In our December Twitter chat (#DMchat16), music industry consultant Bobby Borg shared his predictions for the future of the music industry in 2017 and beyond.
Bobby Borg is best known as a music industry consultant, author and musician. He is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music with a BA in Professional Music and is an educator at the Musician’s Institute and UCLA Extension. Bobby is the author of Billboard Books’ bestseller The Musician’s Handbook and Hal Leonard’s Music Marketing For The DIY Musician. Learn more at www.bobbyborg.com. To view the entire chat transcript, visit this link. Below is a reformatted version of our discussion about the future of the music industry. To be notified about our upcoming chats, subscribe to our Facebook events!
What was the biggest challenge that musicians faced promoting their music in 2016?
Clutter was one of the biggest challenge for artists in 2016. Too many bands, and not enough uniqueness! Uniqueness is an artist’s greatest asset. Uniqueness is not just being different, it is being relevant. To find uniqueness, open your eyes to the world. Ask yourself these questions:
- Where are things now and where are they going?
- What need can you fill that no one is currently filling?
- Can this unfilled need be your niche?
Determine if you have the strengths to follow this opportunity and if it is aligned with your vision. Uniqueness truly is the artist’s greatest asset. Remember this, gang! You must lead with your heart and art first. If you are an artist, you must find a way to stand out. I’m not talking about being weird, just different and relevant.
Why should artists approach their careers like entrepreneurs or tech start-ups?
Artists are businesses. They are their own company. Most investors today (labels, publishers, etc.) want to see progress in artists first. With all the tools and info, there is no excuse for an artist not to create some noise first. No one will save you! Save yourselves! You want this career? Take it! This may be a long-term endeavor, but if you love music, that shouldn’t matter.
Just be sure to measure your marketing, and make sure that what you are doing is really working! Don’t throw good money after bad money. If something is not working, figure out way and fix it or move on. It is difficult to do that if you are blending in with what someone else has already created before you. If what you are doing is working, then stick with it. Furthermore, always be open to exploring other possibilities.
How should artists leverage their intellectual property into alternate revenue streams in 2017?
A song is an asset that can generate money in film, games, commercials, documentaries, and more. But first: Look at your product (the song) and all the various product line expansions. It’s about INNOVATION! Here are some examples:
- Instrumental: Have a mix without the lyrics and you have yet another product to market.
- Translation version: Sing the song in another language.
- Unplugged version: Have an acoustic version of the song to create new licensing opportunities.
- Live version: Create a live version of the song.
- Create a manuscript of your song to create yet another product.
- Write a lyric book with explanations of the inspiration behind your works.
- Develop merchandising (t-shirts) based on cool phrases from your songs.
- Release the recorded STEMS of your songs so fans can remix them and share.
- For licensing, think out of the box. A friend approached an MMA fighter and wrote his theme music for when he entered the ring.
- Approach small businesses and write their jingles.
- Hang out at film festivals and meet directors.
- Approach college and documentary filmmakers.
Don’t just go for the “home run” BIG publishing deals. I share many more examples in my book Music Marketing For The DIY Musician.
Do you agree that an artist’s success will be driven by touring and merch in the future?
No one can completely predict the future of the music industry, but I can say that people want things for free. Music, books, movies… However, it’s hard to copy the excitement of humans hanging together to see an event. Humans naturally like to congregate around each other at places like festivals and concerts. Thus, it makes sense to have an amazing live show that draws people in. Make your performances memorable. Again, it is about uniqueness.
Whatever you do, do NOT be like the next band. You have to stand out. I’m not talking about gimmicks; I’m talking about a professional live SHOW. A production! Merch is really about the person wearing the shirt, not as much about you. People make a statement about themselves through the clothes they wear.
Make your band brand stand for something specific and relevant to your audience. Make them want to identify with you, and thus, represent you and advertise you. Again, a live event is something people naturally congregate to. Therefore, merch is the souvenir. The issue of uniqueness and finding your place in the market is a very important and sensitive area.
With new tech tools launching each day, do you think artists will need to have more business skills or a better team?
