Cherie Hu is an accomplished musician, an award-winning writer, a columnist, entrepreneur, and self-described “professional overthinker.” Cherie specializes in analyzing, tracking and critiquing innovation in the global music business.
Cherie earned her bachelor’s degree in statistics from Harvard, studied piano and music theory at The Juilliard School, and has taught as an Adjunct Professor at New York University. Cherie has worked for Forbes, Billboard, and Music Business Worldwide.
Cherie is also the founder of Water & Music. Water & Music is an independent newsletter, research hub and community forum that is “dedicated to unpacking the fine print of commercial, technological and cultural change in the industry.”
The Water & Music newsletter reaches over 10,000 free subscribers and 1,000 paying members. Subscribers represent numerous industries: music, film, fashion, advertising, gaming, investment banking, venture capital and more.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- How to leverage your life experience to dramatically improve your newsletter
- Why freelance writers should focus on a core group of clients
- Why your audience needs a dedicated venue to find your content
Links & Resources
- Zack Greenburg
- Music Business Worldwide
- Greg Isenberg
- Kendrick Lamar Meets Quincy Jones on Hypebeast
- ConvertKit Creator Sessions
- Spotify Greenroom
- Twitter Spaces
- Tim McGraw
- Arnold Schwarzenegger’s newsletter
Cherie Hu’s Links
- Cherie on Twitter: @cheriehu42
- Water & Music
- Water & Music on Twitter: @water_and_music
- Water & Music on Patreon
- Cherie on LinkedIn
- “Five Lessons From My First Year of Running a Patreon Page”
A 2015 interview between Kendrick Lamar and Quincy Jones, and Quincy Jones says the last two things to leave this planet will be Water and Music. I was just watching, and I heard that and it just immediately clicked with me. It’s been called a universal language for a reason. I liked that concept of always having that at the center, even of conversations about the business side.
In this episode, I talked to Cherie Hu. Cherie is an entrepreneur journalist writer, and she writes about the intersection between music and technology. She has this popular newsletter in a community called Water & Music. We have a lot of fun talking about how she grew the newsletter, her journey from piano performance, through to math and then into journalism. We spend a lot of time in this episode on some trends in the industry, not just, crypto and things like that, but also, Spotify and podcasts, and how the world of music and podcasts and newsletters is all intertwined. It’s a fun episode.
There’s a little less hard hitting tactics of, “Do this next to the newsletter,” and a lot more on: this is what’s going on in the industry and what you should pay attention to.
Those are some of my favorite episodes, and this one is pretty great. So let’s dive in.
Cherie. Thanks for joining me.
Thank you so much for having me, excited to be here.
All right. So I want to start with your love for music and the music industry. Where did that come from? You went to Juilliard for piano performance. Tell me more about it.
Yeah, sure. Yeah. It almost feels like a past life at this point. Right? I guess to be more specific about that, I did the Juilliard pre-college program. It’s like a weekend program out of conservatory. And did that throughout high school where I would go to Juilliard, to the city on Saturdays, do private lessons, have classes in music theory, chamber music.
And that, that was my path for a while, to just go to conservatory for piano and study that, and be a full-time performing pianist ideally. Very, very different from what I do now, but, still very near and dear to me. A lot of my closest friends, I kind of made in that environment, very intense, but fun environment.
So, I guess my first and most intense involvement growing up with music was definitely on the performing and on the creative. At the same time academically, I was really into math and I was on the math team, did math competitions in school. I ended up majoring in stats in college, taking a lot of math and stats classes, but at the same time, a lot of music classes, and from a very early stag, trying to think about where those two worlds intersected.
So, because I was more like a performer initially, I was thinking, applying math to music theory. I think that’s still a really interesting like application area. I guess also in spite of learning, studying piano for 10 to 15 years, I wasn’t even aware of the scope of what the music industry involved in terms of the jobs that were possible, the new kinds of jobs that were emerging, until I would say 2013, 2014.
That’s when I had the opportunity just to explore, this career path, to do a two week, two to three weeks shadowing experience at Interscope. It was with their A&R team. In terms of like actual like tasks, I didn’t do that much because it was a short amount of time, but just that experience opened my mind, even to things like, like real questions, like what is A&R?
I didn’t really know what that was before, being in the middle of it. And also at that time streaming had been around for a while, but I think that period of time was really when Spotify had just launched in the U S, and it’s really starting to pick up; Apple music with launch just a year or two later.
So, the whole conversation around like who the main players were in streaming was also changing pretty drastically at that time. So, timing also plays a huge role in my journey to where I got to now. So, it’s kind of through that. I realized I was interested in maybe applying like my academic interests on the staff side to more of a data analyst, or data-facing role in the music industry, whether that’s at a label streaming service, music startup, et cetera. So, did a handful of internships kind of in that world, did some academic research on the music business from a tech perspective.
So, especially looking at music, startups, and I’m super randomly at a career fair that my friend dragged me to, I very serendipitously read into my first freelance gig. I happened to meet an editor at Forbes there, his name is Zach Greenberg. He runs the entertainment coverage at Forbes, and he just happened to be looking for more music and tech connection. Columnists for the entertainment section, writing.
So, this whole journey writing was never in the plan. I liked writing on the side for fun. I like had a blog that I would update for free occasionally, but I knew nothing about freelance writing freelance journalism, let alone newsletters, that whole world.
But yeah, like very fortunately I think just my interest and my experience aligned really well with this, random, but really great opportunity to write about music and tech, for Forbes. So, yeah, that was my junior year in college. Very fortunately I liked that was kind of my way of diving headfirst into this world of writing.
And, but very quickly I realized that writing is. Probably like personally my favorite and also think generally a really powerful. outlet for, especially packing, sorry, unpacking a lot of really complicated issues in music and tech. Like I was noticing at the time, in terms of like deeper analysis about what was happening in the music and tech worlds, it was mostly just kind of like one off news bites and headlines, not so much kind of deeper breakdowns of like the trends that were happening. So I decided to make that kind of my beat, like more like deeper enough. Of everything under the music and tech umbrella. So that could either be that you’re the biggest tech companies like Spotify or apple or the like, you know, latest emerging startups.
