire Straits, said that dealing with Polygram altered his whole personality. You sometimes do things you wouldnt do to a mate. I had no compunction in screwing a corporation. I got through sixteen or seventeen managing directors theyre incredibly inefficient and absolutely hopeless to deal with it was a farcial way to run a business.
Ahmet Ertegun was still at WEA, but hating every minute of it. they kept putting up people to run it who were non-music people they would never take somebody from the cable division and le
t them run the movie division but they would take anybody and let them run the music there was no leadership from the top it was everybody fighting everybody else
In 1993, WEAs biggest artist, Prince, found it so frustrating he refused to record for them again even though he was still under contract. A couple of year later George Michael attempted to terminate his contract with Sony, who had now purchased CBS.
It was rumoured what had triggered George was hearing the companys new president, Tommy Mottola, referring to him as a limey fag. If a Sony employee were referred to in the same way the company would probably end up in court and be fined. But an artist was not an employee, he was just an ingredient. Under advice from his lawyers George didnt sue over this but instead claimed his contract was invalid. It didnt win him his case but it told people a great many things they hadnt previously known about the record business….
Artists had to pay their own recording costs yet record companies ended up owning the records. The bank still owns the house after the mortgage is paid, is how Senator Orrin Hatch described it. Could we imagine film stars having to pay the costs of the movies they starred in and then giving the rights in the movie to the company that distributed it?
Artists also had to pay a packaging deduction of around 15%. This, despite the fact that packaging rarely cost more than 5%. The remaining 10% was enough to pay the record companys entire cost of manufacturing the record.
All in all it meant an artist who sold 200,000 copies of a first album would still owe the record company although the record company had made a profit of a million.
But the worst thing about being signed to a major was that you lost the freedom to run your own life. It put you totally out-of-control of your own career. And though top artists could sometimes re-negotiate an unfair contract, it soon became clear that in the music business you didnt get out of an unfair record contract to get into a fair one, you get out of an unfair contract to get into another unfair one, but with slightly better terms.
Irving Azoff ran MCA Records for ten years. Talking about time-honoured accounting traditions in the record business he tells of a music-business auditor who did 3,000 audits on record companies. in 2,998 of them the artist was underpaid.
Everyone had the same story.
\”Systematic thievery\” said the Dixie Chicks in their writ against Sony.
Intentionally fraudulent, claimed U.S. music lawyer Don Engel.
Makes Enron look like amateur hour,\” wrote music journalist Dave Marsh.
Azoff changed sides. He decided to head the American Artists Association and sue all the major record companies on behalf of its artists – from Led Zepelin to Elton to the Eagles to Sheryl Crow. But he was pessimistic about their winning much; the majors were going under too fast.
The big boys swooped in and bought all the great, historic, artist-friendly, independent labels A&M, Geffen, Interscope, Island, Chrysalis The multinationals rationalized these purchases based on growing cash flows that dont exist anymore. Now they are busy trying to defend failed business plans.
So what have the major record companies done to try and solve the mess they bought into?
Firstly they chose to attack their own customers by suing people who downloaded files from Napster. Then Sony amalgamated with BMG and everyone enjoyed the show as top executives fought with each other over who should be made redundant. The joint company has seen no improvement in sales but had a disastrous set back when it attempted do stop the copying of records by secretly putting a code into CDs which had the unintended effect of making peoples computers more vulnerable to viruses.
EMI and Warners tried to amalgamate but were stopped by the EEC monopolies law. Warners is floundering, not breaking new artists, not succeeding with old. EMI is being run by Guy Hands, a man with no music business experience, which is exactly the downward route the majors all took in America during the nineties. He seems to have a penchant for upsetting artists and let Radiohead leave the company. They then made more money releasing a new album themselves through the internet than they could ever have made releasing it in the conventional way with EMI.
Meanwhile, two of Britains recent big successes, Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand, broke by signing to an independent company, Domino, famous for being run on a shoestring and giving its artists fairer deals. Forced to finally accept downloads into the singles charts, the majors watched as Arctic Monkeys got eighteen of their songs into the Top 200. Once, that would have given a major half-a-million opportunities to sell a pennys worth of vinyl for a pound.
At Domino the deals with artists are more like partnerships and other independent companies are following suit. But the problem with signing to any record company is what might happen if they sell out to a major.
Its clear. The majors should become music companies. They should find new artists, develop them, promote them and participate in all aspects of their earnings. The artist, rather than the record, should be the product. Artists should be developed for longevity, not for quick profit.
Universal, Sony and EMI all claim to be heading in that direction, but the problem is, nobody believes them. They still sign contracts of crushing length complete with the traditional clauses that allow them to avoid paying correct royalties. As always, the biggest problem with signing to a record company is the bottomless pit of commitment. When your record flops, how do you extricate yourself? And with new contracts often being for nothing more than a couple of songs available on download, the majors get you tied up for a bargain price. So what do you get back?
In the UK a downloaded single is 79p. Of that 40% goes to the record company and 10% to the artist. Its the same old scam. A group signs to make two singles and gets an advance to pay for its recording costs. If the single is a hit with 200,000 downloads the group will still be in debt to the record company. But the record company will have made 100,000.
For fifty years the major record companies have set the tone of the music business. Their stranglehold on it has been the stranglehold of corporate deception. Theyve thought of themselves as guardians of the music industry, in fact theyve been its bouncers. Getting into the club used to be highly desirable. Now it doesnt matter anymore.
For artists and their managers this is the moment to take things into their own hands. Money can be raised and recordings made for release on the internet. Artists no longer need to be held for ten years and they no longer need to sign away ownership of their recorded copyrights. These days, an artist working closely with his manager can ensure that everything is done in the artists best interest.
Major record companies have never done that. And never will.
Comment by MC -
The radio and recording industries worked in concert for years to deprive consumers of relevant music…on the airwaves and in stores. Consultant programmed, mass appeal radio stations in the 80\’s and 90\’s demanded hits to drive their formats. Record labels signed crappy, one hit wonders to feed corporate stations. Real, vital artists were deprived of the platforms to expose their music.
