Music professionals sometimes struggle with connecting their brands or monetizing their music. But how can you build a brand that produces growth in revenue and engagement as a musician? In this episode, Joya Owens from The Friendship Society shares advice for musicians about the fundamentals of music and entertainment business infrastructure. She also shares her wisdom on the role of social media in the music industry. On top of that, she provides some input on NFTs and the musician’s future. Tune in to this episode and take the unbiased music business advice from Joya Shares!
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The Friendship Society: Getting Unbiased Music Business Advice To Monetize Your Music With Joya Owens
I am excited to be here with Joya Owens from The Friendship Society. We’re going to be talking about music and a lot of different aspects of the industry but before we get started, I would love to have you tell us a little bit about your background in music, your journey from where you started with music, where you are now, and why you decided to start The Friendship Society to help musicians.
Thank you so much. First, it’s an honor to be talking here with you. I love all the work that you are doing with the company and all the work you do in the community with female songwriters. My name is Joya. I’ve been introduced to the professional community as a singer-songwriter. How I was introduced to music, like many other singers, was through church and then professionally through a gentleman by the name of Vincent Herbert whom I met in the ’90s.
I got signed as a major artist to what we now know as Universal Records. That was short-lived. I enjoyed it. I went independent in the early 2000s and stayed independent. I’ve dabbled in probably licensing in sync. I’ve had every deal known to man except for 360. In 2018, when I got signed to Kobalt, I took a little break from music for a while. I decided that I would take a step back in and then created The Friendship Society.
We seek to educate musicians and independent artists although we work with executives and some artists who I would consider are legacy artists. We teach them about the fundamentals of the business. We know that they have funding problems, exposure problems, and capital problems. They’re trying to figure out how to monetize their music. We teach them about brand building, revenue, publishing points, royalties, mechanicals, and all of the things that they should be doing, which has helped them build their business from a position of power and leverage where they can diversify later on.
I’m curious what you mean by legacy artists.
I consider them legacy artists because they have been in the business for more than fifteen years.
Are these people that used to have a label, and then they had to go independent and they’re needing to learn all this business stuff on their own?
I interviewed somebody who has been in the business. He’s a pianist. He’s been in the business for 50 years or something like that. He was talking about, “Back in the old days, we did it this way. I’ve made CDs.” He had to learn, “How do I get this digitally distributed?” It was so worth his while because now, he’s paying the bills from streaming because he had a huge catalog.
That’s the dream client right there. That’s what you want to see because a lot of the young up-and-coming artists that I talk with have 60,000-something streams coming from Spotify but they don’t know what a PRO is. You know that they don’t know anything about mechanical royalties. I’m saying to myself, “Where is the payout coming from?” They’re like, “TuneCore.” I’m like, “Yes but no.”
That is so important because a lot of them think, “I signed up with my distributor. They’re handling everything.” They don’t realize that there are other streams that are being missed, or maybe they’re not getting as much of the percentage as they could have if they didn’t do it that way. Do you feel like artists are still concerned about getting a record deal these days? Are they starting to see the benefits of being independent?
Both. They are concerned with getting a record deal. Most artists are like, “I don’t want to get signed. I want to be independent,” but when you talk to them about all of the groundwork that goes into creating your music, making your music, copywriting your music, and protecting your music, then they’re like, “Do you think it’s bad to want a label?” I’m like, “I don’t think it’s bad.” I know that they do because when they find out that there’s so much heavy lifting, it’s like, “I might change my mind on that indie thing.”To get exposure is not necessary to get signed or have a professional career but to garner attention and hold that for a second. Click To Tweet
There are alternatives. They can bring in other agents that can help them. They could get a publishing agent or whatever to help them with a lot of that stuff so they don’t have to be signed but yet they don’t have to do all the paperwork. That’s a possibility for those people that are in the middle. Everybody knows the freedom of being independent. You see so many people being able to go viral and start a career from TikTok and things like that. That’s the dream. People see that and be like, “I don’t want to label. I don’t want someone telling me what I have to do,” but then they don’t see all the work that goes into that once you do get to that level.
You will see things like SZA on Twitter or some artists on Twitter saying, “My music is being held up. The label won’t release it. The label won’t let me record. I don’t know. Ask the label. I don’t know when my next album is coming out.” It’s all of those things. They’re like, “Maybe it may not be all it’s cracked up to be.” There’s a 50/50 split. Some want to be signed. Some want to be independent.
How do you think social media has played a role in this? There are a lot of things, especially on TikTok. It’s like, “Do trends and these covers,” and things like that. Do you think that is taking over a little bit as far as overcoming the original music because people want to have all those great social media numbers?
