As they prepared to record their new album, Not Your Kind of People, Garbage received a crash course in the new realities of the music business. Having parted ways with Geffen, their former home, the band began investigating new ways to distribute its music. “We’re used to the old system,” says singer Shirley Manson, “so we thought, ‘Let’s see what’s out there,’ because we’ve been gone so long.”
Unwilling to sign with another major label, Garbage decided to follow in the groundbreaking footsteps of Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails and release the album themselves. In doing so, the band realized it had to pay for recording and videos out of its own pocket. “The freedom it affords you is so amazing,” Manson says, “but it’s nerve-wracking. We’ve put our own money into it. Bringing the record out on our own label poses some problems for us.”
As Garbage and newer bands are learning, the music business is no longer what it was in the Nineties – or even five years ago. In the past, bands would receive respectable cash advances from labels to make albums and videos. After their records were released, they’d tour for months, or perhaps a year. With any luck, mass outlets like MTV would promote them and air their videos. Then bands would take a break before starting the cycle once again.
In a business hobbled by recession and declining CD revenue, few of those rules apply anymore – in ways that can be both encouraging and demoralizing. To compensate for the fall-off in record sales, musicians are touring for longer stretches and are being forced to cobble together a living by any means necessary, from licensing songs to any TV show or video game that will have them to asking fans to contribute to their recording costs.
“I used to hear the word ‘overexposure’ more than I do now,” says Dan Reed, music director of NPR’s World Café, who sees more bands than ever visiting his studio. “In this crowded media market, I don’t think there’s such a thing anymore. Bands are vying for any spot they can where they can reach a sizable number of people. We’re all working harder. The music business is no different.”
To satisfy fans who’ve grown up with the Internet, musicians are expected to churn out new material as quickly as possible. Tennis opted to release their second album, Young & Old, 13 months after their 2011 debut. “The demand for music and output is so high,” says singer and keyboardist Alaina Moore. “If you stop altogether, which bands used to be able to do, people will assume the worst and move on and forget about you. Our management will message us on tour, saying, ‘We could use another B-side.’ And we say, ‘Well, we’re not even home, but OK.’ It’s crazy.”
The rise of Twitter and Facebook has helped bands connect with their followers like never before, but it also means another distraction from the creative process. “Fans expect things to come directly from the artist,” says Tennis manager Rob Stevenson. “You have to get yourself to the next gig and do a good gig and do your social media stuff. And there are still only 24 hours in a day.”
Former Dresden Dolls singer-keyboardist Amanda Palmer was tweeting with fans while sitting at her piano and writing a song for her new solo album, Theater Is Evil. “I felt kind of silly, and my superego was saying, ‘Really, Amanda?’” she says. “But hundreds of people were writing, ‘I can’t wait to hear the song.’”
The new rules of the shrunken music business begin in the studio, where recording budgets, especially for new and indie acts, have been slashed. “The big difference is that there are no longer big advances,” says Richard Grabel, a music business attorney who represents bands like Passion Pit and Ra Ra Riot. Jeff Castelaz of Dangerbird, home of Silversun Pickups and Liam Gallagher’s Beady Eye, says his bands rarely get to spend more than $10-15,000 making a record.
“Everybody is under major constraints to drive down the cost of making records,” says Castelaz. “You have to watch every penny. You’re not going to spend $50,000 to make a record that’s going to sell 5,000 copies. That would be a bloodbath.”
To get around diminished budgets – or labels altogether – some bands have begun turning to Kickstarter, the “crowd-funding” service that lets musicians pay for recording costs by way of contributions from fans. (The site also helps fund movies, video games and other creative endeavors.) On the site’s music category, fans have contributed an average of $25, according to a source at the company, and bands have been able to raise in the area of $20,000. In return for their investment, fans receive autographed records, concert tickets and other memorabilia.
Thanks to thousands of fans, Palmer raised more than $1 million to help pay for and promote Theater Is Evil. The biggest number of contributors, 7,000, paid $25 for a special-packaging edition of the album. Thirty-five backers paid $5,000 each for Palmer to perform in their homes; one paid $10,000 for Palmer to visit and paint his portrait. Palmer says $250,000 of what she raised will go toward recording and production costs, along with $105,00 for producing a coffee-table CD and art book; after multiple other expenses, she’ll be left with less than $100,000. “People say, ‘Don’t you feel awful begging your fans for money?’” Palmer says. “And I say, ‘You don’t get it – I’m doing my job.’ Musicians used to think that if they worked hard, they’d be a star like Madonna. Hopefully we’re seeing a new understanding of what it means to be a working-class musician. It’s a job.”
