The Key To Being A Successful Musician: Focus On Fan Relationships… Not Industry Relationships

from the get-it-straight dept

Mark Rosedale points us to an interesting blog post from singer/songwriter Shaun Groves, where he discusses how the music business is changing, and how it’s the artists that need to change, by focusing on different kinds of relationships:

The music business is about relationship. And now it’s the artist’s turn to have one.

Success in the music business once hinged on only a handful of relationships: a publicist and a magazine, a salesman and a bookstore, a radio promoter and a radio station, a booking guy and a promoter, an artist and a manager, a writer and a publisher. If all these relationships were working, if all parties’ interests were respected and pursued, if no personalities collided to the point of impeding progress, then the project or artist they were tied to would succeed (from a business standpoint.)

But, today, that equation has changed, and artists need to learn how to have very different types of relationships — and it’s difficult for some:

Technologies can foster relationships. But not without a lot of personal investment and intentionality from an artist.

This is a big shift in thinking for artists, especially at the top levels of this industry. Artists aren’t accustomed to being so accessible, accountable and out of control. Artists are accustomed to being in front of audiences that care about what they do, audiences they know are fans and they keep in the seats for a couple hours by charging a ticket price. But on-line, where spending time with an artist is free, anybody can wander into the crowd, boo, change the subject, or walk out. And they will.

Also, artists are used to hiring people to handle their relationships for them. That’s at least 90% of what a manager does. Labels congratulate and critique through a manager, for instance, who adds his own diplomatic spin to every word so the artist’s feelings aren’t hurt and the relationship is preserved. Not so on-line. Someone can be hired to hit the “publish” button on a blog post that gets e-mailed over, invite people to a Facebook event and even write to people for an artist and signed their name (it happens), but no one can convincingly be the artist every day in post after post or interact with commenters regularly. Artists can’t hire anyone to be them 24/7 and the internet demands those kind of hours.

I know that whenever we write stories about artists successfully connecting with fans, we get angry messages from music industry folks about “what if artists don’t want to connect with fans.” What Shaun is suggesting here is that if they don’t, then they’re not going to have the type of relationships necessary in the modern music world. In some ways, saying “what if musicians don’t want to interact with fans” is the equivalent of saying “and what if Widget Co.’s employees don’t want to interact with customers.” That’s fine… but then they can’t complain when their widgets don’t sell. Shaun concludes by stating:

If the music industry dies it won’t be because everything changed. It will be because artists didn’t. Artists today have to – no, we get to – do what the rest of the industry and human race has been doing for eons: We get to be real human beings spending time with other real human beings. There’s no shortcut for that.

This is a fantastic point. In my MidemNet presentation about how Trent Reznor connected with fans and gave them a reason to buy, one point I raised briefly (which got a laugh from the audience) was the crazy idea that some of Reznor’s actions made him “seem human,” and how rare that was in the music industry. It’s a point that bares repeating, so I’m glad Shaun called it out (and that Mark alerted me to it). Nearly every success story we’ve discussed has had that in common: it’s about making the artists seem human — and that helps people feel like they want to help the artists out and they want to pay for things, rather than feeling pressured or coerced into paying.

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Comments on “The Key To Being A Successful Musician: Focus On Fan Relationships… Not Industry Relationships”

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Geoffrey Kidd says:

No surprises here

I’ve been saying for years that successful marketing is giving people reasons to want to buy your stuff/give you money. The record industry simply tries to get money by sinking a pump into your wallet and claiming they have a right to it.

I regularly buy stuff from Baen books, even when I don’t need to in order to read the books.

OTOH, I’ve come to regard giving money to the movie and record industries as giving money to a mugger at knifepoint so he can buy a gun with it and come back for more.

You tell me which is the viable long-term strategy?

CopyJosh (profile) says:

Growing Up

To be honest, I do not see the investment being that big compared to the return in marketing. It does not take a lot of time to update your twitter, post a new post on facebook, or say hello on myspace. Sure, you might need someone to approve all the friend requests for you, but that’s about it.

