Steven Blanton ~ Leaderocity

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Labels, Indies, and DIY... Plus My New Book!

Click here to download sample pages of this 174 page book.

The Songwriter's Toolkit: From Pen to Push Play

Click on the book to purchase now. Pre-sell purchases include a free download card of the new EP by Aaron Blanton (a Grammy nominated and multi Dove Award winning artist.) You'll get a free ringtone and at least six brand new songs recorded in L.A. and Orange County. The download card will ship at the time the book ships. This is a limited time offer!

A few weeks ago I met with several record label execs in separate meetings to discuss an artist I am working with. It was fascinating to listen to their stories of success and failure and the lessons they had learned from each. The proudest moments they had were those spent building a career from almost nothing into a prominent act that changed the course of their company and the artist. In fact, that is what everyone dreams of; going from the struggling artist to the world famous internationally known star.

The stories of “rags to riches” successes have gotten fewer and farther between. The fact is that regular labels are struggling to find a new gravity. The siphoning off of sales from on line download stores that don’t require hard copies is only the tip of the iceberg. Add to the mix pirated sales in countries like China and Spain, file sharing, desktop CD replication and even the reduction of plays as terrestrial radio share declines, and the problem of revenue loss is self evident. Where dollars were being realized from the sale of each CD now has become only pennies. The business model that has worked for a hundred years has been turned on its ear without apology. The reduction in profits has taken its toll on the cash flow of many major labels and some, like EMI have hit bottom. As a music attorney friend said, “the business has changed and it’s not coming back.”

The challenge for the “business as usual” crowd is how to keep the lights on. They are sandwiched between the “all music should be free” crowd and the “I demand to be paid for my work” consortium. While some may believe that making a profit is somehow evil, the fact is that without profit the next big music act may be a long time in coming. Profit is the single motivator to keep companies involved in development and without it, well, why bother. Altruism is a fabulous ideal but doesn’t pay the bills.

Something always rushes in to fill any vacuum and it is no less true for the music business. The indies have done a great job, in many cases, of being the support and extension of the artist. They are less duty-bound to long histories and big staff payrolls. This makes them more agile and able to turn instantaneously to meet market demands. However, they do have considerably less influence than their leviathan counterpart. But when it comes to the music business, this is the day of miniaturization where less is more and smaller is better. An indie label is a sort of miniature label that is independent of the usual well-heeled “big boys” industry expectations. Often they find new and innovative ways to get the music delivered to the fans with a minimum of cash flow and a maximum of effort. Sometimes it is entirely a grassroots achievement and they just help the grass grow. Indies, who were the “outsiders”, have moved up in prominence and prestige. And as long as they can remain the source for new and burgeoning artists to find help, they will continue to enjoy their own levels of success.

The irony of any small and agile label being successful is of course, the possibility of becoming so successful that the “small and agile” parts become large and lumbering. In which case, they would simply be a major label. Weird, huh? That is the two edged sword that follows them around threatening to dethrone them. There is always another small-label-startup trying to take their slot in the marketplace.

Sometimes, even an indie label can’t help you make a living in the music business. They either don’t have a slot for your music, or are simply maxed out on their resources. I believe that we should be as self directing as we can be and have advocated that musicians should take control of their own careers. If you think through what is going on in signing with any label, you will discover that you are hiring someone, sometimes for an outrageous fee, to do things you either can’t or won’t do; and sometimes for good reason. Each artist has his skill-set limitations but I think we could all do more for our own careers by focusing more on what matters to the success story.

If you have read anything I have written you will see a reoccurring theme here. I am always saying, “it is about making fans.” Whatever you are selling requires that someone somewhere wants what you are offering. In music, it is and ever shall be the need to create interest in your music and the peripheral merch. The fan is the quintessential factor that holds any career together. You are the best advocate for bringing people on-board with you. If you are unknown, it will be your invitation they will respond to. Giving them music they love and an experience they crave are the key factors in developing fan loyalty. And this is something you can do yourself; no label needed. As your fans grow in number, you will become of greater value to labels that are looking to expand their roster with artists in your genre. You will in fact, have done the hardest work of surviving and developing your sound pre-label. If you are going for a label deal, this will make the negotiations a little more tilted in your favor. Fans are valuable to the entire music food chain. Without them, there cannot be a success story to tell. So get out there and DIY.

The Songwriter's Toolkit: From Pen to Push Play

Click on the book to purchase now. Pre-sell purchases include a free download card of Aaron Blanton's new EP. You'll get a free ringtone and at least six brand new songs recorded in L.A. and Orange County. The download card will ship at the time the book ships. This is a limited time offer... REALLY!

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