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What does Apple Music mean for musicians?

Apple Music

by Chris Singleton

With the arrival of Apple's new streaming service, 'Apple Music', the music industry looks set for yet another massive shake-up. Here are some potential consequences of its arrival for bands and artists...

1. Music bloggers just became more important

Because of the ubiquity of Apple devices, and the fairly strong likelihood that a significant proportion of their owners will opt in to paying for Apple Music, a much larger slice of the music-listening population is going to start consuming music via streaming. Apple’s aim is to get 100 million paid subscribers on its books (the current number of people streaming music via paid accounts is thought to be around 41 million) – and, unlike many of its competitors, Apple has the advertising funds handy to help it achieve this goal. All this points to the fact that we may well soon reach the point where streaming become a much more popular way to listen to music (in all probability the de facto way).

And with streaming becoming more mainstream, the journey from reading a review of an album to listening to it becomes a lot more straightforward for a lot more people – they can simply click on a link at the bottom of an online review to hear a piece of work that is being lauded or panned by a rock critic. Contrast this to the ‘old’ scenario where a music fan encountered an album review in a printed publication: in order to get their mits on the record, they would have had to take several steps – get up off the sofa; locate the album in a physical or online store; cough up cash; bring it back from the store (or wait for it to download); insert or transfer into music-playing device…and so on. Most people are lazy, so only a fraction of printed reviews ever led to people actually auditioning the music being written about.

But if an online review contains a link at the bottom to the whole album on a streaming service that is used by millions – well we’re talking about a different kettle of fish entirely. Reviews suddenly carry more weight, because they create an instant path between the music being reviewed and its consumption.

Yes, you could argue that we’ve already arrived at that situation thanks to links to Spotify, Soundcloud or Youtube accompanying reviews, but with the arrival of Apple Music we’re talking about a massive ‘upscaling’ of all this. Its introduction will, in my book at least, have labels and music PR companies 1) taking bloggers more seriously than ever before and 2) begging them to include Apple Music links alongside reviews and features.

2. It’s going to be harder to collect fans’ email addresses

Eh? What’s Apple Music got to do with the sign up form on my website? Bear with me. First, Apple Music’s arrival is going to kill off the MP3. Not right away perhaps, but we’re now way past the beginning of the end for the ‘Motion Picture Experts Group Audio Layer Three’ file. This means that people are less likely to get excited by your band’s offer of a free MP3 in exchange for their email address – partly because they don’t bother downloading stuff any more, partly because it's inconvenient or because downloading files feels well, a bit dated – and not in a hipsterish retro good way (give it time though: I suspect that in 10 years time we'll see a downloading revival in Shoreditch...).

And will offereing people a quick - albeit exclusive - stream in exchange for their personal data yield much in the way of sign ups? My feeling is no, not really: for all its virtual nature, the MP3 could still be considered a 'thing' of sorts, whereas a stream feels more like a bit of a fluffy cloud or something. Upshot? You’re going to have to be more creative about what you offer people in exchange for their email addresses.

3. You’re going to have to get your head around a new social network

As if having to be constantly witty on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and so on wasn’t enough hard work, you’re now going to have to engage fans via Apple Connect, which Apple describe as

”a place where musicians give their fans a closer look at their work, their inspirations, and their world. It’s a main line into the heart of music — great stuff straight from the artists.”

Whether or not Apple Connect lives up to this hype or not is another question, but it would be foolish – given the number of devices Apple Music will be pre-installed on – not to take it pretty seriously. 

4. Musicians may have less time to write and record songs…

So far, all indications point to Apple Music managing to both kill CD and download sales whilst providing minuscule financial renumeration to artists; as with Spotify, we’re talking about musicians getting a fraction of a pence per play. Amongst other things this means that bands are going to have to tour more regularly to make any dosh, and one potential consequence of this is that some acts will have considerably less time to hone their writing or production skills (that said, they might improve their chops somewhat thanks to all those gigs).

5. …but the songs they write may be influenced by way more artists

A lot of musicians I know decry music streaming – yet subscribe to a streaming service at the same time. There’s simply no denying the convenience of the format – hence the hypocrisy. As with listeners, so with musicians: we can expect a lot more of them to get into streaming simply because of Apple Music’s arrival on their iOS device. And this will provide access to a really wide range of influences that many songwriters might never have encountered (or been arsed exploring) before. This in turn has the potential to shape their music – and music in general – in new ways, making it even more post-post-post-postmodern than it already is.

