Most of what we gather in life is a set of personal observations that lead us to various conclusions. Sometimes our conclusions are right on target, and sometimes we fail to see other aspects of the "bigger picture" that lead us down a long journey of frustrations and unwanted self-discovery. Without being too long-winded; let's break down some sideline observations we have noticed in the past decade regarding the INDIE MOVEMENT and its impact to the overall business models of the modern music industry.
In this article, I want to explore both the PROS and CONS of what many view as progress in the music industry. While it is true that the indie movement has exploded into a worldwide phenomenon; it is equally important we recognize the need for guidelines and expectations in regards to the standards of sound quality and business ethics. Let's begin with some of the pros…
If there is one thing technology does consistently, it would have to be GROWTH. The digital age brought the average consumer various resources at increasingly affordable rates. It allowed students, hobbyists, and enthusiasts to partake in the once rare opportunity to create, record, and mix music in the comfort of their own homes. The scene exploded with new artists from every direction. All of them armed with home-recorded demos and groups of friends to explain how snappin' the music really was. It was magical! (…really)
Another great addition to the digital age was the advent of the internet. In the mid-late 90's, indie crews such as Duckdown Records were already gathering followings of fans who spent day after day chatting on html rooms, message boards and email lists; many of them artists finding ways to network their own music with each other. The people quickly found ways to market themselves to wider audiences on a global level. Now the artist didn't have to beg a label or find distribution chains to get exposure to their music. This was an eye opener, and the growing technology of this new audio file called mp3's made sharing that music faster, cleaner and more interactive.
If there was one thing that could be said to have contributed to the changes in music business; it would have to be the one vital product that fuels the very industry… AUDIO! Audio files were now digitally compressed in high quality and easily transferred across the growing speeds of internet providers. MP3's changed the way people distributed music. It eliminated shipping costs, manufacturing costs, and the amount of things to take out the door when going to a show. It was a change to the very core of any business… its PRODUCT.
Video quickly followed in the coming years; and cameras, now able to be purchased by average consumers, created high quality video that could be edited digitally with bootlegged versions of Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere. It seemed the digital revolution had begun, and indie teams were looking forward to the growing fan bases they could now create at almost no cost, increasing profit and potential, or so they thought.
There was a myriad of issues with these quick changes that many people had not yet considered. An impact as dramatic as this in any market also meant there were some side effects to the seemingly positive opportunities.
One of the often-discussed topics within local areas is the difference between a following of fellow artists and actual fans. With the increase of availability and the dreamy ambitions of young "wannabe" artists; the networks were quickly flooded with massive amounts of overly compressed demos, distorted singles and tacky business cards from freebusinesscards.com with PROFESSIONAL RECORDING ARTIST as the title. It's become an ocean of self-proclaimed talent, and a decline of honest fan bases with a genuine love to see their favorite artists succeed in their pursuits.
With this overload of artists, the demand quickly drowned and promoters, labels, radio hosts and booking agents had their pick of cheap labor and potential do-boys that would stretch their limits for performance slots, mixtape placements and radio play. Why pay for the quality table when Dollar General got a similar one at half price, right? (….shrugs)
It's pretty obvious to anyone who has taken a business class or read a business book that if you have too much of a product type, and the demand for it does not EQUALLY grow; the products baseline price begins to drop dramatically. Add to that the bootlegging, and the unpaid shows along with artists who put out 50+ mixtapes in a year; and anyone should realize exactly why people don't feel the DRIVE to seek out quality music. There's too much music out there to keep up with already.
The average person who downloads and listens to music has so much music to choose from today, that it takes media buys to gain their attention. When people walk into a theatre, they like being directed to the entrance, having the door opened and helped to a seat. It's much the same with music and fan bases. It takes ad buys to tell them, "Hey, Look Here! Here's some good music someone who had a marketing budget felt like you should check out." I believe any major brand executive would agree with this statement. The growth in supply now solidifies the old adage, despite our efforts to nullify payola type models. Either way you want to see it…. No budget = No Play. PERIOD!
While everyone proclaimed the joys and ease of digital files, affordable resources and overhead eliminations; the one thing most ignored was the people's inability to EXECUTE. Apathy has ALWAYS been a vice of many artists, and the DO IT YOURSELF approach only fed the vices of not just indie artists; but promoters, management companies, marketing agencies, etc. People relied on basic analytics, regurgitated marketing cycles, and began to repackage their efforts into online digital packages that they would send out while ignoring the core value of face-to-face networking partnered with strategic footwork. Rather than add to the once valid approaches, the digital age created a generation of people who rely on automated responses and validation rather than concrete brand marketing. It's become quite the funny farm these last few years.
Partner that with fraudulent marketers who boast their ability to provide YouTube plays, Facebook likes and Twitter by using 3rd party tools and hoards of fake accounts. The result is a masked appearance of popularity with no fan base, no real consumers and a lazy artist who thinks large purchased numbers just made him famous even though his light bill is two months past due.
It's best to realize that though these advances in technology have enabled the indie movement to progress; it has also enabled major labels in much the same way, but they have a budget to add to the mix as well. So, did it really help us gain leverage, or are we really in the same position with a different set of tools? We leave this for the reader to decide, and encourage all those who pursue the indie route to gain as much knowledge as you can about business management, marketing strategies, advertising costs and analytics, etc. Gain as much knowledge as you can about BUSINESS if you plan on making some money off this vehicle and be prepared to… (drumroll please) ….SPEND MONEY!
Advertising = Awareness = Leads = Sales
To those of us in positions of influence, it's wise to remember that building a network that is valuable through various streams is much more effective than pushing a single indie brand when possible; and the purpose of QUALITY is to set a standard that defines what is ACCEPTABLE not only in product development, but in our overall business practices.