100 Awesome Independent Album and EP Releases You Probably Missed in 2018

Another December just about passed, and another 100 independent albums and EP’s you probably missed this year. In any artistic industry, so much of the exciting content flies quietly under the radar, except for when you know where to look for it. 🤘🎸

Since 2015, I’ve given you lists of 100 independent albums and EP’s you probably missed during the year. Here they are:

Now here comes 2018’s. I’m so stoked for the new crop of artists here, as well as for those returning again. A lot of the content on this year’s list comes from artists I’ve known for years, producing music for new projects they’ve put together recently. This is a different kind of excitement; I love seeing the evolution of these creatives.

As with all previous lists, these 100 albums and EP’s come from artists all over the world. This year’s list includes artists from: Canada, Greece, Germany, South Korea, Belarus, Austria, Singapore, France, South Africa, Sweden, Australia, Norway, Spain, Estonia, Ukraine, Italy, the U.K., Switzerland, Russia, and 22 different U.S. states. The independent world is massive.

It’s always interesting to see what each year brings in terms of style and genre, and 2018 seems to have been heavy on punk, pop-punk, alternative, instrumental, metal, and jazz-influenced material, both in terms of my personal taste and overall releases.

With all that said, here are 100 of the independent albums and EP’s that you probably missed in 2018. All were released during the 2018 calendar year. Music is multidimensional, and all these artists should be treated as such.

As always, albums are in no particular order.

