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Bringing Louisiana Music to the World
By Max Laing, BandUtopia
(more articles from this author)
2000-05-01
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Supporting Louisiana musicians is a seemingly daunting task when one considers what any musician is up against. The question that reminds us of that which seems too great a task to accomplish is, "How do you eat an elephant?" The answer for a human remains, "One bite at a time." It is with this mindset that we ventured out four years ago in order to help those who seem stuck, as well as those who are just starting out in this "new, wild West" of the entertainment industry. Please allow us to share a little of what is happening in the marketplace today and to present a few key points which musicians may take advantage of with a little initiative.

The history of the music industry has been one of corruption. For many years the power was in distribution; that is, those with the power to get a great deal of records, cassettes and CDs out to the buying public had the power. Recording, they would tell a musician, was half the battle. More accurately, it represents about one quarter. When you break down what needs to be accomplished, the following topics come to mind: Recording, manufacturing, distribution, and sales.

The record companies, being the bureaucratic, controlling agencies that they are, typically control the recording, manufacturing, and distribution process of the operation. This can be more easily understood by evaluating the working relationships that surround the Walt Disney theme parks. The hotels pay the theme park in order to exist close by. The monorail train system pays the hotels for the right to stop and pick up the folks who wish to be carried to the theme park. The theme park pays the maintenance crew to keep the monorail up and running. This durbish of financial activity aims to ensure that "costs" are in the right places to keep the maximum amount of tax write-offs. Meanwhile, the money remains deep in the pockets of the entertainment Goliath.

When we begin to realize that the record industry operates in much the same way, we can see the relationships between the record company, the recording studio, the final production crew, the manufacturing facility, and, of course, the distribution companies. As if the points of the process were not tangled enough, it is the distribution companies that seem to pride themselves in being the bottleneck of the industry. Not that they do not wish to move product; quite the opposite, in fact. The bottleneck is created by the fact that the tapes and compact discs that they are getting out take up space. It is not limited to the space in the warehouse and trucks, but the space in the stores which some of the richest companies in the world are fighting for. It is the space that a musician wants his or her CDs to occupy. Point made.

With recording, manufacturing, and distribution being the first three quarters of the process, the most important part of the project, arguably, is the sales, which is directly affected by a musician's team's ability to market. The old world process included things like gigging, getting written up in local rags, providing local show radio interviews, visiting college radio stations, and scraping together all that can be had to put no less than 30 CDs per week in the mail to those who are perceived to be key people in the industry all the while keeping up that positive face to a local fan base.

Just these few paragraphs may be enough to scare away even the most talented musicians. Couple all of this with the fact that only about 2% of the bands which enter this process ever make it to the stores, success is further hampered. There is another way...

The light at the end of the tunnel, in this case, happens NOT to be a train. With technology available on all levels these days, and the open architecture of the Internet, we have at our disposal vast opportunities circumventing the old world requirements and the politics of the brick and mortar recording industry.

There are a great number of things that can be done for the positive advancement of a band. This is not to suggest that one need not do the other requirements previously discussed but they may be done by oneself with direct results. Utilizing the new technology that is all around, at little to no cost to the pocket book, can produce some positive results.

A number of companies are doing everything in their power to help leverage musicians into higher positions. There are virtual "retail outlets," free sites on which to set up a band's web page, MP3 distribution centers, graphic artists, e-mail programs, guest books, databases, CD manufacturers and industry news services, all willing to provide information, usually with little or no up front cost! Most of these opportunities help, not only in a band's local market, but globally as well.

Though a great number of musicians have made a good living by keeping their music local, music, in general, especially that from New Orleans has special appeal all over the world. The problem has been in not being able to reach people outside of our local market because of the expense of doing so. Who has the kind of money needed to pre-buy plane tickets for an entire band just for the chance to sell a few CDs at a gig halfway around the world? That may be completely out of the question, but, with the current technology available today, a band may establish a 24-hour-per-day/seven-days-per-week presence on the Internet that allows constant availability to the worldwide market.

When driving down the interstate, chances are you will happen upon a billboard that suggests McDonalds, Burger King or Wendy's as a choice for conquering hunger. If you were to drive a little further you would run into them again if not advertising the same restaurant, then certainly advertising another in their chain. The combination of billboards and restaurants in many locations is a key to their success. It is unlikely that these places could be as successful in just one location. They understand the need for growth.

Though these restaurant chains are brick and mortar, their business model is still sound. As it relates to the music industry, instead of a potential consumer/fan base driving on an interstate, more and more it is on the Information Super Highway. It follows that the more "billboards," in this case, web pages, which are in place, the more chances a band will have of being found. And if those billboards are free, all the better!

This new technology is, in fact, a two-way line of communication. Like opening a window, at times the air flows both ways. So, too, is the Internet and all of its tools free and otherwise. It is one thing to be in contact with a local fan base, but it is an entirely different animal to share outside of the local market, with the rest of the planet.

Louisiana musicians are empowered with the opportunity to express our local culture with the rest of the world becoming a type of musical ambassador. Our culture is in demand outside of our local area and our musicians are part of the culture. They can assert themselves into the hearts and homes of those who long for that which makes southern Louisiana so attractive on a worldwide basis.


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