For Those Who Can't Sleep On Hip Hop

Mark Coker has developed a powerful platform and service to deliver digital books to significant sellers such as Borders, Barnes and Noble, and, as well as smaller specialty niche outlets, mobile applications, and a multitude of eReaders. In this interview, SmashWords’ founder provides a great amount of insight into the digital book publishing industry. He also discusses his motivation behind the launching of his company and shares plenty of information about the ins and outs of distributing ebooks utilizing this service.

You started Smashwords because you had a book that you were going to have published the traditional way and I guess you found that there were some significant obstacles with the traditional book publishers?

Yes, definitely. My wife is a former reporter for Soap Opera Weekly magazine. And when I first met her she was telling me about all these crazy stories of what went on behind the scenes of the daytime television soap operas because she used to visit the sets. And I suggested she wrote a book about it and she said, “Well why don’t we write a book together?”

And I thought well that’d be a lot of fun. I’d always wanted to write a book just I never thought it would be about soap operas. But we moved down to Burbank for a couple of months and interviewed – conducted anonymous interviews with about 50 soap opera industry insiders. We gathered all the dirt about the industry and then took that information and fictionalized it as a novel called Boob Tube. So we did everything that authors are trained to do or taught to do.

We did multiple revisions on the book, hired professional editors and proofreaders and copy editors, got the book all ready for sale to a publisher, shopped it around to agents, got represented by one of the top literary agencies in New York City. The same agency that represented Barack Obama’s first book, and they were excited about the book and we were excited that they were excited and so they shopped it around for a couple of years to major commercial women’s fictional publishers in New York and none of them purchased it.
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It was no surprise to learn in Nielsen SoundScan’s new report that overall recorded music sales were down once again. Despite the decline, companies such as Live Nation continue to find new ways to monetize proven artists. Pictured is a branded ear buds display found in a neighborhood convenience store. Prominently displayed is RUN DMC’s brand right along those of other iconic acts such as Kiss, The Who, and Def Leppard. Current mega-stars such as Lil Wayne and Shakira are also obvious options. The placement of such music products in convenience stores puts band-related products in nearly every other corner, versus just a few major outlets.

Music company’s are finding ways to pick up the slack of sagging music sales by tapping into their existing resources, that includes the tried and true. A walk into Best Buy will reveal a slimmer selection of music titles, however, throughout the last few years, music for veteran bands such as Aerosmith, Ozzy Osbourne, David Bowie, The Beatles, and Metallica has continued to seep its way into video games through serial titles for Rock Band and Guitar Hero. As well, interesting displays showcasing prints for many of those same bands’ images are also popping up in outlets such as the electronic superstore.

The Nielsen Soundscan report shows that the phenomenon of growth in vinyl album sales persists. Continuing the trend seen in the last few years, the report confirms that sales for that format are higher “than any other year in the history of Nielsen SoundScan.” The value of the classic act is further evident in the fact that four of the top ten positions for biggest vinyl selling acts for 2010 belong to iconic bands, including The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Metallica, and Jimi Hendrix. -images and article by Israel Vasquetelle

Other interesting facts straight from the Nielsen Soundscan report include:

-The Rap genre was the only genre that experienced growth over the previous year; an increase of 3% in sales.
-Eminem’s Recovery finishes the year as the biggest selling album with more than 3.4 million in sales.
-Eminem is the biggest selling digital artist in 2010 with more than 15.5 million track sales during the year. This marks the biggest one year digital download track total by an artist for one year.
-Music purchases reached the 1.5 Billion mark for the third consecutive year. 1.5 billion in 2010; 1.6 billion in 2009; 1.5 billion in 2008 (1.4 billion in 2007; 1.2 billion in 2006; 1 billion in 2005).
-71% of all vinyl albums were purchased at an independent music store during 2010.
-Digital music accounts for 46% of all music purchases in 2010; up from 40% in 2009 and 32% in 2008.

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Depending on your age, and where you grew up, Barry Polisar might have played a significant role in how you first started listening to music as a child. Barry is a veteran entertainer who has spent decades making music and performing it for kids. His impressive career is filled with accomplishments, including: writing songs sung by the character Big Bird in Sesame Street, publishing several children’s books, starring in his own television show, and even performing at the White House. Of all of his successes, the one that is the most telling, in regards to the significance of his career, is a recent tribute compilation entitled “We’re Not Kidding.” This release consists of Barry cover-songs, and was recorded by artists of all genres that grew up listening to Barry’s music.