Meanwhile, CD\’s hit the market and record companies gouged consumers with outrageous prices for re-issues and formula mainstream drivel with little worthwhile content, let alone enough quality music to make 10 tracks per release.
Consumers knew they were being ripped off on all fronts…so they rebelled by sharing music files and by staying out of the corporate chain stores which sold the same garbage being shot out over the airwaves.
Ignored by radio programmers and recording industry tin ears in the 20 years of consumption evolution…is the fact that consumers know good music when they hear it…and readily identify the crap when they hear that as well. Few bands, even the best, rarely fill a CD or digital album with wall to wall creative quality….ever. For years, the record album/CD existed only as the vessel to ship the 1 or 2 hits on it.
The album format has been dead for years. Record labels have finally figured this out…but it\’s too late for them. Online music stores finally give buyers the opportunity they\’ve always wanted; selection. Access to all kinds of music…and only the music they want.
Comment by Ron -
You\’re probably right from a consumer\’s point of view, Mark, but this argument ignores the economics of producing music. Unless every artist wants to spend all their time at home recording, it\’s more efficient to record songs in collections (which is what \”album\” actually means) and release them like that. It\’s also more efficient for iTunes, etc to process the songs in bundles. There\’s a process of song selection, refinement and interaction that bands need and that works best in short, intense bursts in a studio environment. Call them what you like, but producing music in batches is much more effective and efficient than making and releasing them one at a time. The Album is NOT dead.
Comment by Hughie -
Thinking of a different model is exactly the way to go. There are reports that the new video game Rock Band has sold 5 million songs since its debut. This is insane compared to other services who have not done near as well in this amount of time. People want music, think of new and creative ways to deliver it to them, and the public will pay.
Comment by JT -
It seems like a great idea but unfortunately its similar to this thinking that is killing the music industry. I just left working at a label after about ten years of time, mainly cause the industry is going down the tubes.
The serializing of music is similar to what they are actually doing but in a different aspect. With the emergence of mass media and new technology it is easier for people to make music and get it out there, but it is harder to get heard with the huge cluster of crap bands with access to a mac and a myspace account.
Labels are in a frame of mind right now where Band X has a great song, so they rush them through a studio, throw the song at radio, if it sticks, the band might get some support, if not, they are out the door and Band Y becomes the new priority.
The main thing that will save the music industry is a refocus on musicianship. Bands aren\’t doing what they used to, bands like the Stones and the Who worked tirelessly on their albums toured over and over and became a part of their fanbase that was following them. Now the focus is \”What sounds like hit song x and how quick can we get it out?\”
There needs to be a focus on making artists career artists again and not flash in the pans. Bands make nothing from their album sales until you hit the million + level which most bands never get the chance to, their money comes from touring and from merch sales.
Deals need to be restructured, a look at how bands and labels need to look how they share revenue so that the label has a reason to be dedicated and make it work. The cut and run mentality is very easy for labels when they are looking at solely radio impact and limiting their spending to make sure they recoup since they have X amount of projects already on the backburner.
To get back to the original idea of serializing work, well it just won\’t work today. A lot of bands you see selling singles, typically, that\’s all they have. Having a new track come out bi/tri-weekly could kill more artists than help them if each track isn\’t a marquee track. If you take any given album, you may have like 3 \”singles\” and 7 \”album tracks\”. The album tracks are usually regarded as lesser tracks that probably wouldn\’t make it to radio, but these are the tracks that help make the story for some of these bands. Bands like TOOL or the Beatles put out their albums and sequence them like they do because it is telling a story and each track before and after is supposed to be a context to what you are listening to now.
Typically singles are very formulaic, (ie. verse verse pre chorus chorus verse chorus verse bridge chorus chorus) and singles are the ones with the bright catchy hooks that people remember. If music were serialized in a bi-weekly format it is possible it will start to effect artists and styles more because now theres no release dates and every week you are fighting to beat the best new track from X amount of new artists.
The album setup time is still crucial to first looks for new bands, and big relaunchings of established artists. When everything starts getting released all the time, there will be such a clutter finding new artists will probably become even harder because bands and labels will then have to push 30 artists every week instead of the maybe 5 they have on their various album cycles.
Comment by Andy -
It\’s all about monetizing the promotional stage since now because of technology their is no difference between the \’teaser\’ (promo) and the \’full course\’ (retail). Selling of music regardless of it being album or single format will become niche because people who spend 6 to 8 hours a day on the Internet have a wide variety of ways to access music without having the need to download it at all. This is great for everyone except the major labels that now have to scale down to smaller operations to survive because they need Flo Rida to sell 25 million 99 cent download singles and that won\’t happen since his fans will rather listen to it on demand on their Imeem playlist.
Sell it \’while you go\’ works great for hip hop since most of it is disposable fast food music that the fans listen to for a quick second and move on. Lil Wayne is the hottest hip hop artist and he hasn\’t released an album since the end of \’05, he just keeps feeding his fans a steady consistent diet. Why not make the music available for purchase along the way? People don\’t want formatted radio \’hit\’ records they want GOOD MUSIC! Give the people what they want, interact with them so they feel part of the process and with some luck and hard work you can develop a core fan base that will spend on you.
Comment by Mitch -
I remember when I was little I saved all my pocket money to buy an album of my favourite, seems that is a remote memory..now, I just enjoy my beloved music freely and waiting for more interesting and great new module to enjoy..
Comment by Echo -
the album is dead because music for the most part sucks right now. i was very excited for new cat power and radiohead. i bought them on tuesday when they came out.
this is a fact. music is in a lull. has happened many times before.
Comment by david hyman -
Prince has always been lightyears ahead of most in the music industry. With that said, it will be interesting to see of other major artist and record labels pull all their music & videos off the internet to stop file sharing.
Comment by darryl -
Dear Anonymous in post #55:
I appreciate your contributions to the industry. Without knowing your name it\’s hard to respond to you personally.
