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File Sharing Marks A Great Era For Musicians And Their Fans

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When Napster hit the scene a decade ago, most musicians, whether independent or major, instinctively joined the record labels in lashing out against file sharing. They claimed that downloading songs for free was like taking money directly out of their pockets. The big boys, many of whom own their own label, remained steadfast, but others began to see file sharing for what it could possibly be, which is a precious gift and their liberator.

Bono against NapsterNaturally, most of the community supported their idol's opposition, but in fact, they were defending the companies who routinely charged twenty bucks for a CD loaded with fluff, not too long ago. It was those scoundrels, who had been pimping talent since the very first record, who were left frantically shoving their cash cows in front of podiums to bash their own fans who, they convinced, were robbing them.

However, as a wise minority knew, rather than demanding that people part with twenty dollars in order to get the artist two bucks, it was wiser to, let's say, split it with the artist and increase his revenue by about three-hundred percent, minus expenses. Looking at the classic music business model, that is exactly what could be done today, in theory, thanks to the Internet.

Think back to before Edison and his ilk introduced musical recording. Classical composers were financed through live performances and licensing, similar to today, which allowed an establishment to freely play their music for a set fee. Once recording methods became efficient and music was made into a product, like a tape, the record companies were able to take control, because they had the capability to fund manufacturing, distribution, and everything else necessary to run a large business.

They gave the artist what it needed to flourish, that glorious “record deal”, and they had them lined up to sell their souls for it. The approach was similar to a sports team. An A&R, or a scout, for the label would bring talent in for a tryout, and if they impressed the money man, or GM, they would be treated like royalty and given a budget, maybe a hundred grand, and often promotional hand-me-downs like cars and clothes.

This was a lottery winning to a starving musician, but it was also meant to cover, in varying degrees, all recording costs and other expenses, and it was usually repaid with record sales. Ninety-nine percent of these deals resulted in a net loss, which meant heartache for the failed artist but very little for the label, because they made their money on the one percent who did succeed.

After the advance, a generous deal usually paid a new artist roughly ten percent of record sales, which is where we got two dollars a CD. From that, however, the artist had to pay his people, like managers, band members and so on. Considering a musician's profit sources, which are basically record sales, live shows, whatever royalties, or licensing fees, aren't given away in rubber-stamped contracts, and merchandising, which is also hijacked by the companies, it's clear that more money is made without any “help” from the label.

Based on the negotiation skills of paid lawyers and agents, which also adds more slime to the party, what the almighty label gave in return, besides false hope, is the cost of manufacturing and/or distribution of CD's and major promotion costs. Of course, they also offered their clout with radio stations and TV networks, which only infests the music world even further with sleazy politics and creates a cut-throat environment that usually chews up desperate artists and leeches the successful ones dry.

However, there are some who enjoy the ride, that one percent of celebs who earned big for the label, and they are the world's anti-Napster spokesman.

For the rest, who have either been raped by a record company or are still waiting for a turn in the barrel, it is time to take charge of their own career. Like any business, it takes a small investment, but luckily, tangible media is being phased out, meaning you could theoretically sell a million units, with no warehouse, for no more than the cost of recording. While funding sufficient advertising and service quality is instrumental for success, a small donation by honorable and dedicated fans, along with royalties and ticket sales, all controlled by the artist, can make for a nice existence financially and artistically.

First and foremost, it is obviously up to the musicians to entertain fans with quality material and then employ some sort of business strategy to expose it to the masses. It is like a traditional business, but with no physical restraints, since music, which is inherently shared, can travel the globe in seconds, reaching billions of people. Imagine a business model which allowed for quality mass-production, storage, and worldwide distribution of your product for free, within seconds!

Also, without the control of a corporate weather-vane, artists can express themselves how they, and their true fans, please. Most didn't realize this and perceived downloading as an attack on the hand that feeds them, but we see how well they were fed. The irony, all the while, is that by using their own model against them, file sharing was they key to finally destroying the Capitalist strangle-hold on their art, with the right collective mindset.

