Re-New Rules

Re-New Rules

From: Mike Vial

Here’s 11 for the newbies:

1. Learn to self-record:

It’s the one missing skill that’s holding me back. Recording may be cheaper than decades ago, but doing a record for 5K, 10K, 20K is still a lot of money to self-fund those first releases before being able to leverage; and it’s harder to break even on those releases with sales diminishing. At least track some elements at home or DIY spaces.

Even Sufjan Stevens recorded Illinois unconventionally, and got great results. (Pitchfork article)

2. Recognize crowdfunding has peaked:

It’s a one time shot, and it’s not an exciting topic now that everyone is pestered by multiple campaigns every month. If you try to do two campaigns, expect your friends and family to be annoyed; expect your fans to hesitate.

3. Pave your own way:

Studying other artists’ successes is hard to replicate. Most independent musicians who had success through the Internet leveraged previous major label promotion and/or were early adopters to a platform before it peaked. Don’t look at an artist’s history from 2007-2012 and try to replicate it exactly in 2015.

4. Learn time-management more than ever:

There are so many distractions interfere with what’s really important: writing, practicing, gigging, being present in life.

5. Focus on having the time, not the title:

Don’t try to be a full-time musician for the title; focus on being available, and not living in debt. It’s the time that’s important, so one can jump at an opportunity, can practice, can compose. Musicians want to be “full-time” thinking it’s a secret to success, and then go full time before they are financially ready, before having the contacts to get work, or even the skills… What if a day job doesn’t take 40+ hours a week, pays most of the bills, and offers chances to travel Thursday through Saturday? That’s a great job!

6. Know your numbers, manage your money:

Artists often say, “I’m not good with the money, that’s why I need a manager.” No. You don’t have a choice to ignore finances as independent musicians. Open up Excel. Keep track of every cent earned from the beginning of your music business. Make reasonable decisions.

7. Pay attention to hidden costs:

Gigging has hidden costs: Car repairs, insurance, fret-work on guitars, equipment replacement, lost time rehearsing or driving, gas mileage, investing in your retirement–a musician should look beyond the monthly bills for the hidden costs, and budget for them.

8. Remember, not all gigs are created equally:

That wedding gig might require 6-10 hours of additionally rehearsing before it. That decent paying bar gig might not generate any fans. Some students we teach are more demanding than others… Consider all the hidden hours that go into jobs. One might not be able to demand more money from a client, but declining work is just as important as accepting it.

9. Pay attention to your body:

You need to know yourself to stay at your best health, to perform well. Your sleep, your caffeine intake, your stimulant or alcohol consumption, your time recharging, your time exercising–keep your life in order. Advocate for your needs; don’t party when you work. Avoid spending money at the bar during your gigs. And remember, you will feel emotionally down at times; regroup mentally and avoid making big decisions when you are run-down.

10. Look out for yourself, especially if you are a solo artist:

If you are paying session players, doing all the booking and generating the gigs, but not making any money, you aren’t doing anyone any favors in the end when you give up. You need to make more money than the rest of the contractors you hire to stay afloat. It’s not selfish, it’s how a business survives. If you can’t afford it, then reevaluate your options.

11. Ask yourself why you need to be a musician before you jumping with both feet into the water:

Are you doing this because you have something to say? Because you love to travel? Because you have a ego that needs affirmation? Seriously, why do you need to be a touring musician; are you ready to embrace the difficulties of full-time gigging? Be honest with your answer; it will guide your future.



From: Jake Udell

Hey Bob, this is a response I wrote to one of my clients’ fathers who wanted to get my perspective in response to your New Rules e-mail yesterday. Since you’re always encouraging music industry leaders to speak up, I figured I’d share my thoughts with you!

Hope all is well!




In this article, he heavily favors the live business – for the average artist, the live business is where 90% of their revenue is generated. However, despite Bob’s emphasis on the live experience, this piece specifically gives little credit to the building blocks that create loyalty toward a musician – the songs themselves.

I agree with almost everything Bob says in this, but it’s important to recognize there are two sides to the coin on some of the topics he mentions –

1. You’re a musician, not a recording artist –

Without records, what would you play? :)

2. Festival gigs are the leg up –

Yes, festivals are an amazing opportunity for exposure, especially for young acts, but the highest grossing acts in the world make the most significant income selling hard tickets. Festival plays will always be important, but if you prove you can sell hard tickets, the festival needs you more than you need them.