I’ve, I’ve just like fell in love with the writing process, and I’ve stuck with it ever since. And yeah, I can talk more if that’s of interest of kind of how I shifted from that, to what I do now, which is, less freelancing and now like running my own newsletter.
Yeah, well, I think that’s great. I didn’t expect, stats to be in there, like in the music to writing transition. Like I knew about, I guess the beginning and the end of the arc. I didn’t realize that math and stats and all that was, was in the middle. is there an element of that, but that’s still.
I don’t know that, that you still use or is that sort of like, you know, that it was a phase of life, phase of college that you’ve, entirely moved on.
I think in, in, in shockwave there definitely are, things that I’ve like learned are just like a more like quantitative mindset, definitely learning, not to take like a given piece of data at face value. even like, yeah, like very simple things, like understanding, be like correlations expected values, like in the context.
Yeah, like understanding, Yeah, Anything from like streaming to ticketing data. it can’t be super valuable. Yeah. I usually don’t do kind of more like in depth, like hard coding, like data journalism, I’ve done a handful of those kinds of projects early on, on the side, I would say. Yeah.
Most of what I do is, I guess like more like holistic, like business reporting, or like this is analysis, but, yeah, definitely just the mindset and the training.
To, especially for like, a theoretical math proof. Like you might not necessarily connect that to the experience of writing an article, but just like the training that, that experience gives you to like really, have a sharp lens for like any loopholes in logic, for example, like, oh, this argument, like doesn’t really make sense.
Like why are they skipping all of these steps or, yeah, I, I find like, not just in music, but in a lot of like business writing. A lot of people will make, you know, like just unfounded claims about anything and, people will kind of accept it as truth. So just, just that training to like really, you know, dig deeper into the actual reality of what’s happening quantitatively or qualitatively. I think that’s really helped.
That makes sense. I mean, all of those things, I ended up serving people so much. Like we have a team member, who runs all of our, he’s an engineer, his name’s mark who work in Configit runs all of our onboarding and, and, like build out those processes for like the first one.
You dig into his story and he’s like, got a degree in psychology and then he turns to marketing and then programming and all of this.
And you’re like, oh yeah, I can see how all of those things like affect how you show up at work and why you’re so damn good at what you do, you know? But then you, like, you don’t realize that he did not follow a traditional path. Like, you know, like college, computer science, and then now I’m a programmer. It’s like this whole arc and it it makes for some really interesting viewpoints on the world. Like, you know, how you approach problems and all that. So I could see that showing up a lot in your writing.
Thank you. Yeah, I’m glad. Yeah. I’m definitely glad that you pick up on that. I think, and this is something that I’ve definitely seen thrive in the world of, newsletters or like niche media generally, like B not being afraid to. I guess also not only focused on a specific beat, but also look outside of your beat for inspiration.
Like I, loved diving into, and I think the music industry should do more of, you know, for example, studying lessons and takeaways from, the media world or from gaming or from film. Like there’s so many opportunities for just like cross collaboration and mutual learning. that I think is, yeah, definitely like under.
Reported or kind of under-covered in media currently. So yeah, definitely in large part because of my upbringing and like really embracing that interdisciplinary nature. Yeah. yeah, so I’m, I’m really glad to hear that. It’s it’s it’s come out network.
Yeah, well, maybe take us through, you know, so you’re starting freelance writing, you know, contributing for Forbes. where does that go from there through to running Water and Music now?
So after college, this is, Around 2017 and fall 2017. I was very fortunate. And this is also a piece of advice that I would give to people who are interested in freelancing is, whenever possible, try to have, a small number of like regular anchor clients, but like publications you write for.
So. I was very fortunate, not only to have this, you know, ongoing Forbes gig, but also a billboard at the time was looking for more tech coverage. So I was able to write a lot of tech articles for them. I had it, at, sorry. I had a column for music business worldwide as well under the trade publication, based in the UK. And I did do kind of like one-off pitches for other music entertainment publishing. But I would say those first three were definitely like my anchor, clients. And fortunately I was able to sustain myself on that for around two years. yeah, like very fortunately it wasn’t just like, you know, trying to just grasp, grasp at straws or anything.
So yeah, it’s pretty regular cadence of like it’s freelanced, very specific, you know, industry facing tech coverage. At the same time, I did have, a newsletter that I started on the side. initially I use the platform review, which just got acquired by Twitter this year. and I wasn’t planning on monetizing it.
It was just a way. to aggregate my freelance work elsewhere. and this is actually a point where I was, I was inspired by my reporting on the music industry and, you know, talking with especially independent artists, and hearing over and over again, the importance of owning the kind of relationship you have with your audience or with your fans, which is harder to do on social media platforms.
I guess, in my case, as a freelancer, I was ha I was getting access to these, Huge, you know, legacy institutional publications, audiences that they built over years, if not decades, but of course I didn’t own that. the brand, the company owned that. So from an early stage, I did realize the importance of, owning, I guess, like my audience or having, at least some kind of direct outlet, to, you know, to my readers, to give them a direct channel to me as well.
Even just like having that newsletter. Which, yeah, it was like a regular digest of my articles from elsewhere. was really interesting, like channel for sourcing. Like I definitely heard from people in the music industry who I would not have heard from like yeah. Who I’m not have heard from otherwise who like PR people would not have, I guess, like, served or like pitched to me otherwise.
So, definitely, yeah. Grateful for that, but again was not really thinking about it, as a business at the time.
And growing that newsletter, were you able to have like the, in your byline go when you’re writing for Forbes or billboard, were you able to have a link off to your news?
So, I think. As of now it’s still totally depends on the publication. So, with Forbes, you are able to customize your bio. Forbes has a lot of contributors also who do have full-time jobs elsewhere. So yeah, they’re pretty flexible policy of yet like sharing links to their company or like their other ventures, with certain other publications, Possible or it’s like, you have to go through a lot of like hurdles to even like customize your bio.
