YouTube for bands and musicians

In the 21st century, bands and artists compose, develop and promote music predominantly in the online space. Instagram, SoundCloud, YouTube, TikTok and Twitch provide platforms for them to showcase every aspect of their music and identity. This blog post explores how musicians can use YouTube to connect with fans or share new music and whether you should invest time in setting up your own channel. Could it be a money maker?!

Gaining recognition as a band: stage vs. screen

When my band and I were trying to grow our fan base just after the turn of the millennium, we heard one message and one message alone: if we wanted to become successful musicians, we’d have to be prepared to play our asses off. This was the golden rule of the era. In practice, bands had to play a huge number of live shows in local venues to discover what worked and what didn’t. It typically took years for a band to find their signature style. Today, the music business is far more fast-paced, and the process of cultivating an identity has largely shifted online.

There are now a large number of musicians who seldom or never play live, but connect with fans exclusively via YouTube and social media channels. By posting music videos and other video content several times a week, some of them achieve audiences that would never have been possible in the pre-internet era. Well-known examples include the US singer and songwriter Charlie Puth, who gained fame through YouTube, and Ed Sheeran, who reached No. 1 in the iTunes charts before even signing his first record deal.

Cover versions as a way to get noticed

While YouTube was still in its infancy, it was relatively easy to gain a fan base by uploading very simple content. When the platform went online in 2006, it was not at all uncommon for YouTubers to sit down in front of the webcam with an acoustic guitar and sing into the built-in microphone on the laptop. American indie folk singer-songwriter Terra Naomi was one of the first artists to gain success by doing so.

Meanwhile, some previously unknown musicians used cover versions of big hits to achieve viral success. Shawn Mendes and Justin Bieber, for example, uploaded their first cover songs to YouTube in their teens before becoming globally celebrated stars in the following years. Though it wasn’t enough to propel them to international stardom, Canadian band Walk off the Earth won more than impressive 190 million views on their cover of Gotye’s Somebody That I Used To Know. The Canadian band put their own spin on the song by having five musicians play the same acoustic guitar. Do you have your own idea for a YouTube cover with unusual instrumentation?

YouTube demands non-stop production

In recent years, technical progress has meant that high-quality audio and video recordings are becoming ever cheaper to make. As a result, viewers expect better and better output – and it’s much tougher to stay competitive on the YouTube scene. The most successful YouTubers have risen to the challenge by setting up their own recording studios, DSLR video cameras and lighting systems as well as becoming experts in video editing software. They control every step of the production process and upload a large number of high-quality videos with impressive regularity. It is impressive just how much creative output some YouTubers have delivered with over the course of their careers – regardless of the genre.

The importance of a regular schedule

While it used to be customary for bands to release ten songs every three years, YouTube music stars regularly release ten songs every three months. How or whether this enormous creative pressure affects the quality of creative output is too big a question to be answered here. It’s worth remembering, however, that failing to release content regularly can quickly lead to subscribers switching allegiance to another channel.

In addition, the Google algorithm appears to favour videos that are at least ten minutes long and are uploaded by accounts with more than 10,000 subscribers. As such, if channel operators want to monetise their content, they must produce content on a continuous basis and keep in touch with their fan base across all their social media channels. Only very few manage to do this – or at least to keep it up for a sustained period.

The new YouTube generation

With more than 2 billion monthly active users, YouTube as a platform is as popular as ever. What has changed is what it takes to beat the competition. Accordingly, some musicians have begun to how their channels are run – and many have been successful in doing so. I count Ola Englund, Rob Scallon and Cobus Potgieter as just some of the ‘new’ generation of music YouTubers who have mastered the art of evolving on Youtube. All of these artists have been active on the platform for several years and have uploaded hundreds of videos sharing their passion for music with their fans.

If you look at the channels I mentioned, it becomes clear that successful music YouTubers must offer a much broader range of content than they did ten years ago. Their content ranges from topics like ‘Life hacks for your instrument’ or ‘How do I play song X?’ to ‘How was this particular sound created?’.

For his part, Rob Scallon has gained over 2 million subscribers with elaborately produced videos covering metal hits with his sitar, banjo or jazz band. In other videos, he shows how to build DIY guitars.  South African drummer Cobus Potgieter is fellow veteran of the platform, uploading drum cover versions that often get many millions of views.

High-quality videos, authentic content

Since YouTube is the most popular music streaming service in the world and is still most people’s first port of call for consuming music, getting heard (read: noticed) demands good, aesthetically appealing content. Uploading regular, high-quality content that conveys your sound and image authentically is key to long-term success on YouTube. Your most important goal should be to build a close connection with your fans through genuinely enjoyable videos.

These don’t always have to be elaborately staged. Clips from the rehearsal room, from your latest tour or from an evening playing pool will be appreciated by fans as authentic insights into your band’s day-to-day life.

Is YouTube worth it for you?

While the number of albums or singles sold used to be the definitive indicator of a band’s popularity, it is now the number of streams on Spotify or plays on YouTube that decides. For this reason, you should consider incorporating the platform as a building block in your music career.

If one thing is clear, it’s that the production of interesting, high-quality content requires a great deal of time and practice. What’s also clear is that this effort can pay dividends. If your band has a large number of subscribers, this translates automatically to fans who can support you on Patreon, promote and advertise your crowdfunding campaigns, buy your merchandise and attend your shows when you go on tour.

The final point to make is that if you want to succeed on YouTube, you should be prepared to invest a lot of time before you start to see financial returns. An alternative source of income is a must for while you’re building your channel. You need at least 1,000 subscribers and a playback time of 4,000 hours within the last 12 months to be able to participate in the YouTube Partner Programme and earn income through advertising revenue.

Partnering with influencers

After all that, you’re probably wondering: what’s the best way is to get started? How do you actually become a YouTuber? The answer, unfortunately, is that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Content producers who get millions of views don’t usually blow up overnight with a viral video, but spend years consistently publishing high-quality videos and building their profile little by little. Eventually, they became so present that they simply can’t be ‘missed’ any more. As with most other things in life, consistency is the key to success.

Of course, this is not to say that there are no useful ‘shortcuts’. Collaborating with established YouTubers, in particular, is a great way of gaining new fans. Appearing in another YouTuber’s video gives you the chance to connect with a new audience and is almost certainly the quickest way to raise your profile. If you don’t have a successful YouTuber in your circle, you can arrange contracts and advertising campaigns with influencers through agencies such as Mediakraft.

Creator Academy

Ultimately, only you can decide whether to invest the time and effort to build a fan base on YouTube. If you want to go ahead, it’s worth taking a look YouTube’s Creator Academy (creatoracademy.youtube.com), which offers helpful tutorials on how to get started on the platform. Although a YouTube presence is certainly not a prerequisite for success as a band or musician, I recommend it as an effective way to raise your profile and expand your fan base.

I’d love to know what you think. What role does YouTube play for your band, if any? Do you run your own YouTube channel? Do you see the development of new artists shifting more and more into the digital space – and what are the downsides and opportunities? Let’s chat in the comments!

Band image: why you should build a brand for your music

It’s never been easier to release your own music without a record deal and to single-handedly carry out the marketing. At the same time, the never-ending stream of new songs and albums makes it difficult to attract attention from anyone other than your devoted fans. This is why it’s more important than ever for you – as an artist, musician or band – to develop a credible image. Key to this is what marketing experts refer to as a ‘unique selling point’ (USP). What makes you and your music different? In this post, we’ll explore why you should think about your band as a ‘brand’ and how you can go about developing a band image.

Music promotion: old strategies are no longer enough

The ‘80s was the heyday of the big record companies. The recording industry was making bigger sales than ever before or since. Every album release was preceded by a lead single, almost always with a lavishly produced music video. After the album’s release, a new single was marketed to the public every few months. The aim was to keep the artist in the public spotlight for as long as possible. As an important opinion leader and major advertising platform, radio played a significant role.

Despite the fact that the music industry has changed profoundly over the last two decades, big labels’ strategies for the release of new music are much the same as they were 40 years ago. In fact, it is difficult to identify even a single radical innovation.

New opportunities for independent musicians

Given this changing landscape, there are now more opportunities than ever for independent artists to disrupt the market and do things differently than the major labels. There is little to lose and much to gain. First, however, independent artists must figure out exactly what they want to achieve as a band and how they want to be perceived by the public.