Even if you think you’re busy on tour, I see no better source of information than jumping on the bus, snapping a couple pics out the window, and then smashing them all over the internet to keep the fans up to date. I understand that the music industry might want to continue being a man in the middle, but really I think the social networking should be left up to the artists. Maybe just set the tools up for them, give them a fancy phone, and they can do all their updates from anywhere. (even post to all 3 at the same time)

Marcel de Jong (profile) says:

Re: Growing Up

Actually, it could get overwhelming for some. Especially when the act gets very popular. (see the latest episode for a (rather extreme) example)

If your fans can get in touch with you directly, and they do so en masse, you try sifting through that.
But indeed, for twitter-like services, an artists should be able to manage it. Just pick and choose, don’t feel the need to answer each and everyone.

JayCentury (profile) says:

Re: Growing Up

What i think Rosedale and Masnick are saying is that the artist needs to express to his AUDIENCE as well, through his music or whatever he does, that he is a human and he goes through what humans go through… Thats why i think Dane Cook became so popular and Drake being the sensation he is today.

…That with a side of hard work and social media grind.

Anonymous Coward says:

A little addition to the story that sort of explains a bit more of this:

Shaun Groves is a “christian” artist, many of his concerts are in churches / church events. Talk about a captive audience. He doesn’t have to develop industry links mostly because christian music is a small industry with only a few major players.

Forgetting to mention important things like this is the reason why many of the stories on techdirt as suspect.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Oh, that’s right…this “internet” thing just won’t work for artists in the secular industry, where there are only big, established acts…


You guys just don’t get it…it’s ok, you’ll be dead soon enough and the rest of us won’t have to waste so much time trying to explain relatively simple concepts.

The Infamous Joe (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Oh, in that case, you’re right. I mean, because their songs are about god, it’s not *real* music, anyway, amirite? God-inspired music is doomed to fail, that’s why you’d never hear a song about living on, I dunno, a prayer.


I hate to break this to you, but I can listen to *any* music I want to, I’m not just locked into one genre. So, while there may be relatively few so-called christian bands out there, they are still fighting for my ear time as much as the rest.

Unless his checks come direct from god, I don’t see how his religion or the content of his music (they *can* be different, ya know) has to do with his opinion on the future of music.

Paying too much attention to details that don’t really matter is why you don’t seem to get many of the stories on techdirt, I imagine. 🙂

R. Miles (profile) says:

Re: Re:

He doesn’t have to develop industry links mostly because christian music is a small industry with only a few major players.
You’re an idiot.

Maybe you should take the time to read the lyrics in many of today’s music to see how much of it has religious tones to it, since it’s part of the artist’s life.

“Christian music”, as you put it, often sells better than many mainstream artists. You just don’t see information about it because it would make the Billboard Top 100 appear it’s actually factual information.

Oh, and I’m an atheist, just in case you find it necessary to refute my statement as a “defender”. I couldn’t care less what Shaun’s music type is.

He’s making changes, and that’s what the article’s about.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

The point is that Christian music has never been about the “big industry” but rather always about contacts and church to church, event to event action. What this guy is doing isn’t anything different then hundreds of christian artists have done before them. Their industry is small (numbers of people) but represents a very big marketplace. But this marketplace has always had it’s own rules, it’s own marketing, and works differently from mainstream music industry.

My point is just that: Because Christian music has always worked that way, why would this guy be different, or why is his story unique? It isn’t.

Rosedale (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I wondered if the fact that he is a Christian artist would get in the way. Even if everything you say is true, that Christian artists have always lived by a different set of rules that still doesn’t diminish his point. He still has to build his market, and he still has to earn his living. So his points are still valid and can be applied across markets. Ashton Kutcher isn’t in the music biz, but that doesn’t mean that his example or insights about twitter couldn’t be applied to a music band. And Trent Reznor’s model could easily apply to movies, comedians, whatever. They are all in a different biz with different rules, but the principles can be applied to each.

But even so Groves, Christian as he may be, is still in the music biz. HIs variation on the music biz is no different than the vast ranging indie or sub-pop groups out there. They all appeal to a different set of people with a different set of rules or a different set of ideals, but they are all in the same biz. Don’t let “Christian” get in the way of a real message.


Here you make a good point. His story shouldn’t be different and shouldn’t be unique, but for some reason people don’t get it. So it needs constant repetition and validation by many sources and artists to get the point across.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Christian music is a bit of a weird deal, really. There is a very big circuit of “save souls with rock and roll” style events, and bands and artists who support that type of mentality can work all the time, and get phenomenal exposure in their marketplace.

