Now and then I get asked what does it take to make it in music anymore, or how can one have a career in music. We read and hear so much about how the music industry is near death, people don’t buy as many albums, radio does not play many bands, and record companies may be a thing of the past. It is easy to get bogged down in the negativity.
In my observation, the answer is to stop thinking in terms of the old business model and start thinking on a global scale.
Back in the 90’s, pre-everything on the internet, my band did what every band since rock was invented did. We played all around Los Angeles, building a local following as we went, and hoped that a record company would see our hard work and take us to the next level. Every record company in the country was sniffing at us, we showcased, we were told “the record contract is in the mail.” We were always on the verge something, but like so many bands, not quite getting over that hump. One day, someone who was not in the music business, very randomly said “You guys should go to Germany, you would be huge over there”. And a week later, someone else mentioned the same thing. At the time, it was like, “yeah, right, and how do we do that?”. Well, flash forward to now, and I see via mysapce, youtube, and such what is going on in Germany, and what was going in Germany in the 90’s, and I think, yes, well, that was good advice. But how were we to know?
The new technology, however, makes it easy to step outside your local market and target fans of your style all over the world. People say, well, here in the USA, the music scene is all American Idol, or 101 bands on the radio that all sound the same. However, looking overseas, there are hundreds of music festivals that are huge events where very diverse bands come together and play to massive audiences.
When I formed the band The Myriad Form, we were not even trying to make money. I had a good job, and music had become just a hobby. We made a record strictly for fun, and had no illusions of making it. And while we didn’t sell at a lot of CDs, the CD orders we did get ranged from Japan to the Netherlands, and an order to Brazil. With the net, you no longer have to target your local market, or appeal to what’s going on around you. If you have a niche, you can find the people who dig that niche all over the world. And that is what we did.
I look at how much work we put into the band in the 90’s, and think, if we had this technology at the time, like home digital-audio workstations, digital cameras, youtube, facebook, etc, there is no telling how much we could have done. We still might have never become big locally, but we could have tapped into that German market without needing a plane ticket.
I know of several bands here that are just local clubs bands, but tour Europe regularly. And not just the usual UK, Germany, Sweden, but with the fall of the Soviet block, Eastern Europe is a whole new market.
As for bands in Europe, back in the 60’s 70’s and 80’s, many of these bands thought they had to conquer America to make it. Now, modern European bands don’t have to.
They can tour Western Europe, then tour Eastern Europe, Russia and slide over into Asia and be rockstars without every being more than an obscure reference in the US or even the UK.
I have friend who was living in LA, and made a bit of name for himself as a drummer in the US. His band fell apart. He moved to Sweden, joined a German band, they made money touring all over every bit the Euro-Asian Continent, and he got on the cover of the Chinese equivalent of Modern Drummer magazine. Not a bad career move.
If you see recent interviews with bands on VH-1 Classic, they’ll bring out bands from the 70’s and 80’s that are clearly in the “where are they now” file as far many of us would be concerned. The common theme is that they tour more now than they used to, because they can go to Russian, and South America, and places that weren’t possible, or considered viable, back in the day. Many older artists do better now than they did back when they were “famous” because they have expanded their market to a global scale.
Dream Theater is an example of a band that does not sell verywell in any particular country. They only have one gold album in the USA, and it was back in 91. Now they sell just enough in every part of the world, that when added together, they can each afford a nice house. Many bands are doing similar things. It is simple math: poor sales in the USA + poor sales in Europe + poor sales in South America can add up to “not bad” sales overall.
Students today can still form a band, and can still get their studio chops together. But rather than being focused on trying to get onto MTV, they might find their band is the biggest thing since sliced bread in a country on the other side of the world. Maybe their band only sells 500 CDs in any one country, but multiply that by one-hundred countries and that ends up being the equivalent to a gold album.
I do not listen much to my local radio anymore. However, I buy CD’s from bands from Sweden, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands and such because they are still making good music to me. Those bands are looking at who their niche is, and finding them regardless of location. Including people like me who, despite being all the way over here in the USA, is willing to buy their products from where ever they are.
For myself, most of my best stuff was never documented. There were no M-boxes or home protools kits to record our best songs. 2″ tape was too expensive to do more than a few things on. We had no good video camera, and I only have some random fuzzy stuff from back in the day. No Zoom recorders to document our best gigs. Most of what went on was lost to time. Bands now can make a quality recording at home, and sell it around the world, as long as they willing to take the time and effort to do so.
I do not see today’s music business climate as a problem, rather, I see a solution that can get results.