Music Industry Talk

music, music business, music industry

We’ve been light on posting recently but that’s down to us being ridiculously busy in the studio. It’s obvious we’ve been missed judging by the huge amount of emails and tweets we’ve received asking where we’ve been.. 

We also have some cool video content that we’ll eventually get around to finishing. If you want more of us, because frankly- who wouldn’t?, we can be found on Instagram @heatseekerz_muzic Twitter @theheatseekerz and Facebook /Heatseekerz 
Anyways, we came across this interesting article about the industry. It’s a cool way to look at things. Check it out- 
View at Medium.com
-HS

Get That Money

music, music business, music industry

We’re about half way through 2015 and already the numbers are looking good for touring artists. Last year we saw sponsorship figures come in at $1.34 billion for tours and this year it’s trending to break that number.

Artists like Taylor Swift and Lady Antebellum are getting deals worth $1m-$10m per tour from sponsors such as Xfinity, Quicken and Citi. This is smart business from both parties- artists make a huge amount of money on top of their regular touring income and the sponsors can expose their brands to thousands, or in some cases millions, of people.

Goes to show there is still money in music, you just have to know where to find it. As an artist you have to set yourself up to be attractive to sponsors. If you’re out there talking reckless and acting a fool no one is going to throw money your way. Of course the more popular your music is the bigger deals you can make but you have to put yourself in a position where your image and music don’t shut doors for you.

This doesn’t mean you should “sell out” or not be true to yourself but be calculated, think about the moves you make. When we write music we are constantly having conversations about the lyric choices (particularly when writing for other artists), instrumental sounds etc because we have to think past just the song itself. What if we want the song to be featured in a movie or on TV? Does the song have enough energy? Will that word or phrase convey the right message to a demographic outside of the artist’s core fan base? We live in a completely connected world now and music can reach pretty much everyone so there’s no reason to be short-sighted when creating- especially when there is so much money on the table.

Taylor Swift was smart (although we still disagree with her stance on music streaming). She saw the appeal of her crossover records when she tested the water on “Red” which was a mix of her country style and straight factory made pop. The next album “1989” was all pop, she explained why she made the switch in multiple interviews but it’s pretty clear it was driven by the opportunity of gaining mass appeal. That’s not a diss on Taylor, we think she’s a phenomenal talent, but money and exposure are key to career progression. Look back at those numbers at the top, who do you think got the $10m check? The country act (Lady Antebellum) or Taylor, the new pop queen?

The lesson here is if you want to make money in music, be smart. Even if the checks aren’t coming in, get yourself and your music ready- and that goes for writers, producers and artists. It only takes one hit to start a snowball effect but if you don’t have everything set up you won’t be able to last more than one song and will miss out on the big bucks.

Get that money

-HS

Avery Wilson

music, music business, music industry

Adele, Sam Smith, Amy Winehouse, Beyoncé, Jessie J, Bruno Mars- what do these singers all have in common? Incredible voices. 

The music business is dead on its ass, how many times have we heard that? The truth is, it’s not. It’s become saturated with weak music- the type you won’t be hearing on ‘classic’ radio stations in 20-30 years- but real singers stand out and still make it big. We just need more of them. This guy, Avery Wilson, is next. Mannnnn can he sing. Those of you who watch The Voice may remember him when he was 16. He’s since taken 3 years out to work on his craft and now he’s back with the support of Clive Davis and Sean Garrett (Google if you don’t know them, but you really should). If your math is up to scratch you’ll realize Avery is just 19 now, hard to believe when you hear him sing. We’ll let his song do the rest of talking for him, it’s a beautiful mid tempo ballad with a stripped back production that lets his vocal take center stage. With more hits like this, Avery has a really bright future ahead of him. If you haven’t heard it already, check out his debut “If I Have To”

Make Good Music!!!

music, music business, music industry

We had AJ Lehrman in the lab with us last night, sidenote: watch out for him, and the process kinda inspired this post.

As a songwriter/producer you’ll create hundreds of songs over the course of a few years and realistically only about 1-5% of them actually get used. The right song has to come at the right time for the right person and you’ll find yourself with so much music that goes unused and potentially wasted.

What typically happens for us is record label X will tell us artist Y needs certain types of songs. We’ll then get to work on 3-5 different options that meet the criteria in various ways and send them back over. Sometimes what the label wants changes or they don’t feel the stuff we’ve sent over is a good match- not that they don’t like the song but as we’ve said above, it has to be the right song at the right time for the right artist. Go through this process a few times and all of a sudden you have 20-25 songs just sitting there waiting to be heard (repeat that over a few years and you’ll have quite the back catalog). This is why it’s so important not to try and follow trends and just make good music.

