Recorded Music is the MOST Valuable

“That’s one of the great things about music. You can sing a song to 85,000 people and they’ll sing it back for 85,000 different reasons.”  – Dave Grohl, Foo Fighters –

I saw this quote posted on Facebook the other day, and I hope it’s properly attributed because it expresses something I had been thinking about shortly after I and many others criticized the pollyanna NY Times Magazine article by Steven Johnson about two weeks ago.  Because by writing for such a prominent publication, Johnson elevated the economic myth that live performances for musical artists are a legitimate substitute for the near-wholesale devaluation of recorded music in our times.  The suggestion is that the musical artist simply has to tour more in order to make up for the revenue stream that was once generated by sales of recordings; and I have encountered this naive assertion so presumptuously worded as to include sentiments like musical artists “should actually work for a living.” These declarations are made as though the production of sound recordings isn’t work in the first place, or as if the person speaking has any clue about the actual costs, logistics, or wear-and-tear of playing live gigs for any artists smaller than a handful of mega-stars.  And then, of course, there are the songwriters and producers and everyone else involved in creating the recorded song, which first attracted the fan long before he or she ever considered attending a live show.  The bottom line is that, as fans, we care way more about recorded music than live performances, and we all know it.  So, it is in our own self- interest to want a market that supports recorded works in the future.

We tend to talk about these things from the perspective of the artists—that they need to make a living, how they can still make a living, and what kind of living we presume to think they deserve—as if the artists’ experiences are external, and even in opposition, to our own interests as fans.  The assumption is that recorded music will always be available and that it will never be compensated any better than it is right now; so the conversation then turns to these often-fanciful proposals for alternative revenue streams, even supported by dubious applications of data by pundits like Steven Johnson.  But even if the numbers added up—and they absolutely do not—I can’t help noticing what a tragically cynical story this has become.  Because after 15+ years of piracy and rationalized predation by major corporate players vying to be lords of the stream, what we’ve really managed to do as consumers is to undervalue the one musical experience that most of us cherish above all.

Live performances are great.  Even in a small venue where the acoustics suck and the beer is warm, watching performers play favorite songs among an audience of other fans is almost always exciting.  But, by and large, this is not how we form personal relationships with music. We form relationships with songs because they are recorded, because they are portable and are, therefore, with us in our day-to-day lives. This is how certain songs become the soundtrack to our most visceral experiences, both good and bad. It’s why songs we may not even technically like or consciously choose to associate with certain moments become part of a unique playlist that only means what it means to us individually.  It’s why if you ask me and my wife what “our song” is, we have to say “Rock Lobster,” whether we would have it be so or not. It’s why putting my three children to sleep is chronologically “Everybody Plays the Fool” by Aaron Neville; “Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison; and “Hey Mambo” by Dean Martin.   Even as I write this article, I see that a friend—a much younger person—has posted on Facebook that he is coming to terms with the realization that he may actually like the band Squeeze.  How apropos. Since my college years were 1984 – 1988, Squeeze is prominently featured on the soundtrack of that chapter in my life. That’s just how we relate to music.

We are told that scent is the sense most directly linked to memory, but speaking from my own experience, I find aroma often triggers the sensation of a memory I can’t quite identify, while songs are hardwired to my biography with absolute precision. I assume this is most people’s experience with music and feel bad for anyone for whom it is not.  And because these associations are so powerful and, in my opinion, so valuable, I often ignore or at least compartmentalize a lot of agnostic music criticism. Of course, there is real genius and virtuosity that must be recognized, but this is something separate from the serendipitous connections between songs and life’s milestones. So, that first serious, adolescent kiss just might happen while the main title song for the Dukes of Hazard is playing.  I’m just sayin’…it might.