Ultimately, bands fall into two categories. Some have passive audiences and are permanently relegated to the role of support act; others run rings around the main act with euphoric crowds and extraordinary stage performances. I’ve experienced both as a drummer, and not surprisingly, the second version is much preferable to the first. But what separates the bands in each scenario?

Falco: an example to follow

Before I attempt to answer that, I want to turn briefly to Austria, where musician Johann Hölzel created his alter-ego ‘Falco’ in 1978. Drawing inspiration from the East German ski jumper Falko Weißpflog, his style evolution began with a casual leather jacket and trainers. From his second album onwards, he perfected his visual image and became a sought-after public figure.

During Falco’s heyday, his appearance and image were at least as important as his music. He had countless designer suits custom-made and appeared proudly in tails at the Vienna Opera Ball before his hit Rock Me Amadeus climbed to the top of the US charts in March 1986. By that time, the ‘Falco’ brand was fully formed. He presented himself as his fans loved him to be: arrogant, provocative and unapproachable. A few years before his untimely death, he gave an interesting insight into his image. “I make sure that I wear a particular ‘Falco’ face on the outside,” he said in an interview, “because that’s what I’m like 99 percent of the time anyway.”

Finding your own style

Falco’s example holds important lessons for other musicians. To succeed, musicians must commit whole-heartedly to embodying the role of the artist with all its idiosyncrasies.

If your instinctive response is to think, “I just want to make music that people like – it can’t be that difficult!”, you probably don’t need to read any further. If your aim is to be a songwriter, you can pen hundreds of songs over the next few years, negotiate a great deal with a music publisher and live a quiet life behind the music industry spotlight.

If, on the other hand, you want to appear on stage as a successful artist, you can’t just play a role: you have to live it. If one thing is clear, it’s that there are many great musicians out there and at least as many good songwriters. Yet while many musicians’ technical skills have become increasingly refined over recent years, very few bands manage to find their own style and communicate it effectively to the outside world.

The good news is that there are many ways to develop a unique story for your band – whether a special sound, a distinctive voice, original songwriting, extraordinary live performances or a unique aesthetic.

3 tips for developing a band image

One of the difficulties I’ve encountered in the past is in devising a complete and coherent artistic world: one where everything meshes and fits together. I’ve spent a long time thinking about how best to tackle this challenge and, in all honesty, I still don’t have the (complete) answer. That said, the following three steps should serve as a good jumping-off point for finding your style as a band:

1. Think carefully about what you stand for. Which ideas and stances do you endorse? Which do you oppose? What do you believe in? What are your values? Discuss this together and compile the keywords you want to define the public perception of your band in the future: provocative, combative, thoughtful, hip, cheeky, whimsical, hyperbolic, etc. Once you’ve collected around twenty keywords, create another list for the words you definitely don’t want to embody.

2. The next step is what I call ‘creative writing’. Tell the story of your band, feeling free to use creative licence in parts. Always remember that this step can be updated and changed at any time. Try to make the prose feel like your music – ideally with sounds to accompany the words. Remember, however, that this work is not intended for public eyes and ears. The sole purpose is to give you a clear vision of how you want to be perceived by the world.

3. How you define your aesthetic as artists is crucial – after all, this is what will pique your audience’s interest in your music and musical vision. To get started with this, I recommend creating a Pinterest account and a general ‘inspiration board’ as a jumping-off point. Pin images that complement the ethos of your musical project. As you do so, don’t be limited by what they depict: photographs, landscapes, colours, fashion, logos, record covers, t-shirt designs and more can all serve as fantastic inspiration.

At this point, it’s about transforming a feeling into something tangible. It’s important to allow enough time for this process – at least four to six weeks – and to bear in mind that it is never truly fully complete. Once you are satisfied, I recommend you create additional boards for the themes ‘Photography’, ‘Live’, ‘Clothing’ and ‘Video’. Here, add inspiring images of people to help you crystallise your aesthetic. Later, share these boards with people who work for you, such as photographers, lighting designers, video directors, etc.

My recommendation: a Pinterest board for visual elements

Nothing is worse than placing the development of your image concept entirely in other people’s hands. If you decide to do this, it’s highly likely that you’ll end up with photographs that don’t match your music video, a music video doesn’t match your album cover, etc. You can avoid this easily by giving clear instructions to the people you work with. A Pinterest board can be a great place to start.

From your band image, develop the story of your band

Once you’ve decided how you want to appear to the public, everything else should fall into place. Your image concept will dictate what you’re going to wear on stage or in photo shoot, what you should and shouldn’t post on Instagram, and more. You’ll be able to quickly brainstorm album cover or music video ideas and discard them if they don’t work for you.

Always remember, however, that aesthetic elements are only a tool for communicating your vision. It is equally important to have a compelling story that makes sense alongside your music and image. All the pieces have to fit together and, at the same time, not appear too complicated or esoteric.

When I think about this topic, the story of the Finnish rock band Sunrise Avenue always comes to mind. After being rejected by a string of producers, they agreed at the end of 2004 to record an album with producer Jukka Backlund without having a record deal. The funding was provided by a friend of the band, Mikko Virtala, by selling his house – or so the story goes. It remains unclear whether it is true, but true or not, it is certainly ingenious.

Does your band really need to function as a brand?

As you read this post, you might be feeling like this is all too planned and contrived. Presumably, if you wanted to be in a manufactured girl or boy band, you’d have joined one.

Yet as the conventional wisdom goes: planning with doing is usually fruitless; doing without planning, however, is disastrous. All these steps are merely tools to help you develop and consolidate a creative vision. This, in turn, will allow you to bring this vision to life for the world and be stars in front of your fans.

Have you ever considered the image you want your band to project? Do you think band image is relevant at all, or should bands and musicians avoid straying into branding and marketing? I’d love to hear your thoughts below.

Crowdfunding: a new way of financing music, videos and concerts

Whether producing new songs, shooting a video or financing a tour: those who make music – and want to make a living from it – are increasingly turning to crowdfunding to make it happen. Platforms including Kickstarter, Startnext, Indiegogo and Patreon now allow musicians to have their projects funded by fans. Not sure how to go about it? This article contains handy hints and tips for your next campaign.

Recorded music sales are in decline

Thanks to widespread upheaval in the music industry, the last decade has been tricky for record companies and even trickier for career musicians. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) reports that revenue from sales of recorded music in Germany fell from € 2.3 billion in 1997 to € 577 million in 2019, prompting many labels to reconsider their level of investment in new talent. Not surprisingly, alternative forms of financing for art and culture are becoming increasingly popular.

Crowdfunding for music

Platforms such as Kickstarter, Startnext and Indiegogo allow users to request voluntary contributions from fans and followers to support a specific project. In return, these backers receive material or non-material ‘rewards’ from the project owners. As well as funding countless start-ups and innovative new products, crowdfunding has enabled many musical projects to see the light of day.

Between its launch in 2009 and November 2020, Kickstarter had collected almost 5.5 billion dollars from fans. While a quarter of this was for games projects, bands like De La Soul and TLC also used it to pre-finance their album productions. At German competitor Startnext, where backers have contributed some 115 million euros to date, musical projects are the most popular category. More than 1,000 campaigns have been successfully concluded, with bands like Hundreds, musicians like Peter Licht and organisations like the Bavarian Philharmonic Orchestra or the Auerworld Festival raising funds for their events or recordings.

Kickstarter, Startnext & co. can be useful – but they offer no guarantee of success

The rise of crowdfunding shows how quickly conditions in the cultural sector have changed. It also highlights new opportunities for creators and consumers of music as a result of technological progress. The fact remains, however, that music is much less profitable a career than it was 25 years ago. Moreover, although crowdfunding for musical projects is becoming more popular, many projects are still not successful in securing the funding they need.

On Kickstarter, the success rate across all projects is 38 percent. Campaigns that do not reach their funding goal leave empty-handed. Startnext, meanwhile, reports that 73% of all music campaigns on the platform are successful – i.e. that they reach at least their predefined minimum funding level.

