A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories, Unsung Heroes

Change Is Slow But Evolving

In Australia, an unsigned band, charted very high, purely on digital sales and streams.

There was no marketing budget and they trumped artists on major deals.

And yes, they did move physical product, however the game is rigged by the big legacy players who set rules in place a long time ago to control the game. In turn, those rules meant that the online store of the unsigned band (which is Polaris by the way) that was selling the CD with no bar code meant that the physical sales couldn’t be tracked and therefore didn’t count towards their chart position. Talk about a technicality.

So what does this tell us?

  • There is so much more power in the hands of the fans than ever before.
  • If fans listen to their favourite artist via a streaming service, it all adds up.
  • If fans purchase their mp3’s via a digital service, it all adds up.
  • The media can publish reports about artists slamming streaming services. Meanwhile the fans move on to what is convenient. Some will purchase, some will download illegally, some will stream for free and some will stream on a premium subscription. The bottom line is fragmentation.
  • There is no difference between an EP and a full album anymore. As an artist you don’t want to be out of the market for too long, crafting this magnum opus, only to see it drop out of the conversation, weeks after its release. 10 songs every two years, doesn’t cut it anymore. Four songs every 3 months should be the new norm. All of the Classic Rock bands from Seventies, released an album each year and in some cases two albums.
  • There is a connection with their fans. The band distributed the album out of their bedrooms and sent out each pre-order with hand written messages to the fans.
  • If Polaris, keep this momentum going and if they keep on replenishing their fan base, the possibilities are endless.
  • There is no sure thing in music. Just because you have a label deal, it doesn’t mean you will make it. Just because you are an independent artist and unsigned it doesn’t mean you will get a deal or even get noticed.
  • Everyone involved in the recording industry are still clueless. The labels still have no idea what constitutes a hit or what they should sign and promote. No one saw Adele coming six years ago, or Five Finger Death Punch almost ten years ago. No one expected Mumford and Sons to move millions upon millions of product or Shinedown and Thirty Seconds To Mars to be consistent sellers.

See how the media is trumpeting Adele again and how she has sold 8 million albums in the U.S. Every news outlet is reporting.

Big deal.

Whitesnake sold 7 million plus on the U.S on their 1987 self-titled album. It doesn’t mean those same 7 million people are now listening to the album over and over and over again. Poison sold millions upon millions of albums between 1987 and 1994. It doesn’t mean they have millions upon millions of real fans. If they did, they would be playing arena’s and creating new music. Instead Poison is resigned to an opening act that plays the jukebox hits.

Some might say that the success of “Polaris” is a one-off. Back in August, another metalcore band from Australia called, “Northlane” actually topped the ARIA Album charts, beating out Lamb Of God among others. This band was signed to an independent label from Melbourne and Rise Records in the US.

But in saying that, how relevant are the charts these days.

In most cases, bands that chart in the Australia Top 10 have moved less than 10,000 in product.  It’s because the old guard still focuses on sales as the main metric of success and bands still like to report their chart position like it means something. Once upon a time it did, but not in 2016.

So again, it comes back to the same old question.

Are people listening to the music?

That is the metric that matters. Listens, not sales. I listened to Polaris on Spotify and I don’t mind them. For a metalcore band there is a lot of competition for people’s attention. In the same way the early Nineties had way too many hard/melodic rock bands, the two thousands and ten period is littered with a lot of metalcore bands. Eventually only a handful will survive the cull when it happens. It’s the way of the business.

Bon Jovi’s “What About Now” charted at Number 1.

Black Sabbath’s “13” also charted at Number 1.

And if I ask fans of the band to name me all of the songs on each album without referring to the album in the exact chronological order, they would struggle.

Hell, none of the songs are even in the Top 5 Popular List on their streaming accounts. Which is very different to Five Finger Death Punch’s account, which has three songs from their most recent album in the Top 5 Popular List.

And that is why Five Finger Death Punch still move product. They are constant on Active Rock Radio, their music is being listened too and as a by-product they keep on selling.

Change is slow but evolving.

