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Apr. 16 2010 - 11:53 am | 379 views | 1 recommendation | 5 comments

I’ve said it once before but it bears repeating…

This chart which Andrew has posted without comment is misleading to say the least. I wonder if Andrew’s libertarian sensibilities were at all stirred when posting it? I wonder if anyone is asking whether most musicians ever relied on record-sales to make a living in the first place? (Hint: they didn’t!)

In any case, here’s my take – over at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen – on musicians and protectionism in the music industry. The immediate push back to my thesis – which is that protecting the music industry is not the same thing as protecting music – has been that the loss of the ‘professional musician’ will have profound cultural impacts on our society. I say hogwash. The death of the rockstar will only be the death of the rockstar. The local musician, and yes the local ‘professional’ musician, will persist with greater access to the world market and to a wider and more incredible swath of listeners than ever before.

I say burn down the whole rotten edifice of the music industry as we once knew it, and of platinum-selling musicians and money-hungry record labels. That was the historical anomaly. Never before had musicians made millions of dollars from their music. Nor was there ever such a thing as a giant record label which dictated our tastes at the national level. Once upon a time music was a rather local affair, and even when that began to change, musicians still had to earn their living performing in live shows – not from massive record sales. Nor is there any evidence that a return to music sans record-companies would spell the end of the ‘professional musician’ – only the end of the ridiculously wealthy super-star musician. Professional musicians will still have careers though probably they won’t sell as many records. They will certainly have the means to sell far more concert tickets.

The myth is that before the internet musicians were all making tons of money. That is simply not true. Only a handful of musicians out of the countless bands and artists out there were making any substantial money at all. The rest were not only making far, far less, they were unable to distribute their music. Striking down the barriers to local or amateur musicians’ access to the music market will not inexplicably destroy the efforts of professional musicians. The one does not follow from the other. It will, however, change how musicians make money and will very much necessitate making most of their money performing.

As a side note, one thing we can do to help musicians make money in this ‘new’ market is to not drastically increase taxes on alcohol. Keeping drinks relatively cheap will keep people going to the bars where these musicians perform and make their living. So, down with stupid sin taxes too!


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  1. collapse expand

    Funny story about SXSW: I go to SXSW Interactive every year. Whenever I tell people I’m soing to SXSW, they assume I mean the music or film part. I always have to explain that there’s this other thing called interactive and they’re kind of like, “oh, that’s interesting, I guess.” Music and film are wear the glamor are. Interactive is just a bunch of geeks.

    A couple years ago Ze Frank hosted the Webby Awards. His opening monologue recounted the above story. Rather than accepting he was not glamorous, however, he pointed out that the people who go to Interactive are basically the same people who have been radically disrupting the first two industries. So maybe the film & music execs could learn a thing or two at SXSW.

    This year I met a woman who runs a very successful e-newsletter for the film industry. She said she goes to both Film and Interactive, but much prefers Interactive. She said Film has a snob, zero-sum mentality when it comes to networking: “what are you going to do for me? why should I deign to talk with you?” By contrast, the Interactive parties start first with “what cool thing are you working on? is there some way we can work together?”

    Music and film producers who have a clue have already started to look more and more like Internet startups. They go to Music & Film to see cool productions, but when it comes to running a profitable, sustainable business, Interactive is where it’s at.

  2. collapse expand

    I absolutly agree I even made a site where I wanted to make a huge effort to promote guitar reviews from private guitar makers instead of just giving more info on saturated brands that cover the market place
    http://www.officialguitarbuyersguide.com

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    I am a free-lance writer and blogger. I write at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, The Washington Examiner, and occasionally elsewhere. Thanks for stopping by and feel free to email me or comment in the combox.

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