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Independence: Making Money From Music

Very happy with the awesome feedback I’ve received for Respecting Creativity?.

Today hasn’t exactly been the best day for continuing the discussion, but I have to point out the following, as I think it underscores exactly what people need to understand about the changing nature of the music business.

Amanda Palmer has explained the story behind her recent escapades on Twitter, and the way she is able to connect directly with fans. How an indie musician can make $19,000 in 10 hours using Twitter says it all.

total made on twitter in two hours = $11,000

total made from my huge-ass ben-folds produced-major-label solo album this year = $0

I am wary that people might be thinking I am positioning all this as an either/or battle between corporations and individual artists. I’m not. After starting out self-publishing, Ms Palmer probably benefited greatly from signing The Dresden Dolls to Roadrunner Records, but her ongoing success is due to her clever self-promotion which her fans clearly recognize and appreciate. For record companies, it is simply time to innovate or die. It is unfortunate that many have chosen to dig their heels in, and try to hang on to vestiges of their 1960’s business model. The world has changed, music has changed, and technology has changed.

The key to making money from music today is that sources of revenue are widely spread. For the majority of artists, the age of putting all the eggs exclusively in the album release or touring basket is over. Digital downloads, traditional albums, limited edition artworks and books, merchandise like t-shirts and the like are all different avenues for cumulative income. Of course, motivated and entrepreneurial artists will see fantastic opportunities for running the show themselves, working directly with designers and distributors and studios, and managing their own online publicity. Record labels too, can innovate in this regard, to bring artists together, create interesting and imersive online experiences, and provide key resources to enable artists to access the market for downloads. There’s a place for the traditional album release too, but this will increasingly need to be aimed at the most hard-core fans and collectors. For many, the reality is that a music career will combine a relationship with labels alongside a hell of a lot of self-directed, self-funded marketing.

For me, it’s really great to see the way that some local artists are getting it. You’ll find P-Money posting teasers of a recording session with Scribe and various other clips to his blog. David Dallas has been doing a podcast for a while, where you can listen to all kinds of freestyles and stuff you wouldn’t otherwise get on the album. DJs, producers, and MCs all over the place are throwing works up on file sharing sites, and broadening their listenership. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the it’s the hiphop guys leading the way in New Zealand in terms of opening up their content and process — hiphop has always been based on innovation and trying new things beyond the norm. The old model, based on holding back everything and signing over all content to the label is over. Singles and charts are just a hangover from the 20th century. The new model is saturation and variety. It’s behind the scenes and direct interaction with the audience. Fans will always check out oddities and outtakes online if they're interested in the artist. They love seeing how the process works, and how the music is made. Giving away demo tracks for free is a great way to start a conversation and if people like it, they’ll be far more likely to pay for more music in the future.

There must be heaps more opportunities and innovations yet to be discovered. The key, of course, is for artists to take the reigns and talk directly to their fans, without the middle-man.

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