We’ve all watched and commented on bands like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails releasing free albums and still profiting by them. Will this model still work for new artists, though?

Trent Reznor posted yesterday that the Beastie Boys’ Ill Communication reissue is “how you sell music today”. As a rebuttal to the usual “that only works for established artists” replies, he’s followed this up with an extended post on what artists who haven’t reached the Beasties or NIN level of profile can do to get established.

Ghosts I-IV by Nick Humphries
NIN’s $300 deluxe edition of Ghosts sold out in under two days, grossing $750,000. The first week combined sales grossed $1.6million, despite being released for free under a Creative Commons license. (Photo CC Nick Humphries)

Having been part of a reasonably high profile band with an album released through the label system, Trent’s post reads like a list of “how I wish it had been”. Every point he makes is absolutely spot on. The article is filled with active verbs. Make. Give. Sell. Share. Release. Start. Engage. Film. This is the crux of how creators succeed in the digital age: They do things. Rather than waiting for someone else to tell them how to make money from a product that can be easily garnered for free, the people who are doing well are making it up as they go along, trying new things. You know… being creative.

As a web developer, director and general creative tech geek, Trent’s closers are especially poignant:

The database you are amassing should not be abused, but used to inform people that are interested in what you do when you have something going on – like a few shows, or a tour, or a new record, or a webcast, etc.
Have your MySpace page, but get a site outside MySpace – it’s dying and reads as cheap / generic. Remove all Flash from your website. Remove all stupid intros and load-times. MAKE IT SIMPLE TO NAVIGATE AND EASY TO FIND AND HEAR MUSIC (but don’t autoplay). Constantly update your site with content – pictures, blogs, whatever. Give people a reason to return to your site all the time. Put up a bulletin board and start a community. Engage your fans (with caution!) Make cheap videos. Film yourself talking. Play shows. Make interesting things. Get a Twitter account. Be interesting. Be real. Submit your music to blogs that may be interested. NEVER CHASE TRENDS. Utilize the multitude of tools available to you for very little cost of any – Flickr / YouTube / Vimeo / SoundCloud / Twitter etc.

Check out the rest of the article.

For digital artists, a lot of the web and technological networking comes easier than to rock bands. When a laptop is part of your rig, hopefully you understand computers better than someone who exclusively hits their instrument with sticks (SPD20s aside), because you use the computer for music regularly. Ed.: This is a simple fact – if you’re a digital artist, regardless of your instrument, you spend more time behind the screen than people who are conventional instruments – so you should have no excuse for making the most of that technology once the production and performance phase are done. -PK We’re also in the middle of a huge mobile web expansion phase. Now that everyone has web enabled computers in their pockets, what you can do while you’re out there playing shows is getting better and better; I just spent the evening configuring an online store which can be administered via its own iPhone app. If this had been available two years ago, a whole lot more CD orders would have been delivered on time.

Giving some solid metrics to bolster Trent’s advice, Michael Masnick’s (founder of Techdirt) recent presentation at the NARM 2009 conference is truly fantastic.

NARM 2009 State Of The Industry: Michael Masnick from NARM on Vimeo.

The presentation is quite long at 31 minutes, but he breaks it up with 515 slides, so it feels punchy. It expands on many of the points Trent makes, and touches on some themes we’ve been interested in here at CDM. Interestingly, he gives some revenue and sales statistics on the Nine Inch Nails “Ghosts” release: $1.6 million gross in the first week, from an album which was released for free under a Creative Commons license.

Having been quite deeply involved in the “old” way of doing things, and having experimented in the last year with faster, cheaper live performance videography and similarly streamlined “studio” production, I feel that I’m replete with the kool aid, and comfortable with a future in which I’m not looking for “a contract”. In fact, this evening I called my bandmate over and convinced him that the album we’re about to record and shoot will be released entirely under a Creative Commons Attribution license. Finished tracks and stems, music videos and source files, animation sprites, live footage, album artwork, and whatever else we create.

I’ve long believed that “free” and “open” is a big part of the future of creative industries. The label system has kept creators and fans at arms length. Last year I was a rightsholder on an album which spent a week in the top 5 sellers on iTunes in Australia. I know nothing about any of the listeners who put it there. Next album release, I want to know all of those fans by name.

  • Will

    Really? "Someone who hits their instruments with sticks?" That's the most ridiculous, narrow-minded and ill-informed sentence I have ever seen on this site- in posts or comments.

