Posts in business
Licensing on Louie

I love this Louis C.K. interview where he talks about licensing The Who's "Who Are You" for his TV show:

So we went to MCA or whoever has it and they said, “Well, we have the master rights and Pete Townshend’s publishing company has the publishing, and it’s a favored-nations deal.” In other words, whatever we negotiated with them, we would then also have to pay Pete and the publishing. So their first offer was, I think, $150,000. [Laughs.] Because it was the whole song! So we’d have to pay $300,000 total. That’s a whole episode for us. That’s the whole budget for the entire episode. But we didn’t give up. That’s the way it worked. And either the company or someone else told Blair, “The other way to work it is to go to Pete Townshend first.” Because it’s the same in the other direction: Whatever deal he makes, they have to honor his deal, too. They have to take whatever offer he gives. They have to match it. But try to go get Pete Townshend on the phone. That’s even harder. So it just took a lot of fuckin’ time. And occasionally, we’d be on the set shooting “Blueberries” or “Moving” or whatever it is, and I say to Blair, “How’s it going with The Who?” and she’d either say, “Dead” or, “I just talked to a guy today” or, “A guy I talked to today is looking into something.” And it went on and on. And finally, she said, “Well, Pete Townshend wants to know exactly how it’s being used, and he wants to see the show. He wants to see some episodes.” So I wrote him a synopsis of how it would be. I described it very carefully, and we sent him the DVD of five episodes from last season. And then, I don’t know, three or four months later, it felt like, he came back to us and said, “Can you send me 7,500 bucks?” [Laughs.] Yeah! And so the whole thing cost $15,000, which is fucking nothing!

I agree to a lot of licensing (and have always been laid back about it) so that's fun to read.

businessBrad Turcotte
Scott Andrew pre-order aftermath

Scott gives the lowdown on his pre-orders. Very awesome and open of him to give the numbers out. Looks like it was a pretty great success and huge congratulations to him.

I've been thinking about taking pre-orders for the next Brad Sucks album but I don't think I have the energy or time or talent to set up a sweet system like Scott's so I doubt I'll bother. It's hard enough getting the record out the door.

Radiohead and pricing thoughts

I don't know if anyone told you -- I mean the Internet has been practically silent about it -- but Radiohead is offering Magnatune-style pay-what-you-like pricing (including free) on the digital download of their new album In Rainbows (site is currently dead slow), to be released in ten days. Or you can buy their $80 box of vinyl and extra songs and stuff.

I don't have much to say about the move. Radiohead is in a unique position that's about as far away from most musicians as can be imagined and I'm thinking it'll work great for them.

What's interesting to me though, especially as I try to decide on one myself for the next record, is all the different sales models out there that musicians are using. It's a little overwhelming:

There's giving it away for free and asking for donations, variable pricing, lower-than-retail pricing, higher-than-retail pricing, tiered clubs with rewards, pre-ordering incentives, club memberships, merch bundles, box sets, etc, etc, etc.

How do you choose which one's best?

Amazon hype & gorillas

I'm pretty far behind on the blogging lately, let's see...

Amazon launched their DRM-free MP3 download service - good news for anyone who hates DRM. The implementation is nice, the player's decent. Things I don't know: a) how my music got in there b) how they decided on $6.99 for the price of my album (which is a dollar more than 50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Tryin') and c) how much I earn out of the sales. Seeing as though I earn about $6.50 from each iTunes album sale I assume this'll be significantly less riches for me.

I'm pretty into Hype Machine lately. My friend Ryan's been bringing me up to speed on the blog house scene. I really don't have the time or patience or really anything to keep up with things so I'm relying on aggregators to do it. Of course now I'm thinking about writing my own as making web sites to enable my own laziness is sort of a passion of mine.

I think I could watch this Cadbury ad about one, maybe two thousand more times:

I think this is the first time I've ever been happy to hear Phil Collins.

T-shirt designs

I'm trying to find a way to spice up my t-shirt selection. I've got a bunch of ideas chicken-scratched out but I'm no artist. I thought it would be nice to find people who could turn those into viable designs. I looked on Spreadshirt and Threadless but came up empty.

Mr. Coulton recently had a post about a collaborative t-shirt design site. Which would be sweet but is obviously a pretty rough thing to set up dealing with paying out royalties all the time.

I'd be satisfied if there was simply a site with talented t-shirt artists I could buy designs off of easily.

Classic Album sales

This CNN article goes over the recent sales of a lot of older/classic albums which is pretty interesting. Here are the sales numbers they mention for 2006:

Back in Black (AC/DC) 440,000
Cross Road (Bon Jovi) 324,000
Christmas Eve and Other Stories (The Trans-Siberian Orchestra) 289,000
Metallica (Metallica) 275,000
Number Ones (Michael Jackson) 162,000
Nevermind (Nirvana) 143,000
Appetite for Destruction (Guns N' Roses) 113,000
OK Computer (Radiohead) 94,000
The Soft Bulletin (The Flaming Lips) 38,000
Paul's Boutique (Beastie Boys) 22,000
It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (Public Enemy) 15,000
Millennium (The Backstreet Boys) 9,000
Mariah Carey (Mariah Carey) 5,000
1982 (Asia) 5,000

My conclusion from this data: Back in Black is a very popular album.

businessBrad Turcotte
Music 2.0 ideas

Scott has some great ideas for Music 2.0 services. I've been meaning to write up mine for a while as I've learned I'm too busy to launch any new sites.

