Where Musicians Get Theirs

by Shady

We have all experienced music-based
websites promising to promote your band or get your music out to the
masses. But is not your typical music site. Fans don’t
pay for music downloads. Instead, the site pays the artist out of ad
revenues. It was developed and built by people who genuinely like music–musicians
and those who want to help those artists get their music out to the
fans. They also invite the musician or band to designate a charity where
some of the site’s proceeds are donated as well. I recently had the
opportunity to sit down and discuss with two of its founders,
talk about the site and the state of the music industry in general.
Peter and Vicki van Ness are a genial and passionate husband and wife
team dedicated to giving back to the music community. Their endeavor
is of course not 100 per cent altruistic; they are after all, starting
a fledgling business that needs the support of advertisers and musicians
to survive.

Noise: Let’s give the Noise
readers some insight into how this all came about.

Peter: Basically, Vickie and
I had this idea a long time ago—back in 2000. The idea was to create
a website where regular musicians could get exposure that they don’t
normally get. I’m probably almost as old as T Max and I’m an old
beatnik as well. My family went to the march on Washington as a family
outing when I was thirteen.

Noise: Wow, you are old.

Peter: [laughs] No kidding.
When I was a kid there was tons of music, even on AM radio. Every week
there was something new. It really just felt like the amount of new
music that you were being exposed to keeps shrinking and all of my friends
who are musicians kept making less and less money and working day jobs.
I remember that Vicki and I had this conversation about what musicians
really want and she said…

Vickie: They want to be heard.
All that musicians really want is to be heard.

Peter: We actually had a plan
to do something similar to GimmeSound, but with a different tack. We
had a meeting with investors scheduled on September 12, 2001, in New
York City.

Noise: Wow, that was unfortunate

Peter: It was in a building
that was destroyed. It wasn’t the World Trade Center, but it was next
to it, so obviously that meeting fell through. Then to complicate matters,
one of the partners was from Italy and he got deported. So we focused
back on our core web business and sort of put on the
back burner for awhile.

Noise: I can understand why.
It seems that a lot of things were working against you.

Peter: True, but we saw an opportunity
that was still there and we still wanted to do something like this.
Recorded music sales are dwindling, but we realized that if you were
take all of the money that was spent on advertising and compare it with
all of the money spent on recorded music, you realize that you could
fund the entire music business with ten percent of that advertising
revenue. We thought, well, this is pretty obvious. It’s the media
model, the content is free. Advertisers pay the artists. It seems that
the fans want the music for free. However, fans love their artists and
want to see them to make money and record and so forth. Given the opportunity,
the fans would probably not steal from them. This is provided that they
an alternative that was reasonable and fair.

Noise: Radiohead basically tested
this model by releasing their last record on their website for free.
They said, “pay what you think is fair.” Reports are that they made
four million dollars by doing this. So, they essentially cut the label
out of this.

Peter: They probably made more
than they would have if they had done this on a label. In the label’s
defense, they could take the position that they made Radiohead famous
and they wouldn’t have been able to do that without them originally.

Noise: I don’t think many
people would cry over what Capitol did not make from Radiohead on that
particular release.

Peter: They definitely aren’t
owed anything.

Vickie: Most of the music that
is out there now is just so boring. It’s formulaic unless you are
a teenybopper. The music is just not there—the chances of turning
on the radio and hearing something that you want to hear is slim.

Noise: Look at the demise of
rock radio. ’BCN is gone. That market is shrinking and music is just
one of the things that pull people’s imagination into a fractured

Peter: This is all true. I was
asked to be a speaker at CMJ’s Music Marathon and one of the guys
on the panel said, “You realize that there is no longer a rock radio
station in New York.” We were all like, holy crap.

Noise: So let’s get back to

Peter: Well, our notion was
that this is going to happen whether we do it or not. I figured that
at some point the big four or five labels are going to figure this out
and do it themselves. Right now they don’t like the idea; they are
into the subscription model. So we had this on the back burner. Then
a couple of years ago I read an article on Rick Rubin—I’ve been
a fan of his. I agreed with everything that he said in the article about
the music business except for one thing: he also believed that it would
be a subscription model. He did say that people are not going to buy
CDs and that they like songs. When I was a kid, singles were it. We
went to Sam Goody and bought one 45.

Noise: It’s definitely generational.
I like CDs; I like to physically get something when I buy music; I have
an iPod, but when you buy music from iTunes, I feel that if my computer
dies and I can’t retrieve all of that data—I’ve lost those songs
that were on my hard drive. I read that last year 65 percent of music
was purchased on CDs and this year it will be 50 percent. At this rate
in five or six years CDs won’t exist.

Vickie: The funny thing is that
vinyl is making a comeback. We have these friends in New York who buy
vinyl. I’m not sure where they store it.

Peter: So anyway, we figured
that the media model for distributing various artistic creations should
work for music; I’ve been doing computer type work for a very long
time – since the early ’70s.Vicki and I have been building websites
since 1998, so we had a lot of code already written and we found a great
20-something designer in Brooklyn to do the look and Vicki is a genius
at interface design. That’s one of her specialties. We took the design
and Vicki made it user friendly and we created the model and launched
it in April ’09. We put together a street team to do viral marketing,
because we really don’t have any money. [laughs]

Noise: Do you feel that it’s
taking off, or are you still in the infancy?

Peter: Well, this is what happened.
The first couple of months went very smoothly. We had a little revenue,
some downloads and the artists on GimmeSound were getting paid very
well. The one thing that we didn’t expect is that it totally took
off with musicians and fans at the same time that the economy tanked
and there were few if any advertisers. We went through three sales people.

Noise: It’s almost hard to
blame the sales people at that point given the economy.

Vickie: True, but we also needed
to hire a sales person that was used to hearing “no” a lot. That’s
really hard; two of our sales people ended up in the hospital for a

Peter: What we didn’t foresee
is that it would take off in one area, but not the other. We do have
a few proposals out for a couple of large companies, but for some reason
they want us to be around for a year first.

Noise: Where are you based?
Is the music just Boston based?

Peter: We started with just
Boston and New York, because that’s where we are. We went to the people
that we knew with large fan bases.

Vickie: Another thing that we
didn’t anticipate was how hard it was for us to get musicians to sign
up. We would contact them and they would say, yeah I’m signing up
today—then two weeks would go by.

Peter: Right now what we are
focused on is a new advertising opportunity for small independent advertisers.
One of things that we realized that if we are all about going after
small independent artists, why would we think that we only have to go
after big advertisers like Coke or Pepsi and Fender and Gibson? Maybe
should focus on the advertisers that independent musicians are interested
in, too. Then they can put up a low dollar ad, which would still help
everyone. One thing that is in our favor is that people in the advertising
business are telling their clients to look for exactly what we are.
I read something regarding this recently: “The future of advertising
isn’t one size fits all, but one size fits one.” Our job really
is to keep ourselves alive and keep going after these types of advertisers.
This will be the foundation of our revenue at some point.

Vickie: We have already survived
the worst economy in a generation, so I think that we will be okay.

Peter: I think the ultimate
success for would be if we can in some small way enable
regular musicians can make a good middle class living playing music.
That’s not available to most people right now. Almost every musician
that I have ever met has a day job. There are a lot of local icons who
have never been able to support themselves exclusively by playing original
music, my hope is that we can help change that.

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