Internet Radio: Something Old Becomes New Again

It’s no secret that I am involved with internet radio.  I serve as an on-air personality for Music Mafia Radio, a gig that I thoroughly enjoy.  It’s an aspect of the business I never pictured myself in, but it has become one of the highlights of my week, as I get the opportunity to share some pretty incredible music with my listeners and talk about some of the great things going on for these artists.  So, for me to write about the possibilities internet radio holds for the recovery of the music industry might seem slightly self-serving, the reality is that this is an area of the business that merits discussion.  I say this because there are much bigger things going on than the workings of one small station.

Before I get into the meat, a brief music history needs to be laid out.  Before the turn of the 20th century, the distribution of music of consumers was almost exclusively done through the purchase of sheet music and live performances.  The Copyright Act of 1909 was enacted at a time when the commercial market for the sale of prerecorded music has not truly materialized yet.   ASCAP was formed in 1914 to protect the rights of the composers of the music that was being performed live and sold in sheet music.  The first broadcast on AM radio, a news program, happened in Detroit in August of 1920, with the first entertainment broadcast occurred in the UK in 1922.  FM radio followed with broadcasts in 1940 and enjoyed its heyday in the 1970’s-80’s, commonly referred to as the Golden Age of FM Radio.  With the advent of personal computing and the internet, a variety of internet-based music services appeared in the mid-1990’s, with Napster being the most notable.  In 1995, Radio HK became the first internet radio station, playing independent music.  In 2015, it was estimated that 183,000,000 people used internet radio.

In short, an amazing number of technological advances occurred in a relatively short period of time.  Listening choices and habits have changed dramatically over the same period of time, and the number of music listening options have grown exponentially and we now live in a society where music is always at the tip of our fingers.  And while a number of the listening options available provide the ultimate in convenience, the quality of music and the quality of the interaction leave much to be desired.  The ability of an algorithm to introduce new music will always have flaws.  Internet radio allows you the ability to find a source of music entertainment that is human programmed and the wide variety of options available means that you can find a station that caters to your particular style of listening.

I’ve been very vocal in my thoughts that music streaming, as we know it, is going to be a passing fad.  There is not a single company providing streaming service that is making a profit from it, and the need to move the price point to a more expensive tier to make money is going to prove extremely unpopular with a large portion of their current subscriber bases, as will the ultimate elimination of commercial based ‘free’ listening.  The revenue does not exceed the cost, and quite honestly, legislation needs to be passed to eliminate the ability of companies like Spotify to negotiate lower royalty payments based on the fact they aren’t charging the end user for the service.  A subject for another article down the road.

I spent some time last week exploring the Indie channel on Spotify.  I was less than impressed.  The ‘channel’ was extremely limited to a very narrow scope of musical styling and the production quality of more than half of what I listened to was garage quality at best.  The garage quality would not be bad if that was the desired sound, but most of the music I heard should be striving for more than that.  Yes, all of the indie artists presented were truly independent, but I could instantly come up with a dozen bands that deserved the spotlight more for each song played.  I was not left with a warm, fuzzy feeling and quite honestly will not waste my time with it ever again.

This is the point where internet radio enters the equation.  The platform, if utilized correctly, provides the ability to have a much more personable experience than streaming, and at the same time provide the listener with new music in a much easier to access format.  There are stations for any music style or genre, and a number of stations (like Music Mafia Radio) are breaking down the genre barriers and simply providing the best music available, regardless of style.  Internet radio also tends to be free of many of the broadcast restrictions in place for traditional terrestrial radio.  In addition, good internet radio brings some level of personality back into the equation, as well as the opportunity to become part of a social community of listeners and followers, whether through social media, web chat or a variety of methods not available in the streaming world.  On the independent scene, artists become easily accessible to listeners and fans unlike any other platform available.  New music is readily available and a true support network for artists is created.

Those that pursue the creation of an internet radio station often complain about the cost of creating a station, but the reality is that setup costs are a fraction of what it costs to create a traditional AM/FM radio station.  There are no FCC spectrum license costs, equipment required to transmit are a fraction of terrestrial radio (no tower to build), and many of the broadcast restrictions in place for AM/FM do not exist on the internet.

It sounds like the perfect world, but just like any emerging technology or industry, there are a number of challenges to be overcome before it can become a major player in today’s music economy.  The first of these is the over-saturation of the market with options.  There are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of internet stations currently broadcasting around the world.  And while geo-fencing limits the reach of some of these stations, listeners are bombarded with directories listing hundreds of similar looking stations that span the globe.  The only way the industry grows to become a force is for some form of consolidation is necessary.

Literally, anybody with a computer, microphone, headphones and an internet connection can get on the air with all necessary licenses for less than $100 a month.  Granted, this pricing allows for a very small audience and requires the station creator to give up control when it comes to sponsor advertising, but it can be done.  Obviously, as the audience size grows, so does the cost of doing business, and that $100 quickly grows, not to mention the cost of a website, merchandise or any cost to promote the station.

