July 19, 2011

This Too Shall Suck...

by Chris Randall
 

Matt Davidson (Stretta) put up an interesting comment on Google+ the other day that sparked a rather long and involved discussion. Since he put it on G+ instead of his blog, and limited it to his Circle Of Compadres or whatever, I assume he doesn't want me quoting it in entirety here. However, I'll paraphrase him (badly, and take specific points out of context even) here, and provide my own color commentary that I touched upon in the comments of his missive.

His general premise was that when one puts up an album on Bandcamp for "pay what you want," one is somewhat disappointed at the prevalence of the $1 that many people kick in for a full album, especially in the context of one's altruistic nature. Matt, like me, puts up a ton of secondary and tertiary content in the form of samples, entire songs, and software for free, in addition to the meta-project that is the album itself.

Looking at my Bandcamp stats, I feel I can break consumers of my (recent) music in to three groups: Benefactors, Listeners, and The Curious. The Benefactors kick in ten bucks every time, pretty much no matter what the content. Listeners tend to make a quantitative assessment of the value ("This album has 10 songs, therefor it is $10. This one has 5 songs, so here's your fin.") The Curious are the ones that pay a buck. I generally put up my EP-sized material for Pay-What-You-Want-Minimum-$1, so this number gets colored.

Benefactors are who really drive the commercial side of the process. After so long in this business, when I release an EP or LP, I know for certain fact that there is a group of people that will give me $10. I can count on them. I don't know how they perceive me in general, or why they do this, as I'm not one of these sorts. But this amount of money that I know is coming is essentially my budget. I use it for the TuneCore shit, and to buy anything else specific to the release. It is an immutable fact.

The Listeners are a source of extra income, but they're more fickle. These are the people I actually have to please, because the Benefactors, as long as I don't go all Metal Machine Music on them, will support virtually any endeavor. They aren't a terribly good sounding board. The Listeners, on the other hand, don't buy something they don't like.

The Curious are the people that find my material on YouTube or via a retweet, or hear it in Real World vs. Road Rules #23: Des Moines, or some shit like that, and are like "fuck it. It's here, I don't have to hunt up a Torrent. It's a buck. Fuck it." I look at this as value-added to me. I don't attempt to please these people. It's nice if they turn in to a Listener or a Benefactor, but they don't figure in to the equation except tangentially.

A commercial success for me is a release I didn't have to spend any of my own money to make. That's the 2011 version of the music industry. Even if I did, it's not that big a deal, because I make music I like, and am beholden to anybody only inasmuch as the more Listeners I alienate with any given release, the less income I'll see from that release.

Mark Beeson, who most of you don't know, but you're currently reading and commenting via a big chunk of code he wrote a long time ago, brought up an interesting point that is tertiary to my mission statement, but should be touched upon anyhow: iPod don't care. iPod don't give a shit. An album is no different than a song as far as your playlist is concerned. To put that in the context of what I'm talking about, from a crass commercial standpoint, to maximize the benefit of your Benefactors and Listeners, you should release a lot of single songs and two-song packages, rather than saving everything up for a single monumental release. Those of us that are older have an incredibly difficult time getting rid of the notion of the Long Playing Album Of 45 Minutes as a unit of music, but in this amazing modern world we live in, that is a relic of the 70s, for better or worse.

Thoughts?
 
 
 

46 comments:

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Jul.19.2011 @ 12:19 PM
Mr. B
I really think it depends on your goals. I've pretty much divorced myself from the idea that I'm ever going to be a "rock star", whatever that means. I'm just trying to make music that I would want to hear.

Along those lines, I don't listen to singles. I'm not generally interested in them. I like albums. Every time I hear the argument that the album is dead, you get a Radiohead or an Arcade Fire releasing what is essentially a concept album, and it blows everyone's fucking minds. (I'm not commenting on the quality of either band, just using as an example).

So, while it *might* be a better monetization strategy to release a single/maxi-single kind of thing, I'm not likely to do it because it's not what I'm interested in. I'd rather work to find the few people who are interested in what I'm trying to do, if any.

I've resigned myself to the fact that I'm never going to really "cover my costs", & I try to be thankful that at the moment I've got a job that provides me enough discretionary income to have the toys that let me pursue it. Talent (or lack thereof) is another issue altogether.
 
 

 
Jul.19.2011 @ 12:23 PM
chaircrusher
People who buy one song from an album for their iPod are casual consumers of music. They have an iPod because commercial radio doesn't play what they like, and either they have no acccess to college radio or they have access and think it's too wacky. That's the experience they're after -- the pop radio experience, only without the commercials or the uncertainties of radio reception.

Unless you have a handle on how to make chart-topping pop, r&b or hip hop, you're not going to be a significant player in the one-song-at-a-time world.

The album isn't dead, but its audience is smaller than it was before iPod. Anyone who buys and listens to music seriously will still put on an album, or select an album on the device of their choice. I want to know what Chris Randall or Reinhardt Voigt or Will Whitmore can do with 40 minutes to develop their ideas.
 
 

 
Jul.19.2011 @ 12:24 PM
noisetheorem
I saw the post and comments, but did'nt have time to post. Ill put my thoughts here.

