What Does It Take To Break An Artist?

music, music business, music industry

It’s funny. The Internet has made things easier by providing musicians the opportunity to market and promote themselves without the backing of a record label, yet at the same time it’s made it harder by giving music fans so much choice that it’s more difficult to stand out. 

Sure, you can break yourself online by being innovative on platforms like YouTube, Twitter, snapchat (has there been a snapchat musician yet?), Instagram, Vine etc but inevitably those artists still need major label backing to make the transition from viral sensation to recording artist.
A recent article published a study reporting that record labels are spending around $500,000 on marketing to break one of their artists nationally and up to $2million for global campaigns. Considering its a struggle these days for an act to sell more than 100,000 units that’s a lot of money to be spending on promotion. Obviously those costs are offset by the labels taking cuts of the artists’ endorsements, tour income etc (360 deals) but those revenue streams are dependent on the artist’s music breaking into the mainstream.
It’s really hard to break an act in today’s climate. We went the independent route with 3AM Tokyo (Yep, bringing that album up again!) and it was an interesting and expensive experiment. Just for radio promotion alone it was north of $20k, the single “Can We Kick It” peaked in the low 30s on the MediaBase Top 40 chart (MediaBase takes into account every single radio station in the US. Now that’s pretty dope, we were the only release in the Top 40 that was on an independent label. It’s also a pretty good example of how much money you need just to get to that level. However. No one pays attention to the MediaBase charts, it’s all about Billboard (Billboard only take into account certain radio stations). To get on the Billboard charts you’re looking at spending even more money and if you’re independent forget it, even with the required funds you just won’t have the connections or radio promotion departments that  the record labels have. This isn’t a slant on how radio works, it’s just the reality. You can’t get in if you’re not with the big boys. Now back to the money that was spent on the radio promotion for “Can We Kick It”, you want to know how many sales, streams or video plays all those radio spins gained? Not much. Certainly not enough to cover the costs of the promo. Not terribly inspiring for the independent musician is it?
This is where the benefits of social media and the Internet come into play. If you are independent you keep all the profits. That means you only need to sell/stream a fraction of what a major label act does to make the same amount of money, not to mention the money you’d make from doing shows. The average music listener spends around $100 on music a year (the exact figure is out there somewhere). With just 1000 fans you could make a decent amount of money, especially considering artists with a smaller cult following tend to have more intimate relationships with their fans which leads to the fans spending more money on them.
Of course with only 1000 fans you can’t really tour anywhere which is why you may need a bigger fan base, unless you don’t want to perform gigs and gigs are where the money’s at. We were chatting with a senior figure at one of the biggest publishing companies in the world and they were telling us one of their acts (who we happened to be friendly with) don’t even spend that much time in the studio anymore because they make so much more money from performing. Now this act broke online which led to them signing a major label deal before putting out a few albums so it’s hard to know whether the people they perform to were fans before or after the deal but this swings us back to the point that you kinda do still need major label backing to put a big dent in the industry.
All of this comes down to what an artist deems as success. You could be a solely touring act that doesn’t release records but builds up a fan base by grinding, playing show after show in city after city and make a living from it. You could equally be that artist who has 1000 fans online who are willing to spend $100 or more a year on your music and merchandise and make a decent living from that. But if you want to be known worldwide you need a major label and their financial backing. Their connections and infrastructure are unparalleled and combined with a savvy Internet game they can break an artist all over the world.
So to answer, to break a new artist into the big time you need money and lots of it, preferably a record labels money too! Money alone isn’t the answer but it allows artists to get their music on radio and launch viral campaigns to target the kind of audience their music warrants. We’re already starting to see deals where the label ends up in up reducing their role to being investors in artists and offering their distribution resources in return for a profit share. Don’t be surprised to see similar plays from companies like Google, Apple, Spotify and Microsoft in the future- investing in musicians and using their vast amounts of user data to help connect musicians with consumers. That’s another post topic though…
Have a great weekend

#TBT.. Ass on The Floor

music, music business, music industry

Can’t believe it’s been two and a half years since this video came out (Shout out to Marco Bobadilla and his team).

