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Music Is Worthless Part 2 – a Response to Jeff Schmidt

October 16th, 2010 · 26 Comments

This post started out as a comment on my previous post, in reply to one from Jeff Schmidt. But it’s too long for that, so it’s now its own post.

Here’s Jeff’s comment:

4 years ago – I could have said this exact thing -probably word for word.

Today – not so much.

If I was on the cutting edge of music market thinking then, maybe I’m on the cutting edge now with the complete opposite opinion. Is the tide is turning that much? I think so.

Pay what you want is a cop out.

Stand up for your work and put a value on it. [Read more →]

Tags: New Music Strategies

Music Is Worthless

October 15th, 2010 · 19 Comments

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. [Read more →]

Tags: New Music Strategies

What’s A Download Worth? Part 1 – The MASSIVE Downloader…

August 3rd, 2010 · 26 Comments

Following on from the BPI and their mad statistic that £200 MILLION is lost in UK music revenue due to ‘illegal downloading’, (their head of public affairs attempted to defend the notion, based on ‘research’ they’d done at the all party meeting last week. Balls.) I thought it’d be worth talking about what a download is worth.

Because, clearly, a collection of bytes on a harddrive isn’t, in and of itself, worth anything. It’s also not ‘taken’ from a central repository of bytes that gets smaller as it is dipped into. In fact, every time a new person downloads it, more ‘product’ is able to exist. If bands were in a situation where for every CD they gave away, they were given another 2 CDs to give away, they’d give everything away, because CD ownership is a tangible, measurable thing, and having 100,000 CDs out there, and not have lost a penny to make it happen, would be awesome.

But why would a CD be worth more than a download? Let’s keep going… [Read more →]

Tags: New Music Strategies

“Sharing Is Not Stealing” – Cost, Value And The Desire To Share.

May 16th, 2010 · 65 Comments

A few thoughts on the relationship between cost, value and the action of sharing music:

As I’ve said before, £10 was never representative of the real value in an album. It was less than the value of the time the person takes to listen to it, and certainly not anything like the value the artist places on their finished work.

And of course, given that all albums sell in different amounts, and all the cost of making the album is upfront – before anyone knows how many it’s going to sell – it couldn’t really be described in any fractional way as a share of that value.

No, it wasn’t an expression of ‘value’, largely because the most natural way of expressing our sense of value in music is to share it. [Read more →]

Tags: New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

Spotify Is Broken: The Lie Of ‘Feels Like Free’

April 12th, 2010 · 49 Comments

One of the big questions hanging over Spotify for me has been ‘do premium plays pay more than Spotify Lite plays?’ – I.E., do I get paid more if someone with a premium account plays my tunes vs. someone using the ad-funded version.

It stands to reason that the person with the premium account is paying more to listen, so surely you’d imagine that’d be reflected in the royalties?

At SXSW this year, the CEO of Spotify was giving a talk, I asked the question about royalty rates via Hugh Garry and apparently they are distributed evenly.

This is, as far as I can see, Spotify’s MASSIVE mistake. A deal-breaking, game-not-changing, screw-up of gargantuan proportions.

Here’s why.

The people best placed to promote Spotify are artists. We can link to it from our sites, we can provide links to it when we release new music, we can blog about how great it is and share music by our peers via the links.

If we push it, it becomes the place to find our music.

Spotify needs premium accounts for it to work. At the moment, their strategy for getting people signed up is to annoy the shit out of you with adverts until you capitulate. So you get irrelevant adverts that provide no value at all to the user, and therefor no value to the advertiser. Ergo, the amount paid per advert is likely to go down not up, killing the ad funded model. If I was an advertiser there’s no way I’d bother with Spotify. ‘Can you pay to produce an advert that we’re going to use to annoy people into paying not to hear it?’ no thanks.

So what would work? Spotify’s (and the other streaming services) best chance of success is if artists see it as a viable alternative to selling individual albums and tracks digitally. If it becomes that, the amount of traffic will go up and all that listening will be happening in a discovery environment, so more music will be heard by more people.

They could also make way more if the ads were something other than anti-value annoyances to be got rid of. There are loads of ways of making ads work in this setting – referrals, targeting, favouriting, user-profiles, profit-share, in-browser special offers… all kinds of stuff that would make the ad-side of the site self-supporting. If it isn’t currently viable, then the solution is to up the level of the ads even further til it is viable. The listener needs to FEEL what their listening is actually costing.

