The BBC have an article today, in which they report on Rob Dickins, former head of Warner Music UK, saying that albums should cost a £1.
It’s a fairly radical step, and there’s some merit in what he says, as a response to currently-illegal downloading, within a fixed price market.
However, what’s missing from this is the simple fact that music is worthless. ‘Music’ as in noises that fit within the ‘organised sound’ definition that most of us recognise as music, has no inherent value at all. All the value is contextual. It can be invested, it can be enhanced, it can even be manufactured counter to any previously measured notions of ‘quality’ with a particular idiom, but it’s not innate. Noise is not a saleable commodity.
So, we’re back to the point I’ve been making time and time again. The financial value of music is entirely based on the listeners sense of gratitude for it - that gratitude can be
- to the music itself for existing,
- to the artist for making it,
- to the person who introduced it to them and to the community/culture that fosters its existence.
And there are three entirely natural ways for that gratitude to be expressed:
- Saying Thankyou
- Paying for it.
The problem facing those who ‘set prices for download music’ is that the price/value/gratitude matrix is impossible to second-guess. And fixed prices completely mess it up. A fixed price becomes a game of brinkmanship between artist and listener. The calculation of value is done without any room for altruism, for a sense of sponsoring or fostering art, for being a patron of the continuation of the art that we love.
The stats are there to back it up. My own experience with download sales has been that some people are happy to pay £20 for a download album of music that they love by someone whose work they want to see continue. They are almost always people who I have had contact with, that could be described as friends, but often that friendship came out of them listening to my music, being introduced to it by some other means.
I know that Zoe Keating has had a (small) number of people pay $100 for her latest album. Why? Because they have the means to and it’s a great way of demonstrating their love for her art in the face of a music industrial environment that is trying to force people to pay amounts that have no bearing on the cost of releasing music to the artist, or the value of that music to the listener.
Big Music – the major industrial model for releasing recorded music – is broken. It’s been broken for decades.
Now is the best time ever to be a musician making music and finding an appreciative audience for that music. The story telling that goes on around the creation of music and its inspiration is the best possible way of investing potential value in the experience of listening to it, and of encouraging people to go against the economic norms of the day and think about what music means to them and how much they are willing to pay to reflect that value to them, as their part in the ongoing financial viability of spending time making music.
It’s beautiful. It’s magical, it’s a chance to take art and tell stories about it, to get excited about things being wonderful and meaningful rather than spending HOURS talking about just how fucked up the latest crop of contestants are on The Apprentice. Or how bad the singers are on X-Factor.
Take great things, share them, be grateful for their existence and their role in making the world a nicer place.
Here’s some music that I love, that’s I’m proud of, that I’d love you to hear. You can listen to it all here, you can download it, share it with your friends on facebook or twitter, bookmark it for later, and if you want to you can pay whatever it’s worth to you. If you want to prove Rob Dickins’ point, pay a pound for it. If you want to get into a ‘whose listeners pay the most’ competition with Zoe Keating, feel free to pay $101. I’m happy either way