Come expand your universe and live in my world for a little while. 😎👍

1. Satellites — Chelsea Shag — Atlanta, Georgia, USA

91-og

2. Painting with Scissors — Andy Gruhin — Silver Spring, Maryland, USA

vinylcover1

3. Feels — Fair Panic — Wayne, New Jersey, USA

Fair-Panic

4. Overseas — White Coven — Zaragoza, Spain

a3003327969_16

5. Hannah Wicklund & The Steppin Stones — Hannah Wicklund & The Steppin Stones — Nashville, Tennessee, USA

61Vm4h9-Q+L._SS500

6. Dreamland — Just Like Honey — New York, New York, USA

a3207220063_16

7. Personal Issues — Oh See Demons — Bergen, Norway

a3525937996_16

8. My Only Hope — Adam Singer — San Francisco, California, USA

320x0w

9.  Mind Tricks — Brownstone Inc. — Graz, Austria

a0439409715_16

10. Thriving, Given The Consequences — Soviet Ohio — Syracuse, New York, USA

a1112758894_16

11. In Moon We TrustHālley — Paris, France

a3577484841_16

12. What The Wreck? — Stan Stewart — Ithaca, New York, USA

a0554072234_16

13. Poor You, Part Two — Jinxbox — Middlebury, Vermont, USA

a2108324442_16

14. Centipede – EP — Blooming Fire — Los Angeles, California, USA

a3336471010_16

15. The Candleman and the Curtain — The Earth and I — Warwick, New York, USA

a3618777582_10

16. Everyone I’ve Ever LovedValleyheart — Salem, Massachusetts, USA

a0993442545_16

17. Kingdoms — Coopertheband — Nashville, Tennessee, USA

a2543267401_16

18. Self Titled — Alias May — Melbourne, Australia

a0918365614_16

19. Make My Millennium — Resident One — Atlanta, Georgia, USA

a0265427535_16

20. FunnySexyCoolHollywood Horses — Birmingham, Alabama, USA

a1698829475_16

21. .ghostworld – EP — .ghostworld — Singapore, Singapore

a3994727554_16

22. Heaven and Her Demons — BlackBeak — Johannesburg, South Africa

a2368806921_16

23. Wherever That IsPanhandler — Stockholm, Sweden

a3112158851_16

24. White Roses EP — Dream Chambers — Nashville, Tennessee, USA

a1866432777_16

25. Soul Transfer — Emphasis — Tallin, Estonia

a1829337801_16

26. Westline Drive EP — Westline Drive — San Francisco, California, USA

a2577008681_16

27. EP — Lampion — Montreal, Quebec, Canada

a3034075905_16

28. Salvation — The Penske File — Burlington, Ontario, Canada

a3710021663_16

29. Hypnotizing Euphoria — The Who Was Phone — Zurich, Switzerland

a3914038285_16

30. Bridges – EP — For The Fire — Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

a3123376777_16

31. Disposition — Young Animals — St. Louis, Missouri, USA

a4203563041_16

32. Glow In The Dark — Rachel Rose Mitchell — Melbourne, Australia

a0280072884_16

33. Dear Beer — The Bombpops — Los Angeles, California, USA

a1680664549_16

34. Aftermind — HighView — Canberra, Australia

a2269403411_16

35. It’s History, It’s Poetry — Detour North — Chicago, Illinois, USA

a2646676122_16

36. Voices in My Head — Failing Up — Los Angeles, California, USA

a3613083601_16

37. Omega — Shades of Dissonance — Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

a1886427652_16

38. From the Wild Sky — Halie Loren — Eugene, Oregon, USA

a0197767200_16

39. Up in Roses — Fever — Portland, Oregon, USA

a1085076350_16

40. Passing Years — Looking For Alaska — Regensburg, Germany

a1426972298_16

41. Desire Paths — Turnspit — Chicago, Illinois, USA

a1722262816_16

42. Absolution EP — Keating — Columbus, Ohio, USA

a0504944579_16

43. The Fallen King — Frozen Crown — Milan, Italy

a1414034459_16

44. Heartwoken EP — The Revies — Los Angeles, California, USA

a2680939145_16

45. Amnesiatic — ODD ROBOT — Fullerton, California, USA

a4084673321_16

46. Everything Is Temporary — Between You & Me — Melbourne, Australia

a4147721304_16

47. Duoyu — Duoyu — Athens, Greece

a2173508679_16

48. Six People in a Dream — Baronaqua — Melbourne, Australia

a1914810819_16

49. Hometown Static — Second Street — Kansas City, Missouri, USA

a0357217892_16

50. Happy Thoughts — Midfield — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

a2602300277_16

51. Becoming a Ghost — Becoming a Ghost — Troy, New York, USA

a3656578818_16

52. BedtimePawn Pawn — Toledo, Ohio, USA

a0153914848_16

53. Alliance — We Call The Shots — Phoenix, Arizona, USA

a0276805423_16

54. Mother’s Keeper — Mother’s Keeper — Birmingham, Alabama, USA

a1496483360_16

55. Is an EP — THIS — Buffalo, New York, USA

a0892900253_16

56. Distraction EP — Paper Citizen — Boston, Massachusetts, USA

a4169772564_16

57. Nostalgia — deerfield. — Syracuse, New York, USA

a4225159085_16

58. Street Talk — Big White — Sydney, Australia

a1264835841_16

59. For Me This Time — Analog Heart — Boston, Massachusetts, USA

a0201023423_16

