Generative AI Impact On Creativity And Business In the Music Industry With Tristra Newyear Yeager

What can authors learn from the adoption of AI into the music industry? What are some of the ways musicians are making money in the fractured creator economy? Tristra Newyear Yeager gives her thoughts in this interview.

In the intro, Draft2Digital announced a retail distribution agreement with Fable [D2D]; Kobo launches a new color e-reader [Rakuten Kobo]; Ultimate guide to subscription models [Self-Publishing Advice]; Independence and interdependence [Self-Publishing Advice]; Becca Syme on getting unstuck [Ink in Your Veins].

Plus, Amazon’s new AI board member, Andrew Ng [TechCrunch]; AI for Everyone free course; SEO is Dead [Marketing Against the Grain]; My episode on Generative AI Search for Book Discoverability; Yes, Colossal is real, and Spear of Destiny.

This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.

This show is also supported by my Patrons. Join my Community at 

Tristra Newyear Yeager is the Chief Strategy Officer for Rock Paper Scissors, which provides PR for music innovators. She’s also the author of historical fantasy and scientific romance, and the co-host of the Music Tectonics Podcast, which goes beneath the surface of music and technology.

You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below. 

Show Notes

  • The current state of AI for musicians — is Suno the ChatGPT for musicians? [Rolling Stone]
  • AI’s effect on the stock music industry
  • How authors and musicians can cut through the sea of content, whether human or AI-generated
  • Using AI for discoverability (more in my episode on generative AI search for books here)
  • The fragmenting of the creative economy [MusicX; Bandzoogle]
  • Do fame and awards matter less as metrics get harder to track?
  • Recommendations for selling author merchandise

You can find Tristra at

Transcript of Interview with Tristra Newyear Yeager

Joanna: Tristra Newyear Yeager is the Chief Strategy Officer for Rock Paper Scissors, which provides PR for music innovators. She’s also the author of historical fantasy and scientific romance, and the co-host of the Music Tectonics Podcast, which goes beneath the surface of music and technology. Welcome back to the show, Tristra.

Tristra: Oh, it’s an absolute pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me back, Joanna.

Joanna: I’m excited to talk to you today. Now, you were last on the show three years ago. It seems so long ago. It was in March 2021.

We actually started talking back then about the potential impact of AI in the music industry. So we’re going to start there again today. We’re going to start with AI, and things have obviously moved on.

You specialize in the music industry. Even in the last week, as we record this, I saw Rolling Stone wrote about, the ChatGPT for music.

Let’s start with the current state of AI for musicians in terms of the opportunities.

Let’s do the positive ways at first.

Tristra: Yes, let’s start on the positive. So Suno was a really interesting development, in that it was the first general generative-AI, something akin to ChatGPT or Claude, that could make really, really good, convincing tracks.

So no offense to all the other large models out there that can generate music from scratch. Usually, they were really short little sections of just like 45 seconds, and they tended to go off the rails pretty quickly. Suno was a little bit different and sounds a little bit better.

Now, if we’re going to talk about generative AI for music, it’s a little bit different, I would argue, than text because there’s a lot of different layers to music production and music creation.

So for a long time, we’ve had AI that could generate melodies using the MIDI format. So that’s not really like a full-fledged sound or melody you’d hear, but just like the signals that a synthesizer uses to generate a melody. We could generate lyrics, that’s been around for a while.

Then one of the most commonly used aspects of AI is in mixing and mastering. So mastering is the final set of tasks we do to make a recorded piece of music sound polished and good. So to get the all the levels right, just add a little bit of extra spark and sort of finalizing of that track.

So AI mastering has been around for quite some time and has really taken off. People will use it almost at every stage of recording, in some instances, depending on what kind of music they’re making.

So in a lot of ways, the stuff that gets the news headlines really recently, isn’t the stuff that’s really for musicians, I would argue. It’s more for people who don’t consider themselves musicians, or who struggle to make music, because they just don’t have the technical background or the musical training.

That’s what’s really interesting, from our perspective in the music business, is —

Maybe we’re looking at a future where we have a lot more people creating music.

Maybe numbering in the billions instead of the low millions. People who are making stuff for their own purposes, and it may not be the traditional commercial pipeline of recorded music of the past. It may not even be static recorded music.

So in terms of the existing AI models and what they can produce, most of us agree that the biggest threat, if we’re going to talk about threats. So that’s a positive side is the creative.

