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Dear Musicians - Please Be Brilliant or Get Out of The Way

Towards a New Music Business Model And The New Thinking That Is Required.

The future does not fit in the containers of the past.” – Rishad Tobaccowala

“..we are now in an era where spectatorial culture is giving way to participatory culture”. Henry Jenkins director, Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT.

I give thanks once again to Brian Zisk and his incredibly motivated crew for inviting me to speak at the upcoming SanFranMusicTech event on December 7th in San Francisco, and later at the SXSW Conference in Austin in March 2010. Brian is one of the organizers of SanFranMusicTech and is moderating the panel that I will be on at SXSW. [If you’ve never attended SanFranMusicTech I would encourage you to do so. It’s a wonderful, energetic mix of entrepreneurs, tech experts, musicians and thought leaders in the digital space. In other words it’s not just for musicians or techies…] The panel discussions will revolve around the premise of how, or if, musicians are using the tools available to them on the Social Web.

I have written this essay as a prelude to the upcoming panels, both to outline my views on the subject in advance, and also as a way to organize my thoughts and past essays into one place. The debate surrounding online music distribution still evokes passion from critics and supporters alike, the most vocal being musicians who believe that I am working to make music free online and therefore deny them income from CD sales. Nothing could be further from the truth, I simply argue that musicians need to monetize everything around their musical output and stop dreaming that CD sales will one day return to previous levels; where the 2009 equation means 100k is the new 1mm, 10k is the new 100k etc. I should point out for the record that I am focusing almost exclusively on non-mainstream, independent musicians. [Although there is no reason at all that mainstream, commercial artists shouldn’t be doing the same thing.]

It Has Been Almost Fifteen Years

It has been more than a decade since I was last fully immersed in the recorded music business [and then only peripherally as GM of,] and I have long held out hope that musicians would ditch the old media model, both the business and the manufacturing sides, and fully embrace the huge possibilities that the unfettered social web allows them – asymmetrical distribution as opposed to old media distribution silos, two-way communication with music fans as opposed to old media PR, and marketing tactics and an unparalleled universal sandbox in which to experiment.

Fact Fight Portland

I am still waiting. Unfortunately my patience is now wearing thin. And my impatience is no longer with the record labels, it’s with the musicians. Despite all the data and untold amounts of writing about the decline in music sales, mainly the fall off of CD sales, musicians appear to be sitting on their hands. The reason I am no longer impatient with record labels is because their business model is transparent – they exist to make money from musicians. On the other hand, musicians are [or ought to be] immersed in their art; no one guarantees a living from the arts, but talk to the average musician about internet music distribution and you will often hear the same refrain – “downloading and file-sharing is killing music and denying me a living..” [BTW, that is not the best argument in the for and against wars of online music distribution; in the USA musicians conveniently forget that MTV and commercial radio is built on the back of musicians and those companies don’t pay royalties for that privilege. You can include MySpace in there too.]

I have long argued that musicians need to drop the notion of making money from CD sales through record labels and concentrate on making money from the experiential awareness that surrounds their brand; a brand they own, no one else. The downside to this for musicians is that they need to get organized and work hard, or arrange for what I call the “fifth Beatle” to help with online communications, selling merchandise etc. Consider this from Russell Davies

Creating music is only the first step to creating something valuable and timeless. For instance, David Byrne played a building. Music released as part of an event is the future – Radiohead’s release of In Rainbows was the first step toward the album release as event, if it’s an album at all.. How it’s done is also important. The container has changed forever. Remember what Rishad Tobaccowala has to say to advertising agencies trying to embrace the social web – “The future does not fit in the containers of the past.” It is no different for bands. The organizing principle of recorded music is now in the hands of musicians, not technologists, not record labels. Consider this or perhaps release your music like this.

As I have written before: “Control has moved from the few to the millions of many. If dull labels and dull bands keep offering dull, flat, non-experiential product – e.g. a CD, they will go the way of the Dodo. Consider what Cirque Du Soleil provides as an experience compared to Barnum and Bailey’s circus. Or Burning Man compared to your average music festival.”

Valuable and Timeless – Some Examples

So who is working at the edges of independent rock music for instance? Below are but a few examples of musicians currently providing what I feel is valuable and timeless work; I consider valuable and timeless as ‘worth spending time in the present with,’ as time is our one truly finite resource; art does not necessarily exist to entertain us, it should fill our time with wonder.

From left to right: Karin Dreijer Andersson as Fever Ray, Radiohead’s 52 minute long ‘Scotch Mist,’ Dirty Projectors Stillness Is The Move video, Sunn 0))) live as reviewed by Sasha Frere-Jones, Patti Smith, back in the 70’s performing Horses on British TV and DJ Spooky performing on Earth Day in Washington, DC. [I know I’m walking on thin ice here as music taste, as with one’s taste in art, is highly subjective, but…] Click on the images to link to content.

