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Declining Online Music $ales
How to Compensate for their Current Slump
Commentary by Kenny Love


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According to the latest issue of EMarketer.com, comScore, an Internet monitoring company that gauges how well the 'Net is performing in certain respects, reports that music sales dropped by 25% between the first three quarters of 2001 and the first three quarters of 2002.

In terms of dollar$, this amounts to a reduction from $730 million to $542 million, with a slip of $72 million between Quarters 2 and 3 of this year alone.

Without directly and overtly blaming it, comScore also makes the 'politically correct' comparison that, simultaneously, the number of users of popular music file-swapping sites has increased. At the very least, in my opinion, the mere comparison implies a certain amount of blame.

And, while I believe that there is a degree of validity in comScore's report, alternatively, I have seen reports from similar reporting agencies that surveyed online file swappers who responded that, as a result of their participation, they purchased *more* music. I believe this is also true. So, who's right?

My opinion is that any report's perspective is but one piece of the puzzle, and can be slanted in any direction it sees fit in an effort to support its impliance. As such, this is the case with each report that is published to explain why online music sales are in the current slump that they are.

And, since everyone seems to be in the slanting spirit, I would like to now offer my own 'slant', if you will, and present my own perspective that may (or may not) have merit for the online decline of sales as it relates to music.


1. Independent recording artists:
The typical independent recording artist, largely unfamiliar with business as a whole, especially the procedures of marketing and/or promotion, and who probably cares even less about it, finds his proverbial back against the wall, as he is now forced to relegate and create exposure for his music product. And, with so many options and avenues available, he is immediately overwhelmed with the consideration of which piece of the puzzle to begin with first.

So, he starts by sending his CD out to a few stations (usually, in the comfort zone of his geographical locale), a few press/print contacts, gets it on as many online sales sites as possible, along with as many Internet radio stations as possible (at least, the few who are still webcasting), all while trying to continue doing what he really loves...being an artist and playing music.

Which, in itself, is a whole other cross to bear as he must continually find gigs to make money, along with promoting those gigs in order to get enough people to come out to them, so he can...make money. Vicious, vicious ever revolving cycle, ain't it?

"Gee, Mr. Morley! I don't like the business of music anymore, Sir. I think I'd like my old job back at Wal-Mart! Or, I might just go in the army. What do you think, Sir?"

Hence, the overwhelming reality of operating in two different and significant capacities (as both artist and business person) starts to drive our independent artist krazy, with a capital "K." :-)

For, his initial desire is now blowing out faster than a candle in a Chicago wind. Concurrently, his online marketing and promotion efforts start to quickly decrease, with the eventual reduction to any subsequent online sale being attributed to the mere accidental discovery of his recording through a passerby or word-of-mouth.


2. Major label sales:
Hard to believe but, for once, it seems that the major record labels have finally met their match through still not being able to figure out which end the Internet donkey eats with, and which end he 'sheets' with.

Any decline in sales that the majors are experiencing is, primarily, due to their long-term, donkey kong, cookie-cutter approaches in continuously attempting to produce, then shove their cookie-cutter artists down the throats of prospective music buyers and fans who are just plain damn tired of the same old rattling sound.

In fact, believe it or not, I correctly predicted the life span of Britney Spears, Brandy Knives, NSYNC, Outer Realm, Backstreet Boyz, FrontStreet Girls, and all the other semi-talent-challenged artists that were shoved in our faces a few yarns ago. I gave them each 2 years, 3 tops, more or less.

And, truthfully, it wasn't difficult at all. But, enough said about them, as I've already devoted far too much space to them in these lines of brevity.


3. Music fans:
Truth in point: Music fans ain't necessarily music buyers... that's just a fact of life. As incredible and as difficult as it is to believe, some people have no plans to purchase a single piece of music...ever! Some music lovers will download and 'burn' music until the fire department is called to put out a 3-alarm fire in their hard drives. But, as they are also God's children, we love them too...don't we?

So, look at this particular aspect in this way: let them continue to download and 'burn' because, as a recording artist, you can turn this situation completely around to where they, unknowingly, become one of your most important allies.

In fact, you can turn it around to where the file-swappers will be one of the first lines of promotional contact you will make on future releases, if not the first.

How's that? Well, let me show you how you can do it...

As opposed to recording artists who (STILL, for some reason I cannot yet fathom) upload every single song on their CD in its entirety to MP3.com and other such sites, then wonder why they are not making the sales they expect, this would be my process...

