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A look at the music industry in 2013 – and some Prescription goodies to help you cope with it

Mixing desk

As I sit here waiting to find out if the ancient Mayans were correct or not, I’ve been pondering two things: firstly, shall I bother with another fancypants coffee (I don’t want to pay for one if an apocalypse prevents me finishing it) and secondly, assuming we’re not all doomed, what is going to happen to the music industry in 2013? 

For many musicians, it may seem that the Mayan prophesy is coming true and we are all doomed: with fewer and fewer people prepared to pay for CDs and downloads, and streaming services like Spotify offering paltry royalties for each play, bands might be forgiven for thinking that the Mayans were correct all along and it really is the end of the world as we know it, without anybody feeling particularly fine.

However, there is a flipside. Ok, so bands might not be making as much cash as they used to from sales – and let’s not forget that even in the glory days of the music industry, 99.9% of bands never did – but making and promoting music is getting much, much easier and cheaper. The same digital revolution which has killed off CD sales has also… 

  • made recording equipment incredibly affordable, meaning pro-quality albums can be recorded in toilets
  • made studio time much cheaper, as pro studios now have to compete with the toilet-studio-owner in question
  • made global distribution of music a reality for any band
  • provided all manner of cheap digital advertising and communications tools to musicians
  • reduced the need for physical manufacture (with an associated reduction in costs)
  • arguably made music promotion services cheaper, due to increased competition in the music promotion services market
  • reduced costs associated with music promo (in terms of postage, phone calls, promo manufacture, boozy lunches and so on – much of these can be handled online).

So basically, there’s a weird trade-off. In today’s music industry you are able to make and promote your music more easily and cheaply than ever before, but you are considerably less able to generate any cash from sales. And it doesn’t take a Mayan prophesier to tell you that in 2013, we are simply going to travel further and more quickly in this direction, possibly because the music industry lives on a computer in a shed these days, and computers – as any aficiando of Moore’s Law will tell you – double in power every two years whilst falling significantly in cost.

So as I peer into my crystal ball for 2013, I simply see even fewer people buying CDs, fewer people downloading music and more people streaming it via Spotify of similar services. (And of course if iTunes switches to being a streaming service rather than a download store, it’s really game over for music sales.)

So how do musicians cope with this? What is the point of making music if it’s looking increasingly like something that can’t be sold? Well, I’d start off any coping strategy by accentuating the positives. As a band making a racket today, and as discussed above, you have access to a whole range of things that even 15 years ago would have been completely out of your reach – incredibly affordable studio time / equipment, global distribution, cheap promo deals and direct access to listeners via social media and online communications. It’s incredible how these things (that would have looked like magic back in the late 90s) have become completely taken for granted by a lot of bands, but they are the key (and often overlooked) ingredients to creating something which is at the heart of any successful music project: a fanbase. This fanbase may not pay for your recordings, but they may be able to support you in several other ways – for example, through paying to see you live; buying merchandise; and acting as a street team that delivers vital word-of-mouth marketing.

In order to get anywhere near having a 'monetised fanbase' though, you need to do three things:

1) Create stonkingly great music

2) Work the ‘digital system’ very hard

3) Think like a business (yes, I know, yuck) and explore every avenue when thinking about monetising your music 

I can’t help you with the first part of this recipe for success, but it’s my hope that over the past year or so, our Prescription articles have provided some insights into going about the second and third parts. So, as we bid farewell to 2012 (and perhaps existence if the Mayans are correct), I thought I’d provide you with some links to some of our favourite music promo articles from the Prescription archives. May they help you in your 2013 quest for rock/dance/hip-hop/indie/shoe-gazing glory (delete as appropriate). You’ll find them below – think of them as the online equivalent of a box of Quality Street from us to you. Thank you for reading The Prescription in 2012, we hope you have a great Christmas, and we wish you every success for 2013 (and don't forget, that we are always happy to discuss ways that you can achieve this - feel free to contact us for a chat about any projects you have coming up in 2013).

Life is like a box of chocolates - articles from the archive… 

 

 

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DIY music promotion: avoiding the pitfalls

Today's recording studio?

Today's recording studio?

Right now, all across the country, bands are recording music in dingy bedsits, crap rehearsal rooms, disgusting garages and sheds.

Whilst these locations may not be particularly pleasant, so long as they are equipped with a computer and an audio interface, they house recording studios that the rock megastars of yesteryear would have drooled over.

