We will have to dance with the devil to crack the code for financial success in the ‘New Age’
There's more than one side to a story.
There's more than one side to a story.
So in response to our article about the ‘New Age’ embracing new revenue models, reader @Iambeatmenace decided to take us on our word, and show quite convincingly, that it’s between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea for indie artists looking to stay financially independent of big labels.
We’ve cleaned up the article a bit for clarity but it is all his words. We learnt a thing or two, you will too.
Edwin’s analogy of independent artists stampeding established acts and getting their due elsewhere is alarmingly flawed. It’s untrue. It’s a misconception created and sold by the Majors as part of Thor ploy to control or get a chunk of indie movements in different ways or forms as it’s still evolving.
These ‘indie’ artists he’s lauding still use the help of the majors in one way or the order. For instance, Chance the Rapper’s expose after the Grammys. He was paid half a million dollars by Apple Music for his third album ‘Colouring Book’, an album that he then went to market as ‘free’. So basically, he claimed he was independent but needed or used major label infrastructure (advances, publishers, distribution, marketing and press, radio etc) for ‘success’, that’s a scam or a farce… flip it whatever way you want to. It isn’t indie… at least not yet. I’ll explain further.
Also there is a long history of rappers like Chance (and many other indie artists around the globe and even more so in our part of the world) refusing to pay/ compensate his producers (in the hip-hop sense, the beat maker or co-writer who is legally entitled to own 50% of the music BY LAW) and collaborators and instead choosing to fight lawsuits and compensations etc. Can one truly be successful when the numbers they rope in are in reality just ‘half’ because that half belongs to somebody else who you refuse to compensate either deliberately or out of ignorance?… the numbers WERE skewed.
Apple is the largest retailer of digital content on planet earth; music, books and film. Go figure. They’re the vanguard of Major presence in the digital era. It’s not debatable.
Also Edwin’s analogy of a lack of originality or the sameness in today’s music is definitely one of several factors responsible for decline in music buying culture, but certainly one of the major factors; however, albums are not the only solution. Solutions must be Artist-specific. Part of the sameness he speaks about is also as a result of mimicry (style, format, marketing etc).
In the digital era, it’s easy to create or express ideas or self more easily than it ever was at any time in history,very empowering!; however, like everything else, there are always consequences. Fewer people are skilled musically and tend to limit their expression to using similar or similar sounding software and computer programs further relying on pre-defined algorithms to express their ideas; don’t get me wrong, learning to play an instrument won’t guarantee you’ll be better at expressing yourself compared to someone who doesn’t have formal training but it definitely opens up a lot of possibilities for someone who is creative and that can make a major difference.
Artists today are not developed enough or even bother with developing themselves beyond the ability to hold notes. Most just ride a wave because they drop a couple singles and become an Instagram sensation.
And to focus on the album…
It’s one of the solutions… or maybe not. Even decisions about putting out major projects must be tailored to the artist and not just treated as the ‘magic button’ to salvage bad record sales.
Yes, an album takes a lot of skill and expertise to put together and is slowly becoming a dying art form as it must be sequenced, arranged to be more than a ‘mix-tape’ or a random grouping of tracks but must take the listener on a journey. In context of the creative or artistic vision. Highs and lows, plateaus and peaks… That takes a lot of experience and skill for everyone involved in the process… and money. If the artists don’t make money… how can they put an album together? Many can’t even afford the time in discipline and practice to perfect their art and concentrate on putting out singles (or EP’s or Albums) of high quality etc?
Edwin used Ed Sheeran and Drake as examples to validate his point which disenfranchises the article’s primary audience; the ‘New Age’ or specifically indie artists: These two acts are signed to two of the largest major labels/distribution companies in the world. They have entire corporations behind the funding, development, creation and marketing of their projects… Not to mention that they’ve been professionally making music for at about 6 or so years, churning out fairly great material, relentlessly touring, and using the massive advertising/marketing machinery at their disposal as a way to developing an organic global grassroots following.
They didn’t just go ‘Viral’.
In fact, let me further elaborate that personally, I followed Ed Sheeran’s concerts and bootleg tapes before he was signed to a label. When he was still a busker and had a following to stage shows, the venues he played were usually overbooked and a few times, permits had to be acquired to allow fans who the venues couldn’t accommodate experience Sheeran’s artistry outside with huge LED screens. Why wouldn’t a label want to affiliate with such power which was achieved as a result of hard work, dedication and a plan that took years!. This was at least 6 years ago. I witnessed it personally.
That amount of dedication and building of an underground following for years while maintaining a pretty solid back catalogue or repertoire takes time. And hard work. And dedication. And commitment. And A PLAN!. How many of our new age artists know music business?, how many are truly committed and sacrifice of a chunk of their time in their waking life to improve or develop their skill as artists?
I work with and have worked with a great many in the past and the numbers aren’t impressive. Most are just blinded by the glamour, want to avoid hard work and discipline or ‘structure’ and gravitate towards cheap thrills. Music and music business is hard work. A lot of it. Many major label artists don’t feel as much pressure but the pressure to make sales to balance sheets (or pay an advance back to the label) but a lot of the pressure is absorbed by the team… a team sometimes in the thousands all around the world. Indie artists and major artists who do music for the love without compromise on quality hardly sleep irrespective of the size of their team or how successful they are…
Edwin did have a point of mentioning that without a repertoire, it’s not likely to get bookings etc. That is true, no matter how big or small you are.
I saw one of artists he mentioned perform live in Ghana and it was a disaster. It reminded me of entertainment nights when I was in secondary school. If the ‘New Age’ (I’m not particularly fond of this title… I’ll save my reasons for a later thread.) must take the world stage, we must know that artists are multi-faceted and development must also reflect that.
An artist may get streaming numbers and be shortlisted on Beats radio/Spotify Music and that’s major! Super super major especially for an indie artist from these parts but make no mistake, someone on their team is doing something right to complement their fresh sound. It could be a tireless manager, sibling or friend loosing sleep for months with A PLAN, or even better, expertise or familiarity with music business and some music business connects. ALL or MOST of what I just typed ARE true. They worked for it. Add the fact that ‘afrobeats’ (I again hate this title as it’s stupidly misleading) is the new inspiration in pop culture in the U.K. And some parts of North America making it ever so easier for myopic label heads to once again appreciate African music… music they’ve exploited for almost a century.
As stated earlier, these artists will need more material to make sense of all this attention and success soon enough. The artists have to be ready and developed for this spotlight, else, the bricks may easily come tumbling down when fans see them perform live. It’s one thing to enjoy their studio recordings at home and an entirely different thing to see these ‘New Age’ artists perform live. I won’t pay to see most. I’ll be happy with a Spotify or SoundCloud link for now.
This will become borderline problematic when downloads are almost a thing of the past, physical copies don’t sell, music business infrastructure is nothing but a fairytale and streaming proceeds are pitiful. One of the surest ways of sustenance and economic empowerment for artists will be to be a developed live act. Music is simply coming full circle once again, after all, even before the Internet, music has always had a global audience… the internet should simply be used as a tool to make it more accessible, thus, the discipline of neglecting artist development in any way which is now the norm has to be seriously looked at.
I frequently rant and share industry tips from time to time… want to visit the belly of the beast?, sure.
Instagram/ Twitter: @iambeatmenace