14 tips for financing music with crowdfunding

It’s only natural that musicians wonder how they might benefit from crowdfunding – and what challenges they might face along the way. To answer these questions, I’ve put together 14 tips to help secure the success of your own music-related crowdfunding campaign:

  1. Think of the launch of your crowdfunding campaign like the release of a new album. In addition to a memorable title, you need a well thought-out ‘corporate design’ that allows the campaign to be recognised easily. Adapt the look of your website and all social media channels accordingly. Consider having new band photos taken so that fans have something new to consume during the campaign. Finally, don’t forget to plan exactly what content you want to publish on the crowdfunding platform (and when) so that your project retains momentum and attracts as many potential backers as possible. The best way to do this is to create a regular content plan.
  2. This brings us to the next important point: the rewards. Your main goal here is to offer only things that your fans really want or can use. When, as often happens, a crowdfunding campaign fails reach to its goal, unappealing rewards are most often to blame. As such, my tip is to consider your rewards with care and allow adequate lead time for planning: a minimum of six weeks, preferably two months. This will pay off. How many rewards should you offer? What makes most sense? In my experience, a choice of 10-12 unique, high-quality ‘goodies’ for fans is more than sufficient. In addition, don’t forget to devise one or two more extravagant rewards costing 3,000, 5,000 or even 10,000 euros each. Far-fetched, perhaps – but you never know what will happen! As you do so, remember that high-priced rewards must stand out clearly from the crowd. You need to be more creative than other bands to attract the attention of potential backers. ‘Get the album a month before release’ has long since been insufficient to secure the success of a campaign.
  3. Similarly, your project video plays an important role. It’s a simple fact that campaigns with videos are more successful, so plan for this element right from the start. It doesn’t matter how you create the video – whether ultra-professional or on a budget with smartphone and gimbal – as long as you present yourself in an authentic and interesting way. Consider, too, that producing a video cheaply doesn’t mean you don’t need a plan or goal. Structure every step meticulously; only then will you be able to maximise the potential of your crowdfunding project and your musical vision.
  4. At the same time, keep your goals realistic. For most projects, the chance of raising 10,000 euros from 50 supporters is highly unlikely. On Kickstarter, the vast majority of financial contributions range from 0-100 US dollars – so choose a goal that is both reachable and covers your expenses for the rewards. Accidental (and costly) miscalculations are to be avoided. In addition, don’t forget that Kickstarter and Indiegogo charge around 8% to 15% commission on the total amount raised, while Startnext charges 4% for the payment service provider and a voluntary commission of an average of 3%. Where applicable, be sure to account for the costs of sending packages to your supporters. Finally, remember the 50/50 rule: 50% of the budget for production, the other 50% for marketing. Plan accordingly.
  5. Even once you’ve reached your funding goal, you can encourage your followers to keep supporting you. This can be done by creating so-called ‘stretch goals’: additional promises that go beyond the scope of the original campaign goal. This could include, for example, the plan to record additional songs or shoot a music video when the next funding milestone is reached.
  6. Kickstarter explicitly states on its website that the most successful projects run for 30 days. Where projects last longer, fans can sometimes lose interest before the goal is fulfilled. A project duration of 60 days might give the impression that your needs are not so urgent – and anyway, no-one benefits from dragging things out.
  7. Once you’ve published your crowdfunding project, it’s time to get the campaign off the ground. Celebrate the launch on your social media channels and share it with everyone you know. Work day and night to ensure you reach your crowdfunding goal. Enjoy this time together as a band – it’s a great excuse for fun! In my experience, it’s usual to achieve one third to 50% of the total funding goal in the first week of the campaign, so most of your energy should be invested in this period. Don’t forget to respond promptly and politely to inquiries from potential backers.
  8. After the success and momentum of the first week, a little inertia can sometimes creep in. The initial excitement has faded and the urgency of the opening days is gone. Your task now is to come up with things to keep fans interested – a free live stream from rehearsal, for example, where you play songs from the upcoming album and answer questions from fans. This way, even those who are still undecided will be encouraged to be part of the vision.
  9. As the above makes clear: it’s crucial that your supporters feel they are part of the journey. Invite them to accompany you and think of them as an integral part of your (street) team. ‘Succeed together or fail together’ is the order of the day.
  10. By the same token, there will be supporters who don’t comment on every update or share your projects with others. Instead, they simply wait for the reward to arrive in the post. This is perfectly fine: not everyone wants to be ‘part of the process’. Treat these people with the same respect as you would your most die-hard fans. Perhaps they just like your music or are satisfied with a discount or the chance to get the album early. There are many reasons why supporters can be silent!
  11. As you see, not every fan is the same – which is why your communication should be as diverse as they are. Consider how to reach out to different target groups within your fan base, perhaps by assigning a band member to each. Discuss and plan this together in advance, since you won’t have time to do this once the campaign gets off the ground.
  12. One common yet easily avoidable mistake is forgetting to share the link to a campaign. No-one likes to spend time searching, especially not in the internet age. As such, there is no limit on how many times you can post your campaign link to make it easy for potential backers to support you. Even if it feels strange to start with, you’ll soon get used to adding the link to anything else you share. Your crowdfunding project must be easy for anyone to find!
  13. With this in mind, I give you one-time permission to do what I’d never normally advise: annoy people! Tweet, write and post several times a day on all social media channels. Make TikTok videos and exploit your campaign to the fullest. Everyone should know that you’re raising money for your music on a crowdfunding platform: after all, this is the next important springboard in your career.
  14. For the same reason, don’t be afraid to write personal messages to friends, family, fellow musicians and fans. These personal appeals for support are often very effective – so be sure to customise the messages and make them full of life. This can be a great way to kick-start that second, slower-paced week. While it’s a time-consuming process and can feel uncomfortable, it’s worth it: an amount in the low thousands can quickly find its way into your coffers and help you reach your funding goal.

I believe that fans are still willing to pay for music – but that musicians need to find new ways to ask them to do so. Crowdfunding can be the first step to getting your music out into the world.

What are your experiences? Have you ever started a crowdfunding campaign for a musical project? Was it successful? If not, where do you think you went wrong? I’d love to chat to you in the comments.

Marketing in the Age of Digital Music

The growing importance of independent music has been highlighted repeatedly by the IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry) in recent years. The independent music market encompasses labels, small businesses and independent musicians who produce and market music independently of the major record labels. Its growing importance is attested to by music biz expert Mark Mulligan, whose research showed that worldwide sales by ‘independents’ increased by almost a third in 2019 and that their total market share increased to 32 per cent. There is no doubt that the array of new, digital opportunities for music marketing is behind this.

DIY or record label?

Generally speaking, I find the rise of independent music a very positive development. Thanks to the many digital tools afforded to them by websites, social media and playlists, musicians and bands are better equipped than ever to take charge of their own careers. Despite this, I struggle to think of a single indie band that wouldn’t welcome a contract with a major label. Why? Quite simply, the majority of independent musicians need support with marketing, booking, administration and management in order succeed in the long term.

This is because many musicians lack the relevant know-how or the time to acquire it. Of course, bands also tend to like making music much more than marketing it. As a result, the careers of do-it-yourself (DIY) artists usually reach their limits quite quickly due to time management and/or financial constraints. 

Music marketing providers

It makes sense, then, that many of the musicians not affiliated with a major label use the services of independent music industry providers. In addition to record labels, music publishers, management companies, booking agencies and recording studios, these providers include a range of digital players: streaming providers, music aggregators, online PR companies, website content management companies, email marketing systems and freelance platforms. When it comes to music production, digital distribution, tour planning or promotion, these companies help musicians who can’t or don’t want to do this work themselves to forge a path into the music business.

Decreasing investment in new artists

Unfortunately, as of the present day, none of these market players are willing to invest resources in new talent. The uncertain marketing environment means that such investment is usually deemed too risky. The ‘analogue music industry’ – in which new artists were nurtured and built up from the beginning – has become the ‘digital music industry’. Today, it is virtually expected that musicians demonstrate a certain level of ‘market maturity’ before even signing a contract, proving their readiness for a further commercial career.

As a result of all this, musicians and bands are facing challenges that did not exist 15 or 20 years ago. Below are a few examples.

