Monday, July 27th, 2009

Would someone please fix the music business?

Would someone please fix the music business?
Email to a friend Comments (32)

I love music and have paid for it handsomely over the years. I now own some of the same recordings on MP3, CD, cassette, and even LP. These days I find myself in a bit of a dilemma. I want to pay those who make the music, but not the people in between. Unfortunately, the current system doesn’t support that.

Calling Trent, or maybe you…

I’m a pretty busy guy, mostly because of how excited I get about new things. As such, there are only two ways for the following to happen. The first is that someone with industry experience partners with smashLAB on it. (If you know Trent Reznor, ask him to contact me. From his talk on Digg Dialogg I think he’d like this whole idea.) Alternately, you’ll have to do it. The fact is, I’d like to see this happen, even if I’m not involved, so, I’ll lay my idea out on the table.

When we look at the options available for accessing music, two are most clear. The first is to pay for it through a service like iTunes. Although many will argue with me, I find this to be a cumbersome process. I’m still pissed about the Twilight Singers album I paid CD price for there, but still can’t make play through Windows Media Player. I don’t want to “authorize” it for iTunes, or dink-around to listen to the music I already paid for. A process that should be slippery-smooth invariably leaves me cursing at the delivery device. I understand DRM has been removed now, and there’s an option to download in MP3 format, but my first experience keeps me from wanting to try again.

The second option is to steal it, which — let’s be straight here — doesn’t really feel like stealing. Whether the recording industry agrees or not, the moral imperative they place on legally accessing music is almost comical given their legacy of price-fixing. The truth is that they abused their power when it was a closed system. As an open one, they no longer hold the power. In ways, their past behavior almost validates that of downloaders who collect vast libraries of music without paying a cent. If the music industry feels okay stealing from listeners, why shouldn’t the opposite hold true?

The problem with this, however, is that the people who should actually get paid are instead screwed. This is a shame. While few of us care about the recording industry, no music lover wants to steal from the artists.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Bigger than my frustrations with the bloated iTunes application is the distribution of revenue. Put succinctly: my money currently goes to assholes I don’t care about. David Byrne’s 2007 article in Wired titled “Survival Strategies for Emerging Artists — and Megastars” discusses this issue, as well as many others surrounding today’s music business. The article is getting a little long in the tooth, but it’s still relevant and worth a read. In it he breaks-down how revenues are distributed today: a $9.99 iTunes purchase gives 56% to the label, 30% to iTunes, and a paltry 14% to the artist.

That’s right, for my iTunes purchase, Greg Dulli gets $1.40, while Apple gets $3.00 and Columbia gets $5.59. There was a time when this kind of a breakdown would have made perfect sense. The cost of getting that album produced was simply much higher than it is now, but, even then the wrong people walked away with the loot. For example, in his book “Losing My Virginity”, Richard Branson discusses how Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells funded a lot of other, less profitable, pursuits at Virgin.

Call me crazy, but I think this is completely backwards. Given the ease of getting music for free, purchasers of music should have more say in how their monies are distributed. Ultimately, today’s music purchasers aren’t so much buying those files as they are playing the role of benefactors to musicians. As such, this money should go to the artist, not the companies or technology-creators in between. I want as much of my purchase as possible going to the people who actually make the music. The people in between deserve to get paid, but not nearly as excessively as we currently see.

I started out as a painter and am friends with a few artists. I therefore feel I can safely say that it’s rare for such people to live opulent lives. Sure, there are the Top 40 acts that prosper, buying gold-plated Ferraris and that sort of thing; nevertheless, most artists just want to make a reasonable living from their work. This is what I keep coming back to: how do we get the music “business” out of the way, so that artists can be paid fairly and concentrate on what they do best?

A sensible system for those who matter

A lot of people claim that the music industry is slow to react due to a lack of awareness regarding the changes at hand. I’d be more inclined to think that they’re simply milking the cow for as long as they can. Sure, you and I may download music without paying, but our parents are still more likely to just pick-up a CD at BestBuy given the ease in doing so. For many, it’s just easier to pay $12 and walk away with something, instead of having to decipher the workings of something like BitTorrent. As a result, the music industry is likely wise to stay the course until the udders run dry.