My whole point was that an indie artist who could indepdently finance their own recording and support themselves touring probably stands a better chance of recouping their recording investment more quickly than a major label artist. Maybe they begin to get in the black at 30,000-50,000 units instead of 500,000 units or higher for the major label artist. It\’s never easy to sell massive amounts of records. And digital sales are even higher margin than CD sales.
I just don\’t believe the radio game is open to anyone but the majors and the major independent labels. There are very few regional hits these days (Country might be a slight exception to that rule).
I think Mark\’s serialization option just works better for established, proven hit artists than indies or emerging artists.
If you feel like corresponding directly – shoot me an e-mail from my blog.
Always willing to engage in a bit of constructive dialogue. Take care.
Comment by Peter Kohan -
The RSS feed is a good idea but the one click thing is the biggest thing to make you buy more. And DRM free music is key . No pone wants this crap that limits what u can do with your music. Amazon has the one click and DRM free thing down perfectly. I like their service and the ease of use made me buy 10 songs when I went ot buy only 1
Comment by maxsportz -
Assuming that artists will still have to be represented by Record Labels in order to have their music downloaded, I have a couple of issues with your theory:
1. If I truly enjoy an artists\’ music, I want the best quality of that music that I can get. I don\’t believe the sonic quality of the downloads is as good as what you can buy on a CD. Some would say that actual vinyl \”albums\” had a warmer, fuller sound than CD\’s..but what are we going to do? Hey, theres an idea! Create a digital medium that reproduces the sonic quality of vinyl. Ok, off topic.
2. Who will decide what singles will see the light of day as downloads? Will musical integrity be compromised even more by the Record labels? How many great bands wont be able to sell their music because some suit doesnt think its good enough? Musicians and artists are under intense pressure to make hits as it is. With collective releases, if they succumb and compromise with the label and give them a formulaic and popular hit, at least they still have the chance to showcase their other music on a collective CD release. I hope that makes sense.
I cant help but think that some bands like Rush would probably not make it in todays music world. Heres another idea for business. Create a consulting service that helps bands market and sell their own music and merchandise online. Bypass the labels all together. Of course, touring would be difficult without sponsorship. One problem at a time.
Comment by JE -
I am very torn between this philosophy of buying one track at a time.
On the pop level I totally understand it.I believe that singles should be made available as separate tracks.However could you imagine buying an album like \”Kind of Blue\” one track at a time.Could you buy the White Album one track at a time? I believe some of this has got to lie with the talent and the level of songwriting and performance that is out there,It is very thin from a commercial standpoint.A great musical statement is worth listening to and buying for the artistic statement.The key is finding the artists who have the talent to make a cohesive album of 10 great songs.They\’re out there-The heard just needs to be thined
Comment by jason Miles -
I\’m sad that cd sales are dropping. mp3\’s and other compression formats sound like shit. The quality of the recordings are bad to start now throw in the reduced file size and it\’s just scratching noise.
I\’m in the minority here. So I\’m keeping a few of my cd\’s and records. Yes records! until someone decides that stripping 70% of the data from a recording is a bad idea.
Comment by Phil Chin -
I\’m glad you are posting about the decline of the album – b/c it is so dead.
Comment by David Mackey -
Hello Mr. Cuban. I just wanted to comment after reading your comments in the Seattle Times about the Sonics possibly relocating to Oklahoma City.
If the Sonics would have had YOU as their owner for the last 10 years or so, I guarantee there would have been a much larger outcry by the fans. Instead, the Sonics organization has been in a tailspin ever since management signed Jim McIlvane to a horrible contract.
This was followed by the firing of fan favorite George Karl after a successful run of winning seasons, letting Nate McMillan walk to Portland after a 50 win season, allowing Wally Walker to make decisions for the team for way too long (his entire tenure, actually), etc.
Seattle supports it\’s sports teams as long as it seems that management is competent. The team doesn\’t necessarily have to be winning. But we have to believe that they\’re interested in heading in that direction. No Sonic fan (that I\’ve ever spoken with) has felt that ownership and/or management have been interested in winning since their trip to the finals to face the Bulls. Even current ownership doesn\’t seem interested in winning in Seattle. The only things his actions have shown Seattleites is that he wants to take the team out of Seattle.
And just when we finally see the light at the end of the tunnel (hiring a smart GM like Sam Presti, landing a bona fide superstar in Kevin Durant in the draft, having six 1st round picks over the next 3 years, etc), the team threatens to leave Seattle, even after Seattle taxpayers voted in favor of renovating Key Arena to the Sonics specifications (for $75 million) in 1994.
As a child, one of my fondest memories was as a 10-year-old watching the Sonics win it all. After 41 years in Seattle, it would be a shame if Seattle lost it\’s oldest sports franchise.
Your head coach must have fond memories of playing in Seattle. Great stories about fans in Seattle. I don\’t know. I just don\’t think that it\’s fair to place the blame on the fans in this matter. We\’ve done everything asked of us over the years to keep our teams in Seattle. All of them have threatened to leave. Thankfully Ken Griffey, Jr. saved the Mariners from leaving. Thankfully Paul Allen (owner of the Trailblazers) kept the Seahawks from moving. Can you imagine the Seahawks playing home games anywhere other than Qwest Field?
If you (or someone as competent and passionate as you are about winning) had been our owner for the last ten years, there wouldn\’t be this discussion about moving. Anyways, thanks for listening.
Comment by Matthew -
Another great idea. I remember your idea about selling an investment in a person\’s home to investors. I read an article in Forbes a month or so ago about that very thing. Again, you are ahead of the curve.
Comment by bill ross -
Hi Mark and freinds,
We have a thread going at the Velvet Rope discussing your idea:
Comment by DrBrisket -
Nope… never read \”The Long Tail.\”
(Never even heard of it actually)
However, I have sold over 35+ million albums at both the major and independent level (over 150k of albums that I have personally financed independently and 34+ million *U.S. numbers only & sold not shipped* for artists that I have signed as an A&R representative and executive)
I have also gotten artists placement on shows such as Grey\’s Anatomy, CSI, commercials such as XM Satellite Radio, JCPenney, Old Navy, Zales, etc. So you are basically preaching to someone who truly was one of the first to get indie artists placed in such spots so that they could make a living doing what they love.
