The music business is in turmoil and no one seems to know what the future holds. Even so, there are some good resources out there to help you get a handle on things.
If you don’t know about Lefsetz Letter, you must check it out. Bob Lefsetz is a brash, highly-opinionated entertainment attorney (what’s new) and industry insider. His daily blog cuts right to the chase, sparing no one. Here’s a bit from his diatribe reacting to Katy Perry’s Super Bowl halftime extravaganza: “I am saying it’s nowhere for music unless you can own the room, and the only one who’s been able to do this is Prince. And when a smart person witnesses such a triumph, they don’t compete.”
Encore Newsletter is a performance industry magazine that’s e-mailed weekly that “strives to provide timely and accurate information and to create a positive flow of information throughout the entertainment industry. It is our hope not only to inform, but to create business opportunities. We welcome any and all comments and encourage you to report newsworthy items for publishing.”
Pollstar, is another weekly periodical covering the worldwide concert industry. Local bands are free to submit tour dates and Pollstar “may add local or regional acts to our database as time permits but we do not guarantee the entry of any dates submitted. Artist representatives are always welcome to submit itineraries to our data processing department.” Pollstar lets you enter as many touring bands as you want to track and it sends auto-notifications when the act is coming to your city.
Of course there are more specialized publications, depending upon your interests, like Tape Op, about sound recording, Sonic Bids for gig opportunities and the Performing Rights websites for the organizations that collect performance royalties (ASCAP, BMI and SESAC).
I asked a number of music professionals, clients and fans where they get their information about the current state of the music business and to give any observations about same. Their responses cover a wide swath, but there are some common features.
Songwriter, singer and guitarist Pierce Pettis reflects the disdain many working musicians feel about the business. “I don’t get to spend a lot of time researching the music business — an oxymoron if there ever was one : )” However, the working musician in him sometimes refers to Sonic Bids for gig opportunities, as well as American Songwriter, and even articles from CD Baby from time to time. He spends a bit of time with the musician’s union website, the AFM. And from time to time he returns to Jimmy Webb’s Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting for insight into the business of songwriting.
Charles Driebe, who manages The Blind Boys of Alabama, Over the Rhine, William Bell and others, avidly reads Lefsetz, Encore and Pollstar, as well as Rolling Stone (for better or worse, it’s just about the only surviving print mag devoted to popular music). He also follows the late night talk shows, YouTube, Facebook and the NYT. Because of his strong ties to the musicians of New Orleans, Charles also reads Offbeat, Gambit and nola.com.
Nashville-based songwriter/musician Tom Whall, keeps track of the business through friends and people he works with. Facebook is a major source, “because I guess a lot of my friends are musicians.” He checks in periodically with Billboard and sometimes listens to the radio to stay current, instead of his CDs or iPod. Of course, he reads the Nashville Scene, as well as the BMI website (where he is a member). Mostly, though, he stays up to date on the industry through what everyone he knows in Nashville is saying.
Mark Podhorzer is a music business accountant, working with many entertainment clients doing tax planning and accounting. He swears by the Lefsetz Letter.
Fayssoux McLean has had a storied career, singing backup on a number of Emmylou Harris’s records as well as being a seasoned recording artist in her own right. Fayssoux doesn’t pay no nevermind to the current state of the industry, she says, and picks up most of her info from Facebook via blogs, videos, etc.
Daniel Goins of the duo Lowland Hum also reads Lefsetz for his thoughtful commentary on things happening in music and in the music industry. “We always enjoy reading his thoughts,” he says.
Nashville songwriter and musician Jon Byrd listens to CDBaby DIY Podcasts on iTunes. The DIY Musician Podcast features interviews with promoters, lawyers, publishers, bookers, and artists of all styles and backgrounds, sharing tips, tricks, breaks, and mistakes – all in the name of being indie. It’s a trove of almost 150 podcasts covering a broad range of topics of interest to DIY and indie musicians, like, How do you decide to turn down a gig, Music promotion, and How do you make money from your music. With a decided nod to the CD Baby connection. “Yeah, I know,” says Jon, “that’s not reading. But I don’t read and drive.”
Tom Baxter writes for the Saporta Report and even though he claims he’s not in the music business, he reads the Lefsetz Letter and The Rest Is Noise, the blog by the New Yorker’s classic music critic, Alex Ross. Opera Chic was a guilty pleasure, he says, “until she disappeared into Twitterland.” Being a music techie, though, Tom reads mostly “online forums for various musical products I’ve messed around with. Over time, I’ve gotten to know the Belgian teenagers, the embittered Australian alcoholics and the other characters who give each forum a specific character, like Synapse audio software forum. It gives me a sense of perspective.”
Allen Welty-Green is a keyboardist and walking trove of music info, especially in some of the more arcane areas of rock music, like prog. He reads Keyboard Magazine religiously, and the recording magazine Tape Op, both in paper form! Online sources for Allen are mostly vendors of music-related services such as CD Baby, Disk Makers, Reverbnation and Sonic Bids. And of course Facebook. His advice to musicians about the information they absorb: “Ya gotta consider the source. Every outlet has an agenda and there is no one model that fits every musician’s career. Critical thinking skills are perhaps the most important career-related skill a musician can have.”
Don Schanche, an editor at Associated Press and a fine musician, likes to read books about blues and R&B musicians of the past. “When I hear new music,” he says, “it’s usually because someone posted a video on Facebook.” And by virtue of editing stories for the AP and reading the AP wire all day, he accidentally ends up reading about the music biz.
Karen Brooks is a musician, singer and songwriter, and is responsible for writing a number of chart-topping hits on the Billboard Country Chart. Karen says, “everyone thinks that the business is so hard these days, but I think it’s just that Roger Miller and Don Gant aren’t around to make it look easy! When I’m in Nashville doing business I tend to let the music do the talking.”
Check out these resources and please let me know of any others you have found to be useful.