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

Rock/Metal in the early 90s

In 1990, the biggest hit singles in relation to sales and chart placement where “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Sinead O’Connor, “Vogue” by Madonna, “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice, “U Can’t Touch This” by MC Hammer and “It Must Have Been Love” by Roxette.

In 1991, the biggest hit singles where “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” by Bryan Adams, “Black Or White” by Michael Jackson, “Joyride” by Roxette, “Wind Of Change” by Scorpions and “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M.

In 1992, the biggest hit singles where “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana, “End Of The Road” by Boyz II Men, “Rhythm Is A Dancer” by Snap! and “To Be With You” by Mr Big. And of course let’s not forget “Achy Breaky Heart” by Billy Ray Cyrus.

By the early 90’s, I always believed that the remnants of the dominant 80’s rock movement was looking for ways to fit in and get back people’s attention. A lot of the acts signed towards the late 80’s had already splintered. Some got dropped and tried to get a new deal or they just left the recording business for good. And you had a lot of acts from the 80’s, who had platinum success and somehow were still together and looking for ways to survive in the 90’s. You also had the 70’s acts that re-invented themselves in the 80’s thanks to MTV and were looking to keep the momentum going well into the 90’s. Aerosmith and Kiss come to mind here.

However, rock and metal bands was a big album business. Because in 1987, after Bon Jovi’s and Europe’s explosion in 1986, the biggest hit singles in relation to sales and chart placement where, “La Bamba” by Los Lobos, “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody Who Loves Me” by Whitney Houston, “It’s a Sin” by Pet Shop Boys and “Who’s That Girl” by Madonna. But Jovi was selling “Slippery” by the truckload.

In 1989, the biggest hit singles where “Like A Prayer” by Madonna, “Eternal Flame” by The Bangles, “Another Day in Paradise” by Phil Collins, “The Look” by Roxette and “Love Shack” by The B-52s. So rock and metal music did do well commercially selling albums, but it paled significantly compared to the pop world.

Meanwhile, the recording business was in a race to the bottom with a winner take all mentality. Label after label started to get sucked into the vacuum of the larger label. Changes in personnel happened so fast that once an artist was signed, a few weeks or few months later, the people who signed the artist are no longer working at the label and the interest to develop and promote the artist disappeared. So the artist is in limbo. But the label is not letting the artist go, just in case the artist makes it with another label. It’s one of the big no-no’s in the recording industry.

A record company in the 80’s would get you on radio, music television, magazines and they would push the album hard enough to achieve platinum sales. If it didn’t “sell”, they would put you in the studio again, get you further in debt and if you failed again, you would be dropped. A record label in the 90’s would sign you and then drop you before you even released anything or had a chance to get your message across.

And in today’s world it’s getting even harder to get your message across. It’s weird, because everyone has smartphones and everyone is connected however this great digital era also means that the users are the product. Facebook makes billions selling your data. 

 

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A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories

Changes

Love him or hate him, one thing is certain. Nikki Sixx is a lifer in the music business and once he and Allen Kovacs got back control of Motley’s catalogue in the late 90’s, they went about reinventing his image and persona, until he became bigger than the rest of the Crue guys combined.

Sixx A.M. released “The Heroin Diaries” back in 2007. The album along with the book was an instant purchase because Crue was my favourite band in the 80’s. Their attitude, their pop choruses, the street life lyrics and their simple but effective riffage all connected with me. And even though I had many different guitarists’ as influences, Crue showed the world that you don’t have to be the most gifted musicians to write effective songs that connect.

The 10th year anniversary edition of “The Heroin Diaries” came out today, so I’m giving it a few spins. And you know what; it stands the test of time. It’s a pretty good album. My favourites still are “Life Is Beautiful”, “Accidents Can Happen”, “The Girl With Golden Eyes”, “Van Nuys” and “Pray For Me”. The first three songs I mentioned also get a 2017 treatment.

Man, 10 years is a long time in music. You could be here and then you could be gone. You could be the star of the scene or then you could be forgotten.

Think about it. In 1989, the Crue released “Dr Feelgood”. By 1999, the Crue was creatively non-existent. But that was back in the era of when the record labels controlled the industry.

