“Danderfans” Raise The Bar On YouTube, and Monetizing music: A Thing Of The Past?

consoleHello, good morning, and welcome to the Saturday (Morning) News Post!

For all those who have YouTubed me in the past, and I know there are many of you, the wait is over. I’m finally here on YouTube now! Boo-yeah!

Now, for the rest of you, who are wondering why I’m so excited to be a website that features videos like “Guinea pig Speaks Shanghainese” and “Fat Kid Falls Off Bike,” a website that anyone can be on. Well, I’m excited because I HAD FANS PUT THE VIDEO UP FOR ME! That’s right,… fans. Not only that, but they live in France! You see that!? You see? I’ve got fans around the globe,… and by “around the globe” I mean,… in France,…and by “around” I mean in Clermont-Ferrand.

So a big thank you to Edouard and Amanda in Clermont-Ferrand, France. You have both advanced to 1st Rank Danderfer fans, or “Danderfans” if you will (thanks SJ!). If we were in Vancouver right now, I’d be donning you with a gold medal,… well, maybe not, but at least a little bouquet of those yellow flowers they hand out, maybe even a commemorative cone-head team Canada tuque. So way to set an example for the other Danderfans around the world! The bar has been raised.

Why haven’t I uploaded some video to YouTube myself? you ask. Please! Don’t make me laugh! We all know I’m far too busy blogging about my career to actually attend to it! I mean, come on! However, if you insist, I’ve got a little footage from a show last Summer I could post. Okay, you can stop insisting now, I’ll get on it.

Some of you may be wondering “Doesn’t JD mind the fact that people are posting his music online for free?” I’m so glad you asked. No, I don’t. Which brings me to this weeks other topic: “Monetizing music: A Thing Of The Past?

I met with McGill University’s Music Marketing teacher Shelley Stein-Sacks this past week to ask him a few things about the biz, to clarify what needs to be done to work towards, you know… actually making a living at this:

JD: Does it make any sense in 2010 to restrict online access to one’s music? In other words, what is the benefit to offering just a sample of my music online (all available for online purchase of course) as opposed to just giving it away.

SS: None. You won’t benefit at all from approaching it that way. You see, you’re still trying to monetize your music, your CDs, your downloads. You can’t monetize music any more.

JD: (long pause) I’m sorry,… I didn’t quite catch that. Would you mind repeating?… Because HAHA, it almost sounded like you just said “You can’t monetize music any more.” HAHA (enter nervous beads of sweat forming on brow).

SS: You can’t. It doesn’t work like that anymore. There is so much free music available to people now, your competition is giving their music away. No, you can’t monetize it.

JD: (Now teary-eyed, lower lip trembling) But, but I,… I’m spending almost $7 k on my next electroacoustic EP, and you’re,… you’re telling me it’s not worth anything?!

And there you have it folks, two guys looking at one subject from two very different perspectives.

Many of you are saying “Silly jazz clarinetist, of course it’s not worth anything! I’ve got 2 years worth of free music on ipod alone, and that’s nothing compared to my terrabyte drive at home.”

Am I out of touch with reality? Perhaps we musicians have an inflated sense of the value of our own music? Or perhpas it’s not an inflated sense at all, but a very real sense of the dollars and cents production value of our music. Laypeople are often surprised to find out what goes into that CD they buy (or used to buy), take my last recording for example: when all was said and done, once the musicians were paid, and the studio, and renting a piano, and the recording engineer, and getting it mixed, then mastered, then getting the design/layout work done, then having a thousand copies pressed, then mailing it out for reviews or to radio stations, it cost me no less than 9 grand. Not a record label. Me. And that’s not even mentioning all of the time that goes into preparing the music for a such a recording.

This isn’t to meant to guilt people into paying for music (I also have a lot of free music on my hard drive) but I think it does help to explain the musicians perspective and why some of us are slow to accept the “new music business model.”

But you know what? On the other hand, I really do want people listening to my music, that’s why I pay to have it released instead of just filing it away as documentation for Christ’s sake! Hell, I’d rather have people listening to it for free than not listening to it at all. I want it to be as easy to access as possible, so in a way, I’d be quite happy to just give it away for free. Is music just a tool with which to bring people to live shows? I’m just not seeing how indepent musicians can afford to keep producing recordings this way.

