Common misconceptions of the music business

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Common misconceptions of the music business

Post by Radiophonic »

Hi there,

in this thread I am interested in opening the discussion on the following subjects:

What ideas are often widely propagated about the music business, that are misleading?

What perspectives do (some) outsiders (or even insiders) have that are not reflected in the reality of the music business?

What are the causes/deeper reasons of those confusions?

Whether you are involved in, have studied the subject of or have a gut feeling about this topic, please share your thoughts.
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Re: Common misconceptions of the music business

Post by Drew Stephenson »

I think the biggest misconception is encapsulated in the old truism, "The business of the music business is business not music."
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Re: Common misconceptions of the music business

Post by Radiophonic »

blinddrew wrote: Sat Jan 15, 2022 12:48 pm I think the biggest misconception is encapsulated in the old truism, "The business of the music business is business not music."

I have heard criticism/commentary on the music buisness that putting money into marketing as well as nepotism plays a crucial role in the success of many commercially released albums/songs. If that is true, I would argue that music becomes under these conditions a peripherial concern. If anyone agrees on that point I would be interested in possible explainations as well.

I don't know how true that is, I do, however, feel that the commericial music (and media) landscape offered a more appealing spectrum of pop cultural artefacts in terms of asthetical quality.
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Re: Common misconceptions of the music business

Post by MOF »

It’s a mixed bag and depends on the individuals running their part of the music business.
From what I’ve read, Larry Parnes had a stable of young pop stars with truly dreadful contracts whereas Brian Epstein wasn’t out to exploit his groups and solo artists, he really believed in them, particularly The Beatles.
Once the independent labels came along, largely on the back of the Punk scene, they were often run by individuals who really believed in their signings and were passionate about the music.
Even the big labels in the 1960s were generally supportive, for at least three albums, before they got rid of acts from their rosters.
I would say it was the 1990s when record companies became very corporate and stopped running A&R departments (where you could send in demo tapes) and they relied on deals with independents.
Now the way to get signed, if you think that’s the best route for you, is to do a fair bit of work in self promotion yourself, whether that’s gigging, creating your own YouTube channel, setting up your own label etc to show that it’s worth their while to pick up where you left off to concentrate on writing and performing.
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Re: Common misconceptions of the music business

Post by Radiophonic »

MOF wrote: Sat Jan 15, 2022 3:01 pm Even the big labels in the 1960s were generally supportive, for at least three albums, before they got rid of acts from their rosters.

I have the impression that they took things much more seriously back then. I am truely puzzled by the way they are running things. Ive seen alot of people going for popular culture from japan in the last decades. I can understand that there is a certain appeal in the japanese way of doing things, but attribute a big portion of that trend on poor quality domestic productions.

MOF wrote: Sat Jan 15, 2022 3:01 pmI would say it was the 1990s when record companies became very corporate and stopped running A&R departments (where you could send in demo tapes) and they relied on deals with independents.

Interesting. What I often hear is that the early 00s were the last time western popular culture had a distinct profile and alot of whats out there today is repetition. The movement you are describing might be the explaination?

MOF wrote: Sat Jan 15, 2022 3:01 pmNow the way to get signed, if you think that’s the best route for you, is to do a fair bit of work in self promotion yourself, whether that’s gigging, creating your own YouTube channel, setting up your own label etc to show that it’s worth their while to pick up where you left off to concentrate on writing and performing.

At that point it might be better not to get signed at all, right?
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Re: Common misconceptions of the music business

Post by MOF »

At that point it might be better not to get signed at all, right?

It depends on how good you are at administration, marketing etc and how much time that involves that would be more profitably spent on the creative part.
Getting to that point might also have been a chore and you’d rather let someone else concentrate on those aspects of your business for a reduced percentage than what they would have demanded if they’d signed you at the very beginning of your music career.
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Re: Common misconceptions of the music business

Post by Radiophonic »

MOF wrote: Sat Jan 15, 2022 5:50 pm Getting to that point might also have been a chore and you’d rather let someone else concentrate on those aspects of your business for a reduced percentage than what they would have demanded if they’d signed you at the very beginning of your music career.

I see. Division of labour also allows for more focus on the music.

I remember hearing years ago, that some big pop artists these days have many producers behind them. They record songs with session singers and market test the product before they work on the offical release. Is that true?
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Re: Common misconceptions of the music business

Post by Arpangel »

blinddrew wrote: Sat Jan 15, 2022 12:48 pm I think the biggest misconception is encapsulated in the old truism, "The business of the music business is business not music."

What else can you say, Drew just said it.
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Re: Common misconceptions of the music business

Post by BigRedX »

Radiophonic wrote: Sat Jan 15, 2022 3:56 pmAt that point it might be better not to get signed at all, right?

