Wednesday, 14 October 2009

day 96- A New Model for the music biz?

Last week, in between demoing a few new songs and earning a pauper's living, I met up with a few Music Biz soldiers. The meetings could not have been more enlightening or interesting, as I try to catch-up with all the deep changes that have shaken'n'stirred the music industry to a mushy granita pulp.
Music as a commodity, as a product to be consumed is a fairly recent Modern Life phenomena, kick-started in the early 19th century with the increase of commercially available sheets of music. Traditionally, throughout history, artists would: 1- rely on Patronage, 2- rely on family wealth, 3- live in resigned poverty and die in obscurity.
The crucial and fundamental difference between having a Patron and a Record Deal, is one of intent and expectation, derived out of two very different desires: The Patron supports an artist because it wishes to see him carrying on producing. The Record Company, understandably, to remain a viable business, needs the artist to keep producing works that sell. This is no subtle difference.
So, you'd sign up with a Record Company, survive on the non-recoupable advance, and hope that they would remain as keen on your work as the day you put your autograph on that magical dotted line.
Record Companies' less-than-prudent generosity was equally matched by its artists' and management driven extravagant expenses.

Sounds like fun, doesn't it? It was fun, I should know it, as Drugstore's history was partly-paved by the 90's golden goose that kept laying irresistible mini-Fabergé eggs on our doorstep.
But all that fun didn't necessarily translate into a good long-term working model, as inevitably, the day of reckoning arrives for all labels and artists: that sombre morning the Accounts Department wakes-up with a real bad hangover.
It was a fast and furious Pop-Music based model that worked in the Industry's favour for many years, but one that would ultimately leave behind many bands, artists and labels stranded on the pop-superhighway.
Its Achilles heel was to create a black hole of expenses, that most artists would've never been able to climb out of, when they should have instead applied progressive investment, which nurtures and reacts to an artist's growth, as it grows; And a failure to fully accept that different artists generate different numbers, and that's ok, as not all music, thankfully, is suitable for hardcore mass-consumption.
The opposite problem, sheer lack of investment, was faced by the hundreds of small labels who tried to create an alternative to the system, and failed.
Only the few labels, indies or majors, that managed to strike a decent balance between investment and growth, survived, just.