Fever Ray Radiohead Scotch Mist Dirty Projectors Sun 0))) Patti Smith DJ Spooky

Online Music Businesses Cannibalize Each Other’s Model

As we approach 2010 we can now look back at the decade we are leaving behind and arguably acknowledge that only Apple, with its iTunes software and well designed and ergonomic hardware, was able to move the needle when it came to monetizing the MP3 download – this I know from just a cursory look at my Warner Music royalty statements. The one-stop iTunes package, coupled with the affinity that consumers feel when engaging with the Apple brand, simplified the downloading of music for millions of people. Those with more technical knowledge continue to use torrents to access music and film downloads.

Subscription services such as Rhapsody and EMusic continue to survive, but judging by their subscriber numbers, they have only created niche businesses supported by a minority of music fans. Recently News Corporation has signaled its willingness to enter the fray and two founders of Skype will soon launch Rdio, yet another subscription model. These two are following in the footsteps of iLike, LaLa, Spotify, Google Music and now MOG. Clearly the music access space is becoming crowded which only leaves consumers with paltry options, all based around similar offerings. None of this bodes well for the future of music, or for musicians, if we consider that income from these services has come nowhere near the level that it was from CD sales a decade ago. And by the way, I do not align myself with those that say the Internet is killing music. On the contrary, I argue that the major record labels and the RIAA, through their relentless lawsuits campaign, destroyed the trust and goodwill that music fans felt when interacting with music brands [musicians, artists, bands,] and by doing that they pushed music into being a good, a mere commodity. We need new thinking….

The Physical Space to Digital Space Dilemma for Producers [Brands and Musicians]

In a classic producer to market economy the producer typically has access to, and/or controls, the distribution channels and uses mass media channels to market the product. This works just fine in the physical world of CDs or vinyl records but the Internet shatters that model. In the past, musicians signed to labels and signed away the rights to their copyrights and masters, in return for access to manufacturing and distribution. [Unfortunately some still do..] The labels controlled the system and the purse strings – for artists it was a heavy price to pay.

These days the web gives individuals access to the same level of technologies as any organization; the playing field has been leveled. In what now seems like ancient history, Sean Fanning and a buddy started Napster while in college just over ten years ago, not because they wanted to create a new music business model but because the tools to create an online music file sharing system were at hand. It did not require a well-capitalized organization to start Napster – whether he knew it or not, Fanning was simply a pioneering disrupter who brought the music business to the brink of disaster. Venture capitalists soon swooped in an attempt to force through a new music business model, but the labels fought back litigating the original Napster out of business. [BTW, the record labels missed a huge opportunity by not embracing Napster but that’s another story.]

In a recent post on his blog, my business partner at Fight, Justin Spohn, writes of how brands face a similar disruption as they move from the physical to digital space:

“In the physical world, brand competition can be, and has been, essentially symmetrical. Even as new competitors come into the market, there are certain practical restrictions – legal, social and physical that they’re all bound by. Competing brands have similar opportunities based on similar goals, laws, availability of scarce resources, development of distribution chains, and access to communication channels. This symmetry helps to create a stasis that keeps established brands on top [and] prevents upstarts from posing immediate risk to established institutions.

In the digital space though, almost none of this applies. Resources are not scarce to begin with, and become more widely available everyday. Practically speaking, there is no such thing as a distribution chain, and where there is something that might resemble one, the iPhone app store for example, access to it has nothing to do with the size of your organization. Because on the web individuals have access to the same level of technologies as any organization, and because they can distribute it just as effectively, it means that brands are now not just competing with other brands, but with individuals whose goals are not only not the same as a brand, but possibly in direct conflict. The competitive landscape is flat with established brands fighting what amounts to a global asymmetrical battle.”

The paragraph above outlines very clearly why Rhapsody, EMusic, LaLa, iLike, Spotify, Google Music, Rdio and the new offering from News Corp via MySpace are all fighting an asymmetrical battle – the online music landscape is flat, these company’s offerings are almost identical [i.e. they all license music from the same pool of copyright holders,] and they are fighting each other for a miniscule share of music fans’ dollars. In short they are cannibalizing each others business models. Only iTunes stands alone as a differentiator. The CEO’s of the other companies need to understand that the only thing that’s scarce on the Internet is attention, and they should be looking very closely at what their company’s brand strategy is, as only that will inform their social web music business strategy. They should be constantly looking over their shoulder, as any individual could disrupt their web business models at any moment.

In his essay Data-mining The Disconnections: Bits vs Atoms, The Rematch my friend Roy Christopher concludes by saying – “There are several trajectories here, but the main thing I want to point out is just that: the multifaceted influence of technological mediation. Every change has unintended consequences, and we lose something with every gain. These changes are neither good nor bad, but we should be mindful that they’re happening.”

Get Over Sucking on the Music Nanny State teat. A Digital Future Requires Strategy

Now that the internet has provided disrupting producers with all the tools they need to bypass the existing recorded music system, there should be no excuse for musicians to not go it alone. Yet, the producers – the musicians themselves, remain the problem. I believe that the safety and comfort offered to them in the past – record label deals, publishing deals, old media distribution, plus MTV and commercial radio for the most successful – created a diabolical music Nanny state, an addictive teat at which to suck that they are now having trouble weaning themselves off. I know there are many examples of musicians embracing the web but they have taken only baby steps and are in the minority – the majority are still staring into the headlights. [I purposefully won’t discuss Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails here as much has been written about their successful use of the social web and I consider them special cases.]

