What Boyhood Can Teach The Music Industry

I saw an incredible film last week. It was only playing at 6 theaters across the country. Two happened to be in LA.

We were interested in seeing a movie, picked our favorite theater and checked the listings. I use Rotten Tomatoes religiously. Like I use Yelp. It’s been years since I’ve gone to a movie before checking its Rotten Tomatoes score or entered a restaurant before reading its Yelp reviews.  Very seldom do they fail me.

Boyhood had a score of 100%. I’ve never seen that before. It was a no-brainer.

I went in not knowing anything about it. But from the moment after the credits rolled, I became obsessed.

Boyhood’s brilliance does not lie in its script. It exists in its heart. Shot for about one week a year for 12 consecutive years, this film tells a coming of age story like never before in the history of cinema. It opens in 2002, with Coldplay’s “Yellow,” on a 6 year old boy lying in the grass. Every few scenes the story jumps a year. The accompanying soundtrack helps mark the time. We see the boy and his sister (along with their father, played by Ethan Hawke, and their mother, played by Patricia Arquette) age. The boy grows into a man – with accompanying facial hair, piercings and girlfriends. The girl grows into a woman.

Sure, the concept is revolutionary. Never been done before. But what truly makes this film stick (and gets me to want to see it again) is the intimate connection the audience feels with the characters. I felt like I was a part of the family. I felt like I grew up with Mason and Samantha.

Boyhood doesn’t have the normal Hollywood beats that appear in virtually every multiplex released feature. This film succeeds in captivating the audience by reaching deeper, waking up your soul and inviting it along for the journey.

Boyhood is being slowly rolled out across the country over the course of the coming month. An indie feature, funded by IFC Productions for just $2.4 million, it’s a difficult sell to the multiplexes out of the gate. But something tells me by the end of the Summer it will be everywhere.

Opening week sales mean less and less in a digital world. Who cares if an album sells (or streams) 100,000 copies its first week or its first year? 100,000 is 100,000. Traditionally, record stores wouldn’t keep titles in stock if they weren’t selling, but that’s not an issue anymore. Albums remain online forever. Boyhood, like many great albums, is a sleeper. Sleepers take awhile longer to reach a general mass, but stick around forever. Boyhood will be a word-of-mouth success. How could it not be? It’s such a fun story to tell.

Instead of worrying about opening week sales of your album, create something great that people want to share. Make sure you have a story outside of the music that fans can share when encouraging their friends to check it out.

Boyhood has been getting loads of press. Its story is something reviewers want to talk about. Most indie films are lucky to get a few reviews, but this is an easy sell. Does your band have a story that people want to write about? What sets your story apart from every other indie artist releasing new music?

Why No One Cares About Your Music

Sales don’t matter anymore. The long tail can be realized in the streaming economy. The beautiful thing about where the music industry is headed is that artists can be rewarded for creating important art that people want to listen to again and again. The more people listen, the more the song earns, and (if not on a major label), the more the artist gets paid. This was never the case before streaming existed. Once an album was purchased, it never earned another cent no matter if it was listened to once or a hundred times.

How To Steal An Artist’s Streaming Money In 3 Easy Steps

Streaming Will Soon Be More Profitable Than Sales

It took Lorde’s “Royals” six months after it was released to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. And that was five months after it went viral on Spotify from being featured on Sean Parker’s Hipster International Spotify playlist.

However, according to mainstream standards, this single was a flop because it didn’t immediately take over radio or chart in the first week.

So many labels, managers and artists are stuck in the pre-streaming mentality of make-or-break first week sales numbers. Create great art. Work your butt off promoting that art while continuing to create more great art. Don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t have the world altering affect in the first few months.  If it’s truly great and you continue to work hard exposing it to more and more people, it will eventually reach its tipping point.

16 Responses

  1. art is art

    We do make beautiful art, thank you very much. The problem is that multinational corporations like Google are actively trying to exploit our work without paying us. The problem is that people like you, Ari, refuse to accept this reality in public, hiding behind buzz words and phrases.

    • Nina Ulloa

      the problem is also that some people don’t know how to adapt to current reality

  2. Joshua Hall

    “Create great art. Work your butt off promoting that art while continuing to create more great art. Don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t have the world altering affect in the first few months. If it’s truly great and you continue to work hard exposing it to more and more people, it will eventually reach its tipping point.” — That’s it – that has always been it. The tipping point may be a very niche market with extremely loyal fans and as long as you keep doing what you love regardless of “perceived” success – you can make a real living as a musician. It’s the long game. Thank you for sharing this!

  3. David

    Michael Winterbottom made a film (Everyday) with child actors growing up over a 5 year period. It came out earlier than Boyhood, but it probably started filming later.