Wow! This is really sounding like a desperate plea for people to buy my next release. It’s not,… no really, it isn’t. This is instead, a request for your feedback, if you were me, how would you release the next recording? I’m not looking for feel-good answers, I’m looking for honest answers. So if you would, really think about how you and your friends access music these days, which artists you “support” and why,… and let me know. No point is too obvious for this guy either, you never know,… maybe I just can’t see the forest for the trees.

I’ve got lots of friends who listen to music all the time, via online radio; they never buy music but they’ll go out to see a band they like. Even I have to admit that there are a number of artists today whose new releases I’d really like to hear but just not quite enough to make me buy the album because I have lots of other music to listen to. That’s how saturated we are with free music.

Was Shelley, the music marketing guy, right? Does it come down to people supporting what you do as opposed to paying for music? If so, then perhaps we (independent musicians) should all adopt the “pay what you like” model and just get it out there. Traditional business models would say “You assign a product’s value. If you assign it $0 value, people will never associate any more value to it than that.” But this isn’t a traditional business anymore, it’s been turned upside down.

So there you go. All thoughts welcome, you can email me at james@jamesdanderfer.com or use that nifty little soap-box below I like to call a “comments section.”

Thanks for your reading and for your suggestions! Have a great week. jd

(above Collier cover image by Earl Oliver Hurst)

  • http://mynettphotography.com Steve

    Music isn’t a product. I guess it is in the abstract sense, but someone can’t buy your music. They can buy a CD, or download an MP3. The old model where every time your music was played, you’re getting paid is over. Instead it’s moved to a system of ‘levels of engagement’.

    Follow me here:
    – I hear about Band X from a friend who tells me I need to check them out
    – I Google them check out their site. Watch a video, listen to an mp3. Like what I hear and forget about.
    – 3 months later I hear that Band X is coming to my town so I return to the website. Check out some youtube vids of a live show, stream a few tunes while I write some email.
    – I decide to go to the concert ($25 a ticket) and after the show want to listen to a bit more of the music so I buy the CD on iTunes.

    This a common level of engagement. At no time did Band X give up their music. I never got a CD/Mp3 until I paid for it. But I could check them out, become interested.

    People can’t be afraid NOT to share. There is so much good (and bad) music available that artists that try to market themselves under the old paradigm are going to fail. The polar opposite is the ‘give it all away for free’ concept. It works for Nine Inch Nails / Radiohead and other bands who give their album away for free (or Pay what you Can) but emerging artists don’t command the notoriety that bands like this do.

    The solution is somewhere in the middle.

  • Jay Hassler

    I would love to buy a copy of your next CD….but wait…I have trouble monetizing my own music career! Please release when I have a good month selling out so that I can pick one up :)

  • http://wsf1027fm.blogspot.com/ Guy

    Man, tough question. I can’t believe that CDs still cost so much. In a dying industry, usually prices go down. Didn’t happen that way with CDs. I walk into a CD shop and still, inexplicably, see CDs going for 15 and 20 bucks. And more! If you want to move product, lower cost. It’s simple. You mentioned being interested in hearing some bands, but not quite interested enough to buy their CD. That’s true of all of us. But I’d be way more willing to take a chance on a $5-$7 CD. I’d probably spend more on multiple CDs than I’m not willing to spend on one just because psychologically it seems not as much.

    Also, how about offering something with the purchase that you can’t get with the free download? I don’t know what, though. But something in the CD package that would make you want to get it. Just like you get extra scenes and commentary on DVDs. You could do something like that. Maybe. I don’t know what I’m talking about.

  • http://www.johndoheny.com John Doheny

    I’m facing the same challenges you are and I’m sorry to say I can’t offer any solutions. The only bright spot for me (and it’s not much of one) is that the kind of straight-ahead jazz I mostly play is largely consumed by an older demographic who are more likely to buy actual CDs. My students pretty much never pay for music and will even balk at my demands that they spend 90 cents buying a track for study on i-tunes. They don’t understand why I don’t just burn them a copy off my computer. Occasionally I do, but I often feel bad about it, since some of these ‘old masters’ are people I actually know and trust me, after a lifetime of recording and playing ground breaking music, they are absolutely not enjoying a fat retirement on royalties.

