Part industry conference, part export showcase, and part-party, Sonic Visions is the little festival with big ideas, looking to shape the future for local bands. Taking place just outside of Luxembourg city, the venue Rockhal is part of a much larger regeneration scheme. Once a former iron refinery, the huge music complex now plays host to the likes of Niles Rodgers, The Prodigy, and other major touring acts. It’s also home to Rocklab, an institution that helps local musicians manage themselves and their business in today’s modern climate.
The panels and workshops at Sonic Visions were dedicated towards rights management, industry overviews, monetising your work, and connecting with your audience, by delivering as much accessible and applicable knowledge as possible. Inside the mix of tech pitches, speed-meeting sessions, and opportunities to connect, were keynotes and panels that discussed the changing nature of the music business, with insights from some of the more independent figureheads in our community. Bouncing between one conference room and the next, Europavox has brought you the key takeaways from Sonic Visions:
In a world where digital sales are going down, and talk of iTunes abandoning its retail front entirely, it almost belies belief that there is an independent platform out there with ever-increasing revenues. Step up Bandcamp. To talk about how well its business is doing, and how independent and artists can better use the platform to target its fans was UK label rep Aly Gillani.
Bandcamp pays out $7 million monthly to artists and labels, and acquires 100,000 new fans every month. It only takes 15% of digital sales, and 10% of physical, so what makes it so instinctively successful?
“Fans on Bandcamp are extremely inquisitive,” states Gillani. “They go to Bandcamp because they want styles of music that aren’t covered in the mainstream press.” As an example, he points towards the niche genre of Dungeon Synth, records of which keep popping up in the platform’s top seller list. An article on their blog about this has become the most clicked-on feature they ever published.
Bandcamp doesn’t classify itself as a streaming business, so there’s no remuneration from the online plays. As an artist you can limit how many times an individual can play a track. There’s also the option of setting a minimum price that people can purchase your album for — and 40% of of Bandcamp users actually pay over that.
To make it on Bandcamp Gillani recommends pitching your music for featuring on the site’s blog, Bandcamp Daily, and using the fan accounts and app, to directly message people who’ve purchased your music. You can also pimp your music pages with individual designs, and offer wide ranges of merchandise, to which he points towards the success of cassettes, which have risen in sales by 50% over the past year.
On a panel full of seasoned industry professionals, the real questions were centered around how not to fail in the industry. Including input from Swedish label expert Peter Åstedt, publisher Dr. Johannes Ripkin, and members from PIAS and Le Bureau Export, the panel started off by creating a must-do list for new musicians and bands:On a panel full of seasoned industry professionals, the real questions were centered around how not to fail in the industry. Including input from Swedish label expert Peter Åstedt, publisher Dr. Johannes Ripkin, and members from PIAS and Le Bureau Export, the panel started off by creating a must-do list for new musicians and bands:
1/ Register your music with your collection society
2/ Get a perfect EPK (electronic press kit), with hi-res artist pictures, and an English version of your bio
3/ Identify what you and everyone else does in the band in its functioning and management
With so many releases, and streaming services paying so little, how do you as an artist stand out amongst the noise? Here are three keys tips:
Another key tip is was to use SubmitHub, an app that connects you with the very best music bloggers. It’s a paid for system that helps you target writers and blogs that you want to feature your music, whilst also helping remunerate the right people along the way.
The main takeaway, “Build your artist brand, and find your fans, because streaming is not the holy grail,” states Ripkin.
American musician and entrepreneur Benji Rogers initially developed one of the first artist-to-fan platforms, PledgeMusic, back in 2009, while trying to develop new ways of earning a living through music. Building off the platform’s success he then setup dotBlockChain Media, and works as a consultant to help revolutionise how artists earn money from digital music, and ultimately democratise “the power of the internet”. He is also a critical voice against the streaming business model, and encourages artists to participate in more direct-to-fan strategies.
Rogers points towards SuperPhone as a solution for artists looking to connect with their audience. The app allows them monetise and connect to fans through texting and phone calls. Instead of selling tickets through agencies, or promoting tracks through online media, you can just give your phone number out to fans, and tell them directly about new releases, or shows in their area.
This is the key point behind Rogers’ argument. “Scaling does not equate to success.” By using data tools, and knowing your audience, you can use hardcore geo-location marketing, and keep ownership of your music.
Another way to get yourself heard is by using escapex. This paid-for subscription model connects you and your services with some of the biggest influences and artists in the wider community. If you really want to get heard, what better way than having some of your peers, or artists, retweet or link to your product. Escape the confines of conventional media. SMS, email, and push will create the perfect fan connection.
The Saturday afternoon panel featured a wide mix of technologists, and musicians looking to primarily answer the question, how is technology changing the way we find, discover and make music?
Nikki Camilleri from Believe distribution spoke about how data analysis tools now flag up new artists six months ahead of time. A key tool they use at Believe is Instrumental, an online system that “scours the internet and social media, and stored data, and comes up with ratios and grading systems to flag new artists.”
“The debate is that if these systems find all the artists, why do you need an A&R?” asks Anselm Peyer from Majestic Casual. Meeting the artist “and finding the stories behind the artist,” is still an integral part of their work, he adds.
Benji Rogers meanwhile discussed how artificial intelligence (better known as machine learning) is changing the way songs are being written. One AI song generator company he referred to can custom-make you a track in under nine-seconds. So instead of looking for new artists, should labels be scouting for AI software?
What is the the key to using technology to better your chances of being heard in the music industry? According to Rogers you must first answer, “what do I want to do as an artist?”, especially when everyone out there is making and releasing music on the same day, and on the same platforms.
“It’s very hard to beat someone in a standardised area,” adds Thomas. “You have to just off the rails and do something very different, even at first it will seem really difficult.”