At the start of this holiday weekend, we were in the mood to play a bunch of hits from the days of A.M. radio—those years when as kids we rode around in the backs of station wagons without seat belts, and all the good music played on tinny, monotreme speakers in the center of the dashboard.  And hell yes, it’s cool that a streaming service now enables us to tap into these memories on-demand and play tracks—from the corny to the sublime—that we can blast through the house in 2015. A few songs by Carly Simon naturally made the cut on this playlist; and I think about the enormous contribution of this prolific singer/songwriter, who admits to having painful stage-fright; and I want to throw things at the smug pundits who shruggingly declare, “The market just doesn’t support that anymore.” Because if that’s true, it’s the market that needs fixing.

I don’t think I’ve heard Linda Ronstadt’s rendition of Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou” since those low-fi days, when I was too young even to appreciate it, but in surround-sound to my adult ears, it really is a gorgeous version of a classic that should be treasured.  And if you look at the names of the professionals who played and/or sang on her platinum album Simple Dreams and think for a moment that a new Ronstadt somewhere out there will ever produce songs of a similar quality without the investment model we call labels, you simply have no idea how recorded music is produced. But I assure you it has almost nothing to do with the affordability of digital tools.  Like all works, the real investment is in labor, skill, experience, talent, and time. Just because a great recording can be made by one person with some low-cost digital gear, that does not mean we, as listeners, want the range of available recorded works to be so universally limited. To put it another way, yes, a filmmaker can produce a feature with a few friends and an iPhone, but he cannot produce Game of Thrones that way—or really almost any of the films you want to see.

So, while my youngest danced around to “I’m a Believer” by the Monkees, having no idea what he was listening to, I thought about what a streaming subscription costs versus what it should actually be worth to me.  The singles I had cued up in a matter of minutes would have cost about $25 in 1973, which is nearly $143 in 2015, if we factor for inflation.  But a subscription to a near-global catalog of music that turns my sound system into a home jukebox only costs about ten 2015-dollars a month? There’s no way that adds up; and no amount of magical wordplay from the Internet industry can make it add up, especially for the next generation of recording artists, and quite possibly for their fans.

The personal relationships my kids are forming with the music they’re listening to right now will be the basis of their own nostalgia in 20 years.  Yet, despite the fact that this personal interaction with music is as meaningful as it ever has been, the market in which artists are working today insists that their recordings aren’t worth anything. They are told these products are just loss-leaders, which must be produced in order to generate a fan base, which might be convertible into revenue by some means other than direct sales of the product itself. No business model actually works this way; but, of course, a young entrepreneur can operate at a technical loss for a while and have a bit of fun before the numbers start to catch up and reality sets in.  When recorded works themselves cease to be a commodity (i.e. they’re made for the purpose of selling something else), they cease to be the basis for investment, and this can limit the range of creators’ options to collaborate and produce a richer universe of sounds.

But, of course, look at all the work being produced right now, say the tech-industry pundits.  We have a greater variety of music out there than ever before! This is true, which is why critics like me and my friends are called “luddites” and accused of “clinging to old ways.” But in the bigger picture, we are also witnessing very early stages of these market transformations.  The switch from digital downloads to legal streaming is just a few years old; and it is far too early to conclude what the results will be over the next decade or two simply by looking at how creators are trying to respond right now.  Certainly, there are a lot of creators making all kinds of music and putting it out there for us to enjoy, or not; but if a lot of that music is being produced by artists under age 30 and they cannot build sustainable careers over the next decade, we don’t know what the results will be.  What we do know (even with all the horror stories) is that when people invest in the recordings themselves, making bets that these products will be valued, that this model produces a great variety of works for us listeners.

That eldest child whom we put to sleep with Aaron Neville is naturally into metal and punk as a young adult.  And he recently introduced the whole family to an artist who, by all appearances, is what we might realistically call a rising star, though not likely destined to be a mega-star.  Her sound is original, her guitar playing has been critically praised by fellow professionals, she’s touring, selling merch, she’s hot, and she fits the profile of an artist who would traditionally have a 10+ year career with an indie label.  As a colleague of mine with 30 years experience working with indies told me, “Under the old system, I can say with confidence that this artist would have ten times the recording sales she does today. And that would be enough for us to have invested in her career and provide all the support she needs to develop and produce her best work and to support her with marketing, booking, openings for bigger acts, videos, etc. Today, we can’t make that investment.”