However, at that introductory pricing, it draws many hobbyists into the mix, folks who do it just for the fun of it.  This dilutes both the market and listener base, making it difficult for those who are trying to build a sustainable business by making it hard to attract advertisers, which are going to be the key component in a robust revenue stream for stations, as well as artists.  You see, the latest round of copyright legislation allows royalties paid to be determined by revenue earned by a station.  More stations operating at a higher revenue level pay the artists more.

Internet music radio takes on a few different forms:

  • Hobbyists, who are doing it solely for their love of music.  They are to be commended for their passion.
  • The big corporate machines, who simply look at it as a revenue stream.  The funny thing is most if not all of the big players have yet to find a way to make it profitable.
  • Nestled somewhere between the first two are a group that is trying to build a successful business model that allows for some form of profitability.  They have the passion of the hobbyist and the dreams of the big players.  With proper industry consolidation, this tier becomes the future of successful internet radio.
  • Bringing up the rear are those that refuse to play by the rules.  They take on a couple of different modes of operation.
    • There are those that simply don’t pay royalties (pirate radio).  They figure nobody is watching, and quite honestly they are right.  The PRO’s don’t have the capacity to police the internet and unlike terrestrial radio, they do not fall under the umbrella of the FCC. Any effort to bring these stations in line would create the greater portion of consolidation necessary to allow the industry to be successful.
    • Then there are those that have resorted to blatant payola- the only way for an artist to get on their station is to pay the station for the ‘privilege’.   These people just need to go away, as they give the entire industry a black eye.  In fact, this practice needs to be legislated out of the business.  If this option was no longer available, many of these stations would disappear, further consolidating the industry.

I believe there is a robust economy for the hobbyists and business-minded owners that are all willing to play by the rules.  This may seem contradictory to a statement I made earlier, but the truth is the majority of hobbyists diluting the market are those that don’t play by the rules.  I also believe the quality of the product produced by many of these people would be seen as refreshing and entertaining by those that tune in to check it out.  So, look for a station that plays the kind of music you listen to and plays by the rules.  You never know- you could get hooked forever!

A Restatement of Purpose

As I stated in a recent article,  I took some time away from writing for most of 2018.  Part of the reason for doing so was to digest a wide array of knowledge I was gaining on the industry as it stands today.  Doing so allowed me to not only better understand the players in the game and their roles in the current upheaval in the music economy, but it also gave me the ability to identify those things that need to change or simply go away.  Some of the answers did surprise me, but I feel that my understanding of the mechanics will allow me to be a much better advocate for musicians everywhere.

There was another reason for my sabbatical, a much more important one.  Recently, I’ve needed to reexamine my commitment to the core reasons for jumping back in and making myself a part of the music community again.  It is important to me that the musicians I support remain the primary focus of anything I do.  This whole Cozmic Debris thing works only if I remain the man behind the curtain.  That doesn’t mean I can’t peek out from behind the curtain from time to time, but only when the music has the attention of whoever is around.  The music and real talent are what this is all about.  It’s really easy to keep the political and social commentary of the day out of the mix.  The music runs deep enough to keep the focus in the proper arena.  The problems occur when the persona takes precedence and becomes more important than the reason the persona exists.

My ‘methodology’ is simple and one that I am not willing to stray from:

  • I scour the internet, looking for the best music out there.
  • I use this website, social media and my time on internet radio to make people aware of that music.  The choice to take advantage of any of this is in the hands or the reader/listener.
  • I make my commentary on the industry available here.  Some people will agree with my positions, others will disagree.
  • In all cases, any ‘fame’ or notoriety any of this gains will be the result of an organic reaction by those that come in contact with my efforts, not from me shouting “look at me” from the rooftops.  I am fine with letting the quality of my work determine my destiny and not the volume of my own self-appreciation. And if the fame never occurs, I am satisfied simply with the impact I’ve already had on artists I’ve come to know and love.

All too often, I see folks (other than artists) getting into the music scene who spend more time and energy in a “Look at me!” mode than they do promoting the wonderful music they’ve experienced.  The satisfaction comes from being able to associate their own name to something, rather than the satisfaction of spreading the word.  The goal is to get their own name in lights, and self-promotion becomes more important than music promotion.

I understand there is a place for personality in the business.  Radio stations need personality to gain a competitive edge and add listeners- the product has to be entertaining.  Hell, a certain portion of my own personality comes through in my writing.  My personal mantra is that there is no need to draw attention to yourself if the product you are producing is good enough to gain attention without an overabundance of self-celebration.  Any fame or notoriety gained in this manner is the result of an organic movement that results in a more sustained and powerful momentum.  If you find yourself having to constantly point to yourself to get attention, the product is probably not that relevant to begin with.

Over the last few months, I’ve had to shed some of my own humility and accept that my ear for music, view of the industry and ability to help artists are all respected and appreciated by a growing number of artists.  I honestly don’t get it and I think you’re all crazy, but I’ve learned to accept it.  That is all the recognition that is required for me to continue on.  If something more comes of it, that’s fine, but nothing further is required to keep the fire lit.  I love what I do, I love my position in the business and I love the people that have crossed my path on this journey.  No amount of recognition can replace any of that.

