30 August 2009
There's much excitement in the music industry at the upcoming release of the remastered Beatles catalogue on CD. For people who own the earlier CD issues, there is some incentive to buy: there's a documentary on the first pressings, and the remastering has been carried out sensitively to enhance the sound without changing the music, according to Mojo magazine.
I can't help thinking they've missed a marketing trick here, though. At the moment, your choices are to buy the albums individually, or to buy a box set of them all for about £200.
What I'd really like to see is a subscription model. What if you could subscribe to The Beatles Remasters, and receive a new one in the post each month for a year? That works for the record label because it can effectively spread the cost of selling a high-ticket item, and so get more sales. It's also good for sales forecasting because the company knows how long the subscription will run for (14 albums). It would be an opportunity for EMI to build direct relationships with customers too, increasingly important at a time when record shops are going to the wall. For customers, it would be a great experience, particularly if accompanied by additional bonuses, such as notes on the Beatles timeline around that release, or period reviews - both cheap to produce.
Retailers could have stepped into this space too, but as far as I (and Google) know, nobody is doing this.
I wonder whether the record industry considered this and discounted it, or whether they it became locked into the old ways of selling music. That hasn't done them many favours in the recent past.
(Don't mind this: swp54kqdah)
04 May 2009
I've just published an extended version of an article I wrote for a general interest magazine recently. The article is about how the record industry can fight back at a time when sales of recorded music are falling, and the industry has lost its monopoly on reproduction and distribution.
The article uses examples from Marillion, Radiohead, Prince, Nine Inch Nails, U2, Oasis, Depeche Mode, Erasure and others to show how the landscape is changing, and highlights the need to create fulfilling experiences around the music.
I wanted to do something 'serious' using some of the research I gathered while writing University of Death, so this piece is a snapshot of the challenges the industry faces today and some of the recent changes and innnovations it's seen.
30 March 2009
Prince has just launched his new website, Lotusflow3r.com. He's had a few websites over the years - one was a club website, where subscribers were posted some exclusive CDs throughout the year; another was a virtual shop, but the music was all DRM-crippled, so there are lots of reports of people who aren't able to play the music they've bought any more.
The new site has a somewhat vague proposition: $77 buys you downloads of the new triple album (which is retailing for $12 in the US, price in the UK to be determined), plus a t-shirt and early news of forthcoming gigs. There are said to be videos too, but it's unlikely you can download them, and there's no indication of how often they'll be updated. I'm not convinced, to be honest. And I'm a massive Prince fan.
The biggest mistake, though, is that Prince has overestimated how important his website is to other people. He expects people to spend a lot of time playing with a tricksy interface just to hand over their money. If you want to register, you have to mouse over and click things until you hit a 60x30 pixel image which opens this:
Aha! That looks like my ticket in. But what do I type into the boxes? There are no clues - you have to keep typing in things until you get it right. The answer is to close the ticket again, go and watch the video on the telly on the homepage, and then type in '1986' and 'Los Angeles'.
Why make people do that? Was it a fun experience? Not particularly. Did it make it easier to get to the real site content? Absolutely not.
If you're selling something, whether it's music or shoes, you've got to make it as easy as possible for people to buy. Just get them to bash in their contact details, their credit card details, and then let them get on with their lives. The content is supposed to be the entertainment. Not the interface.
(For more tips on creating successful websites, see my book Small Business Websites That Work).
09 March 2009
The Independent newspaper gave away the album "Better Than Heavy" by Mongrel on Saturday. It's billed as "A CD that makes history", the first time that a band has launched itself by distributing its debut album with a newspaper. The album itself is a hybrid of hip-hop and indie, and boasts 16 rappers on the track "Alphabet Assassins".
This development isn't quite as amazing as the Independent might have us believe. The group is made up from members of Arctic Monkeys, Babyshambles, and Reverend and the Makers. So the giveaway has a strong promotional hook inside the conventional record industry.
The model of distributing music for free with newspapers does threaten the conventional music industry. As the focus shifts towards the live experience, the value of recorded music is falling. But until newspapers start taking the risk of breaking genuinely new bands, that nobody has ever heard of, there will always be a place for the record label. A brave newspaper could take on the role of breaking new talent, but for now it's the name on the CD that sells the newspaper, and not the other way around.
