Tag Archives: The Music Business

Will the digital economy force everyone to work for free?

The Guardian’s Suzanne Moore thinks the digital economy is destroying creative careers.

But the digital economy operates as a kind of sophisticated X Factor. Someone will make it, sure. For more than 15 seconds even, maybe. But most won’t. This is why Lanier says the internet may destroy the middle classes, the people who can’t outspend the elite. And without that middle group, we cannot maintain a democracy.

He sees musicians and artists and journalists as canaries in the mineshaft of this new economy. Who will pay them? “Is this the precedent we want to follow for our doctors and lawyers and nurses and everybody else? Because, eventually, technology will get to everybody.”

I’m not completely convinced, even though I’m writing this as someone whose music writing for Trebuchet Magazine is, bar the odd freebie, unpaid. Much like many of the musicians I write about, it’s all fitted around the demands of a day job that pays the bills.

Historically disruptive techologies have destroyed jobs, and sometimes entire industries. But in the longer run those same technological changes have created just as many new ones. I’m not convinced the ‘good old days’ were as rosy as Suzanne Moore claims.

The truth is that there have always been far more aspiring musicians and journalists than the market could ever realistically support, and most of them never ‘made it’. What we’re seeing is the internet eroding the power of the traditional gatekeepers in the mass media and record companies to decide who’s successful and who is destined never to be hired or signed.

Indeed, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest, in the music business at least, that opportunities for up and coming musicians has actually increased thanks to the internet, as both overheads and barriers to entry have fallen. Although this inevitably results in greater competition for a finite audience, the biggest losers appear to be those who work elsewhere in the distribution chain.

There are wider issues about whether economic models that evolved for physical goods are appropriate for intellectual property, and how individual creativity ought to be rewarded in what has become a post-scarcity economy. And then there’s the even bigger issue of whether 21st century neo-liberal capitalism is fundamentally broken, with a dangerously disproportionate amount of wealth and power concentrated in the hands of those at the top of the economic food chain, which is how you end up with vastly profitable corporations expecting people to work for nothing in the first place.

I’m not pretending to know the answers, probably because there are no easy answers. But I think it’s important both to ask the right questions, and look at the bigger picture.

Posted in Music Opinion, Religion & Politics | Tagged | 1 Comment

The perils of relying too much on Facebook

A post on Hypebot about the perils of fake Facebook likes highlights some of the problems with Facebook as a means of bands promoting their music.

This situation reinforces the fact that musicians need to build their own home on the web and need to build their own mailing lists.

It’s also a reminder to me that, despite the fact that such points are raised in somewhat of a repetitive manner on sites like Hypebot, a lot of musicians just aren’t tuning in and just don’t get it. On a positive note, that means musicians that are in the know have an extra leg up in the game.

Ultimately a shift away from Facebook needs to occur. I see more and more people both in and outside of music discussing alternatives.

As Zuckerville has grown in popularity, more and more bands began using it as their main means of interacting with fans. With a larger potential audience there was some logic in the way a few bands I know of closed down their increasingly inactive forums in favour of interacting on Facebook. But I’ve seen too many bands neglecting their web presence altogether, to the extent that some bands didn’t bother with a web site at all, having Facebook as their sole net presence. I think this is dangerously short sighted.

The moment Facebook introduced pay-to-promote for posts ought to have been a wake-up call. Not only was it a classic bait-and-switch move, but it was the sort of thing a monopolist does once predatory pricing has put the competition out of business. Investing too heavily in one platform you don’t have any control over is a big risk.

It’s true that bands still can’t afford to ignore Facebook as long as it continues to remain as popular as it is. But there’s no excuse for any band not to have it’s own website and an old-fashioned mailing list. Yes, it might seem a bit old-school, but that way neither Mark Zuckerberg nor anyone else can then hold them to ransom by holding their only connection with fans hostage.

Posted in Social Media | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Fish on the economics of touring

Fish has written a very interesting blog post on the economics of touring with a band playing the rock club circuit at his level. There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about the cost of live music, how much gigs cost to put on, and exactly where the money goes. (Not much of it to the poor support act, it seems, and people I know who have supported Fish in the past confirm this!). Are there really still people who multiply the ticket price by the number of warm bodies through the door and assume the whole lot goes to the artist?

It’s the sort of thing that causes endless discussions over what the “fair” price of a ticket ought to be. I’ve lost count of the number of gigs I’ve been to that can’t possibly have covered the overheads, especially when charging prices far lower than I’d spent travelling to the gig. One memorable one was was Breathing Space and Mermaid Kiss in a working mens’ club in Mansfield five years ago. A total of twelve musicians, only three quid on the door, and there were just 60-odd people in the audience. It was, I remember, an absolutely stunning and very moving gig, but it was clear nobody there was doing it for the money – because there wasn’t any.

