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I’m With The Brand: Musicians As Corporate Groupies

Topics: Music | 1 CommentBy admin | April 14, 2010

You know it’s over when Iggy Pop Licenses “Lust For Life” to Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines

If you’re a working musician who understands anything at all about how the music industry works and want to earn a decent living, you’ll quit your job right now and start a record label. Oh wait. That doesn’t even work anymore. So what’s a penniless musical genius to do these days to make a living? Well, if you’re Radiohead or Nine Inch Nails – the two acts always cited when talking about making a fortune online with your music – you’re all set. But the fact is that these are pretty exceptional cases, and both acts had a major label deal before their success on line. In reality, there probably are a lot of acts out there that are happy with what they’re making if they self-produce, choose the right distribution channels, and remember that oft-forgotten secret ingredient, HAVING FANS. We’ve come a long way since the days when the typical artist/label arrangement meant the band would sell a couple million units, the label would make a mil, and the band would end up 50 grand in debt. If you think that’s an exaggeration, read this classic piece by Steve Albini (probably best known for producing Nirvana’s In Utero) that breaks it down in detail, or this quick Wikipedia entry about “recoupment”. To get an idea of how many songs an artist has to sell these days – and how – before they make US minimum wage, check out this handy infographic. So while it’s possible these days to make some kind of living as a musician, how does one make “superstar” money? Well not by being Lady Gaga selling tunes on Spotify, that’s for sure. No, much like any other art-meets-business activity, whoring yourself is probably the best solution. Devo was one of the early geniuses of this, building their brand as anti-corporate rebels while making fistfuls of money as savvy and willing team players with Warner. More recently, according to this Wall Street Journal piece, we’d have to tip the hat to Black Eyed Peas. Apparently will.i.am pitches his band-slash-brand to major sponsors like BlackBerry with PowerPoint presentations. Yes, it’s hard to tell the band from the brands these days. In fact, try this clever FastCompany quiz to see if you can tell the names of the bands from those who name the brands.

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  1. Posted by Eric Brown on 04.15.10 12:32 am

    That was a very good piece. Where are you these days Dr. Gray?