Yeah. So it really does depend, with the exception of Forbes. I do think, other, sorry. Yeah. With the exception of forums, I think it’s mostly like smaller publications or like publications with smaller teams that are actually yeah. More lenient with that. but yeah, so I did get a lot of traffic from, from Forbes.
Yeah, that’s good. I remember, I’m trying to think who it is. If it’s, I want to say it’s Greg Eisenberg, but it might be somebody else entirely. Cause I’m like attributing a random tweet that I read. He was basically talking about. You know, all this time is spent as a journalist writing for cure particular publication and, you know, like 50 million page views on his articles over five years or 10 years or whatever, and then going like, but I didn’t have a newsletter, you know, I didn’t have a way.
And he referenced it. He was like, that is your pension, like as a journalist, you know, your retirement plan, your whatever else. The thing that you’re building is like that audience that you’re able to link off to. and I mean, that’s kind of how it, like you weren’t full time for any of these one, like any one publication, but you know, each thing that you wrote, you got paid for the article, and then you’re also able to get a little bit more of an audience, which
Oh yeah, for sure.
Allowed you to go, go out on your own.
Yes. Yes, definitely. Yeah. So yeah, for the few publications, exactly. Like forums that where I was able to kind of customize and push the newsletter, or I guess also,
I guess, yeah, the other tipping point in terms of the transition to now running my own newsletter, was starting to treat this newsletter, not just as like an aggregation of other articles, but as a source of original analysis.
So I would say like, yeah, that also around 2017, I started treating the newsletter more seriously as a place where you could,
Iguess yeah. As an Aboriginal, you know, primary source for a lot of, especially my more like futuristic or like weird ideas about music and tech that might not otherwise necessarily fit neatly within these other publications I was writing for.
I definitely treated it as a sandbox.
And I actually saw a lot more growth, than previously, once I started making that shift to like, taking like, spent like, I guess dedicating time to, yeah, treating the newsletter as the source of additional analysis. And so I kind of did that for, around like a year, year and a half.
And it grew to. where there was an established, I wouldn’t say community, but definitely like audience and readership. at that time of, you know, people who were interested enough in music and tech to like often to stay subscribed to these kinds of ideas, I was like, oh, maybe there is something here.
Maybe I can try, you know? Yeah. I had like interviewed a lot of artists who, how to use Patrion and succeeded with it. and I hadn’t actually seen a lot of other writers take advantage of the platform. So I was like, oh, maybe there’s. Yeah place for like, I, this is a community that I would want also as someone who’s really interested in and like passionate about these topics.
So, February, 2019 was a month. I decided to, launch the Patrion page from there. It’s still did take, a good part of a year, with that. And also like, I didn’t want to like, get rid of all my freelance income come overnight. I didn’t think that was a sound business decision. so I still. Yeah, kept that up for a good part of a year.
Then th the timing is surreal, like a bit strange to think about, because it was, like February 20, 20, so like right before the pandemic, you know, change the whole world and just uprooted everything. when I was actually able to make the switch to. work on my newsletter full-time or like maybe equivalent of a full-time income from patron income.
Bbut it’s yeah, super fortunate to be in that position and yeah, it’s grown thankfully a lot in the last year. I think as a people, especially the music industry have woken up to the importance of. Not just tech generally, but also being willing to experiment because there was like no standard in the pandemic.
There’s like no standard, no rule for like, what does, like, what, what are, would not work? Because like, everyone was just like, you know, the live music industry was obliterated. a lot of artists just like lost, you know, the vast majority of their income. and I think a lot of people that environment yeah, were much more open to.
New kinds of solutions, especially in tech for just, you know, connecting with fans online, let alone earning an income. So yeah, very grateful to be tapping that position to like help guide people through, this chaos and, yeah. So I guess like a year fast forward a year later, I just brought on two, part-time people to help.
So now I’m thinking about hiring that’s a whole other, you know, question and learning curve that you of course have, have gone through as well. that, yeah, like kind of how to grow from just being like a solo newsletter operator to, you know, building a water brand where multiple people can contribute still figuring that out in real time.
But, yeah, so that’s kind of the next phase of modern music this year.
I like it. That’s fun really quick. Will you share the name, water, and music where that guy.
Oh, yes, of course. So, yeah, initially, you know, on the surface, not related to like business at all, so maybe not the best name, but, but I like it. it comes from a 2015 interview between between Kendrick Lamar and Quincy Jones.
It was on Hypebeast. I think the interview clip is still available.
And at the very end, Quincy Jones says the last two things to leave. This planet will be Water and Music. And I was just like, killing time on the internet, like watching. I liked both of those. I like both of them as artists and as people. And I just was watching this and I heard that and just immediately clicked with me, like, you know, personally, that’s, that’s how I connect to music in terms of like the value it has in my life and the role it plays in my life.
In hindsight there, if you really want to dig deep, there are a lot of, like similar or parallel, words, or like a similar vocabulary with Water Music, like waves and a flow. I’ve I’ve been like trying to make a list of those like, like puns related to Water Music. So yeah, it on many layers are a lot of similarities between the two.
Yeah, and I just, I, I liked that concept. You know, always like centering music, as just something that so many people love around the world, it’s been called a universal language for a reason. kind of always having that at the center, even of like conversations about the business side.
Yeah, I like it. You get people who get the reference right away or
No, that’s what you were wanting to know. I also think Quincy is only said this in. Two interviews that I’ve seen. So it’s probably probably a good thing. Yeah.
You’re going to get them to say this a little bit more. Cause every time he says it, it’ll give us a little brand boost.
There we go. Yeah.
Okay. So I’d love to to throw some numbers in there. So if we go back to, I guess it’d be, when you launched the
Patriot on like how many subscribers did you have and then on, you know, on the free side of the email list and then like, what revenue did you get over the next, like 30 days?
