All Things Music Industry-ish
By Lisa on May 24, 2008 | In The Music Biz at Large
The art of music marketing begins and ends with the advertising of an advertisement; one part mass exposure and all remaining parts dependent on the effect of the song on the ears of the listener. An artist's song not only advertises itself, but additional songs for the artist, and the artist itself.
American Idol's marketing art is a masterpiece, wielding mass exposure, a repertoire of proven hits, and constant connection with its artists resulting in an inherent emotional investment for the fan. This is middle America marketing at its finest. And then there's the long tail.
According to a recent Pew Report, 83 percent of Americans discover music through terrestrial radio, movies, or television, and 51 percent suggested that the internet had no effect on purchases whatsoever. The report explains
The story for music is a bit different because it is an experience good--the kind of product whose quality is discernable [sic] only after it has been consumed. ...In fact, [consumers] are more likely to rely on mainstream media or recommendations from family and friends for inspiration for music purchases.
Reading this, creeping suspicion sets in for me. These are probably not the purchasers that dig deep, buy the first Arcade Fire or White Stripes CD, and help launch indie bands into popularity. I suspect that the majority of music purchasers don't have the hundreds, if not thousands of CDs, MP3's and old cassette tapes that I, my friends and colleagues house. I further suspect they have one Whitney Houston CD, one John Mayer release and a Radiohead album. And besides, Clotaire Rapaille, the famous Chairman of Archetype Discoveries and psychological marketing researcher of the reptilian mind suggests that you can't believe what people say.
It's not that people intentionally lie during surveys and focus groups; it's that they try too hard to please. When asked about their interests and preferences, they tend to give answers they believe the questioner wants to hear.
I'm wondering if there may not be some P2P exploration going on behind the scenes in addition to the Gray's Anatomy playlist and family recommendations (and when was the last time you rushed to iTunes based on a music suggestion from your mom?)
So while I'm wantonly waiting in vain for Dr. Rapaille to release a study on the psychology of music purchasing, Bob Lefsetz is busy writing about choices and the strategy of niche marketing. Lefsetz offers up Malcolm Gladwell's speech about Prego vs. Ragu's multiple offerings of spaghetti sauce and Bob's conclusion that
Maybe, if the public was exposed to something different, they'd like it! In enough quantity to make money! For everybody who likes Mariah Carey, there are tons who are turned off and hate her. This is the lesson of the twenty first century. Not that if everybody paid for music Mariah would sell more, but that many people don't want her music at any price, they want something different! He who will rule in the future is he who services all these niches, who gives people something different.
Here's where it gets sticky. Consumers (and that means you and me), like choices but not too many. I'm not going to wind my way through MyFaceFriend and listen to every musical offering. Most of America does prefer the passive music discovery of a pre-selected commercial radio playlist and the six or so selections broadcast on a one hour TV show. And long tail music lovers like to dig within their favorite genres--hence the sweetness of Last FM and Pandora, not unlike the alternatives of Rough Trade Records or Wax Trax back in the day.
Which brings us back to the art of marketing and exposure. I would wager that the music collectors--those who pay rapt and undying attention to what's new, what's hot and what they can discover first, use the internet--not radio and TV--for discovery. Those fans have the reptilian nature of connecting with an artist on their own, but the marketing need still be in place for the one song advertisement to make its mark and that will continue to solidify in the online world.
By Lisa on May 8, 2008 | In Music Licensing and Placement
As I've previously hinted, music supervisors do have an inherent interest in the agencies that represent independent artists. There are quite a bit of sharks in the licensing waters, partly because it's the music business (see Hunter Thompson's co-opted quote on the matter) and partly because it's where the music money is located these days.
Anecdotally, I heard via a supervisor about one agent recently blacklisted due, in part, to what was deemed an unethical fee submission policy. Further, major network studios have begun vetting library music companies as the inherent lack of proper clearance or shady dealings among newly sprung companies has become a serious liability concern.
Very good, well-used and well run agencies tend to have similar identifiers. I've done business with a few of these agencies via music supervision I've done, or have heard the same agency names consistently mentioned by the supervisors I do business with. And further, I like to think I practice the same policies and concerns.
So a few signs in spotting reputable licensing agencies (or "song pluggers" in the parlance of olden days):
No submission fees.
A successful agency will not charge a fee in order to simply listen to submitted music.
I don't know of any popular and regularly used agent that re-titles its catalogue for additional publishing income purposes.
Takes a commission only from music placed.
Some agent agreements ask artists to sign away rights to fees for any sync placements whatsoever. Agents do, however, have to eat, pay the phone bill and buy cat food, and percentages do vary. But earned percentages--and only percentages--are industry standard.