The Nanny state reduced risk taking and danger in popular music. The very founding spirit of rock and roll was danger. Danger as perceived by those who didn’t understand the outburst of energy and excitement that this early musical form drew out of teenagers. Parents and adults in authority voiced their concerns and this led to ridiculous moments in musical history such as TV cameramen being told to only film Elvis Presley from the waist up.. If we fast forward to 1975 in the UK, we find that rock and roll, a mere 20 or so years later, with only a few exceptions, had become commercial, flabby, conservative and mostly dull. Then along came a new genre of music delivered by bands like the Sex Pistols, The Clash, Siouxie and the Banshees who injected rock with some street smarts and and sprinkled it with just a soupcon of danger. It was known as Punk Rock.

I bring up punk rock here as it defines a moment in rock music history that was as disruptive in 1976 as online music distribution became in the late 1990’s. Punk rock challenged people’s assumptions that popular music would always be, and could only be, controlled by large, well-capitalized, business organizations. Punk rock drove down production values and just like the Internet, became disruptive and leveled the playing field. Punk bands formed quickly, releasing records as 7″ vinyl singles on their own equally quickly formed record labels. A long term career in music was not the point of this enterprise, many bands flamed out within six months of their existence. Small independent labels sprang up to cater to this avalanche of bands, offering more favorable contracts than the majors had in the past. Business is business though, and the small label owners had plans for growth that ultimately led to punk rock’s demise. Soon enough punk rock was commoditized and, after a brief fling with Post-Punk, quickly fizzled leaving the stage for the New Romantics and their ilk. It wasn’t long until it was business as usual for the record labels – five years of promise had passed very quickly.

So I have to ask – why is there no online music equivalent of punk rock? Why is there no real and passionate embrace of the new?

The barriers to entry into the new music business are even lower than back in 1976. Why then, when the options to go it alone are everywhere online, do bands sign up with for instance, a News Corporation company owned by the right wing media curmudgeon Rupert Murdoch? [Without going in to too much detail, I wonder if musicians and artists have ever read the MySpace Terms Of Service agreement?] And then there’s Facebook and Twitter, two privately owned companies who are amassing a large amount of data about their users – how will that information be shared, or will it? Who owns it? Questions about who owns what with regard to copyrights and masters were paramount during the punk rock period of 1976 – 1981. Why not now, as data becomes the new master copyright?

Example from Jay Rosen, Journalism Professor at NYU, from Twitter:

Jay Rosen NYU Fight

This headlong charge by musicians and artists into social networking, without thinking through the long term ramifications of such behavior with regard to their copyrights, most likely stems from the fact that the average 20 – 30 year old has grown up, knowing only progress and advances in society driven by Internet technology and mobile communications; the use of these networked tools is second nature to them. Kazys Varnelis, the Director of the Network Architecture Lab at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, has similar thoughts about young people and progress. Here is an extract from a conversation with the editors of Triple Canopy where he considers the collapse of complex societies and the end of technological advancement as we know it:

“The generation now in its twenties and thirties is used to nothing but growth and to the success of systems like the Internet and cell phones. They’ve seen their lives transformed, largely for the better, by technology. So they find it hard to understand other possibilities, which is going to make it very hard for them. In our culture of punditry, everyone expects an easy, overarching solution, but I don’t think we’re going to find one this time….[Edit]..I think that a young person today needs to learn to be enormously flexible. Ten years ago who thought that we’d be talking about how long the New York Times has to live?”

Digital Natives, Digital Youth and Mobile Computing

I believe that only a minority of musicians are less than precious about their musical works. In other words they understand the power of the social web and how, when a song is released online as a free MP3, it is taken and repurposed by todays creative digital youth. The results can be startling and can often be better than the original work, [although I accept that defining “better” is in the ear of the listener and the artist may not agree.] It is also hard to argue that any “song” by Girl Talk is not an original work even though it might be crammed with dozens of samples from other artists’ songs [but that’s another essay..]

The term Digital Native is defined in a Wikipedia article as “a person for whom digital technologies already existed when they were born, and hence has grown up with digital technology such as computers, the Internet, mobile phones and MP3s.” The idea has many critics as it only considers a narrow slice of young people and “…It suggests a fluidity with technology that not all children and young adults have, and a corresponding awkwardness with technology that not all older adults have.”

And yet it can be argued that when we expand the demographic range of the digital native it increases the audience for online music exponentially. Generation Z has no affinity for the CD or even a computer unless it’s a mobile device, plus their parents and grandparents are now well up to speed with accessing the social web as well as dealing with mobile technology.

The Herald Sun ran an article earlier this year about Gen Z:

“Gen Z had easily adapted to the challenges of the modern world, including technology, terrorism and climate change, said Sarah Cornish, former editor of magazine Total Girl. “They have never known a life without the internet, let alone computers, and many don’t know a world without mobile phones,” she said. “Most are also born post-September 11 and some of our readers are concerned about terrorism, and they are much more environmentally aware than previous generations.”

