#089: Roundtable – Listener Feedback Galore!

You’ve emailed, called, and left comments on our blog.  You’ve got tips, and opinions, and stories about being an indie artist.  You hate or love our guests.  You miss calling Bolton,  Robert.  You want to plug your band.  Well your voices will be heard!  And even more so than usual.  In this episode we’ve dedicated the whole podcast to you, our listening audience.  Lots of calls and lots of fun  (is that too cheesy?).  So, you didn’t have a chance to call  to make it in this episode?  Don’t worry, you can always call our listener line for inclusion in a future episode.


  • I’d like to offer a response to the discussion that followed my call on the CD Baby Podcast.

    1) Thanks to the hosts at the CD Baby Podcast for allowing my call to be heard. I thought it was totally funny how CD Baby Host Kevin Breuner remarked that, “Someone needs a hug!” LOL! I know, I know, a little aggressive.

    2) I’ll concede the point about Chris Anderson not “practicing what he preaches,” as obviously he is giving away something for free. There’s just one problem with this…(see #3)

    3) Chris Anderson is [i]already established[/i]. Independent recording artists are not. While Mr. Anderson isn’t yet a household name, he’s still established within the publishing industry and beyond. So if we are comparing apples to apples, it simply isn’t fair for up-and-coming independent artists to apply the same business strategies supported and practiced by Mr. Anderson. Again, he’s in a completely different paradigm with a completely different agenda.

    An independent artist has [i]nothing[/i] when starting up. They have no credibility, no fans, no money….simply no demand for their music or presence. No one wants to pay them to play. In fact, independent artists sometimes have to pay to play! This is something of which most of us are already aware. The bottom line is that the odds of success are not in their favor. It’s a constant uphill battle.

    Let’s take a look at Mr. Anderson. Pictured here.

    I’d like to clarify that I’m not trying to attack him personally. I’m simply trying to suggest that independent artists should not drink the kool aid.

    Mr. Anderson’s credentials are as follows…
    * Editor-in-chief, Wired magazine
    * Author, The Long Tail and Free!
    * Editorial positions at The Economist, Science and Nature
    * Named one of the Time 100 by Time magazine in 2007

    Wow! Pretty impressive. No wonder his going rate (35-40K) to speak at events is so high. He’s the man!

    CD Baby Co-host Chris Bolton responded to my call by stating that my arguements don’t “hold water.” He also interpreted my comments differently than I had hoped by saying that I don’t have “reasonable arguments” because he thinks I’m advocating against listening to Mr. Anderson just because he makes a lot of money at speeches. There’s a little bit more to it than that, and I hope to explain myself a little better now…

    Mr. Anderson advocates that artists should just give away their music and charge for concert tickets and t-shirts. Let’s just assume that he means established artists, not independent artists (CD Baby Podcast Listeners). Because as we all know, independent artists don’t make enough money to quit their day jobs.

    So let’s pick an established artist. How about Metallica? Can’t really get much bigger and more established than them, right? Of course we already know what Metallica thinks of people obtaining their music for free. In fact, so does Mr. Anderson.

    Even though Metallica (and every other established artist) makes thousands of dollars for each concert in which they perform, they’re still not interested in giving away their music.

    But what makes his interview with CD Baby even worse is that he’s assuming the role of an ‘expert’ in the eyes of young independent artists who can have a tendency to believe anything they hear. It’s just downright irresponsible to showcase his ideas on the CD Baby Podcast without also explaining who he is and what his possible motivations are.

    It’s not the same for artists as it is for authors and speakers like Mr. Anderson. His proposed business model should not be applied to established artists, and especially not independent artists.

    I’m pretty sure Mr. Anderson makes a comfortable salary, you know, being the Editor-in-Chief at Wired and all. And he supplements that income with speaking engagements and book sales. So he can afford to give something away for free, without it being a big deal.

    What’s that you say? “But he’s giving away a book!”

    Yeah, but he’s giving away something that he could care less about. He’s not giving away his money maker! Same thing with Seth Godin. Mr. Godin gives away his daily blogs to promote himself for speaking engagements and selling books. Like I asked in my call, what if Mr. Anderson and Mr. Godin gave away their speeches? What about movie studios? Should they give away their movies for free?

    “But wait! What about just making money playing shows?”

    Making money from shows? Independent artists don’t make good money from shows. Especially not enough to quit their day jobs. Again, sometimes they actually lose money.

    Touring is simply an impossibility for some independent artists. Most of us have day jobs, sometimes even a family, maybe even a mortgage! So selling the house, leaving the spouse/family and buying a van to travel and live out of for two months (with other people) while on tour isn’t practical.

    In my area (and probably yours too), bars don’t book original acts. They book cover bands to provide hours of entertainment. Why? Because it moves alcohol.

    Venues won’t book an original act unless they can a) cover the cost of renting the venue and b) guarantee a significant turnout. What’s an independent artist to do? Come on, most of us have been in this paradox before, if not perpetually!

    So a lot of independent artists have only one option. Write and record music, promote it online, sell copies and start generating income. Hopefully, with a little luck and a smart marketing plan, artists will begin the slow transition from working a day job to a full-time artist.

    Just ask Jonathan Coulton.

    Oh yeah, it even seems as though CD Baby Host Kevin Breuner would agree with this too.

