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Gibson Songwriting Blog

These are the voices that seem to be getting drowned out. In a talk at SF MusicTech Summit this week, Cracker and Camper van Beethoven founder David Lowery argued that near-zero investment and greediness from companies like Apple are making artists worse off than ever before. The well-articulated argument, dubbed “Meet the New Boss, Worse Than the Old Boss,” was also outlined on Facebook ahead of the talk. Here it is, in Lowery’s words.

"We know this empirically. The facts and evidence are in. Let’s start with the best case scenario. Let’s just look at the division of gross revenues and expenses. The scenario where the artist puts out the record themselves on their own label. Okay, the vast majority of sales take place on iTunes and Amazon. How much does the artist get paid? Well if you are independent, you get 61% of gross, because you need either a distributor or an aggregator to get onto iTunes. iTunes itself keeps more than 30% for simply hosting the songs on their servers. They do absolutely nothing else.

"This is why Steve Jobs was a genius. He was not afraid to be greedy. So now an old-style record deal might have netted the artist 20-35% of gross (most reports of artists deals are wrong and low because they don’t include the mechanical royalties). "The old deals weren’t great at first glance, but then if you start digging into it they weren’t as bad as people think. And as I will show you were in most cases a better deal for the artists than the new model. 61% of gross is a lot better than 20-35% of gross until you consider the fact that under the new model the artist is responsible for all aspects of the record’s production, marketing and distribution.

"The artist pays for the recording, the artist pays for all publicity, promotion and advertising. And here is the key thing. The artist absorbs the costs of touring. You know only a handful of artists make a living touring right? Most artists need another job to go back to or they get tour support from the record label.

"In fact under the old model record labels used to pay artists to tour (actually they still do). Once you factor in the Tour Support labels once paid to artists the model is actually shittier to the artist. Unless of course you don’t tour.

"Plus the new model makes the artist absorb ALL THE RISK. The risk of making a recording that doesn’t recoup. The risk of going on tours that don’t increase sales enough and become a loss.

"Now consider iTunes and Amazon who are now the biggest music companies of all. They put up ZERO CAPITAL and ZERO RISK and they get 30% of the gross in return. At least the old record label system shared some of the risk! Wow the old labels were not so evil compared to the new labels.

"Now of course the independent artist can still sell so many albums that the higher percentage of gross 61% overwhelms the higher initial costs. But I bet this is not the case for most of your favorite artists. The increased costs and responsibilities make THE NEW MODEL a worse deal. The artists that do better under the new model are few and far between. That’s why so many artists that seemingly could go independent do not. They still use record labels. Look carefully at your favorite artists latest record. Is it still on a standard record label? A lot of smart well managed bands still on labels. Why? Because the NEW MODEL is actually worse. "But you didn’t even need this whole complex argument to see this right? You’ve already spotted the main problem right?

"In the new model you have these parasitic entities (iTunes, etc.) that take 30% of gross and provide no added value. As screwed up as the old business was there wasn’t this giant parasitic entity sucking out 30% of gross for nothing. This should suggest to any intelligent person that there is something seriously wrong with the NEW MODEL.


By Linda Scott-Reynolds

With so many poetry anthologies,
books, digests and journals that are
currently available, there has
probably never been a better time
for poets and freelance writers to
get published. Poetry has always
been a popular form of writing. It’s
taught in school, it’s helped create a
thriving greeting card industry, and
even influenced pop music. And
there’s a lot of great new poetry
that’s being published today.
If you’d like to publish your poetry,
here are a few tips from the pros to
help get you started:
“If you want to write poetry” says Anne
Beauchamps, “then read poetry. The
more you read, the better you’ll write.
You’ll learn what’s being published
and who’s publishing it. It may sound
obvious, but if you want to publish
your poetry, read a lot of poetry”.
Ariel Northwood reminds us that
“there’s a lot of poetry being published
today. Hundreds of poetry journals
and anthologies come out each
month. To get published, you have to
write unique, original poetry that’s
unlike anything out there, and to find
your niche. If you want to publish your
poetry, your poems have to stand out
and be unique to attract a publisher”.

