Is turnover the barometer of "Worth"?
I started writing a reply to Tim London’s big and very interesting comment (go have a read… it’s good stuff that comment) on my post EMI and Sony are not “The Music Industry” last week. Tim, likewise I love the passion, and I think that this all comes down to a matter of perception really. Tim says:
“While I appreciate your passion there are a couple of questions you need to ask yourself before seeking representation in the media: What is the turnover of the ‘non-trad’ music industry exactly? And how does one come to the figure? You state ‘thousands’ and I would go along with that, at a guess. But is it millions? How many?”
Firstly, I may have phrased that wrong – there are millions of bands in the world, according to Myspace alone, as of October 2009 they had 8 million active band and artist pages. (N.B. this page no longer contains the info it did when I first started linking to it though Sean Adams of Drowned in Sound recently quoted myspace as having 16 million band/artist pages). It’s not a definitive figure of the total number of artists in the world by any means, but it goes to show that there is a great number of bands and artists globally. If only myspace registered bands (and I don’t want for a second for Myspace profile ownership to be the definition of “Band”) were included, and each artist has made say only £100 in any given year from shows, record/CD/mp3 sales or whatever, then yes, it’s most definitely millions. Hell, if they’ve only traded £1 each however then yes, it does run to millions. That Myspace figure ignores many solo-musicians paid for shows, sessioners and a vast array of un-quantifiable and un-trackable instaces of music and of musicians. Critically for me though, I think it’s a huge oversight to assume that cash is the measure on which to judge music. It was never that way in art. Composers, painters, artists of all kinds have famously struggled for years. That Van Gogh was a penniless artists does not diminish the greatness of his work. Not for me anyhow.
If we use money as the barometer of worth, then we’re missing a hugely important function of music, that music is culture.
Back to the Numbers
Let’s take the UK for example, in fact, let’s look at one city alone, Leeds. I live in Leeds and work with a number of artists, and am a fan of a number of Leeds based artists. There are thousands of musical artists in Leeds (there are hundreds at the College of Music alone and there are many hundreds more who are not. Leeds is not unusual in this. Leeds may actually be considered relatively small compared to say Manchester or London and this pattern is repeated regionally, nationally and globally. The Business of Music is everywhere and is totally unrepresented by the majors I mention in the preceding article. As I say, the Trad Music Biz represents only a tiny proportion of music makers. Less than 1% of the number of Myspace artists alone have a traditional record deal with the majors or large indies. If we believe that the monetary side of things is important (and I’m not saying it should be ignored), then equally it’s important that artists get remuneration for their art yeah? Well, not if you’re signed to a a Trad Music Biz contract.
The reality of a major label deal
Less than 10% of signed artists recoup. Take Maximo Park for example. They have by their own admission never made a penny from record sales and make their money from DJ sets in the main. An example I have first hand knowledge of, Embrace, have sold millions of albums, they were a genuinely massive band; they performed from Glastonbury main-stage to Top Of The Pops and everywhere in-between. When they split from Virgin, they owed their label three quarters of a million pounds. I guess my point is that if we promote the Trad Music Biz’s model as “The model” then the message we’d be sending is:
- less than one percent of musical artists are part of the music business
- only a tenth of those will recoup and make money from their record sales, and that’s good
- an artist should be saddled with debt, the rate at which they pay that back is equivalent to a credit card with a 900% interest rate
I can’t promote that, I can’t encourage it, and it’s not representative of the vast swathe of music makers interests to do so.
Am I typical?
To move on to the question, “Does your experience selling music to people who are prepared to pay even though they can get it free representative of all artists’? Are your fans typical?”… Well as per your comments Tim, this is also going to be somewhat anecdotal. Hope and Social fans in the main buy our records around the £7 mark. Some pay less (we once accepted a free coffee on a Starbucks card as payment), some pay more – much more, because they value what we do. I’m happy to accept £50 for an album, or have people pay well over the odds for our box-set if they want to. Why do they do this, because they are fans.
A Single Monetary Transaction is Not How to Measure Value
I once took a 5p coin as payment for a CD. This one off transaction is a loss of £1.39 on cost of manufacture alone. The girl in question explained to me that her Grandad had died that day, and that she’d been dragged out to a show by her friends to distract her from thinking about it. She had only 5p, but said that our set, and the lyrics to some of our songs had helped her make sense of a lot of things she’d thought about that day. She’s since paid in to many a show, bought everything we’ve ever made, dragged friends along who’ve also bought from us and exposed us to numerous new fans. Perhaps our fans are not typical people, but I believe they are typical music fans
Hope and Social believe in and benefit from Pay What You Want. We go on about this here, but also… As musicians, we all have the ability to take advantage of the same channels that H&S have:
- dramatically reduced costs of recording
- a zero cost of distribution (should we choose to make mp3s available on the internet then there’s no cost to us. This is miles away from the Trad model where the cost of recording and manufacture made it nigh on impossible to record and release independently)
- reduced cost of promotion (CD’s don’t need to be sent to reviewers, press etc at the cost of a quid per CD, and half again on postage)
- and by building relationships with people, they become our PRs, our evangelists (to coin another religious term, man I’ve got to stop doing that)
Also, there is a value in making your music available for free. If someone downloads an album of ours and shares it with a friend, copies the CD, plays it at a party, then that’s how we share and have our music heard by more people. This results in:
- higher gig attendances
- better paid shows
- more sales of our music
- more sales on other merchandise and art that we, and our fans make.
