Music; for free or not for free | Saturday, 22 March 2014 | 284 days to go

I guess this topic was kicked off by coming across Amanda Palmer’s TED talk entitled ‘The art of asking.’ In her talk Amanda explores the relationship between fan and artist. It’s well worth a look.

This prompted me to scour the web for the current thinking on bands giving away or charging for their music. Broadly speaking there are two camps. The ‘no, never’ camp of what I would refer to as idealists and the ‘yes, it gets your music out there’ camp of what I would call realists. Having already given away my stance in the previous sentence, I’m going to share a few of my thoughts on what I came across on my journey to find ‘the answer.’

First, lets set the context by asking the real question:

How much

What is music worth?

If you in the large group of people who steal music by downloading it via various websites and apps, then music has no monetary value. You want the music but are not prepared to pay for it. It must have an enjoyment value but not sufficient to reward the person, or people, who spent time and money creating it. In no way wishing to condone this activity, and admitting that, in the past, I have been a member of this group, I can appreciate how we got to this place.

Another alternative is the likes of Spotify or Deezer. The user pays a small monthly amount, usually around £10, and can stream unlimited music to their PC or smart phone. You could look at this mathematically. If the user listens to two hours of music a day, they might feasibly enjoy over 30 tracks in that time. Over thirty days this adds up to 900 songs for £10. This comes to just over 1 penny per track. Even if they listen to half that we’re still only talking about 2-3p a track. This is still very close to zero and I strongly suspect the money is seen more as payment to the provider who is making the music conveniently accessible, rather than viewed as a payment to the artist who produced it.

Then we have those still buying music, whether in CD or digital format. In 2013 UK album sales were down by 6.4% compared to 2012, to 92 million. UK single sales were down by 3.4%, to 182.2 million. When you compare this to the 7.4 billion tracks streamed in the UK in 2013, double the number streamed in 2012, it isn’t difficult to see which way things are headed.

So, in answer to the question ‘What is music worth?’, music is pretty close to worthless as a stand alone product. Access to it has a value and no doubt streaming providers, like Spotify, are doing very well, while paying around £0.004 per play to the artist. A thousand plays will earn a payment of £4.00, which presumably most of which goes to the record company, if the artist has one. Even if paid directly to the artist, generating sufficient income to live on each year is going to be a challenge at the least. I’m not suggesting making your music available on streaming platforms is a no, no. Overtime a band will have to develop multiple revenue streams (merchandise, radio play, music sales, touring etc) but it will take a long time for these to provide a decent income on their own, if ever.

This sets the scene for a considerable challenge facing up and coming artists. If you’re not selling a product to earn your keep what are you selling? Merchandise comes in to play, of course, but I suspect this particular revenue stream requires a well established following. A listener might like one or two of your tracks but this is unlikely to lead to the purchase of a t-shirt.

This is where Amanda Palmer comes in. She very clearly points out what has probably been true all along, even when record and CD sales where healthier. The band is the product. The artists are who fans are building a relationship with, via the music but not with the music. And a relationship is an exchange, one which both parties feel is mutually satisfactory.

Where does this leave us?

As I see it the new, unsigned artist / band has three choices:

  1. Make your music freely available via download
  2. Let the ‘purchaser’ decide how much they want to pay, if anything
  3. Charge a fixed price

If we accept the relationship building premise, which approach is going to get you where you want to be? Presumably the game is to be followed by a large fan base who will support you in your creative pursuits. So I ask myself, what is most likely to make it quick and easy for people to hear and share my music? After all, no matter how good you think you are, it’s what other people think that matters. To connect with enough people to make this music thing your living is a numbers game. You want as many people as possible to be exposed to the opportunity of liking what you do. We’ve already established music is, by any useful measure, a free product. Do you think sticking a 79 pence price tag on it is going to oil the wheels?

You can probably tell where I’m heading with this. When you’re first starting out your music is your advert, and it is advertising you or your band. If people want to support you by paying for your music, that’s great, make it an option. However, when you’re first trying to get the band out there an email address is way more valuable. An email address, above any form of social media, means you can continue building the relationship beyond that momentary transaction. You also want people to share your music via word-of-mouth or, as it’s now called, viral marketing. This is potentially the most powerful tool you have. Anyway, I’m starting to ramble off-topic.

Emma. Davy, Jon and I (Lazy Daze) are by no means agreed on whether our music should be free to download at the moment. Further band discussions will be had. Be assured, whatever we decide will be put into action and I’ll report back. In the meantime, you can grab yourself a couple of free tracks on our website. We’re using NoiseTrade for these at the moment, which satisfies option 2 above. This allows us to offer free tracks in exchange for an email address, while also offering the downloader an easy way to share our music and make a donation if they choose to. 

I’d be grateful for any of your thoughts on the subject of giving away music or anything else I’ve mentioned above. This subject has also raised the question of how you build a relationship with people, moving them from initial discovery of the band to fan status and beyond. Consequently we are then asked to consider how you get people to notice you in the first place. I feel two more discussion topics for the Adventures of Lazy Daze. 🙂

I hope you’ve found this interesting. It’s been a great exercise to attempt to approach this in as pragmatic a way as possible. Ideally a band can sell their music to pay their way, realistically this may not work in the beginning. And always keep in mind Amanda’s talk, there is nothing wrong with asking. You’re task is to move to a place where people want to support your work, want to feel part of your story. Then successful crowdfunding becomes a possibility, whether that’s passing a hat around after a gig or using Kickstarter or PledgeMusic or something similar.

You can check out more about Amanda Palmer on her official website. She is certainly a lesson in building relationships by presenting who you are and not by attempting to be someone you think the world wants you to be. I’ll stop now, although it would be so easy to expand on the importance of being your self. Another time…

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Best wishes, as always,

Gareth's signature

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Posted in crowdfunding, Diary, Music, story
One comment on “Music; for free or not for free | Saturday, 22 March 2014 | 284 days to go
  1. […] my last post, ‘Music; for free or not for free‘, I attempted to put a value on music, in an effort to establish whether it is better for a […]

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