How Great Brands Begin

The greatest brands often have humble beginnings that start as the spark of an idea. 

Ikea's founder wanted to bring the things people need direct to them at low prices - he started out selling stationery before the flatpack revolution began. The first Apple computer was built from scrounged parts financed by promises that a single shop would stock them. Innocent smoothies launched as an experiment at a stand at a music festival.

These stories are inspirational. Anyone can build an empire from their dreams. All it takes is a great idea, a strong intention to drive you, and investment of time and resource. Along with a plan to get others to believe they need you in their lives. Basically - its hard work.

Great brands have strong leaders driving them. Individuals who won't let obstacles get in the way of their goals. These brands inspire us because the people who started them were inspirational.

None of the great brands I mentioned earned their place in the market by winning a popularity contest on television, or by sending random unsolicited samples to other brands in hopes they might join their product line. They bootstrapped themselves and worked their way into our lives.

Why do artists think that the way they enter the game should be different?


The Volume Issue

Having the capability like never before to produce, distribute and market your music comes with a catch - too much volume.

The democratisation that allows anyone to get in the game and release their work means that more people will take advantage of the opportunity. More releases = a greater volume of choice.

And with this wave of availability comes an even greater volume issue. Shouting.

Artists and labels still believe that the louder you shout about your work, the more it's likely to be noticed. The problem is - you can't outshout the big guys. Major labels with more manpower, access to the mainstream media and advertising spend are great at shouting. We've suddenly realised they are all yelling at us about the same thing:


For the rest of us, the temptation is to shout along - especially as there are more voices vying for attention. With this much noise going on - not only from the music industry, but in every consumer market - people just stop listening.

The only way around this is to start a conversation amongst your community with a great story. Its not good enough to be a fresh new artist and next big thing. You and your art must speak to a community that wants to engage because they get something out of the connection.

This is why social media has become such a powerful tool for musicians. Those that use it well will be able to form strong ties with their fan base - and keep it alive. Those that use it simply to keep shouting will fail to see the benefits.

Amazing photograph of Žilvinas Kempinas' work - www.transmediale.de/en/white-noise - by weexinsitu on Flickr


What Next for Goldfrapp?

Alison Goldfrapp made an announcement last week that the band has ended their contract with EMI. This news does not come with any concrete detail - simply that their "time with EMI has come to a contractual end". Speaking on 6Music (according to popinstereo.com) Alison stated that the split is exciting - a new chapter with an "endless world of opportunity".

Goldfrapp are in an enviable position, and I certainly hope they use this transition zone to do something revolutionary. They are one of those groups who have built a strong community globally - through creating a diverse catalogue and a fantastic live show. Despite the relative lack of critical acclaim of the latest album Head First, their popularity has not significantly waned over the past decade (for the record - I thought the album was great). Which makes them an attractive proposition for any label or investor.

But will they go down this route? What stops them from setting out on their own - using their experience to establish their own business, record a new album, and embark on another tour. Or will they simply head off on the tried and tested route and find another big label? And if so, what would stop that relationship from going the way of their dealings with EMI?

My hope is that it is the former. I want a group like Goldfrapp to take control of their next step and set an example of a new model for the artist within the music industry. The band has every asset at their disposal - distribution, marketing, and a community that is waiting for their next move. Establishing their own strategy for this new phase of their career would demonstrate to others that this can be done - in fact, anyone can do it right now. Artists dont need to be discovered or fight for their place on a label roster - they simply need to understand what they want to get out of their careers, and take the right steps to achieving that vision.

My suspicion is that the band got out of a sinking ship and is now looking for the next one. Alison's statement of "what will we do and will anyone want us" is not suggesting the fans will turn their backs, but betrays a fear that the group feels it may not find another label home.

It may seem easier to put your career in the hands of someone else, but will it achieve your vision of success - or will you be fighting to realise theirs?


Sean Parker on Spotify: Convenience Rules

Sean Parker must be enjoying the remaissance of his own personal brand thanks to the portrayal of his character in The Social Network. His name and place in the history of changing media has been reinforced thanks to the film.

This week he spoke about Spotify and it's role on the digital revolution.

Parker's key point here is that the majority of people consuming media today want one thing: accessibility. Although "piracy" has enabled the download/swapping of "4-10 trillion songs" (his estimate - interesting stat?), the fact is that everyone just wants to be able to get the music that they love.

So - out of the pillars of consumer choice: price, convenience, quality and pleasure - the main factor for people consuming music right now is CONVENIENCE. For some, this is iTunes. They can search, access and purchase at the click of a button. For others - this is still the CD because it is familiar and habitual. And others - the "pirates" - know where to search for torrents and can obtain what they need as quickly as the iTunes crowd.

Parker understands this - and that Spotify delivers convenience on an unprecedented level. For an American audience who do not yet have the service, the potential acesss to a vast catalogue must be mind boggling. And so scary for the industry used to controlling access to choice.

Whether or not this puts Spotify in the potential position to have the consumer "by the balls" is another issue. The market is defined by choice - and the consumer is the driving force. With the price point low, and need for access high, Spotify is in a strong position to differentiate and lead on service. If it wants to carve out it's place in the market, it must be the best at giving us access to the greatest selection of music at our fingertips. That will keep us coming back, and keep Spotify in the game. 


Sayonara Sony Walkman

Music critics in the broadsheets rejoiced today with the opportunity to write about their childhood musical memories as Sony announced that the Walkman would no longer be in production.

Reading this news today, I actually thought I'd discovered a copy of the paper from ten years ago. Can you believe that after the changes in music distribution we have been involved in over the last decade that people have still been listening to cassettes? Really??

