I thought I might post some of my thoughts on the music industry, where it’s at and where it might be going. However, if you aren’t familiar with The Long Tail, you have to read the article which appeared in the October issue of Wired Magazine. Go read it here now in a new Firefox tab and then come back here. Later, you can read all the arguments for and against the article at the web site for The Long Tail book.
Okay, so I have to admit that other than a brother and a good friend which most would consider indie musicians, I have absolutely no affiliation with the music industry other than the most common: consumer. That’s not to say it’s not an important role, though. I’m the guy who along with my millions of peers either buys or doesn’t buy the music. It does take me for this whole model to work. I do believe that it starts with the artist, though. The songwriters and performers are both the chicken and the egg here. That being said, I also believe that the middle men perform the most meaningless task in the process. I was recently reminded that coughing up the cash for marketing and mass-production could be seen as the most crucial part, and I’m sure that record executives feel that way about it, too. However, after reading this article, seeing how free journalism (read: blogs) can influence the entire country, and my own personal experience in meeting people from around the globe through my website; I’ve decided that this simply isn’t the case anymore.
Here’s my new improved model: instant access to the tip of the long tail. I put my music in digital format (this goes for books, etc, as well). I’ll pay for hosting the files on iTunes, Amazon, Tower, where ever I want I think I can find some toe-hold of a market. Then, I use word-of-mouth, playing shows, and blogs to find an audience. With sweat and luck, a number of recommendations start pointing to me. As long as these recommendations are genuine, and not like pay-for-play on some Clear Channel station, then they will work. People can listen before they buy and, assuming price is right, they will buy. So, I start to move up the tail some. Best part for all you Downhill Battle geeks, no record label. Period. If I want help with my marketing, etc. I join a musician & songwriter collective. This gains buying power and larger influence. This already works for independent grocery stores, pharmacies, and on and on; why not for musicians? The model for the music business is the most complex I’ve ever heard of. It doesn’t have to be this way. The technology available for communication between humans (which is pretty much what both marketing and music boil down to) is to a point that this model is now obsolete.
Now, I realize that being out on the skinny end of this long tail isn’t going to make stadium-playing-rock-gods out of my friends and family. It will, at best, pay the rent; and that’s going to be about as good as one can hope. But isn’t that much different than the way it is now? I’ve got as good a chance as playing starting forward for the Wizards as I’ve got going platinum, so what’s to loose? If you’re not U2, then not too much. However, the fact that the music industry protects itself doesn’t help someone on the verge of getting in. You start selling your songs on your own, and you’ll never get signed on to a major label. That’s a risk that would be tough if you feel like a deal with a label (major or indie) is just around the corner. However, for all but the best selling musicians these days, that’s not too big of a risk. Unless you’re in the top 10%(or so) of artists in terms of sales, you’re probably not getting much airtime or support.
As an aside, go read up on some great ideas on file sharing networks at the Electronic Frontier Foundation as well. Also, check out some of the links above. You’ll see that I’m pretty much just regurgitating some great ideas that are already out there, but you’ll also see I’m not alone in my frustration as both a listener of music and someone who gives a damn about artists trying to make a living. Lastly, if you like a song, buy the damn music!