My argument though, is that none of this really works for anyone aside from the intermediaries. The music industry has little desire to innovate, as doing so will only compromise profit. “Mom and dad” are still buying CDs at bloated prices and iTunes buyers are kind of being extorted by the proprietary nature of Apple’s hardware and infrastructure. Meanwhile, many BitTorrent downloaders are feeling guilty for stealing from their favorite artists to avoid paying these intermediaries. Surely, there must be a better way?

Cyndi’s song was close, but not quite accurate. Money doesn’t change everything, the web does. Through it, we can almost entirely push out those greedy middle-men, and connect artists with their fans. Frankly, those are the only two groups that should matter in this relationship anyway. The others are parasites that create little more than toll-booths. The tricky part here is that someone still needs to facilitate that exchange. The music industry certainly won’t, and my suspicion is that few artists have the wherewithal to make it happen; so, we find ourselves in need of an independent body that can bridge the gap.

What it looks like

My proposal is for a company to create a fair service. Instead of looking solely at profit, such a group would have to be in it for the artists and their music first. There would still need to be a fair profit earned by the company, but that should be all; otherwise, we’d simply be trading one parasite for another. A moral contract would have to be entered by the company that created this solution, in which it wouldn’t unduly profiteer from the efforts of the people with the actual talent.

Many tools exist for artists to connect with their audiences, but I suggest that these are still too scattered and time-consuming for many to use. I ask whether we could create a simple conduit that concentrated on two things: Providing artists the tools to manage the electronic distribution of their music, and giving music buyers an easy way to support the artists whose work they appreciate. Meawnhile, why can’t a Lulu like approach be applied to music? You want to get it in CD form? Fine, we burn a disc on demand for a few bucks and ship it to you.

My vision for this is a set of tools that could be licensed to artists or traded for a small commission on sales. This would allow the price paid for a track to be much lower than it is now, with the artists still taking home more than their current cut. I don’t know what the costs of such an operation would be; however, I suspect small percentage of sales would cover those costs and return a reasonable profit, given that most of the actual marketing would be handled by the artists themselves.

This company would afford the systems with which artists could upload and sell music and merchandise. Artists would set their own prices for their tracks; just like in the Apple allows with software in the App Store. Some might price tracks at ten cents a piece, just to encourage people to give them a try, those with greater followings might ask for more, or allow users to pay what they want. This might be in the form of a “try now, pay later” system, making it easy for listeners to sample some music and determine if they like it enough to pony-up. Meanwhile, I like the idea that fans could just donate to the band. I, for example, really like Blue Rodeo and would like to send them $20 for some of the songs I’ve downloaded in ways that I probably shouldn’t have. If I had an easy way to do so, I certainly would.

At the same time, such a system could be built with a basic content management system and set of tools tailored specifically for artists. This would allow them to work with independent designers of their choosing to craft the look and feel of their online presence. Perhaps it would have an API allowing them to also partner with developers and build tools with added functionality as might suit their needs. (They might then license these to other interested musicians.) I believe the tools provided would likely become transparent to the user. The concentration here would be on the band, not some cumbersome software gumming up the works.

This is just the beginning

Given that a system like this would be built for a very specific clientele, I imagine that all kinds of other tools could be integrated. Perhaps they’d allow fans to watch videos, buy tiered-offerings of their releases, integrate email management systems, have access to advanced analytics, and tie into social networks facilitating easier spreading of catchy new songs. Maybe it would feature its own marketplace allowing users to easily discover similar offerings from new artists. I could likely go on for some time here, but I suspect that my general point is clear enough: get the middle-man out of the way so that musicians and appreciators can readily interact. That’s it.

Some might argue that such a system is already in the works in a site like MySpace, but unfortunately, MySpace sucks. Sure, they’re well positioned to do something like this but they’re moving in too many directions. This needs to be a ground-up solution centered on the artists. I get the feeling that I’ll receive a few comments regarding systems that do what I’m suggesting here. I eagerly wait for such services to be brought to my attention, and, I’d love to connect with these people. If someone’s doing this and a music-lover like me doesn’t know, we really need to work together on marketing their service better.