3. Agitate for better streaming payments, but don’t focus on it –

Agreed. It is worth mentioning that I personally believe records will be worth more, not less in a few years, but it’s not worth agitating over.

4. Transparency –

He’s spot on.

5. Hits don’t guarantee live business –

He’s right. It’s worth mentioning that while they don’t guarantee it, artists that have hits are more likely to be in the public eye and more likely to have a successful live ticket business. Radio is still important to the majority of artists. When groomed correctly, many of revenue streams of an artists business grow on trajectory together and often times one can trigger the other – i.e. records doing well triggering live business or vis-versa

6. Live is freedom –

You can ALWAYS do it your way if you’re good enough and believe in yourself enough to know you are! Labels have their way of doing things and are at times difficult to work with because of their preconceived notions of what works. When you look at the biggest hits of the past 3-5 years, they were all extremely unconventional and from unconventional artists i.e. Lorde – Royals, Macklemore – Thrift Shop, Sam Smith – Stay With Me, etc. However, as the industry’s power continues to give way to the internet everyday, the labels understand the freedom that they have to grant the artist because the artist in many ways controls their audience. It is a constant back and forth – I would agree that live is freedom, but I do believe labels ultimate intention is to empower artists creatively – whether they can hold to it or not can at times be another story.

7. Talent is more important than looks –

Yes. Differentiation is very important even with talent and often times differentiation can come via image. Differentiation enables an artist to establish an unfair advantage for themselves by creating (their own lane) instead of competing (with others).

8. Live lasts. Hits don’t –

Hits enable the live to last.

9. Summer/Schummer –

Agreed with this example and realize it was an extreme, but for an artist like the Weeknd a summer hit can be the difference between selling out the Hollywood Bowl and Staples Center. It depends on who the artist behind the hit is, as well as the loyalty they’ve already built with that audience. Carly Rae Jepsen came out of nowhere! Her song was bigger than she was. Kudos to Carly, Scooter, and their team’s hard work of giving her the attention that an artist deserves these past couple years regardless of her one hit. We’re still talking about her. They’ll find a way!

10. Chops are everything. –

Definitely – and it’s as much mental as it is skills. Artists have to be ready for what it means to be a superstar or they’ll fizzle or worse…

11. Michael Rapino, not Lucian Grange –

They’re both brilliant. Michael fights for artists. Lucian loves breaking artists – but are major labels fighting for new artists or their catalog? What would you do differently if you were in their position and generating more income from your catalog than from new artists?

It’s worth mentioning the majors’ position on digital rights makes it extremely challenging to market new artists. For example, the cost of allowing any one artist to use soundcloud is minimal, in fact the opportunity cost of not using the platform as a marketing tool is far superior, but it sets a bad precedent for their catalog and its value. This is unfortunate for both artists and music technology entrepreneurs. The best results will be had when every stakeholder begins to think about what’s best for the future of the music business, but those perspectives are extremely different depending on whether you’re a new artist or own a significant portion of all music recordings ever created. The battle continues…

12. Music is everywhere! – Online presence is extremely important –

Art will always speak the loudest though.

13. Know who your fans are –

Yes. My friend and mentor Creighton Burke, the head of digital at AEG, has taught me so much about data and the way its being used to pave the future of the music industry. Platforms such as Sirius, Pandora, Spotify, Apple, iHeartRadio, etc. have been extremely supportive of my clients and been extremely influential in determining whether a record is a hit and furthermore in creating the best scenario for it to become one. These platforms are willing to take chances on artists and songs they believe in. And that’s what the music industry is all about!

New Rules

1. You’re a musician, not a recording artist.

It’s 2015 and not only have recording revenues declined, the whole world of music has gone topsy-turvy. Yes, there are a few superstars who base their careers on successful recordings, but everybody else is now a player, destined to a life on stage. This ain’t gonna change, this is the new reality. You can make an album, have fun, but don’t expect people to buy it or listen to it. The audience wants an experience. You’re better off honing your presentation than getting a good drum sound on hard drive. Your patter is more important than the vocal effects achieved in the studio. You’re back to where you once belonged, a performer. Be ready for a life on the road. Look for places to play. People love a good time. If you deliver one, you’ll get more work.

