I tend to listen to a guy like Trent Reznor. You-the-reader may or may not be fond of his band Nine Inch Nails, but you’ve got to give credit to his mastery of the new digital music market.
A post on his personal forum lays out details for breaking into a market that may seem dead or dying to corporate music execs, but if an artist can understand what fans of music want they can still obtain a rewarding and profitable experience from The Biz.
Reznor gets right to the point addressing what the elephant record labels won’t talk about, musicians can no longer make money selling just their album.
The artist and distribution method in question was the Beastie Boys and the relatively new and innovative TopSpin Media. Of course, the Beastie Boys have the advantage of being firmly established with millions of fans and record sales already under their belt. But the message he has is, “give your music away as high-quality DRM-free MP3s [and] collect people's email info in exchange.” To make money, Reznor suggests creating custom hand-crafted premium packages, similar to what both Radiohead and NIN did, with In Rainbows, and Ghosts I-IV, respectively (this is relevant to any independent artist, not just musicians, but cartoonists, writers, etc. as well.)
The music industry is in flux and there is no shortage of theories on what to do about it. Reznor's opinions are clearly on adapting to the market not fighting it. His take on the current market and where creativity should be focused is to, “offer a variety of premium packages for sale and make them limited editions/scarce goods. Base the price and amount available on what you think you can sell. Make the packages special.” Once you’ve established a fan base through building online connections, Reznor believes that it will be easy to reach those who will want to hear about concert dates, new records (which are free) and deluxe vinyls and art.
A distribution platform like TopSpin is viable, but there are others like it. And, for the tech savvy, building a website with everything mentioned above can be done for nearly free with enough time and dedication.
Reznor’s admission that “music is free” whether musicians like it or not, is painfully accurate. It is however, infinitely better to have a curious music fan visit your band's website, download your latest album, and feel like the artist just wants fans to have it. Especially when the alternative is to have that same person download the album off a torrent site, (especially with the likelihood of said person purchasing the album at a big-box record store being essentially nil), and then maybe or maybe not ever buying the album online or otherwise. With such an impersonal approach, the listener is probably not likely to keep track of the artist’s gigs, or even remember the band two weeks later.
I agree with Reznor here, that society has become too accustomed to free media, and the up-and-coming artist is severely disadvantaged. But Reznor is explaining how to play the game. It might be unorthodox, but it also just might work.