Trent Reznor gave an interesting interview over at the Herald Sun. In it he states, “It’s a very odd time to be a musician on a major label, because there’s so much resentment towards the record industry that it’s hard to position yourself in a place with the fans where you don’t look like a greedy asshole.”
He goes on to say, “I’ve have one record left that I owe a major
label, then I will never be seen in a situation like this again. If I
could do what I want right now, I would put out my next album, you
could download it from my site at as high a bit-rate as you want, pay
$4 through PayPal.”
This interview exposes the crux of the problem that exists between
artists, publishers, and fans. Whether you are a musician, an author,
or a painter, there is an underlying problem that has yet to be
solved. Let me illustrate it with my own personal experience.
I wrote a book a few years ago. I thought it to be a fun book, and
shared it with anybody who expressed an interest. I probably gave away
20-30 electronic copies, and one printed copy. As far as I know, the
printed copy was the only read—and that was because I gave it to dear
ol’ mom. Most folks, when finding out I had a book to give away,
Fast forward 18 months. My book was accepted by a publisher and was
now in stores. The only changes that were made to the manuscript I had
been handing out were a few spelling and punctuation errors. The same
people who I had given free copies to were now paying $15 to buy the
book. Suddenly there was an interest in my book, not because the
content had changed, but because a publisher thought enough of my story
to invest $50,000 in bringing it to the public. I had been
‘validated’. The fact that they were interested in it gave the book
value. A value it didn’t have before.
There are millions of people who are making music, writing books, or
painting pictures. How do we tell what is good? We could review all
the material and decide for ourselves, but most of us have jobs. We
don’t have time. The publishing industry does that job for us, and
expects to be compensated for it. They are our filters (and not very
good ones, but we’ll save that for another post).
The publishers and labels perform a second and equally vital
service—that of distribution and marketing. I gave my book away to
anybody who wanted it, but without marketing nobody wanted it
(marketing is all about convincing you that you have a need). And
without distribution, there was no way for me to get it to the people
who might enjoy it.
Trent Renzor will be able to sell his music for $4 on PayPal, but
only because he has been validated, first by a record label, and then
by his fans. But equally talented musicians and artists don’t have the
luxury of being validated. They can’t get $4 an album. For the most
part they can’t even get folks to listen in the first place, even when
they give their music away.
So to recap—the problem is that under the current model publishers
and record labels are a necessary evil. We can’t do without them. But
we resent them because most of our money goes to them, and not the
The solution? Unfortunately this little problem hasn’t been solved
yet. And you can bet that the publishers and labels will violently
oppose ANY action that begins to encroach on their turf (remember back
in 2005 when Google tried to scan books?)
There needs to be a way for artists who have material, and consumers
who would find that material enjoyable, to get together. If you’re an
artist, and I like your work, I’m willing to pay for it. I’m not
willing to pay $20 to a corporation that then gives you a few
quarters. But I am willing to pay you.
So… Somebody solve this problem already. We’ve already seen
success in other areas. Look at digg and reddit. Thousands of
stories are submitted to these sites, and most users only see the best
of the best. There are certainly problems with this method but we’re moving in the right direction.
We’ll all be better off for it, with the exception of the RIAA. And
at this point, not too many tears will be shed over that love lost.