Yes to a certain extent. It’s not to say that artists on TikTok are not serious because I know that they are hungry for it and they want it but sometimes, there is a thing where to get exposure is to get, not necessarily to get signed or have a professional career but to garner the attention and be able to hold that for a second. I wouldn’t say that I do but that it’s changing because it seems as though artists want to be educated.
They want to know, “Beyond this, now what? What do you think about NFTs? What do you think about being signed? I’ve been approached but they said my numbers on TikTok are good but I have to get my streams up.” Social media has changed it because you have more of an attention thing than you do artists who are focusing on the craft and the love of it but it may not be a bad thing. I’m still in the middle of that.
It’s hard. We talk about vanity metrics but in some ways, they’re not just vanity because certain people that make decisions are looking at those numbers. It’s important but do you think it’s eroding musicians’ ability to make good music because they’re thinking about what’s the next trend or what’s going to be popular on TikTok?
That’s hard to say because we’re seeing so many more musicians because we have social media. I was able to see all of this traffic coming through. It seems as though we have to sift through to find the good ones, whereas before we would hear about artists when they got the label’s attention. It’s hard to say but we have enough musicians out there.
We were watching the award show. Taylor Swift comes on. I love Taylor Swift but then we have Billie Eilish and so many talented musicians. We have Lizzo and people that are out there that are making music for pop culture but still, we find that they have deep musicianship behind them. Social media makes it challenging but music is love to me. I’m so passionate about it. You would have to work hard to kill its essence.
There are a lot of musicians out there on TikTok. TikTok somehow pulled everybody out from the woodwork that wasn’t on social media before. It amazes me when I look at some hashtags, and there are billions of indie musicians or something like that on TikTok or maybe musicians of TikTok. There are a billion people or things in that hashtag. Where do these people come from?
People are like, “Here’s my chance. If I never gave it a shot before, maybe now I could.”
It’s a lot easier than standing in hours of lines to try out for American Idol where you get ten seconds to sing and they go, “Nope.” You can get on there and people will listen.
I’ve been there before. Your heart is not pounding. You’re not feeling like your heart is going to jump outside of your shirt.
You tried out for one of those shows.
I tried out for X Factor and The Voice.
Was that a positive experience?
It was a positive experience because I had the opportunity to audition. I had a chance to meet some cool people and people who had been there and have done it six times. They have done all of them and tried out for all of them. We had to line up the night before. The auditions would start that afternoon but you needed to be in the line by 12:00 midnight the night before.
How do you sing well when you’ve been up all night?
For the show, because it is a show when all of the people are outside, they start taping before they let anyone in. Everybody is out there. They have a drone and helicopter. It’s very taxing. Those who do make it through deserve it.
It’s impressive. I’m going to switch gears on you. You mentioned NFTs earlier. I want to talk about this because I had someone explaining what NFTs are and how they work but I can’t get my mind around them because, in the current state, they can be anything. I would love to hear your input on NFTs and what you think the future is for musicians.
I wish I could reach it because I tore the article out. I remember when I first saw the article. It was for the artist, 3LAU. It was saying how he released his album on an NFT. The album was already two years old. On NFT, it did 10 million or something like that. He’s the owner of the platform, Royal. I’m still on the fence. I am intrigued to know. We’re transitioning into another realm. Here we are. This is crypto but it needs to be minted and then this and that but my whole thing is this, “Who is the audience? Who buys the NFT?” It’s like, “Collectors.”
The NFT is like a Mona Lisa. It’s a piece of art. These are collectors that are collecting these non-fungible tokens. For instance, Nas was selling royalties as an NFT. Who would be interested in something like that except for someone who has money and is very much a hip-hop enthusiast or a purist? It would be the same with the other guys but then I heard that the guy who owns Twitter had NFT-ed his first tweet. There we go again. It’s a collector’s item.
I’m confused because that tweet doesn’t exist in the world. How do you own that?
To answer that question, I don’t know if it was rhetorical. Please correct me if I’m wrong. What happens is that the NFT is coded and then minted. When it’s minted, there’s a serial number. It’s like when we go in and master music. There’s one master but that master has maybe several versions. It’s like, “Here’s the instrumental, the acapella, your show track, and your remixed track.” All of those belong to the mother, which is the master. That’s how I see NFTs. If they say, “We’re only minting 100,” then it’s like the versions of a master. They all have numbers. They have all been digitized. They’re all locked and coded. It’s crypto. It’s on the blockchain.
