The Musical Middle-Class & Artist Development

At Musexpo in London I had the pleasure of meeting Ian Rogers from Topspin and 
his label liaison dude Patch. For those of you who don’t know topsin, check 
it out here:

To summarise, Topspin are a software company that provide a toolset that 
allows bands to communicate with and directly monetize their fanbase. The 
likes of NIN have taken advantage of these tools, along with more recently 
David Byrne & Brian Eno. Rogers’ recently gave a keynote speech at the 
GRAMMY Northwest Music Tech Conference in Seattle and outlined the results 
of his work with Byrne & Eno which you can find on the Topspin site. 
Impressive it is too!

Now, there can be no disputing that if you are an established artist and you 
have a fanbase and you have severed your ties with a label, going direct to 
consumer is a definite option for you. Cut out the middle-man, reclaim more 
of the money generated, upsell products even into the $300 category and 
then go on a massive world tour with full merchandising. Clean up & then 
start again. This in the CRM marketing world was always knows as maximising 
share of customer wallet! Yes, above and beyond Radiohead’s ‘with the fans / 
for the fans’ attitude, theirs was an exercise in creasing spend per head 
as opposed to increasing the volume of customers. And that’s fine, the music 
business has never been and should never be opposed to making money, 
everyone’s got to eat and if you make brilliant music that connects then go 
for it and get what you deserve.

Rogers’ keynote then went on to talk about the new (although it ain’t so 
new!) musical middle class. Its one thing to be enable an established artist 
to have a life outside of the traditional system. But Topspin and a growing 
number of commentators are putting forward the theory that this is the way 
to go for new artists …


Success is now being positioned as the ability to eat by making music and 
not having to do a day job. I guess for some that may be true. But can we 
please take a reality check on developing artists, you know the ones, the 
driven, the ambitious, the social misfits who aren’t able to live this 
double – life, the gifted who want to focus 100% on their talent … The 
ones who want total world domination. The same type of people whose music we 
have been devouring for decades because its brilliant. Is there really to be 
no ‘next generation’ of musical genius. Are we really going to condemn these 
truly gifted people to a life just above the breadline, because the system 
is broken and the have to go from town to town picking up tenners here and 
half a dozen fans there?

Now I’m writing from the standpoint of an ex-musician who has worked at 
labels & now manages new artists. They are gifted, the have day jobs. The 
gig regularly, the record as best they can, they release digital singles & 
EPs, they are getting pockets of attention. They pick up various bits of 
money along the way. But the truth is that unless these artists get funding, 
they are likely to never break out of the constraints they are set within. 
let’s break that down …

1. Day Jobs – these fuck with talent! Even a level headed musician capable 
working a 9 to 5 is immediately at a disadvantage. If you want to make it at 
anything you need to focus on it 100%. By not being able to do that you are 
disadvantaged in the market place. And being on the dole isn’t as easy as it 
was in the 70s & 80s!

2. Studio – unless you are a singer-songwriter or work purely in electronica 
of all its shapes and guises, you need to put your band in a studio to get a 
decent recording. Pro-tools and a laptop don’t cut it when you need mikes, 
amps & rooms in which to obtain a good sound.

3. Gigs – what’s all this crap about making gigs pay! When you are starting 
out GIGS DON’T PAY. You may have to visit a city 4 or more times to be able 
to generate local interest – and that’s if you are brilliant. If gigging paid, then why did tour support come into existence at all?

4. Attention – you can spend all day on fucking myspace & the rest, get 
bloggers on board where you can, punt a few CDs at radio people, collect 
addresses at gigs etc. etc. None of that is going to compare to having a 
‘marketing budget’!

So for those artists that want a bit more than the success of being able to 
make the rent you need to have funding on all four counts. Its more basic 
than that. Bands are start up businesses, they may have an excellent product 
and have made a great start but at some point the will need funding! Points 1 – 4 total at £100k minimum and that is with dole wages for 4 and a low marketing budget. Reality is you probably need a shitload more …

That brings me to second part of this essay … If the label system is dead 
(or merely outdated and unjust – take your pick), then what happens to 
artists development. Labels will stump up the cash for sure, but they want 
all the rights now. Because these record labels have mis-managed their 
businesses in the digital era, it doesn’t follow that the artists have to be 
hammered under the constraints of a 360 deal where no value is being added, 
just taken, from non-traditional areas. And these are the only deals on 
offer nowadays! And you need new artists, talent is the lifeblood of the 
music industry. So why fuck them over?

There has to be a halfway house between a label 360 deal and the long road 
of poverty that is D2C. And one answer may be on hand from the independent 
film business. If you write a script, you look for a company to fund the 
film. All the rights for the film are put into a mutual Ltd. company of 
which the creative players and the commercial players have an equity stake. 
All the proceeds of the film are attributed to the company and the profits 
are divided up accordingly.

The financing company does not make it a pre-requisite that they now own the 
script or have first refusal on the next one (or the next 5). The script 
writer does not have to walk around with a camcorder hoping he’ll make the 
next Blair Witch Project!

Major labels will of course say that they’ll just be out-bidded on future 
projects. However, savvy artists and managers should not want to break up a 
winning team for a few extra bucks. And let’s face it, the label’s 
traditional A&R hit-rate is 10%, so by risking less they can spread the money 
around more and focus on the things that are important, namely artist 
development and the SERVICE they can provide their musical partners with to 
make for a successful project.

The middle class is synonymous with non league.


~ by donjenkins on November 22, 2008.

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