elusive signature in a sea of the free - part 2

In part 1 of this diatribe I spoke about the changes in the music industry over the past decade and how the switch to accepting digital music changed the way in which everyone with ears and a wallet thought about their record collection. Fans wanted free and were willing to flaunt the law to get it, the record companies had few ideas on how to market such a blanket interconnectivity of consumption, the bands seemed to be the only ones benefiting as they stepped away from the labels and made new connections with fans. 

Eventually the industry as a whole embraced digital downloads and they have now become part of the regular charted system. Many major band now offer free 'tasters' of future albums or have bettered this and left the confines of the label altogether, offering their most loyal fans a more personal approach to the music. And so the face of music was changed for consumers and big market players alike. So where does that leave the struggling small timers, the local and garage bands?

In the past unsigned musicians were constantly confronted with the wall of needing record companies in order to distribute and promote their act even to a nationwide scale. No internet meant that your CD sales and notoriety were all based on the back of the towns you visited as a touring band. Today the internet has a dozen solutions for unsigned bands to promote, distribute and even sell their creations. Sites such as last.fm and soundcloud offer previously out of reach promotional and distribution tools with such ease and fun that a one man act like myself can have music heard globally at the click of an upload button, while bandcamp, topspin and even the mighty itunes will allow anyone to sell music through their globally branded names for a minimal fee. This is coupled with the increasing accessibility and user friendly nature of major music production tools and their subsequent decrease in price means that a bedroom can become a full functioning studio for a fraction of the cost it implied ten years ago.

All this said the tools alone will not make for success, in fact not even talent will incur the expected response for the unsigned artist. Highlighting how easy it is to produce and distribute music on your own steam has only really delivered a slew of musicians all vying for their bite out of the internet apple. When the peer-peer networks began to appear I - naively - believed that if music were to be worth less in monetary terms there would be less call to exploit it and in turn less mass produced, cursory records made with the express intention of seeing big dollar returns. This has not been the case, when the music industry finally caught up with the digital times it did what we all did and accepted mp3 and its pervasive free-ness on the net and adapted accordingly. So when awash in the sea of musicians how can one stand out and gain a fanbase?

This is a question of position and dynamic. There are certain stages to any creative career that come as key points in the shifting dynamic you have with a fanbase. In the early stages it is a near prerequisite that most of your content is free, this seems extreme but being unknown means that you must gain interest from any potential fan, and with people reluctant to place their money in front of long standing acts they trust you can't expect to make any money on your art straight off the bat. This first stage is about proliferation, being seen and getting heard.

Remember, if they like it enough to steal it you are definitely doing something right. 

It seems that the right thing to do, in order to be heard, is to give almost everything away for free, but free monetarily isn't necessarily free of gain. Promotional tools such as tweetforatrack help you give away your music in exchange for a little social network promotion from each downloader. It is, in effect, the modern telephone pyramid. This is a great time for any creative type, you have some minor recognition (that first download seems more meaningful than any that come after) and are still able to create without the subconscious need to please anybody.

After a while (hopefully) the fanbase grows, you reduce your 'free' output in place of holding a few cards closer to the chest. You can gear up to an album release and start to think about placing the metaphorical digital begging cup along side the proposed produce of your labor. The artist is now feeling more like their chosen art (painter/musician/writer) and less like someone who's hobby is lucky to be recognized.

It is far more difficult for these smaller acts to offer you the service and content served up by major bands that have veered away from the grip of label control. They are setting out with the backing of a fanbase which in turn can bolster any necessary monetary outlay to offer bigger and better packages for their fans. By comparison the best your smaller unsigned act can offer is the personal touch which can be just as significant. You may not be able to propose a myriad of buying options for any potential fan but you can offer to sign and message each CD sold over a certain price. This will give your fans a little something worthwhile, for one of the best examples (even though he is not exactly an unknown) Josh Freese offers the most bizarre but personal buying options I have ever seen.

At the time of writing this is where I reside, on the cusp of plucking up the courage to ask for a little monetary gain. It should be noted, as I'm sure it rings true with many artists of all creative bents, at this stage of a prospective and/or hopeful career most of your donated cash, comes with great reward. You see, struggling artists are like a wonderful charity or sponsorship. You get a record or similar artistic service for your outlay. You have that wholesome feeling of genuinely making someone's day or actually helping them achieve. And for the most part your money just gets pumped back into the production of further work. I have always been in favor of supporting creative outputs, not just for the sympathy/empathy vote but because as I have said before your money pays for the continued output of music or art that you enjoy.

You are their patron, their critic, their self esteem and their muse. Please support the artists you respect and enjoy.

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