I like the new music business. Even ten years ago it would have been really hard to produce and distribute one’s music from the comfort of your hovel. As it stands today an individual or a group of friends can get together, record and master their songs and distribute them worldwide without knowing another soul in the business. Of course this might not be a model for success, but still what an amazing leap.
As we have been going through this process it has become easier to see where the bottle necks in this system exist and how those impediments are being swept away by innovative creators. There are large sections of the process required to fulfill Discmakers/CDbaby’s production needs that could be automated, giving immediate – and reassuring – feedback to the musician. Removing duplications of effort, that irritate and confound the novice producer.
Having worked in support of the written music publishing industry I am aware that some of the problem is legal. Often, in an effort to indemnify themselves from risk, industries lobby for legislation that protects them from disruptive change. An unfortunate side effect is the fossilization of the industry as new technologies circumvent these protections, leaving the industry bound within an archaic structure it cannot escape. Whole new models build up to replace the old, but the transitions are often painful. And regularly leave the old model to whither in the tangle of its own drying vines.
What the record companies have that has not yet been adequately replicated is a network of interest builders. Their efforts in hyping a particular artist or product are beautifully orchestrated across an ecosystem of self interest. A symbiotic relationship exist between the various components of music distribution. Radio stations whose main impediment is mostly in the initial start up phase (infrastructure costs and licensing fees) used to find an easily sustainable model as they received free music from the record companies. Each week a new batch of fresh contenders would arrive in the post ready to battle it out for your ears, while the radio station managers read the Ratings Book and set advertising schedules. Economies of scale meant extremely low production costs for record producers, and the draconian terms written into the contracts often meant that the artist would see next to no money from their personal efforts, as their successful popularity fueled the rest of the less productive industry adventures ( ask Carlos Santana or the members of Devo about this ). And all this funded by a voracious hunger emanating from the throngs of trained consumers, in a tide of gross excess. The demographic bulge that allowed this industry to pay such shockingly lucrative dividends, to itself, also made it lazy and fat, and too unresponsive to the threats imposed by transparency, democratization, and waning demographics.
But now that I have indicted the industry I’m still left to wonder where the engine of sustained desire will come from, or is that a relic as well. I find it hard to believe that merit has much to do with success in the music business. There has never been a time, since I can remember, when musicians of immense talent were not overlooked. A perennial problem for the artist of any stripe, but can it ever be different? Or is the new difference that we must not aspire to opulent success. Oh… that sucks. You mean – that’s a fantasy, perpetrated by some endemic quirk of evolution. So it’s okay for me to want stacks of gold, it being an evolutionary imperative and all, but not intelligent of me to really expect it. Poopy!
Still, I love that I can la, la , la, la, into a mic and twang, twang, plink, plunk, on my instruments and share that effort with you. Driven by fantasy or not its a gas to get that ephemeral moment right. Or at least share that properly shaped digital expression of a virtually ephemeral moment.