Welcome to version 2.0 of our series Behind the Blogs, in which we interview the bloggers and thinkers who are following the music business changes that affect us all.
If you’ve ever gone looking for advice and actionable information for independent musicians, then odds are you’ve come across Rick Goetz’s blog, Musician Coaching. In a musician advice and industry insights landscape that is growing more crowded by the month, Musician Coaching is a cut above, featuring a level of access and insight in his interviews that most sites simply do not have.
That’s partly because Goetz actually has access and plenty of insights. A former director of A&R at Lava Records, Rick worked in the industry for many years before going into “consulting,” and then, ultimately, actual consulting, with clients spread across multiple continents.
There’s more to talk about here than normal, so this installment of Behind the Blogs is longer than normal.
I wanted to start with Musician Coaching, because the site started in 2009. And the fact that you were offering that kind of information back then made it sort of unusual, whereas it seems like there are dozens of sites doing this now. How would you say that the landscape has changed since 2009?
I am by no means a pioneer – there were tons of people working with aspirational artists long before I came along. Over the last two years it has just gotten more crowded. There are a ton of people from all walks of life who are appointing themselves gurus on all kinds of subjects – not just the music business. I think we are at a point in the music business where while there is no 100% absolute right answer that will work for everyone and as a result there are plenty of people out there who are pedaling what people want to hear- because who can argue with any certainty? God knows if I told people what they wanted to hear I’d probably make more money but I couldn’t sleep at night.
I do think as people who were making big money in music in the more traditional model are moving into the aspirational music space and sometimes desperation can lead to moral ambiguity – I’ve seen some people selling “guaranteed ways of selling 200,000 CDs” when literally in the past two weeks the top albums in the country were selling less than 50,000… I know, I know – that’s first week sales figures – but still.
I liken being a music consultant to being a lawyer. Lawyers tell people what they do and they half expect people to groan. It is similar being a music consultant- we have a bad rap. I’m supposed to have a ponytail, wear gold rings, smoke a cigar, point double finger guns at people and say, “I’m gonna make you famous, baby!” The point being there are a ton of unethical lawyers and there are a ton of unethical music consultants. I do my best to be honest and upfront which often means telling people what they don’t want to hear. Starting MusicianCoaching.com, honestly, was a means to an end – I didn’t know how else to utilize what I had learned as a musician and as an executive for anything other than telling bad rock n’ roll stories at parties- so I started to blog.
I knew I had this information that I wish somebody had shared with me when I was 19 and smoking too much pot and trying to be a rock star. I believed that what I had experienced in the music business was fairly unique. I had this one day 3-4 years ago where I met with 3 remarkably important people – one in film, one in TV, and one actually in the Royal Family of a middle eastern country all in the span of a few hours. This was at a point when I was “consulting,” but before I had really anything going on. At the time, it was just a better way of saying I was unemployed. I had small clients, but it really really was hand-to-mouth. I realized I had this knack of getting in front of people that I really had no business being in front of, and I decided that this was what was unique about my life, and it was something that I was comfortable sharing in an ongoing, regular basis. Oddly, the experience of blogging, and understanding how search engines work and the way web traffic flows is as valuable if not more valuable than anything I learned previously,
I mean, 10 years of major labels hasn’t really prepared me for most of what I do now. It gave me a framework, and it gave me a big Rolodex, but it’s 100% different these days.
It’s interesting, because I know a lot of people who are familiar with your site, or familiar with you because of your blog, and the interviews that you do. I think they all hold you in a high regard, but I’m not sure if they are 100% aware of what you do, either as a consultant or as a coach. What is it that you would say you do for a musician that comes to you?
Well I’ve deliberately left it open-ended. I’ve worn a lot of hats, I mean I’ve been a manager, I’ve been an A&R guy, I’ve been a musician and a music supervisor. What I do for people varies greatly. Some people come to me with a list of questions, that they could’ve frankly pulled out of the Donald Passman book, and other people are in very specific situations, like, “Should I sign with this major label? Should I sign with this indie?” I do everything from hourly consults to generating marketing plans to providing the marketing functions traditionally provided by labels on a monthly retainer basis. So when people ask what I do, I tend to answer the question with a question: “What do you need?”
You sort of have to. There are no magic bullets or panaceas in this business.
If I think I can help whoever is asking we work something out. Prior to working with people I have them fill out a questionnaire to get a sense of what they have already done. Because answering career questions in a vacuum is a really difficult thing to do. I need to know who you are and what you have been doing. I need the back-story and how you got to where you are now. Often times people come in and just expect yes or no answers for questions that are more about shades of grey.
I went on a bit of a tangent there, but as far as what I do, I try to provide an objective ear to people making important decisions in their career. And I try to steer them away from many, many potholes along the road that I have stumbled in to.
It’s interesting how you mentioned the Passman book, because it brings to mind where musicians are in terms of how they think about their careers. I still feel that there is a general awareness gap with respect to how they should be thinking about these things. Do you think that’s accurate?
There is definitely an awareness gap. First and foremost is that by the numbers, [if you] just go to Google ad words Keyword Tool, and pull up two or three dozen words pertaining to making active strides with your DIY career. For example: “promote my music,” or “best marketing strategy,” or “music business plan” – if you go through and find three or four dozen of these search terms, the total search volume of all these terms together won’t equal the search volume of people who are searching for the single term – “get a record deal.” And this is in the year 2011.