Music marketing: challenges and opportunities of the 21st century
  • Bands are required to produce music that meets international standards. When I think back to the 1990s, the opportunity to create music in a professional recording studio was reserved for those who had contracts with major labels. For independent musicians, such recording sessions were almost prohibitively expensive. Today, technological progress makes it possible for musicians to produce songs at home or in the rehearsal room and release them globally with a few clicks of the mouse.
  • Unfortunately, this creates a whole new problem for artists. It is no longer enough to write high quality songs; rather, artists must also keep their finger on the pulse and ensure they are responding to the demands of the market. For many independent musicians, this balancing act seems impossible – and understandably so, since the latter role would normally be fulfilled by an A&R manager at a record label. The solution? I recommend building a team around your band that can give corresponding input into the songwriting and production process.
  • Similarly, it is vital that your band builds a genre-specific brand that conveys your image and helps to set you apart from the crowd. In this regard, branding via social media plays an all-important role. Your level of so-called social proof is measured in numbers, interactions and streaming popularity, and is an important indicator of your prospects of market success. Finally, do not underestimate the value of coverage in traditional media: this increases the chance that you will be noticed by important opinion makers in the music industry, such as music critics, booking agents and music festivals.
  • Notwithstanding the above, an excellent live performance – ideally, one that can later be shared digitally – remains one of the most powerful promotional tools for you and your band. Particularly in times of social distancing, the opportunity for virtual interaction between artists and audience cannot be rated highly enough.
  • A digital presence (consisting of a professional artist website, several active social media channels and profiles on all relevant music distribution platforms) affords record labels and fans the opportunity to engage with you directly. In addition, your online presence is an important point of content for music editors looking for content to publish, and can serve as a distribution channel for your music and merchandise.

You’ll likely have realised that each of these points requires a considerable investment of time, money and know-how. Nonetheless, if you are an independent musician aiming to work with a major label, you have to prove you are up to the challenge.

Market research for indie bands and DIY artists

Just as in other areas of business, market research is important in helping your band become ‘market-ready’ as measured by the social proof described above. But what does market research actually entail?

At a simple level, it could be described as follows. Your band needs to know the needs and desires of your fans and potential listeners. You require as much information as possible to enable you to identify appropriate marketing opportunities and, later, to define a marketing strategy. If you work hard at these steps, you’ll reap the rewards in terms of sales.

Trent Reznor is a pioneer of the field. As the creative brains of the band Nine Inch Nails, he offered listeners the album Ghosts (I-IV) for free download in 2008. In return, they had to fill out a questionnaire, which was later used to create an extensive fan database. Trent recognised the universal truth that in order to be commercially successful, you need to know the market you want to serve. This is particularly true in an industry as fast-moving as the music business.

For this reason, developing a solid market research concept and channelling your insights into music production, branding, promotion and music distribution will be the foundation for your success in the digital music industry.

What about a budget for music marketing?

In a previous blog post, I explained how to properly allocate the budget for your next album. This is a lesson worth learning. Though we’re not even halfway through 2021, I’ve heard of at least one band that has blown its budget on music production and had none left for promotion afterards. Contrast this with an evaluation by the IFPI, which states that record companies reinvest – on average – just over a quarter of revenue (26 per cent) in marketing. If you don’t have a major label working for you in the background, I’d go so far as to say that marketing should account for more than half your budget.

Start the marketing work before the creative

In earlier times, albums were done and dusted before any talk of marketing entered the picture. This meant that the marketing strategy was completely determined by the finished product. I now believe this approach is outdated. The digital music industry requires new approaches to marketing, and marketing must begin before the actual creative work.

One promising solution could be to let fans get involved with the creation of new songs. In the future, this might take the form of artists writing song lyrics for an upcoming album based on keywords collected from fans in the cloud (for example).

Build a fan base and keep them happy

More broadly, in the future, I see great potential in an approach whereby musicians generate demand for their music during the production process. Be aware, though, that this can be tricky to implement in practice. I speak from experience: I tried it once in 2014 and failed spectacularly, for the simple reason that no-one was interested in my work. In hindsight, this shouldn’t have come as a surprise, since I had never released music as a solo artist before. What can you learn from my mistake? 

  • The most logical path is to release music first, build a fan base, then focus on the engagement element only when you come to the second or third album. Otherwise, you run the risk of wasting time on a fantastic concept that nobody ends up paying attention to.
Digital music marketing: A strategy example

Several years ago, I worked with a musician who regularly posted short clips of her songwriting sessions online. As a result, fans were eager to hear her new music before it was even recorded, let alone released. This set up the right conditions: fans were hardly able to contain their excitement for an album.

The next logical step was to look for a recording studio that was able not only to deliver the appropriate production quality, but to serve as a location for video shoots. At this point, you begin to see how the different elements interlock: a well-planned production phase also creates material for music videos, photos for advertising, behind-the-scenes interviews and the development of a story for the song or album – an important part of any content marketing strategy.

Plan time and effort for music marketing

To conclude, I want to warn you about a major potential pitfall: never consider the creative process in isolation from marketing. Otherwise, you run the risk of overlooking important market-dependent success factors – and since you are seeking to earn money with your passion for music, this would be counterintuitive to say the least. What do I mean by this? Well, while marketing considerations should certainly not drive your songwriting process, they should be something you maintain an awareness of.

In the past, I’ve often observed that musicians find it extraordinarily difficult to devote the necessary time and resources to branding and promotional activities. This is because they typically lack motivation, skills and passion in this area.

As a result, I believe one of the most important determinants of success for independent artists is that they do not focus solely on the artistic process, but devote equal attention to music marketing, branding and promotion – especially on social media channels.

Comment below to let me know what role marketing plays for your band and how you’ve marketed your music in the past. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

Online concerts: a stop-gap for emergencies or a new way to enjoy music?

People around the world are still getting used to a new normal – one that scarcely any of us could have imagined a year ago. Social distancing, masks, quarantine and lockdown are part and parcel of everyday life. At the same time, these measures are a painful reminder of a world where we could spontaneously attend a concert with friends. Are livestreaming and online concerts a genuine alternative to the real thing?

Live online concerts: attended by millions

Since the Covid pandemic hit, I’ve noticed an increased yearning for musical experiences. To realise the importance of music in times of crisis, you only need look at the popularity of livestreamed concerts and the readiness of fans to engage with new and innovative formats. Streaming festival Wacken World Wide had an estimated eleven million views when it was broadcast between 29 July and 1 August 2020, while an estimated 12.3 million players watched rapper Travis Scott perform in the Battle Royale online game Fortnite. Free live performances by the Doobie Brothers, Billie Eilish and Jon Bon Jovi captivated millions of fans.

Tim Burgess, lead singer of British indie rock band The Charlatans, had a different idea for staying in touch with fans –  by hosting regular listening sessions on Twitter. The concept behind it is very simple: for each session, he nominates an indie album that all participants should listen to in full at a fixed time. Under the hashtag #timstwitterlisteningparty, listeners can comment in real time and share their thoughts about the album.

New opportunities for musicians

Since the decline of CD sales and music downloads, concerts have been the primary source of income for many bands and musicians. Accordingly, the live music sector was previously one of the few financially robust segments of the entertainment industry. In March 2020, all that changed. Musicians have been among the hardest-hit by the impact of the government’s Covid regulations, under which all live concerts were and still are banned.

But as hard as times may currently be, I believe firmly that this crisis, too, will pass and that the music scene and events industry can look to the future with optimism. Exceptional situations such as the Covid crisis remind listeners of the importance of live music in their lives. Attending a concert virtually has an important role to play.

Livestreaming a concert is not only a Covid-safe option for hosting gigs and connecting with fans worldwide. For bands and musicians, live online concerts are also a practical way to maintain a presence, play new songs and earn money.

Online concerts: making money from donations and tickets

Initial trials suggest great potential in this new business area. Because of this, I believe the shared concert experience in the digital space may be one of the important positive changes the Covid crisis has catalysed. Countless artists have sought new ways to connect with their audience via the internet. That said, it is not yet clear whether livestreams can be a reliable alternative to live shows for making up lost income. Despite this, many artists have worked hard in recent months to develop a high-quality livestreaming product before asking their fans to pay for it.

One example of this is Digital Mirage, a virtual festival for electronic music. When the event was held for the first time at the beginning of April 2020, all artists played free of charge to raise funds for live venues that had been forced to close due to Covid. The festival was repeated with a different line-up in mid-June. Just as in April, it was a free livestream with the aim of raising as many donations as possible.

I would not be surprised if the organisers were now planning to offer this tried-and-tested concept for a fee. Whether existing fans would embrace this change remains to be seen. If history has taught us anything, it’s that it’s hard to persuade consumers to pay for something they previously got for free.

Live concerts online – for free?

With this in mind, one of the biggest future challenges will be to strike the right balance between what fans are willing to pay and what artists need to charge in order to be profitable. Certainly, the solution cannot be for musicians to always provide their work for free.

While there is a growing trend for the provision of free musical content, this doesn’t necessarily mean it is the ‘right’ thing to do. Ultimately, bands that stream live for free or raise money for charity can usually easily afford to do so – and the wide-held view is that asking fans to line their pockets would be wrong. At the same time, however, these livestreams are competing for listeners’ limited attention and time. Because of this, a high-profile artist offering free content may be shutting out musicians who depend on making money from their art.

