Everyone with an interest in writing and performing is aware that the music industry has been hit by a technological tsunami and had to make dramatic changes in this century.
Like the banks, record labels and artists have plunged into negative equity. There are record company exceptions that have merged or diversified and wealthy groups and solo performers with a significant career history behind them. These winners can still sell enough music to fans and continue to earn substantial income out of licencing for film and TV, through direct download songs, merchandise sales and a stream of concert revenue generated by touring. They are represented by bands of the stature of the Rolling Stones or Coldplay and by solo artists like Neil Young or Ryan Adams. Newcomers to music struggle to be heard in the wake of those hurricanes.
|RYAN ADAMS AT BRIDGEWATER HALL|
In these times of financial uncertainly and record label mergers, new artists have to run a hurdle race for success. They either need to sound incredibly different and have combined luck, some talent, staying power and be in the right place at the right time or be fresh-faced pretty boy/s girl/s juvenile models. It is also possible to succeed by being the offspring of media high-profiled person or be an existing star of stage and screen. The truth is that ‘everyone and his dog’ can home-record and the Internet is not only awash with it there is a musical tsunami drowning out the sounds of good souls. There is one other torturous way to get through but surely it is only the deluded or the brave that choose to run the gauntlet of X Factor, The Voice or Britain’s Got Talent.
History records a period when labels hired A&R people to go to gigs and follow ‘the buzz’, but this does not appear to happen any more outside London and possibly not even in the metropolis these days. Then emerging talent might be bank-rolled – even to be Kate Bush-style nurtured - by record companies; well, those with money to burn in a spread-betting sense. But now it had all dramatically changed and the effect is that even some big names are in the doldrums.
13 years ago I was close to a band that eventually had top ten hit singles and albums but for 12 months they had struggled to find gigs and were rehearsing in a lock up garage - going nowhere. That was before a brother of the lead singer, working for an EMI secondary label, arranged for them to perform at a showcase event. Talent + luck + perseverance + who you know - one formula.
I recorded a couple of demo albums in the 200/2001 years but it took almost ten years of playing open mics and gigs at pubs before my alter ego, Dogman, chipped a tiny piece off the iceberg of music fame. This was when Tom Robinson played my track, Home Fire, on his BBC6 Music ‘Unsigned on Net’/Freshnet show in 2010. I subsequently received an email from Paul Shulver, an A&R representative for a new USA based label, Expat Records. Paul asked me to sign up with them and linked me to an Internet interview where the label President, Jeff Libby, had made interesting statements about changing the way labels treated developing artists.
Expat Records, they had just announced, were releasing a new Kool and the Gang ft Misfit R&B single. With that news, I went around bragging that I was going to be on the same label as KATG who coincidentally were touring the UK at the time.
email from Paul Shulver, 7th October 2010:
I've just been looking at your Myspace profile and think you've got some great tracks, I particularly like 'Spitfire'.
I noticed you have released some of your material yourself and I was wondering if you've considered partnering with a label to help you achieve your goals? If so, Expat Records could be an excellent option for you.
A bit about us: Expat Records is a very unique, innovative, independent music label that offers one of the biggest, broadest and most creative online music promotion and distribution in the industry. We are currently looking to grow our roster and are seeking artists with completed material.
Expat Records is very focused on success, and our priorities are our high standards of ethics, fair-play, and respect for the musician and their music. I would also like to stress that we are not a for-hire company that charges a fee for our services, we are a proper music publishing and distribution company.
I have attached a document that will give you a better idea as to what you could expect as an artist with Expat Records. Please also find here a recent interview with Jeff Libby, the founder of the label http://musicians.about.com/b/2010/09/01/qa-with-je ff-libby-of-expat-records.htm
Please note that this is not a spam email, you have been carefully selected because we think you are making great music which we believe we can take to a bigger global audience as well as generate revenue for you.
If you think that this is the type of deal that you are looking for then please contact me with your landline number or Skype ID (I’m working outside of the UK at the moment and am unable to call UK mobiles) and a convenient time to call you so that we can discuss further.
Alternatively if you'd like to ask some questions first then you're also welcome to send these over and I'll get back to you asap.
I look forward to hearing from you shortly
Best regards Paul Shulver
A&R, Expat Records
That email included a link to a Heather McDonald ‘interview article’, published online, on About.com in September 1st 2010
These are extracted Q&A which can be accessed in full online:
Question: Expat Records is a record label, but with a modern twist. Can you tell us a little about what makes Expat unique?
