Posts from the Business School Dropout Category

Labels often create series of recordings. Occasionally, these form part of a coherent project that means something to the customer. Most of the time, though, the connection between the recordings is only important to the record label*, and the real reason for having a series is because it saves time when you’re trying to convince retailers to stock them.

How, though, is the customer supposed to make sense of this?

Don’t fret. I’m looking out for you. Here’s a helpful glossary of the most common catalog(ue) marketing terms. It’s all you need to know:

Original = Old

Legend = Old

Classic = Old

Great = Old

Master = Old

Gold = Old

Platinum = Very old

Pleasure = Cheap

Ultimate = Cheap

Best = Cheap

Most = Cheap

Supreme = Very cheap

Masterpieces = Cheapest

Complete = Big

Essential = Too big

Greatest = Old and cheap

Edition = Same record, different cover.

Collection = Too old, too big, and not nearly cheap enough.

Library = Run for the hills. Do it while there’s still time.

* Are these all recordings on which the artists are no longer due royalties? Are they 1960s vinyl releases having a last shot at incremental revenue before they enter the public domain? Have artists active on the label recorded the same repertoire, triggering a price drop on the old records? Are these better than the new recordings but not nearly as easy to market? Who cares. The covers are crap, but they’re cheaper now.

If you’re in the habit of doing this sort of thing…

…and then this…

…then it’s a pretty safe bet you’re despised by everybody who works with you.

On the upside, though, you probably underestimate how often your colleagues do this…

…because the only way you’ll find out is if the boss is dumb enough to do something like this:*

* Which, once in a while, most bosses are. I certainly have been. Somebody should really make this button…

…look more like this:

Consultants: save time following up on prospective clients by enclosing this handy reply form at the end of each proposal.

The PDF here might be easier to read.

People keep asking me to help them start a label.

The first question I ask is “why do you want to start a label?”

It’s astonishing how few people have a clear answer.

Source: It’s pretty obvious I just made this up

That’s not to say that there’s no good reason to start a label, or that nobody should do it, but if you don’t know what you’re hoping to achieve, it won’t be easy to achieve it.

“We heard about it at a conference”

This is a silly reason to do anything. A better reason would be “we heard somebody achieved specific measurable goals and we think we can do the same”.

“Somebody offered to pay for it”

Did they offer to pay for it in perpetuity? If not, you’ve got three options:

1) Treat the funding as start-up capital for a self-sustaining venture

2) Come up with a plan for long-term funding

3) Approach it as a short-term project, in which case “starting a label” might not be the best way to go about getting recordings to the public.

“It looks easy”

I frequently encounter a belief among orchestras that making records is the hard bit, and the rest is easy. While this might* be true for anybody who doesn’t have an orchestra at their disposal, those tend not to be the folks who fall for this mistake. Think about it like this: if getting a few dozen people you already employ to do something they already do is the hard bit, the easy bit had better be very easy.

The “easy” bit here is getting thousands of people you don’t even know, let alone employ, to give you money for something they don’t know they want. I’m quite good at this bit, but it’s not my idea of easy.

*I say “might” because in my experience, making the record isn’t the hard bit when you’re doing everything yourself, and it isn’t the expensive bit when you’re paying other people to do it all. I wish I could find an online source to back this up.

“It looks fun”

Making records is quite satisfying, because you get to say “Here: I finished it”. Getting people to buy records is quite hard work, and it is never done.

“Everybody else is doing it”

The way I see it, this is a good reason to seriously consider not doing something.

“A big boy did it”

Something that works for a large organisation might not necessarily work for a small one. We have to play to our strengths, and a smaller organisation enjoys freedoms a bigger one can only dream of.

“Because we can”

This isn’t a reason at all. A media project might be an experiment, but unless you know everything, what do you do that isn’t an experiment? There’s still a point to it. What are you hoping to find out? If you’re not going to give it a chance by doing it properly, you won’t learn anything at all. “Because we can” is often a weak excuse to go ahead without a real plan.

“It’s the best way to achieve a specific goal”

Ok. There are some upsides. Goals might include:

– Making the recordings you want to make (remembering these aren’t always the recordings people will buy)

– Taking ownership of your recorded media (remembering that this also generally means assuming some of the risk)

– Keeping all the profit (or eating all the losses)

– Controlling the way your brand is used (but having to do all the work)

– Reaching new marketing outlets (remembering you have to actually market to them)

– Reaching a global audience (and taking on the work of marketing to the whole world)

– Creating a durable record of what you played (and finding a way to pay for it)

Once you’ve defined the goals, it’s worth asking if investing in conventional music distribution is the only way of achieving them. Do you need to sell your recordings at all? If you want them to be available to the broadest possible audience and you weren’t approaching this as a for-profit enterprise, might it actually be less expensive to give them away? Could you ask for something other than money in return?

Taking charge of your media activity has to be an integral part of controlling your own future, and there are organisations who are ideally placed to start a successful label, but there’s more to an innovative media strategy than simply doing what everybody else does.

I’m spending my day trying to put together a PowerPoint presenation for a bunch of stuff that is:

1) Too complicated to put on a single slide

2) Too interdependent to put on multiple slides


3) Really something that we should be discussing, not something on which I should be delivering a lecture*

* That last one was too long for a bullet point. I couldn’t even do a PowerPoint slide about why this stuff shouldn’t be in PowerPoint. That’s how feeble a tool PowerPoint is for serious discourse.

It’s frustrating, so as a displacement activity I went looking for a copy of Edward Tufte’s excellent “The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint” – an expertly conceived and adeptly executed attack on the glib and reductionist presentation style encouraged by Microsoft’s horribly ubiquitous slideshow application.

I couldn’t find an eBook for you to download, but I did find that some smartass has condensed the entire 28-page essay into a 16-slide presentation. That seemed like precisely the kind of sarcastic tomfoolery I would get up to, so I had to share it.

The exception doesn’t prove the rule. An exception proves that the rule is an imperfect analogy that you can’t count on. It’s not quite as catchy, but it is pretty much the entire foundation of modern science. Finding exceptions to rules is the only way we have to confidently separate the good ideas from the bad ones.

Here are ten factors that are easy enough to measure, but terribly dangerous to rely upon to tell you any more than exactly what they tell you.

 1) Number of twitter followers

The number of followers you have on Twitter is a good indication of the amount of time you’ve spent on Twitter, but it’s not a good measure of your ability to influence people. If it was, Gustavo Dudamel (24,472 followers) would sell a lot more records than Anna Netrebko (1,932 followers).

2) Number of blog subscribers

Blogs acquire subscribers over time in much the same way as stones of the not-rolling variety gather moss. Those people aren’t necessarily reading your blog.

According to Google Reader, Alex Ross has 10x as many subscribers as I do. If subscriber count was proportional to readership, I’d see a huge spike in traffic every time he links to me. In fact, the links generate about as much traffic for me as I do for him, when I return the favour. (more…)