The Blog

A Weekend Like No Other

I’ll start by getting all the disclaimers out of the way. Yes, I’ve known the founder and president of ISSA, Tamanie Dove, for a number of years and have been an active supporter of both her music and efforts to lift indie artists up with ISSA. Yes, I have been a published ISSA supporter since like day two of the organization, and Music Mafia Radio contributed to the organization in the early days as a way to help the cause move forward. Yes, because of what I do with Music Mafia Radio I have come to know a number of the ISSA representatives and artists on a personal level. And yes, Music Mafia Radio took top honors in the Radio Station of the Year at the ISSA Awards Show.

I had the honor and privilege of being a part of the recently concluded 2019 International Singer Songwriters Association Awards Show. For those that aren’t familiar, it is the brainchild of indie artist and mentor, Tamanie Dove. It was created to be an avenue for independent artists to showcase their talent and for them to learn how to navigate the industry. The response from artists has been overwhelmingly positive, and ISSA has grown to become a great platform for emerging indie artists.

Let me start off by saying this was the inaugural show for the organization, and as anybody would expect there were hiccups and lessons learned. For those there to show support of the great music being recognized, these speed bumps were a small price to pay for a day of celebration. It made for a much greater showing of the community being built and I’m sure the lessons learned will make for an even better event next year. But enough about those small things.

On a personal level, the entire weekend was spectacular. On Friday night, a pre-party was held where a number of great musicians showcased their talents and even more artists showed up to show their support and finally get to meet each other face-to-face. I met many artists we’ve been playing and supporting at Music Mafia Radio and even got to check off a few of the bands that have been on my bucket list for some time. More importantly, the feeling of fellowship and camaraderie was impossible to ignore. Handshakes, hugs and a million pictures occurred as people were finally getting to meet those they had created an online relationship with. Musicians became fans and gave their encouragement to each other. As somebody who was removed from the business for a number of years, it was so incredible to see the outpouring of love amongst the artists.

Saturday was the main event, something many of us had been waiting months for. It did not disappoint. Prior to the event, a red-carpet event was held, which gave the opportunity for many special moments. Musicians being interviewed, pictures of artists with their family, fans and friends. For many, it was an opportunity to finally put the name to the face of some of their own favorite musicians. It was something special to watch.

The awards show itself was the highlight of the weekend, as artists from a wide variety of musical styles were recognized for their talent and ability. Each one of the acceptance speeches came from the heart and the musical performances left the listener wanting more. Again, the support of other musicians was obvious and created an atmosphere of pure celebration. It was impossible to walk away without feeling a sense of excitement for what the next year holds for those artists and ISSA itself. The awards show was followed by an after party, where even more incredible talent was given the opportunity to perform before a very receptive audience.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my humble review of the 2019 ISSA Awards Show. Well, almost all the review, that is. You see, while the awards ceremony was a great thing to be a part of and to witness, it was the ability to meet and hang out with such great talent for two days that was the most special part of the experience. Don’t get me wrong- the ISSA Awards are going to become an important part of the indie landscape in the years to come. I’m honored beyond words to have my name etched on one of those awards. The music industry is in for a number of collaborations created out of this weekend, and the friendships made this weekend will have an effect on the industry for many years to come. More importantly, the community of support for indie musicians grew exponentially this weekend. I’m honored to a part of this movement and excited by the endless possibilities I see in the months ahead.
These last points will be lost on those that view the music industry as their potential personal cash cow, as well as those that falsely put themselves in a position of imagined importance. I hope I never reach a point in my musical career where my vision is clouded and jaded like that, because I would have missed so many of the wonderful things that occurred over the weekend.
Finally, to Tamanie Dove and her incredible staff, thank you for allowing me to be a part of this weekend. Your efforts are so greatly appreciated by this small-time broadcaster and I only hope for continued success. I cannot wait to see what’s next for everyone involved!

