The record companies are clueless and scared, the RIAA is abusively litigious and crass. However the musicians are listening to their fans like teenagers who just heard Dark Side of the Moon for the second time, and we’re all exploring a plethora of new options.
The traditional marketing system for music has eaten itself over the last decade. Some would even say it’s been back for seconds. All with a public looking on, trying to care about the the people behind the music we love. I say trying, because we universally fail to give a crap when nasty corporations alongside acts like Metallica and Prince, start rattling their sabers.
You see, when millionaires argue with billionaires it’s hard to care. And I don’t mean like sudoku is hard, I mean like bench pressing 600 lbs is hard. Almost no one can do it, or even wants to try. Add the fact that the struggling musicians aren’t getting hurt in the crossfire, and you end up with a public that’s kind of enjoying the implosion. It’s like watching a bully finally get his ass kicked across the playground.
This has lead to/been caused by (It’s a chicken and egg thing) a bottom-up explosion in cheap distribution and marketing ingenuity; and a fan base that’s constantly being handed new ways to discover, and consume, music. Even some of the established acts are blazing trails away from the grasp of cuff-linked suits and into the arms of screaming fans. Fans that (surprise, surprise) are actually willing to part with their hard-earned dollars for good music, when they know that it’s not funding another round of music-mogul golden parachutes and ridiculous riders for the musical aristocracy.
Here’s what some of the established or semi-established artists are are doing differently…
- Portis Head – Launched an album, Third, just yesterday. You can hear the entire thing streamed on Last.fm before you buy. (Last.fm is covered in the next section for the uninitiated.)
- Nine Inch Nails / Trent Reznor – The most outspoken about breaking the mold. He is also probably doing it best, but his business model wouldn’t work without the years of mass-distribution-supported touring under his belt. This is something he discovered himself after producing and realeasing Saul Wiliams’ The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust with a pay if you want system that didn’t even recoup his production costs. Still, he made $750,000 even when the music was free, which makes me think he’s one to watch in this area.
- Radiohead – In Rainbows, Radiohead’s 7th album was released October 10th, 2007 as a digital download with an option to pay any amount you thought was a fair price. This was followed by a traditional release the following month. Radiohead has not released any numbers, so the success of the pay what you want model cannot be quantified.
- OK Go – Recorded a music video on a shoe string (maybe less than that) in their back yard that was choreographed by a band-member’s sister. Nothing new, really. That is until you add Youtube into the mix. The video was viewed 9 millions times and a band flirting with marginal success for years was instantly propelled into the spot light.
Services that independents and established acts alike are taking advantage of en masse…
- Last.fm is a web 2.0 music site that lets users tag and stream favorite songs and uses the tags to build personalized radio stations. So I could type in Spoon and get a steady stream of music that other people who like Spoon also like.
- AmieStreet – This isn’t a band, but a website with a novel music sales structure. Anyone can upload songs to the site and sell them to downloaders as mp3s. The first song sold is sold for $.01, the second for $.02, the third for $.03 and so on all the way to $.99 where the song price plateaus. It’s a good deal for the artist and the fan and it’s being embraced by everyone from Whitesnake and Madvillain to Interpol and Sly and The Family Stone.
- CD Baby – This website sells music from independent artists only. They also pay their artists quite a bit more per sale than any label will. (Try $12 per album vs. $1 or $2.) They’ve been in business for about 10 years, they’re selling albums for 200,000+ artists and they’ve paid out over $70 million to those same artists
- Pandora – This is also a streaming radio station, but the songs you’re getting aren’t determined by user generated tags denoting similarity. They use a complex algorithm derived from The Music Genome project to pick what you’ll want to hear based on what songs you like.
- iJigg – It’s like Digg for music.
- Fairtilizer – New kid on the block. Nice design, terrible name.
- The Hype Machine – Plug into every blog online that’s talking about music and listen in.
- Jango – This is kind of like Last.fm in that you roll your radio station, but with an interface I actually want to use
This is a short list just to illustrate the new kind of options available to musicians and fans alike. In fact, it’s so far from comprehensive that it’s laughable. There are plenty more out there to be had. So, if you’re fed up with the old and ready to embrace the new, then get out there and hunt down your next obsession. The King is dead! Long, live the King!