Music in the Digital Era: Part 7 —- The Artist-centric business model

Part 7– The artist centric business model


The music industry is corporate and monopolized. Everybody is real nice about telling you to get the fuck out of their forest. 

The independent music industry could be a description of the groups of people who care about one thing: being a part of getting good music out in the world, sometimes in small doses one day that lead to bigger payoffs over time. When you look thru some rosy sunglasses like that, it includes everybody who cares. Music can never be corporate in its essence because of how music affects everybody differently, all at the same time; the real value of the music is in the eye of the beholder, and only in the moment of experience. The best music is considered to be the best music because that moment of experience lasts for generations.

Nowadays, its also what other people say about you online.

Independent musicians are not indie artists. “Indie” is a genre, and has been hijacked by the major label artists to give the impression of sincerity and independence. Indie artists can be signed to major labels and put out the same content the major label artists are seemingly restricted to, which is based in exploiting the public’s need for, and support of, the industries providing sex/love, drugs/alcohol, money. The majors have an unending list of “songwriters” with catalogs longer than the Great Wall of China, that is every chord progression you’ve ever heard, and can repeat the glorification of the pursuit of those big 3 “needs”, as needed by the style of musician. 

Independent artists tap into that pool of topics, partly because they operate by and with the need for self-expression. Some do realize that their reality shapes their expression, and if they are “faking it until they are making it”, they’ll just regurgitate what they’ve been taught, showing they’re inches deep when pressed for innovation. There’s more important things to write about when the whole world is represented in your living room than how much pussy you get/got on furlough. Make something great and you won’t have to brag.

Sean Martin Photo by Drongo Sean Martin
Photo by Drongo

The music industry at large is based in a desire to create a purchasable experience with original music to specific groups of people. When Musicians sell the experience of their music, by definition, they have a bias on the creation of music once they need it to sell.

Music cannot have a bias. It can have a point of view, but not a bias: it cannot be for perpetuating profits – then, its a commercial. The fans see the artist as “selling something other than themselves” if it does have a bias, when really, it’s them finally showing their cards- We’re all just hookers of different kind. And when you see yourself pandering for attention, that’s when you need to take a step back, and reflect on the purpose. 

This is why every popular musician everywhere wants more money, bitches/dicks, fame, and to get crunk in da club while it all goes down because they know its the only thing that a LABEL wants to hear. Physiologically and psychologically speaking, those pursuits activate the exact muscles (and the parts of the brain) that are activated when performing live music. It’s human nature- we’re hard wired for sex, drugs, rock n roll: no problem. There is a line of losing focus on the music when you have 9-foot inflatable dicks on stage and you’re not a parody act. When making musical achievement equal to sales, then I don’t trust your opinion. When an artist creates their content because of the need to sell and not anything else, that’s when they’ve sold out. It doesn’t always get rewarded. Mostly, it does.

Every great piece of music has one common thread, no matter how or for what purpose it was made: all the qualities of the song has to have all of the qualities of a “genuine product”, and the art will sell and speak for itself. But when you don’t deliver on a promised experience, or fake the experience, the audience feels tricked by the product. Then, their brand loses their customers trust, and eventually their business.

“Girl, you know it’s, girl you know it’s, girl you know it’s, girl you know it’s, girl you know it’s, girl you know it’s…”

True. For a bank, a pizza place, a venue, a musical artist,… hell, even a Twinkie has an expectation of quality. Why the fuck should music be different if its made to sell?

Kaspars Says So! Kaspars Says So! Recording at Ultimate Studios Inc. June 2015

Sometimes, just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.

The two things you can expect from the corporate music industry in 2015 is to always auto-tune vocals in the studio, at least a little, and to default to lip-syncing major live events. That is, across the board a standard now for most large scale concerts; in my opinion, that is the standard because the field of new singers doesn’t have the discipline to actually study vocal performance as a practical skill, let alone genre specific vocal study. Maybe we should let Milli Vanilli back in, then. The argument that the technology for live performance can’t be controlled to isolate feedback frequencies for an assurance of tone and sound quality without interruption, is bullshit. You just don’t have enough quality audio engineers and performers.

