Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Up-and-coming bands face difficult realities when music is free
After Thom Yorke swore off Spotify, local artists explain the costs and benefits of streaming their music.
Posted by Flickr user audio-TechnicaUK
Yorke is reportedly pulling all of his solo work as well as music with band Atoms For Peace from the streaming service and “standing up for our fellow musicians,” Yorke tweeted July 14. His qualm, in summary, is that Spotify is hindering the success of new artists by paying them a pittance per stream.
The bold move raises a number of questions concerning if other big-name musicians will follow suit, and how this will resonate with music fans. But more importantly, is Yorke too late?
The digital distribution of music has propelled the industry into a state of flux for more than a decade. As the Internet increasingly becomes consumers’ primary source for music, artists are continually reworking the model for making money. Emerging artists, namely those at the heart of Yorke’s cause, are pressured to give listeners free access to music online, or risk falling victim to the new realities of the industry.
“There’s some level of legitimacy to a new artist having music on [Spotify],” said Dan Bowman, multi-instrumentalist and singer for the Dallas indie folk band The Fox and The Bird. “Once you’ve developed to a certain point, you could avoid Spotify. Until then, you have to deal with it.”
Bowman, like many other up-and-coming musicians, uses Spotify not as a revenue generator, but as a means for exposure. The Fox and the Bird, which has almost 1,500 followers on Facebook, also has its albums available for streaming on sites like Bandcamp, Soundcloud, and Reverbnation, as well as a contract with Songza.
Though it may seem like a thankless road to success, Bowman said it is best for smaller bands to diffuse their work through as many outlets as possible.
Local rappers Slim Gravy and Paris Pershun couldn’t agree more. Under the moniker A.Dd+, the duo streams tracks through Pandora, Earbits, Rap Genius, and their blog, among other sites, and consider monetary benefits just a bonus. They focus more on the tangible income from playing shows and selling merchandise to fund the group’s professional aspirations.
“The consumer has gotten used to having these outlets to listen to music for free,” said Paris during a recent phone conversation. “Like, if you had to log on to YouTube and pay, people would say to hell with YouTube and find a new way.”
If a musician wants only to make money from their songs, Slim added, “you should probably just put your songs in iTunes.”
The dawning of a free era
One point Yorke made in his Twitter harangue addresses the current profit pyramid in the music industry. He claimed the record label big wigs are still getting paid from owning the rights to artists’ work.
THE TROUBLE WITH SPOTIFYMany in the music industry do believe there is an integral difference between Spotify and other online streaming engines. Here's what they say:
While all those interviewed for this article admitted that structure is egregiously outdated, they don’t believe charging per song will solve the problem. In fact, recent trends seem to suggest the opposite.
“It’s important to look at patterns that are happening before our very eyes. Torrenting, ‘illegal’ downloading, file sharing are the norm in 2013,” said DJ David Sugalski, who produces under the name The Polish Ambassador.
Rather than fight this trend, Sugalski found a way to work with it. Since beginning his career in 2006, the Northern California-based producer has given away all his music for free — a total of 11 albums and more than 30 remixes, as well as recordings of his live sets. The future of music distribution, he said, will be based on donations and “the goodness of mankind.”
“There are a lot of people out there that are happy to support working artists,” said Sugalski, who just started a record label, Jumpsuit Records, based on this model. “I give you music, you decide how much it’s worth.”
Another solution could be to enhance the physical product. Gavin Rhodes founded publicity company Audible Treats about 10 years ago, when services like iTunes and Rhapsody first entered the scene. Back then, he said, musicians’ income was driven by “a good mix of CD sales, live touring, and merchandise.” These days, however, it is imperative bands be more inventive.
For example, Rhodes said many artists offer limited edition 7-inch and 12-inch vinyl records, as well as a variety of deluxe packages that include items like T-shirts and digital download, stickers and physical albums.
Jay-Z, though not an emerging artist, landed a $5 million deal with Samsung this summer by providing a free copy of his new album Magna Carta … Holy Grail to Galaxy users via mobile app. Bands such as Bjork and The xx, too, have taken a similar approach in recent years.
Rhodes said bands are also licensing their music for film, television, and advertisements for supplemental income. Still, marketing director Rhodes believes streaming will increasingly dominate music distribution.
“Honestly, I think cloud-based libraries seem to be the future,” said Rhodes, referring to Apple’s forthcoming iTunes Radio service, which will directly compete with Spotify.
“Bands will have to rely on both ends of the spectrum — micropayments from streams as well as a unique physical product.”
A life on the road
If there is one surefire way to make money in music, experts say it’s by touring. Ask Colorado native and drummer Jeremy Salken. His band Big Gigantic has developed a Facebook following of more than 105,000 and played every major U.S. music festival in the last three years without ever charging for music on streaming sites.
Big Gigantic plays 150 to 200 gigs a year, according to Salken. (The band will be performing at Breakaway Festival in Frisco this September.)
He and bandmate Dominic Lalli initially made their music available for free to draw crowds to concerts. Even after the band’s success, Big G’s four albums can be downloaded for free on their website and Soundcloud, or purchased for $5-$10 each on iTunes. (The Polish Ambassador also sells his CDs on iTunes.) Ultimately, Salken echoed this new law of dissipation.
“An emerging artist like us, we want [our music] on Pandora; we want it on Spotify because that leads to kids buying $15, $30, $40 tickets,” Salken said by phone. “You tour around the country and world and that’s how you bring the income in.”
This, of course, completes the vicious cycle of circumstance: How can a band afford to go on tour if they’re not being paid for their art?
In the case of several The Fox and The Bird members, the answer is that they take second and third jobs, working in the service industry and saving funds. For Slim and Paris, it’s spitting fire on other rappers' tracks for a fee. However, both bands agree the more places they are heard, the better.
“If we’re going to make most our money by going out and playing shows and selling merch, then Spotify is good for us,” Bowman said. “You never know how people are going to hear about you.”Follow @tineywristwatch