\”But, mainly, any artist who also tours and performs can recoup the costs on a self-funded recording much faster than the major label artist who recorded on a large budget and has to recoup tons of marketing and promotion expenses.\”
My question to you is…
Have you actually done the above yourself… or merely read about doing so? Because there is a huge difference between reading and doing.
(And yes… I know who you are)
I can do 25k regionally (and within months) with little to no tour support for an artist. So an artist touring for a year and selling that much… something is wrong with what they are doing.
Comment by Anonymous -
RE: Post 47\’s point #2 – apparently you\’ve never read \”The Long Tail.\”
Indie artists who aren\’t superstars can make money in many ways other than the traditional model of hump a single at big radio for 3-6 months at a cost of $200K. Radio is such a closed game artists have been pursuing other exploitation opportunities: licensing for film, TV, and ads, creating music for specific niches, etc… But, mainly, any artist who also tours and performs can recoup the costs on a self-funded recording much faster than the major label artist who recorded on a large budget and has to recoup tons of marketing and promotion expenses.
Comment by Peter Kohan -
I think that music, like most things, appeals to different people in different ways.
The album is not dead as long as your favorite band is still putting out great albums. For me there are plenty of artists who still do; for instance, Collective Soul is a band I will buy a new album from without hearing a single note from one song. Loreena McKennitt is another one. But most of the albums I like are from artists with limited commercial success who are not heavily promoted on a major record label.
For these artists, their music is their gift and they would make music for just enough money to make ends meet because that is their purpose in life. Sadly, many do just that.
But there are also artists who put out one or two good songs per album and, like many here have already pointed out, the rest of the album is filler. That \”filler\” model just does not sell albums any more with the advance of technology. You would think the record labels would eventually realize that fact instead of trying to hold on to old methods and means. But large bureaucratic industries move very slow.
There is a world of great music (and albums) out there that is under the radar because of the way the labels work, so the problem is that you have to go find it for yourself and not rely on the radio or your neighborhood music store to tell you what is good. I subscribe to an on-demand streaming radio site where you can play full songs and full albums from most any artist, and I have found tons of new artists who I really enjoy, and I end up buying more music than I would have otherwise by relying on conventional methods to find new, and in some cases, decade old music. I spend endless hours doing this because I just love great music of all genres. I also watch a lot of HDTV and have even found some new artists from the live Farm Aid and Bonnaroo concerts. That stuff is great!
So, to relate it back to sports, since not everyone wants to buy season tickets to see the Mavericks — the team offers single game tickets and multi-game packs, along with special promotions and deals to try to market itself in a way that appeals to more people on a broader scale. But not everyone wants to pay to see the game, and might still be considered a huge Mavs fan that just chooses to watch each and every game on TV for \”free\”. But eventually those people who just watch on TV may go to a game in a future season, or buy a team jersey, or in some other way spend money with the NBA. The business model is open to different levels of fans. There are casual sports fans, and then there is the sports fan who buys the entire franchise
— with a lot of degrees of fan-dom in between.
The same goes for music fans. Why the RIAA cannot recognize that and build an intelligent business model is just plain silly.
Comment by Greg -
I would make it monthly — more in line with the price of a cd and also with the number of tracks on a cd/album.
i was working for rollingstone.com in the late 90s when napster hit, man was that a trip… which is why i think the subscription model overall is the best… the fun we had within the company challenging one another to find songs on the early napster was a trip.. one of the early best finds was superbowl shuffle (rollingstone.com was run out of chicago in 1999)… eventually the cto outlawed napster on the companies computers due to security concerns. great post mark.
Comment by David J. Miller -
It\’s great to see a viable business model for the future of the music industry. I\’ve had a hard time believing the doomsayers who predict the music industry will just disappear, but the record labels have been staggeringly resistant to change so far. Let\’s hope they adjust, and fast. Your ideas are a great place to start.
Comment by mac -
It is time the music industry figures out a new business model. As is, they seem intent on trying to sue to keep the old model in place.
I think its a great idea. At Indie Music Strategies we talk about releasing EPs with just 5 songs on every six months or so.
Comment by Martin -
The reason for the decline in sales is not solely on the digital single but more in the branding,packaging and presentation of the product and the lack of creativity and accountability. I look at CD\’s like Kanye West and Josh Groban. Yes while there are a lot of digital sales, the physical sales were still there. The difference is that these are quality cds. Where as other artist may have that \”super single\”, the other 12 tracks (Do you remember when albums consistantly had 16 to 18 tracks?)are horrible or as generic as your favorite grocery store\’s generic version of corn flakes. So the consumer has no confidence in the artist\’s ability to deliver a quality album. In addition the yes men \”known as A&R\’s\”, find the cookie cutter crew and say \”this is new and innovative\”. Furthermore the industry is becoming to top heavy with people who couldn\’t tell you what the streets were saying if the were homeless Southwest Atlanta. I compare the music industry to every other software and entertainment industry and noticed another difference. Branding runs through the hand of every department. Unlike the lotto if everyone plays the same number you decrease your chances of winning a piece of the pie. But if everyone chips in with their expertise the chances of winning increase…. But enough with the color comments… Plain and simple the music industry needs to stop making excuses and start making quality records in BULK!
Comment by Pschool -
Your ominous conclusion- the album is dead- can be said about most things that used to be fun and unique and exciting about the entertainment industry and pretty much about life in general.
The internet has done away with all mystery, all titilation is gone. Now, gimme a new song every week and maybe i\’ll buy it, but i won\’t be buying your album. It\’s like blackmail. It scares me, truly. I used to enjoy waiting for a new album from a favorite artist and I\’m going to keep it that way. Even if Queen Latifah is in every single commercial, and Philip Seymour Whoever is in every single movie, i am holding on to the notion that people are actors, singers, performers, humans. They are NOT BRANDS- regardless of what their handlers tell them. And no, you can\’t take away my albums, current or future.