Hypothetically, let's say that I am an independent recording artist who has just completed my new CD titled, "Kenny Love's Messed-Up Music" (don't you dare laugh) and am releasing my first single titled, "Mary Jane Can't Complain."

[Sidebar]: It seems to be a long-standing tradition for artists to *not* release their absolute best possible single FIRST, in the interest of "building up to it." Wakeup Call!: You may not *GET* a second chance to release another single, so release your absolute BEST possible single FIRST! This will serve to definitely maximize your efforts and results all the way through.

[Main Topic]:

In my opinion (and those around me who have listened to it), "Mary Jane Can't Complain" is going to be #1 with a bullet, and my absolute ticket to the Grammies, stardom and beyond. In fact, look out, Michael Jackson...your heels ought to be burning with my spiritual presence! ;-)

So, since I am more than willing to give every radio station from China, back to China, a copy of my single, I should *ALSO* allow it to be file-swapped, swished, swooshed and whatever other word that begins with "sw" that is going to bring it mad exposure and attention. Why?

Well, one of the problems I have with the ongoing RIAA mess, is its seemingly complete willingness to ignore the fact that file-swapping, albeit, in a limited and controlled state by each artist, can be one of the absolute best assets for recording artists, particularly, unsigned/Indie recording artists, fans, music buyers and the industry as a whole.

Even if there exists file-swappers who never plan to buy a piece of music, the sheer number of them dictates that a certain portion of people who happen to hear your music in this state, by accident or design, are going to want the "real deal"...the first generation recording, the CD, along with the rest of it (cover, credits, etc.)

So, for this reason, and in this respect, I cannot, will not and shall not agree that file-swapping is commercial music's genocide. Again, just make sure that the single that you make available online, is the single you are ever so willing to give away multiple copies to radio, press, distributors, friends, family...shall I go on?

This situation with file-swapping eerily reminds me of the online spam situation, whereby, people will call in the FBI, the CIA, the IRS and any other 3-letter monikers when they receive a single piece of unrequested email. Yet, ask yourself how many people you know who contact these law enforcement agencies to arrest the mailman who delivers junk mail daily to their mailbox? Hmm...

4. Music fans/buyers (a perfect combo):
These people are your 'external family' and ongoing life supporters in both your business and personal aspects. They are, perhaps, the most important group in your spectrum who, not only like/love your music, but in order to show you just how much they do, are willing to part with their hard-earned money...time and time again for copies of it.

And, at some point, you should reward them with contests, giveaways, prizes, free music, free tickets, merchandise and other paraphernalia to show reciprocal appreciation.

5. Brick-and-mortar retail sales:
At some point, in order to be viewed as a "real" recording artist by radio promoters, press and even potential music buyers, you are going to have to face the fact that you will, eventually, need some degree of physical distribution if you are to grow your career and company.

In fact, today, it is difficult to convince a commercial radio station to air your music, or to convince a major publication to review your recording if your music is not readily available to the listenerships and readerships that they serve.

Because, not everyone is online, and even the ones who are, fewer are willing to pay for product online in comparison to people who still wish to buy from brick-and-mortar retail outlets. That's not Kenny Love's doctrine...that's a fact of the business. And, not just the music business, but every business that has an online/offline counterpart and presence.

But, how can you get national retail distribution without demand?

Well, the best way, perhaps, is to begin working real world distribution locally and regionally, where you can control it within your own area. If you can create a sales demand with a distributor from your own area, this can, eventually, translate into national success. Success at your local and regional levels can probably also open you up for a national P&D (Pressing & Distribution) deal.

This P&D deal is the type of deal, whereby, the distributor incurs the costs of manufacturing your recording, takes a slightly larger percentage over the normal distribution royalty for the effort, then submits you a check accordingly. The great thing about this deal is that you rarely, if ever, need to worry about product accounting, and can spend your time simply promoting the record through performances and media.

What this all comes down to, is your refusal to become complacent with your career and to, otherwise, remain in a proactive state...always seeking alternatives when it appears that proverbial doors are closing to you. And, these are the ways to create an uprising in online music sales, and get them back to where they were when all this technological excitement began.

For, as we say in Antarctica, "there is more than one way to skin a cat." To all humane societies and animal rights organizations, I am only kidding...about being in Antarctica.

-----

Kenny Love has an extensive background in the Music and Writing industries. Learn about his services for gigging and recording artists by sending requests to aboutkennylove@getresponse.com and klmubiz@getresponse.com.


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