Music business models for internet artists

Samantha Murphy asks on Facebook MyQuestions how can a musician earn a living in the digital age, in conjunction with having just decided that “Free is the way to go” and making all the tracks on her album available for free download.

I’m trying to synthesise this situation facing musical artists with the ideas from Jyri Engestrom back in June. He noticed a change in successful website businesses towards charging the publishers, not the spectators. Photos on Flickr for example, are consumed free of charge by a readership far wider than the photographers. The photographers themselves pay a small premium in order to be allowed to upload a larger number of pictures and organise them. Back to music, currently charges consumers for full access to their own personalised radio station but in some sense they are also publishing their playlists. The movement there is towards encouraging artists and labels to provide free downloads and then perhaps pay to gain higher exposure on the system. Applied to the digital music industry then, the model would appear to be to “charge the uploaders, not the downloaders”.

Vanity publishing

So life would appear to be tough for the artists. Perhaps there is a surfeit of aspiring musicians and it is audience attention which is in short supply? All a bit like the vanity publishing industry for amateur novel writers. Or is it?

Free Prince album

By coincidence, news has just broken that the artist now known again as Prince has struck a deal whereby his new album is given away with a newspaper. This is said to be an arrangement more lucrative than his previous album sold conventionally through the record shops. That doesn’t seem very repeatable, but it’s seen by the music publishing industry as a betrayal. They managed to convince most celebrity artists that defending intellectual property rights is the only way to ensure they can get paid for being creative. In truth, it’s the only way to ensure the intermediates get a disproportionate slice of it, and that is what’s being lamented.

Singer songwriter

Nearly all musical artists who work solo call themselves singer-songwriters these days, and nearly all bands perform their own material. This is probably a distortion caused by the writers royalties being a major factor when choosing material to perform. Probably there are a lot of great singers, many potential songwriters and a few who are great singer songwriters. There could be opportunities for musicians who have mastered the art of digital studio recording to offer to turn songwriters’ material into published tracks for them. Alternatively singers may commission writers to provide materal especially for their performance style. The opportunities for cross covers, remote collaboration, duets and derivative mixes are bursting out of the old model, and who knows where it may lead in the long tail of diverse taste and the needs of so many people to find an outlet for their creativity.


A spokesman for the singer told The Mail on Sunday: “Prince’s only aim is to get music direct to those who want to hear it.

“Prince feels that charts are just music industry constructions and have little or no relevance to fans or even artists today.”

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