About TK

THE Music Biz Outsider grew up with tape recorders and recording. He was about 3-1/2 years old for his first recorded performance (singing "Mary Had a Little Lamb") and 14 when he engineered his first musical multi-track recording of someone else's performance, but didn't begin actually playing music until he was about 20, safely too old to get sucked into the music biz dreams of superstardom that not-always-briefly ensnared his pals. That -- and watching other people's dreams tarnished, smashed, shredded or otherwise destroyed for four decades -- has given him a stark -- and thoroughly jaundiced -- view of the music business. So, he learned to play a little guitar, wrote a bunch of songs, got swept up in the punk/new music thing starting in '75, was in some bands and, when he formed a band he really liked with a few pals, he started taking recording classes at a local community college with a respected commercial music program -- anything for free studio time. Pretty soon, he was caught up in a rekindled love of tape machines and gear, this time in commercial studios, where he found himself freelancing by the early 80s, after a motorcycle wreck ended his lifelong dream of being a warehouse manager. (Yeah, we're kidding.) Even after he took a job -- a day job -- with a small electronics manufacturer, he continued moonlighting in the mostly low end studios frequented by punk rockers and other outsiders, working on demos, singles, indie records, even TV and radio spots. But he tired of the grind, and when he started his own database consulting company, he began building up his home recording rig into a project studio which eventually had 16 tracks of digital and a bewildering jumble of MIDI boxes and keyboards, lots of cheap and some not so cheap analog gear, all nestled in a small room off a hallway in his house. For much of the 90s he worked on other people's demos, on radio feature production, and, when he wasn't too burned out, his own songs. Seemed like a dream going in. But after less than a decade, he found himself taking down his shingle for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that the day job paid better -- but also because he had tired of the unrealistic expectations and distorted priorities that seem to drive a certain sector of the music service provision industry. Today, he's content recording and producing just one music biz client: himself. And he's recaptured the love of playing and making music he was often afraid he was on the verge of losing.

A label I’d like to be on only takes submissions from music biz attorneys — should I hire one?

Because no one knows A&R like a lawyer…

I, personally, would be distinctly disinclined to throw money at a lawyer just to submit music to a label that only takes submissions from attorneys.

If I was going to do that, I’d do it the way people setting up bribes and crooked business/government deals do it. When they suggest getting an attorney, ask them who they recommend. They will recommend someone they have a cozy relationship with. You’ll probably still get royally screwed, but at least you’ll have been screwed by the people you’re trying to get in with. Valuable lesson.

Do I sound cynical?

Mind you, I’m not anti-music attorney. They have an important role in understanding some very complicated bits of legal and licensing mumbo jumbo for those dealing with sharky music biz types and big bucks licensing issues. Those are roles where their specialized knowledge of music/entertainment/Intellectual Property law can be crucial. If you need one of those guys or gals, you need a good one.

Now, there ARE often-mentioned reasons why a label might say they only want to deal with a lawyer, even for simple submissions. The rationale typically goes along the same lines as why old line book publishers often won’t even look at a manuscript unless the author has an agent. There’s the notion that an agent is the first stage of vetting of the author’s professionalism — but the usual reasons cited is that the publishers want to avoid dealing with nonprofessionals who might turn around and bring a groundless lawsuit for some imagined infringement when the guy who submitted a children’s mystery story about a walrus who solves crimes sues when the same publisher later prints an adult human murder mystery where the victim is killed by a trained sea lion.

So there is that.

But, really, that’s kind of old school… today’s publishing — like the music biz — is increasingly disintermediated — that means we’ve finally found marketing platforms and techniques that go a long, long way toward cutting out ‘the middleman.’ In our biz, there have been a lot of middlemen. (So many middlemen who make so much money that it often seems like in the music biz it’s only the people actually making most of the music who don’t get rich.)