    For one, it is narrow-minded to assume that no digital artists are drummers (I for one am… I do Ableton, synth, guitar, drums and VJing with Resolume at once). But it is beyond comprehension that you could insult a form of performance that so few have ever mastered by implying that digital artistry, as a whole, is more difficult than drumming. Drumming takes a deep understanding of musical collaboration that digital media often does not. It's a crucial, almost-impossible mastery of knowing what the song needs at every given point that makes percussion so challenging in the first place. A misplaced video feed or ambient noise is much easier to cover then a terribly-timed drum fill in collaboration with multiple other artists.

    I don't feel that this kind of elitist attitude will ever help digital media artists and other musicians collaborate, and that is a huge problem. It needs to stop if we want to be true pioneers-not only forging new territory, but integrating with the most crucial and compelling parts of the past… the drum kit's evolution over the past century being one of the most crucial elements defining much of the great output we've all drawn from.

    I take less offense to the implication that digital media artists are not in rock bands, because it draws from more common sense, but I again feel the comment was written without any thought to the broader impact it could have on such an influential and cutting-edge digital media outlet like this one.

  • Will. i am with you man. sounds like you are doing some cool stuff. do you have a website/myspace?

    i am doing something along the same lines.


  • Whoa, whoa, whoa Will — I agree with everything you're saying, but I think you read that entirely differently than Jaymis intended it. (I don't think I edited this particular draft – see my note above in the story.)

    The implication here is, if a computer is *part of your musical rig* — which could be the case for drummers, absolutely(!), as with any instrument — you've got no excuse for making the most of technology outside of that specific performance/production application.

    Drums are fantastic instruments that date back, quite literally, to somewhere around the dawn of human language — before civilization. And for that reason, the mastery of them is deep and has a long tradition. Not so with computers (though I suspect computers are also rooted in language and culture).

    I'm absolutely sure that wasn't intended as an insult. On the contrary, if you're using your computer *as an instrument* — which is true these days of many percussionists and drummers — then you should be using it well. You've got a leg up.

    There are many folks who come from a traditional player experience who haven't embraced computers – that's also a simple fact. And I don't think they should have to; I don't think that's any less valuable. I think the responsibility lies with those who are steeped in the complexities of modern technology and the way it's changing to lead the way. That includes people in rock bands and drummers, of course.

  • PS —

    Examples that prove your point (and that I know Jaymis is likewise aware of)…

    Trent Reznor counts as a 'rock band' and has been extraordinarily tech-savvy.

    KJ Sawka is a drummer and not simply an "electronica" artist, and he uses Ableton Live better than anyone I've ever seen, period.

    My general feeling is that percussionists are my favorite musicians, bar none. 😉

    But, you know, some of us claim the "computer is our instrument." We'd better prove it. That means having the kind of intensity about the tech that some people have about their instrument. I don't think that's a path for everyone — jeez, I hope not — and regularly it's the "conventional" musicians who use tech even better. But I think it is an interesting challenge.

  • i have been a disciple of techdirt for over a year and free actually works, which i did not believe it would.

    last year, i started posting my music on bandcamp ( http://www.onyxashanti.bandcamp.com ) under a creative commons license, for free. since then, i have steadily increased my gigs quantity and quality, i have published 4 tracks, and tripled my mailing list.

    now i have decided to start busking again because of the intimate connection that gets created. while performing, i sell a wildly overdesigned CD package that i created which consist of recyclable outer packaging, and each disc being wrapped in wax paper individually so as to invoke an "unwrapping a candy bar" aesthetic. one of my main selling points is that i have an interactive section on the disc that links directly to my now large online collection of music which is freely downloadable, and they have been selling like crazy. techdirt is on the money 90% of the time.

  • Will


    I reread the post and definitely see your point. I didn’t mean to overreact—I guess I just put a lot of faith in blogs like this (this one in particular) to be beyond the typical thinking and pretentiousness that infects much of the industry today, and the slightest allusion to anything other than that definitely threw me. I apologize to Jaymis for not being more constructive in my post. I did take it more offensively than I should’ve, but I do still feel the implications of generalizing like that (and in a way that can be construed as offensive) on this site can be dangerous. I am a long-time reader of both cdms and my comments are in no way directed to Jaymis’ other writings or opinions—I can’t tell you all how much I appreciate these sites and your time and passion. I can’t wait to become more involved with this community.

    Grover-Do you have an e-mail? Maybe we can talk more about this there. I’ll definitely check out your stuff when I get home—I’m very interested. Mine is willcopps@gmail.com.

  • Yes, established world-famous artists like Radiohead, Coldplay and Nine Inch Nails have exploited the net's possibilities largely because of the clout they carry online, but that doesn't mean we should ignore sage advice. Trent Reznor makes some good points.

    After I've reviewed an album, I usually try and thank the artist but often can't do so because they don't have a public email address – or they have a MySpace site that won't accept messages from non-members.

