Musician Alex Day Explains How He Beat Justin Timberlake In The Charts Basically Just Via YouTube

from the i-thought-youtube-was-evil dept

Last summer, we wrote about UK musician Alex Day, creator of a number of very catchy tunes (seriously take a listen), and how he sold half a million songs by breaking all the “rules” that those from the old recording industry insist are true. You can read that article for the details, but the short version is that he has no label, relies pretty much entirely on YouTube, he encourages fans to use his his music as much as possible and he’s regularly releasing new songs. Recently, he released his latest album in the UK the same day that music industry superstar Justin Timberlake did, and (at least on iTunes), Day’s album charted better than Timberlake’s, despite Timberlake basically having the entire force of the legacy music industry behind him.

At that link above, James Altucher has another great interview with Day, in which he (once again) highlights the basics of how he built his success — hitting on a bunch of points that we’ve regularly talked about here, and which industry insiders insist could never really work for anyone. First up, connect with fans:

Right from my first 30 subscribers, I began talking to the audience that was there and making videos directly for them and replying to comments, but I never saw it as a ‘fan base’ – I mainly just figured we were all bored kids.

Another interesting point: he doesn’t perform shows. This is a very interesting one, because we regularly get attacked in the comments by people who insist that we’ve claimed that the answer for musicians today is just to tour. Of course, we’ve never actually said that. There’s a conflation there between where many artists are making money today and other ways in which artists can make money. In many ways, Day reminds me of Pomplamoose, who also used YouTube to build up a huge following and to make a living (both mixed cover songs with originals early on). You don’t need to perform to make money, and Day has proven that.

Performing wasn’t an avenue for me – the only gigs I’ve done are one-off launch events (to launch my album, for example) or gigs with friends (as I mentioned). I really don’t feel the need to gig when I can reach my audience online and hit everyone at once, all over the world, and not exclude anybody, which a tour doesn’t do.

And, yes, it sounds like he’s doing quite well. Between YouTube and people buying the music (even though it’s available for free on YouTube), he’s doing quite well.

Typically I make around £3500 a month from YouTube (I’m on a network so they can sell the ad space higher) and at least £10,000 a month from music and merch sales. I’ve also done other projects – I co-created a card game with my cousin which we sell online, I have a business called Lifescouts I launched this year – which add a bit of extra cash to the pot also.

Basically: connect with fans and give them a reason to buy, and they will, even if the music is available for free. So much for the idea that no one will ever buy if it’s free.

Also, while some insist that we hate record labels and think there’s no role for them at all any more, nothing could be further from the truth. We’ve noted, repeatedly, that there is still a huge role for record labels, helping and enabling artists to do more for the artists that want that. What’s different today is that artists have a choice. They can use a label, if they think that helps them, or they can do stuff themselves. And having that choice also gives the artist a lot more power and some more leverage. So it’s interesting to see Day talk about his thoughts on labels. He’s very open minded, pointing out that he’s not against signing with a label, but they’d have to actually be able to do something for him and they’ve yet to show that they can do that without wanting to control absolutely everything.

Labels have never known what the hell to do with me. I always went in with an open mind – I don’t like the idea that being proudly unsigned/independent instantly means I’m white and they’re black and we have to duel to the death or whatever. There are a lot of things I do on my own because I have to, so I’ve got good at them, but it would definitely be easier with outside help! So I was willing to hear what they could offer and how we could work together and I still would be, but I don’t think labels are ready to be that humble. They want to control everything. I like being able to decide my own songs and film my own music videos.

I’ve had several meetings with Island Records in the UK, the last of which ended with the guy saying he doesn’t think I’m ready to be on a label yet because “we only sign artists we can sell at least a million copies of in the next three months” – but if he’s waiting for me to get to that point without him, why do I need the label ever? I’ve also met with Warner, Sony, EMI – they were all the same, none of them expected to justify themselves and at best they were just trying to “figure out my secret” and at worst they were completely uninformed and lazy…

He talks about how a one-off deal with Universal solely for distribution of his CD helped get that CD into music shops, which was nice for sales, and those kinds of relationships are interesting to him. Ones where they control everything and don’t add any actual value… are not. He even points to this hilarious video about his experience meeting with a major label. Seriously, watch this video.