Every day, I get to discover, listen to and share some incredible music with a growing network of people, in the hopes that more people would listen to that music.  That was the initial goal and remains the goal to this day.  I’m living the dream.  I just needed to take some time to realize that.

Free Music For Everybody- Except The Artist

You have a free Spotify account and consider yourself to be a rabid fan of independent music, listening to hours and hours of music, interrupted occasionally by an advertisement or two.  It costs you nothing.  Spotify got the songs you listened to directly from the artists for free.  They didn’t pay for them.  It cost them nothing.  Because Spotify doesn’t pay royalties on a traditional scale, there is a decent chance two hours of listening will generate a total of about two cents in total royalty payments to the artists you listened to.  It pays the artist next to nothing.

We have become a society that truly believes music is an art form that should come at no cost.  Free streaming has crippled the music economy and made it impossible for anybody but the top 1% of the industry to earn a real living.  What gets lost on the listening public and most of the industry leaders is the true cost of that seemingly free product.  It is far from free to the artist.

On a recent trip to Nashville, I had the opportunity to visit with an artist and bandleader.  I sat in his living room as he fielded phone calls about band business and verbally tried to lay out a routine that would allow him to get everything done that needed to be done to keep the band relevant.  It was an eye-opening view into the real cost of making music for the masses.  I was caught off guard because even as someone who feels he has a good pulse on the industry there were things that had completely escaped me.

As independent musicians, many take on all of the responsibilities of writer, performer, manager, publicist, promoter, producer, and finance company.  To give you an idea, here’s a short (and I’m sure incomplete) list of things that need to happen:

  • Coordinate and schedule rehearsals
  • Have rehearsals
  • Time to research and find potential performance venues
  • Time to contact potential performance venues
  • Time to confirm booking with venues
  • Promote upcoming appearances
  • Setup, sound check, perform and break down at every venue
  • Design logos and merchandise
  • Order and purchase merchandise
  • Promote and sell merchandise
  • Coordinate and schedule studio time for recording
  • Pay for studio time and record
  • Pay for production and post-production work
  • Pay for physical copies of music
  • Create and maintain distribution channels for the music
  • Ship purchased physical copies of music
  • Register music for royalty purposes
  • Create promotional material
  • Distribute promotional material to every blogger, radio station and influencer they can think of
  • Contact every blogger, radio station and influencer they can think of to ensure the promotional material was received
  • Maintain and update social media accounts and websites
  • Contact bloggers and radio stations for potential interviews
  • Find time to conduct interviews
  • Oh yeah, somebody has to write the music
  • Do something else to pay the bills and put food on the table

These are just the basics, and there is more than a full-time job listed here, not including the pay the bills piece of the equation.  The amount of work to get that ‘free’ music to your ears is staggering.  And it is all lost on the listening public.

It gets lost on those of us inside the business as well.  We create unnecessary steps and hurdles for the artists to overcome to maintain visibility and traction.  We find it easier to make everything the artist’s responsibility, instead of taking the time to keep ourselves informed, educated and up-to-date.  It is very easy to take an attitude that the artist will reach out if it’s important to them, rather than doing due diligence and reaching out to the artist first.  We lose sight of the fact that we are one of the dozens, if not hundreds of contact points for each musician we come in contact with, and we all live in a short-sighted and close-minded world where we should be that number one point of contact for every artist we cross paths with.  The exact opposite is true- to truly help the artist, we should be the first person to reach out to them and be their first point of contact in the business, each and every time.  We take a lot of time off that to-do list if we, as music professionals, take that approach.  That goes for artists we have already developed a relationship with, as well as new artists we are finding along the way.  Our jobs should be to make the artist experience easier, not more of a challenge.

You’ll also notice the word ‘pay’ used frequently in that list.  Besides investing thousands of dollars in equipment, musicians have to maintain that equipment (guitar strings don’t grow on trees).  In many instances, bands pay for rehearsal space.  They pay for every aspect of the music recording process, pay to ship music and merchandise.  The general consensus is that the average cost to just produce a single song is somewhere around $1000, and that is a pre-distribution cost.  Some venues have resorted to requiring minimum gate receipts, with a deposit towards those receipts to be paid by the artist in advance.  For most bands, any money made from performing is simply rolled back into the music, used to fund everything artists need to pay to make the music that reaches your ears on that ‘free’ music stream.

So, the next time you go to listen to some of your ‘free’ music, give it a second thought.  Everybody, including you, wins when music is paid for.

Summer Vacation is Over

You’ve probably noticed, but I took a break from writing, spending most of 2018 really looking at the music business. When I decided to jump back in the game in late 2016, I reentered a world vastly different from the one I had walked away from decades earlier. While the music I discovered was spectacular (and continues to be), many of the obstacles artists face today required some examination to understand their role in the new ecosystem. Well, the time for examination is over. It’s now time to pass along my observations.  Some, if not most of this will sound familiar, but it is important to me to keep these discussions ongoing.