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A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories, Unsung Heroes

Australian Music Scene – The Rise Of The Indies

Australian Music is ALWAYS a rich vibrant scene. And it is a scene that is underpinned by Independent artists. These independent artists are the real battlers, the one’s that carry the load of the vibrant music scene. Financially it is a miserable livelihood however the emotional experience is rewarding. And there is no escaping that Australian Independent artists are some of the hardest working artists and also the lowest paid members of the Australian workforce. The sad thing is that the elite levels of Government have no idea about the Independent artists. Any Government funding goes to the large Industry bodies who don’t really disperse the monies to the artists doing the rounds on the streets.

In music we have APRA/AMCOS, ARIA, AMIN, AIR, AMA and so many other local and state bodies. So all of these industry groups and associations are part of the music industry. Their main source of income is derived from Independent artists and Government Grants. The same independent artists that are living on or below the poverty line. For these artists, the larger music industry bodies are faceless monoliths that put profit first. While they may serve the major players in the Australian music industry, they do nothing for the rest. It is another example of taking care of the one percenters and forgetting about the rest.

The solution is for the mainstream to support and nurture independent artists. These music industry bodies need to ensure that all of the diversity and innovation created by the independent sector is supported and nurtured. Because the independent sector is the oxygen of the mainstream industry bodies. Once you cut them off and the major bodies will suffocate.

That is why it is great to see that 80% of the nominations for the latest ARIA Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Album Of The Year category were released “independently”. For the uninformed independent or “indie” is basically an artist or a record label that has no connection to a major label or interference from a major label. In most cases it is the DIY style of artist. However with everything that deals with the music business, the definition is more complex than it should be. Most indie labels operate without major labels interference, however they all still use the distribution and promotion arms of the major labels.

For example, Sumerian Records is an independent label in the US. They have distribution deals with the Alternative Distribution Alliance (ADA), who is the independent music and film distribution arm of Warner Music Group who is a major label.

Going back to the bands nominated for the Hard Rock/Heavy Metal ARIA, A DZ Deathrays “Black Rat” album was released on the independent label “I OH YOU” who has an affiliation with Mushroom Records who is owned by Warner Music Group. The Amity Affliction’s “Let The Ocean Take Me” and Shihad’s “FVEY” where released on Roadrunner Records who is a subsidiary of Warner Music Group. Sleepmakeswaves “Love Of Cartography” album was released through Australian independent record label Bird’s Robe Records, which is distributed through MGM Distribution in Australia. In 2013, UK label Monotreme Records licensed their album for an international release across the UK, Europe and North America. This is a true independent band and label in my eyes. High Tension’s “Death Beat” is under license to independent label Cooking Vinyl Records, who uses RED Distribution for U.S distribution and it is also owned by Sony.

Look at some of the successful crowd funding campaigns independent artists have taken.

In Australia, heavy rock band, “I Am Voyager” went to their fans with a goal of about $10,000 and ended up getting $18,000 plus. In the U.S, Protest The Hero went to market with a goal of about $115,000 and ended up getting $300,000 plus. Haste The Day went to market with a goal of $65,000 and ended up getting $139,276. Emery went to market with a goal of $50,000 and ended up raising $110,815. Spocks Beard went to their fans for their 11th album with a goal to raise $25,000 and ended up raising $69,119. Trapt had a goal to raise $50,000 and ended up raising $56,634. Chimaira went the crowd funding route for a fan edition CD-DVD of their CROWN OF PHANTOMS album with a goal of $30,000 and they ended up raising $60,758.

Independently minded musicians and label owners are the ones that are pushing boundaries in music because they want control over what’s being released, when it’s released, and how it’s released. And they are not afraid to use the major labels when it suits them, but ultimately they’re calling the shots.

So I am sick and tired of hearing the RIAA and major label rhetoric about how artists put in their blood, sweat and tears into their music and because of piracy they don’t have a say about how it is released. The “Indies” are finding new and creative ways all the time. For a musician it is an exciting time to be a part of the music scene. Especially if you are an indie.

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