"The Mystery Is Gone And Artists Just Start Looking Like Normal People That Aren't So Special," Says Kevin Breuner of CD Baby. Interview Part Two.

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2010.09.14

“The Mystery Is Gone And Artists Just Start Looking Like Normal People That Aren’t So Special,” Says Kevin Breuner of CD Baby. Interview Part Two.

In the second segment of my interview with Kevin Breuner, who is the Marketing Project Manager at CD Baby and host of the DIY Musician Podcast, we talk about the singular model of success that the record industry operated under, why musicians need to think of themselves as entrepreneurs, and The Great Reset occurring in the record and music industries.

Kyle Bylin: In the past, the record and music industries were disproportionately biased towards a singular mode of thinking about how success was achieved and measured. Somewhere, at the back of some bar, an A&R agent sat and discovered your band, signed you to his representative label, and paid for the production of your album. Then, you toured on that album, got on radio, and in retail—if you moved millions of albums, then and only then, you were deemed a success. And, if you weren’t able to accomplish that feat, the album was considered a failure. 

In what ways have new technologies brought us into a new economy for music, where instead of one model that everyone tried to apply, to an economy where many different models exist?

Kevin Breuner: Right now, everything is wide open.  Artists are able to try anything they want to when it comes to the way they connect with their fans and get their music out.  From the artist perspective, I think there may be some issues with motivation.  Like, “What’s the point?”  Being an artist is not an easy road, and in the past, there was always the lofty dreams of “making it” that kept them going.  For the artists that did make it through the gate keepers, and were lucky enough to be signed, they received validation. 

“Even if their records didn’t sell, this
validation could be worth more than money.”

It says to family, friends, supporters, and fans, “We are a legitimate artists!  The time and money we put into our music is not a waste!”  Now, without that stamp of approval, I think it’s harder for artists to jump from being seen as a local band to a band who needs to be spending their time crafting music. 

On the fan community side, I think the age of the rock stars is over.  You don’t see people going as crazy for individual artists like they once did.  I think the downside of all the artist accessibility on the internet, is that much of the mystery is gone and artists just start looking like normal people that aren’t as special or mysterious.

Bylin: This new economy for music won’t be just about the music itself, but about music as art.

From the perspective of urban studies theorist Richard Florida, “Music was one of the first industries to experience the brutal effects of the digital transition, and it’s clear that the ability to make money has shifted—even for the most established acts—from selling albums, CDs, and even digital downloads to live performance and,  designing experiences.”

It’s been said that, “music as art gains value when put into context.” 

How do new technologies help artists create different and innovative “contexts” in which their music can gain value, tangible and intangible?

Breuner: Bands have always made most of their money and fan connections by playing live, so when I see statements about the live performance being the key to the future, I usually assume the person saying it is not a musician.  Plus, the concert industry has serious issue as well that the “live performance is the key” theory overlooks. 

“There is a glut of live shows with a growing number of artists vying for a limited number of concert bills.” 

Not to mention the fact that just because you write a good song, doesn’t mean you’re automatically good at performing live in a way that makes strong connections with fans (and in turn making money).  In my opinion, the usage of video in conjunction with the artist’s career is the next big frontier. 

Obviously many artists are already doing it, but bands that can find their niche with video, will find it much easier to broaden their fan base.  This could be live streaming shows, documentary type YouTube videos, funny content, you name it.  The consumption of video online is skyrocketing and it’s not going to slow down any time soon.  I always tell my band mates in Hello Morning that our largest audience will never be at our shows.  They are on the web.  We get video clips from just about everything we do.  Even if the show was not attended well, we’ll get views online that far exceed the venues capacity.

Bylin: Industry pundit and analyst Andrew Dubber has famously said that, “If you want to make the music that moves you, that will hopefully create meaning for people, and that will perhaps earn you a sustainable living, then you have chosen risk, and you will have to be as smart with the entrepreneurship as you are with the music if you want to survive and thrive.”

This means that you can’t make things that fans will not pay for, start insisting they should, and then complain that their morals to blame—if and when fans file-share your music.

By thinking of themselves as musical entrepreneurs, how does that change the way artists think about the music that they create, the context that they interject into it, and the overall direction of their career?

Breuner: I think it just forces artists to be more honest about their motivations with the art they are creating. 

“If you want it to sell, you have to figure out
what will sell.  There is fierce competition, so just
making a good album is not enough.”

For an artist that has been on a label, this idea always enters the equation.  A label wants to sell units, so they are going to
pressure you to produce music they know will sell.  I think for many indie artists, they find that reality a bit crushing.

Bylin: In The Great Reset, Florida argues that Great Resets are “broad and fundamental transformations of the economic and social order and involve much more than strictly economic and financial events.”They are the great transformative moments when new technologies and technological systems arise, when the economy is recast and society remade, and when the places where we work and live and work change to suit new needs.”

Do you think that the record and music industries are experiencing a Great Reset of their own?

Breuner: I’m not sure if it’s a reset or not.  There are still some serious challenges for the music industry.  It used to make money off a physical product which was easy to control, and the world is now digital where there is very little control.

“At some level, if you want to make money,
you have to be able to control your product.” 

The benefit of the old model is that it took people who were good with music and paired them up with people who were good at marketing and business.  Now that more is falling on the shoulders of the artists themselves, it’s still too early to tell if that will translate into long term profitable business models.  I can totally see a return to a hybrid of the old model where artists continue to pair up with people good at business, only this time around the artists will be more business savvy and be the ones in control of their career and music.

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