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Stop making sense of this business of music
December 20, 2007 12:01 PM   Subscribe

David Byrne's Survival Strategies for Emerging Artists — and Megastars Where there was one, now there are six: Six possible music distribution models, ranging from one in which the artist is pretty much hands-off to one where the artist does nearly everything.

1. At one end of the scale is the 360, or equity, deal, where every aspect of the artist's career is handled by producers, promoters, marketing people, and managers.
2. Next is what I'll call the standard distribution deal. The record company bankrolls the recording and handles the manufacturing, distribution, press, and promotion. The label, in this scenario, owns the copyright to the recording. Forever.
3. The license deal is similar to the standard deal, except in this case the artist retains the copyrights and ownership of the master recording. The right to exploit that property is granted to a label for a limited period of time — usually seven years.
4. Then there's the profit-sharing deal.
5. In the manufacturing and distribution deal, the artist does everything except, well, manufacture and distribute the product.
6. Finally, at the far end of the scale, is the self-distribution model, where the music is self-produced, self-written, self-played, and self-marketed.

No single model will work for everyone. There's room for all of us. Some artists are the Coke and Pepsi of music, while others are the fine wine — or the funky home-brewed moonshine. And that's fine. Sometimes a corporate soft drink is what you want — just not at the expense of the other thing. I like Rihanna's "Umbrella" and Christina Aguilera's "Ain't No Other Man". In the recent past, it often seemed like all or nothing, but maybe now we won't be forced to choose.
posted by psmealey (36 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
In (rainbows?) league with #6 is this interview Byrne did with Thom York. Although, to hear them discuss it, it looks like both #5 and #6.
posted by butterstick at 12:08 PM on December 20, 2007


Thanks for laying this all out.
posted by sleepy pete at 12:12 PM on December 20, 2007


I love anything Byrne-related. Thanks for this! Interesting article by one of the most interesting and prolific people around.
posted by The Deej at 12:16 PM on December 20, 2007


I saw this the other day, pretty good stuff.

My band is in the process of releasing an album right now - our last contract expired so we're fishing around, trying to figure out how to do this.
We booked a pretty awesome gig for New Year's Eve, but it was contingent on it being our "CD release party" - so we've decided to do a small run, maybe 500 discs, and have them be "special edition" pre-release discs. We're arguing about an M&D deal right now. They can be pretty lucrative.

However, given the number of artists that have had great success self-distributing, I've been arguing for doing it on our own. After all, this is sort of how labels get started.

One thing's for sure, we definitely won't be entering back in label talks any time soon. It's just not worth it, monetarily. We can get our music up on Itunes and CD Baby for next to nothing, and stores have been really approachable lately about placing albums... really the only benefit to a label anymore is the connection it builds between artists, and honestly - myspace really fills that need quite nicely.

Yeah. Screw labels, anyway.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 12:22 PM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


Great article.
posted by chunking express at 12:25 PM on December 20, 2007


David Byrne is currently collaborating with Fatboy Slim and Brian Eno. Separately.

Darn.
posted by phong3d at 12:42 PM on December 20, 2007


link seems borked in ie
posted by sgt.serenity at 1:13 PM on December 20, 2007


He's a smart guy. I like his blog too.
posted by jcruelty at 1:38 PM on December 20, 2007


The audio with Mac McCaughan (of Merge Records and Superchunk fame) in the sidebar is defintely worth a listen.
posted by sauril at 2:17 PM on December 20, 2007


I love Byrne and this is why. There's a ton of content to digest here, both in the article text and the great amount of interview audio. And every bit of it is good.
posted by Mikey-San at 2:33 PM on December 20, 2007


Great post. Byrne has my gratitude forever - Talking Heads helped me get through high school.
posted by davebush at 3:57 PM on December 20, 2007


Great article. But I didn't realize that Byrne was no longer involved with Luaka Bop. Any story about what happened there?
posted by painquale at 5:01 PM on December 20, 2007


Thanks, psmealey.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:03 PM on December 20, 2007


"Here's the 'cover' I did of the Fiery Furnaces tune — the words in the first half are theirs and in the last two verses they are mine. Kind of a new way to collaborate."
— David Byrne


Wow! What a thrilling new way to collaborate! You take the old words ... and you kind of work 'em around, like! And you add your own little bit and it makes something ... new! If only Pete Seeger had known about this!
... Or Doc Watson!

... Or pretty much the whole crop of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century hymn writers.


... Or the Beowulf poet.



... Or HOMER.




Yep, sure is a good thing human beings started having ideas right around the time I was born! Dunno what they did all day before that.
posted by eritain at 6:15 PM on December 20, 2007


Heh heh. Good call, eritrain.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:21 PM on December 20, 2007


#6 looks like the most promising option for the artist, but at the same time it's the most work, too. It'll be exciting to see where the music business goes.
posted by asuh at 7:16 PM on December 20, 2007


It'll be exciting to see where the music business goes.