Let’s talk about the threats for just a second because they are intertwined.

There is some concern about how are we going to manage this sea of content that, you know, we thought things were intense before, what’s going to happen now if everyone starts wanting to upload their music to Spotify, or even to a SoundCloud, or other platform? How are we going to ever find stuff that’s good?

Then there’s also this question of a very specific niche in the music business that most of us hear all the time but we may not think about, and that is sync or production music. So that is the music you hear behind an image. AI really could completely upend that world.

If an advertiser, or video creator, or an author making a trailer for their book, decides they know exactly what kind of music they want, and they can type in something cool into something like Suno and get a little clip that’s licensed and they know they’re not going to get any copyright strikes or other legal complications from that, that really changes the game.

If it’s way, way cheaper than even what exists now, like there are very inexpensive online libraries that have pretty decent music and a lot of different kinds of music, but it won’t be as custom and it won’t be as expensive, most likely, even at the sort of lower end of the that market. So that is an interesting place. Some people are very concerned about that and some people are really excited.

Joanna: Wow. Lots to come back on.

Tristra: Just an onslaught of AI news!

Joanna: I know, but I think this is good because there’s a few things you bring out. So first of all, let’s go straight for the stock music piece because we’ve seen the same thing.

Like I use, as someone who has obviously this podcast, I do an image that goes with this podcast that goes on to the YouTube audio and onto the blog. I use images in my newsletter, for example. I use images on social media for ads.

I used to pay for a stock photo service. In the last six months with Midjourney and with ChatGPT Plus — the paid version of both of those have commercial licenses — I stopped all my subscriptions to stock photos.

So what you’re talking about there with stock music that might go behind—oh, so I did license a piece of music from AudioJungle for a book trailer. So what we’re basically saying is it may be that with something like Suno or with some other tools that will arrive, or like other tools with video that are looking at generating audio with the video, that we wouldn’t necessarily use something like AudioJungle.

One of the things you said there was that that is a revenue stream for some musicians. So does that kind of sum up that issue?

Tristra: Exactly, and so you’ll start to see more and more integrations with platforms like Canva, where you’ll have just, “Do you want to generate some music? Okay, what kind of music do you want?”

And just as we become a little bit more savvy about how to prompt image generation, I think more and more people will get a little bit more in tune with how to prompt to get the kind of sounds that they like.

It is kind of exciting as a music nerd. I want more people to enjoy the pleasures of music nerd-dom!

— and that could really bring everybody a little bit closer to like, why does sound affect me, what sounds affect me, what are the names that we give to different sounds or genres or moods? That’s kind of an exciting moment for me, personally.

Joanna: Possibility. Yes, it’s interesting.

I had a look at Suno. I don’t know if I’m a complete weirdo, but I have very, very sensitive hearing. I spend most of my time listening to rain noise. Very occasionally, I’ll listen to some music, mostly from the 90s, like if I’m working out or something, but I don’t listen to music much at all. So I am totally hopeless.

So I went to Suno AI, and it’s like, “Type some words about what type of music you want.” And I’m looking at it going, I literally don’t know.

So I still think there’s this big gap between someone like you who could prompt an AI in a very clear way knowing what they want, and someone like me who has absolutely no clue.

I do think that is a gap between those who know the language to create music and those who don’t (just like with writing).

In fact, there was some research that shows that these models bring up the bottom level. So people who are terrible can become average, but these models right now, as we record this in March 2024, cannot be the best at any of these things.

Tristra: That’s exactly right, and you’re always going to hit the middle of the road with these models. That’s just how tokenization and probability work, I think within the current way we create these things.

So there’s always going to be a lot of room for extraordinary thoughts for really crazy upending of what we expect, and a lot of how our brain processes sound has to do with expectation. That’s where the emotion kind of comes in.

So if we’re talking about folks who don’t create music, or really don’t consider themselves musical, or don’t engage with music very much, there’s a big window to bring some people who might never think musically, so to speak, into the world of making music and playing with sound.

That can come through things like stem separation and making it really easy for people to mess around with sound, way easier than it is now.

Young folks, like if we’re looking at how people use sound on TikTok, or at cloud-based digital audio workstations like BandLab that are super accessible, kids are making weird sounds all the time and messing around with music. They are pulling things apart, putting things together, chopping things up, speeding them up, and that’s really, really super cool.

I think we’re going to see rising tide of people making music, just the way we saw people playing around with things like filters and lighting when Instagram went mainstream.

So there’s another side too, on the very top level of people making music.

AI can really function in a lot of complex ways that are really subtle.

So everyone’s heard about voice cloning and things like fake Drake, or the Weeknd singing a song, or all these sort of very gimmicky, goofy things.

The way those models actually work is fascinating. It’s more accurate to call them timbre transfer. So timbre is like these sort of frequency qualities. The weird little sonic moments that define what makes a sound sound like itself.

So if I hit a cardboard box, or if I hit a piece of wood, or if I hit a drum, those might all have the same duration, they might even have some similar frequencies, but they all have a different timbre. So it’s like that quality to sound.

So the model basically lets you take the timbrel patterns of another person’s voice and transfer it to something else. You could transfer it to an instrument, you could transfer it to all sorts of crazy other sounds as well. It doesn’t just have to be another voice.

So the way you clone a voice is by making sure you have the same intonation. So if I used an Eminem voice model, and I didn’t have Eminem’s really distinctive intonation, it wouldn’t really sound like him.

So there’s kind of an interesting layer that’s almost like a filter you put on a photo. Or like a font, like if you read a text in one font versus another, there’s like this subtle little thing that changes in how you interpret and perceive that text.

So anyway, these timbre transfers are the kind of tools that people with more musical training or more musical inclination might be able to use to really change how things sound. It’s much the way people have used effects, like reverb or flange, or how they’ve used synthesizers to create new and radically different sounds.

It’s a lot of exciting stuff that is maybe a little bit more technical, a little bit deeper in the musical weeds, but is really, really cool. I think it will filter into mainstream audio creation as well.

Joanna: I love that attitude. I think this is the right attitude, which is —

This enables new kinds of creativity that we’ve never seen before and we’d never been able to do before.

I feel it’s the same with the language models for writing. The way people who don’t use these models assume that we’re using it is “output a thriller.” You know, click one button, output an award-winning thriller. Okay, that just doesn’t work.

Like you said about the musicians there, I feel like as someone who uses, at the moment, mainly Claude 3—again, we’re recording this towards the end of March 2024, these models change all the time—but I’m using Claude 3.

I’m going backwards and forwards, I’m iterating with it, I’m playing with it, I’m putting my words in and changing them and getting something else out.

It’s backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, in terms of leveling up my writing.

It is, in fact, slower to co-create for me with these AI tools because I’m trying to be better and use them to make my work better.

It feels like that’s what you were saying with those more advanced AI-assisted musicians.

Tristra: Absolutely, and if we think about it as a conversation, it starts to get really interesting.

The thing that everyone often overlooks with AI, like we’re so wowed at the moment by, “wow, AI can really sound like a customer service representative, like this is amazing.”

What’s really exciting to me is how bizarre the output can be from some of these models. So in my own writing, I wanted to play around with what it would sound like if an advanced artificial intelligence was having basically a freakout. It’s like a really fun freakout.

So what I did was I fed a bunch of 19th century spiritualist texts, available on Google Books, I just fed a bunch of this stuff into an earlier model. The early models are still super weird and you can make them output really odd things, and it spit out this totally insane rant.

That’s perfect. That’s what I wanted. I edited it, I switched it around, there was work that I did as a writer after that. The fun thing was like I would never have been able to get this weird and unhinged on my own.

So that’s maybe an extreme example, and I’m sure there are much more gentle and civilized examples than the one I just gave, but the weirdness and the emergent qualities are really where we, as artists, can thrive and explore. We have a whole bunch of uncharted territory to wander around in, and that’s exciting.

Joanna: Yes, it is exciting. Let’s come back to what you talked about, which was the potential challenge—exactly the same thing happening with authors—which is this sea of content.

You know, you thought it was bad before, it is going to get exponentially, let’s say “worse” in inverted commas, in that there is a sea of crap.

I have two opinions on the sea of crap.

One is that sometimes, crap is fine.

Like, I’ll have McDonald’s burger now and then, as much as I want a really lovely meal at a nice restaurant. I definitely do not read Pulitzer Prize winning books every night, and I just watched the Road House movie with Jake Gyllenhaal. I mean, it is a fun junk food movie.