Music industry folks might feel somewhat threatened by what I’m proposing here, but they need not be. There’s plenty of room for promoters, marketers, representation, management, design, and all the associated services that musicians might benefit from. The thing is though, there are plenty of people capable of doing such things, and I challenge you to explain why 86% of the take needs to be carved out for such services unilaterally. Plus, once this system is built, more jobs will become available. The current music industry model is a throwback to the days of blockbuster hits and Top 40 radio. These may persist but are largely irrelevant given the digital world we live in; meanwhile, they always got in the way of less commercially-viable acts that just made great music. Instead of a great profit made in managing a few, I suggest a reasonable profit may be earned by supporting the many in need of such assistance.

Perhaps this system is where all of this is brought together. As a young band, you’d log into SuperMusicCo (or whatever it’s called), create an account, upload your songs, and set your prices. Meanwhile, you’d have access to a vast database of people who concentrate on specific aspects of the industry and are ready to help you out. You’d determine the deal you wanted to make, and hire them as it suited you. Such a system would be predicated on the notion of peers working together, instead of a paternalistic pimp of sorts, divvying out small cuts while using your revenues to fund his other interests.

Pick-up the phone Trent… Call me…

My suspicion is that this whole thing is in the works, or already exists, even if those of us at smashLAB have nothing to do with it. Meanwhile, those in the music industry will continue to truck along happily until this system supplants them from their rather comfortable chairs.

So, if you choose to take on the project, I wish you the best. I’d love to see this thing come to fruition. In the meanwhile, if you’re Trent, I’m sitting right beside the phone. Seriously, let’s do this.  ;-)

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Comments & Trackbacks

  1. jon b says:

    actually i really like the idea of sending money directly to the artist, in payment for music that may have been, well, dl'd on the dl.

    seems kind of counter-corporate-culture and pro-community.

    and selfishly, i would love to one day check my bank statement and see that kim gordon had cashed a personal check of mine.

  2. Zinni says:

    If I am correct, I think Lulu does actually offer a CD burn on demand option complete with packaging or the option of a digital download. As far as paying upfront for the content check out it is allowing artists to do exactly that. Fans can pay the artists to fund their projects ahead of time, it is a very interesting model that promotes creativity.

    I think a lot of the piece are already in place online, however no one has really brought them together to really create that one killer app that will dethrone the music giants. I think you have a great idea here, and I am sure tons of artists would love the ability to do what you are proposing.

  3. Travis Fleck says:

    Check out Bandcamp

    This is essentially what you are talking about. Doesn't quite have some of the features you've mentioned but does the basics VERY well.

  4. Josh says:

    @Jon B
    I'm sure Kim Gordon has already cashed a check of yours...and my own.

    Though I think the subject matter is not as fresh as it once was, we definitely need more people talking about it Eric. Honestly, I'm pretty disappointed with most of the music services out there.

    I never want to listen to Pandora or Imeem was cool for a while, but its so riddled with advertising and promotional efforts for stupid crap like Fabolous and Lady Gaga nonsense I've given up on it as well.

    Myspace = fail, but its the go to space still is an awesome set of tools and interface, but it doesn't exactly focus on music (which is okay).

    I like Hype Machine ( for finding out what people are talking about on a diversity of blogs as related to new music. Great place to go find and listen to a song a buddy told you about in passing.

    The closest site to your vision is probably Muxtape, which is now in a second mode of operation.

    This is probably the closest, grassroots level site out there. I'm interested to see where they go, but they aren't moving too fast with it. It's been over a year since they voluntarily shut down, due to infringement issues.

    There is a bunch of other places on the net as well, but they are mostly faux in intent and execution.

  5. JPK says:

    Have you ever considered ? It still has to develop, but it's already very community driven. And the good thing is that the fans (Believers they are called at Sellaband) are also the middlemen, because they get a cut of the net profit. I think it's a great way to discover new music and to help artists make their dream come true.

