Tag Archives: phenomenon

Cut out the music industry middle-men, think small and make big money

I got a Facebook message from Ben Peel in Bradford, saying:

“I would love you to go check out my home-made video from my debut single here. It will sure make you smile. I have currently just released my debut album – which can be previewed here. ”

I don’t know Ben Peel nor his band The Wool City Folk Club, but his video and songs are interesting.

Quite soon some unknown person is going to achieve worldwide fame and become a millionaire through YouTube clips and subsequent audio or video downloads. Maybe the Arctic Monkeys have already done it, but only on a limited scale.

Perhaps in a couple of years time, Ben Peel will be a multi-millionaire.

Or maybe not.

The world is changing fast but no-one knows what the fuck is going on or what they’re supposed to be doing.

Shortly before Apple announced their new iCloud service, I wrote a blog in which I mentioned the on-going death of the traditional record industry – by which I meant vinyl, tapes, CDs and DVDs sold in shops.

The blog resulted in some interesting feedback.

Hyphenate creative Bob Slayer (he’s a comedian-promoter-rock group manager) reacted:

“It is at worst a myth and at best very misleading to say that the record industry is dying – there is more demand for music then ever. What has happened over the last ten years is that the music industry has completely reinvented itself. The X-Factor has had an effect and a smaller number of pop artists are selling a high number of records. They still operate in a similar way to the traditional industry.

“But everywhere else has radically changed so that the artist (and their management) can play a much more hands-on role in controlling their own careers.”

Mr Methane, the world’s only professional farter, who knows a thing or two about self-promotion and has made his own music CDs produced by former Jethro Tull drummer Barrie Barlow, tells me:

“Large record labels no longer have the money to keep well-known acts on retainers or publishing contracts like they used to and have pressed the ejector seat. New and well-known acts are not as a rule getting huge piles of money thrown at them to go away and make an album. The Stone Roses’ great rock ’n’ roll heist, where they made one decent album then got a shed load of money advanced to make another and did sweet FA, just would not happen in today’s economic climate – or at least it would be highly unlikely.”

We have entered the entrance hall of an iTunes world of downloads with megastars and small self-producing, self-promoting unknowns where good middle-ranking performers and groups will potentially be squeezed out. It is much like comedy at the Edinburgh Fringe, where the big TV names and unknowns on the Free Fringe and Free Festival pull in crowds, but it is increasingly tough for very good, experienced middle-rankers with no TV exposure.

Ben Peel, just starting out in the music business, says:

“The digital realm does not have time for people who are solely musicians. You have to evolve into some type of super musician / marketing guru to be able make an impact amongst people. I have to be 50% musician, 50% marketing and branding. The digital realm is creating a new generation of musician: one-man machines cutting out the middle-men. The downside is that the middle-men had collateral – and contacts.”

Self-promotion ability is vital, though Ben thinks e-mails are outdated in publicity terms.

“I do a gig… and send an email out… I get ten people there…. I do a gig and throw out a 30 second YouTube short… one a week on the run-up to a gig…. I get two hundred people to attend and the exposure of the viral promoting and people re posting is priceless…. You cannot buy ‘word of mouth’ promoting …. you can only inspire it through something quirky/ original/ funny/ catchy etc.”

Bob Slayer manages not only the wonderful Japanese rock group Electric Eel Shock but also internet phenomenon Devvo and tells me:

“At his height, Devvo was achieving over a million hits on every YouTube clip we put online. We had no control over who was viewing them but, as they were mostly passed around between friends, he found his natural audience. Devvo is not really understood outside the UK, so that massive following came largely from the UK and predominantly in the north. It meant that, he could easily sell-out medium sized venues anywhere north of Birmingham and strangely also in Wales but, for example, we struggled to sell tickets in Brighton.”

Financially-shrewd Mr Methane has so far failed to dramatically ‘monetise’ the more than ten million worldwide hits on just one of several YouTube clips of his Britain’s Got Talent TV appearance. but he sold shedloads of CDs and DVDs via his website after appearances on shock jock Howard Stern’s American radio and TV shows because small local radio stations across the US then started playing his tracks. They were small local stations, but there were a lot of them.

Only Bo Burnham, winner of the 2010 Malcolm Hardee ‘Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid’ Award, who straddles music and comedy like Mr Methane and started as an online phenomenon, seems to have got close to turning YouTube clips into more mainstream success and music downloads.

The fact Mr Methane made a lot of money online, sitting at home in Britain, after very specifically local US radio exposure is interesting, though.

At the bottom of his e-mails, Ben Peel has a signature:

“Dwarves are like tents… a lot easier to get out of the bag than they are to put back in.”

Yes indeed. And that is very true with new technology. But it made me remember something else.

Years ago, I attended a Writers’ Guild of Great Britain meeting where the speaker’s message was “The way to make money is not to think big but to think small.”

He suggested that one way to make money was to create a weekly five or ten minute audio insert which could be run within local US radio shows. If anyone could come up with an idea, made in Britain, which would be of interest to Americans on a weekly basis, you could sell it to local US stations at a very low price.

If you tried to sell the mighty PBS network a weekly half hour show for £2,000 it was unlikely they would buy it.

