Too Loud To Ignore

by on October 17, 2007

I am usually completely unsuccessful in hiding my glee at the demise of music publishers, and this post is no exception. I have been hoping for the last few years that what started as a trickle would become a flood. And now with Radiohead and even (gasp!) Madonna, it surely has.

I think the penny is dropping. If you are an artist, you now have a choice to become an artist and a business, or an artist and a slave.


I remain sceptical. Both Radiohead and Madonna can afford to take this kind of risk. Don’t forget that Radiohead are also selling a £40 boxed set, and next year will be signing a deal to release the album in a standard way.

I still think that without significant financial backing from somewhere, making the leap from popular local band to national and international success is going to be very difficult. The likes of Starbucks and Victorias Secret are hardly likely to sign Deathfish Kitten Apocalypse* from Rotherham, and putting a band on the road without a big promotional budget or guaranteed sellout gigs (or income from another source) is generally not financially viable.

Yes, you can try to secure funding as any other small business might (bank loans, small business schemes etc) and give it a go, but getting that funding is going to be several degrees of magnitude more difficult than if you’re starting up as a plumber.

The model is changing, but not to the degree that the “all music should be free” advocates would have you believe. Bands and artists will still have to sell physical/digital product, and will have to spend money to market that product (especially if they can’t, for whatever reason, perform it live – the most common “alternative business model” I hear bandied about). That money may well in future come from different sources (Marillion have been proving that this can work for years) but there will still be a place for the “full service” record company.

Firstly, I need to retract my brief respect for Madge, since on further inspection, she’s not actually doing a Radiohead at all, she’s just signing up to another kind of publisher. My mistake.

You make a good point though, in fact it’s the primary counter point to all this really. However, you say that for a band to get funding from a lender is going to be several degrees of magnitude more difficult than if you’re starting up as a plumber. That may be the case now, but I don’t see why that should be the case in the future. There is even more security for a lender giving £100K to a band if they can demonstrate they have 20,000 fans on MySpace, or whatever, compared to a plumber who may or may not have some leaking taps in Ealing to see to.

If I had to guess as to the eventual new order, Marillion’s “multi-channel” model is the most likely to win out I think. I also don’t doubt that record companies will survive in some form as well, in the same way as package holiday companies are still around – if rather completely decimated by business models that are more appropriate for the majority of bands.

There is also a rather uncomfortable down-side to all this though too: perhaps nobody will want to listen to Deathfish Kitten Apocalypse from Rotherham.

I don’t think you are so off the mark. Madge’s activities though different to Radiohead do show that thinking and business models are changing fast in the music industry. Far less so in the publishing and film industries.

Business models are a changing and as Madge’s deal shows the aim is not only to sell CD but to get financial return around all the activities associated with music. Maybe Andrew Keen is right, it is ironic – the more the internet grows the more business models rely on the physical. eeekkk.

Who is archiving your blog? Will we be able to look back at our comments and see whether we were being prescient or just pathetic?

One point that I forgot to make – and it’s slightly off the topic but…

If bands are to run themselves as businesses, why should being a great musician / songwriter make someone a great businessman?

There’s an interesting interview with Broken Family Band that touches on this subject: (The Guardian)
Best quote: “I’ll bet that without Razorlight they’d all be fucked for jobs. I wouldn’t let Johnny Borrell do my photocopying.”


Indeed, which is why I said artists now have a choice, and that record companies in some form will always be around for those bands that feel the need to sign their business over to somebody else.

And now Cliff, poster boy for the term extension campaign, is going to be giving downloads of his new album from his webiste using an “innovative price plan”. Wow times are a changin …

Oh god and now I see that you too can’t distinguish between licence the noun and license the verb – and when you get taken to court for defamation you’re legal fees will be really high cos you’ll have to hire a US lawyer and go to court in the US as you are using an American CC licenCe.Sensitive moi?

Well, I never knew that. But it’s good to know that the Old Rule still holds: when correcting somebody else’s English, you must make a mistake of your own. It’s “your” not “you’re.”

Ah – that reminds me! One point I forgot to make in the original post was “Why do musicians need to earn bazillions?” Just because they have done during a relatively short, post-war period until the present, does not mean that they always must do in the future.

In any case, after a certain amount, money has very little to do with the quality or amount of music produced. To imply that the utopian dream of web-based distribution is a failure because Radiohead could only sell for a quid an album even after having built up a fan base beforehand is as wrong as it is illogical. It’s wrong because it assumes that you are not a success unless you earn huge sums, and it’s illogical because it implies the only way to build a large following is to use a record company.

Indeed what is “success” anyway? Take this band for example. Large following, normal record company, been going for years. They make some money (although their label takes a fair whack of course), but not enough to give up their day jobs – I work with one of them. They’re no failure – but they’re not driving Rollers into their swimming pools either.

Obviously musicians have no divine right to earn money, although to successfully (for any definition of successful) run any kind of band takes money (as per my first comment).

And the argument doesn’t assume that huge sums are required for success. It does, however, point out that (if they weren’t to release as a standard CD) they’ll make only a tiny percentage of the amount they’d’ve made by more usual means. For Radiohead, this doesn’t matter, but for Deathfish Kitten Apocalypse, it may well be the difference between carrying on or throwing in the towel. Neither does it assume that you need to have built up your following through the record company – look at Arctic Monkeys. I’m prepared to bet though that if Arctic Monkeys had put their first proper album out on an “honesty payment” basis, they’d’ve suffered exactly the same fate.

What it does indicate to me is that the “Free as in libre, not free as in beer” brigade are talking out of their arses. The reason they want this kind of stuff to be “free” is precisely because they don’t want to pay anything for it. It has nothing to do with any intellectual or moral freedom and everything to do with wanting everything for nothing. But that’s a different argument.

Well, obviously I would prefer not to pay for my music. But then, I’d have very little music to listen to after a while.

Basically it’s a question of balance: moral, artistic, and economic. Moral in the sense that paying for art needs to be seen as a Good Thing. Artistic in the sense that bad art should be punishable by justified obscurity (a fate Britney Spears did not suffer, and Deathfish Kitten Apocalypse would need to avoid). Economic in the sense that successful art should not be allowed to generate profit that distorts the first two balances, ie the corrosive response “Why should I pay for this when they are – or will be – millionaires a hundred times over?”

And see my next blog post on the corrosive effects of this in general.

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