Thursday, 18 August 2011

The State of The Music Industry

Hand drawn CD cover from Jane Taylor

I received a CD in the post a while ago and it’s spurred me on to write this blog. The CD was from Jane Taylor and to say the packaging was basic was an understatement as you can see. It’s hand draw by Jane and comes with an individual message from Jane and for me this makes the CD even more special. (The music is beautiful by the way) This led me to the thought that the music industry isn’t dead it’s just different and here is why I think that.

Now I suspect that someone can quote figures to me about how the music industry is dying and people aren’t buying music anymore, and that might be right of traditional avenues, HMV the final High Street retailer in the UK is dying on the vine and some of their stores barely sell CDs anymore.  (In my opinion they are struggling because they have limited choice and in most cases it’s over priced) Supermarkets sell less CDs giving space over to DVDs and games, and the music industry argues that we are all signing up to dodgy Russian sites and downloading all our music for free and that may be true for some but not me and not most of my friends.

I my opinion the internet has increased my access to music and therefore I have bought more music because of this, I just buy it in different formats.  Bands that are smart are realising that the traditional route of demo / A&R-/record deal / etc is very hard to come by and not necessarily the most advantageous route to fame and fortune anymore (if it ever was)

Web and gig release CD's
I paid £10 for the Jane Taylor CD, I paid up front at one of her gigs on the promise she would send it to me (I’m very trusting) the materials, packaging and postage must have cost no more £2 meaning that the artist clears £8, much more than the traditional return from the sale of CD. Now I know this is only small numbers but some artists are getting smart with regard to this and this is where money can be made.  I have more ‘tour only release’ CDs (6) by Tom McRae than I do official releases and trust me I have all his formally released CD’s (5). CD’s specifically made to take on tour can certainly increase tour revenue, Tom has a real cottage industry selling, tea towels, baby t-shirts, umbrellas (or Tombrellas as they are branded) Scaling this up again there are a number of bands that give access to all their concert recordings, Gov't Mules website (Mule Tracks) has every concert they have played available, for around about $10. They have sold over 1 million CD’s but they have also sold over 1 million downloads and I know which one will be making them the most money!  

USB wristband

I saw Matchbox Twenty a couple of years ago and as part of my ticket package bought a recording of the concert. Once the gig had finished I passed over my confirmation of purchase and was given the wristband/USB in the picture. This was within 10 minutes of the gig finishing and was done on a huge scale, 1000’s rather than 100’s. The recording had the concert on warts and all, but I had a digital copy of the gig I had just attended, how good is that! It astounds me that artists haven’t cottoned onto this, maybe it’s because they are artists and not business men, but as I sit here my wall are covered in framed limited edition tour posters, which I have paid somewhere between £15-£25 for (Dave Matthews Band, Gaslight Anthem, Pearl Jam,  Wilco, and Duke and The King all take a bow). I have tour only CD’s by Danny and The Champions of The World, Dave Matthews, Govt Mule, Tom McRae and many more sitting in my collection and yet at some gigs I attended they don’t have any merchandise at all for sale.

A DMB gig poster 1 made for each gig

We have always copied music let’s not pretend about that, cassettes where invented for that very reason, and since then every format that has been introduced has advanced the quality of the copy we could obtain. Mini Discs, DAT, Compact Discs have all come with a recordable function and the general public use it. I have been given DVDs with multiple albums on and have trawled them for artist I was interested in but didn’t know enough about to purchase their music. By default this has lead me to purchase more music by the artist and in some cases I would have never have been exposed to the band through normal channels.

I’m not saying piracy is a good thing, what I’m saying it has always existed, and people will hunt it out. I used to own 100s of bootleg gig tapes sold at Record Fares with crappy photocopied covers. I have just bought a 6 CD David Sylvian bootleg on eBay and this is on top of the 15-20 or so albums I buy a month through traditional channels. What I’m saying is that that the internet gives musicians much more flexibility and opportunity to get their music out there and they need to be more commercially focused as to how they make money rather than the traditional avenues of single and album sales and instead of bemoaning the fact that they can’t make money they need to look at now they can make money.

Some of the DMB web only releases I have

Love him or hate him Dave Matthews is a great example of how to make the music industry work for you rather than the other way round. In the early days he allowed gig goers to tape concerts, letting them plug direct into the mixing desk if they wanted, and often has areas at gigs for people to set up recording equipment to this day. This meant that when the record company came knocking at his door he could demand a better deal as his fan base was far greater than anticipated for a band without a record deal as fans had been swapping tapes for years. He still releases live recordings direct through his website along with tour posters, (top quality screen prints) limited tour releases and all sorts of merchandise. Some might say this is selling out, but Dave Matthews controls what is being sold and if you look at what he achieves through his charitable foundation you can see what really can be done by optimising your music with additional commercial products.