2. Festival gigs are the leg up.

Sure, there are headliners at the festival, but most acts are there for the exposure. The festival pays your bills and exposes you to new fans. You must deliver at the festival gig, you must be so good that people talk about you. It’s where the rubber meets the road, it’s your opportunity to ignite word of mouth, and word of mouth is everything in the new music business.

3. Agitate for better streaming payments but don’t focus on it.

Streaming is just one source of income. And for everybody who performs live, it’s de minimis. Most of the money is made elsewhere. To focus on streaming revenues is to get hung up on your tire brand as opposed to your car. Streaming won, it’s the public’s music consumption mode of choice, your goal is to get people to stream/hear your music so they’re curious enough to see you live, or check you out when you’re on the undercard at the festival.

4. Transparency.

I’m all for clearer accounting, I’m all for recording artists taking more of record company revenues. But this is now dominating the debate when the truth is it’s a sideshow. And isn’t it interesting how live is so completely different. Sure, accounting is not perfect live, promoters inflate costs and hide revenue. But the truth is on the road acts make the lion’s share of the money. The guarantees are insane. Your goal is to get enough fans such that your guarantee goes up. Better to have an agent interested in your act than an A&R man.

5. Hits don’t guarantee live business.

Iggy Azalea can barely sell a ticket and Wilco hasn’t ever had a hit but performs to thousands a night. Who do you want to be? Of course you want to be Wilco, believe me.

6. Live is freedom.

You can do whatever you want on stage. As long as the people respond and come back, you’re in control, you’re winning. Whereas labels are always telling you to employ a cowriter, to do it their way. You want to do it your way, believe me.

7. Talent is more important than looks.

Looks sell newspapers, they generate clicks. But they don’t sell tickets. And you’re in the ticket selling business. MTV died. And that paradigm did with it. Just because the media world has not caught on and trumpeted the result that does not mean it’s not true.

8. Live lasts, hits don’t.

Let’s be clear, a hit song lives on in people’s memories. But I challenge most of America to sing two songs from Taylor Swift’s new album. For all the hype about Ms. Swift, the truth is she’s someone everybody knows, but few know her music. She’s a huge niche artist. And she’s the biggest artist in the world. It’s even worse for One Direction, the other biggest act in the world, most people can’t even sing one song, even if more than a few know who Harry Styles is. This is so different from the way it used to be, when we had ubiquity, when everybody knew Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers In The Night,” both youngsters and oldsters. With everybody in control of the remote, we’ve learned that most don’t want any one thing. That’s why a hugely successful TV show has ten million viewers and late nighters like Fallon only do a couple of million (in a nation of 300+ million!) Disconnect from the hype network, none of these entities are that big. Which gives you a giant opportunity. You can find your fan base and grow it. Just don’t expect it to include everyone and don’t believe you’re entitled to it. If no one wants to see you live, you should probably find another line of work. But almost no one wants to see you when you’re new. Which means you must slog it out, paying your dues, until you find what makes you unique. And music is all about uniqueness, doing something everybody else does not. Me-too is for the radio, not for the stage. If you’re not the type who perseveres, if you’re not willing to forgo not only college, but creature comforts, you’re never going to build a lasting career.

9. Summer/Schmummer

Carly Rae Jepsen might have one of the biggest summer hits of the twenty first century, but Tedeschi Trucks has a larger core audience and does better live business and the band has NEVER had a hit! Song of the Summer is a construct for the media, it’s meaningless in the music business at large.

10. Chops are everything.

Practice. Once you’re competent, then you can improvise, then you can take chances. And great art is always about taking chances.

11. Michael Rapino, not Lucian Grainge.

Watch Rapino on Jim Cramer’s “Mad Money.” Listen to the numbers. Rapino is the anti-label guy, as are all promoters. It’s not about them, but the acts. A label will tell you acts come and go, but Live Nation and AEG are building relationships forever. Promoters pay your bills. Promoters want to serve you. You have leverage over promoters. Promoters are in bed with you. Furthermore, the faces don’t change, they’re lifers, there to build your career with you. Labels get new CEOs, but Paul Tollett has been running Coachella from its inception.

“Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino: The Changing Face Of Music – Mad Money – CNBC”

12. Music is everywhere!

People want it, and that’s a good thing. And they will continue to. It’s just a matter of adjusting to the way they want to consume it. The public wants to graze online, they want tracks, not albums. And they want to be able to research you and know more about you, which is why you must have an online presence.