The counter-narrative to this indie-label model is that, thanks to the Internet providing a free platform for promotion, the artist can be her own support system, and therefore, “keep 100% of the recording sales” rather than share any of it with that grubby label.  Except the way this translates in reality is that the artist gets to do the work she knows (make music) plus a lot of the work she doesn’t know (marketing, booking, producing, etc.) and “keep 100% of recorded music sales & license fees,” which are now so low that they almost might buy coffee for the people who’ve done her favors in the last month.  By comparison, the “outdated model” was based on a business strategy, in which the indie label says to an artist like this, “You may never make us millions, but we see a way to invest in your career and make that work over the coming decade or so.”

But pretend we don’t care about the artist herself in this narrative. Still, the potential loss to us as fans just might be that kick-your-ass, break-your-heart, can’t-live-without-it album she never produces—because, of course, musicians are mortal except for Keith Richards.  By 35, this hot, punk artist will be another person than she is today. She may be a little burned out on constant touring, or get married, or want a kid, or want to have some kind of personal life beyond producing music for her fans to not pay for.  And wherever life leads her, this narrative will produce new music in her; and there may be some masterwork lurking in the alchemy of 2022.  But because there were never record sales or sustainable license deals for streaming to properly support that label investment model, there’s no way of knowing what she won’t produce in the coming years as a result.

On the other hand, if our assumption is that she’ll produce anyway—because that’s just how artists are or because artists “do better” when they struggle financially—then as so-called fans, we really have become cynics and leeches.  We have no reason to presume that we deserve recorded music for nothing, or next to nothing, just because digital technology makes it possible or because the recording industry has a checkered history. Those are just excuses for our cynicism.  Many of us could not imagine a world without recorded music, so how can anyone so dismissively say that it is of little value?  Probably, the most cynical belief of all is that recorded music—let alone complex, distinctive, and experimental recordings—will always be widely available no matter what market conditions prevail.  This may prove true, but not necessarily.  As long as the product we value most of all is the one for which we are least willing to pay, it seems reasonable to say that the future is anything but certain.

© 2015, David Newhoff. All rights reserved.

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  • Spot on.
    It’s sad such an obvious thing has to be said. Personally, I’m not hopeful. Humans are horrible at properly accounting for long term consequences. Especially long term diffuse consequences with uncertain benefits. And double especially long term consequences when there’s Free Stuff Right Now(!). I think the only chance is that the cable unbundling trend decimates (or credibly threatens to decimate) the entertainment sector enough that they have real lobbying success in getting government to take piracy seriously as a law enforcement issue.

    Maybe a 30% chance at best?

  • There are many business models in which the middleman actually does add value. On their best days, record companies were among them. We wanted a record deal so somebody else would mail the postcards and staple up the posters, leaving us free to make better music. Now, I’m designing, printing and mailing posters to clubs and pimping gigs nonstop on Facebook right up to the sound check. But I did get my first 9 cents from Spotify the other day. If I could stop, I would, but from that moment on, it would all shift from living to dying.

  • David,

    This is excellent and is so true. In a recent interview I gave on the radio, I shared some thoughts on streaming subscriptions…. “I can’t imagine paying an annual fee to rent music ($120ish a year) and at the end of 5 years have NO MUSIC to show for my money because all I did was rent.” I always invest in the artists I listen too and teach my kids to do the same. These songs travel through life with me. You are are spot on!! Thank YOU!!

  • Great article. I teach Jazz at a local college and many of my students tell me how much they enjoy my recordings, but my royalty statements certainly don’t indicate any spike in sales. They also feel that music should be free and all I need to do at age 63 is spend 200 days a year on the road to make up for the lost income. Part of the problem is that the little darlings are all recording their masterpieces in their dorm rooms and spewing it out on the cloud. They think their poorly recorded out of tune hack jobs are comparable to me spending $20,000 to get it right, using such guest artists as the Kronos and Turtle Island String Quartets. I’ve actually had a student tell me that if the Kronos actually like my music, then I wouldn’t have to pay them to record it.