6. You’ll have more data to play with

With Apple Music, you’re going to get more access to more data – as usage of the platform becomes more widespread it’s going to be easy enough, based on being able to see the number of plays you’re getting, to spot your popular songs from the duffers. What you do with this data is, of course, up to you: some bands recoil from writing anything that could be considered remotely popular, and those acts will be no doubt pleased to see yet more evidence that nobody is listening to their music.

7. It may mean that bands start to get slightly more cash from streaming

If the number of paid streaming accounts goes up – which is likely with the introduction of Apple Music – then so will the revenue generated by this method of consuming music. This means that musicians may make a bit more money from streams of their songs. But we’re still talking fractions of pences per play. Streaming in itself does not look like making musicians rich anytime soon.

8. Should you put your songs on Apple Music?

Musicians are caught between a rock and a hard place here. If you’re a ‘niche’ act (and who isn’t these days) with say, 1000 listeners who religiously cough up for each new album you release, then you may find that putting an album up on Apple Music decimates these sales – your die-hard fans are still human at the end of the day, and given the choice most will take convenience and ‘free’ over the effort involved in a purchase (not to mention parting with real hard cash money). But not putting music up on Apple Music closes off your chances of being discovered by a lot of new listeners.

Personally I feel it’s a case of using Apple Music (and indeed other streaming services) judiciously: putting back catalogue up there will make sense for a lot of bands, along with EPs and singles; but whether you want to go the whole hog and make a new album release immediately available on Apple Music will involve weighing up a set of pros and cons and looking at your specific audience carefully. If you are an indie band with a history of ‘surefire’ sales to fans that you can communicate directly with, then there is a strong case for releasing a ‘paid-for’ physical / downloadable version of the record in advance of putting the whole thing on Apple Music: to stagger the release, in effect. Crowdfunding is also a potential option. If you’re Beyonce, it’s another scenario of course, because you'll be in a position to negotiate more favourable terms with Apple for putting your music up on Apple Music (oh how they cowered when Taylor Swift got annoyed with them recently). Horses for courses, much like everything else in today’s multi-platform, multi-format music industry.

9. So is there any good news for musicians in all of this?

The best thing about Apple Music for musicians is the 'conversion' factor: it brings with it the potential to turn the person who might casually hear - and like - a song on the radio or at a friend's house into somebody who engages with your music more regularly, simply because your catalogue is very easily accessible on their iOS device. The difficult part, however, will be turning that engagement into a financially beneficial arrangement. And you'll have to remember that with accessibility comes disposability: your song will be 'just' one of millions on Apple Music (and will be perceived as such by listeners). This means that your music will have to fight even harder to be the signal in the signal to noise ratio. In a way, that could be a good thing: with the advent of mass streaming, we musicians will all have to raise our songwriting game to get heard. Again.

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Simple ways to promote your music on Soundcloud

Soundcloud

With over 175 million monthly listeners, Soundcloud is one of the most important sites that you can use to attract new fans to your music project. But how do you locate the ears of listeners and convince them to follow you? In this post we provide a few tips.

1. Make sure your Soundcloud content sounds great

An obvious point perhaps, but the music you upload to Soundcloud should sound as good as possible. Ok, fair enough, a lot of people use Soundcloud to showcase demos and alternative mixes of tracks with a view to getting feedback on work in progress, but the point is that whatever condition your track is in production values wise, there has to be something great about it – or it’s not going to attract attention, likes or shares. Posting demos is fine – so long as the tunes are good.

2.Make sure your SoundCLOUD content looks great

Many artists think it’s enough to upload a song or two to their Soundcloud profile and leave it at that, but don't neglect the visuals:

  • Use strong 500px x 500px artwork or photographs to accompany tracks
  • Include information about the band and relevant website info in track descriptions.
  • Make sure you use the space provided on your profile page to provide a biog plus links to your social media presences and official website.

3. Use tags

Ensure your content is tagged well. Tag your songs with any genre name that is relevant to your track; include similar artist names too (i.e., if you have a track that sounds like Frank Zappa, tag it as Frank Zappa). This is vital for ensuring that your music gets discovered via search.

4. Embed

If you’re providing audio streams on your website, use Soundcloud to embed your tracks (rather than using any built-in streaming tools or widgets). This immediately lets any site visitors know that you are on Soundcloud, allows them to follow you and provides you with the opportunity to get more plays. Furthermore, if you are sending your music to blogs and music sites, consider asking their owners to embed your tracks directly on their sites (i.e., rather than referring people to your website to listen) as this can greatly increase the number of plays you receive, and the visibility of your Soundcloud content in general.