Monetisation of online concerts

There are two currently two main ways for musicians to earn money from live online concerts: either the audience buys a ticket beforehand, or the event is free and fans have the opportunity to donate money during or after it.

Facebook has been facilitating ticketed events on its platform since April 2020. In this model, viewers pay directly in the Facebook app and are then permitted to ‘attend’ the concert. On Instagram, fans watching livestreams can buy a so-called ‘badge’ for $0.99, the proceeds of which are passed on to the creator (like a tip). The streaming platform Twitch (Amazon Music) offers a similar feature.

Other providers, like Reservix, Stagetasy and StageIt, specialise in providing livestreaming services for bands. They handle the technical aspects of the live event and ticket sales.

Livestreaming: a new way of consuming music

Though live concerts will hopefully resume in the near future, online music events may well remain a permanent feature of the cultural scene – for example, as an alternative way to experience a physical event. Adding in a streaming option would allow a much greater number of (paying) spectators to enjoy a performance.

Clues about the direction of the trend can be seen in the takeover of livestream platform Veeps by entertainment group Live Nation in January 2021. The Veeps platform, founded by Joel and Benji Madden of the band Good Charlotte, has made a name for itself in recent years as an organiser of ticketed livestreams. In 2020, it ran more than 1,000 shows and generated more than $10 million in income.

Interaction between musicians and fans

Following on from a year of almost zero live music, it is important for musicians and start-ups to consider how the desire for

  • a virtual community of music fans,
  • discussion about various aspects of livestreaming and online concerts, and
  • the networking of the music scene

can best be accommodated. There are a number of ways in which this could be achieved. In the remainder of this post, we’ll take a look at how concerts ‘went virtual’ in the year of lockdowns, then consider how things might look in the future.

Generally speaking, there are two approaches to providing a live concert in the virtual realm. These are:

  • A recording of the concert (a ‘concert DVD’) is offered for download or streaming. But while it is no doubt convenient for fans to be able to access content ‘on-demand’, is it truly live if the playback can be stopped and started at the touch of a button?
  • Forms of digitalisation are used to devise new concepts for listener-artist interaction. Within this context, the idea of livestreams (as on Twitch) has gained particular traction in recent months. Just like at a real concert, all listeners need to be present at the time of broadcast to participate in the experience.
Ideas for online live concerts

How might live concerts be provided in the virtual space in the future? These are some of my ideas:

  • Artists play in front of a convex video wall on which viewers can tune in via webcam.
  • Artists tour virtually, with each show only available to stream to fans from a specific city or region.
  • Viewers can trigger applause and cheers via buttons.
  • Viewers have the opportunity to vote on the setlist prior to the show.
  • Friends can buy tickets together for a livestream and are provided with their own private chat room during the show.

Despite the promise of these options, I believe there are still a number of problems to be solved to ensure that online concerts do not remain the exception. The biggest of these, in my view, is the question of how artists can interact with an online audience without latency or phase issues. As far as I know, there is not yet a technology that is capable of synchronising thousands or even millions of audio or video streams between all senders and receivers worldwide.

I am certain that investors will take up these concepts in the future in order to establish live online concerts as an experience in their own right – not as a second-best substitute for traditional physical concerts, but a legitimate facet of the music scene.

I’d love to know what you think. What’s your experience with online concerts? Do you think live online concerts will be a reliable source of income for musicians in the years to come? Let me know in the comments!

6 ways of securing (paid and unpaid) concerts

How do you handle concert requests from promoters? Can performing as a support band boost your career? What fees can a band reasonably request? Is it worth playing gigs under the pay-to-play model? This post tells you what you need to know when performing as a support act for established bands and what type of money you can expect for live gigs.

Successful concerts: your path to fame

If you play enough concerts, there will hopefully come a point where the reaction of the audience begins to change. Polite, respectful applause gives way to the excited, enthusiastic cheers of genuine fans. Friends congratulate you on the well-earned success of your band, and strangers approach you at the merchandise stand after the show. In short: you’re well on the way to becoming a sought-after live act.

Once you’ve reached this stage, your band will naturally begin to receive an increasing number of concert requests. In the past, my fellow musicians and I agonised at length over whether we should we ask for fees in return – and if so, how much. I have no problem admitting that I used to find such conversations difficult. I feared that if we demanded a reasonable fee for our performance, the organiser would deem us awkward and unattractive. Looking back, of course, this was totally misguided: we were only sought after by promoters because we had played excellent live shows in the past.

The 3 x 10 rule for accepting gigs

Which gig requests should a band accept and when is it better to decline? The 3 x 10 rule simplifies a seemingly tough dilemma. As a general rule, your band should evaluate each opportunity by awarding a score out of 10 for three key criteria: career opportunities, pay and fun. Only play the concert if the opportunity achieves at least 15 points in total. Does the gig represent a fantastic career opportunity (10) and is also fun (6), although there is no fee? Great. Play it!Concerts you should think twice about are those that offer a minimal fee (2) but no fun (4) and and no realistic opportunity of increasing your band’s profile (1).

Stick to your allotted time as a support

Your goal should always be to win new fans – preferably at every gig. As a newcomer, however, it can be tricky to win over the audience. For this reason, it’s a good idea to make use of opportunities to play as a support act for established artists. Here, too, there are particular rules to follow to ensure that the ‘tour support’ adventure doesn’t end before it has really begun.

The most important rule is to keep your set two minutes shorter than the allotted playing time. In practice, this means that if your slot allows for 35 minutes of playing time, play 33 minutes, then quickly pack up your equipment and leave the stage. It doesn’t matter whether the audience is shouting for an encore or whether you think “one more” won’t do any harm: never play longer than the time you agreed upon beforehand.

It’s particularly important to observe this rule when you are not the only support act – otherwise, you can quickly begin to come across arrogant and presumptuous. Remember, too, that you – as the local support – have a particular role to fulfil: namely, to draw your fans to the headliner’s concert and bump up the number of attendees. Even established indie artists cannot always sell enough tickets to ensure that costs are covered in full, hence why tour promoters regularly search around for promising local support.

In general, it’s important to be aware that the fee and payment arrangements granted to unknown artists for live performances vary considerably from city to city and sometimes even from venue to venue. Below I have compiled the worst and the best arrangements I have encountered as a musician/booker:

1. Underground: ‘pay to play’

This type of arrangement is mostly taken up by very young or inexperienced bands. They are promised the chance to perform in a well-known venue or at a big-name festival and, in return, must purchase a certain number of tickets from the organiser (usually “only” around 50) at a price of (e.g.) 10 euros each. A quick calculation shows that in this example, the ‘buy-in’ for a single concert is 500 (!) euros.

Such an event – which I won’t dignify by referring to as a ‘concert’ – usually features between 10 and 15 bands competing for attention, with each act being permitted to play for 20 to 30 minutes. In the end, the only one who wins here (and earns big) is the concert organiser. Bands are promised that their money can be recouped by selling items of merchandising, but it’s questionable whether this ever works out as planned.

A similar model from the metal scene is the ‘production cost share’ that artists are required to pay to promoters. Tour slots are sold in this way and usually go to the highest bidder.

Is the pay-to-play principle fair? The answer is no, definitely not – at least not when young, inexperienced bands with high hopes pay a lot of money to be bitterly disappointed.

Yet there are more positive stories. I knew a band that regularly ‘bought in’ as tour support for bigger acts – not because they want to achieve success or build a career as musicians, but simply because they wanted to have fun. All the musicians involved had well-paid jobs in the private sector and knew what they were getting themselves into. Ultimately, they wanted the experience of being with their own favourite band backstage and supporting them (financially). If the rules of the game were always so clearly defined, the pay-to-play system would –  in principle – be acceptable. Unfortunately, in 99% of cases, the reality is different.

2. Tricky: renting a venue

My band I were once in the practice of organising ‘exchange concerts’ – where we were invited to other cities to perform as a support act, and the artists we supported then came to Karlsruhe to support us. This arrangement meant that if we hadn’t got a home gig planned in the foreseeable future, we had to quickly organise something of our own.

The search for a suitable location, in particular, was often tricky. On more than once occasion, we were offered the option to rent out an entire club. On these instances, my first instinct was always that the owner didn’t trust our event or concept. I advise you to refrain from being swayed by such offers. Look for a club that will treat you reasonably and fairly (see no. 5).