Record sales were never a major income generator for musicians, thanks to high recording and promotion costs that were charged against the artists’ accounts. In the current climate, they’re even less of a factor. Last year, the L.A. R&B party band Fitz and the Tantrums prepped for a major breakthrough when they performed at the VH1 Critics’ Choice Movie Awards.
“It was a huge opportunity,” says co-manager Lisa Nupoff. “There we are playing in and out of every commercial, in front of Spielberg and Scorsese.” But the following week, the band’s debut album, Pickin‘ Up the Pieces, only sold 300 more records. “That’s the new music business,” says Nupoff.
Digital streaming sites like Rhapsody and Spotify are not yet proving to be viable financial substitutes for CDs. According to Moore, Tennis’ typical digital-streaming royalty checks are minimal: “You’ll get a check for $100 in six months.” Managers are equally skeptical. “You have to sell a thousand copies to equal a few cents,” says Brian Klein, co-manager of Fitz and the Tantrums. “As a user, I like Spotify. But as a business, I don’t think it’s going to be profitable for an artist. It wouldn’t even buy coffee for the whole band.”
Bands like Fitz and the Tantrums and Dawes are also spending more time than ever on the road. Both acts left home to promote albums – and stayed out for up to three years, performing sometimes multiple shows a day at clubs and for online outlets. “In the last 16 months I’ve been home maybe two months collectively,” says Fitz lead singer Michael Fitzpatrick. “It’s really exhausting. You’re doing a performance for a website and you know they have almost no readership, but you do it anyway. You’re in somebody’s garage doing a taping and you know no one will see it, but you think, ‘OK, five more fans here or 10 more there.’” As a result of the nonstop roadwork, Fitz broke up with his girlfriend, and drummer John Wicks defaulted on his mortgage and had to find a new home. The band has to earn $3,000 a night to satisfy its overhead – a figure it only began hitting last summer, after almost two years of touring.
Thanks to the role touring now plays with bands, it’s become increasingly common for your favorite act to come through town multiple times during the lifespan of a new album. “We never used to see third cycles for tours,” says Andy Cirzan, a promoter at Jam USA in Chicago. “It’s increasingly commonplace. Bands want to build momentum, or they just need money.” Yet that strategy has its pitfalls. “You have to make sure you don’t hit markets too much,” says Stevenson. “You might get a short-term financial gain, but it might hurt you – ‘Oh, I saw them already,’ or, ‘I’ll catch them next time.’ That’s the kiss of death. Familiarity breeds contempt.”
Yet musicians also say the altered landscape of the music business is affording them opportunities they never had before, like creative freedom. “We were immensely relieved not to have any major label influence whatsoever,” says Manson, who claims Geffen executives rejected a solo album she cut right before Not Your Kind of People. “I turned in some songs and they were met with unbelievable contempt,” she says. “They were telling me that because they weren’t pop songs they were worthless, and I should make a record like Duffy. Fuck that.”
Bands and managers are also becoming adept at using social media to sell music and tickets. To get the word out about shows at Madison Square Garden, the reunited cult band Dispatch cut a deal with Facebook for a special fan page. “We spent no money and sold 58,000 tickets,” says manager Steve Bursky. Fitz and the Tantrums initially gave away free MP3s of their music to spread the word – and, in the end were rewarded with respectable album sales of 120,000 copies.
As for the song she wrote while on Twitter, Palmer says the track, “The Killing Type,” was worth it: “It’s the best song I’ve ever written. I emerged from it thinking, ‘Whatever it takes.’”
For many artists and bands the first contract that they have to face is the management contract. The manager will have a lot of responsibility and possible control so it is vital to get the right person and the right agreement.
The manager may come from various backgrounds – he’s a friend of the band, works already in the music industry, is an entrepreneur from a different industry or just has heard about the band’s potential and swoops in.
A manager should have one of the following but ideally all:
Money – it can be expensive process getting the band known;
Experience – knowledge of how the industry works and how it is changing;
Contacts – he has to know the right people and be liked and/or respected;
Enthusiasm – if he doesn’t believe in you then how is he going to persuade others?
Things you should be checking out for in the Management Contract
1. Make sure the management is not asking for upfront payments from you. That is a big, big no-no! These would be similar to vanity publishing deals but without the benefit of having a product. Stay away as they are simply trying to take money from you instead of making money for you.
2. Don’t take advice from the manager’s own lawyer – it will not be impartial and will ultimately benefit the manager. If the manager does not want you to see a lawyer then alarm bells should be going, not only because he sounds like he is trying to hide something but it also shows his business naivety. The reason George Michael was stuck in his “bad” deal with Sony was because he had had independent legal representation from a lawyer experienced in music law before he signed that contract. If he had not had that advice he may have been able to walk away and get a better deal.
