Where’s My Digital Utopia? The Musical Blackhole left in the Digital Age.

It’s hard to believe that in the year 2012 people are still saying how great things are in the digital age for musicians. They cite Radiohead or C.K Lewis who have successfully self distributed or implemented a “pay what you want for downloads” system. But on the contrary, the digital age is slowly making things worse.

This was originally inspired by a Huffington Post article from A-Trak. Back in 2005 I remember musicians asking me “have you joined Myspace yet? It’ll make you famous.” Whilst even then I found that statement absurd, Myspace was certainly a place for music. Fans would spend evenings surfing Myspace searching for a sound that took their fancy. The interface was customisable to allow musicians display their profile how they deemed appropriate. And whilst it is no doubt major label hype that bands like Arctic Monkeys became as big as they did because of Myspace, they did establish a loyal and geographically broad fan base using the platform.

Myspace is now dead. This is because other platforms such as Facebook do what Myspace did, but better. Well at least that’s true for most of the web using community, but musicians have once again been left by the wayside. We are now stuck with a generic looking timeline that’s only customising feature is the profile and header picture, and Facebook at best has limited click through capabilities for fans who want to find new music. This is not to mention the way that Facebook is now charging us in order to reach all our fans.

But this is not the only way the digital age is short changing musicians. Musicians and bands at any level have always been able to ‘actually’ self distribute by selling CD’s at shows. But now many laptops sold are without CD drives. This means there is no longer anyway for music fans to transfer CD’s onto what is fast becoming the preferred method of music consumption.

You may say that surely this is compensated by having the ability to distribute your music, free of record labels and distributors, in stores like iTunes. It is true that pretty much anyone at any level can get their music on iTunes and the like, but unless you’re a major player in music industry dealing with iTunes directly is impossible. This means bands have to use a third party distributor making the already thin iTunes cut for musicians slimmer again. Sound like a familiar distribution model?

There is also the fact that for many musicians other than those at top 40 level, the most reliable method they have of selling CD’s and making a profit is through merchandise sales at shows. The imminent death of the CD means that musicians will have to turn to download cards in hope that punters will still have the inspiration, not to mention the money in their wallet, to make the purchase once at home. This also means that the reasonable margin that musicians were able to make from shows is again back in the pockets of the retailer.

The digital utopian vision of a de-regulated music industry on the Internet is slipping if not gone. The familiar players in the industry are ensuring that online distribution and promotion channels, just like traditional distribution and promotion channels are, locked to any outside the oligopoly. This means that to any but those artists with the highest public profile need to once again upon rely upon those within the establishment to ensure any sort of feasible distribution and promotion.


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