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Nickleback is Richer Than You (Why do you play music?)

Bloomberg Businessweek delves into the Nickelback money-printing machine::
As of May 2011, the rock-star-cum-business-mogul was earning $9.7 million a year from his various ventures, according to court records filed with the Supreme Court of British Columbia. He has a vacation home with friends in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, a 20-acre farm with stables in British Columbia, and his own home recording studio. Chad Kroeger is not just a drunken rock god: He’s a kingmaker.
In an age of declining music industry profits, Chad is one of the few musicians who still lives "The Rockstar Lifestyle" as portrayed in the media. At the same time, they're one of the most maligned musicians today, especially by fellow musicians.
In 2010 skeptics set up a Facebook (FB) group that purposely misspelled the band’s name: “Can This Pickle Get More Fans Than Nickleback?” The pickle rallied about 1.5 million people in the single month it was live. Last Thanksgiving, an online petition to prevent the band from playing during halftime at a Detroit Lions game drew 50,000 signatures. In the fall, when Chicago’s teachers went on strike, a pro-union protester attacked the mayor with what was meant to be a devastating sign: “Rahm Emanuel likes Nickelback.” The mayor quickly denied the charge.

How is this possible?

It's about differing strategies and motivations towards the music industry.


Why do you play music?

Your answer to this question has profound ramifications on your band's ideal strategy.

Lets think through some answers to get an idea for how this will effect your goals.

Be Nickelback-rich?
This is the major label game.

You'll need to play music with a very wide appeal. Your live show needs to be excellent. Your image will be groomed. You're going to be a performer, not a musician.

Read my previous guide on How to Sell Out Properly for a more in-depth treatment.

Be highly regarded among the music community?
This is a different, smaller clientele than the music listening public. Be aware of the nuances and limitations of this different market.

And you should probably be practicing while reading this post, too.
Be famous?
Making amazing music is the obvious method here, but there's a million different paths to this achieving this goal. It's about attention.

If you have video or choreography skills you could build a massive following through videos like OkGo did with that sweet treadmill video. Make music so out-there that you develop a cult following like Sunn O))).. You could even join The 27 Club (not advised).

Play music and have financial security?
This would be an argument for keeping a day job. Freedom for your art and you don't have to survive on ramen alone.

Play music for a living (no day job)?
Play a lot. Probably in a few different bands to diversify your income streams and ensure that you don't over-play a market. Network. Build up savings and get your costs down (rent, car, food, etc.)

Be attractive?
Let's be real here. Some of us only play to look good. If this is all you care about, invest in good photographers and videographers as a top priority.

Go on a world tour?
Start befriending larger bands in every location you'd want to hit. Look into finding fans in each city that would be willing to host you and help promote. Get everyone in the band's schedules and business straightened out. Figure out the math to make it profitable, or at least break even. 

Disgust and assault your fans?
GG Allin, you naaaaasty.


This is only a cursory glance at all the reasons we play music. The list is effectively endless, but it's important to figure out what motivates you to keep pushing forward.

By the way, do you know why your bandmates play music?

You should.


Artists Screw Major Labels Too

It goes both ways.

There's a reason many major labels need so much control and resources. Sometimes it's the artists who totally take advantage of the deal.

As Lefsetz puts it:
That’s what you’ve got to know about artists. They’re desperate. They’ve only got one chance, one career, if they screw it up, they’re toast. Just ask Billy Squier… 
Recently, Pitchfork darlings The Death Grips recently were dropped from Epic Records after releasing their new album NO LOVE DEEP WEB for free download online, without any consent from Epic. The Death Grips even went so far as to post the legal takedown notices sent from Epic on Facebook, along with a string of vulgar taunts.

What do you think the chances are of another label offering to help pay for their next release? Considering how well-connected most labels are within the industry, it's also quite possible that burning this bridge will close quite a few doors with venues, promoters and managers as well.

"Sticking it to The Man" like The Death Grips did only increases the necessity of labels acting like "The Man".

Remember, labels are venture capitalists. The more "risky" their investments in bands, the more money they have to charge and restrict every band.


Pomplamoose, "The Future of Music", Interview at Hypebot

This is the best interview I've read all year.

Jacke Conte of Pomplamoose, a band heralded as "The Future of Music" breaks down their entire business model with Hypebot.

