In parts one and two, we’ve described how the music industry has destroyed itself. That’s pretty straightforward; look around and the facts are just sitting there. Acknowledging reality sounds trivial, but we can watch tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars being burned as people try desperately not to, so clearly it’s not as easy as you’d think.

It’s more difficult to build something new than to blow up something old, and those of us on this side of the line have the difficult job. So I really want to hear from you guys. I don’t have all the answers here. I have some ideas, and some experience, but it’s going to take a lot more than just me.

One quick item before I get started, though:

I have a show on Friday! Westercon 65, Seattle Airport Doubletree, Friday, 8pm, Evergreen – the same place as nwcMUSIC’s shows. It’ll also be webcast by @omnisti at (note that’s .tv NOT .com!), live! So come in or tune in! But not both please, that would be confusing and feedbacky. 😀

Okay, back to business.

First, you have to know that there’s no one way to approach this. There never has been, really, but for some decades there was a dominant model. People wrote books about it and everything.

Throw that away. If you’re reading this, the commonality you share is that you don’t get to do that.

You instead must turn some of your creativity and inventiveness to the business side of things. Either that, or have someone on your team who can do that for you, because there isn’t really a career path here yet. There’re the makings of several, but it’s all pioneer all the time now.

Try not to go all Donner Party on your friends.

In many ways, the wilderness is quite freeing – particularly if you have a good BBQ sauce if you can shake your fear of failure. You either need to be or get to be a goddamn research scientist of music career, always trying new ideas. I try to look at it as “get to be,” and opportunity, but since I’m kind of terrible at the business part, I don’t generally succeed. But I’m still sluggin’ away! XD

For many, the hardest problem with this will be overcoming the sunk cost fallacy. It’s a real problem. For others, it’ll be coming up with things to try. For still others, it will be the emotional grinder; this really is a game of failing and being rejected, and that’s hard.

Whatever you try needs to be focused on overcoming the triple-threat of problems:

  1. fan alienation from the music industry
  2. a generalised end of perceived value in paying for recordings, and
  3. something we’ve not talked about as much: the death of bar-and-club touring. We’ll get to that next week.

Were it only that easy

The good news it that the first two problems are overcome the same way. The way to have people give you money for music and recording now is to get them to buy in, rather than just buy.

What’s the difference? To buy in, they need to see themselves as partners in the music’s creation. Minor partners maybe, but partners nonetheless. There has to be a personal connection, or at least the perception of one. They have to be interested in your music, but they also have to be interested in you. They need to be invested in you and/or your art.

This is very different to the old-era “buy” model. Once upon a time, you’d hear something you liked on the radio or at a friend’s house, and you’d buy the recording. That no longer has perceived value, as we talked about in Part II.

But the personal connection – that has worth. Get them interested, get them emotionally involved, share the experience; that gives value. That lets you start to build a base of fans.

How to do that is worthy of its own post, and you’ll get one! But I promised some talk about making money today, and I’m going to hold to that.

So let’s talk recording, and how to make money from it.

In recording, front-loading the money is key.

no, no, no!

If something doesn’t exist yet, it can’t be downloaded, so raise money to record a project before you even start to record. I don’t mean “advances,” either – I mean payment, at least of costs.

Money can come from all sorts of places; IndieGoGo, Kickstarter are examples of crowdsourcing patronage combined with pre-order and unique gifts. They get something first, or different, something not so easily copied, whether physical or not. That makes it of scarcity value again, and worth paying for.

Traditional patronage also works. It’s been important for me. I’ve a few fans who are particularly interested in what I do with music, and they’re interested enough to say, “here, I will help you do this.”

Plus, there are other venues. In Canada, at least, you can get grants from arts councils; I suspect such things will become more, not less, important as a percentage of money, over time. Soundtracks are an option, particularly book soundtracks; commissions never hurt anything either. Just keep rights to perform and record.

However, none of that will fly until you have credibility. You need a track record of being able to do your art, sure, but even more importantly: you need to show the ability to get other artists interested in making your art with you. You need to demonstrate the ability to draw others in on a project.

This gets back to the whole idea of crowdfunding and making your fans part of the process. Bear with me, I promise you this makes sense.

Once upon a time, you could gain a lot of artistic cred in doing it all the parts of your art by yourself. That used to be showing off your talent; being able to do that credibly impressed people. Prince, the 80s superstar, got a lot of attention from other artists and the like by doing his first two albums entirely solo; the general reaction to that was, “…how? You must be a music god.”

This is where I failed on Dick Tracy Must Die. I treated it too much like an art project, doing everything myself, from note one on track one all the way through to package design. It was very much an art-school approach, which makes sense, given that, well, I went to art school.

But I discovered that no longer impresses. If people actually know you actually played all the instruments, you get multi-instrumentalist cred, and other musicians might care, but in general? Not so much.

Try not to react this way

In the previous era, that kind of complete-skills-package alone would’ve been enough to get people to hit play and give you a listen.

Now, it’s not. Not with Garage Band, not with looped music, not with sampling, not with all kinds of other tools lowering the required skill level to make a song. Even if you do it all the old-school way, playing all the instruments, nobody’s going to know that unless they already care.

You still need a lot of DIY to start to succeed; but it’s necessary, not sufficient.

So what impresses now?

What impresses now, what stands out in an ocean of output enabled by technology, is that ability to draw others to your art. There are no gatekeepers anymore, at least not in an absolute sense; that also means there’s no pre-screening.

The resulting flood of art and music means people get far more discriminating about even being willing to try you out. People are far, far less willing to hit PLAY. There’s simply too much; they need some kind of pre-screening.

Seeing that you’ve drawn others to your art is one form of that pre-screening.

This is especially true in music, where there’s a time commitment and often barriers to play. You can glance at fanart for a quarter or half a second to see whether it might be your kind of thing; music, you may need to get headsets (if you’re at work or school), you may have to fiddle with something you aren’t always using (like the screen), you may need to turn other sounds off – all those are barriers keeping peoples’ fingers off that PLAY button.

And that’s where has to start. That’s why nwcMUSIC, the little geekmusic festival I run at Norwescon, has a tagline and a graphic.

press PLAY

Get past that barrier, and you can build from there.

More to come.

This is Part Three of Music in the Post-Scarcity Environment, a series of articles about, well, what it says on the tin. There are no barriers to availability now, and copying is free. What’s a musician to do now?