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3 Steps: Artist Survival in a Changed Music Business

[from The Comet]

Changes in the traditional label system have been chronicled far more extensively than I dare attempt (David Byrne’s piece in Wired is a personal favorite). This is a complex topic which I’ll address further in subsequent posts, so for brevity’s sake I’ll start simply by saying that in a world where anyone can make music in a basement and get discovered online, labels are no longer the drivers of new artist development they once were.

This change has been difficult for labels, but it has been incredibly empowering for artists. Anyone with the initiative can now create and distribute music at near-zero cost.

In a world of democratized production and distribution, artists can survive by embracing the changes labels did not:

1. Make it easy for fans to discover your music – don’t kill yourself trying to control it. Be more concerned with people’s opportunities to discover your music than with their opportunities to steal it. If they want music, fans will get it. All you can do is make it easier – you can’t stop it. Be on every available social network and discovery service. Offer downloads. Be open to promo opportunities. If people want your music you’re doing something right!

2. Take advantage of every commercial opportunity – don’t limit your revenue streams. Sell music, t-shirts, branded guitar picks, and anything else you can peddle. Bands have been doing this at shows forever, but companies like Zazzle and Amazon Create Space are making it easier to sell anything directly to fans on an ongoing basis. Even if you’re just starting out your customers can also include businesses – so use sites like YouLicense and Pump Audio to reach agencies and music supervisors.

3. Be in the business of engaging fans – not the record business. The days of locking yourself in a studio for months on end to produce pieces of plastic for sale are over. The web creates opportunity to constantly be building relationships with fans and sharing content. Tweet about your latest studio session. Post your unfinished stems for an impromptu remix contest. Consider releasing music more frequently than every other year. Have a real, ongoing conversation with your fans. Be interactive with your career and your music. Consumers now expect more than plastic discs – they want real experiences whenever and wherever you can create them.

These rules certainly deserve a more in-depth discussion, and like all rules they have their exceptions. One thing is certain however – these rules only matter if you have the right balance of talent and luck – that hasn’t changed one bit.