So, before reacting on impulse and vilifying fans, who have more love for them than the smooth talkers who throw paper money around ever will, musicians need to rejoice. Now is the time to give all of their music away at a “free download” party, accepting modest donations at the door. Then, while basking in the glory of the event, loaded only with true fans and, of course, groupies, not snakes and leeches or phony politicians, sell some shirts and promote the hell out of upcoming shows. It is a golden age in music, where a garage band can gain the ballyhoo they seek and a consumer will never again pay for a crappy CD!

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About ProfPlume

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Yea… I can’t count the numerous times that certain “Pirating” sites that I have visited have educated me about great underground bands domestic & international. Even to the point of cutting out most other sources for finding new music except for the occasional “word of mouth” which most times happens on the internet anyways. I also have known local bands that may not have had the following domestically but gained a following in another country due to the internet & sharing. My own personal experience as a musician has been rewarding by being able to share my music with people for absolutely no cost & by establishing a connection to my musical idols and, sometimes, getting to meet them in person.

    I can only feel that the internet will make it possible for musicians to gain all the profits from their art. Sure, they may not get the “loans” upfront like some of them are used to,but, they won’t have to worry about as many contracts and lawyers either…

    *BTW* – If ya wanna hear some heavy, melodic & “jammy” demos from my band October Arrest check em out HERE

  • profplume

    Nice grooves, man. (and you know I’d tell you otherwise lol) … a perfect singer would put you over the top, a Jim Morrison or Janis Joplin type, maybe? That’s yet another advantage in the endless sea of advantages: You can search the globe for band mates, rather than being limited to the dude from music class, you know?

    The misconception is that artists get rich off record sales, the multi-platinum artists do, but the rest need exposure, first and foremost. I’m sure you’ve spent time plastering promo tapes around the neighborhood (also known as “guerrilla promotion), as we all have.

    Imagine a street team that blanketed the globe. It’s really obvious, but I too was livid when I found out that I couldn’t charge for music, but then I realized I wasn’t “selling” shit anyway! lol

    Besides a few CD’s we moved at shows, it was mostly T-shirts and paid gigs, which is generated by “exposure,” which you get by spreading your shit around! Elementary, my Dear….

    Thanks for commenting, Bryan. Good Luck with your music, dude, don’t quit!

  • kathy rosa

    Great article! It used to be that musical artists needed 90% luck and 10% talent. Talent is always a requirement but now instead of luck, we can rely on innovation and enterprise and possibly create our own luck. Thanks for the info and encouragement.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Thanks… Yea, a decent vocalist is hard to find even with the internet. *Ugh*

    I completely agree. My mindset was that getting signed was great for CD distribution & marketing, but that’s about it. Which kept me playing music for the love of it and steered me away from the search for stardom. I feel that people who are really concerned about making a buck first don’t have a passion to communicate their art with people and,usually, don’t have any material that is really worth listening to. IMHO, the bands that have created some really cool sh!t are the ones that are more concerned with performing & showing their musicianship. If they sell merch at the show then that’s cool but it isn’t the main reason why they continue. There have been quite a few really good bands that have finally defined who they were when they told their label to piss off because they didn’t want to conform to a trend but wanted to create their own sound, their own identity…

    *Steps down from his soapbox*

  • profplume

    *jumps on after on*

    Definitely. The merch is only to fund the art. In the “old days” though it was either make it big, or live life on people’s coach as a starving musician. The best of the “unsigned” would book gigs around town for a free bar tab and have a decent local following, MAYBE even get lucky and jump onto a tour (which usually heads toward a contract anyway, one of the cheapo ones described above), and that’s not necessarily a bad life (lol), except for the money, that’s where the merch comes in, but global, not in a local pub.