It’s also important to remember that if you’re a musician and you’re serious about it, the people that you’re surrounded with are really not the general population. This should encourage you though. Because you can look at the statistics from organizations like NAMM that estimate that there are two musicians in every household and it is completely daunting. But then you can realize that many of those people are little more than hobbyists, or were forced into lessons as kids, or just people who like to collect instruments or who do freestyle rap at a party now and then..
I think it’s really easy to be lulled into a sense of things will be handed to you, as it’s kind of this pervasive American dream. Every time I think I’m above the influence of Hollywood, I sit back and I realize that there’s more money spent on movies about a meteorite hitting the earth then there has been money spent on preventing a meteorite hitting the earth. I saw that on the History channel one night and nothing has made it more clear to me that as a society we’re really subject to the influence of Hollywood and the allure of fame. Hollywood tells us that a good story, or at least a good story for TV, is that you toil in obscurity for 15 minutes, and then somebody “discovers” you and every thing is Lady Gaga from there on out. That’s obviously not the case, but it’s a pervasive dream in our culture. Hell, I still have rock star fantasies. You know, “If I just had this…”
The media really likes to gloss over the years and the years of work it takes to get anywhere, and that I think contributes in a huge way to a very large disconnect. That and the fact that start-up businesses (including artists and bands) take a long time to become profitable.
Let’s get back to your blog. I find every interview that you do on musician coaching quite illuminating, and really pretty helpful for people on different tiers within the industry, and I’m wondering whether you chart this stuff out along the way. Or is it more like you’re in the midst of working on something and you think, “Hm, who do I know who can help me with this. Oh yeah this artist’s manager would do. He’d also make a great interview!” Is that how it works?
To be honest, it was much more of a formula before I had this much work – I am gratefully very busy and I have the blog to thank for that. It used to be that if I got a couple questions in a row that cover one topic, like “How do I cover a song legally?” then I would chase after Harry Fox or Limelight, and I would have those articles up in no time. Lately it’s kind of, I run into somebody and they have something that I quite honestly I don’t know a lot about, and I learn from them.
Even some of my best friends, I ask them about their stories and I say, “Oh shit! Jesus, I didn’t know that! Or that! Is that how that works?” And then I get to say stuff like, “Well because my reader may not understand, you know, fill-in-the-blank,” when I am really thinking, “Jesus I had no clue about any of that.” Of late it is a great deal about killing two birds with one stone. I have a ton of varied projects that put me in touch with all kinds of interesting people and I just ask – “Hey – could I interview you for my blog?”
A lot of it is a selfish learning experience for me that I try to make a little less selfish by sharing the information.
Do you read or refer people that you work with to other sites for information? Say you’re in the middle or finished helping someone off and they ask where to get good information; are there particular places you refer them to?
I think it’s topic by topic. Typically, I’m much more of a song guy rather than an album guy. Similarly, I’m much more of a post guy than I have loyalty to any one blog. I like what you guys do, and I do go onto Hypebot I do see what Ariel [Hyatt] is up to, and I’m really fond of what Cameron Mizell and David Hahn do.
Yeah, Musician Wages is great.
Yeah. Honestly, I was a musician, but I was never the hardcore sight-reading musician like those guys are. I mean, those guys are really gifted. Honestly I have an expertise in business, and I have an understanding of what it’s like to be a musician, because I did it on and off for many years. But I certainly did not try to scrape up a living playing music long enough to consider myself in the same class as those two, so that blog to me is just phenomenal.
Judging by your e-mail and Twitter, you were just out on the west coast doing something with a management company. What does your daily routine consist of?
I don’t know that I have a daily routine. My clients are all over the map. My most visible business is offering coaching and marketing plans through musiciancoaching.com, but honestly most of the stuff I do is actually marketing-related or licensing-related on a monthly retainer basis. One of my enduring clients is a large background music provider called Mood Media. I do label acquisitions for them in North America.
I was just on the west coast because I was hired to do A&R and marketing on a freelance basis for a label that’s, believe it or not, based out of Tunisia. The label is called NZ Beersa and they signed an artist from Columbus, Ohio named Chrystian. I’m doing A&R and marketing for their first signing. I was in LA introducing the artist to a potential publicist and meeting potential producers, and then we were in the studio with an engineer that we hired to put on the project. It’s really a mixed bag. I also do work for Arial Hyatt. I create most of her marketing plans for her Cyber PR artists as well.
It does seem to me more and more that that is where the business is heading: a bunch of people have been in the record business long enough that they can kind of shepherd people through that process and maybe just take like a manager’s cut? And then the major labels just exist as these kind of boom or bust kind of vehicles.
I think it’s always been that way though. I guess there was just so much promised to people going into the Internet age that there was going to be this new way of life where everyone could make it. But really, the margins haven’t changed. Major labels still do deals like heavy-hitters at hedge funds. You’re still swinging for the stands, and you’ll either wind up on your ass a million dollars in debt, or you’ll hit it out of the park and sell multi-platinum. And as much as I could roll my eyes at the majors like everyone else does right now, to be quite honest, there are things that they still do that no one has been able to replicate. They are able to take a medium-sized artist and make them huge.
Do I think that they are good at reliably making a small artist medium-sized? Well, not really. But that’s why the DIY thing is really a condition of a last resort. That’s where most people start out because they don’t have options. The labels seem to be much less focusing on artists and repertoire (A&R); it’s more of a mergers and acquisitions (M&A) philosophy. I’m not saying artist development doesn’t happen at labels, but it certainly seems to be less common.