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Monday, June 28, 2010

Musicians Rejoice In The Gift Of File Sharing!

When Napster hit the scene a decade ago, most musicians, whether independent or major, instinctively joined the record labels in lashing out against file sharing. They claimed that downloading songs for free was like taking money directly out of their pockets. The big boys, many of whom own their own label, remained steadfast, but others began to see file sharing for what it could possibly be, which is a precious gift and their liberator.

Naturally, most of the community supported their idol's opposition, but in fact, they were defending the companies who routinely charged
twenty bucks for a CD loaded with fluff, not too long ago. It was those scoundrels, who had been pimping talent since the very first record, who were left frantically shoving their cash cows in front of podiums to bash their own fans who, they convinced, were robbing them.

However, as a wise minority knew, rather than demanding that people part with twenty dollars in order to get the artist two bucks, it was wiser to, let's say, split it with the artist and increase his revenue by about three-hundred percent, minus expenses. Looking at the classic music business model, that is exactly what could be done today, in theory, thanks to the Internet.

Think back to before Edison and his ilk introduced musical recording. Classical composers were financed through live performances a
nd licensing, similar to today, which allowed an establishment to freely play their music for a set fee. Once recording methods became efficient and music was made into a product, like a tape, the record companies were able to take control, because they had the capability to fund manufacturing, distribution, and everything else necessary to run a large business.

They gave the artist what it needed to flourish, that glorious “record deal”, and they had them lined up to sell their souls for it. The approach was similar to a sports team. An A&R, or a scout, for the label would bring talent in for a tryout, and if they impressed the money man, or GM, they would be treated like royalty and given a budg
et, maybe a hundred grand, and often promotional hand-me-downs like cars and clothes.

This was a lottery winning to a starving musician, but it was also meant to cover, in varying degrees, all recording costs and other expenses, and it was usually repaid with record sales. Ninety-nine percent of these deals resulted in a net loss, which meant heartache for the failed artist but very little for the label, because they made their money on the one percent who did succeed.

After the advance, a generous deal usually paid a new artist roughly ten percent of record sales, which is where we got two dollars a CD. From that, however, the artist had to pay his people, like managers, band members and so on. Considering a musician's profit sources, which are basically record sales, live shows, whatever royalti
es, or licensing fees, aren't given away in rubber-stamped contracts, and merchandising, which is also hijacked by the companies, it's clear that more money is made without any “help” from the label.

Based on the negotiation skills of paid lawyers and agents, which also adds more slime to the party, what the almighty label gave in return, besides false hope, is the cost of manufacturing and/or distribution of CD's and major promotion costs. Of course, they also offered their clout with radio stations and TV networks, which only infests t
he music world even further with sleazy politics and creates a cut-throat environment that usually chews up desperate artists and leeches the successful ones dry. However, there are some who enjoy the ride, that one percent of celebs who earned big for the label, and they are the world's anti-Napster spokesman.

For the rest, who have either been raped by a record company or are still waiting for a turn in the barrel, it is time to take charge of their own career. Like any business, it takes a small investment, but luckily, tangible media is being phased out, meaning you could theoretically sell a million units, with no warehouse, for no more than the cost of recording. While funding sufficient advertising and service quality is instrumental for success, a small donation by honorable and dedicated fans, along with royalties and ticket sales, all controlled by the artist, can make for a nice existence financially and artistically.

First and foremost, it is obviously up to the musicians to entertain fans with quality material and then employ some sort of business strategy to expose it to the masses. It is like a traditional business, but with no physical restraints, since music, which is inherently shared, can travel the globe in seconds, reaching billions of people. Imagine a business model which allowed for quality mass-production, storage, and worldwide distribution of your product for free, within seconds!

Also, without the control of a corporate weather-vane, artists can express themselves how they, and their true fans, please. Most didn't realize this and perceived downloading as an attack on the hand that feeds them, but we see how well they were fed. The irony, all the while, is that by using their own model against them, file sharing was they key to finally destroying the Capitalist strangle-hold on their art, with the right collective mindset.

So, before reacting on impulse and vilifying fans, who have more love for them than the smooth talkers who throw paper money around ever will, musicians need to rejoice. Now is the time to give all of their music away at a “free download” party, accepting modest donations at the door. Then, while basking in the glory of the event, loaded only with true fans and, of course, groupies, not snakes and leeches or phony politicians, sell some shirts and promote the hell out of upcoming shows. It is a golden age in music, where a garage band can gain the ballyhoo they seek and a consumer will never again pay for a crappy CD!

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Thanks for reading that. Please add some comments, give an opinion, ask questions, disagree. I would love a healthy discussion on this, not to find a winner in this debate, but to find the truth.

- Professor Plume

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