My big idea lately is one I've been meaning to pitch to Magnatune:

Independent record labels should provide hook-ups to their artists for services such as graphic design, manufacturing, merchandise, booking, bio-writing, press kits, photography, advertising, PR and more. These are all things artists will pay for but it's hard to weed through the scams and overpriced poor quality services out there.

The record label would find quality professionals to perform these services at a reasonable price. Record label makes itself valuable to the artists by simplifying their lives, record label takes a cut or referral fee from each service transaction, artist has access to quality resources to improve their career, sells more music, everybody's happy.

Sellaband

I'm being called out in the comments for being a Sellaband slacker. It's interesting, I've been on lots of musician services and social networks but I've never been ragged on for not hassling everyone more to listen to my junk. What's up with that?

My impression is basically you need to spam the shit out of everyone to get anywhere on Sellaband. I really hate doing that sort of stuff. But if I was going to resort to brute-force hassling I might as well do it on my terms, with the proceeds going directly to me on a website permanently in my control.

Also as much of a capitalist I am, the phrase "maximize your believer potential" kinda turns my stomach.

Where your music money goes

An ask Metafilter question that caught my eye: Will my money get to the musician, or all end up with the record label?

Interesting question to me, but maybe not for the reasons the asker intended. While I recognize that fans want the artist to get paid, when a label is involved it's more complicated:

  • The artist entered into an agreement with the record label. Even if it's a shitty deal, why are you second guessing a decision that the artist made? Are we assuming that every artist on every label has been tricked?
  • The record label likely put up a lot of money to get the record made (which is a loan) -- this is why most of the money goes to the label. Why do they not deserve to make their money back? The record might not exist without them.
  • The artist may actually enjoy the support they get from their label. Recording advances, promotion and tour organization are some of the more common benefits. The label's only solid metric for determining the success of an album is sales through their distribution channels. If you take away those sales the label will likely decide the artist is a bad investment and drop them.

Independent artist money breakdown

For independent artists it's simpler of course as we have no record label loans to pay back, but there's still a lot of mystery. I'm asked often where I get the most money from awesome people who want to make sure their dollars go to me. Today in the interest of science and like... money... I did up some charts:

Net amount received by me per album sale. That's the amount that actually goes into my pocket, so bank fees, postage, digital distribution fees, manufacturing and other charges along the way are factored in. The album price per service is listed next to the service name.

Percentage received by me per album sale, based on the same data above.

Neither of these graphs take into account any signup or yearly fees. Amazon is $30 a year and CD Baby (who handles all the other digital distribution for me) is a $35 one-time fee. I'm also not 100% sure I got the iTunes UK album price right and Magnatune lets buyers decide the price from $5-$18 so I used an average of $8 which I think I read somewhere.

Analysis

No big surprise, buying direct from me is the best (for me). Direct digital sales (using my free open source digital store, natch) is the best in profit and percentage as I only pay Paypal fees and a negligible Amazon S3 amount. I make more per sale on CD Baby and iTunes UK than direct CDs from me, but that's only because the unit price is three or four dollars more.

It's interesting how low Magnatune ranks in both charts. Magnatune is a non-exclusive record label that I'm on (and enjoy being on), but unlike other label agreements I referred to in the beginning of this post, I have no debt with them. It's their decision to split the income and bank fees 50% with the artist, which means significantly less money for the artists than most other services.

Conclusion

It's pretty simple. The less middlemen, the more money gets to the artist. The best would be to pirate the album and personally hand the artist a ten dollar bill. That would be as close to 100% as you're going to get.

Music advocacy

Interesting article over at Pitchfork: What Do You Look for in Music Writing? As in music reviews, not like, writing music.

Music advocacy (well, it sounds better than "what mp3 blogs do") is exploding. Music criticism on the other hand survived commercially for the past 40 years or so by hitching itself to its own version of advocacy. In an age of limited music supply, the word of an informed expert was invaluable, and the flights of fancy or theory that expert indulged in were part of the deal. Sharply and suddenly, the internet has broken that link.

Since I was a teenager I've thought music criticism was silly. I've never really understood why I should care that someone doesn't like an album, it alway seemed like trolling -- a ploy to get fans riled up and generate attention. I prefer the idea of music advocacy, though I get impatient reading overwrought poetic waxings about music when I could have decided if I liked the music in the time it took to read the article. (Also there are only so many times I can read the word "scintillating" without wanting to puke.)

Lately as I've been working on my album I've been getting existential. Is there still a point to doing albums? Why should they be in 11 or 12 song bundles? What will I do when it's done?

It used to be a bad idea for a musician to release too many songs too quickly. You get the rep as being a prolific genius, but the quality pretty much always goes down. You oversaturate the market with a lot of b-side material, confuse potential fans and make it hard for anyone to find the songs they'd like.

