New Digital Media: Opportunities and Pitfalls of the New Digital World: Part II

Last time, we discussed Sean Hickey’s advice to students at the Yale School of Music on how today’s musicians can leverage new digital media and  work with a label to promote your recording.   Now, let’s hear Sean’s insights on how today’s artists can proactively shape their careers, generate new revenue streams and gain greater exposure using the new tools of the digital space, as well as what they need to watch out for.

New Revenue Opportunities

While traditional revenue streams from record deals are a thing of the past for all but the superstar artists, today’s recording artists have more potential revenue opportunities from new digital media than ever before and better technology to capture usage. Therefore, in addition to being a great promotional tool, recordings can contribute to an artist’s revenue streams.

  • You Tube  

In addition to being a great way for artists to promote their work, You Tube also can be a money-earning vehicle.

You Tube provides audiences with free access to content.  Musicians have only one channel of recourse against You Tube, which is to demand a takedown of work that infringes theirs copyright.  Sean has heard that YouTube takes down 3 million songs a day.  He also indicated that Naxos has someone in charge of YouTube who takes care of “takedowns”, among many other duties.  ASCAP fights the service as well.

Sean explained the phenomenon of “You Tubers”, individuals who create original content on You Tube and amass millions of followers, not usually musicians.  Through advertising and other promotional deals, You Tubers can makes hundreds of thousands of dollars a month.

Sean also mentioned:

  • Google music is a a subscription streaming service.  Audiences pay for it and musicians can earn a little money.
  • YouTube Red, launched 2 years ago, is a streaming service of more nuanced options.  Thus far, it is not very successful.

Finally, in some cases, posting original content to You Tube may lead to a record deal.

  • Internet Radio: Sound Exchange  

Sound Exchange collects data on internet radio and internet streaming beyond the streaming services like Pandora. Sound Exchange collects tracking data on performances on internet radio and provides that information to the record label.  The label, in turn, splits the proceeds with the publisher and composer.

  • Streaming services and Digital Music Services

Pandora, Spotify and iTunes can generate some revenues for musicians, although these revenues are not very significant.

  • Traditional radio

Traditional radio is another source of revenues.  Thanks to international protocols, radio is tracked and monetized in every country in the world except the US and Iran who never ratified the radio protocols. ASCAP and BMI have been fighting this for a long time.  They track radio performances and pay money to the composer.

Big Tech:  What to watch out for

Sean discussed the impact of “Big Tech” -Amazon, Apple and Google- on the state of music today. We live in the Information Age and we all ride on it.

Big Tech wants to know everything about you.

For example, when you use GPS on your phone or the Starbucks WiFi, you are creating a profile of where you go and what you do.  This goes into your profile that the Big Tech companies track and then sell to advertisers.

Google wants to know as much as possible about you because this is valuable information to advertisers.  If you are a classical musician and you post a performance of your music on You Tube, it says something to Google about you and your interests.  You fit into a particular profile and Google sells that information to advertisers.

Big Tech is so ubiquitous that we recognize the brand without words!  For example, the you see the Apple logo, you know immediately that something is part of Apple.

Sean cautioned that we need to be aware of how pervasive Big Tech is in our lives.

How to Harness the Power of Big Tech

Sean gave us valuable advice on how today’s musicians can harness the power of Big Tech:

1. Capture Original Content

Create original content of your work by taking pictures and videos of your rehearsals and performances.

2. Post Your Content

Post pictures and videos on Instragram.  Tag as many people as possible who were involved in your performances and provide good tags to describe you and your work.

Post original content on YouTube since it’s good promotional tool that might get you picked up by a label or lead to a publishing contract.

3. Issue Serialized Releases

Taking a page from Netflix series which are issued either serially or at one time, Sean is working on the same model for a serialized album release. This makes it possible to change the album so that it can evolve. Kanye West was the first musician to issue serialized releases.


Sean stressed the importance of networking and creating strong relationships.

In his case, he grew up in Detroit which he described as a “cultural wasteland”.  Sean proactively reached out to people with whom he wanted to work, traveled a lot, visited different venues and cultivated good relationships with people all over the music industry. He advised out students to stay on people’s good side and always recognize the talent of the people who perform. He felt that his success was as a result of relationships. His own clarinet and recorder works came about thanks to his network.

Sean advised composers to cultivate relationships with other performers and artists. He emphasized the importance of finding performers and urged our composers to use their time at school to build those relationships.

In addition, he indicated that strategic networking at conferences could lead to record deals, citing the following:

  • Chamber Music

Chamber Music America

  • Opera

Opera America

  • Orchestral Music
  • New Music

Classical NEXT in Rotterdam:  largest gathering of classical music professionals in the world: labels, distributors, lots of performances of new music

  • Band music

Midwest Band Director’s Association in Chicago, the week before Christmas

  • Choral Music

American Choral Director’s Association

Alt. Classical Venues

Another tip is to have your work performed at the many “alt classical venues throughout New York, including

  • le poisson rouge
  • SubCulture
  • Spectrum
  • National Sawdust

Vienna and Berlin now also have similar venues. These venues have birthed many of today’s composer-performers.

New York also has terrific new music venues like The Kitchen, Miller Theater, BAM,  Symphony Space and the Barge.

All of these venues also provide excellent networking opportunities since they are frequented by people from all over the music industry.

House Concerts

House concerts are another great performance vehicle which affords artists an intimate, comfortable and friendly place to perform. House concerts also provide an opportunity  to connect with audience members.   House concerts are popular in New York and London.

You can organize your own house concert.  You can also join Group Muse or  NYC House Concerts who are looking for young, hungry artists.

Leave a Legacy

Sean’s final advice was to create a work that will live beyond you.

He cited his most performed work, a piano piece, The Birds of Barclay Streetthat he wrote a few days after 9/11 in just one hour.  He saw a picture of birds on Barclay Street, one block north of the World Trade Center.  He made a few You Tube videos explaining the story.  People gravitate towards the work and the work lives beyond him.

Thank you , Sean, for clarifying the way that today’s musicians can make their way in the new digital space!