Streaming Boom Changes Digital Music Landscape…Or Does it?

This graphic shows the increase in streaming use in 2014, pretty impressive numbers from a percentage standpoint.

Infographic: Streaming Boom Changes Music Landscape | Statista
You will find more statistics at Statista

What does that mean from a dollars point of view, however? And if streaming pays less than traditional sales methods, what does it mean for the artists, rights holders, etc? For that, here’s another Statista graphic:
Infographic: Digital Accounts For Nearly 70% of U.S. Music Revenues | Statista
You will find more statistics at Statista

That’s still a percentage-based graphic, however, which doesn’t answer the real question–who’s making money in this new music industry model? One last graph, to show that in country music, at least, they’re taking it to the bank–this isn’t just album sales, however, it’s overall income:
Infographic: Country Music Acts Earn Staggering Amounts of Money | Statista
You will find more statistics at Statista

My bet? It’s the traditional record labels who are still making the majority of the money in the music business…the digital transformation may have taken them by surprise kicking and screaming into the new millenium, but they still own the rights, produce the recordings, and their lawyers are still the best at screwing over the actual artists, the musicians and songwriters who really make the music we all listen to, however we get it delivered to our ears.

Tom Petty and the New Paradigm

Tom Petty gets it. Nobody wants to bother with purchasing a new album any more, other than your diehard fans and even they will probably just stream the tracks. You’re still a viable and vital touring act, however–with a band like The Heartbreakers, how could you not be, they’re the best non E Street combo extant–so for the upcoming North American tour, all tickets will include a copy of the new album Hypnotic Eye.

No, it’s not the first time an artist has done this, it’s not a Radiohead or Prince kind of move, but for an aging rocker with arena-sized audiences it’s a smart promotional ploy that gets his full set of new songs in the hands of those who might care about them the most. Without it, how many units would you expect a Tom Petty to move? This way it makes him look like he’s still selling tonnage without having to market both the album and the tour. Nobody cares about new music from Petty, they just want to hear the hits again, and again. Which they will, at the show, where the new songs will allow time for bathroom breaks and beer runs to the concession stand where the venues make their money.

Complain that nobody buys your album if you put it on Bandcamp for free streaming, or if it’s up on Spotify where you get fractions of fractions of a cent per play, but if it’s not there nobody but your friends and family will probably be listening anyway. Is the album dead? Not as an artistic statement, perhaps, but as a business venture it has no future in any kind of stand-alone way. Wait for a year, or two, and release a full album’s worth of songs with one or two great ones surrounded by filler? Go ahead, but prepare to be forgotten in the interim.

I’ve said for several years now that most acts would be better served going back to the singles mode of the early 1960’s, releasing one song at a time over frequent intervals, then packaging them up later in album-sized bundles for those who still want that. In an internet era where we all move on to the newest, latest trends, hashtags, news stories, and celebrity mishaps within hours, not days, how do you expect to continue generating interest in a full album six months after its release? Put out a song a week, or month, however, and you’re hitting the ‘refresh’ button every time a new track comes out. Pair them with videos, even if they’re homemade, or lyrics-only clips, and you get the Youtube eyes on them as well.

I still listen to, and review, full albums every day. I can understand the artistic value in presenting a song cycle that is thematically linked, or that represents where you are as an artist at that time. But after the reviews are done, how many do I really go back to? Very few, and even then it’s to the one or two tracks that caught my ear the most, not the eighth or ninth same-sounding cut that’s not worth the effort to click forward to hear. And you expect a casual listener to do any better than that?

There was an old saying in pop music, “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus.” This is akin to today’s plethora of album length material sitting out there on Spotify, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, etc., waiting to be heard. Most of it will never be streamed, by anyone. So when Tom Petty decides to give away his new album to those who pay for a live show ticket, he’s at least getting it into the hands, and ears, of someone who might actually listen. What are you doing to ensure your music gets heard?

Check out the promo clip announcing the tour and album here :

Grammys: For Musicians Or For Naught?