Musicians can sit about and say that the internet is killing the music industry or they can embrace the change and make it work for them. As the Redskins once sang The Power is Yours, use it!


  1. This is interesting, and I wonder if, in any way, could be applied to the film industry. Middle men have been taking the piss for so long, it's good to see the artists getting the remuneration they deserve.

  2. James, I think it's easy for music becasue the media is simplier, but it's adapt or die. Don't think the film industry is there yet but maybe it's what it has to do. Just not sure how they/you could do it. Worth a discussion over a pint some day.

  3. Great read Andy.
    I think there is a fine balance, some "gig" cds are coming out at £15 / £20 which to me is actually ripping off your actual loyal fans. Like you say I would rather buy direct from the artist as it gives them the money, but by the same token, the price needs to balance.
    I have 1000s of CDs and am thinking or "rationalising" them, as the vast majority mean nothing to me. Bland cover, cheap plastic or cardboard sleeve etc. Nothing like the vinyl days ;-)

  4. Simon you are right £10 my limit re Tour CD's as the percentage the artist gets is far higher and they are becoming greedy. Love getting defferent material though. They just need to give it some thought.Additional stuff posters etc isn't revolutionary, they just need some business advice....

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  6. I don't want to see any of his bands.

  7. Having read the comment, I think there is a disconnect between what I see as a reason to be in a band / make music and what Smithereenities seems to want.
    My view is that you go into a band as a way of making music, not as a business. He (I assume it is a he) seems to want the best of both worlds.
    Everyone commenting and reading this blog wants bands to exist and be new, and we all pay for our music, but the days of the £15 CD are over.
    If you want to make music and maybe make some money, carry on doing that.
    If you want to make money, the one thing you need, which he says he doesn't want his bands to do is have a "business plan"
    The two things are different, not mutually exclusive, but the band needs to know which is their preferred route.

    1) Make the music you want and hope people like it and buy it, see you live
    2) Have a business, a part of which is making music

  8. I seem to have struck a nerve with you. I'm not giving 'your' bands business advice, merely expresing an opinion, and we all have them. Mine as a gig goer and music buyer you as a band manager (I assume). All I'm trying to say is the world is changing,not for the best but it's chaning like it or not.

    You quote Zeppelin, Bowie, New York Dolls and the Velvet Underground, all great bands, however all operating when the music industry was very different, times have moved on. Would those bands be successful today who knows. I would like to think quality is always found but we all know thats not the case.Bands need to use all the avenues available in order to gain exposure and I was merely pointing out as a music fan some of my experiences of where bands are doing something different.

    As an aside I just read a book called Marketing Lessons From The Grateful Dead you might want to have a read.(or not)

    I'm not naive enough to think that of the £15 charged for a CD it all goes to the band however, I'm also not stupid enough to pay £15 for something that is not (in my opinion) worth £15, and yes I will fuck off, with my £15 still in my pocket. I know who loses out(not me).

    I find it interesting you don't mention any of the positives I mention, or do you not see any?

    I wish it was 1984 again, work was piss easy and we didn't seem to have a care in the world,but it's 2011 and life is tough.Every business has to adapt, and like it or not bands are businesses and the most successful one's have always been run that way!

  9. Hi andyb thanks for the reply, yes it struck a nerve, when somebody writes that bands 'clear' £8 from a CD they sell for £10, you should not be surprised if you write this that somebody might pick up on that. The statement is so stunningly naive that I find it hard to believe you are managing a band. But, stranger things have happened and I wish you good luck, especially the band.

    The thing that annoys me most about it that it leads other people to actually believe small bands are making a profit and are 'ripping off their loyal fans' just because they charge a few pounds more. Likelyhood is that 99% of bands out there will never ever recover a minute percentage of the time and money investment they have made over the entire span of their 'career'. It is just utterly foolish and petty to accuse any entertainer out there of ripping off their fans because you don't agree with their pricing structure. As a manager such comments should worry you.

    Don't know how anybody got the idea I am managing bands myself, I certainly don't, which makes the first reply even sillier than it would be even if the assumption was correct...

    Sorry if I interrupted the backslapping cosiness, I am outa here, normal service can be resumed.

  10. The CD I talked about an artist clearing £8 from was a live CD that was pictured. Although Jane Tylor has released CDs through normal channels this was very 'homemade'and that was my point, she had handdraw the cover, it was a live recording (good quality)no label on the CD and a cardboard slip case. I may be naive but not naive to think artists usually make £8 from a Cd sold for £10. So you don't manage bands and I don't manage bands, not sure where you or I got that idea from.