In a world of free downloads and streams, making money as a musician is not an easy job. The days of one Billboard Top 10 song bringing money, fame and swarms of adoring fans are long gone. So what's a struggling musician to do?
CNN recently reported that Kentucky-based Gyroskope has come up with a way for musicians to make money using online video. Gyroskope provides a platform for an artist to upload videos of live concert performances, studio recording sessions and other behind-the-scenes exposure that fans can view for a price, while musicians take home 100 percent of the revenue. Using Gyroskope, videos are uploaded to a social platform and the artists set their own prices for how much they want to charge. Videos are streamed from the cloud and can be viewed in a Web browser, on iPhones and iPads, and Android phones.
Lifelong music aficionado and founder of Gyroscope Todd Smith started an indie record label, Label X, in 2003. Smith knew the current model was flawed when he watched one of his label's artists, Peter Searcy, score a spot on Billboard's Top 10 adult contemporary list with his song "I Believe." The song was played on promos for the Oprah Winfrey show's "The Big Give" and NBC's "Lipstick Jungle" in 2008, but it didn’t generate high record sales.
Shipments of CDs plunged to 240.8 million units valued at $3.1 billion in 2011, down 75 percent from their peak of 942.5 million units valued at $13.21 billion in 2000, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.
"People really don't pay for music anymore and obviously it's hard to have a business that's built on selling music in a landscape where music is thought of as free," explained Smith.
The reality is that fans want direct access to musicians and are willing to pay for it, which is just how Gyroskope was created. The popularity of social sites like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and Tumblr have made this connection essential for musicians who can tap into it. Fans are willing to pay especially for musicians who don't reveal too much for free on Twitter and Facebook because fans respect the fact that the money is going directly to the band rather than to a label.
Gyroscope charges the artist a monthly fee, ranging from as low as $19 a month for the "Indie Plan” to $499 a month for the "Platinum Plan.” Smith believes Gyroskope’s pricing structure gives it an edge on its competitors since the artist gets to keep all of the money generated from the sale. Others, including StageIt and CreateSpace, take a percentage of the revenue the artist receives from the sale, and offer videos for free while collecting revenue from ads, with no money going back to the artist.
Since launching in last summer, 24 musicians, music festival organizers, comedians and others have signed up for Gyroskope. Smith expects these numbers to rise further when the company adds plug-ins to social networks, later this month, and starts streaming live events in real-time later this year.
Robert Berliner, a mandolin player for the folk/rock band Hoots & Hellmouth, has been using Gyroskope to share and sell live concert videos to fans.
"If they live on the other side of the country or they can't make it out and they haven't seen you in a long time, fans will gladly pay $5 for the opportunity to watch an entire long-form video," Berliner said.
Critics question how Gyroskope can prevent a buyer from using software to download the streamed video and then share it with others for free. Music fans often use commercial software, such as CamStudio, Replay AV, and WM Recorder, or even use Mozilla's Firefox video downloader extension, to capture streamed videos from internet sites. Smith said his company has taken steps to prevent piracy through IP restrictions, dynamic urls, and strict user authentication protocols.
Jonathan Daniel, a partner at Crush Management, a company that represents such artists as Train, Panic! At The Disco and Fallout Boy, said he believes this service would primarily benefit artists who aren't signed to major labels.
"If an artist is new and a few thousand dollars means something to them, then something like this can be valuable," he said. "But if you have a band that fills arenas making several hundred thousand to a million dollars a night, something like this is going to be more trouble than it's worth."
Still, as more and more artists opt to leave major labels to go it alone, clients will seek Gyroskope's services. There is a potential in the future that every artist will be fully independent, so Gyroskope may be a gateway to success for musicians.
TechZone360 Web Editor
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