(There's much more about the future of the music industry in my novel University of Death.)
14 January 2009
I've written a new article about viral marketing for musicians, which reviews some examples of how major acts are igniting word of mouth online. It includes an embedded platform game in which you have to help Lily Allen to escape The Fear.
I'm also hosting a version of Space Invaders and an official clone of Apollo Justice Ace Attorney, the game for the DS.
23 December 2008
Okay, so calling it a single is perhaps a little bit of a stretch. But I've uploaded a piece of music I've written for the first time today, and I'd be delighted if you downloaded it and let me know what you think. It's called 'We work to earn our sleep' (a title which will be familiar to you if you've read 'University of Death'), and it's about two minutes long. The download includes an Easter Egg, too. I've created this track using a sample-based music tool, so it's different to the music I usually write using a guitar and piano.
Feel free to leave any comments in this thread. I'd like to release more of my music in 2009 (which is highly unlikely to sound like this track, incidentally), so this is partly an experiment to see whether this is a good way to share music and get feedback on work in progress.
22 December 2008
AC/DC has released an ASCII art video of "Rock N Roll Train" to promote the band's new album.
The video runs as a macro in an Excel spreadsheet. It has been created using ASCII art stored in cells starting at Q100 and working their way down the sheet (the Q column is hidden), and Visual Basic to show the frames in turn. It's an impressive effect.
Unfortunately, the video is incomplete, presumably so that they don't have to give everyone the song for free (the Excel chart references a WAV file stored externally on your hard drive, which you download with the Excel file).
Even established bands can get lost in the amount of free music online today, so this video is a neat way to stimulate word of mouth and encourage fans to spread the word about the new album.
22 October 2008
For a limited time, you can download this new Black track (released online yesterday) for free. Colin's site still has the live album for free download too, including great interpretations of the hits Wonderful Life and Everything's Coming Up Roses.
30 September 2008
In the first of what I hope will be a regular monthly feature, let me bring some summertime into your life. British Summer Time is the new album from Sundae Club, and it's available for free download. I met the guys from Sundae Club at an ExileInside gig a few years back, so I was intrigued to see this album get a free release.
Hamstall Ridware from the band says: "It's a timely and spacey trip through the gates of a '60s airport with a Viscount sitting ready on the runway to transport you, the lucky traveller to rural Gloucestershire (the song Pies); to the industrial Midlands of 1950s Coventry (The Doddler) and 1970s Birmingham (Honey Bee); to the Far East of India and China via Germany (The Travel Trilogy) calling in on a New York apartment with flimsy walls (New Neighbours) and back home to Blighty. It's not so much Downtempo Lounge as all-tempo Departure Lounge."
Regarding the strategy of releasing the album for free, he adds: "The production costs of our first album 'Technostalgia' were high because we decided to use expensive packaging, so it took a fair few sales before we broke even. We decided to release this as a free download but invite donations in a Radiohead format. In fairness, about 60% of the people who have downloaded it have donated (donations range between £1 and 12) so we're already in profit... Except that even MP3 production costs aren't free really are they? You have to factor in the cost of the studio, equipment, time, music lessons etc etc! The idea is to assess demand for a 'hard' version of it and press-up another nice CD or even vinyl if we think we can sell enough."
For other acts looking to promote themselves, Ridware has some tips on what works. "Passing the word around on our mailing lists and blagging slots on radio shows [work well]," he says. "MySpace and Facebook once you've sorted out all the kids who just want to collect 'friends' and crap studios offering their services etc... We're featured in the US as incidental music on a web-based American Football show and there have been a few spin-offs from a track we wrote for a French singer who sold 450,000 copies of an album with one of our compositions on it."
The album's fabulous and I recommend you whizz over to the Sundae Club website to download your copy today!
If you've got any tip-offs for future free albums for this blog series (only legal stuff, please), why not drop me a line?
27 March 2008
Following the removal of several videos from youtube that (I believe) showed fans playing Jean-Michel Jarre's music on a keyboard, he's gone on record to say that the videos were not spiked at his request. He says fans are now free to adapt, edit and perform his work providing they give him credit. The terms of this are a bit vague - he just asks everyone to play fair, which presumably means you need to add value with your reproduction, and need to give him credit.
