Friday, November 7, 2014

What makes your music valuable?

I need to make a confession. I’m a musician, and I LOVE streaming music services. As a fan of music, having millions of albums at my fingertips is a dream come true. I love hearing a song that captures my attention and then immediately downloading the album. Albums that I missed out on years ago because I was too poor to buy now sit in the album collection on my phone. Streaming music has allowed me to vastly expand my musical landscape and now bands like The Weeks are in my regular rotation. If they ever come through Omaha, I'll be sure to make their show*. Before Spotify came to the US, I was an avid Rhapsody user. But even before Rhapsody, when I was trying to make a living as a recording artist, I was actively giving my music away. In doing so, I learned a very valuable lesson.

Back when I was really focused on getting signed by a record label, I was having a talk with our producer. My band had been touring nearly non-stop for months and had made a song from our EP available free for download to help generate interest. At the time only 400 people had downloaded it, and the producer had some tough words for me. “You can’t even give away 1000 downloads, why would a label ever be interested in you?”

Taylor Swift made headlines this week not only for having the best first-week album sales in twelve years and becoming the only artist in 2014 to go platinum, but also for pulling her entire catalog off of Spotify. I really respect Taylor. She seems to write honest music that’s insanely catchy. I also have no problem with her pulling her music off of Spotify. (On a side note, I currently use Rdio, and all of her albums except for “1989” are still available there).

Taylor wrote an op ed in the Wall Street Journal a while back that said "Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for.”

Unfortunately, not all art is important and rare. There are plenty of paintings in the thrift store bins that can be purchased for pennies. For better or worse, most musicians these days are as valuable to consumers as these thrift store paintings. There are more musicians now that at any other time in history. The band supply outweighs the listener demand which reduces most music's value. This is not Spotify’s fault.

On the other hand, there is a lot of art that is important and rare, even musical art. Taylor Swift seems to be a perfect, modern example. There’s something about her music that makes consumers drop what they’re doing to buy her album the instant it's released. She would have sold a million copies even if she didn’t pull her music off Spotify.

Many musicians seem to be more concerned with trying to educate the consumer on how valuable their art is rather than creating art that is actually valuable to the consumer. Recording songs and playing shows does not entitle you to the dollars in their wallet. They work hard for their money so you're going to have to work even harder for it. You've got to find a way to capture the listeners' attention and make their life better, or you don't stand a chance. (Hint: You can't say "Here you go, I made your life better." They have to say "Holy crap, this made my life better.")

Taylor Swift for one reason or another has captured her listeners' attention, made their lives better, and therefore earned their dollars. What have you done to capture your listeners' attention or make their life better? What have you done to earn their dollars? Could you even give away 1000 free downloads? If not, Spotify is not your problem, your value proposition is. 

*Some would argue that by not purchasing The Weeks album, I'm hindering their ability to come to Omaha in the first place. The truth of the matter is I never would have bought their album anyway. I never would have heard of them.

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