1) BE TRANSPARENT – No more hiding behind complex royalty calculations. Man up. Be honest. Provide clear and accurate accounting. The digital world makes it easier than ever to do this. This applies to labels, distributors, ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and anyone else you can think of. They can all be transparent if they choose to be. Right now they choose not to be.
2) PAY ON TIME! – No more artificial royalty accounting periods. Returns and co-ops are a thing of the past. Pay out and account on one way no return sales that you have been paid in the same month you get them.
The only reason to hold on to the money is to make bank interest on it. If this is what you are going to do, see #1, BE TRANSPARENT and tell artists you are doing this. 3) NO MORE SUGARCOATING AND HIDING REALITY – Seriously. Stop promising things you know you can’t deliver. Not everyone is going to be a star. Be honest, tell the truth,. Let the musician and artist know the realities of the market so they can have a better understand of what needs to be done to succeed or why things are not going the way they want them to.
4) ACKNOWLEDGE YOU WORK FOR THE ARTIST, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND – Without the artist none of us will have jobs. They are the ones with the talent. They create culture and write songs that have an impact on the world. They are allowing us to serve them, not the other way around. This philosophy and culture must permeate everything you do. Turn this industry from one that “exploits” the artist to one that serves the artist.
5) ONLY OFFER SERVICES YOU CAN ACTUALLY DO – No more asking for rights or income from things you can’t contribute towards. If you are a label and want more money from other areas (i.e. merchandise, songwriter income, gig income etc) you actually have to provide a service that does something to earn that right. There are others out there that are specialists in these areas, can you do what they can?
6) UNDERSTAND THE ARTIST NOW HAS CHOICE – Unlike the old days, artists can now succeed without you. Labels have gone from a “must have” to a “might need”. Be clear in what you have to offer and create a fair and equitable deal in exchange for the services you are offering.