Posted in Music Opinion | Tagged , | 1 Comment

HMV and the future of the High Street

A few jumbled thoughts on the collapse of the HMV chain:

  • If all or most of HMV’s current shops close, what does this mean for music? I would estimate that half of my music purchases over the past 2-3 years were from my local HMV in Reading. The rest were direct purchases from the artists, either via their websites or their merch desks. I’ve not used Amazon for at least a couple of years. Without HMV, will people like me buy more independent music, or just less music?
  • Going beyond music, what is it about the “Traditional High Street” that ought to be preserved? Do the faceless chain stores that dominate our clone towns really have any value? If the High Street is doomed because it can’t compete with internet shopping’s lower overheads, what can replace it?
  • And finally, how about social and leisure activities that revolve around something other than shopping?

What does anyone else think?

Posted in Music News, Music Opinion, Religion & Politics | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Why the old-style record business is circling the drain

Last weekend I bought a CD in HMV’s sale, Yes’ “90125″, a record I owned on vinyl but a gap in my CD collection. When I tried to play it using the CD drive on my laptop, it was unlistenable, with horrible distorted buzzing sound all the way through.

I assumed the disk was faulty, took it back and HMV exchanged it without question. The replacement disk played without problems on the big stereo in the living room, with all that big 1980s Trevor Horn production reproduced perfectly. But when I tried to play it this morning on the computer in my home office, that distorted buzzing was back. Just like the first disk, and along with another album purchased at the same time, the record was effectively unplayable.

Turns out, after a little research in Google, that the reason that distorted buzzing was that they’re both crippled with DRM. Significantly neither disk carries the Compact Disk logo, so technically speaking neither are actually CDs, since their encoding is not compliant with the Compact Disk specification.

In the year 2013, when I purchase music, I don’t expect to have to pay twice just for the privilege of being able to listen to it in more than one room of the house. Since DRM has fallen out of favour even with the most clueless of labels I can only assume it’s old stock which should have been withdrawn from sale and ground up for use as road foundations in China. Most technically-savvy customers would consider format-shifting of legally-purchased music to be an basic consumer right in 2013, regardless of what Warner Bros’ lawyers would like the situation to be.

So what should I do? Return the two not-CDs and demand my money back, which is a bit of lose-lose situation since I won’t have the music and HMV won’t have my money. Or just go and do what everyone else would do and bittorrent the bloody things?

Yes, musicians. This is why people bittorrent rather than buy music legally. But I assume that most of you already know that.

Posted in Music Opinion | Tagged | 11 Comments

We will only have a functional digital music economy when artists, labels and web services can all agree on what services are viable as revenue streams and which ones are primarily promotional channels. Too many of the arguments over royalties seem to stem from a blurring of the two.

Posted on by Tim Hall | 2 Comments

Disintermediation

In yet another post on the state of the music industry, Steve Lawson muses on the oft-repeated statistic that file-sharers spend more on music.

Are we part of the ongoing viability of their music practice, or not? There are lots of ways of being that, far beyond blunt figures about where we get hold of particular recordings from (and a whole lot of material on BitTorrent isn’t available to buy anywhere anyway), but are we part of the healthy future for disintermediated music, or are we just trying to see how much we can get away with? Cos I’ve got no interest in the people in the latter group… Music has given me far too much in my life not to want to give back…

What we don’t know (and there may not be any way of telling) is the extent to filesharing changes not just how people will spend on music, but what sort of music they will buy. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that they’re spending less on heavily-promoted “mainstream” music much of which doesn’t live up to the hype. But instead they’re spending more on artists not signed to the major labels and their subsidiaries who don’t benefit from huge promotional budgets. Quite a bit of this is direct sales from artists, which frequently don’t show up in official statistics; the disintermediation of which Steve Lawson speaks.

If this is true, it would explain why so many of those who shout the loudest against the evils of filesharing are not artists, but marketing types and execs who have the most to lose from disintermediation. These people always claim to speak on behalf of artists, even though independent artists can speak for themselves. Is this just because nobody really cares if the likes or record pluggers have to seek alternative employment?

No that I condone people who download huge amounts of music without any intention of paying for a note of it. But I’ve never bought into the argument that the sky is falling, and the only way the “creative industries” can be saved is to give the big labels and studios unchecked power to shut down any parts of the internet they don’t like. As Bloom.fm’s Oleg Formenko said on Twitter, piracy is what happens when there are no legal alternatives at prices the market is willing to pay.

Posted in Music, Music Opinion | Tagged | 1 Comment

Mr So & So launch album fundraising scheme

From the Prog Magazine blog:

Mr So & So, have just launched an ambitious fundraising campaign on the Pledge Music platform. The band are seeking to raise £20,000 to fund their fifth studio album Truths, Lies & Half Lies, as well as a live DVD and a short European tour.

