Along the same lines, the “Emily White” debate (who isn’t me) reminded me more than anything that we’re competing with free. An emotional and heated discussion erupted based on a simple and short blog post by an NPR intern. It’s almost like we tried to forget about the fact that we’re competing with free in recorded music sales until little Emily White reminded us — we’d swept it under the rug and it took a 20-year-old university student to ignite the debate around music evolving from a tangible to an intangible medium.
As artist representatives, we need to make the best of the tools, resources and revenue streams that are available to us. As an artist manager, I only make money when my artists do. There are many ways to derive revenue from recorded music—from sync to PRS royalties to merchandise bundles. Therefore, it is up to us (and the artists) to take advantage of these revenue streams in addition to physical/digital retail and streaming income, and we have to get as creative as possible.
Noone had heard the phrase “Kickstarter” five years ago, because the company didn’t exist. Now artists have a choice between Kickstarter, Pledge Music, Indie Gogo and beyond to help launch a direct-to-fan fundraising campaign.
Is there a strong label infrastructure the way there was when my management client, Brendan Benson, entered the industry in the 90’s? No. But thanks to Facebook Insights, I can instantly see that he has a large audience in Brazil, which I would not have known without the internet. And instead of selling his rights away, we’ve been able to build a business around Brendan and his music so he can continue to put music out while keeping the vast majority of the derived income.
Our industry got it dead wrong the first go around when music became digitised. Shawn Fanning could have been the leader of what’s next, creating a subscription based download model from the get-go. We decided to sue him instead. Why should we be shocked that fans continued to download music on their own after Napster was shut down? Clearly it was a service that the public loved, and instead of monetising it, the music industry decided to kill it.
Over a decade later, we’re starting to get it right. I’m a big fan of what Rdio has going on, and I’m excited to see how the film and TV industries evolve as streaming becomes stronger due to technology and public demand.
Mike Masnick of Techdirt points this out in the Q article, saying that the MegaUpload case could actually help the music industry: “There is an argument that if he [Kim Dotcom] was so successful and able to profit off other people’s copyright, that strikes me as a business opportunity for the copyright holders.”
Clearly, legislation isn’t going to stop human behaviour. The process of lawmaking takes too long and is generally behind the technology as soon as the laws are put into place. From underage drinking to drugs, laws do not stop the type of behaviour that humans may inevitably engage in.
Therefore it is up to us as a creative community to continue to make great music in a sustainable manner. Brendan Benson MADE MONEY on his most recent release — a good chunk of it — and we know who the fans are, which means he can continue to make money creating music for the rest of his life.
The debate is not cut and dry as many think. It’s not free or bound by endless laws, and one doesn’t have to sit firmly on one side of the ‘fence.’ Technology has helped to spark news and revolutions in the Middle East, spurred on by everyday people now able to communicate with each other instantly. But it has also made recorded music free, which means artists have to strive even more to create great art and, along with their teams, must communicate what they are doing as clearly and strongly as possible directly to their fanbases from as many angles as possible.
Yes, there is a lot of noise out there — with the price of recording technology going down, there will only continue to be more music. With the consumer’s point of view shifting from top-down marketing to on-demand, they will now have more power and choice than ever, which means that artists of all sizes can thrive — many are thriving already — and that artists might have to branch out beyond just putting out records. Of course that’s not ideal for all, but it is the reality.
In the classical era, musicians were often underpaid. In the post-Beatles era, corporations were generally paid before the artist. With the dawn of the digital era and disintegration of the traditional music industry, artists are again the focal point, and they need our help more than ever.
Isn’t it exciting that we can help guide them on their path and journey?
That we are here to facilitate a new era and get creative beyond just spending money to see what sticks? It’s a brave new world across the board, from music alone to how technology has shaped our lives as a whole. I, for one, am honoured to be a part of helping artists continue to evolve and move forward.
They’re not going to stop creating art any time soon, so why should we stop helping them get that music and content out to the world for the greater good and enjoyment for all? I’m looking forward to seeing and experiencing how we all grow and learn together both creatively and business-wise while remaining open-minded toward what our audience wants and what comes next.