01 January 2010

The Great Music Marketing Void...

Artists have enough hammers and nails to build a mansion. But where are the architects, the developers, the people who used to sit in marketing and A&R development departments at the labels? The answer is they've been fired, went back to law school, switched to a different industry, or are now just listening to music for fun.

Welcome to the great music marketing void. Mike Doernberg at ReverbNation got in front of artists recently at New Music Seminar and doled out endless pearls of wisdom. This is one of the experts, but Doernberg can't hold your hand the whole way. In fact, Doernberg himself calls DIY 'crap,' as bluntly as that.

And doesn't that say it all? The guy who would love nothing more than to create a magical marketing button is telling artists that ReverbNation is simply a distribution tool, not a marketing brain. And that was echoed throughout the event.

Ariel Hyatt may have been preaching "1,000 True Fans," but that sounds like one lonely lottery ticket. Instead, most regarded DIY as an early-stage vehicle out of abject obscurity, at best. A more developed career involves serious marketing pros, real resources, and sharing the resulting profits with musical and marketing partners alike. Everyone is taking a risk, and putting a lot on the line, and mostly likely, suffering along the way. And even then, the chances of serious, sustaining success are slim.

Say what you will about the label system. But labels - both major, major-distributed indie, or pure-play indie - specialized in developing marketable artists and songs, and then selling the resulting content (mostly albums) for a profit (imagine that). They were critical to the marketing ecosystem, and created downstream successes for everyone else to enjoy.

Of course, there are a million problems with a label contract - big or small - but at least there was a division of labor and an infrastructure for making an impact. There was investment. And every so often, it really worked. At its best, a good label would allow an artist to write music, tour for free, and enhance the lifestyle and imaging aspects that are oftentimes critical to connecting with audiences. In other words, specialize.

But who are these marketing pros today? Well, there are actually plenty of brilliant people who are trying to make sense of it all, including managers, remaining label people, and even publishing groups. There are incredibly smart people trying to re-engineer the upside-down economics of the modern-day music industry. And, trying to pluck that rare, talented artist and actually create a real success story.

And what a strange time to be one of those talented artists! On one hand, direct-to-fan platforms offer the ability to reach out and touch fans. How liberating! But typically, the discussion ends with a paltry check from CD Baby - or ReverbNation, TuneCore, Bandcamp, or whomever. And this includes seriously talented groups. There's just too much competition, too much noise, too much media saturation and distraction.

But there's also a business rebuilding itself, and slowly figuring out how to develop serious artist careers. This is not about sticking it to the man, uploading content onto iTunes or playing a corner coffeehouse. This is about rebuilding an entire marketing infrastructure, a totally new set of best practices, and making the numbers make sense again. And for those willing to struggle through the disruption, this is also about serious opportunity - to fill the great music marketing void.

Paul Resnikoff, Publisher @ DigitalMusicNews.com

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