There is no doubt the entire music economy has crashed to levels not seen since the advent of recorded music. Sure, the big labels are still able to cash in on their very rich catalogs of classic music. But, for most of the rest of the industry, pickings are slim. Thanks to the power of Apple, music sales are stuck at a price point reminiscent of the 1970’s, with the bulk of that price point remaining with a company that had absolutely no part in the creative process. Add to that the options for consumers to stream unlimited music for free from places like Spotify, who purposely keep their prices far below what is needed to be profitable, and you quickly see an environment far different from the pre-technology era. Musicians can no longer rely on the sale of their ‘product’ as a means of support, and in many cases resort to giving away their music for free to stay relevant and visible.

With the switch to an online listening habit, more focus is being paid to royalties and performance fees, which is where I want to spend a good portion of time in this article. There is a sub-culture that believes these are the meal ticket when nothing could be further from the truth. I spoke with one artist a month ago who had gone over their royalty statement. After releasing a new album, it was streamed in Russia and royalties were paid on those streams. For right around 7700 streams, the artist received 97 cents. Not 97 cents per stream, 97 cents in total for those 7700 streams. I’ve said it before and will say it again- no artist has ever become rich off performance royalties. At the current payout rates, most artists will never see more than coffee money for their efforts.

This appears to be a continuing trend, as all new legislature concerning performance rights in America give the keys to the car to the big corporations to monitor and administer the process (see The Music Modernization Act). The rich will get richer, and the emerging artist will continue to see a pittance in revenue for the works they have created.

Add to this the growing number of pirate “radio stations” popping up all over the internet that openly flaunt the rules, and you have an ecosystem where the consumer expectation is that music is now something I never have to pay for. Once that mindset is created, it will take decades to level the playing field. Why should I pay to hear a song, when I can over to Bobby’s internet station and request it. Because of the non-existent policing in place, Bobby isn’t paying a cent in royalties and is gaining quite the following because he allows listening behaviors that fall outside the established rules, and in many cases draws revenue in doing so. Meanwhile, those stations that are trying to play by the rules struggle, both from a financial and visibility perspective.  I will be expanding on this subject in a future article, as I believe this sector of the industry is a key component to the success and recovery of the music economy.

I’ve actually had artists argue this last point with me. Artists that are very vocal about the right to get paid for their art (and rightfully so) are willing to look past the fact that Bobby isn’t paying them. To those artists, I say this- you can’t have it both ways. If you want to earn your rightful share, you need to demand that equal share from everyone that uses your music. Quite honestly, you gave up the right to make that decision when you registered your song for royalty gathering (check the agreement you signed with whatever PRO covers your material). By openly supporting pirate radio and allowing it to operate, you are effectively shooting yourself in the foot. This, by the way, is the only of conversation where I lay any type of blame at the feet of musicians.

So, the artist cannot rely on music sales to earn a living, nor performance royalties. Fortunately, they have live performances to line their pockets, right? That would be a ‘no’. For most artists, performing live consists of playing in establishments that, like consumers, feel they are entitled to next- to-free music, something that will draw people in and drink lots of beer, maximizing their profits, but barely putting anything in the artist’s pocket. Tip buckets have become the order of the day, and in many venues, the main source of revenue for a musician. The bar is ringing up hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in sales, and feeling good about slipping the band $100.

However, there is a new wrinkle to the live performance dilemma- people do not seek out live music, as they did years ago. Live venues are disappearing, because they are no longer drawing the crowds they once did. The computer age, an age where I can listen to music whenever I want, also allows me the ability to go to a site like YouTube and find live footage of the bands I like, and do it for free. There is no incentive to go out and find live music. As a result, the live performance revenue stream has been severely hampered for most, making it impossible to earn a living playing music.

The problems are many, but the solutions are few and make sense to all but the big corporations that control the business:

  • Music pricing for the sale of music needs to join the 2018 world economy, and not be stuck in the 1970’s.  Companies like Apple have already established their cost of service (by requiring nearly all of the 99 cents charged for most singles) so the increases can be passed along to the artists.
  • Free unlimited streaming of music by companies such as Spotify needs to be identified as an anti-competitive practice that only benefits big business, and these companies should be compelled to offer a pricing model that allows for profitability, instead of baking quarterly losses year after year because of the rock bottom pricing.
  • There needs to be a concerted effort to clean up the internet radio industry, an industry I firmly believe can be at the forefront of the new music ecosystem going forward with the proper controls in place.

 

I’m going to stop here for now, because there are another bunch of lessons learned during my summer vacation, which I’ll save for the next article.  That article will deal with the attention seekers that are popping up all over the place and deflecting the attention away from the music and the incredible burden placed on artists to create and market their music, among other things.  It could be an interesting read.

