The Motion Sick: The Greatest Rock Band Dilemma: To encourage/ignore piracy or to quash it

At the present, we find ourselves in a difficult situation.  The Motion Sick is a band that really loves making music.  We really do.  That is why we’re here.  We are not expecting fame and fortune, but in order to keep making music, we do need to achieve sustainability.  Sounds easy, right?  

Well, as it turns out, it’s much easier to accumulate fans, supporters, and champions than it is to sell records.  I don’t mean to imply that we are ungrateful regarding the numbers or quality of those who send over their hard earned greenbacks to get their hands on everything we’ve got…we really appreciate it!  I also don’t mean to demand that anyone who enjoys our music is somehow obligated to fire the benjamins at us.  I certainly understand that we can’t be a top purchasing priority for the cash-strapped, and we appreciate your support in whatever way you might be able to provide it: kind words, letting your friends know, writing our URL on your forehead in black marker, etc.!

Part of the problem is that I am thoroughly convinced that the value of music has decreased very significantly in recent years.  A number of things play a role in this.  Music piracy aside for a moment, I think the biggest problem is actually that there is so much music out there that it’s difficult to differentiate between the good and the bad.  This is a result of the breakdown of the major-label monopolies that kept a short leash on radio and television until the turn of the millennium.  We’ve got a glut of bands on myspace, youtube, satellite radio, etc.  Instead of 100 albums a year that get airplay, we have 10,000 (I am making up numbers).  While none of these independents is turning out numbers in the platinum range, I suspect many more musicians may be getting national exposure than in past eras.  I also suspect that many of these bands, despite significant press, airplay, etc., are barely breaking even or even losing money.  That’s right, I would wager that many of your favorite indie bands that seem like they’ve probably got mansions and sports cars are struggling to pay their bills (The Motion Sick’s members have mansions and sports cars –  if you consider an ’88 Volvo to be sporty – but we also all have additional employment). 

Ultimately, it costs a lot of money to function as a band.  I won’t throw numbers at you (and I’m sure it differs for each band), but whatever you might think it costs, you can probably multuply it by 10.  So, this brings us to a complicated problem.   What is the new model for achieving musical financial sustainability?  How can it be done?

One of the traditional sources of income for a band is record sales.  That is why the industry went into panic mode when piracy became prevalent.  It’s easy to argue that piracy increases exposure or allows people to try things they wouldn’t normally try.  Admittedly, I might be curious enough to download the latest Britney Spears record, but if I had no access to it, I certainly would never make an effort to seek it out, let alone pay anything for it.  This is an honest example of increased exposure through what is essentially illegal distribution of music.  Does it help Britney?  Well, I don’t ever buy any Britney merchandise, I don’t wear her line of perfumes, and I am not going to see her perform live.  The only way that you could arguably say it benefits her career is through the furthering of her brand.  I am, after all, writing about her in a web log entry about The Motion Sick!  

I don’t think Brit’s got a new album out this year, but The Motion Sick’s second album, The truth will catch you, just wait…, came out at the beginning of the year.  In less than a month’s time, pirated digital copies have been posted on dozens of blogs and file-sharing sites, and a number of promo copies have gone up for sale on eBay and other sites.  For the first few weeks, I decided to be aggressive about getting the infringing files removed from sites like rapidshare and sendspace.  After a short while, it became clear that keeping illegal copies of our album off the web would require full-time work in order to be successful.  That’s not really something I am very interested in spending my time on.  Anyway, maybe it’s fine to allow blogs to post full copies of our record.  After all, our goal is really to spread our music far and wide…but then, the million-dollar question is, how do we pay for our next record?  I just don’t know the answer…

I’m not sure that anyone in the music industry does.