It’s a well known fact that the music industry is in crisis at the moment. But there have been a number of developments recently that are getting really scary, and are starting to mean that the grassroots artists who make that “new music” we all want to hear, are becoming unable to make and distribute music any more. It’s a complex issue, but an important one for anyone who cares about music, and i would like to cover some of the pertinent issues on this blog, starting, not with our own words, but re-posting excerpts from an email that brilliant Australian musician Gotye recently sent to his mailing list:
===== BEGIN QUOTE FROM GOTYE EMAIL =====
Unfortunately I have to move onto sadder news now.
Creative Vibes, distributor of my music in Australia for over five years announced that they were shutting down last week. The downturn in music sales and the massive drop in the value of the Aussie dollar prompted the Cvibes crew to make the difficult decision to wind up their business before potentially ending up in a position where they couldn’t afford to pay their labels and artists. While the massive devaluing of the Aussie dollar coupled with Creative Vibes’ large commitment to imported catalogue was a significant factor in these difficulties, the huge drop in music sales (the first time in Cvibes’ history that September, October and November sales were so significantly down on previous years’) has clearly had sweeping effects across the entire music industry. Retailers devaluing music with a bottomless discounting spiral, retail buyers strong-arming distributors into offering larger and larger discounts on their stock, and stores moving towards only stocking “chart” (commercially successful material) have left a company like Creative Vibes in a position where some of their recent releases were lumped with a net loss even before the cds left their warehouse (!).
As I hear details about things like this in the Aussie music industry I become more and more convinced that there is a clear line between the rack o f burned cds on people’s shelves, or the gigabytes of pirated music on their mp3 players, and the end of an awesome label like Creative Vibes. While I’ll agree with people that major labels have ripped off consumers in the past, and that everyone, independents included, need to learn how to adapt to a new music industry model where touring and merchandise are a more significant commodity than recorded music (just a couple of the indirect arguments I’ve heard for flagrantly pirating music in the past), I just think it’s sad that folks who’ve worked tirelessly, firstly out of their bedrooms, and then in a warehouse for the last 15 years just to give cool music a chance to be heard can’t even go on doing business. Sorry to be a downer. Obviously it would just be good for everyone who loves music if people were honest with themselves about the tunes they consume, or at least the music that they really like, and be willing to pay for it.
I’ve scratched my head about how to respond when I’ve received emails from someone who “just loves, loves, loves” my music and then reveals that they have a burned copy of my record or that they downloaded it from BitTorrent. Usually this is accompanied by a question like “when will you release new music?”, to which I suppose I can only answer “when I get the money together”. Anyways, I don’t want this to go on like some sob story about financial ruin, since I’m luckier than most independent musicians out there. After all, I can foresee the ability to release another record without having to work a stop-gap job while putting it together. That makes me incredibly lucky, and I try to take stock in that every day I get to work on new music. But yeh…I saw the old “home taping is killing music” tag on a record I put on my turntable the other day. It made me laugh and then I realised it’s now truer th an ever.
….. edit ….
Carrying on now with my topsy turvy week of news: only a few days after I found out about Creative Vibes winding up, I got the news that Pinnacle Distribution, my UK distributor, has filed for bankruptcy! I have to give Creative Vibes big props for winding up their business in Australia at a time and in a fashion that will allow them to cleanly finalise everything with all of their labels and artists. Pinnacle’s collapse won’t be rounded out so nicely I imagine. My UK label Lucky Number is taking a bath beca use of this, and although they’ve bravely assured me that things will be fine with Gotye, I know that times in the UK music industry are very, very tough.
Looking on the bright side: courtesy of iTunes UK’s recent vote of confidence, more people than before are discovering my music. Sweet! Whether I’ll see any royalties from those digital sales of my record is up in the air.
So, did I just unintentionally provide a further buffer for the notion that pirating music is alright? (y’know, because if despite paying for legal downloads of music, due to the vicissitudes of music industry business beyond both the consumer and artist’s control, the artist still sometimes doesn’t get paid). Hmmm…yep, they’re topsy turvy times and you just have to find your way through with as much integrity and good will as you can muster.
====== END QUOTE FROM GOTYE EMAIL =======
I really recognize what Gotye is saying about even your ‘biggest fans” not being keen spend money on your music. I once met a guy who went on for half an hour to me about how my music had changed his life and he literally decided upon a different choice of education and career (in music) based on being inspired by projects we were involved in. He said he was our biggest fan. Yet he had not, and would not consider, spending under a dollar on a legal download of the music!
If you start talking like this you end up sounding like a whining muso greedy for money. So i would rather frame this in the context that certain trends that are really making the concept of a new musician supporting themselves through music very challenging.
We now at a point when most of the high street music stores are gone, those that remain pretty much only sell games, the vinyl distributors have all collapsed, now the mainstream distributors are going bankrupt, and every time they do they, they bankrupt many of the independent record labels that were willing to invest in recording and promoting new music.
Now we are in a position where the are very big concerns for the financial future of one of the biggest digital download stores.
The typical internet debate on this frames the industry as consisting of ‘bad’ record labels, and ‘good’ artists. But in many of the most vibrant fast moving area of music development this paradigm was overturned years ago, and the artists, producers and labels are all the same small business people – and threat to a label is the same as a threat to the artist.
So you are most likely wondering about the irony of discussing this on the self same blog on which we regularly post free mp3 downloads of both our OWN tracks, and also those by other artists we support and admire. Yeah its a tricky one. Our logic has always been that in the (marked) absence of a ‘traditional’ music industry any more to market new music to people, it IS inescapable, and critical, that people use the internet to discover new music these days. This means accepting and embracing that some of your music will be circulating for free in the blogosphere, introducing new people to your product. However, the model also assumes that there is a functioning commercial music distribution system running in the background so that people can then move on to buying more music from an artist they like. As that starts to fail, musicians have to find increasingly diverse routes to monetize their talents and fund their recording / life.
Well more of this another time…
I really just thought Gotye’s message was interesting and deserved a blog. There are many interesting aspects to this that i don’t have time to discuss now. Feel free to comment, and I may add more information and context later.