And, of course for those YouTube-haters out there, Day notes that YouTube has basically been everything for him:

It’s just YouTube. I have Twitter and Facebook only because I sort of feel I have to, because I need to reach people in those places…. For the personal connection, it’s all YouTube. I love it there. It’s such a creative outlet. I’ve been making videos seven years and never got bored of it — one or two videos a week regularly all that time.

It genuinely saddens me when YouTube isn’t lumped in as one of the essential social metrics with Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr (I do have a Tumblr too but like the others I don’t really know how to use it). I understand YouTube and it’s changed my whole life.

Wait, weren’t we just hearing some old school musician insisting that YouTube had put 12,000 musicians out of work? Maybe it’s just 11,999 then. Or, maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe it’s created an opportunity for lots and lots of musicians. But the key, as Day notes, is that you have to actually get YouTube. Miss that step and (shockingly), it might not work for you.

Either way, it’s great to see Alex continue doing what he does best: making great music, connecting with fans and building a career.

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Comments on “Musician Alex Day Explains How He Beat Justin Timberlake In The Charts Basically Just Via YouTube”

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Chancius (user link) says:

I'm Watching This Artist Very Closely...

because he seems to have homes into a type of success a lot of musicians complain is not attainable right now. I’m preparing to release my newest album soon and I’m trying to learn from others like Day on how to actually profit from what I love doing. The trick is sticking out and getting noticed. I’ve seen so many artists and bands who play live, but don’t make a video or promote themselves at all.

anonymouse says:

Re: I'm Watching This Artist Very Closely...

The labels are threatened by this and the fact that it is a young boy doing it should threaten them even more, very interesting read and possibly a start in the breaking up of the labels where individuals will do everything they are supposed to do and then start asking why they are signed.
Yes distribution and the locked up monopoly of the radio and tv is something they can hold out as a treat to artists but that is only going to work for those that don’t really have a love for what they are doing and don’t trust in their ability.

Robert (profile) says:

Re: Re: would be interesting if true...

3500 + 10 000 pounds per month is pretty damn good living.

How is it the new boss is bad? Or is it, as Alex says, you need to “get” the new boss first before you can make use of it?

Perhaps that’s the real problem and that’s why cherrypicking quotes, to help remove them from context (such as the Thom Yorke post where cleverly quoting and drawing context, including the implication that Thom said something when it was the linked article Author who says “Google”, not Thom) causes this lovely “cheer” from people who don’t get it, and also don’t earn 13 500 pounds per month without doing concerts/selling tshirts.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: would be interesting if true...

Oh yes, Timberlake got 1st. And yet Alex, with absolutely no support from the big labels and mainly working with Youtube as his tool still gets a good rank and a lot of sales. Your willfull ignorance is hilarious 😉

Also, the trichordist turd you posted was covered without the dishonesty on techdirt. Alex does not have any contract with Machinima and actually Machinima itself is akin to a label/studio. And the situation was plenty criticized and seemingly Youtube is fighting for fairer contracts.

Your turn, clown.

Karl (profile) says:

Re: Re: would be interesting if true...

as for youtube, congrats to alex but beware the new boss…

You should stop citing David Lowery. He lies.

For example, he lies in that very article. The first block quote is from someone who is locked into a contract with Machinima.

But Machinima is not YouTube. They have videos on YouTube, and that’s how they make most of their money – but that’s it. The contracts people sign are not with YouTube, nor with any Google company.

dennis deems says:

Re: Re: He does have a label.

Epigrams & Interludes is Day’s current (March 17 2013) release. I don’t have the CD yet so I can’t say whether it is a DFTBA imprint, but it is distributed in the US by DFTBA. Day’s relationship with the label is as strong as it ever was.

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: He does have a label.

In regards to Alex, DFTBA is only a Distributor and nothing more, it has no contractual relationship other than the ability to market his content as he states they market in the way he tells them to market it. They are agents of distribution only.

Not anywhere like what a label does in any way shape nor form.

Alex controls every single aspect (micro management to the extreme) of his creations, though you can only do so much and to actually get it into stores for physical sales you need some sort of organisation to handle the logistics of distribution. But he still controls it because they work for him and not the other way round.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: He does have a label.

The “Don’t Forget To Be Awesome” label formed by 2 brothers that use the internet and Youtube to produce their stuff?

That apparently is the kind of “label” Mr. Masnick always talked about it, not the old model.

Also I found this, an incomplete list of Youtube celebrities.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: He does have a label.