The tragedy here - besides being subjected to tales of broadsheet journos' teenage mix tapes - is actually the story of Sony. Once revered for quality - having given us two iconic forms of media in Betamax and the Walkman - the business has struggled to maintain its dominance in a fast moving digital marketplace. Sony had every opportunity to seize the digital revolution and evolve the Walkman into the position now occupied by Apple with the iPod. However, its attachment to the physical form of media - be it the Beta cassette or the MiniDisc - has been its ultimate downfall.

As nostalgic as the Walkman makes us feel, we cannot mourn its loss. The landscape we now inhabit offers us liberation from the physicality of music. What we have in front of us is infinitely better than the past. Lets remember briefly the joy the Walkman gave us, and move on.


MaJiKer: Bonuses-Performances-Mixes

We're very pleased to announce the release today of MaJiKer's new collection - Bonuses-Performances-Mixes.

The compilation includes 15 new tracks - five brand new songs, five live recordings taken from last year's shows in Paris, and five remixes (including one by yours truly!).

This is the eighth album out on Gaymonkey amongst our various singles and EPs. Although we're moving into a time where recorded music is more of an artist's business card than a lucrative revenue stream, I'm still very proud of every release we put out. For me it symbolises our dedication to finding a new path within this ever changing and exciting industry.

Never mind the fact that this is a brilliant selection of music from MaJiKer. You can download the album from all great MP3 stores - including, of course, iTunes.

The new video for "Strings & Wires (Wagner Remix)" is also a triumph. Directed by Raphael Neal.


Mark Zuckerberg vs. Eckhart Tolle

What does the most popular social network on the internet and a spiritual movement have in common?

Yesterday I went to see The Social Network, the movie about the ambition, friendships and betrayal that went in to creating Facebook. This is an absolutely amazing piece of cinema - based on the book “The Accidental Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich - that tells the story of how Mark Zuckerberg became the youngest billiionaire on the planet. I followed the film by attending a talk by Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now and A New Earth - two must-reads that explore how a shift in human consciousness is possible through awareness of the ego that drives our behaviour.

I was struck by two things:

Its not good enough to just have a great idea
Everyone has great ideas. We are all full of them. And rarely are they original - we combine, mashup and steal from others all the time. Zuckerberg did not invent the first ever social network site - we had Friends Reunited and MySpace long before Facebook. Eckhart Tolle is not the first to explain the ego or champion awareness - the Buddha and many other spirutual thinkers got there centuries before him.

What both of these leaders have done is take great ideas, enhance them and make them relevant. Chris Cox - Facebook's VP of product - stated in The New Yorker that "Getting there first is not what its all about. What matters always is execution." I couldn't agree more - its not what you do, its how and why you do it.

The best executed ideas spread and connect communities
Facebook took very little marketing to make its way across the planet. Eckhart Tolle has sold millions of books without masses of PR and advertising.

A New Earth became a best seller with a bit of help from Oprah Winfrey, but this was simply as a result of her recommendation of the book. Facebook attracts new users via recommendation between friends. In both examples, community is at the heart of the concept. Marketing is based on inspiration, rather than mass manipulation by shouting at a target audience.

Both of these gurus have created change in our world through the way they have developed and delivered their big ideas to us. Something for every artist to consider.

The image is a Friend Wheel of my own inner circle Facebook connections.


Bret Easton Ellis and the Literary Salon

Despite having all the tools we need to create and distribute our work, as artists we still have to make that connection with our community in order to be heard. Promotion becomes our biggest battle.

I was in Berlin last weekend at the fantastic new Soho House to see Bret Easton Ellis speak on his tour for the latest novel - Imperial Bedrooms. The event was hosted by the uber talented Damian Barr - host of the Shoreditch House Literary Salon. The insights gleaned by Barr from Easton Ellis' mind via interview were fantastic - the author is dry, witty and charming in his own sardonic way. It was apparent, however, that promoting his work can be torture to him. Tales of late night hotel food and endless carbon copy moments of fan adoration revealed his lack of enthusiasm for selling himself to his readers.

Anyone who has been on tour knows that there is little glamour in being wheeled into a city for a few hours before jetting off to the next. That overwhelming feeling that you are but a cog in the marketing machine - the travelling salesman. Without this effort, however, it becomes even more difficult to develop a connection with your audience. It's no surprise that bands that tour extensively find more favour with fans - as social animals we like to experience art outside of the solitary experience.

For writers it must be frustrating though. Reading is a much more private affair and does not offer the mass promotion opportunities on the level of music. Barr's creation of the Literary Salon format allows authors to be themselves and discuss their life and their work comfortably. The books come second to understanding and interacting with the artist at the Salon in a social atmosphere, giving literature the same promotional potential as an intimate gig.

When the audience were asked what they wanted to hear from Easton Ellis, one Berlin native shouted "won't you just read from the book?". Barr simply muttered a response on behalf of us all - "go buy the podcast". Genius.

MaJiKer - Keep The Streets Empty For Me

We had a fantastic time at The Workshop in Hoxton last week for a very intimate show from MaJiKer. The new venue is tucked away in the Roadtrip Bar on Old Street - and is a fantastic spot for new artists or if you are looking to host in a small venue.

MaJiKer performed tracks from Body-Piano-Machine alongside new tracks from the collection Bonuses-Performances-Mixes (out 26th October) - and his remix of Fever Ray's "Keep The Streets Empty For Me". A fantastic night.


The Art of Procrastination

This is an absolutely brilliant piece of animation by Michael and John Kelly - and a giant kick in the ass for all of us to just stop all the excuses and get stuff done! I'm using it today to reignite my blogging habit - after the August holiday, is too easy to procrastinate about shipping.