Oh, gosh, so 30. Okay. The first 30 days, was not that much at all. And I guess also for more context, so the Patrion page, in terms of how I’ve communicated, its value to people. Has also changed pretty significantly between like 2019 and also 2023 now. So I started in 2019. I was, yeah, still mostly a freelancer people subscribe to my newsletter because they wanted to connect to me the individual, not so much like Water and Music as a brand.
So I launched the patriarchy page.
The same way that I think a lot of, artists, other artists, or like writers creators do on Patrion, which was as, as a more altruistic way for people to support my work, if they wanted to. And then as, as part of that, they would get access to, you know, this more specific community.
You know, there’s a discord server integrated with the patron membership has a lot of, you know, other creators do on, on that. But yeah, but the framing was, you know, if you’re able to, we really grateful if you could support my work, I’ll like maybe write some exclusive, like articles, share some exclusive thoughts, for members only.
And you can be part of this community. And so within 30 days, I, so the, the free tier at that time was, not more, it was around like 5,000, like 4,000, 5,000. So like not decent, but not. but so I still pretty small within the first 30 days. It was not that much at all. Cause I, I don’t think I like marketed it well, because I guess that wasn’t my goal necessarily.
It was just like, you know, here’s a channel that’s available if you do want to and are able to support. So it must’ve been definitely on sub 100 people the first 30 days I say, so as far as conversion rates go, not very good. but yeah, again, like at the time I hadn’t really like settled on. you know, Water Music on the standalone brand.
I think it was just kind of like testing the waters, by the end of year one. and I, I also published a, like a free recap, of kind of my first year of Patriana on LinkedIn. which I think if you search it on LinkedIn with my name should be able to find it. but by year, end of year one, I think I had, 250 paying subscribers. or I guess paying members is a term that,
And the price from there started at $3. and and like what were the different price points at the time? Cause now it’s like $3, $10 and 15.
So it was $3, which is the base parents just gave you base community access, $7, which is still like the main, definitely the most popular cheer today. It gives you access to. like exclusive articles. and also like now I do a lot of like research and gathering a lot of data. So access to kind of like research products, underWater Music.
I, this process has been a bit delayed because of the pandemic, but I’m also writing a book on the side, about the concept of artists entrepreneurs. And so there’s a $15 a year, $15 a month tier that also gives you access to. I guess like, like yeah, book research,
or like drafting updates. I kind of think of that as a kind of book advance, on the side that’s like crowdsourced and then, yeah, at the time I did have a tear, which I actually did.
You don’t have any more and I can like talk through my thinking about it. I had a $200 a month tier that, was basically a way to fund like hourly consultations is how I thought about it. other patriotic. Yeah. So people who subscribed, who joined that tier, could have an hour long call with me every month.
If they wanted to and just talk about, it was a lot of like startup founders, also people in the music industry who just wanted to, yeah, just like get more of my thoughts directly. One-on-one on a specific music. so yeah, I did keep that tier, on for a good part of a year as Water and Music and like the value I think of why people subscribe to the Patrion page has shifted from like a more altruistic, and like very individual focused, like source of value, like I’m subscribing and I’m paying for an access to like Cherie specifically to, More like, and so I think this is like maybe not the most, like positive term, but I think it is like the right way to think about it.
Like, self-serving on the part of the reader. Like people are now paying for Water Music. because they want to get smarter about music attack that I want to like learn more insights on music and tech. It’s more for their own growth, as opposed to like more altruistic. oh, I guess the term I used in my recovery is utilitarian.
Like it’s a utilitarian, community driven, but still utilitarian kind of. No reason to pay. as that shift happened, having like a direct consultation tier, that was very much tied to me. it didn’t really make sense. There was some kind of like clash with, kind of the branding and the ethos there, a Potter music.
So I don’t have that anymore, but now I do have, in place of that, a lot of higher tiers work groups of, group subscriptions and group memberships. So there are a handful of, companies in the music and tech worlds that have come on. Like discounted group memberships, which, which is really great.
Great to have more people on board also definitely easier to handle from like an accounting perspective. So, yeah. but yeah, so now, like it’s like now the tiers are from $3 a month. We’re still the lowest one to, like a hundred, $120 a month. But those are for larger groups of people.
Yeah, I like it.
And so then, like how many subscribers do you have on the newsletter now?
So, I guess as of recording this, I haven’t, published the free tier in a while. I’m really focused on, like really honing the paid member experience. Yeah. So there are, around 1600 paying members. on, through the patron membership right now, the vast majority of them are also in discord server, but not all of them.
And yeah, they’re all, I think that also represents the kind of pages under size as well. The free tier right now. as of the last time that I sent out an email, it went out to 12,000 people.
I do want, I am going to revamp it and relaunch it this year. but yeah, I guess I think the paid tier is probably the most.
Accurate or reliable, kind of signal of how big the community is just based on
Of activities right now.
Yeah, that makes sense. And we had done like you and I met from, when converting acquired fan bridge. And then I can’t, and we did a live to an end to discord server, which was really fun because there’s just a ton of people really engaged and.
When it comes to newsletters and all that school pay attention to like the total account.
And they’re like, oh, you know, 2000 is bigger than 1000. And you know, we like count up from there, but we don’t ever think about, like, let’s say you were doing a piano performance in front of 1600 people. Like that is like, that fills a really good size, you know?
And so people are like, oh, like I only have a thousand people on my list.
Or, or even if someone says, like I only have 10,000 people on my list. I’m like, that’s like a third of a football stadium.
That’s a really good number. Yeah.
That’s a lot of people. So I love that you have the, the smaller paid group that you’re especially investing in.
But I’m curious about is why you chose that model, instead of saying another model of, monetization say like, Courses or, or books or like one time sale products
Or even like sponsorships, you know?
Right. Did you explore other models before settling on membership?
Interesting question. I think at the time I, settled on membership just because that I think was the best. Model for also, yeah, I guess in the immediate context of launching the Patriot on page for people who wanted to support a writer or creator directly, I think having that like were regular, I was also thinking about, you know, as opposed to how freelance writing normally works and how writers normally get checks, like having a more, much more regular, predictable source of income.
