Yeah, it doesn’t scale, there’s no money in it, yadda yadda… This is how I wish the music business would work:
Last week, while listening to my new obsession, I heard a Kris Delmhorst song (probably East of the Mountains, though I’m not sure now) that was so good, that resonated with me so strongly, that I had to own it.
I clicked Jim’s link to her web site, downloaded a couple of MP3s, and decided that I needed her newest two CDs. A little PayPal, a long week of watching the mailbox, and they are mine, for less money than it would have cost to buy them anywhere else, and other than the PayPal fee, I was paying an artist, not a marketer or a distributor or any other sort of middleman.
Kris can buy a couple of meals on me, or some guitar strings, or say “screw the laundromat, I’m taking this to the cleaners,” or something else ordinary and real. I’ve got some honest, handmade music, without having paid for any lawyers who are suing college students who can’t afford a CD, much less a defense.
Personally, I’ll probably never buy another CD from a band that needs twenty session musicians and forty engineers to record, and needs to sell 50,000 tickets just to pay for the light show, but I know there are people who like that sort of spectacle, who wouldn’t be happy listening to something unless they knew that millions of other people were also listening to the same thing, and that’s where the problem really comes in.
I can see, perfectly clearly, how musicians could make a comfortable living touring and selling CDs at shows and online, making enough songs available to download for free that people could get an idea of what they sound like, but I can’t see how a system like that, without marketers and publicity blitzes and payola and product placement and everything else the music industry does, could produce the equivalent of Brit— Sp—-, where most of the pleasure must be the comfort of knowing that it has to be good, because everyone else likes it, and you see her everywhere you turn.
The real problem is that both systems can’t coexist: if you have a huge corporate publicity machine that’s designed to make a few bands the things that everyone listens to, then it can’t tolerate having people like Kris driving around the country selling a few CDs from the stage and a few more from a web site, siphoning off a few consumers like me. It’s more hopeful to say that the way big corporations act, whether it’s Microsoft or Time Warner or BMG, is just something wrong with our culture, that we could somehow have several operating system companies and several book publishers and several music publishers, all fairly and honestly competing with plenty of room for innovation, but really I doubt that we can.
We can have a regulatocracy like it sounds like Europe has decided on, and make it difficult for corporations to get too much power by burning up most of our energy in a bonfire of endless paperwork and regulation, or we can slip into a William Gibson novel where there’s absolutely nothing in the whole world but a few corporations, but unless we choose to destroy our entire transportation and communication systems, I don’t see how we can go back to a time when we could have lots of small, moderately successful companies.
Luckily, most of the time I can keep my blinders from slipping off, and I don’t have to see this bleak, ugly set of choices. Right now, I think I’ll turn off the lights, crank up Kris, and see if she’ll drive away the nightmares for a while.