3. Check your manager’s commission. Standard is 20%. It should not be more than this without good reason. Brian Epstein charged the Beatles 25% but reasoned this was because he had been paying the band a wage for some time before signing the contract.
Make sure you know what the 20% is going to be of. Usually it says artist gross receipts. Things that the manager should never take a percentage of are:
Money to be used for recordings
Money for videos
Money to pay producers
Money for tour support
PR & marketing budgets
4. Don’t be tied into a deal with a bad manager. Make sure that you have an initial period clause (maybe 12 months) in which the manager must reach certain goals to enable the contract to continue for a longer period. These goals may be:
Get the artist signed to an acceptable recording agreement
Get the artist an acceptable publishing deal
Get the band a significant tour support
An income of ₤… by the end of the 12 month period
If any of these or maybe all of them are achieved the manager can then exercise his option to extend the contract by a longer period (often 3 years).
5. Check what commission is due to the manager after the contract has ended. These are known as sunset clauses. Make sure that they are only for a short period (maybe 3 -5 years) and that the percentages of commission reduce down each year AND that they only relate to work that the manager has contributed to. You don’t want the ex-manager getting paid for recording or songs created after he had split with you.
6. Don’t let the manager sign deals on your behalf. It may seem obvious but it has happened and the artist is left in a contract that he didn’t want and had no say in!
Times are changing:
Today the music manager should not be out there just trying to secure a major deal
BUT SHOULD BE
- Running the band’s record label
- Organizing the myspace, twitter, soundcloud & facebook
I have been teaching artists and industry folks the business behind the music for twenty years now. As the industry has changed, so have I. I don’t just teach, I do. And then I share the “how to” of my successes and failures, so others will learn too. I’ve charged nothing for this knowledge. My attitude has always been, you can learn from me or not–your choice. But why bang your head when someone else has done it for you?
There are some life skills, people skills, and things that I can’t teach, however. They are innate traits or common sense you must already possess to win in this business. If you don’t possess these skills, you sure as hell better have SOMEONE on your team who does.
1…Motivation and Grind: Without the innate ability to get up and work, you will never succeed in this industry. Not only must you work hard to build your career, and then to keep it, but you must out work all of your competition. Today this is easier than it was a few years ago, because most artists are super lazy and have a false sense of entitlement (“I will get a deal and be a star because I’m better than everyone out here.”). In this industry, you are only ever doing one of two things: working or sleeping. So if you are awake, you are promoting yourself and moving your career forward. Do it. If you aren’t going to hand out your own flyers, postcards, and music, make sure someone is with you at all times who will (and if you don’t like doing this yourself, the odds are already against your success. Who will EVER promote you better than you?)
2…Passion: You need to have an intense love for not only recording and performing, but for promoting yourself to fans. Just making great music isn’t enough. It has to be commercially viable, embraced by some fans somewhere, and marketed and promoted to them in a way, time, and place that they will embrace it. Not so easy to do.
3…Thought Process: I can offer a plan, show you how to do it, explain what has worked for me and what hasn’t, outline a blueprint to succeed, and refer other reading material…but I can’t do it for you. If you don’t naturally have an inclination to sell yourself to others (why they should support you or buy your music), this industry will be challenging for you. You need to always be promoting yourself, no matter where you are. I don’t mean this in an obnoxious ‘used car salesman’ way. When you meet someone new, it should be second nature to explain what you do, why you do it, and to hand them a card or some music, or at least a promotional flyer to take with them. As you gain fame, this same promotional material will be the stuff you autograph for them to take with them (never give an autograph unless asked, as it makes you seem conceited). Don’t be one-sided, listen to them talk about themselves, too. Conversation is a back and forth movement.
4…Take Care of Your Team: If you are fortunate enough to surround yourself with great people (and that should be at the top of your list), take care of them. If you eat, they should be eating. If you have only a few dollars to your name and they need something more than you do, they should get your last dollars. See a pattern here? They go all out for you, so you go all out for them. Forget calling them “family,” treat them like it instead.
5…Intelligence: One of my favorite sayings is “I can fix anything but stupidity. I can’t fix stupid.” Your team can over compensate for much of your errors and short comings, but they can’t overcompensate for stupidity. Make good decisions and follow through.
6…Seize Opportunities: If you have an opportunity in front of you, seize it. Make the best of EVERY situation even if it isn’t comfortable, you have personal problems, or you don’t feel like it. Force yourself. Do not miss any opportunity. Bored at an event or party? Speak to every person in the room–find out who they are and what they do, and tell them who you are and what you do. This is called networking. This is what separates successful artists from the idiots. This is a ‘who you know’ business. Get to know everyone!! Be outgoing, charming, and charismatic even if you don’t feel like it. Do not miss an opportunity. Either build fans or interact with industry folks. You never know which avenues will lead to success. Test them all. Just don’t be blindly stupid about it. Treat everyone you meet with respect. One of my secrets to success is that I treat stars like regular people and regular people like stars.
