(20 August 1998)
What the hell is going on?
The music world we have grown up with is turning upside down. With more and more labels trying to get their records into fewer and fewer stores; with more and more groups trying to play fewer and fewer clubs; with our audience having other places to spend their entertainment dollars...we need to look to new ideas for solutions for reaching and the delivery of music.
Under the present system, if you are a new band, good luck finding a place to play, someone to book you, a label to record and sell your records, a manager who knows what they're doing...
A little background
Twin/Tone Records has been around for over 20 years. We have seen and learned a great deal during this period. The skills we collectively picked up include:
With over 10 labels, 120 groups, 300 records, and 25 bands going onto major label deals.... at one level or another, we have done it all ... We have never tried to be a major label, we always saw ourselves as a farm team for major labels. Our mission was to help groups become groups, to give them a home while they developed their sound, learned how to tour, basically, learned the business of being a group.
- finding groups who wanted to... succeed, work hard, have long term careers
- recording, mastering, manufacturing, and distributing records
- promotion and marketing records
- managing and booking artists
- moving groups over to major labels
We are in the process of moving out of the physical inventory business and into keeping our recordings in cyberspace. Standard CD's and record stores aren't going to disappear over night, but I can't justify spending 70% of my resources to get CD's of my new projects into the stores. I will offer music fans the ability to sample and download via the Internet CD quality files. These files can be:
- purchased from my site, on-line stores,
- played on your computer, outputed to your stereo, tape deck, etc.
- burned onto CD-Rs which can be played on any CD player
- burned onto a CD by my company or by one of many others also offering "custom disc" services (eventually, many present retail stores will offer custom Cds as well)
The future for you?
I get at least ten e-mails a day from musicians who want me to listen to their tape (or in many cases, a finished CD) and either sign them to one of my labels or at least help them out.
My advice is about the same for everyone...
You don't need help if your not a band... from my humble point of view, a band is a group of musicians who have agreed to work tougher towards some common goals, such as:
if your not doing all of these, you aren't ready for outside help. There are many books and people (some like me) who will give advice (most of the time, good advice)...read and follow this advice...
- they write songs
- they play gigs
- they record songs
- they try to get people to know their name and music
- they build/ expand their fan base
Do you need a record company? the question is really, "At what price do you need help?" Years ago the costs to record and manufacture records were more than what the normal band could undertake. Labels had relationships with distributors and stores and could place their records in all the cool stores. They could get your record played on radio stations (college stations at a minimum.) Today things are very different mainly due to the bulk number of releases issued every month and the drop in costs of making CDs. Bands can now record and manufacture CD's for amounts that they can afford. Labels have to "buy" their way into stores, many major label records don't make it into the majority of stores. Major labels own the radio, getting your song on the radio is almost equivalent to winning the lottery .
I argue that for a band that doesn't travel outside their home city much, the band can do more by themselves or at least make more money by themselves. With a record label, CDs that sell in stores net a band at most $2.00 each in royalties and publishing. CDs that bands sell themselves at their gigs often net the bands more than $7.00 each.
For the last year or so we have found that our new bands that play 60-120 gigs per year can sell more CDs "off the stage" than we can sell through all our retail contacts and distributors. I can't get records into the stores (or keep them in the stores if I get them in) unless I am willing to spend all (or more) of my potential profits. This makes no sense to me...
I would suggest that all a new band needs (besides basic guidance) is marketing help. This is what my company will specialize in. Rather than be a record label, we are becoming a marketing and electronic distribution company.
What about the Internet? There is no question, the Internet is the future. It is just a mater of time.
The Internet (through web pages, sound samples and downloads, links to other sites, and access to the entire world) offers the best value for anyone's marketing money. For the music industry, today the Internet is basicaly used for promotion and marketing. In the very near future it will also offer the main sales arena as well.
So, what can you do right now? My basic game plan for all new bands is:
Find a way on your own to finance the recording and manufacturing of 1,000 CDs. Use friends for help. Don't spend much on recording, use friends who own studios or cut deals with studios. Art students with computers can help with art work. The point is not to waste a lot of time and money on your first project. Spend the time on writing and developing your songs. Spend the time on playing local clubs to build a local following. Spend your time networking with other musicians to gain contacts and knowledge. Many bands can make 1,000 CDs for around $3,000.
Work the local market... Once you have the CDs, sell them at your gigs. (You only need to sell 300 or so to get your investment back.) Go around and place them on consignment with local stores. Work the local music reviewers to review your record in the local press. Make and sell T-shirts, they pay for themselves (if you don't give them away.) You can order the shirts as you need them a dozen or two at a time. In the early stages of a band, it's not the money but the promotional value of T-Shirts which helps the most. If you don't have money to do both CDs and T-Shirts, do the T-Shirts first and then do the CD's.
Start working the "world" market... Use the Internet...Get a home page for your band. Get an e-mail address and learn how to check it daily, give prompt replies. Learn how to get links to your pages by trading links with other sites. Get a PO Box for mail orders. You can do this by yourselves or use the help of a provider who is "friendly" to bands.
Find a company who will for a small fee digitalize and encrypt your music for samples and downloads over the Internet. Having these files linked to your own home pages give you a great advantage over other groups. Having your material listed among all the other groups at the company's home site also helps with your band's profile. Make sure your CDs are available to the on-line stores. (The company that does your sound samples and downloads should help you with this)
What exactly am I doing? I am starting a new company which will launch later this fall. It actually will be a new division of an old established company, Allied Chemical. Based out of Minnesota, they are the people who brought us that famous canned meat we all grew up with. (Farmer Fred's Happydale Ham Spread) The founder's son is now in charge and wished to branch out into the music field... to make a long story short... my former classmate and I are partners in the new venture.
At first it will have the combined catalogs of all the labels I have worked with over the years as well as the catalogs other labels who will use my Liquid Audio Server as their entry into the world of digital downloads.
The new company will specialize in working with young bands and labels. We will provide help with developing web sites, offer our expertise in marketing and promotion via the Internet and the other mass media outlets. We will help get client's CDs into a distributor so that all the on-line stores can offer the CD at their sites (CD NOW, Music Boulevard, Amazon.com, etc.). We will also help our clients develop over all game plans. For those wanting to go onto major labels, we will draw upon our years of experience, helping to determine when the proper time to make that push. For those who want to find a way to "do it on their own" we will help them discover the best path to take.
For more information on digital downloads and some of the issues I am dealing with, try reading the future of the music industry is in electronic delivery.
For more information, general dialog, to ask questions about any of this...please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org...