Follow the International Singer Songwriters Association at

The Sharks Circling in the Water

Slowly but surely, the industry is starting to pay serious attention to independent musicians.  Spotify and Amazon have made it incredibly easy for indie artists to make their work available, regional radio stations are inserting local talent into rotation and music festivals featuring unsigned artists are popping up all over the place and playing to large crowds.  It may not look like the golden years of the ’70s and ’80s, but opportunities are starting to open up.  As a result, many people have taken notice.  A good thing and a bad thing at the same time.

People are crawling out of the woodwork, promising the world to artists.  World class promotion, top-notch management, instant fame and fortune.  It’s easy to find somebody promising some (or all) of the above.  Websites are popping up daily touting their ability to take artists to the top of the mountain.  Much like the industry itself, where anybody with a computer and guitar can record and release music, the support backbone musicians have relied on for years has become diluted.  This makes it difficult for the emerging artist to find those that can really help.

I have no personal delusions of grandeur.  While I am a professionally trained musician, I have no right to release anything due to my many years of inactivity.  I may have spent significant time in recording studios many years ago, but I have no place thinking of myself as a producer, again due to my time away.  What I can rely on is my ear, which has not taken a break over all those years.  I can also rely on my close contact with the music business, which again has been almost constant throughout my entire life.  I am relatively new to the radio personality world and continue to learn every day, having some limited success and working hard to have more.

Knowing all of this, I know my own limitations.  The music business, as a form of art, requires a level of expertise that cannot be learned by reading books or attending webinars.  The experience gained in Corporate America does not equip somebody to handle the nuances of the industry.  I’ll never claim to be a producer, manager or promoter because I don’t have the experience necessary to do any of those effectively.  If only others would recognize their own limitations and just stay on the sidelines.

How is an artist supposed to find the right help as they work to break in (or break out)?  Here are a few tips:

Look for meaningful experience in the industry.  This means they should already have a portfolio of work that demonstrates their previous success in the business.  Don’t be shy.  Ask for references.  Ask for the specific results that benefitted the artists they have ‘worked’ with.  Get the numbers and don’t be shy about it.  After all, you are placing your career in their hands.  You deserve nothing but the best.  If the portfolio doesn’t exist, are you willing to be the guinea pig?

Make sure they know the language.  If they can’t talk like a musician, they probably don’t understand the art well enough to be successful.  No matter what level of service they are offering an artist, it is essential that they understand what you do at a pretty granular level.  They don’t have to be able to do what you do, but they should be able to explain what you do to anybody that will listen.  That includes other musicians.

Make sure they are in the game for you.  A little research will help you determine this.  If they are in the game for you, they will be almost invisible to the listening public.  I hide behind a stage name because I want all the focus to be on those I choose to support.  Things must be posted and written by Cozmic Debris because there must be a name of some kind attached.  If their own name is attached to everything to do with your music, are they in it for you or for themselves?

Don’t get me wrong.  Many of you have the talent to self-produce and self-promote.  However, if you are looking for help, there are many, many people in the industry that have the credentials to provide you with excellent support.  You may have to wade through an ocean of ‘wannabes’ to find them, but they are out there.  You have spent years perfecting your craft.  The people representing and supporting your work should be the best you can find.  They should have spent years perfecting their craft as well.  When your experience blends with their experience, great things will happen.  As I said at the beginning of this article, the industry is finally taking notice of the independent musician.  Use that to your advantage and you’ll never have to look back.

A Christmas Story

I know, I know- Christmas was a few weeks ago.  I had planned on writing an end of the year article, but the rebel in me decided to wait a little longer.  The time has come.

Many of us had the opportunity to witness the music version of a Christmas miracle this past holiday season.  From the ashes of a ruined music industry rose one of the most talked about indie cover songs in recent memory.  I typically don’t pay any attention to covers, primarily because I am always looking for new music to hit my ears.  But even I got caught up in the frenzy of this incredible story.  Of course, I’m talking about Small Town Titans.

