New Rules

1. You’re a musician, not a recording artist.

It’s 2015 and not only have recording revenues declined, the whole world of music has gone topsy-turvy. Yes, there are a few superstars who base their careers on successful recordings, but everybody else is now a player, destined to a life on stage. This ain’t gonna change, this is the new reality. You can make an album, have fun, but don’t expect people to buy it or listen to it. The audience wants an experience. You’re better off honing your presentation than getting a good drum sound on hard drive. Your patter is more important than the vocal effects achieved in the studio. You’re back to where you once belonged, a performer. Be ready for a life on the road. Look for places to play. People love a good time. If you deliver one, you’ll get more work.

2. Festival gigs are the leg up.

Sure, there are headliners at the festival, but most acts are there for the exposure. The festival pays your bills and exposes you to new fans. You must deliver at the festival gig, you must be so good that people talk about you. It’s where the rubber meets the road, it’s your opportunity to ignite word of mouth, and word of mouth is everything in the new music business.

3. Agitate for better streaming payments but don’t focus on it.

Streaming is just one source of income. And for everybody who performs live, it’s de minimis. Most of the money is made elsewhere. To focus on streaming revenues is to get hung up on your tire brand as opposed to your car. Streaming won, it’s the public’s music consumption mode of choice, your goal is to get people to stream/hear your music so they’re curious enough to see you live, or check you out when you’re on the undercard at the festival.

4. Transparency.

I’m all for clearer accounting, I’m all for recording artists taking more of record company revenues. But this is now dominating the debate when the truth is it’s a sideshow. And isn’t it interesting how live is so completely different. Sure, accounting is not perfect live, promoters inflate costs and hide revenue. But the truth is on the road acts make the lion’s share of the money. The guarantees are insane. Your goal is to get enough fans such that your guarantee goes up. Better to have an agent interested in your act than an A&R man.

5. Hits don’t guarantee live business.

Iggy Azalea can barely sell a ticket and Wilco hasn’t ever had a hit but performs to thousands a night. Who do you want to be? Of course you want to be Wilco, believe me.

6. Live is freedom.

You can do whatever you want on stage. As long as the people respond and come back, you’re in control, you’re winning. Whereas labels are always telling you to employ a cowriter, to do it their way. You want to do it your way, believe me.

7. Talent is more important than looks.

Looks sell newspapers, they generate clicks. But they don’t sell tickets. And you’re in the ticket selling business. MTV died. And that paradigm did with it. Just because the media world has not caught on and trumpeted the result that does not mean it’s not true.

8. Live lasts, hits don’t.

Let’s be clear, a hit song lives on in people’s memories. But I challenge most of America to sing two songs from Taylor Swift’s new album. For all the hype about Ms. Swift, the truth is she’s someone everybody knows, but few know her music. She’s a huge niche artist. And she’s the biggest artist in the world. It’s even worse for One Direction, the other biggest act in the world, most people can’t even sing one song, even if more than a few know who Harry Styles is. This is so different from the way it used to be, when we had ubiquity, when everybody knew Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers In The Night,” both youngsters and oldsters. With everybody in control of the remote, we’ve learned that most don’t want any one thing. That’s why a hugely successful TV show has ten million viewers and late nighters like Fallon only do a couple of million (in a nation of 300+ million!) Disconnect from the hype network, none of these entities are that big. Which gives you a giant opportunity. You can find your fan base and grow it. Just don’t expect it to include everyone and don’t believe you’re entitled to it. If no one wants to see you live, you should probably find another line of work. But almost no one wants to see you when you’re new. Which means you must slog it out, paying your dues, until you find what makes you unique. And music is all about uniqueness, doing something everybody else does not. Me-too is for the radio, not for the stage. If you’re not the type who perseveres, if you’re not willing to forgo not only college, but creature comforts, you’re never going to build a lasting career.

9. Summer, Shmummer

Carly Rae Jepsen might have one of the biggest summer hits of the twenty first century, but Tedeschi Trucks has a larger core audience and does better live business and the band has NEVER had a hit! Song of the Summer is a construct for the media, it’s meaningless in the music business at large.

10. Chops are everything.

Practice. Once you’re competent, then you can improvise, then you can take chances. And great art is always about taking chances.

11. Michael Rapino, not Lucian Grainge.

Watch Rapino on Jim Cramer’s “Mad Money.” Listen to the numbers. Rapino is the anti-label guy, as are all promoters. It’s not about them, but the acts. A label will tell you acts come and go, but Live Nation and AEG are building relationships forever. Promoters pay your bills. Promoters want to serve you. You have leverage over promoters. Promoters are in bed with you. Furthermore, the faces don’t change, they’re lifers, there to build your career with you. Labels get new CEOs, but Paul Tollett has been running Coachella from its inception.

“Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino: The Changing Face Of Music” on Mad Money.

12. Music is everywhere!

People want it, and that’s a good thing. And they will continue to. It’s just a matter of adjusting to the way they want to consume it. The public wants to graze online, they want tracks, not albums. And they want to be able to research you and know more about you, which is why you must have an online presence.

13. Know who your fans are.

It’s all about the data. That’s why Facebook and Google are flourishing. They know who their users are, and they utilize their habits and preferences to hook them up with advertisers. You’re the product. You can connect directly with your fan base online. It doesn’t matter how many likes you’ve got or Facebook friends or YouTube views. Those are nearly meaningless statistics utilized to quantify something elusive. They can be faked and every few years we switch platforms and start counting all over again. Your career is forever. It’s about knowing who your fans are and how to reach them. Not overloading them and playing primarily to them. Your fans own you, not the radio station or the media. Your fans will support you. And most of your fans are not vocal, they will not click or tweet or send you e-mail but they’ll show up and buy merch. Play to them, otherwise you’re just a celebrity. Celebrities go on game shows, open shopping centers and stand for nothing. You’re a musician, you lead with your music…PLAY IT!



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  1. dvdpenn commented on Aug 9

    Enjoyed this quite a bit – you had me at the opener. Of all my musician friends, the ones who focus on their performing gigs as opposed to time in the studio and the next recording, are much happier.

  2. NoKidding commented on Aug 10

    MTV missed a chance to be early audiovisual pandora. I wasn’t a fan of Madona crawling around in her underpants, but they could have done “Unplugged” forever with small acts. I’d love to see the performers singing on stage when I look at the Roku screen instead of an album cover icon. I was an early cord cutter because “I don’t want my MTV” vacuous clutter mess package dealed into a cable contract sh-t bundle.

    Now that Michael Jackson is dead I can hear his songs on the radio again.

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