Monday, October 29, 2007

Music Conferences Should Be Banned

Allen Johnston - The Music Specialist

This year I have seen advertising for over 30 music conferences just within the Southeastern United States. What could possibly be the reason to have so many conferences about the same issue? Is there such a dire cadre of uneducated artists, producers, label owners and wannabes that these conferences are really needed? What are these conferences setup to do? The reasoning is ultimately extremely easy to understand. ALL of these conferences have played to a basic instinct within the populace.


Every one of these conferences has had showcases of one type or another that was a hidden reason to pay additional monies to the conference owner. What has been accomplished? The majority of the conferences were attended by independent record labels that never understood the rational around selling music versus performing for free. These labels will take their budget, (whatever it is) and squander it upon creating cd’s, postcards, flyers, hiring promotion people or the occasional video. Their ultimate goal is to have a major label “discover” them, pay them, sign, promote, market and sell their music all the while creating more and more opportunities for them to become famous. NOT ONCE has this happened! The performers are performing in front of their peers and not anyone that has an interest in signing them.

What happened to educating the people? Why are their so many people rushing to give away their money just for a few moments upon a stage?

What has been created has been the growth of a new business model. This model is one where a few entertainment industry people are getting wealthy from the mass of uneducated artists who have a burning desire to be a STAR. Unfortunately none of the artists, labels or producers knows anything about the music industry.

What I am finding more and more of is the young entrepreneur who really only desires the fame and popularity associated with the entertainment industry and not the basic business acumen needed to initiate and maintain a viable entertainment business. “BALLIN” has become a game of one up man ship to see who has the brightest “iced out jewelry”, biggest most expensive cars and the latest fashions. Who can market themselves into a major deal yet not have any professional team available to maintain a deal.

Tools needed to become a winning label.

The creation of a written document outlining the agreement among partners should be one of the first things you do. Next the organization of your office environment where all mailings, billings, invoices and correspondence can be collected, sorted, acted upon and filed. A central phone number and a computer based office system should be formed. How will you keep in contact with the many different individuals and companies you & your crew will come in contact with?

Incorporation of the business will give you the tools needed to create a corporate bank account, savings certificates and a corporate credit card. Additionally it will also give you the basis for paying your taxes and the ability to keep open and honest legal documents.

The entertainment industry is based on communication so a strong ever-increasing database of radio, retail, publicity and industry executives should be started.

You won’t be getting this information at any music conference that you attend locally, because it is better to keep you ignorant and coming back then to assist your knowledge and have you become a potential conference owner yourself.

As for you conference owners and promoters your days are limited. People deserve and want more than a chance to perform in front of other “poor and unsigned” companies. To stay in the conference business you will have to change your conference structure.

A few ideas for the next REAL music conference.

Publish a list of the conference attendees and give it to every person that attended your event. This will increase networking and give your attendees something that they will hold on to for at least a year.

Make sure that you have “hand outs” for each panel, seminar, lecture, etc. Thus giving your attendees information that they can study and learn from at their own pace.

Have every one of your panelists write a paper or case study of something they did concerning the title of their panel. For example if the panel is about independent distribution, then the case study should be about a label that acquired independent distribution and how they fared.

Stop having panels and start having working workshops that teach skills.

5. Qualify your panelists and know that they have done something positive within the industry BEFORE you ask them to be involved with your conference. There are WAY TOO MANY frauds speaking on panels today.

Recently I spoke at a conference and during a private networking session I was asked how to just “jump over” all that old fashioned business and go directly to having a major record deal. My response was that it would be really easy to do if you have met someone in the position of power at the major labels that wanted to immediately sign you and spend their money on making your career. The only issue I can see would be in how you will keep a deal of this magnitude without knowledgeable individuals around you that know the business, have connections and will work on your behalf to ensure your continued success and well being.

In other words where is your trusted team?

Why continue to go to conferences that only waste your time? Why not develop the business structure you will need now, acquire your trusted team, develop your database of industry connections and prepare yourself for success.

Saturday, October 27, 2007


Allen Johnston – The Music Specialist

Pay back has finally arrived and the system created by the major record labels for music sales is feeling the FULL BLUNT.

In a capsulated version, RADIOHEADS gambit of offering its new release online --and letting the consumer decide on price has turned out to be a genius marketing move.

TELEGRAPH UK reports that hits to RADIOHEAD's website increased 11-fold after the announcement. Although the band refuses to provide concrete numbers on how many fans have pre-ordered their seventh album, "In Rainbows," but figures from Net monitoring agency HitWise show the move pushed the site up from #43 to #1 for music websites in the UK. A band spokesman did confide that consumers so far are spurning the opportunity to download the album for as little as 45 pence ($1US Dollar) in favor of paying full pop for the £40 ($82 US Dollars) box set, which includes vinyl records, CD and artwork
Now that the public has spoken about the music that they desire, the band has direct access to the fans that love their music and they are making more money per disc than they have ever made in RADIOHEADS career. This new concept is ultimately where the Internet will take every type of recorded entertainment. Direct to the consumer. Major labels are not extremely happy about the idea that you can have a massive hit record and not have to use their retail / radio system to get it heard and sold.