A list of placements.
Agents tend to post most if not all placements they've done on their websites. If you don't see any list at all, or general logos of companies they claim to do business with, or an inordinate amount of MTV usages (which rarely pay substantial licensing fees), it's likely the agency is making money elsewhere, more than likely at the artist's expense.
For a talented artist with licensable music, finding a good agent that fits should be relatively easy and stress free if the research is done; the above points can usually be sussed out quickly from an agent's website alone. And not all agencies doing business differently than the above are evil or cheat the artist. But read the fine print and remember Thompson's sentiments.
I just returned from one of my regular trips to LA. I often visit to meet the people I've been doing business with in person, to introduce myself to newly met music supervisors and to catch up with LA going ons in general. I'm frequently surprised at what I come back with--a new friend, some good gossip, and a reminder about how the music supervision community works.
Independent supervisors by and large work out of their homes and thus the general default meeting location is the nearest Starbucks or strip mall coffee shop. My meetings are less pitching than they are bonding, bolstered by casual cups of caffeine, and I think for both supervisors and myself, this is as important as the quality of music I work.
There's frequently an exchange of sussing out to be done in these discussions and many supervisors want to know how I work on the artist side. Music supervisors, above and beyond many A&R folks from major label days past, truly and passionately love music and care about the musicians who create it. Needless to say, licensing agents are vetted delicately, most specifically in what they take, or don't take fee-wise and publishing-wise and supervisors care--and certainly have a say--in who they use based on the integrity of the agent. And they can easily afford to do so.
In addition to independent supervisor connections, this round of meetings included a TV film studio VP and the head of a film trailer music department. Their offices are overflowing with unopened submission packages and wall space and bookshelves are crammed with CDs; the most recent are piled on the floor. Of these, selected tracks end up catalogued into iTunes--the application of choice--or stored, while other CDs are actually thrown away, unlistened. A fair amount of supervisors admit to tossing packages if they don't know the sender.
Indeed, I always find it somewhat miraculous that I ever get a license for anything I've pitched, or that anyone has found the time to listen to what I've sent. In fact, I've estimated it takes approximately two years on average before a busy supervisor will sit down and slide an Optic Noise CD into a tray. And it's the key to an ongoing licensing relationship from there.
Hence the meetings and the coffee. Supervisors need trust in the agents they use, trust that a track is cleared absolutely properly, trust that an agent is not ripping off the artist or charging fees simply for the privilege of putting a song onto a CD, trust that an agent won't haggle over a fee after it's been locked and confirmed.
Conversely, I know little of the other agents that do business on my side of the fence. We're a secretive bunch, not so much worried that we'll snag each other's artists but that we'll have to share our favorite supervisors with each other. Supervisor contact names, despite available directories, are difficult to track down and sometimes only found through personal contacts. So we covet what we've got in our database but probably lose a little in the potential sharing of information.
What I know generally of the other agents I garner from the supervisors; who they work with on a regular basis, who they like, dislike, and who they're unaware of. In exchange, supervisors express curiosity in the licensing fees paid outside their working world: TV vs. commercials, film vs. video games, etc. and public performance income. And they beg that I not send them trance when they're specifically looking for disco (I never, ever do).
But we all suss it out and continue on, sometimes just a little more caffeinated than before.
I recently did some online marketing last year for one of my licensing clients and, in the process, was surprised how few large go-to music sites existed. There are a few, but apparently it is a long tail indeed.
Of the sites I found the most useful--and successful--from a marketing point of view were, I realized, helpful in other ways as well: for music supervision purposes, research and also for the sheer pleasure of discovering new music. And further, while I suspect the general music supervision population at large visit the sites as much as I, I wonder if the sites themselves understand the full usefulness to the music industry and for others looking to filter the best music.
I use All Music Guide (AMG) on a regular basis, most recently in search of a recognizable but affordable eighties-era song that could be cleared quickly at an affordable license fee for a feature length film. (I'll save the Kafka-esque adventure of clearing such a major label/major publisher owned piece of music for another post.)
One of the most wonderful aspects of AMG's bountiful and more or less accurate information is its list of similar artists, bands that influenced any given act and in turn, what artists the band has influenced. I was able to find a multitude of tracks I might use, confirm a track's popularity via AMG's charting information and make note of its writers so I could continue on to the monolithic and clunky BMI and ASCAP sites to find publishing contact information.
