The People’s Record Label
Heart of Art: Tips for musicians in the era of digital downloads
Tips on how to succeed in today’s ‘do-it-yourself’ music culture from a Vermont singer-songwriter
by Gregory Douglass
What’s the use in trying to get a record deal anymore?
This is a question that has lingered in my head for the past few years now, and one that is weighing heavily on the minds and hearts of so many musicians today. The music industry as we once knew it is no longer the sustainable promised land that so many independent musicians today still tirelessly aspire to. The continual decline of music sales has birthed the invention of digital streaming music services like Spotify and Pandora radio, leaving the concept of music revenue on the brink of extinction. Even major label artists are abandoning their record labels to manage their careers independently and strengthen their relationships with their fans. So what exactly does all this mean for the future of music?
With over a decade of experience as a full-time independent artist myself, I have operated in a business that no longer offers any other choice today but to “do it yourself” (D.I.Y). While there are still record deals to be had, the heart of artist development truly lies in the hands of the artist and their fans now. As daunting as this may seem to many musicians and music lovers, there’s never been a more pivotal time in music. It requires a major shift in perspective and an understanding that the only record deal that matters today is The People’s Record Label (aka, crowd funding).
I’ve been among a pool of independent musicians who have been crowd funding their albums for years now, but the rise of crowd-funding platforms such as Kickstarter and PledgeMusic have given license to the masses through their visibility and popularity. The crowd-funding process is the inverse of what many musicians experienced with traditional record deals, in that labels would typically advance the money to make the album and recoup the costs through album sales – leaving little to no revenue for the musicians themselves.
The crowd-funding process instead encourages fans to advance money to musicians by way of contributions to an album campaign. In either scenario, musicians may not be generating much additional income beyond the creation and production of their recorded music, but they remain able to release new music in spite of unwaveringly high costs that come along with the process. Dealing directly with fans allows musicians to strengthen their ties with their fan base while offering them exclusive incentives and ownership rights in return for their support. In many cases, it allows musicians to extend album release tours and build upon various exposure opportunities for their music beyond the release of their music – leading to much bigger opportunities as a result.
I’ve experienced the generosity of others through four fan-funded album campaigns of my own, and I have another slated for this spring through PledgeMusic. I have been astounded by the support I have received in the past – and it reinforces to me that while the value of music sales has decreased, the value for music creation is still alive and well.