Education not Litigation
I also see my part in this as more than just a musician. I work with young people (11-18) in music as a mentor for bands, in songwriting workshops, in rock-schools and other outreach. I work in environments from residential care homes to middle class schools and also with adults at music colleges, universities and so on. I often ask the question…
“Who here would like to go on to have a career in music?”
There’s usually a pretty large portion of those attending who say yes or raise a hand. I’ll then ask:
“and how much money do you spend on the music you most love”
As I’d expect, there’s a few who champion music and spend much of their cash on it, many don’t. Those who don’t spend, I encourage them to find new music that they love and to engage them in promoting, sharing and purchasing music they adore. I’ll also encourage them to find the best way of getting the money to the artist in question – buying direct from the artist is the best for me, and if I find that I can give more money to a band by purchasing a T-shirt at a gig, I’ll do that. Whether this is typical or not, the fact remains that we can engage people in our music and if we give them an opportunity to buy from us, then Pay What You Want yields the greatest number of sales, and a greater revenue than from fixed pricing. It’s a value proposition, and people appreciate our aforementioned offer http://www.hopeandsocial.com/music/why-pay-what-you-want/. What the majors I mentioned in my previous post have done is attempt to seek out people who’ve shared files and prosecute them. They’ve also tried to force ISPs to reveal their customers’ identities so as to prosecute. Have you ever tried to buy a product from someone who’s taken you to court? Not many people do. These actions push people away from music, and alienate potential music fans. If you engage with people and give them reasons to buy such as:
- by buying music from the artist you support their future ability to keep making music.
- if you want a career in music, you’ll need music buyers. Lead by example.
- Music’s precious. Show someone you care.
- we offer this to you to try, if you love it, come back and show us some love
… then we open the door to creating a relationship between that person and your music. Try it. Download something from music.hopeandsocial.com and read the “Dear Music Listener” file that comes with it. Our inboxes are scattered with emails saying “I downloaded your music for free/for £1 and I’ve re-bought it for a tenner”. Yes it works for us, and I believe it can work for many… if you make the decision, make the leap and take decisions to make it so, you can reap the benefits.
Who’s coining it?
As for “the music industry as represented by the majors is still coining it and the music industry as rep’d by you is getting by, struggling, working part time or making music as a hobby.” Well, I make my living from music in a way that I never could have when putting music out through the traditional music biz’s channels. The band make more money now than ever we did when using traditional methods. Indeed labels may still be making money for them selves but as stated above, it’s not for the bands and artists who release through them. If Lily Allen can sell 2,600,000 of “Alright, Still” and simultaneously claim that “The days of me making money from recording music has been and gone” (more on this here) then it’s clear that the Trad model is broken. Also Tim, I don’t see this new generation of those who expect it free and that’s it… on the contrary I see (taking the community of the fantastic ELFM for example, a community radio station for East Leeds, with whom I am involved) a growing number of young people who are learning to become an audience, and spreading the importance of being a good (and purchansing) audience. They’re championing new music and spreading the idea that to support music, we should all promote, buy and share music that’s worth owning, going to see and being a part of. I do see Tim’s arguments that “the music industry as represented by the majors is still coining it” and “there’s a generation being formed who don’t agree and who will expect their recorded music to be free unless they are forced to pay” as somewhat incongruous. Either it’s working or it’s not.
15% of nothing is still nothing
Tim finishes: “And when the major companies are gone, so will the paltry 15% they used to give the artists. In its place will be… goodwill?” NO the replacement is the 100% of the selling price of the CD/download/artefact. The break-even point on a £50,000 advance is around the 100,000 album mark. DIY reduces this to a fraction. Sell 1,000 albums at £7 on something you’ve made yourself and with manufacturing costs of £1.44 (that’s H&S base-rate for the most eco-friendly we can be… all recycled packaging, all paper) and you can see that the maths stacks up in favour of the route of independence. I guess it comes down to two viewpoints. There are those who think it’s all *&$%ed and that music will die because people want everything free – or there’s others who see the new opportunities afforded to us all by new technology as something to engage with and profit (personally and/or financially) from. I fall into the latter and have no personal need for fame or the trappings of having a record deal. It’s personally, musically and economically better to engage directly with people who are in the market for the music I make. And it’s more fun… now there’s a currency I understand.