5. Engage

Don’t just upload your music to Soundcloud and wait for people to discover it: it’s not quite as simple as an ‘if you build it they will come’ scenario. You’ll need to make yourself more visible to Soundcloud users in a more proactive way: by listening to other users’ tracks; commenting; and resharing them. Avoid doing this in a spammy way – if you’re sincere about things, you’ll have a much better shot of other users checking you and your content out (and sharing it with others).

6. Add a Soundcloud icon to your site

It’s quite common for bands to include cute little icons with links to their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages on their websites…only to forget to include one for Soundcloud. Make sure you make your Soundcloud icons as visible as all the others – given that you are a musician and Soundcloud is specifically about music sharing, it’s potentially a more valuable use of your website’s “real estate” than other social media icons.

7. Use groups

Soundcloud groups offer you a way to share music with like-minded creators / listeners. Locate groups that might dig what you do, then post tracks to them (you can also create your own groups). It’s very important that you post to groups in a respectful, non-spammy way, and ask for genuine feedback. If your music is appreciated, it will attract reposts, which will obviously help generate more exposure for and plays of your music.

8. Repost other music

Don’t just focus on promoting your music on Soundcloud – promote other artists’ music too: in effect, become a curator of musical content. If you are regularly posting interesting tracks to a growing audience, you have the potential to be a ‘tastemaker’ of sorts, with an audience that may therefore be more receptive to any of your own original music that you share.

9. Reply to comments

If people comment on your music, reply to them: this can foster a good relationship between you and people who like your music and this conversational approach may ‘convert’ somebody who commented on one of your songs to becoming a follower.

10. Be an active user

Whether you’re posting your own music, reposting somebody else’s or commenting on tracks you like, try to do it regularly. This increases your visibility as a Soundcloud contributer, makes you more noticeable and increases the chances of people listening to your music and following you.

11. Use Spotlight

If you’re on a Pro Plan, use Spotlight to pin up to five of your best tracks to the top of your profile. This ensures that you’re showcasing your best material to Soundcloud users, and potentially increasing the number of followers.

 

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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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Inbound marketing and what it means for musicians

Inbound marketing - a visual representation

Have you heard of ‘inbound marketing?’ A lot of my non-music clients are getting quite obsessed with it. And rightly so, as when employed correctly it is a powerful way of attracting and retaining new customers. ‘What the feck is inbound marketing then, and can it make me a pop star?’ I hear you mutter. All right then, I shall elaborate.

Inbound marketing typically revolves around the internet, and involves three key steps:

  1. Getting found (i.e., driving traffic to your site)
  2. Converting (capturing data and generating sales)
  3. Analysing (looking at site stats and sales data to improve steps one and two).

Although I think that inbound marketing probably works better for traditional businesses than musicians, there are still some big advantages to employing it as a tactic in the battle for rock success. So let’s break down the above three steps from a musician’s point of view.

1. Getting found

Getting found boils down to what content is on your site, how it is presented from a search engine optimisation point of view, and how easy it is for readers to share it. Interesting content is key here – and by ‘interesting’ I don’t just mean your music. Yes, it is good to have a wide range of your tracks available on your site, in a variety of audio and video formats; and ideally you should present your visitors with images and text related to your music too (for example, free downloads of posters and lyrics). But if we are honest about it, only people who already know about you will be searching for you – and to make new fans, you obviously need to start attracting people to your site who have never heard of you. The key to this is to create content which is not related to you, but of interest to an audience who might like your music.

Say your music is reminiscent of David Bowie’s and your latest album is called something like ‘Ciggie Sawdust’. Obviously therefore, you are most likely to sell your music to Bowie fans. But if you make your site exclusively about you and your music, you are unlikely to attract your target audience via search engines (as there would be little or no Bowie keywords on it). But if, for example, you were to write a blog post about what Bowie means to you, and discuss various aspects of his career in depth…well, from a Bowie fan’s point of view you are now of interest; and when they search for Bowie and Bowie-related keywords, you (and more importantly your music) have a greater chance of being discovered. Even changing your site title can have an impact – instead of calling your site ‘Official website of Joe Bloggs’ it is much better from a search perspective to use a title like ‘Joe Bloggs – camp indie rock music influenced by early 70s era David Bowie when he wore a lot of tights’. (For more information on search engine optimisation for musicians, and why site titles in particular are important, I’d check out our Prescription article on SEO for musicians.) The point is that is that there are millions of searches going on every second and by creating strong, keyword-rich articles about stuff other than your good self on your site - be they to do with art, politics, music or underwear - you can grab a share of those searches. (A key part of this really is having a blog – you can read our musician’s guide to blogging here.)

