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.
MUSIC NOW AVAILABLE AT
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.
STILL NO SHORT CUTS
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'
I simply see that appropriate distinctions are once again drawn - between the serious artist using the Internet as a supplemental marketing tool; and, the hobbyist musician who is mostly interested in simply having their songs up on the web to get feedback. Is this a good thing? The musician in me thinks so, but you never know with the Internet, consumer demographic trends and advances in music delivery technology though. Having exclusive quality controlled sites like iTunes, sure makes things easier for the serious artists to present their work to the online public; and, it is more considerate to serious jazz fans online toward finding established artists and discovering new artists. But, someone simply putting your music into digital distribution without promotion is almost another exercise in futility, due to the enormous amount of music on those sites. Your music may be on iTunes, but who is telling others about it besides you?
THE NEW CREDIBILITY FACTOR
If there is something to watch out for as a serious recording artist with music online these days, I would say it would be the digital distribution deals offered to independent artists. Since this is the "hot ticket" now in online music distribution, it must also be considered that there are likely to be a lot of companies springing up all over the web, who promise to put your music on iTunes, give you free barcodes, etc. Such angles of exploitation have always been with us and never seem to end on the Internet, so watch out. Try to ensure that your digital distributor provides you with a detailed accounting of your earnings, along with a listing of all of the music stores and services where they have placed your music. This is often a difficult proposition with the independent web-based defacto labels who provide this service. Nothing against any of these guys, just good business sense from the musician perspective.
And, such credibility monitoring can be done in a couple of hours during one month. You can do it yourself - if you are willing to do a periodic online search for your music using the master list of companies where your music is supposed to be distributed to. Being registered with a Performing Rights Organization (PRO) like BMI, ASCAP, SESAC, etc. also helps ensure that you will receive your due royalty payments as well. And there is a new PRO based out of Washington DC that now tracks plays if you ever recorded anything that even may have been played on Internet Radio, XM, Sirius, Music Choice, DMX, Muzak or any of the non-terrestrial means of music delivery, you absolutely should go register at SoundExchange.com - it's free...
Do the old style free MP3 sites have a purpose? Yes, those types of artist communities actually fill an existing need for some musicians and also serve a marginal purpose for marketing samples of one's work to another segment of the online community. Mainstream online super stores versus tiny independent MP3 sites - are choices that each person must make on their own. I still think that both types of situations are cool, depending upon one's own goals and purposes. However, the delusions of being marginally engaged in an active performing career and still appearing to succeed in the professional arena of music have been hopefully exposed forever for what they are - delusional and online fantasy. There are no short cuts to making a living by creating one's art as a musician. The Internet has helped independent jazz artists like me, but it has not substituted for the work in the real world that I must do each and every day as an artist and composer.
IT IS ALL GOOD
A positive thing happened in online music distribution when experienced businesses such as Apple Computer, along with the major record labels, began to take the Internet seriously. By doing so, these entities brought legitimate business experience and adequate funding to support their online ventures that had been sorely missing. Such established industry and business firms also brought with them, a much needed music consumer confidence. This factor alone has benefited just about every one of us who is directly or indirectly involved in most any aspect of the online music scene. In effect of the major corporations marketing online music, my independent music has benefited as well. More people know that music is available online today, and they are displaying more confidence in doing transactions over the Internet as well.
My website is serving the purpose for which it was developed. However, I don't spend much time online these days because I am more busy doing work away from the web now. And besides, there are still only a few viable jazz places online in the context that I see things now. Visiting the few sites of today does not take as long as managing my affairs at the numerous MP3 sites once did back in the day. So, I am able to spend most of my time now preparing things for what I do offline as a musician. Speaking of which... I got to go practice'
FURTHER INFORMATION AND POSSIBLE RESOURCES: See the links here at AllAboutJazz.com for numerous resources related to this particular musing. Thanks for reading this article. I am actually quite busy with offline activities as of late - a good thing for a musician. I will write again when I have the time and a musing comes along. Peace, Cb