    Now,if the focus comes off of that model and your music is attacked as any other business, meaning money up front to set up an ad campaign…etc

    As I said above, there’s no over head these days, except recording, and with digital technology, anyone willing to learn can set up a perfectly suitable studio for under $10,000(minor home renovations, software, minimal hardware, cables, media…etc). Everything else is virtual.

    So, the business depends on talent, passion, love, creativity, mass appeal, strategic and persistent promotion and charisma. That’s everything musicians crave.

    This isn’t to say that it’s EASY, and it shouldn’t be, but you are as good as you are, you know what I mean? It’s really beautiful, and I have a feeling their may be less tragic “Beyond The Music” sh!t, where the undustry chewed them up and spit them out. Of course, that’s pure speculation.

  • Anuhea Summers

    It’s been more than 10 years since I’ve purchased a cd or any music for that matter. Prior to that, music cd purchases were always un-fulfilling for me. It was always the one popular song that got me to buy the cd only to realize in the end that I just paid $20 for the one good song. Lately, Pandora and radio on my Zune is all the music I need. I really don’t care about full albums anymore especially with all the single song buying options available now. The only place I might consider spending money on music would probably be the Sellaband concept. I enjoy seeing the creativity, talent and success in progress. The opportunity to contribute to the success of an artist you like would be my definition of a fulfilling music purchase.

  • Mark Saleski

    i’ve never understood this “bought a cd and it only had one good song on it” thing. that has never happened to me. (well ok,once…but it was a Lee Ritenour disc and that was before i knew about the grp label….no wait, twice…also bought a Porcupine Tree cd and didn’t like any of it)…but that’s two out of thousands.

  • profplume


    That attitude is EXACTLY what the music industry needs to flourish, and I mean truly flourish, where creativity and charisma IS the currency and every artist is out to please the fans, not the labels.

    Would you object to giving a two dollar donation on an artists website?
    Well, if not, it’s just as good as buying their CD and anything more is an awesome gift. In return he/she/they will return the favor through song!

    AHH, I get goosebumps just thinking about it!
    Thank You, Anuhea!


    It just came to me as I was interviewing this indie artist. We get the inside scoop on our musicians and can interact with them! It’s really something, if you think about the “old” days of fan mail that’s never answered.

    I’m not saying that they will ALWAYS write back to you, but in the new model they really should try, and most smaller ones definitely will, because it’s cultivating fans.

    It’s like having personal artist that you support intimately.

    What do you guys think about “Global Groupies?” Where are the money men? I registered that name, Can we do something with that?

    The “bought a CD with only one good song on it,” besides happening WAY more often than 2 in thousands, especially in the genre which is my known specialty, is a term meant to describe the 19.99 CD’s with 22 tracks, 8 of which are :30 second skits (No thanks, guys, I have plenty of old Rodney Dangerfield tapes. Save it!)and another 8 are obviously slapped together to fill the thing.

    The classic albums, that are great all the way through are rarely twenty songs and they are rare.

    Taking things hyper-literally is not a suggested method of reading the material presented on this page.

    However, thank you for your comments. Here, you are always guaranteed a reply, as we view an unanswered comment as a sign of defeat and currently hold an undefeated record.

  • profplume

    BTW, I’m serious about that Global Groupie. I have a vision for the future of music.

    Please email me if you would to seriously discuss it.

  • profplume

    Is that spam? It looks like spam,….but I’ll let the editors make that call. I’ll give the benefit of doubt and take it as pertinent to the discussion.

    Peer to peer is not EXACTLY what I mean. I still think it’s a great way to be exposed and I think it is healthy, simulating one person saying, “Hey, check this band/group/guy/girl out”

    My vision, though, is a centralized “distribution point”. ONE place for fans to interact with artists and get EVERYTHING they ever put out (or want people to hear),overseen by the artist, so they can see how many people are checking out their music.

    File sharing represents the vision struggling against the old way. People are sneaking around against the artist’s will, in most cases when it doesn’t have to be like that.

    I hope I am explaining clearly, but if not, perhaps someone can aid the discussion.

    Thanks for dropping by.