Two years ago, I wrote a free e-book for musicians and independent music businesses and made it available through my New Music Strategies website. It was called The 20 Things You Must Know About Music Online. Over that time, the book has been passed around and shared, translated into several different languages and – among other things – has been a large part of the reason that I’m asked to come and speak at different events around the world.
I like to say there’s a lesson in that for independent music: That it’s possible to make something, give it away, and as a result, get to travel to interesting places and perform on stage to lots of people who know and like your work.
A case in point: I was invited to make a keynote presentation at a conference called Jazz and New Media in Copenhagen last week, for the NGO Jazz Danmark. My research interest in jazz, and the fact that I have been both a jazz record producer and label owner also helped, I think – but the free ebook had been the way in which key members of the organisation had first come across my work, which led them to my role as a Knowledge Transfer Fellow here in Interactive Cultures at BCU.
And its as a representative of Interactive Cultures and the Birmingham School of Media that I was asked to present the keynote for this conference.
Helpful and interesting
My ‘motto’ with all of these sorts of things – for my KTF work, the New Music Strategies website and for all of the presentations I do – is simply: “Be interesting, and be helpful”. If I manage to do those two things with any audience, I feel like I’ve done my job.
But the problem I had with Jazz Danmark was that the audience was so incredibly diverse. There were young musicians in the audience who were entirely web-savvy; journalists who had been writing about jazz for decades; record label workers; broadcasters; administrators; and some of the most well-established and most respected jazz players in Scandinavia.
It’s hard to pitch a talk at a group like that – and as a result, I had written and re-written my presentation a few times.
The morning of the presentation, I realised that the best way to present 40 minutes on Jazz and New Media in a way that would be both helpful and interesting would be to simply talk for a couple of minutes each about ten interesting things, and ten helpful websites. In brief, these are the 20 things I presented in Copenhagen:
10 INTERESTING THINGS
1. Jazz is like the internet
Here, I talked about the way in which music consumption and discovery is both hypertextual and social.
2. The internet is like electricity
The analogy of electricity, and the idea of software such as browsers, email clients and IM platforms as ‘appliances’ that plug into the internet allows thinking about music online to go beyond the web. You can dry your hair with a toaster, but it’s also possible to invent the hairdryer. Not every appliance that can be invented has been invented – so it’s important to partner with technologists to solve problems through design.
3. Musicians are strange
Most jazz musicians spend more time than brain surgeons training for their profession, and most earn less money than most bank tellers. So there must be another reason to create music than the simple economic one. Focusing on the internet as simply a way of extracting commercial value from music ignores its cultural and social potential.
4. Denmark is foreign
I spoke here about the fact that to most of the world, there is something exotic about Denmark – and there are cultural references and flavours that are familiar to local audiences. There is something inherently and almost subconsciously Danish about a form of self expression that someone from there creates – even if the roots of that music are from elsewhere. My provocation here is that difference is an asset – particularly in terms of marketing the music internationally, but also in the extent to which that music connects with and makes meaning for local audiences.
5. People love stories
Human beings are hard-wired for narrative. It’s how we make sense of the world and connect meaning with cultural forms. Here, I spoke about the ways in which the internet can act as the context for narrative that drives music cultures, music promotion and music fandom. In particular, it allows audiences to connect with a ‘character’, who is the self that is doing the expressing, which connects people more deeply with the self-expression that is the musical output.
6. Music business is changing
This one seems obvious, but the extent to which it is happening, and the extent to which it is still changing can surprise people. Here I talked about the survival necessity to keep track of what the changes are and what they mean as they happen – rather than to sit back and wait for the change to be complete and for music business to settle into a single new model – because it seems increasingly unlikely that there will be one. Instead, complexity simply increases, and the agile and adaptable professional will be the one that thrives.
7. Technology shapes our world
Again, seemingly obvious – but without being overly technologically deterministic about it (we do have agency after all) – it’s interesting that media technology actually changes the ways in which our brains work. For instance, print and literacy offered us privacy, sequential logic and a different kind of memory. But the process is invisible to us. We think we’re listening to radio online, reading newspapers online and watching television online. We’re not – we’re on the internet, and that changes us.
