The Internet and The Jazz Artist

Christopher Burnett By

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By Chris Burnett

It seems that online music distribution has become a viable factor in the 2005 mainstream music industry. Most serious musicians recognize the value of having a website these days. Where many of the jazz musicians I know did not even use a computer very much at all, most are now at least using email to announce their gigs. All of the major record labels have pretty cool websites now that allow streaming of songs, buying downloads, and the purchasing of actual CDs online. Most of the major jazz writers, publications, venues and festivals have websites to promote respective offerings and information. All of these developments are very positive for most all jazz artists across the spectrum - signed or unsigned. And it is somewhat amazing, when you consider the fact that all of this has actually been realized in a relatively short period of time. I recall that it was not too long ago that many of my friends were giving me a hard time about using the Internet to promote my music, services and activities. However, I don't get much ribbing these days about my websites. Most musician friends don't necessarily view it as an unproductive waste of time now, especially when those iTunes Music Store and iPod commercials started airing on network television during some major prime time events quite a while back.


So, when did online music and its digital distribution become so cool with the mainstream cats? Well, I believe that the Internet and World Wide Web have just now actually become viable as a business model, more than anything else. Online music and digital distribution have always been pretty cool - at least in concept. But, the real businesses in our industry were relatively slow to warm to the digital realm. I understand such caution as best I can. However, I would have to say that the last two years have been most significant, because it was around the middle part of 2003 when Apple Computer announced selling 150 million songs over their popular online music store. And according to an article that was published at CNet on October 14, 2004, Apple had sold this amazing number of songs within the first six months that the iTunes Music Store was opened back in April of 2003.

Today, sites like Apple's iTunes, Real Network's Rhapsody, Microsoft, eMusic, and Sony's Connect, have proven that people are buying music using this new technology and patronizing those credible companies. Peer-To-Peer networks of the old Napster model have been replaced by these same legit services, which in effect are their own P2Ps within themselves as well. Online music has come a very long way, in a relatively short time. It is here to stay as a means to market and sell digital musical products and other artist services. The coolest thing is that both, independent and major label artists are still able to participate in this platform for distribution. And just think, as early as the beginning of the millennium, it would have been difficult to visualize the current landscape where online music distribution is concerned.


There are still some music sites out there that are not suited to the serious musician, regardless of genre. However, most of those sites are actual remnants from the days of the old free advertising revenue supported MP3 music sites that basically still have no means to develop or maintain a customer base for the artists. It is also a lot easier for a serious artist to discern legitimate opportunities from the numerous other situations that prey upon the ignorance of most jazz musicians where the Internet is concerned. If you visit any online music distribution website where there is no company information to be found, owner contact information is dubious at best, or it looks like your 12 year old neighbor built it and there are no recognizable mainstream artists in your field on the site - uh, it is probably not a good place for a serious musician to trust with their music. The last sentence sounds like common sense, but hey, there are folks still selling those types of situations to musicians today. And, if there is money involved, the artist won't likely see their fair share.

When I first went online with my music, I mainly wanted to level the field a bit for myself as an independent jazz artist and producer. If I were primarily interested in working as a sideman for other leaders, I wouldn't necessarily even need to own a computer. But, I compose and record my own music, therefore the Internet has helped me significantly. Over time, I soon realized that hooking up with an established major label and having that type of extensive organizational backing was going to be highly unlikely and unrealistic in terms of the type of control that I wanted to have over my own music. Before online music distribution opportunities became viable for serious independent musicians too, I guess I could see some validity to some aspects of the commonly held and various conspiracy theory paradigms that essentially pitted the big record labels against the independent artist communities back then.


Today, I realize more fully (and in much clearer context, I must admit too) that an artist has to handle their own business. Whether signed to a label or not. There must be an organizational type of business plan in application. You've got to cover all of the bases for yourself, or hire someone to perform necessary functions related to your music business as a recording artist and leader. Performing live at quality venues is still the key ingredient to a successful jazz career. The Internet is not a short cut around, or substitute for, playing live as much as possible. Having one's music online at iTunes or your own website is also going to provide marginal effect without qualified promotion of your music. The early deceptions I witnessed of the Internet-only artists achieving great success and earning hundreds of thousands of dollars for amassing downloads has been destroyed with the demise of the old MP3.com site. No careers were ever made among strictly online artists'


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