Image: cigarboxguitar, from Etsy. Trust me, it makes sense — real, physical, handmade instruments and music distribution is the perfect antidote to a lot of blogger hot air.

I apparently had better things to do this weekend than hear the latest self-righteous, all music is free, the Web changes the fabric of reality post about the music business, this time from Michael Arrington of Techcrunch. The title is intended to get a rise out of people. (“These Crazy Musicians Still Think They Should Get Paid For Recorded Music.” Uh … thanks?) But tracking through links, I came upon this quote:

Recorded music is nothing but marketing material to drive awareness of an artist. Websites that bring that music to listeners are doing artists a favor. In fact, they’re doing them a favor that they should (and will) be paid for.

Now, regular readers know CDM is all about new business models for music, all about ditching DRM, not at all about archaic royalty schemes. And certainly I can’t think of a good argument for the prompt for Arrington’s piece, which was that Billy Bragg thinks artists are owed money retroactively by a site to which they’ve already uploaded their own music.

Here’s my answer to that:

Recorded music has value to consumers.

And, in business, if something has value somewhere, it’s a business. So, yeah, maybe someone’s teenage daughter now uses BitTorrent as her only music source. Meanwhile, a crate digger in Brooklyn will pay US$5000 in one evening for a short stack of rare vinyls, or $40 to import a new release. Value is in the eye of the consumer. Digital doesn’t change that. (Then again, if digital doesn’t change that, Michael Arrington isn’t as important. I’m beginning to see the problem.)

Promotion has value to artists — but encouraging Web payola is ridiculous.

In fact, a lot of the previous promotional budget that validated large record labels’ existence is going to get tougher for artists to swallow. Think more focused promotion — and definitely don’t assume artists think the Web will be entitled to their hard-earned dollars just for its ability to promote their work. Arrington goes on to say, “Young artists and songwriters in particular benefit from these services – Until a few years ago they had almost no way to break into the mainstream without getting a label to promote them.” Why should artists pay for exposure on these sites if they’re already getting that exposure, driven by the masses and blog buzz, for free (or cheap)? And how many artists are just as reliant now on labels as before — perhaps smaller, smarter labels instead of majors, but labels nonetheless — to help them navigate the increasingly dense world of Web music?

Meanwhile, I’m sure sites like Last.fm are perfectly happy to get rich off of ad dollars and other models, before they start trying to extort artists.

Almost all of the conventional blog wisdom about the music business in the Web world seems wrong to me. Recorded music seems to have more value when you have access to the music you want, and when you can build relationships (and literally talk to) the artists you love. And labels become more important when there’s more to navigate — not big, dumb labels with lots of cash, but focused, intelligent labels that can better build relationships with artists and listeners.

I’ll close instead with what I think could be the antidote to all of this, which gets back to the image at top. Things you make (or “Create”, as we like to say around here) have value to you and other people. And as everything else becomes commoditized, people will increasingly care more about the things you care about making. The Web will give you tools to do that. You may not have to pay anyone — certainly not pay much — because once people are getting connected to other people who care about the product, there will be a natural profit for the Website, the consumer, and the seller. That may sound touchy-feely, but it’s really basic business. And business is what seems to be missing in Arrington’s whole argument. If you’re going to the trouble of recording music, odds are you’ll want to get paid for it. (Otherwise, you’d give away that t-shirt you sell at the show, too. It’s also marketing.) The good news is: that transaction could be more about what you’ve made, and less about lots of marketing and imaginary value.

(I say this, because I know the people at Etsy — a craft marketplace that is taking gradual steps into areas like music — agree. See: Etsy’s Storque on “Homemade Music”, which inspired the image.)

For different rebuttal, see:

These crazy bloggers still think they understand the music business [e-consultancy]

Unfortunately, the writer there takes the bait to make this about piracy and “theft”, which I think misses the point. As we saw with a game developer of all things, seeing the issue as theft versus rights misses the basic business question of the value perceived by your customer. That’s not to ignore the problems of piracy. But the whole question was what musicians should or shouldn’t be paid for what they produce. And that’s at the very heart of the music business.

  • Maybe for some musicians, recording is just promotion for something else, like tickets to their live shows. But for other musicians it might be the other way around, such as when bands tour to promote an album. Then there's merchandise, which could be mainly an advertisement, or a band's primary source of revenue. Then there's video — same idea.

