This Article Originally Published June 1999
by Michael Laskow
Editorial note: I had to chuckle when I get the call asking to reprint this article. I'd written it nearly ten years ago (1999), and I couldn't imagine that much of it would still be relevant. I imagined wrong! Surprisingly, I prognosticated fairly well, but I'm left with one lingering issue.
While I was right about the major labels becoming less relevant over time, the state of the industry for unsigned, independent artists and bands hasn't improved all that much.
I know legions of artists who have their music for sale on MySpace, CDBaby, ITunes and a zillion other places on the Internet, but the VAST majority make less than a few thousand dollars a year. Not enough to qualify as a "career." People still haven't found a good answer to the question, "How do I sell my music?"
While it might FEEL great when somebody from a far away country finds your music online and buys it, the truth remains that it takes a marketing machine to create enough sales to supplant the income from your day job. And so far, nobody has done that better than the major labels. ML --6.25.08
The sky is falling! The sky is falling!" No, I'm not Chicken Little, and I'm certainly not Nostradamus. I'm just a guy who owns a company that helps unsigned bands, artists and songwriters get their music to major record labels, music publishers, and music supervisors working in film and TV. TAXI has all of a sudden appeared on the radar screens of some of the largest and most visible music-related Internet companies.
Why? Because TAXI's membership, which at the time of this writing is 5,000 strong (remember, this was written in 1999, TAXI's membership has grown a LOT since then), represents the largest pool of unsigned talent under one roof in the world. And that means one thing to the internet companies—CONTENT! Lots of content.
The theory goes: no good content, no good reason to go to the Web site. If a site is rich in content, then Web surfers will have a reason to go there, and more importantly, stay there. At least for a while. And that is exactly what the Web sites want. For the longer you stay, the more advertisements you will see on the site. The more "eyeballs" a site can attract, and the "stickier" the site is (meaning it's ability to keep you there), the more appealing it is to the companies who buy the ad space. Makes sense to me.
Okay, so I can see why these companies are so interested in TAXI. And I know that we're more desirable than other purveyors of content because we already aggregate ours for the labels and publishers who use TAXI as a resource. But is there more to this picture than can be seen by the naked eye, and why do I think the sky is falling?
Yes, there's a lot more to the picture. The Internet is only the tip of the iceberg. What lies beneath the surface is the future of the music industry, and that looms much larger than just downloading some free MP3 files. Here's the future as I see it: Nobody likes to buy an album with a dozen cuts on it and find two great songs and a bunch of filler. It's a waste of time and money. That's the reason soundtrack albums sell so well. Twelve great songs in one place. The Internet already embraces that theory. Look at sites like www.spinner.com where you can build your own compilation CD.
But it's going to go a step farther than that. Make that two steps farther. The first is Internet Radio where the listener can "program" their own playlist to suit their own tastes. The second is Digital Radio. Look Ma, no wires. Imagine listening to your own custom designed radio station in your car or while you're jogging. The "Bob" station, or the "Mary" station. Better yet, you'll be able to listen to "your" station anywhere in the world because Digital Radio will be global in its reach. Not local, like your favorite stations are now.
But where will Bob and Mary find the music that they'll "build" their stations with? From a top Web site. Something with a brand name. Something like RollingStone.com, or maybe MTV.com. Central destinations that will give the listener access to all music so they can pick and choose their favorites.
And how will Bob and Mary find new music if all they listen to is the playlist they program? Easy. While they're programming their station, they'll tell the "station" to insert a new song after every third or fifth song of "theirs." Whenever they hear a new song they like, they'll just hit the "Add" button on their radio, and that song will be added to their playlist. When they get tired of something, they'll just hit "Delete," and the song will dropped from their playlist. But the best part is yet to come!
There will also be "Buy" button on your car radio and your Walkman. If you like something and want to purchase it, just hit the button and your account will be automatically billed, and the tune will be waiting for you on your entertainment system's hard drive when you get home. You can leave it on the hard drive or burn it on to a disk if you'd like. Just semantics.
The important thing to note is that singles, not albums will be the driving force behind this "new" music business. And where will the stations get the singles? I'm betting that it won't be record companies. I'm putting my money on direct licensing from the artists themselves!
Quiz time: What do artists need record companies for? Answer: Marketing clout. Why do you need marketing clout (or dollars) when your song could be heard on a mega-station that's global, not local in its reach? My prediction? The stations will become marketing partners with the artists because they won't just be playing the music, they'll be selling it as well! Why then would an artist want to have a middle-man like a record label taking 85% of every dollar when they could just cut a direct deal with the radio station/retailer and keep a much bigger chunk of the bounty?
And that my friends is why the question is not if the sky is falling, but on whom.. My guess is that it will fall on record labels as we know them today. A new day is about to dawn, and it's going to be an especially good day for you, the people who make music.