As you implied in your earlier post, these days it really does in the end come down to how effective your marketing/promotion is.

From the PoV of writing, performing and recording your music (lack of) money is nowhere near the kind of barrier it was back in the 50s to 80s. Nowadays anyone with sufficient talent can produce fantastic sounding music, so the only thing stopping them from attracting enough listeners to make a living out of it, is having a decent promotional budget to ensure that people actually know that you exist.

Over the last 15 years the bands I have been in have made and released good sounding records for only a bit more than I was spending recording demos in the 80s. And we've been able to make professional looking videos to go with them for a fraction of what it used to cost. A while all these bands are reasonably well know within their genres/niches, none are ever likely to have the budget required to break out of these without 3rd part investment - be that a traditional style record deal or something else.

Yes you can do your own marketing and publicity, but it's a lot more effective if you have someone/a department who already have the contacts and reputation doing it for you. As an example in Dick Venom & The Terrortones we were able to build up a decent reputation within our chosen genres but was down to our singer and myself spending pretty much every waking hour that wasn't involved with writing, rehearsing, preforming or recording our music, working on the promotion (and my case on my "day job") - hassling promotors/agents/better-known bands for gigs, interacting with fans on social media and generally making sure that we got our name out there. Of course it helped that we had records and a live show to back up our claims, but without all the hard work of promoting ourselves it would have been all for nothing. And, even after all that effort we were still only a medium-sized fish in a pretty small pond.

Having either another person or organisation to do all that for us, would have mean more time to work on the musical aspects of the band (which should be why you are making music in the first place) which would mean even better songs and a tighter stage show, which in turn should mean better paying gigs and therefore more money to spend on rehearsing and recording.

When you do your own promotion it's all to easy to let the business side takeover from the music side.
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Re: Common misconceptions of the music business

Post by Radiophonic »

BigRedX wrote: Sun Jan 16, 2022 12:31 pm From the PoV of writing, performing and recording your music (lack of) money is nowhere near the kind of barrier it was back in the 50s to 80s. Nowadays anyone with sufficient talent can produce fantastic sounding music, so the only thing stopping them from attracting enough listeners to make a living out of it, is having a decent promotional budget to ensure that people actually know that you exist.

That is nice to hear. I guess this developement was possible by the internet and the computer as a viable recording option?

Image
https://youtu.be/hd3DHTwbkJA
BigRedX wrote: Sun Jan 16, 2022 12:31 pmYes you can do your own marketing and publicity, but it's a lot more effective if you have someone/a department who already have the contacts and reputation doing it for you. As an example in Dick Venom & The Terrortones we were able to build up a decent reputation within our chosen genres but was down to our singer and myself spending pretty much every waking hour that wasn't involved with writing, rehearsing, preforming or recording our music, working on the promotion (and my case on my "day job") - hassling promotors/agents/better-known bands for gigs, interacting with fans on social media and generally making sure that we got our name out there. Of course it helped that we had records and a live show to back up our claims, but without all the hard work of promoting ourselves it would have been all for nothing. And, even after all that effort we were still only a medium-sized fish in a pretty small pond

This might be worth a dedicated thread. What are the most effectives strategies you have used or seen others using when promoting a genre band, that targets a small pond to begin with if you dont mind sharing your experience.
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Re: Common misconceptions of the music business

Post by BigRedX »

A lot of the time you just have to do everything you can think of to promote the band and hope that something sticks. We were lucky in that somehow for our 5th ever gig we got a mid-afternoon slot at a Psychobilly all-dayer with The Meteors headlining (most likely to Mr Venom managing to do the business when it came to selling the band). After that we were gigging pretty much every weekend.

However, for us by far the most effective bit of promotion we ever did was persuading a local venue to let us have a monthly Friday night slot under the banner of "Dick Venom Presents…" We then organised the whole evening with a reasonably well-known band as headliners, The Terrortones as support and Mr Venom DJ'ing the rest of the night. IIRC Mr Venom and myself fronted the money for the for the headliner's fees for the first couple of gigs, and by then the evening was popular enough for us to be making a decent profit which funded other band activities. Bear in mind that at the time it was possible to get bands like Pussycat and the Dirty Johnsons to play for less than £150.

After a year of this the evening had built up to the point where more than half of the audience would come specifically to see us play (and there were some embarrassing moments for headlining acts when it turned out they couldn't cut it live, and by the end of their set the venue was half empty, only for it to fill up again once Mr Venom hit the decks). It gave us the opportunity to try out new songs in front of a largely appreciative crowd, and when it came to telling promotors and agents who we had played with we had a very impressive "CV".

