FEATURE: The Instagram Generation: Is It Music’s Most Effective Marketing Tool?

FEATURE:

 


The Instagram Generation  

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IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images 

Is It Music’s Most Effective Marketing Tool?

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IF you think about some of the most iconic…

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PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

Instagram images from the past few years; chances are a fair few of them will feature musicians! Beyoncé’s baby bump, posted back in February 2017, was a huge story and it was not tied to any marketing campaign. The photo was not shared as part of a promotion and few were expecting it: she was caught in a moment, albeit quite elaborate, and shared it with her 100 million-plus army. Look at the results of the top-three most-viewed Instagram images of last year and you can see how musicians feature:

The result is perhaps unsurprising, given that the photo broke the site’s all-time ‘most liked’ record back in February, but the total number of likes has now jumped from 7.3 million to 11.1 million.

Elsewhere in the top 3, footballer Cristiano Ronaldo‘s photo announcing the birth of his twins has garnered 11 million likes since it was posted earlier this month, while Selena Gomez‘s hospital bed photo, which she used to reveal she had undergone a kidney transplant, comes in third with 10.3 million likes”.

The results show there is a lot of currency and draw when it comes to artists. Whilst huge artists like Beyoncé, Ariana Grande and Lady Gaga use it to share big news and open up to their fans; in music, it is part of the marketing cycle. I am not on Instagram myself but have been advised to do so: it is a way of updating followers and presenting pictorial and video snippets of my work.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

I am currently on Twitter and Facebook but wonder whether people would follow any Instagram posts. I am not one for taking selfies – few people want to see my face! – but there is stock in posting my work on the site and taking a more image-driven and different approach. There are two sides to Instagram when it comes to modern artists. There is that aspect that ties in with Facebook/Twitter teasers and YouTube videos. They will post snippets of audio or tease photos to their fans; it is a way of connecting with millions all at once and, in a lot of cases, a more direct and accessible way of bringing people into their lives. It seems hardly a moment goes by without another Instagram shot of a slice of food or a drink; some random location or a selfie. It has become a monster that, for better or worse, is integral to our daily lives.

It seems the act of making music involves a lot of time thinking about your Instagram profile. Every single release comes with Instagram snippets, photos and videos. Whereas Facebook and YouTube can be a lot more difficult to push to the masses – it is easier and quicker getting all the information in one spot – Instagram provides that easy and community-led option where we can get all our news and snippets. Look at Beyoncé’s Instagram and it is a lot more full and frank than her Twitter account (it has only a few posts; one suspects that will change soon!). It is weird to think many artists spend more time on Instagram more than they do on all the other social media channels combined. When Selena Gomez’s kidney transplant took place; she did not think to call the news or have a big press conference – neither was it an event she could keep secret from her fans. She posted that photos to her fanbase and ensured people all around the world were informed and their minds at rest – the love and feedback she got was hugely impassioned and supportive. The personal and open nature of Instagram means big stars can share news about their health, life-changing events and the most mundane aspects of their days.

A post shared by Beyoncé (@beyonce) on

I love how Instagram has these two sides: the go-to portal for artists to share every iota of their day and the place where they can reveal big news and musical plans without circus and having the media/labels involved. I want to bring in an article, written last year, that looks at the way Instagram is used and how one can compartmentalise its uses:

Across the board, Instagram is huge for music, serving as a uniquely addictive and organic conduit between artists and fans. Despite the social network’s roots as a photo app, four of its five most-followed accounts belong to music stars (Selena Gomez, Ariana Grande, and Taylor Swift join Beyoncé in the top five). And of Instagram’s 800 million users worldwide, about 350 million follow 10 or more verified musicians…”

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PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

Not surprisingly, Instagram’s users are more music-oriented than the general population. They spend 30% more time listening to music each week and are twice as likely to pay for a streaming service, according to a Nielsen study commissioned by Instagram last year.

The app isn’t just a digital playground for Grammy winners and Billboard chart toppers, either. Artists of all stripes, from pop superstars to DIY indie bands and bedroom songwriters gravitate to Instagram to promote their work, document their day, seek inspiration, and interact with others. In fact, it’s rare to find an active band, singer, or other musical artist who doesn’t have an Instagram account.

"This music-focused use case may not have been what Instagram originally set out to do; it actually appears to be accidental. But the Facebook-owned company is now embracing its role in artists’ lives and working closely with the music industry to make the most of this unexpected relationship..."

“For artists, this is a real creative space where they can reach a community super effectively by expressing their visual voice in the most raw possible way,” says Lauren Wirtzer-Seawood, Instagram’s head of music partnerships. “They don’t need to rely on all the old-school forms of communication like radio advertisements. When they want to announce that they’re going on a world tour and tickets are available, a lot of them announce it first on Instagram”.

The artist can find this loving – not always – and inspiring place where they can share photos and news without having to worry about security breaches, hackers or trolling. There have been some cases of celebrities using Instagram to cause a bit of a stir – including Kim Kardashian getting naked or body-shaming – but the fact some of the most-popular people on Instagram are artists means it has a big role in the industry. To be fair, the big names are U.S. Pop artists: Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift are two immensely powerful female artists who have created a brand on Instagram.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Adele (photographed in 2015)/PHOTO CREDIT: Alasdair McLellan

I wonder how much the artist gets involved with their promotion – whether the label and managers control their content. Consider artists like Taylor Swift and Adele, let's say and the posts they put out on Instagram. When a new single/album comes out, they have to ensure they drip-feed news and teasers; little photos of album covers or candid snaps – keeping the fans guessing, invested and hooked. I wonder, too, whether they have a lot of freedom when it comes to non-music-related photos/posts – them at home or on the move; relationship statuses and selfies of them relaxed. I guess there is a lot of monitoring to ensure nothing too risqué, controversial or revealing is put onto their account. People like Lauren Wirtzer-Seawood are assisting modern artists by ensuring they make the most of Instagram. Advice will include ways to utilise apps and best sell their tours and merchandise. She advises stars how to use the site to get the most out of their tours and new music; get ahead of the competition and timing: dropping posts at specific times and ensuring every move and post is well-timed and dropped to maximise impact and exposure. This sounds very rigid and business-minded but, to be fair, it is a good way for artists to promote themselves and ensure what they are posting, largely, has relevance and helps promote their music.

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These teams and hired guns will listen to the music/new release and come up with ways to put a new spin and angle on it. They will devise strategies and connect with artists to ensure they can get the most from their photo and video output. Doing regular little videos ensures fans are informed and they do not lose focus; they are kept abreast of all the latest happenings and feel more involved with an artist – almost like talking with a friend and following their lives. These teams, admittedly, give reign to artists and allow them to collaborate. Some of the ideas (from the artists) are not great so it can be hit-and-miss when it comes to a fifty-fifty-split. Most of the big artists like to maintain their own Instagram accounts and prefer them not to get into the hands of labels. Instagram is used a lot when it comes to festivals and gigs.

Artists will post constant updates of their sets and experiences of gigs: so many musicians, in their own words, spend most of their lives on Instagram. It seems to hold more allure and promise compared to platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Of course; Instagram is Facebooks baby and most artists post Instagram updates from their social media accounts. There is that integration but, when it comes to real-time updates and the audio-visual posts; most views and comments come from Instagram. I am a recent convert and feel more connected with an artist by looking at Instagram. A lot of artists tend not to get too personally involved with their Facebook accounts – labels and management might – and Twitter tends to be word-based and is not as interactive.

Mood 1 #Beychella

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There are features like Instagram Live which, like Facebook Live, allows artists to post videos of them at home or performing; they can shoot videos from their car or at promotional events:

Since the launch of Instagram Live, fans have tuned in to live streams from superstars in scenarios that range from formal and promotional to lounging-at-home casual. Nicki Minaj used Live to tease her video for “Regret In Your Tears” in May, while more than 200,000 people tuned into Kendrick Lamar’s pop-up album signing in Los Angeles in April. Even when they don’t have something to promote, artists like Chance the Rapper, Rihanna, and Justin Bieber are known “go live” in more intimate, off-the-cuff moments–like this video of Chance the Rapper riding around Chicago looking for a RedEye newsstand after fellow Chicago rapper Noname landed on the cover. Or Rihanna watching her “Bates Motel” debut on TV.  Seemingly unfiltered moments like these offer fans something MTV and VH1 never could: a sense of what it might be like to hang out with the artists whose music they love, and even communicate with them through live comments (which the stars often read aloud during the livestream)”.

It seems there are so many facets coming in and Instagram, as it gets wealthier and bigger, is providing greater versatility to its users. This extends to non-musical users who can do more with their posts. It seems musicians are setting an example and showing just what can be done on Instagram. Whether it is video-sharing or photography; hour-by-hour updates or utilising the latest apps; it is drawing in new users who want to follow their favourite artists.