Time = Money?

A common complaint from artists is that they don't have enough time to create, and support themselves. Its a frustration that stems from the expectation that they have a right to make money from their art.

Our society has perpetuated the belief that our "career" is something that pays the bills, and everything else is a hobby. While career in the accepted sense denotes expertise, hobby is thus for the amateur. Therefore to be a successful musician, you must be making the majority of your money from music.

Consider Einstein's story for perspective. He wrote most of his influential early work while employed as a clerk in a patent office. Einstein didn't use time as an excuse to not write - he had the determination to create because he was driven by his desire to understand the universe, to develop ideas, to solve problems. His intention was strong enough to reward him and keep him moving forward. And although his "career" was as a clerk, he was still very much a scientist.

You define what success is for your art - and the only barrier to that is any belief that you hold that stops you from delivering. The driver is your intention - if you're struggling with barriers, look at your reasons for creating in the first place. Time and money are not variables that are beyond anyone's control.


Flow - The Ultimate Reward?

A state of ecstasy. Of happiness.

This is flow - found in activities of creation. Most musicians will probably recognise this place - getting lost in pure concentration, of time standing still yet passing so quickly that it seems to disappear, of satisfaction and achievement. Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi has spent his career understanding this state of being, and how it contributes to our happiness. His research - found in his book and on this brilliant classic Ted talk - points out that despite our material culture, wealth alone cannot give us fulfillment. His interviews with artists, musicians, poets, athletes, and CEOs revealed that those who can enter flow find meaning and happiness.

Czikszentmihalyi attributes several qualitative states to flow. One of them has always stood out for me:

"A sense of serenity - no worries about oneself, and a feeling of growing beyond the ego."

To me, this is flow. Where the world simply melts away, and all that matters is the act of creation.

It strikes me now how contradictory this is to commerical music. What happens when we leave the state of flow, and come back into the material world - how is it that the ego returns so quickly, and suddenly demands that vast sums of money be immediately forced from the hands of our listeners into our pockets as a just reward for what we have created?


"If" Isn't a Strategy

If only my lawn was emo then it would cut itself

If we only had a bigger budget.
If only people didn't steal music.
If things were like they were before.
If only we had better PR.
If only we had their contacts.
If only we had a major label deal.

It's easy to get stuck in this spiral, but "if" will never be a catalyst for achieving goals - no matter what industry you're in. The blame involved establishes you as the victim - the only way to move your music career forward is to take responsibility and create a full strategy for your work that puts you in control.
Artists involved in the piracy debate often fall into the downward spiral of "if". Major labels have tried their best to convince us; if only the evil pirates could be stopped, then the music industry would be saved, and all would be as it was before.
The fact is - file sharing is a reality. Blaming piracy for any lack of your own success is useless - artists themselves cannot stop file sharing from happening.
Instead of "if only" - what are you doing to take responsibility for a strategy where you have outlined what you want to achieve, and the steps to making it happen?
Image from Flickr by Martin Deutsch


Letter to The Sunday Times: Clare Balding

The following letter has been sent to John Witherow - the editor of The Sunday Times.

Dear sir

I'm writing to express my extreme shock at the comments you have made to Clare Balding in response to her complaint to your newspaper.

The Sunday Times is heralded as one of Britain's finest papers, yet your disregard for the reality of how homosexuals are treated in Britain today is  inexcusable.

There is no possible way you can justify suggesting that gay men and women should allow themselves to be the "butt of jokes". The result of this attitude is a society who believes it is acceptable to bully, tease and ultimately discriminate against another individual. It forces many to hide their sexuality out of fear - or in the extreme, lose their lives via abuse or even suicide.

Your position within the media is to respect this and encourage an open British society. Through your response to Clare Balding it is clear you do not accept the responsibility of your position.

I urge you to issue a full apology. Ideally The Sunday Times should devote significant content over the coming weeks to inform it's readers of how it intends to encourage writers and the editorial team to behave more responsibly. Organisations like Stonewall can help you and your team to better understand the issues facing homosexuals so that these incidents do not occur in future.

I shall also be forwarding my comments regarding this matter to the Press Complaints Commission.


Jeff Melnyk


Preparing Artists For The Next Recession

It's been hard to measure the impact of the recession on music since our industry has been in a state of change for the past decade. 

I had the pleasure of meeting Darren Shirlaw last week. Apart from the amazing coaching business he has established, he's a bit of a mathematician with an eye on the economy. He predicted our recent recession, and is quite convincing in his argument that we are heading for a double dip.

This isn't great news for independent artists or labels. If you thought it was difficult to keep afloat in the past 18 months, consider how tough this will be when the shock hits pockets for a second time. Even though consumer spending is unpredictable during a recession, no one can guarantee what would happen in the case of a second subsequent market crash.

Shirlaw recommends three areas of focus for any business to ensure you not only stay strong during the dip, but come out fighting. Here they are framed through a new music industry lens:

Risk Management
Something smart businesses do at any stage of operation, risk management means you understand the potential risks facing you mapped against their likely impact. To many artists - especially those that just focus on the creative output of their career, this process is probably a completely foreign concept.

From personal experience, had Gaymonkey conceived of the possibility our physical distributor was going to go bankrupt 2 years ago it may have stopped us putting all our eggs in one basket, and allowed us to bounce back faster. 

Artists should look at their business and consider the risks ahead for the next 18 months. The threat to revenue, live shows scheduled, partnerships in development. Get them out on paper, and categorise them into low/medium/high risk. Then make strategies to minimise the risk, and as alternate plans, or even appropriate insurance, for when things don't quite work to plan. Write it all down down - you might need them sooner than you think.

