June 8, 2007

The Nature Of Things...

by Chris Randall

I'm sitting here listening to Aleksi Virta's excellent jazzy-house-dub-lounge-you-name-it album "..Meets Torsti At The Space Lounge" and I'm wondering about the nature of things in the music business these days. I mean, this is a fine record, and any label worth its salt could sell it, and it certainly would be easy to license (my main area of expertise), so I'm wondering about the wisdom of just giving it away.

I'm sure Aleksi will chime in with his thoughts in this matter; by no means construe this as criticism. I'm genuinely curious as to what would make someone put their album up for free, as opposed to one of the many pay services. I can come up with a few reasons on my own, and here they are:

1. Information wants to be free! Make it so! I personally don't agree with this, as I feel it devalues your initial output; the customer doesn't place any intrinsic value on the product, and thus your later output is similarly devalued. I don't know if this is true or not, and I can provide no empirical evidence to suggest it, but this is my gut feeling.

2. We'll make it up in the back end! This is demonstrably false, of course. A catch-22, if ever I saw one. You can't actually sell your product because it has no intrinsic value to it. You will begin selling your product once it has intrinsic value. It can't have any intrinsic value until such is assigned to it by you, the author. Ergo...

3. We're going to build a fan base first, then rock the shit out of 'em! Hmmm. Dunno 'bout that one.

4. I make music as a hobby, and have no interest in charging money for it. I just want people to hear and comment on what I've made. Now, this is a true calling, and while I don't subscribe to that view myself, I understand it.

Personally, I think a lot of musicians put their first releases out there for free these days, in the same way that I would give a demo tape to anyone in 1988. However, the difference is that, with that tape, there was a physical face-to-face transaction taking place, and I could imply value where there was none. Aleksi had no way of knowing that I would listen to his MP3s today, and he couldn't qualify or quantify what I was going to hear, and he almost certainly didn't want it to turn in to some meta-discussion about the nature of business in music, but there you go. Thoughts?



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Jun.11.2007 @ 12:11 PM
That's good news to me. Although I'm a lapsed Catholic, so I might be able to pull something off in a pinch.

Jun.11.2007 @ 12:12 PM
One thing you left out:

the market is flooded.

There are so many good musicians giving away their music that a lot of people have just stopped paying for music. A lot of listeners just expect music to be free. Why pay even 99 cents for a track when you can get something comparable for free?

I think that by lowering the general price of music, we will see a trend where more good musicians can make a decent living by making music. Fewer musicians will be making rock star level money, but the quality and selection of music will be greater.

I give away my music, and am looking for other people to join me, at link [www.thisisnotalel.co...]">link [www.thisisnotalel.co...]


Jun.11.2007 @ 3:24 PM
"There are so many good musicians giving away their music that a lot of people have just stopped paying for music. A lot of listeners just expect music to be free. Why pay even 99 cents for a track when you can get something comparable for free?"

funny, you almost made me feel guilty... on the other hand, i guess most of people would still get the 99 cent tracks for free illegally from filesharing sites / communities instead of getting "legal" free music.

i reckon 90% of the music i listen to is commercially released since it's really hard to find and filter artists from the free net releases that would really stand off and be something i love. i stopped keeping track quite a while ago. so i guess "something comparable for free" isn't entirely honest or only applies to certain genres or very few releases. most of the awesome keeper free records i've get have either been free sampler releases of otherwise commercially releasing artists, or albums by certain net labels that i've known to trust.

it sometimes feels kind of same as with free / open source apps, where "something comparable for free" equals something designed for coders by coders, and even though i'm a part-time programmer, i'd rather use something designed with more human usability in mind. it's like someone had a brilliant idea but only finished it to be passable for himself, since it was supposed to be given away for free with no obligations... i feel kind of same with lots of net-released music (and pretty big portion of all music), cool sounds and/or ideas and not bad at all but it doesn't get Really Interesting at any point. and that's how i feel about most of my own music too.

i don't know if christian music actually sells that much in finland even though a huge percentage of the population are (at least officially) christians - i have a hunch that the good ole middle-of-the-road pop and children's songs cheesy enough (smurfs singing pop hits in finnish sold a LOT of records some years ago) would be the ticket if one wanted easy money. hmm...!


Jun.11.2007 @ 3:33 PM
... of course, another simple explanation could be that i just don't know where to look for killer free music anymore :)

Jun.11.2007 @ 3:52 PM
Chris Randall
One needs to keep in mind that if you're purchasing commercial music, you're not really paying that artist to create directly. You're paying the label that artist is on to provide quality control and development, more than anything else.

When you take the label out of the equation, you have to do the quality control yourself. At that point, you rapidly find out why Positron has released _ONE_ album as a result of receiving a demo from an artist, and this label is 10 years old, and gets roughly 10 to 20 demos a week.

Quite frankly, I'm happy to pay the guys at Warp and Epitaph to sift through the shit for me, considering the sometimes life-altering results, for a relatively modest outlay. Have I gotten $10 worth of enjoyment from Jamie Lidell, Tom Waits, or Nick Cave? I don't even need to answer that.



Jun.11.2007 @ 4:27 PM
10 to 20 demos a week? What do you do with them all?

And you're not even a big label, the slush pile must be crazy big at places like Warp. I sent a few unsolicited demos out maybe 8 years ago, quickly realized how fruitless/hopeless the endeavour was.


Jun.12.2007 @ 1:00 AM
Woah, cool discussion! I've recently been conducting an on-going experiment to see how (if at all) I should approach the selling of my work. I recently completed an album of instrumental works, good ? bad? well I'm trying not to be judgemental - I'm pretty sure CR would have it with the other 9 demos he received this week - it went live on iTunes in April, so far precisely 1(one) sale. Now on purpose I told almost no-one, including my friends, so as not to skew the results, but I did put it up on lastFM and AmieStreet(where I've made all of 34 cents!). No surprises so far then, well that one sale was a bit of a surprise - who could it be?? Now I'm at the stage where I either:
A) start marketing it - shipping it to my local radio station etc.
B) start giving it away for free
C) both.

I've set the web site up to "do" Google AdSense and I've attached the relevant Zazzle just-in-time T-shirt designs, so I think I've got a few bases covered. Check out:

link [www.machinepop.co...]">link [www.machinepop.co...]

Tell me what approach would provide the most useful input to your "Selling" activities? Realise its downhill options only: (I cant do B then A) ...I'm leaning towards option c, but my internal lazy bastard is grumbling already... Oh and if you havent guessed I have a day job so I'm not selling gear to live(been there before - never again...).


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