Ghosts in the Machine
You'll have to excuse me if this editorial seems a little more stream of consciousness than normal. I've been listening to Ghosts I from the new Nine Inch Nails album Ghosts I-IV that I downloaded from the official 'leaked' torrent on The Pirate Bay.
"This collection of music is the result of working from a very visual perspective - dressing imagined locations and scenarios with sound and texture; a soundtrack for daydreams."
I like it. It reminds me of many bits and pieces from The Fragile.
It's fun to write to.
But for all the talk across the Net about Trent's newest release, I haven't heard too many people talking about the music itself.
Not that it seems to matter. The album was dropped on an unsuspecting public and immediately made the frontpage of Digg and other social aggregation sites. Now, several days after the release, I'm listening to my legally 'stolen' version (Ghosts I has been released under a non-commercial Creative Commons license) which Trent personally uploaded to various torrent sites. Reports are everywhere that the 2,500 $300 Ultra-Deluxe Limited Edition Package is sold out. Ooh, math! That's a cool $750,000 in 72 hours.
Quick, fire your record label!
Last week there was a report that suggested that Trent only had to pay $56.61 to upload his music to the Amazon store through TuneCore. TuneCore is a service that allows musicians to upload their content to popular web music outlets like iTunes and Amazon for a small fee.
So what does this mean for your average I-don't-wanna-work-I-just-wanna-bang-on-the-drum-all-day musician? Are the only people that are going to profit in the era of free artists that made their name on a major record label?
While Nine Inch Nails has had tremendous success in this wild-and-wooly environment, Saul Williams and his album The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggytardust attracted less than 20% paying customers at $5 a pop. Reznor, who financed the album revealed the numbers in a blog post on his website and concluded that while recording expenses were covered, "nobody's getting rich off this project."
So what are the take away lessons? Are Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails the only bands that get to make a million dollars selling their music online? If Saul Williams can't make it, what hope do you have?
Lots of hay has been made about how the music industry has dropped the ball reacting to the digital music revolution. There hasn't been as much discussion about how the music industry has also allowed ego and ignorance to run wild among their musicians. There are plenty of acts on major labels who have trouble keeping up with basic expenses, much less have an idea of how to manage an online identity. Even Trent had to learn the hard way that your business manager will steal all your money if you don't keep an eye on it.
This new digital era requires work. As much as I and others would love to lead you to believe that all you have to do is x, y, and z and profit!, the truth of the matter is, the artists that will thrive are those that get smart about spreading their art.
Beyond the obvious things: a website, MySpace and Facebook profiles, and YouTube there are an increasing number of ways to get known in the digital realm that end in profit.
First, consider how you want to license your work. If you want to use the Creative Commons license, they have a very nice page that can help you choose which license you want to release your work under. It's worth a look. (Word to Lessig)
Having your CD is Best Buy is nice, having your CD on iTunes and the Amazon store is essential. TuneCore makes that possible at a very reasonable cost.
Selling music online is an obvious thing to do. Signing up with a music licensing company, less so. Audiosocket Music makes it easy. For $15 an artist can upload up to 4 tracks for their A&R staff to review. Upon making the cut (and they are actively recruiting new talent) you'll get one of the most fair non-exclusive licensing deals going.
There are several places where people go to find new music. You need to find those places and get there. Last.fm is the UK site bought by CBS that has full-length tracks and entire albums for free streaming from all the major labels. You too can have your songs there for free.
Thesixtyone.com is a site built to satisfy all the aspiring A&R executives out there. Think you know a hit song when you hear one? Now's your chance to prove it. Think you have a hit song? Upload your music and see what happens. You might be surprised.
It's these and other new sites and technologies that are going to give the up-and-coming musician who wants to make it in the digital age a chance at also making a profit. It's not scarcity that will drive profit but availability and convenience.
Look at what Jill Sobule is doing for her new album. She's pre-raising the $75,000 she needs to make it from her fans. It's the ArtistShare method at a personal level. She offers fans options ranging from a digital download of the album for $10 all the way up to performing with her on the album for $10,000. Fans have currently raised more than $80,000 for the cause.
What this tells us is that there are no right ways right now on how make a living making music in the digital age. It's like the beginning of MTV before there was a visual language for music videos. Anything goes.
Remember, Amway is supposed to save the music business.
While you're contemplating your next move, pop in that first track from Ghosts I. It's beautifully haunting and will help you remember, that in the end, it's still all about the music.