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Thursday, June 12, 2014

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Indie Artists: "The Times They Are A-Changin'"


It's hard to imagine. Bob Dylan was an indie artist when he started. The man who set the stage for generations of musicians began as one of the tens-of-thousands of indie artists who exist today.

Of all the songs Dylan wrote, from all the lines of verse wrapping words into a message, one line to share is most apropos for indie artists today: "Your old road is rapidly aginí."
"There's nothing from yesterday that's going to stabilize or improve how an indie artist makes money. You must invent new."

"The Times They Are A-Changin'" was written for a different time. It addressed different issues. But it's as applicable to the music community today as it was to Mom and Dad in 1964 - 50 years ago. At its heart is this: There's not much you can do about the activities surrounding you besides accept them and ride the new road. Then, as Bob Dylan put it, "Please get out of the new one if you canít lend your hand."

Nearly every aspect of music has changed over the past 15 years: how indie artists get a gig; the technology to make recordings; publicity; distribution. Most important is the value of music has seen a dramatic drop as the public becomes more accustomed to hearing what it wants, when it wants - usually for free.

Composer and musician Van Dyke Park wrote an article which was published at "The Daily Beast"; Titled "Van Dyke Parks on How Songwriters Are Getting Screwed in the Digital Age," it is a long complaint. As with most artists who complain, he mentions "Spotifyís .00065 cents per play royalty," and how these small fees are killing his income. I'm not discounting that.

What Van Dyke Park does not address is how the global music scene has changed and that musicians had best learn new revenue generation models, as the old ones are changing faster than Dylan's "old road."

I searched for but didn't find a mention in his article about artists needing to change expectations. Nor did he speak of pay-to-play in nightclubs. That was curious because he had a lot to say on how the indie artist is getting screwed by today's distribution platform - online music services.

What the discussion lacks is how within constantly-repeating low performance royalty payments, there's nothing said about the increased competition for listeners' ears. It's as if, for him, the value of his music is the same today as when "Forty years ago, co-writing a song with Ringo Starr would have provided me a house and a pool."

There are different mindsets on owning music today than there were forty years ago. Don't blame that on anyone in particular. Blame society as a whole. Try to change it and you'll waste time.

The only answer for an indie artist in this new distribution channel is to devise alternative revenue streams. We could be talking online songs sales, but I wouldn't hold my breath for anything big to develop. We could discuss playing more gigs, or branching into merchandising, but both require more time and are not guaranteed to result in more revenue.

There's nothing from yesterday that's going to stabilize or improve how an indie artist makes money. You must invent new. "The Times They Are A-Changin'."

How many artists try to build an email list by requesting people sign up at their gig? How many artists hang "donate" buttons on their web site? How many, do you suppose, publish a monthly newsletter, with not only a listing of play dates but links to samples of new songs and a "buy" or "donate" button?

I don't have the answers. What I'm suggesting is that we collectively think about creating new ways to generate revenue, and quit harping on how little one spin - to one person - an artist is paid. You cannot compare an online spin to a broadcast radio station's spin.

This is at the heart of Van Dyke Park's complaint: One thousand people must hear his song for SoundExchange to collect $6.50 from Spotify. Then, he has to split that amount with the label (50%), backup musicians and vocalist (5%), while he keeps 45%. Itís the same formula used for splitting monies at other online services, but all pay a different percentage.

Van Dykeís statement of receiving 0.00065% appears misleading. If it were that he'd split $0.65 per thousand listener. Considering National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) negotiated an online performance royalty payment that rests at 0.0023% in 2014, he may have an added zero.

"The Times They Are A-Changin'." Therefore, an artist cannot expect to remain the same. They must get with the times by getting off the old road.








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