    Amazingly, far too many netlabels make it difficult to download their tracks: some of the website designs are wilfully obscure and/or intricate. (Though I'm all for innovation and pretty, shiny stuff.)

    Album covers are essential for distribution, yet too many artists don't supply one with their album. Covers provide a visual memory cue when an album is buried in your media player and you can't remember the name of that hot new band; they also help numbnuts like me to publicise new artists.

    It is possible for Creative Commons artists to earn a living from "free" music, and not all of them have to be multi-millionaire rock stars; Sean Fournier has licensed his music to MTV and E! after blitzing all and sundry with a clever publicity campaign, a beautiful website and a short but sweet album.

    Have a look at one (very amateurish) part of the Creative Commons coalface, my Catching The Waves:


    You might think it awful, but you might pick up a few tips. At the very least, you'll find links to better websites than mine.

    Thank you to CDM for a stimulating article; I'll probably refer to it in a future post at a yet to be determined time. (The posting schedule is at the merciness of my laziness pills and beer consumption.)

  • bliss

    This may lighten the mood a little:

    xkcd – A Webcomic – A Bunch of Rocks


  • i needed that. thanks bliss.

  • real

    i think the point is that anyone who sits in front of a computer all day should have a little better idea how to use technology than someone who does not…pretty sure that wasnt being insulting. sounds like common sense to me.

    a similar statement would be that readers of this blog would also be more likely to harness power of the net. that doesn't mean that someone who has never read CDM couldn't do the same……………

  • How do you know a drummer is at the door? The knocking speeds up and he doesn't know when to come in!

    What do you call a drummer that breaks up with his girlfriend? Homeless!

    I'll be here all week.

  • Ooh ohh!

    What do you call a drummer that is always on time for practice and plays right every time and doesn't whine? An MPC!

    Okay, I'll stop.

  • Will J. C.

    I don't see what's so exciting about the Beastie Boys reissue. Offering music in a multitude of formats is nothing new at all. And the prices are far from revolutionary–$17 for digital download of a single album is burglary, plain and simple (although the video download mitigates this a bit), and $20 for a double-disc CD isn't much of a bargain either. There's really no good option for someone looking to get into the band for the first time, and that's a real deal-breaker for me.

    As for the rest of the stuff, Reznor may bring up a number of interesting points, but I remain skeptical. Yes, these tricks may help you get your music out, but I'm not sure they'll turn you into a particularly successful or profitable artist as Reznor seems to be implying. In fact, I have to wonder whether there are many possibilities for new artists becoming really successful in today's environment–examples, anyone?

  • Wow. When I wrote this post the last thing I expected was negative drummer responses 🙂

    @Will: Obviously you realised that you may have read an insult which wasn't there. For the record: I'm a "traditional" musician (saxophone) as well as an electronic artist. I've toured and played in rock, jazz, funk and other non-electronic acts. I've also been a "digital media artist in a rock band". In fact, a visualist as an on-stage member of a rock band.

    There was zero intent in my post to cast aspersions on club-wielders.

    As to the "implications of generalizing", well generalizing allows us to get on with the job of communicating, without having to explain every point to exhaustion. Here's another great generalization: People who take offense to generalization, generally generalize in their rebuttals to said generalizations.

    English pedantry aside (and thanks for that, great way to get the brain going in the morning):

    @Onyx: I've only just discovered Techdirt, and it's fantastic!

    As a sax player and WX5 owner, I've long been a fan of what you're doing as well, but as I live in Australia it's hard to check you out live, so it's great that you're embracing Bandcamp (which I love, too).

    @Will J. C.: I agree that the prices seem a bit steep for the new Beasties stuff, but they're a prominent artist, and the "reissue" may mean that it's more "true fans" who will be getting these.

    That aside, what's exciting is that they're making their catalogue very readily available. You don't have to go through some other company's website and give your information to someone you don't know, it's all right there.

    As to the "tricks to help you get your music out": I don't think what Trent is writing is really about tricks or "quick fixes", it's about setting yourself up to be sustainable as an artist. I've been involved in the label model, and it's not setup around sustainability for an artist, it's about sustaining the label.

    Sure, big companies can help you get your music out to people who want to pay money for it, but if in a year you move to a new label, you don't have a way of getting in touch with those people. Whereas you've helped the label to build their marketing database for them to promote their new big thing.

    Michael's NARM talk has some very specific examples of these exact things being used by new artists to become successful. Have a look from the 15 minute mark of the video. He specifically mentions: Josh Freese, Corey Smith, Jonathan Coulton, and Moto Boy.

