Selling Music Is A Waste Of Time

freakonomicsThe New York Times’ Freakonomics blog has an interesting post about Mike Skinner of The Streets, and how he’s giving away music on social networking site Twitter:

He’s giving away new songs using Twitter because, he writes, “all this trying to sell you music … wastes valuable time.”

A new study out of Norway suggests Mike’s business model may be a good one, for it shows that people who download music for free (legally or not) are 10 times more likely to pay for music than people who don’t. This seems to make digital bootleggers the music industry’s biggest customers. All the more reason for labels to stop suing them?

Freakonomics seems to be blurring causation and correllation.

Those people that download music from the Internet are 10 times more likely to buy music, not because they’ve downloaded music from the Internet, but because they’re already hardcore music freaks.

Freakonomics also seems to want to draw conclusions from musicians that are outliers.

Like Trent Reznor, Skinner is an established artist with a large fanbase, so what works for him may not work for new artists, indie or mainstream.

Nobody knows yet what the new model will be for music exposure and distribution. It’s going to be happening over the Internet, though.

What do you think? Is it a waste of time, in this day and age, to try and sell music?

19 thoughts on “Selling Music Is A Waste Of Time

  1. Nothing's a waste of time if you work at it hard enough; but I gave up selling my music years ago, before there was even an internet. Selling *yourself*, now that's a different thing. Seems to me in the internet era what you can't buy online, what there is real scarcity of, is the living, breathing, performing creative artist in the flesh.

    1. It's the lack of opportunity for us living breathing artists that shuts us down…The label's paper people (who are only real on paper) seem to running the show…The labels Steal from living artists and mash it to their performers! (Madonna, Britney, e.t.c. e.t.c. they dont actually sing, they just dance! They (Warner Music) wont let us break through on our own…Maybe we should just fire bomb their offices and be done with it?

    2. It's the lack of opportunity for us living breathing artists that shuts us down…The label's paper people (who are only real on paper) seem to running the show…The labels Steal from living artists and mash it to their performers! (Madonna, Britney, e.t.c. e.t.c. they dont actually sing, they just dance! They (Warner Music) wont let us break through on our own…Maybe we should just fire bomb their offices and be done with it?

  2. I don't believe that music must be free. Artists (sound engineers/producers/musicians), spend a lot of time when they make an album, and most of the times they work hard for the good albums.

    Record companies? I don't even care about companies.They made music sound like shit. They sell garbage.

    So, my proposal, is this: Artists can make their personal "small home record companies" and sell their music in lossless formats via internet for not more than 5-8 euros per album. I have bought albums this way, and i will always do, because its fast, is cheap and it makes you want to buy it even if you don't care so much about the specific artist or album. With this way ,artists will get almost 100% of the money for themselves and this is very good! Also, with such low prices, piracy WILL be reduced a lot.

  3. I don't think you can sell the music alone. It's about a more cohesive experience: some acts add value by gigging live, others find a novel twist (like what NIN's been doing) or personality injection to promote themselves and stand out. Like is happening with many companies in general, you need to have a prominent personality or be forgotten. Create a narrative and story — which is historically opposed to "anonymous electronic musicians", but works to the advantage of groups like Prodigy.

  4. If your music sounds just like the next guy, yes you will have a difficult time charging.
    Nobody wants to pay to hear yet another "artist" who pushes a button and tweaks a knob while the machine is the one doing the work.
    A solid understanding of music theory and practice at performance will assure you can charge high dollars any time in your career.
    Look at Steely Dan.
    They make a new album every decade or two and still win Grammys, sell records and pack concert halls. They charge hundreds for tickets and get it.
    Little to do with nostalgia. Lots to do with musical ability.

  5. I agree with Alex, on the one hand I think that traditional record companies are obselete and deserve to die, but the fact is, if pirates "win" and music truly becomes worth zero dollars then music will be HUGELY diminished as a cultural phenomenon as artists either look elsewhere for mediums that receive greater public recognition or simply don't feel inspired enough but the current state of the scene to bother becoming an artist in the first place.

    You may think "oh this just means that there will be no more corporate pop music, yay!" but that is an overly simplistic analysis. As the value of music diminishes in the public eye, so too will the desire of artists to be involved in it, and that will happen across the board. Even artists who are in it only for the sake of the music will still feel greatly demotivated by the lack of public support and appreciation for their work.

    This will continue in a downward spiral until a new equilibrium is reached which will be based on the much smaller market of die hard fans who are still willing to pay money foor the music they love.

