Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, alias of the U.K.-born, L.A.-based producer Orlando Higginbottom, released his sophomore album When The Lights Go Out on September via his own Ice Age label.
The LP, TEED’S first in ten years, is a sophisticated 17 tracks of thoughtful, spatial, intelligent and often contemplative electronic music equally suited for both dancefloor and at-home listening. Arguably TEED’s best work to date, the album follows a 2022 best dance/electronic recording Grammy nomination for TEED’s Bonobo collaboration, “Heartbreak.”
Here, in his own words, Higginbottom shares the seven key lessons he’s learned during his long career in the music business.
Understand the Value of Your Music
There is no easy way to talk about value and music, so I’m just going to propose a few images. Consider the listener who isn’t a fan, doesn’t follow, “like,” or buy, doesn’t know or talk about you, but is moved by your music and taps along in the car. Consider the advert served to a fan who actively typed in your song title, the product it’s selling, the ad revenue for the platform, the data captured, the marketing and production companies involved, and now your song — the honey for all that trap. Consider my grandmother in old age, who couldn’t remember my name, but could sing along with any Chopin on the radio.
In 2021 the global music market was worth $26 billion, according to the BBC. The scale varies so much, and it’s dizzying and beautiful to contribute to it. A song will outlast social media platforms, formats, and trends. It will sound long after the executive golf courses have dried up and the ticketing companies have gone bust. Melodies will outlast everyone alive today.
There could be a time in our future where copyright law, technology, and ideas around intellectual property come together to make a healthy system. In the meantime, busy bee, protect your creations and creative spirit, own your work wherever possible, and understand that your art has a multitude of values in our world, some measurable, many not.
Be Aware of Wealth, Comparison & The Truth About Private Island Posts
Let me first acknowledge that I’m a white man who grew up in an academic family in Oxford. It was safe: I had a strange but good education and we went on holiday once a year. Very few things have held me back in life other than myself and the blinkers of the culture I grew up in.
This is an industry where every artist’s business is set up differently, there’s not much transparency, and there’s a damaging myth that you’re rich once a few people know your name. The family mega-wealth kids (bless and protect them) are everywhere — and there’s no stopping them. Even with comparison being the death of joy, you’re still going to do it, so be aware that a lot of people in music aren’t reliant on income from music. Add to that we are chest-deep in the era of financial success as a marketing aesthetic, the private jet photos won’t seem to stop, and fancy clothes are pretty nice to look at. The vast majority aren’t participating in lifestyle one-upmanship, yet somehow it seems to be such a loud voice.
So you can be left wondering exactly what is a reasonable expectation of income and how the hell did that person just spend the whole year on boats in Mediterranean coves after releasing a couple of techno tracks. It gets confusing, and music fans are confused by it too—the whole world feels confused by this brazen inequality role play. Awareness of the unfairness will help you stay grounded.
Everything Is Negotiable
There is no “industry standard” – when you hear that phrase in any negotiation, consider it a red flag. Absolutely everything is negotiable, and probably should be negotiated: deal terms of course, also what and how you pay agents, PR, pluggers, management, tour managers, designers, stylists, directors, and collaborators. Having an idea of what your ideal agreement is is important, as is knowing what your deal breakers are. What lines will you never cross? Musicians learn about rejection fast — so give a little back; say no. By not being so easy to compromise, you might not need to.
Negotiating is essential to advocating for yourself. It’s not something that comes easy to most musicians, though. (Perhaps we start writing songs in our bedrooms to avoid these things.) And there are often lawyers and managers around to do it for you when the hype is on. Perhaps at the start, we are too easily seduced by the attention and promises; certainly, there doesn’t seem to be much duty of care to educate new artists before they sign deals and agreements. Always explore the options, and don’t ignore your gut when signatures are required.
The most common thing I’ve seen is after three or so years of an initial burst of activity and enthusiasm, artists stop, reflect, and are disappointed. The touring (excluding DJs, where costs are low and simple) maybe breaks even, a few royalties trickle in, everything disappears in expenses and commissions. But the music is great and there are many happy listeners, millions of streams, supportive radio DJs, and press. So then they restructure, sign an admin publishing deal, get better master splits, renegotiate management agreements, and build something fair and stable. Don’t wait until this business burns you out, make it sustainable and healthy now.
It’s always been about creative momentum and catalogue (for the last 600 years), but there was a strange patch that a lot of us came up through that was entirely about cultural gatekeepers. At one particularly nasty moment in the mid ’00s, it was perceived that Pitchfork could make or break a career, and because of all the insecurity out there, people bought into it.
But we aren’t there anymore, and haven’t been for a long time. Assuming you uphold your own reasonable, but not impossibly high, standards, consistent output will bring stability and artistic satisfaction. Putting out a dud track isn’t going to ruin anything; every great artist does it. And if you really want to do this for 40 years, you should get into the idea of failing gloriously. Focus on your imagination; chasing exposure and attention will mess with you.
Spread Your Bets
There was a moment around 2010 when people said musicians made most of their money touring. Implicit in that assertion was that musicians didn’t make their money any other way. I fell for that for a bit, and didn’t pay enough attention to the other parts of my business (royalties!). The pandemic nearly ruined me, because I wasn’t set up to survive without touring. There is a sense that the inverse may be upon us, that touring becomes restrictively expensive and people start saying “musicians make their money from streaming.” And you absolutely can make a living from streaming royalties, but you’ll need to own your masters.
On top of that, write songs for other artists, produce the drums for someone, build your publishing and production credits. There is no required qualification — just ideas and execution. I’ve never managed to make a dollar from merch, but plenty of artists kept their dreams alive during COVID by dropping t-shirts! Get in some sessions, and pitch something for an advert. The creative flow isn’t just about you. These things are a better use of your time than trying to manufacture a viral TikTok moment, in every sense.
Metrics or Data or Gold Rings
Algorithms dance to the tune of greed, and we’ve been fools to sing along so willingly. Some metrics are useful, some of them are poison. For example, seeing something grow on Shazam is beautiful, a Spotify play count is a live audit of how much money your music is generating, a radio play tracker can show you where the support is. But Instagram likes are practically meaningless, and your social media following is a small portion of your audience that is already overwhelmed by content on screens every day. So don’t sweat it.
Most importantly, be aware that the “likes” and the monthly listener numbers is a game, and you are being gamed. Platforms reward creators for posting content in the manner that suits the platform. You have a responsibility to put quality and intention above “likes” and attention.
I signed my first album in part because of the other artists on the label at the time; I thought it would be a good home. When I expressed to the label how cool it would be to speak to those other artists about their experiences, I was laughed out of the meeting room. Apparently, the idea terrified them, and I soon discovered why. As I did get to know the artists around me, the shared experiences good and bad were many, the discrepancies in business deals surprising, and the general feeling of being more than a bit screwed over was universal.
Every conversation with a colleague leaves me a little less alone and a little more prepared, empowered, and educated. Despite the perceived and perpetuated competition, musicians are on the same team, and through transparent compassionate conversation, we take care of each other and the musical ecosystem.