This is a landmark announcement: Jarre has recognised not only the power of the web to distribute content, but also the way it enables artists to engage creatively with other musicians who happen to be fans. Bands often invite fans to post widgets that stream music to their blogs under the band's control, but rarely do they cede this much creative control. It'll be interesting to see what works this announcement inspires. He's offering a prize for the three best works to emerge before the current tour ends, too.
04 March 2008
Nine Inch Nails (NIN) has taken Radiohead's digital distribution model and improved upon it.
NIN leader Trent Reznor has created a 36-track instrumental album called 'Ghosts I-IV'. The official website is providing the first nine tracks as a free download, and taking orders for the full album at a range of price points. If you're a hardcore fan, you can spend $300 on a signed edition that includes artwork prints, vinyl LPs and even the WAV files for each track so you can make your own remixes. If you just think the first nine tracks sound kinda interesting, the full album's yours to download for $5.
Some of the same problems remain: as with the Radiohead album launch, the website's fallen over. If bands want to take on digital distribution, they need to have web hosting that can cope with massive spikes in demand. Having a closer relationship with fans is great, but let's not forget that ultimately they're customers and they'll get angry if they can't download the stuff they've bought.
Some things are better this time around than with Radiohead: Firstly, there's much more clarity about what you're getting. One of my gripes with Radiohead was that they didn't tell people what file formats or DRM they might have to cope with in advance (MP3, and none, as it turned out). NIN offers several different download formats (MP3, FLAC and Apple Lossless), and is clear that there are no technical restrictions on copying or use.
Also, the band has put some real effort into making the download a desirable option. When you opened your zipped Radiohead album, all you got was a bunch of MP3s. When you open your NIN zip file, it's a bit more like the experience you have when you buy a CD. There's artwork there. There's stuff to read. Every song has its own photographic artwork, and there's a bunch of graphics you can use for wallpaper, or avatars or plugging the new album (see above). As someone brought up on records, tapes and CDs, the artwork and sleevenotes are an important part of the music experience for me. NIN understands that.
What about the music itself? Some of it (including the superb siren song at the start) works much better than other bits. Instrumental stuff is hard to pull off, and at first I thought that some of tracks didn't have a strong enough melody to be songs and didn't sustain or develop the ideas long enough to be considered ambient pieces, either. But it's growing on me, and third time through, I'm really enjoying it. I'm curious enough to hear the other 27 tracks that I'd consider buying them now. So it's been a successful promotion for me, then, considering yesterday I hadn't ever heard a NIN album and the only song I knew was Johnny Cash's heartbreaking cover of 'Hurt'.
The distribution model matches the creative work perfectly here: NIN can give away an album's worth of material, and still have something to sell. And selling the source tracks for remixing is a great idea: it's valuable content, that the band has already created, and which will encourage fans to have a more interactive relationship with the work. It will lead to fan remixes, which will in turn promote the original album.
The band sold out of its super-special $300 edition in under two days. That's $750,000 worth of business the band has taken without any of it going through the conventional music industry. Clearly, there are significant costs involved in creating these lavish box sets and that's not all profit. But as with Prince and Radiohead, NIN has shown that it doesn't need the music industry to sell music. Or, at least, it doesn't need the industry any more.
UPDATE: You have to go through the ordering process to discover that the $10 CDs cost $13.50 in postage to the UK, which is a lot more than I'd ever pay for P&P at Amazon. The CDs are cheap enough that the double album still only costs about £12 including postage to the UK, but that's more than I'd usually gamble on an album I'm just curious about. The postage makes the CD a significantly less attractive option than downloading the lot for £2.50, so perhaps I'll do that instead.
Labels: music promotion
03 February 2008
I meant to write this before Christmas, but didn't get around to it. Now I have...
The red and white lights of cars travelling on the Champs-Elysees combined with the blue Christmas lights in the trees to make a twinkling French flag. My schoolboy French and a swift internet browser had got me ticket number 94 to see Jean-Michel Jarre performing Oxygene in Paris. As I approached the theatre, near Place de la Concorde where Jarre entertained a million in 1979, there were spotlights reaching up from the theatre's pillars, reminiscent of the lights used at Docklands.