I'm not going to give you all the highlights, this is too good an article to ignore.
Jack Conte: Yeah. The thing that I think you should learn from Pomplamoose is not about YouTube. It's not about social media. It's not about music. It's about iterations. It's about trying a million things until something works. That's all we did. We tried a million things and something finally worked, and we were sick and tired. I literally went on three tours where I played – I mean, there were shows where I played where the bartender left. There was literally nobody in the room that I was playing for, and I was not a successful thing. It was a total flop, failure, but we just kept trying and trying and trying, a million different things, and that's what I hope everybody takes away is.
...In fact Derek Sivers, who started the company CD Baby, wrote a book and he put little episodes of the book on YouTube, and one of the episodes is called "If It's Not a Hit, Switch, " and basically his idea is try something. Is it a hit? Are people flocking to it? Are people running to your idea? Do you have value? Are you adding value to the world? Do people really want it? No? Switch, something else. Iterate. Iterate. Iterate a thousand times until you have a hit, and then you've got something. So I love that idea – if it's not a hit, switch.
Jacke brings up one of my recent talking points:
We are not one of those bands that believes that you need to post on your Facebook page every day to engage your fans. I've gone to a lot of these social media conventions and I always just kind of throw up a little bit in my mouth when people are like, "You have to post on Facebook every day, and if you don't post on Facebook every day, then there's no point in posting on Facebook at all." And that's just a giant load of steaming bullshit because when we post on Facebook after not posting on Facebook for two weeks or three weeks, and we post a picture, it's awesome. People are into it. They're excited because we have a new, cool picture, and if we were posting every single day, we'd just dilute the effectiveness of our posts. I think at some point people are going to get really sick of all of the crap in their Facebook feed.
People want to be updated when you have new content. That's really what we've found is people want to know about something when there's something to freakin' know about. If there's not something to know about, don't force it, you know? People want new content. They want to hear a new song. They want to see an awesome picture of you guys backstage, you know, stuff, things that add joy to your life.
Another great point:
You have to think that you're not a genius. You have to think that, "Well, I just worked really hard and I kept working on this song until it sounded good, and I spent hours and hours and hours tweaking and tweaking and tweaking until I really liked it." If you think you're a genius, then you're just going to fucking barf onto a piece of paper and call it art and put it out on the Internet, and then it won't be very good any more.
Go read the rest.


Are Facebook's "Promoted Posts" Good or Bad for Bands?

There's been a huge uproar about how Facebook's new Promoted Posts feature is "screwing" local bands and businesses by limiting how many fans' newsfeeds actually show status updates. Dangerous Minds described it as "a James Bond villain calmly demanding that a $365 million dollar ransom gets collected from all the Mom & Pop businesses who use Facebook."

Not quite.

Facebook has been hiding status updates for years. Facebook accomplishes this by adjusting your newsfeed according to which people, topics and events you care about. If you Like a series of DJs, Facebook will ensure DJ-related posts get seen. If you Hide Updates from all of your overly-political friends, Facebook will reduce the visibility of politics in your feed. Again, Facebook has been trying to increase user retention using data mining for years. Adjusting your newsfeed to what you find relevant is about making a better experience to the user.

Casey Johnston's article in ArsTechnica elaborates:
...if your news feed was an equal-opportunity space, it would be at this point nothing but offers for FarmVille produce and a thousand status updates on everyone's new babies. Should that happen, your interest in checking the service might wane. Facebook doesn't show you everything every person or brand you subscribe to says, and it's always been that way.
The only difference with Promoted Posts is that now you can increase your posts' "newsfeed importance" for really important posts, such as announcing a new album.

The article continues:
Facebook told Ars separately that the converse of this statement is also true: if a post receives few or mostly negative reactions, it is more expensive for the page owner to promote than if the post were popular on its own, and such posts don't reach as far. The goal is to make sure that even promoted posts feel relevant and interesting to read.
Making it harder for crappy posts to fill up your newsfeed is a very, very good thing.

Promoted posts provide a balance between keeping advertisers (paying customers) happy while not scaring away facebook users (data for paying customers) with cluttered newsfeeds. Considering Facebook's terrible stock performance it's a surprise the measures the company has taken to make more money aren't more obtrusive.

So what's the final verdict on promoted posts?

If you're enriching your fans, you pay less and get noticed more. If you're wasting fans' time, you pay more and get noticed less.


America's Most Popular Music Scenes

Richard Florida at The Atlantic Cities put together research  using Myspace data (from 2007, when it was at peak popularity) and breaks down some research comparing the relatively popularity of the music scenes in the US.

