Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Consultants Are the New Management Role

 I heard from a whining artist the other day that managers only took a percentage of what the artist earned. The artist was angry since he got an offer that he could pay for management services and as usual though he became screwed.

I have seen more and more managers actually turning into more of a consultant. Even more and more of them call themselves consultants. In my opinion, that is also where the management role is going to be, and here are the reasons why.

Yes, in the old days the management role was just a percentage. At the same time, this is quite long time ago and the industry has changed. This is mainly in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s people born in those years are now middle-aged. Back then the artist made money. Touring was a substantial part of the income. Getting a percentage of that and merch sales could make you a living, not a big a living but an income. Same with record sales. The sales came hand in hand with the release that also could be sold and get some monetary value. This was more the 70’s and 80’s, in the 90’s it started to change.

In the mid 80’s there were many managers just discovering artists then went out to the record labels shopping for a deal with a large up-front payment. Back then many labels used tax reductions to get losses deducted. Not unusual that they signed five artists in the same style and genre to put money into one, and the other four were just to kill the competition and the expression was to ‘shelve them.’ This set up worked for the manager that they just went out found a deal with a large upfront. Signed off the band took their percentage from the upfront money and then just disappeared or lost interest in the band. Went out and did the whole thing all over again, leaving so many artists stranded on labels that didn’t want to do anything for them.

This is now history. These tax reductions cannot be done. The labels now need the artist that actually is already making money. Also, they got every tool in the world to see when the artists start to make money by following numbers on streaming sites and social media. This left the manager role in 2000’s to be the developer of artists. Before you got some money now you become the investor for artists. The problem here was that the risk taken is so much bigger. In the early methods, you could easily see money after a year. Now the investment time of ROI could be as long as five years. To solve this many managers took on several bands at the same time. The risk was too big that working with an artist for three years and just when you should get some money back on your investment the artist quit. Instead, you spread the risk but did just what was needed to have them on and see where it leads to.

Over 2000’s since distribution became very easy and at no cost many artists started to manage themselves. With that, they also lost the knowledge of the manager. It was not just the money, the manager had the knowledge of how the industry worked, the manager also had the network to get things done, they did know how to ask for favours or how things needed to look before they went for something. Into the2010’s you just got more and more artists doing their self-management running around like headless chickens getting nowhere. Today,  we see many artists killing their careers with self-management. 

This of course destroyed a lot of the plans a manager could execute. That with all the risks that the manager had to do made many cross-over to other fields. The Management role became just a training course to get into a better position at a streaming service or a publisher. Then in the mid-2010’s a hybrid started to appear. Managers still needed money, the artist still needed the advice and the network. Of course, in most cases, the manager didn’t want to risk time or getting no salary for years to help an unknown artist. In many cases, they really didn’t want to get involved in that kind of way. They wanted to help but not to invest five years of non-stop free work.

Now we see this new role unfolds. Especially with the hit of Covid where the live industry went on to their knees. Under the table I see more and more managers become consultants and let an artist pay a fee for a certain time, usually a release of something. They do different things like co-ordinate the release, deals with PR, and with the distribution and shape social media and homepages up. A necessary thing for an artist to have, it’s the only way to stand out in the massive wave of music that is released every day.

Some managers think this is wrong. They get artists complaining like the guy at the beginning of this text, demanding that they should work for free and commit to working with the artist's music. They look back on history and get told that managers work for a percentage. That was true, back then the artist actually had money to share a percentage. Today 20% of zero is still zero. The artist invests in their career so they can make it a hobby until the money comes in. A manager is in a working profession and they need to have money to uphold the network and pay the bills. 

 “But please don't put your life in the hands of a rock and roll band who'll throw it all away” sang Oasis. My guess is that it’s so true. The managers that will go on the percentage will be the partners of the band, like a wife or a boyfriend. They work for free since they want to be part of the project. They are managers but I would like to have a new word for them. In reality, they are managers in training as they go along.

The professional managers will be setting up services as a consultant, that is the future. More and more are doing it and it is worth paying for their services and knowledge. We just have to teach people not to think that this world works as the world before cell phones and the internet.

Original story in Cashbox Magazine Canada

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Internet Killed The Nerdiness!

