In a market oversaturated with clones and zombies; how did we (artists, musicians, etc.) come to become content with sub par (if that) art?  Do we point the finger at the corporate elite? Do we point the finger at A&R’s? Or do the point the finger at ourselves?Personally, I don’t believe in the blame game because we’re all held accountable for our own actions.

I recently had a conversation with a dear friend about the younger generation and Hip Hop. They questioned why most (if not all) embrace and/or mimic the South. I simply stated that the south had been producing hit after hit for the past decade. The artists that are entering the music scene now were probably 6-10 years old at the beginning of the South’s reign. In conclusion, they’ve been exposed to a certain sound for most of their life. As for the older generation, mimicking what’s considered a “HIT” will probably get you signed, accepted, and/or better sales. In theory, we either express ourselves to the degree of our influences or we follow suit. 


In no way, shape, or form am I saying that the South is mediocre. Throughout Hip Hop and music in general (including the South), we have phenomenal talent. However, as in nature, rare gems aren’t abundant. Does this have to be? If we have the power to transform ourselves, can we begin to mold a new generation of artists and musicians who rise above and beyond what’s considered the norm to greatness?


After the death of one of the most revered and iconic figures in the music world, I dwelled on the question; how can one soar past the heights that Michael Jackson conquered and owned? Well, first and foremost, one has to see the world outside of him/her self. In order for one to succeed, they must transcend ego and culture and embrace the world. For example, look at the content and melodies of Michael Jackson’s songs. People flocked to buy his albums and embraced him because they could relate and his music touched them on a level that most couldn’t fathom. 


Kanye West, the new King of Pop (per Liberation Next), has a similar appeal through his music. He has transcended Hip Hop to explore sounds that span across many genres. I debated with another dear friend about Jay-Z’s BP3 album. The content was above Hip Hop’s level of mediocrity; however, the production had an appeal that I haven’t heard from Hip Hop in ages. When I listened to the album in its entirety (excluding a couple of songs) I didn't think Hip Hop, I thought music.


In conclusion, to the artist and/or musician, when it comes to your art, put forth the effort to travel and explore outside of yourself. We must create new sounds and not only that; begin to craft content that epitomizes the art of storytelling, consciousness, and creativity. So when you step in the studio to produce; are you going to say yes to mediocrity? Or will you refrain from the question and let your heart speak?
 
 
Would it be a good idea to rent music? I dwell on this idea from time to time thinking how this concept would work. The filming and gaming industry have surpassed the music industry by leaps and bounds when it comes to innovation and understanding what their core audience wants: quality. With the filming industry releasing HD, soon to be 3D, DVDs and the gaming industry producing games that are more realistic, engaging, and interactive, this leaves me to question; what is the record industry going to do for its core audience?

Again, using the filming and gaming industry as an example, for over a decade we have been able to go to Blockbuster and rent movies and games. We can test out the products for $4.95/each and if we like, we may purchase it, but we’re not obligated to. Even though the filming industry is a victim to the pirating that has raped the record industry, they still manage to pull through. With sites such as Hulu, it’s safe to say that they understand that times are changing and are willing to embrace change. On the contrary, the record industry still hasn’t answered the call. 

So would a Blockbuster Music concept work for the record industry? Well, let’s walk through some scenarios to come to a conclusion.

Scenario #1. I walk into Blockbuster music and go through the endless aisles of music. I find a couple of CDs that I read about in a WaxPoetic magazine and decide I want to check out to see if I like. So I pay $4.95 for both and off I go to listen to them. Four days later I return both and decide to purchase one of the CDs.

There are numerous rental options for this scenario. You can walk into the store, rent through the mail (i.e. Netflix), or you can rent and download DRM MP3s. With this scenario in general I’m able to get the full experience of the CD instead of :30 second snippets. Would this scenario boost sales?

Scenario #2. Instead of paying $4.95 per rental; how about $9.95 for unlimited access? This concept is still in its infancy stages. With such offers such as Nokia’s “Comes With Music”, which has been delayed until 2010 for US subscribers, who knows what this would mean for the record industry. However, if we were able to have this setup at Blockbuster Music with the same options as Scenario # 1 (walk-ins, mail-ins, and digital downloads), would this in turn boost sales?

Even though there is proof that file sharing and online streaming boosts music sales (Last.fm/Harvard case study); when will the record industry begin to embrace change like the filming and gaming industry have done? When will they let go of the past and begin experimenting with new business models and approaches? 
 
 
With MySpace acquiring iLike, this leaves music enthusiast, such as myself, wondering; what does this mean for the future of music? As more and more platforms are created for music artists to upload and distribute their music; how will MySpace compete in the online music market? With artists finding new outlets in droves; what sites and features are attracting them to upload and distribute their music?

