Tag Archives: The Music Business

What Happened to the Leisure Society?

David Graeber, writing for Strike! Magazine asks what happened to the leisure society predicted a couple of generations ago.

In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century’s end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Great Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour work week. There’s every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen. Instead, technology has been marshaled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.

He’s talking of things like telemarketing, insurance sales, and large sections of corporate bureaucracies. And while the political right loves to talk about wasteful public-sector “non-jobs”, the private sector actually far worse.

And all this waste of human potential comes at the expense of the far better things that people would like to be able to do instead, as demonstrated by this anecdote about the career of an old school friend who had a brief but unsuccessful music career.

He was obviously brilliant, innovative, and his work had unquestionably brightened and improved the lives of people all over the world. Yet, after a couple of unsuccessful albums, he’d lost his contract, and plagued with debts and a newborn daughter, ended up, as he put it, “taking the default choice of so many directionless folk: law school.” Now he’s a corporate lawyer working in a prominent New York firm. He was the first to admit that his job was utterly meaningless, contributed nothing to the world, and, in his own estimation, should not really exist.

There’s a lot of questions one could ask here, starting with, what does it say about our society that it seems to generate an extremely limited demand for talented poet-musicians, but an apparently infinite demand for specialists in corporate law? (Answer: if 1% of the population controls most of the disposable wealth, what we call “the market” reflects what they think is useful or important, not anybody else.)

That anecdote hit home to me, when I think of the number of musicians I know who make their music during evenings and weekends, fitted around the demands of a day job. But it’s their out-of-hours music career that touches the lives of far more people.

Posted in Religion & Politics | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Angry Small Band

Who’s following Self Righteous Band (@angrysmallband) on Twitter? If you’re on Twitter, and either follow your favorite small bands, or are in a small band yourself, they’re a must-follow.

 

What makes this parody account so funny is how closely their twitter feed resembles that of one or two real bands. No, I’m not going to mention any names. But if you’re in a band, and you think your own Twitter feed is dangerously close to theirs, then perhaps you need to rethink your social media strategy?

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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.

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