13. Know who your fans are.

It’s all about the data. That’s why Facebook and Google are flourishing. They know who their users are, and they utilize their habits and preferences to hook them up with advertisers. You’re the product. You can connect directly with your fan base online. It doesn’t matter how many likes you’ve got or Facebook friends or YouTube views. Those are nearly meaningless statistics utilized to quantify something elusive. They can be faked and every few years we switch platforms and start counting all over again. Your career is forever. It’s about knowing who your fans are and how to reach them. Not overloading them and playing primarily to them. Your fans own you, not the radio station or the media. Your fans will support you. And most of your fans are not vocal, they will not click or tweet or send you e-mail but they’ll show up and buy merch. Play to them, otherwise you’re just a celebrity. Celebrities go on game shows, open shopping centers and stand for nothing. You’re a musician, you lead with your music…PLAY IT!

This Week’s Quotes

“Next up: Neil Young’s announcement that he is pulling his music from streaming services because of poor sound quality. ‘He’s a cranky old man,’ says Blodget. ‘Not to get all academic, but that is one of the hallmarks of disruptive technology. They’re not as good, they’re just good enough. People hear disruptive technology and they think, “Oh, someone invented something better.” Actually, no. It’s usually worse. But it’s cheaper, faster, and easier, and it gets better over time.'”

“Henry Blodget Is in the Middle of Another Tech Boom, With a New Product to Sell”

Straight outta Clayton Christensen, but I wouldn’t expect Neil Young to have read “The Innovator’s Dilemma.”

Why, in a country so focused on smart, is everybody so stupid? Own your intelligence, educate yourself, marketing does not trump everything.

MP3s did not sound as good as CDs. But they were cheap and easy to acquire and portable and the disc had no chance. Furthermore, even Apple started selling higher resolution, and now you can stream at a higher quality on Deezer and Tidal.

Not everybody can afford an iPhone. Not everybody wants to pay for an iPhone. Look at the worldwide numbers, iOS is dwarfed by Android. Android may be susceptible to malware, may not be as intuitive, but it’s cheap and good enough for most people. Which is why Apple’s worldwide market share caved.

You cannot deny the future. You can try to milk profits from a declining past, but you cannot prop it up. The history of the internet era is those who cling to the past get overridden by those living in the future. You can be a Luddite, but it does not serve you well.

AC/DC is now on iTunes. As is Bob Seger.

And if you don’t believe Neil Young will end up on streaming services you think the man from old Ontario doesn’t like money, but the truth is he does.

Please don’t get caught up in the sideshow. You don’t have to go to business school to be familiar with Clayton Christensen’s theories, you don’t even have to read his book, but you can start by reading the Wikipedia page: And you can do a bit more research, the internet is not only good for link-bait and social networking.

And know that the reason the techies are so successful is they’re willing to go where the artists refuse, boldly into the future. It’s a bizarre twist on the “Twilight Zone” episode “To Serve Man.” To avoid being eaten, educate yourself.


“Across the board, from the bottom to the top, the music industry is built on people pretending to be bigger than they are.”

An Interview with Artist and Composer Zoe Keating

Or as Jerry Heller once told me… A reporter asked him how many albums Ruthless Records sold… SEVENTY MILLION! The reporter believed Jerry. Jerry looked at me and said…”My company, my number.”

I could tell you not to believe everything you read, but you already know that. But you don’t know that most of the controversies in the music world are fake, done for publicity, for attention, and you’re gonna have a hard time legislating transparency in a world where no one wants it.

That’s Ms. Keating’s point. That the indie artists don’t want transparency because that will illustrate how tiny their audience truly is.

And believe me, the superstars don’t want it either. So many of their sold-out dates weren’t. Household names you adore have papered their shows.

But in a world where the government is whored out and there’s little chance for advancement the public/fans believe the stories in order to enrich their lives. They want to believe Neil Young is standing up for them, against the bogeyman. Taylor Swift is infallible and you’d better not say anything bad about people’s heroes.

But the truth is they’re human, just like you. Flesh and blood. Flawed.

Artists used to sell this message. Before they realized America was a giant casino where you had to have money to play and if you didn’t you couldn’t get a seat at the table.

So everybody’s lying. To you, and oftentimes themselves.

A lot of what you think is big is not. Artifice rules, just read Larry Butler’s piece on artist bios:

A Tribute to the Artist Bio Writer

I don’t even read them, they’re laden with untruths. But the truth is lame media outlets repeat them word for word and you believe them.