Some think that you either have talent or you don’t, but if you don’t, the audience is too drunk/stupid/apathetic to think about the lyrics, or the vocals coming out of the live show are unavoidably incoherent, anyway. It’s learned, people: Just watch those who’ve done it before, pick a quality you see in them that you like, amplify its effect in you, and open your mind, you can learn any technique. That’s all you need. But they might say, it’s really all about image; which to some explains every pop artist of the past 20 years.

The truth could also be it only feels like nobody’s been paying attention to the lyrics anymore because they’re so fucking stupid we assume 4th graders write them. #ragequit.

Gonna Play this here guitar into that there can, and we gonna make a fortune! Gonna Play this here guitar into that there can, and we gonna make a fortune! –Sean Martin Recording at Ultimate Studios Inc. June 2015

Most major label artists do studio track replacement for live performances. (In my opinion, the ones that don’t do it regularly, are how you know who the best musicians are.) However, no musician should get jumped with the decision to compromise their artistic integrity in a split second with millions of dollars on the line. If that actually happens… Feels right that it does. It’s truthiness, at least. I don’t know, ask Beyonce how she feels about it.

Who makes up the independent music industry? Everyone who sells something that helps artists get in your ear holes, or supports the events or business contracts and negotiations that have to happen for everybody’s legal protections- or the  Recording studios, equipment manufacturers, management, producers, tour managers, venues, music media, entertainment lawyers, streaming services, etc … All are in existence because of our need to hear music, but musicians are the only ones who fill that need directly. Musicians need all the rest of them to make it heard on a larger scale than artists could make on their own. So if they want to generate any substantial profits and sustain careers, you gotta accept their existence. The way is to build a web of professionals that trust, rely on, and expand/contract with each other. Not all webs are perfect. Flies die in there, ya know. 

Essentially, they got the audience, we got the content, some other people got the equipment, somebody’s got to manage it all, and we all want the same thing. It is that symbiotic yet sinister existence that paints that shallow trench analogy that the industry became in Hunter S. Thompson’s famous quote. Music-Business-Hunter-S-Thompson-quote-e1366228631246

For the music industry going forward, the artist-centric business model makes sense for the time, and the technology available. Artist Centric simply means that the musician has to be responsible enough to composite enough resources for themselves to be as self-sufficient as possible, negotiating in the pieces they want for their vision, otherwise, the band dies, and you go back and start again. #OnePieceAtATime

The goal should be fostering the art form of performing music to new generations, cherishing the past greats and their message, while also retaining the free speech that is necessary in music as a driving force for changing tastes. To preserve freedom of expression in the face of adversity for fan and artist, alike. It has to be able to be the mirror of life: to show us the reality of a shared existence. Fragile and beautiful things like truth, reality, honesty and empathy reside in that mirror; and it should be protected, no matter how ugly the monster is that might stare back at you. 

It is the model that I have been building for myself as a lens to create music through, modeled from the many adversities and hard lessons I went through as a consequence of my weird, extraordinary life choices so far. The best part of that model is this reminder: If you can’t hear why your music sucks, you aren’t thinking like a musician- look in the mirror. 

Good business is supposed to de-legitimize the con-artists, not support their behavior and reward it. While the other parts of an artists team depend on you, the artist, to provide them with “the product”, you have to understand where the royalty percentages allot based on your level of involvement in the song/album. If you don’t know, then you can get ripped off.

The streaming industry has to share in the profits it gets from and with the artist. Its the only way they can have a complete circular money flow and potential for longevity. Somebody’s got to be able to count the number of plays on radio and total streams online to determine a ranking not based on what the Big three are pushing this week. The really talented people never get famous because the major labels decide who goes into their studios; radio and recording. But you decide whose popular by spending. Why? Because they bow to almighty dollar, not almighty talent. You are the judge today, and tomorrow, another. 

Read on for the conclusion- Part 8: The Impossible and the Unknown.

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