One evening over the Thanksgiving weekend, I received one of those annoying group Messenger posts on Facebook.  You know the ones- typically a share of something someone found amusing that they feel the need to share with the entire world.  Quite honestly, I ignore most of them, save for a few that come from trusted musicians.  The post in question came from a family member.  I was just about to dismiss it when I noticed the title of the song, “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”  I grew up with the animated version of The Grinch being a Christmas staple (even to this day) and I always had a fondness of the grumpy bass vocals in the song.  So, I clicked on the link, took a listen and watched history unfold before my very eyes.

Small Town Titans, for those that are not familiar with them, are an indie band from Harrisburg, PA.  Prior to Thanksgiving, they probably had a small local following and made a habit out of self-producing their own songs and covers, releasing a video every week of something new.  Most had probably not garnered much attention.  That is, not until they covered The Grinch.

The last time I looked, they had garnered over 220,000 followers on Spotify, received tens of millions of views on YouTube, watched digital downloads of their music explode exponentially and were in constant reorder mode for copies of their CD’s.  It went deeper than their cover songs- people started taking interest in their original music as well (which is some really good shit).  This band, one that had been working on their craft for years, had finally become relevant.

I tell this story because it represents a glimmer of hope for independent artists everywhere.  Despite the best efforts of the major labels to convince the world that the only good contemporary music consists of autotuned and oversampled trash, good music can rise above the noise.  There was no huge production budget involved here, and no corporate machine driving the release of the song.  What Small Town Titans were able to accomplish was done through the magic of viral social media.  It was only after it started becoming a hit with its fans that traditional news media started taking note, and when they did, it only added to the momentum the band was experiencing.

So, to all of my independent friends and heroes, I say this- stay steady and committed to what you do.  Put your music out there for the world to hear.  Maybe, just maybe, you can enjoy the same kind of ride one day.  We now have proof positive that big money is not required to have a cultural hit.  My personal view of the landscape changed dramatically over the holiday season, as I am starting to see new possibilities for those that deserved to be noticed.  There is still a long way to go to come to true equity in the industry, but it seems to get a little closer every day.

To all of you, best wishes for a healthy, safe and prosperous New Year.  Let’s make 2019 our year!



The Power of Building a Community

It’s been a busy and chaotic month.  I’ve taken the next step in my ‘pay the bills’ career, and that has forced some changes in the way I can approach what I do here and other places to promote indie music.  Time is a little more precious and there is not as much of it to use doing what I truly love, but I will find a routine and rhythm that allows me to continue being a productive resource for the indie music community.

That previous paragraph may sound like I’ve ground to a halt when nothing could be further from the truth.  A number of projects I am working on are running at warp speed.  Some of these I can talk about, others I can’t at this time.  But one thing rings true with all of them- a community is being built that can ultimately take on the big corporate music machine that has ravaged the industry.  Once again, David is taking on Goliath and I believe there can be a happy ending to the story.

One of the new communities coming to life in the indie music world and starting to make an impact is the International Singer Songwriters Association.  Started by Tamanie Dove, herself an independent singer-songwriter, the ISSA is a not-for-profit association dedicated to supporting and serving independent artists, and encouraging aspiring and professional songwriters in all genres of music worldwide.  In 5 short months, ISSA boasts a membership of over 5000 artists spanning a wide variety of musical styles from around the world.  Most importantly, it does so with no cost to the artist.

I’ve witnessed some of the work of ISSA first hand.  Whether it be teaching new artists how to write a bio, put together an EPK or offering assistance in finding the necessary resources to become a successful recording artist, the flow of information has been astounding to watch.  Seasoned artists are passing along the tricks of the trade to the new generation, and ISSA can boast over 5000 members in its first five months of existence.  It has been a wonderful thing to watch, and I know there are even more great things in store for the members of ISSA.

Very shortly after ISSA was formed, I was approached to become a partner in their efforts, one of the first to be asked.  I have to admit more than a little shock at the request.  After all, I’m just a small-time blogger, a social media micro influencer and on-air personality on a small (but quickly growing) internet radio station.  I’m still more than a little baffled, but extremely honored to associated with such a wonderful organization.  A large part of my plans for 2019 revolves around this partnership with ISSA, which I’ll talk about in the coming months.  Don’t worry- everything else I’ve been doing will still be there.  There will just be more of me around.  I hope that is viewed as a good thing.

