Given the vast, slow history of the Human race, the modern world changes surprisingly fast. I was giving some thought to some of the changes to the Musical aspect of our world has had and continues to undergo. The internet is seemingly going towards mass sharing of music and the elimination of the middle men of music. The large labels, promoters and such. These go hand in hand with the “slow” disappearance of physical music. More and more music will probably only be distributed online, no more CDs! The horror! Yes, there will be people who prefer to buy CDs, just like people who prefer to buy physical Books instead of Ebooks, but let’s face the it – the end of major mass-produced physical media is coming, might as well embrace it and make it the best that it can be.
Music didn’t use to be practically free. For most of history you had to be physically near the musician to hear his/her music. This, I assume, created an intimate relationship between the music, the listener and the musician. The masses got to hear it occasionally whenever a musician was around, the rich were able to hire court musicians to allow them to listen to music whenever they desired. Eventually society became wealthy enough to start equalizing the situation. We started inventing recording devices that allowed us to be separate from the musician, but gave us the huge benefit of vastly increasing our music listening capacity and making it cheaper to do so; through 8-track cartridges, to records, to CDs. We invented the radio which helped us find new music, new bands, new musicians to sing to our souls. All these things require vast amounts of labor and equipment to produce, manufacture, distribute and advertise.
We have now entered the next stage of music that can bring us back to the beginning. Bring it back so that it’s the musician and us again. Except, this time around it’s affordable for the masses and the rich. Music is insanely cheap now. Free for consumption in some regards as Napster, torrent, coping CDs for friends, and all those means of acquiring music have increased. Sure, it’s illegal, but that hasn’t, and won’t stop the flow of music. I don’t want to go into intellectual property here, but I actually think this transition is exceedingly positive for musicians and music lovers. Digital media has the ability to revolutionize the world in the way that the Gutenberg press did in allowing a vastly cheaper method of copying books. Digital Copying has taken that even further by making it near infinitely cheaper to copy books/music. So cheap it’s FREE, everyone in the world could own a copy of your song or your book and it doesn’t utilize a single resource besides a few bucks of electricity and hardware usage. No trees, no vast apparatuses to manufacture the physical products to allow your consumption. I know that people are worried about how the musician or writer get’s paid in such a situation, but that isn’t the point right now. The point is that never before in the history of mankind has it been possible to write a song, by yourself, in your home, record it with your own personally affordable equipment and then share it with the entire world, immediately. Immediately! Amazing as it is, this kind of stuff has been talked and discussed over and over again and I don’t need to rehash it. But what this does, on an economic scale, is it vastly decreases the production cost of music. Combine that with the amount of music there is in the souls of people just itching to be written and the amount of souls needing music (I’m in this category) you have an insatiable demand that will increase to meet the near infinite supply.
Because of these factors I think that also leaving is the world where a few musicians can make an entire life’s worth of income off of one song or one hit album and the mass majority of musicians slave away in obscurity. Similar to the earlier example how music access has changed from access for the few to near equal access across the board for the rich and the masses alike. Now I’m not saying that NO musician will ever make millions from one song, or no musicians will slave away in obscurity, but economics and history have shown that the freer the market, the better distributed the wealth becomes, or in this case the better distributed the music. More musicians can make solid money off of their work, and percentile-wise less musicians will be the multimillionaire one-time hit performers. The freer the market, the better the competition, the better the results.
Now let me speak to this thought that some may have: “great, now that music is freely distributed we’ve shafted the musicians who at least used to get paid pennies, or millions if they were lucky”. My all time favorite musician is Neal Morse. He is a christian, progressive rock artist who hits me where it counts; in the vein of Genesis and Yes. His music speaks to me and for me, again and again. On a personal, subjective level I have never found someone who is able to do it to the degree that Neal does. If your interested, check out his musical epic 2-disc album Testimony @ http://www.radiantrecords.com/products/153-testimony.aspx where he goes through his life & conversion process. Neal produces his own music through his record studio Radiant Records and has a fan club that he calls the “Inner Circle” of which I’ve been a happy member for a couple of years now. His fan club costs $10/month and thus it isn’t cheap, but in that time he has dutifully mailed me a CD/DVD every other month, and communicates to us through an Inner Circle newsletter with news, things he is going through, music thoughts, spiritual thoughts. All very personal and I love every minute of it.
