Category: Music Industry

An Open Letter to Fans: Enjoy the Music, but Remember the Artist

An Open Letter to Music Fans – Enjoy the Music, but Remember the Artist

By NationWide Source Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Music has changed more in the last 10 years than in any other time in history. More specifically, how you listen to music has changed. A wave of great new listening experiences has flooded the market, starting with CDs in the 90s, iPods in 2001, iTunes in 2004, and mobile phones that stored and played music shortly thereafter. These new formats allowed fans to listen to music everywhere they went, and we all spent a lot of time and money building our music libraries.

Now, we have progressed to streaming music. In the past few years, we’ve seen a surge in streaming services: Pandora, Spotify, Rdio, Google Play, iTunes Radio, Deezer, SoundCloud, Grooveshark, and so on. The list keeps growing.

Streaming Was Made For Fans

For many fans, music is uplifting, and it evokes emotions in ways nothing else can. Just like the smell of cinnamon rolls baking still reminds me of Grandma’s kitchen, certain songs take me back to relive some great memories. I know others feel the same way. Music can also be exciting and fun; many fans eagerly anticipate the next musical discovery that blows them away, whether it’s from a musician they already know or from someone entirely new.

As a fan, streaming music is incredible. You can choose from an unlimited library of music and gain exposure to new artists that you would not have found otherwise. Streaming allows you to play music on almost all of your devices—from mobile phones to smart TVs—with just one account. Streaming music also lets you to listen to a huge variety of music without ever purchasing anything, as long as you don’t mind hearing a few commercials. If commercials bore you, then pay as little as $3.00 per month to listen commercial free.

Surely somebody brilliant came up with this idea. It’s an experience designed entirely for fans, and it’s almost impossible for you to say no. I get it, really.

Sound like everything is perfect in the world of music? For fans, it nearly is.

What The Changes Mean To Artists

Not everyone is benefitting, though. Streaming music, digital downloads, CDs—the music you listen to might be the same, but the delivery method is considerably different. That difference has affected how you listen and what you buy, which in turn has affected the musicians that create the music you love and their ability to make even a modest living. I can’t say this about all musicians, but the vast majority of independent musicians—I’m not talking about superstar performers or the kids still in high school, but about professional, independent musicians (like me) who rely on their creative work to make a living and support a family—struggle with this new model of compensation in the music industry.

iTunes began changing the monetary model for musicians in 2004. At that point, fans learned that you could purchase any song you wanted for $0.99. No need to pay $12 for an album. Yes, you’ve downloaded a lot of singles since then, and some albums, too. But because you no longer had to purchase the album for $12 to get the hit single, the value for an artists’ most popular work dropped more than 90%. The typical payment to an artist for a single download from iTunes is about $0.65. Since singles are in such apparent demand, if they’re going to be sold, they should sell at a premium. This would help musicians cover the production costs and still make a living. Sadly, that is not the case.

But things don’t stop there.

Streaming music has been around for a long time, but it was not really mainstream until four or five years ago. Now, it is everywhere, and it seems to be impacting download sales. In 2013, iTunes had its first ever decline in digital download sales of music, likely due to competition from streaming music. That trend will continue. What’s worse is that artists generally make much less from streamed music than they do downloaded singles.

Music is just as creative and demanding of talent as other forms of art, but admirers of sculptures or paintings don’t expect to take their favorite piece home with them without paying for it. That would be crazy. Yet musicians, who put just as much effort into their work, are often expected to give their creations away for free (or practically-free).

I know that you, as a fan, love streaming music. But for me, and for my fellow musicians, the picture is not as promising.

Here’s How You Can Help

If you think you’re powerless to change things, think again.

An artist who had 100,000 streams of his music in a year might make $300 to $400. I don’t know anyone who can live on just $400 for a year, which means that artist would have to find alternate forms of income, maybe giving up on music altogether. But… what would have happened if 50,000 of those people had downloaded a single, or 15,000 had downloaded an album from that same artist? His income would have been $35,000 to $65,000. Wow, what a difference! The income would have been even more if the artist sold CDs, but the price to fans would remain the same.

None of this would matter except that fans streaming music tend to download or purchase less of the music that they stream. Remember what I told you about iTunes sales in 2013? If you don’t buy my music online or at shows, the income I need to make a living is being cut to almost nothing. Streaming music does not pay the bills.

I can’t expect you to give up streaming music. The experience is too good. But you can help your favorite musicians by seeking them out online and purchasing their music. Buy their album. It may sound a little crazy to pay for something that you can get for free, but it’s not. You could also choose to purchase their merchandise online. Better yet, check out their event schedule, attend a show, and purchase their products in person.

If you truly enjoy music and want to keep those memories coming, you need to go above and beyond the norm of streaming. Support your favorite artist. Support music. Support me.

See also: Rethinking iTunes: It’s An Expensive Cash Register for the Indie Artist, Spotify, Pandora, and Streaming Music: Should You Post Your Music?

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Five Great Indie Labels You Should Know

Five Great Indie Labels You Should Know

By NationWide Source Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

In the music world, there are as many opinions on record labels, their importance, and their benefits as there are artists. Some people see them as money-sucking heartless money-takers, but that opinion can be a little biased. Just a bit.

Regardless of your opinion on labels, the truth is that changes in the music industry have not left record labels unaffected. Factors like media distribution and artist recruitment and payment have resulted in major labels merging or closing. The same factors have also made room for the emergence of a multitude of independent, or indie, labels.

If you’re curious about this newer breed of record label, here are five indie labels that you should know about:

Rhymesayers Entertainment

A hip-hop based indie label, Rhymesayers Entertainment began in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1995. It was founded by four members with background and experience in the music industry, including the two members of Atmosphere (which is, of course, one of the acts signed to the label). Other artists on this label include Brother Ali and Aesop Rock. Since 2008, the label has put on a huge annual music festival in Minnesota.

