Since I wont be able to make it to the Homemade Music Symposium this weekend, I wanted to at least offer my two cents on something that independent bands need to think about and adopt into their strategy. Many people think that the reason the music business is tanking is the lack of a new, sustainable business model. I agree. Which is why I have provided my own for bands to test out. But first, my take on the two biggest problems bands bitch about and a look at why it costs so much money to be in a band.
Problem #1 - Most Bands Have No Money
Unless your daddy is a millionaire or is in the business, independent musicians dont have money to make proper albums or promote them. While it is very cheap to make music for some people, its not for others that are less technically savvy. At the end of the day, even installing Ableton Live (not pirated) on your PC (needs to have serious juice), getting an audio interface (USB or Firewire) and buying 4-5 microphones and necessary accessories can cost thousands of dollars. Then you have to record the damned thing yourself, which takes skill, time and attention. Its not impossible to do it on your own, but the process can be much simpler and professional if you hire someone to record you. Hence, the need for money. With studios costing anywhere between $15-150 per hour, plus engineer, a 10-song album can be a costly ordeal.
Problem #2 - Music Should Be Free Mentality
Also, its a widely-known fact that new music fans dont want to pay for music, whether its because they know that the label makes all the money, $15 per CD is too much (you only like one song anyway) or that they dont care. While us old farts that grew up on tapes and CDs still hold on to them like family heirlooms, todays music fans go on P2P sites and pillage hundreds if not thousands of songs they like, without having to sit through any of the filler that they dont. This devaluation of music has made the perceived price of recorded music near zero.
Economics of Being in a Band
People say, musicians should make their money on the road touring and selling merch. Sure. You can. Eventually. These people have obviously never been in a band.
In order for a band of 4 people to make minimum wage playing music they need to sell lots of music, let alone cover travel costs associated with touring. A van costs money. Gas costs lots of money. Food costs money. Promoting gigs takes time and money. Sure Radiohead can give away an album and make money on the road, but not 99% of independent bands getting out there for the first time. By the time you make a run of the Southeast, you have maxed out all your credit cards and have no money to show for your hard work.
As if that isnt daunting enough, think about this: your average band getting started will book a gig at a local club. They will get paid around $3 per person they bring, which is maybe 20-40 tops (if its a new band, itll be work friends, close friends and family members). At the end of the night, they walk away with $100 if they are lucky. If you go out of town, your chances of making this money drop dramatically.
Locally, a new band may make a few hundred bucks in their first 3-4 months, assuming they pool the money into a collective band fund and not spend it on the bar tab. Then they have to pay for strings, drum sticks, drum heads, cables, rent on a practice space (sometimes), a PA, amps, guitars, basses, keyboards If they have an album, they have to pay to either manufacture it or pay someone to host the digital downloads. Its not cheap or free. So whats a band to do?
And one more thing, lets not ignore that many musicians have day jobs that pay for these expenses. Those day jobs come with time restrictions that hinder the creative process and angry bosses that start to hate the fact that you come in on Friday smelling like Jack Daniels and havent showered because you had a gig in Tallahassee the night before. Day jobs, while necessary, slow a bands momentum and provide another priority to juggle alongside writing songs, rehearsing, booking gigs, promoting, playing gigs, surviving gigs and recovering from gigs.
Now, onto the solutions and my new business model. Whereas many business models focus on how you can turn your investment into profits, mine focuses on reducing your own out-of-pocket and time investment while increasing your fans desire to help you succeed.
Solution #1 - Crowdfunding
Websites like Kickstater, Kiva and IndieGoGo are changing the way people raise funds for creative projects. Crowdfunding puts the burden of fundraising on both the band and the fans. I think this model works for independent artists, as it does two things 1) creates buy-in from the fans and 2) allows them to keep the music free. If you can raise the funds to make your next record, then there is no need to recoup costs. Hence, the recoding of the music can remain free and patrons can enjoy the perks and satisfaction of helping their favorite band out (or relatives can help Timmy fulfill his dream).
I am currently running this experiment with my band, Rise of Saturn. The key to successful crowdfunding seems to be offering the right rewards for the backers, having a budget in mind and a good enough explanation of how you will use the money. With crowdfunding you can raise money for recording, manufacturing, distribution and promotions.
Solution #2 - Fanffiliates
After the music is recorded and you make your initial CD release money, a good next step is to enlist an army of Fanffiliates, or fans to help sell your music for you for a commission. This concept works well in the software world with resellers:
Simple. But musicians are known for being tight with their money, so this concept may not go over well at first. But think about it. What if you had 100 people on the street, pounding the pavement for your new album and all you had to do was cut them in on the profits? On a $10 CD, you could easily give a Fanffiliate 20-30% per sale. Also, you can do this for show tickets and other merchandise. Why the hell not?
Solutions #3 - Webcasts
Webcasts can be an alternative to touring at first and can help you build out-of-town fanbases. All you need is a decent Webcam and a Ustream or StarCam account. With a little time spent on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit, you can draw 40-50 people to a Webcast without spending a cent on gas. You could actually spend $20 on a Reddit add and you are almost guaranteed a few hundreds views, which is more than youd get at your first gig in Murphreesboro, North Carolina. Then, you can promote your wares during your Webcast, drive traffic to your online merch store (yes, you need one) and start building a hitlist of cities to go to. Whats more is that afterwards, you can have the video to share and promote to drive more people the next time you decide to Webcast.
Together, these three solutions can help bands increase their reach and maybe even make some dough. There a lot of stuff here and I could spend days expanding on everything. But I think you have enough info to start working on some of these on your own. Thanks for reading.
I speculate that people are not mystified by the Rockstar anymore and that rock n roll is too safe and bland. Back in the 50s, you got your ass beat by your dad for listening to Bill Haley or Elvis Presley (or in my case, White Zombie in the 90s). You had to hide your Doors and Zeppelin vinyl under your bed or it would get tossed with the trash it belonged with. Now, your dad buys you the latest in radio rock and listens to it in the SUV with you. Isnt music about being a rebel? Music used to be dangerous and mysterious. Now, everyone knows that musicians are insecure whiners that like to make money (thanks Behind the Music) that have feelings and want to have careers as worshipped demigods. Please. Can this be part of the reason the music business is a joke?