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David Byrne: ‘The internet will suck all creative content out of the world’

October 17, 2013

David Byrne

Last week David Byrne wrote an article for the British national daily The Guardian about the evils of music streaming.  Duh, the internet has been disruptive to the music business – retailers, labels and the artists have been trying to figure this thing out since Napster exploded on the scene in 1999 (yeah 15 years and the music industry still has not figured this internet thing out).

I have been using Spotify for several months now and I love it.  I still manage to spend $100 to $200 a month on music (mostly CDs and vinyl – I rarely buy a download).   I realize I am an oddity in my volume of purchase (although I wonder how odd am I when I am 200th in line outside my independent record store on Record Store Day a full hour before they open).

Byrne argues the boom in digital streaming may generate profits for record labels and free content for consumers, but it spells disaster for today’s artists across the creative industries.  I can see what he saying, but musicians have been paddling against the current forever.  Making music is a labor of love and very few are able to convert their avocation into a vocation.

I am almost 55 and I really don’t pine for the old days of reading a review in Rolling Stone that sparks my interest only to buy the LP, listen and be disappointed.  Now every Tuesday I add the new releases I am interested in to my Spotify playlist and sample them.  When I read a review or a profile that catches my fancy I immediately add it to my Spotify playlist.  Nearly every week I stop by my independent record store and buy the vinyl or CD (if vinyl is not an option or is insanely overpriced) for the albums that resonate with me.

I find the access to music on the internet absolutely awesome and it has introduced me to a ton of music I would never have been able to afford to listen to.  I love the convenience of Spotify – just this morning I was reading an article (on my Kindle) in the Wall Street Journal about pianist Michele Rosewoman and percussionist Pedrito Martinez (on the stationary bike at the gym) and I was interested enough to want to listen.  I searched for the reviewed albums on Spotify.  Michele Rosewoman was not there (too bad I will probably never listen to you Michele) and Pedrito Martinez was – I proceed to enjoy  Mr. Martinez group (it is too early to tell if I will be motivated to purchase a physical).  In the old days I would have likely passed on the Martinez LP due to my limited budget (or have forgotten my intrigue within moments of setting down the paper).  Martinez would have never hit my ears.

I have started to sample Spotify’s suggestions based on my listening habits and that has been a delightful bonus to the service.  I chuckle at some of their suggestions, but for the most part they as clever as a good conversation with competent record store clerk.

So Mr Byrne the cat is out of the bag and she is never going back in.  Musicians are going to have to find a different way to monetize their art than selling LPs.  And lets face it, back in the day for every Talking Heads  there were several thousand bands that never made a penny (and those where the years of bountiful harvests in the recording industry).

There is no turning back – the only way a musician can make money is going to be though live performances, licensing, patrons and souvenirs (sorry but CDs and vinyl LPs are right there with T-shirts now).  They need to cultivate fans that have a sense of responsibility to the artist.  Things like crowd sourcing give me hope.  Fans are going to have to invest (e.g. crowd source), buy direct (e.g. bandcamp), show up (go to live shows) and buy physical (vinyl and CDs) if they love an artist.  But I need to be real here, despite my music buying habit, my motivation is not to be the artist’s patron.  I buy music in the form of CDs and vinyl LPs to meet my need for better quality sound than a stream and to feed my desire to have a physical asset.

I am not worried about the musicians – they will find a way to eek out a living just like they always have.  I believe they will find ways to leverage the internet.  It is so easy for Thom Yorke and David Byrne to spurn the internet – they made it a long time ago under a different paradigm. I have to put my faith in a band like the one my son manages (whysowhite) hustling any gig they can get and spreading the word on bandcamp, Spotify, YouTube, SoundCloud, etc.  I bet they are making as much money as they would have in the old days without going in debt to a record company via an advance.  So surprise – technology changes the game.


From → Miscellaneous

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