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Updated: May 6

By Grant Collinsworth 19-APR-2024

Old School is out
No Country For Old Music-Distribution Methods


Once upon a time; in the same place we live at now, but so long ago; there were aspiring musicians; executive teams of record labels; booking managers; A&R Reps; PR /Marketers; Publishers, all of who came together and proceeded to assemble and present some of the world's finest modern music acts on the planet.

The signatures and brands of these acts were indisputably distinct and memorable. They appealed to a broad pool of local and international cultures. They influenced and instigated significant social movements throughout the world; all within their own era.

Then, one day, they all either died or retired happily ever after. - The End.

Entering the 'Age of Guerilla Production'

While the Boomer generation is most likely to appreciate what follows here ... time has forced them to relinquish the old guard and gracefully step back; (for this is definitely no longer the country for old music-men and their old music industry methods).

A new priesthood of creative agency has reached puberty. And It turns out, that the music-industry trees, which Boomers planted (for shade and beauty); have been chopped down by younger agencies for the firewood. But, no matter what generational branch you've been perching on...grab your favorite brew and read on.

A Recap of Contrasts

In the commercial music Industry; the contrast between 'what was before' and 'what is current', is rather stark. We've witnessed a fancy guppy evolve into a barracuda.

BEFORE: A Qualified Industry

Music Production: Labels were the dominant force. In collaboration with a variety of entertainment industry partners; they managed the production , promotion, AND distribution of music. (Copyrights were usually managed by associated publishers)

Old Record Label
Circa Early 1900s. Others would follow

FCC regulators, broadcasters and subsequent marketers dictated 'acceptable' song themes, which Label A&R teams pushed onto the candidate artists.

Depending on who you ask; most songs, (if qualified as commercially viable for mass exposure) would typically meet the Nashville standard of format and packaging. Artists would provide the basic arrangement for verse , chorus, bridge, etc. Music producers would help polish up the songs with selections of brass, string and/or supporting vocals... and they usually directed the sound-editing, mix and effects. (In most cases, artist themes would be required to align with (or lead) the trend of prevailing audience tastes (Underground artists call that 'selling out' ). Audience tastes were usually the by-product of limited, de-facto broadcasting choices; milled out and presented to listeners by FCC regulators and marketing executives.

Promotion: was done primarily through radio & television airplay and through live touring. A relational trilogy emerged; whereby audiences and artists often shared mutual loyalty with broadcasters.  (Payola notwithstanding) In general; audiences were more vested in the sustainability and longevity of their favored artists (via the 'hit songs that kept on coming'). Keep in mind; before internet...consumers of pop music had shared a much stronger sense of personal ownership; curation and confidence in artists' reliability. The artists brought a sense of camaraderie with the public; and their works were often the backdrop theme of life, itself, for many fans. (I refer you to 6 years of Beatles albums as one of many examples)

Distribution: Channels of distribution were fairly simple and sustainable. Music consumers were able to purchase vinyl record, cassette tape or CD disc directly through boutique retail stores or specialized outlets. (Does anyone remember the record clubs; by which you could get records for pennies, but there were always defects in the missing the spindle hole; or misaligned labels , etc...? )

Copyright Management: Professional artists typically licenced publishers to manage the copyright registration, mechanical-rights distribution and associated Performance-rights revenues of their works.

Royalties: Labels, generally paid out 'masters royalties' to the artist. (I.E. distribution royalties to the Mechanical Copyrights holder(s) . Such holders included artists and/or artist-licensed publishers The standard split of revenue payments between labels and publishers was @50% each . Each side of that was responsible to manage their own expenses. This included payouts to associated promoters, distributors, engineers, and other partners. The artist (copyright holders) were usually at the bottom of that list and were said to receive between 2-5% per album sale. This included distribution, composition and recording performance royalties (which were also divided up with other collaborating artists and /or support staff)

CURRENT: A Not-So Qualified Industry

One Man Band.  All the tracks are covered.
One Man Band. Have Studio; Will travel

Music Production: There are still a few major labels around. But, within the last two decades; there has been an explosion of recording-software technologies; which have invoked a proliferation of DIY (Do-It-Yourself) artists. The tech is so compelling, that independent artists can now engineer and compile their own recordings. (And man, does it show!) Thanks to 'Emancipation from the studio', artists can now fully produce themselves and release their own music to the cyber markets. The technology also raises a question of whether or not it's even necessary for an individual artist to fuss over maintaining a full stage band. With a capacity to produce fully isolated backing tracks; artists can arm themselves on stage with a tablet; press play and perform with their primary instrument; while enjoying the benefit of a 'full-band' sound.

What used to be the The Nashville standard of song format and packaging (for three chords and the truth) has become somewhat transformed. DIY artists are exploring 'minimalist' alternative formats and arrangements (In few cases; two chords or less) . There is an ever increasing emergence of hybrid-genres, and niches. Music professional development lends itself to a litany of DIY guides (Most being Online services via subscriptions).

Promotion: In the absence (or scarcity) of big label promotion teams; AND due to a diminishing life of human (free-Form) radio broadcasting; (There goes the Last DJ - Tom Petty) DIY artists are left with a range of online Music Marketing tools, available to them.