It is also a weird market place because many of these artists are given a near captive audience to work with, and their music is often “blessed” by the parents, encouraged even. These musicians may also appear at churches, giving testimonies of their faith and similar.

By nature, the christian music marketplace is, as a result, a very personably, personal contact style market.

Looking at Groves, he entire upcoming concert list is church oriented events. That says alot right there.

It is just to make the point that, like many things that appear on Techdirt, the reality isn’t exactly the same as what is discussed. In fact, if you read all the quotes that Mike used in this article, there is very little to say what type of music / niche he works in. Sort of avoiding an important fact, perhaps?

Hulser (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Sort of avoiding an important fact, perhaps?

Important? Or important enough that if it were left out, the content of the post would be “suspect”? No way. Sure, the post might have been more interesting if it included a description of how the Christian music scene already fosters a close relationship between artists and their fans, but have you considered that Mike just wasn’t aware of this fact? Or that while this information gives some additional context to the subject, it doesn’t change the essential point that the music industry as a whole could benefit from using this model?

In short, you appear to be calling Mike’s post into question for no rational reason.

Rosedale (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

You are still getting hung on the “Christian” label. Alright so the guy is a Christian, but he is still in the music biz. It is like saying punk rock bands can only talk to punk rock bands. Forget the label just realize that they are music creators. When Mike talks about Trent he doesn’t have to identify what style of music NIN is everytime…do you get hung up on that? Than it should be no different here with “Christian” music. The message is the same whether he is Christian, R&B, Funk, Punk, Freak Folk, you name it. And if Mike doesn’t have to declare such information for any of the other labels than he certainly doesn’t have to declare it here.

Marcel de Jong (profile) says:

Re: Re:

So it would only work for christian artists on the christian web, with christian music? In what world are you living?

The points Shaun makes are valid points across the whole entertainment industry. If the musicians don’t want to interact with human beings, then they shouldn’t be surprised if no-one buys their album.
If a company refuses to deal with customers, then they will not sell as much as the company that does.

Anonymous Coward says:

I would say that his demographic is much easier to seek out then most mainstream artists. But the same could be said for artists with an easily identifiable target audience. It is more main stream artists trying to identify their target audience that seems to be the problem. But then again I am sure that all the nerds on this site have so much experience with that and will immediately shoot me down. Also, I am aware of Trent Raznor.

Also, Shaun Groves isn’t really that successful as far as the “main stream” Christian music.

Anonymous Coward says:

There is a reason musicians haven’t connected with artists in the past, and have others do it for them. It isn’t practical on a large scale, if you are a truly successful artist, you have too many fans to contact. Sure you can update your myspace & twitter, but I’m talking about the sort of connection people are expecting now, like personal internet responses. Also the allure of artists is that they seem larger than life, not that they are ordinary people. The novelty of them coming across as ordinary people wears off quickly…

Just keep piling on all that stuff you expect artists to manage and do by themselves, besides writing, performing, and recording their music… then what you have isn’t people who make the best music, but people who are good at all the other crap.

Hulser (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The novelty of them coming across as ordinary people wears off quickly…

Perhaps. Or maybe fans will find that it’s more important that their favorite artists are identifiable as “real”. Just because that’s the way it is today, doesn’t mean that’s the way it will always be.

Just keep piling on all that stuff you expect artists to manage and do by themselves, besides writing, performing, and recording their music… then what you have isn’t people who make the best music, but people who are good at all the other crap.

This may be true to a certain extent, but it’s nothing new. The same could be said for any other number of changes to the music industry. For example, you can say that when MTV came along, the artists who were succesful weren’t the ones who made the best music, but the ones who were good at making videos. You can argue that, as a whole, videos hurt music while they helped the music industry, but my point is that there’s always something new demanding the time of an artist. Twitter hasn’t changed the general formula that successful artists are the ones who are good at things other than music.

PRMan (profile) says:

Christian Music...

There are so many “experts” on Christian music here that have probably never been to a concert at a church or involving any Christian artists.

