It’s pretty well understood at this point that the music industry of yesteryear when physical units were king is no more. Since the peak of CD sales at the turn of the millennium and the legal shutdown of Napster, the industry has undergone a long slide in revenue over a span of 15 years and just recently begun to spring back thanks to streaming subscriptions. Nevertheless, whether the current mechanical/performance and “record” rates for digital streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music and Deezer are enough to sustain on remains a highly contentious and debatable topic, as proven by the firestorm that erupted slightly over a month ago when Spotify’s Daniel Ek plainly stated that the traditional cycle of releasing albums every 3 to 4 years wasn’t going to cut it anymore.
Ek went on to state in the interview that “The artists today that are making it realize that it’s about creating a continuous engagement with their fans. It is about putting the work in, about the storytelling around the album, and about keeping a continuous dialogue with your fans.” This part is key as it lends more of a context to the offending comments about the longtime industry way of doing things. Compensation for one’s work, and how artists and the concert business will navigate and recover from the coronavirus are matters onto themselves, but the aspect of engagement with one’s fans in the social media age is an overlooked piece of Ek’s argument and more likely the real point he was trying to drive home. To the fan of today, 3 to 4 year gaps between new releases are an eternity, and too much other music is available for them to afford a particular artist the amount of attention they would have received before; especially if that artist is particularly un-savvy on social media or worse, totally inactive.
The music will always be the most important thing, one way or another. The money required to make it and the money one gets back for their creative labour are unquestionably important as well. Unfortunately, pure talent is no longer enough, and not enough artists out there have come to grasp this. Many A&Rs, managers and other industry execs have come out and plainly said that as good as an artist may be, if they don’t have an active, engaged fanbase on and offline and their socials aren’t as solid and electrifying as their live show, they’ll immediately pass on signing them. Given that the industry’s not in the same place to take risks with new artists as it used to be, you as a band or an artist have to be doing a record label’s work for them for them to even contemplate investing in you. You may not want to work with a label, and that’s your prerogative, but you should still get everything about you looking as good as it sounds.
How do you do this specifically? What are the most up to date answers to the questions of how to make yourself a complete, presentable and quality act, and where can you find them? One such independent artist has painstakingly taken the time to tell you all you need to know in less than 500 pages; his name is Ari Herstand, and his godsend manual for the modern musician is called How To Make It In The New Music Business. The main thing that separates Ari’s book from the majority of music industry how-tos is where most books on the subject, Donald Passman’s All You Need To Know About The Music Business being one of the most well-known and thoroughly detailed examples teach you how the business works, Ari shows you how to work in the business, or more specifically how to be the business so you can proactively build your career instead of futilely sitting around waiting to be discovered.
It doesn’t hurt either that whereas those responsible for many of the books and college courses on the music industry are entertainment lawyers, law professors and the like, this one is written by a self-made musician who knows his audience, gets where they’re coming from and is able to connect with his readership on an authentic, personal and relatable level as a result. To effectively drive through the points and pointers he offers up, Ari peppers his book with his own experiences and casual humour, making the trove of valuable information he presents all the more accessible while being necessarily blunt about the state of the business and what one needs to do to make the most of it. The only stones left unturned are those with major legal depth that take far more than a few pages in a book to fully explain and comprehend; other than that Ari delves into topics one may never have considered before including house concerts, effective street busking, fanbase market research and the ins, outs, pros and cons of various music industry epicentres (Los Angeles, New York, Nashville, London).
Ari of course delves into the basics of royalties, record deals, publishing, synchronization and the like as well; core tenets of the music business that despite a rapid metamorphosis over the last 20 years have largely remained the same in essence. A highly valuable component of the book is how specifically to make a living solely off of music, this being what Ari means by making it in the new music business as opposed to the visuals of platinum plaques and money stacks that the phrase usually conjures. That part of the game is sprinkled around in bits throughout the book that, alongside the wisdom on how to sustain as a musician connect together to create its cohesive and comprehensive whole. From start to finish, How To Make It In The New Music Business is an indispensable resource for artists of all levels of success. If this sounds like the book for you (it is), you’d be well advised to buy the book in its current edition sooner rather than later, as a lot will inevitably change by the time the next edition comes out. When it does though, one can be sure that Ari Herstand will have it covered.