    My argument for "new" artists giving things away is purely one of scale. The one thing that all successful or profitable artists have in common is a large fanbase. Without fans, (who I define as "people who likw what you do and would consider giving you money for things you do",) you have no chance at success.

    For someone to become your fan, they need to have experienced and enjoyed something you do, and there is absolutely no way to argue that you can get more people to experience what you do by forcing them to pay you for it. In a world where there is literally more free entertainment than you could ever possibly consume in a lifetime, any barrier to entry reduces your audience. Even requiring an email address or account signup is a barrier to entry.

    However, once someone has experienced or enjoyed something you do, they are also more likely to introduce your work to someone else who hasn't experienced what you do. Which may make them a fan too, and the cycle continues. Kevin Kelly's "1000 true fans" is great to think about at this point, but specific numbers aside: You need to have a certain number of fans before they can sustain you as an artist.

    I know I'm not saying anything new here. You've heard or read these arguments many times before, but I have personally lived through the "rockstar lifestyle". My band played on primetime TV, we had a huge head start because our frontman was on Australian Idol, but that still wasn't enough. Looking back, I believe that's because not enough people were able to see what we were up to post-Idol, and because we couldn't interact well enough with our fans.

  • Remove all Flash from your website. Remove all stupid intros and load-times. MAKE IT SIMPLE TO NAVIGATE…

    I hope Native Instruments is listening.

  • @Foosnark: Well, unfortunately they're not a new artist. However, those are tips I wish every website would follow.

  • Don't take "Remove all Flash from your website." to the letter — since well, most useful embeddables are on Flash.

    I don't like all the time-sucking transition effects on the new NI site, but I like their sound player with waveforms, something that has become more popular after SoundCloud helped to popularize it.

    Beyond any words, make music. Keep moving!

  • NealZR

    A contestant, Sally, on 'Who wants to be a Millionaire?' had reached the final plateau. If she answered the next question correctly, she would win $1,000,000. If she answered incorrectly, she would pocket only the $25,000 milestone money. And as she suspected the Million Dollar Question was no pushover.

    It was, 'Which of the following species of birds does not build its own nest but instead lays its eggs in the nests of other birds?

    Is it:

    A) The condor

    B) The buzzard

    C) The cuckoo

    D) The vulture

    The woman was on the spot. She did not know the answer. She had used up her 50/50 Lifeline and her Ask the Audience Lifeline.

    All that remained was her Phone-a-Friend Lifeline.

    She hoped she would not have to use it because….Well, her friend was, well, a blonde. But she had no alternative.

    She called her friend and gave her the question and the four choices. The blonde responded unhesitatingly: 'That's easy. The answer is C: the cuckoo.'

    The contestant had to make a decision and make it fast… She considered employing a reverse strategy and giving any answer except the one that

    her friend had given her. And considering her friend was a blonde that would seem to be the logical thing to do. But her friend had responded

    with such confidence, such certitude, that the contestant could not help but be convinced.

    Crossing her fingers, the contestant said, 'C: The cuckoo.'

    'Is that your final answer?'

    'Yes, that is my final answer.'

    'That answer is absolutely correct! You are now a millionaire!'

    Three days later, the contestant hosted a party for her family and friends, including the blonde who had helped her win the million dollars.

    'Jeni, I just do not know how to thank you, ' said the contestant.

    'How did you happen to know the right answer?'

    'Oh, come on,' said the blonde 'Everybody knows that cuckoos don't build nests. They live in clocks.'

    Sally fainted.

  • The thing is that you need flash to play music on a site, there's no other way. But don't let that get in the way of making a good site.

    I use an invisible flash object that I control using javascript. This means that if the flash object does not load, or the user has no flash, my site still looks exactly the same, and perfectly works, no loading signs, just the play button of the music player won't work. It's still there though because it's all standards compliant html.

    Keep it simple. It should work on all browsers and platforms and load very very fast. Every bit of wait time, misrenders or other usability failures will make you lose potential fans, they'll just go check something else out.

    Very good article btw!

  • I don't think "remove all Flash" means embedded video and audio — we know what he's talking about. 😉

    That said, I do look forward to the day we're not dependent on Flash for video. It's sorta kinda here now, but not in a way that'll be useful just yet.

  • piskodrocho

    I want to listen good music!

  • Kyran

    With (he html 5 video tag and javascript on svg's you should be able to do almost anything you need flash for now.

    But until there are some decent production tools for it (and wider more uniform support) we're going to have to do with flash I suppose 🙂

  • He only means to cut down on the barriers between visitors to your site, and listening to your music. If they have to click though a bunch of arty flash games, they are going to get frustrated. The problem isn't that people don't like how flash is coded or something, just that it's time people could be spending listening to you. Thats what I love about the previously mentioned Soundcloud. It's just a big waveform and a huge PLAY button in peoples faces.

