Dave Kusek is the Artist Development Manager at New Artist Model and Senior Partner at Digital Cowboys Consulting. He was Vice President at Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he created Berklee Online, the world’s largest music school reaching over 30,000 students in 170 countries.
In 2013 he founded the New Artist Model as an alternative music business program for independent musicians, songwriters, and producers.
He was one of the people who helped develop the Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI), was co-inventor of the first electronic drums called “Synare”, and founded the first music software company Passport Music Software; producer of Master Tracks, Encore, and MusicTime software.
We had the pleasure of interviewing Dave to hear his insights on the streaming music landscape, predictions for industry shifts to come, and advice for artists to prepare and engage their fanbase.
Join Dave Kusek and Fluence CoFounder Shamal Ranasinghe in a free webinar to learn more about Fluence and engaging your fans here.
In your 2005 best selling music business book “The Future of Music: Manifesto for the Digital Music Revolution” you correctly predicted the more than a few technological advances such as the iPhone, Apple’s SIRI, and marketplace shifts including the decline of the recording industry and the rise of streaming. What shifts and innovations do you see occurring in the next decade?
Streaming has a long way to go to be economically viable for the creators, however, the consumers have embraced it. The trend is clear that people are going to move in that direction, especially when you can more-or-less access any song at any time. That makes it so convenient and easy, that from a fan perspective everybody’s going to begin to move in that direction. That shift is well under way.
The economic part of that hasn’t really happened yet, in the sense that as an artist it may even be worse than your regular deal for your record depending on the kind of contract that you get.
People bitch and moan about Spotify and not being paid royalties, but really the problem is with the labels, publishers and the deals that have been cut and are being interpreted.
I think a big shift is yet to come as artists either go directly to the services and keep the majority of the money that a Spotify or a Pandora generates for themselves rather than a mere fraction of it, or that the nature of the deals change either proactively or through some soft of legislation.
When we wrote the book we thought that there would be changes in copyright law by now, and that streaming and downloads would be treated similarly to a license of music rather than a copy of a track, which is largely how they’re being interpreted now.
I think that has to happen; whether rather artists go direct or whether there’s a shift from the artist and writer community in order to get the deals changed or to get some legislation in place.
Even if the money was split; let’s say Spotify gets a third, the label gets a third, and the artist/writer gets a third, that would be way better than it is now.
I expect streaming of live events to become more everyday, and potentially a way for artists to make more money by engaging directly with their fans. Whether it’s a more formal behind-the-scenes VIP access, some sort of digital meet-n-greet, or if it’s a show (whether it’s small or big), or if it’s an interactive show where the audience is invited to engage with the performers during the event.
Everyone is walking around with a supercomputer in their pocket and there’s no reason why that can’t be used to create richer experiences for fans and ways for artists to communicate and monetize.
With this in mind, which areas of expertise should artists focus on developing?
If distribution is a commodity then your problems are really promotion and awareness as Fluence is addressing. You’re looking at the first-mile problem of “How do I get more fans?”
So getting better at fan acquisition, developing relationships, and nurturing those relationships is a very important skill for artists and writers whether you’re going to work with a label, production, or management company – you don’t want to delegate that task necessarily without participating yourself.
Whether you’re completely doing it on your own like great tools like Fluence or other direct-to-fan and fan engagement options, or you’re working with your team; you need to develop the skills of having a conversation with people, sharing your life and what you’re about, trying to get people to notice you, remember you, like you, and talk about you.
There are good communication skills that I think are more important these days because you don’t necessarily have a machine in the form of a label promoting for you and monetizing that audience. You’ve got that front-end side of collecting people, growing your fanbase, engaging with them, getting them excited, talking about you, and then you’ve got the main part: “how do I turn that attention into money or some other currency that I can eventually turn into money?”
Being able to sell direct, getting people to come to events (whether virtual or physical), and getting them to spread the word about your music are very important skills.
It’s more important than ever to be able to understand the business of music and really how it works; there’s no fairy godmother to take care of you, and you’ve got to take care of yourself. I think understanding the business and the marketing of music and how that all works is more important than ever for artists and writers.
Artists and writers go about it differently, but they still need to do the promotion and the monetization.