Whilst it is hard to quantify the monetary value artists’ posts have and whether they add to album sales; it is clear the ‘Instagram’ campaign and tool is overtaking the likes of Facebook and Twitter. Acts like DJ Khalid use it more and feel its reach it broader and more varied. Consider the fact a photo of Beyoncé or Taylor Swift can garner millions of views/likes – that translates to more streams and greater investment in their music. It is hard to compartmentalise and separate the musical/monetary impact and the personal aspect of Instagram. Whilst that might be frustrating for marketing men and the labels; new artists are using it more to promote their work. At the start; Instagram was reserved for the mainstream stars and it was a slow revelation. As more became aware of its scope and multi-faceted potential; it became this bigger thing that has grown more tentacles and introduced new apps/technology. Before long; fresh and unsigned acts were using Instagram in the same way: promoting their latest work and posting snaps of them at gigs/on the road. The much-quoted article I introduced near the start (and have peppered throughout) talks about the benefits, limited as they are, of Instagram for newer acts:

Even if they’re not as obsessively active on Instagram as some—posting everything from previews of new songs and boredom-killing moments from the tour van to funny memes—musicians often benefit from the organic, FOMO-inspiring buzz created when fans post clips from their shows. Even for users unfamiliar with an up-and-coming band or artist, a flurry of Instagram posts from their friends can be enough to create a sense that the artist is worth checking out”.

o well i couldn’t resist. fourty days @sweetener. 🌫

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With all the brilliance and vastness of Instagram’s galaxy come the downsides. Various artists have deleted or deactivated their social media accounts and one has to be aware of the consequences and results of posting certain things. I hear of members of the public in various countries who face imprisonment or worse for posting photos. Those nations with strict laws around nudity and religious morals monitor the site and harshly punish those they feel are taking liberties. Musicians have a less harsh time but there is still the risk of trolling. I maintain there is less strife and vitriol than you’d get on Twitter or Facebook; if they post various snaps and videos then they will get the expected haters and trolls that will have something to say. Whether that is a semi-nude photo or something minor – they are never immune from the downsides. Facebook are making changes regards data-sharing and protecting its users. I feel there needs to be greater protection for artists who share statuses and images to Instagram. Most have a fairly easy ride but the bigger you are, naturally, the more you are going to face hostility and trolling. Artists like Lady Gaga have expressed their reluctance when it comes to the amount of time they spend on Instagram (and social media). Whilst some might post about mental-health and the bad sides of social media; others feel it necessary to document every movement and thought. You get caught in a web where you feel obliged to notify fans of each motion – this raises anxiety and means, every time you tap to share a post, you are opening the floodgates to the anonymous haters.

I maintain there are bad aspects of Instagram and we need to urge bigger stars to spend less of their time on it – too much use increases depression and can lead to anxiety. Who knows the pressure big acts face where they feel Instagram is an oxygen source and competition – monitoring how well their rivals are doing and what they are missing out on if they ‘neglect’ their fans. I guess there is always going to be that risk of using something where, at the click of a button, you can share life-changing news or drop an album announcement. It is always going to be a case of judgement call and risk-assessment when any artist, big or small, shares something on Instagram. If a well-timed post or statement can create a buzz and get positive press; putting something ill-timed and ill-judged can backfire and have a devestating effect.

Those posts goes to masses (millions, sometimes) and it goes out there; there will be positive comments and those less impressed. Artists need to be conscious how much of themselves they are sharing - personal information and their own flesh – and they need some downtime away from it. When it does work well, and they have teams behind them, it can be a hugely effective tool; one that is more potent and trending then YouTube and Twitter. The site is used by everyone from beauty bloggers to authors but, in entertainment terms; Instagram is becoming more about musicians and that side of the culture map – whether it is reacting to a Popstar’s latest snap or discovering when the latest Beyoncé/James Blake album is coming out. As Facebook faces struggles and Twitter’s validity/flexibility continues to come into debating circles; it seems the market share and importance of Instagram…

CONTINUE to grow and grow.

FEATURE: Knowledge Is Power: A Guide for the New Journalist: Part I

FEATURE:

 

Knowledge Is Power:

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

A Guide for the New Journalist: Part I

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ONE of the highlights of my year came last week…

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

when I got to spend time chatting with BBC Radio 6 Music’s Matt Everitt. It was a meeting that came somewhat out-of-the-blue but I had recently published a piece about the station; the great work they do and how this year has been a successful and big one for them. Not only has Matt Everitt in the business for decades but he has established himself one of the best journalists in music. Everitt’s First Time series explored musicians and their earliest memories of music. I was at that meeting – not only to take the chance to speak with an experienced and fantastic journalist – but someone who was filled with great advice. During the chat, he provided insight into his world and his first interview; how one can make their way to organisations like the BBC – and how tough it can be getting there. That last point was not to put me off but provide a realistic assessment of the path to where he is. He has been working in music since he was young(er than he is now) and, over that time, made his way from trainee/aspiring journalist to a cornerstone of BBC Radio 6 Music. Now, he gets to interview musicians like Beck and Kate Bush – more on her later – but that was not how it all started for him (although he did say his first interview was with Noel Gallagher!).

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I came away from that meeting more informed and aware of what it takes to make steps in music; how much effort is involved – and how it is not all struggle and impossible. I am in a different position to many out there – so I will only be able to advise regarding journalists like me and where we need to step. I will bring in my Kate Bush example but the most important first step, if you want to work in music or journalism, is to keep an eye out for all the advertising boards and those companies you want to work for. In my case; I want to work at BBC Radio 6 Music – that is a small part of the organisation and there are few chances springing up. The best thing to do is to look at BBC Careers and keep an eye on their vacancies. You do get jobs in the relevant field but it might not be a case of waiting for that ‘dream’ role. For me, as a music journalist, there is the possibility of getting some work for a Social Media team or somewhere like Production. Unpaid work is not a luxury many of us can afford - but getting a role in a related field/job is a useful way of getting into the organisation and moving on. You can get experience working for somewhere like the BBC and always have your ear in regards other roles that occur – it is much easier getting a foot in the door when you are already outside the house.

The same logic applies to any other company you want to work for. If you want to work in print journalism then you can work for a smaller newspaper/magazine and build up a portfolio. You can dream big but it is going to take a long time to get to where you want; even if you have been writing/working in music for years and have a reputation. A good way of being noted by organisations like BBC; the biggest magazines and record labels is to build up a body of work that brings in a range of artists. I was asked (by Everitt) the artists I want to interview and feature. I mentioned Kate Bush – I shall end with her – but also listed IDLES among those I want to involve myself with. It is not always the case of sitting in hotels and recording studios. You can grab the band for a quick phone call and transcribe a conversation. Sometimes, you can grab them backstage and talk to them at a gig. If you say you are a journalist and work for a site/blog; that will give you a reason to go after the band. If you get the interview; you will have that in your pocket and can pitch it to a bigger magazine/newspaper. Getting your work published by some of the biggest outlets is a great way of making a name for yourself and getting under the spotlight of the big decision-makers. If you wanted to work for the BBC, and are a journalist, having those freelance interviews published is a good way of going about things.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

The important thing to do is be realistic and keep your horizons set. Even if you have a lot of articles and pieces on a blog/another site; that does not mean there will be a bespoke job waiting for you exactly where you want to be. Keeping consistent and prolific is its own reward. You have to get out of the mindset the only way to be successful and get where you want to be is the only measure of validity. I am older than I once was and hoped I’d be further up the ladder than I am now. Looking at what I have created; I am proud of the work I have produced and realise I do not need to be on the microphone or doing the same work as Matt Everitt right now. He is ten years older than me so I figure; if it takes me ten years to get to where he is, that is not a bad start! It may seem a little depressing realising a decade is a very long time to get where you want – that can be the reality of working in the industry! There are fewer roles then there once was and some departments are integrating older jobs into one. It is more cost-effective and a lot of today’s music/media is done online – that eradicates a lot of traditional roles and new, less well-paid roles are replacing them.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Time is the most important thing and patience is a vital commodity. People out there, like me, assume our hard work and popularity should reward itself with a job right away; one that is perfect and will see your name out there in the world. A few years ago, legendary music journalist Lisa Robinson was interviewed by Teen Vogue. She provided advice with regards interviews and trusting your own talent. A couple of great pieces of wisdom came from the article:

Don't be afraid to take risks to achieve your dream career.

"I would tell any young person who's trying to get a job in an industry they love that they have to take a risk. Even if it means financial hardship, do whatever you have to do to make it work. In 1969, I was a substitute teacher in Harlem right after I graduated from school. I never took a journalism class, but I started doing [radio host and newspaper columnist] Richard Robinson's filing for $25 a week. Three months after I met him, he asked me to quit my teaching job and work for him full-time—for a third of what I was making as a sub. My mother told it me I was crazy, but I said, 'You know what? I love music, I'm going to take this risk, and we'll see what happens.' It opened a door to the world of rock 'n' roll and allowed everything else to happen."