But now that music advocacy is the name of the game, are things different? It seems like all you have to worry about is if there are enough people interested to separate the good from the bad. The bad gets ignored, the good gets spread around.

SNOCAP on MySpace

I've been looking forward to CD Baby's SNOCAP integration so I can sell songs direct on MySpace. It's now up and running and it seems all right. Here's the player/purchaser thing:

It's not the most glamorous player, but it gets the job done. From what little research I've done it seems to sell in DRM-free MP3 format which is cool. It would be nice to allow longer previews and replace the default MySpace player with it.

Non-DRM EMI tracks in the iTunes store

Hell has frozen over, pigs can fly, etc, etc. EMI and Apple have announced they're offering its entire digital catalog encoded at 256k and free of DRM for $1.29 per track (a 30 cent increase). Other info:

Entire album purchases will stay at the same price, but have the higher audio quality and will be DRM free.

EMI music videos will be available DRM free with no change in price.

Customers who purchased tracks previously can upgrade to DRM free tracks for $0.30 per track.

Jobs says they are trying to do similar deals with other labels, and expects that 50% of all of their tracks sold will be DRM free by end of year.

I figured this was on the horizon, but that's some seriously fast turnaround. Here's a list of musicians signed to EMI (though not all of these are available in EMI's digital catalog.)

businessBrad Turcotte
SellaBand

Have I blogged about SellaBand before? Basically an artist signs up and then tries to get 5,000 people ("believers") to donate $10 towards the recording of a CD.

It's been getting some decent press so I was wondering why I'm not doing it. I went to sign up tonight and read the following in the conditions:

  • Once an Artist has officially reached the Goal of $50,000 he/she is obliged to fulfill the recording commitment with SellaBand. Of the $50,000, $30,000 will be used for recording the CD. SellaBand will assign an A&R- manager who will book the producer, studio and mastering facility. The rest of the budget will be used for manufacturing, packaging and posting the 5,000 CDs for your Believers.
  • SellaBand will own the Album Master for 12 months after completion of the recording of the CD. After one full year you will get the full rights to the Album Master.
  • Only for the songs you will record with SellaBand you must sign a Publishing Agreement with SellaBand. In this agreement 60% of the publishing rights of these songs go to you. 10% goes to the Production team. The rest (30%) goes to SellaBand.

That seems crappy to me. So I raise $50,000 and SellABand decides who my producer, studio and mastering facility is? So the artist has no input into that? And no doubt they're not paying them the full $30,000. ($30k is a shitload of recording and I assume they're only going to refer you to studios and producers they have previous deals with.)

SellaBand owns the masters for 12 months so you're not doing jack with it outside of SellaBand for a year. And then you're tied to giving SellaBand and the production team 40% of your songs forever.

I dunno, I want $50,000 as much as the next guy, but it doesn't seem worth it to me.

businessBrad Turcotte
Magnet Media

Jason from Insomnia Radio sent me word of an interesting service they're partnering with called Magnet Media. Something I've been wondering about for a while now is how an independent artist (or band) is supposed to keep up with all the online services that allegedly promote a band.

For $50 a month Magnet Media hooks you up with a "Personal Promoter" who according to the promotional services list does the following:

They'll manage your email lists, post to blogs and music sites, send out MySpace â„¢ bulletins, and communicate with you directly to find out where you're playing next. In addition they will:
Add to Garageband.com
Add to Zuzula.com
Add to Podsafe Music Network
Add to Purevolume
Add to music.download.com
Add to Podsafe Audio Network
Add to Sonicbids EPK (pending artist approval)
Add to Last.FM (under artist name AND Magnet Media group)
Add to SonicGarden
Add to YouTube (music videos)
Add to Google Video (music videos)
Add to iSound.com
Add to Muze
Add to SnoCap-sell music directly from Myspace
Submission to select Live 365 DJ's
Registration for ''Global Battle of the Bands'' (artist approval)
NACA (National Assoc. of Campus Activities) Entry for Conventions/Showcases (artist approval)
Add discography to www.discogs.com
Add band wikipedia entry
Add information to www.musicbrainz.org which Last.FM pulls data from.
Submission to Association of Music Podcasting (over 85 music podcasters)
And more…

It's an interesting service idea, though many of the services listed I've never heard of or consider to be fairly worthless from a promotion aspect. I'm also not sure why you would pay $50 a month for this as about 98% of the items on that list are one-time submission services.

They also offer an artist website (domain name included) and fan email lists. Who owns the domain? Is hosting included? If you quit Magnet Media do you keep all your accounts and email lists?

They also list press releases. Are those free? They list "distribution opportunities" but don't say if they're included or you have to pay extra. "Opportunities" sure sound extra to me.

I think there's a fair amount of money out there for this kind of service, much like what's going with the smaller advertising services like FM Publishing and The Deck.

Lately I'm into the idea that record labels should be services that musicians subscribe to. But I'd have to feel they actually know what they're doing for me to invest in them and put myself and my email lists into their potentially inept and/or evil hands. Uploading my bio and video places is convenient but not really worth paying for (disclosure: I'm cheap.)

businessBrad Turcotte