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Jay Cooper
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 +2Posted on Oct 3rd, 2012 | re: Debating The Grizzly Bear NY Mag Story And Making A Living Making Music (193 comments)

A good discussion about what is, and what isn’t. However, it contains only a sprinkling of discussion about what will be. And the reality is that music is in a transitional period, and no one is really sure what it is going to be – though quite a few people are trying to figure it out.

The devolution of the music ‘industry’ is good for artists in some ways – the minimization of the importance of the major label gatekeepers can only be a blessing, but there are other gatekeepers emerging in the new model, whether they be tastemakers, film/television music directors, festival bookers etc. The technological advances make it possible for damn near anyone to create a record and at least put it in a place where it can be heard by literally millions of people, if those millions cared or were capable of finding it. However, one result is that finding great music is no longer finding a needle in a haystack. It is finding a needle in a stack of needles.

A part of the change in economics is driven by the cost side of the equation, and in this respect the skew in the new, internet-driven music ‘industry’ was created in the transition. A set of 1s and 0s is infinitely scalable at no cost, so why were we introduced to the digital era by being asked to pay $10 for a record on iTunes? Is is surprising that, given the choice between paying $10 for a fileset or obtaining the same thing for free, a large segment chose free? If an artist is going to make $2 or 3 or 4 off of a CD, where the price includes the cost of physical production and distribution and artwork, etc., and, to some degree, supports THOSE segments of the business, why should the artist get any more than that for a digital download that includes none of those costs? Shouldn’t we view the cost of a download as simply that portion that would otherwise have gone to the artists, plus some fairly negligible overhead costs? If we had been conditioned to the idea that while a physical record costs $12, a virtual one might cost $4, would we see the same impulse towards ‘free’? I don’t know, but it does seem that the assumptions built into ‘what things used to cost’ need to be jettisoned if a sustainable model can be fashioned.

With regard to streaming, paid or otherwise, if it isn’t embraced it will also gut the old model. The other major change, in addition to the cost side, is the change in the way people consume music., And one thing that is happening with a large segment is that the concept of “owning” music, i.e actually buying and storing copies of records, whether physically or digitally, is giving way to the concept of “listening” to music that is widely available for that purpose. And while Spotify payouts remain paltry, the model is that artists aren’t getting paid for records that people may buy, but not listen to very often, but rather will be paid more if people listen to the record more. We aren’t comfortable with it, and we may not like it very much, but the shift in Europe to this mode of consumption is very apparent, and the trick is to figure out how to make this work, in a long-term sustainable way, for artists.

The discussion of what was, and what is, and what is wrong with each of those, is interesting, but it is merely wankery if it isn’t used to inform and shape what will be. We aren’t going back to what was. Hell, the way things are now isn’t even going to last that long.

With regard to the argument that there just isn’t any great music these days – well, I feel sorry for those who feel that way. They are missing out on a lot of tremendous music, much of it being played by people who are barely being heard. And much of it is accessible enough – hell, even ‘classic’ enough in its forms or its sounds – to have broad appeal, if only it were heard by a broad audience. Oddly, no one seems to be asking what the plight of GBear would be if they hadn’t been played on TV…