The internet has given bands a longer life span. Yes, the net has created so much noise, which makes it hard to rise above, however the internet and piracy to a large extent has spread the music of bands to every single corner of the world. Which means that someone right now is listening to an artist they’ve never heard before. Changes are a-happening.

In 2007, Avril Lavigne had the best-selling record globally. She hasn’t released anything since 2013 and you don’t even hear about her in the news. But once upon a time she was everywhere. She might be the star again. There’s no reason why she shouldn’t. Fall Out Boy had the best-selling album in the U.S in 07 however Fall Out Boy has the rock work ethic and they have been consistently putting out new product since then. They have a new one coming in 2018. Some of it sticks and some of it doesn’t.

The TV show that was popular in 2007 is not here anymore and the pirate sites you visited to get your content fix are gone and there is a high chance you are paying monies to a streaming service. Because in the end, that’s all we really wanted, access to products. Not ownership. Changes are a-happening.

In 1997, used to be the sale was the transaction. In 2007, the label still saw the sale as the transaction because that’s all they knew but it was an irrelevant metric. In 2017, the label still sees that sale as the transaction. However, it’s the listen. While society and consumerism has changed at a rapid pace, the labels and the charts are still stuck in an old paradigm. If you don’t believe me, check out the news stories on how the algorithms for the Billboard charts are changing yet again. First they changed to count something like 1200 streams as a sale. Now they are changing again to weight listens from paid streaming services higher than freemium listens.

Seriously WTF.

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A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories

Attention 

Once upon a time I was thrilled to see my heroes in mainstream publications. But now there are a billion online outlets and we get most of our stories direct from the artist via social media. And the generation born from the mid 90’s onwards want an immediate bond with the artist, a connection. They don’t care about interviews artists do when they are releasing an album with magazines and blogs. By working in the old rules, the artist is handing over their own narrative to someone else to control. It doesn’t make sense especially when the tools are right in front of them to take ownership and tell their own story, the way they want to tell it. 

But humans do tend to be lazy.

EBay has 171 million users and it’s struggling to stay relevant. So how is any different for an artist. I constantly come across news stories of artists telling people who don’t care their streaming payment after a million streams. Want to make money in streaming, get over a 100 million streams. Want to make even more money, get over a billion streams. One thing is certain, streaming will pay you forever, so metal and rock fans need to stream en masse. 

Which means metal/rock bands need to get out of the “album mindset” and focus on the “continuous stream of product mindset”. If you want to win, you need to play, so it means you need to be in the marketplace all the time. The new way is to release music first and the hype comes after. But artists/record labels are still focused on hype first and then release.

There is money to be made, but the music needs to have longevity. It needs to sustain. Bubbling under the surface is better than exploding fast and then falling fast. And if something doesn’t work, you adjust on the fly. That’s how it works in the digital world. Nothing is set in stone. It’s chaos, anarchy. Artists need to create anarchy with their product instead of following the 1930’s marketing 101 rules.

And how many times have you heard of an act employing a scorched earth publicity campaign, which they hope will turn people onto the band or make people believe the band is bigger than what they really are. But they forgot that the music accompanying the release is of substandard quality. And it’s the music that will survive, not the publicity campaign.

Remember, all the digital places that lost our attention. It’s no different for an artist.

People will care about you; love what you do, your music and your connection to them via social media. Then some of those people will grow and change and fall out of love with what you do. You need to accept that and understand that your fans are telling you one thing; your style of music is not for them at this point in time. And once you are aware of this information, what will you do with it to get back their attention.

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A to Z of Making It, Copyright, Music, My Stories, Piracy, Stupidity, Treating Fans Like Shit

Streaming and Distribution 

I believe that it’s an excellent time (on the current state of the music scene). I feel that there’s so much out there for people to pick from and choose from its phenomenal. I mean and guitar playing is at such a high level right now. I mean these younger generations are just taking it to a point where you know it’s beginning to explore places that people have never gone before, it’s just fascinating. And the music itself too, you can pick a genre and find so much great music in every genre. People are just pushing the envelope in all directions, so I think it’s very gratifying and satisfying. It’s a little challenging to pick through I mean from this thing back in the day when I was growing up there’s like a half a dozen or 10 big giant great bands that are super groups you know. Now it’s like there are thousands of bands. Picking through everything is hard. It’s stressful trying to find all the right music you know.
George Lynch 

Today, noise reigns supreme. For the ones who have financial backing, they surround us with their nuclear blast marketing. And in most cases people ignore them.