Jeff Libby - Answer: We call what we are doing Music 2.0: a fusion of music and technology to create a new type of record label which brings unprecedented exposure to independent musicians. We've developed a revolutionary software platform we are in the process of patenting that essentially combines multimedia syndication, social media, automated content distribution, mobile, and advanced analytics. It sounds complicated and from a technical standpoint it is, but the concept is quite simple: we get our artists' news, music, and videos in as many places and in front of as many people with similar taste as possible. This enables our artists to be on hundreds of sites around the internet in front of literally millions of potential fans for virtually no cost whereas traditional label tactics like magazine ads and street teams have exponentially higher costs and reach only a tiny fraction of the audience we reach.
Why buck the traditional label model? What made you decide to take things in a different direction?
Jeff Libby - Answer: It's shocking to me how slow the record industry has been to adopt the new technologies and lean business models of today. The modus operandi of the traditional record label is to make big bets on a small number of groups. Regardless of your opinion of this model, it is a fact that over 95% of major label artists never see a penny in royalties because they never recoup the initial investment…..
…Also, in the old days, it was almost impossible to make a proper record without a label. In addition to financing the project, labels took an active role in creating the product by providing songwriters, producers, studio musicians, etc. For this, the companies argued, they should be entitled to own the masters and pay the artist only a tiny fraction of the profits. Although this still goes on, and a times with great success, the fact is that almost anyone today can cheaply record an album at an incredibly high technical standard. As such, our model is that we partner only with artists with completed masters. The artist retains ownership of the masters, we take 100% of the risk, and we split the profit. This works out very well for artists who don't need traditional label backing to make a recording because with us they earn about a 650% higher percentage of the profits than they would with a major label.
How does the "signing" process work for musicians?
Jeff Libby - Answer: Although not just anyone can join our label the way they can sign up for Youtube or Facebook, our model allows us to take a lot more risk than even a small indie label could take, let alone a major label. Today, the major labels have become like big banks: they do not like risk at all! They want a band that already has a big following, is touring, selling a lot of downloads, etc…..
What ingredients do you think it takes to make a release successful these days? What does a musician - or label - need to be doing to be profitable in the current music industry climate?
Jeff Libby - Answer: There are two big things, and once you look at them you can see why both big labels and indies are struggling. The first is marketing and the second is a low break-even. What are you doing to bring your music to the attention of new fans, what is it costing you to do this, and what new models of revenue creation are you opening? Most musicians I speak with are great artists who understandably do not have the ability to market themselves on a large scale. Many then sign with traditional indie or even major labels and wind up even worse off. These labels either think they're so cool they don't need to do marketing or the advertising they do is extremely expensive, inefficient, and ineffective so they cut and cut as they slowly spiral down the drain. Our model is the exact opposite: high level & volume of marketing + low break-even/profitability threshold = high probability of success.
Can you share some upcoming Expat plans you're particularly excited about?
Jeff Libby - Answer: There are two innovative aspects of our program that i have not mentioned that I am very excited about. The first is our ad network. We offer each artist a full web platform (music, video, photo, merchandise, blog, tour schedule, etc), an IPhone app, and a mobile website. Each of these platforms has both fixed and video ads. Like all other revenue, the revenue from these ads is split with the artists. This is something no other record company in the world is doing. To us, it just makes sense and fits with the times. If someone does not want to buy music but just wants to watch videos and listen to streams they can do so for free and the artist still makes money, everyone wins.
What more incentive did I need?
A dream come true, however, like many
dreams, the eventual reality is often the
polarised opposite of fantasy.
Mine eventually crashed.
Paul Shulver, through this time seemed very honest and genuine to me. He told me that he had not only heard Home Fire on the Tom Robinson show (BBC6 Music) but that he had also listened to a new demo of mine, Spitfire, on MySpace. He even wrote that he was singing it around his garden. Paul explained that he had once worked for Virgin Media in London and with Bombay Bicycle Club after they won through ‘The Road to V’. He wrote that he was a fan of Neil Young and could imagine me playing like him on a back porch somewhere. He called me The English Neil Young and I still top Google with that link.
Dogman aka David Sands had arrived! I thought it somewhat ironic that Home Fire was only played after arranging for Silver Tin – a song written and performed by my singer-songwriter son, Johnny Sands, to be uploaded to BBC Introducing for the Tom Robinson show. I remember thinking: if I can do it for Johnny why not try uploading one of my songs?
A contract came via email for three albums and another for three albums for The Crossbreed – my joint project with keyboard/Treatments musician Mikans.
My fellow musicians to play on my original songs were all asked to sign the contact digitally (which is a first for me - but in keeping with a paperless company).
Expat suggested they could simply re-release my first Dogman demo album (The Whisperer) which I had launched through CD Baby and on a limited edition CD (for gigs) after advice from a local musician, Teaspoon, who had released digital albums on that site already. I wanted to go back in the studio and polish songs from The Whisperer and add new ones as I was in a rich writing vein at the time. Thinking the studio costs would be supported by the label I asked and was told they didn't have a budget for production.