On the surface this sounds like something that only big business would have to deal with. It centres around how capable your business is at output - ie, does the business have the ability, skills and talent to deliver. Those that do can upskill their workforce, or keep the infrastructure working to weather any storm.

An artist might believe that their capability rests in their ability to deliver great music. Thats true - but that is a given - if you cant produce amazing music, you won't be in business. Capability here means do you have the skills to carry you through the challenges of a downturn? Are you able to manage all aspects of your business - even your finances or legal arrangements - if the market turns and you need to cut costs? Do you have the skills to negotiate in tough market conditions?

The great thing about capability is that its up to you to learn and take responsibility. And once you have those skills, they are yours - not matter what the economic conditions are.

The best of the bunch, innovation is something that no musician can argue against. All creatives are great at innovation - and within the music industry these days, innovation is what we need more of. Its not just innovation around your music, but across all areas of your business - from how you market, distribute, connect with your community, and perform. 

Critically it is about not wasting resources - finding new methods that cost less but have higher value (and lower impact on the environment, of course). The recession teaches us about attracting loyal customers and then keeping them. Innovative artists will be the ones that do this in the most remarkable ways.

Three areas for all artists to consider. What is clear - and as I have argued time and time again - is that artists need to prepare by thinking like smart businesses. Having a sustainable career in volatile times is possible - it just involves developing your strategy now.

Image by Banksy, of course.


Simon Cowell: Bad Influence, or Inspiration?

X Factor, Pop Idol and American Idol. They've all been responsible for taking talent, sucking any originality out, and spitting people to their destiny as bland manufactured pop stars. 

There are arguments that these shows are creating a generation who believe that fame is instantaneous and that being famous is a desirable career choice. Simon Cowell is the svengali at the centre of the phenomenon, and has made his fortune creating pop success. So are the programmes a bad influence - or an inspiration?

Not long ago I was ready to call for the end of X Factor due to the negative effect it has on people's aspirations. But wise words from my coach has steered me in another direction. She pointed out that Simon Cowell's talent actually lies in building up people's belief in themselves. He understands that the key to achieving anything is a firm vision of success. Those contestants that do not have 100% confidence in what they do inevitably do not make it through to the final stages. 

Strong visions are not to be confused with cocky arrogance. Last year's contestant Olly Murs is case and point - he frequently stated how much had to win the competition. But his belief in himself was not supported with a clear understanding of why he wanted it - simply put, he just wanted to win.

What is interesting is that the audience understands this subtle clue. The contestants that they are most supportive of are not necessarily the ones that have the best voices - but the ones that are most beliveable in their determination to progress. This is where Cowell's production genius comes through - his ability to reinforce the story of the artist and their dream. These are the moments that have the critical emotional impact that keep viewers tuned in - rather than the performances themselves. The likability factor is built around how genuine the audience feels the intentions of the artists are.

What Cowell can teach us all is how powerful these visions are, and how critical they become to earning success. No matter how talented you are, and whatever your business, career goal, or aspiration is - without the firm belief supported by your intention, your chances of achieving your dreams are limited.

Image by skip-rat from Flickr


Prince and the New Giveaway Generation

Prince repeats his album giveaway strategy by offering up new LP 20TEN to readers of The Mirror.

Meanwhile, the purple one has declared the "Internet is over" - and though he wants to continue to find new ways to distribute his music, if he dosen't get an advance, it's not worth it.

Clearly not every artist can make deals with major newspapers to circulate their work. And in a few years when we're all reading the news off portable devices (or getting it via our peers on Twitter) those opportunities may not offer the kind of return that Prince expects for his genius.

The biggest issue with forcing newspaper readers to take your cd home is that the vast majority are not going to listen to it. Are Mirror readers all Prince fans? The potential reach of hundreds of thousands of ears is desirable, but the sad fact is most of those albums will end up in the bin. A waste of time and resources - not to mention a terrible brand alignment with a tacky media company.

Last time round Prince also gave his new album away to those that attended his residency at the O2. That concert was brilliant, but the album sits in a pile in my studio, unlistened.

From the fans' perspective, buying a newspaper they would never normally consider is not supporting the artist they love. The deal is already done - Prince gets his million or so no matter how many copies of the paper are sold. You may as well download a copy from your favourite torrent site or borrow it from your grandmother's bingo buddy (her generation loves the Mirror).

We need to earn our audience's attention. Prince's attitude stems from a bygone era. His search for new ways of distribution is admirable, but in reality he must accept that the game has changed. If his intention is simply to continue to rake in cash, he should be getting the tour bus back on the road.


Label vs. Enable

Despite the fact that I in fact am in charge of a record label, I find it difficult to understand why artists feel the need to get involved with a label at all these days.

Sadly the intention to "get signed" appears to come down to cash. Artists have created something and/or want to increase their profile, so they seek out someone to fund, manage, distribute and market their product. All of which costs money - so essentially they need an investor. Enter the label.

I'm still astonished at how labels behave as majority shareholders in thier artist's careers. With high expectations, if the investment dosen't perform within its first year, the funds are pulled.

But creating music is different than making your average product. It is art - and it needs to be developed over time. Getting all your financial and strategic support from a label may seem like you have been awarded a fast track to success - however, this is increasingly not the case.

All businesses need investment, but the great opportunities of our new industry mean that any artist can actually ship their work themselves - and market it to a global audience. This hurdle that had necessitated both the network and the financial muscle of a label (never mind recording costs - which have also shrunk) is now lifted. Artists must realise that they have to invest more of themselves into their careers than simply making the music.

