• To be or to not be a product? That is NOT the question for music.

I recently read a post on Hypebot titled News Flash: Your Music Is Not Your Product that inspired a post of my own, one in which I wholly disagreed with the Hypebot piece, but I still have more to say. Dammit!

My main beef is with the Hypebot article’s weak argument for why music is not a product, which is kicked off with this paragraph:

“When a label executive tells you that they are "not in the business of selling discs", (or vinyl, tape, t-shirts, etc.) and that they are actually "selling music," they are, at best, fooling themselves, or at worst, lying to your face. Moving plastic, vinyl, paper and/or any other tangible good they can dream up is exactly what the recording industry has been about since it was established.”

Based on this argument, software is not a product (Adobe moves CDs, right?), movies are not a product, hell, any sort of content is not a product based on this argument, right? You buy a CD, it’s the plastic your purchasing. You buy Photoshop, again, it’s the plastic. You buy Time magazine? You’re just buying paper. Please.

What the article should have argued is that content producers, which is what musicians are, should realize that content does not have to be their only product. In fact, it might not even be the product they charge money for. Maybe it’s what attracts people to the live show. Maybe it’s just something to listen to while watching a video. Maybe it’s the basis of a political effort. Regardless, it’s still a product, just not the only product, or thing you produce.

But I think most musicians know this and always have, which is why all throughout music business history (at least in pop music) the music has only been part of the equation. Think about Elvis and his movies, the Beatles and theirs, the Monkees. Or think about Bowie and Madonna and the way they re-invented themselves to stay relevant and in the public consciousness. Think about KISS. Most common, think about all the merchandise (and the outrageous prices being charged for it) at every concert you’ve ever attended.

Nowadays, everyone refers to artists as brands, and just as the Ivory soap brand probably couldn’t be extended to industrial solvents, a folk band probably won’t be able to extend its brand into deathcore. But in both cases, at the core of the brand is a product that can be distributed and monetized in more ways than one.

All of which is a little ironic, because the Hypebot article actually expresses this point about it all being more than just about the music, as it argues that musicians should sell an “experience” (yet another word for brand or image).

To me, what it all comes down to is this: people buy people. If all you’ve got is music and no personality behind it, you will most likely never sell a thing (which is fine, so long as you’re not trying to sell anything!).

Next up, I’m going to take on copyright and public vs. private goods, but I gotta do some more reading. Stay tuned!