    Still, i wouldn’t pay too much attention to Shelly the Marketing Guy. I’m guessing that he TEACHES music marketing at Tulane, rather than actually making all or most of his income from it, which puts him in the same catagory as guys like me (and possibly you some day), guys who wanted a life in music that wasn’t tied to the vagaries of gigs-no-gigs or technological holocausts of revenue streams.

    I’d suggest talking to people who actually make a living playing and recording jazz, not somebody with a university teaching job to fall back on.. There’s still a few of them out there. At Tulane, Nicholas Payton and Robert Glasper have recently spoken at great lenghth about these very issues, and the consensus between the two of them seems to be contrary to the “you can’t monetize music” set. Both those guys have major label contracts and generate good revenue playing on their own and others recordings.

    And Guy, most of us selling CDs off the stage set prices a little lower than that. Hell, my stuff IN THE STORE at the Louisiana Music Factory tops out at $12.99. Any lower than that, I’m losing money. Do the math; James says he’s spending $9000 out of his own pocket to record and press 1000 copies of a CD, anything less than 9 bucks a copy he’s in the hole.

    The whole “music is free’ paradigm seems unsustainable to me. Eventually you’re going to run out of people dumb enough to lose money recording music and sleep in the van and work for beer money playing it on the road.

  • http://www.johndoheny.com John Doheny

    Oops, That should have been Shelly the Marketing Guy who TEACHES MUSIC MARKETING AT MCGILL.

    I’ve got a killer flu and the fever is making me sloppy. But I think my main point holds, which is that if you want to find out how to make a living playing and recording jazz, talk to people who actually do it.

  • http://wsf1027fm.blogspot.com/ Guy

    If it costs that much to make CDs on your own, and you find it hard to sell them, that’s problematic. Do you need to go back to when labels only would produce and release CDs? You probably don’t want that. Maybe cut out mailing out all those freebies to the media. While it’s nice to get reviews, it probably doesn’t affect the bottom line the way cutting out all those mailing charges will.

  • http://mynettphotography.com Steve

    Guy and John have summed up the problem. We are (largely) still operating under the old paradigm where our “digital” music is a ripped version of a pressed CD with the same costs etc. Strike production cost, design costs, photography (styling etc) costs and your budget comes way down.

    Digital distribution opens up a WHOLE new world of possibilities that, currently, are untapped. Liner notes take on a whole new meaning. Maybe the value-add of digital purchasing is is in the liner notes. What if you got a gigapixel image of the recording studio, or got behind the scenes motion/video etc.

  • http://www.johndoheny.com John Doheny


    I’m not sure if that would fly, to tell you the truth. At this point, I’m looking at an entire generation (my students) who have more or less no experience at all of recorded music as a commodity. They’ll pay a cover to go to a ‘show,’ but recorded music is something they get free. Pretty hard to unring that bell.

    For jazz musicians this isn’t nearly as big a catastrophe as for the pop industry, since jazz never was a big royalty generator anyway (there’s a reason P.J. Perry wrote and recorded at tune called “Royal Tease”). Still the medium tier guys, the Dexter Gordons, Hank Mobleys, Cedar Waltons etc. used to be able to count on an annual check at least big enough to pay their dry cleaning. Napster wiped that right out.

    Guy, you of all people should know that reviews DO matter, both as a marketing tool and as an inclusion in things like MTAP grant apps etc. Pitching yourself at any major club or festival is a long shot without reviews. So I guess in that sense you could view CDs as a loss leader. The trouble is, most jazz musicians fly so low to the ground economically that it’s a really bad idea to have any area of your career lose money, since the other legs of the stool (concerts-clubs, clinics-teaching etc.) are not huge money makers either. But everything you do is tied to everything else, and it’s really hard to point to hard, causal effects with anything. Did that particular review GET me that particular festival gig etc? The processes involved are so opaque, it’s hard to tell. You just keep stroking, trying to produce as much quality music as you can, and market it any way you can think of.

    I’m not denying there’s a massive paradigm shift going on, and I don’t claim to have a clue where it’s going. I just kind of bristle when I hear somebody say “oh, well you can’t monetize music anymore” because it strikes me as such a dumb concept. Almost all arts and entertainments are dealing with the same digitization issues, but for some reason the only ones these guys routinely suggest have to work for free from now on are musicians. Nobody’s telling James Cameron “oh, you can’t monetize motion pictures anymore.”