A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled upon a site called Bandcamp. Bandcamp is a FREE publishing platform that gives bands an opportunity to host their music in ways that most platforms have yet to offer.  Below are some of the highlight features that Bandcamp offers:

Various Formats (FLAC, Apple Lossless, ACC, Ogg Vorbis, etc.)
 I’m sure you’ve heard the term “Superior Sound” from the Patchwerk’s elite. Most sites offer only MP3 downloads. If you know like I know, MP3 is low a quality sound. Giving your fans the option to select from various formats to download gives you a more worldly appeal. 


Name-your-price Downloads
If you have read my article, “Free Is Dead”, you know that there is a debate over the issue of artists giving away their music for free to attract more fans. Trent Reznor, frontman for the NIN (Nine-Inch-Nails) released the bands album, Ghost I-IV, using a tiered model, where fans received more music, content, and memorabilia as they paid more. The “name-your-price” option puts you in the driver seat to determine your music’s worth.


Download Codes
Do you want to stand out from your counterparts in the music industry? I feel that having a download codes personalizes the music experience for most fans. Instead of allowing anyone to download your music, giving fans their own download code will possibly open the doors for future purchases. I’ve always stressed that artists should begin building better relationships with their fans. Offering download codes can also help to build your mailing list, which is another important factor for artists.


Search Engine Optimized
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is perhaps the most talked about subject when it comes to marketing online. With most music sites, you will have to hire a pro or DIY (Do-It-Yourself) to optimize your presence online. With Bandcamp, they handle the SEO mumbo jumbo for you.    


Sell in (Just About) Any Currency
With international markets emerging and most being exposed to the world wide web, it would be a wise decision to not only attract fans overseas, but to include them in the purchasing process. With Bandcamp, you can price your goods in US Dollars, Pounds,
Sterling, Canadian Dollars, Euros, Australian Dollars, Israeli New Sheqels or any of 12 other currencies.

Creative Commons Integration
Are you familiar with Creative Commons (CC)? We’re all familiar with the © (All Rights Reserved) symbol. Well, with the Creative Commons licenses, you’re able to give fans permission to download and share your content. Bandcamp integrates with the CC imprint to give your fans the freedom to do what they want with your work of art.


Those were some of the top features on Bandcamp that I felt stood out. For more info about the other features, click here.

Bandcamp is revolutionary in its attempt to give artists and bands a user-friendly platform to upload and distribute their music, as well as allow them to concentrate on their music while they (Bandcamp) handles the technical aspects of running their site. I encourage artists and bands to begin exploring and experimenting with new concepts, platforms, and models because in this Information/Digital Age you have to be highly innovative and distinct to gain attention.  

Below is an introduction video from the Bandcamp site:
 
 
In my articles, “Investors for Your Music” and “Show Discipline and Success & Providers Will Invest”, I stressed the importance of building your web presence and brand and knowing your worth before asking for a sponsor or an investor to invest in you.  Well, once you have those and other essential factors established; where do you go in search of sponsorship and/or investors? With the internet becoming more reliable and convenient for connecting with people, interests, and information, there’s no reason not to take full advantage of these opportunities.

 A month ago, I stumbled upon a site that could bridge the gap between brands and sponsors. Groupable is a community of groups and sponsors looking to match interests, goals, passions, and needs. The Groupable platform can also track statistics on sponsorships, map out group locations, manage sponsorship levels, and even can take sponsorship donations via credit card. Below is the Groupable dashboard:
Picture
Like most social networking sites, the registration process is FREE and SIMPLE: sign up, find a sponsor and connect. Also, if you want to sponsor or invest in a group, you’re given an equally impressive platform that allows you to create a profile, add multimedia, and track groups. 

Being that Groupable is a startup company, the only disadvantage for brands looking for sponsorship would be that there aren’t many sponsors in their system. However, understanding how social media will play a dominating role in the future of business and how investors may depend and rely more on niche markets and brands in the future of investing, Groupable would definitely be an avenue to consider once you’ve established a foundation for your brand.

Below are some videos from the Groupable site to give you more insight as to the nature of their community.
 
 
With social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook, it’s a challenge to find people who share the same interests as you or who can be of assistance to your career. In the past, I would find myself searching through endless profiles hoping to find local music artists, music journalists, podcasters, and PR and marketing consultants that I could converse with and begin building my network. I found people here and there; however, there was a lot of time and energy put into making that happen.

With the internet becoming more intelligent, I knew there was something out there that could cut the time and energy spent in searching for A-alikes in half. Almost a month ago, I stumbled upon The Twellow Pages. If I need to find a company and how to contact them in the “real world”, I would use the Yellow Pages (I would actually use the internet, but let’s use this as an example). That’s the concept of Twellow Pages, but for the “virtual world”.

