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Is Your Music in an Art Gallery or at Ikea?


David Dufresne is CEO of band website platform Bandzoogle.

I’ve been having many discussions recently with friends and with musicians (and that includes many friends who are musicians !), where, like a broken record, I find myself going back to an analogy that I used in a Hypebot interview that was published right after I joined Bandzoogle.

I thought it would be a good idea to adapt and repost here. I’m curious to hear what the extended MTT family thinks of it.

Imagine a painting that you really like. Imagine that you see that painting for the first time at an opening in an art gallery (think a fancy, somewhat pretentious art gallery…). You like the image, the colors, the technique, etc. You’re impressed. You love that painting.

It would look awesome in your living room, wouldn’t it? You have a chat with the artist, where she explains the concept and the process behind creating the painting, the materials used, and what it means to her. She tells a bit of her life story, and how and why she became a painter. You have a glass of wine; you discuss the painting with a few more people. They also like it.


At that moment, the image, on that wall, might be worth hundreds of dollars to you. Maybe even thousands. If you wanted it for yourself, that’s what you would have to pay, and you know it.

OK, now, forget the art gallery. Think of the exact same image that you like, but imagine if the first time you saw it, it was on a wall at an Ikea store, on a busy Saturday morning, surrounded by shopping carts and loud kids. And there are 22 frames of that same image, lined up in a bin underneath it, for $29.99 each.

You might still think the image would look great on your living room wall. But at that moment, it’s definitely worth a maximum of $30 to you. Or maybe you don’t ever want Ikea frames on your walls (you big snob)… so for you it’s worth $0…even though you really like that image! Your “wall real estate” is worth more than the frame.

So ask yourself, how can you explain the difference in perceived value for the exact same image at the gallery opening, and at Ikea?

Many possible answers here:

  • the perceived scarcity (only one available at the gallery, and others might want it too)
  • the personal connection with the artist
  • the setting (fancy gallery, the free wine)
  • the narrative attached to the art
  • the materials (the original vs. the copy)
  • the branding (maybe for you Ikea = cheap)

The list could go on. That’s the context. The artistic content (the image) has little value by itself, but, put into context, it becomes part of an experience. That can be worth a lot (buying original work straight from a cool artist), or it can be worth little (buying a frame at Ikea).

Music is the same! The song you just wrote wouldn’t have the same value if your name was Dave Matthews (or Kanye) and you wrote the exact same song. Before anyone else has engaged emotionally with it, I’m sorry but it’s only worth something to you. So, think about how your music can be valued, in terms of narrative, personal connections, perceived scarcity, branding, etc. Technology can help, by helping you create a narrative and a branding on your website (your bio, your design, your pictures) that make fans interested to hear more of your music.

Streaming services like Pandora or Spotify can help create contexts where new fans will discover your music. Communicating with your fans using your mailing list, blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc. can help create personal connections that make your fans attach even more value to your music. You create great experiences when you put on an amazing live performance, and promote it using online and offline tools. So, you need to be creative in making art, but also in creating contexts, and letting others create many and diverse contexts in which this art can be part of enjoyable and valuable experiences.

Put more simply, your music, by itself, isn’t worth much. It’s when put into context, when it becomes part of your fan’s enjoyable experience, that it becomes valuable. That can mean someone buying 2 CDs, a t-shirt and a poster at the merch table, or it can mean someone buying one track for $1.29 on iTunes.

Art gallery or Ikea? The role of technology tools is to help you multiply those possible contexts, and monetize them when you can.

Reader Comments (7)

That's something to consider for many of us, especially for those who're into Beatport and other garbage dumps. Really good point.
Thank you.

April 16 | Unregistered CommenterVospi

Great article. We were very inspired by the original. Would love to chat with you sometime. Here's some background on us.

April 16 | Unregistered CommenterShawn Neal

Good article! The "personal" connection artists make with their audience has a direct impact on the perceived value, and sales of the art. Spending time with your fans, and making that personal connection, is something that the customer remembers EVERY TIME they look at your painting, sculpture, read your book, or hear your music!

April 16 | Unregistered CommenterTamra Engle

I think this is a fascinating topic, and one that is of great importance to those of us who are building our small followings amongst locals crowds who (we believe, we hope!) place value in the experience of having some level of personal relationship or at least interaction with artists they listen to. Never has the opportunity been riper for an indie artist to cultivate their own story - from regular social media updates to to new and constantly-evolving ways of interacting with individual crowds and listeners. Gone is (or should be) the blind mailing of discs and promo kits to radio shows and 'zines that've never heard of you. Your audience is self-selecting, and you have the chance to BE the narrative you wish to tell. Exciting times.

April 16 | Unregistered CommenterDan Hylton

here's something we did - the most expensive single ever

April 17 | Unregistered CommenterPS

Yes! Great post! That's exactly what many artists lamenting their lack of success or the fact that they just wrote an amazing tune that nobody is reacting to, often forget: it's all about the context and creating an emotional frame of reference with fans or random viewers, be it in a live setting or inside some other project. A meaningful reflection and one we should think abut much more often!

April 23 | Unregistered CommenterFox

Oh yeah , like Imma gonna be working my ass off to type up and post hype when I should be writing and recording songs.

No one cares, they all know it's BS.

I got news for you, its all Ikea.

Wake the F up.

I'm so sick of how someone, David, decides how things are and they couldn't be further from the planet.

So here's the real deal, pay the money, join a professional independant A&R company like Taxi and submit you songs for the lashing they deserve and grow.

October 18 | Unregistered CommenterTS from Pasadena

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