The story could end there, but it doesn’t.  Over the last few months, a partnership of sorts has developed between ISSA and Music Mafia Radio.  Two months ago, Rick Landstrom made the decision to dedicate our live Friday night program to showcase the members of ISSA.  For some of these artists, it may be the first time they have heard their material on the air.  It has been a wonderful thing to see and hear, and successful to the point where we talk about expanding ISSA programming in the future.

It all sounds great, but there is even more.  Most recently, talk has turned from the performers to the songwriters themselves.  In many cases, a songwriter may write great material but not be able to translate that into the kind of performance they would like for their work.  Hell, I fall into that category- I can write and arrange music all day long, but no longer possess the fluency to bring it to life.  For a pure songwriter, it can be challenging to get your music seriously heard.

Once again, here comes Rick Landstrom with an idea.  Music Mafia Radio has now dedicated a page on its website to songwriters, a place where they can post their demos in the hopes that an artist likes what they hear and works with the songwriter to bring the song to life.  This is something that is unheard of in the radio industry- connecting songwriters with performers.

When I heard the idea, I immediately became excited.  It excites me because I am seeing folks thinking outside the traditional boxes to find ways to get the exposure and acclaim that many of these artists so richly deserve.  People are willing to shed the traditional boundaries of their position in the industry to grow the industry in a positive way.  And there is one more thing these people share- they are not receiving or expecting a single penny for their services from the artists.  It is all being provided at no cost.

I titled this article, “The Power of Building a Community.”  Hopefully, you see the power of what is going on with Music Mafia Radio and the International Singer Songwriters Association.  I can tell you this is only the beginning.  There is much more to come from both of these organizations, and I am more than a little bit excited to be a part of it.  This is a story you’ll want to follow, as I believe there are some great things in store for independent artists in a big way.  Stay tuned.


You can get more information about ISSA at  Find out more about Music Mafia Radio at  You can listen to Cozmic Debris at his new time of 10:30am Eastern every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday on Music Mafia Radio at 

I Need Your Help

My job around here is to support indie music in any way I can, and I like to think I do a pretty good job of doing that.  But, now I find my self in a position where I need to turn the tables and ask you to support me.

As you know, I am an on-air personality for Music Mafia Radio.  We find ourselves nominated for Best Independent Music Station by the International Singer Songwriter’s Association, a wonderful new organization for up and coming musicians that provides tips, tricks and some mentoring to help artists navigate the music landscape.  They may be young, but they are proving to be mighty!  And there is a part of my ego that wants Music Mafia Radio to become #1 and get the recognition I believe we deserve.  So, yes, I am going to ask you to vote for me, for a change.  More on that in a moment.

Now, I get the fact that these types of polls and ‘awards’ are all over the internet, but just like the artists I support, any kind of recognition is appreciated and creates that special ‘brag’ moment where you can say you were Number (insert number) somewhere.  It is a big deal to artists, and now I’m finding out it’s a big deal to those of us behind the scenes as well.  Last week, this blog got picked up by a great California news aggregator, a first for me.  I lost my mind because somebody had recognized my work and cared to share in a big way.  So, yes, to have Music Mafia Radio recognized as the best independent music station by anybody is a big deal to us.  And now I need your help.

Please go over to ISSA Radio Station of the Month Part One and vote for Music Mafia Radio.  It is one vote per day per electronic device, and the poll close October 31st.  Any support you can give is greatly appreciated!


What follows is horribly out of character for me, but I have to get it off my chest.  Feel free to stop reading here if you don’t want to listen to the grumblings of an old grump.