When the Herald Sun interviewed seven Gen Z students from Reservoir’s Merrilands College, aged from eight to 13, almost all identified global warming and climate change as the world’s biggest issue. When asked about terrorism most could recall the September 11 attacks, despite being only very young when they happened. “They blow up everything like the Twin Towers. People had to jump off the building otherwise they’d get a face full of fire,” Royce, 12, said.

Technology is just another toy to play with for many of the children.

As we enter 2010, musicians need to acknowledge that the new generation of music lovers do not consider music as more important than the environment or terrorism. They also do not grow up with, or are burdened by, the ” Curse of Knowledge,” an endemic institutional culture problem that boils down to this – when we know something, it becomes hard for us to imagine not knowing it.

The new generations will hold previous generations more accountable for creating harm instead of creating and doing good. Not in a liberal, wooly, back to the earth way, but how they define themselves – their personal brand – and how they want to be perceived in society. Young people will move from wearing a brand’s clothing that defines them, such as shoe companies, to just simply wearing clothes made by companies that have traditionally used efficient, renewable earth-friendly ways to manufacture and produce. Brand clothing will be acceptable wear if the brand follows those principles and does “good.” It will also apply to products. It will definitely apply to musicians and how the next generation perceives their actions, both politically and environmentally.

I will leave you with this Twitter post that I saw, from someone attending a recent media conference: Ominous thought on media upheavel from Cisco exec: “music is lucky because it went first.” via @bmorrissey

So, musicians and/or bands – do you want the next generation of musicians saying “bands in the decade 2000 -2010 are lucky, because they went first?” I thought not. Please embrace the web.

Supporting Articles and Related Posts

Roy Christopher – The Disintegration of the Compact Disc
RWW – Top Internet Trends of 2000 – 2009 Online Music
PaidContent – The Music Business Lacks A Mass Market Strategy
Good – The Dark Side of Social Media
TechCrunch – Live From Hollywood: Google’s Music Onebox Launches, Powered By MySpace And Lala
TechCrunch – Facebook Strikes Back At iLike: No-Spam Policy Cancels Concert Alerts
Cnet – Imeem Acquired by MySpace Means $30 Million Loss For Investors
Ze Frank – Digital Natives [Complete-ish]
Umair Haque [Harvard Business] – Create Something Valuable

Dave Allen : Some Essays and Posts Regarding Online Music

The End of The Music Album as The Organizing Principle
My Love of Vinyl Records, Some Thoughts on Marshall McLuhan, Neil Young on Analog
The End of The CD And The End of The CD Retailers
The Top 5 Reasons Why Vinyl Will Outlive CDs
David Byrne Tells Record Labels To Embrace The MP3
How Killing The Single Killed The Recording Industry
How Bands Can Make More Money By Not Putting A Price on Their CDs
Ben Taylor On Tour – Says Pay What You Want For My CDs, Sells More
Do Music Artists Fair Better in a World of File Sharing
Music Industry Attempts to Nudge Downloaders to Streaming Sites
Anton Corbin and U2 – End of the Album As Organizing Principle

Additional Articles and Posts

David Byrne Interview With Radiohead’s Thom Yorke
Justin Spohn of Fight Web Site This Is Violence
ReadWriteWeb Google – What The Web Will Look Like in 5 Years
Google vs MySpace News Corporation’s Google Saber Rattling Really About MySpace
Sasha Frere-Jones Glenn Branca’s End Times
Sasha Frere-Jones Hip Hop’s Demise
Sasha Frere-Jones Interview with Karin Dreijer Andersson of Fever Ray
Sasha Frere-Jones How Indie Rock Lost Its Soul
Amanda Palmer Web Site
Dirty Projectors Stillness Is The Move [Video]
Via Tania Web Site
Get Busy Committee Web Site
Roy Christopher How Has The Decline of the CD Affected the Way You Approach the Idea of Recording Music?
Let’s Deliver “Albums” This Way – From The Basement
Russell Davis Musical Ages Being a Catalogue of My Relationship
PaidContent – Xbox Connection Funnels a Million New Users to
Patti Smith Horses and Hey Joe on British TV in 1976
Now Now, Every Children Web Site
Sasha Frere-Jones Hey Bono You’re Doing it Wrong
37 Signals The Curse of Knowledge
Rishad Tobaccowala Digital Is So Yesterday
Phil Hardy The Music Industry in 5 Years Time
Made The Perfect Online Marketing Strategy for Musicians
Sydney Morning Herald Is Celebrity Culture Over?
Carrie Brownstein The Role of The Record Label
Fanfarlo Case Study from Topspin
DJ Troublemaker All His Mixes, Always Free
The Daily Telegraph 15 Years Of Music On The Web
The Guardian In a decade of change and confusion in the music business, one figure came to rule it all. Unfortunately, it was Simon Cowell
New York Times The Fall and Rise of Media
Harvard Business Review The Unbundling of Music in Digital Channels [pdf]
Henry Jenkins of Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT on Transmedia [video]
Harvard Business School Reconstructing Digital Music
Harvard Business School Miles Davis: Kind Of Blue
New York Times REO Speedwagon Rocks On As a Game
EMusic and Sony The Fiasco, Where is EMusic’s Community Manager?

