Posts Tagged ‘free music

17
Dec
09

State of the Music Biz and the Indie Artist

I spent some time today reading about the state of the music biz and it was a bit depressing and demotivating. Musicians and industry people complain and bemoan the fact that folks are downloading and sharing all sorts of music for free. I.e. there is no money in it anymore. The big rant is that the average artist can’t make any money, etc. and no one seems to know who the enemy is. There are equal parts of bashing iTunes to praising it; there is the whole P2P thing (basically if you are just a little tech savvy you can find any movie, music, video game, etc for free on some version of a peer-to-peer networking site), burning CDs, sharing files, etc.

I may be wrong but it all seems to go back to that time vs. money thing. If I want the music quickly and easily and in the format I desire (CD, mp3, iTunes, etc.), I will pay for it. If I have the time to ask my friend for a loaner, or burn a CD off my buddy’s computer, or am willing to invest the effort in some torrents software (avoiding all the viruses), well I can get it for free. People share stuff they like, so burning a CD for a friend is quite normal anymore. When I was a kid we used to make compilation tapes of our favorite songs, theming them based on things like “driving music” or “mellow stuff.” We would title our compilation tapes and then pass them about to friends. Tapes like “in your face,” “burn,” and “closers” were pretty cool stuff; you can imagine the types of songs I put on those tapes. We never felt we were stealing or ripping anyone off. In a way we were paying homage to artists we really liked and the artist got even more popular to our circle of friends. Today it’s even easier; you can make a playlist in iTunes or whatever software you use, and share it around (making a tape would take me an hour or more; making a playlist takes less than 30 seconds if you know what songs you want). Same deal I guess but it removes something crucial from the picture back in the day: relationship.

Which leads me to a thought about the ranters out there who are complaining about the state of the music biz. What’s missing here is relationship. Technology is the thing that has enabled independent and unsigned musicians to easily get their stuff out there for people to hear but now it is what they are bashing. USB drives, flash cards, cell phones, smart phones, digital downloads, etc. have all in one way or another made hard copy music (records, tapes, CDs, reel-to-reels, you name it) near obsolete except to a niche market, the exception being where the medium makes sense (see time vs. money comment above) in communicating a message that would be lost if this specific medium was not employed. So we all can share stuff for free now, which gives us exposure, but free = no money so we cannot get paid for it. Heres the scenario: I drop hard earned cash on studio time, then pay money for artwork and to have the CD replicated, and I’m don’t sell anything. Oops.

I may need to dwell on this one a bit more but for now I will say that indie artists will make money on the relationship end of the spectrum. I.e. at shows, person to person, via their website, etc. I once heard that the best musicians in the world will never be known. So even if a musicians song is the best of its kind, they cannot just toss it out there in internetland and hope they will make money. The internet is not a winning lottery ticket that requires no work. If their song is *really* popular (your goal right?), people will share it (equals free, not your goal right?). This will make that artists popularity increase within certain circles and niches, but that still doesn’t necessarily translate into money. If money is what you are after you have to have a product that people cannot get without paying for it. A product that differentiates from all others on the market. That, my musician friends is you. You, in relationship with that person. This could be face to face, could be via a social networking, could be on the web, but the bottom line is people will only pay for what they do not already have, or if they need more of something expendable, or if the perceived value is high enough. Free is the new black so music is devalued. Yet it is still a necessary part of our cultural fabric (nothing God invented will decrease) and so if you want to make money off of it you will need to add the relationship component. This usually happens at a gig.

Even artists on major labels have this issue. I read an article about someone who sold 2 million units of their song/album and ended up owing the label over $200,000. The only way the label got that many songs sold is through heavy promotion like an expensive video, etc. The only way the artist will pay them back, according to the article, is by touring.

Touring…as in gigs right? Relationship wins every time.

Want to hear some free music? Visit http://www.destinysong.com/worship/Audio.html

For an interesting, and occasionally colorful article on this subject, read this from respected veteran rocker John Mellencamp in the Huffington Post. Linking this does not suggest I agree with his political views, but if you read the article you’ll get a great look into the history of how we got to where we are today. Click here.

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