I don’t think like that about just the subscription slash membership model in general.
Cause why would that, I have seen that. Again, this is not like a music specific issue, but, a lot of the biggest like trade publications, there are probably certain things that they can or cannot write about because of who their biggest advertisers are.
I think it’s definitely, you know, common knowledge and it’s, it’s like a tricky situation, especially with like trade publications, I think, across business. And I just didn’t want to get into that, like situation did that conflict of interest. I decided to, you know, like, like just keep everything like ad-free for as long as I can, the one, area where I probably would want to bring in a sponsor in the future, is for in-person events.
I think it makes a ton of sense to have a sponsor either like hosted at their office or, like pay for drinks, food catering, et cetera. So I think, yeah, that totally makes sense. So I probably will look more into that in the future, but, yeah, as of right now, I was just looking for kind of the.
Simplest easiest to understand easiest, to handle like regular predictable sources of revenue and the monthly subscription slash membership model made the most.
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.
I’m curious as you’ve been writing about tech and music and intersection yeah. Those worlds. What are some of those interesting things that you think are happening right now where you’re just like, you know, it’s the sort of thing that you’re out at, at, during your happy hour with your friends.
And they’re like, okay, you talked about this a lot. And you’re like, no, but let me tell you more about that.
This actually, I went, as of recording this, I went to, my first. Industry like dinner slash drinks event is literally a year and a half.
Yesterday in New York it was very like jarring to like be in that environment. But by far and no surprise, like the top, the most popular topic of a night was crypto.
And like the whole hype around NFTs, like where our music NFC is gonna go, are they useless? Like what is actually their purpose in the first place? So the world. Music NFTs and encrypto is particularly interesting to me right now because the music . Industry has been through this wave of hype before. I remember the very first industry conference I went to, personally was also the first time I even learned about what blockchain was.
This was back in 2015. I mean even earlier stages. and it was a blockchain one-on-one panel and, and it ended up being a shouting match essentially between, this like representative from like very old school music industry, like from a performing rights organization, didn’t want to share any data, very skeptical about blockchain and, a startup founder who was essentially trying to disrupt that person’s company at that like really set the tone.
In like a, in a maybe, you know, net negative way for just to how the music industry responded to blockchain, how they saw it as a threat. Unfortunately, this is a pattern, throughout, you know, the history of music, especially you look back at piracy, like seeing new tech as a threat, as opposed to, you know, adapting more to it and try to add value to it and then benefiting from it as a result.
Yeah. The music industry has historically struggled with that, but I like about the. More recent wave of hype, even though of course. Yeah. There’s like tons of money being thrown around for, you know, who knows why around these, you know, digital collectible meme, you know, you, you, you name it these NFTs, is that there’s like less focus on how do we get these, you know, very, very large corporations, a lot of bureaucracy to agree, to share their data for this blockchain application to.
We don’t need them. We’ll just, you know, start making money ourselves and like create entirely new kinds of markets and economies around art, music, creativity, et cetera. I personally am like much more excited by that. And I do think they have like bigger music companies are seeing that and being like, it’s probably not a good idea now to like stop this activity, but we do have to think about where our role, like what our role is in this ecosystem and how we can add value to that.
So, yeah, that’s definitely like top, top of mind for me currently. something that is, will be really interesting to watch, especially in the next couple of months is how, what role, if at all, technology will play in the return to in-person life. probably another one of the big, like music tech, trends or shifts in the last year was, the rise of live streaming.
And just, you know, the fact that Twitch, for example, now has a dedicated, you know, music team that’s really flushed out and a whole separate music category, on their page that, I don’t even know if that would have been feasible, you know, where it not for just the circumstances of the pandemic.
A lot of artists were just, you know, not just performing shows online, but also engaging with, bands online through, through live streaming. and yeah, it’d be interesting to see, one like yo brother, the con, whether the concept of a live stream concert, will still be sustainable as like a standalone business model.
There’ve been so many, like startups sounded that, in my opinion, essentially all offer the same service. I could be wrong, but, basically. Aloud bass ticketing, you know, bass like Twitch style interactive, live chat for a like, I guess for a performance that you watched through a screen. I think a lot of people would agree that it’s not as compelling.
As you know, being in a venue in person, you know, being surrounded, you know, shoulder to shoulder by all these people who are all super passionate and excited to see this artist perform on stage. I, yeah, I, I personally am like much more excited about the line. That said, I do understand the importance of accessibility, and like, you know, making concerts more available, especially to people where it just might not be feasible for artists to tour there.
So, that’s like one thing that they watching out for is how, you know, just this, unprecedented investment in live streaming, over the last year, how, if at all, that will carry over, to, you know, in-person touring, which a lot of artists, promoters, venues, et cetera, are like preparing for. Right.
Especially as cities are reopening. hopefully I hopefully all that investment will not have been for nothing. but, but we’ll see.
Well, yeah, that’s what I mean, what we’re seeing just on the ConvertKit side, pushing into music. And like we were one of those, those, companies that made the pivots related to the pandemic where like we took our entire. Budget. And since events were no more and we started running what we called ConvertKit creator sessions, you know, like booking these artists to do, highly produced at home performances and like storytelling and all of that.
And like, none of that would have happened if it wasn’t for the pandemic. Cause the artists wouldn’t have had the time to do it. They wouldn’t have.
Sure I’ll be hired for this. They’re like, no, I have like thousands of people in a, you know, in a concert hall, but I need to go perform for, so a lot of that changes, but then, yeah, I’m curious what, like what we’ll stick around, you know, it’s, it’s, sort of like the Clubhouse,
Rises like crazy, cause everyone’s like, I have nothing to do.
Like it’s 10:00 PM. The kids are in bed. I’ve watched everything. There is on Netflix.
