Breaking News!! Band Embraces New Technology and Business model.

by Bob Regan
(re-posted by permission, copyright in the author)

Our band was heading out for a 6-week tour of the Northwest. We had gigs booked in Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, Spokane, and lots of points in between.  We’d spent the past month hunkered down, recording new songs (recent advances in technology had made it possible for us to cut great sounding tracks without breaking the bank). We had them pressed up on our own indie label to sell at gigs and to promote ourselves at radio. We’d had a few hundred T-shirts designed and printed up, (although a homeless guy had stolen a box of 50 out of the back of our truck. When we saw several worn by his buddies downtown, we wrote ‘em off and called it exposure). We used all the latest technology to connect with and expand our fan base. We tried to think outside the box to come up with new and different income streams, anything that would help us do a little better than break-even.

The year? 1977. The more the music business changes, the more it stays the same.

I know, I know, I’m out of date and out of touch. How can I have a valid opinion if I’ve been doing this for 35 years? (Copyleft types may insert demeaning comment here, I can take it. I have, as Thom Schuyler once said of song writers, “the skin of a rhinoceros, the soul of a dove.”)

Like most bands, then and now, we never hit the big time. When we called it quits, I pushed on alone to L.A, signed a solo major label record deal, had one chart flop, then got dropped (the evil bastards did put up a 100K to make the record—red ink from which I walked away).

As it turned out, I, like a lot of young musicians who survive by touring, was pretty good, but not great. I was an OK singer, not a bad guitar player, but I wasn’t a star, didn’t have the ‘it’ factor. After my stint in LA made that clear to me, I bailed on my artist dreams and, along with my wife and two babies, moved to Nashville to see if I could find a niche behind the scenes. I played guitar in studios and on the Grand Ole Opry, while I pursued my real calling, songwriting. I eventually wrote one hit, then another, then several more for some of the biggest acts in Country Music.

I now made my living solely from royalties from licensed, legal uses of my songs.
I no longer had fans. (Well, maybe my publisher and the artists who recorded my songs, but they expressed no desire to buy a Bob Regan T-shirt.)

I bet it all on Article 1, Section 8, of the Constitution, which gives authors the “…exclusive right to their respective writings….” I wish.

These days, when I read articles about the ‘new’ music business in technology oriented magazines, sites and blogs, (most recently the “Emily from NPR” dust-up, where she stated she had 11K songs on her Ipod, but had only purchased 15 CD’s in her lifetime.) I’m invariably told that it’s now all about the ‘artist/fan’ relationship, not about sales or royalties. I’m instructed that if you have good content, an ability to connect with fans, and a good business model, you’ll succeed. I’m presented with examples of successes of forward thinking DIY (do it yourself) bands. Types like me are scolded for not emulating them. Hmmm.  Thought I’d already been there, done that.

Folks, here’s the reality of the music business I inhabit. It is made up almost entirely of former DIY artists and band members who beat up the road for God knows how long, honing unique talents that eventually led them not to stardom and the stage, but through the side door into the studio, the vocal booth or the writers room. Here, they no longer have a direct ‘artist/fan relationship’. Here, they use their talents to support the ‘stars’ that do. Their days are mostly spent using those talents, not amassing facebook friends, stapling flyers on telephone polls or promoting a Kickstarter fund.

Maybe it’s a drummer who has killer time and chops, maybe a guitar player who looks like a bridge troll but who can come up with licks that make other’s songs come alive. Maybe it’s a songwriter with a tin voice but a golden pen, maybe a former sound guy who now sits behind a recording console because he can hear the difference between a 10 and a 20 millisecond reverb pre-delay. It’s the programmers, producers and background singers, all of the amazing talent who make a living, not a killing, in an incredibly competitive corner of the music business, the one that helps create 90%+ of all music heard, purchased–and stolen. When songs are P2P’d, stars still have gig and merch $. We get zip.

Yes, I receive an advance from my publisher, and studio guys and girls get paid by the session, but since revenues from music sales are down by over ½ in the last decade, there are correspondingly less dollars and far fewer opportunities. Royalties are in the tank. In Nashville there has been a 2/3 reduction in staff writer positions over the same period. If our music were not desired or if it were bringing in less money overall, I’d say it’s time for us all to pack it up and go home, but that’s not the case. The desire and demand for music has never been greater, (Think Emily and her 11K songs) but a large % of the money it generates is now diverted to entities that have no stake in the creation of that music, who have no interest in seeding the next generation of artists and the talent that supports them. Think Kim DotCom.

Does anyone reading this remember or realize that the Beatles gave up touring in 1966 to be a ‘studio band’? With their time freed up, they went on to create Revolver, Sgt Pepper, The White Album, Abbey Road, etc.? Would that happen in a model where it’s all about tickets and T-shirts? (I would pay top dollar for a George Martin beer cozy.) Maybe the animators who worked on Avatar, the most P2P’d movie of all time, should go audition for bit parts in summer stock, get with the new fan-based model.

I’ll bet that as I type this there is a tech savvy, DIY band embracing the new model, gearing up for a tour of the Northwest. I hope they make great music, great money and lots of new fans. I also hope that if, God forbid, their band eventually breaks up, one or two of them has the audacity to keep going, to see if there might be a place for him or her off the road, out of the spotlight, where they might make a living using their unique skills while being home often enough to coach a T-ball game or two. If I’m still around, I’ll welcome and encourage them, and do all I can to make sure they are compensated in accordance with those skills and contributions, even if, especially if, they don’t have a facebook band page.

