THE C-BOMB IN THE MUSIC BUSINESS
Getting through the pandemic as a musician
By Tim Hill
As much as I have been out of the music business for a very long time, my heart is still in it and I sit in the wings and observe what is going on around the world. We all know how that biz has evolved over the years, and at a rapid pace too. We have seen how revenue streams have changed, we have seen how the consumption of media has become more “on-demand” and we have seen how the live scene has turned out to be one of the big sources of artist revenue. To be fair, the music business has always been about the survival of the fittest.
Roll forward to March 2020 and throw a global pandemic called COVID-19 into the mix.
Once upon a time, you could scrape by with a good voice, a good song and a professional and slick live show. You could just about make ends meet and if you were lucky, your song would be played on radio and you might gain a couple of sponsored guitars here and there. Life was dandy. Then, with the introduction of streaming and other digital platforms, physical CD sales dropped and bands became more reliant on making cash from live gigs and merchandise sales. That was fine, it just meant that artists had to be more “out there” and build their names on the live circuit for next to nothing initially, and eventually hope that income from shows supported them, which it largely did.
This year, with venues being closed, the implementation of social distancing and people watching every penny, the live scene has been knocked down with horrendous force and it is doubtful whether it will ever be the same in the “new normal” way of life going forward. This has put obvious pressure on the music business as a whole and now, more than ever, the “slightly less fit than others” will absolutely be weeded out, unless some things change very drastically in the way artists do things. Here are some tips and observations.
1. We know that a good song is the core, and most important product. But a good tune, with great production, that is supported by a slick live show cannot work in isolation. There have to be many more strategic and tactical actions in place.
2. Innovation is key. What can you do differently that is going to make you stand out and create a buzz? It is not about being different and innovative for the sake of it, but this is for survival!
3. Discover, explore and use the technology and digital platforms that are already out there to reach your audience. Things like Zoom, Microsoft Meet, Houseparty, YouTube and Facebook Live are there for the taking, most for free, but some for a nominal subscription fee. You may not earn as much as you would from a live show at a venue, but a percentage of what you are used to is better than 100% of nothing.
4. Be resilient and don’t resist change. It is what it is and if you don’t embrace this change following the pandemic, you may as well quit right now and stop wasting your time. Living in the past of 5 months ago is only going to get you in a twist and that does not help creativity. Move forward!
5. Let's face it, you are going to have to work ten times harder and smarter to get the dollars in to pay the bills. The path of least resistance and holding the proverbial entitled magic wand never worked in the past and they certainly won’t pull a rabbit out of the hat in these times. What you put in is what you get out. You may have to schlepp more than usual and jump out of your comfort zone. Swallow it up and just do it. If you choose to chill, you’ll be on the check out counters in Tesco.
6. Knowledge is power. Keep yourself updated with what’s happening in the global entertainment business. There are so many free resources, blogs and online magazines out there. You don’t have to sign up to an expensive Music Week subscription (although it is a damn good magazine to have).
7. Television and movies aren’t going anywhere and there will always be a need for songs. Invest. Invest. Invest. There is so much out there that you can invest some of your capital into that can potentially open doors for you. There are online publishing services that can get your music out to artists globally. Nothing is ever guaranteed, we know this, but if you don’t give it a shot, there is a guaranteed zero outcome. The same goes for demo recordings. There is technology freely available to you where you can record a decent quality demo at your dining room table. If you are fortunate enough to have access to a studio to knock up some demos at, then use these facilities. Speculate to accumulate and don’t be as tight as a duck’s arse…
8. Then there is the big M word… MARKETING! What are you doing to reach out to existing and potential fans? How are you engaging with them? Are you using social media platforms effectively to communicate with them and show your human side during this pandemic? Putting up a “watch my show tomorrow at 7pm” is not what you call marketing, in fact, that’ll get scrolled past very quickly on an average smartphone. Fans need reassurance that things are going to be okay, they look up to you. Many have already bought into your music, but they need to buy into you as a vulnerable human being. Great, you have an online TV show, but 12 viewers aren’t going to give you any credibility and it is not going to get you sponsorship when businesses eventually do dip into their pockets. Content has always been king, but a piece of content that worked 6 months ago may not work now. Again, it comes to innovation and effort, you have to put a bit of time and thought into marketing yourself and it shouldn’t be discounted as a ticked off item on a to-do list.
9. One good thing that has come out of the COVID-19 pandemic is a sense of solidarity and community. We are speaking to people we have not communicated with for years. There is a sense of common ground, which has been absent for many, many years. There are opportunities to engage fellow musicians and collaborate and take full advantage of the power of the collective. Use this opportunity! Reach out. Many hands make light work and some small masterpieces can be born as a result of putting heads together.
So, to sum up, you've got to audit your overall music business fitness levels beyond the quality of your music. Are you showing innovation? Are you showing resilience? Are you putting in the effort and not taking the easiest route? Are you investing in your career? Are you up to date with current trends? Are you using existing technology to the max? Are you marketing and positioning yourself correctly so people buy into YOU? Are you out there collaborating with your fellow artists? If your answer is yes to most of these questions, you’ll be rocking on and keeping your music career alive. If you are seeing the word “no” come up in answer to these questions, you need to buck your ideas up VERY quickly otherwise you’ll be flipping burgers in a greasy kitchen!