Comment by Tim E -
Mark, if you would like to speak about any of this, feel free to shoot me an email.
Any concept beyond giving artists complete control of their work… is not going to work.
\”Personally I would like to see the labels and RIAA vanish completely, and see a new industry emerge of Concert Production companies that work directly with the bands for putting tours together. Bands could then write, record and distribute music on their own (digitally), and then when the demand is there, put a tour together.\”
It is already happening with Madonna\’s new deal. However, in traditional label deals where the artist keeps their tour revenue, in this new business model, the artist is still going to lose. Concerts cost a lot to put on… and guess where the concert production companies are going to make that money?
Now you have an area of revenue where someone else is taking from… that the labels did not have their hands in.
What most do not realize is how the industry works. You can speculate from the outside looking in… but there is so much that the average person does not know that what is often suggested truly never makes sense.
1. It costs to record music – unless you can record it yourself – which is very doable with technological advancements, but the average musician simply is not good enough to compete in the area of recording engineers who mix major label music. So the consumer is going to notice this immediately.
I for one notice the quality of a recording and the mix.
An artist may have a great voice, can write, etc, but are unable to make hit records. And you need hits to garner the attention that is going to allow you to make a living in the music industry. Production costs – if someone is good, they are going to charge for being good.
I see it everyday online. Someone has a home studio, they write, record, and post their music online daily yet it is average.
They may have a voice and ability, but they are not a songwriter or great arranger.
This is the stuff that costs and the majors supply it.
2. It costs to have your music heard. Like it or not, radio and video outlets are run ($$$$$) by the majors. Independent artists simply cannot compete. What good is it to record an album or a song without a way for the masses to hear it?
Your album (or single) is simply going to sit on the shelf (or on servers) because most people are not even going to know that it exists. Which is what happens to 99% of those out there making music.
Now, you can argue the point that you do not listen to radio or watch MTV, BET, or VH1 and that you dig and find the artists that you support on your own (by scouring the Internet)… but ask how many records those artists, bands, and groups have sold. How many units have they SoundScan?
The question is not can it be done but how? How can the independent artist get booked on Leno or Letterman to get that exposure? How can millions hear their songs and not simply a few thousand? Because it takes a large number of listeners to convert a sale on any level.
It can be done.
There is still a lot of money to be made in music (perhaps not to a billionaire, but you can still make millions in this day and age of free downloads and declining CD sales).
Yes, the major label model is dead and gone, but guess what is going to happen next if someone does not step forward and admit that the [truly talented] artists deserve that largest piece of the pie?
A company such as Apple is going to become a label (they are already in talks with a major artist to do so).
And then Microsoft is going to join in…
And while Sony/BMG, Universal / Warner (etc) will no longer exist… the above are going to own the artist and pay them pennies on the dollar once again with insane recouping structures.
And all because the artists did not step up and take over.
The record companies care nothing about music… they care about money.
I have worked in the industry for the last 16 years as both an artist and executive at the major label level. And it will only change when someone with power and influence can offer an alternative.
Mark can do it…
But as stated… he does not wish to.
And not many others are going to forgo money in place of what is right.
I have the answer.
But artists just are not ready.
Comment by Anonymous -
I certainly agree that singles are taking over. The only caveat to a complete takeover, however, is that studio time is expensive and artists have to get into a \”mode\” to record. Because the transition from their definition of normal to the studio is difficult, some artists may feel it is more efficient to bang out a slew of sings while they are doing the studio thing.
So does the record company/artist shelve 4-8 songs so that can keep pecking at the market? I know that with my blog it works better to stagger the release of non-newsy stuff than to launch it all on Friday, for instance.
Comment by Dana McCall -
One more thing – this tactic can\’t be expected to supplant the way singles are released in the U.S. The big radio conglomerates are constructed so singles take months to build and peak on their airplay before the label then goes to the next single. So what happens online via serialization may or may not impact what goes on at radio (what the future of radio is going to be is another topic altogether – not touching that here).
Comment by Peter Kohan -
I think if you look at serialization as one would with a novel, where the musical artist is serving up the songs as chapters in that novel (i.e. the album), then yes, this seems like a potentially viable option for artists. But it has to be for artists who already have a rabid fan base. New and emerging artists might get some small buzz out of the tactic, but the established artists are the ones who can say: \”I\’ve thrown off the yokes of commercial oppression and can now deliver unto you the fan my music when it is hot and fresh off the griddle, newly mixed and mastered. My label doesn\’t dictate when you get to hear songs from me anymore. Enjoy it all. I\’ll see you all on tour!\”
It won\’t work for every artist, but I could see how it could work for prolific artists like Ryan Adams or Elvis Costello, or for hip-hop artists who are always keeping up with their fans and participating in underground mix tapes. It could also ba an alternative to straight album releases, where, for example, an artist like Toby Keith, who cuts a lot of material he writes or co-writes, could devote to recording and releasing music he likes from other songwriters, or for live versions of songs, acoustic mixes, whatever. For classic artists like Stevie Wonder, who have huge vaults of unreleased material, this would be a great way for fans to hear and digest that material without being overwhelmed by a massive, multi-CD box set. He could annotate liner notes for each release.
So, yes, this is a legitimate distirbution option, but someone\’s got to step up as Radiohead did with their model and execute a serialization strategy. Someone\’s got to signal the herd of other artists what direction to go in. I think Bruce Springsteen is an ideal candidate. He could forget about always crafting a great studio record with a particular ensemble and just focus on songs.
My two cents.
Comment by Peter Kohan -
1- iTunes did offer RSS feeds for new singles/albums posted to the iTunes store. You could select genre(s) and how many posts you wanted to receive at one time (25 to 100). I subscribed to this for quite a while and discovered many new bands. I\’m not sure its still operational — it died for me at one point and I\’ve haven\’t checked into it again.
