time to change the way we view music and the arts

We need to be more prudent about choosing our “exes”

Some of the recent music business related headlines that have fluttered about many social media dashboards presented a contradictory set of approaches for that cornerstone of a conundrum that is “making it” as a musician.

Turn to face one corner and the subject of streaming gives off both promising and pitiful vibes, depending on with whom one chooses to converse.

Take an about face and the ultimate hot commodity headline of Wu-Tang’s One-Copy-Only album painlessly fills up an entire page of Google search results.

This trio of outlooks and methods need also include a second outcry in the (streaming is) “pitiful category,” emotionally and numerically validated with one skim over of Bette Midler’s poor return on millions of Pandora song plays.

These elements do not initially come across as relevant to one another beyond their relevance as music industry topics but the fact of the matter is that the coexistence of a one-album cut “stunt” and thousandths of individual cents on the dollar as payment shows that right now, the music industry is undecided on which “ex” is best to sustain a big chunk, if not the majority, of current business so that the talented musician can “make it.”

Mass material for the fans and at the expense of the artist (Streaming)


Exclusivity by the artist which will exclude many (or in Wu Tang’s case all but one) fans.

Okay, to be fair, exclusion and excluding essentially mean the same thing, but, when it comes to music, where, when and to whom you present those words can change those terms from sounding positive and appealing, to negative and condescending. This is the core of the disparity I see existing between the music makers and the music enjoyers. Like an unwanted but unavoidable elephant in the room. (Oh wait, that’s the exposure (discovery) elephant.’ Sorry Consequence of Sound!)

Wait though:.

Consequence of Sound is merely bringing its own important “ex” to the party and going by their set of priorities, neither streaming at the benefit of the fan, nor a component of super-rarity, are a good answer, let alone the “right” one. Music journalist colleague, David Greenwald, even touched on a slice of CoS’s exposing of the discovery problem, when he mentioned an issue with the liking of albums but the lack of inclination and or time to listen more than during the immediate window after first drop/attainment:

There are at least four albums that dropped on Tuesday I like enough to buy – but I not even listen again after next week’s drop.
— David Greenwald (@davidegreenwald) April 9, 2014

The “ex” analogy could just keep going by simply asking why a cat fight over “Who’s the best ex?” hasn’t broken out yet. Mild hilarity would ensue.

Nonetheless, jokes and metaphors aside, the question does bear some actual weight worth a good old compare-and-contrast talk. Realizing, even with the cyclical nature of many things (e.g. in fashion, everything old is eventually new again), that music will never go back to the kind of severely hierarchical, “record label is king” model that made so many of the people we revere as timeless greats, who they are today, what is the optimal ratio of coexistence for these distribution and availability pathways that won’t let itself slant too far in favor of one crowd over the other?

Releasing only one of something and pouring the energy of what would normally be a multiple-copy release, into a single piece of work, is certainly going to leave plenty of room for a micro-reviewing of quality and provision for extra special components to the umpteenth degree if one so chooses to include such things. The problem with that strategy is that the existence of only one of anything is desired only as much as its demographic are aware of its creators and have an affinity for them to proportionally match the commodity’s scarcity. In other words, form a band tonight and announce there will only be one of your album, signed and authenticated by tomorrow and no one is liable to offer millions of dollars, so unlike Wu-Tang, with their pre-existent reputation and awareness, bread for the artist turns into something more like just an idea of crumbs.

Then again, it’s clear that having millions and millions of songs accessible with only a flick of a finger or click of a touch pad only amounts to millions in material for the fans and library bragging rights for the “winning” database but not anywhere even near that in sustainable revenue for the artist. Let’s not even venture past that to the discussion of what drives fans to like or not like any particular voice/band/superstar personality, as that’s viewing the industry with the thinking that consumers are constantly wearing a lens showing their process of emotional evaluation toward the material to which they enjoy listening.

(Side note: See Brian Thompson’s (a.k.a. thorny bleeder’s) latest podcast episode titled, “What do fans want more than the music itself?” for a substantial discussion on the latter subject –without question, a meaty and important one. It just happens to be nothing short of an additional frustrating complicator in the midst of this specific discussion but do take it in for its own merits and value as a question worth exploring at length as he does here.)

It feels as though the industry is steadily being forced to exist and operate in this kind of fashion at present:

      You can only pick two…

This is perhaps a rather crude breakdown. (which can quickly be broken down into at least three more triangles per single point to more closely involve specifics like streaming vs. download vs. brick/mortar exclusives, too much choice vs. too little time to digest/discover…etc.) Still, no matter how many mini-branches into which this party is separated off, these three choices each serve as a label for an inherent “problem” in need of a “solution” that is so often tackled in the form of today’s current and emerging “business models.” What’s distressing is that they appear to either stay in direct flux with one another or at least one is left to a lesser wayside altogether, once any (re)new(ed) business model deems it too difficult to maintain their individual company objectives while equally attending to each necessity on the triangle.

(How) will the industry negotiate nurturing each of these aspects, given the continuously moving walk we seem to be on, that is hardly reducing the influence of technology and instantaneous access on our relationship with music and musicians? I don’t have the answer but, for the moment, until something massive gives way, –whether that be society’s viewpoint of what makes music “good” and “desirable,” the current reliance on internet use, or, what is deemed monetarily important, this triangle can probably be stitched in a blanket and draped right on top of the elephant to keep it warm, because neither is going anywhere. At least not by tomorrow anyway…

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