In the Christian music industry, there are generally a few ways smaller bands go about it:

1. An artist calls up churches and begs to come out and play during a service. Usually, most of the congregation has never heard of the artist. The church takes up a separate “love offering” for the artist to help their ministry, or pays an agreed-to upfront fee (they may take the extra offering anyway). Few artists in this category end up being successful, but I saw Michelle Pillar and the Katinas this way before they were “famous”. But I have sat through many artists that wouldn’t make a dime without this method, because their music isn’t really very good.

2. An artist or band plays at “local concerts”, almost always involving youth rallies or some other events, but the youth groups go to see the “big name act”, but is then introduced to the smaller acts. This is very similar to mainstream concerts, except that many members of the youth group or whoever may have never heard of the bands they are going to see, but are going because “it’s a youth group/church outing”. Knott’s Berry Farm has made a big business out of nights of all Christian concerts like this.

And the poster that talked about parents approving is right. I recently took my daughters to see Superchick, which was the big name band (they were in Legally Blonde I & II, Ice Princess, 3 TV show theme song credits, movie trailers, etc.), and with them saw a more minor band Fireflight (who my kids and I also really like) and a couple rappers who I had never heard of. Christian concerts are typically a mix of styles that way. It was a free event and there was a speaker and an altar call between bands. This is NOT the case at all Christian concerts, but it is not unusual, either.

3. An artist may have all Christian music (maybe not as overt lyrically), but tries to play at more traditional music locations like bars, clubs, bookstores and restaurants. People like them because their music is good and people really don’t listen to lyrics as much in that setting.

The artists that rely on #1 are the only ones taking advantage of the “captive audience”. Looking at Shaun Groves’ tour info, notice only one of his concerts says, “Church Service”. The rest are most likely concerts in the #2 sense, even if they take place in a church building. (Churches already have great soundstages, parking, seating and sound equipment, so why wouldn’t you use them as little concert halls?)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Christian Music...

Been there and done that, PR man, and yes, most of Shaun’s stuff is in #2, as you say. But it is still a fairly narrow demographic, and one that specifically lends itself to personal connective relationships (we both worship the same god, what a great guy! sort of thing).

The point is as an artist alone trying to make a living, this sort of thing would work only to a certain extent, and has been done for a long, long time already. Most bar bands have done this for years, sitting with the audience after their set for a drink. But it is hard as heck to scale up, can you imagine trent sitting down each night for one drink with each of 20,000 people? Yeesh!

Shaun Groves (user link) says:

Anonymous Coward (appreciate the honesty in the name, btw), you said:

The point is that Christian music has never been about the “big industry” but rather always about contacts and church to church, event to event action.

Not true. There are sub-genres (if you can believe it) within Christian music, like Southern Gospel, that can sustain themselves off of nothing but relationships with pastors who then recommend them to other pastors and so on. But most of the Christian music industry relies heavily on the same mechanisms “mainstream” genres rely upon. All of our major labels are even owned by mainstream music groups like Sony, Warner, Zomba, etc and we’ve adopted their practices.

There are differences between mainstream genres and the Christian music industry, of course, but only two I think of that might be germane to the topic at hand:

1)No access to or credibility with mainstream media (E!, Good Morning America, VH1, RollingStone, Billboard, etc). In order for me to get a headline or face time with these outlets I’d have to be caught using a controlled substance while buying arms from a terrorist cell at a Klan rally as a virgin was being sacrificed by a gay prostitute. Seriously. As long as I keep my nose clean, my industry’s slice of the pie is small enough to keep me out of the spotlight. But TechDirt will cover something I wrote regardless of my faith, no matter how un-salacious, simply because they like it. (Many thanks.) The internet is more egalitarian than old media ever was.

2)Very small budgets. The average recording budget in my industry is less than 100K. My label discs were all made for less than 40K. Marketing budgets are just as measly. But TechDirt is sending me traffic (and twitter followers) as I type…for free. All it cost me was a thought and a few minutes of writing it down on a blog. (Again, thank you.)

Technology grants me coverage old media wouldn’t and at a price I can afford as a now independent artist.

What this guy is doing isn’t anything different then hundreds of christian artists have done before them.

