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RIFFING ON THE TRADITION #05: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

From the article, “Music for Nothing and the Fans for Free,” that I mentioned last week:

“When the dust finally settles between the artists, labels, and distribution companies, everyone will finally realize fans are more valuable than recorded music.”-- Hany Nada

For musicians, however, the question isn’t whether or not Hany Nada is right about the trend of fan engagement being more important than creating product. We should be more interested in who is stirring up this dust in the first place and why. Read all the way to the bottom of that article and you’ll get your biggest clue.

Nada’s investment capital firm, GGV Capital, has interests in Pandora Media and RootMusic. Pandora is a major player in Internet radio innovations and is not alone in trying to pay as little as possible to license content. BandPages for Facebook are a key element of RootMusic, who just last week introduced a new way to dramatically increase sharing of users' music. (To see how RootMusic’s BandPages are used, check out local artists Galactic, Trombone Shorty, or even yours truly , who started tinkering with it a couple of weeks ago.)

The reason Nada is so confident that the trend for music marketing will become increasingly fan-driven is because he represents an entity heavily invested in the “creative destruction” of product-driven monetization models. By funding the development of outlets by which artists reach their fan base and helping companies who want to distribute music as cheaply as possible (decreasing the viability of royalties), firms like his have the field covered. Furthermore, if he gets his way, that field will explode when it adds millions of potential fans in China.

These are the game changers in action. It seems that they want us to think of playing live gigs not as an end in itself, but rather as a necessary way to expand one’s fan base and attract corporate sponsors or other patrons. Our music? They want to buy it (and buy cheap) to connect our fans to advertising.

All of this pretty much leaves one option: Start paddling out into open water, embrace the tools that can help expand our fan base and surf the “Long Tail.” We can remain competitive if we focus on inviting our closest followers to directly engage our brand.

Am I, personally, "drinking the Kool-Aid?" I don’t know. Presently, like many of my jazz-playing bretheren, I have a less tech-savvy fan base. They fill the modest theaters I play around the world and, after the shows, many of them buy a CD from me. How sustainable is that? Well, I’m prepared to concede that this model won’t last forever, which is why my column is focused more on discussions about diversifying income streams than about the best chord changes to jazz standards by Cole Porter or the best clarinet reeds. ... I’m currently trying to have a more unified Web presence. I’m trying to enjoy FaceBook. People post funny things, sometimes. But, it's wearying, especially knowing that the benefits and ability to profit will continue to be limited by companies who are working so hard to control the channels of distribution on the Internet. ... This may seem strong, but it's meant to: This is "TECHNOLOGICAL SHARECROPPING."

The answer is in the technology. We'll find it. I know it's not for everyone, but to the holdouts who completely refuse to consider the importance of a web strategy that includes a personal website and electronic commerce? That’s cool. I guess; let us know when we can hear you playing for tips on Frenchmen Street.




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