They appear to promote and distribute things, they don’t appear to actually get in charge of the creative process or works, is that the heavy lifting? Because if it is Mr. Alex could have done it all by himself since it was how he started 7 years ago writing songs and signed with DFTBA no latter then 2008 when the label was founded.

Basically Mr. Alex appear to be in a relationship where he outsources things that he has done and could be doing it, but prefer not to.

Is that the “heavy lifting” you are talking about?

dennis deems says:

Re: Re: Re:2 He does have a label.

You mean just like it says in the article?

What are you talking about? My point is that the contribution of DFTBA to Alex’s success has been substantial and ongoing. There’s no mention of DFTBA in either Mike’s post or the Techcrunch article.

You seemed to have missed the point while reading it, and then stated said point as if we don’t already know.

I missed the point but I also stated the point?? Which is it?

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 He does have a label.

My point is that the contribution of DFTBA to Alex’s success has been substantial and ongoing.

That’s like saying that Federal Express and the Postal Service has been a major contributor to the success of Ebay or Etsy or whatever.

DFTBA is ONLY a tool that is used as a distribution channel, they do NOT control anything other than there own logistics in delivering the product to whomever Alex allows them too.

They might market and push the product in certain ways that Alex allows (and that is the major point there… he allows them to and can pull the plug at any time) but they are still only a distributor and nothing more.

dennis deems (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 He does have a label.

That’s like saying that Federal Express and the Postal Service has been a major contributor to the success of Ebay or Etsy or whatever.

Do Federal Express and the Postal Service maintain a web storefront for Ebay and Etsy where you can buy all of Ebay’s and Etsy’s works? Do they include tracks by Ebay and Etsy on the compilation CD’s that they produce? Do they produce videos for Ebay’s and Etsy’s songs? Do they announce Ebay’s and Etsy’s new releases and activities to their Facebook friends and Twitter followers?

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 He does have a label.

No that’s what a marketing firm does or here’s a common misconception.. A distributor does as well.

See when tangible non-fungible products like cd’s, books, or other Gizmos are sold they can use what are called channels.

There is in normal circumstances a Manufacturer, Distributor, Wholesaler and retailer channel. Sometimes you get the Distibution /Wholesale channel combined, sometimes the wholesale/retailer combined. Though VERY VERY rarely do you get the Distributor/Wholesaler/Manufacturer combined as you do in a contemporary record label or someone like Dell (being the primary case study for these things).

But guess what… Just because a Distributor also sometimes performs a retail function (which in some jurisdictions is highly illegal under tax/trade laws) of marketing does not make them a ‘label’ because they either one: say so, or are in the ‘recording industry’.

DFTBA would have a contract with Mr Day to provide a specific and only those specific functions to distribute and/or market his product (because it is a product) in the US market. But they dont have an exclusive contract and this is where the major difference lies. Labels by there very nature have exclusivity with either worldwide distribution/marketing or exclusive region distribution/marketing.

And whether they have a facebook page, or web page, or even do ‘media releases’ is irrelevant, since the only reason they do that is for their specific market and no others.

Oh and just to show you that anyone can do a press release, here’s one actually by a friend of Alex’s done via PRWeb (19 March 2013) which as strangely nothing about DFTBA and instead states unequivocally that he is UNSINGED! Why you ask? becasue DFTBA is NOT his label, they are his distributors and marketers for the physical product within the continental USA only.

Oh he also is giving away the album (part) on uTorrent as a featured artist that you can buy for $5 or get free (your choice) comes with:
* 10 songs
* 3 music videos
* Album art from Young & Sick
* A message from Alex Day

I grabbed that, let my daughter listen to it and then she bought the whole album. Strangely you can do all this if you are in the USA too.. because he has NO lable telling him what to do, making him only do it their exclusive way and making sure NOTHING is ever free.

dennis deems says:

Re: Re: He does have a label.

They call themselves a label. They produce and distribute music under their name. They have a stable of artists whose work they help promote. They won an award, which they display proudly on their web site, that calls them a label. How are they not a label?

I’m not trying to confuse the issue. Mike writes as if Alex Day is all alone in the world. That’s a very distorted view.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: He does have a label.

You say “he has no label”. This is not true and I tink it seriously undermines the larger message.

No. He says that. From the interview, he’s asked about a comparison with Ani DeFranco and says:

“I think the main difference was she was constantly touring and I never have. Also she got her independence by forming her own label. I don?t have a label at all.”

