The Times, They are A-Changin’
"I'd tell people to only think about working in the music industry if they're truly passionate and willing to sacrifice money and a normal lifestyle."— Ellie Coden, assistant manager at Fierce Panda (record label).
The sledge-hammer of the Internet has come crashing down on the record labels, reducing them to mere flotsam that fans idly kick on the way to a gig. The traditional dream of the musician – to sign with a record label and then proceed to tour the world and trash lavish hotels on every continent – is no longer compatible with reality. When you imagine making it in the music industry, you envision platinum-selling albums and year-long retreats in idyllic surroundings working on new material, not spending your evenings responding to Facebook comments. Whilst the latter is becoming more consistent with reality, the Internet does open up several new avenues for making it in the music business.
The labels are dead; Long live the Internet
The Internet really has changed the world we live in forever. Record companies used to be the gatekeepers to music. You could see local bands or swap tapes, but if you wanted to get hold of albums, you pretty much had to go through them. The Internet has subverted that entirely; now musicians and bands can provide their content directly to the consumer, whether through sites like iTunes, Amazon and Napster, or through their own websites and social media pages. The gates have been opened for good, and a lot of people are trying to squeeze through.
This new phenomenon is a double-edged sword for musicians. On one hand, you have consistent (if theoretical) access to your fan-base, and on the other you have a vast ocean of content to stand out amongst. In a survey conducted by the Future of Music Coalition, 64 percent of musicians said that the industry had become much more competitive because of the pure volume of content offered online. You don’t need to be approved by some multi-national record label, so you can keep creative control, but you don’t get their support on the marketing side of things either.
You can still use all the ordinary channels of course, but they are as hard to access as they’ve always been. Demos can easily be ignored, and the fantasy of some Artists and Repertoire agent from a big label stumbling across you in some dingy pub isn’t really worth entertaining. You could be discovered, but unless you have something pretty outstanding, a record label won’t take a chance. In 2011, physical album sales dropped by 13 percent and downloads rose by 24 percent compared to the previous year. With declining sales (including an overall decline of 6 percent), you’re pretty much on your own if you intend to make it in the modern music industry.
The fact that you aren’t supported by record label marketing divisions means that getting your name out there is now your responsibility. In the Future of Music Coalition survey, 37 percent of musicians said they were spending more time promoting themselves and less time writing music. There are a lot of aspects to self-promotion, but social media pages are absolutely essential. You need to have your own page, update it with things people will want to hear and respond when people get in touch with you. You need to build your own following. You can give away music, play free concerts and encourage sharing and re-tweeting of your announcements.
The answer is pretty much always the same: if you want something, you have to work for it. To make it in the music industry, you have to live for music. You should be practicing your instrument every day, going to local gigs, learning music theory, discovering new bands, learning about sound production and studying the industry. Dedication to your cause is absolutely essential. You will undoubtedly encounter periods of poverty, but as Dan Wilson (lead singer of an indie-rock group called Black Wire) puts it, “if you believe in what you do the sacrifices seem insignificant.”
If you really are ready to dedicate yourself to your music, then the opportunities have never been greater. Focus on making a living, but invest time and money into your career first and foremost. Spend time in the local live music venues and network with other musicians, sound engineers and industry executives. You need to be involved, and always be ready to play a gig, all the while making a name for yourself online. It isn’t easy, but if you do it right you can enjoy all the benefits of a major record label and keep creative control. As the Future of Music Coalition’s Casey Rae Hunter concludes, “You’re in control if you want to be.” You just have to get out there and take control.
- 20 of the funniest online reviews ever
- 14 Biggest lies people tell in online dating sites
- Hilarious things Google thinks you're trying to search for