 If you know me, you know I am the king of nerdiness. I was out in Stockholm and went into a second-hand store that carries used vinyl, CDs, and Comic books. No, I more or less sighed over the CDs. As a collector’s item, they really are dead. Vinyls, no I’m not a vinyl freak. I guess running a distribution service for over twenty years with vinyls I am pretty bored with the format. Still, it’s a collector's item and there were a couple of strange guys going through the boxes of different vinyls. No, I’m collecting comics, only white men in their 40:s are collecting those I guess the kids of today don’t really know what a comic book is they just think that is a merch item that went with the movie.

In front of me in the queue line was an older guy that wanted to sell some old comics. Usually, they are quite expensive. If you had a pretty good copy of Donald Duck from the 50’s it was worth money. The prices have gone down lately. The old man was unhappy with the price, so I overheard the conversation and after he left talked a bit to the owner about why the comics have gone down.

“They haven’t in one way. The problem is that Tradera (the Swedish version of E-bay) makes it so easy to put something out for sale that now a copy really has to be in mint condition to fetch the big money. Suddenly now it also should be mint condition first edition to attract the collector. The problem these sites have flooded the market and by that dumped the prices”, the guy explained.

He was totally right. His store is now selling more on Tradera, E-bay than in the store. Everything just becomes available. Part of being a collector is the hunt. You go around in small obscure shops and find a bargain. Now everything is online you just put in what you seek, and the internet will send you a message when it’s coming out. That is like playing chess and having the help of a computer. Where is the fun?

To get the whole collection you get it extremely easy online, you just wait for the notes from the sites to come in. Or you must have a lot of money to buy exceedingly rare items for a lot of cash. Also, you lost the driving force to get out there to hunt down that item that you were looking for. You don’t need to know the history of an object and where to find it. You just buy it.

I drew parallels with the music industry. A lot of my bands I liked as a kid were impossible to buy in my hometown. First of all, the records stores in my hometown Örebro really sucked! It was like old dudes digging country and thought they really understood music. They thought they were cool when they brought in bands that were hot ten years after their peak. Calling these stores record stores is like calling McDonalds fine dining. So, I was going to Stockholm the capital of special fairs to hunt down strange copies of Ramones, Mistfits records, and memorabilia. That happened two times a year and it was like Christmas two times extra a year. These times were a hunt and a coolness to find something new. Also, you find some new stuff.

Today you find these rare collection items more than the big hits online. Since they are rare, people shared these first, so they are really out there. The Internet gave us all and also killed the nerdiness of collections. Now it is only mint conditions that are of value. Not to be heard just to collect for a lot of money. Like an investment.

My hunt for the next thing is almost dead. I still go to car boot sales and find stuff. Just because they are not online you can still hunt cool things down. Also, find stuff that you never have seen; you learn something. Online you just type in exactly what you know and then you just have that.

So where is the nerdiness that I need? It used to be in the live scene. Seeing new artists on small stages. That was a driving force. Then Covid hit and took that away. So, I could find a new artist online. No, you really can’t; it’s the same stupid things as collecting things online. There is no hunt, there is no excitement. It is killing the game. I am just waiting for Covid to go away and I can get back out hunting for new cool music. My guess also that it will explode with new music. But I will get back to that in another of my stories.

Luckily, I can nerd down in other things. I just pumped my aquarium. And here the internet is great to find new things since you are not a collector you just need practical solutions. So, I can still be a nerd, but the internet is a double-edged sword in the battle.

Orginal story in Cashbox Magazine Canada

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Which Artists Will Survive COVID-19?

 I have been talking to many festival organizers over the past weeks. Mainly I wanted to ask if they are going to try to do them in the summer of 2021 or push them to 2022 or just close altogether. That has been the debate the whole time which bars, gig venues, and festivals will survive. The other discussion is which artists will survive has not been covered much in the media but has been discussed behind the scenes activity in the industry.

Many festivals are taking the same line-up with them from 2020 until 2021. Now of course if they move to 2022, that line-up is not that current. Even if you have the line-up from last year who knows which artists will still be active.

Ok, huge artists who have a stack of money will survive. But the middle size bands that you think are making money are at risk. Now when money is low, they are forced to find other jobs with probably better payment. When things clear up in a bit there is a big chance that they have found new career paths and don’t feel stable enough to get back to the uncertain music industry again. Many of these people will be light engineers, sound engineers, and back musicians. Without those, the artist can’t tour. Of course, they can get new ones, but they need to be trained.