Who’s having a conversation about the future of the music industry on Clubhouse. Like
Like I’m in, you know, from 10:00 PM to 2:00 AM, like. Sure. and then now, like if you would tune into some of those sessions, there’s nobody in them. Right. Because we’re all at happy hours, we’re, you know, like flying outside if we’re, you know, doing any of that. And so it’s, it makes me curious what of these things.
There’s so much that changed over the last 14 months and what’s going to stick around, you know, and then, and what’s going to revert. do you have any take on which things you put in?
So yeah, just thinking about it this week, because Spotify, just like launched their own Clubhouse competitor. they, I guess they’d acquired locker room slash Betty labs, which was kind of a, they’re developing a niche version of Clubhouse, more focused on sports. Yeah. Spotify, bottom relaunched, a Spotify Green Room this week.
And I think so. Okay. One, one really interesting shift that I have seen Clubhouse make. I don’t think we’ll make it easier for them in terms of like surviving as a sustainable platform is that they seem to be shifting their branding from being an audio driven social network where, you know, you can lock on a Clubhouse and, you know, meet all these people from all over the world who have similar interests who otherwise would not have met on Twitter or Facebook.
Like that was a draw to me early on from that to like a very, like programmed top-down. I think if it’s just like a live radio network. So if you think about how they have a whole like, actually both Clubhouse and Spotify and, probably some other companies in your future, they have these creator funds.
So they’re funding. These shows that are going to be happening, you know, programs on a regular basis on the app, on Clubhouse. Even just like tiny features, like the ability to, type in a text chat in real time during a conversation and Clubhouse still doesn’t have that. And so it also is very, it’s a very dramatic difference.
Like you’re either, on the Clubhouse stage and you’re, you know, like leading and you’re interacting or you’re company, the passive there’s no, like in between. And I think a lot of the, if you look at like Instagram lives or like Twitch, sessions, Twitch chats, a lot of the entertainment or like social communal value is in that kind of middle ground of interaction.
Like being able to even like react with an emoji, let alone, you know, like type in a text chat or request, you know, like ask a certain question in text form. So, and Spotify does have like the kind of text feature that Spotify greenroom. So, yeah, so I, I am like noticing this, this shift towards, yeah, like funding, more formal shows focused on developing IP.
I feel like the companies. We’ll succeed the most at that are companies like Spotify that already have that IP. So if you like open the greenroom app, I opened it yesterday when it first launched. And of course at the top of my feed was the ringer, which Spotify owns. and they were, you know, recording their like NBA podcasts with like bill Simmons was a guest briefly.
So, you know, of course like Spotify now has that whole, I guess has like completely verticalized. Podcasting like every step of podcasting within its own company. So totally sense that they’ll use Grievant to kind of promote those shows. I do think so. Twitter spaces, I think is. Like has it interesting with different territory?
I think they have a vision. That’s more about, holding audio rooms within specific communities. Like I know they’re working on building like a Facebook groups, competitor, like on, on their own platform. So you can like, host a.
Twitter spaces chat only for people who follow a certain topic like VC.
I think that makes a ton of sense discord, to their credit. They’ve had voice chat within like closed communities for several years. and now they, but they also have like a more, you know, properly stage like Clubhouse clone feature now. so it’s just a matter of like other tech companies catching up. So, but for, I guess, for those to like sum all this up, and those specific models of like, I guess social audio as a, communal feature, like a way to connect with other people that is very, it’s very, very hard to compete. I think with, these bigger social platforms that already own those social graphs, like try to create a whole new social graph through audio is, is really difficult.
I think Clubhouse like really captured lightning in a bottle, like throughout last year and did do that for some people, but not.
Yeah, all these other incumbent companies coming in, it’s really hard to compete with that. And then for like the, the live radio podcast network model definitely companies that own,
I, I guess Spotify is, is in a unique position because they both own IP. And one of the biggest, you know, streaming platforms in the world, for, for audio, at least. So they’ll probably be the leader in that, but, Amazon now owns a podcast company they own Wondery. So it’s also like only a matter of time, I think before. other like other companies, other streaming services come in and compete for that model.
So that’s kind of like the two areas that, that I’m seeing like fragmenting right now.
It’s fascinating. The amount of money that is coming to play in the space, you know, even.
I think you see examples of this in acquisitions when like Spotify acquired Joe Rogan’s content, you know, acquired his show and, or I guess just exclusive rights to his show is all day quiet, but their stock price went up by so much just off of that announcement that it like way more than paid for, you know, so they were like, that was free.
And so, you know, from a grassroots perspective, there’s not really. Because there’s so much money being thrown around that. Like, I don’t know that you can compete with these other platforms. Cause like Spotify is going to say, this is our platform. Oh yeah. And we’re already going to funnel everything that we have in here, you know?
And so that, that’s just fascinating to me. Another thing on the Spotify side that I only
recently learned, actually from talking to people at Spotify. In their business model in hindsight, this makes perfect sense.
But in their business model for music, they pay out substantial fees to the artists, all of that, right?
There’s all kinds of licensing who owns the masters, who owns that individual recording, who wrote the song, oh, you like that? You know, the little bit of money for every stream gets parceled out so many different directions and it can be very company.
And in podcasting, it’s very simple, you know, in fact, all these odd casters, like a podcast stream, like someone who’s listening to this episode on Spotify right now is worth just as much as Spotify as like a song stream,
Have your attention.
They have you.
If anything it’s worth more because, I guess in, yeah, if you’re listening to music then, I’m actually, I’m not sure about like the actual fine print, but yeah. Listen, like they have to pay exactly. Except like 70% of their revenue,
Music to like rights holders. Whereas like podcasting is like a whole separate pool. Yeah,
Yeah. And for, for better or worse as a podcaster, we’re not, we’re not going like, Hey, where’s my car.
You know, cause we’re like the expectations, like you don’t get a cut, you know, you monetize through sponsorships through your other thing. And so Spotify sitting back like, yeah, I know you, of course you don’t get a kid.
No one gets to, you know, when they’re over here and like going,
A way better business.