Los Angeles tops the list with 175,083 acts. New York is second with 115,767, and Chicago is third with 69,963. The next several locations — San Diego, Philadelphia, Atlanta, D.C., Riverside, Seattle, and Orange County — averaged between 35,000 and 47,000 acts each. Several storied music capitals did not make the list: Detroit’s 22,445 acts put it in 23rd place, Nashville was 34th with 14,084 acts, New Orleans 35th with 13,965, and Memphis just 60th with 7,113. 
Not surprisingly, acts are highly concentrated around major population centers on the East and West Coasts — particularly the Bos-Wash Corridor and Southern California (each claim roughly 300,000 acts), as well as Northern California, Atlanta, southern Florida, and Cascadia (Seattle and Portland). Chicago, Phoenix, Dallas, and Las Vegas are the sole metros from the country’s interior that make the top 20.


Poor Uses of Social Media

Social media revolves around Permission Marketing.

As Seth Godin describes it;
Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them. 
If you're not adding value to your fans' newsfeed/social media, don't be surprised when they unfollow you. 

Please, no more "what's your favorite sandwich?" posts. (Local / mid-level bands, I'm looking at you.)

These "question" posts don't accomplish or convey anything. You don't really care about any responses as long as you get likes or comments. This insincerity is passive-aggressive and manipulative.

Fans are allergic to insincerity.

Fans don't fall in love with your music because you ask them what type of bed sheets they think are the best. Fans want to know about your art and your stories. That's what connecting to fans is about. Loving a band is an identity decision. 

Likes and follows are only as valuable as the fans behind the numbers. Don't obsess over social media numbers simply because they're easy to quantify. Focus on doing what you do best, bringing art and value to your fans.

Please respect your fans' time and attention.

If you don't have anything worth reading to post, don't post.


Why I Don't Spend Time On Internet Music Startups

Every day there's a new "social" music startup that promises to revolutionize the music industry.

Every day another one goes out of business.

There's no need to pay attention to a new service until it gets too huge to ignore. A majority of these startups will be a net waste of your time.

1: Brand new social websites offer low value.

The value of a network comes from how many other people are in the network (see Metcalf's Law). As much as I'd like them to, fax machines won't die because they're ubiquitious and easy to adopt. Each additional fax machine purchased makes every other fax machine more valuable. If you're the only one with a fax machine, it's a useless piece of rubbish.

2: Startups fail all the time.

63% of IT startups fail within 4 years. If I'm going to put in substantial effort, I don't want to risk that a substantial amount of it will be worthless in a few years.

3: There are costs (time, money, sanity) to using a new service.

Setting up a website takes time. Effetively marketing a website takes even more time and effort. Given how you've got limited time, money and sanity to spend on marketing, each additional avenue of promotion will dilute the amount of marketing weight you can put into all of your marketing channels. Half-assed marketing is good for no one.
4: Go where your fans are. 

I don't play music for startup companies, I play music for fans.

Unless your fans love being early adoptors of new tech, which they may well be, there's no incentive for you to invest heavy amount of time into some "Web 2.0 Startup That Will Revolutionalize The Industry." Not only will you have to learn the new service, so will your fans.


In choosing to adopt an unproven service, you've effecticvely increased the amount of effort required to be a fan.

Which brings me back to important point number inifity of The New Music Industry:

Making your music more difficult to hear is 9/10 times a bad idea.

Sure, Beck's sheet-music-only album got a lot of press, but think of how limited the market for the item is (groups of musicians, who are willing to assemble to learn the songs). As an art piece, it's a really sweet concept and a throwback to the history of music. But will Beck have fans demanding these songs at a show? Probably not.

I'm not saying startups are a bad thing, nor do I want them to fail. I'd love for nothing more than gamechangers like Bandcamp to show up in droves. Innovation helps everyone. Avoiding startups and following only the winners is the best decision for one band, not bands in aggregate.


Coda: One glaring problem I see with many music startups is they try to attract bands AND fans at the same time. Without fans, a band is posting in oblivion and wasting time. Without bands, fans don't have much reason to add another login name and password to their list. A website would be much wiser to focus on one group first, putting all effort into growing the "artist" or "fan" network as fast as possible instead of dividing efforts between the two camps. The value of a network is how many people are involved.

The Complete Guide to Music Success

Bob Lefsetz gives you the entire process, from start to finish, in one of the most illuminating posts I've seen in years.

Read his post. It's worth your time.

My favorite part is the ending:
Nobody needs your music. They need air, food and water. And personal, physical comfort. If you want a career in music you must do your best to be necessary. And that’s got nothing to do with marketing and everything to do with the music itself, which is all based on the bedrock outlined above.