  6. Sam_K – absolutely correct. The value of recorded music is affected across the board. No one expects to pay for recorded music anymore, there is no discrimination. So, people say "recorded music should be free and bands should make money selling t-shirts and playing live." Well, this model may work well for that narrow slice of music that represents, but this doesn't even come close to representing what can be expressed in the field of recorded music. What about Switched On Bach? What about Sgt. Peppers? These albums have no value because they can not be performed live.

    The value of recorded music is always framed in the context of big corporations and record companies, which, I suppose makes people feel better about what they're doing, but the decline has had a very real impact on independent artists. Gear _does_ still cost money. It _does_ take time to make a good recording. I wasn't getting rich selling music, but the hobby at least paid for itself.

    pushakey is correct. Recorded music is free. I give my music away now and license with creative commons, but I do get irked by the false sense of entitlement.

    I will continue to make music, at a loss, because it serves an emotional need.

  7. I think a little of both,

    Get your music listed on Amazon, I-Tunes, or any other site that has an affiliate program. Then build your newsletter list by giving your fans free music regularly just for signing up. Teach them how to earn pennies by selling your music if you want a short cut give your fans a copy of my free report "Amazon affiliate music strategy"

    This way your hard core fans will sell your music and you can concentrate on making the best music in 22 galaxies.

    Of course you can add to that periodical contests for fan made videos of your songs which can do 2 things get more people to hear about your great music and give your fans a reason to sell your music by adding a link in the description of the video to their affiliate link selling your music.

    I kind of like this comment need to save it for a future blog post.

  8. First- I agree wholeheartedly with Zuss and Netvalar, You do BOTH! You post your strongest or most recent mix for free, or even just streaming, so it's 'out there'. You build up your fan base, who will eventually buy your music, even if only a track or two at a time. Like Baskin Robbins, give away a taste and they will buy the whole cone.

    I disagree with the bashing of record labels, of course a lot of huge corporate labels have done bad things for the music industry, but you must realize that record labels are as widely varied as bands are- There is little or no comparison between a mega label like Virgin and a 'boutique' label like 4AD. The smart labels that will survive are the ones who find new ways to prosper in this changing market.

    One thing many independent artists do not know, is that when you 'DIY' your music marketing you are basically whistling in a wind tunnel, the possibility of making a distinctive splash in music
    is greatly reduced without the immense power of people that are already involved in the industry.
    People who market music as a career can push your career farther because of experience, contacts, and resources. And if you 'hustle' your music in addition to the efforts of such an individual, then that is just that much more exposure for you to enjoy.

    The bottom line, in my opinion, is to have strong material. If you have 'the song' or 'the sound', then eventually you will find fans, or fans will find you. If your material is weak, or has nothing distinctive to set it apart, then it will fester slowly.

    I also disagree with Martin, Steely Dan sells music on absolute nostalgia alone. That is just me though, and I hate SD almost as much as I hate Rush LOL!

  9. I think its overly simplistic to think all musicians will stop making quality music if it's free. The best musicians care about making good music, and whether or not they get paid is secondary. It is their release. Having said that, an artist should be given royalty payments from corporations that use their music to sell some other product. I don't believe that would be small change for a musician that has managed to build a good fan base.
    I think music being entirely free would have little to no impact on quality in the long run, and a hugely positive impact on quality in the short run as the britney spears business model careens towards extinction.
    A mix of free and purchased could work in the short term, but you're dealing with an entire generation that already believes music is free. Trying to take it away from them is futile…the music they download is after all just a load of ones and zeroes, and who can really own that?

  10. Musicians also need to check out what Trent Reznor has done, and create unique music products that can't be downloaded.

    I can remember staring at album covers for hours as a kid, because the cover art and art production of some albums was amazing. A lot of this creativity seemed to be tossed out the window in the conversion to CDs.

    Reznor revisited this idea with his limited edition versions of his recent albums. This seems like an idea that could scale to all types of artists.

  11. @Romabit, I think you missed my point a bit. Musicians will not stop making music as a direct result of there being no money in it.

    What I'm saying is that without a proper, strong industry promoting music and putting it in front of people all the time, the entire social phenomenon of "music fandom" could become a niche thing. People who are "into bands" will become the exception, not the rule.

    This will not happen over night, but as the industry diminishes and diminishes due to lack of money, public attitude and interest will follow.

    With such little public interest in music and musical artists, there will necessarily be a matching fall in the number of people who want to be music artists, either because there is less exposure to music inspire them or because nobody cares even if they do.

    I know I am stating this in extreme terms to get my point across, but I think the dynamic I have expressed here will happen to some degree.

  12. Is it a waste of time ? It depends how much you earn and how much energy you spend on it.
    You can just sell your music on you website for exemple Yozik and see how much fans are willing to pay.

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