Wrong again. What hundreds of artists did before was mimic their mainstream contemporaries: create, tour, sell, buy a big house. Distance made the artist above-human, untouchable and therefore worthy of emulation and a consumer’s hard earned money. And then they granted access only to a select few willing to pay for it. I treat my audience and everybody else like an equal, like a potential friend. I don’t shake their hand, introduce myself and say, “For $50 a year I’ll let you get to know me…a little.”

I’m not a great musician. I’m pretty good writer and an OK singer but people care about what I do. I’m not using them and they know it. I’m also not trying to sell stuff to people who already want it. I’m trying to connect to other human beings, whether they like my music or share my faith or not, and let them connect to me. Hopefully they’ll let me connect to them too. We’re equals and, unfortunately, that’s still a unique viewpoint.

Thanks for spreading these ideas, guys.


Shaun Groves (user link) says:

Anonymous Coward, in the way-too-long that it took me to edit my comment you managed to leave a few more and they really helped clarify for me what it is you’re getting at. And I agree with you now.

Yes, Christian music does inherently lend itself well to relationship building. That’s in no small part because the majority of folks at these concerts are unified already by a power common belief that is more central (hopefully) to how they think and live than a belief in mascara is for fans of Emo ; )

And yes, it’s always been that way. It’s the only genre perhaps defined not by musical style but by lyrical content and the world-view of the artists and fans.

I get what you’re saying now and totally agree. Christian music has a head start when it comes to building relationships.

BUT…we also have an inherent handicap because our fans tend to be laggards and not early adopters. They take a more skeptical and even fearful view of anything new and especially technology. That’s not the case for everyone but it is for the most conservative Christians in America and they’re the ones, according to industry studies, who buy the music and come to the shows…again, partly for fear of “secular” music.

So, yes, they want to hang out after shows and talk but once the show’s over, they;re not likely to follow you on twitter…if they even have internet access ; )

Easily Amused says:

Re: Re:

I am not a big fan of your music Shaun (it’s actually pretty good for it’s style, but I lean more toward painfully loud and aggressive stuff) – but I am a huge fan of people who can think their way through a given problem and have the balls to express tier ideas and encourage others to succeed. So I will be a avid supporter from now on and follow your writing and career closely. Keep inspiring people!

KGWagner (profile) says:

Human Artists

…one point I raised briefly (which got a laugh from the audience) was the crazy idea that some of Reznor’s actions made him “seem human,” and how rare that was in the music industry.

It is rare. Having spent a lot of time with a number of musicians over the years, there are very few of them I’ve met that have better social skills than a 2 year old, or could handle a business as complex as a paper route. Managing them is like herding cats. To expect them to be responsible for their own success is about as realistic as expecting a child to fix your car. It’s possible, but unlikely.

That’s why a music “industry” exists. If it were left up to the artists, all the world would have is a bunch of extremely localized chanting drum circles.

Not that I condone the “industry” abusing the artists the way they do – far from it. But, we have to realize they do serve a purpose. Not everyone is a Trent Reznor or Paul McCartney.

Huge (profile) says:

Missing a small point ...

This is great advice, but it’s also important to realise that industry relationships are still vital, too. It’s just that they’ve changed in the same way as fan relationships. Artists need to have more industry relationships and those relationships need to be more like peer relationships and mentoring, rather than strictly professional relationships.

Artists need to know lot of other artists that can help out with gigs, accomm, co-writes, whatever. They also need to know lots of booking agents, instrument suppliers, other writers, etc. The power of independence lies in pooling limited resources and expanding networks – with peers as well as fans.

herodotus (profile) says:

“There is a reason musicians haven’t connected with artists in the past, and have others do it for them. It isn’t practical on a large scale, if you are a truly successful artist, you have too many fans to contact.”

OK, first off, why do things need to be ‘large scale’? Seriously, why? Why do so many people use the ‘rock star’ as a synecdoche for all musicians?

Why not use jazz and blues musicians? Because they almost never have so many fans that they haven’t time to talk them all (or rather, time to talk to the tiny percentage of fans who are interested in talking).

And what about ‘classical’ musicians? What about the ones who don’t just want to be sidekicks for Yo Yo Ma? The ones who also, say, compose music?

What about the ‘weird’ classical musicians? You know, the ones who make strange and ‘difficult’ music and get about .5% of the funding that the ‘Mostly Mozart’ festivals get?