I think the, yeah. It’s oh gosh, a whole other issue. So yeah, I do think in that. Podcasters are going through an almost like worse version of what, independent artists have gone through in terms of their critique of Spotify and like lack of, leverage and yet kind of like lack of this sense of they are also benefiting from the growth and, you know, Billy dollar valuations of, Spotify as a company that said, I, I do think kind of on the flip side pod-casters right now, could be a blueprint for artists in the future in terms of like Spotify, for example, and also apple they’re investing in a lot of like direct to podcaster or direct to podcast monetization models like apple, like they both are working on pocket subscriptions, apple just launched their, you know, pockets.
Like show level subscription model, this month, and a lot of people in the music industry have been like, what are their biggest critiques of Spotify from the artist perspective? Is that it really there’s like few, if, any ways for the artists to be able to connect, to communicate with fans like that is, not the purpose of Spotify, the purposes to just make it convenient, to access all these millions of tracks, make it really easy to discover artists, but not really.
Strengthen and maximize the value of the artist’s fan connection. and some people also joked, and like the Water Music server. Oh, like what’s stopping and artists from. Just releasing their songs as a paid podcast. And like maybe making more royalties from that probably probably they’ll run into like, if they own all their IP, they own all their copyrights. They could pull that off. If you don’t of course, like probably brought it to some kind of licensing issue, but, I’m glad those conversations are happening.
You know, just the, yeah, the model of getting paid, an average of just a fraction of a penny per stream. Isn’t the only way, like, look at these other creators on the same platform that we rely on every day.
They’re now able to make, an income directly from their listeners and supporters. Like why shouldn’t there be, that same option for, for musicians, for artists. So, I, I think that, yeah. That awareness of different, you know, models, business models for like on the artist level around streaming. And they’ve been really good, but yeah, to your point, for, for Spotify, it’s podcasts are just an easy way to kind of circumvent licensing and, really, I think they are trying to become the major label equivalent in podcasting and how aggressive they are about acquiring IP.
Just because it doesn’t exist, maybe it’s harder for them to create these like direct to artist subscription features, for example, And music because they have these relationships with the existing major labels and they can’t really like tarnish that if they want to keep music on their platform.
So definitely lots of, lots of layers there.
Yeah. And it’s fascinating. We’ll see a lot more, you know, like the Joe Rogan deal or the ringer or those sorts of things really stood out.
But now like just the other day they announced the call me daddy podcast w was acquired.
The deal. Yeah.
There are startups that have raised crazy amounts of funding that don’t sell for $60 million. Yeah, so that, that, is fascinating. Let’s, let’s bring this conversation to the
newsletter side of things, because in, we have a lot of the same dynamics happening, or like same tensions happening in newsletters between large publications and solo newsletter, creators, and, and all of that.
And like you’re as much in the middle of that world as you are the music side of it.
So what are you seeing? And what’s your take on it?
Yeah, I, oh, gosh. Yeah. I think about this all the time. I think there are a lot of parallels yeah. Between, I guess, thinking also on the, so yeah, sorry to backtrack. So there are multiple layers. You could look at this. a lot of like media companies and music companies face similar, challenges with, tech and social media platforms.
For example, like the, the relationship between, like media companies and faces. it’s quite similar to the relationship between like labels and Spotify in terms of that tension of you know, who has more power, this, this struggle always with like, not be able to control the context in which, you know, you, I guess your work is delivered fed to potential readers or potential like audience member.
The fact that Spotify is also even now, you know, creating a, an advertising product where artists and labels have to pay to reach certain fans that is literally a copycat of, you know, these existing social advertising platforms.
So lots of parallels on that level, on the individual creator in this case like artists or writer level, actually think in some ways, writers, the, the individual writer situation is even worse than the music.
Because I, so even with like the recent, you know, newsletter, boom, as a freelance writer for income, I feel like you do. Immediately rely a lot more on these by-lines of bigger publications to like, make a name for yourself, let alone earn income. There’s just by nature of the like freelance economy.
It’s, it’s really, really hard to, you know, build a newsletter from the ground up. If you don’t already have like access to those bigger audiences. Somehow I think that is a reality of, of running a newsletter, especially from scratch. And there is a whole wave now of, like freelancers, actually very similar music, like freelance writers, try to unionize like collectivize around, you know, also asking for a better terms, in freelance contracts.
But like a lot of the times. Yeah. So not only do you, like a lot of writers rely on these bigger, like brand names to, earn income, but depending on the publication, you, You might not, especially if it’s a bigger one, you probably don’t own your own IP. Like you’re spending hours and hours doing these interviews, writing these articles, but the, but the publication ultimately owns them.
I think is the Washington post, is like in the middle of the controversy this week. as it recording because they are like making it a lot more difficult for writers to even like talk to, like an agent, a talent agent, if they want to like write a book. So like, I guess that’s more in the case of full-time staff, but it does translate to freelance contracts, like, you know, the right to use, this article you published in like a book they might write later on. So lots of, yeah. Parallel issues or like leverage around like IP ownership. and yes.
So I do think now with, with newsletters, I am surprised that there aren’t more musicians who, like are investing heavily in newsletters in a capacity. That is not just like marketing. So like if you subscribe to exactly. Like if you subscribe to especially more on the label level, like a universal music groups, like newsletters, it’s just pure marketing. There’s no sense of it being like personal, not even like deeper copy. It’s like let’s just images and links to, you know, stream us on Spotify.
Maybe it’s because like, not all artists are like comfortable with. Crafting and like writing these more long form, like text experiences, which, maybe that makes sense. but yeah, so, so now I do think in terms of like the newsletter academy of, I guess I’m thinking of like sub stack being the prime example of these, like, you know, individuals stand out personalities, building their own newsletter brands.
Writers are definitely like leading the way in terms of that, like direct to bat. You know, or direct to reader direct to supporter, kind of like channels and income than the music industry is right now. but yeah, like historically there’ve been a lot of parallels in terms of issues that, that both like creators of both worlds have faced.
