Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Song Remains The Same (NOT)

The internet has changed the playing field of many industries, in the way we produce, network and reach our audience. The internet is a great equaliser, it brings prices down, it makes almost everything cheaper. We get to cut out a lot of the middlemen in transactions.
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However, there is one industry that stands out for being most maligned by it, causing the entire business model to shift dramatically. Its like talking pictures being invented and accepted by the masses, have a heart and see how those whose livelihood was connected to silent pictures - what a mind blowing change for them. Then we have the invention and acceptance of television, which totally displaces much of the "influence and attraction" of the radio.

However, even those two scenarios added up cannot be compared to the tumultuous upheaval of the music industry by the internet. Now music is almost a commodity. You'd be hard pressed to find anyone paying anything for music. $1.00 seems to be the norm set by Apple.

Can anyone turn this around? I think not because we now listen to music from our phones and pods and pads, not so much from the hi-fi systems at home. There is Spotify now, a morphed Napster, offering an enormous library most for free.

How does this affect you and me? Well, it will and have affected the livelihood of musicians. Record labels will not try to promote new acts, how to when even Jay Chou sells less than 10,000 for his latest album in Malaysia? Now albums are there not to make money but to promote the artistes for live performances. Don't you ever wonder why suddenly over the last 5 years, we see more and more international artistes at our shores - I mean, last time, they would probably skip Malaysia, now we are an important destination.
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It affects the kind of artiste that will get recorded or promoted - American Idols, the established players, no one will go for an untried and untested artiste. It used to be that bands in pubs are great breeding ground for great bands, now even the biggest record labels and producers will stay away from them - so we all lose out as that channel gets crushed.

Ever wonder why there have been so many more of the Il Divos, the 5 Tenors, the 20 Chinese lady classical musicians, the 2Cellos - all are marketed hype of beautiful people that can play well to an audience. If you are below average looking as a musician, fat hopes baby. We will never get our Jose Felicianos, our Stevie Wonders .... 

The Idols, X-Factors, The Voice (and I am sure we will get the future Lung Busters, The Throat, etc.) are ok on their own but if they are the main source of future global musicians, then we are pandering to the lowest common denominator. We will exclude the Lou Reeds, the 10ccs, the Norah Jones, etc.. of the world.

I dread about the kind of musical talent that will come to the fore in the future, all we have will be the Underwoods, the Susan Boyles ... not that these are bad things, these are just interpreters of things - where will we find the new sound (Adele and Rumer are exceptions), where will we discover our Bebel Gilbertos, our Joanna Wang (if not for her father) or Blur?

As musicians, they will always bring this up as fucking up their industry, yes... stomach it or leave it. Know that you might not make tons of money from it, and you better be damn good as a performing live artiste. Its not the same anymore, no point bitching about it, the tide has shifted. You can still make it but the path is very different and you have to play a lot more gigs, grow your audience bit by bit, play larger and larger venue until the record labels deem it as sufficiently "safe" to pick you up.
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Kids These Days: Spotify, Radiohead, and the Devaluation of Music

The other day I had an epiphany: To the average music consumer, a song is 
worth less than a candy bar. It might last longer, sound sweeter, and offer a 
more meaningful experience, but don't ask us to spend more than $1 on it. In 
fact, we'd prefer you didn't ask us to spend any money at all. That's why we 
loved Napster, that's why we loved Pandora, and that's why we love Spotify.

Early last summer the popular European digital music service Spotify came to 
the United States with much blog buzz and fanfare. Boasting a catalog of over 
15 million songs, Spotify offers free streaming access to its entire library 
through any laptop or mobile device. It's ad supported, but subscribers willing 
to shell out $10 a month can enjoy their playlists without the interruption of 
advertisements. Not a bad deal for music fans. And at first glance, it's not a 
bad deal for musicians either. The artist is paid royalties on a per play basis.
 Everybody wins, right? Not really.

