Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Goading the Lily...(or why file sharing’s here to stay)

I’ve ummmed and ahhhed about even writing anything on the issue of ‘file sharing’ (I’ve wittered on about it before) but what the hell, it’s a Wednesday, I’m at a loose end until Deal or No Deal starts and you’ve clearly got nothing better to do with your time either so pull up a chair and let’s chew the fat. There seems to be a bit of a dividing line being drawn up between the thrusting young bucks in the music biz (Lily Allen - self appointed web warrior, Tinchy Stryder and…er…James Blunt) and the old school (Radiohead, Billy Bragg and Pink Floyd). The young bucks are (quite understandably) a bit pissed that they’re getting to number 1 in the charts then getting a cheque for £15 from their record label. The old school take the view that, ‘hey man, file sharing ain’t so bad’, just as long as it leads to people going along to their gigs and spending £50 on a tour t-shirt.

Happily Muse’s Matt Bellamy has the solution (something which I favoured the last time I wrote about this), slap an extra few quid on everyone’s broadband bill and then divvy up the cash amongst all the artists (isn’t that how the PRS works?). I can sense that an awful lot of folk ain’t going to be too happy with this approach either though. If you’re just a casual music fan will there be an opt out clause? Will artists get a fair proportion of the dosh? Who the hell’s going to oversee all this? For the record (pardon the pun) I’ve pretty much given up buying or downloading music altogether. Over the years I must’ve spent thousands (literally) on records and CD’s, now I just pop on Spotify or Pig Radio and away we go. Free music. I’m drowning in the stuff. That, for me, is kind of the bigger issue, or the elephant in the i-pod as it were (hey, there’s an App for that!). Given the ease with which we can all access music that sense of loyalty that you got from parting with your cash to buy a new album is rapidly evaporating. There’s always something shiny and new to listen to. Shallow? Maybe. But if that’s how I feel (a 30 something) won’t younger generations follow suit? It’s still too early to tell whether Pixie Lott will make it to her tenth album, or if we’ll see that Tinchy Stryder 50th anniversary tour but I’m guessing that today’s music stars are not only going to get a much smaller wedge in future, they’ll also struggle to keep their fanbase for more than 30 seconds.

As a non musician I can happily sit here and say that it’s not all bad. It might help to keep things fresh and, with my idealist hat on, music shouldn’t really be a ‘career’ first and foremost anyway. You play because you love it, much the same as the billions of bloggers out there sit down and write for hours upon hours in the vain hope that someone out there reads and likes what they’ve written. Blogging’s very rarely a way to earn a decent living, nor, (let's be honest here) for most musicians is music. Of course, whilst money can’t buy you love a distinct lack of money ain’t much cop either and I appreciate the fact that it must be bloody hard to write, record and tour when you’re working in Sainsbury’s. So I’m tempted to say that, in addition to slapping a little onto the cost of your broadband, part of the solution lies in raising ticket prices. As the evil ebay touts constantly prove, people are willing to pay crazy money for some gigs. But then you’ll just end up with gigs full of rich middle aged people standing around drinking red wine and discussing pensions. Hmmm. Maybe Lily could write a song about that? The conclusion? You want a conclusion? Trying to stop file sharing seems to me to be a pretty futile thing to do. It's like asking people to stop using the tap to get water out. Anyway, some 14 year old kid will always find a workaround and if you start sticking your fans in prison (after all they're only downloading your music 'cos they like you) you probably won’t have much of a career. The genie’s well and truly out of the bottle and having one hell of a party. My idea, for what it’s worth, is an annual subscription kind of approach. As a band you sign fans up, they pay a few quid and, in return, on top of ‘exclusive tracks and videos’ (yes, I know that they’ll only remain ‘exclusive’ for 30 seconds but it’s the principle) they get first choice on tickets, backstage party entry, that kind of shit. Or, in other words, a modern take on the old ‘fan club’. On top of retaining the bond that used to come from buying an album couldn’t it also provide up and coming bands with some of the cash they need to survive?


Ken Davidson said...

Would this be the Lilly Allen that actively breaks copyright law via downloads herself?

The Baron said...

Ha! Brilliant. Pot. Kettle. Black. It seems that Lily's created quite a backlash with her outburst doesn't it? Like I say I don't even bother downloading anymore so I have no real axe to grind either way. My sympathies lie with up and coming artists who get sweet FA for their work but they'd probably get ripped off by labels under the old regime anyway. Like I say a direct 'band to fan' approach (see Amanda Palmer for a perfect example of this)would seem to be the best/only route forward for a growing number of bands. But then of course you've still got the thorny problem of getting your music heard in the first place in order to get those fans...and round and round we go (like a record baby, right round round round).

Ken Davidson said...

The model, for the lucky few, would appear to be 1. give your output away free 2. build a loyal following 3. reap the rewards via 'premium' packaging later.

So, a few bands who could be patient and live off coffee groundsm *and* be deemed good enough to generate loyalty, would be the survivors.

The only difference between this and the Old Way (gigging and being picked up by a promoter) is that in this new model the punters decide what's good, not the talent scouts.

...and that, of course, brings us back to the grand debate about The Great Unwashed deciding what's best for everyone. But, hey, that's pop music anyway, right?

The Baron said...

I sense a future dominated by Susan Boyle...