  6. Seems like some interesting things are bubbling out there, but most of the ones suggested so far don't look like they're really that mature yet. (IMHO Bandcamp looks like it's headed in the right direction though.)

  7. yo_daniel says:

    There are some nice sentiments here, but it's a surprisingly naive article to be honest, summed up by this statement: "most of the actual marketing would be handled by the artists themselves".

    Record companies often make the mistake of skewing their marketing staff in favour of 'people who love music', when what they actually need is 'people who are good at marketing and who also like music, maybe even love it, but first and foremost are good at marketing'. With a few honourable exceptions, whenever artists get involved in marketing things go way badly wrong, I promise.

    Oh, and I always wheel this argument out when defending the industry (a fairly thankless pastime, as I will probably discover once more!): all the costs that major labels used to spend physical distribution haven't disappeared, they've just moved into other areas. Before, a 10 track album CD had a set royalty and publishing breakdown, so that for every album sold, a fixed % goes to each songwriter, producer, the label, the retailer, VAT, and so on.
    Now, since the album has been unbundled and people can buy individual tracks, each track has to have its own royalty breakdown, which is probably different to the other 9, because of a variety of writers/ producers/ guests appearing on each one. All do-able and not the end of the world, but suddenly the number of transactions that needs processing has gone up hugely, which means much better IT systems are required, and probably more staff to administer them.
    Then, you have all the fixed costs involved in delivering tracks to digital retailers, which again involve fairly complex systems (when you're delivering worldwide, with different rights in the different territories, and different release dates; there's a lot of metadata involved) and a bunch of people to manage all of that.

    Anyway (even I've forgotten where I started now)- the idea that you could just pay the artist and cut out the despicable middlemen is a lovely one, and if the artist never has ambitions above selling a few thousand records, probably achievable. But it can't scale without something that looks a lot like a record label, and the majority of bands just don't have access to the skills they need to promote themselves effectively.

    And, somewhat ironically, unbundling the album makes it much harder for the artist as well, because they have to write 10 good songs worthy of purchase, rather than the 2 or 3 that they could previously sell a record off...
    [clearly I wouldn't argue for rebundling the album. As a user, I much prefer the option to buy just the good tracks].

  8. Do you really think so Daniel?

    A large part of my work revolves around marketing, and I'd still argue the exact opposite of what you've suggested. My feeling is that marketing help can be brought in as needed, but that the best marketers are the people who actually make the stuff. Plus, I think you're perhaps overlooking the importance of social media and authentic communication.

    When a PR firm contacts me, asking for coverage for a client, I don’t want to even talk to them. I don't want to be "sold" by some flack. On the other hand, knowing that the guy from Reverie Sound Revue mailed out my package by hand makes me feel like they're real people. I want to write about them, because there isn't a phony layer of marketing people sandwiched between us.

    Marketers are clearly important, but they can be brought in “on-demand”. That being said, the relationship that forms between artist and audience is more lasting, powerful, and hard to fake, because it's not manufactured. Case-in-point: The Grateful Dead. Without the web, before MTV, they created a cult-like fan-base that persists. Your position seems to imply that marketing isn’t a learnable skill. I suggest it’s just like desktop publishing. These folks won’t all turn into marketing experts, but they may very well learn enough to make connections that marketers can’t. (Plus, most of these artists wouldn’t ever get such support anyway.)

    In spots like this I like to think of Gary Vaynerchuk. He doesn’t have a background in marketing, branding or advertising; nevertheless, he’s probably more effective at selling what he does than most full-time marketers. There are a lot of talented people out there. They just have to learn enough about the tools to get the job done. Then of course, I’m getting carried away. If you want to read more on these thoughts, order a copy of the book: (BTW--that's not going through a traditional publisher either, which may be a mistake on my part. Nevertheless, it’s a bet I’m willing to make.)