Now think about that for a minute. Neal get’s $10 bucks a month from each fan club member. I don’t know how big the fan club is but at even a small 100 member club that is $1,000 a month in base, stable income. The fan club idea could be one direction that music distribution continues to develop that I see as really beneficial for musicians and listeners. The system I’m thinking of is great in my opinion because it gives musicians a stable base income as well as incentive to continue to produce. Neal doesn’t get my $10 a month just for being awesome (though he is), I expect and look forward to new media coming by way that isn’t commercially available, as well as his newsletter giving me up to date information on what’s going on and what new stuff he is working on.
Now fan clubs have been around for a very long time, so that isn’t anything new; but musicians should really be leveraging their solid fan base and the solid fan base should strongly encourage with their pocketbooks the continued production of music. That is exactly what a fan club does because it isn’t royalties given on past work already done. This is hard-earned cash given in expectation of continued creativity. A happy fan is a fan that just received a new package labeled Radiant Records. Looking back over my own music, the Inner Circle musical discs (excluding DVDs) has contributed 22 hours of additional Neal Morse music. 22 hours! Why aren’t more musicians doing this? Because 22 hours of music is hard work, but my goodness it will make your fans passionate. I love that I can accidentally leave Neal Morse playing on my headphones at work when I leave, come back the next morning and it will keep playing all day without running out of music to play. But in the end, this isn’t about Neal; this is about music, musicians and listeners.
So here’s a fan club model that should maybe be considered by any and all musicians and bands.
– Join our fan club for $X amount a month, automatically charged to your credit card.
– The band promises to send you a CD or DVD every month, or every other month with bootleg videos, new musical ideas, songs that didn’t quite work out for a studio album, concert videos, home-made videos of the band, stuff that passionate fans love!
– In addition to that, I would suggest allowing people to pay $X amount less each month for no physical copies, and just a collection of FLACs/MP3s and video files sent to their inbox. Worlds going digital, gotta stay on top. Or rather, have that be the default or allow an upsell for physical copies of everything, or even signed copies of everything.
– Fan Club members get discounts on all their commercially produced works. Shoot, they are already paying you a monthly income, give them a break!
– To stave off people buying into the fan club, purchasing tons of albums at a discount, then leaving the fan club; it could simply be done so that the first month is 6X the normal $X amount with the rest of the year at half-price. Though the risk of someone joining, buying and leaving is pretty minimal so it’s probably not worth the inconvenience of adjusting the monthly prices. Or, for every month you are joined, you get one discount on an item. You join for 6 months, you get up to 6 items discounted.
So, to give a further example let’s say there is a relatively new band, attempting to get established; called Elastic Sounds. They offer a fan club on their website (wordpress based, membership only, pretty simple to set up; ask me about it if interested) that they can then attempt to get people to sign up for after their live shows, or put a little card in each of their CDs/merchandise that they sell at shows. As a new band, they can’t offer much; but they are in this to get a fan base so;
– Become an Elastic Sound base for as little as $1 a month! First 10 fans only get special price. Get discounts and unheard music and official bootlegs delivered straight to your inbox, communicate with other people of similar tastes. Get in while it’s cheap and forever pay 1$. blah blah, or some kind of similar ad. 1$ is cheap, and sure you won’t make much money, but the Elastic Sounds are a new band, why should they expect to excite people enough to fork out a lot of money on a monthly basis? Reel them in, raise the price to $2 a month after the first 10 members. Raise it again every ten members until you find a price that excites maximizes your income (too high and no one buys, too low and everyone buys but you don’t make any money to sustain the fan club). And don’t worry about the few people who basically got in free, some will leave, but others will be your longest fans simply because they don’t want to quit and lose their one-time forever cost.
– Once the band starts to do well, shows some longevity and can produce enough music, up the ante. Add an up-sell to the club for those who are interested. Signed albums, special Meet n’ greets after shows for members only, special one time things like custom song books, or who knows what. I’m not the musical creative genius, I’m just the consumer and I want more!!
Anyways, this is kind of a rough outline of some ideas. I would love to see it happen. It encourages musicians to produce, and keeps fans energized. I’ve lost interest in bands that took a break, or just slowed down their musical production. If you wait 2, 3 years between albums fans will find something else to occupy them. Yah, maybe it’s selfish to expect musicians to constantly produce to keep me entertained, but I got a musical need and some spare cash. If you don’t want it, I’ll find someone else who will.