June 3, 2020 | Imade Nibokun
Independent artists are going from the stage to streaming due to pandemic closures. But how they make money is in question. Only 29% of music listeners will pay for a virtual concert, says Nielsen Music/MRC Data in their their May COVID-19 report. And with two-thirds of independent artists currently unemployed, according to advocacy organization Americans for the Arts, many musicians lack the savings to sustain them until their first rescheduled concert. Indies may need to think beyond the stage as live music venues plan how to safely reopen.
“The best message you can give to independent artists is stop copying other artists that are in-demand,” says Bob Moczydlowsky, Managing Director of Techstars Music Accelerator. The start-up investor believes independent artists should create income streams based upon current pandemic habits, not what worked before. “The only way you can make new fans is meeting new fans on their own turf.”
For Moczydlowsky, this includes video games. Independent artists have a chance to leverage the attention of gamers who have exponentially increased their engagement during the pandemic. Moczydlowsky cites Roblox, a gaming platform where users can also create their own play experiences. This company has a children’s game that used a DJ learning exercise by Popgun, a Techstar-affiliated start-up. “That’s not porting my existing concert into a one-way livestream,” says Moczydlowsky. Indies may not perform in Fornite like Travis Scott, but they can go beyond simply bringing an offline concert into a virtual world. Moczydlowsky sees the music industry shifting towards creating “an interaction and a journey with someone.”
The challenge with live music streaming, Moczydlowsky says, is that the process should be repeatable and long term. Geo-fencing, employed by artists like Lion Babe and Kwamie Liv, can address this issue by confining an audience to a geographic area, just like a tour. This will prevent concert fatigue when the same people view the same concert every night. Geo-fencing, as well as dynamic VIP experiences, brand partnerships, and new Instagram Live revenue streams like IGTV ads and badges could make streaming more sustainable than just having a virtual tip jar.
Though more artists are using tech innovations, simply connecting with fans can be just as effective. Joy Ike, a Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter and pianist, asked her newsletter subscribers for support through a hidden page on her website. Ike has been a full-time indie artist for 12 years when she lost 90% of her income due to concert cancellations. Even pre-pandemic, she played just four shows this year before recovering from surgery. Ike felt awkward asking for help, but the response was overwhelming. “I remember thinking ‘gosh, I'm actually gonna be able to pay my rent with this!"
According to Amuse CEO Diego Farias, the COVID-19 pandemic is shaping a new collaborative, hyper-creative world where direct-to-fan solutions like Ike’s are happening more frequently. According to Nielsen’s COVID-19 report, 43% of music consumers are willing to purchase music or merchandise as long as their money directly benefits the artist. Showing the impact of fan purchases can be easier for indie musicians who own the rights to their music.
“This [pandemic] has highlighted a lot of the perhaps less flattering sides of working with a major,” says Farias in reference to rigid, major label release schedules. “And this is a landscape that requires a faster pace, being more responsive, [and] being close to the artist.” For Amuse, they’re adapting with the promotion of their Fast Forward program that lets artists receive their projected royalties in advance.
Independent releases have been changing rapidly as well. Unsigned artists may be best suited to fill the void of pandemic-delayed major albums since indies can release music anytime they want. MIDiA Research reported in late April that CD Baby observed a 30-50% jump in independent music releases since mid-March. MIDiA also shared that Spotify witnessed overall DIY user uploads increase by 300% year-on-year in March as well. This climb in indie music releases takes advantage of increased listening habits. Nielsen reports that streaming dipped to -9.4% below average in late March but rebounded with a 0.9% increase above average in early May.
With independent artists dominating releases, it's possible they can dominate the charts as well. In March, Amuse-affiliated rapper Dree Low released 19 of the Top 50 Spotify daily songs in Farias’ home country of Sweden. “We don't think the US is terribly far away from that happening,” he adds.
Farias believes this pandemic can produce a new generation of indie artists who honed their skills in the focused atmosphere of isolation. Moczydlowsky also sees a business opportunity in skill training services as people have more time at home to pursue music hobbies. Tribe XR, another Techstars Music start-up, offers virtual reality DJ lessons. “[Users] join a community of people who can learn this skill.”
Building community through sharing skills and expertise is something Ike does as well. She created a consulting and digital content business when her shows were canceled. “I get really excited about vision-casting with artists, helping them get clarity on how to move forward in what they do, and most importantly exploring with them how to creatively and authentically connect with their audience,” Ike says via email.
She believes this connection will be essential. “I actually think in a post-pandemic world people will attend and appreciate concerts by independent artists - maybe more than large stadium shows.” Indies have the storytelling skills to entertain the small crowds that will be permitted as venues reopen, she says. “The live streams have shown me that people really want to ‘connect,’ not just passively listen to music as they eat dinner or get a few drinks. Connection is key. And if we didn't know it...now we know.”
Originally Posted On Forbes
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