The Musicians Are Complaining Again

SXSW Fight Portland

I hate to say it, but every time I have an idea or two about how musicians might be able to embrace the web to further their career, it’s always the musicians themselves who write in with the most negative comments. This suggests to me that there is a distinct lack of ideas amongst musicians on how to provide some extremely useful, brilliant and compelling content that will attract the attention of millions of online music fans. I don’t have an answer for that nor do I pretend to know what that looks like. What I do know, is that I have a forum here that is populated by 100′s of thousands people interested in music who visit every week looking for something new, so I’m always going to use it to provide room for discussion and debate.

The current comments are landing on the post of my SXSW Magazine interview where I discuss ideas about the future of online music. Below is a response from me, to someone who wrote asking me to be more specific about my ideas for musicians and how to embrace the web. I challenge the idea that there can be any specific solution. Asking that of me suggests that the writer doesn’t understand that the web is a don’t-ask-permission-just-do-it arena where we all have access to be the biggest digital sandbox on Earth. Please join the conversation here.

In reply to: morris1948

Let’s start and end with this idea – “Recorded music equals whale blubber. Eventually, something else will replace it.” – Brian Eno.

First, my many years discussing music business issues on panels has had nothing to do with either saying “please hire me” or “I know best.” The panels simply provide a forum for new ideas to be floated or discussed. I also don’t have anything to sell to you if you’re a musician. And I made it clear in this essay Dear Musicians Please Be Brilliant Or Get Out of The Way that after this year’s SXSW I would stop appearing on panels that only discussed musicians and the web, as I am not seeing any progress – particularly from the musicians themselves.

So to your point – you ask me to be a “lot more specific.” In all the time that I have been speaking on panels I have noticed some really bad traits that musicians display. One of them, before the internet spoiled things for them, was to sign up for a conference like SXSW and head out as if all the answers and problems for their careers could be answered by paying a lot of money to sit through a panel or two, and then thrust a tape or a CD into the hands of a panelist. That was a useless and expensive strategy of course, but hardly one that would derail a career.

Currently, the bad trait is to ignore the fact that access to the social web, and the Internet at large, created one of the biggest societal breakthroughs in history. It has produced a huge cultural shift in society. It has been embraced by everyone, young and old alike, and the smart ones (who had no need to be trained in any computer skills BTW,) jumped in, literally, and started to play in this huge, zero-barrier-to-entry sandbox, and began challenging brands and institutions by repurposing, remixing, mangling and mashing the available content and creating new works from others content.

Meanwhile, except for a handful of smart thinkers, musicians either stood on the sidelines or simply put a toe in the water. Deciding the water was too cold they opened up a MySpace account and put their videos on YouTube. And then began complaining that people were stealing their music online.

Other creative young people began to work hard and understand the power of the web’s reach and potential. They found gaps in the matrix that could be filled by Creating Something Useful – so we all got the benefits of Flickr, Napster and YouTube, for instance. Lately we have seen the exponential rise of Facebook, Twitter and FourSquare, companies started by one or two individuals who had an idea that was based around helping people communicate and share online. None of the companies or brands that I mention above either asked permission to start something, nor did they ask people to be “more specific” about how they could be helped in using the web to create these useful tools – they just did it!

To get to your point about me and being more specific, I can only say that if you or any musician out there has to ask me that, then you or they have a deep misunderstanding of how the web works, how music fans are using it and also what is required to get the attention of millions of people who are using the web today.

You already note that there are numerous companies online that profess to help musicians gain attention and/or sell their music, and you already subtly nod to the fact that they really don’t work unless the musicians themselves understand that they are all just tools to be applied to a long term strategy for selling their music.

So here’s a few pointers for musicians using the web – 1. Be brilliant. 2. Provide content of all kind that resonates deeply with your fans. 3. Forget the idea of simply putting out a CD. 4. Make something useful. 5. Don’t ask permission. 6. Have a strategy.

Then read this interview with one of the smartest musicians around, Brian Eno. Here’s an excerpt – “The record age was just a blip. It was a bit like if you had a source of whale blubber in the 1840s and it could be used as fuel. Before gas came along, if you traded in whale blubber, you were the richest man on Earth. Then gas came along and you’d be stuck with your whale blubber. Sorry mate – history’s moving along. Recorded music equals whale blubber. Eventually, something else will replace it.”

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