Why? Well, contrary to what Gerd Leonard has been telling us for years, ‘Feels Like Free’ is not the answer. It never has been and never will be. Free is, in fact, better than ‘feels like free’. I’d rather make my music free to download, no strings, and be rewarded in gratitude than have some weird filtered, taxation-based payment mechanism for it where people are left thinking music has neither cost nor value because there’s no tiered pricing, no opportunity to ‘pay what you like’, no thought about the value over and above the experience that access is via a portal and detached from the artist…

Listening to ads is a form of payment. We all know that. If the ads don’t cover it, then it’s a lie to keep that system going by subsidising those listens from people who are actually paying – people who are quite explicitly paying a subscription rate that puts a distinct value on their listening time. To not divide those up is to say that the value of both listens is the same. It isn’t.

  • Spotify Lite is a limited but hugely useful discovery platform. If you have the kind of life where Spotify Lite is ‘enough’, then you weren’t about to pay £10 an album for CDs anyway. You’re probably the kind of person who listens to the radio and buys the occasional compilation. Certainly not the kind of person for whom £120 a year for Spotify premium is workable.
  • Spotify Premium is an alternative to buying music. It’s also, when you look at how long people spend listening to music, a great model for paying a sensible amount per listen. If – and only if – it’s not being used to prop up a broken ad-funded ‘feels like free’ bullshit model.

If you want me to pay £10 a month for music, let me allocate where that £10 goes by choosing what I listen to. Make that £10 count, make it mean something. Cos otherwise, I’m going to stick with eMusic, where I know that my monthly sub goes to the people whose music I’m downloading. I know they get a set amount per track, that they wouldn’t get if I wasn’t paying for it. Real end to end value.

‘Til then, there’s no way on earth I’ll be paying for Spotify premium, and I won’t be encouraging anyone else to either.

If this feels like a deal-breaker to you, and you already have a premium account, you might want to consider cancelling it, and emailing Spotify to tell them why. Or better yet, blogging about why. Let’s have this discussion in public where possible.

[and before the inevitable ‘hey, I thought you loved Spotify!’ comments happen – I still think Spotify-lite is an awesome discovery tool. Spotify premium is, as yet, way too small a slice of anything to make me rethink my position on that. I don’t need to make money from Spotify-lite for its value to be realised. But the payment model that’s there doesn’t work, so the growth curve that Spotify needs to remain viable will be a seriously uphill struggle.]

Tags: New Music Strategies

I Can Make More Money For You Than I Can For Me

March 8th, 2010 · 10 Comments

Last week, spent a fascinating day in a room full of people who make a living (or part of their living) from music. It was facilitated by Andrew Dubber, as part of a research project for Birmingham City University.

One of the things that came up was a two-part conversation about how we define ‘success’ and how much we earn. Which prompted me to raise the question about how much I earn ‘from’ music and how much I generate in earnings ‘for’ music.

Dubber differentiated years ago (in a slightly different context) between ‘music’ and ‘my music’. And I now use that distinction in considering where the value is in my online music endeavours. I’m as happy to make money ‘for’ music as I am to make money ‘from’ music. The reason being that ‘my music’ is a sub-set of ‘music’ not the other way round. So if ‘music’ does well, I can do well. It’s also true that my opinion about other people’s music is more valuable to the people I’m talking to online than my opinion about my own music. It stands to reason that I think the music I make is awesome – otherwise I wouldn’t release it. I’m not in the habit of putting out music that I don’t love. It’d be pretty much impossible for me to promote it if I wasn’t 100% behind it. [Read more →]

Tags: New Music Strategies

The Earnestness of Being Important

June 3rd, 2009 · Comments Off on The Earnestness of Being Important

…AKA, What’s Important about your Music… To You?


Following on from the discussion about ‘what makes you interesting?’, I’ve been thinking about the other ‘value metrics’ for what we do as musicians, and the directions they flow in.

Interestingness is one bi-directional value:

  • What you think is interesting, or find interesting about what you do
  • What your audience find interesting about you AND about what you do.

The important element being that YOU being interesting isn’t a prerequisite to making great music, it just provides additional context for the music. It’s why we all bought music magazines – we didn’t buy them for dry descriptors of new music by people we’d never heard. We bought them to read stories, thoughts and opinions from the people whose music we love already, and to discover in the taste of the journalists some new music that they get excited about. [Read more →]

Tags: Musing on Music · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians