PropertyOfZack is thrilled to be debuting our brand new feature, Contributor Blogs. Contributor Blogs are blogs authored by musicians, label employees, producers, or other professionals that discuss the music industry and their thoughts on it, whether about record labels, downloading issues, or anything else that may be on their mind.
We are glad to be debuting the feature with our first Contributor, JR Wasilewski of Less Than Jake. JR is one of the most respected musicians within our scene, so it was an easy choice to ask him to be involved in the feature. In the blog that you’ll read below, JR addresses music label employees and outlines his beliefs of what needs to change if we want to move forward and once again have a thriving music industry. It’s one hell of a read, and JR will continue to write his thoughts for us every few months. Click “Read More” to read the full post, and enjoy it— it’s truly informative!
I am never really sure of a good way to start these things. I’m actually not even sure why anyone would want to see what I have to say. Let’s be brutally honest: I play saxophone in a ska band. I’m not an accomplished songwriter, someone who’s sold millions of records, or even someone whose opinion matters in the grand scheme of things. I’m not recognizable and what I think or say bears no weight on anyone. I’m just some jack-off who was literally in the right place at the right time. For those reasons I am very thankful of what I have. The opportunities that have been given to me are my dreams come true; literally.
The question has been asked more than once: any regrets? The honest answer to that question is there are no regrets, but there sure were a lot of things they didn’t warn me about. They didn’t tell you about the loneliness, the frustrations, the fear of failure, how that fear makes you do things that go against every instinct you have, and how to deal with their repercussions. I was always attracted to the management side of the business and it was about 10 years ago when I really started to pay attention to the inner workings of the music industry. I saw the people who made the machine run. I realized that the true power lay in their hands. It’s not the presidents and A&R’s. It’s the interns and assistants. Those are the ones that are the future of this industry. These people have the real power.
And you are the ones I am writing to.
Here’s a question: Do you still see how they still hold on to the archaic formula they learned in their college marketing class in the 80’s or 90’s? Do you see how even though they claim to have an “understanding of how the new climate is”, they still are terrified when you bring up ideas that involve giving away a song for free? They will always say “As long as it’s not the single!!” Right? Bet you’ve heard that. I have. And I always thought, well, it’s already on Youtube, downloadable as a torrent on Piratebay, and I can go to Google and find 10 sites streaming it. So as long as a person has an internet connection anyone can hear ANY song ANY TIME they want, BUT you can’t actually GIVE the single to the fan. That is preposterous.
That, my friends, is an old way of thinking. The industry seemingly has now stopped focusing on what it is all based: THE MUSIC. A&R guys could care less about a thought out, well written and conceptualized album. All they want is a couple of catchy single-type songs that they can (hopefully) get a synch license for so they can maybe make the money back they put into the recording. The ‘album tracks’ could basically be anything. They don’t give a shit about anything but their three “golden eggs”. By the way, those “eggs” are almost always co-written with professional songwriters, they always will follow the basic 3 minute pop song format and they will, in no way, be a favorite of the band’s “core following” until well after the hype of the song has worn off.
Besides the fact that you are trying to compete with “free” with illegal downloading sites, until someone comes up with a more convenient format in which to purchase and store music, you are stuck at a loss on how to get people to buy music again. It’s pissing your boss off because their bosses are pissed off. It’s a vicious cycle. But the labels have become the bi-product of what you are pushing: impatient little children. There are a rare few bands that stand out and they are all more concerned about what their competitors are doing than what they are doing…just like their labels. It’s a total fucking mess.
So is this how we develop bands now: cross promotions? Use someone else’s money because labels figure why use their own? They have contacts at major corporations. Corporations that, coincidentally enough, need music to bolster their shitty products. The labels now have the artists’ music at their disposal because the artist signed one of the “360” deals. So the label sells the use of the artist’s song to ShitCo. for $20,000. That $20,000 goes right back to the label to pay off your ‘debt’ for recording, and the video, and marketing and don’t forget the dinner they took you out for when they were “courting you”.
Here comes the same story I’ve heard a thousand times from a thousand bands: the band is in a van, playing in front of 50 people a night and crashing on floors, broke as fuck. But fuck it; they’re “Living the Dream”, right? The label seemingly and almost mind bogglingly doesn’t care. Should they? They just made 20K, which probably is what the band signed for initially and Bottom Line MET. Plus they have 50 other acts that are bringing in money to keep the machine going. For you hard working employees, I am writing to that make sure the viral marketing campaigns start on time, you who deal with screaming managers and band members, you who have to clean up the mistakes of others: I’m sure there will be a little something in your envelope at the end of the week from the company – at the rate things are going it’s most likely a pink slip.
I’m not saying I have the solution of how to get people to buy music again, but here’s 3 simple things you can do to start changing the public image of the music industry:
FIRST: stop treating your artists like commodities and START treating them like people. Yeah, we know that artists will still sign with you because you have the money and the pull, but every band always has some horror story about label treatment. I know that “artists” can be total bitches, but people tend to respond better when they are treated like real people. Plus a few “they treated us really well” press statements are always good P.R., right?
SECOND: Stop buying in to the “single only” theory. If you want people to buy singles only, then make artists record singles and not albums. When it is time for an artist to make a record, make the artist actually create a record. Don’t worry about getting a new product out every 12 months. People will buy records if they are GOOD. Obviously single sales will always be there, but if you want a consumer to pay 10 dollars or more for a collection of songs, shouldn’t the collection make some sort of sense? You A&R guys; stop sitting there convincing yourself it’s amazing when you know that it isn’t. I know anyone can be put with Dr. Luke and write a radio-ready song, but will it react? Who knows but maybe the next Dr. Luke is in the band you just signed but you’re giving up a gamble on a sure thing. I know it’s safe but it still seems short sided.
THIRD: Stop treating fans like ATM’s. How many versions of the same record do you think people are going to buy at a premium price? I don’t care how many remixes you have on it, unless the packaging is over the top, I don’t think you’re going to get as many re-buyers as you want. People’s entertainment dollar is stretched to the limit these days and you should be excited they buy any release at all, let alone 4 versions. Reasonably priced versions of the full-length record with accompanying artwork would sell to any band’s core base. Details such as concentrating on the format in which each band’s base prefers and giving early offerings to these fans is always smart, but really making them feel a part of the movement is the most important thing. If you cater to the niche crowd that each band has the rewards will be much greater. It’s not that hard to do, really. The band will even help!
I’m sure that if you’re bright enough you have already thought of these. You’ve probably thought of more. But then again the music industry is based on the single, right? I suppose a million iTunes singles sold is a million dollars (or 1.29 million for the more expensive singles. That’s a WHOLE other blog). I suppose I’m being old fashioned in my romanticism of the “glory days”. No more are the days of sleeping outside the venue for concert tickets or waiting in line at Tower Records for the midnight release of the band’s new record. Now the new record is available two months before its release date and labels hope that people will still buy it legally on the seemingly needless “release date.”
And you know what? The consumer could probably care less. They just want to hear the song. NOW. Immediately. But there are some of them who really do want more.
I guess my rant is partially moot, but I don’t think it’s that far off. No one knows what the next “mp3” will be. I’m not sure if the music industry will ever see the glory days that it once had…and to be honest with you, I’m not sure I’m that upset about it falling apart. It’s changed so fast in the last 15 years I can’t even imagine what it will be like 10 years from now, when I’m in my 40’s and you, the people I’m talking to, are in your 30’s, like I am now. Will their music industry even exist anymore? Probably; I mean if they have lasted this long, why shouldn’t they go on another decade? No matter what there will be a group of us who will continue to try to search for that perfect balance of art and commerce; the place where the band and their fans can exist symbiotically with a label that helps promote the band’s culture. It’s an agreement that is fair in both investment money and in its distribution of shared income.
I have said this over and over: label’s need musicians; not the other way around. Thanks for taking the time to read this and I hope to see you at a show this year.
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