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Marketing your music to the USA (Page 1 of 4)
(c) 2002 Myles Wakeham

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The largest consumer marketplace in the world is the United States. With a population of approximately 280 million people, the opportunities for a musician with solid material are incredible. However like any great opportunity, its a competitive endeavour and not for the faint hearted. This is the first in a series of articles about the US music industry and the basics of how it works. I hope that through these articles, I can increase awareness of the US markets or musicians and we can get some local talent making it big in the US of A.

My name is Myles Wakeham and I moved to live in the United States in 1989. I am a born and bred Adelaidian, and moved to Los Angeles to pursue a music career. I found out the hard way about the US music industry and three years after my arrival in America, I became a part of the US music industry after opening a recording studio in Los Angeles. I spent much of my time looking for opportunities as a musician as well as working opportunities in the industry. I took a "can't beat 'em - join 'em" approach. Now I'm back in Adelaide, and hoping to re- establish myself in the local music community as a producer. But enough of me, let's talk about the US and its opportunities for musicians.

Why the US?

If you want to get your music to the most people possible, in the hope of fame and fortune, you need population. You need a population of people with surplus cash and a demand for music. You can't find more of 'em in one place than the US. Think of it in these terms. The entire population of Australia is about the population of one of the 50 states of America. I lived in Los Angeles, which is in Southern California. The population of Los Angeles county is about 10 million people, and the population of Southern California is about 20 million. That's the size of a large urban city area there. I think most artists want to play to larger audiences. Well you can't find much larger audiences than places like this.

In these areas, you find a love of music of all types. From Rock to Country, from Reggae to Folk, from Rap to Classical, it's all there. If you walk into a large record store in America, you will be amazed at the quantity of titles of CDs that are there. Some of the larger chains stock or have access to hundreds of thousands of titles. The consumer is really spoiled when it comes to music. But they want more, more, more.

Music is required in record stores, it is needed to be played on TV shows, in the background on advertisements, on films, radio, etc. With the constant demand from audiences for music, the supply of music to these people has become very institutionalised in America. And it is working with these institutions, record labels, publishers, management companies, lawyers, etc.) that means success or failure for musicians. Sure, there are many musicians who are trying to keep as independent as possible, but they are not the ones getting heard on radio in any big way, and they are not the ones with their videos playing on TV. If you want to reach the broadest audiences possible, you have to swallow your pride a bit and learn to deal with the music industry in the US.

At the risk of offending the true "artists" out there, I will talk a bit about the money side of things in the US for musicians, after all we all need to eat, right?

How do you make money in music in America?

There are many areas of revenue in music in America. Typically there are royalty payments, shows and merchandising. Royalties are paid to an artist for either the sale of their music on CD (what is called "mechanical royalties") or the use of the songs for media, such as radio airplay, television, etc. (that is called "performance royalties"). Royalties vary depending on the deals that are organised but typically an artist might get between $0.50 and $1.00 per CD sold, and $0.05 per airing of a song on radio and $20.00 per airing of a song on television. These figures don't seem all that much, but if you imagine how much is made when an album sells 3 million copies, or when the 1,000 or so radio stations play your song 5 times per day for a month, and then keep on playing it hoping that it's such a successful song that it ends up 20 years later on the oldies" stations.

Revenue made from playing shows is pretty straightforward. You negotiate that with the venue and take out your costs associated with the performance. Merchandising represents the sale of T-Shirts, stickers, etc. that accompany the artist and can represent a substantial income opportunity for a savvy musician.

But at the end of the day, the musician typically focuses on royalties as the desired income area because it is directly related to their art and in the case of performance royalties, continues to bring income to the copyright holder forever with little or no work required by the artist. No wonder there are hundreds of thousands of musicians who want to make it big!

So let's talk about the lay of the land a bit. I mentioned that the music industry is very institutionalised in America. Let's look at that some more...

Where is the Music Industry in America?

When you have a consumer marketplace of 280 million people, you have to be very organised to reach them. You have to have money to promote your music and you have to understand the minds of the consumer. Because of this, and because of the immense amounts of money that are made in the music business, you can't do it by yourself. You need to leverage off partnerships with companies that are the music industry of America.

The United States music industry centres in pretty much three major cities - Los Angeles, New York and Nashville. Each city is a haven for musicians, and supports a large population of talent. Los Angeles represents the typical album oriented musicians, is the home of most of the world's major record labels, and supports music in other entertainment areas (ie. film in Hollywood, TV, etc.). New York provides similar resources to musicians, but is more a host of television and advertising. New York is also the home to the many music publishers. Nashville represents a mecca for the country musician. Heavily oriented around country music, it is the place to take your country songs and hope for a deal. Many songwriters live in Nashville simply because they find more opportunities as writers in the country style than in other markets. Although other cities provide excellent resources for musicians, they typically don't represent where the larger deals are made.

Musicians from all over the world, flock to these cities to "make it big". They find quite a shock when they get there. Hollywood, for example, is not, as the movies would have you believe, a city of gold. It's actually a pretty horrible place. Lots of drugs, lots of homeless, lots of prostitutes, lots of broken dreams laying strewn on Hollywood Boulevard. But it's the home of the major record labels who have the secrets and resources to make a star out of any artist they choose to be worthy of their efforts. But you need to be in a major music capital. It's all about getting noticed by people who can make a difference to your career - the music industry executives. These decision makers are in the major music cities and you need to get to them in order to be considered.

How the Industry works

There are many different areas of the music industry. But for a performing artist and/or songwriter, you are probably going to focus on record labels. These companies are not just mass producers of CDs, but they are also music publishers, merchandisers, promoters, etc. all rolled up into one corporation. Artists put their career in the hands of these corporations hoping that they will get treated fairly. That's often not the case, however because all the major avenues of getting your music to the masses is controlled by these record labels, they are unavoidable. A good attorney and a lot of knowledge is a must for a working musician in the US.

Your first contact point when trying to connect with a record label is the A&R Department (Artists & Repertoire). This department is the connection point with the musicians and the first decision makers in regard to signing an artist to a recording contract. Getting to a representative of this department called the A&R rep) is a tough job and becomes the bulk of the focus of the working musician.

In Los Angeles, there are approximately 40,000 working musicians, and about *,000 bands at any one time. I worked with Capitol Records as an independent producer and studio engineer for a number of years, and in their A&R department, like any of the major labels, they would receive about 1,000 submissions per week from musicians hoping to get noticed. Yep, 1,000 per week. You can't hear that number of tapes & CDs. They hire interns who are typically university students who are expected to listen to as much of these as they can, but they can't and their opinion only culls the list down to a smaller number that the actual A&R reps get to hear. It's not an easy process, and typically what happens is that A&R people don't listen to tapes that are just mailed into the label. A few bands have been lucky to receive record contracts through unsolicited submissions, but its rare.

Through further articles in this newsletter, we will discuss strategies on how to get noticed at record labels and how to ensure that when your chance comes long, you are absolutely ready for it. You need to know what A&R people look for in acts in America and how you can get really prepared here in your home town so that if you do get that phone call back from the record label, that you don't miss your chance to make it big.


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