Monthly Archives: June 2010

Paid In Full: the Internet, artists and money

Leading on from my last post, I recognise that as much as the Internet is opening up horizons and introducing artists to new audiences they wouldn’t have acquired otherwise, the issue of making sure artists get paid for their output is still there.

Spotify is an incredible service, and while I’m currently on the free, ad-supported version, I would gladly pay for it if my financial situation was better. There have been recent criticisms of the amounts it pays to songwriters, but there are many who see it as opportunity rather than a problem. For my part, I’ve bought tons of albums off Amazon and at my friendly local record store, thanks to hearing them on Spotify.

There’s another layer, though – artists that you may hear through MP3s posted on their blogs or MySpace pages, or shared through Tumblr sites, or through free downloadable mixtapes. I’d love to be able to pay even a token sum for this wonderful free entertainment. But Paypal is unwieldy, and a lot of smaller artists won’t have access to large-scale distribution channels like iTunes or Amazon’s MP3 store. Micropayments have been progressing in the last few years – there are a few promising options available. I don’t know how effective they can or will be, but I think it’s important for people to be able to earn money from the art they create. It’s a brave new world, but some things stay the same:

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After The Scene Dies

It’s common knowledge by now that the Internet is changing the music business irrevocably. Friday’s Guardian piece tackles this shift in attitudes from a different perspective, looking at the Internet’s effect on the development of local music scenes, but it still ends up being a version of those nagging, schoolmarmish paeans to the old way of doing things that criticise the Internet without considering the benefits it brings.

Take, for example, this paragraph, on the apparently vanished joys of sharing music:

“Right up to the mid-90s, people would ask their friends for recommendations and share mixtapes, even if those friends were obsessives like High Fidelity’s Dick and Barry, championing anything obscure and ridiculing the ignorant. The internet, and all it entails – MySpace, social networking, file-sharing, blogs – has destroyed the importance of the physical ownership of music. Now, everyone has access to every kind of music, digitally and instantly. We no longer depend on other people and their imports, club nights and mixtapes to discover new sounds.”

To which I’d reply; what do you think social networking sites, blogs, and file-sharing do? What do you think they rely on? People, writing about stuff they hear, giving recommendations, letting people know about new music. Phil Saxe, former manager of The Happy Mondays, says “The internet is all very well but it merely spreads information”. That’s a classic example of confusing the platform with the services, and more importantly, the people that make it such a wonderful resource.

Sharing music is still going on – in fact, I’d argue that there is probably more variety and innovation in the music people share than ever before. Today, you can hear an MP3 on a blog run from another country, check out the band’s MySpace page, download their tracks and add one to a playlist that you can burn onto CD for your friends, or share online.

The complaints about “the death of the scene” seem to come from people who were there at the time, and remember it as the happiest days of their lives. For someone who didn’t live in a particularly “cool” town, who remembers passing around CDs by artists who’d never get played on the radio and waiting months for a band you liked to play near you, I can honestly say I would never go back to those days.

I like being able to hear a song on spec via Spotify, music blog or any other site, decide whether or not I like it and take the next steps into discovering the artist and others like them. It may not be a personally-burned mix CD, but in a lot of ways it’s better, in that you have the power, your research drives what you listen to and as long as you keep an open mind, you will never stop being exposed to new sounds.

While the scenes of yesteryear – from punk to Madchester to Britpop – had a certain amount of cohesion while they were going on, a large amount of manufacturing was done after the fact by critics, writers, and cultural gatekeepers who made it their life’s mission to tell the rest of us we couldn’t really understand or appreciate it because we weren’t there, maaaan. This kind of scene-centric, nostalgia-based approach to writing about music has been around since the 60s. It’s always been smug, conservative, backwards-looking and So. Fucking. Boring. I’m glad it’s headed for oblivion. That’s where it deserves to be.

Here’s another money quote from Phil Saxe:

“About 12 years ago I put Coldplay, Elbow and Muse on at In the City. Nobody knew about any of those bands or how to contact them, so they had to come to the convention in Manchester to see them. You can’t do that any more. As soon as we mention the name of the band, people go on MySpace and make the connection straight away.”

Bad news if you’re a promoter whose reputation is riding on that one show. Good news if you’re the artist or a potential fan, who’ll be able to follow them, go to shows, hear tracks, and invest themselves in the band in the way that fans have doing since the beginning of pop music – all because of the Internet.

In the future, I’ll be part of a community that doesn’t judge you on where you’re from or how cool you are, but on the passion and curiosity you have for new music. In the future something new and utterly fascinating will only be a mouse click away. In the future I’ll pass mixtapes and random tracks back and forth between friends, creators and strangers across the planet. To quote a friend of mine, this is my community, and the future is awesome.

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