From Sam Rosenthal | December 24 2009 | I thought I would do something different for the Xmas Projekt Email List.
Rather than tell you about some great music to buy, I asked Projekt’s artists to send me their thoughts on this question:
HOW DO YOU MEASURE SUCCESS?
A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with Athan Maroulis, my vocalist in Black Tape For A Blue Girl. With all the changes in the music industry, the decrease in sales, the increase in illegal downloads, and the new channels by which our music can spread…. as an artist, there is this profound question that requires reanalysis. HOW DO I MEASURE SUCCESS? I will admit that part of the reason I ask is because I do this for a living. I run Projekt as my sole source of income. My thoughts about art are inherently entangled with thoughts of sales, dollars, and fan support. To get a fresh perspective on success, I thought it would be helpful to look at the question from a different angle. I decided to ask the artists I respect to give me their insight, perhaps this will be a helpful way for me to increase my awareness on my thoughts about this question.
To the Bottom of the Sea
Once upon a time, success for a musician was measured by record sales. That’s just not true anymore. I had a meeting with a record exec a while back and he told me that my Soundscan numbers had gone down hence I was getting less popular. Quite honestly, I was more popular than I had ever been. I had gotten a book deal, released a bunch of toys and was constantly on tour. I had to point out to him that the reason my Soundscan numbers had gone down was because less people were buying CDs in stores (which is how Soundscan gets their numbers), THOUSANDS of people were illegally downloading my songs from the internet and that my most recent CD which was a self release, was for the most part, not available in stores at all! (with the exception of a special deal with Hot Topic). So while I felt more successful than ever, this guy didn’t seem to have the proof he needed because basically he was relying on a form of measurement that’s become largely irrelevant in the music business of today.
Sadly, record sales are just no longer an accurate unit of measurement for a band’s success. So what is?
These days, I would measure success not by how many records I sell but by how many people come to my shows. It’s easy for someone to find my music for free on the internet so I can’t say that someone who’s heard of me is a ‘fan.’ A true fan is someone who buys a ticket to the concert and comes out to see the show and to say ‘hello’ to me in person. And if they support the tour with a purchase at the merch booth, a T-shirt or poster, etc… then they are REALLY helping the cause. These are the people who keep this business afloat. Without them, all we would really have as musicians is the digital sales. The nice thing about digital sales is that while records sales have dropped, we can now sell a file of the song or of the record. The profit margin is much larger than on a record sale because we don’t actually have to manufacture a CD! Digital sales have really helped to save the artist from plummeting CD sales and piracy, but on the sinking ship that is the record industry, in the tumultuous storm that is the present economy, the benefits of digital sales are just a life vest when what we really need is a new BOAT!
THE INTERNET: Myspace
The internet can also be a measure of a band’s success, but it’s tricky. How many ‘friends’ one has on Myspace, for instance, has become very deceptive. For one, there are many bands that use ‘bots’ to gather total strangers and add them to their friend count. These bands have obscene numbers of friends, so many you’d think they were playing arena tours… and yet, if you were to go to see them play a concert, you’d be lucky to find 100 people there. That’s certainly not success… it’s the semblance of success. With huge Myspace numbers, you might be able to fool someone into signing you or booking you, but it won’t take long for them to realize how many fans you REALLY have.
I’ve also found that on Myspace, a great number of your ‘friends’ are not actually fans. They are just people who, like you, are trying to have as many friends as they can! lol! They are NEVER going to buy your record and they are NEVER going to come to your show. So really, they are sort of worthless and are just there to make you seem more popular than you really are. The REAL friends on Myspace are the ones who post comments (by this I mean REAL comments, not ‘Hey, check out my music and tell me what you think.’), people who follow, read and reply to your blogs, people who are actually engaged in what you are doing as a person and as an artist.
I get tons of email from my website and I have to tell you that some of it is a sad window into the state of things. At least a few times a week I get an email that says, ‘I’m your biggest fan in the whole world’ for some strange reason, they are always my BIGGEST fan, ‘I have all of your songs! My favorites are ‘If I Only Were A Goth, The Vagina Song and Goth Queen&’
What this always tells me is that this person who thinks they are my BIGGEST fan, has never bought one of my CDs or downloaded any of my songs by legitimate means. I know this because ‘If I Only Were A Goth’ is not by me, it’s by Thou Shalt Not! ‘The Vagina Song’ is not by me it’s by The Bloodhound Gang! The last one took me some time to figure out, but ‘Goth Queen’ is apparently my song, ‘Ravens Land’. Like the other two songs it was mislabeled by whatever 12-year-old brat put it up on Limewire. But that aside, I would say that the amount of email you get is indicative of how ‘successful’ you are as an artist because quite simply, it means you are reaching people. People are finding out about you most likely through word of mouth.