3. Approach with caution: a minimum number of attendees

One common practice is for club owners to share the takings from entry fees on the condition that at least number X of people attend the concert. On the surface, such an offer might appear reasonable. On closer inspection, however, it’s a different story – because the band bears 100% of the business risk. Even if the concert is relatively successful and the minimum threshold is missed by only one or two concert-goers, the band leaves completely empty-handed.

Let’s imagine a ticket costs ten euros and at least 150 paying guests are required in order for the band to receive a 70% share of the takings. If 140 paying guests attend, the organiser will receive 1,400 euros plus profits from the sale of drinks, while the band will receive nothing. How can this be fair?

4. Standard: a share of the profits after costs

In many cases, the club owner will deduct a fixed amount from the takings to cover their costs and then split the remaining amount with the organiser (or band). The amount required to cover expenses is usually somewhere between 100 and 250 euros, depending on the size of venue. How is the rest of the money shared? Bearing in mind that club owners also generate additional (non-shared) income from the sale of drinks, I find that organisers (or bands) tend to receive between 60% and 85% of the earnings from tickets once all expenses are covered.

Is this a fair arrangement? Certainly. After all, all concerts involve costs that simply do not arise at your average DJ night (FOH staff, catering, etc.). As such, it’s only fair that a club owner claims back these expenses before the remaining profits are divided up. However, don’t forget that the club owner also generates income from the sale of drinks, and that this income is kept solely for themselves. Thus, if you are offered 50% or less of the ticket sales as compensation for your performance, you might want to renegotiate.

5. Good: a fair cut

Many clubs will be pleased to have your band as a guest and will offer an arrangement in which earnings from tickets are shared from the first euro. It doesn’t get much better for artists better than this. If 20 guests attend the show, each paying 10 euros’ entrance fee, and the split is agreed as 70/30, you receive 140 euros for your performance. These are good terms for an artist at any level. Unfortunately, such arrangements are less and less common.

Another variant of a ‘fair deal’ is sometimes offered by smaller venues like rock pubs. Though customers in these venues don’t pay an entry fee, the owners agree with the band a guaranteed fee of (e.g.) 150 euros. The venue then aims to earn this back through additional takings on beverages. On top of this, the audience can ‘throw money into the hat’ after the band’s performance. On a good night, this can raise the same amount again.

6. Great: a guaranteed fee or a share of the takings – whichever is higher

While I’ve never been lucky enough to play a concert under these terms, I have heard of other bands who’ve managed to do so. It works like this: you agree to receive either a guaranteed minimum fee (say, a thousand euros) or 80% of the takings from the concert, whichever turns out to be higher. Thus, if 500 paying guests attend your concert for a ticket price of 10 euros each, the band receives 4,000 euros. If only 50 guests attend (resulting in 500 euros of ticket sales), you still get the guaranteed 1,000 euros.

As ever, don’t allow greed to cloud your vision: if low ticket sales have left the organiser badly out of pocket at the end, it’s good practice to relinquish a portion of your guaranteed fee. Dealing fairly will pay off in the long run!

A mistake to avoid at all costs

One of the biggest mistakes I made in the past was to assume that the club owner would make all necessary efforts to promote the concert. Most of the time, however, the club owner will assume the same in reverse. The bottom line is that nobody advertises the show and it ends up with virtually no audience at all.

This, of course, is highly frustrating for everyone involved. To avoid such disheartening scenarios, remember that just the right advertising AND the right venue are crucial. Only play in clubs you know you can (almost) sell out. Alternatively, seek to build up your fanbase by playing larger venues as a support act for better-known bands. If your band regularly sells out small clubs, it will only be a matter of time until bigger promoters start to approach you with booking requests.

Now, it’s over to you! How have you found being booked as a band? How have you kept in touch with organisers during the pandemic? Let me know in the comments – I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

Earning a living with music and culture: not just a hobby!

“Better to do something secure,” my father said, as we sat at the dining table and I talked of my dreams of becoming a drummer. “Be a doctor, a teacher, or get a job in the public sector. Then you’ll never be out of work.” He looked at me expectantly. I was in my last year of school and about to sit the Abitur, the German university entrance examinations. The question of what to do afterwards was more pressing than ever. If I wasn’t going to be a professional drummer, I at least wanted to do something cultural, musical or media-related – to pursue one of the many new and very modern-sounding skilled occupations that had popped up in these fields in recent years.

Studying and working in the music and cultural sector

Digital media designer, digital media manager, sound designer and more: Over recent decades, new technologies and requirements in the working world have resulted in the birth of a number of new professions and training avenues. Digitalisation has completely changed the way music is produced, marketed and sold. Those on the commercial side of the music industry must not only possess the necessary business knowledge, but be familiar with the relevant legal landscape, too.

Those whose talents lie in the organisational realm may seek a career in culture and arts administration, for which internships and training posts can be found in a variety of locations and institutions. How do cultural institutions work? How do I plan projects and events? With public funding often scarce, questions of this nature have long been considered secondary to financial ones. Knowledge of business administration and marketing is more important than ever before, and it is now almost impossible to consider the funding of culture in isolation from fundraising and sponsoring.

It’s a phenomenon that has not gone unnoticed. Some years ago, Prof. Hermann Voesgen, long-time former director of the ‘Kulturarbeit’ [‘Cultural Work’] programme at the Potsdam University of Applied Sciences, wrote:

“The establishment of culture and arts administration as a field of training and a recognised profession was accompanied by a comprehensive, still-ongoing process of social deregulation with an increasingly liberal economic orientation.”

Education and training opportunities in the cultural sector: a lack of standards?

In Germany, at least, this appears to be an unfortunate truth. From my own experience and from that of friends and colleagues, it seems that education and training opportunities in the cultural sector are often rather lacking in comparison to those other industries. Reasons for this might be that they are oversubscribed and that the standards of the positions are not regulated sufficiently, or indeed at all. Some time ago, in a telephone conversation with a national representative of independent business operators, I was asked whether I would consider opening up my recording studio to apprentices. When I replied that I had not been certified as a trainer and could not provide any other evidence of my entitlement to work as one, I was informed that this would be no problem at all. On the contrary: I was left in no doubt as to the high demand for training places in this area and the fact that, as a small business, I could undercut the regular Ausbildungstarif [the wage paid to apprentices in Germany] by as much as 10 to 15%.

Once I had recovered from the surprise, I politely refused. My rule is always that if I’m going to do something, I’ve got to do it right. Nevertheless, I thought about it for a long time afterwards. Was this really the best we could hope for – to create as many exciting-sounding training places as possible with no regard for the quality of the businesses providing them – just so that young people could have a training place at all?

A lack of practical orientation in education and training 

Unfortunately, my experience is backed up by the stories of numerous colleagues: those who took up the new, in-demand programmes in culture and arts administration or studied sound or media technology at one of Germany’s private universities. Such programmes are often far removed from real-life practice. As such, it is little wonder that few graduates can concisely explain the purpose of the Künstlersozialkasse [Artists’ Social Security Fund] or, for example, the differences between GVL [the German copyright collection society] and GEMA [the German performing rights society]. It’s like a medical programme turning out doctors without the first clue about anatomy.

What makes things worse is that in many cases, these cultural graduates are on a one-way path to unemployment. There are not nearly as many jobs in the cultural sector as there are graduates to fill them, and the imbalance becomes worse year on year. I have written previously about the struggles of life as a professional musician – and for many other professionals in the arts, cultural and creative industries, it’s no different.

No money for culture?

Just as most famous painters and musicians used to depend on noble benefactors to survive, only a very small percentage of today’s musicians are successful enough to thrive financially. But must their less commercially successful counterparts really be satisfied to work for a pittance? Should musicians content themselves with the chance to dedicate part of their lives to their passion, even if the work they do is usually out of proportion to their earnings? In many regards, I find that our society lacks a fitting appreciation for art and culture. It is an oft-repeated trope that for a musician, the creative value of their work is more important to them than financial success and the potential for profit. But even if this true, it doesn’t negate the problem of how they’re actually supposed to survive.

One thing that’s for certain is that they won’t survive from selling music alone. As Sir Mick Jagger once told the BBC: “People only made money out of records for a very, very small time… there was a small period from 1970 to 1997, where people did get paid, and they got paid very handsomely and everyone made money. But now that period has gone.”

