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.

Filed Under: alex day, business models, connecting with fans, justin timberlake, music, videos, youtube


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Mar 2013 @ 4:14pm

    Re: would be interesting if true...

    I read the article, it had credibility issues such as quotes by selected third parties. The story never quoted or linked to the license that the entire article was about.

    I then explored the site. Is it Out of the Blue's website?

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