Thought Machine: Free music for all. Right?

The Thought Machine - RockmusicRaider - Cool Guitar 2016

Succeeding and – indeed – thriving in the music industry is hard. Real hard. Many bands out there trying to eke out a living from the music they create. But very few make a decent amount of cash off their efforts. As in sustaining the operation.

And we are usually not talking bad quality music neither, mind you: Often this is really good stuff coming my way from little known bands. Amazingly good.

The same goes – by the way – with reviewers and other suppliers of added services. So here many of them often find themselves between a rock and a hard place as far as paying the bills is concerned.

First: Break down this wall!

Getting discovered is one of the hardest obstacles bands have to overcome. And this, of course, comes before reaping any decent reward. Once they managed to get noticed and set up some remuneration, the rule is relatively simple: Size matters. The more you sell, the more you will be able to cash in, even if the sales channels by themselves do not pay much.

To get there, bands have several options and choices. Like signing record deals with labels, hooking up to streaming services, using distributors as sales channels, using PRs, getting with review blogs to get noticed – you name it. These choices will get them a return that is more or less juicy, depending on the deal they go for. But this is the stuff of another post I will write for sure. 

Now, there is a smattering of real rock stars out there, making friggin’ heaps of money and being able to build massive marketing machines to sustain themselves. But compared to the mean masses of bands and musicians in the world, these money-printing machines are relatively few and far between. Not everyone is called Iron Maiden, buzzing around tour locations in Ed Force One with a band pilot to boot. Even if evil tongues say that Bruce Dickinson is no 747 captain. 

Panem et Circenses: Music to the people, right?

To top it all, large parts of the populace believed and still believe that music is free, should be free, even must be free. Just think back to the Napster disaster in the early ’00s: Created by decidedly intelligent folks, but strangely confused in their somewhat communist belief that all should be free and for the people. Never mind the fact that musicians need to eat too, buy equipment, do marketing. And so on and so forth. This kind of feels like Let There Be Rock done all wrong, spitting into the face of any copyright rule that ever existed. 

And once the legal bomb blew up in the face of the new streaming services, Spotify and their ilk started to offer legal services guaranteeing royalties back to the artists.

But is that really so?

Whilst stating otherwise, most of them pay musicians absolute peanuts. Some of them offer reviewers an affiliate program. Others don’t, thinking they just invented the driver for internet traffic for these usually web-based operations. 

Not helping is the new attitude towards music in general: Reducing the good work of the musicians to some sort of a commodity to be distributed by the mood of the mean masses and governed by algorithm. But not as an emotional product of the tortured soul of the artists making it.

By doing this the music industry will manage to streamline everything down to a bland sound mix until everything sounds like friggin’ Katy Perry on a Nile steamboat. A frightening, even Orwellian thought, forsooth.

Now, streaming services are not free, nor should they be.

Some of them indeed offer a free service with commercials but will allow you to hook your family up to an all-you-can-listen deal for a few greenbacks a month. As a musician, receiving a fraction of a cent per play ain’t gonna make you happy. Unless you have the output necessary to get to a few bucks from your hard work.

What you still buy music, as in physical records?

That is a question I get quite often. And the reply? Fuck, yeah! Music is emotions and emotions are not only hearing. It is the art, the concerts, smells – apart from the sounds. Savoring the sounds of the record and looking at the album cover at the same time. And the risk to potentially buy something that may suddenly not quite be to your liking. 

Now, with the new world order that establishes itself more and more, I fear that this emotional side to music is on its way out. And music will become a commodity, inevitably priced at commodity rates. Not a product where innovation is king and music gets an acceptable return. Just watch the charts and the garbage those contain. 

Okay, I know this is called business, laws of the market and what have you. So, let’s just stop pretending that there is anything for free, because there isn’t. Not even the freebies from the streaming services are free. And as these guys will only improve their tools once you pay them a fee, but don’t get a lot of cash back to the artists. 

So, what can we do against the thought of free music?

Clearly, the fans need to support services and record labels that guarantee enough cash into the accounts of the artists themselves. There are indeed laudable efforts by states to ensure some sort of acceptable return for their hard work. But most of the musicians I know are very short on cash. So, at least for now, we are not there yet.

This idea that the hard work of musicians should be free (or next to it…) is not a sustainable thought – at all. The talented bands will – in the end – fall by the wayside. And that development will push things into a direction, where music is like McDonald’s hamburger menu: Exactly identical in taste and texture – wherever you are in the world. And it will open all doors to the emergence of AI that slowly raises its ugly head. An unforgiving intelligence, that massages Google’s data brain and establishes a gazillion of tunes in one go. Tunes it deems tailor-made for them masses.

Now, there is comfort in that for sure. But would you not want steak or some Japanese food for a change? Variety and emotion will do it. And THIS only humans can do, innovating new tunes and renovating old ones. Yet for that to happen, all of us need to pay a fair price for what we get.

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