But we now have ways of marketing directly to fans. That means, of course, that there are many MORE people marketing directly to fans. To the labels, that fact is one of their last justifications: the traditional ways of getting music noticed by fans are extremely expensive — it means lining a lot of pockets, spending a lot of advertising money, filling a lot of pockets above as well as under the table, paying off gatekeepers in favors, swag, and monetary ‘compensations’ and ‘considerations.’

And we’ve seen the result as big labels have concentrated on the market sectors that are most readily subject to this kind of money-driven buzz: teen and secretary/shop boy music markets, aka, dance pop and ballads.

Other markets, club music, hipster music, outsider, their audiences tend to see themselves as ‘independent’ of commercial trends — iconoclasts who know their own minds, maybe even seeing themselves as trendsetters and opinion-makers. They require a more subtle form of manipulation and marketing. (No, wait…  Well… kinda, we’re all human.) Those are the people who can to some extent be reached by working the grassroots, ‘zines, blog reviewers, associations (even organizations) with other, similarly oriented bands and artists.

The ‘punk revolution’ of the late 70s and very early 80s (while the big labels were doing everything they could to ignore real punk bands and pump out wimpy fake punk bands in the new wave mold) provided some valuable lessons on how to grow a scene –complete with ‘outlaw clubs,’ lose-but-loyal social skeins of punk bands, little labels working out of the trunks of cars — when the indies were frozen out of mainstream distribution by the big labels and their distribution arms (where the big label artists’ supposed profits often disappeared into, perhaps poetically on some level).

Anyhow… today we have the disintermediated methods of promotion and distribution that many of us could only dream of in the 1980s… It’s a brave new world, to be sure. It’s complex, it’s tricky. But it provides basic mechanisms for artists to really exert more control over their own careers.

But no one else is going to do it for you. That’s the other side of disintermediation.

Is Big Music trying to re-fight battles it’s already lost?

As Universal and Sony gear up to try a dual front attack on Spotify and other ‘freemium’ music streams services, some industry observers think Big Music is just heading back into another bruising fight over money and control over public access to music and the music industries access to the public.

Some indie musicians find themselves increasingly sympathetic to the enhanced discovery options that flow from such ‘freemium’ business models that let interested consumers discover music outside the heavy promotion the old line industry must use to continue selling its cookie-cutter product to pliant consumers.

Quartz: The music industry wants to fight the internet again—and it’s probably going to lose

Universal pressures Spotify to restrict ad-driven ‘free’ music service

The world’s largest music conglomerate, Universal, is trying to pressure Spotify to limit advertising-paid on-demand music streaming — despite the fact that Spotify is the most successful streaming company at signing subscribers and counts its fee-less ad-driven tier as an important pathway to later subscription.

Is Universal, perhaps quite reasonably, concerned with Spot’s relatively low per-stream rate (vis a vis other providers like Google All Access, Rdio, Beats, et al) or are they more concerned that increased ‘free’ discovery benefits smaller artists not on promo-rich labels like the Universal stable of labels — undercutting the huge promotional outlays it takes to get music lovers to listen to the ‘hits’ picked by Universal A&R?

Spotify originally limited their ad-driven ‘free’ tier with a 10 hour/month overall limit and a maximum of 5 streams of any specific song but later relaxed that, apparently trying to lure in more stream-skeptics. Restrictions remained in some markets but in the US and a few others, they were largely dropped.

No one’s asking me (really, they aren’t), but I can’t help but feel the free, ad-driven tier of Spotify is an excellent resource — EVEN though I subscribe to another service I find superior (Google All Access) — because it allows one to ‘share’ the discovery of music with others who may not have a subscription service.

But that function would remain largely intact if Spot were to return to something like their earlier free-tier restrictions, it seems to me.

One thing certain elements in the music industry are edgy about: the 10 dollars or so a month that Spot, Google, Beats, et al, charge for their subscription services is roughly TWICE what average consumers spend on music a month.

The Independent: Spotify reportedly under pressure from music labels to limit free streaming