The music industry doesn't need solving

6 May 2013

Last week I got in an argument on the Internet.

I know, I know; I should know better.

It was an argument born out of frustration. To summarise: Amanda Palmer, who I imagine most of you have heard of but if you haven’t is a musician of some note and has had great and widely reported success with crowdfunding, wrote a public letter to Morrissey about how he should crowdfund his next record. This letter, entirely unsurprisingly, is full of exaggerations and faulty logic to make crowdfunding seem like the only viable option.

Hence, of course, my frustration. Picture, if you will, someone intently reading on a laptop, the glow of the screen illuminating their lips as every few moments either a disgruntled gasp or a muttered swear word escapes them.

My frustration with this particular article is not actually the point of this piece – I’ll get to that in a minute – but revolves around the notion that anyone can just put something on Kickstarter, tweet about it and as if by magic watch the money roll in, all the while tittering gleefully to themselves about how record labels and shops are dinosaurs and how this is the true future and isn’t the Internet great and etc etc.

It turns out all this is actually quite hard. And it takes someone that is skilled in marketing to be able to get to that audience, and it also turns out that Amanda Palmer is exceptionally good at marketing herself online, and a lot of that skill being in social media.

Which leads us to what happened next. I tweeted a series of (not exactly sparkling with wit and verve) tweets about the article and Ms Palmer, venting my frustration to the world in a fashion that we all know is a bad idea but end up doing anyway (unless you’re far smarter and restrained then I, and if so I congratulate you on your resolve).

In the normal ebb and flow of “rants on the internet” that would be the end of the story, but as it turns out Amanda Palmer evidently searches for her name on twitter, and promptly retweeted by diatribe to her 900,000 twitter followers.

Whoops.

(Note to self: hey! It turns out if you say things about people on the Internet – even ones you have no connection to – they just might read it!)

60+ replies from angry – but extremely nice and polite – Amanda Palmer fans later and actually I think my original point – that she is actually more successful as a online celebrity rather then as a musician – has been inadvertently been made. And this point leads to ‘the’ point.

THE POINT:

This whole incident highlighted how much time and effort Amanda Palmer puts into her online presence – she actively engages in the discussion (for better or worse, in my case). There aren’t many artists out there that would notice someone talking about them on twitter, highlight it and use their fanbase to make the conversation more positive for them. And this is why she can make something like crowdfunding work – you have to have skills in those sorts of areas, you have to be good and marketing and promoting yourself.

There seems to be a prevailing group thought that wafts around certain sections of the music industry that is looking for the “solution”. The new model that changes everything, that makes it easy to make music and make money out of it, that gets reams and reams of column inches written about it.

Is crowdfunding that solution? No. Turns out it works for some people, but not most people. (Known as the “Amanda Palmer”)

Is releasing your album as an app that solution? No. Turns out it works for some people, but not most people. (Known as the “Biophilia”)

Is pay what you want direct to consumer that solution? No. Turns out it works for some people, but not most people. (Known as the “In Rainbows”)

Is focusing on YouTube and not worrying about signing to a label that solution? No. Turns out it works for some people, but not most people. (Known as the “Alex Day”)

I could go on.

Every artist and every release is different. There are no quick fixes. There are no new ways of doing things that are better then the old ways of doing things, only different ways of doing things that may or may not work depending on a million and one factors that you can’t hope to control.

You have to be smart, and it isn’t easy, and by all means look at how other people have released their records but don’t pretend that you can do what they did and have the same outcome. The music industry doesn’t need solving, because there’s no one problem to be solved.

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