Now more than ever there are a number of sites offering artist services that claim to negate the need for a traditional label deal. With A&R budgets and staff (morale and headcount) at an all time low, multi-year multi-record deals becoming increasingly sparse and some less appealing 360 deals proposed these new digital artist services seem appealing to some. Keep all of your intellectual property, publishing, sales, merchandising and touring income as well as complete creative freedom. Who wouldn’t want go it alone?
Well, it depends on the artist. Even though there are more and easier ways to distribute, sell, promote music as well as engage with fans, it still takes a considerable amount of time to get it right. If you’re a more established artist who can self-finance a team to manage these services, then you’re in an enviable position as a brand. If you’ve got a growing fan base, but still struggling to do much of the work with a small virtual street team then you’ve got to manage your time effectively if you still want time to practice and play live. Knowing which digital music companies are best poised to solve some of these problems and emerge as a forerunner of the future can be challenging as an artist and an investor.
Many of the companies seeking to solve these problems are passionate about music, but most are techies rather than artists that intend to make their living from these services. I decided to interview some of these artists to hear what they have to say about what we need to do in order to build a sustainable foundation. Here is the first of a series of interviews.
Sarah Gillespie, the Greenwich-born singer-songwriter, oozes sonic sensuality and poetic Prospect lyrics in her finely tuned mixed bag of alt-folk, jazzy blues the moves the heart and feet depending on her mood and play list. Sarah can be seen performing at Ronnie Scotts, Borderline, the 606 Club and Pizza Express Dean St with her band, which includes internationally renowned Israeli born jazz artist Gilad Atzmon, Ben Bastin and Asaf Sirkis.
Detroit in many ways symbolizes what’s happening in the global music industry (and perhaps even the American economy as a whole). Motown once was the epicenter for attracting, developing, producing, signing, marketing and selling great music. The industry began to change, artists and industry veterans failed to adapt and instead left. Local talent were left to fend for themselves. The music industry in Detroit arguably died yet the city remains a creative force worldwide. One main difference is that then artists didn’t have the internet and tools to make it on their own…
Eminem is an astounding poet.
AG: What does DIY artist mean to you and how do you go about it?
SG: “I wasted years nearly getting record deals with big and medium sized labels. Eventually, I simply had to record an album and it was surprisingly easy. I put it out with a small Italian label who covered production costs and about 50% of my PR. I received rave reviews in main stream British and Italian press, including five stars in the Independent, four stars in Mojo, four stars in Guardian and many more. A live slot of Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour sent my amazon sales ranking through the roof. I am now touring as a quartet, with a single out in August called ‘How the Mighty Fall’. My following is growing all the time.”
AG: What are the current problems that need solving in order to make it easier for artists to survive and flourish without a traditional label deal?
SG: “I would say it boils down to cost. Although I now earn a healthy living from music and pay my band well, I frequently find I lack the immediate cash injection I need for things I want right now, like a website overhaul. Also, I have been lucky and sold out clubs and arts centers on a combination of minimum fee + ticket sales. I am conscious however; that if a gig were not promoted effectively it could hit the artist’s pocket because I have to pay my band’s fees, petrol and accommodation no matter what. Plus, venues are where the majority of my albums are sold. Outside of London around 80 % of the audience will buy my CD and want me to sign it. My CD functions as a souvenir as well as an audio product. “
AG: What are the benefits to 360 deals for artists and labels?
SG: “I take £8 of every £10 from CDs and all touring money, less my agent’s 10%. I can see that some 360 deals are advantageous. Artists get ‘out there’ and RC can recoup costs. It sounds like a very creative solution.”
AG: What sites and tools do you use to get your music discovered by future fans, bloggers and industry critics, promote gigs, market/manage fans, promote to trade, distribute music or other files and most importantly to generate income?
SG: “I use facebook, myspace and my own email list which accumulates on the contact option on my website. My record company in Italy put me on every digital platform.”
AG: If you could create any new business to help you reduce the amount of time you have to manage your career as opposed to playing music, what would that business be?
SG: “A service that collates fan data and sends mail outs accordingly. Mail outs to my fan bass can take me up to four hours.”
AG: What are the best ways for brands and artists to work together?
SG: “Mutual endorsement. I have the British designer Kait Bolongaro (who started the chain All Saints) supplying me with free clothes – but I could benefit from musical instrument branding. The saxophonist in my band who produced my album is sponsored by Salma.”
AG: What do you think of online music collaboration services?
SG: “I haven’t sought them out.”
AG: Where do you go to listen to music online?
SG: “Spotify and youtube for videos.”
AG: What music mobile services do you use as a fan or an artist?
SG: “My mobile accoustic guitar.”
AG: What do you think of sites like sellaband, soundcloud, audiotube, MySpace Music, We7, spoonfed, gigulate, bambuser and social networks sites like bebo, facebook and sonico?
SG: “I think they democratize music and put the power in the hands of the artist and his or her potential audience. The downside is that the internet is saturated. Believing as I do, in the Darwinian nature of the free market, I expect pathways to evolve where the greatest music can organically rise to the top.”
AG: The multi-million pound question – What do you think the industry will look like 5 years from now?
SG: “A year ago I was certain it would be 100 % digital. The new Apple doesn’t even have a disc option. However, the sales of my CDs in towns and cities across England have made me wonder. I am a singer songwriter and I can see that my audience still enjoy a tangible booklet of lyrics. Hopefully for me, I’ll have a great deal with a label that loves me and I won’t have to continue to do all the business bullshit myself.”
AG: If 5 years is too far ahead to think about, what have you got planned for the next few months?
SG: “I have a single out in August. We have a plugger getting us on Radio 2 play list for points on subsequent album sales, which is great for us. I am signing an international publishing deal this week and I have gigs in Shepherds Bush Empire, Pizza Express Jazz Club, the Borderline and many arts centers this fall. In the winter I will start recording my next record.”
Sarah Gillespie’s releasing a new single called How the Mighty Fall in shops in August with two new bonus tracks, the acoustic Big Mistake and the timely credit crunch anthem Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out by Bessie Smith available to watch now on youtube. The single, How the Mighty Fall, is available on iTunes now. Her album Stalking Juliet hit the shops in April 2009 on Egea Records to rave reviews.