 

I Know, I Know…

Yes, it has been FOREVER since I’ve put anything on paper.  It has been a hectic and chaotic couple of months in the Coz Kingdom, so I’ll give you some of the highlights:

  • I’ve obviously delayed the launch of the social media network, for a couple of reasons.  The primary reason has a lot to do with all of the negative news regarding Facebook lately.  With all of the concerns over user privacy on networks of these types, I decided to do some additional research to be absolutely sure the proper controls are in place before I go live.  I have absolutely no plans to collect data of any kind from users, and want to ensure that the same level of protection goes all the way up the chain.  I should have an updated launch date in the near future.
  • I find myself much more immersed in the local music scene, which has been an absolute delight!  I’ve made some great connections (and even greater friends), and obviously heard some incredible music.  Our weeks are now planned around two things- my broadcast schedule and who we can catch live in the area.  I’m planning an article to go into this aspect of the business in more detail in the coming weeks.
  • I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to catch up with Branford Marsalis.  Brad and I were roommates at Berklee, and hadn’t laid eyes on each other since the late ’80’s.  Once we got caught up on a couple of decades of life, the talk turned to the current state of the music business.  We share many of the same opinions, and he had some great words of wisdom for the new generation trying to break into the business- get out there and play live whenever you can.  He pointed to a number of well known artists that had already gathered a rabid regional fanbase long before “making it” with a big record deal (like Dave Matthews).  Practicing, writing and rehearsing, and posting music online are all fine, but the real way to success is to get out and let people hear your talent live.  Based on my recent forays into the local scene, I can vouch for the logic of this approach.
  • All of this elbow rubbing with musicians has rekindled something in me I haven’t used in years.  I’ve spent the better part of the last week in the studio, trying to shake off the rust accumulated over many years of inactivity.  The advantage of being the “book smart” musician is that I actually paid attention in class, and it amazes me how deeply the knowledge infused itself.  I’m surprised at how quickly all of the old techniques and tricks are coming back to me, and the challenges are more in getting used to the technology available.  Hell, the last time I spent any real time behind a board, we were still splicing tape and using analog synthesizers (yeah, it’s been a minute).  I’ve also started writing and arranging again, which is my happy place.  As the chaos around here subsides, I’m hoping I will continue to carve out time for all this going forward.

That’s all for now.  I promise to make this aspect of what I do a more regular thing.  I promise.

Coz

Cozmic Debris Universe- An Update

Before I say anything else, I want to apologize for being somewhat MIA on social media, and absolutely horrendous in getting back to people over the last couple of weeks.  I won’t say I bit off more than I can chew with the creation of Cozmic Debris Universe, but it has added to the pile of activities that are all vying for precious time.  I knew this would happen, and I am just now getting back into a groove where everything can get its proper attention.  For those who have reached out recently, expect to hear from me shortly.

As promised, here’s an update on Cozmic Debris Universe, my stab at creating a social network devoted exclusively to independent music.  I find myself in a position where I may actually be a little ahead of schedule.  All of the introductory material is written and posted, and I’ve started playing around and doing some sample posts (which will be available at launch).  In short, things are looking great, and it’s on to the next step.

Here in the next week, I will start inviting artists to join, explore and post.  My thought process is to have the artists shake the system down and provide feedback.  The goal is to have a bunch of content already available when the network opens to the public.  Shortly thereafter,  I will be inviting some bloggers and influencers to do the same.  Once I feel that all the bugs are worked out, it will open to everyone.

I had originally set a May 1st launch date.  Quite honestly, it is looking more like a mid-April launch, barring any hiccups.  I don’t see a need to delay the launch, and the quicker we are up and running, the quicker we can all see if this can be the wave of the future for indie music.  Excitement and nerves are running rampant, but I would be concerned with any reaction.

With a great deal of humility, I say this may be the next big development in independent music,  one that starts changing the way fans find music and the way artists share their music.  I hope to see everyone there.

More details to following the coming days.

 

Coz

A Big Announcement From Cozmic Debris

No matter what label you choose to use for me- blogger, social media influencer, radio personality or super fan, I hope the passion that drives everything I am trying to accomplish shines through.  There have been many nights where I have questioned my effectiveness in helping musicians, and I’ve talked myself out of just shutting things down and walking away more than a few times.  However, the rewards have far outweighed the challenges the entire way and have energized me in a way that I have never experienced before.  The time dedicated to making my small contributions to the music community has multiplied, and life has become extremely chaotic.  The hobby became an infatuation, which became a mission and has now transformed into an obsession.  And now the obsession takes a big next step.

I am both very happy and very nervous to announce that I am creating a yet-to-be-named social media network devoted exclusively to independent musicians and fans.  A network where artists can share music, music videos and concert announcements, and fans can explore and discover new music.  It is not meant to replace networks like Facebook and Twitter, but rather to be a targeted resource to help gain exposure.

I am very excited.  The platform will provide a number of advantages, combining the best of Twitter and Facebook- no character limitations, no algorithms to determine what people see (they will see it all) and the ability to categorize music in a way that will allow musicians to target specific audiences.  And, of course, this will all be made available at no cost to either the artists or fans.  The goal here is to bring the music to the forefront of the music industry.