Or it might just be depressing.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:00 PM on December 20, 2007


the most promising option for the artist, but at the same time it's the most work

Funny how that works, 'innit?
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:22 PM on December 20, 2007



..meh
posted by celerystick at 8:39 PM on December 20, 2007


I understand that, aside from college radio stations (rather than the mallternative co-opted corporate versions), it's pretty difficult to get your music on the radio. And hard to get those discs in big box stores like Best Buy. Don't get me wrong - I know about CDBaby and selling CDs off of your website, but a quick look at CDBaby suggests that the average artist has sold about $267 bucks worth of CDs there. After their cut, that's what ... grocery money? Not sure what the statistical mode is, probably not too far off.

Aside from the general pool of money from Britney Spears that enables record labels to take a chance on smaller artists, labels are only good for promotion and distribution. But, damn, those two things are important. Promotion means that music hits ears, and with a few zillion bands playing crappy demo MP3s on Myspace, you're talking about radio; free concerts; or getting a song on TV, a film soundtrack, or commercial. Maybe blowing someone at Pitchfork.

Distribution can't be all that easy, either. Just ask those folks who do self-publishing in the book world. Yes, I know about iTunes, but a lot of people still buy discs, and face it ... 99 cents each for the two or three decent tracks on your album (minus the bite from Apple) probably doesn't amount to as much as you'd get from a disc - just ask Weird Al.

I could be wrong, but I think those two elements are key for a "product" that's so unique as art and most efficiently handled by an organization with infrastructure and industry contacts. It's a shame they can be bastards, but that doesn't change the facts.
posted by adipocere at 9:21 PM on December 20, 2007


I know it's 'just a Wired article', but this is the post I enjoyed most on Metafilter in a long time. If you're interested in this subject matter at all - and I daresay even if you're not - please do click the little flash players accompanying the articles. The words are entertaining, but the audio (Thom Yorke, Merge Records guy, Aimee Mann manager guy, all unedited) is both incredibly amusing and positively enlightening.


Thanks so much, psmealey.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 9:36 PM on December 20, 2007


This is a bit of a derail but for those who get all pedantic about not putting "the" in front of "Talking Heads":

Next is what I'll call the standard distribution deal. This is more or less what I lived with for many years as a member of the Talking Heads. - David Byrne
posted by Meatbomb at 9:59 PM on December 20, 2007


+1 David Bryne

Meredith and Johnny and I were sitting in The Pub at the End of the Universe in Portland, Oregon, talking about what we usually talked about: music. Pop, girls, etc. The question Johnny had proposed to me was this: What is the most innovative and influential band in the history of pop music?

"That's easy," I said. "Talking Heads."

Meredith and Johnny both laughed, so I asked them what their answer would be. "The Beatles, of course," they said in a snide, snickering tone.

"Of course. Right, well, let me put it this way: who is the most innovative band on the scene right now?"

Without missing a beat, they replied, "Radiohead."

"Okay," I continued. "And who do you think influenced Radiohead more: mop-top pop-driven Brits or art school punks who proved that a pop song is more than the sum of its three chords?"

That clammed 'em up.
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 1:58 AM on December 21, 2007


Yeah, but you asked "What is the most innovative and influential band in the history of pop music?". You didn't ask what was the most influential band on Radiohead. As much as I like both, making the case that Talking Heads were more broadly influential than the Beatles is to walk up a very steep slope indeed. Besides, attributing the "art school punks who proved that a pop song is more than the sum of its three chords" thing solely to Talking Heads is a mistake. Heads contemporaries Television and Pere Ubu fit that description as well, and they were every bit as influential as Talking Heads.
posted by psmealey at 3:16 AM on December 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


Never mind all that, y'all. The thing to remember is that the Shaggs were better than the Beatles and the Talking Heads.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:34 AM on December 21, 2007


The Shaggs were bigger than Jesus.
posted by psmealey at 3:47 AM on December 21, 2007


Thanks for posting these articles, they're really interesting and not something I would have seen otherwise.

I was really pleased, and I guess surprised, to hear Thom Yorke standing up for the traditional album:

"Yorke: Yeah, but the other thing is what that bundle can make. The songs can amplify each other if you put them in the right order"

In an era of digital downloads the song has gained supremacy over the album, to the detriment of the experience of music in my opinion. Perhaps there's a case to say that it should be the listener who gets to do the filtering or choose the ordering of tracks. There is an inherent artistic act in making an ordered album above and beyond just recording the music - and it's good to hear Yorke make that case.
posted by patricio at 3:54 AM on December 21, 2007


Yeah I really enjoyed their conversation about sequencing. The album format is incredibly important. Two of my favorites, Talking Heads' Remain in Light and Radiohead's Kid A (huh where did those come from??), are so good because they create environments you can "travel" to for 40 minutes. That can certainly be done with a single song, sure, but the impact just isn't the same. Anyone who's made a mixtape for a friend knows that you're trying to tell a story with the sequencing, pulling the right strings at the right times, and it can mean the difference between the recipient feeling the music or finding it tedious.
posted by palidor at 4:11 AM on December 21, 2007


Yeah, patricio, I think about that point a lot. Sure, a song should stand on its own, but there's that point at which many a song is better as a part of a collection. In the way that it speaks to the song that preceded it, and the song that will follow it. How it gets along with its neighbors...