The bottom line is that this is what I do for a living. I feed my family and pay my rent by making music. As long as I can continue to do that, I’m succeeding. When people THINK they are a fan of my music but never support what I do by buying a CD or coming to a show, they are fooling themselves and hurting me. I always say, ‘if you keep picking the fruit off of the tree but you never plant any seeds, eventually there will be no more fruit and no more tree.’ The very thing that you claim to BIGGEST FAN of will be gone, because in truth, once I can no longer make a living doing this, I will have to find something else to do for a living and the music will stop. I’m not trying to sound maudlin here, mind you. It’s just the truth.
PS: It’s also possible that the number of stalkers you have might be an indication of success. I now have two. I’m not talking about a girl with a passing fancy here, mind you, I mean a truly deranged person you don’t personally know who has made you a central figure in their life and emails you several times a week for months or even years. Or maybe that’s just a an awful side effect of having some measure of ‘success.’
Different Shade of Beauty
Doug White / Makaras Pen / Tearwave
One thing I know is the day of the super group is gone. Radiohead and Coldplay might be the last couple of bands to slip under the wire before the demise of the music business.
Artists sometime can feel successful for personal creative reasons or fame and financial related reasons. I create for mood. Songs that have caught the right mood and feeling are a success to me unto themselves. My success is now measured in wonderful fan e-mails and questions about the music and the creative process. Having received letters about Makaras Pen music being played at funerals, in hospitals, to long personal trips that fans have taking is very rewarding to me. I think some artists hope financial gains might help them to further their music but that measurement is all but nearly gone now for an underground indie artist involved in a small genre.
Good turnouts and merchandise sales at live events are a nice successful feeling as well but those become secondary for me to fan mail and personal interaction with people hearing Makaras Pen’s music. The one remaining savior for underground music with smaller cult followings has been I-tunes along with direct sales like at Projekt.com. I-tunes is the last place where the ‘honest’ music buying public can go and buy music and the artist is compensated some for their efforts. This also is a good feeling to know the music has ‘moved somewhere’.
At this point I think SUCCESS can only be measured on how much an artist’s music is reaching the interested listening public. It can not be measured in dollars or chart sales anymore.
How to gage this success is still being determined. Can’t use the myspace play counter anymore as a barometer.
Andrew Hulme / O Yuki Conjugate
HOW DO YOU MEASURE SUCCESS?
As the satisfactory completion of your ideas.
Defining Musical Success
The main question is always whether to define success in terms of the quality of the music and how the music touches the lives of others, in contrast to how many CDs sold.
Along the way in my musical career, I try not to forget why I started with music. What influenced me so strongly back then when I was 11 years old? If I can say that I still get that feeling, well, that is success to me!
I try to remind myself about this everyday.
Everyone has to find his or her own definition of musical success. But my overall goal is simply to find joy in music. I want to enjoy every step of the process of writing, recording, and performing my own music: And then hopefully inspire and move the listener. Nothing compares to listening to a finished song that you think yourself is fantastic. And then get the same response from the listeners.
Also success to me is to be able to spend 10-16 hours in your studio everyday, trying to make an even better song than the one you made yesterday.
As the world changes, the idea of what success might be changes as well. Success now is becoming the expression of synchronicity between an individual’s creativity and her or his resonance with the collective energy of the present time. If the artist becomes a channel for this synchronicity, then she or he will be successful in a way that will continue to be completely independent of the darker collective forces at work, such as illegal downloads etc. Much rather, she or he will touch people’s souls in way that will quench a thirst that both artist and recipient carry. That kind of success will not primarily address the bank account but the soul. If this perspective becomes natural to the artist, the reflection on the bank account is bound to follow, but it’s not the primary target anymore. True ‘success’ means service to the spirit of humanity.