There are plenty of great examples of success by independent artists who have had the courage to step out on their own from the very beginning. Temposhark are a prime example - releasing both of their albums on their own imprint Paper & Glue. They bootstrapped their way into many a fan's heart with sheer determination - and some clever use of social media. Their latest album Threads was funded via Slice the Pie - the crowd funding site that allows fans to invest in an artist and even collect dividends.

Yes it is hard work - but the fact is it can work. Gaymonkey was set up under a similar premise - we simply couldn't bear the thought of working so hard under the constraints a major label would place on us. For us a record label is more than just injecting cash to take a share in an artist's success - we want to enable the artist to achieve their vision, whatever that might be. That involves working as a team, and each party taking responsibility for areas of the artist's unique business plan.

With the objective being to make great music, its a different business model to most - and one we're still perfecting. But I hope other artists will be inspired to do the same - rather than just look for a quick win from the men in suits.

Image by TheTruthAbout on Flickr



There are so many tools out to help you to understand the power of your community online. Like Twittersheep - it analyses the bios of your Twitter followers to give you a tag cloud, demonstrating the interests of your "flock". My @Gaymonkey account analysis is above.

This tool reinforces the importance of matching your community with you as an artist/label. Having a quantity of followers who don't care to join in on your conversation is not only ineffective, but misleading when it comes to mobilising them. Here the adage is true - its all about quality, not quantity.


How Free Has A Greater Value

Chris Anderson's latest Free (which finally came out in paperback in the UK) is an essential read for anyone involved in the new music industry. He positions the psychology of the £0 price tag in the digital economy, dissecting the reasons why media has rushed towards a free price.

The tension that exists between the artist and free is often not based on the gross margin of their material. In fact very few discuss (or even understand) the full potential earnings from making music. It is complex - with a myriad of revenue streams, collection agencies and stakeholders, all of whom are usually managed by someone else (the label). The primary concern of the artist is that free "de-values" their work.

Anderson explores many arguments that counter this perception of free. Primarily he points out that an artist's true intention should be to deliver their work to as many people as possible - and that free, if used correctly, offers the best strategy to acheiving this. If this is the case, free holds a very high value.

I've held this belief for quite some time (here's something I wrote in March 2009), which has lead to another question that I don't think many people have gotten to grips with - how do we measure success in a free economy? Our belief of an artists stature has been related to chart position and sales - this seems no longer relevant.

I noticed a recent Independent article stating that Microsoft's share value has slumped below Apple's - prompting Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to state that despite this his company will "make more money than Apple". It strikes me that this mark of success - the total amount of cash you bring in - is now less important. The need to "win" by selling more is not a building block of a great 21st century business. Apple has value because it is a brand that is loved passionately within it's community - and that community is growing bigger. I don't think I've ever met someone that was a zealot of a Windows product.

The lesson here is not that artists need to sell more, or accumulate more fans. They must set their own measures of success and work towards building a strong community that will support them. The liberation and opportunity that "free" can offer, along with the potential of the Internet to connect artists with millions of fans around the world, should be welcomed as a foundation of a new start for the industry.


What Röyksopp Should Do With "Senior"

Röyksopp announced yesterday that the companion album to 2009's Junior would suffer further delays in release. The statement, posted on their site, gives reasons for the delay and uses pointed yet mitigating language - reading between the lines, they have either been dropped from their label (criminally unbelievable) or are frustrated with their current arrangements.

Considering the group's fan base and credibility, it is rather shocking that any label would argue with the artist's desire to ship their work. This collection has been complete since Junior was released - in today's market of limitless choice there is rarely an excuse for holding back material.

The group's statement reads:

All in all, even though the extra wait is boring/ bad/ painful, this should be seen as good news. Senior is a very special release to us, and we would never release it without making sure it was in the best possible hands, when it comes to record companies and distribution.

It seems to me that Röyksopp have the answer to their dilemma already. Rather than wait, here's what they should be doing:

Use the power
You want this release to be in the "best possible hands" for release and distribution. You are a globally recognised artist with your own website. The Internet is the best distributor the industry has ever known - use it to release the album yourself.

Give something back
This release is "special" to you, but what benefit is there in waiting to release it to those who are anticipating it? You have a free members site on your home page. Bundle up Senior and give it away to registered members now. The gift says thank you to the loyal fans who have supported you.

Create buzz and demand
You're probably arguing with your current label on marketing Senior. A major artist giving this gift result in a volume of ego PR, whilst rewarding the community that supports you. Let the fans spread the word - have them invite new members to join your site. The attention of your community is worth so much more than the pennies you would make off the commercial release.

Three small steps for Röyksopp that send a big message. If you're frustrated with how your art is being shared, take control of it. The new industry is about self-responsibility, not blaming someone else for creating barriers for you to acheiving your goal.

What's stopping any musician from doing the same thing?


The Gaymonkey Survey - Part 2: Join Our Club

We've been thinking about how to thank our community through a membership site. We've imagined this would be a place where our fans and followers could get access to exclusive material - from new tracks, to videos and concert performances. Getting your opinion on how to set this up was a crucial part of the Gaymonkey survey.

Only a fifth of the respondents to our questionnaire currently belong to an artist or label membership site - from Madonna, to Röyksopp and the Bedroom Community pages. Just under 40% replied that they did not like membership sites - could this be that labels are not offering the right kind of benefits to keep their audience engaged?