Target date for rollout is scheduled for May 1st.  This will give me time to give it a good shakedown, explore some other functionality options that may be of use to musicians, as well as work with artists to have content available when it launches to the public.  This is something that I believe has to grow organically, in order to be truly successful, so word of mouth will be essential.  I’m going to go a little light on the details right now but will start sharing details as we get closer to launch.  Keep your eyes focused here for updates. 

Artists- if you feel this is something you want to be a part of, please contact me.  As I said earlier, it would be great to have a ton of content available when it rolls out

I don’t have any delusions of grandeur, but I do believe this has the possibility of becoming an essential tool for both fans and artists.  If it works, it works, and my dream is for it to be a special place for independent music.  Time will tell.

The Circle Of Life

What follows is nothing more than personal opinion.  I don’t claim to have all the answers, and I could be way off base in my assessment of the situation.  I normally don’t start an article off with those two statements, but I believe I’m about to tread in places that will strike a nerve with many who read this.

There is much talk these days about the odds being stacked against the independent musician.  Hell, I’ve been leading the charge on that front (or at least in the front vanguard).  Lately, the discussion seems to focus around two main areas of concern- Spotify and internet radio.  The first is viewed by many (including me) as the great evil of the music world.  The second is much more subtle in its affect on the industry, but merits just as much discussion.  However, there are many aspects of the industry to be looked holistically.  I’m going to take a stab at providing a high level view of these.

I thought it might be appropriate to look at the lifecycle of various aspects of the industry, as they pertain to artist success.  I’ll start with the perfect world of the artist and fan relationship.  If everything is working as designed, that relationship looks something like this:

Fan Cycle 1

This is the perfect relationship, where the fan supports the efforts of the musician to produce more music, which in turn causes the fan to purchase more music.  It is the perfect circle of life.  It is self-sustaining, and as long as the music remains of a high quality, this cycle can support the needs of the independent musician.

However, we don’t live in a perfect world.  Fans have a myriad of options available, with Spotify being the most obvious.  People do not have to purchase a physical copy, and rather can build their own version of a radio station, where they are in control of the content being broadcast (streamed).  As we all know, this is not a financially viable source of revenue for the artist, and our cycle looks much different with this method of music listening:

Fan Cycle 2

 

In my humble opinion, there is a place for Spotify in the equation, just not the current use.  Artists should look at Spotify as an advertising medium, much like radio.  Instead of making their entire catalog available, share just enough of their catalog to peak the interest of the average listener.  Rotate songs in and out of that limited rotation, in hopes of capturing someone’s attention enough to drive music purchase.  This is not the perfect solution, and it requires a complete rethinking of the way Spotify is used.  To those that (correctly) see no value in streaming services, it would be a tough pill to swallow. But, used correctly, Spotify can become an effective promotional tool.

Likewise, there is the ‘perfect’ cycle for the use of radio as an advertising and promotional tool that looks something like this:

Radio Cycle

 

Again, in a perfect world, this is how radio influences buying decisions and becomes a primary outlet for the discovery of new music by fans and listeners.  Radio, whether terrestrial or over the internet, is not the primary source of revenue, but rather used by the artist as an advertising tool to garner more sales.  Often times, broadcasters lose sight of this and try to become the sole point of contact between listener and music.  And while this may have been the case in the early days of radio, the artist is much more dependent on music sales in today’s environment. For some fans and listeners, radio will become their sole exposure to music, but the primary focus should be on the medium being used as the point of discovery.  A growing listener base is built on both the quality of programming and music, which benefits all involved.

Another area of the radio world that dilutes the ability of the medium to be an effective promotional tool is the large number of hobby internet radio stations popping up across the world.  In many cases, these stations are not properly paying their way.  Before I go any further, let me make one thing clear- there are precious few licensed internet radio stations that are going to provide any kind of revenue stream to an artist.  Proper licensing is not done to pad the pockets of musicians, but rather as a sign of respect to the artists.  Yes, there are poorly enforced legal implications, but the true test of a station is its willingness to play by the rules and pay its fair (however miniscule) share.  Yes, it can be horribly expensive on a personal level, but if we were to live in an environment of nothing but properly run internet stations, fan bases would increase for those stations, making them an even more viable promotional tool for the artist.

Internet promoters and influencers (like myself in a very small way) also have a responsibility to the artist to drive the sale of music, which looks something like this:

Promoter Cycle

 

This is probably the subtlest of the lifecycles, as the promoter is simply making people aware of music, and if done right, has no skin in the game.  They are playing the role of ‘super fan’ and letting the world know about great music.  Done properly, the influencer is constantly providing ‘teaser’ content to their followers, and much like the radio stations, building their followers through quality content and frequent sharing.  It is easily the least apparent and glamorous part of the business (as I can personally attest), but the role of social media influencer can have great impact on the success of independent musicians.