The band have already written nine tracks for the successor to 2009’s self-released Sugarstealer album, including Apophis and You’re Coming Home, both of which have been aired at recent live shows. “This will be a much darker album and a lot weightier than Sugarstealer. The reason that we are trying to raise so much money is so we can at last have a production that really shows off what we can do,” explained guitarist and band co-founder Dave Foster.

Interesting that they’re going down this road rather than the pre-order model that’s now well-established in the progressive rock scene ever since Marillion’s fan-funded “Anoraknophobia” a decade ago (And whenever a more fashionable band does the same thing, always remind them Marillion did it first!). Although it’s a variation on an established theme, it probably goes to show that there’s no longer a one-size-fits all business model for all bands any more.

The amount of money they’re aiming for says far more about the economics of the music business than the frequently inflated numbers you’ll hear from the major labels. I think we can guarantee none of that twenty grand is going to be spent on “flowers and chocolates”.

As for the album title, it’s a very appropriate one for those corporate sock-puppets who are still trying to insist that you can’t record a decent-sounding record without a six-figure advance from a major label, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

As for Mr So & So, they’ll be playing at the Cambridge Rock Festival at the beginning of August, sharing the Sunday bill with Mostly Autumn, Touchstone and Don Airey, on a weekend that also includes Heather Findlay, Panic Room, Chantel McGregor, Halo Blind, Stolen Earth, Caravan, It Bites and Kyrbgrinder. If you love real music played by real musicians rather than over-hyped corporate music, you really ought to be there.

Mr So & So’s Pledge Music page can be found here.

Posted in Music, Music News | Tagged , | Comments Off

1995 and all that

In the wake of the copyright industry’s attempts to play whack-a-mole with Pirate Bay, I keep hearing the line about “destroying a 300 year old market just so the internet can work like it did in 1995″ coming from the usual media industry lobbyists.

I find that a very chilling line.

What these same lobbyists won’t say is just how much of the internet they are willing to destroy in order just in order to protect a specific business model so it can be as highly profitable as it was in 1995. Somehow I think even those of us who would never indulge in wholesale copyright violation are not going to like the answer.

Posted in Music Opinion, Religion & Politics | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Prog-gate “The Prog Corruption Blog”

I really try to steer well clear of backstage politics in the Prog world. But sometimes things happen on public forums that leave me no choice.

There has been something of a ruction in the community over a mysterious blog calling itself the “Prog Corruption Blog”, which claimed to “try to address corruption, scamming, vote canvassing and poll rigging in the world of Progressive Rock Music as dedicated and professional artists are forced out of popularity polls and charts by PR driven outfits“. There was but a single post, which made the claim that the reader’s poll in Classic Rock Presents Prog had been rigged in favour of Panic Room and The Reasoning, two bands recently signed by Esoteric Antenna. The whole thing reeked of an agenda, and read like the work of someone with an axe to grind against either the bands, the label, or both.

I learned of this blog from a link posted in the comments on another post in this blog, I immediately bought it to the attention of CRPP and two of the bands because I felt they needed to know. To say that there was then a significant sewage/ventilation device interface incident would be an understatement. Certainly some of those parties considered the contents of that blog libellous, and there was talk of lawyers.

A few hours later, after a number of angry comments including some from a member of one of those bands, the entire site disappeared.

If you read the whole thing before it got taken down, it was less an attack on the CRPP Poll, and more a direct attack on the professional integrity of two bands and their record company. There was also an implied personal attack on Panic Room’s frontwoman Anne-Marie Helder, suggesting that she did not deserve the Best Female Vocalist of 2011 award because the band “had played no more than half a dozen pub gigs”. (Obviously untrue, we’ll get to that later)

It’s now being suggested that the author writing under the false name of “Beverly Myers” is in fact male. I’m not going to argue with someone with a Master’s degree in psychology on that point. It’s notable that the (probably male) author adopted a voice that read like a crude caricature of 1980s hairy-armpit feminism to make his dubious points. I now believe he has a misogynistic agenda – not only are two of the bands female-fronted, but the record company is also run by a woman.

Given that the author has lied about his identity, nothing else can be taken at face value. The whole thing is full of distortions, half-truths and outright lies which cannot be put down to mere poor research. It should certainly not be dismissed as “a bit of harmless internet fun” – it’s a clear and deliberate attempt to damage several people’s means of earning a living. It’s already diverted a lot of their time and energy away from creating and promoting their music towards countering these malicious lies.

One of the bands has also dropped hints that they have strong suspicions as to the identity of the perpetrators (note the use of the plural here). While I don’t want to speculate on their specific identity, it does feel like the work of a fan or maybe even a member of a prog band made up of ugly blokes who’s bitter that the record label had passed over their dated 80s-style neo-prog in favour of two bands in question. That would put the sneering references to “bands fronted by pretty girls”, “beauty contests” and “they aren’t proper prog” in to context.

Somehow I don’t think we’ve heard the last of this by a long way.

Posted in Music, Music Opinion | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments