Sunday, April 4, 2010


Good morning.

“And the beat goes on.”


I was in the music business for 15 years back in the 70’s and 80’s, representing rock n roll bands. Back then the model was based on the Record sales – bands toured and sold merchandise to increase awareness of who they were in attempts to sell records. Today, the model is the opposite – with so much music downloaded for free, bands try to get noticed through CDs and recordings so people will pay to see them live and buy their merchandise. But that model works best for established acts that are a draw for venues large enough to generate a profit.

An AP article  reported on Yahoo cited an L.A. based band that is creating a new album every month and giving it away free. “And as regular CD sales continue to fall and major recording labels pare their artist rosters, up-and-coming musicians have to find ways to promote themselves in ways that were unheard of a few years ago.

Their “album-a-month plan, along with a written blog explaining (their) inspirations, is designed to spur interest and build loyalty among fans. (They) hope that one day some real money can be made from it as well. So far, they have gotten about 100 fans to donate anywhere from a penny to tens of dollars to the project. Some have paid $59 a year for a monthly CD in the mail. As a one-time bonus, they write a personal song to each subscriber on his or her birthday and sent that in the mail, too. In the past, big record labels paid musicians large advances and then shouldered costs of recording and promoting albums. As song sales rolled in, the labels would recoup their investment. With song sales slowing, largely due to piracy, the system of big advances is crumbling.

And because free songs are so widely available, Vosotros' president, John Gillilan, said musicians' main battle is now just to get noticed.

If someone downloads one of these albums for free and puts it on their iPod and enjoys it, that's victory," says Gillilan, 24. "There's so much content out there, that for someone to care enough to seek it out and to listen to it, long term, that person is going to be a fan. They're going to come back, they're going to want more. That's really the strategy behind it."

Technology has forever dramatically altered how musicians can make a living. It remains to be seen if any new model will work for new artists.

Is this something that might have an application to other segments of the artist community? Are there perhaps more ways various art disciplines might cooperate and intersect with each other to cross promote the artists of each?

Might visual artists give away some of their work – to places (like in theater or dance venue lobbies) where its’ public display might garner them attention, publicity and hopefully new fans (and buyers) and help to move their careers forward? Might point of purchase sales in those venues benefit both?

Might other musicians – jazz artists or choral groups – do the same? Is giving away their music a way to build audiences? Will merchandising eventually be the principal source of income?

Might dance companies distribute their performances via You Tube in order to build fan bases, awareness and ultimately, new audiences? Might dance companies give impromptu performances at museums?

Might theater groups give free performances of new works prior to the official opening of a new play – and thus put more paying bodies in seats as word of mouth spreads?

There is an audience for old movie posters. Would there be an audience for a high class, new genre of theater posters created by contemporary artists? Would that collaboration of visual artists with theater artists produce income for both? Could that kind of model be developed? See this article in Brain Pickings

The new music model hasn’t yet reached the point where giving away music is a tried and true way to support ongoing careers, but new musicians (if not established artists) have to do something to get noticed, to build fan bases, to offset the dwindling sales of CDs. Are we reaching a point where other artistic disciplines will likewise soon be compelled to try new models if they are to survive?

Take the film industry. Movie companies make big money, but theater owners figured out a long time ago, that the model wasn’t working for them. So they changed the model – and now theaters make their profit not from the ticket sales (which largely go to the movie companies) but from the sale of candy, snacks and food. A captive audience, they charge $3 for a soft drink that can’t cost them more than 10 cents. Audiences pay.

I don’t know what model will work for artists in the future, but with traditional funding down from all sources, and the competition for scarce leisure time discretionary income increasingly fierce in the open marketplace, it may be time to at least consider other ways artists (and the arts) will survive in the future. Giving away art for free as a strategy to get more people to ultimately pay for the artists’ work is a risky and unproven strategy – but one that may force itself on the creative community. We should probably think about this and figure out if there is any way it might work for us. We may not have any choice.

LINKS: Speaking of Brain Pickings – the weekly newsletter of wonderful items from TED – here’s something cool

Have a good week.

Don’t Quit.