One respondent put it simply: "To be honest, I sign up for them and usually immediately forget about them"

We asked what types of features would entice people to join an artist/label membership site. 48% of people would join a members area if they were offered the promise of free music. But equally, access to buy music before it is officially released is also a strong draw (42% of respondents). Here's where the power of free comes back to the debate.

However, 25% stated that getting exclusive videos would not be incentive to join. With YouTube reaching its fifth year - and getting up to 2 billion views per day - perhaps we are satisfying our need for video content on our new favourite mainstream platform?

So what do they really want from a members site?
The Wordle above paints a picture of what our community expects from a new club. Clearly exclusive stuff - from getting new music first to priority gig tickets - is attractive, as well as access to free swag.

Membership should have its privileges.


The Gaymonkey Survey - Part 1: Shopping

A few months ago we opened up a survey with a couple of simple questions. We wanted to get an idea of how our community prefers to find out about new music, to give us some insight to support the next phase of Gaymonkey's development.

This blog has been useful in hammering out new ideas on the music business. It is clear that the entire industry is in a transition phase, but it seems to me that the consumer/fan gets the brunt of the blame, rather than being involved in the shaping of something new. An artist or label's community is more important than ever - getting feedback on what you want, and how you want it, is essential. This simple survey was just the start of getting our own community's opinion, and we thank everyone who took the time to complete it.

For these questions we focused on MaJiKer's followers on Twitter and Facebook, but also pushed the survey out to fans on Last.fm and members of the EQ Facebook group. We received responses from all over the world, and it should be noted that this data is reflective of MaJiKer's audience, and therefore not music fans as a whole. All respondents received a Gaymonkey MP3 sampler and the chance to get a copy of the limited edition CD of Revolutions by Melnyk.

I'm happy to share the insight over the next few posts - if you have any questions on the responses, please feel free to get in touch!

We're S-H-O-P-P-I-N-G

We asked where people usually get their music from, allowing survey respondents to choose multiple options from a list - including iTunes, CD stores, MP3 blogs and more. Immediately it is clear that we are gleaning our sounds from more than one place; where a decade ago we would have relied on our local record shop, we now pick and mix from online, offline, and direct from third parties.

Surprisingly, the CD store still comes up tops - however, online shops are more popular (49%) than the high street (43%). This is followed up very closely by the digital format - with 47% getting their music from iTunes, and 32% from other online shops. While iTunes remains a leader in digital distribution, 43% of respondents are also accessing tracks from MP3 blogs.

It would have been beneficial to have these responses rank ordered via preference, but I suspect that choice is not necessarily based on our favourite place to shop. With the fragmentation of distribution comes the necessity of convenience - we are getting used to wanting music fast and available at our fingertips. Though this data may suggest an even split between the physical and digital formats, it is possible that people are still picking and choosing between the two depending on convenience.

Pricing has often been cited as a barrier to people purchasing music in the past few years. Why buy when you can get it for free? When given the choice, our community opted for £8 (10€) as the price that artists/labels should charge for an album (54%).

Only one respondent ticked the box that stated "music should be free".

Perhaps choice and availability are more valued to our community than the ability to get what they want for free?


Independent Record Store Day

Johnny Marr blogged this week regarding record stores in support of Independent Record Store Day. His opinion is quite different to what I posted earlier this week. On two levels ...

Firstly he argues that the record store has been forced off the high street by major retailers. I've always felt this is difficult to defend. Consumers make choices based on what they want. Great record stores - like Rough Trade - still exist and are doing just fine. They have built a strong business with clients who keep returning. Other stores - like Pure Groove - have decimated their retail stock in favour of a bar and performance space. I'm not sure many people wander past the meat markets into Clerkenwell to browse their selection, but they have a place in the community through the great free live shows they put on.

It seems to me that no one in this debate - like many other discussions about the music industry - is listening to the consumer. When we get nostalgic about record stores, we are thinking primarily of the experience that shaped our youth. Kids are clever - they don't need a high street to find great stores. Simply put, their high street is becoming digital and they choose where they shop.

Marr's second argument is that records are a great piece of art. We really need to move away from this mindset. Music is art, and the musician is an artist - who often works with great visual artists to create a beautiful experience. The CD you purchase in Tesco is not art - it is a commodity, just like the cereal and pizza you also put in your basket. Downloading an MP3 of music that creates a change inside of you - gives something back to you - is still art. We don't need a physical form with a store/label/distribution network attached to it in order to experience the art of music.

Tracey Thorn made a great comment in yesterday's Guardian. She reflected on the influence record stores have had in our lives, but then noted that we mustn't look back. Today's celebration should be less nostalgia, and more a vision of where we are going.

But in respect of today's observance, I'd like to give thanks to South Side Sound and Sound Connection in Edmonton, along with all the amazing shops on Seymour Street in Vancouver. And to the Music & Video Exchange on Berwick Street in London. But I'd like to give a giant thank you to the internet, my new independent musical universe, for connecting me to so many brilliant people and musicians over the past decade. I can't wait to see what's in store for our future!


Observing the End of Record Retail

This week marks the arrival of the so-called "Independent Record Store Day". The observance hopes to highlight the demise of the shops which for so many of us formed a key building block of our youth and musical upbringing.

This is in light of the fact that the number of independent record stores has fallen since 2005 from 734 to 305. The Independent on Sunday reports the decline is due to the recession, downloads and major retailers taking their piece of the pie.

This misses the point entirely. People are now choosing not to go into record stores. The internet has created a new experience for music fans who can now get what they previously needed from indie stores in a much more rewarding way.