2- There is still some value in the CD as a product to bands with regards to touring. In fact, touring for most bands (other than the reunion acts) tends to revolve around the latest release — band releases a CD, band hits the road.
The tour is the promotion of the CD. If you haven\’t bought the CD before attending the show, the goal is to convince you to buy one once the show is over. I\’m simplifying here, but I think you see my point.
I\’m not sure how a serial release schedule would fit into this model. I guess if you planned to serialize 10-12 songs over 6-9 months you could hit the road at the 4-5 month mark. It would take some adjustment… maybe the band could sell .99 cards at the shows redeemable for downloading the song(s) from iTunes.
Comment by Gene Wicker JR -
This doesn\’t work for one reason…most albums SUCK! Artists and labels are bending people over by releasing hyped CDs that only include 1-2 good songs. Now the artists and labels are getting bent over by people stealing their music. If they release one song at a time, they might have $2 worth of sales for every 10 songs. Then again maybe this would prompt the talent and label to raise their overall game.
Comment by Ken -
mark, you are a frickin genius. i love this idea. i search for new tracks that way too on my iphone.
Comment by Ryan Schwebel -
I bet that the persistence of the album format has to do with studio time, engineer expense, and touring. The first two are probably still way more economical per song when done for 10 or 12 songs rather than 1 at a time. Bands still try to get a consistent sound out of an album, too, which may be artistically easier when creativity is done in batch. If you discover a neat effect for the 4th song on the album, you can go back and inject into the first. That sorta thing…
All that said, smaller bands are using the power of iTunes to release EPs with just a few songs on them. Two of my favorite bands, Madside and Eve to Adam, have done that kind of thing in the past couple years. But you\’ve got an interesting idea Mark.
Comment by Brad Hutchings -
It is time the music industry figures out a new business model. As is, they seem intent on trying to sue to keep the old model in place. But I think a large part of their problem is of their own doing.
In short, CD prices never dropped. They were expensive when they came out, mid-teens per album. My dad is an audiophile, so he had an early CD player, and my first CD was \”Thriller\”, when there were about 12 available. The talking point was that when CDs became more popular, manufacturing costs would drop, and thus CD prices. The manufacturing of CDs dropped to pennies, yet the price never dropped. I think the companies were happy at the time to keep the increasing profit. So, when it became easy and cheap to download music at no cost, they were selling a product above where people were really happy paying.
One problem is they have a virtual monopoly. A Hannah Montana song is not the same as the MP3 player it is played on. A company can make an MP3 player, but someone else can come out with a new one cheaper or smaller or more features, anything that makes it a better buy for the consumer. There is competition. But for Hannah Montana, if you want her music, you have to pay that company what they say. Some other label could have a similar artist, but it is not the same. We don\’t shop for music the same way we do our players, and as such, there is no price competition, and as a result, the mentality at the record companies is not towards offering cheaper product.
One note for the comment about Prince: he sells plenty of CDs, and also makes a lot of money as a songwriter (which is where the real money is, especially with other forms like ringtones, TV shows, etc.). In fact, a couple years ago, he toured and had a new album out. The ticket was a little more expensive than the average concert, but when you showed up, you got his new CD. They made sure each album was recorded as a sale for the Billboard charts – so even if you didn\’t really want it, but wanted to hear him play his \”Purple Rain\” era songs, you still were recorded as buying the album. So even he seems concerned about CD sales.
Comment by John -
Here is Canada we have lost some of the Greatest Canadian Music store you could have shopped at. This is due to the constant decline of purchase of CD,s etc… So anything that helps get the music out there and the artists are still able to make their money is a great idea.
Comment by SoccerMom -
RSS feeds of your favorite artists, producing new music on a regular basis sounds awesome! 1-click purchase, \”People who bought this song also purchased\”, it all sounds like a no-brainer. Where do I sign up?
Comment by Bob Wegener -
Serializing albums seems like a good idea. After all, a band tends to be associated with a stream of similar music. Yet Mark writes, \”I dont do it by artist. I go to ITunes and I go through the top 10 lists and listen to samples and thats how I determine what music im going to buy.\” If that\’s the way most persons will buy music, serialization won\’t work.
Comment by Douglas Galbi -
Just curious, how did the 45RPM single do in sales overall for the industry, compared to the full albums? Do you believe there is any parallel to that and $0.99/track download versus $10 for the album download despite the difference in delivery systems?
Comment by Tom Hoops -
I think that\’s a great idea, especially combining it with RSS.
Comment by RamZ -
Interesting idea. From what I\’ve been reading, a lot of bands make a significant amount of money these days by touring. That might be a problem with serial music releases. Do they play the unreleased songs on their tour? If they gradually introduce them into their show it means changing the show every week. That can be a lot of work.
Comment by Bruce McL -
Radiohead wasn\’t very successful in getting people to actually pay for their new \’album.\’ They did get a lot of downloads, but over 60 percent paid nothing and most everybody else paid less than 5 bucks. People don\’t want to pay for anything anymore, especially when it comes to the web.
A few posters here claim to like albums but also claim to have downloaded some of them for free. Many people these days want everything to be free and then when they start a business or website or blog they expect people to pay them. Go figure.
There really is no such thing as an album anymore. Yeah when muscians wrote and played most of their own stuff and came up with album themes, stories or weird songs that were hidden it was an album. The album actually meant something. You\’d go to the local record store or music store to not only buy the album but check out the cover, communicate with others, and have those music and life conversations. Album covers were kind of cool.. Well some sucked, but you get the point. Maybe the album was good, maybe the album sucked, maybe a few songs were good, maybe a few songs were bad. Maybe there was some hidden theme that people talked about. Whatever it was, there was something more than just one song you liked. It was about the music, the musicians, the album, the songs, and the conversations with friends. It was the whole package.