I get that but the reason I’m having this conversation is that I know my audience is thinking the same thing, “This seems a little insane.” With physical art, I get it. It’s a physical thing. Only one person can have the Mona Lisa in their home or their museum but with music, is that song not still on streaming? If I own that song as an NFT, can it also be streamed by the world? How am I owning it? Is it taken off the market?Social media has changed original music because you have more attention than artists who focus on their craft and love. Click To Tweet
I may be wrong on this particular one but when the song has been created in an NFT, it has to be one of its kind. For instance, if I’m taking a song from my first album, something about it has to be different even though it’s supposed to be from that first album. There has to be something that gives it a unique quality because otherwise, it can’t be a “collectible.”
Let’s say you did a gospel remix of some song that you have. Let’s say we called it that. I now own it. If I own it, do I have then the right to distribute it on Spotify and collect royalties for it because I own it? I’m not expecting you to have the answers. I thought it was interesting to have this conversation because these are all the questions that run around in my head when we talk about NFTs. I don’t want musicians to go, “This is amazing. We should be doing this,” when they don’t understand what’s involved.
That’s a great question and the way you posed that. It’s like, “I bought it. I own it. They were explaining to me that you do own it but you own it contingent upon however the distributor or the creator agreed.” Let’s say you bought one from me. I said, “You own a percentage of it. You will collect a percentage of it.”
It’s more like selling a percentage versus me owning it outright.
It could be. That likens to a contract. You sign a music contract but for how much of your publishing and how many years? What are the terms? What am I giving you upfront? The NFT is like that.
I have also heard that there are versions where the artist still retains a certain portion. I could resell that NFT to someone else. When I do that, the artist gets some percentage of that sale. It’s very interesting. It all sounds cool. It sounds awesome for musicians but it sounds so complicated. I don’t know that the average indie artist will figure it out. It’s also expensive because you have to mint it and everything.
You have to mint it. There are gas prices. There’s a whole world. From what I know and the little that I’ve learned, and as you can see, it has been very little, it’s quite expensive to mint an NFT, let alone to continue to do that. It’s expensive enough for us to manufacture our craft.
There’s the studio and all that. Are you generally educating artists about this but not making any recommendations, “This is something you should look into or do?”
No. I don’t know if I could be that disciplined. I’m too passionate about it one way or the other. I would be hard-pressed to say but this is my advice. You don’t have to take it but this is what the next move should be. I’m also the one to say this is based on my advice, my history, or what I’ve been through. I will always push a person, “Here’s the subject matter expert. Go and get marketing help or whatever it is that you need. Your manager or your lawyer will speak to that.”
I don’t ever want to steer an artist in a direction where I don’t feel completely confident that I know what I’m telling them to do. In your work in The Friendship Society, do you help artists get into the sync world? You’re pretty passionate about sync licensing. Do you direct them on how they can make some sync deals?
I’m going to direct them in the realm of understanding what sync is, “Here are some companies that you should look at. Based on where you are, sync would be a good thing if you have this much catalog and stuff.” I will always make sure that an artist knows, “These are all of the options laid out here for you. These are all of the deals that you can get. This is all of the revenue that you should be looking at. Look at this sheet music, concerts, touring, and studio singing. You can do all of these things.”
You do something pretty similar to what we do here at the show. We have 39 little-known income streams for musicians. I try to expose them to anything that they’re probably not tapping into.
There you go. That’s why I was saying in the email. I don’t know if you noted that but once I looked at you, I was remarking, “This is great work you are doing.” We have similar objectives when it comes to wanting to see our community progress. That’s what it is.
As far as sync, do you recommend, especially for legacy artists to do that because they have a big catalog?
They are the ones that are winning. It was Stranger Things.
When I read the article, I was like, “This is Kate Bush’s first number one.” Even she was like, “My goodness.” Can you imagine the money and the streams for over 27 years from that song?
I remember I was in high school when that song came out. I remember that song.
There was another artist to follow. It was the same thing. I don’t know if it was Stranger Things or not but all of this music from the past is now being used in licensing as sync. Thus, it ups the streams, especially if it’s a show like that.
That has a huge following. When it comes to sync, do you recommend particular paths like going to music libraries or reaching out to supervisors? Do you expose them to every possibility?
It wouldn’t be one-size-fits-all. I always say, “Start small and get a feel for it.” Music licensing is the same as publishing deals or admin deals. This is a relationship. It’s a dance that has to be done between you and the other person. Before you know it, you can’t cut the faucet off because they’re like, “I’ve got this movie. Can you send me this?” You’re like, “I sent you everything I have. We will create something.”
“I need to write some more stuff.”
That’s a good problem to have. I will refer them to music libraries that I know. I also have a guy that I’ve dealt with who is super busy in licensing in sync. I always like to send people his way because I know that’s his jam. That’s what he does.