What about the weird non-classical musicians who have never gotten any resources at all other than the occasional consignment of weird audio equipment that no one else could figure out how to use?

And what about, say, the early music consorts who are recording and selling the classics of, say, the Renaissance, in many cases for the first time?

Because these people are all musicians, too. Many of them have devoted countless hours to developing their skills. Far more time, with far more concentration, than many if not most rock stars. And having ‘too many fans’ to have time to talk to them all is definitely not a problem for most of them. THEY are all having a much better go of it now than in the past.

Of course, I realize that this is all drivel, and that the ‘real’ music is all made by cute young celebrities, but still….

“Sure you can update your myspace & twitter, but I’m talking about the sort of connection people are expecting now, like personal internet responses. Also the allure of artists is that they seem larger than life, not that they are ordinary people. The novelty of them coming across as ordinary people wears off quickly…”

Yes, what good are celebrities that are just…people (shudder)

Just keep piling on all that stuff you expect artists to manage and do by themselves, besides writing, performing, and recording their music… then what you have isn’t people who make the best music, but people who are good at all the other crap.

Is this addressed to reality? Like ‘world, how dare you be so unfair!’? Something like that?

Being good at music has always been tangential to extra-musical forces in determining musical celebrity. If the Beatles hadn’t been cute and been given a makeover so that they looked just the right amount of ‘mod’ they never would have gotten all the opportunities that they had to use the new machinery of recording to make their breakthrough albums. The ‘cute’ part was a necessary condition.

The sad part is that in the vast majority of cases, it is a sufficient condition.

Seb.Tworowski (user link) says:

yeah but...

Of course, I completely agree with this idea and that’s what I’ve been trying to do for the last four years with my progressive rock duo : OulchenOwski ( )
It’s really hard in the way that you really have to spend hours and hours on the Net… you just must not count. Only one person on maybe 1000 will respond and that would be “being lucky”. Internet is a weird place where you have to sound human but where you’ll never be more treated like a product. People don’t even take the time to judge you. It’s so easy to click and go away. It really is a place where you can quickly feel like a drop in the ocean. It’s really hard to fit in there because what people seem to be looking for and what I’d love to see more on the Internet are two different things. I’d love to see more live-unkown-good quality bands performing with a webcam but when you go to places like, most of what you’ll find are teenagers talking bullshit like :
– woaw, you’re so sexy bitch !
– who are you to call me bitch ?
– I’m the one who’s gonna f… you !
– Get the f… out !
blablablabla… etc.
even if they’re in the music section… And when you finally find real musicians playing music, they surely will sound exactly like “Green Day” or will only do covers without any personal touch.

Searching music on the Internet is somehow depressing but I so believe in the Internet that I simply cannot stop
– posting MP3’s
– participating to forums
– subscribing to musical websites

Acting like a Human being is quite easy but being treated like one by Internet users is another story.

Kim says:

Force Fed Music

We’re mostly force-fed music by the record companies and radio stations – all for their agenda (money), not what is good for the listeners. Why not play new and true songs endlessly (and not repeat anything) – no money in that though. I like what the song “How Many Times” (Daniel Minteer) says about people doing stupid things – most mainstream radio would reject it and Chritain radio would be afraid to play it.

Glendon Gross (profile) says:

Promotion and relationships

I find this discussion fascinating because I have experienced the need to build relationships with fans, but it is a “labor of love.” Facebook has been very helpful to me in being able to reach my friends with gig information. I enjoy getting feedback from fans on Facebook and via email.

In the 19th century, “superstars” like Franz Liszt emerged at a time when publishers wanted to sell more sheet music of dead composers, and promoters started to book large halls for performances of “classical” music. Prior to that era, relationships had been what music was all about. So if you attended one of Beethoven’s recitals in Vienna, you probably knew the composer personally or knew one of his students.

It seems to me that the Internet is causing us to need to return to that older emphasis on relationships, but the tools are now available to help us reach a larger number of people. I agree with the idea that those who refuse to do this are likely to fade from the music scene, regardless of how well they play. This could end up being a good thing for the local musician for whom building relationships comes naturally. Middle men may still thrive if they understand how to facilitate these digital relationships without demanding total exclusivity for their artists.

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