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PHOTO CREDITFlickr

Trust your gut to recognize exceptional talent.

"Trust your instinct! If you're really passionate about something, you'll produce the best columns, or stories, or reviews, or whatever you're writing. When I found Led Zeppelin, everybody I knew thought they were a cheesy heavy metal band. But I thought, wow, they've got all these different influences in their music that they've blended into what I thought was a very majestic sound. Here we are, 40 years later, and they're considered one of the greatest bands in the world. The first time I ever met Michael Jackson—he said he was 10, but he was really 12 because the Motown people thought it would sound cuter if he was younger—at his house in Encino, he was the most adorable, unbelievably brilliant, enthusiastic child”.

An interesting article, published on the BBC website, gave some tips for aspiring journalists – it can be applied to those coming through or people, like me, who are a few years down the line:

3) Get loads of work experience
This is one of the dirty little secrets of all journalism – it’s a very middle-class business, for the most part because it runs on ‘internships’, i.e. free (or cheap) labour. A friend of a friend is now a heavy hitter on a national paper but he started out at the nationals by working for another, without pay. That’s an extreme example, but he is extremely successful. 

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PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

Alexi Duggins has his own TV column in Time Out and more recently became their go-to guy for grime. But before that he was an intern at the Itchy City guides, eventually rising to the post of Features Editor in a young company that put a premium on talent over experience. However he had also been Editor of the London Student in 2004-5. So basically, writing a few articles in your student rag isn’t going to cut it (and neither is just having a degree or even the increasingly common journalism postgrads). Learn by doing, for anyone who will let you – try websites / magazines / blogs… which brings us on to…

6) Don’t give up the day job
Most people in music journalism have a day job – often in music PR, but many just have a straight office gig (I’ve certainly done my time here). Staff jobs are increasingly hard to come by and freelancing for a living can be brutal – chasing money is not fun and doesn’t always lead to success, plus getting paid when so many people write for free is getting ever more difficult.

I’ve recently done bits of PR work and even branched out into doing some technology articles - so cultivate a list of interests, because the more things you can write about, the more employable you are. But for someone starting out, be prepared to write in your leisure time – if you love it enough, you’ll make the sacrifice.

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PHOTO CREDITShutterstock

Those are a couple of sources that provide guidance but, if you want to make a big impression, the first steps are doing your research. Get onto search engines and look at all the articles that give advice about how to interview musicians. These are important guides in order to get a  great piece and set yourself aside from the competition. Arming yourself with that knowledge means you will stand in the mind of artists; they will recommend you to others and, before you know it, people will come to you! If you are starting out – and want to be a blogger/journalist – doing that preparation and research means you can build contacts and get a jump on things. Get work experience with local papers/sites and, even if it is unpaid; it will provide useful experience and look good on the C.V. If you are, like me, quite a few years into music; you will want to aim high and grab for bigger things. I will write another piece that provides steps, sites and interviews with people who all in the industry and have worked their way to where they are now. The most important thing is to have ambition and never assume you cannot achieve what you want in the business. It is harder to get into big positions but there are side-steps and ways you can get one step further; being bold and proactive means you are always working up to where you want to be.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I will end this by talking about something going on right now. I am aiming to get an interview with Kate Bush before February. Her debut album, The Kick Inside, came out in 1978 so, seeing as its fortieth anniversary is around the corner - that urge to get an interview is huge. I spoke with Matt Everitt and he asked me who the one musician is I dream of interviewing (excuse my grammar there!) and I said ‘Kate Bush’. I have emailed her people and will await their response. I am expecting a refusal and an obvious decline but you can never say what will happen. Even if/when I get that rejection; it has been good aiming high and setting my sights somewhere huge. Getting an interview like that would open doors so it is understandable I have been a bit excited and intense. I hope I can grab an interview with IDLES and secure some time with the guys. Whatever you position in music – and however far up you want to go – there are ways to achieve what you want. It may take a long time to get there but that does not mean you need to be defeatist and assume it will not happen at all. If you make focused and consistent steps; keep looking out for those great jobs and opportunities then you are arming yourself with all you need to achieve that…

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

CAREER in music.

‘The Spotify Age’: Music Survival and Growth in a Social Media World

‘The Spotify Age’: 

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IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify

Music Survival and Growth in a Social Media World

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I look around the modern music landscape and wonder…

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whether there is a chasm and barrier between the underground/new artists and the established best. One of the most heartbreaking things I have seen in music is an artist, Beau Dermott, and the song, Sparkles. It is, by all accounts, a girlish and teenage song that will have its fans. One suspects there will be a fair amount of derision and criticism. She is entitled to release any song she wishes but I wonder whether how impactful any criticism will be. In this piece, I wanted to address two things about the social media age. The first, the way bigger artists and streaming overtakes credibility and talented: the second, how vulnerable and susceptible young artists are to scarring and attack. I’ll bring in a piece from The Guardian - that talked about Taylor Swift’s recent achievement:

Taylor Swift’s comeback song Look What You Made Me Do has broken three records in its first week of release.

The song, the 27-year-old singer’s first since 2014, was released on 24 August with an accompanying lyric video which received 19m views in its first day, breaking the previous record held by the Chainsmokers and Coldplay.

On the following day, it racked up 8m streams in Spotify, another record; and after the video was released during the VMAs on Sunday it achieved almost 30m views in 24 hours. This gave Swift her third record, beating Adele’s Hello, which achieved 27.7m views. The video currently has over 53m views.

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While the song has been popular with fans, it has received mixed reviews from critics. The Guardian’s Maura Johnston called it “a skeletal bit of electropop”, while Pitchfork’s Meaghan Garvey referred to it as “a half-rapped, half-assed airing of grievances”.

It arrived within weeks of Swift’s civil trial against DJ David Mueller, who the singer had accused of groping her during a pre-concert photo. The jury ruled in favor of Swift. “My hope is to help those whose voices should also be heard,” she said in a statement. “Therefore, I will be making donations in the near future to multiple organizations that help sexual assault victims defend themselves.”

Look What You Made Me Do is the first song taken from Swift’s new album, Reputation, which will be released in November. Her previous album, 1989, was the bestselling album of 2014 and has gone on to sell 9.5m copies worldwide”.

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This, to me, is what is causing issues on platforms like Spotify. The song, as the piece says, has little to do with overall quality and originality. It is not one of Taylor Swift’s finest songs but that does not seem to matter. So many people have reacted to and, with her fans behind her, the song has broken records. Those records are numbers and figures: they do not correlate with the influence and brilliance of the music. The fact the song has been, it appears, rush-released suggests the writers and producers were looking to cobble something quick for fans. I might be wrong but feel there has been little care making Look What You Made Me Do a properly good song. Every year, there are accusations Pop has lost its edge: it is a market for a limited demographic and does not constitute and define any real sense of purpose. That is an opinion and one I do not fully support. There are great Pop acts out there but much of the terrific music is being reduced to streaming figures and records. The reason I talk so regularly (and vehemently) about this subject is (because) we need to make changes. The fact Taylor Swift’s recent song has gained as much controversy – it sounds a lot like a Right Said Fred track; her recent court case plays heavily into its mythology – as it has acclaim tells you how meaningless streaming records are. If we are, as I see it, in this ‘Spotify Age’; one has to ask the question: Are we going backwards and taking music in the wrong direction?!

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There is no denying streaming services provide a platform for new artist to get their music heard – open to the masses and included on some influential playlists. Spotify is a great way of connecting with past music: the back catalogues of the great and legendary are held here. One can – not that they ever should – get the music for free and not have to worry about spending. It is not only Spotify culpable but what worries me is how much emphasis is being placed on records and being massive. Every time an artist like Taylor Swift storms Spotify; it means her fans and followers will think that is the way music should be conducted. She has been mired in controversy – not her fault in many cases – and her recent bout of celebrity has very little to do with what she is producing. She is, as I understand, bringing out an album very soon – I am sure it will do big business and sell by the millions. A lot of the newer artists coming through are struggling to really make the same sort of impact. These musicians, in my opinion, produce stronger music.

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The fact it is not receiving the same recommendation and acclaim shows how divided and skewed modern music is. I know how many good sides there are to Spotify and streaming services but there is such a focus on celebrity and success. Every time we hear artists breaking streaming records I always think the same thing: What does that have to do with music? It is a problem that is not going away and one that will divide people. I am pleased there are artists, out there, who can inspire and motivate the young. Taylor Swift’s video broke YouTube records – viewed more than forty-two-million times on the site within twenty-four hours – and that will give strength to a lot of her fanbase. They want to see their idol do well and bounce back after disruption. I am a big supporter of Spotify: I feel it provides more music than other services and is a valuable way to promote new artists. My biggest fears revolve around the sheer gulf between the big stars and those coming through. How effective is it going to be for a new artist putting their music up there? Unless you are on a larger star’s playlist; one wonders how much attention will come their way. As part of the promotional ritual; we see those A-listers put a new track on Spotify/YouTube and watch the view-count rocket.