So the sea of crap, one is a lot of people don’t mind that at all. Like we mentioned stock music, you don’t need something amazing for your little book trailer.

The other one is that there’s obviously just so much out there and it’s hard to find the good stuff.

So what are your thoughts on this? Again, I mean, coming back to AI and using AI tools, I know you read my search article, or thinking about other marketing possibilities—

How do musicians and authors cut through this sea of content?

Tristra: I think it is going to be a real balance between the human and some of these cool tools that we can use to unlock things and see patterns that we wouldn’t see otherwise.

In some ways, music and books are locked into this genre system right at the moment, like that’s the language that we use to talk about things.

A lot of things that are not in the sort of sea of crap, or more templated, or just fun entertainment stuff, it’s kind of hard to put them easily into one bucket. At least I can say that for music.

With really good music, artists really struggle to say, “Oh, I’m just making funk. That’s all I make,” or “I’m just straight up like old school hip hop, that’s all I do,” because it’s usually not all someone does. So in that regard, using AI can help us find other similarities to other works.

So with music, it’s a little bit weird when it comes to search because you can search using a bunch of different properties for an audio file. So you can look at the waveform and try to find other waveforms, so sound similarity search.

You can look at metadata, which is a whole huge can of worms.

If you ever want to make someone from the music industry cry, just talk about metadata.

Joanna: Same in the book industry!

Tristra: Exactly, but we don’t want to make anyone cry here today. So some metadata, when metadata is good and it’s doing what it’s supposed to do, it can really help people find music.

Then there’s things like user behavior. So the way a lot of recommendation algorithms are supposed to work is that you look at a user who is similar to you in some way, shape, or form, and maybe in their listening habits, for example. Then you look at what that listener is listening to that you aren’t listening to.

Then the algo magically match makes and says, “Hey, your buddy who listens to like 80% of the same stuff as you really digs this, and you haven’t checked this out yet. So you should check it out.” I think I’ve gotten a little bit far afield here.

All of these different AI channels could converge to help us market better, if only because we’re trying to find audiences in new ways.

Not just like, okay, this is a romance or a cozy mystery, and I’m going to find all the cozy mystery writers, I’m going to do what all the cozy mysteries do.

It’s like, well, maybe there’s like a whole world about super intelligent cats, and there’s like a super intelligent cat super fandom out there that you could discover if you had the right AI pilot.

In some ways, we might just leave genre behind.

That’s starting to happen in music. I haven’t seen as much reporting on this from books, but I’d love to hear your perspective, Joanna.

In music, young listeners basically listen to everything. They just listen across the board. So like 40 years ago, people were pretty siloed. They were like, I do rock, or I’m into hip hop, or I listen to classical music, and that’s it.

Now it’s like, young listeners, their Spotify or whatever is just filled with all sorts of different kinds of music, and in all sorts of languages, too. A lot of the music that is reaching young people now is not in English. So it could be K-pop, it could be J-pop from Japan, that’s starting to percolate.

Of course, there’s Latin music. Folks like Bad Bunny have really made a huge change. Now India is starting to come up on a lot of young people’s radars as well. It’s just fascinating. So anyway, all this to say this is not very helpful advice.

Joanna: Well, no, I think the point was that we’re looking at AI tools for discoverability. So, for example, I have found a lot of stuff with ChatGPT. The example I give in one of my posts was looking for novels about stone carving.

When I used the traditional Amazon search, it came up with a whole load of nonfiction books on stone carving, and most of it was advertising and all this kind of thing.

Then using ChatGPT, it actually gave me a whole load of really interesting options. Then you can also, with the generative search models, you can then ask more nuanced questions. Like okay, well, I want this to be historical, for example, or I want this to be set in Europe as opposed to America.

There are ways you can make it more granular. So I suppose the same would be true about music, that you could say, well, these are the artists that I like, these are the songs I like, give me suggestions that are similar to this.

I mean, I guess what people are scared about, and this is already happening in the author industry, is ‘generate to market.’

In fact, I kind of saw this happening on ChatGPT the other day.

So I asked it for a whole load of books on creative business and money for authors because I’m going to update my Business for Authors book. It came up with this whole list of books, and I was like, oh, wow, I haven’t heard of some of these, these are amazing.

About four of them existed, and six of them did not exist.

Tristra: Incredible. I love that.