    And don't autoplay because music people usually listen to music while browsing about, and it gets annoying.

    And Myspace is the new Geocitys.

    That's all I've got.

  • Good points here.

  • David Koresh

    The file sharing era has made music worthless.

    and Radiohead and NIN should be ashamed of themselves for placing absurd expectations on new artists, and for indirectly defending piracy.

  • Mattbot

    @David Koresh Digital reproduction has eliminated the value-through-scarcity model of selling musical recording. The window of time that model of music sales has existed has only been about 100 years or so. Prior to the introduction of audio recording technology, musicians earned there living by playing music live. Sale of recorded music products will be seen as a strange 20th Century aberration within the history of music. New musicians can no longer be successful merely as products; they will have to learn to be experiences just like their forerunners. Other artists such as painters had to deal with competing against mechanical reproduction about the time the first audio recording were just being made which has lead us to the current predominance of conceptual art in the fine arts world. Musicians have it a bit easier compared to them. So in a sense, things are back to normal and is not that big of deal. Music still means a great deal to me! 🙂

  • maury


    you're dead wrong. if NIN and Radiohead are where they are now , it is because of the very same industry they are spitting on , so they are the last persons that can give advice and endorse that "free music" model.

    nothing is free in this world. Musician that want to sell there music should have the right to do so. there is plenty of free music (CC) but pirates are not interested in free art , they want commercial art for free. that is different. pirates want to steal.

    those who are suffering from piracy are not the one that already earned millions , it is the small names, those who lack of means and money.

    those who say that music cannot be a business therefor it must be free are hypocrites , some one gave his time to produce a record that you cannot produce because youre doing something else in your life. he wants retribution cause you are enjoying what he did and it is normal, so he can go on and ameliorate his art, pay his bills and his musicians. that is the true meaning of sharing.

    piracy is taking not sharing.

    you cant beat piracy but you can reduce it. just like car accidents , by enforcing the law , it is simple.

  • I watched all of those boring 515 slides…and followed all the links to all this "music thinkers tanks".

    IMHO mr Michael Masnick and mr Trent are lying too…

    what they expose is banal and very predictable…and yet…somebody gives them credibility.

    YES…Trent is a product of the old industry model…and Michael Masnick too…a thinker who sells insights to those frightened to lose their biz.

    the real unthinkable scenario is : the biz is a model out of date…industry is something we will get rid off…and money is pretty soon losing any value.

    the bottom line is that these ppl only want to make more money…and just generate more revenue selling to new artists the illusion of fame.

    They realized that is nowadays very difficult (if not impossible) to create new Michael Jacksons (or new Trents), before the industry needed few superstars to sell millions of copies with few releases…now they need millions of pretending rockstar, to sell them the illusion of fame (with Myspace, Stereophame,Tunecore…you name the rest)…and eventually generate more revenues selling little numbers of copies of millions of releases.

    they basically trying to make money (generate a plusvalue) from the basic human need of…being creative and express himself…and share.

    the unthinkable scenario is that human being doesn't need the money model to produce and exchange goods, information, knowledge…and music.

    the corporates who own the pipes know that the flood is rising up…and that the pipes will never big enough to handle it…but still they trying to build dams….but the giant has legs made of clay.

    (do u remember the movie Brazil ?…the enemy are the plumbers who are in control of society).

    if anyone of the industry is interested in more of my insights, I am preparing 999 slides.

  • sorry if I am blatant this morning…

    the scenario ROCKSTAR->FAN is out of date..rotten till the bones.

    the equation CwF+RtB=$$$ is still based on the unidirectional (and industrial) scenario ROCKSTAR->FAN, rotten till the bones.

    what about : CwP+RtC=MGM

    (connect with people + reasons to be creative = make good music)

  • @mauxuam: I think that creativity – and making high quality things with that creativity – is of course the key which binds everything together.

    All of the other stuff is useless unless you're making something great that other people want to see or hear.

    We can rail on about the law, or piracy, or the volume/compression "wars", or sampling, or whatever we like. It's interesting and important to discuss, but it only goes a tiny way to change how the world is.

    So it's important to keep investigating the situation we find ourselves in, but while that's happening, you have to also do whatever you can to actually work within the time you find yourself alive, and the constraints society places on you.

    I hadn't realised, but I didn't actually mention piracy in my post. I just had a look, and Trent didn't mention it either. I think this is because piracy (sharing, whatever you want to call it,) is a part of society now. We can do very little to change this, and it's a constraint on how you work, whether you think it's right or wrong (or any shade of grey between).