    As for the “few thousand records” notion you present, I ask: why is that such a bad thing? I'd rather see a scenario in which a greater number of people made a reasonable living from there work, than a select few becoming mega-stars. It's healthier for most, and gives us more good music options to choose from. I like Kevin Kelly's perspective on this one:

    Then of course, perhaps I’m being naïve. ;-)

  9. Brad K. says:

    Eric, how about a simple Gnu-type license, that the band /musician could sell from their web site, that would apply to a song that you got somewhere else. A simple PayPal button for the song, to accept a (minimum) donation or set fee for the music. That lets you accumulate an ownership trail for any music you feel iffy about.

    This also opens the musician up to a sales model, of throwing the music out, and worrying about remuneration as a separate action. The plus side is the musician doesn't have to worry about making sales, or publishing themselves. The down side is they surrender control of distribution and quality of the music. But if a certification method could validate the license they issue, that should certainly protect your conscience, as well as defend against RIAA lawyers.

  10. David O. says:

    I sell royalty free music directly to the end user, but it is still very hard to make a profit. Unless you can make incredible compelling music that everyone can't stop talking about and sharing with others you will need another kind of exposure. The major labels and indie labels under major labels have a lock on the most lucrative type of exposure. The radio, tv, popular internet sites, all cater to the gate keepers, the middle men. Like Brad K. mention, a simple paypal button can be enough, there are sites like bandzoogle and cd baby that DIY( do it yourself) musicians can use. But if you build it people won't necessarily come. There is no convenient DIY yourself method for getting on the radio, getting on TV. Even the big internet radio sites wants unsigned artist to pay to be played. That 86% pays for exposure, production and store distribution that most DIY artist will never have access to. So if you really want to support Blue Rodeo financially respect their business decision to sign with a major.
    Even Trent Reznor was signed to a major once.

  11. David O. says:

    Also want to add: yes the records labels could make music more accessible and current DRM was and still is a bad idea

  12. Hans Saefkow says:

    Eric -In thinking on this further, there are a number of services you didn't mention that record/management companies provide to artists so and in many ways I'm inclined to agree with Daniel that if you take a closer look, it's not as simple as cutting out the middle man.I've worked at the live venue end of the process with many solo artists and groups and I don't know how many times I've received an out of date or or over-photocopied stage plot, just because the musicians just couldn't find the right plot to send me... And I certainly haven't heard of many musicians who have the time/energy/skills to do ticketing and promotion, merchandising etc. and on and on it goes. Now, in an age when the revenue from live performance and merch is more and more important as record sales drop, perhaps an argument can be made that it may not be stamping CD's that holds the value for the artist, but the rest of the services that management provides.
    To be honest, you can't beat a call from a competent, organized road manager or agent, rather than a tired, disorganized musician, who has too much to think about as it is.

  13. Jason Cooper says:

    Oh and another thing, check out

    I'm sure you'll find it interesting.


  14. yo_daniel says:

    Hey Eric.

    I agree, most press releases, and many of the people who write them, are dreadful in terms of being good at actual communication with actual people. And for sure, when bands do direct communication well, it's much better. I've still got a flexidisc that a band called A House sent me as a Christmas gift in 1993ish, and that simple & (fairly) inexpensive excercise locked me in as a fan for at least the next 2 albums.

    But in my experience, it's really sadly rare to find artists who are good at that.

    Whenever we've put effort into doing fan communication really, seriously, well, it's almost always worked. For the first 9 months of Kasabian's career at BMG, they had little mainstream media coverage, but we were very diligent about all our activity around the fanbase: adding 20 people here, 50 there, treating them all well, responding individually to inbound communications etc. When we got to 4000 people, and they almost all bought a single, it charted in the top 20 in the UK, and suddenly radio stations and TV knee-jerked into playlisting the band. 3 albums and a few million sales later, they don't need the same kind of assistance, but hopefully we still treat the fanbase with respect.

    The only problem was that that took a couple of us working almost exclusively on 1 band for 9 months. It's pretty hard to do another 20 bands like that.

    Also I agree that the end-goal doesn't have to be selling more than a few thousand records; if that's enough for an artist to subsist on, and they enjoy their lifestyle, then there's no problem with that at all. I guess that's a parameter that working at a label inevitably forces into your mindset!

