It can sometimes be difficult to get good, concrete information at a conference. Most panelists, after all, have an interest in presenting themselves (and the companies they work for) a certain way, and CMJ is no exception; Gina Esposito, the director of music and talent at MTV, is happy to tell you that digital technology has made it easier for artists to get their videos out there. She will not, however, tell you how to get more exposure for that video you shot in your basement (even if you ask her directly, as a couple attendees did at a panel yesterday).
There are various ways to get around this problem, of course. You could ask a panelist about a facet of the industry they don’t work in directly. That’s the only way you’d hear, for example, that “you need to be bankrolled in some way” to achieve mainstream success, according to A&R man William Langolf.
At “Get it Together: Real Life Strategies For Artists and Songwriters,” panelists gave attendees straight dope about everything from touring to contracts. Edward Gold, who runs Gold Business Management, for example, let the audience in on the fact that most of the deals that merchandising companies offer to artists require the artists to pay the difference if artists don’t recoup.
Later on during the same panel, Kirby Desmarais, owner of Everything Independent, shed some light on a little-discussed fact about Sonicbids: they don’t always vet the gigs posted on their site. “One of my artists wound up playing in an empty living room lit by nothing but a broken lamp,” Desmarais revealed.
“Research everything really well,” Desmarais continued, “because if you’re applying and spending $5, $10 on a lot of bids, at the end of the year that’s $400 you could have spent on something else.”
Occasionally, moderators will call their panelists out, especially if the panelists happen to be rivals. At “Labels in the Black and How They Are Succeeding,” Steve Savoca, who managed to be both informative and coy in his interview with us last week, was good enough to call out A.J. Benson, who was painting an exceedingly rosy picture of how his Universal-owned label promotes its artists.
“We devote a lot of attention to creating exclusive content,” Benson began, “we do geo-targeted Facebook ads – ”
“Aren’t you doing a lot of radio?” Savoca interrupted.
“Would it be fair to say that that’s the biggest line item in your promotions budget?” Savoca pressed.
“I guess you could say that, yes,” Benson admitted.
After that, people became a lot more candid about things. Fred Feldman, the owner of Triple Crown Records, after being asked whether he disagreed with 360 deals from a moral standpoint, shot back that “managers have always had 360 deals in place, so it’s time the labels got into that too.”
That may sound harsh, but with sales being what they are (and what they’re likely to remain), labels have been forced to get creative. Razor and Tie, for example, has apparently expanded into everything from media buying to instructional DVDs, and is actually doing quite well in the latter department; some of those titles have sold over a million units. “I think you have to be opportunistic and flexible so you don’t miss opportunities in other areas,” said Dan Hoffman, Razor and Tie’s vice president of business and legal.
“Record labels don’t just sell music,” Benson said. As portions of the audience stirred at this comment, he continued: “I’d make the argument that the record company business is a flawed one. To have one revenue stream and nothing else is not practical.”
And this, of course, is sometimes lost in the discussion of what’s going on in the music industry. It also shows that labels and artists may not be so different after all.