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Riff on the Future of Music

A couple of nights ago I had the prvilege to hear Tom Milsom, a 20-year-old musician play music for friends in my living room. A mutual friend had “discovered” him on YouTube. And he was wonderful.

A couple of nights ago I had the prvilege to hear Tom Milsom, a 20-year-old musician play music for friends in my living room. A mutual friend had “discovered” him on YouTube. And he was wonderful.

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I wrote a blog post about that experience, and got the following email from an old friend who is now playing music in Austin, and who has the entrepreneurial sense to see where the music business can go next. His name is Bill Teags, in case you are ever in Austin, and he has been a serial entepreneur, a packaging executive, and all the while — a musician. The cool thing about Teags is that he combines Tom Milsom’s passion with the business sense of a 50-year-old. He GETS it.

Take it away, Bill...

I am currently playing with Eric Tessmer (www.myspace.com/erictessmer) and was approached by the management of Joe Richardson (www.myspace.com/joerichardsonexpress)
to play bass in his band as well (two of the top guitarists in this
guitar town). Back before I was an entrepreneuer / packaging guru, I
played music – touring, recording and all that. Here is my take on the
music biz today and how it has changed from the 70’s when I started my
recording and performing career:

#1 Game Changer – The Internet
The
Internet has democratized the music industry. Communication is now
available to anyone with a computer connection or smart phone.
The good:
– You don’t need a major label to gain a world-wide audience.

You don’t need secretaries to handle your written correspondence, such
as contracts, letters to managers / booking agents, or your fan list.
EPK – electronic press kits are easily packaged for download. No more
cassette or vinyl with printed brochures.
– Venues can sample
your “best effort” right from their computer. Instant like / dislike –
sadly, decisions usually made more visually than aurally. 

The Internet killed the record label industry. This is good, because
this industry totally forgot what it was they were selling. Elvis did
not come out of a formula and neither did the Beatles, Pink Floyd, The
Who or the Beach Boys. By the 90’s, the majors were all about marketing
within a comfort zone, which meant stale music with little room for new
or innovative. (Ask Bela Fleck how hard it was to get his first label
deal after New Grass Revival – they still don’t know where to put his
awesome talent!!)
– Viral and community networking. Done right, the Internet can get your Klezmer with Sitar band a decent worldwide audience.
– Craig’s List – what better way to see who wants you and let others know you are around – for free!
The bad:

There is no filter mechanism that separates the good, bad or great
artists. The “noise threshold” is now so high that you are hardly
noticed apart from the 4 million other artists on MySpace alone.

The Internet has killed off local booking agents. Venues don’t need
someone to sell them a good act. They have access directly to the
artists. Why is this bad? Artists who in years past would have been
relegated to parties and ‘audition nights’ are getting Friday and
Saturday gigs – because they will work for free (or beer and pizza). So
why bust your butt perfecting your craft and buying top-line gear when
some ‘weekend-warrior’ with a hobby is going to drive the pay scale
down to 1960’s levels? Booking agents stayed in business by promising
AND delivering top talent. The result was better local music and a
healthier music scene.
– The Internet has killed the record
industry. Yes this was a good thing, but the problem is that there is
nothing in its’ place. Artists used to live on royalties from album
sales. People want to fill their iPods, but the Internet let’s them do
it without concern for compensating the artist. We need to live too,
and you can’t take beer and pizza to the bank to pay the electric bill!

The Internet has made music a much more individual experience. Ear buds
and PC’s isolate listeners and we are losing a bit of the socializing
that was once integral to music.
– Craig’s List – what better
way to post that you are a ‘pro’ musician looking for other ‘pro’
musicians, but cannot play Wednesday because of bowling nights and
Sundays because your ex makes you take the kid (and you only are
allowed by your current spouse to play / practice 2 nights a week). Get
the point? Weed through 3000 postings to find one that says ‘touring
band auditioning – US and European dates’.
The
key is that the Internet is a tool. It is not the end, but the means. A
farmer doesn’t buy a shovel, stand it next to the fence and wait for
the ground to turn over – he puts the shovel to work digging the
ground. Ya gotta use the tool, dude! 
#2 Game Changer – Digital

The recording process – Back when I first started recording, it was
state of the art to have 1″ 8 track and totally killer when you could
lash-up 2 8 tracks for 16 tracks. Today, hard drives have replaced tape
(for the most part) and the number of tracks is almost unlimited. This
unlimited freedom does have a price. There were lots of times when we
had to ‘get it right on the first take’ as we were tracking onto
existing sound. You had to be really good or you blew days worth of
effort. And the art and magic came from unexpected discoveries while
being constrained by technology.
– The quality
of the artist – with the current tools in a bedroom studio, you can
create and fix just about any sound imaginable. There are singers who
could never sing tune that are top stars only because the software
auto-tunes their voice. (No need to be Barbara Streisand to make it
big). Even drummers who can’t keep a beat are aided by
tempo-correction. Made a mistake? Cut and paste.

The final product – Albums had several magical qualities about them.
One was the artwork (that is why there is a Grammy for album artwork)
and the other was the physical presence. You mention chamber music, but
during the 60’s and 70’s we also had album parties. We each brought a
few albums over to share the listening with and to talk about music or
life in general. Even CD’s lack this magic – they are too small to be
treated any more than casually. Digital downloads, while probably the
greenest way of getting music, is a very sterile process.
So… What’s Next?
This is a question that gets brought up often in my music circles. Here is my take:

Live performance will be more important than in the past 50 years. This
is where artists will earn their bread, assuming they can rise above
the “will play for beer” crowd. Musicians who are also good
business-people have already figured this out. (It doesn’t take a math
genius to figure out that Madonna grossed $180 million on her last tour
in 14 months while selling under 2 million CD’s. At $0.09 per song
versus a couple of million per show, net, she has it dialed in).

Recorded music will be like a business card. Record it and give away.
Use it as promo for your live gigs. Retain the rights as you are
entitled to legally, just in case TV or movies wants to use your sound
for background.
– Get ‘biznified’. Understand
that Colby Caillet was not a MySpace sensation. Her dad is in the music
business and she recorded her ‘bedroom’ tracks professionally and was
pitched to a major label by insider business people. Being a musician
is like being a baker. You are creating a unique product each time you
‘go to work’. Bakers don’t give their bread away – they sell it and
they call that a bakery! Failure to recognize this is why most
musicians are not making it in the business. Learn how to market your
art, how to manage your music as a product. You can do this
independently, as an indie artist, or you can enlist a solid team of
experts around you.
Let’s give it up for Bill Teags, ladies and gentlemen. Most musicians still don’t get this. The ones who do will be famous as in the past.

About the author

Francine Hardaway, Ph.D is a serial entrepreneur and seasoned communications strategist. She co-founded Stealthmode Partners, an accelerator and advocate for entrepreneurs in technology and health care, in 1998.

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