For the Sake of the Industry

Photos by Griffin Harrington
Photos by Griffin Harrington

The Internet has complicated the sales of music, but there are still avenues to support your favorite music artists

“The Internet will suck creative content out of the world,” David Byrne, longtime Talking Heads frontman, wrote in The Guardian in 2013.

In today’s trends, Mr. Byrne may be on to something, however prophetically, this doesn’t have to be the case.

We are at juxtaposition when it comes to music consumption. Comparable to our energy crisis, we are attempting to run a necessity into the ground. The digital age of music is a mixed bag, but this is how our generation can thrive with it.

You know the age old saying, “The customer is always right”? The customer can’t be right if they’re not fulfilling their duty as a customer, by purchasing. Why don’t people buy music anymore? If you don’t contribute, you shouldn’t reap the spiritual, intellectual, life-altering benefits music can bear. Commitment is becoming an abandoned virtue in life.

There will always be music, but the biggest mistake happening is at the hands of the consumer, who are keeping their wallets closed, similar to their minds.

According to Billboard, digital music sales decreased for the first time ever in 2013. Digital track sales fell 5.7 percent from their standing in 2012. Note that is track sales — the sales of a single song. Here’s the first problem to address.

Albums, for the most part have lost their structure and their experience. A lot of this blame can be laid on Apple, who opened the iTunes Store in 2001 and allowed customers to dissect an album more than a GenEd biology class picks apart a frog, by letting listeners buy individual tracks off albums for 99 cents. Arguably a great business model has become a potential knockout punch to the music industry.

Back to Byrne’s forceful comment.

To him and his contemporaries, this statement and the idea of online libraries of licensed music is nonsense. They believe it’s a frivolous way of preserving their catalogues. This technology wasn’t around when they were up and coming. They got their big breaks from record companies or hits on the airwaves. If anything, these petty checks coming from Spotify or Pandora may fund divorce settlements … for the third or fourth time.

I can’t agree with Byrne here as the internet is not ‘Burning Down the House’ when it comes to creativity. In some ways, it’s thoroughly assisting it. There are avenues on the web in which you can support your favorite band directly.

To quote the Grateful Dead, “Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.”

Sites like Bandcamp eliminate the middle man. “Discover amazing music and directly support the artists who make it.” This phrase can be found splashed across the homepage of the site. Bandcamp does what the large companies can’t, and that is provide a voice or let’s go with an input since we’re talking music, an input to the voiceless. The small bands attempting to make it in the music business.

A listener may truly discover artists on Bandcamp, exploring their libraries of live and recorded material. The business model, I would say, is also the best here, as many bands authorize the release of free content through the site. The band sets its desired price for each piece of content.

In some instances, a portion of the possible downloads on Bandcamp allow the consumer to give as much as they want for that particular album or show. Give $1,000 or don’t give anything — it’s between you and the artist, the way it should be. You may stream all you want, but there’s always the option to buy and support. This arbitrary method helps place many bands on the map.

Businessweek reported about Sufjan Stevens, who subtly released an eight-song EP directly to Bandcamp. At $5 per download, it sold 10,000 copies in the first weekend. In two weeks, it was 27th on the Billboard 200. When compared to revenue breakdown, Stevens’ label received over a dollar more on Bandcamp, $4.20 compared to $3.00 on iTunes per download.

Need I say more?

Circa 2005, I was introduced to Phish, the greatest … alright, I’ll stop. I was told it was the contemporary version of the Grateful Dead, a band who I had just scratched the surface on. These bands have made their careers on live performances, worrying more about soundchecks than about record sales.

Some called the Dead idiots for allowing fans to show up to concerts with microphones and taping instruments recording every Jerry Garcia guitar note, every Bob Weir scream, debatable Donna Jean Godchaux vocal interjections (that’s an entire column in itself) and everything in between.

Fans traded tapes of different shows within the “Deadhead” community. It was how they kept in touch with the band. This process blossomed and drove fans eager to never miss a show. Through free taping, the Dead made money because people filled up theaters, auditoriums, fields and stadiums on a nightly basis to capture every moment through their ears and their mics.

This is why their career of more than 1,500 shows has been nearly perfectly documented. The same methods apply today with Phish and dozens of their other jamband counterparts. Only today, shows exist on the Internet in the Live Music Archive: the greatest free source for everything live music. Gone are the days of trading tapes out the back of a diesel Volkswagen. Here are the days of VBR ZIP files.

With Archive, a non-profit digital library, you have access to thousands of strictly live recordings from hundreds of different bands who have signed on to be a part of the preservation project. Their overall mission, “universal access to all knowledge.” The listener is rewarded with free, downloadable content and they are in return intrigued by what the band would provide in a live setting. Therefore the consumer has the incentive to buy tickets to shows.

That is the simple jamband philosophy; free taping equals revenue in the form of tickets.

Spotify, Pandora, etc. are not the sole problem in this so I’m not going to lay all the blame on them, even though I’m strongly opposed to both. Streaming is fine, but it’s when people settle for streaming. Pennies per play, literally. Subscription services of any kind can be delicate matter. Spotify premium should not allow you to justify your lavish streaming lifestyle. Streaming should be treated as a test drive. Like what you hear? Open up your wallet. And don’t say you’re broke, or come up with some lame alibi.

Bands live and die by the road these days. While it’s still vital for us to support them through their tangible music, the live show should be their golden ticket.

It’s integral for them and us to fill theaters, arenas, halls and clubs night after night, and it’s Archive that helps harbor this philosophy. While the quality of the tapes on Archive may be fuzzy sometimes, it helps fuel the mind to question what the full experience would be like. Thus, we climb in cars, irrationally take long Greyhound bus trips, spending all of our pennies to catch our favorite bands. It’s how the industry survives.

Archive and Bandcamp foster a more personal relationship between artists and their fanbase. This type of relationship requires effort and commitment on both ends. Simply exploring a new website or two is a minute endeavor.

Music is a mirror to life, a reflection of the soul: a saying my friend Mike told me outside Greenberry’s some weeks back.

I am frustrated with how people are approaching music these days. Yes, there’s hundreds of thousands of bands chomping at the bit to become the next Fun. and blow up. We are indeed young and that’s why it’s so vital that we make the extra effort to discover music beside just letting it fall into your lap. The journey is half of the fun.

Commitment is becoming a joke in our society. What is so wrong with passionately and openly liking something? I love when I find someone who is deeply obsessed with a band, not matter who it may be.

Go the extra mile to consume your dose of tunes. No matter where you live, there’s good music blossoming in a basement not too far from your bedside iHome. Sometimes, you just have to poke around to find it, and that, that is where the indescribable, spiritual nature of music fully engulfs your mind, body and soul.