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It equates to a certain sum of money and reward but it means the business side of things – the numbers war – is satisfied. It doesn’t matter if a song is great: so long as it does well on the streaming sites. I know a huge number of artists who want to get their music featured highly on Spotify – to reach wider audiences and show what a great piece of music they have created. I have talked, in the past, as to ways an artist can succeed on Spotify. It is valuable doing your research but I think there should be better (and easier) ways for artists getting just rewards on these sites.

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IN THIS IMAGE: The Chainsmokers (one of the most-streamed acts on Spotify)/IMAGE CREDITImpossible Brief 

It is right every act should have a chance to be on there: how right is it that those more famous and attention-courting are elevated so much higher than those in less advantageous situations? Some sort of compromise needs to be struck because I am seeing too many artists struggling on platforms like YouTube and Spotify – they deserve a lot better. Is it the fault of the public or artists when certain songs get so many views?! One can say it is part of marketing and everyone has free choice. If people want to download music from their favourite act; who am I to argue? Take recent albums by Queens of the Stone Age (pictured below) and LCD Soundsystem. They might not list after the streaming records but, compared with some of the biggest Pop stars, get very few downloads/streams.

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To me; sites like Spotify and YouTube should do two things. They need to offer people the best and more resourceful pot of older music. There is no use putting what has gone before second – these sounds are the reason music has evolved and got as far as it has. More money and time should be dedicated toward putting those legendary bands/artists into the public mindset. It should, as its primary focus, ensure there is a viable and prosperous platform for new artists coming through. Everyone can put a song there but one needs a certain amount of streams until they are verified. Often, the artist’s P.R. people have to push hard to get them any sort of coverage on Spotify. The site does not really do a daily focus on a newer artist – they are chasing that mainstream-dollar and concerned with projecting a certain sense of cool and popular. They compile playlists to fit various moods: if you need a running playlist or songs to chill out to; one is pretty well catered to. I am concerned there are a lot of brand-new artists that see Spotify as a place reserved for those with big teams behind them. That should not be the way. In a future piece; I am proposing a new site/service introduced that makes it easy for smaller acts to thrive: makes the consumer aware of all the greatest new acts; places mainstream artists on the same level.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme/PHOTO CREDIT: NME

Before concluding this piece; there is something else that concerns me about the proliferation and importance of social media/streaming sites. Music, now, is so about getting it on all the sites and making it open to everyone in the public sphere. Anyone can go onto YouTube and Spotify and hear a song. I guess this part is more to do with YouTube but, fitting in with my earlier point about Taylor Swift; it does make me think about the negativity and poison one sees on the sites. In the same way we need to restructure Spotify/streaming sites and ensure bling and reputation does not outweigh talent and promise: should we do more to safeguard those whose music appears on the sites?! I mention artists like Taylor Swift who, for all her success and position is, and has been, subject to abuse and negativity. I have been reading comments on YouTube – for her latest song – and there is so much hate swirling around. It is understandable, when someone gets that much attention and spotlight, there is going to be ridicule and schadenfreude – if their song is not as good as it was hyped up to me. I worry how easy it is for anyone in the world to post something hurtful and unnecessary about an artist. I am going to write about depression and anxiety in music soon – maybe tomorrow – as there is a growing rate among the new generation. I am concerned platforms like YouTube are providing an open pulpit for the lowest to spew their venom at an artist. It is impossible barring every troll and hater; one cannot have their voice silenced and be banned with one thoughtless comment. I am concerned Spotify is advantageous for the elite and privileged: YouTube seems to be a forum where there is as much hate and negativity as there is love. The music is the important thing and, if you do not like a song, do not comment on it. I feel the comment section of YouTube should be reserved for new artists – those less prone to such a violent eruption of vitriol and abuse. Those artists in a mainstream position should have a level of protection.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Beau Dermott

I feel, even if they produce a bad song; that does not mean everyone is free to take shots. The kind of barrage certain artists receives every time a song is released cancels out the great feedback. Many of the artists will read what is posted: I wonder how helpful and constructive the comments are and the effect they can have on a person. I have seen friends post videos online (music) and they are great songs. It is disheartening seeing so many offputting comments and sentiments from complete strangers. One of the downsides of YouTube is the ‘like’ and ‘thumbs-down’ approach. I do not see the point of having a thumbs-down – why would anyone willingly allow a person to dislike a video and have that count against an artist?! Spotify has streaming figures but they do not have an option for people to slag off a song. YouTube has just had a lick of paint and looks slightly different than before. The functionality is no different: all the problems remain and the structuring is the same.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

I do wonder why so little time and human resourcing is dedicated to monitoring comment boards and platforms like YouTube. Another problem I have with it – like Spotify – is how so much stock is put to ‘trending’ videos – those proving most popular. Like Spotify; it is all about the hype and celebrity of the musician. There is little consideration to quality and promise of the music. When we see videos receiving millions of few within hours of going online – what kind of impact does that have on the artist and the unsigned artists who would give their right arm for a millionth of their attention?! Every day; I see a new musician I know posts a video to YouTube. They often plug for views and constantly share that piece. It seems, the same way we are obsessed with social media: artists are valuing the ‘likes’ and viewing counts of YouTube. It seems insane chasing numbers but there is that inherent assumption that, if a song gets millions of views then that will lead to fame and a record deal.

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Who is to say, if a song gets a million views (and few dislikes) then that will elevate an artist?! Labels and venues are not monitoring every video that goes online for the best new talent to book. We are confusing popularity and numbers with credibility and respect. Naturally; every artist wants to see their music liked and shared – it means a song connects and makes all the hard work worthwhile. I feel many are becoming abjectly sorrowful and anxious when they see low figures – or the song gets a bad comment or some thumbs-down. How, then, do all these elements present themselves in psychological terms? I am going to expand on this more, later, this weekend because I feel there is something bittersweet and unseemly about sites like Spotify and YouTube. I understand why YouTube is a great tool and how it gets videos/songs to the masses. I wonder how a big artist, when they see a song get big numbers, might be tarnished and hurt when they see any backlash and trolling.

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The attention they get seems more to do with their position and fame: there are so many musicians, working in the underground, creating much better music. I worry they are not being afforded the chance to get their music heard and shared. I see so many artists endlessly campaign for retweeting, shares and ‘likes’ – they have a perfect scenario in their head and think, if they do not hit that, then that shortfall means they are inadequate and wasting their time. Spotify, to my ears, could be so much more and do so much more for a whole range of artists. The reason I go to Spotify is to get the best new tracks – for my weekly Playlist series – and the finest older music. I rarely find underground artists on there, simply, because very little promotion and oxygen is provided to them. Do we, therefore, need to restructure and invigilate the most-popular platforms to ensure there is equity, protection and better values?!

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IMAGE CREDIT: Laughing Stock

It will take a lot of work but I feel, without making big changes, it is possible to overhaul and revamp in effective and meaningful ways. Spotify spends too much time on playlists and the big artists: YouTube revamps its site; in the sense it makes it look fancier - without really making structural alterations. Is it possible for artists to survive – let alone, succeed – on music-sharing websites?! My concern is there are two levels: the better access and options for mainstream artists: less well-funded and exposed options for anyone new. Getting one’s music shared, promoted and seen should be as easy and effortless as possible. Given the competition and amount of musicians coming in – not everyone is going to find it seamless finding success on the sites. That being said; the way things are right now means finding attention and security on platforms like Spotify and YouTube is…

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PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

FAR harder than it should be.

Copper in Pocket: Monetising a Music Career

 Copper in Pocket:

Monetising a Music Career

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ONE of the most troubling things about music is how fraught…

it can be with regards making money. I have spoken to bands, managers and assorted musical players and there is a consensus: it is so difficult monetising their passion. Many get into music for the right reasons – because they want to create something wonderful and share it with people – but there is, of course, going to be a component of commerce. One does not get into any industry without desiring an equitable slice of the pie. How easy, therefore – or HARD, should that be?! – actually making money from a career in music?! That is quite a broad question as different artists are in different positions: there is no set valuation and revenue figure. I was interested reading an article published by Billboard a couple of years back. It provided a comprehensive breakdown of the salaries certain artists made – from sessions musicians through to big stars at Vegas residencies. The figures can be quite eye-watering when it comes to the chasms. The article looks at, largely, the bigger acts: those that can command huge audiences and in a position to write commercial jingles. It is the polemics of the pay-scale that really get to me. I suppose established mainstream artists get to where they are because they have acquired fans; played the game and worked hard. They have the record labels behind them and are in a position when they can get commercials/huge gigs and really clean up. Another article (by thejournal.ie) – asked how bands, in this day and age (2016), make money. The writer of the piece shared their experience:

For me, having played in bands for over a decade, that figure was €9,000.