    Responding to ‘Free Music’ advocates, Mr. Breuner states in his blog entry, [i]”They are not an artist or a member of a group who is actively playing live and touring in today’s market. For some reason, they are working with the notion that bands and artists somehow forgot to put a focus on live music revenues and just need to return to that to see the money start rolling in. The fact of the matter is, bands and artists never stopped touring. And if they did, it’s because the money stinks!”[/i]

    The entire reason the “recording industry” exists is because of this thing called a “recording” and something else called “industry.” Recordings cost money. If the industry (including established and independent artists) gives away the “music” part of it, the industry will collapse. Oh wait, it already is. Just Google search for “record industry layoffs.”

    If you can’t make money playing live, your only choice is to try to record and sell music. Are you going to let someone like Chris Anderson to persuade you into thinking that you have to just give your music away? It’s all you got!

    There is now an entire generation of kids out there who think they’re [i]entitled[/i] to free music. Does that seem right to you? Ask yourself, are you contributing to that sense of entitlement or not? Think long term, not instant gratification.

    Mr. Breuner continues his remarks by stating, [i]”The future of the music business is NOT in the hands of companies who dream up business models that artist should follow. The future is NOT free music because some guy with a degree and years working in the industry says so. The business plays by the artist’s rules now, and that scares the pants off the gate keepers that used to make a living deciding what the artists could do.”[/i]

    And that’s exactly my point.

    Don’t drink the Chris Anderson kool-aid. Think about the bigger picture.

    Thanks for reading,

    Brian Dobbs

    p.s. Chris Anderson’s other book, “The Long Tail,” was originally praised when it was released in 2006. In his book, he advocates and discusses another type of business strategy. If you get a minute, you should Google search, “Criticisms of The Long Tail,” and peruse the numerous articles that appear in the search results that are critical of his book.

    p.p.s. Read as much as you can from all sources. Do your own homework. Decide for yourself.

  • You can’t run a coffeeshop by only selling drip coffee. You have to sell beans, offer food, invent the Frappucino, create stores that people like hanging out in, partner with Hear Music. You only want to sell drip coffee? Fine, but unless your coffee is the very, very best stuff, you’ll likely struggle to make ends meet.

    You can’t be a Hollywood screenwriter while living in Cleveland. You must move to Hollywood. You have to network with others in the business, which means you have to schedule lunches and attend parties and always be writing in between. You have a mortgage? A family? Go ahead and stay in Ohio, but you’ll never be a pro screenwriter.

    Most indie artists will never make a living wage only selling recorded music.

    Lots of artists talk about music being a “business” but few are actually willing to do the work, or even take the necessary risks.

    At the very least you need to put yourself in the position to succeed. Do we expect athletes who eat unhealthy and don’t show up for practice to win Olympic gold? Of course not. So why should we expect an artist who can’t/won’t play live and won’t offer merch to become a full-time musician? This kind of stuff is par for the course, the rudiments of the music business.

    When I hear people complain about having families, jobs, mortgages, etc. I totally sympathize. But that’s life. Those are choices WE make.

    But some people DO uproot everything to pursue a dream. Some people DO give up the house, quit the job, cram the family into an Airstream. Other people keep their “real” lives and pour all of their creative energy into each remaining free second.

    Sadder still, some people don’t even have these obligations — and they STILL won’t do the work!

    If you can’t imagine doing those things, if your dream is to simply record music, sell those recordings, and stay home — sorry, you probably won’t win.

    But there’s good news: the hobbyists have never had it so good!

  • I don’t know why people are freaking out so much about Chris Anderson’s book/interview. It seems to me he’s trying to offer some solutions in the new reality of “free.” If you don’t like it, don’t do it. I don’t like the idea of people downloading my stuff for free, but if they do it and I wind up with a fan, someone who’s touched by my music, then they may buy some of the hundreds of CDs clogging my apartment, become a “true fan” who pre-orders a new CD or hosts a house concert (usually I get those kinds of fans when they actually come to my shows… I mostly play jazz, and usually people are more moved by jazz when they see it in a live performance, where they can see people making decisions, see the looks on their faces). At shows people are more likely to buy a CD or other merch before they leave, because they’re still in the mood, inspired, or you’ve been chatting with them and they like you.

    If we don’t learn to live with “free” what is the solution? Encoding mp3s with “no pay, no play” tags? They rarely work, or are player-specific (itunes DRM) or eventually get hacked thru. Suing music fans? Also very popular.

  • Scottandrew,

    You apparently do not see how very different music is from common businesses. True, you cannot survive selling only drip coffee in a coffee shop but music, if you’re popular and fit whatever the flavor of the moment happens to be, can be and is for many name artists all they do.

  • Here’s a blog that anyone who listens to this podcast will find interesting:



  • RLK: I was speaking solely about independent artists, not established ones.

    I just don’t believe you can bootstrap a full-time music career by only selling recorded music. Those days are gone, if they ever existed in the first place. There will be rare, lucky exceptions as always, but being lucky isn’t a strategy.

  • I think Michael Gurley said it best, “If the song moves you, the song wins.” This is the core of what we should be doing.

    Figure that part out and the rest will fall into place eventually.

  • I just wrote a response to this thread on my Music 3.0 blog, but the gist of it is this:

    The Long Tail doesn’t work unless the catalog can be easily found and the price is right. Leave these two out of the equation (which is what usually happens) and the theory doesn’t work.