Squeezing out sparks fromthe modern music marketplace
Whatever other factors may have contributed to the recent collapse of mail-order distributor Miles of Music, it’s hard not to see it simply as more detritus of the ongoing fireworks display of options for music consumers colorful, exciting, changing almost minute to minute.
For years, Miles of Music advertising was a fixture of the back page of No Depression magazine. Online and in emails, they chronicled thousands of under-the-radar releases, serving as a clearinghouse for musicians and fans who might never otherwise find each other.
Major artists and labels have their own problems these days, and, presumably, also the benefit of the best minds in the business working on them. But what about the rest? The changing dynamics of how music and music information are distributed relegated my crystal ball to the dustbin soon after Napster emerged. Since then, I’ve grown preoccupied with compounding questions about it:
1. What are you doing with all that music? Not that storage hasn’t been a problem for collectors of every format since Edison’s wax-coated cylinders, but never have we been able to store so much music in so little space. Still, I have to keep trimming to keep some free space on my hard drive. Do you actually listen to all of that? And how much more time do you spend these days obsessing over how to catalogue things so you can find them if you want to listen?
2. If you really like that much variety, why own music at all? Half a dozen subscription services offer listening online that you can tailor to your tastes, and you’re not stuck with managing the storage. Some of them even have user reviews to tip you off to new music experiences.
3. Do you now make mix-flash drives to impress your sweetie? How do you decide whether 56k is enough, or if you should go for the full 2 gig? Or how about one of these? I find I’m still sticking to twelve songs as a magic number. How quaint! Which brings me to…
4. Why are people still making “albums”? The nearly half-century-old format of the vinyl LP era continued through our dalliance with CDs, regardless of whether the artist’s idea warranted a album-length quantity of songs. Now, it’s possible, again, to buy only the “good” songs, and at a price equivalent to the 45-rpm singles that preceded the album format. Musicians are among the most creative people in the universe. Here’s a situation crying for a new idea.
5. What will you buy at the merch table? On a tour between albums, Scott H. Biram sold hand-decorated skateboards. Now there’s a concept. Fringe artists count on merch sales to get from town to town, but we get all their music for free or for cheap elsewhere. What are you willing to do to keep them coming to a club near you?
6. Where can I unload a couple thousand CDs? This is a pocketbook issue for me; I used to sell CDs for Christmas money. It’s pretty clear I missed a window of opportunity; nearly every place that used to buy them is closed. You’d think I’d have learned from having gotten stuck with 300-some vinyl LPs that I wound up practically giving away at a yard sale.
7. Why are artists still sending free CDs to industry weasels? For years, even I averaged eleven CDs a week over the transom. That’s dropped to two or three, but I still wonder why. Everyone’s on MySpace; send a link and save the production and postage. Larger labels have begun sending access to album downloads, including complete liner notes. Is there an entrepreneurial opportunity here? Couldn’t someone provide this kind of service to emerging and lesser-known artists?
8. What will we do without Miles of Music? Yeah, there were issues; one veteran artist says he wasn’t alone in having to chase down payment for CDs they sold for him. Still, I counted on the blurbs to direct me to things I might like, and going to MOM was so much easier than trolling individual sites and the blogosphere.
The internet has created a zillion opportunities for obscure artists and potential fans to find each other. But it’s so much harder to find a meaningful point of light in a fireworks display.