Some well-meaning parents asked recently me how their talented son could break into the music business (me being a record label owner and all, they thought I should know). I outlined some of the strategies artists are using today, such as Jonathan Coulton -- strategies that increasingly don't involve a major label.
They weren't entirely happy with my answers -- they were still thinking that a major label recording contract was the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
For most artists, that's just not going to happen (was ever thus). But that's OK. For the truly creative, there are as many ways to get music out and build an audience as there are URLs on the Internet. Geoff Smith springs to mind.
Geoff Smith is a musician living and working in Nashville, Tennessee. He's a very good songwriter (not uncommon), and a big fan of the "This Week in Tech" podcast (not so common). He wrote a song about his favorite program, and sent it to Leo Laporte, the host, and producer of "This Week in Tech." (TWIT).
Laporte liked it and played the song, "I'm a TWIT." on his podcast (he used it as TWIT's closing theme for the last program). It generated a lot of interest, and a video appeared on YouTube.
Now if you've never heard of TWIT, then all of this probably means nothing. However -- TWIT.TV has almost a half a million regular listeners and about 2.6 million unique downloads of their shows.
Most of that audience heard Geoff Smith's song about their favorite show. I suspect quite a few followed the links from TWIT to his website. Laporte also talked about Geoff Smith's business, Ringtone Feeder, which brought that website to the TWIT audience's attention. And in case anyone missed that particular episode, the blogosphere's been chattering away about the new hit song, "I'm a TWIT, " all with the appropriate links.
"I'm a TWIT's" been viewed over 15,000 times on YouTube (as of this writing), and there's plenty of places you can buy an MP3 of the song, including Amazon and iTunes.
Geoff Smith isn't getting any radio play, nor is he signed to a label, but so what? He's connected with a sizable audience that likes (and potentially will buy) his music. If nothing else, if Smith can keep the conversation going, he should be able to draw some nice crowds when he travels. Perhaps he won't fill stadiums, but audiences should be large enough to make touring profitable.
And consider these numbers. The song sells for $0.99, of which Geoff Smith gets just about $0.99 (less any overhead). If one percent of people who download TWIT purchase the track, that's $26,000 going straight to the artist. And if that number's closer to 5%, then it's more like $100,000 -- and that's major label-sized money.
So now when I'm cornered at parties by hopeful parents, I'll point to Geoff Smith along with Jonathan Coulton. After all -- I'm a TWIT.