I met all the recording costs and spent the best of a year, in random evenings of spasmodic sessions, recording to click tracks. The studio owner, Mr Smith added percussion and much more alongside two local musicians, Matt Pawson (guitarist and multi-instrumentalist) and Andy Penney (bass). These two guys were into my songs to the extent that Andy drove around in his car with Galileo on permanent repeat and Matt, who admitted that he had listened to the demo of Spitfire at least 100 times to develop the guitar riff he added in the studio. We eventually produced an album of different original songs that Mr Smith believed would be professional recordings that were radio-friendly for the USA.
Launching my album, The Cat that solved the String Theory, was definitely a ritual – including studio premier
and live gig at Jims Acoustic Café. To see it eventually on I-Tunes, on May 13th 2011 (my wife’s birthday) was a pleasure.
It was all looking good for an old man who thought his moment in the music business had long since gone. Tom Robinson's team selected one of my songs from the album, It's a Love Thing (higher being wants us to sing), on a Bank Holiday weekend that year and included in the show Podcast. All was good except nothing much happened with Expat-Records. I produced my own limited edition CD to sell at gigs and which is now sold out.
At the time I was being expertly guided by Paul Shulver to apply to play at small festivals; to write blogs about each song and put all the album tracks on Soundcloud as it would encourage fans. Currently I have well over 6000 followers on SC - gained only by my long-term presence on the site but I doubt 10% are actually fans of my music. In comments on my songs I have been compared to Neil Young, Roy Harper, Mick Jagger and even Towns Van Zandt which does wonders for my ego if not my bank balance.
A month after my album release in 2011, Jeff Libby released an explanation-denial PDF on why Kool and The Gang had distanced themselves from his label.
I then asked three other artists - who I knew had signed for ExPat - how they thought the relationship was going. They mainly suggested the ‘jury was out’ but that there was little to lose by signing with them.
In March, 2012, Jeff Libby sent out an email with a royalty statement attached and the miserly amount for me and band-members was not enough to even buy a discount CD. I actually earned more from PRS for the plays of It’s a love thing on the BBC6 Music than for sales of my album on ITunes and whatever platform Expat sold it to.
The Expat-Records President:
Dear Expat Records Artist/Manager,
Attached please find your latest Bi-Annual Expat Records Statement. Note that there is an extremely long lag time in our receiving the publishing royalties so there may have been additional royalties generated for this period that we have not yet received. Needless to say, we have been following up regularly with the various PRS societies and as soon as we receive them we will pay them out to you in the next statement period.
I was extremely disheartened not only by our artists’ lack of support for increased legal protection for copyright owners but in many cases their vocal opposition to it. The numbers reflected in these statements, in my personal opinion, clearly demonstrate the need for reform in the law. I say this because we have many artists with literally millions of youtube views, five and six digit numbers of soundcloud plays, but yet no one is buying the music and sites that stream it are not paying royalties.
In my personal opinion, historically, non-tangible and intellectual property (patents, copyrights, deeds, etc.) and individuals’ rights to them, have been the foundation of the creation of wealth in western society. I think that the loss of respect (and legal authority to enforce) said rights, is a great tragedy and will be looked at in the future as an egregious mistake.
I know you all have invested countless hours and dollars in your projects as we have invested in this company. Yet as a result of the current climate, until further notice, we will not be putting out any new releases. As such, we will not be exercising our options to renew any of your contracts. Further, if you have opportunities you would like to pursue prior to the end of your contract please feel free to contact me and I would be happy to authorize you to do so.
It goes without saying that even after the expiration of your contracts we will continue to pay you for whatever royalties we receive on your behalf.
Two significant people who I had dealings with over the years, Charles Lucking and Paul Shulver', were both based in Buenos Aires and they left Expat in 2012 without comment. The last email contact I had with Paul was to sign a release form for my picture to be used on a new Music App Promotion Lyynks which I have just seen online among a series of band/artist poses (April 2013).
I contacted Jeff Libby in January 2013 to enquire about obtaining the ITunes control and rights for my album back and to know what happened to Paul Shulver – his final response:
Thanks for your message, I did see you asked that. I am more than happy to answer any questions related to sales, your contract, etc. As far as my future plans for the business, what's going on with my staff, my 'ideals', etc. I'm sorry but that's not something I'm open to discussing. Thanks again, Jeff
The whole experience was enjoyable in the main and worth it; I enjoyed composing songs and most of recording process, working with musicians and my interaction with A&R Paul.
To date, I have still not received any further royalties from Expat-Records. I have learned to be more realistic and accept that there is never going to be a time for me to ‘make’ it as a musician in terms of appearing on Jools, Later like Seasick Steve. One hope I do still have is that either Dolly Parton or Taylor Swift covers my song ‘Valentine Light’ or it gets played on BBC Radio 2. The royalties might be nice.