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Too often I see artists playing over and over again with diminishing returns. They’ve essentially worn their friends out, and haven’t done the thing that is most essential to the success of any band: shifted the burden of promotion from themselves to their fans. Without doing this, all bands (or products) eventually fail. There is a ceiling quickly hit when the creator of/company behind a song/product does not shift the burden of promotion from themselves to the fans. They can do all the advertising, marketing, promotion their budgets can withstand, and—for some period of time—will see some impact from this. However, bands/businesses don’t ever break through the ceiling in earnest until some group of these initial fans (call them “early adopters”) begin turning their friends on to the band/business. We call this word of mouth. The promise of social media has always been that this word of mouth marketing can be accelerated via technology. Obviously, as is proven by anything that “goes viral,” it can happen. Something “going viral” is just an extreme example of fans sharing and spreading the object of their fan-dom to their friends (via their social networks, typically) at a heightened rate. It’s not possible to manufacture something that goes viral. Viral-ness, by its very nature, is no longer being promoted by the creator of the product/song/etc., and, therefore, the creator is not in control. If we could manufacture viral products at will, we’d do it every time. Additionally, if we could do it, it wouldn’t come as such a surprise (I’m looking at you Double Rainbow) when something explodes virally. Part of the nature of something spreading in a viral manner is that it’s unexpected. This unexpected quality aligns closely with a key element of something going viral: it must be remarkable. Pulling that word apart you get its root: remark. We must always remember, that as is stated in The Cluetrain, “markets are conversations,” and conversations require topics of interest; topics that are remark-able. All of this leads to the concept that at its core, social media succeeds only if: 1. You shift the burden of promotion from the creator/business of the product to the fan. 2. Your product/business/band/service is remarkable; if it’s not, people will not share it. Once this is understood, you can begin articulating strategies that—while not guaranteeing what you do will “go viral”—will increase your odds of being spread by fans. In his still-relevant book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell, borrowing from Robin Dunbar, articulates the idea that the maximum number of authentic social relationships any person can maintain is 150. If you look around at the various clubs in your area, you’ll likely find that many of them tend to have a capacity of somewhere around 150 people (could be 200, could be 100, but you get the idea). This is why it’s not surprising that a band who does not shift the burden of promotion from themselves to their fans will have a painful downward trajectory of playing in these 150-capacity clubs for some period of time, until their friends get fatigued and stop coming. To avoid this plight, bands need, what Gladwell terms, “weak ties” to bridge the gap between one social group and into another. “Weak ties” are people that introduce an idea/business/band to an entirely new circle. Consider, for example, that you’ve been on a job hunt for some period of time. You’ve talked to all your friends, and none of them have provided you with any leads. This is because all your friends are within the same circle, and basically share the same information/contact base. One day you board a plane, and strike up a conversation with the stranger sitting next to you. You tell this person that you’re looking for a job in a certain field, and, much to your surprise/delight, this person says something along the lines of, “You know, I have a friend who is working in that industry; I should connect you.” This is the power of the “weak tie.” It introduces you into an entire new community. Using this thinking, bands can strategize to increase their odds of breaking out of their circle of 150. Here’s an example. There is a very fine band by the name of Guster. As they were emerging in the late 90s/early 2000s, they were a student band at Tufts University in Medford, MA. Prior to holiday breaks, they would gather their fans and arm each fan with several copies of their recent releases. They’d give these fans the following mandate: When you return home for the holidays, and you meet up with your hometown friends, who are also returning from college, give them copies of our release to take back with them to their colleges after the holidays. In doing so, Guster was able to utilize “weak ties” to build a network of fans throughout numerous universities. This is, of course, the very definition of social networking—long before either the term or the internet architecture (i.e. Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) were invented. This method worked for Guster not just because they shifted the burden of promotion from themselves to their fans, but also because their music was (and is) remarkable. They, like all bands, had to start by playing in front of their friends, but, because the music was (is) remarkable, the fans wanted to spread the word. Guster, understanding this, created an architecture of participation that enabled and empowered these people to do so. Note, Guster did not have to give incentive for these fans to spread the word; rather, the fans wanted to spread the word because they were passionate about the music. The sharing of something they loved, was reward enough. Guster just gave them tools and direction.


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So what does Grooveshark do? When you click the “about” link on their website, a little pop-up box appears that says: “Grooveshark is the world’s largest on-demand music streaming and discovery service.” What this means is that anyone can go to Grooveshark, and, for FREE, type in the name of an artist and then play any recording by that artist in the Grooveshark system. Users can make playlists, stop, start, skip and basically listen to what they want, when they want, with little-to-no restrictions. And guess what, allowing anyone to listen to anything they want with basically no restrictions got them a whole bunch of users. How many? According to their little pop-up box: “Over 30 million users flock to Grooveshark…” Wow. 30 million users that “flock to Grooveshark,” and, again, I quote from their own site: “…to listen to their favorite music, create playlists, discover new tunes, and share it all with friends via Facebook, Twitter, social news sites, and more.” Well, when you have 30 million people coming to your website, you have a lot of web traffic. This means you can start making money by charging entities to advertise on your site. After all, you reach tens of millions of consumers. Just think of all the money Grooveshark makes by selling ads. There is just one really big, big problem: they don’t get licenses and don’t pay the artists, the labels and/or the songwriters for the use of the music that’s making them tons of money. I can assure you, 99% of the hundreds of thousands of TuneCore Artists whose music is in Grooveshark have not been paid a single penny. Said more simply: ARTISTS SHOULD BE PAID FOR THE USE OF THEIR MUSIC! In order for Grooveshark to pull off their “aren’t-we-so-clever-f**k-the-artist” scheme, they use copyright law in a way it was not intended to be used.