7…Be Charming: Even when you don’t feel like it, be charming and outgoing. Your success depends on fame. Fame puts you in the public eye and makes you fair game. They don’t care if you are tired, if you are busy, or if you are having a bad day. They expect stars to be awesome 24/7. Come as close to that as you can manage. If you’re not, that will spread faster than anything else you do, good or bad. Be approachable and happy, not sullen and miserable. If you suck at small talk, get better at it. That is one skill you will need everyday. Read a book and learn how to be better at small talk or have people around you that know how to engage you and bring that out in you. Easy topics: sports, weather, location (wherever you are, ask them how they like it). Try to always be positive and upbeat even with difficult or negative people or topics.
Get your priorities straight and have great follow through and you can build a lasting career that will feed you, your team, and your family. Learn as much as you can, but even though not EVERYTHING can be learned–some skills need to come from within, so surround yourself with a team that’s strong where you are weakest. Be real with yourself. You have to really want this, and be willing to do what it takes to succeed. If you can’t do that, don’t waste everybody’s time and energy. Your team depends on you!
Six degrees of separation are allegedly all that stand between you and anyone on the planet. Or, according to my father, “There are not six degrees of separation, there are two; you just have to think hard enough.”
Like him, I’m a connector, and would agree that regardless of how many people it takes to connect us, no one is too far removed. More so, it can be a great joy to facilitate those connections for people in your network.
But I’ve also learned that just because things come naturally to me, it’s not always the same for others. I learned this most pointedly with networking. Here are 16 quick, immediate tips to help you become a better networker:
Networking starts with your current contacts. Networking doesn’t necessarily mean actively pursuing making new relationships. Cultivate those you have already and invest in those relationships first.
Even if you “don’t need to network,” you do. You never know when you’ll need someone to help connect you (not always professionally). It’s improper to ask someone for help when you’ve not spoken to him/her in ages, but now are doing so simply to ask for something. Therefore, refer back to tip #1.
Think of networking as a puzzle you’re piecing together. What need does someone else have and how can you use your resources to fill that gap?
Don’t throw your cards around. We all know the person who shoves his/her business card down your throat immediately. It’s a turnoff, and not a very polite way to engage a new contact. Offer your business card after having a conversation — and asking for the other person’s first.
Remember their Rolodex. The power of networking is the people your contacts know, not always your contact directly. Keep that in mind as you help guide people towards how to help connect you.
Set expectations. Let people know how and when you’ll contact them (and then do it).
Ask questions that are deeper than, “What do you do?” When possible, begin conversations with questions about someone personally, not necessarily their profession. Get to know them and attempt to find commonalities. They will tend to remember those conversations best.
Create “reconnect” files. In your calendar, create files on monthly rotation with lists of people you’ve met and with whom you want to keep in touch. For contacts that have more immediate, obvious value (networking partners), create individual monthly reconnect files to spark you to reach out to them in the future. No need to reach out every month, but seeing their name (relevancy) is half the battle. Reach out when you have an interesting article to share, want to see how they’re doing, or ask about their latest trip, etc. Let people know you’ll stay in touch every month or so, then do it!
Remember birthdays (and the small stuff)! If your contact has an important meeting or proposal, remember and contact him/her to wish him/her luck and ask how he/she did. If it would be important to you, it’s likely important to him/her and will be meaningful for you to remember.
Be specific when describing your ideal targets. This specificity can be related to job leads, sales leads, dating interests, or otherwise. “Anybody” means nobody, so get specific.
Ask them what they need. Then try to provide it by connecting them with someone you know and trust.
Give first — without expectation of something in return. It tends to be obvious when you give from a genuine place, rather than from a place of expecting something in return. Those who give, get, but don’t do so with immediate expectation.
Utilize LinkedIn! Link to new and old connections, go through their contacts, and ask for introductions.
Remember that at a networking event, everyone is there to meet new people. Going alone and walking up to strangers is the point. Everyone has some apprehension. Take the initiative.
Ask, “Why should they care?” Do you know how to describe yourself or your business in one sentence that demonstrates some value to the listener, not couched in industry-speak? Or, can you explain it so that they might be interested in continuing the conversation? Example: I help people to ________.
Listen more than you talk! People love to talk about themselves, and you can’t learn about the other person if you’re doing all of the talking.
If networking intimidates you — or you think you’re all set and don’t need to do it to begin with! — think again. Refer back to these tips the next time you’re looking for a reference for a personal or business service, a job lead, a new hire, or any number of other things a strong network can provide.
No one is immune from networking. Embrace it, find the fun in it, and it will serve you well.