Now that I have that out of the way, I want to get up on my soapbox about one of the other stations on the poll and vent a little bit.  I won’t mention them by name, but they exemplify everything that is wrong about these type of recognition moments.  In an attempt to garner votes, they have blatantly copied every move we’ve made to garner some votes.  Last week, we announce a new special show format we are premiering this Friday and today they announce the exact same format to premiere tomorrow night.  There social media advertisement for the show is an almost exact clone for the one we’ve been running for a week.  One of our fans creates a Facebook chat group specifically to talk up the votes, and less than an hour later they create the same kind of group.

I get that everything I’ve described is pretty common practice and none of it falls in the category of unique.  It’s also not the first time we’ve noticed our thoughts, ideas and programming used by another station, sometimes word for word.  We know other stations listen to us, primarily in search of new music for their own rotation, which I actually love.  I love being the place people come to for new music, whether it be listeners or other stations.  I also know that it is a part of the business- you hear something you like, you find a way to use it.  But when it becomes a regular occurrence of taking ideas from the same source time after time, it enters the realm of “I have no creativity of my own, so I’ll just steal your schtick.”  It is disappointing.

So, to that radio station that shall remain unnamed, I ask this simple question- are those votes you are getting the result of your own talent or are they for your ability to parrot someone else (and not do a real good job of it in the process, to be honest)?  My suggestion is to try and come up with something original, for a change.  I recognize it may be a struggle, but it’s worth a shot.

Coz out.

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!

Nothing In Life Is Free

In America, you cannot avoid advertisements for the cellphone industry.  They are everywhere.  For many years, those ads promised free phones if you signed up with the particular carrier that was showing you what a great deal it had.  The truth is there was nothing free about the transaction.  The company paid the manufacturer for the phones they ‘gave away’, and the cost was passed along to the consumer in the price paid for the actual service.  The customer did end up paying for the phone without even realizing it.  But the one thing they did not pay was sales tax- because the phone was sold at a $0.00 cost, no taxes were added to the transaction.

Enter a number of state governments who realized they were missing out on a major revenue source in this (then) growing market.  In most states, the cost of the service itself is not covered by Sales Tax law, but the sale of a physical product (the phone) is.  Eventually, states started passing legislation requiring the collection of Sales Tax on all cell phone purchases and required that tax be based on the MSRP (Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price) of the phone being purchased.  If the manufacturer listed the phone as an $800 product, tax was to be collected based on that $800 price tag regardless of the actual cost to the consumer.  Sell the phone for half price, collect the full tax.  Give the phone away for free, collect the full tax.  Pay the customer $300 to take the phone, collect the full tax.  Government created a new revenue source and changed the landscape of the American cellphone market forever.

You may be wondering why the hell I’m talking about cell phones on a music blog.  Hopefully, you’ll get the correlation by the end of this article.  We live in a society where getting things for ‘free’ has become an expectation of the consumer.  As different segments of the world economy have become hyper-competitive and the reach of any business has taken on a global playing field, companies have been forced to rethink their marketing strategies, in an attempt to gain visibility with the consumer market. “Free” is a commonplace word in advertising, and as a result, the average consumer does not recognize the negative economic effect the word can have when used in the wrong places.  After all, they are getting something for nothing.

Enter Spotify with their free tier of music streaming service.  The consumer pays nothing to listen to as many songs as they wish for as long as they want.  It is no wonder that this service has become wildly popular with music listeners because it provides an endless supply of music (including brand new music) at absolutely no cost to them.  Spotify creates their revenue stream through advertising and paid subscriptions, and this revenue is used to subsidize the cost of providing free service to a growing share of customers.  In the end, this looks much like the old cell phone strategy.  However, the outward appearance is the only thing that follows that business model.

To understand where I am going with all of this, we need to come to agreement on one thing- music is a product just like a cell phone.  It may not take on a physical form you can hold in your hand, but it is still a product, a commodity.  It is the result of human effort and a very creative process that is unique to musicians.  In the perfect world, the creation of music is the lifeblood of the musician, just like the cell phone is the lifeblood of the worker that assembled it or the engineer that designed it.  Now, back to our story.