Joanna: It was incredible because that hadn’t happened before. When I did that article before Christmas, that didn’t happen, like those books were real.

The crazy thing was, and I said to Jonathan, my husband, like, “Look at this. Look at these amazing book titles.” And he said, “Well, maybe you should write one of those.”

Tristra: There you go. I mean, if you did that well, that could be incredible. I think music, because it’s a lighter lift in some respects, musicians don’t get mad at me.

Joanna: As in it doesn’t take so long?

Tristra: It doesn’t take so long to create. Well, obviously you could work for years on a single song and polish it and refine it and revise it and everything. If you’re working in like a song format, you’re looking at like 3 to maybe 10 minutes of audio, and that can take a while to make.

Then with a book, if you’re shooting for a 50,000- to 100,000-word piece of fiction that hangs together reasonably well, I would argue it might take a little bit longer. That’s from someone who’s both recorded music and written music and books.

You know, again, the creativity and the heart and the soul is equally demanding, but it doesn’t take as long.

Music doesn’t take as long to make, and it doesn’t take long as long to enjoy.

So anyway, the book side makes me a little like, wow, you’d have to put some effort in, but it would be worth it. For the music side, you could really go nuts.

Joanna: I would kind of like to just feed in one of my books. Maybe I could do that. Maybe I feed in a one of my books into Claude, and I say, “Act like Ramin Djawadi.” The guy who did the Game of Thrones soundtrack.

Tristra: There you go.

Joanna: I’d be like, “Okay, do this for my book. Give me a prompt that I can put into Suno,” and then see how it is.

I mean, we’re laughing because you and I are quite positive about this. There are people listening who were like, oh, dear. So let’s move into the business model with this stuff.

Tristra: Can I just say one more quick thing on the fantastic fun side. This is something I think a lot of authors experience, not everyone, but we’re kind of like minor synaesthete. Like we see what’s happening before we write it, or sometimes we hear it, some people may smell it, I don’t know.

This is giving us a chance in certain ways to unlock those sides of our imaginations.

We may not share that publicly, but if you had a soundtrack to Spear of Destiny, that might actually spark new creative directions for you that you hadn’t unlocked before.

I think the multimedia side of things is really intriguing as all these different art forms converge.

It’s something that is a little strange, but could end up being quite exciting from an imagination standpoint.

Joanna: Oh, yes. Well, I did this to Claude.

I uploaded a short story and said, “Can you plot out a book trailer,” and then I made the images in ChatGPT and DALL-E, and then got the music for it. So it was a kind of collaboration in that way.

Given that there are tools coming out, the kind of text-to-video models with music, probably by the end of 2024, you could feed in a book and say, “Create a 30-second trailer with music.”

Tristra: Exactly. Or, “What song would this person be singing?”

Joanna: Exactly. I mean, that’s the fun side.

Coming back to the business, because I think, to me, there are some really interesting things. So you mentioned a bit about the voice synth thing. I think it was Grimes, who said, “Take my voice, create records, and give me half the money,” or whatever.

So I think licensing voices is going to be one model.

You wrote an article on the MUSIC x Substack and said the creative economy is fragmenting.

[Read Tristra’s article here.]

I’ve used this term splintering. Maybe you could talk a bit about that. Like musicians are not just making money on Spotify streams. That is not the business model anymore, right?


There’s no single business model. It’s very similar to what’s happened in the author world. There’s been a whole DIY music movement.

There’s been some really key players that have knocked down the doors where a lot of the back-office stuff that was happening.

It was very difficult for an individual to hook into things like certain kinds of royalty administration, that kind of thing. So those doors have come down.

Now, a person with the right mindset can pretty much manage an entire music career on their own, using available tools that aren’t outrageously expensive.

So with that in mind, people are trying all sorts of different stuff. So there are folks that have built a whole career around live streaming.

Now there are folks that have built their whole career around various streaming platforms, and making music to playlists or to market. So there’s a huge interest in Lo-fi and other sorts of study or focus-oriented sounds, and there are artists who satisfy that market.

So there’s all these different directions you can go in, and really different ways to make money.

Some people only play live.

What the digital music world gave us was this insight into usage, but what’s happening right now is that moment when most things could be seen online in some way, shape, or form, is fading.

So we have people who are selling LPs direct. We have people who have a subscription model that they use. We have musicians who are doing all sorts of really unusual things. It’s hard to get a good handle on what all the business activity is.

