We are in the last years of a huge empire, one that was beholden to a myth woven around the miracle of amateurs becoming icons. At some point all the jesters suddenly expected to be kings. But the primordial soup that spat out the rockstar phenomenon was originally cooked up in the music hall – jobbing entertainers with their props and patter playing for a wage. There were big names and little names, there were hierarchies and egos and ambition but everyone in the end got paid for their act.
My mind’s spinning with interesting thoughts, so I’m going to spew them out here in case they make more sense when I see them. Fingers crossed…
Record company debt isn’t like normal debt. They lend you money to make your album. If you sell loads of copies, they make loads of money and you don’t owe them anything. If you don’t sell loads of copies, they make quite a lot of money and you get dropped so you don’t owe them anything.
Record company debt is what enables people to make business plans that involve large amounts of imaginary money. If you hit a snag in your plan (like lacking a massive marketing campaign, or not being on the radio all the time) you can just get a loan for it. The record company can write it off against some other loan and so on until everyone loses track of where the money was supposed to come from in the first place. That’s if they even bother to do their accounting.
It’s brilliant really.
With a strong ecosystem, one also doesn’t need to worry about gatekeepers that one traditionally would need, such as the people who decide what to play on MTV. Now gatekeepers are more likely to follow the trends instead of determining them. Besides that, the ecosystem should be like the cool party happening down the street; it just makes you want to go up to join in and if it’s fun enough, you will call your friends to abandon whatever party they are attending and to come to this one. Soon enough, the party will be attracting people from all over the area, perhaps stopping by a shop to buy some drinks for their friends and making sure the party stays fun; the fun of the party depends on its own existence and therefore the party protects its continued existence.
I’m having trouble getting my head around the business side of the music business. And not just the Old Music Industry part of it – the new independent DIY bit too.
I’ve long been a card-carrying subscriber to the DIY, independent, sustainable way of being a musician. It makes sense – you control everything about how your music is made, packaged, shared, sold and appreciated. In return you agree to do all the stuff that other people might do in a Big Industry situation. You do the accounts, stuff envelopes, control your merch stock, organise artwork and videos, order vinyl, promote your music online. Oh yes, and play music.
It’s not easy to make a living doing that. Most people make money doing other things too. Teaching, studio engineering, video making, website building. Stuff that you happened to have become good at while you were learning how to be a musician. I make websites which is doubly useful, first because we could never afford to pay someone to do all the online stuff we do, and second because I can occasionally make some money.
But there’s a big difference between true DIY and “DIY”.
I see it all the time, people telling me that no-one values digital music any more, that Spotify will kill it, that we’re all doomed, that iTunes is the only model that works, that blahdiblahdifuckingblah. Droning on and on about what the ‘trends’ suggest. You know what? When I’m listening to music, I’m not thinking about trends.
Now that Little Fish is independent, we get to do more stuff with the fans that the record label would previously have frowned upon. I can’t see how this could be a bad thing but people still react strangely when we talk about it, as if music fans were all psychopathic stalker weirdos.
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