I still have the debate with people about the economics of being a musician vs earning money and the debate always ends with me asking the question;
Would a musician prefer to have their song or album shared/copyright infringed on/pirated (use whatever word you want, depending on what side of the debate you are on) 100,000 times or ignored and not shared at all?
The same conversations come up over and over again.
Musicians are either complaining about streaming payouts, copyright infringement/piracy of their music or jumping in with the corporations or the lobby groups looking for stronger copyright laws and enforcement. However, the music business wouldn’t be a business if it wasn’t for the fans. The customer. The consumer.
So what value is there to the consumer?
You see once upon a time, the musician and the consumer met with the RECORD. The record was an attempt by the musician to make something unique and likeable that it could be purchased.
A musician and a listener met with a performance via Radio, a TV spot or some other form of promotion.
This kind of listener might not end up as a consumer of the recorded product however there was always a good chance that this listener might end up at a concert hence making them a consumer in a way. From buying the record or from buying a ticket to the show, all of the exchanges are very one-sided. It is all about money leaving the consumer and going to the musician. The musician believes that the value comes in the music they provide.
With so much competition in the entertainment industry these days, surely obscurity is a much larger threat to a musician than copyright infringement will ever be. The more a musicians’ music spreads, the more true fans they will find that will end up becoming consumers. It doesn’t mean that all of those people will become consumers.
There is tons of music available that I will listen to. I enjoy doing that, however it doesn’t mean I like it enough to become a true fan and invest in the artist. However with Spotify I am investing in them by listening to them. In the past, I could listen to an artist from a taped copy or a mix CD and the artist got nothing from those listens. In the end each consumer has so much money to spend on entertainment products.
I like drinking wine and one thing I have learned from all the drinking I have done is that the price of the wine is not always indicative of the quality. So with all of the discussions about taking away Spotify’s free tier, it doesn’t mean that people will suddenly start to pay for a subscription. Just because music has a price, it doesn’t mean that it is something of quality that needs to be paid for.
There are other similarities between the winemaking business and the music business. Even in the wine making business, there are brilliant wine makers from around the world trying to break through the monopolies that control different markets.
Just like artists starting off, young wine makers invest a lot of time and money in their craft/product without knowing if that investment will pay off. They do it because they love it. The weather could be that severe/extreme that years could go by with so little yield and zero income. And once they produce that wine, it doesn’t mean that they have a consumer base to market it too.
Anyone gone wine tasting. You are physically at the door of the wine maker’s house where they open up bottles of wine and allow you to sample them. That is how wine makers form their tribe. By their cellar doors.
Metallica are kings of the hill because they formed a tribe around the people who heard their music and those fans followed the band everywhere. It didn’t mean that all of those fans purchased their music. And then Lars Ulrich did his best to divorce the band from its fan base with the Napster shenanigans. However the boat already sailed, with a lot of free music from Metallica doing the rounds. All of this copyright infringement established a whole new tribe for Metallica that is still sustaining them to this day. Yep those free loaders from Eastern Europe, the Middle East, South East Asia and Central/South America have become consumers to their sold out shows.
The fans are all a musician has.
Warren Buffet (investor) has an investment rule that rings true here when I think about the current status of some of my favourite artists;
“Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful.”
Tidal is all about greed. Taking away Spotify’s free tier is all about greed. Destroying the public domain by hijacking copyrights true intent is all about greed. The whole music business is about income inequality.
So can anyone blame us when we, the consumers became fearful of greedy people.
I support what is in my opinion the best music. I know other people’s opinions differ from mine. That’s just life.
As a musician I would be happy if my music was downloaded illegally 100,000 times and I am not one of those deluded people that equates those illegal downloads to 100,000 missed sales.
Do the math.
With no downloads a musician has no fans/listeners/future consumers and no cash.
With a 100,000 downloads via cyber lockers or torrents, the musician has possibly 100,000 fans and no cash at this point in time. I know what I would prefer.
There is a reason why Metallica and Iron Maiden have played to large audiences in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, China and South/Central America respectively and it has nothing to do with sales of recorded music.
Fame always came after however MTV made everyone believe that fame comes first.
And musicians in most cases are ignored for long periods of time before they break through.
Five Finger Death Punch is a band that sells a decent amount of recorded music right now and they have been doing those numbers since 2007. However the musicians in the band didn’t just come from out of nowhere. If you look at the individual band members careers before FFDP, you will see musicians who have been ignored. Their previous bands did not set the world on fire, however it was all stepping-stones. And the musicians that have that mindset end up reaching the top. The ones that want only the fame and the money end up in the rear view mirror.
Europe is a band that I have followed since “The Final Countdown” days. I purchased their back catalogue once that album broke through. I purchased John Norum’s solo output and I hold the “Face The Truth” album (with Glenn Hughes doing vocals on quite a few songs) in high regard. I followed Joey Tempest solo albums and with pleasure I took in their comeback from 2004 and onwards.
The first version of the band came together in 1979 and was named Force. Via a song writing contest they got a recording deal in 1982 with a Swedish label. By 1985, they had some songs in a movie that gave me some more traction. Joey Tempest wrote a song for aid in Ethiopia however at this stage the band was still largely ignored. That all changed in 1986 with “The Final Countdown” album. The journey was seven years long. Compare that to some of the ideals today of musicians. They believe that by putting up a video or a song on YouTube, we should all pay attention.
Michael Poulsen from Volbeat was in a death metal band called Dominus from 1991 to 2000. Then he formed Volbeat in 2001. Their first album came out in 2005. For the next seven years they kept on building on their following and it wasn’t until Metallica took them out as an opening band that American success came knocking. By 2012, Volbeat was a big business.
Do the math on the years in between. Poulsen became an overnight success however that success was 21 years in the making and a large part of those years dealt with being ignored.
That is what being a musician is.