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Challenging the music industry: 'We'd get a cheque in the post for 10c'

We speak to Deadbots, who have found their own way of working within the music industry.

Image: Brendan Duffy

WHEN YOU THINK about ‘making it’ in the music industry, you might think that the only way to do it is the traditional way: sign to a label, and get them to help you move upwards.

Over the decades there have always been bands who have rejected this method. And now the digital era means that groups can challenge things even further.

Last year, Steve Wall said that he made just 97p in a month from plays of Brewing Up A Storm on YouTube. So how can musicians make money in a changed industry?

Deadbots

Paul Kelly and Nina Knezevic, who call themselves Deadbots, are an Irish-Canadian band based in Dublin. For their latest release, they’ve eschewed labels and streaming services in order to release the music on their own website.

The pair met through friends when Kelly was living in Vancouver, where Knezevic is from. Although Kelly DJed across Europe and Knezevic had been writing poems and songs since she was a child, it wasn’t until they met each other that it all clicked.

“Literally the day we met, we knew we wanted to make music together,” says Knezevic.

After Kelly returned to Ireland, Knezevic followed him fourth months later. The pair met in 2005 and were married in 2011.

They began making music together almost instantly, and thought that they should do what you’re “supposed” to do when you’re in a band: sign to a label.

But they discovered that signing to a label did not mean that they were heading down a path that suited them.

During her time co-hosting a show on Near FM with DJ Aoife Nic Canna, Knezevic learned a lot about other bands’ experiences. These showed her the sorts of pitfalls that exist for bands in Ireland.

“In there I would see different people and people that didn’t have jobs, they were [full-time] musicians,” says Knezevic. Though she admired them, she discovered that these musicians could often struggle to pay rent.

That made Deadbots think about putting their jobs first:

We didn’t want it to be a struggle – that the creativity is putting pressure on it. We didn’t want to have to gig to pay our rent.

When they got involved in the label world, they discovered that they were often not very happy with the result.

“We had situations where, for example, little things like we would create a song and the process was amazing and we put our heart and soul into it. It would end up in a TV show and we wouldn’t have heard about it,” says Knezevic.

It was also the little things, “like getting a cheque in the mail for 10c”, or taking half an hour to sign up to a website about payment, only to be told they’d earned “0.001 of a cent”.

The payback bands have to make to labels “didn’t make sense to us”, the pair say.

The band had intended to set up their own label, but found it added more steps to be put in place before their music got to listeners. So they simply didn’t bother with one.

A few times, they found that labels were disappointed in music they made, says Kelly – and this made the band think. It took them nearly a decade to approach things the way they do now, and it comes as the internet allows anyone to run their own business from their own home.

“The timing was perfect,” says Knezevic.

All these different platforms where you can network and talk. It was perfect timing and everything has fallen into place for everyone to do it. Go out and do it yourself be a businessman be a businesswoman. Be the business for your music.

‘You are filling material in their schedule’

Source: Wiiiise/YouTube

Now, the band release their music on the site deadbotsmusic.com, and the money from sales (a single costs €1.50) goes straight to their email through PayPal (using this system also means they were able to email the first five fans who bought the single). They have, however, sought the services of a PR agent to help them get the word out there.

“The label is not investing in you at all – they are giving you a loan for whatever tier of PR they decided your release is on,” says Kelly. “If you get signed to a big label, if you sign an EP to a label, you think ‘oh my god, this is it, this is amazing’. They’ve got 10, 15 other artists they have invested in that they need to push before they even think about you. So you quickly start to realise that – I’m not saying this is the case for everybody – you are filling material in their release schedule.”

“We are not bitter or anything like that – we learned from our mistakes,” he adds. “You achieve so much more satisfaction doing it this way than the might of a label or what you perceive to be a mighty label.”

The band retain ownership of their songs, which means that if they get involved in sync deals (synchronisation deals, where the music is bought to be used during TV or film broadcasts or ads), the money goes to the band. It isn’t split with a label.

They’ve had songs licensed by Smirnoff and Harvey Norman – and say that with their upcoming album, they have more potential for deals.

They see their music like a boomerang, says Knezevic: they send it out into the world and get something back.

They are wary of ’360 deals’, in which a label provides financial support to an artist, but that artist must in return give the label a cut from their revenue streams (which can mean sales, gigs and music publishing, for starters).

Knezevic says that she’d met bands who had signed such deals – only to have the label “sending you example songs – ‘can you make something like this, this is what we are needing’”.

Social media promotion

What is key for Deadbots is that they can promote themselves and their music online through social media sites, like Instagram.

“You hear about all these massive artists trying to engage with their fans, and self-releasing is the perfect chance to do that,” says Kelly.

Knezevic describes how they can use hashtags on their instagram videos or images, for example, to attract new fans. They also want their website to sell more than music or t-shirts.

“It’s the era of self promotion and content is king,” says Knezevic. “There is so much content – make the content, make the videos, and people will find you.”

Kelly says that what they’re doing isn’t anything radically new – bands have long been using sites like Bandcamp to sell their music.

But with the larger platforms, the amount of money the artist makes can be a very small percentage. With Spotify, for example, in January 2017 for an artist to earn $100 from ad-supporter streams a song would have to be played 740,302 times, according to Digital Music News.

“If you were to buy a product off anyone else it would be absurd to think that someone gets 99% of the money you should be earning,” says Kelly.

The pair want to encourage people to look “outside those obvious platforms” that they stream music from, and “go and discover music again the way they did before the internet”.

“We’re trying to get people to broaden horizons a little bit when it comes to searching for new music,” says Kelly.

Just because they’re not on the usual platforms doesn’t mean they’re being ignored, either – they’ve been played by Kelly Ann Byrne on Today FM and John Barker on 98FM.

Are they disrupting the music industry?

“It’s not even disrupting – it’s just easier, more simple, more straightforward, more organic, and more satisfying,” says Knezevic.

When we thought about doing it the best way possible that’s how organic it became: ‘All we need is this.’

Kelly believes that musicians will drive change. “The industry will have to change or a new industry will have to be created because of how people approach releasing their music and reaching fans.”

Knezevic recounts how 10 years ago the band signed to a label, and her father said: “I’m happy for you, but would you not just put it out yourself?”

At the time, she thought: “Who’s going to listen, who’s going to care? What is he talking about?” Now, she realises he was right.

“It’s basically putting the output of the artist back into the artist’s hand,” says Kelly of their approach.

That’s what we’re encouraging other artists to do. It’s not just about what we’re doing. We’d really love to see a growth in a similar method of people reaching their fans and music and looking after their PR and image.

Love Unlimited by Deadbots is out now.

Read: The truth about being a musician: ‘They see you on the Late Late and think you’re making a fortune’>

Read: ‘I made just 97p in a month from plays of Brewing Up A Storm on YouTube’>

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