Today we have Ari Herstand. We’re going to talk about the new addition to his book that just came out January 2023.
Ari Herstand was a touring singer-songwriter for many many years. He’s played hundreds of shows — from living rooms to arenas. After a while of managing his own career, and doing everything from sync, charting and selling out venues with no manager or booking label, he got questions from a lot of musicians about how he does it on his own. He tried to get back to everybody but it was challenging so he wrote a blog called Ari’s Take. Anytime he learned something, he put it up on the blog. After years, the blog reached other indie artists and communities. Eventually he got asked to write for publications and this gave him an incredible opportunity to talk to sit down with big players in the music industry and ask them the questions. He also got asked about music business books. That time, he thought the music books were all outdated and irrelevant. He felt he needed to write his book especially because no one was telling the stories of musicians, managers and agents who were innovating and how they are making it work. He wanted to share what he learned with the people in the music industry he was able to interview.
The first book was published 6 years ago and he updates it every 3 years due to how the music business is rapidly changing. The new edition covers changes over the last 3 years such as TikTok, live streaming, social media, new royalty collection methods, NFTs, metaverse, and all other stuff that changed after the pandemic. Nowadays, Ari still has a band, he tours and he released a record last year. He also has a podcast, The New Music Business Podcast.
He has a great team that helps him make everything happen. He has Ari’s Take Academy which has 5000 students. He has the podcast where he releases one episode per week.
When he writes a book or needs to write updates to his book, he goes to New Orleans. It serves as a respite to him where he gets inspired.
So much changed in the music business due to the pandemic. One of the big changes Ari talks about in this book was the introduction of TikTok. People can now grow their career organically through social media. They do not even need to have a record released to grow their audience. One such artist is Stacey Ryan. She is a young jazz singer songwriter. She plays the piano and sings on her videos. She did an open verse challenge, and put up an instrumental. Using the duet feature on TikTok, there were 30,000 people who made a lot of fun writing their own verses to her song. One of the people was the rapper Zai1k and his version got 40 million views. Stacey and Zai1k decided to release the song together because their collaboration on TikTok did so well. She got to negotiate a 7-figure deal with Interscope Records where she got to retain ownership of all of her masters. Now, she is topping the pop charts.
Copyright Law and File Sharing
Musicians get freaked out about copyright law but the internet has leveled the playing field. Back in 2007, that was what YouTube did when people were creating lyric videos of songs. They didn’t realize it was free promo. Now, just like what Stacey did on TikTok, a lot of people did their own versions and she could have wrote to TikTok and ask them to take it down. Music labels were slow in adapting to innovations but eventually they realized that they should not squash innovation but leverage it. Nowadays, it is difficult to say what is right or wrong in the music industry. There are a lot of laws that are no longer black or white in the current time. The last big change in the copyright law was in 1998 which was before the internet. For example, is file sharing considered stealing? There are a lot of artists you can discover with file sharing such as Napster.
File sharing is like tape trading which has been happening for the longest time. Fans will always do what is most convenient for them. They do not necessarily not want to pay. iTunes succeeded because they had authenticated versions of a song. What killed piracy in the iTunes era was streaming, like Spotify. If you offer fans a convenient way to experience music, they will pay for it. It just needs to make sense to the fan.
MLC and Royalties
Another thing that changed from the version of the book was MLC and changes in royalties. The Music Modernization Act (MMA) of 2018 officially went into effect in 2019. The biggest thing that came from that was the creation of the Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC) . A few years back, there were a lot of lawsuits against Spotify, and some against Apple Music, from songwriters. The law states that anytime a song is streamed, the streaming service has to pay the songwriters mechanical royalty. Streaming functions differently from download. Songwriters sued Spotify but Spotify said they want to pay the songwriters but do not know how to find them. There were thousands of streams per day. What the MMA did was to create one organization in the United States that is going to collect all the mechanical royalties. In the end, there were 400 million dollars worth of royalties from streaming services that needed to be paid. So after that, you need to either have a publisher or sign up with the MLC to get paid royalties and they write you a check directly. There are 80 organizations around the world that plays royalties. That is the benefit of MLC or having a publisher such as Tunecore or Songtrust.
