From Aural Innovations #12 (September 2000)
Music distribution. Specifically, independent music. It's something I started thinking about on a small level last year when I began the Aural Innovations CD catalog. As the catalog has grown, albeit slowly, I've discovered that there is a market for truly alternative music, even if the bands are making and releasing the music themselves on non-manufactured medium (i.e., CDR's). I've had several aural adventurers buy nearly everything that I stock. But sales are still very low level, mostly because of the challenges of reaching more people who would be interested in this music but don't know I'm here to provide it to them... or the bands themselves for that matter.
Long time networking musicians may giggle or roll their eyes because they've been at it a while, but lately I've been spending a lot of time pondering the question of how to market talented bands whose music falls outside the mainstream in cost effective ways that just as effectively reaches a TARGET audience. When viewed globally, I KNOW there's a target audience out there. It's just a matter of reaching them. I sold a LOT of CD's at the Strange Daze festival in August where a large target audience just happened to have congregated. Do I have any concrete ideas? Not yet. But I'm going to keep rambling about it in an effort to get a dialog going amongst artists and small labels I've been networking with. Many of you may be way ahead of me on this. But I think global communication via the internet provides unprecendented opportunities for distributing music on a large scale outside the established music-industrial complex channels.
Tied in with all this is the online music revolution and all the flap over Napster and Mp3.com. Why do I call it a revolution? The part I'm least concerned with is the Napster thing where you can share songs from your favorite CD's. That is, the ones the major record companies are all freaked out about (e.g., Metallica... HeeHeeHeeHeeHeeHeeHee). No, I'm talking about the web as a medium for music distribution. Or specifically, having one's music heard by putting it up on the web in mp3 or RealAudio format. Yes, I've talked about this before but like I said at the beginning of the column I've been thinking about this a lot. In fact, today I finally decided to check out Napster for myself and I can see why it's so popular. It's a no-brainer! You type in a band name, click the Search button, and... voila! Several pages of Metallica files. HoHoHoHoHo!!! Poor babies' multi-millions are in danger.
But seriously, I'm bowled over by all the cool music that indie bands have on web pages at Mp3.com. If you haven't visited our Links page lately check it out because I've collected several links to great Mp3.com sites. Don't be afraid. It's all there for the taking. Absolutely free. You can have immediate satisfaction by streaming them online, or you can download them and have them for ever and ever just like your CD's and albums. Free... free... free. Hmmmm.... there's gotta be a catch somewhere. There's not. But if you like them you COULD buy the available CD's from the bands. As far as Metallica and the record labels' paranoia over all this, well it just proves that things are changing... and they know it. There's a very good article that covers this issue in the new Atlantic Monthly that all of you should read. The writer makes a solid argument against the music-industrial complex and points out that only a small percentage of bands that have their music released on major labels make any money anyway. Most don't make a dime and many end up losing the rights to their own music after the label dumps them. You can read the article at http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/2000/09/mann.htm.
So what do most bands really have to lose by all the trading going on at Napster? I'm not making light of the trading of musicians' music because I want to see indie artists make something off their creative efforts, if for no other reason than to continue releasing music and being able to perform. But Metallica and the like are very much the profit exception when you consider the large number of CD's put out by the majors each year. Bands might be best off trying to market themselves on the web and maybe make some of the money they deserve for their creative efforts, however little it might be. Roger McGuinn, co-founder of 60's folk-rock band The Byrds, testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee about how little he made in royalties off the sale of millions of albums while on major labels and how thrilled he is with the money he's made from the sale of CD's through Mp3.com. I just checked his page there and his payback earnings to date are $3,466. Not enough to feed a family that's for sure. But to resupply material for manufacturing a batch of CDR's? Maybe even have a manufactured run of CD's made? Buy some equipment? Pay for travel to perform at a festival or maybe a small tour? In any event, I'm just brainstorming here but I'd love to hear some comments, especially from the those of you trying to get reach an audience for your creative efforts. Maybe I'm naive about all this. I just want to see good music get an ear.
Strange Daze was, as always a great time this year. Check out the Keith's coverage this issue and the extensive gallery of photos Deb took. Quarkspace will be hosting a couple more shows in October and November here in Columbus, Ohio so we're hoping those get a good turnout. And on September 24th Gong is playing at a club that is just walking distance from my apartment... WOW!! And don't forget to check out Aural Innovations Radio for some good tunes, and our mail order catalog for goodies that might interest you.
See you next month.