However today it\’s mostly one or two decent songs and a bunch of fillers. There really are no true albums anymore. It\’s a bunch of crap thrown together so people might buy it. Heck, every other year we have \”Greatest Hits\” of a band that\’s only been around for a few years. It\’s a bunch of pretty faces or drugged out faces or \’roided bodies putting out songs that half the time make no sense. Half the muscians today don\’t even write their own stuff anymore. So how can there really be an album when 10 different songwriters spit together 10 different songs for somebody. 10 songs that really never mean anything to anybody.
And people don\’t talk about the music as much, they just post on forums or download the music for free. The old go to the record store and share your music theories has long passed.. Some people still do it, but it is what it is.
If people actually paid for things, I\’d say a new song every other week would be a cool thing and a good business idea. However it seems many people today live in the theory that everything should be free unless of course they are trying to sell something.
Comment by PJAM3 -
what\’s happening is a return to the music industry of the early 1960\’s when am radio was the world wide web. the single was THE thing to buy, and if the artist really had something to say you\’d buy the album. flash memory is the new vinyl.
as to the subscription model, Todd Rundgren tried it with his Patronet concept. he was the first musician I\’d heard say (at Webnoize in 1998 or \’99) that in the digital world music is not a product, but a service. you subscribed annually, whenever he finished a song he\’d post it for download, and would give you access to his diary blog, older concert recordings, miscellaneous fan stuff, and social networking with other members. theoretically, by aggregating enough artists with modest but loyal followings he thought it could generate enough revenue direct to the artist. Patronet held on for several years, but never realized the dream.
Comment by seth greenstein -
I buy albums, and pretty much only albums. Rather than assume that people don\’t want songs, consider most albums are crammed full of filler tracks to push one or two singles. For me, if a artist can\’t create an \”album\” and the experience along with it, it\’s a sign they are just a puppet for a label who is feeding them the material.
Comment by Michael C. Neel -
I love the idea. Admittedly it\’s not going to work for all artists. However you can also have seasons of Summer tracks from different artists, best of Beethoven, Comedy, etc. This idea has a lot of potential, just needs to be thought through. Now where\’s my ideas pad…
Comment by Colin Meeks (Indie Launchpad) -
Excellent idea, and the applications could spread beyond the music world. For instance, the wonderful land of sequential art, or by it\’s more common name, comic books. The market for comics will face the same issues as the music industry, as \”acquiring\” scanned copies of recently released books on the Internet is now quite common. The major publishing companies should pay attention, and perhaps release monthly digital versions at the 99 cent price point. It could quite possibly expand readership and profits in a sagging industry.
Comment by Charles Hopper -
Check out Japan, most of their major artist release singles on a quarterly basis. Then a CD / DVD is released with additional tracks, videos and extras. All adding value to previous single releases.
Comment by Todd Lewis -
the big music corps don\’t produce albums anymore.. they produce singles.. and those singles are filled with empty calories.. nothing worth nurturing. true story.
Comment by cliff notes -
I think you are completely right. I will do without music rather than paying for an album but I will pay .99 for a song I really like.
Comment by Mandy -
Mark, you\’re dead on here. I wrote an article relating to this a little while back. Record Labels used be the \”savior\” for musicians. They just wanted to get \”signed\”. Then it just became a necessary evil to comply. The music business is just as broken as Health Care, though not as many people know it, or care.
The model of the \”record\” or CD, will change. Bands hit the studios trying to refine 3 hits and 7 \”fillers\”. That makes up a CD. Consumers have been buying the package deal for a long time. The future is a-la-carte music, smaller label influence, less pressure on full 10-song CDs. Personally I would like to see the labels and RIAA vanish completely, and see a new industry emerge of Concert Production companies that work directly with the bands for putting tours together. Bands could then write, record and distribute music on their own (digitally), and then when the demand is there, put a tour together.
Comment by Matt Murph -
I haven\’t bought an album in 5 years. In fact I haven\’t bought music at all in 5 years. Music should be free. Artists should make their money with concerts not selling the music. Look at prince, as far as I know the last time someone bought his music is was a cassette tape, yet he makes more money than 99% of musicians because he tours all year and puts on an awesome show.
Comment by freezers -
mark–obviously you dont have much appreciation for what an \”album\” actually is…or at least what it is to some artists…a cohesive collection of songs that go together…that are written during the same time in their lives, that are put together in the order they feel they need to be in. singles are fine if you\’re a singles artist but you\’re pretty much screwed if you\’re sticking to a craft that you feel you best express yourself with…according to you of course.
couple of ways to see this…think of an art installation where in order to make money you need to only make some throwaway crap people will buy for a month then completely forget about.
or…since people only want to see slam dunks…maybe you should tell avery to only have the guys do that. people dont want to see complex offenses or tenacious d(efense), just slams from here on out.
what it all boils down to is all entertainment is expendable and when you overcook it\’s value and start charging too much for it people will find a way to undercut it and render whatever business model they\’re using useless. instead of it being a problem for the artist…it\’s a problem for fat rich dudes like you who sit in offices all day with nothing better to do than figure out how to squeeze more pennies out of a nickel.
Comment by matt -
\”Some people, I would include myself in this, feel that the album is greater than the sum of its parts. A song is a song, but an album is a work. That mix of stuff that constitutes an entire album feels like something. It\’s a creative statement. A song by itself can evoke a mood or a place or a time, but it\’s just a slice\”
I concur with you Daniel -i prefer a body of work from an artist that i have an ongoing historical relationship with, often as a result of seeing them perform live.
Album\’s will always have a place in the music world; a place which,Mark, i think you will find is very different to the music industry.
People who love music love the music world; people who love
songs love the music industry.
There is a vast difference between the two.
Comment by marts -
I understand where you are coming from, but I disagree with you on the death of \”The Album.\” I am someone who hasn\’t bought more than 3 CDs in the last 2 years, but has purchased many albums through Itunes, and admittedly downloaded some without paying. An album is a way for the artist to put a group of songs into one package that reflects the theme they are expressing. I love getting an album and listening to it from start to finish, and feel it truly is more than the sum of it\’s parts. I dread the day when artists release songs one at a time, and would prefer it if they didn\’t even release the single before the album! Maybe we are just two different types of music listeners.
