Music In Real Time: Keep Up Or Get Left Behind

from the it-ain't-like-it-used-to-be dept

The Swedish organization Media Evolution is putting on a conference called Moving Images about how the concept of “real time” is impacting the media industry. As a part of that event, they’re running a “blog race,” where different bloggers are writing up a discussion on one aspect of what the conference covers. I’m taking the relay baton from Andreas Ekstrom who wrote about how we are constantly pushing the boundaries of transparency in the real time world, and next week I’m handing the baton off to Bjorn Jeffery at Bonnier R&D, who will be talking about real time in the journalism world.

As for me… I’m talking about it in the context of the music industry. As I started to think about this, I came across a fantastic “must read” blog post from France, that details pretty much everything you need to know about today’s digital landscape for promoting your music. It’s incredibly thorough. I have no idea who wrote it, and the only reason I know about it is because someone sent a Twitter message to me about it — but I can’t even thank them, because whoever did that has since deleted their Twitter account! However, if you’re a musician and you’re doing anything online (and you should be), it’s worth looking through this just to make sure you know what’s out there.

But, what really struck me as I read this is that if you go back a decade almost none of what’s discussed in the article even existed. At all. Most of the services discussed have popped up in the past few years. The digital skills you need to know to be a musician today are changing so rapidly that the service you figure out today might not even exist in a few years — and the hot service next year might not even exist at all today. It’s no surprise that this bothers and worries some people. They worry about how they might need to spend all this time figuring out these online things, rather than making music. That’s a totally understandable reaction. But most musicians are going to need to get over that. Welcome to the new world. And so far, it appears that most of those worries are unfounded.

It’s true that, in the past, the major record labels handled a lot of the marketing side of things — but the cost was super high for musicians. Basically, you gave up all control (and most of the money). And you were basically waiting for a lottery ticket. If the major label decided you were one of a small number of bands it was going to put its monetary muscle behind, then you could break through. If not, you were going to have go back to finding a day job and getting totally bogus royalty statements from a label that’s never going to pay you any money beyond the advance, which all went into recording your album, over which you no longer have any control. Was it worth it? Well, when there were no other options and this was the only shot at success, perhaps.

But these days? All those services that are discussed are the real time music world today. They let anyone route around the old gatekeepers, retain control, and take charge. They allow artists to create, promote, distribute, communicate and inspire — all in real time. You can ignore them if you want, but you do so at your own peril. More and more musicians have been taking charge over their careers and they’re pointing out that musicians who ignore the social networking aspect of the music business only have themselves to blame. It’s not that hard by itself, but it’s part of being successful today in the business.

And, in many ways that’s incredibly exciting. Taking out the need for a middleman gives musicians more control over their own destinies. Yes, they still need to be good and they still need to work hard, but they no longer are at the mercy of a gatekeeper. And it’s opening up all sorts of new possibilities.

Musicians are realizing that the “real time” music industry is a great way to not just build up true fans, but to keep them interested. I was looking recently at a musician I like, and in the last year alone, he actually ended up “releasing” the equivalent of six albums — because he just kept creating music, and releasing it (both digital and CD). I’m guessing that the same people who complain by saying that musicians who do social networking won’t have time to make music will also now complain about this kind of output: saying that if he’s making so many albums, how can he have time for anything else? But, you can’t really have it both ways, can you?

In fact, if you look, it seems like the musicians who are most active on social networks, also seem to be producing a lot more music than those who went the old route (contrary to the claims). They’re realizing that with the barriers for everything getting lower, the “real time” music industry means that they can just keep creating music, releasing it, and building up fans and a true, sustainable business as they go. Social networking in real time doesn’t take away from the ability to create music — it can enhance it.

So, the real time music industry isn’t just about communicating in real time. It’s about doing everything in real time: creating, producing, distributing, marketing, promoting, connecting, performing. Take out the roadblocks and everything becomes a bigger opportunity, and a constant chance to keep connecting with your fans every chance you get. And when you realize that, it’s difficult not to get really excited about what’s coming next for the music industry.

