Artists Must Innovate (a response to David Byrne)

David Byrne posted an article today about his thoughts on the current state of music consumption and what that means for artists. In it, he talks about how music consumption is changing from a model where people buy music, either by way of physical media or downloads directly from the artist or via a third party, to a model where people use streaming services to listen to music. He’s mainly concerned with on-demand services, like Spotify or Rdio, rather than internet radio services, like Pandora. He discusses how little money artists/labels receive with each listen from these services, especially since they tend to offer a free, ad-supported option that does not require a subscription.

I can understand his frustration with this. However, his solution has nothing to do with the artists themselves, who continue to allow their music to be streamed via these services. His only solution is that these services must change their models. First, he says the services need to pay artists more. I’m not going to argue with that. He also says the services should drop their free, ad-supported option in favor of a Netflix-style monthly subscription. Heck, he even says they can offer a one-time fee for unlimited listening. I’m not going to argue with this, either. In fact, this would get consumers used to the fact that music is not free. It helps consumers understand that artists are trying to make a living off of it and not just give it away for free. I won’t argue that, either.

My argument is that Byrne ignores one important factor. Streaming services are here to stay, at least in the foreseeable future. They are businesses just like the artists who are trying to make a living off their art. Their goal is to make money, just like the artist’s goal is to make money. The streaming services make money off the service. The artists make it off the art. Byrne does artists a serious disservice by suggesting that the problem is the streaming services and the consumers rather than even hinting at the fact that an artist who wishes to make a living off their art is now a business. Unfortunately, many artists lack business and marketing skills. That’s the catch. That’s also why record labels exist. They provide those services to the artists, but it often comes with a major fee.

I fully understand and feel for artists trying to make a living off their art. The problem, however, is that Byrne should be encouraging artists to learn to market themselves. If you are trying to make a living with your art, you have become a business. You must adapt and come up with innovative methods to get your name out there and make money from your art. It is not up to the services you choose to allow to have access to your catalog to change their ways (as nice as it would be). In fact, I just read about this band who suggested all their fans play an album they “wrote” on Spotify on repeat while they sleep. The album is silent. They’re then using data retrieved from that to plan tour in the areas where they have the most listeners. They’re using the funds from Spotify to fund the tour of free concerts. Yes, you read that correctly. They are playing free concerts because of this. That’s pretty awesome. It’s also highly innovative.

If you’re going to sit there and whine and not innovate your business model, then you deserve whatever it is you get. As I said above, this is the reason major record labels exist – to handle the business and marketing stuff which artists tend not to know how to do themselves. If you want to remain independent, you gotta figure all that out on your own. It sucks, but that’s how any small business works.

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