Selling records, but not making money

I know this can happen, because I’ve experienced it. Many years ago, I played in a relatively successful metal band. Naturally, we were keen to start shifting records as quickly as possible, so we looked at signing a Bandübernahmevertrag – a contract governing the assignment of copyright to a recording label – with an established South German label. On the surface, the deal would have seen us receive around 20% of the ‘published price to dealer’ (PPD), the wholesale unit price charged by recorded companies to retailers. The PPD at that time was between 9.50 and 11.50 euros, meaning 1.90 to 2.30 euros for the band per CD sold. Okay so far.

Under closer inspection, however, these already-low revenues would be offset by production costs of several thousand euros that we, as the band, would be required to pre-finance. In addition, we would be required to purchase all of the CDs from the label at the abovementioned PPD in order to conduct direct sales. Even without a degree in business, it was obvious that this wasn’t going to be very profitable for us.

When all was said and done, we as a band would have made a total of 1,900 to 2,300 euros per 1,000 CDs sold. I know now that at least 85% of bands at the time did not even manage to cross this threshold. Moreover, if a band did manage to bring in 2,000 euros, it would still need to be divided up appropriately. A manager – if there was one – would receive 15-20%, with the remaining amount being shared among the members (for a four-piece line-up, 450 to 550 euros per musician). Today, such ‘generous’ takings would be absolutely inconceivable.

Musicians as low-income professionals

These figures are sobering, but they are no exaggeration. Statistics from Germany’s Künstlersozialkasse [Artists’ Social Security Fund] paint a similar picture – not only in the field of music, but for those working in visual arts, performing arts and the written word. The average self-reported annual income of musicians under the age of thirty is around 13,000 euros. This means that many professionals in the arts and media fall firmly into the low-income bracket (though many still feign being somewhere in the middle, like musicians of their parents’ generation).

The loss of earnings caused by the Covid-19 crisis has also been dramatic. According to a survey conducted by Encore Musicians, an online booking platform for British musicians, two thirds of those surveyed (musicians earning 80-100% of their income from music) told Encore that they were considering giving up working as artists: overall, they had suffered a more than 80% reduction in live performances since the spring. 

Better ways to support arts and culture

Whether they’re planning tours, performing on stage, organising concerts, producing films and radio or working in events companies and cultural offices: just like doctors and teachers, musicians and other cultural workers are following a vocation. What’s more, they are doing so despite the often uncertain financial prospects. The romantic image of a musician spending the whole day in search of inspiration, without any of the routine and discipline of an office worker, bears little relation to reality. In fact, the ability to make a living from delivering relaxation, joy and escapism to audiences requires organisational talent, flexibility and perseverance. Now, in times of Covid, it is clearer than ever how much poorer we would be in a world completely devoid of culture.

It is high time that cultural, music and media professionals ask themselves how they want to live and work. Ultimately, it is unacceptable for graduates to stumble from one unpaid internship to the next or to remain precariously employed for years. Every internship and training position must comply with legal standards, be paid appropriately and be subject to social security contributions. This is one side of the coin. The other side is that – finally – artists organise themselves and lobby to assert their legitimate demands. Nobody wants to work for free or for a fee that is (often) not enough to live on. In this regard, minimum fees for performances and public engagements could be a step in the right direction for the future.

Now – you’re up! What do you think is driving so many young people to want to work in the music and culture? What’s the incentive, and what price would you personally be willing to pay? Let me know in the comments!

Mixtapes, downloads, playlists: how the way we listen to music is changing

Mobile internet, news feeds, trending topics and more: over recent years, I’ve become increasingly aware of the sheer volume of headlines, opinions and trends we’re exposed to on a daily basis. And with a multitude of sites and channels requiring new content every minute, the pace of the onslaught shows no signs of slowing.

In the music, art and cultural realm, this appetite for novelty has resulted in more than just an increase in new releases or festivals. (The Covid-19 pandemic has stifled this trend on a temporary basis, at least for live events, but has in no way changed its general direction). Perhaps the starkest changes have been in the music industry, where, over the last 20 years, new technology has altered our listening habits in an unprecedented and radical fashion. It is not only the production and distribution of music that has become easier and cheaper as a result of technology: since listeners have been able to access an endless variety of music via streaming services for a few euros each per month, the value of music also seems to have decreased.

Napster: a place for music discovery and exchange

The seed for the current trend was planted all the way back in 1999, when then 19-year-old college student Shawn Fanning launched the first peer-to-peer music exchange in Boston in the form of Napster. As the first service of its kind in the world, it fundamentally changed the way we access and manage music. Contrary to what you might believe, however, the idea behind the program was not to enable file sharing, which is problematic under copyright law. (Indeed, there would have been no demand for such a service: such unlawful file sharing was already in full swing via the servers at the universities.)

Instead, what rendered the program so attractive was the opportunity to search for and manage music without any knowledge of the inner workings of a computer. It was the first time users had been able to search for songs they knew – and discover new ones – among an expansive library of music files.

iTunes and the short, but triumphant reign of music downloads

It didn’t take long for U.S. hardware and software developer Apple to cotton onto the trend. In 2003, it opened the iTunes Store, paving the way for convenient, mass-market access to music via download. (The opening of the store was timed to coincide with the launch of the iPod, its iconic portable MP3 player.)

The effects didn’t take long to trickle down. According to the annual report of the Bundesverbandes Musikindustrie (Federal Music Industry Association), the number of blank CDs sold annually in Germany rose from 58 million in 1999 to 303 million in 2003, while the number of pre-recorded music CDs fell from 210 million to 146 million over the same period.

Streaming: millions of songs, whenever, wherever

Millions of songs are now available for a monthly fee of a few euros via streaming providers such as Apple Music, YouTube Music, Deezer or Spotify. But if we look back 20 years to the turn of the millennium, few people would have imagined that they would ever be able to access such a vast amount of music on their personal devices.

According to the Federal Music Industry Association, two thirds of profits from the sale of music in Germany (made up of CDs, vinyl, DVDs, downloads and streaming) now come from digital sources. In 2019, only six percent of this was accounted for by downloads; over half was earned via audio streaming.

I can hear something you can’t

In my view, it is the availability of on-demand streaming – as well the decreased cost and, above all, the decreased value of music – that has driven changes in listening behaviour. When I saved for months as a teenager to buy my favourite artists’ new releases, it was only natural that I would – much to the chagrin of my parents – listen to the entire album dozens of times in a row. Music had an obvious value to me. Every release was something special, and my precious, newly-acquired recordings were deserving of my time. Today, however, I can access millions of different songs instantly and from anywhere for less than the price of an audio CD.

For one thing, this new way of engaging with music means that it is becoming more and more difficult to draw listeners’ attention to individual tracks. For another, it confronts both listeners and streaming providers with the question of how music should best be categorised in the future .

Are playlists the new mixtapes?

One possible answer to this question lies in Spotify’s playlists. Here, music is grouped and categorised according to:

  1. The atmosphere or mood it complements or engenders
  2. The purposes it fulfils
  3. The occasions for which it offers the fitting ambience

It would appear that the notion of an individually tailored music mix is becoming more important to listeners and, indeed, that it is now a central element of music consumption. It is worth noting that the concept is nothing new: as early as the 1980s, mixtapes on audio cassettes and later on self-burned CDs (despite the retention of the word ‘tapes’ to denote the concept) were an identity-defining facet of youth culture. For me, these individual CD samplers served as a kind of business card, providing a multi-faceted reflection of my taste in music and my personality at the time. In the age of streaming, playlists have taken over this function and run with it.

Inevitably, the importance of individual songs has decreased. Music has become an on-demand resource that can be adapted to one’s taste and mood at any given time. Whether for sport, for relaxation, for concentration, for the party or as background music in a café: today, artists and styles that would previously have been separated by genre-based classification systems exist side-by-side in perfect harmony. (Not that that’s a bad thing, mind: each of us has our own mental picture of the music that goes well with certain occasions, and genre boundaries usually have little to do with it!)

Metal, punk or country: genres persist despite playlists

Given this development, are conventional music genres also set to lose their relevance? Not quite. For one thing, it is likely that labels, music journalists and promoters will uphold the convention of genre classification for its ability to broadly indicate to listeners what a new band or a new album might sound like. For another, the musicians and bands themselves will inevitably continue to invoke certain defined styles and conventions.

Of course, there will continue to be individual artists – like David Bowie – who change styles several times in their careers. Similarly, there will continue to be new music that transcends genre boundaries, or new albums in which each song takes a different style (a la the White Album, if not the same quality!).