Will Baker
Spotify doesn't pay pennies on the dollar, it pays pennies on the penny. Recently, indie label Projekt Records pulled out of its deal with Spotify, citing a minuscule $0.0013-per-play payout as one reason for bailing. In 2010, The Guardian published an article in which author Sam Leith revealed a rather shocking piece of information: In the space of a few months, Lady Gaga's smash hit "Poker Face" received over 1 million streams. She was compensated to the tune of $167.

Spotify has since countered that claim, saying that the number is misleading and refers to the performance and publishing royalties paid to the collecting agency of the song's Swedish co-writer. But $167 sounds absurdly low no matter how you slice it. Of course, one could argue that Lady Gaga and her team don't need the money. Fans argued the same thing after Metallica sued Napster in 2000. When the conflict is framed as a David-and-
Goliath showdown between mega-rich rock stars and broke college students, 
there's little question who will win the fight for the public's sympathy.

But that's not the battle that's being fought. The real victims here are so 
powerless no one even remembers they exist. When an established band like 
 Radiohead gives away a record for free (as it did with "In Rainbows") it 
increases exposure, which in turn boosts touring and merchandising revenue. 
But the vast majority of bands out there aren't Radiohead. They're small, 
unknown groups with no money or support structure. Sure, they can give away 
their record. But will anyone notice or care? Probably not. Meanwhile, 
Radiohead and Spotify are busy teaching us that, as consumers, we aren't 
responsible for compensating our artists. In fact, we're being conditioned to 
feel inherently entitled to the fruits of their labor. The amount of time and 
money the artist has invested is of little concern. If we listen to something, 
then it is ours. It's a perspective similar to that of a small child who sees a 
new toy and shouts, "MINE!" He's always been given everything he wants. 
Why should this be any different?
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Many of us like to celebrate the apparent demise of the big, bad record 
companies as a justification for this behavior. We like to say that their 
business model is outdated and now they're paying the price. Good riddance, 
we say. Greedy bastards! But guess what? We've been singing that tune for 
over a decade, and those greedy record companies are still here. Sure, they're 
wounded. So they consolidate. They drop artists from their roster. 
They stop developing young acts. They stop signing new bands. They stop 
taking risks on anything different or exciting. They dump all their money into 
the tiny handful of top-grossing acts that keep the label afloat, like Lady Gaga
 and Metallica. When they do sign anyone, they sign safe bets like 
American Idol contestants and YouTube child sensations.

The unknown bands are left floundering in cyberspace, hoping in vain that they 
can amass enough Facebook fans to entice industry folk and get noticed. If 
they're smart, they tour. But touring is expensive, and since their records aren't
 selling well at gigs, they have trouble keeping the van gassed up. Unless 
they've been blessed with an angel investor or rich parents, life on the road 
isn't financially sustainable. So they figure the Internet is the way to go. Them 
and about 15 million others. They try to get some blog attention. Maybe
 Pitchfork will pick them up as the flavor of the month. But then what? 
I still don't have any  friends who listen to The Weeknd. Bands don't break
 through blogs.

Point is, it's hard out there for the little guys, the unknowns. And let's be 
honest, the trickle-down devaluation of music hasn't been much better for 
audiences than it has for bands. Sure we save a couple dollars, but the culture 
of one-hit-wonders, reality star divas, and the general cycle of crap that gets 
churned out by the pop culture machine has only worsened, thanks to musical 
Reaganomics. They say the customer is always right, but when the customer 
stops valuing the product, why bother investing in its production? Innovation 
dies in favor of the fast, the cheap and the guaranteed.

So pay for your music, boys and girls. Support the good stuff that's out there, 
and skip services like Spotify. We can't afford to live off candy bars forever.


johan5150 said...

was at search fenomena concert last nite.amy n the band rock isabella at mines exhibition hall to a full house for 3 hrs! 9 till 12pm.their opening was however YYZ(rush) intro and wish theres a little bit of jimmy page's
song remains the same..

richard said...

always buy my music in a cd from a store. it is usually not censored so noneed to buy bootleg :)