    As to the claim that ‘opening week sales mean less and less in a digital world’, well, maybe. Such a claim can’t be proved just by quoting a case like ‘Royals’. There have always been ‘sleeper’ hits, and Royals itself was not a sleeper for very long. What needs to be proved is whether a lower proportion of total revenue accruing to a record comes in the first week, the first month, etc, after release with a streaming system than with a sales system. It may be true, but it isn’t self-evident. It is conceivable, for example, that with streaming a higher proportion of revenue comes from listeners who just check the record out in the first week or so after release and never listen to it again, which is certainly the case with a lot of records I listen to.

    Also, it just isn’t true that in the ‘old days’ there was no way of getting money out of an individual consumer once they had bought a track. For example, a consumer might buy the same track as a single, as an album track, as a track on a compilation album, and as a reissue in a new format (e.g. CD to replace vinyl). On an aggregate population level, pricing strategies were devised to appeal to different target audiences as time went on, e.g. with mid-priced album reissues and ‘best of’ compilations. With streaming it isn’t clear that these marketing opportunities still exist.

  4. Versus

    “Instead of worrying about opening week sales of your album, create something great that people want to share. Make sure you have a story outside of the music that fans can share when encouraging their friends to check it out.”

    The word “share” has become the anarchist propagandist’s euphemism for “steal”. (The anarchist is presumably hypocritical in expecting to get paid for their own work, whatever that might be, and that their own property should be legally protected).

    If you mean that the creators hopes listeners recommend the work to others, that is of certainly true. As for stealing, I mean “sharing”, the work: no.

    What every artist needs in order to survive is that listeners who value their work pay for their work, not “share” it.

    • Nina Ulloa

      if no one’s sharing your work then you have your family and good friends paying for it, and that’s it

      • Ari Herstand

        I have a huge family. We could probably get it charting…

    • GGG

      Sounds like we should find a way to monetize “sharing.” Maybe some sort of “streaming” service, and we should all try to convert all the pirates and non-payers to use it.

      But, pipe dream, I guess….

    • GGG

      Eh, I mean, sure it will hurt sales for that stuff, but you can’t start blaming streaming for the demise of classical and jazz. Those genres have been struggling for decades. Arts grants are still largely classical and jazz, too, partly for that reason.

      But sure, I’d probably tell jazz and classical artists to stay off Spotify.

      • David

        The focus of the article is on jazz and classical but much of it is relevant to any artist outside the mass commercial market.

        Mind you, I wouldn’t assume that all the suspicions and allegations about major labels are justified. I find it difficult to believe that they would engage in anything as blatant as the ‘digital breakage’ ploys mentioned in the article, because they would just be storing up a mountain of legal problems for themselves when artists and their managers found out what they were up to. It needs to be pointed out that, as the lawyers put it, ‘good faith is an implied term of every contract’, and blatant acts of bad faith would open the labels up to punitive damages if not criminal charges.

    • Ari Herstand

      Well, that article sure jumped all over the place. The database issue existed long before streaming. The listings are just as omissive on iTunes as Spotify. So this isn’t really a streaming issue.

      As far as low streaming rates, it’s simple, don’t sign with a label. The labels have always found ways to screw artists out of money. And today is no different.

      All streaming services (at least today) are paying self-distributed artists. Labels are not paying their artists and striking deals which encourages streaming services to NOT pay per stream, but just give large advances up front, and equity in the company.

      And, sure, we are in a state of format flux. Not everyone has transitioned to streaming from downloads, so of course Keating makes more on iTunes. She also withheld her latest album from Spotify (which this article failed to mention).

      However, independent (self-distributed) artists are seeing their profits increase BECAUSE of streaming. Take Tyler Ward, who said on a VidCon panel this year that last year his Spotify royalties were higher than iTunes sales. Or Ron Pope, who made over $200,000 from Spotify in 2013. Both artists are self-distributed. But yes, both are pop.

      In the Jazz and Classical world, all digital services could do a better job with their listings. iTunes still doesn’t include lyrics however it does include composer metadata for each track. But, the author is correct, not who played on the record. But sidemen are sidemen. They are hired for the session. Across every genre sidemen are hired for sessions. Some go on to be superstars and some remain anonymous hired guns. Enthusiasts will do their research to seek out who played on whose record. Having this information omitted from the search is not a fault of streaming services. Just of the new digital age. Maybe newer Jazz artists should adapt to the new world and make the artist field: “Miles Davis feat. John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Jimmy Cobb, Paul Chambers and Julian “Cannonball” Adderly” – by the way it took me 12 seconds to find this information. But this would solve the listing issue. Pop does this “Carly Rae Jepsen feat. Owl City” “Taylor Swift feat Ed Sheeran” Why can’t Jazz?

      And Classical labels should unify their listings as well.

      With every new technological advancement, like stated, musicians dragged their feet. When tape recorders could record off of the radio, musicians freaked out exclaiming that would be the downfall of music. Well, there is now more music than ever. It’s a new world and musicians (and labels) need to adapt… or die. Our choice.

      • David

        “Keating… also withheld her latest album from Spotify (which this article failed to mention).”

        – Zoe Keating has explained several times that her latest album is not on Spotify because Spotify will not do deals direct with artists, only with labels or aggregators. She has tried, but no dice.