First, tech tools come after the plan of attack. Don’t let the tools lead you. Artists must understand the basics of marketing and business. Marketing is not Twitter or Facebook. Twitter is just a tool to help you to convey info and build a brand. So yes, it’s not about the tools, it is about learning more about marketing and business first. A team will become important to take over at some point down the line. But first, you must attract the attention of those who can help by helping yourself.
I think musicians MUST look at their careers from the eyes of an investor. What investor would want to throw money and time into a product that really is no more than someone’s rock star dream? The more an artist does to make their dream a reality, the more convinced the investors will be that it is a worthy product/opportunity. It is that simple.
And with all the information and tools available today, there is no reason not to make progress on your own first. Any business, any idea, needs to be developed before people get excited about it. So, develop it and the rest will come. There is so much you can do on your own first. Write great songs, get them recorded well, and make great videos. Have a great show!
Music-wise, how will songwriting change to reflect shifting population demographics in the next few years?
Songs should be a reflection not of necessarily the writer, but of the people the songs are written for. Until you are a Beatle, no one cares what you have to say, but rather how it reflects on their own life. The world is changing. In the US, the Hispanic population is growing fast. Perhaps this could open opportunities for bilingual material.
Also, the world is changing with regard to sexual orientation and the perceptions of this. Perhaps this could create different scenarios in what writers will say lyrically. What will the new traditional love song be? Anything goes. Most of all, we are in a global marketplace. So, all styles of music can be blended to create new styles.
What will an artist’s branding and platform look like moving forward? What do they need to do to grow and thrive?
Brand identity is about how you want to be perceived. A brand image is about how people perceive you. There are more opportunities for bands to create the right image in their fans’ minds. An image can be created largely on social networks, performing live, and more.
Will tastemakers continue to be relevant through 2020, or will automation and algorithms replace them?
This may be a question more for a techy, but tastemakers will always have influence. The more a tastemaker is talking and spreading the news, the more relevant higher posts and the more likely that they will be recognized as relevant in algorithms.
Do you think artists will need to grow their product offerings, or become more focused and specialized?
Yes, artists need to grow their offerings, but a brand must be clear about what is does. This is what the concept of positioning is all about. Apple, for instance, doesn’t only manufacture computers. They expanded that high-quality tech brand position into its music download and now streaming platforms. It also created high quality stores and customer service. The key positioning statement is high-quality tech, and that stays consistent throughout their product line.
Are revenue models going to change? Will artists be more incentivized to create music in the next few years?
I’m losing incentive to write books, because everyone just wants the info for free! But, there are other things that I do. Classes, seminars, exclusive video content, and more. This is the same for artists. People don’t really buy music anymore. Therefore, you’d better expand your product line and create multiple streams of income.
Guest: How necessary will music labels be in the future? Will artists be able to become popular without them, as some have done already?
Traditional music labels will always have their place, but today it is more possible for YOU to run your own label. On your own, it is definitely possible for you to make a serious impact on the world!
Guest: How important is playing live in today’s online world?
Playing live in an online world is still important, but it depends on what you do. For example, many of my friends are DJs. They get plays on Beatport, Soundcloud, and YouTube, and as a result, this leads to live bookings.
Disc Makers’ marketing manager Lucy Briggs conducted this interview with Bobby Borg. Check out Bobby’s website and follow him on Twitter.
Predictions for the music industry: Part 1
Predictions for the music industry: Part 2
The 360 Deal – the music industry’s scary monster
Developing your artist brand
Five elements of your artist brand
Five strategies to help boost music merch sales
If You Ain’t Measuring, You Ain’t Marketing
Your live show is the best music marketing tool – just follow the numbers
One thought on “The future of the music industry: Q&A with Bobby Borg”
I think this kind of advice is great for people who make music as a means to an end, that end being money devoid of any connection to purpose or mission or art. What a drab world to live in, where music is a mere presentation supporting a brand, based on a formula. Okay, there are music careers that fit this model and I don’t mind that some people find joy in them. But there is still a thing that young people can do, and if they do it long enough, they’ll have something precious. That is, learn your discipline, perform passionately, speak from your heart, and reach out to people with real emotions, not branded ones. This is what the world really needs now, more than ever. One honest song written without premeditation of “success” can go much further, in the long haul, and bring peace to the hearts of thousands. Go get another job if you have to, to support your truth. The world does care about what you have to say.