Unlike the cell phone, the free Spotify user is not paying an associated cost that can be used to subsidize the free service.  The service is completely free to the consumer.  This is a decision made solely by Spotify, as a way to gain market share.  It is a brilliant marketing strategy and one that has been hugely successful for the company.  Unfortunately, it comes at the detriment of the musician.

Somehow, Spotify has been able to create a two-tier royalty schedule, paying significantly less for the activity of the non-paying customer than that of the paying customer.  Their justification is that because they are deriving no direct revenue from the free plays, they should be able to pay less to the musician. I won’t get into the argument of why Spotify and other interactive on-demand streaming services should be paying significantly higher royalties than just about any other music service (a topic for another article), but what the company is doing here is forcing the artist to subsidize a business model that cannot sustain itself.

Spotify alone made the decision to offer a free tier of service.  Spotify alone made the decision to price unlimited paid service at $9.99 a month.  If that pricing model is not enough to pay for the cost of doing business properly, it is not the responsibility of the musician to subsidize the company by taking less than their fair market share for the product they created.  By keeping their pricing artificially low in the name of being number one, they have convinced the PRO’s and major record labels that they need to lower the price paid to artists and that it is the right thing to do for the industry as a whole.  They have also convinced that same group that because they choose to offer their service for free, those plays have less value in the marketplace than those that are paid for.

Spotify is quick to boast that 80% of their revenue goes back through the pipeline in licensing fees.  What they fail to point out is the failure of that 80% to replace the lost sales resulting from the creation of streaming services.  The cost of producing music has not gone down, but it is now produced in an environment of diminishing returns.  They also fail to point out the insane number of hoops an independent artist must jump through in order to get paid, hoops designed to take the legally required reporting burden off themselves and save money.

This two-tier approach to royalties has to stop.  Their convoluted formula for determining how artists get paid needs to stop.  No product in any other market or industry is less valuable or less costly because one company decides to offer it to consumers for free.  In addition, this type of on-demand service should be required to pay a significantly higher licensing fee than those types of music services that are non-interactive in nature, whether they are getting paid or providing the service at no cost to the consumer.  Just like the cell phone industry, companies like Spotify should be required to pay fees based on the value of the product and not by the price point they are in full control of.  There are many other ways they can monetize the business to recover the cost.  If they choose to undercut the market on pricing or not explore other ways of showing a profit, it should become a decision that affects only their bottom line and not the bottom line of the artist.

Companies like Spotify need to absorb the cost of providing a service for free and not pass it along to musicians.  They will say it makes it unprofitable and is unreasonable for them to play by these rules.  They fear the loss of subscribers if they go to a pay-only subscription model that is priced at a level providing more financial benefit to the artist.  My response is that the music industry flourished before streaming, and will flourish again if the business model of music streaming is found to be fundamentally flawed and incapable of making money.  In fact, I can build a very solid business case for the exponential growth of the music industry in a world totally devoid of streaming services.

Don’t get me wrong.  Spotify is not the only one taking advantage of the market, but they get all the attention because they are the biggest player in the game.  Apple and the major record labels are just as much to blame.  It’s time for sanity and common sense to return to the music industry.  Any other industry would be knee deep in antitrust litigation with the type of business practices in play here.  The big players in the business, like Spotify, have made it clear they have no desire to do so.  Maybe it’s time for them to be told to do so.