    "What you're selling" and "what you're using to advertise it" is up to how you establish your own personal business model. It's not up to one guy to decide that for everyone else.

  • arnold collins

    i'm sick of the idiotic points of view made by bloggers about how music piracy is good for artists. especially when they come from otherwise cool sites like boingboing. these people have no idea. that's not to say there are any easy answers, or that people should get sued for file sharing, but please spare us the b.s. people are going out of business and that's a fact that doesn't fit into their neat and tidy ideas about the supposed new artistic freedom.

  • Downpressor

    The techcruch guy has repeatedly shown himself to be a know nothing blatherer. Its such a shame that blowhards like him can spread their filthy lies.


    You do realize that there is a market for bootleg concert tapes right?

  • LZA

    I don't know why the "royalty" scheme does not get used much more or better why it is not forced more.

    Atelast in germany it is like this: If I have a bar and play CDs I have to pay royalties to the musicians whose (? sorry for my english) music I play. (In theory, usually the owners just pay a fee to the GEMA without actually stating what music they played, but thats the flaw of the GEMA and the owners won't change that).

    So what I have there is a business that is not about music at all, it's about people, drinks and food, no one will come by explicitly because of the music, but without music … well, something would be missing.

    In my opinion it's the same with those websites. Myspace/whatever is about "meeting people", spamming others people comment-boards, looking trough picture-albums of complete strangers etc. But there is also this whle musicthing which is not *the* cornerstone of that business but sure as hell alot of people would shed a mighty tear if myspace had to remove the musicplayer (whyever).

    I know that this is a problem because royalty-collecting companies are mainly country-based, they only represent "real" artists (a label is normally needed) and they are generally so painfully oldschool that they won't make the transistion in the next decade, presumably. But the system itself works.

    On the other hand all those social-web/whatever-pages might get a serious problem soon because advertisement is going downhill in the internet, meaning they will have a problem generating cash without forcing the users to pay in the near future.

    On a sidenote, something that is running around in my head for years now is the 2nd-hand-vinyl market. Traders and Shopowners make a nice dollar selling rare/wanted wax to collectors and yet the original musicians get nothing. Another "business"-model where a royalty scheme is fitting and needed. Not much, maybe 3-5% of the overall price. But some records get regularly sold for three-figured prices while the original recording artist is living off welfare because "his time is over". Strange world.

  • Ed

    People can discuss whether or not they 'should get paid', but I think the value of something is what people are prepared to pay for it, not what the seller says it is worth.

    I'd like people to give me more money for what I do for a living but I have to convince them on their terms. Simply telling them what I do has value simply because I say it has value won't get them to pay for anything.

    I think this is equally true for both web promotion and recorded music.

    I'm not sure if Arrington's saying people shouldn't or don't need to pay for music, just that at the moment market conditions give little motivation for people to do so.

  • I think my next music project will be a band that only plays live and doesn’t do any recordings. You can’t pirate a live experience.

  • There is a problem with perceived value of recordings also; because people can rake in huge numbers of mp3s for free, they don't value them as much as they should. If people (bloggers, for example) knew exactly how much work goes into writing, recording, producing, mixing, engineering and mastering an album, perhaps they would have more respect for its value. There are plenty of internet marketers making huge money from selling ebooks which take a fraction of the time and talent to produce, but which are also a reproducible digital format…

  • I had a theory once about mp3 piracy and what people deemed valuable. My basic idea was this: there are romance technologies and there are non-romance technologies. A romance technology is one that gets romanticized by its users or former users. People look at them as more than just a vehicle for the data they contain. They see them as the vehicle itself having some value. For examples, an Apple II computer is romanticized while an IBM AT compatible is not. Beta is romanticized while VHS is not. Vinyl is romanticized while cassettes, CDs, and mp3s are not. You could also look at old video game cartridges versus floppy disks.

    I think these vehicles for data become romanticized when the user cannot create the vehicle and its content themselves. Like an Apple II computer versus an IBM AT compatible. Anyone could build a PC compatible back in the day, but Apple retained the rights to their machines.

    Vinyl can't be made by the average consumer, but mix tapes and CD-Rs can easily be recorded or burned. When the vehicles become so accessible, they lose perceived value. When the vehicle is valued, this value translates to the content that the vehicle carries. Vinyl will continue to fetch high prices. Game stores will still carry used Nintendo game cartridges.

    When there is no vehicle, only data, the perceived value drops dramatically. MP3s will never yield the same attachment their owners might have for their vinyl record collection.

    Just my thoughts on the subject.

    With that said, I continue to make digital-only releases of my music. Go figure.

  • Sean

    @Justin: "You can’t pirate a live experience."

    I guess you haven't heard of this little site called YouTube where many people upload videos of their favourite artists playing live then?

  • Jimmy

    @ Oh Travioso : I think you're missing the point slightly; when doing a like with like comparison in such a way, one must note the intrinsic value of vinyl as a far superior tactile medium in live performance and also as a 'warm' means of analog music reproduction in its own right. Putting it down to the 'romanticization' is somewhat trite.

  • The thing is, there is way to goddam much music on the internet. Independent, CC, Major label, all of it.

    That is the problem.

    Consumers are literally drowning in content, much of it mediocre, but who the hell has enough time to go through it all and find the wheat amongst the chaff?

    So what happens is that something pretty good comes out, possibly randomly gets a little buzz on a blog, maybe some other blogs pick it up, spreading all meme-like through the intarwebz .. and wham! You're the new Brad Sucks.

    Either that or you're Trent Resnor or Radiohead, and everybody already knows who you are, and you release your album for "the price is whatever, man" and still make millions.

    I believe what our self-righteous inflammatory headline writing blogmeister is trying to say is that this process of internet "grass roots" promotion can be monetized, and I don't think he's completely wrong.

    Apart from screwing over artists and consumers simultaneously, there was one other thing that the major labels were good at: promotion.

    That seems to be the one vacuum in our brave new lable-less world what needs to be filled.

  • we can't all be famous thoms and trents.

    i think more basically we've forgotten as artists the value of our own works, too busy trying to put a price on inspiration for someone else buy…obviously we had the money to purchase instruments and recording machines to make that inspired piece we love (??? or do we?)

    what does your work mean to you? where along the line did you forget?

    i've yet to make a cent for my music, but it is my passion to make it…i think i'll have a real-life job one the side as well, though, so i can continue funding my inspirations, and myself…

  • Well, returning to the original argument:

    Arrington isn't talking about piracy. He's talking about *all recorded music* being basically worthless.

    We have more access to music now than ever before. But there's also more *paid consumption* of music online than ever before. Just because that isn't adding up to the profits the record industry might like isn't necessarily the end of the world, given the previous economic model that industry had was profitable to only a tiny minority of musicians.

    So I just don't accept the sky is falling argument. (Arrington in this case is adding a twist: the sky SHOULD fall because we never needed that stupid sky anyway.) I know it's easy to get worked up as a musician, or start feeling bleak, but I just see more opportunities — even if you're not Thom or Trent. That's not to say there aren't huge challenges, as well — but clearly people do value music and do spend on it in various ways. (I know I do… even with all of these choices.)

  • ebt

    while i dont agree with all the info the book "Cult of the Amateur" makes the great point that sites like youtube and myspace are making ooooodles of money on advertising off of user submitted content. this does raise the question of "why would i want my music to be advertising for "x product"" or "why if i am participating in the success of this company through creative means am i not receiving any compensation". In that regard maybe Billy Bragg is right?

    i think plurgid summed it up with "we are drowning in content". if you leave it up to the "the best music will eventually rise to the top argument"- most of the success stories through sites like these have historically been artists with some sort of additional backing and sponsors, hence youtube's new "sponsored link" or Chocolate Rain…(not that isnt the catchiest thing ever.)

    but when this separation occurs and we end up in a culture where someone who puts a drunken demo from a 1 jam session (not that this doesnt have artistic merit) with lyris about pooping or something common and silly- and this is more successful than a 30 year recording veteran's track (which employed other professionals to c reate) where does this leave our society? if it was doctors or architects this wouldnt even be a discussion. marggh i think about this too much and could keep writing but work…

  • ebt

    also- recently there was an interview with Michel Gondry talking about how in the US everything is turned into a business and how this destroys creativity in a sense. He then went on to say how much he loved youtube because anyone could submit their creative content. submit creative content to ahem, a business!

    this was all before those peoples posted the youtube video claiming he ripped off an Amanda Bynes skit from Nickelodeon for Be Kind Rewind!