[a lantern carried in blood and skin]
Joshua Gentzke / Lux Interna
As an artist one is always in the strange position of making what is essentially intimate, public. And this complicated situation is further compounded by the introduction of economic concerns into the equation. Thus, the artist, the audience, and the flux and flow of material concerns continuously interact with each other, often in uneasy ways. Not to give voice to clichéd sentiments or – given the type of music we create – state the obvious, but Lux Interna has never been about playing at the game of becoming pop sensations. We do what we do, make the music we make, because we love it. And perhaps, more to the point, because it is simply what we must do. That said, it is important for us to be able to share what we do with those who have ears to hear, and this means bringing the music from the stage of an initial vision to that of a finished work. This process obliges us to be concerned, at least to some degree, with economics, CD sales, and all the usual benchmarks of success. Luckily there are still those out there who will seek out and support independent music that moves them, rather than remaining content to consume the mass marketed sounds force-fed to them by the mainstream music media. Equally lucky, both for these intrepid souls, as well as the musical artists who likewise follow their own muse, is the existence of labels such as Projekt willing to invest time, energy, and money in enabling and fostering relationships between independent artists and independent audiences. And enfolded in the term “relationship” are, we feel, terms of success which are able to transcend the fluctuations of the music industry brought about by new media, mass marketing, downloading, etc. This is to say that many of the relationships that have come out of our ;making what is essentially intimate. public,” have given, and continue to give us, a strong feeling of being successful in what we do. Many of the people whom we have crossed paths with due to their interest in our music, whether through email, at performances, via letter, or in some other capacity facilitated by the presence of the music, have touched our lives in deeply fulfilling ways. Therefore, though the chance to “get the music out there” is necessarily bound up with the instabilities of the modern music industry and the fickle climate that influences it, there remain measures of success grounded in real, human, and very tangible interactions and exchanges that reach far beyond economics. In this, we are successful.
I had to think about this question for awhile. It’s a little difficult to answer. The most satisfying moment for me during a CD project is at the moment I’ve created the music, since it’s coming from a very subconscious part of me that I don’t see that often. Success seems like a much more subjective concept to me. Ideally, I feel that a project is successful if it connects with the listener and I can tell from their feedback that they really ‘get it.’ I prefer it if my music is heard and seen the way I envisioned it, in full digital fidelity and in a conventional CD package. But I know that a quiet session in front of the home stereo is not a luxury that everyone has these days. As for illegal downloads, I hope that if people like what they hear, they will buy it. It can be little disheartening to work on a release for several years, only to see it pop up on a torrent site within a month or two after it comes out. Please support the artists on the label by paying for their music, so that Sam and Projekt can continue releasing CDs in the future.
Spiders, Aether & Rain
Ashkelon Sain / Trance to the Sun / Soriah
My evaluation of ‘success’ can be measured conclusively by the level of enthusiasm I feel for what I’m doing. And this is the way it has always been with me, ever since the day when I was about thirteen, and some inexplicable force drove me to pull my childhood guitar down off the high shelf in the closet to see if I still knew how to play it. Since then, countless factors have influenced the way I’ve perceived and carried out the process of creating and performing my music. And yet I still cannot seem to draw a distinction between what I deem worthy of the word ‘success’ vs. my own personal sense of motivation & enthusiasm toward my objectives. If I could go back into the past, and change one thing, it would be to instill more faith in the future into my younger self. I think that being driven solely by one’s sense of enthusiasm in it’s worst case scenario can lead to a distracting sense of ‘wanting everything right now!’, and sometimes this can be a hindrance to really effective planning and foresight.
Although I would be thrilled to find that the income generated by my music was sufficient to live on, this has never been a requirement to continue. It’s become increasingly obvious to me that the most rewarding things about music making usually have nothing to do with money. For me personally, the opposite of success would be the loss of the ability to interpret feeling into music.
A World We Pretend
Todd Loomis / The Twilight Garden
I think in order for me to measure success, I have to have an ideal. If I have a dream or goal that I want to attain, I measure success by how close I come to those goals. Sometimes, my goals are probably pretty unrealistic… and in those cases, obviously I don’t feel any sense of success at all. In those cases, I usually end up re-defining my goals – breaking things into smaller goals and more attainable ‘steps’ that will hopefully eventually lead to my larger goal. I try to learn to celebrate the steps as well… sometimes I do get frustrated that the larger goals seem so far off… but having smaller independent goals, or smaller goals leading to larger ones are what keep me sane – so I feel like I am working toward something. I like to always have a sense of direction. Without that, my life feels worthless. Considering the music industry and goals in particular, when I was a kid, I dreamed of playing sold out stadium shows and uniting the world with my music! hahaha… I actually sort of still have that dream/goal, but I have redefined it to make it more realistic. When someone contacts me and lets me know that my music has really moved them in some way… that they really ‘feel’ what I do, it gives me a sense of accomplishment and a connection with them. Connecting with people in my music is a valid goal for me, and one that is attainable. Hopefully enough of those connections will lead to a bit more success – which will hopefully allow me to get better music equipment, to make better recordings, to better connect with more people. I dream of just making a decent living making music even. That being said, I will do this music anyway until the day I die, because my love of music and the act of creation doesn’t depend on any of those types of goals… but without the connection to other people, obviously it isn’t as fullfilling… and without a bit of financial success doing this, it’s obviously difficult to keep purchasing new equipment, and difficult to spend the amount of time that I would like to spend doing music – simply because I am busy earning money in whatever way I can in order to survive. I know there are some people out there who may have never had to work for a living, but that has not been a luxury I have ever experienced. I don’t think I deserve that anyway… even if I became a huge star, I believe I would still expect myself to continue creating good works – and connecting with people – creating something they value. Obviously if all I cared about was money, I would have spent all of my time pursuing a more attainable lucrative career as a lawyer or doctor or something – rather than spending my time in the music industry! Being a part of the music world though seems to be where my heart lies… and I believe it will stay that way throughout the remainder of my life. I am sure it will be fruitful in many ways.