It’s All About The Teamwork

In an earlier article, I wrote about the mountain of responsibilities that come with being an independent musician.  It was a daunting list, but an important one.  To their credit, many bands split up the responsibilities, which makes thing more manageable.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are bands where a band “leader” ends up taking on the lion’s share of the list.  Somehow, most are successful, no matter which approach they take.  However, there is a third option that I don’t see utilized often that adds layers of perspective and accountability that are sometimes missed in the world of trying to make music.  This leads to my question for today- have you thought about building a team? Everything done by the Cozmic Debris brand is the work of one person- me.  I do all of the writing, social media, website upkeep and promotion.  I listen to dozens of hours of music a week, looking for more musicians I can get behind, and still find time to get on the air anywhere between 6-8 hours a week.  Of course, that requires time to put each show together.  I can get it all done, but whether or not I do it well is a subject for debate. Compare that to my work with Music Mafia Radio.  We have people to handle the website.  We have another person that does an incredible job of maintaining our social media accounts, a person who also produces eye-catching graphics.  We’ve got people who take care of all the organizational stuff and make sure Rick and I know what we are supposed to mention on air.  We have a person who handles the business aspects of the station.  I handle the stream programming.  While I dabble in parts of the rest of the list to help out, all I really need to do in any given week is flip on the mic and start talking and playing music.  Everything gets done with much more polish and much less stress than my activities in the Cozmic Debris world.  And it happens because we have built a team. Building a team around a solo musician or band can be a long process.  The first hurdle to clear is finding people that can be trusted without hesitation.  After all, your career and reputation are at stake, and you will be asking your team to promote your brand.  You will be looking for people that serve as ‘experts’ for a particular portion of the responsibilities. They need to take your idea and run with it in a way you may not be equipped to do.  They need to understand the music and the philosophy of the band and demonstrate a true passion for your music.  You also need to find people possessing these traits who are willing to volunteer their time, because the reality is that you probably can’t afford to pay anybody to help out.  The reason it can take some time to assemble a team is that you need to be able to check off every single one of those boxes, and the trust piece can sometimes be hard to come by Don’t get me wrong- all final decisions on anything should remain the responsibility of the musician or band.  After all, it is YOUR career and YOUR music.  That’s the whole point behind being an independent musician.  You are not looking for these people to take over the decision-making process.  Instead, you are looking for people to put the decisions already made in motion. Now that we’ve laid the groundwork, what kind of people do you need?  Here’s a basic list you can consider: The Social Media Guru:  This is the person who handles all of your social media accounts.  A person who knows how each platform works and knows the tools that make working on those platforms effective and efficient.  A person who knows how to get the most visibility.  As social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter continue to change the rules of engagement in a way that makes reaching your current and potential fans almost impossible, having someone who knows how to get around the roadblocks becomes even more important.  Finding the right social media person can have very positive effects on your brand image. The Mouthpiece:  This is the person who handles all of the real world interactions and publicity.  They are the one to help you find and talk with venues, work with radio stations to get you airplay, find bloggers and interviewers who are willing to put the spotlight on you.  This is the person that can explain the music to anybody they come in contact with. The Techie:  Developing websites, creating mobile apps, building Alexa skills… there are skilled people that consider these things fun hobbies, and the chances are high you know one of these people.  Your brand value and awareness can grow exponentially with a professional looking web presence. The Organizer:  This is the person who knows every aspect of what the band has going on.  They are the person that reminds you of upcoming interviews, upcoming gigs, studio sessions… they are the person that tells you what you need to wear and what you need to know for wherever you are going. The Mentor:  This is often an overlooked part of the process, but can be the most important.  Typically another musician, this is the person you seek advice from when things appear to not be going in the right direction.  You run available options by them to get an unbiased analysis.  Ideally, this is the person whose ear you trust the most, someone you can take honest feedback from when it comes to your music.  You don’t want a cheerleader.  You want somebody you respect enough to take critical feedback from if it is warranted because you know they have your best interests at heart.  This person should fall outside the entire music creation process (including recording and mastering). They need to understand music on a level that allows them to provide meaningful feedback.  This only works when the trust and respect levels are extremely high. There you have it- the perfect team to help you get back to the business of making music.  Even if you can’t find somebody to fill every one of these roles, just getting a couple of them will help free up your time to work on the more artistic side of the business. One of these days, I’ll build a team to help with Cozmic Debris.  Until then, you are stuck with my jack-of-all-trades approach.  Who knows?  Maybe when I finally do build an incredible team, I’ll have time to write that book that’s been rolling around in my head for the last year.

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.