Thanks for your time. This DIY-nosaur is going to lumber off to the tar pit…er I mean studio. Crazy as it seems, some still mistake me for a fleet-footed, highly adaptable mammal.

Bob Regan
Nashville Tn

 

You many also enjoy reading : If The Internet Is Working For Musicians, Why Aren’t More Musicians Working Professionally?

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12 thoughts on “Breaking News!! Band Embraces New Technology and Business model.

  1. I love Bob Regan’s story. It’s exactly true. When fans think they’re robbing the rich to share with the “poor”, they are dead wrong. They are robbing the backbone of a technology based art form. They are robbing the luthier, the software designer, a songwriter, a live sound specialist, the guy who runs a music store to support music lessons for kids with special needs, the guy who has a 9to5 making guitar straps, the guitar and drum techs, the roadies. The music industry feeds many people. The “pirates” actually think these major acts get there on their own?? And even if they did…..why is it ok to rob anyone??? There’s an inverted morality at work here. I hope the fundamental issue is related to mental health. Otherwise they’re thieves. To me, it’s simply immoral to rob anyone, regardless of how easy it is.

  2. Bob, your experience isn’t an indictment of the connect-with-fans model you think it is.

    As you pointed out, your fans are the artists who actually perform and record your songs. And those artists have fans of their own, whom they monetize with live performances, advertising, and merchandising (yes, t-shirts).

    So the solution to the songwriter-with-no-fans problem is actually pretty simple. When you’re negotiating your contract with the performer, don’t just ask for royalties based on sales. Also ask for royalties based on live performances, advertising, and merchandising.

    So long as enough superstar performers are able to “connect” with fans, they’ll generate revenue that gets distributed down to all of the songwriters, technicians, and others that support them … IF they’re smart about how they negotiated their contracts.

    • You are quite correct that one solution would be to negotiate a private contract with the perfomer of the song. Unfortunately, you seem to not be aware that songwriters are subject to a compulsory license and statutory rate in the US (and the rough equivalent outside the US in the form of tariffs), so the negotiation you suggest is not one that can exist because the songwriter’s opportunity to solve their issues through private contract negotiations has been taken away by the government. See 17 USC Sec. 115, 37 CFR 201.18, 201.19.

      • Mr Fong also fails to understand the reality of a “superstar” recording a journeyman’s or even accomplished songwriter’s unpublished work : it’s the superstar trying to negotiate for themselves a bigger piece of the copyright that he did not create! A songwriter may be forced to give up to 75% of a song (publishing plus co-writing credit). Giving up 25% (co-publishing) is almost standard.

        Fong’s suggestion of the songwriter having the ability to negotiate a piece of other revenues is naive, at best.

      • Good point — forgot about the compulsory license / statutory rate regime. That does seem pretty screwy and in need of a legislative fix (though not one I see record companies supporting anytime soon).

        Question: Do good composers develop enough of a reputation that they could potentially demand higher rates, or upfront payment? For example, in the movie industry, certain actors, directors, screenwriters, and even special effect studios have enough reputational clout with each other to demand higher rates. Aaron Sorkin’s scripts are worth more and people recognize that. Robbie Fields, you suggest that’s not true for composers within the music industry. Why not? Why do the stars and the labels own the entire relationship with the fans? Is it solely because of the statutory rate regime?

      • You assume that composers with a reputation are “good” 🙂 I’m willing to be educated otherwise, but in my experience songwriters (different from film composers) are rarely “hired” by the artist who is recording their songs. Songwriters are usually so happy to get a “cut”, i.e., an artist to record their songs, that they usually “pay” the artist in the form of accepting a royalty rate that is less than statutory, giving up a share of publishing, accepting no royalty at all on “free goods” or any record for which the artist is not paid a corresponding record royalty, giving a free sync license for music videos (now a major source of screwing in the YouTube world), and so on. Songwriters used to be “paid” by music publishers who hired staff songwriters, a commercial relationship that had its own problems, but at least songwriters had a predictable income (not that they are entitled to it, but I think they are entitled to not have it stolen from them like any other citizen). Since more artists write their own songs (a trend that started long ago) and since tech piracy has hit music publishers even harder than record companies (because their revenue is a fraction of the record company’s on same sales), publishers long ago stopped staff songwriter deals.

        You make a good point: Aaron Sorkin is able to capture the value of his script (piracy adjusted) because no one will steal it from him before it gets produced. That’s mostly because it’s easier to keep a screenplay under wraps than it is a pre-release copy of a film or TV show and also because the people for whom the screenplay has the most utility respect (for the most part) each other’s rights and won’t steal it. Also, anyone who stole an Aaron Sorkin script and tried to pass it off as something they acquired legally would never get another script from Aaron Sorkin (one overlooked value of the “free agency” environment in the evil Hollywood). Idea theft in Hollywood is almost always the reverse: They steal the idea and try to pass off all or part of it as their own.

    • Mr Fong. Thanks for your comments. I didn’t intend to use my experience as an ‘indictment’ of any business model, only as an illustration of what really goes on inside the music business, and to suggest that those who advocate a “one size fits all” artist-fan model don’t seem have a clear understanding of how recorded music is created and how those efforts are compensated. Thanks to Mr Castle and Mr Fields for the tutorials.

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