Twellow grabs publicly available messages from Twitter.com, analyzes and categorizes each of the users responsible for those messages into the various categories found at Twellow. This allows you to cut through the clutter by narrowing your search into specific niches.

The most amazing feature found on the site is “Twellow Hood”.  It allows you to find people within your region, state or city. 

If you’re not on Twellow, all you need to do is connect your Twitter account to the platform. Once you’ve done that, setup a profile and specify which categories (up to 10) in which you belong. You can also post other social networking sites you subscribe to. This is one of the best ways for people to find you, as well as NETWORK!
 
 

…..Time, energy and money into your brand. This is a follow up to my previous post, “FYI DIY”, which I encouraged music artists to do it themselves. I didn’t say that to stir up a revolt against the record industry. I didn’t say that ONLY because unlimited resources are available for them to do it themselves. Being a music futurist, I made the suggestion analyzing two different scenarios that may affect the music industry.

Scenario #1) The market is OVER saturated and record labels are UNDER pressure financially to stay afloat causing them to take precaution as to who they decide to invest in. Where does this leave you? Well, if you’re amongst the million and one artists competing for this deal, what do you have to show for yourself? When investors ask you what can you bring to the table and why should we invest in you and your response is “I’m HOT!” and you pass them your demo; Is that seriously going to get you a deal?

Taking into account what I professed in the “FYI DIY” article, what if you walked in the door saying, “I have an established web presence and fan base. Here are my stats to show the amount of traffic I receive to my website. Here are the stats to show how many people subscribe to my RSS feed. Here are my stats to show how many people have downloaded my single. I can be a great asset to your company because I’ve invested X amount of dollars into my brand and here are financial statements showing how much I’ve earned in profits from the work my street team and I have put in.

With this approach, a record label is more prone to sign you because you not only believe in yourself, but you’ve taken the time to build you brand using the tools available to you.

Scenario #2) The power to decide is shifting to the hands of the people when it comes to how music is perceived, purchased and distributed. When this in mind, I pose this question; will there be a record label in the future? I’m pretty sure they would be around, but it won’t be in the same form you see it today.

I’ll give this example to better explain my point. In the 20th century, we were taught to establish a career with a company and invest in Social Security and Pension Plans. In the 21st century, establishing a career, let alone finding means of employment is a challenge. Social Security? Pension Plans? The media is stating that money will not be available in the future. So what do we do? Change the way we approach the situation. Establish and create your own career and financial success.

With that said, take control of your career and make the best of your current situation. It doesn’t take a lot of money to begin building a presence on or offline. Utilize the resources available to you to get a jump start. Become more INDEPENDENT and LESS DEPENDENT on someone doing everything for you. If that option isn’t available in the future, don’t be the artist that’s scrambling to find ground in a fast-paced, virtual and foreign environment.

 
FYI DIY 06/28/2009
 

“Why listen to someone else tell you how to do it, when you can do it yourself. It’s all in you.” – Nas “Black Zombies”

Nas’ words come to life as I sit surfing the internet, becoming aware of the infinite amount of resources available to us and discovering new music from artists all over the world. The “Industrial Age” paved the way for corporations to thrive and instilled a sense of dependency from the people who became the driving force behind “Corporate America”. As technology advanced, the world wide web allowed us to explore new realities. We began constructing information highways, developing social networking communities and now we’re at a point where we’re starting to see the emergence of virtual civilizations.

With this leap into the “Information Age” we began to see the rate of entrepreneurship and independency rise. Change is a gradual process and it may take time for the majority to identify, accept and embrace new ideas or realities. With the current “Recession” taking its toll on the world, I feel that the time is now to step into the front seat of our destinies and begin taking advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead.

Within the music realm, I continue to see artist operating in “dependency mode” that the Industrial Age created. “I need a record deal to have success.” “I need a record label to connect with my fans, produce and distribute my album.” “I need an advertising agency, marketing and/or PR firm to build my brand.” “I need startup money to finance my music career.” The list goes on to the point where we feel that we cannot accomplish anything without an overseer. What if that infrastructure crumbles and you’re forced to depend on self to steer your career in the direction you envision? Look at the success and financial rewards gained from entrepreneurs who exited the corporate world and invested in Telecommunications in the 80’s. Look at the success and financial rewards gained from entrepreneurs who exited the corporate world and invested in Real Estate in the 90’s. Look at the success and financial rewards gained from entrepreneurs who exited the corporate world and invested in social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, and Last.fm in the last decade. The message that I’m conveying is that we need to follow the pattern toward success by stepping outside of the box and putting ourselves in a position where we’re ahead of the curve.

