What are some songs about Silicon Valley
The time had come in mid-October last year. The band presented the results of their crash course to a jury: seven new songs, enough for a CD, as well as a business plan that shows how the group wants to find fans and generate sales in the future. Cost for the band: not a single dollar, apart from the flights to San Francisco. “That was too good to be true,” says bassist Josh Hari. For the first time we were able to think carefully about our future and discuss the ideas with professionals. "
This was made possible by the music incubator Zoo Labs, founded by former Google manager Vinitha Watson and art consultant Anna Acquistapace, the company wants to bring two spheres together: the rigorous start-up scene, based on online data and constant market observation, with the chaotic one World of the ambitious but starving musicians. The founders use methods that are familiar from reality TV: sifting out, training and exhibiting. Those who make it into the “Music Residency” like the Boston Boys become part of a network of producers and agents. In return for this jump-start, Zoo Labs only claims access to the data that an optimally positioned band collects: How often is a song played? Which songs are discussed in forums? Which ones licensed by advertising agencies? Zoo Labs also gets ten percent of royalties on music recorded in the Oakland studio.
“Zoo Labs is a unique combination to date,” says Watson. “We want to create friction. In the morning it's about business, in the afternoon you can let your creativity run free and immediately implement what you've learned. ”In a small conference room next to the studio in the former granite slab warehouse, the walls are still with memos and diagrams from Boston Boys taped up: The lessons discuss how a band can get its fans to advertise concerts among friends. Which events bring more sales? Which labels is it worth working with?
The company, which operates as a non-profit foundation, has set itself the goal of infecting every corner of the creative scene with entrepreneurial spirit. Those who make it through the application process receive support from an experienced sound engineer, have access to modern studio technology and, above all, to a select group of experts who know about record deals, concert tours, merchandising and even the bit by bit sales of music to advertising agencies.
The big myth: a record deal
"Everyone in the music industry is keen on the connection to Silicon Valley and its innovative strength," says Watson. “Things change every six to nine months, so you have to bring fresh knowledge into the industry quickly, and we want to do that.” In 2014 she wants to smuggle four bands through the Zoo Labs internship.
The founders are not aiming for lone fighters with guitars or laptops. They want to find two to four-piece bands who have already found their style but are struggling with the business side. “Incubator might be the wrong word,” says Watson. "We don't want to put babies in an incubator, we want musicians who are creative to think about how they can live from their art in the new world of social media and streaming services."
For their idea, Acquistapace and Watson were able to raise a quarter of a million dollars in seed capital from private investors, and they say funding is secured for "the next few years." Talks are already underway with the foundation of high-tech billionaire Peter Thiel. The two founders do not want to get rich, but above all to collect knowledge - which musicians, with which means and through which channels, build a fan base, where their compositions are played and discussed. “We want to become an information exchange for successful models in the music business in the next ten years,” says Acquistapace.
The business is changing, a record deal has long since ceased to guarantee a secure income. Musicians also have to be able to sell themselves. In the words of Hari, bassist for the Boston Boys: "We have to position ourselves as a brand."
The Boston Boys demonstrate how you can do everything right - and still make little money. You graduated from the renowned Berklee College of Music in Boston and travel all over the world as "cultural ambassadors" for the US State Department. "We went to supposedly the best college for musicians in the country, but almost everything we learned there was already out of date," says Josh Hari. “The lecturers are over 40 years old, their knowledge no longer corresponds to the modern world. So far, we have only had the alternative of hiring as interns at a label or an agency in order to learn something from the business. "
And that, too, would not automatically teach the creatives to think commercially. Like almost all up-and-coming bands, the Boston Boys only meet sporadically - for rehearsals or when they go on tour. They make most of their livelihood as commissioned musicians for the jazz singer Dianne Reeves, for example. Hari estimates that around 90 percent of her sales come from concerts, the rest from the sale of her music. “But we have neither a label nor a distribution partner. In the two weeks at Zoo Labs we learned that we have to understand our market better and serve it accordingly. "
It is not enough to be present on the web or to give away songs. It is well known that as a musician you cannot live from playing a title a million times on streaming services such as Spotify. The lawyer Peter DiCola of Northwestern University in Illinois and a member of the Future of Music Coalition took a closer look at the incomes of more than 5,000 US musicians between the ages of 18 and 70. His conclusion: On average, they earn $ 55,561 a year. Around 28 percent of sales come from live performances, 22 percent from teaching assignments, followed by orchestra fees and studio sessions. Composition and recording royalties are only six percent each. Nevertheless, most musicians still chase the dream of a record deal and give away both their songs and performances.
That is an expensive mistake. And a vicious circle. Without a CD and a lively following on Twitter or Facebook, a label is unlikely to sign a group like the Boston Boys. Renting a studio and a sound engineer on your own for a few days runs into the thousands; for many it is unaffordable. As a result, creative energy is lost. Here too, Watson and Acquistapace brought their experience from the world of tech start-ups to the table. “You invest in a team,” says former Google employee Watson. “I want to see where they come from and how they can get along with each other. Whether their personalities and their vision fit together. "
The culture shock: customers instead of fans
In this respect, Zoo Labs fills an important gap. “Everyone is talking about the crisis in the music industry. That may be true. But actually bands and artists have to be prepared for how they can turn their work into a product without completely selling themselves, ”says producer and sound designer Solomon“ Jumbo ”David, who has been with hip-hop groups like Blackalicious works in Oakland.
Before the Boston Boys, he lectured as a guest lecturer on sonic branding - that is, how you can turn your sound into money when there is a lull at concerts or recordings. When he added one of the band's newly recorded songs to a commercial for Chrysler, “they were amazed at building blocks,” says David. “We always talk about the tension between art and commerce. But the fact that a large company or advertising agency likes my music should fill me with pride. In this way, a regular income can be achieved that keeps me afloat. It's an insurance policy for my artist career, not a lazy compromise. Very few bands understand that because nobody explains it to them properly. "
Zoo Labs is by no means the only attempt to bring commercial skills to the thousands of bands working in the shadows of a few less famous musicians. Mostly it is corporations who expect a cool image from their own pop programs, such as the Red Bull Music Academy of the drinks brand of the same name or the Rubber Tracks program of the shoe manufacturer Converse.
Jimmy Iovine, the founder of Interscope Records, which is now part of Universal Music, and hip-hop producer André Young alias Dr. Dre forward. The two announced in May that they would be founding a new academy of arts, technology and innovation at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles with seed capital of $ 70 million.
The four-year program is intended to enable students to develop new art forms and business models. They will spend the last year in small teams like a start-up to develop projects together.
Zoo Labs is also planning something similar. There the musicians spend the first morning in the studio with a simple exercise. You get a few statistics and then have 20 minutes to tinker and present a new service or a new player. This dry run, which is typical of Silicon Valley, is intended to give artists a helping hand when they think of hardware and software when they think of creativity.“We are pioneers,” says Acquistapace. She is familiar with the problem that bands use the Internet, but then hardly ever get their music sold there. And producer David believes his use at Zoo Labs can have wider circles. "Anyone who can think and play for two weeks here realizes that you can very well keep control of your artistic work and don't have to be put under the yoke of a label." ---
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