    Now there’s certain types of pop music…people are going to be pissed at me for saying this but it’s true, there’s a lot of indie-rock stuff out there that functions on a low level of technique. You can pick up a guitar and be playing that stuff in a couple of years. And that’s fine, I’m not objecting to that or suggesting the stuff doesn’t have merit. But other musics, like jazz and classical things…you have to put in years and years and thousands of hours in the shed to do that. There HAS to be some kind of living in it or people won’t do it, not because they’re greedy but because they can’t. You can’t work 40 hours a week on a construction site and be Sonny Rollins. You can’t.

  • http://www.jamesdanderfer.com James Danderfer

    Great comments everyone, I feel like I’ve got a crack team of sound minds on the case! (Or a sound team of crackheads, take your pick.) Seriously though, thanks for taking the time. Clearly, it’s a complicated issue. What I’m gleaning from all of this so far is:

    – that recorded music’s role is now in the grey area between being “a product to sell” and “a promotional tool to sell other things ie concert tickets, publishing, etc.”

    – a high-quality recorded product, while still the most important thing, is only a small part of the big picture and VERY unlikely to even recoup production costs if simply “released” on the internet with nothing but a small CD launch to boot. The bigger (biggest?) part of the puzzle seems to be touring this music, thereby giving audiences a more personal experience which may or may not inspire them to buy a CD but WILL hopefully inspire them to bring their friends to your next show.

    – that for the time being (and yes, this is a no-brainer) I should try to lower production costs by printing fewer CDs and being more discerning about which media groups I send the CD to for review. Hell, I’d consider doing solely digital releases and just printing 100 copies for reviews only, at least until I book a tour.

    – that making CDs without a tour planned is simply a money losing scenario, as I expect this EP will be. It’s not a complete waste though as I DO hope to tour this project next year and it helps to have something “out there” on the internet for people to check out.

    Now down to brass tacks. As for how to release this next EP, it seems like the middle ground is the way to go: Have the entire album available for streaming on my site, but don’t just give it away (via mp3 downloads) for nothing. I like Steve’s idea of giving the album download (versus individual mp3s) some “added value” via liner notes, photos, video, etc. Some sort of package that offers more than just the audio you can stream off the website. This digital package could be less expensive as well since there wouldn’t be any physical production costs involved.

    But yeah, until I get the touring thing happening, recordings will not bring in any $ as far as I can see.

    Any more comments on my comment? Thanks again!

  • http://mynettphotography.com Steve

    Ha… I could go on this conversation forever!

    @john: The Film industry is also hurting. Movie attendance and revenues are down. Cameron tried something different (challenged the paradigm in the form of new technology) and it worked. Good for him!

    TV is changing from ‘every week at 8’ to on demand. You can buy shows on iTunes or watch them for free online. Yes, it’s putting cable companies in a difficult place but they will have to adapt also.

    I think that doing the same old thing because “that’s the way it should be” is going ultimately sink the industry. Look at the Napster story. Times changed, the industry didn’t adapt and is still recovering.

    Jazz, with largely an older performer and audience, demographic is slow to change. Most jazz musicians are self managed and a) not trained or b) very good at managing themselves. They just want to play music, which is fine except they also need to get paid. For better or worse, that’s the way it is.

    Call me new fangled but it irks me when people use examples from the 60’s and say that’s the way it should be now. Dexter made a good living. Jelly Roll, at times, made a great one. But it ain’t 1910 and musicians (jazz and otherwise) have to take a different approach to their careers.

    @James: Ask yourself this: What is your single ultimate goal as a musician? Do you want to make money? Play live shows? Record original challenging music? Figure out what this is and have everything you do work towards this goal. Working towards this goal requires a much more complete plan than years ago when simply ‘playing jazz’ was enough.

    End rant and start to sketching the new paradigm for the industry :)

  • http://mynettphotography.com Steve

    Only thing to add is that a lot of arts based industries are facing the same thing! Not that that’s a good thing, just that this problem (and hopeful solution) spans a bunch of people.