    So in summary: I agree with the sentiments, and I imagine I would agree with much of Speak Human too, and we would benefit from implementing that type of strategy across as many band as we can (we've just bought into a user management system which *should* allow us to scale this sort of thing).

    Finding enough good people to work with all the artists is a tall order, though.


  15. Hi Eric - How's this for a timely hometown alternative - "ripped from the headlines" of this morning's Vancouver Sun - Terry McBride of Nettwork Launches New Model for Recording Industry in a digital age: The band as a startup.

  16. Josh says:


    I have appreciation for what people do at record companies as I'm sure most of the bands I've ever listened to wouldn't have come across my ears if not for some hard work on your part.

    Though lately, my exposure is mostly through blogs. If its on the radio I almost immediately dismiss it, outside of that which I learned about through friends, etc. I mean, it took The End in Seattle, almost 6 months to catch on to MGMT and M.I.A after most of the people I knew were already on board. Yet, they'll play some tripe by the Wombats that name drops Joy Division to kids who have no clue who the band or JD is.

    Take for example, Bon Iver. He's actually a friend of a friend and this friend told me I should check it out while seeing a show in MPLS. The second I heard it I knew it was golden. I saw it being used on Grey's Anatomy and House. I knew it had vision, passion and something fans could connect with. And alot of this took place before the record was re-released by Jagjaguwar and they really got big.

    Great music stands out. If you're a musician and you know you've got something great, send samples to any and all music blogs you think would give you the time. That's their job break new music. Though don't over do it. I guarantee most will listen once and if they like it, they will totally give you press to probably a small, but potentially influential audience. (See Bon Iver. broke out by way of blogs)

    Just as I'd give advice to my artists friends. Make your work, then promote the frak out of it. That is what is gonna get you sales, not just your work sitting on an easel somewhere.

  17. Robert M says:

    Sounds like CDbaby to me. They pay artists 75% of the sale, and prices are set by artists. They can also distribute music out to iTunes and Amazon (though in those cases the prices are set by Apple and Amazon respectively). When you sell via a distribution partner, CDbaby takes just 9% of the sale. They even offer artists a handheld credit card swiper for super-cheap, though they take 9% of those transactions too.

    (Also, at the risk of being pedantic, Apple still doesn't offer mp3s and likely never will; they now offer unencrypted AACs.)

  18. Calvin says:

    Agree a bit on the naivete. This is clearly a good idea, and you even noted that it's probably been thought up or in the works. The execution and the battle against the current industry are the obstacles. Trent Reznor doesn't need this idea, he needs an action plan.

  19. Darren says:

    My money is on iTunes Music Store - I think they're where you, and the rest of the planet will be buying your music 10 years from now.

    Don't like the iTunes player? Download the AAC codec (free) and play your files with Windows Media Player:

    Are you a struggling artist and you want to get the word out? TuneCore allows you to easily post your music on iTunes for not much money. Oh, and 100% of the royalties go to you:

    I was no fan of iTMS back in the DRM days, but now that it's DRM free I've accepted that it is likely to be the winner in the digital music wars and have made my purchases accordingly.


  20. Stuart says:

    There's actually a pretty insightful article in the most recent WIRED (I picked up the British edition; I'm not sure if the article made it into the North American one?) about the economy of "free" and how the internet is revolutionizing, one step at a time, how we think about purchasing products, software, music, etc. It's an excerpt from Chris Anderson's new book FREE, and he's basically saying that most music listeners will end up buying the music they love legitimately anyway, even if they did download that illegally. Moreover, where much of the money comes in is via increased exposure and therefore higher audiences at concerts, more merchandise sales, etc, now that more people know who a band might be. I don't know where exactly this ties into your post, but it covers much of the same topics, with other examples from Brazil, etc in there as well.

