999,999 Solutions

Buy this Dark Was The Night it’s extraordinary.

I just wrote a Morning Star column about Spotify and ended up thinking optimistic thoughts about a future for selling recorded music, for the first time in a long old while:

What if, as music consumers move away from the bother of downloading, towards building playlists and streaming tracks using legal collectively held libraries (like Spotify or Last.fm or even the BBC iPlayer), this means they semiconsciously move back into the mindset of actually having to pay for music? The legal streaming royalty may still be tiny – fractions of a penny for plays – but it adds up and is negotiable in the long-run. What it does do, that’s a massive positive, is put value back on music. You either get used to the advert breaks, or you buy a premium account.

I really like the idea of increasing that per-play royalty a large amount but allowing the first 2-3 plays of any song by any individual for free or discount. Not a new idea I’m sure.

I also love the idea, in the long-run, of a compatible, direct-relationship streaming system between artist and audience. So I hold tracks on my own site and people stream them and an automatic process by which I get paid takes place. Liberating us (again) from the middle-man of the streaming hosts.

The solution was so damn simple after all – a user-friendly front end. Maybe I’m being over-optimistic but there’s a purism about streaming I like: it’s truly meritocratic, meaning that if you write a ‘classic’ and thousands of people play it over and over again over the years, you make more money. Obviously, if someone buys one of my albums, it’s (usually) so goddamn brilliant they’ll treasure it and play it several hundred times over the next decade. Ditto lots of people I love, from Decemberists to Radiohead to Tom Williams.

But if someone buys the latest hype album on the basis of the one good song on there, they’ll probably only ever play it a few times.

Consumer benefits because they haven’t shelled out for shit. I (by which of course I mean ‘good’ music) benefit because even if my initial core audience is smaller, they will repeat-play more often. 

In other words, repeated plays are hype-proof. So there’s one solution.

Last night Jen & Jon took me to see Robyn Hitchcock – he was excellent, much better than last time I saw him playing solo. This time he had a terrific band (his UK band, not the celeb-heavy Venus 3) with Rob Ellis drumming and Tim Keegan got up as well, who used to accompany Hitchcock all the time – and also fronted one of the great lost bands of the early 90s, Departure Lounge (they were on Bella Union and produced by Simon Raymonde, I think, who, if memory serves, made them sound less good). 

I used to vaguely know Robyn Hitchcock’s Mum, I interviewed Hitchcock at WOMAD about 10 years ago. When I introduced myself he said: “Have a cup of tea,” and passed me a plastic cup. “Thankyou,” I replied and took a big swig, “I just found it.” He said.

Anyway, I listened to Hitchcock today, then various other things connected (for me), Decemberists, Yo La Tengo, Fairport, Okkervil River, Delgados, the aforementioned Keegan, Mary Hampton, Bellowhead, other stuff, then found myself heading back to Capital, wondering if it was too ‘boring indie rock’ or was lacking something with hindsight. Fuck that though: I hope it’s not too arrogant to say – or at least you’ll take it as an honest feeling – but listening to it on Spotify, I sincerely can’t understand why it wasn’t a smash hit record, it’s great. Doesn’t matter though, the next two will be 😉 and actually, that doesn’t matter either.

So there’s another solution and it’s not yet 3pm.

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6 responses to “999,999 Solutions

  1. The only issue with streaming of course, is that is is still open to theft. There are dozens of programs that cost very little and will capture whatever sound is presently coming from your computer.

    Capital was awesome. Should have sold millions. Maybe will do one day.

  2. I agree, although Spotify is a great program, it is very open to those who use rip software. Saying that though, it is a great idea and would dramatically reduce pirate music if it was used on a grander scale.

  3. Does anyone actually enjoy streaming music, though? I listen to vinyl and to MP3s but rarely stream anything. Maybe I’m hung-up on the idea of “having” the songs, if only in virtual form.

    The real question for me, though, is: does the format serve the work? Perhaps because of my age, I always think in terms of two sides of vinyl when I make songs and I never think a collection of songs is really finished until it’s properly mastered and cut to vinyl.

    The considerations here are partly sonic but partly ritualistic. The reasons are partly aesthetic but partly generational (I suspect).

  4. You may be right Sam, I always miss having a ‘thing’, be it vinyl or a nicely packaged CD. I think the market will/has entirely split: a small niche market for low volume, high quality ‘artisan product’, then the mass casual market for the music without any need for a physical product. It’s the mass market that needs to be edged towards streaming, rather than downloading.

    Perhaps you don’t do streaming (yet) because you haven’t had access to a user-friendly enough system yet, which is what Spotify has done for us. I’d invite you onto Spotify but I invited Stephen and Jane and it didn’t work in the USA.

  5. I do worry about the effect that a move to streaming would have on the quality of listener engagement with music (and consequently on the quality of music being produced). The Internet is encouraging people to have an increasingly non-committal relationship with music, simply by making it so easy for them to have the sonic and historical data they need to pay lip service to stuff they haven’t really engaged with in any meaningful way. On the other hand, this is probably just the same old shit on a new (virtual) box.

  6. Hi Chris. On a Robyn Hitchcock tip, he pops up in “Rachel Getting Married”. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1084950/ (seriously good film)

    Re: Capital, since when does a record being any good or not have any bearing on it’s success 😉

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