But it’s still a good time for an artist to get their product out. Actually it’s the best time.

For the record labels, they are still trying to get control over the distribution chain after losing it to Napster and other peer to peer file sharing programs. At the moment, technology companies have it and if the labels kill the streaming grape vine, they hope to bring the distribution chain under the record labels. 

Streaming has three main players. Spotify, Google and Apple.

Spotify is losing money each year and relies on investments. The record labels owe a piece of it but they are not investing in it. YouTube is owned by Google (well their parent company) and the record labels hate Google, blaming it for all of their ills. The “take it or leave it” deal with YouTube is not what the labels want, so they lobby hard to get laws passed which can cripple Google. Apple uses music to push sales of wares. However, even Apple is going to the table to get a lower payment rate back to the labels.

Going back to Spotify.

Since it has money woes and it cannot make a profit, it’s offering payola terms back to the record labels to have their music chucked into playlists for a fee. Because taking in money from users and advertisers is not enough to make money in music if you don’t have your own popular content bringing in money. And the labels are getting paid handsomely twice from each streaming provider.

  • Spotify pays them for licensing their music catalogues and then pays them again as royalty payments based on listens.
  • YouTube pays them for licensing their music catalogues and then pays them again as royalty payments based on listens.
  • Pandora pays them for licensing their music catalogues and then pays them again as royalty payments based on listens.
  • Apple pays them for licensing their music catalogues and then pays them again as royalty payments based on listens.
  • Tidal pays them for licensing their music catalogues and then pays them again as royalty payments based on listens.

I think you get the drift. Maybe that’s why Spotify is paying producers to be fake artists and play popular songs on piano for people to listen to.

And to top it off, the record labels are still using the 100 year old rule of geo restrictions when it comes to streaming. So music available in the U.S doesn’t necessarily equate to being available in Australia. Here is a quick list of albums I tried to call up in the last two weeks on Spotify Australia which are not available;

  • Heaven And Hell – The Devil You Know, released in 2009
  • Stryper – Murder By Pride, released in 2009
  • Three Days Grace – Life Starts Now, released in 2009
  • Night Ranger – Midnight Madness, released in 1983
  • Europe – Europe, released in 1983
  • Helix – No Rest For The Wicked, released in 1983

Isn’t it nice how record labels treat legitimate paying customers?

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

It’s Never The Record Labels Fault

There are a lot of stories of how the recording industry has been transformed since Napster.

Most of it is around the losses of income. Most of it portrays the recording industry as the music industry. And all of the stories told from the main news sites, blamed the technology. It was never the fault of the record labels.

Then the iTunes store came and the purchase of mp3’s became legal. And people still complained. You, see the profit margins are nowhere near as good as the CD profit margins. And still the fault was with the technology for not paying enough or not charging enough. It was never the fault of the record labels.

Then YouTube appeared as the earliest form of streaming there is. Users uploaded their fan made clips and their music catalogues. And again, the fault was with the technology and not with the record labels.

Then streaming came on the scene in Pandora, Grooveshark, Deezer and Spotify and the conversation shifted to the pennies paid per listen.

Song writers (people who write songs for other artists) started to complain about what streaming services pay them. Artists complained about what streaming services paid them. And the streaming services keep on saying they are paying 70% of their income to the rights holders, which in 99% of cases is the record labels and publishing companies. Vivendi, the owner of Universal Music is now considering going to an IPO based on the brilliant profits their balance sheet is seeing from streaming licensing and royalty payments.  But the whole time, the technology is to blame for not paying enough. It’s never the fault of the record labels.

Did you know that in 2016, $3.9 billion dollars came into the record label bank accounts from streaming services?

If you don’t believe me, check out the stats from the International Federation of The Phonographic Industry. I wonder who is taking the lion share of those monies.

Here is a dirty little secret from streaming services. They are not making any money. They don’t have the mass, so they rely on capital investments to keep on going. Sort of like a legal Ponzi scheme. Take money from new investors to sustain the business and keep old investors happy with the hope to get legal paying customers to the service.

