A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories, Piracy

Listening Habits

It’s a tough crazy world.

Artists spend their blood, sweat and tears into their new product and no one seems to be paying attention.

How can they, with all the music coming out.

For 2019, I listened to 5,783 different songs on Spotify. To put that number into context that is roughly 16 different songs, each day, for 365 days. In the old vinyl LP days of 8 songs each, this would be two albums every day of different artists.

Streaming allows this diverse listening experience and for the fan, this is a good thing.

It’s also a good solution compared to peer to peer downloading. But people complain about the payments they receive, however there is no denying that streaming services have put some serious money back into the recording industry.

Prior to Spotify, the recording labels got nothing. And it’s a shame that those same labels don’t funnel those monies back to their artists. Because if wasn’t for the artists, the recording labels would not be in the position of power to negotiate anything. And if it wasn’t for the artists forming connections with people, then the labels would have no business model.

If you take streaming services out of the industry, people will not start buying CD’s again en masse.

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A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories

Fans

Fans maketh the artist and the fans taketh the artist.

For all artists, the need to create music is enough of a reason to start. Then some artists will have acceptance of their music. And suddenly artists have a thousand plus hard core fans.

Artists are normally happy to sell out the limited run of super deluxe editions of albums.

For the medium to larger acts, this is about 20,000 copies of an album between the prices of $50 to $200 each, and you can see a cool gross income between $1 million and $4 million. If the artists own their rights and are in control of their masters, then the deluxe editions if done right, can be a nice little supplement.

And streaming also gives the artist control of where their fans are, in which cities they live and which songs these fans are listening to. If the artists have the resources, then they can tour these places. Scorpions and Whitesnake are coming to Australia and I am pretty sure it’s on the back of some impressive streaming numbers, because it wouldn’t be on sales.

More so than ever, the fans decide how they want to commit to their relationship with the artist. And a lot of fans of music are also pretty content to listen to music at home, without feeling the need to go out and watch an artist live.

It’s part of the new world.

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A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories

Greatest Hits And Popular

Greatest hits get tiresome and I think I am suffering burnout on it. Not because artists are putting out greatest hits or best off collections, it’s because Spotify has the same popular songs from artists across hundreds of their own generated playlists like, songs to run to, work out to, songs of the 80’s, hard rock songs, glam rock songs and so forth. And then you go to the artist account and of course, the top 5 songs for the artist are the ones on the Spotify generated playlists.

Surprise, surprise.

And if all we do is listen to the most played songs, the hits, then we are missing out on the real good stuff. But it’s hard to escape the greatest hits, because the internet and every social media platform, push us to check out what is trending and what everyone else is checking out.

But to be popular or to make something popular, the creator is leaving out the important parts of the song, in case it turns people away, like a lyric that deals with dark thoughts or a guitar solo which takes the song into the 5 minute mark. You want a hit, call Max Martin, who has a team of writers working on the same song,

In other words, simplify things in exchange for attention.

It’s easier than it sounds, otherwise artists will go straight to the hit, or a director wont make those small indie films and make just the hit film.

Because no one will know what is a hit until they release it.

The Beatles recorded hundreds of songs before they even broke big. Black Sabbath never had a hit but are seen as hit makers today. David Coverdale wrote hundreds of songs before he hit the charts in a big way with the 87 album.

And the music we love, the soundtrack to our youth, well, those songs didn’t really get to number 1. Same deal for the books I read, the articles I read, the journals I read and documentaries I watched, that formed my viewpoints and shaped me.

Popular doesn’t mean the best. It’s just popular.

Remember “Gangnam Style” or “Achy Breaky Heart”.

Check out this great post from Seth Godin about Hits.

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A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories

The Arc

No artist is immune from the career arc, where you’re hot and then you’re not. Its happened to a lot of artists before in the 70s, the 80s, the 90s, the 00s and even more so in today’s internet world, where an artist can release something great and it can remain ignored in the marketplace.

Remember Motley Crue who sold out arenas in the 80s, then half filled theaters in the 90s and they came back in the early 2000s to sold out arenas again then went away and are now coming back again.

Remember Aerosmith.

A huge band in the 70s, disappeared towards the end of that era and it wasn’t until 1987 that they became relevant again. And that relevance kept on rising until the late 90s and suddenly they weren’t as hot as before.

Remember Iron Maiden. Sold out arenas in the 80s and then weren’t as hot after Bruce left, but took up the momentum again when he returned.

And there are many more who were hot, then not hot and then hot again, but bands normally break up when their career is not as hot as it was in the past like Twisted Sister or Skid Row. Twisted did reform and became hot again, while Skid Row refuse to kiss and make up.

And artists who have those royalties from all those old records can go on the road based on that music.

But some artists are even fucking this up with ticketing bundles and scalping their own tickets.

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A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories

What Game Are You Playing?

I just read a book called “The Infinite Game” by Simon Sinek.

It’s about businesses and how they need to think more in long term strategies than short term. And when I read these kind of books I think of how can I apply these ideas and mindsets to myself, to my children and eventually I start to think of other areas.

Like music.

So when we play or watch a sport, there are rules that everyone who is playing, know and agree with. If you take football (soccer), the players know that the objective is to win. In order to win, one team has to score more goals than the other. And they need to do it within a time limit and within the rules of the game, which a referee enforces. This is known as a finite game. It has a start and an end and rules to which both teams agree with before they start. At the end of the season there is a winner/champion.