Reader Comments (35)

When people tell me accuse me of wanting to kill their income... I always tell them that I believe in what I say and that it's the best for everyone and that actually my own livelihood depends on me being right about this to a much higher degree at the moment than theirs :)

As for the equivalent of punk rock... check out breakcore :)

December 14 | Unregistered CommenterBas

This is Music 101 for 2010

December 14 | Unregistered CommenterCookie Marenco

you ask - why is there no online music equivalent of punk rock?

there is, you probably just missed it because you're thinking too much...

the online punk rock is 'Blog Electro' music. There are 1000's of young people making aggressive, crazy, noisy electro music in their bedrooms on Abelton, Logic etc. with no intention of signing some kind of record deal. They just send their music to the mp3 blogs with some crazy graphics and give it away for free...and it's so much more 'modern' music than anything out there...parents hate it !!!

and the mp3 blogs...those are the new punk rock fanzines except they are in full color, read internationally and come with free mp3s.

I've seen some of these groups go from blog buzz to crazy club tours in less than 6 months time playing gigs to well over 500-1000 people at a show...

DIY to the max...Don't Sleep !!!

December 14 | Unregistered CommenterLow Life Inc.

Low Life,

Believe I'm well aware of all the niche areas of the 'Net like Blog Electro. I was wondering why ALL musicians aren't giving up on signing to labels and giving away their copyrights that then feed the machines, like MySpace, iMeem, iLike etc, where the money doesn't flow to the musicians..

December 14 | Unregistered CommenterDave Allen

The examples posted include Radiohead, David Byrne, NIN, and other bands that have (or had) major label support. If this is such a possible future, where are the examples of success that are not supported by labels? (and then of course, what is "success?")

The current chaotic/broken system is the system of the future. It's working pretty well for a lot of people. Musicians don't care about MySpace TOS because MySpace TOS don't matter.

December 14 | Unregistered CommenterMikey


As I note, it's been more than a decade where musicians have had the ability to embrace all the online tools that will help them go it alone. And I agree, what is success? I find it strange that you think that a web site's TOS is not worth caring about. Are you happy with the new Google Music Search partnership with MySpace and iLike, where your music can be played in the Google search page directly, and no payment goes to the artist? MySpace and iLike are in this space for profit, nothing else..

December 14 | Unregistered CommenterDave Allen

Bravo, Dave. Very insightful post.
I'm just wondering about a couple of things. First, I guess that along with the music nanny state there's also a diabolical delusion of grandeur. It seems some musicians prefer to ignore how segmented the music world has turned, and religiously believe they still need the old machinery to reach a public that is much larger than they'll actually do.
Second, something that really bothers me is the quality of the "final product" that I get. No matter how and where you get your mp3 from, the quality, of course, is far from what you get in a CD (LP, DVD or whatever), not to mention booklets, artwork, recording information, lyrics...Not that everybody cares. But then again, how many listeners and fans were gotten used to care? How many bands bother to go just a little further and offer different formats and something else? (We're not counting NIN and Radiohead, right?)


December 14 | Unregistered Commenter

This is just me riffing, but I think the same aspects that make the modern DIY model fun and exciting are also the biggest hindrance to acceptance. There are simply too many possible paths to take, too many things to try, too much one-size-fits-none advice and not enough real guidance on strategy.

Artists need help deciding exactly what to do and you can't get there by reading blogs and e-books.

There is also way too much early focus on earning money, and not enough on growth. Many musicians are still obsessed with getting "fairly" compensated for their musical output immediately. They should instead be obsessed with building an engaged fanbase, playing shows, etc.

December 14 | Unregistered Commenterscottandrew

scottandrew - I guess that's what the '5th beatle' is for

December 14 | Unregistered CommenterMelody von Rock

Jesus Christ, how long does this guy spend reading blogs??

I sometimes wonder - is this site about thinking about MUSIC or thinking about digital media?

Anyway, the fact of the matter is that it's HARD AS HELL to develop a fan base, regardless of the technological advances that we can now put to use. And many people still benefit from working with labels and old school music industry types who have good contacts with promoters, journos, producers etc etc etc. And they might lack the business sense that a well run label brings to the table.

Who are you kidding? You think every kid with a cracked version of ableton is able to develop a serious fan base just because there are great tools to help with it? What if they are actually more concerned with making great art than spending as long as you do all day reading music business and new media articles?

That said, I do appreciate your depth of thought, although you seem to project a lot of your outlooks on to society at large.

Dave, where can we hear your music?

December 14 | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Guth

this frustrates me. i wrote a riposte from the other side of things (i.e. that of the modern day aspiring musican, blogger & general hopeful)

@LowLife Inc - quite. As someone who writes a blog, I am indundated with enthusiastic, hardworking artists looking to get their shit out there. Every day. I don't know who these lazy musicians are who don't want to "embrace the web" but I don't see any.