The benefits of direct access to the consumer are so great that other acts are now looking at how they can utilize this system. Since Rock & Roll makes up the largest portion of Internet music sales, this is normally what we hear about Internet sales, but the originator of this direct to consumer system has to be PRINCE.

After leaving his “slave” contract PRINCE started selling his music independently through Al Bell (remember The Most Beautiful Girl In The World), but from then on he sold music exclusively online. In his latest move PRINCE gave away 2.8 million copies of his album to newspaper readers in the UK. Prince's free CD was noteworthy not only in that it marked the first time a music icon of his stature gave away a new album of original music, but also because it demonstrates the degree to which album sales no longer matter as much to artists. After all, tours are where most acts make most of their money, and the fact that the music sales have been in a tailspin for the better part of this decade is not news to anyone at this point.

There are a number of factors behind the sales slide, but one important factor is that the album is no longer the primary means for an artist or group to get their music into the hands of the public. Most bands have pages on MySpace where would-be fans can sample their wares. Others, like the Barenaked Ladies, Tilt, and Keane have released albums on USB flash drives.

Now comes word that NINE INCH NAILS mastermind TRENT REZNOR is cutting ties with his label, UNIVERSAL MUSIC GROUP, according to CNS. Previously, REZNOR urged fans to download his new CD illegally, after finding out how much the label was charging AUSTRALIAN and NEW ZEALAND fans for his record.REZNOR's statement on the band's website stated, "It gives me great pleasure to be able to finally have a direct relationship with the audience as I see fit and appropriate. Look for some announcements in the near future regarding 2008. Exciting times, indeed."

Just because you release your music online does not mean that you are going to have phenomenal sales. There are a few things ALL of these artists have in common that create multiple revenue streams.

The first thing is that they have already enjoyed Gold and Platinum sales on past major label product.

Each and every one of them has cemented a loyal audience and maintains communication with that audience on a regular basis via the Internet

Touring is a major portion of their success while having multiple merchandising articles available for sale before, during and after the tour.

Look for many “superstar” status artists not resigning with major labels in the near future, especially when they can have the type of success that RADIOHEADS & PRINCE have shown.

Last but not least, if the major labels have less superstar product to generate revenue, they'll undoubtedly have less money and time to break new talent. This will make it near impossible for new artists to acquire that major label deal without having shown labels a solid fan base that is constantly growing, massive amounts of Internet play and retailers that want the product!

The new record industry is here NOW and this is just another one of the many BIRTHING PAINS.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Birthing Pains

Allen Johnston – The Music Specialist

I was told at a recent music conference by an executive from an independent distributor that he wishes the Internet would be destroyed because it hurts record sales so bad.

I have in recent times heard from a major market radio consultant that the Internet was responsible for the demise in listener ship at radio formats around the United States and it should be banned.

To both of these statements I say “It’s about time”, the one sided business practices and limited opportunities within the radio / record / store system should have ceased years ago.

Michael Harrison, publisher of the talk-radio magazine Talkers, told a group at the National Association of Broadcasters Radio Show that competing technologies -- like Internet, Wi-Fi, podcasts and cell phones -- would all but fill the niche they now occupy.
"These are dark times for terrestrial radio," Harrison said. "And most people in terrestrial radio are in denial of it."

The old record industry depended on radio airplay to sell records for record retailers, then they added MTV / BET to their record selling mix. This vicious cycle has finally started to erode, technology has made it easier for more creators of music and multi-media projects, and with this proliferation of new material came new avenues to listen and expose these creations. The new record industry has been birthed and the initial growing pains are now presenting themselves. Change can be embraced, fought or ignored, change can not be stopped, and today’s technology has brought many new revenue generating ideas to our industry.

To exist in a profit making position Radio will need to focus on its local sponsors and core community. Music will probably be the first thing that will leave the format as more and more stations will turn to talk and information radio. Genre specific radio has risen significantly already with the proliferation of Hispanic, sports, talk, Asian, Haitian; and other formats. It is not too difficult to envision that this type of audience targeted radio will become mainstream soon. Music is now available on a multitude of levels as proven by the data being collected today on Arbitrons PPM, and consumers are turning away from radio to hear this music by using many different devices.

Independent record retailers are fast becoming a thing of the past. These retailers have had to change their buying patterns and start carrying clothing, multi media accessories, and adult novelties based on their specific customer genre just to stay in business.

An example of positive genre specific business practices is the new deal announced between MUSICNET, the music unit of MEDIANET DIGITAL and LA CURACAO, a leading Hispanic mega retailer in the U.S. creating the first ever full-featured Hispanic focused digital music service.