  • @ Jaymis: I didn't mention piracy either…since I think that piracy doesn't exist.

    there is an ocean of ppl who are flooding the pipes and using them for what they supposed to be used for…distribute, connect, and share.

    you are right.."we have to also do whatever you can to actually work within the time we find ourself alive"…infact we doing it…big time….without the need of the useless tips of those who are actually working for the interest of the industry.

    but instead IMO we can do a big change about how the world is…only changing how we think…and how we act…and changing the reasons (and the intentions) of the equation…be humble and do music because you LOVE it and eventually you will find some passionate listeners…not because you want to SELL your BRAND to some brainwashed FANS who will praise you.

  • David Koresh

    @ mauxuam

    To expect musicians to give away music for free simply because they love doing it is enforcing my point. Music no longer has worth. We don't take the process of writing an album as having any value. It's just a fun hobby for musicians.

    Then we go on to say "oh, they can make money by playing live shows, making videos, selling t-shirts etc…", that's bull, and has nothing to do with music.

    New music is DEAD. There is no motivation for musicians to craft a masterpiece album. Creative urges can only take you so far.

    This is entirely the fault of music piracy.

  • Will you read that text completely out of context.. you need to slow down and go read it again! 🙂

  • I think when he says get rid of the flash.. is all the images in the backround.. the moving images.. the loading of menus and that such…

    He is saying make it simple… easy to navigate and that is his point.

    I have been to soo many sites that slow down or load improperly or quite simply to difficult to navigate. Your site is useless if it causes the person to hit the x button and close it out..

    Another great way to post your music is to use the Soundcloud player… that way it is hosted on their site… and well it is very simple to update your website.. Now I must listen to Trent and turn my audo play off when I get home tonight!! LOL

  • @david koresh: in just the last week, thanks to Sonic Universe on SomaFM and emusic.com, I have discovered the recent music of Nik Baertsch's Ronin, Tomasz Stanko, and just today, Cyminology. They are all on ECM. Coincidence? I think not. But their work completely vaporizes your claim about there being no reason for musicians to create new masterpieces.

    Look, there are today possibly a thousand-fold more reasonably skilled musicians than there were 40-50 years ago. Its not exactly a huge surprise that most of what is produced doesn't have a market – it may be excellent measured by some "skill" based metric, but in a market so saturated with aesthetic ideas (most of which are minor variations on other aesthetic ideas), its really no surprise that most musicians today will never, ever make a living playing music.

    If you don't have enough quality and aesthetic differentiation in the eyes/ears of people who have never heard/seen you before, then your shot at the 1000 true fans is more or less over before it starts. It doesn't matter how committed and cool you believe your work to be. And yes, sad to say, but this is the case for almost all musicians performing in any context today. But not all, and because there are so many, there is still a large amount of amazing new music being released every month.

  • @David Koresh

    "Music no longer has worth" you say.

    that is the most cinical and empty (to not say stupid) statement I read in years.

    music is the blood of all of this..without music even the internet would become worthless.

    and the computer market would be very limited.

    music is the song of the universe…pure magic.

    music is one of the most powerful healing powers.

    nothing like music has such power to inspire and move people…and the industry and those who run it knows it very well…infact they continue to run their biz just because they HAVE TO…controlling the music market is almost like controlling what ppl think, imagine and desire….it's a huge subtle propaganda machine…this is why they don't let go of it…and they don't start to produce more profitable goods instead (now that is worthless…ahahahahah).

    you know…in the latin countries we call "amateurs" ppl who do something for hobby (and it means LOVERS).

    so…yes…I am very happy to say that I was once a professional and now I am an amateur.

    I stopped to be a professional just before the "piracy" kicked in…and I stopped because I had nausea of it…of producing fake shit to please those reptilians sitting in the record company offices.

    I didn't enjoy to do music when I was doing it for a living…and instead now I am loving it…

    and I def do better music now that I do it as a 24/7 hobby…I am much more dedicated and passionate about it.

    those who are whining now (like you) are those who were doing music with the intent of making money out of it…and become famous.

    then if for you become worthless…well…pls stop doing it…we don't need your music…there is no money for you anymore.

    we are the digital baskers…and we will continue to bang on our drum…and sing this song…it's compulsive…we are possessed by it.

  • @ Paul Davis:

    thanks !

    and I say it again…thanks !

    I am using jack to route my worthless music directly from ableton into skype to do internet jams and music production…it's a essential and amazing tool…free.

    respect !

  • David Koresh

    @ mauxmuam

    When I said worthless, I was referring to monetary value.