It is also worth remembering that anything you post on your site should be very easy to share - if your site or blog doesn’t have sharing buttons, you really are missing a trick. Most blogs have these by default but if you are stuck, you can install Addthis on your site very easily. Regardless of how your sharing functionality is set up, it must be there – your content will travel much further if readers can just click a sharing icon and whack your content up on Facebook or Twitter easily. This generates more traffic back to the site, which is all part of the ‘getting found’ process.

2. Converting

Now that your Bowie fan is on your site, reading your lovely Bowie-related article, what should happen next? Well, you should do a bit of converting. There are two main sorts of conversions – from site visitor to lead, or from site visitor to sale.

A site visitor becomes a lead when they have handed over their email address – or, in this era of social media madness, has followed you on Facebook or Twitter. Personally, I think that having a fan’s email address is still the best outcome, as you are in 100% charge of the communication process after that – i.e., you can email a fan whenever you want and are not dependent on a social network’s algorithm or that person being logged into Twitter / Facebook at a particular time for your message to be seen; you can also use the email address to invite somebody to follow you on social media anyway. Regardless of how you ask a visitor to your site to subscribe to communications though, you generally need to offer him or her an incentive in exchange for doing so. This could be a free track; a free ticket to a gig; or the promise of more interesting, Bowie-related articles. The key thing is to make the proposition overt and attractive. Spell out what you are offering and make it extremely easy for visitors to avail of the offer (i.e., use a  prominent data capture form on every page of your site; have clear calls to actions; visible social media buttons and so on. If using Facebook, try to employ a ‘locked content’ approach where fans have to like a page in exchange for content – to see an example of this in action, you might like to check out Chris Helme’s Facebook page, which we worked on recently to add 'download in exchange for a like' functionality).

Converting a site visitor to a sale immediately is extraordinarily difficult, particularly for musicians (as music is practically free now in this Spotify-era and people are even more reluctant than ever before to buy it!). It can happen though, and to 'give sales a chance' you need to ensure that your site is set up so that buying music is a very straightforward process – again, clear calls to action can help, as can prominent buttons, exclusive versions of products (i.e., signed CDs and merchandise) and a wide range of purchasing options (Paypal, iTunes etc.). But realistically most sales are going to come after somebody has been converted to a lead. The idea is that once the site visitor has become a lead, they receive a series of tasteful and useful email and social media communications from you, engage with you, and finally decide to part with cash.

3. Analysing

The final part of the process, the analysing bit, involves looking at what you are doing in the ‘getting found’ and ‘converting’ parts of the process, and continuously trying to improve them. In terms of analysing the ‘getting found’ aspect, you can use Google Analytics to look at what blog posts on your site are particularly popular – and create more of that kind of content; you can also use it to analyse the kind of searches that are delivering the most traffic to your site (or not) and optimise your site accordingly. You should also look at what sort of content from your site is being shared on social networks - tools like Addthis provide a lot of data on this.

As for analysing how you are capturing data, you can experiment with various propositions and see what works best. Is a download of a track a more attractive proposition than a stream? Does moving the mailing list form from the left-hand side of your website to the right-hand side generate more subscriptions? Does one type of social media icon work better than others in generating more follows? Does prioritising iTunes over Paypal mean more dosh? If you really want to go to the nth level, you could consider running some surveys via your email database about what made your site visitors take the plunge and subscribe to your mailing list – although I’m not sure how rock and roll that is.

Finally, since we’re talking inbound marketing, you could also use Hubspot’s free marketing grader tool. Hubspot coined the phrase 'inbound marketing' in the first place, and their tool looks at your site and makes simple recommendations as to how you can make it better from an inbound marketing perspective (it will score you on SEO issues, blogging frequency, social media activity and more, and then make a series of recommendations as to how you can improve things).

Whatever tools and methodology you use, the ultimate aim of the analysis is to make constant improvements to the ‘getting found’ and ‘converting’ parts of the inbound marketing process – to maximise the chances of somebody discovering your site and establishing an online relationship with you (ooh er, missus)...and eventually buying some music, gig tickets or a crappy t-shirt from you.

