Changes And Challenges: Interview With Scott Cohen (The Orchard)

AAt The Music Conference in Malmö, Sweden, I had the chance to talk to Scott Cohen, co-founder of The Orchard. Scott is an artist manager and has been in the industry for almost twenty years, and knows a lot about the business.

What changes has he seen? What’s his best advice for musicians? And why should you get an artist manager?

Tell us about The Orchard.

– The Orchard is a distribution company, founded in 1997. We were the first digital distributor of music and have offices in 25 different countries. We work with labels and release their records on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, etc. We also provide the labels with analytics: for example, if you published a status update on Facebook, did it impact your streams? Or if you get a song played on the radio, did it have any impact on sales?

How did you get involved with The Orchard?

– In 1995, I had a record company in New York that was failing miserably, so me and my business partner tried to turn things around. In ’95, we started doing web campaigns. There were a lot of companies that had trouble with distributing their music online, since almost everything on the Internet was text-based back then. We wanted to reach out to users directly, and eventually we got the wheels spinning. We dreamed of one day being able to send music over the internet, and that things would become ubiquitous in ways that it hadn’t been before.

People were saying: ”No one’s gonna want digital music. People want to hold things in their hands, they want to feel it.”

What has been the largest changes that you’ve seen in the music industry, being a digital distributor?

– We’ve faced lots of challenges and changes during the years. For one, it was hard to get people to understand what digital music was. There was a huge resistance, even during the Napster-period. People were saying: ”No one’s gonna want digital music. People want to hold things in their hands, they want to feel it.”

Another problem was connectivity: how do we connect to the rest of the world. In the 90’s, broadband didn’t exist; people used modems to connect. Now we’ve got 3G- and 4G-networks for mobile phones.

The current challenges are focused on more developed markets, where recorded music is available. For example: how do you get people to pick your music over someone else’s? When someone tuns on Spotify, you can’t put something in front of them – they’re gonna choose what they’ll listen to. In the old world you could almost force it through radio and press. In this new model, you have to be more creative.

In this abundance of other musicians and artist, how does one get noticed?

Scott Cohen

– You just have to go about it in a different way. It used to be product-lead: you make an album and then you look for people to buy it. Now you start by building an audience, and once you have an audience you can deliver music to them and generate revenue.

You have to be great. You have to create stuff that people care about and want to share, but it’s not gonna happen organically. The day’s of ”I’m just gonna put something online, start a Facebook-account and then get millions of followers” are over. You need to work on it and target your audience.

You need to build your audience by defining the demographic: where they live, their age and music taste. You can’t do it the old way; you can’t make an album, go to the radio, hope that they’ll play it and build an audience for you. You have to build your audience yourself.

The day’s of ”I’m just gonna put something online, start a Facebook-account and then get millions of followers” are over.

Why should an artist have an artist manager?

– Because they should spend their time on being an artist. I barely have time to do the work as a manager. There’s this American, Donald Rumsfeld, who was the US Secretary of Defense under George Bush. I don’t support him politically, but during the invasion of Iraq, he said: ”There’s the known unknown, and the unknown unknown.” The point is: there are things that you know exist, but you don’t know where they are, but there are also things that you’re not even aware of. That’s how I feel about an artist that doesn’t have a manager: they don’t know that there are professional managers out there that makes shit happen.

Trust me, the successful artist and the managers that represent them live in a world that you’ve never seen before. That’s why you want to get somebody that has some experience, connections and has done it before. You know, I’m 49-years old; I’ve done this a hundred times!

What’s your best advice for upcoming musicians, besides getting an artist manager?

– There are two things that you need to do as an artist: Firstly, you have to create. In the past we were preventing artist from creating by saying ”Don’t create to much, make an album every two or three years.” I’m suggesting that you should create constantly. It doesn’t have to be full albums, but you can use social media to be more creative or post photos via Instagram. Whatever you do, be creative every day.

Secondly: Communicate with your audience and engage with them. Don’t make a Facebook page that says ”Buy my t-shirt! Come to the gig! This is me!” That’s uninteresting and disengaging. I wouldn’t even call it communication, it’s like shouting at people. If you can find an authentic way to communicate with your audience, and are constantly creating content, then you’re well on your way.

Oscar Hjelmstedt is a Swedish journalist, student and bass player, with a passion for music and Tarantino-flicks.