MP3s won’t kill the music industry

Courtney Love is right… I’m the last to bring this up, but last month Love said what every other musician is thinking. Every other sane one at least. Wanna know why Aimee Mann started her own label? Well, let’s see. She releases a record, on a major, the world yawns. It happened four times straight, from 1986 to 1996. The labels aren’t willing to play the payola game for her. She releases a record on her own label, and look at that… She’s #33 on Amazon.com. And for the first time since she first picked up a bass guitar 20 years ago and started a band, she’s making money making music.
It’s only a matter of time before the public at large tires of payola radio and the mega-trust record industry. I’m not saying they’ll implode, but they’ll be selling Hanson and Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears records (or more likely, their successors) while the more enduring artists find other means to get their work into the hands of the public. It’s good to see Love isn’t afraid of the MP3 format.

I’ve always thought, if porn stars can make money by putting up web sites peddling all the dirty pictures you can download for 10 bucks a month, why can’t rock stars make money by offering an all-you-can-download buffet of music files for a similar price? Most artists can’t keep up a song-a-month rate, true, but you don’t have to. Peddle demos. Record all of your concerts and release those tracks. Broadcast your live shows over the ‘Net. Hawk t-shirts at a discount. Set up a Shoutcast stream of your catalog, circumventing radio entirely (I seem to recall The Cure set up a pirate radio station in Britain and called it CURE-FM for this purpose–but Shoutcast, unlike pirate radio, is legal). It gives people a chance to hear your stuff before whipping out the credit card, then if they like it, they can subscribe to the site or buy a CD or eight. (I find it humorous that it’s Nullsoft, a subsidiary of AOL, that could contribute to the undoing of the music industry, of which future AOL subsidiary Time Warner is a major, major player).

True fans eat up rarities and live cuts and gladly pay for it. Yes, I’ve forked over $30 for really cruddy-sounding Joy Division live albums. I’ve also bought all their commercially available cruddy-sounding live albums. Along with the albums that sound like they were recorded in the men’s room. And the remastered boxed set that includes the albums and singles and b-sides and demos, which sounds like it was recorded in a regular studio. Everything but the out-of-print John Peel session (I’m still kicking myself for not buying that when I saw it back in 1995–I haven’t seen it since). I’m what you’d call a fanatic. But I’m not the only Joy Division fanatic out there. And Joy Division isn’t the only band with large numbers of crazy fans like me.

Joy Division milked two albums and two singles and three years of existance for a remarkable amount. You’ve probably never heard of them, but the three surviving members and the lead singer’s widow don’t care, because they’re making a lot more money than any other one-hit wonder from 1980 is. Their medium was vinyl, and later, CD. But they have a following because they made themselves available. With MP3, modern bands can make themselves available for a lot less than Joy Division paid to do it, and they can cut out most of the middlemen.

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