Comment by Chris -
Paging Doctor Obvious. Doctor Obvious please come to 2008 with the rest of the music world. I had to double check to make sure that this wasn\’t a re-post from 2002.
Comment by Jay -
The problem is that it was uneconomical to issue singles once they were able to put multiple tracks on the same vinyl. They still don\’t understand that the web allows them to do just that. And further more, I think it would make the artists more happy, because they can produce and deliver something of value to their public more quickly. It would also force them to produce better lyrics and better music because they can\’t hide the iffy stuff between a couple of really good songs.
Comment by Small Business Marketing -
call me old-fashioned but I still get excited for album release dates. I still go to Target or Best Buy and buy the cd. I love the cover art, the liner notes, the total package….especially when a cd has cool packaging. I\’ll be at the store on Tuesday buying Natasha Bedingfield\’s new cd even.
Comment by Amy -
It seems albums were never a big revenue source for artist. These days artist are generating more money from ringtones, clothing lines, concerts, restaurants, perfumes, partnerships with advertisers, etc. etc. Music will never die. Record companies as they currently exist will.
Comment by darryl -
Sounds good, there is a need for a new model, okay, who\’s listening?
Comment by Ming -
One word why you\’re wrong – Radiohead.
Comment by Hagrin -
It\’s great to see a viable business model for the future of the music industry. I\’ve had a hard time believing the doomsayers who predict the music industry will just disappear, but the record labels have been staggeringly resistant to change so far. Let\’s hope they adjust, and fast. Your ideas are a great place to start.
Comment by Terry -
Way before my time many novels were released this very same way. As Dickens knew, he could generate and keep a \”buzz\” about his writing by releasing the content in installments in magazines. You\’re looking at that same idea that could be tweaked with a Web 2.0 spin. Instant liner notes from the band after each release. That interaction could lead to a stronger 3rd or 4th installment from the band based on listener feedback. It\’s a cheap endeavor due to digital distribution and would allow the artists to have a chance to be completely interaction through the recording process without the hokey premise of a Bubble and outside the confines of MySpace. Anyone want to VC for this? I\’d pour some creative energy into creating this possibility.
Comment by Nathan Ronchetti -
How often do American\’s need to repeat this prophecy. I spent my youth in Europe where I collected mostly singles. All music aimed at young audiences were available in this form. Americans are slow to react to change. When disco died Americans latched on to Concert Bands and Soundtracks and it took Napster to unbundle the rest.
Comment by John -
You make some really good points here. I run a web site that caters to unsigned musicians with news, articles etc… and they are looking for ways to make money on their own knowing full well that the cd is dying. I\’d love to post this on my site. Let me know if it is OK.
Comment by Mike -
Record companies are dieing just like newspapers and many magazine publishers. It is a slow and possibly long death. It has been going on for a few years now.
The Internet provides power and opportunity to those with the masses on their side. Internet marketing lives forever!
Comment by SEO Consulting - Terry Reeves -
I have also noticed that album releases aren\’t as exciting as they used to be. My thought was that artists should do a live concert about 1 month before the album release and webcast it. Remember how much hype Night Ranger generated when they played Sister Christian on tour previous to releasing the studio version?
Comment by Keith -
I *think* that the major labels realize selling CD\’s is dying a death. They are trying to slow that death by launching silly lawsuits against those dreadful people (read Customers) who download the music for free. This gives them a chance to develop other income streams, or exploit existing income streams.
Been to a concert lately? $50 t-shirts, $150 for decent seats.. both good examples of exploiting existing income streams.
New income streams like itunes, imeem.com, pandora.com are getting more and more popular all the time.
Comment by Laker -
That idea works well for your approach to music where adding hit songs to one\’s collection is like adding pearls to a necklace. Some people, I would include myself in this, feel that the album is greater than the sum of its parts. A song is a song, but an album is a work. That mix of stuff that constitutes an entire album feels like something. It\’s a creative statement. A song by itself can evoke a mood or a place or a time, but it\’s just a slice.
Your idea, Mr. Cuban, is intriguing, but it depends on the artist and the person buying the music. Some artists are more about the hit single, and the album is a bit of an afterthought. But for people less motivated by a hit single, they may be more motivated to own an artifact — a creative work in its entirety. A previous commenter mentioned vinyl records and according to an article in this week\’s Time Magazine, vinyl sales rose 15% to just shy of a million records last year. The numbers aren\’t huge, but that definitely shows there are people who want to own an artifact complete with cover art, liner notes, etc.
Comment by Daniel Stout -
\”Is this idea so great Im going to start a music label ? No chance. I wouldnt get in the music industry if you paid me. \”
My thoughts exactly.
Comment by dan -
out of all the entertainment industries in America, music seems to be the one thats the most risk adverse in exploring other avenues of distribution. tv shows are adapting, and even movies are adapting (at least the rentals). but i\’m pretty sure right now if apple never goes out on a limb and come up with the itunes store, everyone is either pirating or buying $15 cd\’s.
but i dont think this is really the problem with the music industry. i think the problem with the music industry is that the music thats largely advertised is just not very good and there\’s currently no new artist that can be much more than a one hit wonder. and for rap/hip hop… you dont even need to be a good artist, you just need a good producer to make you sound good.
sorry i\’m off topic.
Comment by patsun -
I blogged about an article earlier today proclaiming that the LP is making a comeback.
Also, this guy did do the serial music thing. A song a week for a year.
He did quite well – well enough to continue making a living via his music.
Comment by COD -
Have you discovered Pandora.com? I love it. I have listened to more music and different genres than ever before.
The cool part is the artists get paid when you listen.
You choose the genre and sub genre, then like Amazon, it will make recommendations based on what you like.
Internet radio at it\’s best.
It\’s great for those of use who don\’t care if we hear the same song more than once, but like a style.
Plus a listener can experiment and perhaps discover new stuff.
Comment by GoingLikeSixty -
Comments are closed.