Kill The Buddha!
Martin Bowes / Attrition
The recording industry has turned on its head….. physical sales are nothing compared to what they were 10 years ago… we were lucky that we came through that time and have that fan base built up already… but for new artists in particular it is very hard…. and for labels too…. small sales means less money to spend on promotion which is a vicious circle in the end…. illegal downloads CAN help…. we toured russia last year and ALL the promoters had downloaded our music illegally…they didnt even WANT a copy of our latest CD…. so it saved us money and meant we toured all over Russia… we could hardly complain…. LEGAL downloads obviously help a lot more… but in a time when everything is free and available on the internet i think that is always going to be a problem…
but there are more things to consider…. the internet has its good side too… the easy contact and promotion and channels for people to listen to music…. we have more live shows than ever before… and live shows never really change….and people do still buy CD’s and shirts at shows…. they want to take home a souvenier…. and there are more places broadcasting our music… online or offline.. and more TV channels and more independent film makers using our music… we have received more money from broadcasting than ever before…
so now is difficult…and now is changing…. but now is still ok….
oh i forgot about the question!….
Success is nothing to do with sales it is to do with artistic satisfaction.
have a great 2010
‘Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.’
– Sir Winston Churchill
The Perfect Dream
Steve Jones / Area
Of course there are no simple and easy answers to this. Underlying the question is an age old conundrum for artists and society: Can art and commerce mingle? Obviously, they do, but in every instance that they do the consequences are significant, sometimes disastrous and other times marvelous. What is interesting to me presently (aside from how the internet continues to befuddle the recording industry) is that in our era of almost unlimited, and inexpensive, choices for music, we are beginning to see people making choices that the recording industry is not forcing on them (Susan Boyle being a good example). What is distressing, though, is that while there is a lot of talk about how the recording industry must find new models to make money and survive, there is not a lot of talk about models by which artists make money and survive. Perhaps the first level of success is simply survival. How many artists, whether musicians or not, can survive by their art? I daresay not many. I also daresay that probably not all should. But I would like to see the proportion tilt toward more of them being able to do so than not. While there is some merit to a system that winnows the good from the bad by, at least in part, financial criteria, it should not be only those criteria that count, for if they do then only those with the werewithal (or backing) will rise to our attention (or be shoved down our throats). I would prefer to make the choice about what comes to my attention myself or via my friends and acquaintances. The internet makes that somewhat possible, but it has not (or not yet) solved the problem of providing sufficient support that artists can make it on their own. Or, possibly, it has had a neutral effect: As regards music, on the one hand it provides new sources of revenue (iTunes, streaming, etc.) but on the other hand it provides means of file sharing music for free.
To return to the core of the question, though, for myself the best answer is as follows. We cannot live without music. I feel successful as a musician when I create music that someone, at least for a time, feels they cannot live without.
Sam Rosenthal / Black Tape For A Blue Girl / Revue Noir / As Lonely As Dave Bowman
I like having a new CD out. I like knowing that all the ideas I had been working on, and the hundreds of hours of recording and editing in the studio have resulted in this OBJECT which is my art in exactly the form I want to present to the world. I do love the process of working with my band in the studio, I even have to admit that I kind of do not loathe being on the road with Athan and Nicki. Yet in the end, what I really enjoy is successfully making the artistic statement I want to make. When each album is fresh and new, it is the most accurate statement of where I am creatively. At that moment, I am complete.
Just as I was preparing this email, I received an email from a Rob MacDonald, who was one of the VPs at Ryko, our former distributor. It was a ‘goodbye email’ and it included this bit:
When the consumer hears that certain piece of music, watches that cool film or reads that amazing book they are touched in so many different ways. That emotion is key to the continued success of what it is that drives us to get up every day and work so hard. To be blessed we can be part of this wonderful part of life that touches so many people in so many ways! Keep the faith and keep the great Music, Film and Books coming because we all need this like air.
As the guy at Projekt, I think THAT is what I want to know – again. I want to know intuitively that Success is being part of the process that facilitates THAT EMOTION in the audience. It is not the $$$ figure on the bottom line that should be looked to as the definitive statement of whether an album is a ‘success.’ I am part of the process that makes the art available — the process that allows you to feel that feeling, that joy, that introspection, that satisfaction.
Here’s to the start of an amazing new decade
All my love,