The two most common providers of these tools are Google and Meta. Artists can use existing Ad Manager campaign tools to create standard or custom campaigns. Built-in algorithms help manage the target audience traffic (reach, impression; and conversions); The outcomes from these campaigns are driven by an artist's advertisement budgets; As a general rule; the higher the Ad budget, the better the campaign results. Unfortunately; most of the tools aren't very transparent or intuitive. Most DIY artists lack a necessary understanding of marketing methods and strategies. Thus, they stand a risk of plowing through their campaigns; tossing ad dollars at the wrong demographic or target audiences. In other cases , it's done with horrible timing; which includes releasing material during off season; or amidst the release window by other artists (of epic presence and appeal). A much harder lesson emerges, as well... Many artists discover and realize that even with a perfect campaign; that perfection cannot compensate for poor and inadequate material. This begs the question: Why is a litany of amateur releases being allowed to flood the markets today? (If you don't already know the answer, it will become obvious as you read on.)

Distribution: Vinyl and cassette formatted music has more or less been relegated to vintage category and must be special ordered by consumers. CD Discs are also basically obsolete. (The associated costs to create and distribute music in these formats seems to have gone by the wayside.) DIY artists have the option to open their own websites; where they can digitally upload their work and post it for sale (via a shopping cart) or they may decide to post their work to a third-party 'clearing-house' retailer (A.K.A. streaming platforms). Services like Spotify or Distro Kid, etc..will vendor an artist's music through consumer 'playlist'. subscriptions...But, there is a cost...

Copyright Management Publishers still exist and still manage copyright registration, mechanical-rights distribution, and associated Performance-rights revenues. There is more emphasis (within the last decade) for Sync Licensing management. Copyright compliance and enforcement has become increasingly more complex.

Royalties: Rather than belabor how royalties are paid out here; one simple difference: Todays payouts have been hijacked by a quagmire of Internet overlords; which we will call "Streaming Platforms". (This article talks about it in Part 2.)

If you believe that the record Labels of yesteryear were exploitive, greedy and unfair...It may be that you ain't seen nothing yet...

Get back in your studio!...No whining!
Get back in your studio!...No whining!

The DIY approach to managing a music career in today's music industry lends to the appearance of rock-solid liberation from the costs of professional production studios. But, nothing could be further from the truth.

DIY artists are more susceptible to a battery of exploitations, all of which favor the benefit of the industry executives, publishers, (and surviving Labels). Social media is chock full of content distributors; who sell young musicians the promise of a "Gold Rush". Despite the new technology; artists are still at the very bottom of the money hierarchy. The only real difference between 'what was' and 'what is' comes down to the painful efficiency, by which today's internet overlords prey on artists' hopes and aspirations. (See The Misguided Grind For the Holy Trifecta.) But the absolute worst part of that is the fact that we artists keep falling for it!

Boost Ads (A Break Down and How They Work )

Money Black hole
Money Black Hole

The internet is pounded, daily with unknown, unvetted artists; who have decided to start their own websites; upload their typically unknown, unvetted songs and then proceed to promote their songs by running online boost-ad campaigns. The objective is to expose their songs to as many online users as possible and get them to click , explore and hopefully, buy a copy of the songs.

Reach & Impression:

Anecdote: In order to sell one (1) download of the song to an online stranger (aka Non Fan) it takes approximately 20K to 30K reaches /impressions. That is; the ad must first reach its target audience on active browsers and mobile feeds. (The Ad manager web-crawling tool(s) deploy special algorithms to identify and reach specific target audiences ) . Then, the Ad has to be 'seen' by the target audience (regardless of whether it scrolls past the ad or lingers on it) .


Out of 30k reach, approximately 30-40 targeted users (or .0013% of the target audience) are likely to engage (Click) the Ad to 'learn more' about the song.


Out of 30-40 targeted users, who clicked the ad; maybe 1 or 2 conversions (purchase of the song) will transpire.

Ad Budgets (Example):

To obtain a reach of 30k (or more); the artist's campaign budget might cost approximately $200.00 dollars; and would ideally be divided up by a minimum daily of $20/per day for 10 days.. (According to Meta; anything less than $20/per day is useless and ineffective) . So, if one conversion or stream/sale of a song yields $1.25 in revenue; your return on investment is approximately .00625% of $200.00.


An often overlooked and grossly understated fact about boost ads, is that the Ad campaign actually competes for space on audience feeds. For example: Have you ever accidently clicked off of a Facebook page and lost the bookmark of the video or post you were browsing through?

The feed automation on the Facebook wall continuously updates and refreshes. Some of that can be directly attributed to 'sponsored advertisement'; grabbing up the next available spot on the feed, to leave an impression for your eyes to see. Facebook runs a 'feed refresh' frequently and is often based on a variety of user actions. This necessarily implies that Ads do not sit still and they have a very short shelf life.

But, who decides its your ad or someone else's to take the spot? All other factors being equal; the higher paying advertiser takes precedence over the 'cheapskates'... Translation: A $100k ad to promote an album for an artist like Bob Dylan or Taylor Swift is gonna stomp out most other artists' ads (indeed, like a Godzilla on Bambi). This is especially true for traffic during prime-time windows of exposure. (Just like TV commercials; some ads are relegated to the proverbial midnight hour, where the cat videos stream on through.)

Alternative to DIY Boost Ads:

Oh look! Your song is gaining exposure!
"Oh look! Your song is gaining exposure!"

Because online promotion and distribution are often closely tied with each other; many online streaming platforms/distributors (such as Spotify or Distrokid) will actually help their subscribing artists manage the promotion side .

There are premium subscriptions/fees for advanced assistance from these platforms.

One benefit to subscribing-artists is that the subscription relieves the artists from the headache of trying to figure out optimal promotion strategies. All the work is done for them. Not so beneficial, is the boiler-plate effect, which streaming platform strategies invoke. Using a 'one-size- fits-all' to lump like-minded artists together under one category of demographic identity is likely to bury and/or sabotage any given artist's individual standing in the music community. Subscribers are literally competing with thousands of others for attention.








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