In the end, the evening ended up being a victim of it's own success. We'd outgrown our original venue (some of the gigs were so densely packed it looked seriously unsafe in the audience). In order to maintain the momentum we needed to step up to a bigger venue and bigger bands, but that meant a much bigger increase in venue and PA hire cost not to mention the fact that the bands we now wanted to put on were asking for £500-£1000 rather than £100-£200. In the end it was a step too far.
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Re: Common misconceptions of the music business

Post by RichardT »

I think a big misconception is that fame is a good thing. So many top artists suffer with the enormous demands and stress of it. It really is a killer.
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Re: Common misconceptions of the music business

Post by Radiophonic »

BigRedX wrote: Sun Jan 16, 2022 4:01 pm However, for us by far the most effective bit of promotion we ever did was persuading a local venue to let us have a monthly Friday night slot under the banner of "Dick Venom Presents…"

Thank you for sharing this story. I found it suprisingly interesting to read. I think that the IRL approach that worked so well for you makes it interesting.

So what worked for you is a local approach with the ambition to expand to potentially reachca wider audiance.

What strategies worked best for you outside of local approaches and what were the biggest flops in promoting your music, if you dont mind sharing.
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Re: Common misconceptions of the music business

Post by Radiophonic »

RichardT wrote: Sun Jan 16, 2022 7:09 pm I think a big misconception is that fame is a good thing. So many top artists suffer with the enormous demands and stress of it. It really is a killer.

Yes, I believe this to be very true. One of the most influentual chinese work (Tao Te Ching) talks of living a secret life to be crucial. It being a historical work with alot of influence today, there must be something to it.
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Re: Common misconceptions of the music business

Post by Drew Stephenson »

I think another misconception is that talent is enough.
You need talent, a plan, an image, hard work and a bit of luck.

And a corollary to this is that I think, and this might not be a popular opinion, if you want to be successful* then image is more important than talent.

* For a given definition of 'successful' that implies a large, popular presence and significant sales/plays.
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Re: Common misconceptions of the music business

Post by James Perrett »

blinddrew wrote: Sun Jan 16, 2022 10:37 pm And a corollary to this is that I think, and this might not be a popular opinion, if you want to be successful* then image is more important than talent.

Yes - the music business is just another branch of show business. The more successful bands that I've played with have been bands that put on a show rather than just play songs. However, I would say that you need a modicum of talent of some kind to be able to project an image successfully.
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Re: Common misconceptions of the music business

Post by RichardT »

blinddrew wrote: Sun Jan 16, 2022 10:37 pm I think another misconception is that talent is enough.
You need talent, a plan, an image, hard work and a bit of luck.

And a corollary to this is that I think, and this might not be a popular opinion, if you want to be successful* then image is more important than talent.

* For a given definition of 'successful' that implies a large, popular presence and significant sales/plays.

It’s very clear in pop music where the stars are mostly very young. Not that young people can’t have talent, but rather that it can take many years for people to reach their full musical potential.
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Re: Common misconceptions of the music business

Post by Drew Stephenson »

James Perrett wrote: Sun Jan 16, 2022 10:56 pm
blinddrew wrote: Sun Jan 16, 2022 10:37 pm And a corollary to this is that I think, and this might not be a popular opinion, if you want to be successful* then image is more important than talent.

Yes - the music business is just another branch of show business. The more successful bands that I've played with have been bands that put on a show rather than just play songs. However, I would say that you need a modicum of talent of some kind to be able to project an image successfully.

Oh yes, you still need enough talent to be able to do your thing, but I don't think it's the most important tool in the box.
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Re: Common misconceptions of the music business

Post by Arpangel »

blinddrew wrote: Sun Jan 16, 2022 10:37 pm I think another misconception is that talent is enough.
You need talent, a plan, an image, hard work and a bit of luck.

And a corollary to this is that I think, and this might not be a popular opinion, if you want to be successful* then image is more important than talent.

* For a given definition of 'successful' that implies a large, popular presence and significant sales/plays.

Would you rate Robert Wyatt, or Brian Eno as being successful?
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Re: Common misconceptions of the music business

Post by BigRedX »

Certainly Brian Eno's success is built entirely off the back of his appearance in Roxy Music, where image was as important as the music if not more so. Plus back in the early 70s the synthesiser had a lot more mystique than it does now. He has been able to capitalise on each subsequent musical and production endeavour, but make no mistake Roxy Music was his "foot in the door", and I doubt he'd have reached the same level if he'd started off by making his ambient albums or solely as a producer of other artists.
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Re: Common misconceptions of the music business

Post by Drew Stephenson »

Arpangel wrote: Mon Jan 17, 2022 10:25 am
blinddrew wrote: Sun Jan 16, 2022 10:37 pm I think another misconception is that talent is enough.
You need talent, a plan, an image, hard work and a bit of luck.