    The market for music is so over saturated and abused that music itself now has little value in our culture. If diamonds were as common as grains of sand on the beach, then what would be their value? All these folks wearing earbuds and constantly playing music as a background texture to their daily lives are what advanced composers call music addicts. The hear but don’t listen.

  • “especially for the next generation of recording artists, and quite possibly for their fans.” The next generation of recording artists are going to be amateur recording artists. People who believed that “information just wanted to be free” insured this. The fans will get what they both deserve and demanded, mediocre music that is poorly recorded.

    The major benefit that the Recording Labels had, was not their marketing departments or artist management. It wasn’t their distribution or advertising capabilities. It had to do with why they were called “Record Companies” in the first place. It was their ability to record.

    The world as we know it today relies on digital recording. Everybody and their mother has a small digital recording studio. They are inexpensive and fairly easy to use, and with the exception of a few genuinely gifted individuals they produce a amateur quality product.

    With the devaluation of recorded music came also the devaluation of the craft of recording. In the 70’s and 80’s being a recording engineer at a professional studio of significance meant genuinely understanding acoustics and electronics.

    However, even at the height of the Record companies dominance of the music industry merely being a great recording engineer wasn’t the totality of the Record companies greatest benefit. So I reiterate, it was their ability to record.

    Where as nearly everyone and their mother now have a digital recording studio, what the vast majority of these amateur studio’s lack, are the record producers. Tommy Tedesco was a genuinely legendary guitar player and Alan Parsons one of the truly great recording engineer’s.

    But the true benefit of the Record Companies, were the individuals like Barry Gordy, Ted Templeman, Phil Spector and Robert John “Mutt” Lange, Quincy Jones, whose knowledge not only of engineering, but of music theory, style and artistic performance was what transformed artists with raw talent and promise into iconic superstars.

    What they brought to the table is what gave us those songs that people think of as the soundtracks of their lives, their “Song” as it were. Regardless of how talented Micheal Jackson was, without the brilliance of Quincy Jones, there would have been no “Thriller”. Without Ted Templeman, no Van Halen, without Mutt Lange, No Hysteria (Def Leppard), no Whitesnake, no Shaina Twain.

    This is why the next generation of recording artists will be amateur recording artists. Because regardless of how good your digital recording studio is, or how well you are able to utilize it, unless you understand what the job of a record producer is, and can master it, you are just an amateur with some fancy toys.

    With the devaluation of recorded music, the pie got smaller. As the pie keeps getting smaller, it isn’t just the middleman who ends up getting cut out. 90 percent of the time these days, the very first person cut out of the recording, is the record producer, He get’s cut out, because he is the most expensive part of the recording process (yes, more expensive than even the recording studio time itself, which in a top of the line quality studio can run upwards of $1500.00 per hour).

    All the marketing, sales, advertising and promotion that the next generation of recording artist will do on their own behalf, are things that are done after the recording is finished. Without a genuine skilled and talented producer, that product will be a amateur product, perhaps if the artist has had experience with a producer, it will be an exceptionally well produced amateur product, but in the end, it will still be an amateur product.

  • I disagree. People still value music, they just don’t value DIGITAL MUSIC. People weren’t buying the music in the first place, they were buying the packaging. Digital downloads have never outsold CD’s and as technology phases out CD’s and CD sales decline, so does music sales overall. Digital music is like faucet water and you’d be hard pressed to find people willing to pay for a cup of faucet water.

    I was selling my album in cheap slimline jewel cases with just one trey card. A guy bought my album twice off of CD Baby searching for a version with a full fold out trey card and all that, like the official CD’s look. At a show I burned some CD’s from my computer and wrapped them in construction paper. People came to me looking to buy after my set but they refused to buy my music the way it was packaged. I found success when I told them I was raising money to get better CD’s. If it was just about the music it wouldn’t have mattered because either version would have the same song files on them.

