Tuesday, February 9, 2010

DUH... Music should be free... And the rules are changing

Chris Knab is a music industry insider with a blog focused on the music biz: http://miyb.blogspot.com/.  His insight is extremely helpful for the working musician, and he covers a whole slew of topics from knowing your typical fan to how the music biz is changing.  A must read for anyone serious about making money with their music.

My favorite part of Chris's blog is his DUH series: a collection of statements that make you slap your forehead and go, "Duh!  It's so simple!  Why didn't I think of that?"  A collection of DUH statements can be found here.

He also occasionally posts DUHs on his Twitter.

One recent DUH caught my eye more than others.  It relates to one of the biggest developments for not only the music business, but the newspaper business, the book publishing business, the television business, the movie renta... you get the idea...

DUH:157:“Digital files cannot be made uncopyable, any more than water can be made not wet. “.Bruce Schneier

Simple enough.  A digital file can never be fully protected from copying.  There will be a genius out there that can get past the safeguards and bypass the protections and get through the encryption... and the digital file will become fair game to anyone with a computer, smartphone, iphone...

Daunting for the music business to say the least.  Once it's out there, it is out there for the taking.  Songs get passed around from user to user, from hard drive to hard drive, using flash drives or portable hard drives or email or ftp servers or torrent or p2p or... and nothing is protected, everything is free, all the money the label and the promoters and the publicists and the marketing companies, all of their money spent on pushing a product to be sold... all of that money is never recouped because less and less people are actually spending money on the product.

You might think that I've been brainwashed by Bob Lefsetz, and you wouldn't be completely wrong.  But it's not a brainwashing, it's a realization, and an acceptance that the rules are changing.  Hell, it's a completely different game.  The physical album is a thing of the past.  The Smashing Pumpkins are embracing it.  They'll be releasing a 44 track album, one track at a time, all for FREE.  Yep, free.  Gratis.  No charge.  Put your wallet away.

This means two things:

- The Smashing Pumpkins are counting on their fans to compensate them in other ways (touring, merchandise, collector's editions of the album)
- The music had better not suck otherwise there's the "the only way they could get people to listen is by giving it away for free" joke that will get driven into the ground

Well, it also means that more and more bands are going to have to adapt to the new business model that will be evolving over the next couple years.  Your music had better be free and it better be amazing and it better make people want to come see you live and buy a t-shirt and a hoodie and a special physical edition of the FREE music they already have.  Because if the music sucks, you're going to be up shit creek without an income.

This is what has the music business (and the newspaper business and the book publishing busine... you get the idea) so scared shitless.  How are they going to make money?  How are the majors going to maintain their bottom line?  Where are the platinum selling albums going to come from?  These questions suck for the majors, but don't suck as much for the indies.  Because indies are agile.  Indies don't need to go platinum.  Indies need to serve their niche, need to connect with the true fans that bleed for the music, the fans that know all the lyrics and read the liner notes and put up flyers and tweet about tour dates and post pics from the show straight to facebook from their iphones. 

I'm an indie.  Albeit an indie barely out of the womb, as helpless as a newborn, incapable of supporting my head and barely able to suck on my mom's boob.  But it's okay.  Because I'll be learning at a prodigious rate while the old, old dinosaur majors will be struggling to play the old game, with their walkers and hearing aids. 

I'm looking forward to it.  I hope you are, too.


  1. I love finding new music, but I gotta say I miss the days when you were filled with excitement about a new album coming out and going with your friends to buy it and heading over to someones house and hearing it for the first time with your friends. Pouring over the album cover and dissecting every song. Now you just tweet, post and email..all by yourself

  2. Me, too!!!

    And, if a band/ artist has a solid fanbase that is absolutely in love with them, they owe it to the fans to create deluxe editions with even more content to pour over and dissect. True fans will always go to extreme measures to find those deep cuts and seek out the nitty gritty info about their favorite music.

    I'm of the belief that to get to that point an artist needs to give the gift of their art for free. Build a rapport with the fans. Weed through the casual onlooker and seek out those TRUE fans that live and breathe your art.

    Then reward them with creative artwork and kooky biographical info and special online performances and other perks. The TRUE fans deserve it!!

  3. Bravo, a true renaissance man!