60. While We DreamLights & Motion — Gothenburg, Sweden

a0020729055_16

61. Raw SugarL’Absence — Zaragoza, Spain

a0602446953_16

62. TamelessBuffalo Rampage — Moscow, Russia

a0283911500_16

63. Never Asked for It EPSorry, Scout — St. Louis, Missouri, USA

a1159769578_16

64. Old SoulSharp Sleeves — Blacksburg, Virginia, USA

a0335872128_16

65. Aspire — VENUES — Stuttgart, Germany

a0373931763_16

66. From Blue to BoneMama Doom — Poughkeepsie, New York, USA

a4067489887_16

67. Heart Whispers (EP) — Grace & the Midnight Angel — Clovis, California, USA

a1938454364_16

68. Cirque Du SkankSkunk Funk — American Canyon, California, USA

a3651745225_16

69. Spring Silver EP — Spring Silver — Silver Spring, Maryland, USA

a4215002345_16

70. The View From HereStealing Home — Concord, California, USA

a0623872756_16

71. Weird’N’ConfusedAppocaloosers — Madrid, Spain

a2512458705_16

72. InceptionWallbangers — Nantes, France

a4284346557_16

73. Wanderlust EPGrowling Rabbit — Minsk, Belarus

a1472767242_16

74. Paper SaintsPaper Saints — Dallas, Texas, USA

a0988209131_16

75. Spinneret EPJEM — Singapore, Singapore

a2623567396_16

76. Cashmore DemosCashmore — Brisbane, Australia

a2047122858_16

77. DakotaGo Murphy — Fargo, North Dakota, USA

a1782963943_16

78. Categories of ColourEither/Or — Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

a4015250297_16

79. FacadeBoxford — Virginia Beach, Virginia, USA

a0762985239_16

80. Casual CornerBlesst Chest — Portland, Oregon, USA

a2822890915_16

81. Paper HeartsThe Brothers Union — Asbury Park, New Jersey, USA

a2354370146_16

82. New RuinsCandace — Portland, Oregon, USA

a2933760028_16

83. Growing PainEnvious View — Springfield, Missouri, USA

a0694230770_16

84. Hangin’ On!The Glycereens — Brisbane, Australia

a4093110467_16

85. Digital EPAnemoria — Fullerton, California, USA

a2139817272_16 (1)

86. AgonizeSever The Ear — Gwangju, South Korea

a4158821855_16

87. Laugh It Off!Domino & the Derelicts — San Jose, California, USA

a3382894542_16 (1)

88. Glass BonesWolvesMouth — Voorhees, New Jersey, USA

a2811134904_16

89. AshesLed By Lanterns — Birmingham, England, UK

a4010357676_16

90. A Quiet Riot Vol. 1We Are Riot — Bremen, Germany

a2485402848_16

91. Membership DuesSad Girlz Club — San Francisco, California, USA

a3094191861_16

92. Broken CodesIn Parallel — Nashville, Tennessee, USA

a0816977467_16

93. The Deep Sleep — Unveil — Sherebrooke, Quebec, Canada

a1191201111_16

94. The NexstoneThe Nexstone — Kramatorsk, Ukraine

a3120780925_16

95. Comfort Zone — Superhaunted — Miami, Florida, USA

a2639596339_16

96. Fault Lines EPAeve Ribbons — Manchester, England, UK

a0287160869_16

97. Visions EP — Noise Maze — Udine, Italy

a2788192620_16

98.The Outer Space (EP)Fallcie — Saint Petersburg, Russia

a3491251552_16

99. JarenJenn’s Apartment — Lansing, Michigan, USA

a1357539315_16

100. Nothing LeftMy Favorite Fault — Moscow, Russia

a2490215276_16

***

If you enjoyed this please share, and feel free to Tweet me. Let’s talk music and tech!

YouTube Plays Out of Key

Originally published on Marx Rand on June 11, 2015.

Since being embarrassed after some of the more litigious contracts it makes with independent artists using its platform were made public recently, YouTube is in damage-control mode. The media platform provider has  understandably taken a lot of heat as a result. Right now especially the video streaming service, which was purchased by Google nearly a decade ago for $1.65 billion, is in the process of trying to make nice with the artist community as it braces itself for the onslaught of Apple’s new music service release, Apple Music.

YouTube Has Music, But Isn’t About Music

It’s easy to see why YouTube is concerned about Apple Music. After all, the very same (music) community that in significant measure helped YouTube top $1 billion in revenue last year is just as likely, if not more so, to gravitate towards Apple’s serving of the pie as it is to hang out lapping up mainstream internet TV dinners.

For artists– and especially independent artists – YouTube could be quite a useful tool. At least, what the service is capable of offering should be something that sets YouTube apart from its competitors in the music arena, certainly.

But YouTube is still going to struggle to win in the artist arena for one reason: while YouTube has music, it isn’t about music. For YouTube, despite its cool analytics and humongous user base, is still not a music-centered service. This matters because, at the end of the day, artists are a focus, but not the focus.