You won’t know my name from anywhere but TheJournal.ie and you won’t have heard any of the songs I’ve made, so losing that amount of money isn’t a huge deal.

I mean, it is a huge deal. Nine grand is a good chunk of a house deposit or a car (or 90 cars if you buy my first car again).

But as a payment towards a hobby for over a decade, it’s not that bad.

While home recordings and the internet make getting your music made and heard easier in theory, the reality remains that making music remains pretty unprofitable for the vast, vast majority of people”.

It went on to say how various nations funded musicians - E.I.R.E. being the first up:

FMC has helped basically every Irish band you can think of at some point in the last few years – Kodaline, Lisa Hannigan, James Vincent McMorrow, Delorentos, The Coronas, Jape, Declan O’Rourke, Fionn Regan.

While Arts Council funding to make an album or go on tour is difficult to come by, the body does run CultureFox and is actively encouraging bands and musicians to see themselves as part of the arts community across Ireland.

Angela Dorgan who runs FMC told TheJournal.ie that they pay a larger percentage out to bands than they get from the Arts Council.

“We run Hard Working Class Heroes as a showcase. So it’s not a professional festival in that way, but the cost of flying bookers, agents and label reps is all covered as well as the backline costs”.

In Canada, it is written, things are different:

We have some great organisations like Factor and OAC (Ontario Arts Council) and Canadian Arts Council that all fund musicians projects,” says Beth Moore, a Niagara Falls based singer-songwriter whose most recent album Five Out Of Ten was released last year.

There are varying levels depending on what level you are at professionally. I personally won the OAC popular music grant for $6,000 and the Factor (Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings) juried sound for $13,000.

She says that many don’t apply for grants because the system can be obtuse and you “have to work for it”.

That is quite a quick and broad sweep of an article that digs deep and does raise an interesting side: many artists are in it for the love. That is the reason one should do anything in music but I do wonder whether there is an inherent stress attached. That sheer passion and drive is a great motivator and isolation. The big, famous bands get paid more than you can believe when they play festivals like Glastonbury. The fees differ between the acts but one can imagine Ed Sheeran, Foo Fighters and Radiohead were paid immense sums – actually, that is not quite the case. There is that compensation of love of the craft that means a ‘smaller’ fee is actually not that bad. Those headliners didn’t exactly beg for petrol money but there is that assumption they get six-figure sums and are helicoptered in. That is not the truth at all: modern music is not as lucrative as we would imagine. I see a lot of chart acts – their videos getting millions of views; their face on every magazine – and they seem to earn their fortune through looks, a sense of ‘celebrity’ and shallowness. Those authentic and harder-working artists earn a lot less than they should and that creates trickle-down anxiety. I am seeing a lot of bands/artists fearful that, if they make it to the top, the rewards are not quite as lucrative as they should be. One might think money is not everything – if you are in a great position you can pay to thousands; getting any money, so you can survive, is surely enough?! – but the reality for underground artists can be strained.

What about streaming services like Deezer and Spotify, then? I shall bring in some text I used when writing my piece about Spotify:

For example, Spotify says that its average payout for a stream to labels and publishers is between $0.006 and $0.0084 but Information Is Beautiful suggests that the average payment to an artist from the label portion of that is $0.001128 – this being what a signed artist receives after the label's share.

Finally, the per-play figures for streaming service can be misleading, as they depend on how many (or few) users the service has. Beats may pay more per-stream than Spotify, but that's because it has relatively few users.

Artists will be making a lot more money in aggregate from Spotify, and if Beats' user numbers grow, its per-stream payouts will come down. So this graphic isn't proof that one service is better for artists than another, in that sense”.

Those meagre digits are merely a guide but it shows how little one can make from streaming services. It might seem like a million plays on Spotify means big money but it is not going to be possible to pay an artist that kind of money – making that sort of success really pay off. These sites rely, to a large extent, on subscription fees and, if people do not sign up, where is the money coming from?! There is advertising revenue but that only extends a certain way. I was talking to a music manager a couple of weeks back who explained how his band have garnered impressive popularity on Spotify. In real-world terms, they are not earning money that reflects just how well they are doing. They might get a small sum here and there but, in reality, it is rather poor. They perform small venues and get quite a few gigs in but it can be hard getting consistent gigs. There is no hard-and-fast rule when it comes to profit and artists. Every venue pays differently and various streaming sites have different payment structures. Music is a business and, it gets me thinking, whether a lot of artists are being denied their fair cut? I have spoken about passion and the desire to make music regardless – that is a huge thing to hold onto and the reason so many artists endure and campaign.

The thing is: music costs money to make. That is the real reason I wanted to write this piece. A lot of artists are happy performing gigs and earning money from those shows. It is never a huge amount but they can keep themselves in the black and construct a name. The problem comes when having to pay for recordings and studio time. A lot of artists have to self-promote and pay for their own campaigns. Getting posters made and recording videos; hiring producers and making sure your music gets into as many hands as possible. If you want to take a D.I.Y. approach – and many artists do – then you can record a song/E.P. fairly inexpensively. The thing is, how much money will an artist make when it is released?! I read an article from DIY Musician that detailed the costs (big bands) have to consider when making an album:

Hard Costs

Hard costs are considered the fixed, actual, real, no-frills-added costs to make a record. The bare minimum it would take, before you include extras that are not absolutely crucial to the process.Technically, there are no hard costs in recording an album. Self-produced songs created in basements everywhere cost nothing to make. Unless you’re figuring in equipment, instruments, and computers that you would jam on anyway, the absolute minimum cost to produce a record is $0. Realistically, you may need to rent a real studio to make your record. Studio rental time to lay down tracks and mix them into songs can get done in 1-2 weeks, if the songs are written, rehearsed and ready to go. You can get the prep work of writing and rehearsing done in your home or band practice space, for no extra cost. This is the extent of the actual “Hard” costs of making a record.

Soft Costs

Here is where expenses for producing a record go through the roof. Soft costs include things like Excessive Producer FeesScrewing Around Costs and Band Pampering Expenses. One can easily see how these “costs,” once considered fixed and non-negotiable expenses for making a record, can be pretty much eliminated.  Here we break down the sub-sets of Soft costs.

Excessive Producer Fees

When records were selling like gangbusters, the studio producer could set his fees based on how many units the album would likely sell, using past record sales as the barometer. So basically you anticipate a pile of money, and base your fees on what you think your fair share of that pile is. When the pile of money is a mountain, the producer can feel justified in charging 6-figure fees plus backend points for services, and everyone is still happy when the record is a hit. But when that pile shrinks to an anthill, those fees need to be reassessed according to the anticipated sales. Nothing in the process of producing the record has changed – band members, producers, and engineers still worked just as hard getting the record made. The money has simply disappeared, and so should the producer’s fee for producing the record.

 Screwing Around Costs

In the days when a record was king, bands like the Stones would actually write their material in the studio. Bands would literally come into the studio with nothing and tinker around with their instruments as the $800/day meter ran on studio time. This was common practice up until 15 or so years ago. Of course, these costs can be eliminated if the band is prepared to record their music before hitting the studio. The music industry can no longer afford to spend thousands a week “finding inspiration” in an expensive recording studio. Bands should be able to do this anywhere else, for no extra cost.

Band Pampering Expenses

There are plenty of totally unnecessary expenses that have nothing to do with actual recording that get lumped in with producing a record, namely partying and excess living expenses. The advance given to a band from the record label, which is meant to allow the band the freedom of concentrating solely on making the record, is expected to spent on each band member’s living expenses while recording the record. But some bands take “living expenses” to the extreme. Korn spent several million dollars just renting houses while recording the album Untouchables. That’s insane, totally unnecessary, and a complete waste of today’s limited resources in producing music.

Bottom Line

By most recent, practical, and prudent estimates, you should probably budget $10,000 and 2 weeks’ time to your record your album. Anything over 10K and you’re getting into Soft costs that aren’t necessary to producing your record and won’t add anything to the quality of the music”.

That might be a bit of an American/mainstream-act breakdown but it shows how much an L.P. can cost to create! If you want a professional sound: you have to shell out huge amounts. Newer artists can afford to do things without thrills and big engineers but it is a piece that shows how staggering studios can cost. Sure; if you want a quality product then you are going to pay that much, right?! Once the album is out there then it is only a matter of waiting for the profits to roll in?! C.D. sales are, as we know, declining and people are spending less of their money on physical formats. Gigs are still big but, as we see in this country, small venues are closing. Because of less disposable income – rent prices and cost-of-living getting steeper – the average punter is more reluctant to go to their local venues. These spots serve alcohol and people are drinking less. Transport prices are increasing and, all combined, this is seeing so many shut their doors – unable to keep up with rent and overheads.