Click On READ MORE April 2, 2012

Is internet radio completely broken? It’s getting harder not to ask that question: Pandora is one of the biggest streaming radio services on the planet, yet it’s struggling to pay its royalty bills, it can’t even enter the UK, and it can’t convince Wall Street to take it seriously. And now, the company is telling Wall Street that it’s unlikely to be profitable until at least early 2013 - that is, best case scenario. But is this really Pandora’s fault? You can argue all day about what a content owner deserves to be paid. But what if it’s simply impossible to build a business around those rates? This is what Pandora warned investors as part of its annual SEC filing, released just days ago. “Since our inception in 2000, we have incurred significant net operating losses and, as of January 31st, 2012, we had an accumulated deficit of $101.4 million. A key element of our strategy is to increase the number of listeners and listener hours to increase our market penetration. However, as our number of listener hours increases, the royalties we pay for content acquisition also increase. We have not in the past generated, and may not in the future generate, sufficient revenue from the sale of advertising and subscriptions to offset such royalty expenses. Part of the problem is that Pandora derives 87 percent of its revenue from advertising, according to figures shared by the company in March. Pandora’s been trying (rather unsuccessfully) to diversify into premium subscriber services, but it also finds itself dealing with considerable consumer resistance to paying for music (and especially radio) online. On top of that, Pandora is dealing with SoundExchange royalty structures that seem to be killing - not facilitating - the online radio market. And this is just horrific math: streaming rates are increasing, not decreasing, and the more listeners Pandora acquires, the greater its royalty obligations become. Which means that if per-stream royalty rates aren’t reexamined or restructured, one of the greatest companies to enter this space may simply be unable to survive long-term.


Many musicians long to “quit their day job” and work full time in the industry. You might see this as an impossible dream, but if you’re creative and hard working, it’s definitely possible to make a full-time career as a musician. Here are ten ways a musician can earn a living in the music industry while promoting their own material. If you’re a solid and versatile musician, you could make decent money being a session or studio musician. Session musicians work with soloists - or bands whose drummers had a tantrum and left halfway through recording - to record additional instruments on a studio album. You’re not a member of the band, so you won’t get royalties or any of the limelight, but you do get paid for your time, as well as experience playing a variety of different styles. Session work has another upside – it puts you in contact with a wide range of bands, artists, sound engineers and music professionals. If you do a good job and are friendly and helpful, they’ll remember you when your own album comes out. Music publishers and many commercial companies hire songwriters to compose commercial jingles, movie scores, and pieces for established artists to play. You’ll need a good background in music theory to be a songwriter, but it can be a lucrative, continuous source of work. The bands and artists at the top wouldn’t be there without the words of music critics, writers and bloggers. Every genre of music has glossy magazines (as well as instrument-specific magazines) or - given the trouble print is currently in - websites that need regular columnists, interviewers and reviewers. When bands tour or festivals come to town, they need a huge crew to handle the setup, tuning, care and sound-check of a host of different instruments. If you’ve had a lot of experience with a specific instrument (anyone working retail in a music shop, this is for you) you could get a position as an instrument tech on a show. Most techs travel with a tour, so you’ll need a flexible schedule and a body that can function on a few hours’ sleep. There’s a saying that “those who can’t do, teach.” But I say – why not do both? Teaching can be one of the most enjoyable things you’ll ever do, and having students in your own home means never having to get a job at an office. You could teach community classes, become a lecturer at your university, or coach up-and-coming talent. Musicians need album covers, posters, and merchandise – not to mention tattoo designs to perfect their badass image. If you’ve got artistic talent and know your way around Photoshop, you could quickly become the go-to designer for bands in your area. Graphic design skills can be a great way in with music magazines and labels – many are sorely lacking in decent designers. If you’ve got a spare shed that’s home only to a growing population of spiders, you could rent it out to bands as a rehearsal space (after you evict the spiders, of course!) Many bands struggle to find spaces in densely populated areas [in Brooklyn, you can apparently make a killing], so if you’ve got the rooms to spare, why not help out some local talent and get a bit of extra cash while you’re at it?