But…there’s a catch

Ok, so that is all great in theory isn’t it? And actually, for most of the business clients I work with when not wearing a Prescription hat, it works pretty well in practice too. There is a problem though: inbound marketing and the content creation that comes with it takes up a lot of your time – time that you could be using to write and record great music in the first place. Writing good blog posts can take ages; plodding through Google Analytics to work out if a blog post is attracting significant amount of traffic can also take a long time. But nothing in the music business is quick or easy, and as most of the music industry seems to be migrating online these days, I think it does make sense to devote some effort to understanding – and employing – this new-fangled inbound marketing stuff. It's a question of balance - making sure you are creating strong content for your site without it preventing you working on your music.

And finally...

Finally we'd just like to point out that if you're reading this Prescription article, our inbound marketing strategy is clearly working. Now may we suggest that you hire us to promote your music.

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Why you NEED to be on Youtube - even if you don't have a video

Youtube

Okay, so you lucked out and somehow managed to slip one past Geoff Smith and got a spot play on Radio 2. Millions of listeners all over the UK have just heard your 3 minutes of radio-friendly-two-tone-emo-shoe-gazing-nu-metal-folk-soul. Which means you’re now going to sell a load of singles, yeah?

As is ever the case with these articles, dear reader, the answer is no (and sorry about that). What will probably happen is this: around 0.01% of the people who heard Jeremy Vine interrupt calls from inane members of the public to play your song might be interested in hearing the tune again - but for free. And if they like it enough, then they might consider paying to download the track (or, since it’s Radio 2 listeners we’re talking about, see if they can find a 78 in an antiques shop in Rye). Either way, when they've got a little more acquainted with your music they may, heaven forbid, finally take the plunge and purchase your whole album. The main thing is: they've got to be able to hear that radio-friendly song again.

Now, they probably won’t hear it again on Radio 2, because there is an awful lot of James Blunt to play and you really used up all your luck by nicking that 3 minutes off him in the first place (heavens, his mummy will be ringing in to complain next). But, James Blunt aside, 0.01% of 8 million people is still quite a lot of listeners – 80,000 in fact – so you’ve got to make it as easy as possible for those half-interested people to find that catchy little ditty of yours.

Obviously some of them will go looking for the song on Spotify – a good reason to have singles up there, even if you’re reluctant to let people stream your whole album for free – but not everybody uses Spotify, and it's unavailable in a truckload of countries anyway. Put Spotify to one side, because there is an arguably far more important streaming site which bands often overlook: Youtube.

The reason Youtube is often ignored by bands is because they simply don’t have the budget, time or ability to make videos for their songs. Rather understandably, they therefore think Youtube, because it is a video hosting site, is irrelevant. Big, big mistake.

Here’s why: Youtube has, in internet terms, been around for ages and is so famous that even Radio 2 listeners have heard of it, and – gosh – use it extensively. They use it for two reasons: (a) to look at videos of cute cats and (b) to access the biggest repository of free pop music ever known to mankind. Let’s momentarily ignore the cats and ram point (b) home: Youtube is synonymous with pop music, and even in the Spotify era, people simply expect to find any song they have even half-heard of on Youtube. As such, your radio-friendly-two-tone-emo-shoe-gazing-nu-metal-folk-soul effort needs to be there.

BUT WE DON’T HAVE A VIDEO FOR IT, I hear you scream (in capitals, obviously). WE CAN’T AFFORD A VIDEO, you shout. WE READ YOUR LAST BLOG POST AND YOU TOLD US NOT TO MAKE A VIDEO IF WE WEREN’T MARTIN SCORSESE. Well, so what. Look up any Beatles song on Youtube. The biggest band in the history of rock didn’t really make videos – thank god, or the mullet would have arrived 15 to 20 years earlier – but nonetheless, you’ll find any Beatles track, no matter how obscure, on there. You'll no doubt encounter a video of Polythene Pam made by a mad bearded fan: the song will play to a home-made photo montage of images involving said mad fan sporting latex and covered in cream. All for the delight of you, dear reader. And yes, it will have been seen by 656,234 people.

Latex aside, if you don’t have a video, you can – and should - do something similar with that song of yours. Get some tasteful pictures of your act together, do a little montage using Windows Movie Maker or iMovie, and upload the opus to Youtube. If you’re too broke to have even done a photoshoot with the band, you could think about accompanying your song with some stock footage from iStock; using random-but-arty lo-fi video footage you shot on your phone; as a last resort, just whack something up containing some text against a black background (the song lyrics perhaps). Or a picture of Cliff Richard at Wimbledon.