In the meantime, the much-loved CD product of the record label is getting sold on Amazon and a lot of them are counterfeits, so no money is going back to the record label or the artist. And again, Amazon is to blame for selling counterfeit CD’s because it’s never the fault of the record labels. To the record labels and the artists they represent, it’s Amazon’s fault for not policing this.

So everyone is to blame for the record labels failures except themselves.

Does any remember back in 2015, when Sony’s contract with Spotify leaked?

The record label is getting over $45 million in license fees and there is no transparency if any of these monies make it down to artists and songwriters. The bigger artists/songwriters will have clauses in their contracts for a larger slice of the streaming revenue, and some artists/songwriters are still operating under the old CD-era contracts. You don’t hear Metallica or Max Martin complaining about streaming monies.

In the end if you are signed to a label, creating music which is being listened too and are not getting paid, your issue is with your employer, the record label. But it’s never the record labels fault.

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

Playlists And Streaming

Spotify is growing. The pop artists or the cross-over artists from other genres into the pop world are getting into the 100 plus millions/billions listens. And the high counts are due to two things;

  • Spotify Playlists.
  • Listeners Playlists

If a song is added to the most followed playlists, then the listens go up.

There is a “Rock In The 2000’s” playlist created by Spotify and if you check the songs on it and then check the streams the songs have on the artist account, you will see those songs on the playlist dwarf the rest of the catalogue. For example, “Chop Suey” from System Of A Down is on the Spotify playlist and the listens of Chop Suey is exponentially higher than the remainder of SOAD’s catalogue.

“Drake doesn’t lock himself into an album cycle. When Drake wants to put out music and he feels like it’s ready, Drake puts out music. So it’s not the typical, “I’m gonna put out two singles, then launch my album, then go on tour, then wait two years and go back in the studio and release this music.” I think he really has captured that rhythm of how fans want to consume music.”
Spotify’s Troy Carter on Drake’s Streaming Success

Drake is as metal and rock as the soap in the bathroom is metal, however the lesson should be applied to all. New music is an invitation into the world of the artist. It’s not the only thing. Capture the moment and release when the song is ready, not many months later when the album is ready.

Platinum selling artist Mark Tremonti has released three albums in 2 years, and while Tremonti and Alter Bridge are on tour, he is spending his free time giving guitar lessons/doing guitar clinics as an additional income stream.

It is easier to find and less costly to release new music, leading to unpredictable successes from artists who might not have been discovered or produced an album in an earlier era.
Michael Luca and Craig McFadden – Harvard Business Review

And that’s the cold hard truth about music in 2016. Artists who normally wouldn’t be signed can suddenly record and release music into the world. The supply of new music over the last 10 years is way higher than the demand for new music. Hell, I listened to 950 plus unique artists on Spotify this year. I grew up in the 80’s with no more than 50 or so unique artists. Spotify has over 20 million songs that haven’t been listened to yet.

Sure, some of the Spotify playlists might be a PR exercise for the labels, in the end, it still comes down to the user, who still likes to have some a filter to push new music on them. But then the record labels would like to mislead people about how much it costs them to break an artist to the mainstream.

The truth is the labels don’t break artists. They can spend monies on the artist, the promotions and put them out into the market place, however it is the people who decide if the artist will break on through. And what we are seeing more are artists making it on the back of streaming and no radio support.

But times have changed: in a landscape dominated by services such as Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and Amazon, it is possible to have a hit without the press and radio (or much of the public) even noticing you. Kiiara, hardly a household name, is currently enjoying a global hit with Gold, off the back of 312m streams on Spotify alone. (Other services don’t make their numbers public.) You could look at British artist James TW, whose song When You Love Someone has 35m streams. Then there’s Australian teen Joel Adams, whose one and only song Please Don’t Go has chalked up 320m streams on Spotify.
Peter Robinson – Guardian Writer

Yeah, I got no idea who the above artists are and none of them are really rock or metal, but the possibilities are there for unknown metal and rock bands to become streaming behemoths without the support of record labels and radio stations. However, having a high streaming listen count doesn’t automatically correlate to concert ticket sales or sales of recorded music, much in the same way Facebook likes/followers never equal sales. The artist will need to work even harder to convert those listeners into real fans, because a lot of streaming users are casual fans who like to check songs out.