I collected my ticket. As the man on the desk whistled Oxygene IV to himself, I studied the cardboard model of the auditorium. I was in row four. Not bad. Not bad at all. The theatre sat 1000 and was a surprisingly intimate venue for a musician more noted for using skyscrapers as projection screens.
The 45 minute ambient piece 'Waiting for Cousteau' was played in the foyer and theatre before the show. There were a few familiar faces from the Teo & Tea showcase in the audience, which I attended in March.
When the curtain went up, there was an egg shaped chair on the stage which spun around to show JMJ sat on it. It was a nice entrance, but there was no reaction from the audience until he spoke. The weird thing about theatre gigs is that people treat them like plays, and only clap at the end of the acts or when prompted. He delivered a spoken introduction (in French, but with a short English greeting to foreign visitors), brought on the band, and then set up at one of the banks of synthesisers.
There's always been an element of, shall we say... 'computer assisted performance' about a JMJ gig. Quite a few fans maintain that the Teo & Tea showcase was mimed, although it felt pretty real to me at the time. The full spectacle of the typical Jarre concert could only be achieved using some kind of computer synchronisation, but I choose to believe the music is mostly live, most of the time. With your favourite bands, as with religion, faith is everything.
For this show, there would be no fancy slideshows or lasers to hide behind: just a lot of analogue instruments and four musicians. It's trendy for bands to play albums from start to finish at the moment, but that robs the set of most surprises. For Oxygene, one of the first albums I owned, it was good to hear the spontaneity in this performance. Three new variations were included too, which were previously only released on DVD, and the whole set was concluded with one of the tracks from the 1997 sequel album to Oxygene.
At one point, a mirror was lowered over the stage so that everybody could see what was being played. It was odd to see the bass notes on the right hand side of the keyboards, but it reinforced the feeling that this was real. During the show, Jean-Michel played a theramin, some kind of weird stick instrument and a number of other instruments and synths. When he played, he concentrated hard. There was the feeling that this was a show where he was taking real risks and things could go wrong.
The crowd cheered for Oxygene IV, which was an odd reaction. I would have thought any real fan would be mostly tired of it by now (as I am), and would prefer the more mellow Oxygene II and Oxygene VI. But the hit single did sound fresh and the bassline was hypnotic.
Last year, Jarre released a re-recording of Oxygene, including a DVD edition that filmed the performance in 3D and provided red and green glasses for watching it. The 3D effects were fun but gave me a headache after a while. The film (also available in a flat version on the 3D disc and separately) is a fine memento of the show I saw. Alongside the DVD edition, a single CD edition of the re-recording was released.
JMJ's now announced that he's going to tour this production worldwide, with gigs announced in the UK, Denmark and Belgium. To promote this, he released the Oxygene re-recording for free with the Mail on Sunday the other week. It's an approach that Prince tried with his new studio album, but it seems JMJ's trying to have his cake and eat it. This isn't previously unavailable material, as Prince's album was: it's a CD that was released for sale just eight weeks ago. Those who bought the album in December are going to be a bit miffed to find it's available for free now. There might well be shops carrying stock that is now virtually worthless too, given that you can buy the CD on Ebay cheaper than you could have bought the newspaper. (The DVD content is still exclusively available through retail).
Newspapers have a unique channel for distributing millions of copies of an album. I'm pleased that some of my favourite acts can reach new audiences this way, but isn't it time for newspapers to start being a bit more creative? The day that an up-and-coming band releases its album for free through a newspaper, and the newspaper has the vision to recognise the opportunity there, will be a scary day for the music industry. Until then, giveaways are basically publicity stunts and artists should be careful whose hand they bite.
More from Jean-Michel Jarre
30 October 2007
I pass this billboard on my way to work every day:
Ten years ago, someone like Gwen Stefani would have been promoting some variety of fizzy drink. This billboard, in which she becomes the face of HP printers, shows how artists are being creative in finding new revenue streams as CD sales fall. It's also interesting to see something as mundane as a printer being sold as stylish, in the way that the cars and alcohol on neighbouring billboards are. Apple's been in the furniture business for some time, selling computers on how they look rather than how they work, but they've been the exception rather than the rule.
