Saturday, November 6, 2010

What I've been wrong about, Vol 2

A few years ago, I wrote:
Seth Godin's awesome insights can be boiled down to this: musicians need to find new ways to make money, because Seth will be godamned if he's gonna pay a pretty penny more for his mp3's. As with all of these "outsider" perspective screeds about the collapse of the shiny-disc-distribution music business, not a single person volunteers to pay artists *more* for music. Instead, we're lectured about how the wonderful internet has made our "product" ubiquitous and......free.....for Seth.

I'm going to spare my readers and clients the verbal 100-yard hurdle that is Godin's article. Here are the realities facing "independent" (read: non-label affiliated) musicians:

Don't believe the hype: We're told over and over how "the internet changed everything" in the music business. This is a lie. The only thing that was undermined was the physics of distribution (and to a degree, promotion), and all the associated businesses and infrastructure along with it. Beyond that, the music business is essentially unchanged.

Except now, it's easier to sell cheap Chinese plastic crap and sweatshop garments at horrific markups to your fans. Of course, these are called "souvenirs" or "schwag", but it's the same shit we've been peddling since Elvis. Thanks, Col. Tom.

Fuck MySpace: MySpace makes more money in a week from your music than you'll ever make from MySpace. They don't even share ad revenue with their members. Record companies tried for decades to get these kinds of deals signed, didn't they George Michael? This goes the same for practically every other "social" site that allows bands to upload music. People will argue that MySpace's value is not as an economic platform, but as a promotional one, because, inherently, your music has no value.

This is, of course, a hollow argument. Billions of gigabytes of mp3's litter the hard drives of Earth's denizens precisely because music has value.

The larger question is: will musicians be able to make a musical living at all?

As I write this today, my prediction is: generally, no. While there will be a minority class of professional artist/performer/personalities (smaller than today's), the vast majority of musical creatives will straddle multiple career paths and lines of income.

But fans also must realize they cannot have it both ways: you do not get to complain about the vapidity of contemporary music and similarly argue it should be free to acquire and listen to. Fans have a choice: you can remain passive and invisible, or you can engage and participate. And by participate, I mean to become a patron.

And let me be clear about this: patronage is *not* the shallow act of commenting, ranking/voting, or posting trite animated gifs on a MySpace page, nor nauseating promotional gushing on one's own blog: it is direct - a motivation of affinity.
It's an unfinished (and unedited) response to an article by Seth Godin (ala 2007-8?) where he lays out his map of the music business. I cannot find the post I was replying to, but it's almost irrelevant: Seth was right.

You have to understand where my head was at the time. Starving (economically) and hurt. Couldn't see my way through, and didn't want to deal with the realities of how hard the work was going to be. I didn't want to pay those dues. I came of age when the business looked completely solid. So of course my expectations were miscalibrated - my inputs were all wrong.

I saw the future in some ways (broadband), but was dead wrong about how long it was going to take. I knew the day I signed up on MP3.com (1999???) it was the way of the future. I just didn't think it was going to take 11 years for the internet to scale to a point where it was both relevant and useable.
The only thing that was undermined was the physics of distribution (and to a degree, promotion), and all the associated businesses and infrastructure along with it. Beyond that, the music business is essentially unchanged.
Turns out, distribution *was* the business, and the tours were supplemental to supporting the distribution. Now, it's inverted. And yes, that means the music business is changed. Big time.
MySpace makes more money in a week from your music than you'll ever make from MySpace. They don't even share ad revenue with their members. ... People will argue that MySpace's value is not as an economic platform, but as a promotional one, because, inherently, your music has no value.
Turns out music has incredible value, if it's any good, and ONLY IF YOU CAN PERFORM, TOO! Sure, the social sites are collecting a few pennies, but who cares? That's peanuts compared to what an artist can take in ticket sales. And that's really where the action is: the live show.
But fans also must realize they cannot have it both ways: you do not get to complain about the vapidity of contemporary music and similarly argue it should be free to acquire and listen to. Fans have a choice: you can remain passive and invisible, or you can engage and participate. And by participate, I mean to become a patron.
And my God do they want to participate. They want to engage, evangelize, and patronize. Desperately. A few years ago, before Twitter and Foursquare made the world interesting again, it seriously looked like people just didn't give a shit. Again, my inputs were wrong.

Finding Bob Lefsetz

I had no clue about Lefsetz until this video was linked one day on Reddit:


I'm not comfortable assigning a term to Lefsetz - blogger, critic, etc. In my view, he's none of those things. He's just Bob. He writes passionately. He cares. His blog is addictive (to me.) Subscribers of my GReader feed know I share his posts with annoying frequency. He is, in my world, a star. I had a choice to spend a Friday night on the town with Gene Simmons or Bob Lefsetz, I'll go with Bob in an instant.

The Big Insight

You have to appreciate how significant that statement is, and how much has changed in the world that makes it real. Instead of hanging out with a bonafide Rock Star, I'd rather hang with someone I'm going to feel a connection with. I'd rather have a great conversation about gardening or oceanography or Byzantine architecture than spend an evening ingratiating myself to Gene Simmons.

It's a little deeper than that, because Bob has also been an unwitting mentor. He's kicked open doors to new realities for me. He's helped light a new path. And like a true fan, I'm evangelizing his gospel. Most beautifully, he's done this without asking anything from me other than consideration. He's not behind a paywall - he's just put it all out there. For free.

I hate to keep couching this in religious terms, but let's be honest: it IS religion. Lefsetz put his gospel out there - his truth - for all to see. Take it or leave it. I took it. It changed me. I've seen the light and I want you (artists) to see it, too; I want you to be saved.

I'm out of the darkness now. Not only do I see the path, I know it's navigable. It's almost too easy: play, get paid. And most importantly.... no seriously - most importantly, BE GENUINE.

And why not? Why try to follow Simmons' path - who could?? Sing YOUR songs the way YOU want. If you're trying to mold yourself for the old world, you're totally fucked. Just do what you LOVE TO DO, and like flies to food, they'll come to you. They'll tweet. They'll share photos they take with you on Facebook. They'll record and post your performances on YouTube. Remember all the overhead it used to entail to get that done? Now its fansourced and......

....look at me. I'm so excited I can barely form coherent paragraphs. I keep veering into tangents.

And I owe this not to academia, not to the school of Hard Knocks, nor some random weekend music business seminar or songwriters guild, but to a guy with a blog who wasn't afraid to lay it all out there.

Thank you, Bob.
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Pop Quiz: Name two songs by the act Simmons is promoting in this video.

1 comments:

Nathan said...

In my creative writing classes, the most important thing that was instilled into the class was to be honest with the reader. If a writer is dishonest with the reader, it will do nothing to serve the work and will only serve in alienating the audience to whom the writer wishes to tell their story to.

I can only imagine that it is true with any other creative art: music, fibers, ceramics, painting, et. al.