Jon Bon Jovi says he hates Steve Jobs because he’s killed the music industry. Artists work hard to produce albums, and now people just buy hit songs online, forgetting about the other music the artist makes.
Gene Simmons says that the music industry is dead for similar reasons, including piracy being rife.
And while it’s seems impressive that I’m on iTunes, it surprises people when I tell them that it’s not actually a sign of any musical achievement. All you need to be on iTunes is for your music to be in the correct format, have an album cover as a pdf, and to pay a distributor $50 to upload it for you. Anyone can do it. They don’t actually judge your music before they put it on your server. You could hum ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ into your phone, convert it into a .wav file, make a pdf and it could be on iTunes the next day. And guess how much iTunes charge…?
“WHAT????’ I thought to myself when I found that out. Of course, it’s in very fine print, and most people only find out when they’re getting paid half of what they think they should be.
When people hear that I’m on iTunes, some of them think I’m some kind of big shot, but in the back of my mind, I’m thinking “Those reprobates are screwing me over…!”
Anyway, I’m not quite sure music can ever truly die. It’s a love. And people will always be passionate about it.
However, it is very badly injured. And weird.
Earlier in the year, I sent you the story and song about Johanna (Gonna Be There). I actually wrote that on Christmas Day at my parents place in London. Like I always do, I hummed the melody into my phone, plucked out a baseline, matched some chords, wrote some words (i.e.: the story of her and I), and when I got back to Sydney, did a basic recording on my laptop. There was something about it, even in its rudimentary form. I sent it to my record producer, and now good friend, Sean Carey, who listened to it on YouTube. He called me back “Victor, this is your best song. Let’s record it” I’m normally very guarded about my songs when I write them because I still don’t really see myself as a musician, as I’ve never studied music, but there was something about that one. Maybe because the emotions behind the story were still so raw. The only other time I’d felt like that was when I wrote Beautiful Thing. Even the basic version on my laptop; I listened to it and thought “This is awesome. I don’t care.” Several of you commented saying that you loved it also. That was very pleasing.
That, and Gonna Be There were two of four songs I’d sent to Sean, and he was very eager to put all four on a new EP. I told him I had two other songs I hadn’t quite finished, and to be honest, wasn’t too sure about. He told me to get them recorded and send them to him, which I quickly did.
Sean suggested some improvements for each song, and I agreed with virtually all of them. Leading upto that, I did three hours singing a day, as I knew I’d be working with amazing musicians, and I wanted to sound like I belonged on the same CD as them.
We spent a week in the recording studio. It’s quite a surreal experience. To start with silence and build a song layer by layer, and finish with something (I genuinely believe) is as good as anything you’ll hear anywhere. A complete musical experience. It feels truly awesome. One big factor in why I everything has worked so well with making music so far has because not only do I get on so well with Sean and Michael (drums) and Beau (keys and piano), but we all feel music in a similar way. We’re all about telling the story, and it comes out in the sound that we make. There’s a great synergy between us all, and I’m amazed by how good they are at what they do.
However, one highlight during the whole recording process was when we were finishing the vocals to Gonna be There. There are four high notes at the end that I forgot to add, so I got back in front of the microphone, and Sean hit play. I closed my eyes and hit the notes as best I could. The song finished. I opened my eyes to find that Sean and his apprentice Ellie just staring at me in disbelief. I didn’t know what to say. So I didn’t say anything. I can only assume they were impressed- any they must have heard a lot of very good singers in their time. “I think I might be onto something” I thought to myself. It’s very validating to amaze people who amaze you.
As with the previous EP, I had the I had the tracks mastered, got some photos done, a cover designed, and CDs printed.
This is awesome. It’s all awesome. Nobody’s going to buy it.
Why so pessimistic…? Because I’ve learned from last time, and I’ve looked in to music marketing a lot since then. The business world is littered with the corpses of great products unsuccessfully marketed. And music is no different. The quality of the product is by far the least important factor in how well it does. The marketing is the most important factor. The average independent artist sells less than 50 CDs per year, which makes the 200 that I’ve sold look reasonably creditable. I had someone suggest that there was something wrong with the sound production of the first EP, but Sean and I concurred that they had no idea what they were talking about. Sean has won ARIA awards for his music production, and records with artists like Seal. People love the songs. I just don’t have the marketing skills or budget to get them to buy the music .