It’s interesting what you’re talking about. Cause you’re, you’re absolutely right. That not very many artists. Personal like behind the scenes, get to know me sort of approach. A lot of small artists will do that. People who are up and coming and getting established, think about artists that are on like convergence platform that have been on for awhile, even like Tim McGraw, like he’s been on our platform for quite a bit, and it’s still a bit of a push to get them to do more storytelling and less marketing, you know?
To make that distinction because they’re like, oh, here’s a single that’s coming out. One thing that they have done is like more behind the scenes video and things like that.
And so we, as part of the reason we’ve built into ConvertKit like native video integrations where you can play it directly in the, by the video drip email, because like talking just with Tim’s team, for example, They’ll be sitting down to film something big and then they’ll be able to get them to film for like five minutes talking directly to fans, you know?
And that’s like, okay, we’re already here. We’ve got a studio set up. Like, yeah,
I’ll record something for the newsletter. The example that I love to see more of is like, oh, Schwartzenegger runs a ConvertKit newsletter and hit, this is so good. It’s like all the behind the scenes and the stories and like answering fan questions.
Why, I dunno, what would it take to get Dereck to do something
It would be amazing.
Be phenomenal. So, but that, that pivot hasn’t happened in music yet.
Yes, I guess you mentioned Kendrick specifically. I think he’s a great example of an artist who is so revered and respected and it’s just like so talented. and like everything he does, but is also very private, like aside from album releases, he will like rarely do interviews. you’re very lucky that you can just get a handful and yeah, so this is on social media. Instagram, YouTube just very like quiet most of the time. and that works for him.
I do think. Yeah, it is important for artists or musicians generally to like not let the tech Dick, I guess not let tech tell you what to do. Like.
Only invest in yeah. Channels that you’re comfortable with that align with like what you’re really good at.
Yeah. Especially with, I guess like text-based storytelling or more personal storytelling, like newsletters are great, but if you’re like not ready to do that, that’s fine. you know, you don’t have to, so, yeah, I think it’s, there, there is a bigger, I guess, trend to APAC in music as well of, This expectation among a lot of fans that artists are almost like a friend. I think this is the, like the, impact of social media also extends to like influencer culture. Like, oh, I’m following this influencer on Instagram. I, I saw what she had for breakfast. So clearly I’ve, you know, in her circle and like, I might as well be his, her, their, you know, their, their friend, and that like requires a lot of openness and vulnerability.
That means. Yeah, I think certainly not all people let alone, not all artists are comfortable with. but yeah, I’ll say like the slow, steady rise up these letters. It’ll be interesting to see how it like meshes with that trend of just expecting artists to be a lot more vulnerable and open live streaming.
Certainly. I think like fits into this category as well.
Yeah, I think so. I, I mean the trend of only continue. So, and then like, as that’s been established, many times over email is not dead. Newsletters are on quiet, quite a ride.
Maybe bringing it back to, you know, to Water & Music and everything that you’re doing.
What are you looking to do next? as far as maybe the next milestones for Water and Music.
And then how you think about growing to get to those? Like, what are the things that you’re doing to grow the audience or grow the revenue?
So yeah. Next steps. There are a lot of, yeah. As different moving parts. So, I guess earlier I really briefly mentioned events. I think that will be really important. I guess after the pandemic kind of dies down and conferences come back, for example, as like an individual freelance writer conferences, where, by far like one of the most effective, just like marketing, audience, building networking tools, especially meeting people, in the music industry specifically who, who, yeah, I would not have met otherwise kind of through more formal, like PR interactions or interviews.
So, definitely wanna invest more in that, especially around those kind of like industry conferences that happen every year. A separate new Water Music website is in development. that will definitely be a milestone in terms of being able to have much more control over the reader journey. Like the reader experience, making articles like I’ve published, I think over 150, like articles slash posts on the Patreon page at this point, but the search functions on Patreon are not the best.
Very open about that. So definitely want to, yeah. The website would really help out with that. So that that’ll be a big milestone, definitely like hiring is like something I’m also like figuring out in real time in terms of what’s the. Like combination of people to bring on. So right now I would say the three pillars of a Water Music does, is like editorial, like long form editorial analysis.
Research, very data, heavy research, and then, community in terms of your discord server and our Hangouts. So, in terms of like hiring, bringing on more people to help like manage all those three different parts that like work together, in a really, and so it works good in, in, in a really complimentary way.
That’d be a big priority for, this year as well. yeah, I guess like the only other thing that comes to mind. And I don’t, I haven’t like figured out how to like formalize this or structure this. but going back to this notion of interdisciplinary, thinking about the future of music and about energy.
I do think, you know, we were just talking about, Clubhouse and Spotify Greenroom, and podcasts. A lot of people might think of that as a podcast story, but it absolutely is a music story as well, because it could, you know, like Spotify pushed that feature like a new app to artists. And I think the music industry could use those kinds of features in really interesting ways.
So that’s one example like music and podcasts conversion. Music and gaming. of course I think are, are converging a lot more, especially looking at the last year. So you know how to build and expand editorial coverage in a way that reflects that. that’d probably be into more in the form of like hiring more people who are able to like, who are experts, not experts, but are like fluent in like multiple areas of entertainment and how they merge together.
Very like specific kind of, I guess niche, view on, on business, but definitely something I wanted to like take more seriously in the future.
Yep. That makes a lot of sense. Well, I’m excited to continue to follow everything you write about the industry and all of that. And for anyone else who wants to do the same, where should they go to follow you online and subscribe to the newsletter?
So definitely the best way to learn about what, Water Music and all the different parts of membership is just to go straight to our Patreon page. it’s patreon.com/WaterandMusic, and all spelled out. I’m on Twitter @cheriehu42.
You can also find the Water Music Twitter (@water_and_music) in my bio also. So you can follow, the membership slash newsletter there. And yeah, hopefully you can, hopefully those of you who are listening, some of you can join the Patreon page and you can find me in our Discord server as well.
Sounds good. Well, thanks for joining and, and, we’ll talk soon.
Yeah. Yeah. Sounds good. Thank you.