DIY, Do-It-Yourself, is the new trend in music. Artists are taking matters into their own hands, creating success, connecting with fans, producing and distributing their own albums, and building their own brands without a record label. By no means am I saying that we should completely eliminate the record label. As an independent artist getting a start in the industry, take advantage of the infinite resources available to you and use them to your advantage. Once you’ve built a strong following and brand, if you feel that you need assistance with taking your career further, approach a record label to expand your platform. As I said before, the market is over saturated with artists, so the demand for unsigned acts is low. Don’t be afraid to take risks and explore the infinite possibilities that lie ahead. FYI, For-Your-Information, DIY, Do-It-Yourself, so you can stand out from the other zombies who are all moving in the same direction.

 
 

I attended the I dO Music event last month and their panel discussion dealt with “Financing Your Career”. I remember someone in the audience asking about sponsorships and investors and the reply from the panel was clear, “What is your worth?” Does your product have quality? How extensive and impressive is your track record? How is your credit? Those were some of the things the panelist touched in reply to the question. With the state of the record industry and the economy; what does the future hold for funding music? I stumbled upon a video from MIDEM, the world largest industry trade fair that provides a forum for business talks, discussing political and legal issues, and showcasing new artists, musical trends, and music-related products, where they brought together venture capitalists and investors to discuss what it really means to invest in music today.

 
 

I know you dO music. But what else do you do? I’m constantly coming across artists who only focus on their craft and depend on album sales and touring to make ends meet. In today’s saturated market, competing with a million and one other artists and bands, declining record sales and opportunities to tour becoming slim, where does that leave you in the overall scheme of things? As I mentioned in my previous post, “Changing the Economics of How the Game Is Played”, as artists, you should find creative ways to be distinct and be considered “the only ones who do what you do”. That’s one solution to climbing up the music ladder towards success. What are some other solutions? There are numerous ways that are creative to set yourself apart from the masses. Being diverse is and has always been the key to success in all walks of life. So what is it that you do? Do you rap and sing? Do you rap, sing, and produce? Taking it a step further, what genres of music do you do? Have you considered mixing Hip Hop, Brazilian, Nu Jazz and Alternative? Better yet, outside of music, do you blog, have a podcast or vidcast? If so, what do you talk about? Are you an expert in another field outside of music? I say all of that to say, if you are diverse in areas within and without music, not only will this allow you to stand out among your peers, but this would be a great way to gain a great amount of publicity and allow you to promote on multiple platforms. Look at 50 Cent. When you think of 50 Cent, you don’t think of him as another Hip Hop artist. 50 Cent is a brand that includes film/tv, video games, fashion, vitamin water, and cologne. Look at Kanye West and his musical experience. He mixes Soul, Alternative, Electronica, and 80’s Euro Pop music. That’s the main reason why he’s in a class by himself. Whether you’re multifaceted within or without music, the point is very clear when building your brand and creatively setting yourself apart from your peer – learn and master the art of diversity and you will climb to heights unfathomable as you journey up the music ladder towards success.

 
 

As I described in my previous post, “Subscribe To My…..Mixtape?”, RSS feeds are the wave of the future for delivering and receiving content. I stated that a future scenario for music would entail fans subscribing to your music through feeds. Microblogs are the new social media trend at the current moment. Through real time streams such as Facebook, Jaiku, Plaxo, and Twitter, everyone is partaking in the “What am I doing now?” craze. Though there are infinite sites that cater to this the most popular is without a doubt – Twitter. Twitter is the main attraction all over the world, grabbing attention from high profile celebrities, corporations and venture capitalist. On a communal level, I’m beginning to see more artists use Twitter as a means of engaging with their audience and promoting their music. Subscribing to my content is one thing, but what about selling my content through RSS feeds? Twitpay, a platform that allows recipients to send small payments through Twitter, has introduced a new way to sell your content through Twitter called RT2Buy. If you’re a Twitter fanatic, you’ve probably already guessed that “RT” stands for “ReTweet”. The process for buying and selling content is simple: When you see someone post an RT2Buy tweet, click the link and check out the preview. If you like it, just retweet it, and Twitpay delivers the content. As an artist, with RT2Buy you’re able to promote, advertise and sell your content directly to your Twitter following. This cuts out the task of trying to lure your fans to your website to listen or to buy your music. As the web becomes more intelligent, sites such as Twitpay and RT2Buy will evolve and make it even more convienient for music entrepreneurs.

 

    Khem Na'khi

    Khem Na’khi is one of the outspoken voices against the war on music. is the Lead Music Research Analyst & Consultant for The iNFUMUS Group, who vows to meet the needs of music fans, artists and labels values so that they can reach their fullest potential.

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