@scottandrew - what do you mean about "musicians want to be fairly compensated before growing their fanbase"? you know people who want paying before they've sold a record? really?

@Ze - yes it's a shame, although as long as the price of recorded music tends towards zero, budgets for packaging and product design will drop too. It's sad and I love good artwork as much as anyone, but if I was starting a label tomorrow I wouldn't think about paying professional designers until I thought I was going to be able to pay them...

December 14 | Unregistered Commenteri.d.

Hey i.d., can i get you to post your post on MTT Open. Other than dishing Dave's post, the bulk of what you wrote on your blog is pretty interesting. Perhaps you could hack off the first and last paragraphs.

As for Dave's commentary, new readers, perhaps from another planet, still need to get up to speed on things. There are 10,000,000+ humans calling themselves artists and some just learned about MySpace (for example) yesterday. Most artists don't use RSS and you would be surprised at the quantity of readers that come to this site using I.E.6 or worse.

I am going to save Justin Boland the time of stating that more operational details are needed here, but this post is for the 5M of you that are still on the other side of the technology curve wondering where the escape key is..



December 14 | Registered CommenterMusic Think Tank

This is a well defined outlook on everything happening with music distribution at the current moment. It's hard to argue many of these points.

I don't think many artists or labels want it to happen this way but it just is. The internet is an uncontrollable beast. Torrent sites are only on the rise and to be honest? I actually think they help many artists.

Folks who don't want to or can't afford to pay for an album can get it from a torrent, love it, and then when the band comes into town they will dish out the money to go see them. And that's where the bands make their money.

There is a future in music for sure. Where it will go? We can only guess.

December 14 | Unregistered Commenterdirkler


I am the founding bass player for Gang of Four. You can hear my best work on our classic albums, 'Entertainment!' and 'Solid Gold'....

December 14 | Unregistered CommenterDave Allen

Hey Bruce,

would love to. email me at this address and we'll sort it out! (as soon as i get out of this studio. hah.)

yes, the 'diss' at Dave's essay may look a touch cheap, but to sit and address it in detail, where I believe it to be wrong or self-contradictory etc etc, would have made it a much longer rant! Happy to take another look or do a bit of editing.



December 15 | Unregistered Commentered

oops, split personality issues going on there!

December 15 | Unregistered Commenteri.d.

A relevant news point from Wired Magazine - MySpace/Imeem Deal Leaves Thousands of Artists Unpaid.

"Independent artists who sold their music through imeem’s Snocap music storefronts on MySpace and other sites won’t be paid what’s owed even after MySpace Music’s acquisition of some — but not all — of imeem, has learned."

"MySpace Music paid less than $1 million for imeem, so it’s doubtful much will remain for the artists."

December 15 | Unregistered CommenterDave Allen

Reasoned. Smart. Adventurous. Demanding. Sane. Ethical. Brave. Insightful.

Sooner or later, people will latch on to the fact that real musicians do it for love and in the hope that it will generate them an income. The best bands make their money from gigging and merchandise. It's only the plastic pop industry-manufactured one-hit-wonders who stand to lose in this new file-sharing era. I say all this as a musician and a music lover.

Superb post.

December 15 | Unregistered CommenterStevyn Colgan

@scottandrew - what do you mean about "musicians want to be fairly compensated before growing their fanbase"? you know people who want paying before they've sold a record? really?

I didn't say that. I said that many musicians are focused on getting "fairly" paid at the expense of growth. They want paid without having to actually create or demonstrate value. And they're way too focused on squeezing more money out of a few fans at the expense of acquiring new fans.

December 15 | Unregistered Commenterscottandrew

This article could do with a synopsis. Not to be rude but it's far too long for a stream of consciousness-type thing, making far too few clear points for its length.

Now, call me old hat, but I believe people should be able to make an living from what they give to the world. And in the case of a musician, I want that to be music, not a bunch of shit they have to pedal to make ends meet.

December 15 | Unregistered CommenterPip

Interesting article, but something that I think is being overlooked here is sonic quality. I know that was mentioned by a previous commentor, but I'm not talking the CD vs. MP3 kind of sonic quality - I'm talking about the kind of sonic and musical quality that up and coming bands got the first time they stepped into a purposefully designed recording studio and got the chance to work with a good engineer and producer who could help them shape their artistic vision in a way that not only got across the sentiment they wanted, but did so using the right mics, the right guitars, the right amps, the right drums, in the right room...etc. More and more I am seeing bands attempting to produce and record their own music at home, and more and more I'm hearing tracks that sound like ass. I see it in projects I work on that get brought to me for editing or mixing. I end up spending far more time trying to "fix" problems that would have been easy to avoid in the first place if the band had at least some budget and was able to hire the professional facilities and technical staff that have been used for so many years. Many of the problems I've seen can't even be fixed, no matter how many samples I have for Sound Replacer or how many plug ins are run to process the signal. In this sense, I feel like the home recording revolution, a definite part of the overall digital revolution, is severely hindering the quality of work being released. Not that I'm a fan of the label provided budget model, I just wish that more bands would take a little more time, save up some dough, and at least spend a few days in a proper studio cutting basic tracks instead of popping down to Guitar Center, assembling a Digi002 and a selection of cheap Chinese mics for a couple grand, and entering their garage with someone who doesn't really know what they're doing running the show.