Another problem might be that the artist that should have been on the road in 2020 might not be able to do it in 2021. The festivals really don’t know who they can have on their line-ups. The latest gossip is that the really big festivals that need artists from all around the globe will push to 2022 since they are not sure if people will be able or allowed to fly this summer.

My guess is that many artists will abandon their careers. They have felt it’s not fun anymore and this will be the final nail in the coffin. Music is not dying though. The empty slots are replaced by new ones. We need music and there are people that also express themselves through it. I guess we will see a big change in many charts though. A massive thing with a new artist coming up.

Then you have the backside that you always get in these situations with the economy going down and people laid off. Suddenly all these that jumped on a new career years ago in another crisis are picking up their instrument again and trying to make a comeback. Right now, my email box is full of band members from the past doing new projects. The problem with them is that you know already they don’t have the stamina to be in this business, so my attention span for them is very low.

I’m on the hunt for new artists that want to take a chance, really live and breathe music, and want to explore the new opportunities that will be available in the new world after the pandemic.

In these situations, you can see who really wants to be in the industry and likes to work with music. Not just saying that they do, the people that mean it. I can also say that I see the same patterns along with people that tried to get into the business but really never had the full passion. With these positions taken again, you will have new opportunities. The issue right now is to forecast who will stay on and who will fall off the train.

The original column from Cashbox Magazine

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Fans or Just Numbers?

You know what? Your song might not be a flop just because it doesn’t have any numbers. The numbers just show how much marketing that has been done. The numbers don’t tell you if the song is good or bad. The numbers just tell you how many that listened to it and that doesn’t even tell how long they spent of their time listening to the song.

We have a problem in the music industry because too many people believe that they can find the next thing strictly by the numbers. Not statistics, you can actually get info from statistics. Only information on things that are not the future (yet). I have seen new programs that can predict a little bit of how songs will perform in the future from the statistics, but just if nothing major happens.

The problem is the number crunching. People just go on Spotify and see that “wow! This has 12 million listings!” and automatically think it is a hit. To be honest you can easily get those numbers with a crappy song and put it into the right channels to get the numbers up. The problem is that the fans are not actual fans, they are just people getting shot in a drive-by music shooting in the different digital outlets. A victim of how someone managed to fool the algorithm to place the song in front of you and you click on it just to listen the first 20 seconds and realize that it is so bad you just want to turn it off. Switch the channel to something else and forget about the song. The problem is that mistake is now a figure in the listing’s statistics for that song. Another way to lure the algorithms is to share it with another victim of bad music.

So now you think I will tell you that it was better before. Not really, this has been this way for too many years. Before this was done by blowing up your sales in cheating ways. An artist in Sweden for example sold his new single for one cent in the ice cream trucks. Then reported the sales.  One way to cheat the algorithms. At the same time Virgin used housewives in the 70’s and the 80’s. Gave them money to go down to buy the records they wanted in the charts. The phenomena is not new in any way. The problem here is that now it’s so easy and cheap that any average Joe can do it online because now suddenly it’s easier to cheat the numbers than actually have a real career.

The truth then was exposed when the artist went on tour. Suddenly even the most streamed artist in the world could only get 500 people to a show in a major city. A good marker was if an artist could draw an audience on a live show if they really had any fans or just numbers. Now during COVID this function is off. There are no measurements at all. There are no live shows and no real audiences. This has never happened before and the reactions I see right now are very strange. Okay a lot more PR is done for each new release. The cheating is now through the roof. At the same time, nothing new comes out from all the noise. No new artists are on the horizon. It’s mainly the old that we already had and are trusted that get any attention. If anything the noise is so loud so even that AC/DC has released a new single which people never thought would happen since members have died and so on. Still, the noise was so loud that they were drowned. It passed me I found out by mistake that there was a new single out.

I was recently checking the numbers. The song has been out for less than a month and has just passed 6 million streams. That is what an average Joe rapper from Hackensack can cheat up to in a week. Okay and the song will climb on if it gets traction. But my guess is that if they manage to tour again the song will reach quite high numbers. Like I wrote at the beginning of this article, it’s all about marketing, the problem right now is that the number one tool is shut down (live performances) and we don’t know for how long or when it things will be able to return to some sort of normal.

One thing I will be thrilled to see is what happens when COVID is over and how will live appearances change the top lists.

Here is the original article from Cashbox Canada