With the online music landscape heating up, the services that are able to pay more attention to artists as a principle priority will be able to carve out a significant niche for themselves. In the face of such competition, no one else stands a chance. It’s that simple.

The Percentage Points

A big part of YouTube’s problem when it comes to appealing to independent artists is that it’s a victim of its own success. At the end of the day, YouTube has an overwhelming user-base of consumers (and not just of music, but of all sorts of media) that it needs to keep on satisfying – at last count, there were 23 million subscribers to all the various channels on the service. And that’s only the regular users.

Naturally, it makes sense for YouTube to see that its existing customers are well-catered for, but the reality is that such an approach falls far short of what’s acceptable when it comes to satisfying independent music makers and promoters. They can increasingly afford to be much more selective about what they desire and require from the digital distribution channels that they work with.

To compound YouTube’s difficulties with attracting the independents, YouTube still has in place the same tenuous clauses in the contract that upset the artists just recently. The fact that there are a large portion of artists who are currently unaware of this fact only makes the problem worse over the long run too, for the risk that another public embarrassment for YouTube looms large over the shiny brand image that parent Google has cultivated over the years.

There’s a more fundamental problem than any of this, however, and that’s the following: unlike the teenage makeup artists and tween clothing models that have made gazillions from leading their fans to new cosmetics brands eager to pay top dollar for all the eyeballs, the realistic revenue generated from YouTube for music artists is pretty much zilch when you do the math.

Information Is Beautiful, an analytics service based in the United Kingdom, recently published a breakdown of online revenues obtained by artists across a series of music platforms, namely Bandcamp, CDBaby, iTunes, Spotify, Deezer, and—you guessed it—YouTube. The analytics provider concluded that the percentage of independents able to eek out a minimum wage living on YouTube revenue streams was just 0.07%. Here are the screenshots of the YouTube portion:

Image courtesy of InformationIsBeautiful.com; with edits

Image courtesy of InformationIsBeautiful.com; with edits

Here are the pathetic revenue stream earnings for the signed major label artists:

Image courtesy of InformationIsBeautiful.com; with edits

Image courtesy of InformationIsBeautiful.com; with edits

And now, the revenue stream earnings for the independent artists:

Image courtesy of InformationIsBeautiful.com; with edits

Image courtesy of InformationIsBeautiful.com; with edits

That’s amazing – it’s a seventh of a basis point! In other words, it’s even lower than the cheapest commission charged on an online stock trading platform.

And remember, this is not 0.07% of all one billion dollars of YouTube users, or even 0.07% of all 20-something million YouTube subscribers we are talking about here; it is 0.07% of just all the unsigned artists who receive revenue from YouTube streams! It’s likely you can count that number on the fingers of your left hand while clicking over to the next song with your right.

The Discovery Dynamic

The overriding concern here is that the audience consuming the music of these independent artists is incredibly small. But before you leap to your feet and splutter out the old argument that this is because the music created by independents artists simply “isn’t good enough” or “needs to be curated,” step back and think about the fact that these independents are trying to compete on a platform which is essentially not constructed for them.

Though the dynamic of discovery is big on YouTube, it’s not specified to discovery of new independent artists at all (though it’s great for makeup and clothing brands, which adopts an entirely different sort of discovery process through media). As a result, artists end up competing with an amalgamation of other media – most of which is not music-related – and the poor comparative result they are left with ultimately diminishes any chance that there might have been left over of being properly appreciated or even recognized.

All of this adds up to one very simple reality: inasmuch as YouTube is trying to repair its relationships with artists (and independents among them), it is, at the end of the day, very far from being the be-all, end-all for independent artists that the platform is for other genres of media and entertainment. The fact that less than a tenth of a basis point of artists can eek out a minimum wage using the damn thing – while many other professionals in different walks of life make a lot more than that from five minutes of video stream – attests to this fact.