Peter Cooper of the Tennessean is an excellent music journalist and a pretty good singer and songwriter who I have a great deal of respect for. Today he posted an opinion piece about the Grammys and how the show has pared down the number of categories it offers, cutting ethnic, classical, and instrumental categories, and his opinion seems to be that that’s a bad thing. Click here to read Cooper’s post, “Exclusivity May Suit the Grammys But Not the Rest of Us.”

Cooper says that pruning instrumental categories and other niche genres does a disservice to the musicians because:

“Grammy awards also help touring musicians to emphasize validity to concert promoters and to audiences. Want to go out and see another singer-songwriter? Maybe not. Want to go out and see a three-time Grammy winner? Maybe so.”

Here’s where he and I differ–I don’t think the Grammys were established to pad the resumes of musicians. Good music will find an audience no matter how many awards you can or cannot associate with the person playing it. Most of my favorite bands, and probably many of yours, never won a Grammy or any other award. If an artist needs a Grammy to validate what they’re doing, I’d suggest they are doing it for the wrong reasons.

I spent many years in music retail and from my admittedly limited perspective never saw much of a sales bump from the Grammys for anyone other than the major artists who performed on the telecast. To use one of Cooper’s examples, Alison Krauss, I sold plenty of her albums over the years, but mostly due to bluegrass fans who already knew about her or those who came to her music from hearing it on the radio…not because she has won boatloads of Grammys.

Cooper also says, “One of the Grammy Awards’ most appealing aspects has been the celebration of the gifted-but-marginalized, and this year that celebration was somewhat muted.”

Perhaps it was, since there were a lot less of them honored at the non-televised portion of the show, but for the vast majority of those who did tune in to the TV show, those awards would have fallen on deaf ears anyway. Let’s face it, the music-buying public is mostly tuning in for the lowest-common-denominator trainwrecks such as Niki Minaj. The fact that they occasionally get a Civil Wars or Avett Brothers probably results in more head-scratching and bathroom trip tune-outs than it does real exposure for those acts.

Music is fragmented now more than ever, and musicians ought to take a lead from politicians–shore up your base, play to them first, and if and when you get some momentum they’ll support you even if you make that unlikely ascent into the mainstream. Until then, play because you want to play, enjoy playing, and couldn’t do anything else even if you tried to stop.

Post-Echo’s Post-Music Business Model For Successful Collaboration

With the increasingly collaborative options offered up online it was only a matter of time before someone figured out a way to take advantage of pooling resources and initiative to come up with something greater than the sum of its parts on a local level. Post-Echo is a website, it’s a group of like-minded local South Carolina musicians, and it’s a glimpse into the future of collaborative creativity and promotions in the music business.

“Post-Echo arose out of a discussion about where music was going in the century ahead, and how artists could keep their heads above water in the post-digital music age,” says co-founder Justin Schmidt of Post-Echo band Forces of a Street. “Everyone talks about how record labels are outdated, and we agree, but it didn’t look to us like having a million struggling independent musicians was the way things should go either.” With Post-Echo’s other originator, Fr. Jones, also being one of those independent musicians, it was more than an academic argument.

“Being artists ourselves, we knew what it was like to put yourself out there on your own,” says Jones. “It’s rough, and it’s hard to provide people with context for what you’re doing – why they should listen to your music.”
Post-Echo, then, was founded on two main principles, according to Schmidt and Jones: First, a collaborative relationship between artists makes for better music, and second, the music and art of Post-Echo artists will strive to create a ‘full’ experience.

“We are very lucky to be working alongside these artists,” they both agree. “There are so many creative ideas and unique personalities among them, and we want to help them amplify and broadcast their artistic personae as best we can.” They are doing that through a mixture of album releases, video blogging, fully produced and live music videos, free downloads, and more, using whatever it seems will help get the word out about Post-Echo artists.

Bobby Markle and Caitlin Hucks are the most visible part of the operation outside of the bands themselves due to their presence in a string of videos interviewing and promoting the groups various new releases.

The first inkling of what would become Post-Echo was a compilation album released in 2011, Future Y’all, which included many local and regional artists, some of whom have become involved with the collaborative Post-Echo effort. “It road-tested a collaborative approach and built bridges for us with some excellent artists in the area,” Schmidt says.

