Some scattered thoughts on the money of digital music
If you haven’t already read Digital Audio Insider’s interview with Camper Van Beethoven’s Jonathan Segal¹, it’s a must read for anyone with even a slight interest in digital music and the money of the industry. Segal has tons of thoughts on just about every aspect of digital music, but best of all, he brings in these thoughts as someone whose initial music industry experience was in the days of purely-physical media, when “pirating” meant copying something onto a blank tape.
My main takeway is general and obvious but an important reminder: we are in a transition time for music, and what it will become is anyone’s guess. I think Segal’s take on merchandise and live performances taking the place as artist’s primary source of income as “asinine” is too harsh to be true, but I do think that we’re in such a state of transition that any shot at predicting artistic income in the future is completely in the dark. Such predictions are really only done as people try to grasp on to what they know. It may turn out to be true, but more likely, any future music profit is probably in something that we have a hard time thinking of right now.
I think that in the short term at least, creativity will flourish as people have much lesser expectations of making money. In my band in the mid 90’s, our high hopes were a massive burden. We constantly tried to figure out what labels we should contact and what important shows we should be playing and where and with who. It was part our personalities and ages, of course, but the idea that we could possibly do this for a living was a dream we were constantly chasing.
As my current band sets to put out our second release—the digital distro of which we’ll be taking care of ourselves—I’m stuck in between the desire to try and at least make back the money that we spent on the recording—however unlikely that might be—and just giving it away free: simply getting our music to as many people as possible. At this point, the former wins out, at least because I’m so curious about what’s possible for a band reaching out to the world from their computers. With social media and the various services and tools dedicated to artists, can we actually sell enough songs and albums to at least make a decent dent in our expenses? Or has the world changed enough so that music can no longer even be profitable?
Whatever happens, I’ll share our experiences with you as we gear up for our record’s release in May/June, as well as what happens after that. It’ll be an interesting ride.
¹ I should probably mention that I put extra weight in Segal’s opinion because Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart broke new ground in my musical taste in the late 80’s. I still love that record.