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Re: awesome

I haven’t heard his music but I want to buy it already because he a charming, nice, friendly bloke sitting in a normal, messy room telling a funny story.

And they can’t figure out what his secret is? It’s attitude!

Nobody wants to buy music from someone that’s whining about piracy, or lost sales, or how things aren’t like they used to be, or going on about demographics and world tours and television appearances, or worse – their pet political cause.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Give it away and pray!

If I were you, I would do what Alex does and give people incentive to buy. He connects with his fans much better then many other artist and that is why he has been so successful. Worked done by Give it away and pray sounds like something you would find at a thrift shop. Sure you might find something but the majority is junk.

Keroberos (profile) says:

Re: Give it away and pray!

He didn’t ‘give it away and pray’, he ‘gave it away, and worked his ass of to give people a reason to pay’–pretty big difference there. And sure enough–as we talk about here all the time, his business model worked. I think this is something you seem to forget–the hard work part, all you record label shills seem to want is a ‘magic bullet’ model that makes the labels massive amounts of money for very little work.

bob (profile) says:

And then there's the DMCA notices

First we learn that Alex Day works with what might be called a “label”.

Now it turns out that he’s filing DMCA notices:

Didn’t Mike say that he was encouraging this kind of wild sharing?

Next we’ll hear that he’s got a paywall at a concert.

Robert (profile) says:

Re: And then there's the DMCA notices

BPI filed that notice.

They claim copyright ownership, as written in said claim.

I have not bothered to contact Alex Day directly and see if he owns his copyrights, which would make said DMCA complete bullshit and actually warranting of fraud-claims.

But who knows what his YouTube Partner/network agreements are. If it were Google’s agreement to own the rights (via the partnership) then BPI can file all they want. It’s not like there’s any enforceable law against bogus DMCA filings.

anonymouse says:

Re: And then there's the DMCA notices

You need to watch the video, seriously, he explains that he uses the label to distribute his music, that is all, nothing more, but then you would know that and a lot more if you watched the video.
Also bpi is the mpaa of the UK and i doubt he has a contract with them, they have probably made a mistake, you know like one of the millions of mistakes they make every month.

artp (profile) says:


I notice that he really seems to be enjoying what he’s doing. If you don’t enjoy it, you’re not going to be good at it. Contrast that with the productions that are modern music. Yeah, some of his videos are really corny. But they are also very real. And I like that.

I loved his remake of “Lady Godiva”. And “This Kiss”. And “She Walks Right Through Me”. Good stuff, Maynard!

It reminds me of what we used to call “street theater” back in the 60s/early 70s. Just go out there and have fun. Who cares about the plan, just go with the flow. And have fun! Fun is contagious.

I have always been struck by how much fun bands like Jeff Beck seem to have a lot of fun and really enjoy each other and their music. A lot of smiles there. Same with Eric Clapton’s groups, especially the one he assembled for the Robert Johnson numbers in “Sessions for Robert J” and for the Crossroads Festival 2007. For new groups, Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi and band are having a blast!

Joseph Campbell used to say “Follow your bliss!” It looks like Day is doing that. More power to him.

Ninja (profile) says:

Trolls are remarkably absent here eh?

The first argument I thought I’d see was the old “but he isn’t making a trillion dollars!” and interestingly the labels themselves used it with him:

we only sign artists we can sell at least a million copies of in the next three months

Copies of what? Physical disks? mp3 on iTunes? Tickets to his shows? And honestly if he managed to do it why would he need any label at all (as he concluded himself)?

There are a few things to conclude from artists like him: it does not matter if you are making millions of dollars as an artist, just enough to live a very comfortable middle class life or simply some extra that is complementary to your everyday job. You are making money from something you love. Some will succeed and get tons of money, some will succeed and make money they can comfortably live with, some will get a much welcome extra. But there will be loads of failures and no amount of copyright will change any of the facts above (actually it’ll prevent many artists from making money on works derived from the available cultural pool).

You can’t take someone seriously when they disregard artists making less than millions as failures.

jsf (profile) says:

The Secret

The one consistent thing that I have noticed most about successful “internet artists”, particularly podcast and video bloggers, is that they are actually entertaining.

Over the decades I have followed a lot of different musical acts and it is surprising how few of them are actually entertaining in person or during shows.

It seems to really be as simple as just be entertaining.

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