New Music Digest: Winter 2011

Every season I try to gather up some of the more interesting music-related articles I’ve been reading to share and discuss. Much of this comes from subscribing to various “music 2.0” blogs, though I will admit to feeling uninspired by much of what I have found in the last few months. Is the movement running out of ideas? Not exactly. It is just that hype brings in traffic—and I have become rather allergic to hype! I criticize a few pieces of hype in the text below but I have also taken care to round up a number of posts containing solid advice for musicians new and old. I will start on a good note.

Finding An Audience In An Age Of Saturation is a great article about music discovery. The issue: pretty much anyone with an Internet connection has more than enough music already. How are musicians supposed to gain the attention of potential fans? Not by spamming people randomly, that’s for sure. The author provides a simple outline of what musicians need to be thinking about if they wish to earn the right to be heard.

Free Music: A Price Worth Paying? is a thought-provoking article about the ethical dimensions of downloading music and supporting content creators. Arguing from a utopian left-wing perspective, the author works backwards from a best case scenario to identify actions that we can take in the present to move the world a little closer to an imagined ideal. Sure, it’s unrealistic, and you might not agree with the politics, but it is certainly food for thought!

In contrast to the abstractions of the previous article, Formed A Band? Made A Record? Now What? is a tremendously practical guide for new musicians interested in getting their sound out there. Although it is clearly intended for traditional bands, much of the advice also applies to electronic music producers as well.

The Myth of Music Ownership, Who Owns Your Digital Downloads?, and Should Digital Collections Be Worth Something? all examine the state of music ownership in the digital era. When you buy or otherwise come to own a CD you can always sell it later (the doctrine of “first sale”) but this does not apply to digital media. When you buy an MP3 from iTunes or Beatport you are essentially licensing it for personal use, nothing more. There is no facility for transferring that licence either. No surprise here, but does it matter? People are going to do whatever they want anyhow.

6 Reasons Why The Album Format Died is a nostalgic look at why single tracks have triumphed over full-length albums. Wait, what? Albums are still relevant! If your only benchmark is total sales then sure, single tracks sell more, cost less, and offer immediate gratification, but the album format is far from dead. Maybe I am speaking only of the particular niche market I work within, but there is a perception that an artist hasn’t really matured until they have released a cohesive CD-length musical experience. I suspect this may be due to the general lack of lyricism in most electronic music genres, particularly genres as sublime as psytrance, techno, and downtempo. Individual songs aren’t as distinct in the underground; it can take a whole album to really understand what the artist is trying to achieve.

A Fragmented Music Community: The Sum of the Parts Equals Less Than The Whole takes a naive look at music promotion from an online marketing perspective. The fact that control isn’t centralized is a problem? Not at all. We live in a time of great opportunity, where musicians can achieve moderate success within niche markets that grew out of the Internet-fueled fragmentation of popular culture. Still, there is a good point buried in there somewhere: it is better for musicians and labels to focus their attention on a limited subset of social networking platforms rather than try to be everywhere at once.

The Real And ONLY Reasons Why Fans File-Share Music is a critical analysis of some of the more cynical explanations for piracy. The author argues that market failure has been accompanied by a moral failure, namely that fans fail to recognize or appreciate the value of art. This is flawed reasoning for the simple fact that music, in the abstract sense, is not simply the recording. Fans still value art and music! They simply don’t value the canned, inauthentic, infinitely copyable facsimile of that abstraction. Has this ever been any different? We now live in the first moment in history where recordings are easily accessible without the need to pay for the physical mechanism of delivery. Anyhow, if fans no longer valued music why is there still being money made in live music? It’s an old lesson by now, but one worth repeating: music fans are more willing to pay for music experiences rather than disembodied copies.

After all that doom and gloom it is refreshing to read Having A Ball: What’s Working In Music, an article published in The Economist. Predictably enough, recorded music is not doing so well but just about everything else is. “The music business is not dying. But it is changing profoundly.”

What is Twitter? Do you have an answer? Find out what Derek Sivers, Andrew Dubber, Steve Lawson, and other prominent music 2.0 figures think about Twitter. There is some needless hype here, as always, but Lawson makes a number of good points such as “be authentic” and “don’t automate,” advice that more people should follow.

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