  • Yea but so far youtube isnt a proftiable business, so who knows…

    Will music become sonicwallpaper for banner ads?

    Or will it become a grant funded trophy piece, like the visual arts or etc..

    Maybe people are finally getting sick of music? it was a nice 50,000 year fad while it lasted..

  • ebt

    ha ha ha!

  • That's odd – I generally value recorded music more than live. And I come from the live improv background.

    Other than that the depth of any possible discussion of economic justice seems a bit beyond the scope of musicians making a living – almost no musicians as we typically think of them *are* making a living in our culture, unlike many in the last 5,000 years.

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  • Here Here!

    I'm glad you picked this one up, Peter. Arrington could have only written this from a place of feigned ignorance to stir blog hits – the premise is not even real:

    Think of listening to your favorite song on headphones, lying on your floor.

    Think music defining the ambiance at a restaurant.

    Think of endless working hours with music as your company.

    Think of having guests over and how important that record is that you choose.

    Viva recorded music. We can only be at the beginning.

  • it never fails, the people who make these retarded statements make music that no-one would want to buy.

    stupid hippis.

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  • Meh, that article written like a true beancounting bitter non-artist twat.

    Comment #62 pretty much sums it up.

  • Hilarious. So Michael Arrington is a know-nothing idiot? Yeah. That's it. And how many regular readers of CDM also regularly read TechCrunch (besides me, I mean). Can't we all just get along. Taken in perspective, both sides have valid points. But let's be a bit real, can we?

    Musicians (if we can even agree to incorporate this whole group – including all the bit-sampling fools and rappers – in that description) have a vested interest in selling their music – not all musicians – but it would be nice, no?

    Attorneys (like Arrington) who understand something that most musicians lack (business models) might be worth listening to. Unless you just want to be like those starving artists who sell one $10,000 painting a year, but stay true to thyself. Fine for some, but some folks here might actual value commercial success. Musicians hardly have a solid-gold track records when it comes to common sense business (i.e. Boston, VanHalen, Simon & Garfunkel, and the list goes on, ba-da-bump da da dump).

    Just because you can cram a whole studio into your Roland Fantom doesn't mean you can also cram some business sense into it as well. Be smart, eh? Some of us out there wouldn't mind selling 50,000 tracks at 10 cents a track rather than someone else's pricing schema of selling 5,000 tracks at $1.00 a piece.

    Heck, I listen to Bruce Springsteen's Radio Nowhere a few times a month because it was a free iTune download (which is where I heard it first before it got a little radio airplay) and that album is on my "to purchase" list just because of that one song. I haven't bought a Springsteen album since Born in the USA (and had no intention of ever doing so after his disastrous Tunnel of Love nonsense).

    So cry and wail and gnash your teeth all you want, but consumers dictate the market (as Ed above pointed out), not the artists. And the smart ones will seek out the business gurus (if they intend on making a living do it) rather than stick to their self-righteous guns. As for the guy who wants to do only live shows, hey that's great (and actually validates Arrington's points). We have a great coffee shop here in Melbourne that he can come and visit. He'll easily clear enough for a cup of Iced Chai Tea. 30 minutes for $3.00. Down here in Florida, we call that "minimum wage". But, hey, the money's pure, I guess, so enjoy!

  • Wait a minute, Lawrence. I would tend to agree about what musicians may lack, but let's put it this way: I wouldn't run to hire Arrington. Doesn't mean I don't respect him and don't read what he's writing, but I don't have to agree with him all the time. He's ignoring business models musicians *are* familiar with, and suggesting recorded music is worthless. This is the guy who's supposed to have a fantastic understanding of the business model for recorded music? His whole point is that there is none — and I think he's dead wrong. He's got absolutely no explanation for a) why it's free, b) why people still pay large amounts of money (more than 10 cents, as I mentioned) for music, and c) why you should follow his free model or how it'd work.

  • Arrington is just trolling, again. As others have pointed out, he has a passion for devaluing the work of others. And then turning their anger into his traffic.

    Real music fans will always be happy to pay a good price for real music when it is offered to them directly from the artist. Recorded or otherwise. Nothing will change that.