When AJ and his team told us the direction they were thinking of going in we started on a few new songs and went back to the music we’d made a number of years ago that fit the description. We narrowed our choices down to 7-8 tracks and let AJ decide which ones he liked. Some of the more appropriate music was the stuff we’d made back in 2010, it of course needed some updating and refreshing but because all the melodic elements were solid it was easy to bring them to 2015 with a few tweaks to the mix etc. This was only possible because we actively try not to date our songs, using certain sounds to match what is happening on radio is fine- that’s an easy fix later on- but if you’re using certain melodies or cadences from a particular time period you’ll find yourself starting from scratch all too often and potentially adding to a growing catalog of unused and unheard music.

As songwriters/producers we decided at the outset to be smart with our work and not follow everyone else as it’s all too easy to get left behind, it happens to way too many people. Right now DJ Mustard has a signature sound that A&R’s are most likely inundated with copycats of from other producers. When the new sound comes along those songs will be unusable because they’ll be too 2015.

Take home message- just make good music and don’t stop. Don’t try to be anyone else, just do you and you’ll be in the right place at the right time and have the right song for the right artist.

-HS

Singing Down Live

music, music business, music industry

We happened to flick over to the MTV Movie Awards last night before Game of Thrones (it’s back!!!). Fall Out Boy were performing “Centuries”, a song we previously posted about. Straight away it was obvious that they had pitched the song down a couple keys or so. This is pretty common practice, Rihanna is an artist that does it all the time and we’re not saying there’s anything wrong it- but it’s interesting how often it happens nowadays.

The key of a song is often dictated by the energy it brings to a chord progression and also the range of the vocalist. There are certain artists we work with that sound great in particular keys so we write songs to match. Conversely we may write a song and have to change the key because it just sounds better a few steps up (we have some pretty amusing demo vocals where we sound like chipmunks after pitching them up).

The problem a lot of vocalists run into now is that us tricky producers and engineers are able to tune and tweak the hell out of their recordings to make them sound great in the key that brings the best out of the song. We say this is a problem because this can’t be done live and artists have to reproduce a vocal that sounds close to the original without all the processes we have available in the studio. To counter this, the artist will sing the song down a few keys which to most people goes unnoticed but it can often make the song drag because it loses that energy we mentioned earlier. Take a song like Sia’s “Chandelier”, the way she hits those high notes is what makes the song. If she were to sing it down a couple keys it would lose that intensity and her voice wouldn’t sparkle quite as much. We haven’t seen her do this live so can’t comment as to whether she does it in its original key or not though.

This is often a conversation we have with artists in the studio, “just remember you have to sing this live, are you sure you want to go to THAT note?”. There’s nothing worse than someone’s vocal ability being exposed live because they don’t have the technology to mask their flaws. There are cases where it may be necessary because the singer is sick and his voice is compromised but for the most part the song gets pitched down because the singer just can’t perform it in its original key.

We’re not arguing for or against the decision to do this but it is something listeners should become more aware of, particularly as it’s happening more often. Does it mean the singer isn’t as good as we thought they were? No, not necessarily. It’s just becoming more apparent now that a lot of work goes on in the studio to make a song sound the way it does and without the technology or techniques producers use, an artist may not be able to deliver what we thought they could.

Just some food for thought, listen out for it, when you see a song being performed on tv or online, pull out your phone and play the song along with it and you’ll hear if they’re singing down or not. Betcha it happens more often than you realize!

-HS

Original Content

music, music business, music industry

It’s surprising that music hasn’t caught up with TV yet when it comes to original content. Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Showtime and other TV/movie subscription services all create their own content as part of their USP (check us out with the marketing jargon). Why haven’t music services done the same? Spotify, iTunes et al have yet (as far as we’re aware) to create their own original content, sure they’ve signed exclusivity agreements, which is smart- we’re now seeing Tidal do it too- but it’s not the same as original content and here’s why..

Streaming services (should) have vast amounts of data about their users’ preferences when it comes to the type of music they enjoy, the time of year they play certain songs, the instruments that were used, the tempos etc so why not utilize that like Netflix did when they created House of Cards? They looked at the type of movies and TV shows people were watching- did they like suspenseful drama? was there humor in the one popular thriller, if so how much? How important were sex scenes or nudity? What was the lighting like in those movies? So many variables were analyzed and used to create the script and direction of the show. Look how popular the show is, it’s no accident!! It was created for mass consumption and people have eaten it up.  