And a corollary to this is that I think, and this might not be a popular opinion, if you want to be successful* then image is more important than talent.

* For a given definition of 'successful' that implies a large, popular presence and significant sales/plays.

Would you rate Robert Wyatt, or Brian Eno as being successful?

Dunno, I'd never heard of Robert Wyatt before, but that doesn't mean much. For Brian Eno, see Big Red X's answer.
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Re: Common misconceptions of the music business

Post by Tomás Mulcahy »

BigRedX wrote: Mon Jan 17, 2022 11:35 am Certainly Brian Eno's success is built entirely off the back of his appearance in Roxy Music, where image was as important as the music if not more so. Plus back in the early 70s the synthesiser had a lot more mystique than it does now. He has been able to capitalise on each subsequent musical and production endeavour, but make no mistake Roxy Music was his "foot in the door", and I doubt he'd have reached the same level if he'd started off by making his ambient albums or solely as a producer of other artists.

This is spot on I think. It's a great example too of how maybe we romanticise what's involved. It took Roxy a long long time to develop musically. They didn't do anything remarkable until 1980. Up til then it was musically derivative. They rode the glam rock wave. Musically on the same level as a good pub band but with a much better show. They worked damn hard all that time, with a steady flow of cash because you could make a lot of money from selling singles as well as albums back then.

What's interesting is he left the band apparently because Ferry was jealous that Eno got "more chicks" (sic). Pure luck.
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Re: Common misconceptions of the music business

Post by Radiophonic »

That is an interesting point. In past civilisations the populus had idols as part of their relgion. The vacuum of the abscense of such a thing in modern times gets filled by not particularly talented figures within the entertainment industry perhaps?
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Re: Common misconceptions of the music business

Post by Tomás Mulcahy »

See- Nietzsche: god is dead.
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Re: Common misconceptions of the music business

Post by awjoe »

James Perrett wrote: Sun Jan 16, 2022 10:56 pm
blinddrew wrote: Sun Jan 16, 2022 10:37 pm And a corollary to this is that I think, and this might not be a popular opinion, if you want to be successful* then image is more important than talent.

Yes - the music business is just another branch of show business. The more successful bands that I've played with have been bands that put on a show rather than just play songs. However, I would say that you need a modicum of talent of some kind to be able to project an image successfully.

Yes.

Songwriting skill, musical skill, put on a show skill. If you have those three, you've ticked enough boxes to appeal to most of the people most of the time. Think of a band's listenership as a pyramidal demographic, with the musical sophisticates, fewer in number at the top, who want their music to be clever as well as catchy, and the less demanding but more numerous listeners who just want to tap their foot and sing along. If the songs are well-crafted, the instruments well-played, and the show engaging, then almost everybody goes home happy. There's one more factor for me, though, and it's more important than the hoopla of performance art, and that's innovation.
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Re: Common misconceptions of the music business

Post by RichardT »

Yes, innovation is crucial. If an artist is not innovating, or at least trying to innovate, then for sure they are creating a product, not art.
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Re: Common misconceptions of the music business

Post by Tomás Mulcahy »

Innovation is not crucial for success. Certainly not in pop music anyway. And there are degrees of innovation. Again, Roxy Music are a good example of varying degrees of innovation.
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Re: Common misconceptions of the music business

Post by RichardT »

Tomás Mulcahy wrote: Tue Jan 18, 2022 9:11 am Innovation is not crucial for success. Certainly not in pop music anyway. And there are degrees of innovation. Again, Roxy Music are a good example of varying degrees of innovation.

For sure, innovation is not necessary for success, probably the opposite. Just listen to the hundreds of reggaeton tunes that all sound the same….
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Re: Common misconceptions of the music business

Post by Arpangel »

Tomás Mulcahy wrote: Mon Jan 17, 2022 3:44 pm They didn't do anything remarkable until 1980. Up til then it was musically derivative.

They didn’t do anything remarkable after 1973.
Derivative? of what? At the time, compared to what was happening around them, they sounded like nothing on earth.
They also didn’t "pay their dues" they held back until the album was just right, and then burst onto the scene, they were never a pub band, they only broke when Islands Chris Blackwell reluctantly signed them, and they were given a big push by Richard Williams and John Peel.
Bob Harris did them no favours, and said "if that’s the future of Rock n Roll I don’t want to hear it" but unless it was blue jeans beards and sincerity he didn’t want to know.
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Re: Common misconceptions of the music business

Post by Tomás Mulcahy »

It was old fashioned dance music until they got to songs like "Oh yeah".
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