Thus, for all the potential scale and analytical sophistication that YouTube’s platform offers artists, it is still an ecosystem that is fundamentally unsuitable for them and for displaying what they create. And many of them know it now, too.

Independent Music Is Still  Wild West

The independent music market is very much a wild west, and the introduction of a new tool or a new feature isn’t going to win anyone over. To do that, you need to win the trust and confidence of the independent artists, the way Etsy did with hand-crafters, or even the way that Amazon has managed to do with its dominant share of literary readers and authors alike.

This process is not one in which you can achieve ubiquity by striking a deal with a major corporation which fundamentally only offers enhanced distribution such as a major record label. It’s one in which you need to go straight to the product source – in this case, the artists and their fans – and persuade each of them that what you are providing is somewhere they can interact on a creative level and where the music uncompromisingly always comes first. It should not and cannot be a place where their product looks and feels like an afterthought in the ravenous race to profitability.

The upshot – and the sad irony – of all this is that it’s yet another example of a situation in which one of the very same companies that is so adept at spinning creative mainstream entertainment out into the marketplace proves hopeless in creating a fresh and appealing approach to the rising independent music scene.

As Queen so eloquently put it, “another one gone, and another one gone … and another one bites the dust.”

SoundCloud’s Failed Highwire Balancing Act: The Sony-SoundCloud Breakup

Trying (and Failing) to Balance Two Completely Different Paradigms

The SoundCloud-Sony Breakup

The Sony-SoundCloud Breakup

It’s been a tough week for Sony between its leaked contract with Spotify and criticism over its moves with SoundCloud. And yet, inasmuch as the former is embarrassing and will certainly come back to bite the two companies, the latter is arguably more problematic because it’s not simply between Sony and SoundCloud; it’s between Sony, SoundCloud and the independent artists and fans. That last little caveat is something that Sony can afford to ignore—but it’s going to become an increasingly difficult reality for SoundCloud.

SoundCloud, now a platform for major labels and advertisers

SoundCloud, now a platform for major labels and advertisers

News broke over the last couple of weeks that Sony has started pulling their artists’ music from SoundCloud—regardless of what the artists want. To Sony, SoundCloud isn’t a viable option since it doesn’t presently have a strong monetization plan (as if services like Spotify and Rdio do), and until the label and streaming service can come to terms, it seems that any and all Sony-controlled material will be stripped from SoundCloud.

This has put SoundCloud in quite a precarious position. On the one hand, it doesn’t want to alienate its initial die-hard independent fanbase, but on the other it’s been actively seeking out a deal with Sony, as well as with the other two major labels, Warner and Universal (already having one in place with Warner). SoundCloud is trying to balance two completely different bases and paradigms that are moving in opposite directions: 1) the major label paradigm which is still predicated on an obsolete business model, and 2) the independent paradigm which is increasingly embracing “free” as a big part of the future.

What the major label industry really looks like; The Big Three

What the major label industry really looks like; The Big Three

What I Said a Month Ago

On April 9th, SoundCloud signed a deal with Zefr—that same day, I wrote a post on why independents should very soon kiss SoundCloud goodbye; why the Zefr deal was essentially irrelevant for them. It seems I wasn’t the only one who’d identified SoundCloud’s prospective problems, as a day later on April 10th, PandoDaily writer David Holmes came to the same conclusion and published a piece with a similar premise. Holmes’ post validated many of my points, and cleverly brought up a few others, all to conclude, as I had, that the Zefr deal was a band-aid for a bullet wound. And now the bullet wounds are really beginning to gush blood.

This week, electronic artist Madeon released a heavily critical statement regarding he Sony-SoundCloud breakup, noting: “Thank you SoundCloud for being such a great discovery platform over the past five years. Well done Sony for holding your own artists hostage.”

Ouch. Snap. Burn.

Clearly Madeon (along with droves of other EDM artists who’ve gained significant followings on SoundCloud) isn’t pleased with Sony’s “money first” thought process and strategy. And while Sony has the legal right to pull music which it holds the rights to, in the grand scheme, it’s not exactly a play which will endear it either to the fans it seeks, or the artists it works with. Actually, it has the complete opposite effect.