    "those who are whining now (like you) are those who were doing music with the intent of making money out of it…and become famous."

    First of all, thats a sweeping generalization, and secondly, you're proving my point once again by chiding musicians for wanting to profit off their music. If musicians didn;t want to make money off album sales, they wouldn't sell albums.

    @ Paul Davis

    You are correct in pointing out that there is tremendous new talent, but my point was that they have no motivation to take it further than embryonic ideas.

  • @ David

    since you like to play ping pong…you proving my points too.

    I am not saying that making a living and some fair money out of the music is bad or wrong.

    I am pointing that money should not be the motivation to develop embryonic ideas into masterpieces….and infact it isn't…for many of us. (not you it seems).

  • Mattbot


    I didn't state much of an opinion to be wrong about, much less be dead wrong! It was more of a running out of the latest numbers. But I can certainly see how one invested in the old system of buying/selling recordings could find my post distressing.

    I didn't directly reference piracy, NIN or Radiohead. I am writing specifically of the value-through-scarcity model of selling recordings. There is no physical barrier for making flawless copies of digital recordings and the means of reproduction are so pervasive that any effort to enforce the copyright can not be taken as credible deterrent. Should we start by banning the basic copy function of major computing operating system? There isn't a single operating system that could run without that functionality. There are neither the resources nor public will to fine every teenager in the First World (and probably quite a few parents too) the thousands of dollar's per infraction the copyright holders are entitled to by law. Pandora's box has opened. The cat is out of the bag. That train has left the station.

    Fortunately for musicians, there are other models through which music retains value. And in real market value which can be expressed in dollars. Such as music's "aura", to borrow a term from Walter Benjamin's essay, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." (Which was written in 1935 BTW, making this an old argument and scarcity a shaky ground for a business model.) Benjamin used the term "aura" to refer to the sense of awe and wonder one experiences in the presence of works of art. According to him, Mechanical Reproduction, that crotchety old grandfather to our Digital Reproduction, devaules the work by alienating it from its context. He argues that the value of the work is not in the object itself but its external attributes; its cultural currency. For example, most of us reading this probably pride ourselves for our musical taste. If a band is too casually accessible for mass consumption, even if they produce excellent music, it devaules our own sense of musical superiority. (If I were to refer to NIN or Radiohead, I would do so at this time.) However, people will gladly part with their money to experience a work of art in such a matter that it directly impacts them, such as in the form of a live performance. This direct firsthand experience has pretty powerful cultural cache. ("I was there at the first Can show in Cologne!") Musicians who leverage this value and learn to connect to their audience on a more direct level will still do well for themselves. Thanks to Twitter, I often have a better idea of what Chris Carter of Throbbing Gristle had for lunch (strawberry tart) than I know what my own friends are up too. When he does something interesting, I feel like I'm already invested. ("I was there when Captain Beefheart started up his first band. I told him, "Don't do it that way. You'll never make a dime.") And things like handmade packaging has value not just from its scarcity but as a totem fetish which provides a direct line of exchange between the fan and the artist.

    Getting worked up on blaming a particular band for destroying the economics of the musical industry isn't really factual, fair or productive. We are all probably more guilty of picking it apart one download at a time than anything Thom Yorke or Trent Reznor ever did. I think the energy is better spent on finding new ways to succeed since we all seem to agree the old ways will no longer work.

  • Very informational post. I sat through that whole powerpoint!

    CwF + RtB, baby!

  • @ maury

    "nothing is free in this world"

    aaaaaaaaahhh….you are the dead wrong.

    music is for free (sunshine, the beach, and few other comodities).

    @ Mattbot

    well and clearly said.

    this is actually an age of incredible abundance (even for music) but they trying to make us believe that instead we living in scarcity (abundance is not convenient to those who want to control).

    it's amazing…nowadays I can mix a tune at home…master it…and put it online 10 minutes later on a CC license….without need of spending huge money in posh recording studios…sending hundreds of demos to hundreds of (now useless) labels…and hire a lawyer to understand what the fuck that contract says.

    viva !

  • David Koresh

    @ Mattbot

    While certainly NIN and radiohead aren't solely responsible for the mess the industry is in right now, they are providing ammunition to those who defend piracy and demonize record labels.

    As for piracy being unenforceable, you're certainly correct in that media can always be copied (if you can play it, you can copy it). But the industry has made progress in targeting the large torrent tracking sites (eg the pirate bay, oink).

    The idea of music having an "aura" that compels people to go out and spend money, while sexy and appealing, is baseless. The average music listener will not spend $16 on an album if they can download it for free, as good as that album may be, or how pretty its packaging is.