Lastly, the role of live performance venues plays an important role in the success of indie artists:

Venue Cycle

 

Honestly, this is an overlooked part of the equation by anyone not tied to the industry.  Often, venues act as if they are doing the artist a favor by allowing them to play, while filling their cash registers with an abundance of food and liquor receipts.  Establishment owners do not recognize (or even care about) the huge financial burden carried by the artist to get to the point of being considered for booking. Many times, the amount paid does not even fall into the range of a fair minimum wage for all involved.  When this happens, the cycle starts to look strikingly familiar to the Spotify cycle:

Venue Cycle 2

 

So, there you have it.  One man’s view of the music industry.  I don’t expect to get unanimous praise for my thoughts, but I hope it gives you all something to think about.  There is a world out there that can truly support the independent musician.  It is up to us to determine if that circle of life is something we are willing to commit to.

The Light At The End Of The Tunnel

I’ve sat down a dozen times to write an article over the last few months.  A lack of time has been the primary reason, as time has become a very precious commodity in the Cozmic Universe.  But, while I haven’t written anything, I have been extremely tuned in to both the industry and the indie music that appears to be gaining some momentum.  In short, the light at the end of the tunnel is getting perceptively brighter.

I’ve written about the great sense of community in the indie music world, and I’ve been able to personally experience the goodness of that community a number of times over the last few months.  Whether it being the honor of attending a benefit concert for a local nonprofit that focuses on bringing music to the children of the community, to playing on stage for the first time in decades with my original musical partner in crime, to attending the show of another lifelong friend and a group of newly found musical friends, to (in the next few days) getting to meet a local talent I have been following for months, this incredible journey I find myself on has blossomed into something resembling a career, but without all of the nasty connotations the word usually carries with it.  It truly is a labor of love, and it is the people I am encountering that are making this truly the most rewarding period of my life.

That is the beauty of most indie music.  This collection of amazing talented people have rallied around me, but not nearly as much as they rally around each other.  I saw this first hand on a recent quick trip to Nashville.  The entire purpose of the trip was to attend a show being put on by Nashville Non Prophets and Cliff Wheeler Band.  Two groups of musicians from different states that had no knowledge of each other a year ago.  They discovered each other on Music Mafia Radio, and started talking about the burning need to do shows together.  This is not going to be a review of that show (that will appear soon on http://musicmafiaradio.net) . Rather, this is meant to highlight the brotherhood of the musician I witnessed throughout the entire weekend, along with some other great things I’ve seen recently.

I’m too lazy to go back and see if I have mentioned this before, but Mitch Laney (of Nashville Non Prophets) and I go back decades as friends.  And while I had never met Cliff Wheeler Band in person, they were already great social media friends.  We all had the opportunity to hang out the afternoon of the show, and it was like a family reunion. The Cliff Wheeler Band had driven over eight hours to play an hour long set in Nashville.  Mitch put the band up at his house, and my wife and I were fortunate enough to be around these great musicians for that afternoon.  We got to know each other on a personal level, and I got to witness a young songwriter get mentored by a master of the craft as he was writing a blues song.  It had been a long time since I had been around people that “speak the language”, and it did my heart good to see the passing of knowledge, and the series of “hey, try this” moments made for a very fun and entertaining afternoon. At the show that evening, I got to meet family and friends of the bands and other indie artists that had made the trip to catch the show and support their musical friends.

I’d be in heaven with just that experience under my belt, but my story is not complete yet.  Last night, I heard about a former musician in Appleton, Wisconsin, who bought an old monastery, which he has turned into a place for indie musicians to come and record material, staying in the monastery while doing so.  Oh yeah, one important thing I left out- there is no charge for the recording time.  In addition, a growing indie music festival has been created by the same former musician, a festival that is growing into one of the largest in the USA.  You will hear more about this festival, and the man behind it, a little later in the year.

I bet you thought I was done.  Not quite.  This Saturday, Fiddy and I have been invited to House Concert by an artist we recently brought into the Music Mafia Radio familia.  A very talented kid who has been following me on social media for a while, and finally made the connection between Cozmic Debris and Music Mafia Radio.  I was excited to play his music for the first time on MMR, and we now have a friendship evolving.  I was quite honestly taken aback by the invitation, but like the other stories contained here, it has forced me to realize that I have become a ‘thing’ in the business.  This realization is filled with a mix of humility, encouragement, focus, excitement and purpose.  I can no longer deny that I am a part of this wonderful community of artists, and I find myself now trying to find a way to devote even more of my time and my life to strengthening and lifting these artists to their proper place in society and culture.

These stories are meant to be examples of the awesome counter culture of independent music that exists and is growing all around us.  They are not unique experiences, and a quick poll of those who will read this would result in many other stories of a similar nature.  Musicians supporting musicians.  My generation providing options and opportunities for the new generation.  The old guard passing the knowledge on to the new breed of musicians.  No attitudes or egos, but rather gatherings of lovers of the art form doing their small part to elevate the craft.

This, my faithful readers, is how this business will flourish.  This is how the indie music will bring the big industry interests to their knees.  It is a long, hard battle ahead of us, but if we do band together and support each other, that light at the end of the tunnel will get brighter and brighter.  I’m committed to doing part (and more).  Who’s willing to join me?