Most people can’t hear a good song, and decide to buy it simply because it’s a good song, and that they like it. People don’t buy music because it’s good- they buy music because they want to be associated with the brand that’s associated with it. They buy it because it’s popular. In order to take a song from obscurity to a level of public awareness and familiarity in order to change purchasing behaviour requires $180,000 worth of marketing. Most independent artists simply cannot do this. Songs that you hear on the radio aren’t there because they are the best songs available. They are there because a record company is paying the radio station to play it. And there is only a finite amount of airplay time available. Most people need to hear a song multiple times before they decide to buy it- that’s why record companies pay radio stations so much to get their artists played on the air. If you come along with no (or a very limited) budget, most commercial radio stations will simply laugh at you.
[In return for that, guess how much of your record sales the record company will charge you….
On average 94%.
When you consider that iTunes charge 50%, what you are left with is 3% of your record sales.
Unlikely to set your world alight.
And of course, if you don’t make them back their $180,000, they’ll not not only drop you, they can sue you]
If, however, any of you decide that you ARE the kind of person who can buy music simply because it’s good, and that you like it, and that you’re not sheepish enough to to just go with the herd, you can get my EPs from my website: www.v-factor.com
Please at least take the time to listen. If you like it, feel free to order it. If you don’t, then that’s perfectly fine. I’d never expect anyone to buy music that they didn’t like. I wouldn’t do it myself. But if you do like it, and you order a CD or mp3, then you won’t die.
One such person that I was very pleased and surprised to meet is my new friend and fan Leonie. She’s the mother of one of my patients in the intensive care unit. Her daughter was in a coma after being hit by a car and left at the roadside. Were it not for a helpful passerby, she would have died. One of the nurses really liked my song Beautiful Thing. Leonie overheard and told us that April was really into music and suggested I play it for April while she was comatose. We held my phone over April as she lay there, and everyone listened. I mean actually listened. Leonie repeated some of the lyrics as it played.
“Feel that I could
Touch the sky.
You belong by my side.”
It was very touching for me to see that. “Wow, you’re listening. You get it. You really get it.” I thought to myself.
Her family was there, and really liked it, and Leonie bought a copy of the CD as soon as it became available.
April needed brain surgery, but she’s perfectly fine now. I went to visit her during her rehabilitation, and it was really nice to see her awake and speaking. We all got on really well, and I played her another song on my guitar. We had a photo taken, which they were happy for me to put online.
We’re all in regular contact, and Leonie even came upto Sydney for my latest CD launch. They’re both very warm people, and I’m really glad to have met them. It was great for her to see me play with the whole band, and she really enjoyed it. She has both of my CDs, and April tells me that she plays them all the time. I love all my songs, and although they’re not taking over the world, meeting people like Leonie gives me huge satisfaction, validating my belief that my music is actually worth owning.
I set up that launch party with the purchase of the CD included in the cover charge. The previous 2 launch parties in March this year and June last year had how many CD sales…? Zero. About 50 people came to my launch party in March, which was great to see, but when I offered them a CD, they all looked at me like I was strange. None of them really listened to any of my songs. I just felt like asking them all “If you’re not interested in my music, why are you here..?” Fewer people came to the most recent launch party, but I was much happier. I’d rather play in front of 12 people who are actually interested in the music than 50 people who are just out to get drunk with me singing in the background.
An american radio distribution company heard my new CD online, and contacted me, asking me to sign with them. They’ve submitted it to 150 radio stations in america. 147 of them said that they’d play it. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with that. If this goes anywhere, I’ll remember people like Leonie, who like me because I’m genuinely good, and not because I’m popular. I think every celebrity has a cohort of people who had no time for them before they became celebrities, and then suddenly became a lot more appreciative of them once their status changed.
I remember in my final year of medical school, I was on placement in Ashford, Kent, and at the hospital party, I expressed an interest in one of the senior nurses. She told me that she wasn’t interested. 4 months later, I graduated, was earning money and went to work at that same hospital. All of a sudden that same nurse became a lot more tactile and verbal with me. I just looked at her and thought “Wow- women like you actually exist.” I wanted nothing to do with it.
Remember the people who invested time, money or effort in you when you were ‘nobody’. Because if you become ‘somebody’, people who appreciate you for you become very difficult to differentiate from leeches and smiling assassins.