This deal is a win-win because it enables Gwen to market her image without compromising her ideals (there's no junk food on her rider). HP benefits by associating Gwen's colourful image with its printers and drawing attention to them. I don't remember seeing an advert for rival printers on the street. Maybe HP's competitors don't even advertise because they don't have a campaign worth shouting about.
The Spice Girls have also struck a smart deal. They have sold half a million copies of their forthcoming greatest hits CD to pants firm Victoria's Secret. It's firm sale, so the shop can't return them if there's no demand. That's a pretty good pre-order level for a pop band that disappeared six years ago. Victoria's Secret benefits from some brand association, but more importantly will get customers coming into the shop to buy the CD who might never otherwise have stepped foot inside. I'm guessing that Spice Girls and posh pants customers are a similar demographic.
It seems everything is up for grabs in the music industry, with Radiohead even inspiring Sir Cliff Richard to experiment with demand-sensitive pricing. (Radiohead reportedly made $6 million on day one, incidentally). Madonna has followed Robbie Williams and signed a deal that combines touring and merchandising with music sales. For artists with their best (or at least most popular) work behind them, such deals are good business sense.
03 October 2007
Radiohead is letting fans decide how much they want to pay for the new album 'In Rainbows'. The 'honesty box' approach will enable the band to reach out to new listeners or lapsed fans, who might be prepared to buy the album for a few pounds but would never buy it as a new release CD. If people download it for a penny, Radiohead presumably makes a short term loss because of the cost of hosting the files and serving the sale. But the band has set no minimum price. You can download for free if you like. The band, like Prince and The Charlatans, presumably sees the merit in giving away music to build an audience for shows and other projects.
NME says its readers are planning to pay an average of a fiver, which reflects the true value of most albums in this post-Fopp and post-ebay era.
As well as the download, there is a box set that includes the album on vinyl, CD and download (wot, no tape?) along with artwork and extra tracks. That costs forty quid. Clearly this will become a desirable item and many will discover Radiohead's music later and want to acquire one, but I'm not sure how much the value of this item will climb from its already steep price. This package will enable the band to keep most of the value that usually goes into the dealers' pockets when genuine special editions are traded at record fairs.
This time there is no record label, so anything you pay Radiohead over and above the cost of sale is profit to the band. If I pay them three quid for the new album, that's probably a couple of quid more than they got when I bought each of their major label albums.
So why haven't I placed an order for the album yet? I've been a fan since the early days. 'Kid A' is one of my favourite albums ever - one of the few I can loop over and over again.
The problem is that there's no indication of what format the digital album will be in. Will it work with my iPod? Will I be restricted from copying to another iPod if I get one? Can I burn it to CD to play in the car? It might only last as long as Radiohead's website does. That happened with Prince's digital store - try reactivating any songs bought from him in Windows Media Player format, and they won't work because Prince turned off the authentication server when he redesigned his website. Fans who have acquired new computers or audio devices can no longer play the music they've bought on them.
If the Radiohead downloads are good quality MP3s, that's great. But they shouldn't really expect people to part with money and preorder an album without telling them where it will play and how it will work. I care about that more than the track names. The concept of a Radiohead album I understand - it's over 30 minutes of music by Radiohead, probably split into songs. What I need to know is whether it will work, and whether it will still work when I want to play it years later. In that sense, the vinyl's a much safer bet.
The album's out on Monday, so those who have taken the gamble will find out then what format's on offer, and the word will doubtless spread. Until then, buyer beware.
29 June 2007
Desperate times make for strange allies, which is why Prince is partnering with the Mail on Sunday. His new album 'Planet Earth' will be given away free as a covermount with the conservative tabloid on 15 July 2007, before the album has even been released in the shops. I can imagine the two million readers spluttering tea all over their croissants as they catch snippets of Prince's bad-boy lyrics. The paper has reportedly stumped up half a million pounds for the rights to the album and is encouraging Prince fans to pre-order the paper. The deal has royally teed-off distributor BMG, which has pulled out of its deal to distribute the album to UK shops as a result.
Prince has also made his new single 'Guitar' available as a free download [link no longer available] in a promotion with O2 for a limited period. And that's free as in 'no money' and free as in 'no controls' too - it's an MP3 with no restrictions on how you can use it. O2 took out a quarter page full colour advert in Metro to advertise the promotion.
