Collisions at the Corner of Art and Commerce

Get out of the Music Business now....

Thursday, May 26, 2011

"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs.  There is also a negative side."  -  Variously attributed to Hunter S. Thompson    Please see note below.

Haven't been feeling too bloggy lately, but then I ran across this quote in an email sig line and had to share. I thought I'd use this to invite you to reconsider even thinking of yourself in the music business.  Why be *in* the 'music business', when you can instead get into the business of you/your band?  It will have elements of the music business involved and you'll be banging up against the biz in numerous places, but why make a big fight to get into a dying business?  Why not work your way to something way better and more fun - the business of you.  I know, it's a cliche (and I think even a book title)... but it's true.  And by dying business I don't mean that people aren't going to continue to want to access great new music - they do and will continue to do so, I simply mean that the structures and players of the old business are collapsing around us.  Why race to get on board the Titanic?  But just because the Titanic sank didn't mean that people stopped wanting to get across the ocean between the  US and Europe, they simply chose different, yet better,  shall we say, more 'floaty' ways of getting across the ocean.... more and better ships until jets came along - creating an even bigger change.   It's true that you can still take a ship between New York and Europe, but it's a nostalgia trip, a 'cruise'.   It's not a means of transportation between continents for anyone but those grievously afraid of flying.   Kinda like Vinyl albums.  It looks like it's here to stay.  However, save for die hard audiophiles or collectors, it's no longer a significant means of people accessing and storing music.  Things change - and you should consider changing too.

Conventional wisdom to question:   Let's look at the starting assumption of a need to make a full length CD.  In most instances developing artists (and even many established artists) would be better served by recording in small batches of songs, or individual songs and getting that music out directly and electronically to their fans.  

In my opinion making a full length CD  is a worthwhile endeavor only if one of the following conditions applies:

  1. That there are artistic reasons to do so (such as a concept album or a song cycle or some other factor that cries out for a full length CD production)

2.That the artist simply has always wanted to have the experience of making a full CD and they have the financial wherewithal to record and support the release with touring and other means of building an audience.  The process of holing up and focusing on nothing more than making an album is a wondrous endeavor.  However, few indie artists have the luxury of funding to do a whole recording at once.  

(If you don't have that kind of money laying around and will more likely be making the album in pieces, why not simply release it in pieces too?)

3.You simply have money to burn and want to be able to rant about how you made this great album and nobody is paying attention to you cause 'the business' sucks  (it does, see above) or cause you don't have 'connections' to help you get your music out to the masses or whatever the whine du jour.

I'm not under the illusion that building a following is easy, but the tools of doing so are now more readily available than ever before.  The key is for your music to be really, really good - then you couple that with steady efforts to get your music into the ears of new people.   And as a band trying to build a following in 2011, that probably doesn't involve selling said music at least initially.  Until you've developed a fan base to a degree, the idea of asking people who aren't fans of your music to pay for it doesn't make much sense.  You're competing with free - there are plenty of other places for people to access good music - if I've never heard your music and  you want to hit me up for $.99 you're probably doing yourself some harm in the audience building department, cause barring some other intriguing reason for me to pay attention, I'll probably move on without hitting the 'buy' button.

You need people to hear your really, really good music  (your music *is* really, really good isn't it?  If it's not, fixing that is step 1).   I'm *not* saying that music doesn't have value, and I'm *not* saying that creators shouldn't be compensated, I'm simply pointing out the reality of the marketplace.  I'll also add that I *do* think that there are ways to get fans involved and get them to pay you for your music etc, but that's *after* they've become fans.  If you're still trying to get a toehold of an audience going, in most instances I can imagine, free is the best bet.  I know it's a drag that you've spent all that money to record - but that's probably another piece of the conventional wisdom to try to undo - you shouldn't be spending a bunch of money to record your early music at this point.  Once again, technology has democratized and economized the recording process.  You can and should make great sounding recordings for not a bunch of money at this point.... making it easier to give it away initially.

Note on Thompson 'quote':  A bit of research turns up that he wrote these words in reference to the TV news biz, minus the 'There is also a negative side', which appears to have been added by someone else.   Despite the fact that this has been altered to apply to several different businesses, I think it's highly accurate in reference to the music business, and funny as well.

updated: 8 years ago