Category: Music Biz

Dangerbird can't soar above the recession, as small staff restructures


Silver Lake's Dangerbird Records has been on something of a roll the last few years, with breakout successes coming from the likes of rock act the Silversun Pickups and soul revivalists Fitz & the Tantrums. Yet the small Sunset Boulevard imprint didn't prove to be immune to standard record industry woes, as the label has been forced to cut five of its 13 full-time staffers and refocus its licensing and art departments.

The restructuring has been confirmed by a spokesperson for the label. Any cuts from an indie in L.A.'s tight-knit Silver Lake/Echo Park scene will raise eyebrows, especially one that's been rising as fast as Dangerbird and that's been on a signing spree of late. Two of the five staffers affected, however, will continue to work with Dangerbird on a consulting basis.

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Nothing but dollar signs on the horizon: U2 sets record for highest-grossing tour


isn't a band that does things on the cheap. When frontman Bono and guitarist The Edge went to Broadway, they did so via "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," which has already earned itself the distinction of being the most expensive show in Broadway history. The band's "360 Tour" has been no bargain either, with costs tallying at least $750,000 per day, according to Billboard, whether or not the band even has a gig that night.

So perhaps the news today released via concert promoter Live Nation that trumpets the "360 Tour" as the highest-grossing rock 'n' roll endeavor ever should come with an asterisk. After all, no doubt it's one of the most expensive traveling rock shows ever, if not the most. Yet with 26 dates to go, including June 17 and 18 in Anaheim, the "360 Tour" has grossed more than $554 million since it launched in 2009. That beats a previous record set by the Rolling Stones' "Bigger Bang Tour."

In the statement, U2 manager Paul McGuinness was quoted as saying, "That dollar figure for the gross looks enormous. Of course I can't tell you what the net is, but I can tell you that the band spend enormous sums on production for their audience."

U2 only operates the scale of grand these days, but big, of course, is not always directly related to artistry. "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," for instance, is the Broadway show the critics love to hate, and the "360 Tour" came at something of an odd time for U2. The trek was staged in support of the band's 2009 album, "No Line on the Horizon," which, while successful, didn't spawn a hit on par with a "Beautiful Day" or an "Elevation."

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Rebecca Black's 'Friday': There are a million good reasons you can't get it out of your head

Rebecca Black 2011-Ark Music Factory 
When responses such as “abomination” and “worst song ever” are the most printable comments about a hit record like Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” you know it’s fully entered the realm of pop phenomenon.

But for anyone who’s surprised that this simple ditty has connected in a big way — the 13-year-old's relentlessly chipper YouTube video is about to cross the threshold of 66 million hits — don’t be.

Patrice Wilson, the entrepreneurial musician who wrote and produced Black’s record and created the video that quickly went viral, has been both praised as a pop genius and villified as the worst sort of exploiter of youthful dreams for charging Black and her family $2,000 for the whole package.

But if nothing else, this tune demonstrates unequivocal songwriting savvy: He tapped a song structure that’s embedded in our collective DNA, one that’s been the foundation of dozens, even hundreds of hit records over the last half a century.

“Friday,” you see, is “Heart and Soul” revisited. It uses that fundamental four-chord progression almost anyone who’s ever touched a piano keyboard has learned. It’s the basis of the most-played pop radio hit of all time, the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody.” 

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Gigswiz goes after concert ticket business, lures bands with cash bonuses

Money talks. That's what Gigswiz, an online ticketing startup that launched this week at the New Music Seminar in Los Angeles, is counting on.

Gigswiz_logo_dark The Finnish company is promising to give bands one-third of its 15% service fee for each ticket that the bands help to sell via a Gigswiz widget embedded on the band's fan site. On a $10 ticket with a $1.50 fee, for example, the band would get 50 cents.

Gigswiz is betting that bands will sign up and promote their concerts better if they see hard dollars coming back.

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Mozes launches mobile technology to let musicians sell merch at live events


Mozes, a mobile marketing company, on Tuesday launched a service at the New Music Seminar in Los Angeles that lets concertgoers buy merchandise during the event using their cellphones.

The Palo Alto, Calif., company is one of dozens of technology startups seeking to tap into live events as a source of marketing and digital commerce.

For musicians, selling merchandise is becoming an increasingly important revenue stream as sales of the music itself dwindle.