8. Copyright is broken
Copyright – as both a way to incentivise creativity and generate ways for creative people to make a living from their work – is incredibly important. However, as the technological environment has shifted, it no longer does either of those two things very well – and proposed changes to copyright law seek only to extend and reinforce the status quo, rather than address those changes and meet the need that it was originally designed to fulfill. As time goes on, copyright as a means is no longer connected to its intended ends: to promote and encourage a rich, lively and creative cultural and intellectual life for all citizens – not to safeguard revenue streams for multinational corporations by preventing public access to works.
9. Music is like sex
This one was deliberately worded to raise a smile – but I mean this in two important ways. First, it’s not something that needs to be incentivised. People are going to make music whether there’s a promise of financial reward or not. So even the original ‘incentivise creativity’ purpose of copyright is open for question. Second, as far as branding and marketing is concerned, music – like sex – sells. There are more and more opportunities for musicians to connect with brands and synchronise with moving images than ever before.
10. Everything is everywhere
Increasingly, internet connectivity is liberated from cables and home or office connections. With mobile internet devices, increasingly ubiqutious wifi and the sheer proliferation of cellphones across all demographics, it’s important to think about the ways in which music consumption is affected – and how musicians and music businesses can connect with audiences and fans on the go. I offered a few examples, but this area is still very new territory and wide open to innovation.
10 HELPFUL THINGS
For musicians, Last.fm can be a very good way to make the most of the fact that music consumption is both social and hypertextual. People who already like music that inhabits similar territories of meaning to yours are led to also discover your music.
Making the most of the internet can be daunting and overwhelming, especially if you lack certain skills. Sites like Elance provide ways in which people can affordably and reliably connect with people who can do the things that they lack the skills or the time for.
Collaborating with other musicians across a distance is easier if music parts and mixes can easily be shared and heard. Soundcloud offers a way to do this with a very usable interface.
Social media is a great way to employ narrative in the service of music marketing. It’s also a great way to connect music scenes in meaningful ways. In a room full of nearly 100 people, only one person used Twitter, and very few had ever heard of it. And yet, it’s one of the most powerful ways to engage with an online and mobile audience. That said, Denmark (it turns out) is apparently the biggest per capita adopter of Facebook in the world. I didn’t know that.
A very simple and intuitive way to create a music profile online, sell your music, promote and give music away, create download codes and cards, and generally make online use of one’s own music recordings. There’s a helpful video that explains the service on the site.
One of several make-to-order merchandise platforms that allow musicians to sell t-shirts without holding stock or paying in advance for unsold items. The items are created online with uploaded imagery or custom text, and then sold through the site. Artists can specify their own markup margin on each item. A good way to get started in music merchandise – though not the most profitable long term.
A lot like YouTube, but with higher quality video and (I think) a much nicer embedded player. That said, whichever video service chosen (and there are many) I encouraged the artists to use video in their web presence to enhance the narrative and the connection to the music through a connection with the characters involved. And the best way to do that seems to be video blogging. I provided the example of Imogen Heap as someone who is doing it very well.
8. Artist Data
Because there are so many social media websites, band profile websites and places where fans may gather, artists are finding they have to set up and maintain a large number of accounts on websites all over the internet. Artist Data is a service that manages many of them simultaneously with one update or upload feeding out to all of the selected services. A tool to make online music promotion more manageable.
Free blogging software and a free blog platform. To my mind, the best and simplest way to build an audience online is through regularly updated posts on a blog. An artist website that is static (like a brochure) provides no good reason for fans to come back. A blog is dynamic and continues to be interesting. WordPress is an excellent way to blog – whether using a self-hosted site with the WordPress software installed, or the WordPress.com platform.
10. Creative Commons
Particularly for musicians who want their music to be shared, discussed, remixed, included in home movies and so on, ‘All Rights Reserved’ copyright can be an impediment, as it insists that permission must be sought before ANY use of that music can be made. That copyright exists by default when the work is created. A Creative Commons licence allows for permission for certain types of use (for example, non-commercial use) to be granted in advance. A Creative Commons licence opens up the possibility for a range of uses, pre-approved by the creator and copyright owner – so that the incorporation of that music into other cultural contexts can be frictionless. I try to explain that this does not constitute a ‘waiver of rights’ but is simply a set of conditions under which permission for use is automatically assured.
Of course, I finished my 20 Things presentation with a bonus website that I hoped would be both helpful and interesting: my own New Music Strategies site, which contains the free e-book, which doesn’t have a Danish version yet – but after this conference, I’m hopeful that a volunteer will emerge.