Who’s the First Priority?

But what lies beneath the surface of this very public breakup is not simply an issue for Sony, but a major issue for SoundCloud. People expect Sony to act like a major label—because that’s what it is. But increasingly, SoundCloud has been chasing the major label content which it thinks could help it become more competitive with Spotify, Rdio and Apple. In the process, it’s spitting in the faces of the people who loved SoundCloud for what it was before: free discovery.

Screen Shot 2015-05-23 at 3.55.46 PM

Excerpt from my original April 9th article

And as SoundCloud moves closer to the major label paradigm, it becomes increasingly irrelevant for independent artists, regardless of genre. Independents are where SoundCloud cut its teeth, so now, moving away from the free-model will leave them somewhat toothless. Case in point: SoundCloud’s new NMPA deal, which, again, is irrelevant for independent artists.

The thing about the independents is that, unlike major label artists who are tied to the major label business model, they’re not tied to anybody. Their loyalty can and will be to whoever gives them the best service as a first priority, not an afterthought. This means the best service for the independents, not the best they can do after the major labels have had their fill. SoundCloud is trying to perform a balancing act on a razor-thin highwire and it’s 600lbs overweight. It’s trying to straddle two completely different business paradigms, and managing to piss everyone off in the process.

Free Is Here to Stay—Live With It

The free paradigm which the labels are beginning to get fed up with isn’t going away—something which Peter Kafka seized on in his article on Spotify. Free is a way of life now, and as independent artists continue to explore the benefits that free affords them, they will increasingly detach themselves from the obligations of the major label paradigm. Services like SoundCloud will eventually have to choose a side—something that’s going to be exceedingly difficult for SoundCloud now that they already have a deal with Warner and are chasing deals with the other two major labels.

Screen Shot 2015-05-23 at 3.56.48 PM

Excerpt from my original April 9th article

It seems that they’ve already made their choice, and it won’t be too long before droves of independents notice. They don’t have to and won’t settle for being second-tier priorities, and will look for alternative options. In the meantime, Sony and SoundCloud will duke it out until the former signs the latter to a major label-style contract.

I said it before and I’ll say it again: if you’re an independent, kiss SoundCloud goodbye.

Jay-Z’s Tidal “Freestyle” Was Basically a Hissy-Fit

A couple of days ago, during one of his Tidal concerts, Jay-Z went on a rant, and basically laundry-listed a bunch of people whom he felt have been wronging artists in the music industry. He called it a freestyle, but that’s not really what it was. To anyone who’s not a Jay-Z fan (and probably to many who are), it came off as a hissy-fit.

Jay-Z at one of his TIDAL concerts

Jay-Z at one of his TIDAL concerts

It’s not surprise that Jay-Z and company have been having a hard time of it with their new Tidal streaming service. I posted about their launch here, and then followed up with posts on criticism of Tidal from folk band Mumford & Sons, famed producer Steve Albini, and the sudden removal of their (now former) CEO Andy Chen. It’s been a tough couple of months for Tidal, yet instead of putting his head down and working to find a solution to differentiate his music service, Jay-Z thinks it’s a better tactic to antagonize the competition. Though it might make him feel better in the moment, it comes off as petty and juvenile. He looks like a kid throwing a fit for not getting his way.

In his “freestyle,” Jay-Z attacked not only other music services (Google, YouTube, Apple), but called out a few people by name (Jimmy Iovine). Jay-Z asserts that he came into the music game as an independent…which may be true, but that was more than a decade ago, and the musical landscape has changed a hell of a lot since then. The same rich people he’s insulting are his peers—I don’t think he goes home at the end of the night wondering if he’ll make enough money to tour next month.

Frankly, watching him play the victim is getting tiresome. Jay-Z needs to accept the fact that running a music streaming service may in fact be more difficult than he had originally thought. So stop whining about it, put your head down, and work out the problem until you have a solution. That’s how everyone else does it. Getting up on stage and attacking your competitors doesn’t make you a good business person. It make you appear socially and strategically tone-deaf.