Those who win don’t believe. They’re not wedded to the past.

You can tell us how many Twitter followers you’ve got, even though you bought many, you can trumpet your Facebook likes, but only you know the darkness of your bank account, only you know you’re broke.

Or to quote the same damn man, who used to focus on writing good songs as opposed to business, where his skills do not lie…


P.S. If you’ve got more time, and if not you should make some, read the 2012 “New Yorker” article on Clayton Christensen –

“When Giants Fail, What business has learned from Clayton Christensen”

The Data

Nate Silver wrote the definitive story on Donald Trump and nobody knows it.

That’s right, America’s favorite statistician, the diviner of data, the man who makes sense out of chaos, analyzed the polls and found out that while Trump had the highest rating, his unfavorables were through the roof. In other words, only a small percentage of GOP voters favored him, uneducated on the issues to boot, and when the field consolidated, Trump would be history.

But unlike during the last election cycle, Nate Silver is no longer on the front page of the “New York Times,” and therefore his insights have no traction. In other words, the bloviating press that loves a horse race is going on about the success of Donald Trump when the truth is contrary to the hubbub.

It’s kind of like making a hit record that only plays on your local college radio station.

The old days of the internet are through. The ones wherein greatness surfaced and we were all the better for it. Today, you’ve got to attach your track to the coattails of an entity with a large audience, otherwise you’re just pissing in the wind.

How did we get here, how did it come to this?

The cacophony, the sheer plethora of information.

Furthermore, the Silver situation proves that the stuff with ink, that gets most attention, may not be the best. Which is why, in the music business, we’ve got story after story about the flavor of the moment that does not resonate with you when you check it out.

So what do we know…

He with the greatest audience wins, irrelevant of veracity or quality.

The “New York Times” survives, Nate Silver is marginalized. If you’re going it alone, be prepared to enter the wilderness, and possibly stay there. Because concomitant with the footprint of the powerhouses is the inability to compete with them. Bing proved this, Google was good enough. If you’re not reinventing the wheel, stay out of the fracas.

Meanwhile, our nation is going to look different in the years to come. Truth will out. Because a younger generation has grown up on facts, and they refuse to live in denial. It’s baby boomers who are blowhards, who believe if they just yell loud enough what they say will come true. But when numbers can be marshaled that contradict common wisdom, watch out.

This is the same battle over transparency that the Berklee report stirred up. If you think the labels are gonna get away with voodoo royalty reports in the future, you’re probably still using a flip-phone. As the oldsters retire, the young ‘uns bring in new models.

So what we’ve learned is you’re better off playing with the big boys than going it alone. Forget all the hogwash about independence, being able to make your record and release it yourself. To crickets in most instances. Macklemore may have been on an indie LABEL, but it was promoted by the major’s MACHINE! If you’re playing for all the marbles, don’t play by yourself.

And just because a record is number one, that doesn’t mean much. The latest statistics tell us that streaming services are a hotbed of catalog. The truth is that at least half the audience would rather listen to the certified oldies than forage for new stuff. Which is why the legends do such incredible live business. The industry doesn’t like this emphasis on catalog, it gets excited about the new, labels invest heavily in the new. Did you read the dearly departed Dave Goldberg’s report to the Sony brass? He said to cut costs on new and focus on old. But his story got buried, pardon the pun.

And know that the reason so much of the Top Forty, what is in the news, doesn’t spread, is because it’s just not good enough. It appeals to a very small hard core. And the truth is the most money in music is made when something appeals to everybody. So, our industry would be healthier if we got consensus and put a push behind that which got the most favorable response. And that will happen, when the millennials take over.

So what we’ve learned is it’s not you. You’re right, the media industrial complex is frequently hyping crap, and that which doesn’t fit its paradigm, however great, is lost in the tsunami of information.

Nate Silver turned chaos into comprehension. Read his report and you’ll see that Trump is a marginal player who can’t win. But few know this.

We’re waiting for the music business to turn chaos into comprehension. The problem is it’s run by old farts inured to the old ways. Obfuscating so they can line their own pockets. Imagine if we researched more records and then pushed those with the most favorable ratings. Would the chart look the same?

Of course not.

Nate Silver – “Donald Trump Is The Nickelback Of GOP Candidates”

Dave Goldberg – “Re: Music strategy-confidential”