The key thing is: get your music on Youtube in some shape or form. It’s still a major go-to point for potential fans, and at the end of the day, if you do get any airplay, there will be an expectation amongst the people who heard your music that you will be on there. And if you’re not, that 0.01% of Radio 2 listeners are going to just shrug their shoulders and go back to Blunty.

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The end of the download is nigh

MP3 Player

If internet rumours are to be believed, June 6 2011 may possibly be the music industry’s equivalent of “The Rapture” (for those of you who haven’t been on Facebook recently, or have been living in a hole in the New Forest, The Rapture was the end of the world, and was supposed to happen on May 21. It didn’t, unless you are reading this on a cloud with Jesus or you are feeling rather hot and can’t concentrate on this article because a devilish imp is poking your bottom with a pitchfork). Of course “The Rapture” turned out to be a damp squib, but June 6 is more likely to live up to its reputation as being a day on which the music industry will change forever.

So what’s happening on June 6? Well, according to a multitude of newspaper articles and blog posts, it’s the date that Apple may unveil their ‘cloud service’ – a system that lets listeners stream music from the web. Now, as the cloud service in question hasn’t been unveiled yet, it’s not clear what form this is initially going to take. It could be that Apple are simply going to offer something similar to Amazon and Google’s new cloud systems, which allow you to upload and stream your music collection on the web, wherever you are.

But frankly, that’s a pretty boring approach, and unlikely to be what Apple’s “cloud offer” will be. If rumours are to believed, Apple have been working hard to secure licensing agreements with the “big four” record companies – Warner Music Group, Sony Music Group, EMI Group and Universal Music Group – which means all this is heading in one direction: a streaming service similar to Spotify’s, where listeners will eventually be able to stream whatever music they like (for a fee, of course).

If Apple does go down this route, it means that an en-mass switch from paid-for downloads to on-demand music streaming is now just around the corner – the rise of 3G web connections, increasing use of smartphones and Apple’s 75%-85% share of the download market would more or less guarantee that streaming becomes the de facto way that music is consumed. If Apple release a software update for iTunes containing streaming functionality, millions of iPod, iPhone and computer users in general all around the world would suddenly be able to stream music instead of paying to download files. The choice of tracks would be vast – significantly bigger than Spotify’s library, due to full music industry buy-in – and the reach of the service would be enormous too, thanks to Apple’s strong global position in both the download and mobile device markets. All this would arguably result in death of the download, and pretty quickly too.

What would be the impact of this on musicians? Well, for bands who are signed to a label and getting a significant marketing push, it would be fairly good news – it makes their music even easier to access. For musicians without a budget however, it would represent more of a headache. This is because streaming removes the attractiveness of a key tool used by musicians to entice people to sign up to email updates: the free download. For several years now, indie musicians with any clue whatsoever have been giving away downloads in exchange for the ability to communicate with fans online – with individual tracks, EPs or even albums being swapped for email addresses or Facebook ‘likes’. However, there is not much of an incentive for a potential fan to grab a free download from a band if a) they don’t really download music anymore and b) the track can be streamed anyway on iTunes.  

The free-download-for-email-address scenario that we’ve seen over the past few years has led to a situation where clued-up independent musicians have to a certain extent been able to bypass traditional gatekeepers – labels, journalists, distributors, promoters and radio stations – and still make (often quite decent) amounts of money from music via direct-to-fan sales. Perhaps it’s a negative way of looking at things, but with downloads diminished as an incentive for joining a mailing list, indie musicians will be able to communicate directly with fewer and fewer listeners online, and power will go back to being concentrated in the hands of the traditional music industry tastemakers: a label will decide what music to promote, and spend money encouraging people to stream it (rather than buy it). In effect, a technological advancement may lead us back full circle to a situation whereby only those with budgets can create demand.

But if you are an indie musician who has built a business model on free downloads, and all this does sound like the end of the world, don’t despair yet. Pretty much every technological development in the music industry has shut one door only to open another; and with all these developments, the trick is to stay ahead of the curve. The musicians who twigged that free downloads helped build databases first built the biggest databases (and sold the most music and merchandise); and it will be the musicians who twig how best to use streaming cleverly who will monetise the new landscape. The trick is to think fast. The end of the download is nigh – get ready.

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