While some of us may have marvelled at the encyclopedic knowledge of the boffin behind the indie store counter, the musical resource that the wikiuniverse provides is infinitely more accessible. This comes with the added benefit of the intimidation removed. I can count on one hand the number of times where I haven't been insulted by the fool on the other side of the counter (invariably male, in a band or a DJ themselves) who felt the need to gratify himself by mocking my requests for information on an artist or release.

The web can get us the info faster and whenever we need it - often direct from the artist themselves - thereby removing the barrier provided by record shop guy's ego. Bloggers have also contributed to keeping us informed - and should they suffer from their own opinions, readers can choose to simply click away.

While shuffling through new releases has always satisfied our hunter gatherer instincts, getting musical tips from biased self-declared experts has never been rewarding. In fact our recent Gaymonkey poll revealed that most of us (75%) still prefer to get musical recommendations from friends. We don't need four walls full of dusty plastic to find new music.

Nick Hornby comments in the IoS that the indie store was a great place to meet like minded musical souls. And while we owe so many important musical unions of the past to this, the web has been allowing us to make lasting connections on a global scale. People are forming their own creative communities online, resulting in brilliant collaborations.

We needed record stores in the old industry to help us develop our musical knowledge and connections. It is a shame that their time is fading - but what replaces their function in our lives is a deeper, more tailored and rewarding experience. Sadly, the days of Duckie crashing into Trax to serenade Andie are over.



I had a request this week for some of our music on vinyl.

We pressed only six of the Gaymonkey singles/EPs to vinyl. Each was a labour of love - carefully designed cover sleeve, selecting high quality paper stock and finish. Choosing the tracks to be included that would work best on the format.

Not many remain from the pressing - most that weren't sold initally were lost when our distributor went bankrupt. As I found the requested copies from our archive, it felt great to hold them again - memories of achievement.

It also reinforced the reasons why I have become opposed to the physical format. These relics reminded me of the past, but not so much the music contained on them.

Primarily, they are unsustainable, taking up resources and energy to produce that exceed their value. The investment in vinyl and CDs for an artist/label is massive, and a huge barrier to getting your art to the world. Digital formats have revolutionised this.

Physical formats also take control away from the artist. They dictate the use of distributors who retain stock and mark up the retail cost for the consumer. With this in mind, the format actually becomes a barrier between the creator of art and the listener.

And in the digital age, where our music collections are accessed instantly, these relics simply collect dust. Vinyl may look impressive, but CDs lack any aesthetic charm. Vinyl may be recycled and collected, but unwanted CDs tend to end up in landfill. It is sickening to think of the millions of unwanted records that have become waste.

The industry must take responsibility for this - while vinyl has found a niche, the time has come to move away from the CD format altogether. Not only for sustainability reasons, but as part of a journey to align how we see music in our lives - from commodities and things we consume to art made to enhance our lives.

If you don't want to spend the time reselling your old CDs, its good to know that they can be recycled - this is a good resource for facilities in the UK.

Image on Flickr by swanksalot


Ricky Martin's Revelation

It's quite shocking how Ricky Martin's "coming out" announcement this week has been handled. Along with the support was indifference and criticism for taking so long to tell the truth. It demonstrates how little we really understand about the pressure of coming out - and how far we still have to go before being gay is accepted in our society.

Most fail to see the music industry for the beast that it is - one that strives to shift as many units to as wide an audience as possible. It seems rational to argue the poplarity of Elton John, George Michael or Michael Stipe - which should appease any fears that the industry may have about gay popstars. But we forget that these individuals also hid their sexuality for years until their fanbase was sufficient enough to protect their ability to continue to have a career.

You may think times have changed, and so the pressure or fear on artists coming out should be minimised. However, George Michael started as a teen idol, and so did Ricky Martin. His sense of self - and indeed the brand created around him as sex symbol - is positioned within this market. Those that dismiss Martin's actions this week as cowardice due to coming out so late in his career neglect this fact.

We like to believe we exist in a liberal, tolerant world, and using the handful of mainstream artists who are open about their sexuality to support this is purely confirmation bias. It is the equivalent of assuming there is universal racial equality because there is finally a black President in the White House. In fact we know that prejudice continues to exist - and while society has moved significantly, equality is still not the norm. Indeed one only needs to look at Ricky Martin's primary audience - North/Latin America - to see that being gay is not accepted by the majority.

The industry also does little to stamp out prejudice. Radio One DJ Chris Moyles can hold a primetime position on the air despite re-introducing "gay" as derogatory playground slang. From personal experience I can assure you having a label named "Gaymonkey" within a heterosexual male dominated industry has rarely won us favours.

However, any artist could choose to rise above these obstacles, to put fear of retribution aside and ignore the prejudice that still exists in society. There are still two main reasons why a new artist today would choose to hide their sexuality:

To avoid being labelled as niche

If your ego - and the industry - expects you to be instantly huge, it will not be satisfied with a niche audience. A "gay artist" has traditionally found themselves building their career within the gay community. Greedy egos and labels strive to bypass this step and aim straight for the mainstream.

This pressure will continue until long tail thinking is encouraged and major labels discontinue the practice of dropping artists who fail to reach the top ten with their first release. Until then, no level of perceived acceptance will satisfy an artist whose intention is to be an instant superbrand.

To have your art accepted for what it is

For those that can quell the ego, a further barrier exists. While they themselves may have no apparent problem with being labelled as gay, they believe their art stands outside this and wish their creation to be judged on merit without bias on either side to their sexuality.

Aside from the blatant prejudice that continues to be rife within the sports community, athletes must also consider this factor to be one that stops them from coming out. No one with dreams of being a top footballer would like to be remembered as a "gay footballer". Our visions of our legacy shape our present reality - and for the ambitious the choice to come out will be influenced by this factor.

