Thursday, April 16, 2009

How I Learned To Beat The Music Industry

Subtitle: The Method Behind the Manifesto

I want to briefly explain some of the reasoning behind my previous post, "The Artist 2.0 Manifesto" (here it is, in case you missed it.)

After years of trying to "get signed," I made the decision to concentrate on teaching, while still writing and performing on the side. However, I never let go of the "musical dogma" I had developed over those years. That is, the ideas pertaining to the commercial potential of a song, sticking to a certain musical genre, creating an "image" etc. Even though I no longer had a burning desire to get signed, these thoughts still colored my thinking and perception.

Over the past 3 or 4 years, I have spent quite a bit of time researching emerging methods unsigned artist can use to disseminate and promote their music. My initial motivation was that of convincing my students that they don't need to "get signed" in order to have a successful career. I've learned a lot, which is nothing new to readers of my blog, so I won't bore you with the details.

I have also developed a theory, for which I have little or no hard data, only my own observations. I believe that most people are much more eclectic in their musical tastes than the "Music Industry" would have you believe. For example, most of the people I know, whether they are musicians or non-musicians, have a wide variety of musical styles in their ipods and iTunes music libraries. I have also noticed a number of independent artists recently who are incorporating numerous genres into their music. This is most prevalent with artists in the Creative Commons movement (Jamendo,) but I'm even seeing it on MySpace. I've also met many people who are not musicians, but enjoy listening to more "challenging" music.

I also believe that the success of Susan Boyle calls into question nearly everything the industry has asked us to believe regarding "image" over the last 30 years. If you doubt this, go to and look at some of the artists who were successful before 1981 (the year MTV went on the air.) Some of those folks were not very pretty, but they were amazingly talented. In fact, many of them continually evolved as artists as well, and one album often sounded completely different from another. In fact, you might find a wide musical variety on one album. All of those things are "no-no's" by today's major-label standards. Here's a good example: Van Morrison would probably not get signed today.

I think we have quite a bit of ground to cover before we find a working business model for musical artists, but I do believe the old rules no longer apply. It's time to let go of old dogma!
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