Its not pretty, but it is the reality. Its harder, I think, for older musicians who grew up dreaming about fat record contracts and driving to gigs in limos than it is for the new generation.

Honestly, though, I think the music biz will ultimately be better for it. It gets a big ugly factor out of the equation (the record companies) and puts artists in much more control of their own destiny.

The world has changed. No one wants *just* music anymore. They want an end to end experience. The music is the extra thing you package along with the special software or gadget you created to add value, not the other way around. I am getting ready to do my first solo release and the big hang up I have is how to add that value. If I can make enough to pay for lunch or some more plugins Ill be thrilled. Making my money back will never ever happen.

This is the reality of it. You can cry about it and accomplish nothing, or you can accept it and move on.
 
 

 
Jul.19.2011 @ 1:30 PM
krylenko
With all due respect CC, I take major issue with "People who buy one song from an album for their iPod are casual consumers of music" and "Anyone who buys and listens to music seriously will still put on an album."

I too want to know what artist X can do with Y minutes to develop their ideas. But you know what? When Y > 10 minutes, too often the answer is "not enough". Not enough to be interesting, and not enough to be worth the money.

To cite one specific example of a musician I love: I'd far rather wear out the three Burial singles that blow my mind than listen to all of Untrue over and over, just because I'm supposed to as a "serious" music lover.
 
 

 
Jul.19.2011 @ 1:33 PM
Mike Nickel
First off, what was the Die Krupps reference regarding?

As for the primary topic here... I really appreciate the BandCamp offerings as I like to know that the artist is getting paid more and I love the choice of formats. I'm pretty sure that I paid a different amount for each Micronaut release on there and that was all circumstantial. It depended on how much I liked it and how strapped for cash I was at the time. Like for Resistor, that was when I just learned that the guy from SMG(you) was making instrumentals and I was curious. For the Experiment EP, I was counting the days until you published it.

Was this of any help?
 
 

 
Jul.19.2011 @ 1:34 PM
shamann
I get irritated when people release a lot of short pieces of music as separate commercial releases, especially on a system like Bandcamp that has no order bundling/shopping cart functionality.

I generally listen to albums only, or more accurately whole works and not just pieces taken from one (which could be a single song, but often isn't), so I can't really speak to Mr. Beeson's point. It is a foreign concept to me as a listener. But I agree that the rock CD ideal of 10 songs, 45 minutes no longer makes any sense.

I will say that I have no idea what most listeners want. People seem to dig Spotify, I hated it when I tried it. Other people seem to enjoy listening to Chillwave, but extended lofi variations on the Cars' Drive appeal very little to me. There is so much music around to listen to, and habits and tastes have become so varied, I find it hard to imagine that any general theory on listenership is even possible to formulate.
 
 

 
Jul.19.2011 @ 1:43 PM
Mike Nickel
Regarding the number of songs in a release, it doesn't really concern me. Yes, I do just shuffle albums or artists in my iPhone. I do however appreciate singles such as Study One in that you wanted to put a song... so you did. Yes, it goes in the playlist so the fact that it was a single was irrelevant. I currently have a playlist on my phone called Electronics+ that has all of the Micronaut BandCamp releases except for the live album and I listen to it quite often.
 
 

 
Jul.19.2011 @ 1:48 PM
shamann
Well now, how's this for timing:

link [blog.bandcamp.co...]
 
 

 
Jul.19.2011 @ 2:27 PM
Chris Randall
Well, now. That's a horse of another color.

That aside, we're all fairly aware of the habits of listeners, so chiming in with "well, I do things this way but I realize I'm in the minority" isn't terribly helpful information. Consumers will _always_ take the path that is the least amount of resistance as a function of the least amount of affect on the pocketbook. My Listeners and Benefactors will put up with a bit more bullshit than the average Joe, but since we're all technologically savvy, and not only listen to music but create it and engage in the commerce aspect for the most part, we, as a whole, make a really fucking shitty control group.

So 40 posts of "well, that's cute, but _I_ only listen to songs on the radio, then transcribe and transpose them for a quartet of two cellos, a viola, and an English horn, and carry around four blokes in my SUV to play them for me" and derivations thereof isn't useful. We're taking a more meta-view here, a look at the overall picture of the level of devaluation you're willing to accept as a creator.

-CR
 
 

 
Jul.19.2011 @ 2:52 PM
stepwriterun
Maybe I'm old fashioned but I like albums, CD's and vinyl. MP3's are convenient, but for one reason or another I like having the CD because I can essentially choose the quality of the MP3 that I eventually make to put onto my ipod. I also like the fact that I have a backup (with an actual book or something about the recording ) that won't flake out on me in the same way that a hard drive will. But since I'm a dinosaur in how I prefer to have my music don't listen to me.

For this brave new world of releasing songs I like the idea of releasing them in chunks of 2 to 5 per virtual EP. There is no reason to hold out for 10+ songs to make an album unless the songs have a unifying theme or you're only going to release the album fully mixed into a single large MP3 file. I don't think many people listen to full albums anyway.
 
 

 
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