In a recent interview with the Financial Times, Radiohead’s manager talked about a change in the way ‘the music industry’ managed its business model. As quoted in the piece:
“We’re trying to get away from a copyright trading model more towards a venture capitalist approach with artists,” says Message. Think of it as Dragons’ Den with guitars – with Message as the thoughtful-looking entrepreneur sitting with fingers interlocked while some young beat combo pitch their wares (“So, we’re kind of like The Smiths meet Funkadelic…”).
(thanks to @lykle for the link)
So here’s the problem with that as I see it – Venture Capital, exactly like the old record company model, is a speculative business. You ‘bet’ that the thing you’re investing in will make money. You can set benchmarks that need to be met to release the next level of funding (the amounts of money often mentioned in rounds of VC funding for start-ups are often never handed over – they are promises of continued funding if targets are met), but you’re still getting into massive debt on the guess that you’re going to make it back.
- Same old control
- Same old spread bet proposition for the funder
- Same old shitcan for the artists who fail to recoup.
But here’s the rub – musicians no longer need that kind of backing. It’s not that they can’t use it, it’s that it’s no longer a given. The economics – and power balance – of the big industry is all about what was necessary in the world of physical product and shop distribution, radio and magazines. You just couldn’t do it efficiently on your own.
Here’s the key thing to understand – the relationship between musician and audience is now entirely disintermediated. That is, it no longer needs, or thrives on, the intervention of 3rd party mediators (record labels, pluggers, radio, TV, magazines, advertising agents) in making it happen. Those mediators are still there – inefficiently plugging away, selling ever more elaborate and absurd mythology to the artists in order to get them to sign up to shitty deals – but it’s not needed, it’s not efficient and it WILL damage your relationship with your audience.
If you’re Coldplay, or U2, the damage is imperceptible – they’ll just spend more money, carpet-bomb the media, and carve out a smaller percentage of a bigger level of exposure. All recoupable from band earnings. Again, not a problem if you’re already a millionaire.
So if we – the little people who make up the vast majority of music makers – don’t speculate, what do we do?
- We tell stories, and we invite other people to tell stories with us and about us.
- We talk about things that are awesome and resource those people who think we’re awesome to do the same.
- We become part of a culture where talking about awesome things and finding awesome things via the recommendation of our friends and peers is the normal way to discover awesomeness.
It’s a slow process, but it’s sustainable. And the music industry has never been a sustainable proposition for musicians.
Last week, I was at a breathtakingly great indie music conference in Berlin, called All2GetherNow. Some panelist in one of the discussions, after telling us that only 270-something albums had justified their investment last year *worldwide* (based on oh-so-trustworthy Soundscan data), then said that getting out of record company debt was easy – you just leave the band and start another one. What an horrific way to talk about someone’s musical home. Someone’s art, someone’s team, family, gang, friends… It’s OK, just shitcan the whole thing and move on.
I’ve been at two big business events in the last week where the focus has been on sustainable business practice. I’ve heard LOADS from big businesses like IBM, M&S, Kingfisher and Waitrose about their desires, intentions and stragegies for making every area of their business sustainable, environmentally and socially.
I’ve never heard a big record label talk like that. I’ve not heard any of the radical, progressive thinking that I heard from mainstream industrialists and technology multinationals, from the agencies who are supposed to be delivering art and entertainment to the world.
So, forget speculative, nonsense, destructive, wasteful, unaccounted-for business deals that shit on musicians and see quitting your band as the best way to avoid debt, and instead become an awesomeness node. Want a benchmark? You can aim to generate 10/2o/50/100 new artist/listener relationships over the next week/month/year for other people.
Go on, set a goal. You’ll be part of making the world extraordinary.
I’ve said before that I’m responsible for selling more of other people’s music that I am of selling my own. I sell a fair amount of music online, but the amount of other people’s music that is sold because of my recommendation is bigger than that by a significant amount. I know, because of the thanks I get from artists who’ve seen a sales spike.
Do it, it feels great. Here’s some awesome for you, courtesy of Danny Barnes:by