How the Pandemic Changed the Music Business
Musicians became a lot more comfortable with live streaming. They understood more about the function and benefits of live streaming, both on ticketed platforms and free platforms. Right when the pandemic hit, Ari teamed up with his friends and launched the Uncancelled Music Festival. 350 musicians from all over the world played in that festival, and it was hosted on Stadia. At the time, that was one of the few ticketed live stream platforms and a lot more popped up after that. And then there are the free platforms like Twitc, which has really taken off in the music community over the last 3 years. Some artists live stream multiple times a week and make good living on Twitch. Ari also interviewed a number of artists doing this on Twitch.
Touring has picked back up in this post pandemic era, yet the live streaming community is stronger than ever in Twitch. Go to where it inspires you and where your audience is. It takes a lot to set up on Twitch. On TikTok, it takes consistency in doing it. You don’t have to do things if that is not the platform where your audience is. All the tools are there and it could be daunting so you have to figure out what is important to you, who you want to target and what kind of career you want to have. Find what makes sense to you and go all in on that.
Some artists also succeed as a content creator. Once such artist is Ari’s friend who plays the vibraphone, Justin Vibes. He has 8.5M TikTok followers. He makes a very good living through brand sponsorship and brand deals.
Crypto and NFTs
NFTs are not for everyone. It is not mainstream yet. There are artists who found incredible fanbases and revenue streams within the NFT community. Ari interviewed Sammy Ariagia on the New Music Business Podcast. Sammy created a new song Metagirl and hosted it on his own NFT on his website. He had a lot of fans but they were not into NFT. What he did was promote it in NFT spaces, like Twitter. He would go in NFT spaces rooms, listen to people talk about NFTs, raised his hands to speak, offered to play his song and offer the NFT of his song. He made $250,000 selling his song as NFT in the NFT community. People are using the block chain technology with NFTs and turning it to the next wave of fan funding, like Patreon. Fans can invest and own a percentage of royalties of an artist’s song to support them. That is all being built in the block chain technology. Labelcoin has that exact model. It is like buying stocks but it is seamless and easy.
They allow fans to invest in songs and allow curators or music lovers to create playlists of your favorite songs and people can invest in your playlist. That money gets split up amongst the songs on the playlists and some to you as the curator. Song investing is like Crowdfunding 3.0.
About Ari’s Book
Ari also covers 100 other jobs in the music industry other than recording artist. He covers it from A to Z.
Ari’s Advocacy on the AB5 (California Assembly Bill 5)
In 2019, they signed a law in California called AB5 that made independent contractor illegal. What that means for musicians is, if you wanted to hire a drummer for your gig, you couldn’t just Venmo him $100. You had to set up a payroll company, put him on payroll, withhold taxes, worker’s compensation, insurance, and incorporate yourself. It will then cost the artist thousands of dollars to set all this up. It was crazy. Initially, the law was proposed for Uber and Lyft drivers. It makes sense for those big companies but not for indie artists.
When he learned about it, he freaked out. Artists didn’t know about the law until when Ari wrote about it in his blog. That article went viral. The assemblyman who wrote it tweeted the governor and contacted Ari. Their offices were getting thousands of letters about the AB5. Ari and some musicians went to the assemblyman’s office to discuss how badly it affects musicians. Unfortunately, the senator said it was not easy to change it and advised them that they needed public pressure. Ari went as far as driving to the assemblywoman’s hometown and telling the local publication about how the bill is badly affecting musicians. In the end, they got 185,000 signatures from California music professionals on a petition to change the law. He was pro-union until the AFM did not support them. Ari literally had a hand in writing the new bill and they passed the new law that exempted music professionals from this law that didn’t make sense to them.
Get Ari’s Book
You can buy Ari’s book anywhere there are books, such as Amazon or your local bookstore. There will also be an audio book.
Links mentioned in this episode:
39 Streams of Income
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