 

In the back-end of Spotify, for instance, fans are split into three categories: streakers (who have listened to the artist every day in the last week), loyalists (who have listened to them more than to any other over the past 20 days), and regulars (who listened to the artist on the majority of the days in the month
Peter Robinson – Guardian Writer

Spotify is building the data banks instead of the labels. Apple already has the databank. The labels have done nothing in this regard. So as an artist, who do you want to partner with?

And finally, there are the playlists. The more playlists the songs are added to, the more exposure the songs will get and this is where the old gatekeeper model comes into play. How does a rock or metal band get their songs onto a Spotify created playlist that has over a million followers?

STREAMING – changing the music business again
STREAMING – artists who made it huge without radio support
STREAMING – Swedish artists benefiting from streaming 
RECORD LABELS – breaking an artist 
SONGWRITER WHO SOLD HIS SONGS FOR A FEE AND IS UNKNOWN

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Music, My Stories, Piracy, Stupidity

Once Upon A Time In The Recording Industry

Once upon a time, the labels ruled the kingdom unchallenged. Transparency was a dirty word as the labels’ hid from their artists how much money came in and how much money they are entitled to, while at the same time, they charged the consumers high prices.

As time went on, there was talk of unrest over the high prices charged. Talks of revolution started to happen in colleges and universities. Then from out of nowhere, a young, revolutionary upstart called Napster rose up in defiance. It wasn’t long until the people adopted Napster as their means to access the vast archives of the labels and what seemed like overnight, the history of the world’s musical output was at the fingertips of the people. Sharing became prominent. Scarcity was replaced by abundance and cultures flourished. Countries and cities that had no recording industry suddenly had thriving musical scenes.

Napster showed the powerful labels how the people of the world really want to consume their product. Tunes were free and previously overpriced albums with few good tracks became unlocked for the masses to share and enjoy. And the labels had lost control because they did not give the people what they wanted.

But the labels didn’t take this defiance too lightly.

There was no way the labels would step down from their thrones and give away their position of power. There was no way the labels would allow the people to dictate terms to them. Along with Messer’s Ulrich and others, the labels went to war against the people. It was bloody and messy. Relationships strained and the labels, artists and industry would never be the same. The law played its dirty green hand and showed the world that it was never about the law but about the people who had the capacity to pay. Copyright infringers got punishments more severe than murderers and drug dealers.

With a lot of money at stake, the labels had their friends in the High Courts of the Lands pass motions to restrict Napster. But it was too late. The cultural movement Napster started would not be put to rest. A fire was lit and the people responded in the millions as they flocked to AudioGalaxy, Kazaa and Limewire. The labels responded to these uprisings via the courts.

Then from the ashes of defiance, in the country of Valhalla, “the one who has stood defiantly” set sail into “The Pirate Bay”. The sharing of culture and the expansion of the public domain became a new belief system. Political parties formed with the same ideology.

In between the nuclear litigation against the defiant entities, the record labels screamed black and blue to the politicians to pass laws to protect their bottom lines. The politicians always responded by writing laws. But the people now had a powerful voice. With the rise of the Internet, demonstrations went from the streets into the cyber age.

Then an offer came from a technology company and a man called Steve Jobs. The iPod needed a digital store and Steve Jobs dragged the record labels into the digital world. EMI had the foresight and signed first, while Sony and Universal held out until the last-minute. But the labels wanted digital rights on each mp3 and suddenly, people who legally purchased music were punished. DRM actually restricted what people could do with music they purchased legally. One label even put DRM onto legally purchased CD’s and infected the computers of the users.

While the record labels tried to protect their business models with laws and DRM, musicians started to be business people, investing in start-ups and what not. And then they signed their souls to the corporation for a pay-day while the people changed from ownership to listens.

Artists and the labels had to reset their goals. Instead of trying to get people to purchase their product, their main goal became to get someone to listen. But the industry still wants sales, especially first week sales. And that’s the problem with the industry. Not Spotify, not piracy. So much money is spent on marketing that fails to deliver anything worth paying attention to.

If the artist (along with their record label) can’t get the consumer on their side, they’re doomed. The recording industry is living proof of an industry that had to change the way they offer their music to suit what the consumers wanted. It started with iTunes and then it went to streaming. However there are labels and acts who believe otherwise, still embracing the old model instead of embracing the new.

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