Drugstore's 2nd album (White Magic for Lovers) is a good/bad example of the mistakes made both by bands and Record Companies in the 90's. Recorded over nearly 3 months in a ridiculously expensive studio in Spain (I had the same stunning suite used by Bjork and the same phenomenal cook). It turned out to be our worst sounding album. There's a simple explanation here: You take a band from 2 years non-stop touring straight into the studio, give'em a swimming pool, an open cellar, a no-limit credit-card, throw in some sunshine and... what do you get? Erm... A bunch of mates playing too loud, hangin' round the pool, having a little too much Rioja. "Shouldn't we take a little time to reflect on the sound we're making?" - "... Nah, Mañana!"
The follow-up (Songs for the Jetset), recorded under opposite circumstances, suffered from the other extreme of the spectrum: recorded over 1 week, without any promotional budget. Although a more coherent piece of work, it never quite fulfilled its potential or reached its full audience.
The Digital Era has completely turned the industry on its head. And no matter how hard Record Company Execs keep saying that 'everything is fine, really', no amount of positive spin can hide away their nervousness, for, unlike the short-lived DIY punk fever, this is the 1st time in its history where artists can genuinely have working careers without the backing of a fat label advance, but, as it follows, labels cannot survive without artists. Labels know that, and will have to start offering artists tangible advantages. I believe the smart ones will do so, and it's their turn to show us how creative they can be.
The value of recorded music itself has dropped, and my feeling is that it will continue to do so, but fortunately, so has the amount of cash needed to produce good recordings.
The new coalition of artists against illegal file sharing, led by the likes of Ed O'Brien from Radiohead and Little Miss Allen, fails to recognise the inevitable fact that developments in technology are as unstoppable as the sunrise. And going against the invisible web flow, is going against everything that keeps the web and its technology fresh and still an exciting place. Instead, they should be putting their creative minds together, to work out new possibilities, concentrate on the opportunities, regardless of the pitfalls.
I don't think the focus should be on the kids who want to download it for free, but on the fans who are willing to support the band.
So, it's really not all doom'n'gloom out there, neither for labels nor artists; Labels are already reacting to the new landscape and creating deals that are not only more realistic, but offer more flexibility and fairer percentages. Artists are finding completely new ways in which to carve a new space for their music.
I'm still trying to grasp the implications of 360 degree deals, where record companies are involved in every single aspect of an artists' life, including that long last bastion of revenue for most artists: merchandising, but I'm beginning to think that the long-term answer for both labels and artists may not lie in the bands' t-shirts, as not every band want or can sell 200-plus units each gig, but the solution could be blowing in the Publishing wind.
This is a golden opportunity for both Artists and Record Companies to regain assets and get into an area where its potential income, under the digital age, is yet to be fully realised. Publishing will keep on growing, and growing. It is also a considerably safer investment. I
f Record Companies are prepared to beat the Publishers, and to offer artists better deals, one can easily guess who we're gonna want to sign with. And for artists, it could be the one reliable source of income, where enough capital is generated to finance, or part-finance recording and living expenses.
Record Companies also need to be weary of careless over-spending.
I'm not, by any means, advocating a complete turn to prudishness, after all, this is still rock'n'roll, it's got to be a little crazy, it's got to be a lot of fun too, and artists need to be happy and feel that they're appreciated and well-looked-after, and that there's enough commitment being placed on the table.
But it seems to me that the obscene amounts of money that was once wasted on keeping bands locked in expensive studios for months on end, waiting for inspiration to turn-up, can be put to better use, and more sensibly, in other areas - supporting the artist, promoting its work, exploring new avenues etc.
So, the collapse of the fat-cat deals is a very good thing for everyone.
I also believe that, regardless of P2P, there will always be value on owning something that can be held and treasured. A few months ago, while I was packing my gear up to move into the Cave, I came across some of my old vinyls, a small collection, one that has not seen the light of day or the pleasure of the needle in a long time, but nevertheless, one that I feel unable to get rid off, as just looking at the beaten-up artworks is a great emotional trip in itself, a slice of your life, memories to be cherished. Mp3s will never match that, no matter how cool your bleedin' I-player is.
Real fans, long-term supporters will always want les objets du desir, and will be happy to pay-up, specially for something special, created with extra care and love, just as it should be.
When we consider the sheer overwhelming amount of garbage that relentlessly shouts for our attention, I'm in no doubt that a small, but ever growing number of intelligent, sensitive music lovers, will happily choose to support the few real gems that occasionally crop up in this vast desert dotted by cheap diamoniques.
It is also clear that the live scene is doing better than ever, with more venues, more festivals and events to suit any budget, taste and size. That the price of gigs has risen is only a positive reflection of how much people value and appreciate the uniqueness of a live performance. As an artist in a band whose music, ethos and pathos comes crashing together on a stage, and that has always thrived on the live environment, this is good news indeed.
So, as I'm pondering on which will be the best route to take forward, whether getting a label or publisher involved, or finding some kind of patronage, which might even be a co-operative of fans, I'm beginning to think that these are exciting times both for the industry and artists alike. Although the ground is shakier, there is more flexibility and therefore more possibilities. There is also a lot of genuine, smart, cool people in the Industry, who combine professionalism with their passion for music, those with good ideas will, as always, move the industry forward.
A band like Drugstore, whose music thrives on the personal and who always gave themselves away, passionately, could well find a little viable space in which to carry on operating our mini-empire.
Have the music, vision and the drive, now only need to find a cool Patron to get me into that elusive pair of Prada boots and out of the Instant Mr.Mash diet, so I can focus on doing what I do best, writing songs, and being Isabel in a band called Drugstore.


Lex said...

Thanks for this article which was really interesting to read!

I can only speak for myself (and some friends who do the same) but as a music-lover, I still need to buy something material, something I can touch - a CD with a beautiful booklet illustrated by nice pictures/artwork where I also like to have the songs' lyrics... I have never bought any mp3 but on the other hand I have no Ipod or the like and can only use CDs in my car, so... To me, mp3s, Myspace and the like are a good mean to discover new artists or new albums from artists I like. Then, if I like what I listen on my computer, you can be sure I'll go and buy the "real thing", the CD.