It's not just T-shirts and posters. Mozes has tested sales of seat upgrades, backstage passes and digital downloads via mobile phones during shows.

But posters work too. Taylor Swift, at a concert last summer in Foxborough, Mass., asked her audience to text in orders to reserve a $25 limited-edition poster that they could buy later.

Here's how it works. Fans are prompted to text a message and are sent a reply with a link to a website where they can make their purchases.

Mozes, founded in 2005, has long been helping marketers reach out to fans during live events with sponsored giveaways and contests. Fans text their e-mail addresses for a chance to win a prize, say a personal phone call from Lady Gaga, that is funded by the corporate sponsor.

About 10 million people have taken artists up on such offers via Mozes over the years, according to the company's chief executive, Dorrian Porter. At an Umphreys McGee concert last year, for example, the band asked the audience to text song requests, which appeared on a large screen to the left of the stage.

-- Alex Pham

Twitter: @AlexPham

Photo: Audience members at an Umphrey's McGee concert were invited to text song requests that would appear on the large screen to the left of the band. The band took their cues for what to play next from the audience's texts. Credit: Chad Smith Photography via Mozes.

CDs still 74% of sales in 2010. Long live the CD!

New Music Seminar Logo Yes, music is becoming digitized, streamed and downloaded. But a surprising amount of money is still being spent on old-fashioned CDs.

Nearly three-quarters of U.S. music sales in 2010 were in the form of discs, according to Tom Silverman, a board member of the Recording Industry Assn. of America.

Among some genres, the percentage of CD sales is even higher -- 93% of Latin, 85% of gospel and 84% of country records were physical discs.

"CDs aren't doing so bad," Silverman said during opening remarks at the New Music Seminar conference in Los Angeles. "People still like CDs."

Yes, CD sales are declining, Silverman said, "But we don't have to accelerate that process."

-- Alex Pham

Twitter: @AlexPham


New Music Seminar gives artists a crash course on the business of music

Tom SIlverman and Courtney Holt So you have ambitions to be the next Arcade Fire.

If you have the show, the New Music Seminar promises to get you up to speed on the business. The three-day conference starting Monday night is jam-packed with sessions on how musicians can build their brands ("careers" are so 1990s).

With sessions on everything from how to create effective Facebook pages to Twitter marketing, the event, held at the Sheraton Universal Hotel, is heavily weighted toward digital strategies. But there are also sessions on old-school topics, including how to get your music on television shows, where there are sweet licensing fees and ways to get the attention of A&R scouts without getting a restraining order filed against you.

Now in its second year after being reincarnated from its multiyear hiatus, the New Music Seminar is the brainchild of Tom Silverman, who ran Tommy Boy Records in the day. His deep connections in the music business have translated into an all-star lineup of speakers.

A few notable ones include Moby, Courtney Holt of MySpace Music, Jason Bentley of KCRW-FM (89.9), Michael Doernberg of ReverbNation and Joe Kennedy, top dog at Pandora, the Internet radio service that last week announced plans to raise $100 million in an initial public offering. In other words, they're all in positions to give artists a serious hand up. You can check out the program agenda and register on the event's website.

-- Alex Pham

Photo: New Music Seminar co-founder Tom Silverman, left, at last year's event with Courtney Holt, head of MySpace Music. Credit: Jen Maler / New Music Seminar

Fun with year-end sales numbers: Death to the '80s, indies rule and rap takes a step forward


The year-end sales numbers released this week by Nielsen SoundScan contained the usual grim news for the music biz. Album sales once again declined in double-digit fashion, but that was fully expected. Perhaps more surprising and cringe-inducing was the drastic slowdown in growth in the digital sector, as sales of individual songs grew just 1% in 2010, compared to a 28% splurge just two years ago

But with the bigger industry picture having been covered earlier this week on these digital, tree-friendly pages, Pop & Hiss can further explore the seven-page bonanza of year-end SoundScan stats. So relax, stream your favorite album you downloaded (at no cost) in 2010, and read on. 