    Where’s the packaging with digital music, the one thumbnail image of the album cover? The industry failed man. They failed at finding a way to package music in the digital world. People are buying devices that costs hundreds of dollars that provide better sound for their music, expensive headphones for their music, but we can’t get them to buy music? It’s not the music, it’s how it’s being sold.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Gif. The first thing I’ll say is that people absolutely do pay for faucet water, even if they are unaware of it. There’s nothing free about having potable water in your home, regardless of whether or not that cost is paid entirely by public dollars or a combination of public and private, which is most common in the U.S. And there may be something to this metaphor given the fact that it is the digital-native generation who have grown up to expect music to be free, and they likely adopted this attitude as adolescents, who are likewise unaware that there is a water bill that needs paying.

      I don’t think anyone can argue that packaging isn’t important when selling any physical product, but in the days when we bought albums, there’s no question it was the music we wanted. And singles had no packaging at all — just a paper sleeve with the same vinyl disk for every track.

      All that said, I agree that there is a different retail experience when buying something intangible like a song, but the other reality is that, absent piracy, people would just pay for music because they would have to, and nobody would think twice about it.

      • I didn’t say people wouldn’t pay for faucet water. I said they wouldn’t pay for a CUP of faucet water.

        Singles did have packaging. The jacket you speak of had imagery, a back cover with the song titles, a cassette tape with a logo, etc. Without a doubt people wanted the music if that was all they wanted they could have easily gotten it for free.

        I was content to listen to the radio & didn’t buy anything until 2005 when I was 25 years old. I got copies of albums made for me ny friends but if I didn’t have that I still wouldn’t have bought anything. My nieces & nephews put Netflix, video games, & other apps way ahead of music. They wouldn’t buy, they’d just go without.

        Also, radio is customizable now too where they can get a grand playlist of similar artists, genres, songs, or albums on Pandora or Songza. Going without wouldn’t mean the same as what it meant for me back then. Even sharing is different as my nephew & his friends just dump albums in each other’s iCloud accounts & google drive accounts.

        Also digital files cost nothing to reproduce and people don’t see the work people poor into their music, all they see is the product before them. Most people aren’t going to pay a photographwr more because they CHOOSE to use film & a dark room rather than a digital camera. I know because my wife stopped shooting after people, mainly artists, wanted to pay her $50 for photo shoots that she charged $300 for.

    • You are a musician?

      First, you are making a common amateur mistake. When someone is willing to put out cold hard cash for your product, its because they like the content. But, no matter how much they like the content, i.e the music, they are not going to put out cold hard cash for an amateur product. They expect a professionally produced product for their money.

      You cannot force the customer to buy what they do not want, that is rule number 1. Make no mistake about this, they came to you because they liked the music you produced. But they won’t give your their money for a piece of crap recording of it. If you can’t be bothered to make a professional presentation of that music (Insert and Jewel case), they will not believe that you can be bothered to make a professional quality recording of it either.

      People are increasingly spending more money on high quality play back devices and headphones, not for the CD inserts or Jewel cases, but because it is the actual recorded music that they are interested in.

      I was a professional musician back in the mid 80’s, signed to both Virgin and Geffen Records. There are certain rules to this game you absolutely have to understand to survive.

      a) The number of people who will buy what you record or write without hearing it first is about .0001 percent. In other words, your family or closest friends.

      b) Nobody will buy a crappy recording of your music.

      c) Like it or not, presentation is 50 percent of your sales.

      d) (This is a difficult one for most musicians to accept) Image is everything. Who you portray yourself as has to match what you are selling.

      e) If the end product you put out, looks amateurish, that is exactly how your fan/customer base will see you, and you will remain an amateur.

      f) Yes, the quality of your recorded product really is important. Almost nobody will come to see you unless they have heard you first. No, you really do not get a second chance to make a first impression. Yes, what is in/on your CD insert/Jewel case is your first impression, even when it isn’t.

