You Go Girl

I read with some interest the story on Madonna bailing on her traditional record company, Warner Brothers, and instead signing up with Live Nation as her one-size-fits-all promotional arm. I think this is great. I admire Radiohead, and others, who are making their records available for download at a user-defined price in defiance of the big labels. But I think that’s only a partial solution.

It’s great if you’re Radiohead and have millions of fans drooling for your next release. It’s not like you need the promotion or distribution. If you’re a new or unknown act, though, free music has a much lower value proposition. Sure, there are a few examples of bands putting their music on MySpace, drawing a reasonably large following, and then converting that into dollars for live shows and physical media. Those are really the exceptions that prove the rule. For every Eric Hutchinson, there are a thousand Emily Elberts. The fact is, there’s so much good music out there that building your success as an artist on the promise of random viral growth is an equally sound financial plan to spending a buck each week to pick the right 6 numbers. And unless you have a B-school MBA and a cadre of former classmates building brands for Procter & Gamble or General Mills, doing your own promotion is not a great option either. The music business still needs people who communicate to the masses. Enter Live Nation.

Madonna certainly does not *need* promotion any more than Radiohead does. Still, she (and her manager) know that if you want to maximize your audience you have to tell them you’re coming to town, recording a new album, selling T-shirts, etc. This is exactly what concert promotion is about. With distribution now largely left to the Internet, telling every passerby on every street in the world about the news is what artists really need. If promotion is going to be where the money is spent, the math whizs won’t be far behind documenting exactly how much various methodologies cost. Since promotion these days is mostly electronic based, the expense model will reflect today’s realities and not the business model of an industry mired in nostalgia for the 50’s. This should be a good thing for artist and consumer alike.

So, while I’m not much of a Madonna fan, I hope she becomes even more successful and I wish her all the luck in the world.

The only nagging worry in the back of my brain is we’ll see a Ebola-like spread of profiteering and the god awful “convenience fees” currently enriching shareholders of Ticketmaster will become the open soda bottle for a new generation of music industry fire ants.

But that’s just one man’s opinion.