What if the consumer were asked to pay for the music on the so called “free” online music sites? How would your music stack up against the competition? What if your paycheck was based on what the consumer was willing to pay, rather than what the online music distributor was willing to pay? What if you got paid, not for artist to artist downloads, but strictly for the non-artist downloads you brought in? Would your music survive?
Over the past couple of years, much has been made of music sites on the Internet where artists, of any and all levels, can put music for the consumer to freely download, while the artist gets paid for it. MP3.com, IUMA, Ampcast, Besonic, Javamusic.com, and defunct groups like Riffage and others, have promised the international music community the potential for exposure, money, fame and fortune, never before imagined possible by many musicians, regardless of whether the artist is a well paid professional or a rank amateur; and all without considering the quality of the music, the performance or the recording production..
I didn’t give Internet music distributors a second thought until a friend told me he had his music up on mp3.com and he was doing well with it, making a few thousand dollars, charting at number one and beating out a nationally recognized major label artist. This perked my interest, since I too wanted to expand my fan base beyond my local audience, and if I could make some money along the way that would be great.
Now, my friend is no major label talent. He is a hard working blue collar guy with a dream and a purpose to get his music exposed. Is his music any good? Uhhhh … now that’s the ten million dollar question. How do we judge what’s good or bad? There is the old cliché that says, “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” To me, as his friend, his music is a treasure. I sit in with him regularly, I have recorded with him, I go to as many of his appearances as I can; I wouldn’t replace his music in my collection. And it would hurt me greatly if someone told me his music wasn’t any good; to me, as his friend, it’s good music and I love it.
To me, as a former radio programmer, his music would never make it past the listening room. Professionally speaking, his music, as well as my own, simply doesn’t meet the standards required for radio airplay. He knows this and so do I of my own music.
OMD’s have set up a dangerous paradigm. They have perpetuated the illusion of “success” based on the fact that anyone can make a few dollars getting others to share artist downloads and that has been the largest segment of the visits many omd’s have experienced; “artists” listening to each others music and congratulating themselves on a good job.
The world of radio is about to undergo a significant change. Beginning this year, luxury automobiles are going to be equipped with mp3 players and satellite radio receivers. Unlike the current world of “commercial” driven AM and FM radio, these new satellite stations are going to be subscriber based systems. In other words, if you want commercial free radio, you as the consumer will have to pay for that. What won’t be any different is how radio is programmed musically.
So, will the consumer be willing to pay to listen to your music if it does not meet the standards already established as industry norms?
In order for we as musicians to make it to the “next” level, our music has to evaluated against the level we are aspiring to achieve. It has to evaluated by industry standards of production, performance and content. The old adage that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” is not necessarily true; ugly is ugly when compared to the most generally perceived notion of beauty. In music, the dividing line separating ugly from beauty is more evident when those characteristics are based on performance, content, and production, where the established existing standard is radio.
So, how much is your music worth here on the Internet? Does it meet the exacting standards necessary to be truly successful? Will it garner the respect and favor of the general public or are you relying strictly on artist to artist downloads for your income? If you are relying on artist to artist downloads, what will happen when even the omd’s of the Internet change to a subscriber based pay mechanism?
Ultimately, it is not we the musicians who will dictate our own success, it will be the mass public. How will your music fare in the court of public opinion when compared to what they are used to hearing? How much is your music worth on the Internet?
Chris K. is a retired radio programmer with over 25 years of experience. He has been a professional musician since 1969 and has also been a music and industry critic, published in several prominent radio trade publications as well as in many local and regional publications. He is currently the director of Pro Critic Radio on mp3.com. He can be reached at [email protected]