    @ mauxuam

    sunshine and the beach aren't made by hard working people. But I'm glad you acknowledge the worthlessness of music in today's society..

  • @ David

    yes…you are right…I prove all your points (whatever I say…what a smart man you are).

    well..now I am bored to play with you…I go back to my worthless activities.

  • Mattbot

    @David Koresh

    Industry progress against piracy? Pirate Bay is still up and running by the way: http://thepiratebay.org/search/nin/0/99/0

    Even if it was taken down, it would be like ripping a phonebook to destroy the telephone system. Since it is making money off music (and movies and ebooks, and software, etc), I suspect it will end up in more or less its current form owned by some mutli-corporation conglomerate with a profit sharing deal. Currently, that would be Swedish ad agency Global Gaming Factory X AB.

    Independent artists should expect their work to still be available as a free torrent online but shouldn't expect to see any money from whomever the final owners will be.

    As for record labels, I would argue that they are mostly middle men which don't provide services worth the take of the proceeds they demand. They are an inficiency in the production chain and should be bypassed completely or greatly reduced in scope at the very least.

    Which leaves us with our original problem of how an Independent musician can make a living doing this.

    Music's "aura", the emotional response you get from listening to it, is baseless? I would argue that is all music has. Music has no practical, rational application. You can't eat it, drink it or shelter under it. People don't buy albums as investment assets.

    I agree and have stated in my posts about that selling album based on it's value as a scarce finite product is a failing proposition. But people will continue to spend money on things they are emotional attached to but don't need. The entire American consumer/capitalism economy has been based on this since the end of WWII. Getting you invested in the "auras" of products you don't need is the sole raison d'être for the entire PR industry. Trent Reznor just made $750,000 USD selling pretty packaging for an album he also released for free. You can convince people to do strange things with their money.

    (And yes, I feel a bit dirty advocating this position… :/ )

    I will make my point again, briefly and hopefully more clearly:

    The value of a recording (physical or digital) has been lost. Value still exists in other products, services and experiences a musician can provide.

    This is new territory to explore and it is in the interest of the musician to connect with their fans to find out just what it is that excites the listener.

  • I was wondering if for you guys there is any "value" after money.

    and if you value any other form of human exchange apart of the "buy and sell".

    "The entire American consumer/capitalism economy has been based on this since the end of WWII"

    I would say that it was like that even before America got discovered (and conquered) by the white man.

    "Music has no practical, rational application. You can’t eat it, drink it or shelter under it."

    but music makes ppl drink, and eat…and even travel far…music make ppl buy iPods and speakers and even computers.

    it might be unrational but it is very effective.

  • Mattbot


    Of course I think there are other things in life besides money! I obliquely talked about "culture currency" or the social value in which others hold one in esteem. Frankly, I think the entire discussion all of us have been participating in here is grounded in our secret unspoken desire to be the next big "rockstar." I really think that's an increasing unlikely scenario for anyone which is economically unsustainable. We should all just get used to the possibility of playing music for our own enjoyment and the enjoyment of those who actually show up in person to listen. We shouldn't get too upset about this, it's been the reality of most musicians all along. It's the mirage of the excess and riches of the rock-n-roll fantasy that's crumbling.

    Yes, the current state of consumer/capitalism didn't hit full swing until the post-WWII but it had its genesis in during the renaissance.

    Yes, I agree music is very irrational and people have still paid for it. What's even stranger is the lengths people will still go through to make it!

  • "We should all just get used to the possibility of playing music for our own enjoyment and the enjoyment of those who actually show up in person to listen. We shouldn’t get too upset about this, it’s been the reality of most musicians all along. It’s the mirage of the excess and riches of the rock-n-roll fantasy that’s crumbling."

    YES !

    and it was about time…and since music is often anticipating bigger social events…all leaderships will soon be crumbling.

    the rockstar biz didn't encourage to produce better music…but only very repetitive and predictable formulas.

    most of the creative heads of our age (not just musicians) have been struggling to survive and to keep their art free…and eventually got killed when they become too famous and influential.

    Mattbot…your reference to W.Benjamin is spot on…and says it all.

    ’information is not knowledge. knowledge is not wisdom. wisdom is not truth.truth is not beauty. beauty is not love. love is not music.

    ….music is the best…’ – frank zappa

  • Give it away I say.

    Most of our tracks have been released under a creative commons license.

    We are an independent record label not a big bad corporation out to sue you for file sharing, we WANT you to spread our music around.

    With such an overcrowded market place giving away your music is essential in my opinion. The biggest problem for emerging indie artists today is obscurity, not piracy. To find out more listen to The Antiqcool Podcast