For Prince, these are smart deals. It's a long time since he had anyone putting any serious money into promoting his work. The last couple of albums had great distribution, but that just made it easy for existing fans to buy it. They didn't reach out to many new listeners, even though they marked something of a return to form following a few years of patchy output (albeit touched by genius, at times).
Prince could just upload his music to the web and give it away, but then who's going to pay for the cost of producing an album and sustaining the artist during its creation?
With this deal, Prince can afford to give his album away to as many people as possible. To give an idea of scale, this deal will put at least 2 million copies of his album on the street on day one. His greatest creative achievement 'Lovesexy' has only sold 4.82 million in nearly 20 years, according to Wikipedia. (His bestselling album 'Purple Rain' shifted 22.8m units, according to the same source).
Does this devalue the music? Undoubtedly. Most free CDs end up in landfill unplayed, I suspect. It's hard to argue that people shouldn't copy music if you're giving it away with the telly pages. Since there's no distribution deal in the UK for the album at the moment, these free CDs will probably trade briskly on Ebay for a penny plus postage.
Does this deal devalue journalism? Yes, it probably does, also. The Mail on Sunday, in common with most newspapers, seems confused about what business it's in. Clearly, publications are in the business of distributing advertising and this could be seen as advertising. But increasingly, newspapers foist unwanted films and CDs onto listeners who have no choice but to bin them. With this move, the Mail on Sunday is basically conceding that it doesn't matter what their writers produce; what sells papers is a good covermount. While this deal might introduce some Daily Mail readers to Prince's music, it seems unlikely many who buy the paper for the CD will become regular subscribers.
But these are desperate times. At work, we're mourning the loss of our local Fopp, after the chain announced it was closing. It's becoming hard for record shops to survive. They can't compete with the range and pricing of Amazon, and the bargain basement of second hand back catalogue CDs on Ebay. I bought many albums in Fopp, including several that I heard for the first time in the store and wouldn't otherwise have considered buying. Without record shops, brand is likely to become even more important when it comes to shifting units online because you can only sell what people already want. People don't browse just to see what's there in the way they do in a store, and you can't force shoppers to listen to the lastest releases online.
Prince has shown he can build his brand in today's ailing music industry. He's taken a first step towards changing the economics of his business, earning money through concerts and giving away music to build demand for tickets. But he might just have burned some bridges along the way. It remains to be seen whether the record industry or Prince has the more sustainable model in the long run.
26 March 2006
Last night I saw The Starts supporting Tom Hingley's pre-Inspirals revival Too Much Texas. A great night, and since both bands are on MySpace, I was inspired to check it out again. Song and dance man Tim Ten Yen also has a page there, as do My Life Story and ExileInside. By setting up an account, I can join their communities and make it easy for me to find all their pages in one place.
This is not the first time I've considered joining MySpace. About a month ago, I went to their website, clicked 'join up' and found that the site's terms and conditions were broken. I notified the site through the contact forms, but I find that today, it's still missing (tested using Opera and IE).
What can we learn from this? Any of the following might be true:
- MySpace doesn't monitor its sign-ups so it doesn't know the devastating effect this is having on new memberships.
- MySpace does monitor its sign-ups but hasn't seen a significant drop in people signing up, even though they don't know what they're signing up to.
- People don't even click the link to terms and conditions or don't care if they're absent. Even if they are posting their own recordings, email address and date of birth.
- MySpace doesn't listen to visitor feedback about essential site maintenance, or does not care that people cannot see the contract they are signing.
If anyone wants to tell me about their experience using MySpace to promote music, I'd be interested in hearing from you.
I have today updated my list of places to promote your music. You can still read my 15 top music promotion tips and my article about how to choose where to host your music.
29 December 2005
Erasure is using a new technology that enables you to mix a single and then download your preferred mix as an MP3. This technology for mass customising MP3s has also been used by The Prodigy, among others. My article looks at how it works.
10 December 2005
If you're an independent music act, wouldn't you like to tap into Ebay's market of 157 million registered users? Robin Cowpertwait has done just that. In six months, he's sold 126 copies of his Midfielder CD to paying customers via Ebay. In this new article, I ask him how he successfully sells his own music on Ebay.
Labels: music promotion
14 August 2005
My list of places where you can sell your music online has been updated.
Labels: music promotion