Until every musician, athlete, actress, teacher, politician and parent feels that their opportunities in life will not be threatened by how society perceives and labels them, we must only be proud of everyone who has the courage to step forward despite whatever makes them different. Each individual that takes that leap makes it easier for the next. Ricky Martin is a leader - and should be applauded as such.


Survey: How do you find new music?

We've been busy planning some new ways to keep in touch with our community. But in order to see how effective we might be, we thought we'd do a bit of research.

The community for MaJiKer has been growing nicely in Paris and London, and we'd like to expand that to the wider interweb universe by creating a membership site. This would be a place for MaJiKer to interact directly with the community and allow them to experience the new Lab format - and to introduce them to new music that he has produced alongside the music of people he has been working with.

We'd love to know a bit more about how you like to find new music, and what you think about membership sites in general. So we've created a quick survey.

To thank you for taking part, we've got some new music to give away!

Access the survey via Survey Monkey.
And thanks for your time!


Why Did We Break Up With MySpace?

Unless you are a musician, you probably aren't maintaining a page or connecting with others like you used to on MySpace.

A spot poll of your nearest and dearest will no doubt give you the following insight: no one is using MySpace any more. In fact our own research last autumn found that about 20% of friends connected to our artists had inactive profiles - with around the same figure not having logged in for 6 months. Add in the huge volume of band profiles, and you aren't left with many punters.

But we all used to cherish our love of MySpace. So what happened to the relationship?

You Stopped Making Me Feel Special
When it started, being friends really meant something. Those early years of social networking saw us collecting friends like they were badges of honour. But then everyone wanted to be your friend, including christain metal bands from Utah and a folk singer in Croydon. Suddenly being popular wasn't so special anymore. Proof that quantity alienates and that really, all we want is to feel like a special part of a community - no matter how big our digital universe gets.

You Just Weren't Yourself Anymore
Bands started using MySpace to connect directly with fans and build audiences. But once it got too much, the labels and PR took over. Soon an intern was posting comments and answering the post. With Twitter we can usually tell it's the real person behind the tweets (note: I suspect that @iamjonsi isn't really our favourite Icelandic boy...). Twitter works on this instant gratification principle. Being genuine and investing time in the community is crucial.

You Were a Lazy Lover ...
It all felt so subversive and fresh and new. But then everyone started to do it all a bit better. And Facebook came along and did the simple things with more whizz-bang and MySpace was (and is still) left playing catchup on functionality.

... And then you slept with Murdoch
MySpace showed us we could all have our own little place on the web and connect - and even use our space to be something fabulous. Then our world was sold to the media equivalent of Darth Vader. No surprise that trust was eroded - and when the 'space started to feel more like the Death Star every day, we knew it was time to leave.

It's a shame really. We had fun.

Image on Flickr by WebRanking Pictures


Streaming: Limitless Choice or Ultimate Connection?

The great streaming debate is not an argument over how long these types of music services will continue to exist. The discussion that is worthy of your 140 characters is around what functionality of the streaming genre will win over in the end? What does the listener want - limitless choice, or connection to the artist?

The front runners in streaming operate primarily as giant jukeboxes and customised radio stations. But some have greater potential to connect communities. So how do they measure up from the artist's perspective?

Spotify (5 million users) has come out as the media's favourite to hype. With major label catalogue from launch (and 6 million tracks in total), most of what the masses want to hear can be found on the service - unless you are on a small indie whose catalogue is part of the millions of tracks waiting to be uploaded (frustratingly our own work is still mostly absent). Perhaps this is being rectified before Spotify launches in the US this year.

Spotify remains, however, a one-way tool primarily for labels and distributors. Certainly artists get exposure by having their entire catalogue on the service. But there is no interaction between artist and music fan. Crucially, Spotify has no reporting tool - so the artist never knows who has been listening to their work.

Essentially Spotify is a bespoke radio channel - offering the seemingly limitless choice we have become accustomed to in the digital age.

Last.fm - who have been on the scene longer and boast 30 million users - offer a more personalised service - giving you the ability to not only play your favourite tracks, but also to scan your iTunes and deliver your own music collection when on the go or when working away from your computer.

Last.fm has also better captured the social aspect of listening by including networking capacity, and the "scrobbler" - which satisfies the desire to show off one's listening habits by measuring and displaying plays in your collection.

For the artist, Last.fm offers significantly more potential to reach your community. Artists have control to upload material instantly, give away tracks, advertise gigs, connect with listeners. There is no need to get a digital distributor involved - which allows small artists and labels to come and play. There are also statistics, including demographics so that artists can build a profile of who their audience is. And the service even measures who is listening when listeners aren't streaming - as the scrobbler captures iPod and iTunes offline data. This gives artists and labels hugely valuable insight into their audience.

Soundcloud is a dark horse that might become the niche label's bestfriend (with 100,000 users as at August 2009). More PR tool than streaming service, the site is a sublime Flash experience with embeddable players and instant track distribution. Every DJ, music blogger and maven should be on SoundCloud, connecting directly and getting fresh tracks from the artists they want to hear from - rather than relying on pluggers and PR companies.

SoundCloud's potential is still being realised - but the new mobile app is quite exciting. The opportunity to have a mini FTP on your iPhone with this functionality is revolutionary.

Of course there are other services operating but the three here capture the features that are currently available to the audience and artist. Spotify may be taking all the limelight right now, but is it over offering on catalogue and under performing on the extras that actually help artists to reach their listeners? Perhaps if these services hone what they are really good at we will actually have a handful of great resources to use.

Image from Flickr by Mark Heard