Most label owners are overwhelmed with demos. Speaking as someone who has, at times, attempted to actually get to every demo arriving in my inbox, the vast majority are not worth looking into, and I don’t blame any label owner who ignores unsolicited demos—sorting through what might be worthwhile to release is actually a full-time job known as A&R in the industry! I happen to handle A&R for my fledgling netlabel group so I have a lot of first-hand experience reviewing unsolicited demos. My rate of release based on such demos is non-zero but it can’t be much higher than 1%, and most of that would be established veterans calling on me, not new artists.
In a recent article entitled Too Much Free, marketing guru Seth Godin suggests that “free by itself is no longer enough to guarantee much of anything”. Godin distinguishes between “breakthrough free”, which is interesting precisely because it hasn’t been done before, and “sample-this free”, which leads to diminishing returns for content providers as people are increasingly inundated with free stuff.
The future of the music industry is a hotly debated subject, as just about anyone knows. Fingertips weighs in with a critical commentary of some of the more popular alternatives regularly lauded in the blogosphere, taking the time to skewer the “free music” model (not having to pay for recorded music), the “access” model (free or paid access to music in the cloud; Spotify or perhaps last.fm exemplify this approach), and the “music like water” model (which, in its simplest form, involves paying something like a flat rate utility bill for unlimited access to music). I won’t comment at length on the critiques of the latter two since neither interest me all that much.
Andrew Dubber has an interesting new post on who to send promos to, an issue that many labels and artists struggle with these days. Dubber likens the traditional model to a lottery, whereby promos are sent out to prominent gatekeepers of taste (reviewers, radio hosts, and so on) in the hopes that someone will actually crack the cellophane and give the release a spin. It is very goal-oriented; there is a desire to see a tangible return on the investment, which is often difficult to achieve. Sending promos is wasteful—many are simply discarded. There will always be far more people interested in having their music heard than there are “tastemakers” with enough free time and curiosity to take a chance on something new. Speaking from experience, this is largely because a lot of music isn’t very good—and sorting through the crap to find that future gem (or even something worth writing about) is an arduous and uninspiring task. Labels and artists play this lottery to win the attention of the gatekeepers and, ideally, increase sales and exposure of their product.