Caught in the net - the new music industry | Music | DW | 05.06.2015
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Caught in the net - the new music industry

Making it rich with music isn't as easy as it used to be. But there are a lot of creative ways to get heard and release music without the aid of a record label, including - of course - via the internet.

On June 5, Midem - the world's largest music fair - kicked off in Cannes. Today, having good music alone isn't enough to succeed. Above all, exceptional marketing is required. But can young musicians without a record deal still earn an income through their favorite pastime?

August 2014 at the open-air grounds of Cologne's Tanzbrunnen: 12,000 fans are singing, jumping and celebrating. On stage is the Cologne rock band Kasalla, performing a nearly three-hour set with plenty of special guests, lots of theatrics and even more emotion. The concert is recorded - an immense technical feat.

Only three months later, the DVD is on the market - fully funded by the fans, through crowd funding. That might seem like a convenient solution for artists on the surface, but the five band members hardly set themselves an easy task. Each "pledger" receives a reward for his financial commitment, from small gimmick items such as limited edition t-shirts for 30 euros ($33) or autographed posters.

But there are also truly collectables such as the bass player's very first electric bass (700 euros), an oil painting and even an exclusive lounge room concert for those willing to pledge 3,800 euros. Raising around 20,000 euros ($22,000), the band was able to fund its project. Had it not not met the target, the full sum would have had to be returned. Kasalla would have then needed to find another source of financial support for the project.

German band Kasalla. Copyright: Imago

German band Kasalla still earns most of ist income through live performances specializes as a crowd sourcing platform for music. The site promotes the idea that fans are directly involved in the artists' projects. The catchphrase: direct-to-fan.

Finding the right people

Musician Julian Angel operates the Musicbiz Madness website. He swears by the direct-to-fan model: the direct line between artist and fan, with no interference of commercial entities such as Amazon or iTunes. What's even better for the bands: they can distribute their music directly on their websites.

"Newcomer artists need to build close connections with their fans," says musician Marc Winterberg. He offers online courses through his website, training artists in self-marketing. "Once it was every musician's goal to be discovered and to get a record deal. Today the marketing possibilities are quite different."

The million dollar question: how does one find new fans? "Of course you need to look at platforms that reach the right people," says Julian Angel. "So specifically look for Facebook groups or websites that are in line with your music style. And that's where the music has to be spread."

Platforms such as social networks, YouTube and Soundcloud are just the beginning. The goal has to be to attract potential fans to one's own website, where they can learn more about the artists and music, and engage. On social media the important information can quickly get lost. On a band's homepage, however, potential fans can develop a relationship with it by reading blogs, bios and reviews and by playing audio files and videos.

Springboard Spotify

Milky Chance. Copyright: Katja Ruge

Accidental stars: Milky Chance

Without the muscle of a record label, management or booking agents, it can be a painstaking experience - but worth it if the audience is found: once the money starts to flow, it ends up directly in the musician's pocket. So while Spotify may be a headache for established artists, it can prove a golden opportunity for newcomers, offering them the potential to be 'found' by new fans - if only by accident.

Using algorithm software for its more than 20 millions songs, Spotify pools similar styles and genres. So if a fan listens to a known metal band, for instance, Spotify will then recommend similar artists - some of whom may be otherwise completely unknown. If someone then 'discovers' a song, he can share it with his own online communities - and the song could well become a hit.

That is exactly what happened with German band Milky Chance, who in 2012 uploaded a song to YouTube. There was little reaction at first, but once it was heard by a keen ear and forwarded, "Stolen Dance" became a worldwide hit. Major labels soon came a-knocking, but the pair decided to set up an independent label instead.

The art of asking

Amanda Palmer. Copyright: Picture-alliance/dpa

Amanda Palmer raised $1.2 million through crowd funding

With her cheeky brand of punk rock cabaret, US artist Amanda Palmer isn't exactly mainstream. Touring with her band, The Dresden Dolls, she would frequently chat directly with fans, largely through Twitter. In her video presentation "The Art of Asking" she tells of being a starving musician at the beginning of her career when there was very little money. However, no matter where she went in the world, she could always find help via Twitter - including one time when she desperately begged for a piano to practice on before a concert - and had one an hour later.

If Palmer needed something to eat or a place to sleep after a gig - no problem. The tour bus had broken down? Help was always at hand, via Twitter and her thousands of fans. The value of her fan base became evident when Amanda Palmer opted to crowd-fund a new recording, for which she hoped to raise $100,000 (90,000 euros). By the time the campaign was finished, she'd raised $1.2 million (1.1 million euros). The music industry would never be the same again.

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