So for example, there’s some debate about how many indie record stores are actually giving their sales information to the folks that manage things like charts or sales. I know there’s something similar happening with books.

Just no one knows how much people are selling, even in a store, which is like a well-established retail outlet that’s been around for decades. Like they just don’t report their sales data.

So we’re seeing all sorts of different very niche models, as well as, of course, superstars and all sorts of stuff. It runs the gamut.

Joanna: Yes. Two things to follow up on that. So one, this invisible sales thing. I’m thinking a lot about this because —

My own revenue is now mostly invisible. Most of the money I make is invisible to any charts.

It comes from Shopify, it comes from Kickstarter, it comes from Patreon. Like you said, these are subscription, these are one-off, they don’t report. I mean, Brandon Sanderson in the book world, $42 million Kickstarter, and that doesn’t hit a list.

Tristra: At that point, like who cares, right?

Joanna: I mean, I guess so. I mean, there are authors who are Amazon-only sellers who never hit any list. The person who hits the top of the New York Times list is some traditionally published author who’s sold a fraction of what some of the biggest indies are selling in other ways.

Like you said, at this point, who cares? I do wonder about this—

Are we kind of in a post-fame world?

Where there’s like Taylor Swift and Beyonce, or whatever, and then there’s everybody else. Like, do we care? Do we just get on with it?

Tristra: Yes, and is there going to be sort of an interesting market bifurcation or fragmentation, where there’ll be people that are into stars and that are into celebrities. Then there’s people who are just like, I like just to collect stuff that kind of suits me, and I don’t care who made it as long as I like it.

I mean, in some ways that was what was obtained before the digital content revolution. I hate the word content, but I’m going to use it. You know, people would have their local record store and their local bookstore.

Then maybe there’d be like a weird, I don’t know if every listener had this in their world, but when I was growing up, there was sort of these oddball little shops that would have mimeographed or photocopied zines.

Joanna: Yes, zines. I was going to say there were the zines.

Tristra: Exactly, and none of that really registered. So in some ways, we don’t know how new this is. This could have been going on for hundreds of years, you know, thinking of broadsides and all the ephemera that was popular in the 19th century, for example.

The fact of the matter is, maybe we are in a post-fame thing, or maybe we’ve always been, and in some ways, we’ve gotten a little bit turned around in thinking that the loudest voices were the ones who were actually calling the shots. I don’t know. It’s an interesting moment.

So there’s always a lot of talk about this musical middle class that’s a little bit mythical because, again, the history isn’t there. I don’t think there’s any reason to believe necessarily that the musical middle class right now is smaller than it was 40 years ago. It’s just a different group of people.

It’s not session players, like the kind of folks you might have heard backing up Steely Dan who are like these exquisite artists that just played sessions. It’s not people who are selling CDs hand over fist. It’s a very different group of people.

How big was that group 50 years ago? I mean, there’s not a lot of great research on that. So I have this feeling it’s not necessarily smaller, it’s just certain people have lost ground. It is, of course, sad because they were making some good music. It’s an interesting question.

Joanna: Yes, it is. I get what you mean, and it’s kind of similar. I mean, you get to a point where you think, well —

I really just like making stuff. I need to make enough money that I can pay my bills, and I can keep creating stuff.

Once you get to that certain amount of revenue, which is the midlist in the indie author space, for example, do you really care about the other stuff? I mean, I don’t really.

I mean, I have some particular goals, but they’re not around fame. They are to have some recognition with my peers. I recently won an award for my memoir, and I was really happy with that. That’s not going to sell any more books, but I feel happy to be recognized by peers in a certain way.

So I can imagine in the music industry, too, there’s people who are doing their merch, and doing their vinyl press, and selling at an indie record store, or whatever, doing their Kickstarter, doing their Patreon, or whatever it is for music. It’s like, that’s a happy creative life.

Maybe that’s just the positive thing about this new world is that—

We’re moving away from obsession with streaming and top of the charts, and into a sort of more happy, creative life.

Tristra: It’s less about broadcast or imitating old traditional media broadcast models. It’s more about this kind of, I think you put it as an artisan approach.

I pulled up some statistics before we started talking. There’s a website builder called Bandzoogle, which I don’t know if there’s an exact equivalent in the book world. Basically, it’s a bunch of templates and tools and cool things that some indie artist-minded folks have created for musicians.