Glassnote Records

Established in 2007, Glassnote focuses on Indie, Folk, Alt-Rock, and Hip Hop artists. They released the debut album for Phoenix, as well as albums for Mumford & Sons, Childish Gambino, and Two Door Cinema Club. The company has offices in New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, and London.

Rough Trade Records

Rough Trade Records was founded all the way back in 1978 by Geoff Travis. You may be surprised by some of the artists this indie label has worked with:  The Smiths, The Strokes, Belle and Sebastian, Alabama Shakes, Arcade Fire, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and My Morning Jacket, to name a few. Rough Trade Records is based in London.


In 1999, Syd Butler (bassist of Les Savy Fav) began Frenchkiss to release his band’s second record. Besides working with his own band, the label has discovered several other great New York bands. These include indie giants Local Natives, The Hold Steady, The Antlers, and Passion Pit. The label keeps a small roster to ensure quality records. It has also expanded to offer distribution (for other indie labels) and publishing options.

Neon Gold

Neon Gold has a solid understanding of what good music is as well as foresight into which acts will take off. The indie label, based in both New York and London, signs acts that get major attention. This includes Gotye, Ellie Goulding, and Marina and the Diamonds; they also released Passion Pit’s “Sleepyhead” single. Oh, and one of the label heads fronts MS MR. Definitely keep an eye on these guys!

The music industry is still changing, and the future of record labels is unclear. For now, it looks as though indie labels will continue to gain power and influence, opening the industry up even more. This might mean that independent bands have a better chance now than ever before.

Have you worked with these labels before? How did it go? What other indie labels should musicians know more about?

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The Price of Hits: Competing with Big Labels

The Price of Hits: How Can Independent Artists Compete with Big Labels?

By NationWide Source Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

For independent artists attempting to make it big in the music scene, there is an obvious and daunting obstacle to overcome: the music machine. In the hands of major record labels, this machine is focused on a formulaic production of art. Generally, the machine favors proven winners over cultivating new talent and focuses on safe returns on investment instead of risk-laden creativity. But, it doesn’t have to be that way.

The Music Machine’s Formula

The time, financing, and resources put up by the machine can discourage musicians just getting their footing. Some reports put total financial investments at upwards of a million dollars for just one potential hit song. That massive figure includes sourcing a team of producers, songwriters, and lyricists who collaborate on creating the songs; then, the actual recording process takes place. Once the songs are recorded, they must be distributed and marketed, which includes creating collateral material (music videos, ringtones, etc) and sending the artist on the road to promote the song and perform. Sometimes the formula works, and the song is a hit. Sometimes it doesn’t, and it’s a costly failure.

Independent Artists

As an independent artist, you may look at the machine and think there is no way to succeed against the machine. Relax. As daunting as the machine is, the music industry has never been so accessible to the average musician.

First, you don’t have to invest a million dollars to make a hit track. You do need talent, timing, and hard work; you need to think like a business. If you’re writing your own music, you don’t need to hire teams of songwriters. You might want a producer or manager for guidance. You can find good (even great) studios at a fraction of the machine’s cost, or use the many software programs and hi-def audio equipment available to record, mix, and master your own music. You can promote your band’s gigs and upcoming releases at a relatively low cost using your band’s website and the many social media platforms available. For the best impact, get your music in front of the right people as often as possible. You can also find and set up the distribution channels that best suit your band’s needs.

Second, define success for your music career. Is success making millions on each single, or is it simply sharing your passion for your music with a dedicated fan base through performances and sales of your songs? For the best results, keep making your art the priority.

How do you, as an independent artist, compete against the music industry machine? Do you think it’s possible to compete? Do you focus on putting out a record-breaking hit song, or have you defined success differently?

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Essential Podcasts for Musicians

Essential Podcasts for Musicians

By NationWide Source Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

As a musician, you probably spend a large part of your time listening to music: in rehearsal, at your gigs, attending other concerts, relaxing, looking for inspiration, and so on. At some point, though, you might need a little break. A great alternative is to download some podcasts. Not only do these provide a break from music, but they might help you grow as a musician. Here are a few to check out:

Music Biz Weekly

Hosts Micheal Brandvold and Brian Thompson have a good bit of industry experience. Micheal is a freelance music industry consultant who has worked with KISS, Motley Crüe, Britney Spears, Rod Stewart, Ozzy Osbourne, Madonna, and many more. Brian is a managing partner for Thorny Bleeder Records and formerly was the corporate head of music buying and marketing for a national music retail chain. The two put out this weekly podcast covering the latest news in the music business, music marketing events, and music marketing techniques.

Upward Spiral

This podcast is mostly about what is happening in the music industry, so you won’t hear as much about marketing. It will give you a good sense of rising trends or upcoming changes, which should help you stay ahead of the curve.

Music Business Radio

Music Business Radio offers a lot of information straight from the mouths of some of the biggest names in the industry. They certainly know what is going on, and the best way to learn in this industry is to talk to people that have experience in it. Like the other aspects of this businesses, experience trumps book smarts.

Music Gear Junkies

If you aren’t a top level professional, this is a great podcast. The show is geared towards the “Joe Songwriter/Musician” learning how to record their own songs on a budget.

NPR’s All Songs Considered

Hosted by Bob Boilen, this show plays music from emerging bands and musical icons, as well as interview musicians, DJs, songwriters, and so on. Concepts and the general state of music are considered and discussed in true NPR fashion.

You don’t have to limit yourself to music industry podcasts, either. General marketing podcasts may be really helpful and translate well to the music industry. Find what you like and get learning!

When you need a break from your music, what do you listen to? Are there other podcasts you could recommend?

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