We originally had 5 songs for 3AM Tokyo’s EP, this was one of them. Somewhere along the way we did “Sky Is Falling” which completely changed what we wanted to do with the record as it had a different sound and frankly was better than everything else we’d recorded so far. “Ass On The Floor” still had a catchy feel so we did a soft release of it and shot a video, turning the song into a buzz single (it didn’t make the album). “Brighter Days” was the only other song of those 5 that made the cut too after some serious revamping, in case you were wondering.

If you haven’t been to a 3AM Tokyo show, you should, it’s all about having fun. No drama, no trying to be cool, just dancing your ass off. We wanted the song to reflect that and just get you in the mood to party when you listen to it.

We wanted to incorporate Ellen Degeneres’ ‘Dance Dares’ to try and get some viral buzz, plus we find that whole segment hilarious! The story of the video basically follows a group of guys who just wanna party but have that one friend who’s not in the mood. By the end of the video they succeed in getting him to join in the fun. It’s a pretty funny video and a lot of people worked really hard to get it done and we are still appreciative of that.

You’ve also gotta love the Full Force cameo at the beginning!!

Hit play and enjoy!


Follow Up Friday- Sam Smith/Tom Petty

music, music business, music industry

On Monday we discussed how songwriters can accidentally use other people’s melodies without realizing, seemingly happening with Sam Smith’s hit “Stay With Me” sounding a little to similar to Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down”.

Today we came across a statement on the Smith/Petty situation from Tom Petty himself where he called the whole incident “a musical accident no more no less“. It was great to hear him talking of how easily the problem was resolved and that he had never considered taking it to court, as was initially suggested by reports. Petty echoed what we had mentioned in our piece about how easy it is to write a song with unintentionally borrowed melodies,

All my years of songwriting have shown me these things can happen.  Most times you catch it before it gets out the studio door but in this case it got by. Sam’s people were very understanding of our predicament and we easily came to an agreement.”

Again we commend both parties for putting the music first! For Petty’s full statement head over to Billboard.

Have a great weekend!


Music Monday- Sam Smith/Tom Petty

music, music business, music industry

It was announced today that Sam Smith has added Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne to the writing credits of his smash hit “Stay With Me” after Petty’s camp felt there was a similarity to Petty’s song “I Won’t Back Down”. Billboard

We give Smith & co huge props for doing this as they quite easily could have taken it to court and may have won. This move suggests that the music comes before riches for the British singer, a refreshing thing. He just wanted the song to be successful and after he acknowledged there were (unintended) similarities with Petty’s song, Smith and his representatives worked it all out behind the scenes and gave Petty and Lynne a 12.5% cut in the writers royalties (probably amounting to at least upper 6 figures).

Things like this happen all the time in songwriting, we’re always catching each other accidentally stealing melodies from others’ songs. Often it’ll be a song that’s not familiar to the offending writer, they may have heard it in passing and it stuck with them, sometimes for years, before manifesting in a ‘new’ melody. The typical thing would be to change a note or two, go up where the original melody goes down and you’re no longer infringing on any copyrighted material. It’s a bit of a gray area for musicians as there are only so many chord progressions or notes in a scale. Eventually, as a writer, you will accidentally ‘steal’ other people’s melodies and pass them off as your own. Sometimes it may hit you hours, days or months after perfecting a song that you’ve done it and you kick yourself for spending so much time on it only to have to change it or scrap it all together.

Other times a writer may deliberately choose to use someone else’s melody because it either inspired the rest of the song that now doesn’t sound the same without it, or because of the familiarity it brings. If a listener already knows a melody and likes it, they’ll be more drawn to the new song that incorporates it. You hear it all the time on radio, seemingly pointless uses of instrumental or vocal melodies get thrown into songs to make it catch a listener’s ear. Pitbull is a great example of this, melodies in his music are often borrowed (legally) to encourage fans from other demographics to become fans of his songs because of that initial familiar melody that they loved.

We feel for Sam Smith and the other writers as a song becomes your baby and now they have to share theirs with two other people. It’s highly unlikely that they were aware of the similarities in the songs but in all fairness the same copyright laws protecting Petty will also prevent others from using “Stay With Me” to make money without rewarding Smith.

