Wednesday, October 21, 2020

A Friendly Reminder From Someone Who Cares: Stop Giving Your Music Away For Free!

Does anybody else remember those halcyon days when, as a musical artist or band, you could make enough cash from mp3.com downloads to MAKE A LIVING MAKING MUSIC?

I know that I'll never forget those days because they helped keep my boat afloat at a time when labels transitioned almost overnight from signing "challenging alternative artists who wrote and performed their own material" to doe-eyed bobbleheads like Britney Spears and the Spice Girls.

As a result, not only did the label interest I had been courting for the past couple years suddenly evaporate, but so did much of the money I'd been making from CD sales.

Thankfully, interest in my music on mp3.com led me to get an overdraft notice from my bank one day and notification that a direct deposit in the amount of $4,000 had just hit my account.

As you can imagine, this immediately changed the way I viewed digital downloads and the effectiveness of such a site as mp3.com.  


Granted, the pioneering music website's business model left a lot to be desired, but they did manage to do what few sites have done before or since: PUT THE ARTISTS FIRST! By doing so, of course, the site earned the furious scorn of an industry that would rather sue the future into oblivion than embrace an idea that they, themselves, did not formulate.

You see, even though the internet had become part of the global consciousness by the late '90s, the music industry was still in complete denial of the oncoming train heading straight in its direction. Convinced that they could merely litigate it and all other music sites out of existence, the major labels would then be completely broadsided by Napster a few years later, proving that the people now had the power when it came to the sharing of music over the web.

Fast forward to the year 2020 and we now see that the very same major labels who saw Napster as a threat to their very existence at the turn of the century have now gotten into bed with the likes of Napster co-founder Sean Parker, who now represents Spotify's interests.

What changed the minds of the likes of Jimmy Iovine and Irving Azoff, among others, you ask?

Plain and simple, money.

In order to gain access to the vaults of every major label, Spotify gifted shares of their company to the likes of Sony, Interscope, and others to get them to "play ball" and, as a result, labels now derive a majority of their annual income from this arrangement.

Mind you, it is nowhere near the billions upon billions they used to rake in from CD sales, but
once the labels found out that the artists would be making little to nothing from this Y2K union of snakes and cockroaches, the major labels couldn't sign fast enough.

Meanwhile, those music fans who UNDERSTAND THAT ARTISTS NEED MONEY TO MAKE MUSIC have led a resurgence of both vinyl and cassette sales in recent years.

While that is great news to those of us who still value the experience of immersing ourselves in both the visual as well as the aural experience of a physical release, the fat cats at UniSonyScope records are laughing their way to the stogie store over the fact that 60% of their yearly revenue stems from subscriptions to the streaming services, while only 4% comes from sales of physical product.

See, once you no longer have to pay artists, you'd be amazed at how far $11 billion will get you, as opposed to the $15 billion the industry was raking in as recently as 1998 when 4 billion went towards royalties and other contractual payouts to artists.

When I am reminded of the two-year period between 1998 and 2000, when I was regularly making between $2,000-$4,000 via the site, it is STUNNING to see fellow artists paying a site like CD Baby or Distro Kid up to $69 per project to make their music available for streaming, knowing full-well that they won't come anywhere near recouping that small amount, much less recording costs.

While most musicians these days are too young to have ever known the exhilaration that comes from making a living from the sale of their music, that does NOT give the labels and streaming services the right to continue profiting from the hard work and boundless creativity of the most important content creators on this planet: Music artists.

If you agree, all I ask is that you consider defending your art the same way you'd protect a large stack of $20 bills that represents your living expenses. Just because the entities now attempting to steal those twenties also have the ability to SIGN YOUR BAND does NOT make them any less worthy of scorn and derision for this current system of digital theft that they have concocted.

What can you, the artist, do to defend yourself against those who want you to sing and dance for fractions of a penny per stream?

1. Avoid giving away your music at all costs, and, yes, placing your music on Spotify IS the digital equivalent of sending a free CD of your music to anyone who wants one. 

2. Work only with sites that allow you to control pricing for your music, such as Bandcamp.com, which also allows you to control the level of free streaming before a listener must make a purchase. Note: If the thought of holding your own music ransom (until someone who has listened to the same song three times finally reaches for their wallet) seems unthinkable in this day and age, well, you need to get over that in a hurry or the next income you'll see is when you sell all your music gear to make rent. 

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