Books that changed my view on the music industry

Books that changed my view on the music industry

I love to read. Really, I love it. It hasn’t always been like this though. Like most people, I used to be reluctant to pick up a book and read… I considered it boring, plus, there’s the internet. Yet I have always been a voracious consumer of information. About two years ago my reading habit started, when a number of bloggers that I follow collectively recommended the same books. I had to give it a shot – and to my surprise was immediately sold. What stuck with me was the depth of information of a good book, and that when it related to a subject that I was truly interested in, the applicability of it was a goldmine.

Since then I’ve been reading increasingly more, now averaging about 3-4 books a month.

There’s something magical about paper books. They’re tangible, making it’s contents feel so much more real than if you read it on the web. For me at least, that’s how it works. And if you purchase books to own, then you can make notes, highlight and draw in them – turning it into personalized copies, emphasizing in whatever volume what is most essential to you. Over time, if you’re consistent, you’ll build your own library, a catalog of knowledge and inspiration.

Reading has been crucial to my development and learning. I can safely say that I’ve learned more from all the books I’ve purchased myself over the course of these two years, than from the whole of my business administration bachelor at university. The big difference here is in the field of scope of the content; all the books I read are about subjects I am highly interested in, often recommended, and always thoroughly researched – which makes me motivated to actually sit down and read, yet also makes most of it very actionable. A prescribed university curriculum not so much.

I’m a firm believer that anyone can master almost any subject, if enough time is put in. Studying the right resources and books can greatly speed up this process. That brings us to the music industry.

There’s a number of books that have really shifted my perspective on the music industry and my role as an artist manager. In this article I outline the key lessons from a number of these, hopefully leaving you with actionable advice – and a trigger to start reading yourself.

You know what they say… knowledge is power.

When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead – Jerry Weintraub

A memoir by the legendary agent, movie producer and old school hustler – Jerry Weintraub. He managed and promoted acts including Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Led Zeppelin. Later in his life he started his own Hollywood movie studio, which failed, however recovered by becoming an esteemed movie producer – creating classics such as The Karate Kid, Ocean’s 11 and Ocean’s 12.

He starts his book by telling about his roots, being a young boy of Jewish descent living in the Bronx. At fourteen he had started his first business, delivering dry cleaned clothes from the dry cleaner to the client and back. He tells of his father, who was a gem dealer, and how he had taught him the skill of selling.

This is illustrated by the most powerful story:

Jerry’s father, Sam, was a hardworking Jewish gem dealer. He bought his gems from newly arriving Irish immigrants that needed money, and traveled to places like India to purchase them for a cheaper price. Back in the US, he would travel from small town to small town, trying to sell the stones to jewelers. This was a tough job and often he struggled making a living.

One day, his father came up with an idea. He traveled to India and purchased the largest sapphire that he could find. A bold and beautiful blue gem, which he polished to perfection. A big investment, that he intended to recoup quickly. He also acquired a suitcase and set of handcuffs. The stone was to be the most reputed stone in the states, and he named it ‘The Star of Arbadan’. Starting then, whenever he would travel to a town to sell stones, he would arrange for a small security team to accompany him, and tip off the local press of the prized stone’s arrival.

This created demand. Suddenly, jewelers and gem dealers were lining up to see his goods – particularly The Star. He arranged for groups of them to come and observe the stone in his hotel room, where together with the star he displayed his other goods. Upon arrival, he would tell a magnificent tale about the star – creating mystique and an exotic aura around it. All his gems sold, except for the star, which was not for sale. He brought it along to the next town, to again create a story and sell his goods.

This taught young Jerry an important lesson. That the art of selling is in creating perceived value, in packaging, in the story. People don’t buy the object, they buy the story. The better the product or service you’re trying to sell, the stronger the story that you can create around it.

Trust Me, I’m Lying – Ryan Holiday

Ryan is absolutely among my favorite contemporary writers. He’s a growth hacker whom at 27 years old has published three books, was the apprentice of Robert Greene, author of The 48 Laws Of Power, and marketing director for American Apparel. He runs a marketing firm and has masterminded many eccentric marketing and hype campaigns, helping books land on the NYT bestseller list and creating widespread acknowledgement of his clients.