Here’s the (mainly) full text from Jay-Z’s rant:

“…So I’m the bad guy now I hear,

because I don’t go with the flow

Don’t ever go with the flow, be the flow…

Pharrell even told me go with the safest bet
Jimmy Iovine on for the safety net
Google dig around a crazy cheque

I feel like YouTube is the biggest culprit
Them niggers pay you a tenth of what you supposed to get

You know niggers die for equal pay right?!?
You know when I work I ain’t your slave right?
You know I ain’t shucking and jiving and high-fiving, and you know this ain’t back in the days right?

…You know I came in this game independent, right?

TIDAL, my own lane, same difference

Oh niggers is skeptical about they own shit
You bought nine iPhones and Steve Jobs is rich…”

SoundCloud’s New NMPA Deal Is Irrelevant for Independents

News broke today that SoundCloud has reached a deal with the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA) to secure publishing rights for the artists who use the service as a content publishing site. In the byline of the piece is the notation that as a result of the deal, independent publishers will now be able to receive royalties from their content one the service. Yet while the news sounds groundbreaking as a headline, it nonetheless fails to address the problem that I identified earlier—namely, that SoundCloud is fast becoming an obsolete option for independents.

The NMPA and SoundCloud logos

The NMPA and SoundCloud logos

As the streaming service has worked hard to monetize in the last few years, it has begun a move away from the independent arena in which it started. On the heels of a licensing deal with Warner Music Group (attained last November), SC has been attempting to lock up similar deals with Universal and Sony as the major labels try (but fail) to reestablish their dominance in the musical landscape. Yet despite the fact that only Warner has signed on for now (not really a good sign for SoundCloud’s major label ambitions), it’s still clear that SC’s priorities are shifting in favor of a major label paradigm.

Major Label Percentage Ownerships of (some) Streaming Services

Major Label Percentage Ownerships of (some) Streaming Services

As a result, the news of SoundCloud’s deal with the NMPA today is essentially irrelevant for independents because it doesn’t address the real problem of independent artists: the problem of competition and exposure. Inasmuch as the deal sounds good for independent publishers, it’s unlikely that it will give them any edge over their major label counterparts. Actually that’s a misleading statement—the major label publishes already have a massive edge over the independents, so what this deal will really fail to do is make the two equal.

NMPA CEO David Israelite is quoted as saying, “This agreement ensures that when SoundCloud succeeds financially, so do the songwriters whose content draws [users to the site].” However, I feel that though Israelite’s intentions are good, his notions of the dynamics below the surface are misguided. The royalties that independent artists and publishers will supposedly earn exist essentially in theory, and this doesn’t even take into account the minuscule amounts of each royalty payment.

What the major label industry really looks like; The Big Three

What the major label industry really looks like; The Big Three

In the end, the royalties “earned by the independent publishers” are essentially nondescript because in order for any real money to be made through royalties, the artist is required to have a massively large and engaged fanbase to drive those royalty-dyanmics. Independents by nature rarely (but not never) have these sorts of powers behind them. Thus the resultant playing field is still the same: the major label artists (and labels) more or less control the spotlight while the independents are left in the large swaths of shadow. This is a good publicity piece for SoundCloud; but for the independent artists and publishers, it’s more or less irrelevant in the grand scheme.

Lending Artists Millions of Dollars Is a Terrible Idea

The Setup

This morning, Peter Kafka posted an article on a new company seeking to make its name in the evolving music industry: Alignment Artist Capital. The company, according to Kafka’s piece, wants to essentially work as a lending institution for artists who need the money. Except instead of doling out a couple hundred bucks here and there, it will have the resources to lend millions at a time.

money_bags

A Completely Outdated Business Model

This, for anyone who didn’t already think so by this sentence, is a terrible idea. It’s a rehashing of the same dynamic the record labels have had with artists for decades, sans the ownership percentages over artists’ creative material. Kafka is aware of this as well, noting that, “Alignment isn’t the first entity to advance money to artists…lending money to musicians is one of the core functions of music labels.” [1] That’s very true; lending money to musicians is one of the core functions of a music (record) label, and it’s one of the main reasons their obsolete business model is failing them now.