      There is a reason so few bar band/garage bands ever make it to the big time. It is not because they do not work hard at their craft or are not talented. Its because they do not understand the rules of the game. As long as you present yourself as an amateur, that is exactly how everyone will perceive you, and nobody pay a amateur.

      Professionalism does not restrict itself to what you write, or how you perform on stage. There are a hundred million people out there just waiting for a chance to make themselves look important or feel better by ripping you to shreds.

      The way you make money at this, is by giving them as few as possible opportunities to do that. And of course, by giving people a product that they are willing to give you their hard earned cold hard cash for.

      1) The quality of what you record has to be better than just good.
      2) The presentation of your product has to appear professional.
      3) People have to hear you before they will come to see you.
      4) You will never make enough money to support touring if you do not get wide distribution of your music.
      5) Despite what people on the internet say, touring is incredible expensive and you will go broke trying to support yourself touring unless you have massively wide distribution of your music.

      These are the hard cold realities of the music industry. How people hear your music has changed, what has not changed is that nobody will give you their money if they have never heard you.

      • Hey, not arguing with you buddy but I was using stuff I did as a youngster to make a point about the importance of packaging. Long time ago, no longer the case.

    • As you mentioned photographers, too, the common thread that has devalued so many creative fields is that the tools are now in the hands of millions. The ability to use these tools has been equated mistakenly with the ability to create lasting artistic value. In the absence of genuine discernment as to what constitutes quality music, design, photography, writing, etc., all of these fields seem trapped in a death spiral.

    • Packaging is important, but to suggest that that is the main reason people do not buy digital music I have to disagree. If people could drive in to a gas station and fill their tanks for free, with no chance of getting caught – I guarantee very few would be willing to pay for it. And we could not blame the shape or color of the pump for that.

      • Another thing is this, people talk of music fans not buying music like nobody is selling records. That’s not true. Major artists aren’t selling as much as they used to sell but they’re still selling a lot and artists like Taylor Swift are selling a hell of a lot. We actually have a music middle class where Indie artists are selling their music directly on sites like Bandcamp and making a living. I have an artist friend named Conscious that allows fans to pay what they want for his music and some of them have given him as much as $50 for a single download. I have another friend that has people subscribing to stream his music exclusively on Bandcamp where they get access to new material first, etc.

        The complaining comes from artists that aren’t selling and from people who look at Soundscan numbers and think music isn’t selling. At the end of the day I know a lot of artists that don’t care about Soundscan so they’re not registered there and they’re selling music directly off of their website. Soundscan charges a lot of money for artists to even see the sales data they collect so most don’t even get the point of them. Besides that, they also charge artists to report sales from live shows so artists that sell CD’s on tour can’t have their sales reported unless they’re willing to pay Soundscan for the privilege. Plus, with all the different ways people are selling music today with all the cross selling and variable pricing their data is extremely inaccurate.

        There are a lot of variables that go into why people don’t buy digital music but packaging plays a major role. You have to consider the fact that the vast majority of album consumers buy CD’s not digital downloads and even vinyl is surging. That implies a consumer preference toward physical over digital but consumers are practically being forced to buy digital by technology and are responding by not buying at all. Music consumers was already a small group to begin with. I mean look at the vinyl industry, it’s exploded over the past couple of years. That should tell you something.

        Outside of the group of people that consistently buy music the bar has been raised considerably. People are only willing to spend money on what they perceive to be exceptional work. Anything below exceptional the artists has to have a strong relationship with their fans where their fans spend money because they want to support them.

        Artists can no longer put out a song and expect people do by it unless it’s a phenomenal song. If they’re not putting out the greatest music they have to cultivate relationships with their fans where their fans are willing to invest in them and their talent and not just a song or album. The artists that achieve these things are successful, the artists that don’t, aren’t.

        It seems like the industry wants fans to buy bad albums for sake of the health of the industry. I’ve heard the argument that if consumers don’t buy the bad albums then there won’t be money to make the next great album. There’s no accountability for the artistic quality of the music being released. Mainstream sets the consumer perception because most people take what they get on radio and late night shows. These people hear what the record companies are pumping out and think ALL music sucks. I do Hip Hop and I can’t tell you how many times people have been shocked that my music doesn’t suck. I know a lot of people that have given in and force themselves to try to like what’s out, rationalizing and trying to find stuff about the songs on the radio they can like.