What essential skills and areas do you cover in The New Artist Model online music business course?
Helping people take the next step in their career, no matter where they are. That’s an important part of our program.
People are at different points of their career: some are just starting out, some have been at it for a while, some are coming back to it. Some are later in life and they’re trying to make money as a writer, producer, or some form of creative artists.
What we try to do is help people where they’re at, and what they’re trying to accomplish, and then help them put a plan together to accomplish their goal. That’s the essence of the program.
There are aspects that include goal-setting, team building, recording and distribution strategy, live strategy, merchandise, licensing, publishing, and sponsorship strategy. How you put a marketing plan together. How you finance your career – whether it’s through crowdsourcing or a more traditional ways as a business or finding investors. How to organize and manage your money. Those are all the building blocks that we help people with.
So understanding that you’re in a business and how to set that business up and how to operate it so that you can be a creative person.
That’s usually the struggle; there’s the creative side saying “I want to bang on the drum all day”, and then there’s the “I have to work” side, and if you can combine the two as a musician; you can have a career.
What are your thoughts on the Fluence model and platform? What was your reaction when you first heard about it?
I think people need to be ready to receive feedback and exposure before they start engaging with that activity.
With Fluence, and other ways to to gain exposure, I think people try it before they are ready. I think its important to prepare and put your best presentation forward.
If you’re using SoundCloud, then make sure you have really great tracks up there, and a decent-looking web presence somewhere; even if it’s a Facebook page or if you’re using SoundCloud as your calling card. I think people need to be prepared first before they start going out and trying to build their fanbase and get exposure.
If you’re doing it on a very private level, then that’s one thing: you may be testing a track to a handful of people, but if you’re trying to really leverage someone’s social following, you need to be ready for that. You don’t want to be getting ready while you’re getting the feedback because you may only get one shot at it.
So I think that it’s really important for people using the Fluence platform to be ready and prepared before submitting and seeking exposure and feedback.
The converse of that, is that you want to be able to capitalize on whatever happens; whether it’s good or bad.
You want to be able to immediately capitalize, because time is so fleeting and people’s attention spans are so short that if you do get some sort of uptick or some exposure, or people are passing your stuff along – you want to be able to deal with that.
Are you capturing emails? Are you prepared to sell music? Are you prepared to sell tickets, merch, and do you have a way of collecting the feedback that you’re going to get and acting on it?
It’s part of being prepared, but if you get something great to happen, you better be ready for that and have a plan in mind for what you’re going to do. Even if it’s bad feedback; how can you change what you’re going to do?
I think Fluence is a wonderful platform, and a great idea of leveraging the power of social media. It’s always been a pay-to-play game in radio, and so it’s not a great leap of faith or a black mark on anyone to pay a little bit for a lot; to get some exposure and feedback. It’s always been that way.
What I love about what Fluence does is that it’s a self-regulating market that, as a curator, you can decide what your threshold is, and you can decide what your attention and time is worth, and I think that’s great – rather than imposing that.
From the artist perspective you can also decide what you can afford, how much risk you want to take, and who you want to get feedback from. You can stage your attempt over time and ratchet up your activity based on the feedback you get.
I love that it’s a market-driven platform mapping the tried-and-true method of getting feedback and exposure onto what’s really happening with the modern social web.
New and upcoming for you in 2015?
I’m looking at taking the momentum we have with New Artist Model and beginning to broaden the curriculum, so maybe a year from now we won’t be just completely business and marketing focused; we may get into some production and songwriting areas, because we’re getting a lot of feedback from people who’d like help in those areas.
My thinking with starting the New Artist Model was to try and make something that was very affordable and accessible for people, and we’re finding ways to make that work, and also finding that this is very much an “on-the-street” effort. We’re learning a lot from our students about what’s working for them, and what different patterns and trends in the global market are, because not all markets are the same. If you’re in North America and think that “this is the way the world works” – it’s really not true. It’s the way this market works, but other places in the world things can be really really different. It’s fun to learn about that because sometimes you can take a strategy that’s working someplace and apply it elsewhere.
The other thing is that students are learning from one another in the private community we’ve created. They’re able to borrow strategies, work on projects together, and it’s a great collaboration that’s happening. So far so good!