December 16 | Unregistered CommenterConstantEng

nice though and article about Public Relations for Musicians. i want to share some other article about Public Relations for Musicians. check it out :

Jack - this is pretty spammy. Try to add value to the post next time you leave a comment!

Great Post! The reason I started my organization a few years back to provide those free online DIY tools for musicians and out of it came a dictionary of organized tips, articles and resources all to help musicians. There are so many new revenue models (video games, licensing content, etc) for musicians and we all need to help enlighten indie musicians about them and make it easier for them to embrace them. Rand

December 16 | Unregistered CommenterRand R

Just ran across this, and it reminded me of this post:

"Conventional wisdom seems to be that MySpace and Facebook and Twitter are giant convention centers full of kids, parents' stolen credit cards in hand, desperate to interact with musicians great and small. I am supposed to be out there hawking my wares, instant-messaging with teenaged super-fans in Nebraska and Smolensk, presenting myself as just the right blend of charming and superficially complicated to be intriguing without being dangerous. I'd rather eat ground glass. This almost universal consensus that social networking is the ONLY way for musicians to promote and distribute their music sounds like a bunch of publicist crap. God help us if it's true."

December 16 | Unregistered CommenterMikey

thanks to Bruce for encouraging me to post up my response and get involved -

should perhaps have thought of a better and less petulant looking title, now i come to think of it!

December 16 | Registered Commentered bayling

-cars are so easy to steal now that manufacturers should instead put all their energies into selling related items like car polish or novelty air fresheners.

instruments are not free
recording is not free
mixing is not free
mastering is not free
duplication is not free
rehearsal rooms are not free
venues are not free
promotion is not free

opinions are


December 17 | Unregistered Commentertubal


I'm sorry but you clearly have missed the point of my entire essay.

December 17 | Unregistered CommenterDave Allen

Meanwhile here's a list of of all the online music biz startups of 2009

December 17 | Unregistered CommenterDave Allen

Bruce, good point - no doubt there are many musicians who don't utilize tech tools, but those are the hobbyists... the vast majority of serious, career-oriented artists are applying themselves to adapt and use everything at their disposal - and have been for many years. Yet most are still struggling financially.

Therefore, to me this post only reinforces the clear fact that technology is simply one element of a multi-faceted strategy necessary to break through the increasingly fragmented clutter - and hardly the panacea authors such as this columnist suggest (pitch).

Guess it's good for speaking gigs, though.

December 18 | Unregistered CommenterDg.

thanks for your considered reply. my point is that it's a bit defeating when even musicians themselves testify that the end product of their years of hard work, a record, is essentially worthless. of course things have changed, but the question remains 'is recorded music worth paying for?' i believe it is.
and since when did buying a record become 'dull and non experiential'? i personally look forward to an album being released, going to the store, checking out the sales girls, buying the record, listening to it, engaging with it and hopefully have it enhance my experience of life. when i buy a record i don't expect a free lapdance from the cirque du soleil troupe.
a quick scan of your list and it seems some people actually, wait for it, get paid for providing goods or sevices, as i'm sure you will for your upcoming lecture. i am a musician, my sole focus is not to monetize the 'experiential awareness that surrounds my brand'. i'll continue to make records regardless of whether people believe they are worth paying for or not, i may not get so many copies printed though.

December 18 | Unregistered Commentertubal


First, I have never been paid nor reimbursed for hotels and/or travel for my speaking engagements.

My frustration is simple. After speaking on panels at conferences for more than a decade, talking about the perfect storm that musicians would soon be facing, I still see no forward progress. Prior to the Internet's advance on their terrain, I would sit on panels and listen to musicians complain about labels not signing them, about radio not playing them and how MTV wouldn't play their videos. The barriers to entry were high and it appeared that 90% of all musicians wanted someone to do something about it...

So here we are on the cusp of 2010, with the barrier to entry online at almost zero, with musicians (at least in this forum) apparently focusing on the wrong things. I understand that it costs money to produce and manufacture a CD - but no one should expect people to buy it, regardless of the presence of the Internet. My point is that musicians need to find ways to make money everywhere else but through CD sales.

Some smart bands here in The USA took my advice and followed my "pay what you want" campaign for their CDs and T-shirts at shows, and it worked. Fans can be very passionate about a band or artist and they want to support them, so my argument simply went like this - if you put a price, say $12, on your CD at a show, the fan will expect to pay $12. If they don't have $12 they walk away. If the fan has $10, you accept that and you've made a fan for life who will tell her friends about it. Even $5 is still within the margin of production. The flip side is that the really passionate fans who would never try and force money upon you, are now liberated and will actually pay you more for the CD or will end up ahead and you will have some very happy fans.

Here's what happened to Ben Taylor when he tried this.. And here's the original post about it.