But any small local US radio station could afford to pay £5 for a weekly five or ten minute insert. If you could sell that same insert to 499 other small local US radio stations (not competing against each other because they are small purely local stations), you would be grossing £2,500 per week for creating a five or ten minute item. And you could distribute it down a telephone line.

If you could persuade the stations to buy it for £10 – around $15 – still throwaway money – then, of course, you would be making £5,000 per week.

The trick was to price low and sell in volume.

That was before iTunes, which became successful by that very same model of micro-pricing. It was worth buying a single music track if it only cost 79c in the US or 79p in the UK. If iTunes had priced a single music track at £1.60 in the UK, they would almost certainly have sold less than half as many units, so would have grossed less money.

Think small. Think cheap. Think volume.

Modern technology allows ordinary bands to record, mix, cut and put their own tracks on iTunes alongside music industry giants. It also allows people in New Zealand to listen to and watch Ben Pool on YouTube just as easily as people in Bradford can see him play a live gig.

Think small. Think cheap. Think volume. Think worldwide.

Just as some comedians are looking into e-publishing, bypassing traditional publishers, Ben Pool in Bradford and local bands in South East London can now expand beyond selling their own CDs after gigs and could reach a worldwide paying audience of millions with no music industry middle-men.

Last year, I wrote a blog titled Britain’s Got Talent in Pubs about an astonishing regular pub gig I saw in South East London featuring Bobby Valentino and Paul Astles.

A week ago, I saw Paul Astles perform again, this time with his seven-man band Shedload of Love in their monthly gig at The Duke pub on Creek Road, Deptford, not far from Malcolm Hardee’s old Up The Creek comedy club. They also play the Wickham Arms in Brockley every month. They are astonishingly good. Formed in 2004, they recently recorded an album at Jools Holland’s studio in Greenwich.

Both the Paul Astles bands are world-class, playing mostly locally but, if promoted on the internet, they could garner a worldwide following with no music industry middle-men.

There are, of course, as with anything involving creativity and cyberspace, those big words IF and COULD.

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Filed under Comedy, Internet, Music, PR, Radio, Rock music

What is success? Global fame, Simon Cowell or a big fish in a small pond?

Yesterday, 20-year-old American comedian Bo Burnham started a two-week tour of England. He has his first album out, has been commissioned to write a movie, MTV recently ordered a television pilot from him and, in January this year, he finished Number One in Comedy Central’s Stand-up Showdown in the US – a public vote on the twenty greatest Comedy Central performances. But he is still mostly unknown in the UK, despite being that new phenomenon ‘an internet sensation’ and winning the much-publicised Malcolm Hardee ‘Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid’ Award at the 2010 Edinburgh Fringe.

I wrote a blog a while ago about Ken Dodd which started off “Morecambe and Wise were not famous” and mentioned, as an aside, that “fame is relative and mostly regional

One response was from Mr Methane, the world’s only professionally performing farter. He has performed all over the place and, at various times, been fairly famous in Sweden and in Japan because of his television appearances there. Far more famous than in Britain, where farting in peaktime is still frowned on.

He responded to my blog by saying: “I always find it interesting when I go abroad and do a TV show with a person who is that country’s Steve Wright or Jonathan Woss – a big fish in a small pond but none-the-less raking it in. My problem has always been that awareness of Mr Methane is spread globally rather than condensed in a certain geographical area which makes it harder to get bums on seats and make some serious money.”

The Scots comedienne Janey Godley has had a Top Ten bestselling hardback and paperback book in the UK and regularly (I have seen the figures) gets over 500,000 worldwide hits per week on her widely-posted blog. But if she were to play a theatre in, say, Cleethorpes in England or Peoria in the US, she would not necessarily sell out the venue’s tickets in the first half hour they went on sale, because she has had relatively little English TV exposure and her fame and fanbase is spread worldwide not concentrated locally.

To be a big ‘live’ star in a country, you still have to be on that country’s television screens fairly regularly. A massive internet following may not be enough for you to make shedloads of money on tour. I would lay bets that some amiable but relatively talentless British stand-up comedian who appears on a BBC3 panel show will make better box office money on a UK tour than the equally amiable and immeasurably more talented Bo Burnham who is, indeed, that legendary beast ‘an internet sensation’.

In 2009, Mr Methane was on Britain’s Got Talent. Several clips of that appearance have been posted on YouTube and, at the time of writing, one of those clips

has had over ten million hits. But those ten million plus people are spread across the globe, so how does Mr Methane, in that awful American phrase, ‘monetise’ the awareness of his existence? He can market products online, which I know he does very successfully but, if he were playing a live venue in Peoria, would he fill the auditorium?

The result is that, as Mr Methane observes, you can often make more money and be more ‘successful’ by being a big fish in a small pond rather than being an internationally recognised performer. Financially, it is usually still better to have 10 million fans in the UK than 30 million fans worldwide.

iTunes, YouTube and other online phenomena are still in their infancy and may well change all that and Bo Burnham may be one of the trailblazers.

The now-dying record business created international stars selling millions of discs worldwide who could tour on the back of that success. But without television exposure and with only a few exceptions, that has not yet happened for comedy acts. You still need local TV exposure.

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Filed under Books, Comedy, Internet, Television, Theatre