The face of the music industry is not changing…it has changed, and it did so a while ago. As independent musicians, we love to talk about how the gatekeepers no longer hold the keys, and how music is now all about the musicians and the big, greedy, corporate record labels are finally not needed anymore. But there is a flip side to that coin. Those big, greedy, corporate record labels were an essential piece in a capitalist market. They made a supply, and controlled the demand. You knew (or at least, sort of trusted half the time) that the bands and artists on record labels were the ones worth listening to, because the good ones were almost always the serious ones, and the serious ones wanted to get their music out there; and the only way to do that was a record label.
Now, anyone can record, produce, and distribute an album that sounds just as decent as a label-funded studio record, from their garage. From their front porch. I have songs in a movie currently on Netflix that were recorded in my dining room, and half of them were using GarageBand. Which is wonderful; we have allowed independent musicians…the guy jamming on the street corner who is every bit as good as John Mayer…to infiltrate the supply and get their music access to the public. Of course though, this has flooded the market supply of good music. As a person just looking for some new quality tunes to listen to, I have often found myself completely overwhelmed. It seems every person I know has an album online somewhere, and a lot of them are really good! But what this means for artists, is that gone are the days when multitudes of people will pay $17.99 for When the Levee Breaks, because even though they may love your music, there’s 127 albums just as good that they can get for free or much cheaper. As the supply goes up, the individual demand goes down.
But most of us artists are still trying to live in both worlds. We want the record label era demand, with the perks of the independent era supply. If we as artists are going to champion this new era of music, then we have to get used to the fact that this era is also the death of the rockstar, and the re-rising of the artist. And an artist is in it for the art, the music, the commentary on humanity, the connecting with people; and if somehow they can get supported along the way, it’s merely a bonus.
Which is why all my music is now free if you like, with the option to tip if you like. Online music sales is a lot like playing on the street corner. You play to have your music connect with people, and those that can support it, usually do. But everyone has the chance to be touched. It’s a symbiotic relationship that really is the heart of cultural society and the antithesis of corporate greed. So I’ve learned that if I want to champion the downfall of corporate greed, I have to go all the way. Otherwise I’m just championing the downfall of people who aren’t me, and hoping to fill the void their status just left.
If we are going to champion the independent artist, then we need to love being artists.
So here you go. If you like my art, you can have it. I think it’s time that rather than just replacing corporatism with ‘independent corporatism’, we propose a cultural shift to living together, relying on each other, and being flat-out in love with music again.