        “Labels are not paying their artists and striking deals which encourages streaming services to NOT pay per stream, but just give large advances up front, and equity in the company. ”

        – We keep hearing this allegation, but never, as far as I can recall, from artists or their managers who are actually signed to major labels, who would be in a position to say what they are or are not getting from streaming. As I pointed out in an earlier comment, any label which acted in bad faith to divert payments away from artists would be exposing themselves to massive legal liabilities.

  5. Willis

    The music industry is far from puberty; actually needs a walker at this point.

  6. Justin Mayer

    the problem is also that some people don’t know how to adapt to current reality

    Oh please Nina, tell us all how to adapt, enlighten us with your wisdom! 🙂

    If you mean the current near illegal reality of tech companies and Silicon Valley start-ups using others property to generate massive seed funding rounds to eventually go public and generate Hundreds of Millies for the owners and shareholders while subsequently devaluing that same property for those who actually own it while at the same time plummeting download and streaming rates, over saturating every avenue for monetization as well as the live arena while at the same time not creating any new revenue streams to offset any of the devaluations, while also data and information stealing and using it or selling it for profit, and handing over more power and control to wall street and corporate entities who utilize artists and music to help sell products, then yes, I for one would love to hear how you adapt to this reality.

    And if you by adapt you are not referring to those long tail tipping point dream sellers and the constant perpetuated rhetoric of utilizing social sites to supposedly freely connect to your fanbase in hopes they will share it to whoever all to herd a bunch of cattle on your own dime, cattle who arent paying for anything, all in hopes people will freely share the music to help advertise for live shows and tours which might someday result in some sort of sponsorship or something, then i’d like to hear it. If this also has some sort of adaptation that doesn’t rely on live shows i am sure a lot of people would be interested, because lest we forget, not everyone can or even wants to play live shows.

    Because as far as i can tell, adapting to the current realities as everyone seems to suggest, does not guarantee or even half promise existence, which is what adaptation in the sense you are referring to actually means relative to humans. Darwin observed something many many many years ago that was relative to a species that is not homosapien, a species that does not exist within a monetary system, a species who was not faced with illegal and unfair market conditions.

    What yall adapters seem to be saying is this. Someone puts a gun to your head and says accept this or die, and you accept it, and then claim that is adapting! Awesome, someone hand me a gun and then Nina, make sure to hand over your purse, all the money in your bank account, and the key to your car and the deed to your house! You will then have successfully adapted and will get to live another day, of course you may now be up shits creek with no paddle, but hey, you have adapted right?

    If of course you mean adapting by being paid off or joining some techsters or hipsters who dish out a bit of money off the books or some other way for you to be the face of some money making agenda, ya know to help perpetuate their free music sharing ethos, then great, im cool with that, so please lay out a list of those people so i and others can go knock on some doors.

    If you mean something else and there is actual evidence it is working for the majority of people to actually have a career with some sustainability and security which does not rely on free sharing to advertise for live shows, and not just some dream of some free sharing longtail tipping point, then i am sure many would love to hear it! Actually, it might make you the most important person in the music industry at this very moment, so please do share…

    As far as i can tell it’s basically the same as it ever was, except now nearly all revenue from product sales is gone, promotion actually costs more, the live scene is way over saturated, the labels don’t invest early for development and deal advances are way down once you get to that point, the competition is steep with so many people playing the free game all while others exploiting the artists/creators are making more of a killing then ever! So nothing has really changed except money is down across the board except for those exploiting, and it costs more then ever to herd the cattle needed to possibly leverage that for some sort of sponsorship…

    If instead you are going to toss me the tiny handful of the same stories like Ari so kindly did above, like keating or whoever else moved some units or cashed in off some social free thing, while at the same time not peeling back every layer of those stories to help better educate everyone on the real realities of their success, which doesnt apply to the vast majority of people, some of it also clearly gamed and manipulated by certain factions needing to perpetuate things they currently benefit from monetarily, then great, i’m sure many would love to hear it…

    Thanks for your time. I eagerly await this adaption information and i am sure many others do too…


  7. Cmonbro


    I thought you understood the music industry? You cite Royals.. a song that was NUMBER ONE in New Zealand months before it “came out of nowhere”. Co-Written and Co-Produced by a person who already had hits in Austrailia and NZ on Universals dime since Lorde was already signed.

    She then gets upstreamed to Uni/republic where the head of the label decides to “introduce” it to his friend and co-founder/investor of Spotify. They then decide to do a radio run in Alternative radio where there are like zero songs to compete with and BOOM… number 1 at alternative and the story begins..

    Explain where the “long tail” worked in that major label scenario at any time? Not taking away from the songs quality. It IS an amazing record and was interesting and different. But.. yea… first week numbers aren’t the MOST important thing..but what was Lorde’s first week again? 129k… not too shabby either..

    Just so you know.. most “radio” records now take like 6-9 months to truly break now which is why you hear less new music..