AMG, however, hosts the suckiest music player in the entire world, buffering endlessly or offering a few musical coughs after repeatedly clicking on the play icon until the angle, or force, or positive thinking is just right. Further, it's a shame the site won't link songwriter credits to BMI, ASCAP, etc. In fact, IMDB, the penultimate site for film and TV information, has an extended pay for service that offers additional detailed information, although I've found it to be often incomplete and not particularly useful for my needs. Lastly, in my Perfect Music Resource World, I fantasize iTunes and AMG partnering to create the ultimate and seamless resource for music supervisors, music marketers, and music fans. Sigh.
I had high hopes for Podshow, a podcast aggregator and also one of only two sites offering large catalogue of podsafe music and videos. Podshow has apparently, overnight, transmorgified into a site with the meaningless name of Mevio. Mevio's homepage is now a confusing, dark, and noisy video arcade organized under the vague headings of "Cool Episodes", "Hot Shows" and "Hot Tracks", which I think loosely translated means Stuff, Some Other Stuff and More Stuff. Mevio's music page is no better; in fact, it's pretty much identical.
But the site does have a Top Ten Podsafe Track Chart and the (still in beta at least three years since launch) Podsafe Music Network page, which allows artists to upload music to offer music podcasters for free. I think this is an important resource to further the cause of podcast played music and potentially a new way to re-start the concept of charting and airplay rotation radio once provided. It's a shame the concept isn't given the priority, or the push, considering Mevio's apparent desire to focus its attention on the Lots o' Video Stuff business model.
The site that gets it pretty much right: Last.fm. It provides one of the best music filters I've seen, and the music player works, although the page reload when changing tracks is annoying. The listener count in particular is interesting and like AMG, Last.fm provides a similar artists list, a boon for both fans and music supervisors. It also links to iTunes, which is nice--I often switch between these two sites, searching on Last.fm and switching to iTunes for more complete catalogue accessibility. The site is clean too and well organized, something a lot of sites just can't figure out.
Ultimately, these sites have the potential to hold more sway along the way and perhaps even take over where the printed pages of Rolling Stone and the power of commercial radio has faded. A long way to go perhaps but the concepts are there and seeded.
About five years ago I found an email in my inbox, out of the blue, from Thomas Dolby. Not his management firm, not an assistant, just Thomas himself. After many years in the tech world, including the creation of ringtone technology used in pretty much every cell phone to this day, Thomas had decided to get back in the world of music.
Later, I came to know Thomas' preference for working with people closely and pulling together a small team, something I myself prefer. He found me via a referral through someone who I had worked with previous, and after a few emails we met at a restaurant outside of San Francisco. Since then, it's been a sheer delight to work with him, and in addition to being one of the most modest, non-ego driven musicians I have ever met, he's also extremely bright and delightful.
Since our meeting, we've licensed "She Blinded Me With Science" many times--for a shampoo commercial, a Nip/Tuck episode, and even a dancing hamster, to name a few--as well as his penned "New Toy" for Target, bringing in Lene Lovich herself to re-record her original version, and "Hyperactive". From that, Thomas began touring and released a CD and DVD retrospective of his work, The Sole Inhabitant, which combined the great video artistry of Johnny Dekam and Thomas's unique and exquisite live musical performance and storytelling. Live at SxSW followed shortly thereafter, the result of a venture to Austin in a Zune sponsored tour bus, despite the entire Mac laptop toting crew it carried.
Thomas is always full of surprises--from the people he knows from his musical career and through his work as Music Director for the yearly TED Conferences, to coming up with PR concepts I wish I had thought of first--and he often brings new collaborations to his music as well. Technically, creatively, and most important talent-wise, his ability to come up with hooks, moods and mixes are elegant, oftentimes beautiful, and always stand up to repeated listens.
So again I was happily surprised when a re-mix of the Radiohead song "Nude"--a track that the band released in stems to offer for re-mixing to musicians large and small--arrived in my inbox recently. Thomas thought, why not, and the result is the same elegant touch he uses for his own work. It's a very un-showoff-ish piece, delicate and ethereal, and the result I think is lovely.
You can listen to it here,
And you can read Thomas's own writings about it here.
A great, lasting and memorable soundtrack is like art and porn; you know it when you see/hear it. And like a great song, it's not something one can always set out to do, it's inspired in a meld of chemistry to create one entity where before it came in the pieces of individual songs. Further, it must strike directly at the heart, which ultimately differentiates between a Good versus a Great film soundtrack.
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By Lisa on Apr 18, 2008 | In Music Licensing and Placement
It's still dawning on artists that there is a world of opportunity in the music biz of today. Bands that have barely gotten through their first homemade CD release hear their music nationally broadcast on TV and film and see more than a little guitar string money for the effort. I'm heartened to report that
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