Using data in a similar fashion could help write and produce the perfect song for certain genres. Imagine figuring out which key of song, chord progressions etc listeners gravitate to the most and crafting a track around that? Sure you might say it takes the creativity out of making music but the opposite could be argued. Less parameters mean you have to be more creative to make your song stand out. 

Now, we’re not arguing to make all music sound the same but if you want people to hear your music (why else do you do it?) then why not make it appeal to as many people as possible? If people haven’t latched on to your song in say, Germany, it could be for the simple reason that the German market don’t like 1 minute instrumental bridges like yours or that it’s the wrong time of year for that style of song there. If you knew to make those changes or wait for the best time to release the song you could save yourself money on marketing because you’ll know when to release and also be more confident it will gain traction. If a streaming service produce a song or an album that appeals to Germany, all of a sudden they’ll have more subscribers in that market. 

That’s just one of many examples of how creating original content using their data can really set a service apart from its rivals and lure in fans. Things like this could already be in the works but for now we’ll leave y’all with the idea, who knows, we may see it sooner than we think. 

-HS

The Value of Music

music, music business, music industry

How much do you value music? It’s pretty amazing that the conversation about people consuming music for free is still happening. We live in a world where people pay $4 for a cup of coffee once, sometimes twice, a day yet won’t stump up $9.99 a month to listen to virtually any release they want. It’s crazy!!

This isn’t about money and getting rich, it’s about worth. The music we make has worth, or at least it should. Yet people are happy to disregard that and listen to a shit quality version on YouTube (and in most cases sit through an ad before it) instead of paying a pretty small fee (in the scheme of things) to consume music on demand and through their subscription pay the people who own those songs. Why does this happen? When did music stop being that thing we spent hours talking about or digging through new releases in record stores? (or online- how many people these days actively try to discover new music on iTunes or Spotify etc?). How have we become a society that will pay $6 for a bottle of water but won’t pay for art that can change your mood instantly, help you re-live memories and take you on an emotional rollercoaster? (thanks Jay-Z for that analogy).

People see the value in movies and TV shows- they’re willing to pay for subscriptions to cable, premium TV networks, online streaming services like Netflix and Hulu- so why not music? Why are we spending $60-$100 on video games, $30+ on TV boxsets, $700 on iPhones, iPads etc yet won’t pay for music? It comes back to worth- people don’t value music anymore and that’s a shame.

We’re pretty sceptical about TIDAL’s re-launch being the savior of artistry as some have branded it. It’s not really changing the game- it will still pay out the same percentages (have a look at the Jay-Z article above, they don’t talk specifics and essentially say if you have a record deal you’re still beholden to the crappy terms of that deal anyway). But what it is doing is bringing streaming to the attention of listeners who may not have been thinking about it. The downloads business model is dead, it didn’t work. It may have sustained the transition music was going through as it moved online but streaming is where it’s at. It’s now all about volume, MORE PEOPLE MEANS MORE MONEY. Vania Schlogel of TIDAL even said so in the aforementioned article that it’s about growing the pie (or pizza as she described it). As the size of the pie grows so does everyone’s slice. Netflix has more subscribers than all music streaming subscription services, when music catches up with TV and Film the money will come back.

We just need people to value music again. You can’t get a good glass of wine for less than $10 and for that price you have a month’s worth of music. From now on it’s all about drilling that message home. Music needs to be valued again. So much goes into making music (as you’ve hopefully seen from our site) and it’s about time we showed the artists and creators that we appreciate the work they’ve put in.

-HS

It’s Britney Bitch

music, music business, music industry
Hello, Paolo here, I’m going rogue today. Wanted to talk about the great show I saw this weekend, Britney Spears’ “Piece Of Me’, her Las Vegas residency at Planet Hollywood.

I know what you’re thinking- what’s a 28yo manly man (ha!) doing at Britney’s show? The truth is I was there to celebrate my youngest sister’s 21st birthday. Would I have gone otherwise? Nope! But I’ll be honest, I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed it for two reasons, first being it was a well produced show and Brit has hits on hits on hits that I grew up on so it took me back to my childhood. The second reason I liked the show was seeing Britney back at her show stopping best. Say what you want about her music and the fact she doesn’t sing live (more on that later) but that girl can work the stage! The dancers she had around her were incredible but all you wanted to look at was Britney. She doesn’t quite hit the steps like she did in her prime but her swag was back which was awesome to see. 

