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It’s almost like one combined Eureka Moment by many- too many-musicians who have suddenly realised that all those years of performing for free for “exposure” and giving music away- also for free- for “promotion” hasn’t led anywhere except being led down the proverbial garden path by charlatans- you know who you are- into a vortex of nothing with no light at the end of a very long tunnel allowed to plod along the same track for almost fifteen years.

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Writing recently to one of a handful of people I respect who has an interest in the global entertainment business for all the right reasons about the $3000 in royalties paid to Pharrell Williams by Pandora for 45 million streams of “Happy” on its site, he had this to say: “Music streaming is a disaster for artists! I have been working on lots of ideas around this subject. The dilemma is that the only solution is for artists to go it alone, though easier said than done. The record companies gain the most from low streaming payments. They get paid huge advances by the streaming sites which are always in excess of the earnings, so they are not affected by the low rates.”

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CEO of Ministry Sound Lohan Presencer, below, went into greater detail on how we have, basically, taken something of value- the music many have created and produced at costs to themselves, or asking/begging fans for financing to make that new record- and then giving it away for free. Kickstarter is more like a kick up the bum for the loyalty of music fans. There’s nothing in it for them. Literally.

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An alternative Christmas message to the music industry from Lohan Presencer – THE GUARDIAN

As for Lohan Presencer, he’s settled his case against streaming site Spotify out of court, but it’s obvious that he’s still not happy with the way things are. But the question is, now that the genie is out, how does one pop it back into the bottle and “re-teach” an entire generation that everything is not a free buffet- and that music comes with a price tag?

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Of course, one can make music for the pure joy of it- the joy of performing, of turning words into a song that chronicles a time in your life, or being inspired by “her” who walked into your heart when you least expected it. Or walked out to let the right one in.

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That’s the magic of music. And no one can also take away the hope of making it- thinking someone who has the power to make your music a hit, hears it and goes to bat for you. But, in this day and age, angel investors and fairy godmothers are thin on the ground. The charlatans have taken over.

Simon Cowell

We can dream. But, at some point, the dreaming and wishful thinking and dependence on others to make things work for you must stop.

As my friend wrote, artists gotta do things for themselves- and face some hard truths.

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For example, what does a hit mean today, anyway? What does topping the charts mean when, like Facebook likes and YouTube views and Twitter followers, this can also be bought? Ego gratification? A false sense of fame and recognition? And then what? A false sense of hope?

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Everything that was simple and could be taken at face value has become two-faced and a dog’s breakfast with far too many with extremely little knowledge offering advice- and with no one really having any answers.

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Gawd knows I was blinded by bullshit by many about everything from music publishing, copyright, and recording contracts to being strung along by one-time relevant names in music. It hurts when those you once looked up to also turn out be shysters, but it does make one stronger and realistic and very wary of strangers from afar bearing gifts that are empty promises. But, you live, you learn and finally realise that only you can do what’s best for you.

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This is where the DIY world needs to be expanded into the business side of being creative.

Streaming is something I have never bought into. Think about it: A song and accompanying video is streamed for a month. It’s had millions of streams, which are views. So, why would a music fan bother to pay and download the track? They’ve outgrown it.

Streaming should be used sparingly- and as a promotional tool where one has a tiny window to see and hear the music. But where so many in music companies go very wrong is when they might know the digital world, but are clueless about music fans. This is where and why the streaming of music cannot work in tandem with downloads. That’s a marriage working at loggerheads. But music companies that do these deals with streaming sites don’t care. Their huge advances and one-off payments come from how much music they can bundle and offer these sites as “their” content. The music is out of the artists heads and into their hands- and then into the hands of some faceless third party like Spotify, Pandora, Ten Cent in China and all these other streaming sites building up data bases which they hope they can unload for billions. But theirs has always been a shaky business model based almost entirely on subscriptions.

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Dancers perform underneath logo of Tencent at Global Mobile Internet Conference in Beijing

Who has time to subscribe these days while many still have a fear of using their credit card online? Beware the hackers. If it can happen to Sony Pictures…

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More and more, there must be far less music out there- totally the reverse of that old mantra a few years ago about there being “more music than ever before”. And so?

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Is iTunes “good” for musicians? iTunes is good for iTunes and Apple. How do unknown artists compete on iTunes with the Rihannas, the Taylor Swifts, the U2s etc for visibility on iTunes? They can’t. So your music is available on iTunes. How is anyone meant to know without the marketing machinery of a U2 behind you?

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Like trudging up those twelve steps to find that Higher Power and tripping when reaching Amends, getting to the point where today’s generation understands that music comes with a price tag and there’s a return on investment to those who work to produce their art must be rammed home. But not with any of that “Save The Music” old school corporate bollocks.

Save The Music cartoon

A musician friend of mine recently mentioned that if you have what people want and hold they keys to this kingdom, then the sky’s the limit. This can be said about any product, but when it comes to music, have all the great songs been recorded and how high is the limit to that sky even if a song has everything going for it? How long is the lasting power of the song in isolation?

With “Happy”, people paid and bought into the song because of the video- and all the videos that went viral- and the image and fashion of Pharrell Williams.

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Could any other artist have pulled off the global phenomenon that was “Happy”? No. Whether he planned it or not, Pharrell Williams turned his simple, catchy song into a global campaign that he owned and went a long ways towards enhancing and giving added value to the Pharrell Williams brand and product line.

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Of course, Pharrell Williams is Pharrell Williams and at fortysomething, his career has been on a steady upward spiral from the days of N.E.R.D and before and bringing out his own products like Ice Cream sneakers and the Billionaires Boys Club to where he is today and deserving of all the success he is enjoying today. What can be learnt from all this?

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As my musician friend says, Give people what they want. Pharrell Williams did exactly this and even sub-divided his music projects. He was part of N.E.R.D. On his own he remains a songwriter, he is a producer, he is a recording artist.

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For new or artists still facing anonymity despite years of recording and knocking on doors, perhaps it’s time to re-work their business model.

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Once upon a time, it was all about the music. Today, it’s all about it all- the music, fashion, apps, the various platforms and everything else that appeals to the music fan who has a buffet of choices to interest and inter-act with and involve them.

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In any industry after this particular consumer, it’s playing by their rules and being smart enough to give them something that you own and which they want. It might be music, it might be an app, it might be sneakers and it might be all three.

In this day and age of bundling, it’s how all this stuff is presented and made available.

As a firm believer in all for one and one for all, it’s also surely time not to be beholden on others from the Old Country such as music companies and then be lemmings and follow everyone else.

It’s time to work with other like-minded individuals and create a platform that filters out the fluff and tests what does and doesn’t work by offering consumers with 10-12 artists and their work as opposed to a bottomless pit like iTunes that has everything but with so much falling through the cracks.

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Create your own scaled down hybrid of SHAZAM and Amazon and see what happens.

If you don’t, I will.

Shazam music app

Hans Ebert
Chairman and CEO
We-Enhance Inc and Fast Track Global Ltd
www.fasttrack.hk