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Comments on “Music In Real Time: Keep Up Or Get Left Behind”

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Jay (profile) says:

“It’s true that, in the past, the major record labels handled a lot of the marketing side of things — but the cost was super high for musicians. Basically, you gave up all control (and most of the money). “

Not sure I agree… Thing is, you gave up on CD Sales along with doing constant touring to make up the revenue lost in CD Sales.

Problem is that the industry would love to get into concert sales but that’s where the artist recoups their losses.

And with the advent of the internet, there’s a lot more indie bands that can find niches without the major three. In the end, the industry lost on the internet BIG time by not catering to places such as Myspace and filesharing. The whole situation gives an ironic echo to why they rail against the internet so much. It changed everything…

Karl (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Contractually, you also gave up your copyright.

From your posts, I’d guess you’re an author not a musician, so you may not know this – authors usually sign licensing deals instead of granting the copyright to the label in toto.

But that’s the case: for decades, you couldn’t get signed to a major label without granting them exclusive rights to all the music produced while you were on that label.

And to even get to the bargaining stage, you had to sign a “deal memo” saying that you would eventually sign a contract with the label. This was a legally binding document, so until you reached a deal with the label, neither you nor another label could release your music.

…Yeah, major labels suck.

keven sutton says:

Re: LOL ...

There are small labels that will do a lot of this for you.

For the most part the most successful artists weren’t the one doing “just the art” anyway. They were the one who were paying attention to their fan base and offering special things to them. I bet the first backstage pass blew some minds too.

A Music Fan says:

interesting trends

In the olden days, musicians had sponsors and patrons (wealthy folk who housed, fed and paid them). I wonder if the better musicains and groups won’t be able to do the same thing by attracting a large following of dedicated fans who willing contribute a small amount each year to their favorites. (Let’s see now, $10 per fan per year X 1,000,000 dedicated fans would come out to be slight more than the bands are getting from the studios.) Yeah, that might even work . . .

Headbhang (profile) says:

Re: interesting trends

Stuff like that is already happening. Techdirt has a few examples itself.

One that I haven’t seen mentioned here yet is that of prog/avantgarde metal/rock band maudlin of the Well. Essentially, their 2009 album “Part the Second” was entirely funded, in advance, by a group of 87 dedicated fans, and later released to the world for free. Granted, by their own admission the band didn’t earn any money from it: the time and energy came out of their own pockets, but then again, it was merely 87 people funding the album and I’m pretty sure they could have made some cash for themselves had they aimed higher. Moreover, obviously they still welcome donations, so something will come from it.

Personally, I find this to be a decent strategy and really wish more bands would go this way. Of course, it relies on having an established fan base already, but there are plenty of them that the same or larger following that motW has.

Anonymous Coward says:

“real time” is just buzz wording on being a wandering minstrel, a road dog, or any other numbers of ways to explain it. it would appear to be another group doing the techdirt “jump in front of a wave and claim to own it”. just get out of the way and let people do whatever comes naturally, no need to “real time” tag it.

herodotus (profile) says:

You know, I realize that this site is about business models and making money in the 21st century and so on, but it does get a little depressing the way everyone continues to discuss music solely in terms of ‘the industry’.

The revolution isn’t that now anyone can try to make money off of their music. The revolution is that money has more or less been taken out of the picture. You can make beautiful sounding recordings with equipment that costs less than 1000 dollars, and distribute them throughout the world for the cost of the bandwidth needed to upload them to LastFM or Soundclick.

If no one makes a penny off of any of it, the revolution has still taken place. Musical culture has, at long last, broken free of the ‘cruel and shallow money trench, where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs.’

Eventually, the people who want to be ‘stars’ will just become an extension of the fashion industry, leaving those of us who are interested in music free to practice our art without having to worry about them.

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