• What’s next for musical artists? Part IV of IV.

(As I prepare to put my album up for sale, or at least make it available, I’m thinking a lot about the “market” I’m entering.)

I - The worth of music
II - Copyright
III -  Filesharing and can anything be done about it
IV - What’s next for music?

The music industry is undergoing creative destruction. The old guard of label>distributor>retail is being attacked on all sides and it will be completely destroyed. The only question is what will replace it. I don’t know for sure, and neither does anyone else, but it will look something like artist>fan. In other words, it will be a disintermediated shadow of what it is today, which is a fancy way of saying that the middle man will be cut out.

I’m cool with this change. I like that I can record and distribute my album all by my lonesome and that music is no longer controlled by a cabal of gatekeepers operating out of tall buildings and hidden behind a phalanx of secretaries. But there is a downside to this new DIY world in that no one has the time or expertise to truly DIY, there just aren’t enough hours in the day. I mean, imagine if Mick and Keith had had to do everything themselves for the Stones? When would they have toured? Recorded? Written songs? Counted the money? Filled out the legal paperwork? And that’s the beauty of the old, dying system. If you could get a label to back you, you were much more free to pursue your art than you are in a situation where you’re doing it all yourself. Which might explain why there has been a perceptible decline in the quality of music. I mean, compare the last decade to any before it, back to 1960, and I think you would agree that the music has not been as compelling or varied or as adventurous. And maybe it’s because no one has enough time for it anymore. They’re all too busy maintaining their blog, Facebook page, Twitter acount, inbox, voice mail, Tunecore account, bandcamp page, PayPal account, not to mention learning HTML, Java, Photoshop, InDesign, Pro Tools and more.

So given all this, I’m going to back off a bit on my earlier statement that the business will be completely destroyed; instead, I would say mostly destroyed, because I think labels will survive. True, no one will NEED a label, but you might just WANT one. After all, with a label backing you, you have more time to devote to your art. And given all the competition labels face from the DIY world, I think they will get better. They will treat artists more ethically, they will be more transparent, they will cut deals that aren’t all quid or quo, they will rediscover A&R and invest in it. Personally, I would love to be backed by a label. I have hardly any time for anything anymore, especially writing songs, because my free time is spent tweaking my bandcamp page, making sure my copyrights are in order, paying the people I have contracted to help me out, writing the occasional blog post, managing my email list, etc., blah, blah, blah.

And as I muse about this future, filesharing rears its ugly head. I mean, how will anyone make money if the product (music) is so easily and enthusiastically shared? It won’t be easy. But here are few thoughts:

First, music is not the product of the music business, personalities are, so the decline in music revenue might not mean a decline in overall revenue.

I agree with the idea that people buy people, not songs. And to be successful in the music business, more and more you have to be a personality people want a little piece of, maybe it’s a song, or maybe it’s a book, or a T-Shirt, or a performance. But if you only try to make money off of your music, you are doomed, thanks to filesharing. (Unless your goal is to be a behind the scenes type, either a songwriter or maybe a producer or track writer.)

Second, selling out will become a lot more in.

Truthfully, I’m not sure selling out was ever really all that well defined—or not respectable. What I remember was, if an an artist sold a song for use in an ad, then he got dragged though the dirt by the music press and not much more. Then the Stones let Microsoft use “Start Me Up”, Nike ran “Instant Karma”, Cadillac used Zep’s “Rock and Roll” and now, well, no one cares anymore. I mean, there are genres like deathcore in which selling songs to national advertisers is probably frowned upon, but I’d wager that even these deathcore dudes would happily sell to EA  or Activision. And why shouldn’t they? How else are they gonna make a buck?

Third, the process of obtaining permission from and paying copyright holders will be simplified.

To understand why this process must be simplified, here's an article from Tunecore that covers the current process. It's a mess. In fact, in reading more about it, plus thinking about the comments left on my previous posts around copyright and filesharing, I'm going to write about this more, just not now.

As for me personally, I’m in a pickle. I think I write good songs and I have an interesting personal story that people can relate to, but without touring or even having much time to get the word out through Facebook, email and Twitter, my prospects of selling music and merchandise are dim. I will try, you can be sure of that, but I’m a realist and don’t expect things to go all that far. Instead, I will put most of my efforts into seeking out licensing opportunities, either selling songs to performers or selling my recordings for use in film, TV and whatever else needs a soundtrack. Though my expectations are low, my hopes are high and I’m looking forward to the challenge.

Stay tuned.