New label time. I once had fantasies of becoming a musician, but I can’t come up with an original beat to save my life, my voice sounds horrible recorded, and, like most of my fantasies, I liked the fame and impact more than I liked the actual, you know, work. Certainly I might have never had a chance to break out within a year of recording a short demo tape like I fantasized, at least not without getting a gig on American Idol, and I’d probably be the guy you laughed at on the audition shows anyway.
But that fantasy is at least a little closer to the reach of musicians today, thanks to that great invention that will define the next millennium or at least the next century, the Internet. Which brings me to Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor’s thoughts on how aspiring musicians can take advantage of the Internet to break in to at least a limited extent.
Trent’s advice in a nutshell: Forget about making any money off your records. Give it all away for free. Put your music on iTunes just to get the iTunes audience, but base your revenue model off selling tchotshkes like T-shirts and other premium content. Basically, the typical webcomics model.
Huh? Evidently Reznor needs to be introduced to Scott McCloud’s 2001 theory that all the music industry needed to do was lower prices to the point that it would become too inconvenient to pirate to justify the savings. In other words, it’s not strictly necessary to give everything away for free, just really, really cheap. “Ah, but that was just McCloud’s attempt to justify his micropayments obsession…” Really? Then why did Xaviar Xerexes recently espouse essentially the same philosophy without noticing it even when I pointed it out to him? Besides, while micropayments have by and large been a complete failure, music in the form of iTunes has been one of the few places where it’s worked.
Look, I know a lot of people don’t like iTunes for loading down its music with DRM, but that just means there’s an opening in the market for someone to come along and try and create an iTunes killer that sells music at iTunes prices or maybe even slightly higher but without DRM. Take a YouTube-like zeal to wiping out pirated music and you just might create a service that, eventually, one of the big boys decides they should move to to reach out to the people who have run away from iTunes to get a DRM-free experience. In the meantime it becomes the hub for music that hasn’t sold out to The Man – and those musicians get to make at least a trickle of money off the music itself. Is the lower exposure worth it? I don’t know, but I’m sure it is for some.
I don’t like the notion of webcomiceers as glorified T-shirt salesmen and I’m not any more happy with the same notion as applied to indie rockers. The difference is, in the latter case, it’s not necessary.