The headline: Vinyl Sales Hit a New High With 2.8 Million Sold
The context:  Sales of LP albums have been a niche bright spot for the industry, but let's put the emphasis on the word niche. In 10 weeks, Taylor Swift's "Speak Now" outsold the entire vinyl industry, moving 2.9 million copies since its release. That's not to write off the success of the format. Vinyl sales were indeed up 14% in 2010 compared to 2009 and managed to account for 1% of all album sales. The real story isn't that vinyl is up in a down market, but rather that vinyl is providing an edge to mom-and-pop independent retailers. SounndScan notes that overall album sales at indie stores grew two percentage points to 8% in 2010, and the artists dotting the top of the vinyl sales chart are the ones that shops like Amoeba Music hit out of the park. The Arcade Fire's "The Suburbs" sold 19,000 vinyl LPs, the Black Keys' "Brothers" was close behind with just more than 18,000 LPs, and other artists in the top 10 included Vampire Weekend, the National, Beach House and the xx.

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On the pop charts: Online music growth slows, but Eminem, Taylor Swift survive unharmed

Digital music sales, which over the years have provided optimism for the music industry in the face of crumbling CD sales, are starting to flatline as consumers turn to a growing number of free and legal ways of listening to hit songs whenever they want.

Sales of individual digital songs grew just 1% in 2010, down from 8% in 2009 and 27% in 2008, according to a report released Wednesday by market research firm Nielsen SoundScan.

The slowing digital numbers are a sign that the market for digital music is maturing, said Eric Garland, chief executive of Big Champagne, a digital music consulting firm. Garland believes the numbers point to another change in the market -- the emergence of free and legal alternative sources to music online, such as YouTube, Vevo and Pandora.

“What's changed is that people are listening to vastly more free music without breaking the rules,” Garland said. “That can have a cannibalization effect.”

The decline in the growth rate of digital song sales occurred as record labels pushed for iTunes to raise the price of top-selling songs 30%, to $1.29 from 99 cents, on the company's iTunes store, which accounts for the majority of digital music sales. That's preventing a corresponding slowdown in revenue growth.

“The vast majority of the top 200 digital tracks are now $1.29,” said David Bakula, a Nielsen music analyst. “So while sales of singles are flat, their revenue is absolutely going up.” Nielsen does not report dollar sales.

The increase in the price of singles has made the cost of $9.99 albums look more attractive, boosting digital album sales 13% last year compared with 16% in 2009 and 32% in 2008.

Apple continues to account for most music sales online, commanding a more than 60% market share, according to industry research firm NPD Group., which generated numerous headlines in 2010 for deep-discounting albums by the likes of Taylor Swift, Kanye West and the Arcade Fire to $3.99, is a distant second. Fire-sale pricing aside, albums are still about one-third of overall digital music sales.

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'Beatles in Mono' CD box set: a lesson in collecting

Beatles in Mono cover

Judging the market for big-ticket music box sets continues to be at least as much art as it is science.

Record company executives I spoke to recently said that even though the Internet has given labels unprecedented ability to target fans of specific artists, there’s still a lot of hope and guesswork that goes into these ultra-expensive projects such as the $1,199 Miles Davis 43-CD box set and the $749 30-CD “The Complete Elvis Presley Masters” box.

Seattle indie music store owner Mike Batt of Silver Platters, for instance, noted that when EMI/Capitol Records last year issued CD box sets with the remastered Beatles catalog — one in stereo that list for $259 and one gathering all the Fab Four’s albums that were originally mixed in mono carrying a $299 list price — the company ultimately created a quagmire for Beatles collectors.

“It takes a smart buyer to know the store audience and also the future market value of these items,” Batt told me by e-mail. “If played right they can make a profit, but they can also be a large cash hole." The Beatles' mono box from last year is a perfect example. 

“The Beatles in Mono” box originally was touted as a limited-edition set for which only 10,000 copies would be manufactured. Those quickly sold out by way of pre-orders, sending collectors into something of a feeding frenzy to get their hands on copies.

“Most retail never actually had any to sell to someone that had not already preordered it [by] the day of release. Not even Amazon,” Batt recalled. “This made the actual marketplace demand so cloudy that Capitol/EMI decided to press more a month later, which then flooded the market.

“Today there are hundreds and hundreds of people trying to sell it online and just get something for it. What actually cost retailers $190 each has had a low market value of $110 online so far. Add to that a group of bootleggers and pirates that tried to jump on the bandwagon early and are now trying to recoup their losses by selling the bootlegs in legitimate marketplaces, bringing the value and consumer confidence in the item even lower.”

What’s that line? “I read the news today, oh, boy …”

— Randy Lewis


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