But music or creating art is not a finite game. There are no time limits that all artists agree upon. There are no hard rules that all artists need to follow.

The “creating art” world is, an “Infinite Game”.

There’s no other way to explain it because there are no rules about how to win, no agreed way of keeping score and no time limit. So if you are an artist and you want to create art, you need to be able to stay in the art world for as long as possible.

Profits and sales are not the only targets or the markers of success which show an artists strength. A song which makes a little bit of money and saves a life is just as important as a song which makes a lot of money.

And what does making money really mean?

The sales and profits of the “Metal Health” and “Stay Hungry” album’s made Quiet Riot and Twisted Sister big names. Yet Quiet Riot couldn’t survive the challenges the following years brought upon them because in the end, their own original material didn’t really connect with listeners the way their Slade covers did.

But the mighty Twisted Sister broke through on original material, and even though they did break up they returned to the infinite game post Sept 11, because their original material was strong enough and still forming connections with people via movie placements and peer to peer downloading. And Twisted Sister stayed in the game, until they decided to check out. Like Motley Crue and Kiss and Ozzy. Or wait, those last three bands did retirement tours and came back into the game.

As an artist, create art that would last for generations to come, like how Slade did. They didn’t have the sales success of the artists who covered their songs, but they created art which has lasted almost 50 years. Black Sabbath are bigger now than they’ve ever been, even during their 70s heyday.

But MTV in the 80s and 90s made people think of short-term results.

You really want to know what killed the recording industry?

It wasn’t Napster, the way the labels and Lars Ulrich and Gene Simmons have tried to sell it.

It was no artist development from the labels because every label executive was focused on getting the best earnings for the next quarter. Profits over development.

Even the mp3 tech was offered to the labels, who rejected it, because they put profits ahead of innovation. They even put profits ahead of creating a product/service that people could sink their teeth into.

Create art and create it forever.

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A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories

Metrics

When we think of how well a business is going, we all look to the share price. In Australia, we get all of the financial analysts on TV or in the press, telling us when to buy and when to sell. The whole Motley Fool organisation is built on this model. Everything is based on the commercial outlook.

But the share price is all about putting money back into the shareholders pocket. It doesn’t really state what the business is doing or what innovations it’s creating or how big or small the reach is or how loyal their base is.

And in music, an artists career is based on the money they have made selling albums (the share price) which is all about putting money back into the record label (the shareholder).

Are today’s top 10 artists better than the top 10 artists 40 years ago?

Remember that Black Sabbath or Deep Purple or Kiss didn’t have an album that went to number one in the 70s but they still sell more tickets than all the artists in the Spotify’s Top 50 Streaming list. Nor did any of these acts get classed in the top 10 of any Billboard chart.

When we measure success on just one metric, we are entering a territory of absolutes.

The first is that if it doesn’t sell, it is shit and that the artist is behind all of the other artists that do sell. It’s an unbalanced comparison but having the one metric is easy because it gives the artist a ranking like an EA game, a hierarchy, like it means something. And if the artist cares about status then they will strive to play the commercial metric game.

But if the artist gets the sales or streaming target, will that make them happy?

Meeting a sales target does not equal fan base retention. It will give you a boost but if the next song or album does not meet the sales target, does it mean that the song/s are shit.

Create your own metrics and remember that each listener forms their own emotional attachment to a song. It’s unique and no “one size fits all” business model is able to capture it.

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A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories

Success And Sameness

Success leads to sameness and conformity. Success leads to less risk taking. Success leads to complacency and lack of innovation. Success also leads to wanting more success which also involves less risk taking again.

I’ve read countless stories of companies who have died a painful death because they refused to innovate.

Kodak told their digital camera creator to put his new toy away as they didn’t want a digital camera to affect their camera film sales, which in the end it killed the company completely.

Bands also follow a similar route but not all. Once they have public acceptance of their music they seek it again and again. Sometimes to their detriment and sometimes until their break up or an important band member leaving.

Bon Jovi basically tried to rewrite “Slippery When Wet” with “New Jersey”. You could interchange “Bad Medicine” with “You Give Love A Bad Name” and “Born To Be My Baby” with “Living On A Prayer”. While “Let It Rock” started off with a keyboard solo intro, “Lay Your Hands On Me” started off with a drum intro.

It didn’t surpass “Slippery When Wet” but it made Jovi think he needed to get out and relax for a bit, so he put the band on hold and rode his motorcycle across America and started writing. The main song to come out is a rewrite of “Wanted Dead Or Alive” called “Blaze Of Glory”. Some of the other songs like “Dry County” and “Bed Of Roses” appeared on the “Keep The Faith” album which was a little bit different, but this time Jovi was content with reduced sales until he struck it big again with “Its My Life”.

Metallica wrote the self titled “Black” album the same way they wrote all of their other albums up to that point, with James and Lars listening to all the tapes of riffs and compiling the songs.

But in the recording they conceded some of their viewpoints to Bob Rock which meant getting into a room and playing the song and even slowing down tempos. And when the album blew up, the trust in their producer was even stronger. Mainstream success was theirs. And success leads to wanting more success and less risk taking.

Suddenly, for the next album, the band is writing songs together in a single room along with the usual Hetfield/Ulrich combination. And the music was more stripped back and rooted in blues rock than Metal. But also the look they had, conformed to the Lollapollaza look of Janes Addiction and RHCP. Even a Megadeth started wearing flannelette shirts.

Create for creativity and not because of the riches which might come or for the look that’s successful at a certain point in time.

Success is a choice. Choose wisely.

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