They just announced that Bandzoogle helped musicians earn $16.4 million in 2023. Most of that came from direct merch sales or direct ticket sales. That’s pretty interesting.

So subscriptions aren’t a huge thing for musicians because for a lot of musicians, that’s not really a model that’s going to work for the way they make stuff. So I thought that was pretty notable.

Bandzoogle doesn’t charge a commission. So that’s money that’s going straight into creative people’s pockets. I thought that was pretty cool.

Joanna: So, I just pulled that up. So Bandzoogle, they build websites, make website management and have tour dates. So it’s websites and selling direct and merch and things through their site. That looks fantastic.

Just on merch, then. This is something that musicians have always done, and have done very, very well selling merch at live events and this stuff. At author events, people will more likely where band t-shirts than they’ll wear author t-shirts. It’s just not the thing to do.

Tristra: I’m just trying to imagine like, you know, my Melville t-shirt.

Joanna: I mean it really is a cultural thing for bands to do this. It’d be great if authors did this too. Do you have some sites that you would recommend?

If authors do want to do merch, what are some of the best sites you know of that they might have a look at?

Tristra: I have been thinking about this myself for merch. One thing that I have been thinking a lot about is t-shirts and sizes and how hard it is to do. I guess you can do print on demand, but the margin seems a little bit so-so.

If you’re a band, you’ll probably print a small run or a big run of different sizes and styles and things. So I’ve been thinking a lot about that, like what are some alternatives to t-shirts?

There’s been some crazy variety of things that people have done in music. I would say if you want to look for some inspiration, look at places like Bandcamp. So if you have a favorite genre or artist, see if they’re on Bandcamp and see what they’re selling. Sometimes music artists will sell really neat things that are pretty simple.

So you probably don’t want to go to the trouble of putting out a vinyl LP. There’s ways you can make cassettes nowadays. They have all sorts of fun stickers. I’ve seen bandanas. There are things like drink koozies, if that’s your thing.

I don’t know, if I was setting one of my books, like maybe a thriller in the Florida Keys, like a koozie sounds like a good piece of merch.

Joanna: It’s like a beer sleeve for your craft beer?

Tristra: Exactly, exactly. So your seltzer water.

Joanna: Your hard seltzer!

Tristra: Exactly, there you go. For authors, it may indeed have to be a hard seltzer. I’m being silly.

There’s enamel pins. There’s all sorts of really fun little things that you can look at. I’m all for getting inspiration from other people, and for thinking about like what is an object that’s easy to mail that’s not too fragile, that is relatively small, and that’s something that someone would buy in enjoy.

Something where the design can really shine. Like an enamel pin or a sticker would be a great example. Those are things that are pretty easy to manufacture.

I mean, I have to say my favorite thing, Joanna, and I’m going to give a little shout out, I love Sticker Mule here in the US. If you sign up with them, they will send out these deals, these like random deals. They have the best marketing emails that are just like, “50 stickers. $10 today.” I’m like, I love you.

Joanna: It’s funny, I do actually make my own stickers for my own journals. I have thought about doing stickers.

So let’s talk about selling direct, because as you mentioned, the biggest thing is that I refuse to, as part of my business plan, I am not having stuff in my house, and I am not going to the post office.

So everything I do with my Shopify stores, it has to be print on demand, and it has to be shipped. I don’t want it anywhere near me, it needs to go from the vendor.

You’re also doing selling direct, aren’t you? You’re also doing live events, I saw on your website, like things like book shops and creative spaces and all of this. To me, it just seems like a lot of work.

Tell us about your ecosystem around selling direct?

Tristra: Absolutely. You know, you’ve got a lot of plates spinning, Joanna. So there’s some reasons why you might want to draw those really firm boundaries. I love that, and I think it’s really important to know that about yourself as a creative person.

Like if I do all this stuff, is it going to completely destroy me as a writer?

Meaning I’m not going to have any energy or interest in sitting down and being like, okay, so what is happening with these radioactive mice that are putting together an orchestra?

If you can’t go and play with your imaginary friends, you can’t pursue that particular thing. So in my case, I’m a baby author, and I’m not going to hide that. So what I mean by that is that most of the people I’m going to be selling to are people I know, or people who know people I know, et cetera.

Most of the stuff I’ve been writing lately has had a very strong regional or local flavor to it.