Beyond Barry’s success as an artist, he’s also a music entrepreneur who began his career by booking himself in unique venues, including schools and libraries. He’s also sold music directly to his audience (and their parents) live and online for many years. Barry’s story is compelling and full of lessons for artists of all genres.

Barry, can you discuss how you sell music?

For 35 years I put out a series of record albums for children and basically marketed and sold them myself. Although I do have distribution through, CD Baby, and iTunes for the longest time it was just people either buying my albums on my Web site or after concerts.

There were significant barriers to selling. How were you selling your music for all those years before the Internet?

Well it was really a grassroots, word of mouth network. Now I never had the numbers that say a mainstream record album label or distributor would have, but I did fairly strong sales. I have about 350,000 CDs, records, cassettes and books in print. Of course, that represents 35 years.

Of course when my song was in Juno, they sold 600,000 CDs in just a few months and then sold well over 1 million copies. I could never do that. However, I really concentrated on not necessarily quantity but a sense of quality. Not just in terms of the product and the songs that I wrote and created and the albums that I recorded, but also in terms of just the audience. The people that found my material I think saw it for what it was, which was something that was really different. [click to continue…]

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Jason Spiewak

Jason Spiewak head of Rock Ridge Music

Rock Ridge Music is a label operating in future mode. They’re not tied to the old ways of the music industry, in fact they’re not locked into the supposed new 360 model adopted by major labels either. Instead, they operate by fulfilling a variety of services including indie marketing, publishing, management, etc. However, not all services are provided to all artists. With some, they work in a traditional label capacity, for others, they provide specific services needed to fill a void in their clients’ business models. Rock Ridge Music is definitely not just an independent record label working in a vacuum with just upstart or obscure talent, some of their artists are hugely successful and tout significant followings. Well-known names include Sister Hazel and Reel Big Fish. In this discussion, Rock Ridge’s co-founder, Jason Spiewak, speaks with me about his thoughts on the music industry and explains a bit about his label’s approach to music in a new media era.

Tell me a little bit about the transition from your earlier days working college radio to working within new media.

The job that really started me on this path was the position that I accepted at TVT, working with a woman named Christina who was one of my bosses at Artemis Records as a marketing person. Christina hired me based on understanding the music market place from a more traditional sense, with the idea that I could apply that view of the world to new and emerging media.  It was a great, great opportunity to learn that world on the fly while working with massive artists, people like Lil Jon and the Ying Yang Twins and Sevendust.  It was great because people were willing to return my phone call based on the clout that the acts had, and I got to develop some relationships that way.

TVT was a significant label.  It’s kind of interesting that they’ve come across some hard times.  What do you think that says about the future of the music industry: one of the top independent labels coming across such difficult situations?

I think the answer to that is less about TVT specifically and more about just what the general climate of the music business is now.  TVT had big label infrastructure and a big label agenda- a major label agenda.  But we’re living in a indie label world and so it’s very difficult to operate that way for a long period of time, just based on what the spends need to be. You just flat out can’t sell as much product now as you used to be able to sell, so you have to react accordingly.

When Rock Ridge Music was founded…our goal was to make money on our 99-cent downloads.  Not to say that we weren’t interested in making money on physical products. We definitely were and we still are.  But in 2005, Rock Ridge was 50% physical product and 50% digital, which is about where the major labels are now.  So in some ways we were ahead of our time. In other ways, frankly, we just couldn’t compete in the physical world. So it’s not like we weren’t trying to sell CDs; we just couldn’t sell as many as we could sell downloads.

What would you say the percentage of physical versus digital is now, today, for Rock Ridge?

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Best selling marketing author Seth Godin takes time to talk to Insomniac Magazine about marketing for artists and entrepreneurs. As well, he addresses the phenomenon pertaining to the new found fame that has created celebrities out of viral media. Seth also answers my question about the secret to his success. If you listen closely, you might be able to pull out some jewels to apply to your career within the media, entertainment and music industries.

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