Even today’s most basic recording packages generally allow you to multitrack a huge (often unlimited) number of instruments; they also come with a vast range of digital effects, software synthesisers, pitch-correction tools and a library of drummer jokes (compare this to the 4-track tape recorders that the Beatles had to rely on for most of their career – although they probably had quite a few drummer jokes to hand). Whereas in days of rock yore, you really had to be signed or very rich to go anywhere near recording equipment this good, incredible music production tools are now cheap and easily accessible to even the most pauperly of bands.

This has led to a an explosion in DIY music recording, which has led to millions of albums being recorded at home or in the garden shed. Most are not very good and not heard by very many people, but on balance, DIY recording is probably a good thing. Although it means a lot of crap records will get made – obviously, there is a difference between having fab recording equipment and knowing how to use it well – at least bands that would not have had access to good recording gear now get the chance to use and experiment with it; and occasionally, they come up with something terrific that captures the public’s ears and imagination.

DIY recording arguably reached the masses in a serious way about 10 years ago, when consumer-grade computers and hard drives became fast enough to handle professional audio recording duties; but over the past couple of years, we’ve seen bands starting to use DIY in all areas of their music career. With DIY recording, artists got their mits on the means of production, but serious manufacture, distribution and promotion were still largely the preserve of record labels. But that’s been changing; over the past couple of years we’ve seen that a combination of technological developments, new online services, an explosion in broadband access and improved awareness of what’s available to musicians has resulted in a huge number of artists not just recording DIY music, but also doing the following:

  • distributing their music globally (through services such as Zimbalam, Tunecore, and CD Baby)
  • building their own websites (via services such as Wordpress and Squarespace)
  • creating HD videos or hi-res press shots on cheap-but-incredibly-effective digital SLR cameras (or even an iPhone 4)
  • buying their own online advertising (on Facebook, Google etc.)
  • collecting their own royalties (via online tools provided by the PRS / PPL)
  • manufacturing their own merchandise (thanks to services such as Cafepress or Zazzle)
  • promoting their own gigs and selling advance tickets online (via Stubmatic or Paypal)
  • running direct marketing campaigns (using services such as BandCamp, Reverbnation, Mailchimp and Aweber).

In other words, pretty much doing everything labels, publishers and promoters would normally do – but usually on a ‘micro scale’.

The question for musicians about DIY is this however: just because you can do all these things, should you? We often come across artists who have spent years perfecting their sound in their own home studios, and who excel at DIY recording...who then ruin a fantastic home-recorded album by designing a crappy cover in Photoshop and shooting their own video (making it much harder for us to get journalists or bloggers to take them seriously). It’s easy to see why bands do this: it’s infinitely cheaper and often quicker than hiring a professional. And in some cases, it’s absolutely fine to take the DIY route  – for example, there might be a guy in the band with a day job in online advertising, who can set up an excellent, cost-effective campaign. Or there may be a photographer in the group who can sort out some fantastic press shots. The problem is that there often isn’t, and with a plethora of cheap gadgets and online services available, it’s very tempting for musicians – who are so used to taking a DIY approach to their music – to assume that a) this is a good way of filling the gap and b) that a DIY approach to everything will always yield positive results.

Obviously, you might not always have a choice around DIY promotion: there may be no budget at all to play with. But even if you are releasing an album on a shoestring, here are some key pointers to bear in mind when you are considering all the other DIY stuff you can do...

  • Before deciding to shoot your own video or take your own photos, see if you can rope in a mate who is better at that sort of thing than you (who could be convinced to help you out in exchange for a pint of larger and a bag of crisps). Or if you do have a budget, just pay somebody!
  • If you are creating any online assets yourself – websites, e-newsletters, etc. – do some research. Take a look at some megastars’ efforts and see what works well. Take a leaf out of their book (read: nick their ideas).
  • Keep things simple: if you’re not an expert graphic designer, your best chance of making something that looks professional, whether that’s an album sleeve or a t-shirt, is usually by taking a minimalistic approach to design.
  • Before spending any money on online adverts, do a dry run – allocate £20 to £50 to a test campaign to see if it generates any sales, Facebook ‘likes’ etc. Try out a few different targeting options and advert creative, and ensure you are getting some sort of a return on your investment before you spend hundreds of pounds on ineffective ads!
  • If you are approaching the media yourself, make sure you are targeting the right kind of critics for your music and that you don’t email them too many times.
  • Run everything you create past somebody impartial to get a sense of whether or not the video / website / poster in question comes across as professional. By impartial, we do not mean your mum.

Above all, take a look at where your strengths lie. If you are a musician who happens to be a good web designer, then by all means, design your own website. But if you know the video you’re going to make to accompany a brilliant track that you sweated for days over in the garden shed is going to look rubbish, it’s time to look elsewhere for help.

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