So it’s based in Indiana, it’s based on the history of Indiana, it is a crazy, weird story based on the history of Indiana. So it’s got a very specific audience.

I kind of wanted to have enough physical copies around to be generous with them. That is what my life allows. That’s not what everyone’s life allows. So for me, it made sense to print up a bunch of books and just have them there.

Again, I have the space for it, and I have the means to advance myself that. So that’s not the right decision for everyone. It’s a certain kind of privilege.

At the same token, I’ve been able to be really generous with my books, meaning like if I want to give it to someone, I can. That means a lot to me. It’s less of a business decision and more of just a human decision for me.

However, I do really enjoy local events. I don’t always call myself an introvert, I do find it difficult to associate with people for long periods of time.

I find it really helpful for me to focus on ideas, instead of my persona as an author, or my own work even.

So I often want to go and talk to people about the ideas or phenomena that inspired my book. So it could be artificial intelligence. It could be human utopias. It could be the history of frontier settlements in places like the US.

So I’ll tailor what I want to talk about to each locale, judging by who their likely audience is. So for me, that’s worked really well because it keeps the focus off of me, which is very uncomfortable for me. I’m a Midwesterner, we just don’t do that.

It also allows me to bring people into this world that was why I started doing this in the first place, and really share it from a different perspective.

So instead of the story and the little universe I generate for them in the book, we get to talk about the actual facts, historical sources, actions and events, and people who inspired some of my writing. So that’s really fun for me.

I would advise people to set themselves up for success. So try to know yourself.

Start in your home turf, start in a friendly location where you feel comfortable.

Maybe even consider inviting someone along and setting it up as a fireside chat, instead of just a you-show, which can feel really uncomfortable at first.

Also try to build the support around it that you need. So maybe schedule some time alone afterwards, or schedule some time with friends, or make sure that you have a little bit of promotional and marketing machinery in place.

It can be really simple. It could just be on socials, it could be reaching out to local media, but don’t leave yourself high and dry and just expect the store to do all the work.

Then for me, maybe I’m an indie author because I like to control things, and I like to know things are getting done. I don’t want to be angry with someone because something didn’t get done, unless it’s me, and then I can be angry at myself.

So if you’re going into an event, if you’ve decided to try this, I would say set yourself up for maximum success and know thyself. Try to make it sound as appealing as possible, and if there’s no way it sounds appealing, don’t do it.

Joanna: Yes, exactly. I flirt with this idea a lot, and I do some speaking, but this is just not for me.

I do think, like as we talked about, if you’re being more analogue with your products, then sometimes if you have the weird stuff, if you want to do the vinyl, or the cassette tapes, or the different types of books, it may be that this is something that really works for you.

Especially as you are, if you’re embedded in the community, if it’s about the local area, I think there’s a lot of opportunity there.

Perhaps, as you said, this business model that’s emerged in the digital space, people have thought more about the global digital side than they have around the local physical side. So interesting times ahead, I guess.

Tristra: Absolutely, and just one more little thought about that is you can think about the global digital side, and I think a lot of people are finding success there, or it makes sense to them.

For me, I had to think in concentric circles. I had to think about, where’s my home base, and how do I expand out from there gradually and organically?

It’s really frustrating because I want things to move faster than they do, but that’s a growth opportunity too, is to learn to be a little more patient.

Joanna: Indeed.

Where can people find you and everything you do online?

Tristra: Well, if you want to find out more about my music, tech nerdery, and musings, you can check out the Music Tectonics Podcast, and that’s tectonics like the geological phenomenon.

You can also hit me up on LinkedIn. I know that’s really dorky to say that, but that’s where I do a lot of musings and post a lot of articles and stuff like that.

If you want to find out about my fiction, I’m at I’ve got a podcast coming out in June about an American intense feminist from the 1820s. You can find out about my novels.

You can also hit me up on Instagram, Facebook, you know, all those silly places where I mostly post things about barns. You know, trees, dark foreboding roads, that kind of fun stuff. So it’s more of an art project.

Joanna: Well, thanks so much for your time, Tristra. That was great.

Tristra: Thank you, Joanna. It’s great to be here.

The post Generative AI Impact On Creativity And Business In the Music Industry With Tristra Newyear Yeager first appeared on The Creative Penn.

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Author: Joanna Penn

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  • April 30, 2024