artist services #3

This post is to elevate gurdonark’s long comment on the previous “artist services” blog entry to a full post, so that people who don’t read the comments will see it. (I wish WordPress had a button on comments to push them up to the front page).

I agree that cdbaby and tunecore are not “labels”. CDbaby is a service which also offers a retail outlet. Tunecore is a service

I also agree that in the long run, arbiters must arise if one is to differentiate between community-based mass participation and the “endorsement” of a “label” which sorts through product.

I don’t see tunecore as a replacement for the label, nor did I read the post to suggest it served that purpose. I see it as one more aspect of the unbundling of label functions. In the past, a label provided a broad range of services, from providing capital for recording (at what amounted to unfortunate lending rates), providing some very gifted “ears” to sift the interesting things from the uninteresting things (and a large number of very non-gifted a & r ears who tried to do so, as one would expect in any field as tricky as creative endeavors), enhanced distribution on radio and in retail outlets (enhanced, sadly, by various forms of payola), and tour and marketing support.

Tunecore is the unbundling of one of the services–the ability to get distribution of mp3s for anyone. A Tunecore listing, though, becomes a vanity process unless either mass acceptance is gained through some form of arbiter of taste or mass acceptance is built by the band through self-marketing.

I agree that one is going to need an Ahmet Ertegum (though I’d have chosen a different arbiter of taste, the idea is the same). But the unbundling process will also extend to the arbiters. The ‘net culture has already begun to create them on its own, and will inevitably accelerate the process of creating new resources to choose good music from bad in the way that label a & r fellows used to do.

It’s fair to say that Tunecore is not the solution, but I see it instead as only one of many different unbundled solutions that will arise. If I understand Lucas’ point, it’s that record labels will arise which can give artists enhanced clout (e.g., through giving them the imprimatur of label approval) as their products are marketed. This purpose for labels, rather than the adhesion market dominance of old, is a good place for a leaner, meaner new label.

I agree with Victor that Tunecore will not *be* the new form of label, but I do believe that Tunecore-type services offer one element of unbundled services that a new kind of label can use to promote its products.

At the same time, the creation of these new arbiters of quality, whether they be labels or journalists, is the next wave–much more than a “next wave” of musicians.

To me, the revolution is in progress, but the ways it will be televised and who will hold the camera is in flux.

4 thoughts on “artist services #3

  1. I’m always happy when thoughtful commentary gets to the heart of the situation.

    Gurdonark has an excellent point. TuneCore is not an end-stop solution, because digital distribution isn’t the only thing an artist needs: artists need production resources (studios, practice space), time (if you have to hold down three jobs to pay the rent, when can you produce/market your music?) and all the tools for marketing and surfacing your music.

    The idea behind TuneCore’s digital distribution is to make one of the most closed-off segments, distribution, at once easy, universally and globally available and so inexpensive and non-constricting that anyone can do it.

    But we know artists need more, which is why we also offer physical replication and duplication of CDs, and we offer posters, stickers, buttons, T-shirts, hats, every tool an artist needs to market themselves. TuneCore will BECOME an end-stop solution, because unbundling is great, but bundling in a fair, open way can save bands trouble, time and money, making their success that much more possible. We’re already most of the way there.

    The big question is always, “Okay, I’m on iTunes, AmazonMP3, eMusic, all those big stores, but how do I get people to notice me, to find out about my music and thus help me build a fan base who buys it?” This is where traditional labels have staked their claim to 80% of a band’s earnings, because it takes a HUGE investment of effort, contacts, money and more to get music noticed. But the Net is changing the environment, so it’s possible to do a lot of this work without the huge outlay, without impressing a bunch of A&R guys at a major, without having a rolodex with contacts up and down the “old boy’s club” of this industry. In the new Internet world, bands have a better chance at promoting themselves than ever. We provide tips, tools, suggestions and, most importantly, ALL the money your music can earn, so you can pour it back into marketing yourself. With the extra money, put together a good press kit, use our press finding tools and reach out to “taste makers” who will now know about you. Heck, even use the cash to hire an old-school style publicist.

    So the plan isn’t so much to unbundle, but to rebundle services under TuneCore as they are feasible and realistic in the new Internet music space, and to redefine, put into the hands of the actual artist, those surfacing opportunities which are now within individual reach. Between that and market forces, only the quality of the music will make for success, which can only improve the entire space.

    Thanks for the enlightened discussion!


  2. Artist services are the opposite of a label.

    The key point is who’s in control.

    A label owns the music and in a way, the musician. When an artist signs to a label, the label is in control.

    (Too many horror stories of a label making Billy Squier wear a pink Flashdance suit and learn to dance for a video, or labels making their artists do a Christmas album.)

    What I love about artist services is that the musician is in complete control.

    The artist knows best. We’re just the tool.

    I set up CD Baby just to help my musician friends doing whatever they needed help doing. The benefits of aggregation is that we can help them do things much cheaper and easier than doing it themselves, because we can build a system to do it for many people at once. (Negotiating distribution deals, sending files to iTunes, making artist websites, etc.)

    As for arbiters of taste, I prefer the separation of duties :

    Let editorial outlets like people’s blogs, WebJay playlists, or webradio (SomaFM) be the arbiters of taste, helping to call your attention to what they think is great.

    Let the distributor be unbiased : getting all of their clients’ music to all outlets equally.

    Then the promoters can be either paid up-front for their work, or agree to gamble and take a back-end reward, but not confusing paid-promotion with objective tastemakers, and not confusing promotion with distribution.

    Derek Sivers, founder, CD Baby, HostBaby


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