As for new models for the music biz, you may want to check the website of Fair Trade Music. Despite its name it's French but I believe it wants itself to be an international platform. Here's the English version of some short explanations they give:

I'm quite new to this site and I still need to understand some part of it but from what I've seen I find it pretty cool. :)

Lex x

Robert said...

it was so nice to read this fresh (dare i say optomistic?) take on the subject of the business that is music... thank you for being such a valuable natural recsource!

Veronica said...

Have you thought of trying Bandstocks? It worked for Patrick Wolf.

Anonymous said...

this was posted by Gary on Facebook,copied here as its relevant
Subject: Music Biz

My model for Drugstore.

1. Set up your own label. “Cave Records”.

2. Do something like Bandstocks where fans invest in the band and get name on CDs/discounted gig tickets/exclusive demos and so on. That way you get some money upfront for recording - I'm sure the people on the FB group would invest?

3. Record the songs. Make a CD. Sell CDs online. It’s easy enough to set up an online payments thing (I managed it!). Design and print a cover. Post CDs out yourself (or get a little army of FB group helpers to assist). That singer I know Carrie Tree did this... she had a record deal, got shafted even before releasing anything, left them, set up her own label and has just released her album for sale online solely via her website. She seems to be doing ok.

4. Buy Prada boots.

5. Do gigs. Record gigs. Sell CD of gigs online. I reckon you'd have sold 500 copies of a Dingwalls cd at least!

6. With new found riches look at mp3 downloads on Amazon etc. I wouldn’t do this earlier as, in my opinion, Drugstore fans will much prefer something physical than a digital download.

The advantage you have over most bands is that the fanbase is extremely loyal. How many bands could come back after 8 years and sell out a gig and create such a buzz? I’m sure this could be used to your advantage.

I maybe talking a load of crap (got very bad head/flu/cough/sneeze) but perhaps there are some ideas there.


Lex said...

I totally agree - and get better soon, Gary! ;).

As for the albums, you said White Magic was the worst sounding but I have to say it has always been my favorite of the 3 albums, the one I listen the most. o^^o

Simon Lea said...

It sounds like Drugstore are back for the long term - Being more involved with fans and supporters has got to make sense, both financially and artistically for Bands.
I understand that several Bands have funded album production by fans becoming stakeholders in the album. This works well on so many levels.

I await exciting developments!

Anonymous said...

Subject: new model etc.

That's a nice piece. I see value in folks like The Pernice Brothers (terrific, and another favorite of mine like yourself) who have taken control of all of their aspects and use all of the various medias well to their sole point. It also helps that, like yourself, their material is actually good material. I had always wondered about the story behind your label woes having witnessed your whole story from the other end of the chain behind the counter of record shops.

Xo gb

Steve P said...

I for one would like to have an actual CD to have and to hold..MP3's are bit like "The King's new clothes" to me. The main problem if you do self release anything is getting exposure for it..So many people self release stuff via I Tunes, E Music ect.. that you never get to hear about it..I wonder how many Drugstore fans even know about this blog let alone the fact that you have performed a gig? The review sections of music magazines are full to brimming with Cd's alone that they cannot cope with just MP3 released stuff as well. These are changing times, hopefuly for the better.

isabel monteiro said...

Good to have a debate - not an easy or straightforward subject.
Received dozens of emails w/ ideas+support etc.
Lots of different and relevant points of views.
I really haven't got any plans set in stone, so, it will be interesting to see, in the months to come, which direction the drugstore road will lead into.
(road 2nowhere? hell? perdition? Rome?!)

Anonymous said...

Jon sent you a message.

Subject: Your Blog

I read your analysis of what is happening on the blog with interest.

I'm sure this has probably already been suggested and there are many many avenues to go down but I think Kristin Hersh went through some similar problems recently - no label support, little money coming in and lots and lots of songs to get out with no way to do it

She started off selling home made CD's at gigs but seems to have expanded this in a very web savvy way (I think she had a lot of help from contacts and her husband here) in a bid to make her music available to as many people as possible but at the same time trying to get as much (deserved) money as possible too.