The next big step for Post-Echo begins this week with the February 14th release of the new album from Forces of a Street, Pro Icarus, followed by electronic act Roomdance and their new album Sewn Inside on March 1st and the ambitiously titled These Are the Things I Love and I Want to Share Them With You from the band Pan on March 7th.

The interesting thing about Post-Echo is that there is no real rhyme or reason or underlying similarity between the artists involved, unlike more famous collectives such as Elephant 6. I’m reminded of a comment from longtime South Carolina artist Danielle Howle when I asked her once in an interview what she thought Columbia’s “sound” was—her response was that it was that there was no “sound,” in the sense of everyone sounding similar, and that that was the best thing about the area’s scene.

Pro Icarus is a perfect example of the diversity of the Post-Echo roster, as it is in itself a wildly diverse set of tunes. Justin Schmidt is a child of 90’s and 00’s rock, from Coldplay to Radiohead, but he’s also talented enough to mask those influences in a haze of Pink Floyd and Beatle-isms and nods to everything from Dinosaur Jr. to Devandra Banhart on songs such as the trippy “Black Light” or the first video single, “Scope.”

For their part, the artists who have gathered under the Post-Echo umbrella seem pretty happy to be out of the heavy downpours of the music industry uncertainties and content to make music their own way, for now.

“Every press label or record label has to start somewhere, so even though Post-Echo is at the beginning of a long journey, we are happy to be a part of it,” Says Ian Flegas of Pan. “We want to help them get more recognition and they want to do the same for us, it’s a win-win. They are almost honorary members of our band because they do so much work for us–they are always sending out emails, posting our stuff on their web page, filming and recording us, doing interviews–It’s a real fun experience.”

Local act Pan’s upcoming full length album was recorded at Archer Avenue with Kenny McWilliams, a process that Post-Echo helped with, he says.
“They helped us with finding the right studio—if we had recorded anywhere else our album would sound much different than it does,” Flegas says. “We used better equipment, amps, pedals, and really nice guitars, and the results have honestly exceeded our expectations—if you were going to compare the two, our new album would be a Ferrari and our first album would be a Camry.”

Pan is one of those sometimes dismissed ‘instrumental’ bands, but one listen to a song such as “Seeking the Sea King” and the intertwined melodic lines grab your ears just as much as any vocalist might. I’d venture to say that Pan is that rare breed of rock band which would sound less great with a singer, in fact.

For fellow Post-Echo band Pandercakes, the incentive to join up was increasing exposure for the singles they have already been releasing for free download on Soundcloud.

“We hope that our involvement with Post-Echo will allow our music to be heard across the country as Post-Echo continues to grow,” says Pandercakes’ Logan Goldstein. “It hasn’t changed how we release our music, but it gives us another outlet for promoting it.”

The latest Pandercakes single is out this week at www.soundcloud.com/pandercakes , joining such majestic kitchen-sink production indie-pop gems as “Andre Breton” in what is shaping up to be a most intriguing member of the local music scene.

The newest recruit to the Post-Echo group is Modern Man, a self-described “recording experiment” that has turned into a full live band with a densely layered modern rock sound indebted to My Bloody Valentine and others from that shoegazer era of guitar-centric britpop.

“Post-Echo came out to one of our shows and said they’d like to help us out,” says original modern man Allen Glenn. “ When we sat down with Post-Echo to discus a possible future, they were all about not changing any concept/image/whatever that we may have and only want to help us and them grow together. By them potentially lifting some burden off of our shoulders we are able to focus on writing, recording, and producing artwork and merch, and playing shows.”

So, what’s next for Post-Echo?

“After the hubbub of the triple release is behind us, we have plans for another exciting collaborative project,” Schmidt says. “In the meantime we also hope to produce another interactive ambient video collage where listeners can make their own soundscape using performances by Post-Echo artists.” if that’s not enough there’s also a comic book in the works with a soundtrack album to accompany it.
For more on the bands mentioned above and other Post-Echo artists and projects, visit the Post-Echo website.