It’s no secret that in a former life I was a professional musician. Recently, a good friend and colleague of mine, Scott Collins, wrote a really great blog post on what is being talked about as a new business model for emerging artists.
Before posting Part 2 of the above blog post, Scott sent out a draft for some opinions. Since I now have a blog for which I feel obligated to contribute, I thought I would repost my response .
My ideas are based partly in personal experience, partly in research, and partly on gut instinct. That being said, this issue is something I’ve been thinking about and discussing with other musicians and technologists for the last 3 – 4 years. You should also note that my responses are to a rough draft of Scott’s article. After which he made some revisions. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND reading the final draft of the article. It’s right on. At any rate, arguments against some of the points in the rough draft aren’t really valid with regards to the final draft, but the core ideas are still worthy of a post.
I feel that this kind of discourse is long over due. These issues don’t just affect the music industry. The astute realize that this conversation really bleeds over into all of the entertainment industry as well as the software and hardware industries. Things are changing and they’re changing fast.
So as always a great article! And as usual I agree with you… mostly
(WARNING: Personal opinions to follow.)
SC: Reason #1: People no longer need to be musicians to make music.
I disagree. Good music requires musicianship. In fact, whenever I hear music that people love, whether I like it or not I feel that I have to accept that it was created with a certain level of musicianship. What I think YOU are getting at (and correct me if I’m wrong) is that one doesn’t need to be trained (formerly or otherwise) on a physical musical instrument to make music, and thus implying that training on a musical instrument is what makes a musician. THAT is what I disagree with.
I think that one of the things that technology has exposed is that technical skill on a traditional instrument does not equate to musicianship in a 1 to 1 way. Any Joe can NOT spend years practicing, gain chops, and get his “musicianship” certificate. Musicianship is an intangible skill that absolutely MUST be developed, but now it can be developed in a way that is independent of traditional modalities. I’m not suggesting that this is a good or bad thing… it’s just the way it is.
In fact, you hinted at this in your first article. I’m saying that you don’t have to practice a traditional musical instrument in a traditional way, BUT YOU DO HAVE TO PRACTICE. Technology does not replace paying dues.
SC: Reason #3: The $.99 song. We have created an arbitrary price for a song
Remember… we didn’t create it. Apple did. Also remember that Apple is not a music company or label. In fact, I’m pretty sure they don’t need (nor ever have needed) to make their money from selling media. Apple sells hardware. Not any hardware. They sell highly optimized hardware packages with integrated proprietary software targeted toward the masses. Their main concern is that it “just works” for the consumer, and that the consumer can literally FALL IN LOVE WITH THE HARDWARE. Their operating systems, software packages, and services are built to insure that their hardware KICKS ASS. And it does. Microsoft can’t deliver on that. DELL can’t deliver on that. And most assuredly Warner Bros, Sony, etc… don’t have a fighting chance. Particularly when Apple doesn’t really need to make a profit on the media distribution. They just need to make it profitable enough for the studios so they retain the right to sell said media. And since iTunes’ user base is massive, and they actually pay money, the studios don’t have much of a choice in my estimation.
Additionally, I think that all of this is skirting the issue. Recorded music is so ubiquitous now THAT IT’S HARDLY WORTH MORE THAN THE AIR WE BREATH (which as of this writing is free).
Finally, here’s the really tough news about your app idea. Just like the iTunes model, the only people making money from selling apps is Apple (again even though they probably don’t need to). Bargain basement price for developing a solid kick ass app that works well is around $50,000 at the end of the day. Now you could get a pile of shit thrown together for less, but I’m talking about a KILLER app that works solidly with social integration and a web backend plus cool audio features, great graphic design…etc. All standard now a days for a mobile app. Rock bottom I would say $50k but realistically probably closer to $100k. And that’s just to release (design, development, testing, marketing, blah blah blah). What about ongoing maintenance? Updates? Bug fixes? Apple’s cut on each app sale (for which they basically do almost nothing) is about $.20 on the dollar. At $.99 a pop you need roughly 125,000 downloads just to break even. Probably a snap for Louie CK!
The successful apps are tied into larger ideas and concepts (think Instagram, Draw Something, Flipboard, etc… Angry Birds is the 1 in a million exception). Or they provide on going services purchasable from within the app (think AmpliTube). These apps cost nothing or almost nothing for the user. The main thing that the first group uses for monetization is a massive user base like Facebook has. Now of course that hasn’t proven profitable yet, but it will. To think otherwise is delusional.
I say it’s not about the app. It’s about the artist. Just like it’s not about the recordings any more. It’s about the artist. In this environment you simply have to be the entire package. You have to be a creative musician. You have to be a creative performer. You have to be a creative business person. You have to be good at what I’m calling “lateral thinking”. Or thinking creatively across multiple domains.
I simply believe: gone are the days where you could practice hard, stand up on stage, play some music, and people just liked your music or not and then paid you for recordings. Actually… did those day’s ever exist?