That said, it seems unlikely that musicians will arbitrarily begin creating songs in ‘Shuffle mode’ with the sole aim of cracking as many Spotify playlists as possible. Rather, I anticipate that previously standard classification criteria – genre as one of them – will begin to play a less well-defined role than before. (This can be seen, for example, in the line-ups of large music festivals such as Lollapalooza in Berlin, where a rap and EDM-dominated lineup appears to be well received by attendees.) Further examples of such genre blending include the collaboration between Linkin Park and Jay-Z on the 2004 album Collision Course or Blanco Brown’s smash hit The Git Up.

Music as recreational fun, not as subcultures

For me, the one thing that seems undeniably clear is that the days of musical genres as identity-defining subcultures are over. Influential youth movements like the hippies and mods of the 1960s, punk in the 1970s or grunge in the 1990s have little relatability to younger generations. Has music lost relevance as a result? I would say not. According to the Shell Youth Study, almost 60% of young people still cite listening to music as one of their most frequent and most-enjoyed leisure activities.

Staying curious, discovering new music

It might also be the case that genre boundaries are dissolving due to the sheer availability of different music from streaming providers, which means that young people are exposed to a much greater range of styles than before. As a result, I find that adolescents are much more open-minded in their musical tastes than they were 10 or 15 years ago.

Indeed, this is the advantage of modern media use: just as we often come across interesting tangential topics when searching for a term on Wikipedia, when we use Spotify playlists and the Autoplay function on YouTube, we are introduced to a much wider range of musicians and bands than we would have been able to discover alone (after all, no matter how hard they try, magazines, blogs and radio stations cannot cover the music market in its entirety). If one thing is for certain, it’s that this way of engaging with music will have far-reaching consequences in the future – for artists and consumers alike.

What do you think? Are genres still a meaningful way of categorising music? Are Spotify playlists really helping audiences to engage with more new music and a broader range of genres than before? Let me know in the comments!

Live music and ticket providers: concerts are a merciless business

There is little doubt that 2020 will go down in history as an annus horribilis for live music – with far-reaching consequences for bands, musicians, bookers, promoters and the many technology companies that enable concerts, festivals and tours to be delivered on-site. Initially, ticket providers were less affected: even where tickets were cancelled, they got to keep both the advance booking fees and the standard cancellation fees charged to local promoters. At the end of March, the head of CTS Eventim, Klaus-Peter Schulenberg, announced that his company could survive two years of crisis.

How market share is distributed in the live entertainment market

The shift in the international live music industry happened much earlier than many people think – almost 25 years ago. As I see it, the Telecommunications Act, a U.S. federal law enacted in 1996, was the crucial turning point. Originally, the law sought to end existing restrictions on competition and facilitate greater competition in the market. In the end, however, the opposite happened. The mergers of already-established providers only strengthened their market power.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the case of U.S. concert promoter Live Nation, which signed a ten-year cooperation agreement with Ticketmaster in 1998 before entering the ticketing sector itself in summer 2007. Shortly afterwards, Live Nation also entered into extensive cooperation with German ticketing company CTS Eventim, which granted it a licence for the CTS ticketing software in North America. In return, CTS Eventim was exclusively commissioned to carry out ticketing operations for Live Nation in many areas of Europe.

The concert business: increasingly ruled by monopoly

Ticketmaster reacted promptly to this unwanted development by acquiring a majority share in US management agency Front Line. Meanwhile, over the next two years – despite exclusive artist contracts with Madonna, Nickelback, Shakira, Jay-Z and more – Live Nation fell short of profit expectations and came under increasing pressure. The share price fell dramatically; managing director Michael Cohl was forced out of the group. A serious system crash at CTS Eventim in January 2009 was likely the final straw. In February 2009, Live Nation announced a split from CTS Eventim and a merger with Ticketmaster. Since then, the two companies have collaborated under the name Live Nation Entertainment and have dominated the global concert and ticketing business.

Live music in Germany

In Germany, the listed company CTS Eventim continues to dominate the market. Its founder and main shareholder, Klaus-Peter Schulenberg, was interested in music from an early age and played in a school band as a teenager. He later studied business administration and law. In 1973, while still studying in Bremen, he founded an artist management and concert agency; in 1977, he collaborated with the legendary Fritz Rau to organise his first major event: a concert by the Rolling Stones in Bremen. During this time, he also founded or took over companies in other sectors, such as radio stations and regional advertisers.

In 1996, he purchased the company CTS GmbH from concert promoters Marek Lieberberg, Matthias Hoffmann and Marcel Avram. The company was in the red and Schulenberg undertook a financial restructuring – which led, among other things, to it systematically acquiring shares in various tour and concert promoters over the following years. These investments were eventually brought together under the umbrella of the Medusa Music Group GmbH – now CTS Eventim AG – which holds shares in Marek Lieberberg Konzertagentur, Peter Rieger Konzertagentur, Semmel Concerts, FKP Scorpio and more. As a result of these acquisitions, the majority of Germany’s festival landscape and concert business was combined under the CTS Eventim label. It is worth noting that in many areas, the strategic direction of CTS Eventim and Live Nation Entertainment is rather similar:

  • Both groups hold shares in ticketing companies in several European countries.
  • Both groups are shareholders or owners of internationally significant event venues.
Ticket companies as concert promoters

Eventim UK, the British subsidiary of CTS Eventim, came together with the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) to acquire London’s legendary Hammersmith Apollo Theater in 2012. For CTS Eventim, this was an important step in further establishing itself in the English-speaking market, especially after its split from Live Nation. In the same year, CTS Eventim secured the Lanxess Arena in Cologne for its exclusive use – a move that was not only extremely lucrative, but offers a competitive advantage that cannot be underestimated. As soon as a group has its own event venues, concerts can be held there with much lower fixed costs. Additional income is then generated by leasing the venue to external concert promoters, who act as subcontractors.

If you are wondering how it can be that a ticketing company is more profitable than a concert promoter, the answer is very simple: ticket sellers are exposed to virtually no financial risk. Unlike concert promoters, who are liable for all costs associated with an event, ticketing companies occupy an insulated position: even if an event sells fewer tickets than expected – indeed, even if it makes huge losses overall – the only effect is that profits are reduced. Eventim now sells an estimated 90 percent of all concert tickets in Germany in the pop and rock sector. Many of these are sold on the internet and advertised via email marketing.

Who gets what from the price of the ticket?

How are ticket prices split between promoters and artists? As far as I know, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. No concert is like any other, and the answers to the following questions are very different in each case:

  • What is the cost of the concert halls and clubs?
  • How expensive is the production?
  • How many are musicians are on stage?
  • Is there extensive use of lights or video?
  • How many members of staff are involved?
  • How many tickets are sold for each concert? At what price?
Organising live concerts profitably: a tall order

To understand this a little better, let’s look at a little example from the day-to-day life of a concert promoter or manager. Imagine an indie rock band is performing in front of 1,200 people in a sold-out Munich club. The sales price is 28 euros per ticket, which, after deduction of GEMA (performance rights) fees and VAT, gives approximately 25 euros net. It is usually the case that the local partners and tour promoters share the income from ticket sales to cover their costs. If we assume that the on-site production costs account for 10 euros of each ticket sold and the costs of the tour (nightliner, backline, advertising, roadies, artists’ fees, etc.) account for 8, it quickly becomes clear that there is little actual profit to made. After this deduction of costs and taxes, the band collectively earns between 3 and 5.50 euros net per ticket, while tour promoters and local partners may earn between 1.50 and 3 euros each (on which taxes are again to be paid).

Every ticket not sold cuts into the tour and concert promoters’ earnings, since the artists usually receive a fixed fee plus a share of the profits. This is why many smaller concerts are now budgeted for in such a way that bands and promoters are satisfied with a ‘plus-minus zero’ result. It is understood that there is no big money to be earned. Rather, it is about establishing promising artists and thus investing in (or betting on) the future of those involved.

What the coronavirus means for live music

Incidentally, CTS Eventim is no longer so optimistic about the future. When the figures for the first quarter of 2020 were presented in May, it was clear that the group would also face consequences from the worldwide standstill in live entertainment. Its turnover had decreased by a third; its profit had plummeted. Schulenberg stated that the large reserves built up by the company over recent years would help it through the crisis. For musicians, bookers, technicians and the countless dedicated, smaller local promoters, such financial security is something they can only dream of.

What are your experiences of promoters? How have you survived the Covid-19 lockdown without live music? Let me know in the comments – I’m looking forward to hearing from you!