MUSICNET with LA CURACAO partnering have created PASITO TUNES a Hispanic based fully customized digital music subscription service and download store, along with the ability to access users’ music collections both on PCs and portable devices. Users will have access to a bi-lingual online music destination with catalog from Latino music genres including Salsa, Meringue, Cumbia, Tex-Mex, Reggaeton, Bachata, Rancheras, Baladas, Spanish pop music and more.

CD, vinyl, and the almost extinct cassette sales are plummeting at a faster and faster rate every year. Digital sales ARE increasing however they are not nearly as bountiful as yesterday’s cd and vinyl sales once were. Record labels are now turning to different sources for their revenue.

The music business is no longer about promoting records, but it has changed into a licensing business.

UNIVERSAL MUSIC GROUP is trying to create a comprehensive subscription plan, called TOTALMUSIC, which would require buy-in from ISPs and mobile access providers. This is an interesting idea if the consumer doesn’t have to foot the bill; however we already know that the ISP will automatically increase monthly access charges in exchange for a subscription-based music plan.

The NATIONAL MUSIC PUBLISHERS ASSOCIATION has stepped up their efforts to shut down popular websites that publish lyrics to songs without their permission -- and are demanding that GOOGLE and YAHOO! remove all references to them in search results, reports THE NEW YORK POST.

The move against lyric sites comes because the publishing business is in the midst of rolling out OFFICIAL online-lyric offerings through such places as YAHOO! MUSIC and REAL NETWORKS' RHAPSODY, via deals with lyric aggregators GRACENOTE and LYRICFIND.

Since 2003, IODA has been at the forefront of digital independent music distribution marketing and technology. Now IODA is in the digital video distribution business, with content from a broad range of top-tier indie film production companies along with IODA's labels' catalog of music videos. Distribution outlets include movie download sites NetFlix and EZTakes, mobile outlets Groovemobile, Hudson, Jamba/Jamster, Mobile Streams, Rogers Canada and Musiwave, and music video purveyors Real Rhapsody, Muzu and Veoh.

WARNER MUSIC GROUP and CHRIS LIGHTY, Founder/CEO of VIOLATOR MANAGEMENT, have formed a joint venture to be known as BRAND ASSET GROUP. The group is designed to increase revenue by more aggressively managing artist brands from all genres and capitalize on the value of those brands through corporate sponsorships, strategic and integrated marketing campaigns and comprehensive brand extensions.

I will say it again. The music business is no longer about promoting records, but it has changed into a licensing business.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Hip-Hop Awards Shows

Allen Johnston – The Music Specialist

On the eve of the Hip-Hop Awards show I have to ask the question WHY?

Why are there award shows for artists that condone violence, derogatory lyrics and a complete disdain for authority?

Who really wins?

What do they win?

What is there to gain?

The presenting award show company acquires EXPOSURE so that the ratings for their show increase. They then can attract more advertisers and make a hell of a lot more money than the artists that received the award. The company also acquires sponsors for the show who use their sponsorship as advertising for their products or services, again making way more money than the Hip-Hop artist.

The Hip-Hop artist gains EXPOSURE so that everyone can see that they are a worthy Hip-Hop artist and the viewing public should become one of their loyal fans. Sales are not increased because you have won an award, your fan base is not increased not even your personal knowledge is increased.

Who acquires the most?

Award shows in the Hip-Hop music business always seem to have similarities.

Major artists are placed up front so that television cameras can constantly check to see their expressions when OTHER people win the awards.

Hard rappers always Thank God yet don’t have the strength to clean up their images or lyrics.

Iced out, grilled out, huge chains, new clothes, new hair arrangements galore yet not one dime to make a REAL change within their cd / ticket / clothes buying public’s community. A few artists have foundations that throw a yearly party so the press can see how much they are helping the community or they’ve given a few thousand dollars to a very few students educational fund. Here’s an idea, why not take the cost of ALL the jewelry you wear to the awards show and invest it into the education of children within your OWN community.

Cleavage will abound on the audience shots.

There’s going to be drama in the show and around the city where the show is being held. This morning I read that during the opening awards party someone got shot and a famous rapper is being accused. This type of behavior is indicative of any artist who really believes their “Hype”, and needs to show how truly “BAD” they are. Once again this is not selling records and most people are not so lucky that they can walk away from a gunshot wound, or an attempted murder charge.

There will be untold numbers of parties all using the name of the awards show in their advertising. Of course there will be Official parties and Unofficial parties advertised plus the underground private parties that this generation is now so proud of. Combined this only increases the chance of some drama hitting the media and blaming the drama on the awards show.

Pick your city Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, makes NO difference the similarities are there and the major players are the same.

I already know that some of you reading this article will feel that I’m “hating” on the award shows. My answer is to show me that I’m wrong, in other words WHERE’S THE BEEF?