Coz

 

Cozmic Debris is a social media influencer, blogger and on-air personality on Music Mafia Radio.  You can catch Coz every Tuesday and Thursday, 8pm Eastern, on Music Mafia Radio (http://musicmafiaradio.net).  Artists are encouraged to submit their music for consideration by emailing cozmic.debris@comcast.net.

Help Us Help You

For the independent musician, the goal is to always work towards making it to that next level.  Working to get their music in rotation wherever possible, convincing venue owners to pay them just a little more, finding a way to keep the music flowing to the public, and coming up with a strategy to separate them from a pack of a thousand similar acts.  It can be a daunting task, and one that many times can require more hours than are in a day.  For most, it is very much of a shotgun approach- get the music out to as many places as possible, in hopes of the right person tuning in at the right time.  In many ways, the business hasn’t changed in this regard in fifty years.  However, the business has changed in other ways over that fifty years that make this approach less successful than in the past.

There is another group within the music industry always working just as hard to get to the next level.  A group that works countless hours to gain exposure for talented musicians, trying to find that one gimmick that will separate them from the pack of a thousand similar competitors.  Just like the musicians themselves, most of these people are doing what they do for little or no financial gain, many times doing it at an expense, doing it out of an obsession for the art that matches that of the artists themselves.  This group I speak of are the internet radio providers.

Before I go any further, it is imperative that I make the following disclaimer- I am a dedicated part of the internet radio community.  And yes, I have a bias toward the product I help put out.  If I didn’t believe in what I’m doing, I never would have turned on the microphone in the first place.   It is that passion that forces me to constantly look at the current state of the industry and identify those areas that need to change.  This article concerns a couple of those necessary changes.

The internet is the wild west of the industry.  Most internet radio goes unregulated and most tend to make up their own rules.  Add to that the vast number of free streaming services available, and it is quick to see that the power and pull of these countless outlets is extremely diluted, to the point where there is no guaranteed outlet for proven success.  The industry must realize and admit that the growth of technology far outstripped its ability to keep pace, which has resulted in less effective channels for artists to utilize. 

The very idea of ‘radio’ itself, in any form, seems alien and outdated to the clear majority of internet users.  The truth is just the opposite, as radio, done the right way, is the most effective vehicle, both for the artist and the listener.  For the artist, a radio station with a large listener base (who does play by the rules) is the perfect platform to develop a meaningful relationship with.  Gone are the days of geographical limitations tied to terrestrial AM/FM radio.  An internet stations can reach around the globe, and a successful one makes the legwork required to gain attention much more efficient.  And for the listener, a successful internet radio station can be the best way to get exposed to new music and have a true voice in the success of an artist.  Radio stations do not rely on algorithms to suggest new things to hear (as the streaming services do), but rather tailor their playlists to those artists that garner interest from the listeners.  And a good radio station will have the expertise behind it to play nothing but incredible music, one song after another.

I’ve more than once mentioned the importance of ‘playing by the rules’, and it merits an explanation.  As I stated previously, many stations openly flaunt the requirements to legally play and broadcast music, hoping to fly under the radar and avoid detection.  What puzzles me most about this is the blind eye given to this by the musical community.  One of the biggest complaints I hear from artists is the lack of a meaningful income stream for their music, but then they turn around and give it to someone to use that will never pay a penny to use the product.  Quite honestly, this scenario has forced me to rethink my negative attitude toward the streaming giants, because they do play by the rules.  This doesn’t mean that I agree with the rules, but rather is a recognition of their practices in compensating artists (no matter how little it is).

So, now that I’ve spouted off for a few paragraphs, what are the changes that need to occur?  First off, there needs to be a huge consolidation of the industry, which focuses the content towards legitimate entities.  While this will still leave thousands of alternatives, it will allow those remaining legitimate stations to capture the listening base of the many more thousand pirate hobby radio stations.

The second thing needing to change falls squarely on the artist.  Does it make sense to throw your incredible work out to the wind, hoping that it will catch on with one of the hundred or more stations you have blindly submitted to?  Or does it make more sense to build meaningful relationships with a handful of content providers to build a ready-made audience of listeners from the ground up who are hungry for your new material?  In other words, get in on the ground floor and do nothing more than make a station (or two or three) become the listening destination for your fan base.  Find those stations that are willing to do more for you than just play your music and brag on social media that they played it.  I’ve got to be honest and say that after a year of watching the shotgun approach with many artists, I see almost no success with the results.

Let me end by saying that this is no way intended to be any kind of advertisement specific to what I personally do in the business.  I do believe that my expertise and reputation among many of you would speak to my ability to help you succeed, and I believe I have attached myself with a product that is solely focused on the success of the musicians it plays, but that is a choice for you to make.  I also believe in the power of a traditional radio format to bring attention to the work of talented artists.   In the end, there is a wealth of incredible talent out there, just dying to help you out (and do so by the rules).  Are you willing to help them help you?