You’re providing a ton of great resources for people. You talk a lot about artists owning their stories. What do you mean by that?When we think about ownership, sometimes we think that that means I just released it, but no, you have to own it. Click To Tweet
There are a few things. When we think about ownership, sometimes we think that it means I just released it but you have to own it. Here’s a good example. I will never forget this. I brought this property. I’m from Michigan. My grandmother said, “Let me see the paperwork. I want to see the paperwork.” I gave her the paperwork. She said, “This is a quitclaim deed. You don’t own it.” I said, “This is it.” She said, “No. Whoever quitclaimed the house to you is the person that can decide they’re going to take it back from you at any time.”
That was an education to me, “I should have the deed, this, and that.” Much is the same for music. It’s not like you put it out there and then own it. You don’t have an ISRC code, the correct metadata, this, and that. You uploaded it to UnitedMasters but UnitedMasters provided the ISRC and the UPC, so you don’t think that UnitedMasters is getting a piece of the royalty. In the metadata world, UnitedMasters has all the data for your song. You have the file cuts.
Nowadays, especially with blockchain and all that coming in, metadata is so important.
It’s a big thing. When I talked to them about owning their story and intellectual property, I’m speaking of the whole lot, not just the masters and the stems but everything.
That’s so important. I was talking to a client earlier and reminding her. She’s like, “I’m not working with this one producer anymore because I can’t afford them. I switched to another one.” I said, “Please tell me you have all your masters.” She’s like, “I don’t think I have my stems.” I said, “Go get them because your relationship with this producer is not bad yet but if he gets annoyed that you’re not working with him anymore, he could hold that hostage.” Many people are like, “I can get it from my producer whenever I want.” No, you can’t. I know people whose producers had a hard drive failure. Everything was gone. You have to make sure to have your stuff.
They will say, “It crashed.” What are you going to do? It’s gone.
Do you recommend particular distributors that people use that are going to give them the most autonomy?
No. I always say, “You have to do your homework. Here’s the list. These people exist but you will have to do your homework.” I haven’t been asked.
Artists ask that all the time. They’re like, “There are ten distributors. I don’t know which one to pick.” I get it. It depends on how often are you releasing and the price. Are you a publisher or not? There are so many things and different criteria that you’ve got to look at for yourself between them.
It depends. I’ll never forget. I heard a person. They were promoting. I won’t say which platform it was. There was a long interview. I listened to the interview and I was like, “This is so much crap. This is not good. That’s not true.” She’s a friend of mine. She’s like, “I’m going to put the music out. I’m putting it out through XYZ.” I was like, “Why? Don’t.” Several months later, this friend came to me and said, “I got to X amount of streams. Something happened. There was a glitch in the matrix. All of my streams have gone.” That is like, “What happened?”
You’ve got to know that the distributor that you’re with is there for the long term because I’ve also heard of some people. It’s like, “I did it through this.” They decided that they were not doing distribution anymore and, “All my stuff disappeared.”
Is there anything else you want to tell readers while we’re here about what you do at The Friendship Society and anything else you want artists to know?
You can find me at TheFriendshipSociety.com. We are coaching. We have created a community. We’re not marketing analysts and managers but we are coaching and teaching you about the fundamentals of the business infrastructure of music and entertainment. That is what we do. I don’t know how exciting that sounds.
What I love about it is that you’re an unbiased advisor because everybody else is going to be coming at them with, “You need this and that.” They’re trying to sell them something, “I want you to be my manager. I want you to be my lawyer. I want you to use this service.” It’s having this unbiased person say, “Here’s the research I did. What do you think?” It can be so valuable.
Look us up. We’re having some things coming down the pipeline. We’re going to have a course on revenue. We’ve got tons of free resources and things as it pertains to TikTok and how to get your numbers up. All of that stuff is very easy. There’s the algorithm, this, and that. I’ve been through the gamut. It’s nothing. I can talk to you about that and then refer you to some great musicians, great organizations, and female musicians.
Are you on socials?
That’s a lovely one. Thank you so much. This has been a great conversation. I challenged you with some things that I want to know the answers to. It was great to hash all that. This is how we think it is. There are a lot of things that are changing all the time in the industry. All of us are learning.
Thank you so much. It’s a privilege. Once I did some digging on you, I was like, “She’s a rock star.” This is going to be great. Not anyone can accomplish what you have accomplished. You’ve managed to build this amazing community. There’s something to be said about that. This is no small feat. You have your academy. Congratulations to you. I’m honored that you would have me.
Thank you so much.
About Joya Owens
The Friendship Society helps Music professionals, avoid struggling with connecting their brands and/or monetizing their Music by teaching them to build a business that produces growth in revenue and engagement.
We work with Musicians, Recording Artists, Songwriters, Producers, Music Executives, Managers and other creative entrepreneurs.