On top of touring and selling home made CD's she makes new music available for free on something called "cash music" a site where artists can share music and fans can make voluntary donations (more compulsive than you think - any fan downloading material from an artist they like will have no compunction about contributing to the artissts upkeep).

This concept of patronage has been extended by a "strange angels" scheme where fans pay a subscription to keep Hersh writing and are rewarded with special priveliges:;

Hersh also tries to sell everything she produces - CD's, Demo's, merchandise, chldrens books, her own biography etc. basically all the stuff that isn't available on the free download site gets sold direct via a merchandise store on her site and the Throwing Muses site.

It might be a useful model for drugstore if you were looking at ways to get paid for making music again.

Anonymous said...

Daron sent you a message.

Re: New Model forthe Music Industry?

"Just read you blog post, very interesting and very well written. Really good advice too for newbies. You may even get a patron, wouldn't that be great?!! I'll do the lottery this never know!! xxx"

Anonymous said...

i agree on the ownership issue but it's not a tactile thing for me as i think the record sleeve is the most attractive thing about owning an album - I like my cd's and the time spent looking through flea markets, indy record shops, hmv etc cannot be replicated online. I don't get the lyrics, i don't get the sleeve artwork, i don't get the interesting 'thanks to' notes along with many other things. i also cannot trade music between friends as easily as i have been used to.

still, the digital world is making it easier to make, make available, download and sell but Isabel is right - patronage is still v. important. without this, or some sort of push from somewhere, the music will just be lost in a music arena awash with all sorts of stuff (bad & good).

Interesting comments re the drugstore albums though. I remember reading some comments appropriated to isabel re song for the jetset and how the recording was intentionally low key, fast & jazzy (i think). isabel seems quite downbeat on this and white magic for lovers but i think that both are as good as the debut. they're different but I don't think drugstore made a bad or weak album - I like things about all the records.

isabel monteiro said...

Hi guys,
Been busy on the Portastudio Cave, so didn't have much of a chance to update this post.
I've received a lot of emails, with many suggestions and ideas. Some were quite funny: one guy suggested that everyone donates £2 a month to keep me alive!
:) bless him...
I wrote the post as a way or organising my own ideas about the subject, as I'm trying to figure out which will be the best way forward. Have no plans or views set in stone yet, just taking a day at the time and see what comes my way.
As for the previous albums, you can rest assured Monteiro v. pleased and even proud of everything we've ever done, just wanted to highlight some of the constraints of situations we sometimes have to operate in.
I wanted Jetset to be a laid-back and simple album, but wish the label had given me an extra couple of days to mix it, and had spent a little bit of cash making a simple video, promoting it etc.
White Magic has some of my favourite Drugstore songs, but wish the label had not pushed us into the studio straight from the road, with our amps turned-up to 11!
Retrospective thinking is dead easy, isn't it?
But, such is the path of any artist and band, we try to make the best of what we're given.
What will happen next? Will there be another album?
I don't know when, I don't know how, but yes, there will be another release, pretty confident about that.
In fact, this process is in itself already a slice, a very personal slice of drugstoreness.
ps- thanks for all emails, posts and ideas.

Danno said...

From my own creative perspective, this time in history has never been better for a musician that enjoys the process of creation. In my basement, I'm able to record better demos with 20 tracks and tons of power to manipulate them better than most smaller studios I used to pay thousands of dollars to. The guys I play with, all of us doing this for years for the love of it, practice right there, so when we have an idea, it's captured immediately. It's not Abbey Road, but it can be pretty good rather cheaply with some wise choices in gear. Plus, you never miss that take or forget that part. As we get older, the act of creation and expression is more important to me, quality, not quantity. If you're an artist that wants to exist on a smaller level, with access to all kinds of vehicles for promotion and means of production, it's a great time. I think with some time and effort, anyone can now truly get to what they hear in their head with patience. If you don't have that, find a guy in your band who does and who digs the process, the bits, the bytes. Drummers have always been a commodity here, but now that i have a rig and can use it, I could spend all my days in bands (unfortunate that i have to make a living though!)

Basically, I think you are heading down the same DIY path at least in some ways. I believe you will find it to be better and most fulfilling for your art in a personal sense. Keep on! Your music is powerful!