Tuesday 21 June 2016

The Future of Music

So I'm producing my second album, and having already released a first, I'm perhaps a lot more conscious of the amount of time, money, energy, and sacrifices that this project entitles me to, and so lately I've been finding myself questioning more and more why I'm doing it.

The answer is that mostly, my sole interests in life lie in creating music, developing a creative universe where as many people as possible will feel welcomed in, and evolving as an artist, above all.
So if I know this to be my purpose, why am I questionning myself?

Because the reality of the music industry, between when I was a kid in the early 90s and now, has changed SO MUCH, and the term industry has been implanted at the core of the business (read the editorial I wrote on the matter a few months ago), to the point where we are so saturated with [highly questionable] music that if I didn't have the following I have now, or the vital need to express myself and evolve through music, I probably wouldn't do it anymore.

Over the past 15 years, music has experienced a tremendous evolution in its business and its technology. From Napster to LimeWire, to Songza, to YouTube to Spotify, music has become so easily accessible -and yet, who's making the money? Certainly not the thousand thousands artists you're likely to find on these websites. Moreover, the concept of the "album", originally a sonic tale averaging on 14 chapters, that an artist would create, has seemingly been replaced by the 99¢ song you can buy (that is IF you buy it). All the aforementioned websites offer ways that you can get a song for free. And then there's the artist's dire need for exposure, which makes it so that we're always likely to give away at least one song for free off a release, in the hope that someone will download the free song, share it with as many people as possible, and eventually, an album sale will ensue, or a packed venue.

As independant artists, we ask ourselves, inevitably, what's the point of developing a creative universe, of releasing a full-length album. You do it because you have to, because there's this urge, this force in and out of you that propels you to make art first, and a product, second. In other words, you're going to create your art, and then find the tools and outlets that will appropriately help you to put your art out for the world to experience. And your dream/heart's desire/goal thus becomes to be able to share your art with as many people as you can.

And then there's the other people, who aren't quite exactly artists, but people with a little bit of talent and usually a lot greater budget, who want to "be famous" and will get help from  people to get an EP out there, and won't be afraid to spend/lose money to pursue their dream of being on the cover of a magazine.

The dream. Many people have it, coming from a different angle.
And if there's one thing that has horrifyingly developed over the past 10 years, it's platforms designated to suck out as many people's money by exploiting said-dream of succeeding at a music career.

Name one festival, for example, that doesn't ask you to pay a fee to apply for it.
And if there's no fee for playing said-festival, then its organization is inevitably highly questionable.

When your dream of a successful music career becomes your life goal, aka you become willing to do anything to make it, you're plunging intro a dark, dark ocean filled with sharks and leaches which's sole purpose is to suck every dollar they can out of you. Platforms like Sonicbids abound, and portray one of the many hideous money-making gimmicks the music business has come to. Festivals will now choose to advertise their application periods through these websites, and so you've got this one website you apply to (Sonicbids), and have access to all the festival applications of the world, pretty much. Or you settle for following all the festivals' Twitter accounts, or mailing lists, if the fest has one. But the fact remains that every festival has an application fee, and you're most likely to never see that money again. And then if you do play the festival, there's a very high chance you're not getting paid, and that you're even losing money in the end. Calculate how much you spent to get a spot on that festival bill, how much money you're spending on gear, paying your bandmates, and on gas getting there (or a plane ticket), vs how much you're getting back. If you've sold merch, you're lucky. If you get any form of revenue, you're even luckier. If not, well, you're likely to be more in debt than anything else, and that's the case of most gigs out there.

And then there's platforms of music distribution, like CDBaby, which are coming to the stage of re-evaluation in their timeline. CDBaby basically asks you for a minimum subscription fee, giving you in exchange the distribution of your music on a variety of streaming websites. These websites take your music, and add it to their catalog. You'll do this in the hope that somebody out there, or as many people as possible, will find you out there, and buy your music, and share it, and come to your shows.

The reality is that unless you're graced with as huge as possible of a marketing budget, there's not a high chance of you actually ever seeing that money back. You're pretty much renting out your music to streaming websites.

Over the past week, my Twitter feed graced me with the news of the highly possible forthcoming end of iTunes, which easily offers the worse possible kind of bargain an independent artist can put his/her music out on. Indeed, iTunes will charge you to put your music on their site, and then keep the money you're making on album/song sales until you qualify as a profitable revenue, according to their standards. Til then, every dollar someone decides to spend on you through iTunes goes directly to iTunes (as if they needed your money more than you do!).

We're coming at a time where the appeal of the new technology/means has worn off. Artists have tried the multitude of websites (or downward-spiral-k-holes) out there to distribute and showcase their music, and after at least 10 years of trials and usage, they're coming to conclusions:

1- the amount of sharks and leaches out there is infinitely exponential to that of, say, starfish
2- and yet there ARE starfish, so technology isn't always so bad
3- what matters is that you learn how to swim

The DIY approach remains an independant artist's favorite, and in a world where we now have countless ways of connecting directly with our followers (social media), well, when it comes to sharing and selling our music, we want to be able to keep the same level of proximity. A platform like Bandcamp thus comes out as the clear, obvious, starfish option. Bandcamp lets you upload your music for free, and basically will, from time to time take a minimal amount of your sales as its cut.
But the agreement remains: people who buy your music from Bandcamp pay you directly. There's no intermediate between your supporters and your self, and your bank account. Your profits go straight to your Paypal account, and if, like me, you've linked it straight to your bank account, well, there you have it. And what is more, Bandcamp provide you with an overture to the world through the well-thought-out tags you'll put to your music. Indeed, its users can basically search artists that sound like X., and find your page. This happened to me with a follower from Germany!

The sharks and leaches will suck out a-plenty, but the validity of their ways, in the long-run, never prevails -as in every ocean-sphere of life. Such is Karma. In the long-run, the life-experience run, people will try, test and come to terms with results. Us independant artists are becoming more and more educated, and having been fooled once, more often than not with swear to ourselves not to be fooled twice.

So what of the future of music? From an independent musician's perspective, I daresay that the platforms where artists can get a direct contact with their supporters definitely stand as the winning models. Throughout history, trends have come, and eventually gone. Therefore, whoever out there is just doing their own thing might as well keep on doing it.

You're doing this for yourself, first, and  you've got to remember that.

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