  21. Matt says:

    Yeah, check out

    I use it for my band. Tunecore doesn't take any of your royalties. However, the actual services do take a piece. I believe we get about $0.75 on the sale of $0.99 track from itunes. Each online retailer is different. Tunecore does charge you a yearly storage fee of about $30 an album. It's the best solution I've found. Now for a plug, check out my bands on itunes if you like :)

  22. Hey Eric - great post! I think the music industry it just the tip of the iceberg though. There are so many new ways to change/enhance our world with the emergence of the Internet and technology.

    @yo_daniel: I agree that musicians are not marketers, and never will be, but I think you are missing the point. Using the internet as a medium for exchange and a powerful set of tools to connect the right minds (as Eric has mentioned), I think that bands can hurdle the dated and unnecessary process of signing with a record label. NIN gave away their album for free on their website, only charging for 'special-edition' packages, and they hit their target.

    Of course, not everyone is as popular as Trent, but at least the possibility is there to do so.

    Anyways, I love the ideas you present in your blog and the responses from everyone. A website that I like to casually listen to (and occasionally download from *legally*) is:

    Keep it coming!

  23. Greg says:

    Great post and direct-to-fan marketing is most certainly the future of the music business; and ultimately best for artists.

    Topspin Media ( has a platform that facilitates a bunch of what you lay out.

  24. Karl says:

    I can't believe it took so many posts for someone to mention Topspin. Peter Gotcher (former CEO of Digidesign who led the creation of Pro Tools), Ian Rogers (former Yahoo! Music GM), and Shamal Ranasinghe (former MusicMatch product strategy executive), have been working on such a platform for 2 years now.

    Their intention is to bring “record label administration” into the grasp of the average artist, just as Pro Tools brought the “professional recording studio” into any space equipped with a computer.

    I think you'll find this presentation quite refreshing.

  25. Matt says:

    I checked out TopSpin and it looks cool. Only problem is it only seems to be for artists that are some what established. I'm still looking for a good tool for bands that are unknown and don't have a huge network setup. However, they have the drive to do so.

  26. Karl says:

    From my understanding Topspin is still in the process of rolling out their services and really only have the resources to work with a select group of artists. Long term they will use their data mining as a tool to cross promote artists, so their service platform will get more potent as more artists use their service. Their revenue model is intended to work off the longtail - the middleclass of artists. First things first.

  27. Mary M says:

    Check out

    It was started by former musicians who also believe the musicians should get the money. Bands buy cards for cheap with download codes on the back. The bands then sell the cards for whatever they feel their music is worth. Cash goes straight to their pocket. (That's the really short version. The website has more detail.) Also, cards make cool momentos for shows or your favorite bands.

    Very worth checking out. More popular bands are starting to pop up on the site. They have some other cool features and bright ideas in the works. Keep an eye out for it!

  28. Ana says:

    A lot of the aforementioned services are great but I'd like to add one more:

    Essentially Audiolife offers artists a platform to sell all their physical/digital CDs, ringtones, merch, etc for NO upfront costs. They simply sign up, create products to place in their store (a widget) and then embed the widget anywhere and everywhere they can to sell on-demand and directly to their fans. Audiolife only takes a small cut when a sale is made. This allows artists to get as creative as they'd like with their products and make it as custom or standard as possible.

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  30. B1G says:
  31. I'll just stick with my indie artist friends who produce their own cds. At least I know where the money goes when I pay them.

  32. amy says:

    this was a fantastic read . thanks, eric!

    i have to reiterate what a few folks have said about bandcamp : it's revolutionizing how us artists can remove the middle man and sell directly to fans .

    it's the best artist-to-fan platform out there in terms of ease of use : bandcamp's aesthetic is clean & minimal (what a breath of fresh air after the muddled disaster of myspace!) & gives artist has complete control over all design elements .

    and here's the most stellar part : the artist sets their own prices and fan purchases are instantly deposited into the artist's paypal account .

    as far as artist earnings go : i used topspin in the past, but found that with their 'fees' they were taking approx. 26% of my sales . whereas bandcamp takes 15% to start with, then lowers that percentage when you reach a certain amount in sales (an achievable number, in my opinion ) .

    i hope more artists will discover it and jump on board!

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