In response to Mike Doughty’s post (“Radiohead wouldn’t exist without early major-label funding…”)
I saw this post trickle across Tumblr. While I won’t post the entirety of it (you’re more than welcome to read the entire piece), I thought I’d address some of the specific points of this.
Doughty argues that “the diminishment of labels means there’s little money to fund the initial touring costs of new bands” and that because of the lack of initial investment, “This means that there will be fewer bands.”
I’d have to disagree with this theory.
There isn’t a limited pool of resources for musicians where they key is held only by record labels. There are many thriving artists who have found success by creating their own revenue stream or start-up investment without the backing of a major label. It just means that the traditional music industry model is evolving.
Doughty disagrees with the notion that resources will come from elsewhere, stating that “Less money to make movies would mean fewer movies. Less money to fund the start-up of bands means fewer bands.”
As marketing guru Seth Godin argues, “The music industry is really focused on the ‘industry’ part and not so much on the ‘music’ part. This is the greatest moment in the history of music if your dream is to distribute as much music as possible to as many people as possible, or if your goal is to make it as easy as possible to become heard as a musician.”
The costs to market oneself, have a direct relationship with fans, and to even produce music has lowered so dramatically that it has actually made it easier than ever to have a band. While yes, it will be more difficult to find that initial investment that a major label would normally provide, it wasn’t all that easy to get on a major label to begin with. Savvy musicians with an entrepreneurial mindset can raise the money through Kickstarter, finding sponsors, or even funding it themselves (I took out a loan to fund the start-up of my band). The tour investment from any major label is considered a loan anyway, and bands have to pay that back at a pretty severe interest rate. So why not just control that aspect with some better terms?
However, I do agree with Doughty that “Musicians: we must adapt, and make our lives work.” That has always been the case. It’s always been the innovators who weren’t afraid to challenge the system, who created their own path that have found success. While it has never been an easy path to “success” (what that means depends entirely up to you), I believe that there are more opportunities now for creative, dedicated musicians to create sustainable careers than ever before.
It’s pretty similar with the book industry. Sure, it does take capital upfront to make things happen but whether that capital comes from a book publisher or another source is hardly relevant these days. It is nice to have the validation and association with a major label or book publisher but it isn’t necessary. Because it easier to self-publish (music and books) and costs are driving down, there will be more music and books than ever before.
The problem isn’t having fewer bands, as Doughty argues…but rather a way to sort through all of the junk and find great bands, music, art, etc. That’s why the band-fan relationship and niche marketing is more important than ever.