Don’t be discouraged, though. There’s still plenty of money to be made in the music industry. In fact, it’s on an upswing. But not in the major label space, or using any of the traditional business models of those labels. The new upswing is with the independents—that’s where I would lay my chips.

With all the tools now cheaply (or freely) available to budding new artists, the traditional artist/record label model doesn’t apply anymore (something which Kafka notes as well as “harder to justify”). The reality of the situation is that most artists can get the basic things that they need—access to distribution, access to recording equipment and programs, access to merchandising platforms, access to producers/promoters, etc.—without signing away anything. That begs the question of why they would choose to take a monetary loan if they can do most (if not all) of the necessary things themselves.

New Artists Don’t Need Millions (of Dollars)

And there’s something else: funding an artist (band or solo) like a startup is indeed a unique idea—but a misguided one. Artists don’t need millions of dollars out of the gate to be successful in today’s market(s). The sums of money are too large to apply to most of the new artists who might be interested in taking it, precisely because the economics don’t work in their favor; it’s highly unlikely that throwing a million dollars on your fire will create a lasting fanbase for you. Core fanbases are made on the road, sleeping on couches, driving crappy vans, connecting with your real fans—all things that can be done without a multi-million dollar loan on your shoulders.

In the startup world, there’s a delicate balance between taking VC money you know you’ll need to survive (to the next round), and not taking so much that you end up diluting yourself beyond reason. The same principle holds true here: the concept that new artists should take millions at a time is analogous to a startup raising a Series B when they only need a Seed investment of possibly a quarter of that.

Why Incur Debt You Don’t Need?

AAC cofounder James Diener is quoted in the article saying “We’ll give the artist and their entity financing so they can go build a record label.” That’s like giving someone financing so they can go invest in a line of new and improved floppy disks—i.e. obsolete and irrelevant. The fact that this seems to be one of the main drives behind AAC’s plan tells me that they are still mentally tied to the old model of the record label, only now they’ve decided to cut their prospective losses by dealing only with the financial side (and not the creative one).

Based on my years in the independent music arena, I see these sorts of monetary entities as having a very difficult time breaking into the independent spheres—essentially where they need to be in order to really thrive. Buying streaming services, record labels, summer homes—these are things most artists don’t care about and don’t think about. I suppose a few do, but the numbers of those people are well below anything you can build a real solid business model on. The Jay Z’s of the world are astronomically outnumbered by the independents who are on the rise, now with distribution at their fingertips.

I wrote last week that artists are becoming savvier business people, and I can see them steering clear of these sorts of institutions at all costs. They understand that injecting millions of dollars into their brand image doesn’t buy them fans—that’s a belief propagated by the major label industry. Rather, they know it has to be done by way of live shows, personal attention, and appreciation of core fans; all things which can be done on their own, and without incurring debt (remember my article on crowdfunding?). I suppose there will be some customers of course, but I don’t see this ever catching fire in the independent industry. And that’s the next growth phase of music.

So why would artists incur massive debt if they do’t have to??

I wouldn’t.

Would you?

 

Notes


[1] Notice here that Kafka used the term “music labels.” I have a friend who used to work for Warner Music who explained this phenomenon to me. The reason that the term “music” has replaced the word “record” is because the major labels have become so bloated with an obsolete business model, they need to start making money off of revenue streams that they traditionally never touched: live ticket sales and merchandise sales. Traditionally, their main revenue streams were from record (or CD) sales, hence the term “record label.” Yet in the wake of the massive disruption of their business model, they have taken to calling themselves “music labels” in order to explain their practice of now taking money from revenue streams traditionally left for the artists.