I consider myself a bit of an expert at picking out when someone is singing live or not and this one was very easy to detect, but who cares?! It’s about the show! It would be one thing if Britney was known for her vocals but she never has been. She’s about the song being hot and the show being on point. How many little girls (and some guys judging by the fellas sat next to us) grew up wanting to be Britney compared to a bonafide vocal beast like, say, Christina Aguilera? With an artist like Britney it’s about the package and getting that buy-in from her fans creating a ferocious loyalty that allows her to perform to the same fan base she was performing to over 15years ago. It would be one thing if her fans fell in love with her for her vocal ability (that’s not a diss, it’s well known that she is one of the most professional recording artists when she comes to the studio; fully prepared and nails the songs quickly) but they didn’t. If someone like Beyoncé is caught not singing completely live it becomes an ‘issue’ because we all expect her to smash every performance- that’s how good she is and that’s why we love her. 
It was a refreshing reminder that we can all get a little snooty when it comes to artists like Britney and not see beyond the whole ‘manufactured’ thing. Not every artist or band has to be an incredible singer or musician if they offer other reasons to support them. Look at the huge followings DJs have now, some of them just press buttons and do very little ‘musical’ work but they still put on a great show. Music is about feeling. Songs can make you cry, give you hope, make you happy, get you horny (just checking you’re still reading) etc. If an artist makes you feel a type of way then does it matter how they deliver it? Music is probably the most subjective art form and artists like Britney can be divisive. People often judge others for their musical choices, I catch myself doing it to, but what makes me feel a certain way when I hear it might not do the same to someone else and vice versa. 
I guess the lesson here is: don’t hate. 
It’s Britney Bitch. 

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
-HS

Behind The Music Pt.1

music, music business, music industry

As mentioned in Friday’s post (we all read that one right…?) we’re going to be doing some in the studio/behind the scenes videos as it seems to be of interest to people. Today we have no video but we will talk a little about our creative process.

This post was inspired by a recent meeting at a label where we were asked the one question we get asked in pretty much every introductory meeting- “who does what?”, meaning which of us writes the melodies, who writes the lyrics, who plays the instruments etc etc. The answer is always “we do” which leads to “yeah but one of you does the tracks and the other one writes the lyrics, right?”, the answer to that is we both do both. We’ve never thought of it as strange but apparently it’s not common for both players in a partnership to do the same role. This isn’t us trying to speak of how great we are (you should know that already..) but to help you to get a picture of what goes on from beginning to end when we’re in the studio.

Every song is different, sometimes Paolo comes in with a track (music) and Picasso adds to it and we both write the lyrics, or vice versa. Sometimes we both start a track in the studio together and bring in someone to help with the topline (lyrics and melody). Songs can start with Picasso sending a voicemail with a topline, musical ideas and a beat and we just have to make it a reality in the studio. On occasion one of us will have built up a song so much that the other just has to co-sign, make minor changes and we’ll call it a day. We’ve worked with each other so long that we know what the other would do to a song so it’s easy to fill in the blanks.

In terms of the actual creation, songs can start with the music first or the lyrics. Sometimes the beat might inspire certain chord progressions which inspire a vocal melody. It could also be the case that the beat doesn’t feel right after the song is written. This happened with “Can We Kick It” by 3AM Tokyo. We changed the beat 4 times before we settled on the final version, we were sick of hearing the damn song after messing with it so much!

Once the song is written we like to get the artist in to record. It’s frustrating when producers don’t get to cut the vocals but budget and scheduling doesn’t always allow it and they record at another studio with a different engineer or producer. There’s only been one song that we didn’t record the vocals and the artist wasn’t happy and neither were we. We didn’t have what we needed and the artist didn’t sound how she wanted to sound (which we would have made happen- vocal production is one of our strong points).

What happens next is the most time consuming part of the process- editing. Editing vocals takes a long time. Balancing harmonies, making composites of the vocals (comping) and tuning the vocals. Make no mistake, the majority of songs you hear were not recorded in one take, nor are they recorded particularly in tune. Words, and sometimes parts of words are spliced together to get the best sound of the vocal. A lot of work goes into perfecting the vocals and there’s no going back to how it used to be. We are all so conditioned to hear the slightest imperfection because vocals are so flawless in commercial releases now.

After this is done we mix the song. Making sure it sounds good by balancing the levels and optimizing the sound quality of the recording. This part doesn’t take so much time in terms of blocked out periods but we often sit with a mix and revise it over a few weeks- listening on different sound systems in different environments to ensure the song translates over multiple systems. What might sound great in our studio might sound like shit in your computer speakers!

We will get around to doing some in depth videos about our process, every writer/producer has their own way of doing it so it’s always cool to see. Check out our instagram for short videos of us in the studio doing our thing until then.

-HS