It is sad seeing the live music scene shrink but is there an easy solution? So many artists rely on these venues to get their music out there and earn some cash. A single gig might bring them a two-figure sum but, if they string enough together, it can add up. If there are fewer opportunities, then they need to rely on C.D./album sales to fill the gap. That, as is known, is not going to be possible. Throw in the figures streaming pay and it appears all options are exhausted. Passion and love are great but it does not, I am afraid, pay bills and fund a lifestyle. I worry music is less of a reality and more of a struggle. That financial burden creates anxiety which leads to depression: that can have a devastating effect on a person and, in a lot of cases, end a music career. This may seem like figures and random facts thrown together but, from what I have shown, there are two things evident. There is a huge difference between mainstream stars and new acts – although the top artists do not earn as much as you’d think – traditional sources of revenue (C.D.s, gigs and merchandise) are not as dependable as they were. Many artists can shift merchandise at their gigs but, if there are fewer attending – how much does that add to the coffers?

I shall end by talking about the music manager friend who, when talking about his group, hired a P.R. company to promote the latest single. Every campaign can cost anywhere up to a grand: that included the P.R. firm sending the song out to bloggers and journalists; touting for reviews and getting it out there. Many times, these campaigns are simple press releases sent out – those reviews and journalists copy-and-paste the press release and that is it. When you look at the balance sheet – and how much money is made – it is often in the red. The idea of hiring a P.R. company is getting an artist more gigs, sales and revenue. This is not always happening and it can seriously dent confidence. I worry music is far less profitable and attractive than it once was. Maybe the sheer number of artists on the scene means it is going to be hard to earn cash. I feel there are other reasons why this is happening. Venues closing are having an effect; the shift from hardware success to streaming dominance means music is more readily available – people are less willing to pay for it, mind. The love of music is a powerful thing and often compensates for the lack of financial rewards. I am not talking about huge profit: merely making enough money to live and record. I am anxious about the state of music and whether artists are able to survive and prosper. It is a complicated argument but one we…

ALL need to think about.

ALL PHOTOS: Unsplash (except Spotify image).

The Record Deal: Signed, Sealed, Delivered?

The Record Deal:

 

IMAGE CREDIT: Unsplash 

 Signed, Sealed, Delivered?

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THERE is a split in the music industry that is causing a lot…

PHOTO CREDIT: Pixabay

of confusion. We are in a very digital and technological age so I wonder whether artists are looking for a record deal: if they are, is it practical and profitable? The majority of my reviews and interviews are with unsigned acts. A lot of artists have P.R. companies behind them – promoting their stuff and getting them interviews/reviews – but what about that record deal? Is it something musicians lust after?!

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BACKGROUND: PHYSICAL MUSIC VS. DIGITAL DOWNLOADS

We have all heard the statistics about vinyl. Looking at an article by Noisey - they provided the figures:

In the past ten years, the sale of vinyl has increased to a staggering degree—a roughly 900 percent increase in LP sales between 2004 and now, with 9.2 million vinyl albums sold in 2014. While over the same decade, overall music sales across all formats have decreased annually, dropping from 667 million total albums sold in 2004 to 257 million in 2014. Clearly, vinyl is thriving in spite of the free streaming digital age…But the law of supply and demand is not necessarily applicable in this case, as within the same time frame, the number of facilities producing vinyl has remained static, at roughly 20 active pressing plants nationwide. These facilities can in no way meet the current demand for vinyl”.

If C.D.s are levelling or in decline: it seems there is a need for vinyl and the sheer beauty that provides. Maybe it is a retrospective thing: harking back to a better time; getting vinyl for its artistic values. Perhaps people want to connect with the simplicity of the ‘vinyl age’. Whatever the reason for this; it means there is a definite desire for vinyl. I know a lot of new artists who can print their music to vinyl but, for the most part, it seems reserved for mainstream acts. With the sales of vinyl heating up – and being profitable for the bigger acts – it means other physical forms, like C.D.s are less popular. I hear few people who buys C.D.s – these are formats new musicians release to so one has to wonder how profitable that endeavour is? It seems music hardware is becoming less common and not generating money for new artists. If you are a big act, and can get those vinyl sales in, then it might be okay. Those who rely on the economic and affordable C.D. distribution method – are they accruing the money and profit to make a go of things?! I would argue, unless punters at a gig snap up a C.D., that line of things is quite challenging.

PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

Digital income is the only viable option for many new artists. Looking at another article - I got an idea of what kind of money is generated from digital downloads:

The UK average monthly income is £1,517. How many downloads would a band need to sell in order to reach this figure? Assuming, once again, that there are four (4) band members, they would need to make a total of £6,068 per month to match the UK average income amount.

If selling exclusively on iTunes (which pays roughly 60p per single download), a band would need to achieve 10,113 downloads each month. This would equate to 2528 per week.

I am guessing the ‘average’ amount that an unsigned band makes from downloads is £10/month (per band member). If we add £120 from downloads to the £2,340 from gigs, we can guess that the average band member makes £2,460/year”.

That equates to about £120 per year (per band member) every year. There is a great debate rumbling in the media as to whether Spotify is creating fictitious artists in order to avoid paying them. It sounds like an odd thing but there might be some truth in it. It seems Spotify is magnificent for consumers but not too great for artists who want to be compensated fairly. I have written a piece on Spotify – so shall not go into too much depth – but, for new artists, the figures are quite shocking. They do not have the big teams that can get those streaming figures into the six/seven-digit ranks. They rely on meagre downloads/streams and, in real terms, that is a paucity. Even those massive artists who might get millions of streams each song – does that mean they will get a huge cash-load of from that achievement?! It seems not which, in some cases, is a relief. You wouldn’t want all the money going to the same artists time and time again. I am not sure if there is a way to fairly compensate and remunerate on Spotify. If you paid each artist about 10 pence per stream without any taxation – that would be quite generous and fruitful. Those figures seem low but, in reality, are unrealistic. A lot of people are choosing to use Spotify for free and those who subscribe might not be willing to pay extra at all. Going back to that Spotify and, looking at the contents, there is something troubling emerging.

PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

Taking a scan of the article - and it lays out the facts quite clearly:

The allegations came to light thanks to a piece that recently ran over at Vulture, outlining various outside-the-box ways people try to profit off of the massively popular streamer. (Tactics include filling channels with hundreds of individualized versions of “Happy Birthday,” for instance, or posting song covers under slight misspellings of the actual artists’ names.) Nestled among these tricks by users, though, was a suggestion that Spotify itself was equally prone to screwing with the system, hiring producers to release songs by fake artists to bulk up its popular playlists.

The original allegations stem from this article from music blog Music Business Worldwide, which quotes anonymous but “cast-iron” sources claiming that the streaming company hires producers to create songs to fill out popular playlists like “Chill” and “Deep Focus.” (Vulturecites a few different bands that it says seem to exist only in the form of two or three playlisted songs on the service.) The article claims the original productions aren’t just about avoiding playlist royalties, though, but also about providing quality control, ensuring listeners get the company’s precise definition of what “Chill” actually is.

Spotify flatly denies the idea it’s producing its own music, though, refuting the MBW article at every point. “We pay royalties—sound and publishing—for all tracks on Spotify, and for everything we playlist,” the company’s statement continues. “We do not own rights, we’re not a label, all our music is licensed from rightsholders and we pay them—we don’t pay ourselves.”

There is controversy and pitfalls of a career on Spotify so, is this method of income viable and sustainable? If C.D. sales are declining – and vinyl is profitable for the big artists – are digital avenues profitable and beneficial for new artists? It is a great way to get your music out to people, and link with other acts, but, in real-world terms, it is not going to make you big bucks.

IMAGE CREDIT: Unsplash

GIGS AND PROFIT:

Going back to the first article and it got me thinking about whether it is gigs the natural way for bands/acts to thrive and succeed? Maybe the profit is not immense but is gig income the most reliable way to ensure a sense of safety and gravity? Let us look at the piece:

Since we are describing ‘Success’ as achieving a gross annual income of £18,200/year (per band member), live gigs must surely play a key role in this. We will not include covers bands, wedding or corporate events bands. For the purpose of this research paper we will use the term ‘band/musician’ for those who want recognition for their own original music.

The average capacity for a venue that houses mainly unsigned bands is 250 in the UK.* The majority of venues will increase ticket sales by hosting 3-6 bands (on average). Assuming that a venue is 80% full and has 4 bands performing, each band would therefore have bought 50 people.

After speaking with approximately 30 diverse bands from London, I have estimated that the average band brings in much less than 50 paying fans on average. I will be setting the average paying fan count (per gig) to just 15.

Bare in mind that this would be the average number of paying fans that turn up to every gig, whether in the bands local town or 500 miles away. Many bands will bring 40 fans to local gigs but find fan counts drop dramatically the further afield they play.

There are several ways that bands can be paid by venue promoters. The average payment however seems to work out at about £6 per fan.

There is no data on the average band size, but I am setting a generic band size of 4 people so that we can work the statistics.

PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

With these assumptions we can see that the average band will be paid £90 per gig (£22.50 for each band member). Based on two (2) gigs per week, the gross yearly income for each member would be £2,340, far lower than the UK average wage. This also pays no mention of travel costs or gear hire etc.

Gigs generally provide more income for signed bands than the sale of records. In fact, the number of people going to gigs has increased over the last 10 years, whilst record sales have decreased. Ticket sales can generate huge incomes for large music acts.

Let’s look at a Robbie Williams gig in August 2003. He performed at Knebworth with 3 other acts and 125,000 tickets were sold. I am not sure on the ticket price but I will set the average tickets sale price at £45. That means on one night they generated a colossal £5,625,000. This doesn’t even factor in the sale of programs, merchandise, food etc

This piece, written in 2011, from Music Think Tank, might seem a bit outdated now but gives a good example of the profits, costs and revenue associated with gigs. Again, their quick answer – usually for the larger bands – equates to £2,340 per year (per band member). Taking a read further down the article and, when thinking about how much unsigned bands make a year – I got a bit of a reality check:

We have made a guess that (20) unsigned bands managed to reach the UK top 40 in the last (5) years. Let’s assume that just (5) of those bands earned £18,200/year (per band member) in the year that they charted.

Let’s also assume that ten (10) more bands in the UK have generated £18,200/year (per band member), this would give us a total of just (15) unsigned bands that earned £18,200/year (per band member).

Sounds dismally low right? I’ll admit that there is precious little data to go on, but do you know any bands making this kind of money who are unsigned? Remember, an original four piece band would therefore need to generate £72,800 per year to qualify, I am guessing that is extremely rare.

With the information outlined above we can begin to answer the question, “What are the odds of succeeding without a record deal?”

The chances of an unsigned band earning £18,200/year (per band member) without a record deal is 0.00025%. (Assuming there are 600,000 unsigned bands in the UK and only fifteen (15) earn £18,200 per year (per band member)

PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

THE CHARTS AND THE REALITIES FOR UNSIGNED BANDS:

I am sticking with that article and its information for the next consideration. If we know digital revenue is unpredictable and not that extraordinary: is it possible to get into the charts and get exposure from that? Again, going back to 2011, there were some definite trends emerging:

In the last 5 years (2006-11) I estimate that there have been no more than 20 bands reach the top 40 without record label backing. This figure is a guess, but is backed up by Ditto music, who are one of the few companies that have successfully broken unsigned acts in the UK.

Ditto go on to suggest that, “without record label backing, you would need substantial financial backing to have a serious shot in the industry”.

So why such a low figure? Mark Robinson, vice-president of Warner Music said that “on average, it costs £621,000 to promote and launch a new band”. This marketing budget would be out of reach for almost all bands.

Certainly, there have been many bands who have succeeded with far lower budgets than this, but breaking an act is undeniably costly. PR plays a role in this cost. A band cannot make it to the higher levels without having media contacts. The whole process is much more time consuming and involved than many musicians think. Unless you employ someone with media contacts and experience many marketing avenues will simply not be available to the average band.

Recording, touring, promotion and PR costs add up. Most DIY musicians struggle to turn enough profit to fund growth and fail to gain enough exposure to generate real momentum”.

This all amount to this: around twenty bands (a few years ago, mind) who are unsigned make it into the charts. At the moments, the charts are getting overhauled and it means no one artist can dominate like Ed Sheeran did – when he has nineteen songs in the top-twenty. Since 2011, digital music has taken over so Spotify and its figures have more of an impact on the charts. That said; it is still challenging for new artists to rub shoulders with the big players and make it into the lofty positions. I’d say the figures we have been given are subject to a bit of flexibility. You do get some unsigned acts breaking the top-forty but, for the most part, it is mainstream artists who find success here. Radio interviews and chart exposure is crucial for musicians so one wonders, again, if new artists are suffering?

PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

Let’s get to the issue of the record deal and its benefits and negatives. Sourcing from this article and they lay out some cogent and practical pros and cons:

Major Label Deals: The Pros

1.       Money: Deep, deep pockets have to be at the top of any major label "pros" list. Even with major-label music sales declining and the industry as a whole struggling to keep up with changes in the way people purchase and listen to music, major labels still have a huge financial advantage over just about every indie label. When your label has a lot of money, that means they'll be able to spend a lot of money promoting your record - which is exactly what you want. It also means they may be able to offer you a large advance and invest a lot in recording, touring, video shoots and other opportunities for you.

2.       Connections: Money helps open a lot of doors, and when a major label comes knocking, most media outlets are ready to let them in. Additionally, most major labels have been in the business for decades and have long established connections that help you reach your music career goals.

1.       Size: Alas, size CAN matter when it comes to record labels. Major labels are behind the vast majority of music sold, and this scale of operations can bring many advantages. First, they can get the best deals on manufacturing, advertising, and other expenses since they do business in such enormous bulk (they have way more purchasing power than indie labels). Second, because of all of the artists on their roster, they can pull some pretty big strings in the media. Here's a VERY common scenario: a major label may call up a big music magazine and say, "hey, if you want to interview (insert mega-selling artist), we suggest you review/feature (insert brand new, unknown label signing)." This is great for you, if you're that new label signing, because you get instant press in all of the top spots, giving you maximum exposure overnight.

PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

Major Label Deals: The Cons

1.       Big Pond, Small Fish: A lot of major labels tend to sign a lot of musicians and throw out a lot of music, just to see what will stick. As a new signing, except in very special circumstances, you're likely to find yourself fighting for attention from the label. If your music doesn't start sticking - read: selling - pronto - then you can find yourself with a record out that isn't getting much promotion and a label that doesn't return your phone calls.

2.       Continuity: A big part of avoiding the aforementioned "big pond, small fish" syndrome is having a big fan at the label. Usually, this is the person who signed you. However, turn over at a major label can be pretty high - especially in this day and age - and you run a high risk of waking up one day to find out that the person who loved your music is no longer working at the label. The new person who takes over your album may not be such a big fan, and suddenly, no one is too interested in making your album a priority. You can include a "key man" clause in your contract to try to avoid this, but often the bargaining power is against you when you sign a major label deal, so scoring this set up is not guaranteed.

3.       Artist Unfriendly Deals: Not every major label deal is unfriendly to the artist, but many of them are set up so that if a cashier accidentally gives you an extra dollar in change, you have to pay the label 50 cents. OK, that's an exaggeration, but many major labels want to sign artist for multi-album deals that offer them very little flexibility and that hand over a lot of creative control to the label. They know all of the loopholes, they want a piece of everything, and they have better lawyers than you.

1.       The Passion Question: Many dedicated music lovers work on the major label side of the music industry. However, not everyone who works at major labels loves music. You'll find a higher concentration of people who are in the business strictly for the money in major labels than you will at indie labels, and that often ends up rubbing musicians the wrong way.

IMAGE CREDIT: Concrete Playground

I have been provoked to write this piece for a number of reasons. I wanted to see how much bands/artists made gigging; whether digital outlets are good sources of income and the financial/profitability issues for unsigned artists. The record label, as I will look at in depth at the conclusion, is that contract and golden ticket that is not as sexy as you’d imagine. Let’s look at this article:

However, once you delve into the inner workings of major record labels and the contracts these artists sign, it becomes clear the musicians most likely are not reaping the financial rewards themselves.

IBTimes UK recently attended a roundtable hosted at London's Real Deal Store where a panel of industry insiders discussed the urban music scene and the pros and cons of being an independent artist.

A&R manager at Island Records, Benny Scarrs, stated that while many aspiring musicians may be under the assumption that it is impossible to succeed without the backing of a major label, they are wrong.

He explained: "There are lots of people making music and they get frustrated because they feel like 'I need a label and [I] need a deal'. You don't really need a label or a deal”

It goes on to give more exposition and revelation – this article was written in 2015:

“Young Money, run by parent company Cash Money, is in charge creatively of its artists but receives funding from Universal's Republic Records.

While it is true YMCMB is one of the most successful hip hop imprints around, being signed to the label is not completely a bed of roses.

British artist Jay Sean was hot property in the UK when he headed over to the States in 2009 and signed to Cash Money. However, each year brought hopes of a huge album with a big promotional push but Sean failed to have a single hit while signed to the hip hop label.

In October 2014, he parted ways and is now going it alone independently. Not to mention both Young Money members Tyga and Lil Wayne are trying to get off the label due to their albums being continuously shelved".

 PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

Becoming an independent artist is the direction that an increasing amount of acts are now opting for and Scarrs notes that ultimately, this means more money going directly into their pockets.

Among the perks are few arguments with labels over royalties or the fear of getting dropped without warning despite being signed to a multi single or album deal.

Plus, who needs a major label to take control of promotion when artists now have social media at their disposal to reach fans directly…Signing to an independent label is by no means an easy route but it does give the artist more control - both creative and financially. If Arcade Fire, Lecrae and Mumford & Sons can make it alone, then surely everyone else can”.

PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

So, then: how many bands/artists are ever likely to get signed in the first place? I shall bring you back to this trusted source and their findings

So, what action can a band take to increase their chances of success in an overcrowded market? I will revert back to the Music-Think-Tank Blog once more and agree with the author that moving against the crowd can in some cases be very advantageous.

Creating music that is of high quality, yet different in some respects will instantly give you a unique selling point (USP), which is very important in standing out in a saturated market.

What are the odds of getting signed?

The problem with statistics (where unique talent is concerned) is that they can often be way off.

For example, let’s look at the likelihood of securing a record deal in the UK. We will assume the following;

§  There are roughly 700 independent record labels in the UK large enough to ‘break an act’

§  Each signs 1 acts per year

§  There are 600,000 bands vying for their attention

§  1 in every 4 acts signed make £18,200/year (per band member)

Assuming you are average, you would therefore have a 1 in 3428 chance of being signed (0.029%). However, lets make some further assumptions on the quality of the song submissions;

§  34% of song submissions are not right for the label (wrong genre etc)

§  39% of song submissions are of low quality

§  10% of song submissions are not considered for other reasons

§  17% of song submissions are considered for signing

This would mean that talented bands would have a more attractive 1 in 582 chance of getting signed. Of course, the record label would be looking for much more than a good song, ability to perform live, being nice people and reliability etc would all go into the decision making process”.

Another huge factor in getting signed is getting noticed. Many A&R will not be able to listen to all demo submissions. This would provide a strong argument for submitting multiple demos to a wide range of record labels.

PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

IS BEING UNSIGNED THE WAY FORWARD?

I am fortune enough to see a few musicians provide a signature for a record label. It is the result of hard work and talent but, it seems there are big problems for independent artists and the association with a record label. I shall provide my own interpretation but I want to bring in some information from Mic.

1. Indie music is being threatened by the online platforms it needs.

It's one thing to get paid nothing for your music on the Internet. It's another not even to be able to distribute it online.

Recently, YouTube threatened to take down videos from independent labels and their artists (including the Arctic Monkeys) if the labels didn't agree to YouTube's unfavorable terms. And smaller labels and independent musicians could soon be slammed by the changing net neutrality landscape, which would favor bigger sites like Amazon that can afford to negotiate pricey agreements with Internet service providers, thus giving them all the bargaining power when it comes to cutting deals with musicians. All of this leaves small artists and labels with less and less power over careers and finances.

2. Independent labels can't afford to help their artists out.

Beggars Group, a collective of U.K. independent labels including Rough Trade (home to Arcade Fire and the Strokes) and 4AD (Bon Iver, the National) recently announced it will no longer split streaming royalty rates 50/50 with its artists.

The principle reasons, according to Beggars Group chairman Martin Mills, were "economical," because it was getting difficult to sustain. It's also possible that the rate could be lowered even further as streaming becomes more popular.

PHOTO CREDIT: Vadim Sherbakov/Unsplash

3. Moving to a city where there’s a big, established music scene is costly.

The traditional narrative of "making it" in music generally involves being discovered. Unless your social media game is really top notch, that involves moving to a city with a real music scene — one where you can play lots of shows and find other bands to support your bills.

But if you want to follow in the National's footsteps and make the jump from Cincinnati to New York City to get discovered, you better be prepared to swallow a 110.8% hike in the cost of living.

4. No one wants to spend money on music — let alone on something they haven't heard.

Digital downloads dropped 12.5% in the first few months of 2014, while streaming rates skyrocketed.

"No musician I know is making their living from selling music," explainedNicolas Jaar, an experimental electronic musician whose 2011 debut album was a critical, if not commercial, success.

Even if you can convince people to buy your music, you see a diminishing slice of the pie — iTunes pays 70 cents per song, and that 70 cents could be distributed any number of ways, depending on whether an artist is on a label or not. If you go grassroots and sell via Bandcamp, the site takes a 10-15% cut before PayPal takes a cut, too. Even without labels, there are still middle men.

5. Streaming royalties are insultingly low.

Navigating Spotify's payment process is difficult, and sites work out different deals with different labels, but independent artists could be making as little as $0.005 per play. That's what inspired indie soul band Vulfpeck to encourage fans to stream music on repeat while they slept so the group could earn a bit more money for frivolous things like, you know, touring.

But non-scheming artists, more established are hardly making ends meet with the money that they're making online. As Marc Ribot, a guitarist who has played with the Black Keys and Tom Waits, pointed out: "If we can't make enough from digital media to pay for the record that we’ve just made, then we can't make another one."

6. Even if you make it to a major label, your career has no security.

Heard of St. Vincent? Probably. She just closed out the most recent season of Saturday Night Live, played the Pitchfork Music Festival and performed Nirvana's "Lithium" at the 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. You'd think she was in the clear.

But her touring partner and collaborator, Talking Heads frontman David Byrne, predicts a grim future for the indie rock superstar and others of similar ilk: "Many musicians like her, who seem to be well established, will eventually have to find employment elsewhere or change what they do to make more money."

Some professional musicians, like a few members of Grizzly Bear, even lackhealth care — to say nothing of musicians who aren't on a label.

IMAGE CREDIT: Unsplash

7. Touring is a big risk for young musicians.

A lot of independent artists have day jobs, since, as previously mentioned, it is really difficult to make a living selling music. But live music is increasingly an essential part of making it in music. That means that going on tour necessarily means leaving behind a steadier cash flow and prayingthat the job will still be there upon your return. In short, touring is more important for a young band than an established one, but its risk is far higher.

Still, it's one that makes indie music feel all the more vital. Just listen to Mutual Benefit's beautiful Love's Crushing Diamond, a bold celebration of what happened after the lead singer quit his job and went all out on music.

8. Touring is more expensive than ever.

If an independent artist is funding their own tour, that means paying for gas, lodging and other various travel expenses. The average price for gasoline hovers around $3.60 per gallon, which adds up if you're driving around the country. And it really adds up if, like Bear's Den, you're driving around the country in less-than-fuel efficient VW vans. Ah, the '60s — when the vans were stylish and gas cost 30 cents a gallon (not adjusted for inflation).

9. There's already more music out there than anyone will ever hear.

There are pros and cons to the Internet age: It's now easier than ever for someone to make and distribute music, but it's far harder to be noticed. Market oversaturation is real, making it difficult for consumers to know where to start when it comes to independent artists. Approximately four million songs on Spotify have never even been touched by the service's users — so many that they've since been collected into an app called Forgotify.

10. It’s just not profitable for labels to sign artists.

Labels that spend money on developing artists rarely recoup their money, so they’re taking a huge risk every time they sign a new artist.

"Most labels' artists’ signings are not ultimately profitable," Darius Van Armen, the co-owner of indie labels including Jagjaguwar (which launched Bon Iver) and Secretly Canadian, explained in a recent statement to Congress regarding copyrights and intellectual property. If that attitude went to its logical extreme under the duress of streaming service royalties, we may well miss the next Bon Iver.

11. Labels don't develop acts, they only sign popular ones.

Labels are hedging their bets by signing any band, and most likely will not make a profit off of a new artist.

"In the future, artists will get record deals because they have fans, not the other way around," Taylor Swift wrote in a recent op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal.

This creates a cyclical trap for independent artists, who face the issue of having to promote their music on their own in order to garner enough fans to get the attention of the bigger players in the industry so they can have fans that pay them nothing.

PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

IN CONCLUSION:

It seems there is no easy answer but there is this assumption getting a record label is the be-all-and-end-all. So many go chasing it; assuming it will gain them money and stability. If physical sales are unstable and capricious; digital outlets are flawed and geared more to the mainstream acts – surely, then, record labels are the way forward?! We have seen all the arguments and sides laid out. I think, if you get the right label behind you – that can be impossible to define – you get the best of every world. I find P.R. companies are more supportive and give an artist a better deal. They are not steering them for the mainstream or trying to strip them of their cash – not looking at the bottom-line and motivated, as much, by profit. P.R. companies are about promoting music and getting that artist out there. I work with a lot of them and know how tirelessly they work. It is good because you get a promoter looking after interview requests and interviews etc. – helping get gigs and all the things a record label might deal with. In terms of the actual selling and marketing of the track: there is a lot more freedom for the artist. It is hard to give simple answers to but I feel record deals are ONLY desirable and secure if you do your research and know what you are getting into. So many artists are struggling to make money – through streaming and gigs – they go chasing this carrot with everything they have. It is hard and exhausting taking care of all your music but it means you can steer your career and have a lot more say. Maybe it will take more than this article to get to the bottom of things: every artist is different and will have different ideas of how they want their career to unfold. Don’t get me wrong. I am not down on record labels – they can be brilliant and life-changing for artists – but the romance one associates with the label is exaggerated and false. Do not think the record deal is the goal and sign of a successful musician because, as we have seen, it is…

 PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

NOT all it is cracked up to be.