In ‘Trust Me, I’m Lying’, Ryan outlines the dynamics of the modern media landscape, explaining its flaws and the opportunities these present to media manipulators such as himself.

He explains the history of the newspaper, which came to rise at the beginning of the 19th century, in a format known as the ‘party press’. These were newspapers that were issued by political parties, on a mandatory monthly subscription that counted as a sort of patronage. The content was highly subjective and aligned to the party’s goals.

Later, with the rise of the printing press, more newspapers came to sprout, of which many were sold on the streets by newspaper boys. With the speed of this new manufacturing process and the soaring competition, the news really became what we now know as the news. It had to be information that was current, quickly gathered, and the papers that had the most revelatory and juiciest headlines were the one that sold the best on the street. Outcries of the newspaper boys were what drove sales – making the content sensationalist, not so much good objective journalism.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the famous New York Times newspaper became published by Adolph Ochs. He was the first to start selling newspaper subscriptions with the new technology of the telephone, creating a solid reader base that read the newspaper because it delivered good, objective news of high journalistic standards. The NYT thrived and many competitors followed, ushering a period where many newspapers competed on quality of content.

Today, the media landscape is very different. The internet is the fastest way to spread information, and news now travels up and down the chain from local blogs, to bigger blogs, online publications, and radio / TV stations. Everybody can participate. The standards for ‘what makes the news’ have lowered.

The reason for this is because the business model is different. Where newspapers used to generate revenues from single purchases and subscriptions, blogs and online publications work very differently. Their income results from advertisements which they place on their site. The price for these advertisements is determined by the amount of ‘impressions’ that the site can generate. The more an ad is seen, the higher the price. As a result, online publications are incentivized to generate as many page views and visitors as possible.

Now this sounds harmless, but in practice it poses huge problems. Because of the need for page views, many of the publishers and owners have gravitated to a certain ‘code of quality’ for content, that determines whether content is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ based on the amount of views an article can generate. This means that something outrageous such as ‘Barack Obama plays dubstep set’ would likely generate more views, and thus be considered a better article, than a true and insightful – but less sensationalist – article. It even leads to many bloggers and writers of these publications being paid by the amount of page views their posts generate, so they’re financially incentivized to water down their content.

The standards for referencing have also changed. In academic circles, you’d need to quote trustworthy scientific sources or research in order to make claims about facts. But on the internet, often a link to another site suffices to make something look ‘credible’. This leads to the ‘link culture’, where one site would base a story upon that of another, even though the journalistic standard for writing the original post could have been horrible. All this, together with the need to post very rapidly – as news spreads insanely fast over the net, and the outlet that gets the ‘scoop’ on a subject usually attracts the most views, leads to a culture where many writers are encouraged to drop high journalistic standards.

For a real life example of these dynamics, one doesn’t need to look further than the satirical and fictitious news site Wunderground. Those of you in the EDM scene likely know them. They thrive on posting funny, yet often slanderous articles about head-turning subjects such as world renowned DJs. Surely, you’ve seen some of your more ignorant friends post their articles on their Facebook feed, where they weren’t able to see through their obviously absurd claims. Funny – yes – but it has very real implications. The fact that these posts are being shared just proves how little is necessary to generate the spread of information, and the spread of these articles often reach real – ‘newsworthy’ – blogs and sites. The impact is real. So real that Steve Aoki actually sued Wunderground.

Ryan’s book was a true eye-opener to me, as it shows the realities of the landscape we work in as music industry professionals. It presents a ton of opportunities, but also realities that you’d better be aware of. It’s helped us better work our media game, that’s for sure.

There’s a ton of other books which have inspired me, which I’ll share more of in a future post.

If you liked these strategies and would like to know more, you should check out my book ‘The Soundcloud Bible‘. It’s a guide for dominating the Soundcloud game, both from a practical perspective – but also teaching some killer grand strategies.

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