I'm especially thinking of this just now, as I'm in the middle of sequencing an album. To be precise, three albums. I'm releasing a 3-CD collection of songs, about 9 or 10 songs per disc. Sequencing is a bitch.

Yes, I know I am insane.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:14 AM on December 21, 2007


When they get around to taxing the internet, the meters they install on the tubes will track the passing bits of music, and an ASCAP-style royalty will be paid per transfer, from a fee assessed from all users.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:01 AM on December 21, 2007


The article was fantastic, and I've been struggling to make time to read it all and come here and comment, in the middle of two very busy days.

One thing I liked a lot was when he said:

"What do record companies do?
Or, more precisely, what did they do?
"

It's great to start seeing, in articles like this one and the one by demonbaby plus the websites of bands who are already operating outside the schemes of the music business, references to the large record companies as something of the past, a big monster who didn't recognize the moment of their death when they had it in front of them, and inevitably went.

There are things to be missed from CDs, and as patricio says, the possibility of arranging the songs in certain order is one of them. Another thing I'm gonna be missing is liner notes. I don't know where most of the songs/albums I've gotten in recent years were recorded, who sneezed in track three, who played the toy piano at the end of the album, and all the lovely stupid details like that that us music freaks love. Still, it's easier to be exposed to a lot more music without CDs and traditional distribution and, while one thing doesn't replace the other at all, I rather like the new shape that things are taking, and I think it can be highly beneficial to musicians, like Baby_Balrog says.
posted by micayetoca at 6:39 AM on December 21, 2007


Dillonlikescookies: Meredith and Johnny and I were sitting in The Pub at the End of the Universe in Portland, Oregon, talking about what we usually talked about: music. Pop, girls, etc. The question Johnny had proposed to me was this: What is the most innovative and influential band in the history of pop music?

"That's easy," I said. "Talking Heads."


Innovative and influential are two relatively unimportant characteristics music, and 'pop music' is an extremely vague and probably useless term, but even by those standards, the Talking Heads probabaly aren't THE BAND. I like them too. But I doubt they're the acme of those two things. As far as innovation, their guitar work was very interesting on the early albums, and they probably represent the pinnacle of Brian Eno's influence on new wave, but most of that stuff had been paved over years before they started doing their thing. Television? Suicide? All the rest of the interesting and strange monsters out of that scene? It was happening all over; the Talking Heads were one take on it. As well-worn as my copy of Remain In Light is, as much as I take the time to buy every new album David puts out, I'm not going to pretend that they invented that much that wasn't there before; they just put it together differently. Yeah, I know all the words to "Home (This Must Be The Place)" too, and it's a gorgeous song that means a lot to me, but I'm not so naive as to pretend they didn't rip the best line in that song from a song by Wire that was already five years old from an album that's almost certainly better than Speaking In Tongues anyhow.

As far as influence: how many bands do you know that are singing songs about buildings and food now? How many bands who are doing jangly new wave tinged with African rhythms? Yeah, I thought not. Again, I love the Talking Heads, but they didn't exactly inspire a legion of imitators.

Meredith and Johnny both laughed, so I asked them what their answer would be. "The Beatles, of course," they said in a snide, snickering tone.

Meredith and Johnny sound like they're pretty typical.

"Of course. Right, well, let me put it this way: who is the most innovative band on the scene right now?"

Without missing a beat, they replied, "Radiohead."


Gah. Fashionheads. Radiohead isn't so innovative, either, but we'll move on.

"Okay," I continued. "And who do you think influenced Radiohead more: mop-top pop-driven Brits or art school punks who proved that a pop song is more than the sum of its three chords?"

That clammed 'em up.


"Art school punks who proved that a pop song is more than the sum of its three chords?" I think maybe you're talking about Wire there. Or maybe almost every other great punk band from 1976 to 1983. This conception of the history of punk is pretty narrow.
posted by koeselitz at 9:07 AM on December 21, 2007


Gah. Fashionheads. Radiohead isn't so innovative, either, but we'll move on.

I'll agree with that. Don't get me wrong, I like Radiohead, but I have always seen them as a latter day (post Syd Barrett) Pink Floyd. Original? Sure. Innovative? I guess, but within a narrow band. Influential? Mmm... jury's still out, but they seem to be a big influence on follower bands (like Muse or Coldplay) that are enamored of them, but fail to register in many other places.
posted by psmealey at 11:38 AM on December 21, 2007


This is a bit of a derail but for those who get all pedantic about not putting "the" in front of "Talking Heads"...

Yeah, I caught that too. Clearly David forgot that the name of (t)his band is Talking Heads.
posted by rough at 12:11 PM on December 21, 2007


By the way, psmealey, I'd like to look at this, but I have to wait until this weekend. It really doesn't work at all in IE, and I don't know why.

Thanks anyhow. Looks like it'll be interesting.
posted by koeselitz at 1:08 PM on December 21, 2007


It really doesn't work at all in IE, and I don't know why.

I saw that too after someone mentioned it above. There's some kind of pop up ad that's consuming all kinds of memory in IE. In Firefox with pop-ups blocked, it works like a charm.
posted by psmealey at 1:13 PM on December 21, 2007


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