        Record companies start pumping out fast food music and ruin consumer perception regarding quality. We’r at a point where I’d say people have the least amount of respect for music than they’ve ever had. People respect the money, they respect the fame, but they think the music is crap and who’s fault is that?

  • The argument that musicians can make a living on live shows is highly flawed.

    The first problem is the assumption that demand for live music is unlimited. This assumption suggests that all one need to do to get back lost revenue is play more live shows. The problem is only a tiny percentage of the population actually goes to live shows. Most people do not like the concert environment. What they do like is music delivered to their homes, their cars, or to wherever they are on whatever gadget they have. While a small percentage of people go to live shows, nearly everyone listens to live music. It would be very useful to know the stats on how many shows the average person goes to in – say a month – and how many recorded songs the average person listens to in that same time period. I think we would see the folly in expecting that the tiny percentage of people who go to live shows are somehow supposed to supply the revenue to pay for the recorded music that the entire population listens to on a regular basis.

    Now basic Economics tells us that if we drop the price of live shows more people will go. Now if we do that we end up with less revenue all together and we are back where we started. And the reality is that dropping the cost of live shows is not going to drive up attendance much anyway – since the majority of people do not want the live show environment. And the few people who do go to live shows only have an appetite to see the same act so many times in a given time period.

    And by the way – why is it the techy’s think they have the right to tell artists they no longer have the right to make money from the time and money they invest in creating the product that people make use of the most?

  • best write up I’ve ever read on the value of music! and as an artist and one who especially loves making recordings more than anything else this is so dead on!

    • This reminds me of an extremely frustrating comment on the trichordist. The commenter, having bought into the “most money from record sales goes to the label” meme argued that she’d rather support the act live, and since she couldn’t afford both she’d choose the concert.

      But here’s the kicker – she then said that if she didn’t hear the album beforehand she couldn’t really appreciate the music – news to most fans of jazz or other improvisational music- and so she pirated the album. It seems as if the downloaders don’t really value live music much either.

      When I bring up the Beatles piracy advocates get mad because the Beatles were an “extreme” example, but the simple fact is that they got very rich based on recording, at a time when the music business was arguably more corrupt (or at least less transparent) than it is now, and that they were frequently ripped off by live promoters and merchandisers (the sheer amount of fake Beatle merch was astounding). As well, unless you were lucky to be in Hamburg or Liverpool pre-1964 watching the Beatles live was a dodgy proposition.

      But the other factor is that it’s pretty clear that constant touring cuts into artistic output. Compare the musical output of today’s artists with that of 40-50 years ago. Without judging quality, the sheer quantity of records by major artists was much greater.

      Sadly, this applies to other arts as well. Neil gaiman is apparently the exemplar of the writer-as-gadfly model, allowing his stuff out for free and making money by speaking. But his actual output of writing has become stunted. Instead we get his other works repackaged in multiple editions while waiting for another major novel. And of course the public speaking model offers nothing to authors who would rather have the book be their sole statement.

  • I just want to thank everyone who has commented on this thread. I would love to respond individually, but just can’t this week. – DN

  • Great article, David. Thanks for the effort putting it and this site together!

  • Thank you for this insightful and thoughtful.

  • “But pretend we don’t care about the artist herself in this narrative…”
    That line made me think of one of my 20-something co-workers. We were involved in a discussion about Taylor Swift’s stance with Spotify.
    He said, “It’s not my responsibility to make sure the artist gets paid.”

    If you look at the bulk of the mega music stars now, they are largely pre-YouTube. And never has music in the minds of young listeners been less about music.
    It’s a better time to be a fashion designer in the music biz than to be a musician.

    And live? Never have audiences cared less about the actual performances. They watch with their phones and it’s more about “look at me at the concert.”

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