Ever since his open letter to Emily White began burning in the skies over the internet, I’ve been seeking out more of David Lowery’s writings. His articles are very well written and totally convincing. Like pretty much everybody I know, I struggle with digesting all of the conflicting views, ideas, platitudes, numbers, etc. involved in figuring out how to make a living with music – especially as it applies to your average DIY artist. Which is all I really care about when you get down to brass tacks.
I get that people who were already in “the system” have a hard time seeing how they’re supposed to make a living in the so called “new model.” I also get that the exciting potential that the technology driven new world order was supposed to deliver has turned out to be a mirage or a bucket of shit depending on where you’re standing. In fact I pretty much agree, with damn near everything in David Lowery’s assessment of the landscape. The issue is that for a great many DIY musicians, it just doesn’t matter.
The New Boss Is Exactly The Same As The Old Boss: Not Hiring
See, the thing is, regardless of which side of the music business model schism you’re philosophy lies, the fact is that the widest, vastest, most overwhelming majority of artists aren’t invited to any slice of the institutional money party… never were… never will be. If we generously assume that half of these people’s lack of entry is attributable to the fact that they’re music is shit, that still leaves an amazing number of good, viable musicians that don’t really see the argument about which boss is better as relevant to their lives. Because they’re still doing what they’ve always done: self funded everything, given lots of shit away for free and basically taken a loss on the entire prospect.
I Found Free downloads of our entire catalog! Who cares?
Considering that most have always paid to record and manufacture their music 500 CDs at a time or fewer, rarely made back what they spent, saved up from their day jobs to tour, been relieved to make even $150 from a show (for the whole band), and really never felt like there was a system in place to help, the complaints about the injustice of MegaUpload and iTunes or Spotify payouts, needling aggregators, yadda yadda yadda… they just don’t have much meaning.
Shit. Most bands I know would be giddy to find out that their stuff had shown up on Piratebay. Yes, it can be seen as lost revenue, but… Holy shit! Somebody actually knows about us!
Crappy Return From iTunes/Amazon/Spotify Etc… Yay!!
I can see by David Lowery’s research how Apple and Amazon and everybody else is making a fucking killing with none of the risk or investment that the old label system had to accept. But in our DIY reality the fact that we don’t have to shell out another buttload of cash just to make a freekin copy of our music and can sell it for anything is pretty awesome. At least now it’s up to us to get people to buy! And we don’t have to deal with running our own shopping cart, and all of the technical crap.
Yes it would be nice to get more money, but getting anything is pretty novel. The reality of most DIY artists has traditionally been that you’re fucking lucky if you make enough off one run of CDs to pay for manufacturing the next run. Hell, you’re lucky if you sold the whole run. (Given the number of CDs bands end up giving away, illegal downloads of mp3s could actually be considered a savings.) As for streaming services like Spotify, at this point for small artists it’s basically the same as being pirated. Whether the payout is .02 or .00000000002 per stream it’s not going to buy a you a new set of strings anytime this decade. What you get is the glowy feeling from knowing somebody listened your song – which is a hell of a lot more than most people will get from regular radio.
Facebook And YouTube Stole My Traffic? Thank you!
Sure, if one wanted to, one could keep 100% of the profit by only distributing their music from their own website. Too bad YouTube and Facebook stole all our traffic… wait.. What? We’re supposed to be mad because these services set up dead simple way to distribute our videos and connect with our fans? Not only is it simple, but it’s WAY fucking easier than doing it ourselves. (Oooo how deliciously redundant!) See, most of us are musicians. Not webmasters, not programmers. We’d actually rather not have to pay somebody to do this shit for us. YouTube and Facebook are tools that allow us to not have to fuck with that shit.
Services like onesheet.com simply suck in your various feeds and spit out a website with all your shit on it! No bullshitting around with an official website necessary. Party! Given all of the crap that DIY artists have to juggle – including a day job – it’s huge anytime you can reduce the amount of internet crap you have to manage.
The “New Model” Just Ain’t That Scary
There never was a “model” for most of us. Therefore the the boogie man really isn’t that scary. Like I said up top, I understand and agree with David Lowery’s research and opinions on what it all means. But given that people of my ilk were never involved in “the business” it’s not hard to see why the outrage isn’t as loud as it probably should be.
We just went from one fucked up system that didn’t include us, to another fucked up system where we can include ourselves. That’s pretty much it. So now we’re looking at a bizarre model of tiers: free music (pirated), severely undervalued music (streaming), and somewhat undervalued music (itunes). Yet it’s a system in which we can all play label or no. It’s funny in a perverse way that while it’s pretty easy to get your stuff into the online marketplaces and streaming services, if you get to the point where your music is organically showing up on free download sites you should high five yourself because you’re more successful than most of your peers.
It seems blurrilly clear (yeah that) that down here on the street what we can do is take the tools available and get creative. This may represent a step up or a step down; it is what it is. There are people out there making it work, and we can learn from them. They are still the exception, which is the crux of the biscuit: in reality nothing has changed.
Disclaimer: I’ve definitely played a bit of devil’s advocate here. Think I’m full of shit? Leave me a comment and tell me why?