As for your comment about you personally looking forward to an album release, well, that is you personally. I write about 8 year olds in Australia, the ones we call we call Digital Natives, those who have never grown up with anything other than technology at their fingertips. They will not be waiting with bated breath for anyone's album to be released. They will ignore any artist that doesn't understand how to "speak" to them. To them, the simple act of releasing a CD, just like hundreds of bands do each week, is dull and non-experiential.

You have to know who you want to be selling to before you try and sell anything. It's called strategy.

Your last sentence sums things up for many I would say - "i'll continue to make records regardless of whether people believe they are worth paying for or not, i may not get so many copies printed though."

If you're OK with that then simply disregard my essay.

December 18 | Unregistered CommenterDave Allen

Great summary. I'm particularly interested in the paragraph regarding a digital punk revolution.

I think there obviously is the same effect as cheap guitars arriving and a huge number of new musicians starting together and creating a punk scene. These days, it's been about elements of a music business becoming accessible and free/affordable/plausible. As your post elaborates, distribution is no problem now. We all have comprehensive communication, and relevant people to your 'business' are available. We have more tools to create, and to a higher potential standard.

The reason there is no obvious 'revolution' is because the numbers, actions and motives of those involved with music online are so immeasurable, and the relationships between communities only loosely organised. I do think there is a punk style revolution with the internet today, it's just that kind of thing doesn't become perceived as 'official' if the press or blogs don't canonise it - and without something obvious like a name or location to write about, that doesn't happen. I've just realised that any attempt at creating a widespread movement is marred by trying to brand itself as THE name of the movement. Catch is, if you don't then how do you write about it? Two weeks ago I wrote about the opportunity for a widespread revolution which could ride on the press for Rage Against The Machine getting to number 1 in the UK, based entirely on a simple facebook campaign. And what did I go and do? I also gave it a name in the title:

The Start of the Rage Revolution

How can we define a punk revolution without having to compete with each other and stifle our summed voice?

I say an online revolution is immeasurable... I should say, immeasurable to us, not Google, Facebook, probably twitter... they're so powerful we might as well just ride out their useful services and just keep our wits about us for the long term. Apple are obviously making intelligent decisions despite not having a huge harvest of user data and trends (or do they? Does this explain the current relationship between Apple and Google, obvious direct competitors but somehow on friendly terms?)

They have the upper hand on us having to ride the free/affordable/uninformed train. It is interesting to see how these companies are using this information over the past few years and to years to come, though I think the next year or two will have the big tech companies being all about the living room. They'll finally make sense of putting the internet on a big TV from across the room. I talk about how I think Apple will do this in this post:

Apple are already making TVs, with a tablet shaped remote

I must thank you for giving me a small revelation with your post - I realise now it is true that we wait for the 'right' service to arrive. With tech, we might observe releases, and make predictions based on product cycles and recent tech developments/pricing, but we still wait and see which will win out. What I have learned is that we must not do this with our music business.

Punk and the Washington DC scene surrounding Dischord records inspired me to start running a free community recording studio for teenagers in Wiltshire, and 2010 is about making the music business more accessible and involved for them, such as structuring their own label and teaching them all how to screen print and run a gig - along with using the internet efficiently as many of us existing blog reading tweeters do. My recording student @leotaylor0 has proved to me that in only a short time, a teenager can 'get it' and get ahead of his peers on the curve. The web makes self-learning for a teenager like Leo possible, but it needs to be encouraged and focused, and for the time being there need to be tangible resources available to translate their learned knowledge to the real world, for free or affordably.

So what do we all do, apart from not keep asking this very question?

My blog post I previously linked to is essentially a fantasy of a macrocosm of what I want to achieve in Wiltshire, which I have been doing on behalf of Wiltshire Council.

To expedite others who want to help facilitate a creative community, I'm going to make documents like our studio's business plan or financial plans open source so others don't have to spend so long creating the same information.

If anyone would like, you can read an academic piece I wrote in 2008:

The Viral Power of Punk

It's clear that a lot of us online really want something to happen, but I see a lot of thinking and many fewer tales of success without traditional business methods.

As Ian MacKaye said, we can talk and talk and talk, but we have to do it.


Thanks Dave, reading your post and collecting my thoughts here has been good for me.

I would be glad to continue the discussion with anyone via my twitter, and always appreciate comments on my blog:


January 4 | Unregistered CommenterTom Davenport

Having been a part of the Online Universal Work Marketing team for 4 months now, I’m thankful for my fellow team members who have patiently shown me the ropes along the way and made me feel welcome

February 4 | Unregistered Commentercharlesbrooks

Ahh the future - swamp of popular culture created by people who have wide skill sets but no real artistic genius because they've invested most of their life efforts in mastering all the other essential skills needed to market their lack of genius....

April 25 | Unregistered Commenterjuan_lauda

Musicians don't give a damn because they're trained not to give a damn. Cooperative spirit does not extend beyond your own band. Not just money, but simple awareness is a zero-sum good to be competed for. Nothing will change until live music becomes totally dead, and then stays away for a few years...

June 28 | Unregistered CommenterPaul

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