It’s great to see musicians working this stuff out behind closed doors and out of the public domain, there is no need to tarnish a successful song by dragging it through court. Well played to all involved and music, this time, is the winner.

Meghan Trainor expected to be No.1

music, music business, music industry


We’ve always been All About That Bass so nothing new for us there (great song by the way), however what is interesting is the slow shift in Top 40 music’s sound through 2014 and into 2015.

Meghan Trainor, according to Billboard, is set to knock Taylor Swift from atop the Billboard 200 next week. This is interesting because it follows an underlying trend of more live, organic sounding songs becoming popular again. EDM (what an awful name for dance music..) ruled the charts for a long time, we’re not saying it’s going anywhere but with the emergence of artists like Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran’s steady rise in popularity we’re starting to hear less beat driven songs on the radio. Having had a quick listen to her album, Meghan is riding that wave with an old school, live instrument vibe mixed with a current Top 40 sound. We really like it.

In truth we saw this shift coming (how awesome are we..) when we made the 3AM Tokyo album. We essentially time proofed the songs so they would last the 2-3 years we knew it might take to get them into the mainstream. Seeing Meghan make it to number 1 with a different sound is good for music. It’s good to keep pushing the audience to experiment with their tastes. At the same time none of the songs mentioned by the artists above sound out of place on radio, which speaks to the excellent writing of the artists and collaborators. So congrats to Meghan and a big salute to all the artists and writers trying new things and not following the crowd.

We’ll leave it there as the weekend’s coming, and who wouldn’t wanna get ready to get their ass on the floor tonight right????

Spotify Hits 15m Subscribers

music, music business, music industry

spotify-logo-primary-vertical-light-background-rgbThere will be a long, probably too long, post about music streaming and its impact on the music industry coming at some point but we just had to stop and talk about the Spotify announcement from yesterday that they’ve hit 15m paid subscribers.

A lot has been spoken about Spotify and its supposed negative effect on the music business recently thanks to Taylor Swift taking her music off of it completely a few months ago.  We fall on the other side of that argument and see streaming as the future of the industry. We’ll try and keep our reasons brief here so as not to spoil the big post that will be coming soon (we know you can’t wait..)

Yesterday’s announcement is big because 15m people are paying $10 a month to stream music on Spotify, that’s $150m monthly revenue and $1.8bn annually. Take into account that in the United States alone there are over 320m people and globally the population sits just shy of 7.3bn, 15m really isn’t that much. Yet those 15m subscribers generate more than 10% of the total global recorded music revenues from 2013 ($15bn). Just imagine if there were ten times the amount of paid subscribers, and judging by the amount of YouTube views major label artists get, there are more than that listening to music for free online. From Spotify alone there would be more money coming in to music than there is now, and Spotify doesn’t have to be the only player!!

Artists that are disgruntled because they claim to be losing out on money from lower sales need to sign better contracts. Spotify pays out 70% of its revenues to right-holders, just as much as Apple and other online retailers, where are the complaints from those that dismiss streaming? Artists have always lost out in shitty deals, check out 30 Second To Mars’ brilliant documentary Artifact for some insight into that. On the flip side, more needs to be done for songwriters and publishers as they do lose out from streaming- although they made pittance on the sales anyway, roughly 9 cents per song total (split between all parties). Hopefully laws will be put into place to change this as unlike the artists, writers and producers can’t sign endorsement deals or tour off of the back of the songs they write and should be compensated fairly. The money generated per stream is a mute point. The more money in the pot, the more there is to distribute. Right now there isn’t as much in the Spotify pot as there are only 15m subscribers. You can’t compare that to a fixed amount for a sale. As the amount of money coming into Spotify grows, so will the per stream revenue.

Before this post turns in to a long rant, we’ll end by congratulating Spotify and hope they continue to grow and break into new markets. Considering only 3% of all commercially released music sells more than 1000 units, streaming services are giving the other 97% a platform to reach new fans and build a base that they can make money from with a low barrier of entry and zero commitment for the consumer to check out their music.

We’ll elaborate further on all the points raised but hope we’ve given you something to think about, whichever side of the argument you sit.