|Courtesy of local music scene satirist Richard Douche-ard. Used without
his damn permission. Try and stop me!
I’ve been having a series of conversations on Facebook (1 – 2) about various components of the value of music and, much like other aspects of life (stupid Hollywoodized rules for dating for example), we’re caught between…
There are numerous articles about the difference between price and value. There is a famous (and probably ongoing) debate about whether people in high-risk areas for malaria are more likely to use mosquito nets that they are given for free or that they paid a small amount for (1 2 3). The situation for musicians is, however, is not much like mosquito nets. There are huge numbers of people creating music. If we look at one arbitrary metric, iTunes has more than 20 million songs available! When I write a song, I am pretty sure the world doesn’t really need it. There isn’t a supply shortage. I write my music for myself, but then at least some part of me yearns for justification by having it reach others.
When people ask me to listen to their music, I almost never do. I don’t have time and I don’t have interest. If you hand me a CD, it will take me some 15 minutes to open it, put it into my computer, rip it (and probably type the stupid track names in because most people handing me a CD haven’t bothered to put their disc into freedb), and then open the files. Chances are, it’s just not going to happen. I don’t mean that as a personal slight to anyone, I just won’t do it. If you send me a download link to your music (on bandcamp or something similar) after I’ve had a conversation with you, the chances are greater. If you are on Spotify, the chances are actually very high. I’ve been storing a “music to listen to” playlist and the time/risk/cost of adding your music to that is extremely low and I won’t forget about it. Sure, that playlist contains thousands of songs at the moment, but I do seem to be making pretty regular digs into it. I listen to tons of new music, particularly local music – almost 100% because I regularly hear about or read about bands. I trust when someone tells me they like a band that they have no stake in. I check it out. Still, I have far less time to do this than I have music I’d like to check out.
1. Get someone with a reputable name to give away your music for free
Tangent: when The Motion Sick appeared in SPIN prior to ever playing a single show, we were immediately taken seriously and it became easy to book shows at venues that would never be attainable to a new band with no connections. As it turns out, being in SPIN sold fewer CDs (and downloads) than we sold on numerous good show nights throughout the years, BUT it made everyone we personally know take our band a lot more seriously. Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling‘s recent appearance over at TIME had a similar effect in justifying our existence to friends and family. The music doesn’t change just because SPIN or TIME writes about it, but the way people perceive it absolutely does. Most of these things won’t break you with huge new audiences, but they will strengthen your ties to your existing audience.
2. Offer it for a limited time
|For fan club members only!!!|
3. Offer it to a select group of people who are engaged in a special way
In one case that I am aware of, The Lights Out, used an unobserved merch case (with cash box lockdown) allowing people to drop money into the box and collect merch at any price they felt fair. My understanding is that this has been a very successful approach and doesn’t not make the buyer feel that they are under surveillance or being judged.
UPDATE: Here’s a video tour of The Lights Out‘s merch case:
Should we forget free?!?!?!?
My rant on the future of consumption below, but first…
My rant from Facebook: I think musicians have to stop pretending that music has much consumer value and stop expecting that people are going to pay historical prices for it. The giant corporate conglomerate market control and price fixing has ended. Now, music is so overwhelmingly available and has become virtually worthless as a commodity. We need to accept it. Does that suck for musicians? Yes, it does. Is it the reality? Yes, it is.
I view music purchasers as “supporters of the arts,” if you will. They are not doing it to get the commodity; they are doing it to encourage the artist to keep doing what they are doing. It’s turning more toward patronage, it’s not consumerism anymore (or it won’t be for very much longer I believe). We have a culture that does not value art very much financially. Thus, art has little monetary value. You can throw a tantrum about that, but it’s not going to change the facts. While I don’t support piracy in a general sense, I think we need to acknowledge that the value of music was faked for so long and that the modern consumers demand music for free (or pennies). Again, sucks for musicians, but it’s how it goes. No one has a right to make a living being an artist. Artists need to stop demanding that right if the market doesn’t support it. We can come up with a million reasons why our music should sell for as much (or more) than it does now, but those reasons are simply not relevant to market value. I realized that the fastest and best way I could lose less money making music was not to sell more or sell it at a higher price, but rather to stop spending money. Do my recordings sound as good as they would if I spent a lot of money on them? No. Would I sell more if I had spent more? Also no.
I think artists will ultimately benefit the most from subscription model payouts once statutory rates for streaming are set (and hopefully are somewhat reasonable). It also rewards people that make good music that gets listened to a lot and removes rewards for overmarketing terrible music. I think that the end of music selling in favor of paying per stream will ultimately save the art. Write bad songs, get no plays. Write great songs, get plays. First thing we need to do is abandon the idea that people are going to be willing to pay $10 for an album. That concept doesn’t have much life left in it. I say kill the pirates by meeting consumer demands, not passing imbecilic laws. Spotify is a piracy killer. Sure, the payouts need to be worked out still, but that is where the focus of legislation should be – how can we shift to a streaming, on-demand model that can work for everyone? Artists are, of course, going to lose out in this shift, but it’s inevitable.