My â€˜future of the music businessâ€™ blog triggered a number of comments and reactions. I want to respond to those and explain my position in more detail.
Clearly, there are two different issues at play here.
One, is post-classic music likely to benefit from direct digital distribution, and through what particular channels, i.e. whether it is better to operate out of oneâ€™s own web site or through an internet distribution outlet such as amazon or cdbaby and the like.
Two, should post-classic underground music actually be pitched to sell. This issue is actually more important to me personally. I have always appreciated to LaMonte Young and Marian Zazeela not only for their work, but for the way they do things. For instance, LaMonteâ€™s music was not available on disc for many years. In order to fully appreciate it, you had to go and visit the DIA Foundation space and sit and listen in an environment that they had designed for optimal intake. This is how I came to appreciate The Well-Tuned Piano, sitting on the carpet at the DIA Foundation, in a room by myself, in the total, meditative isolation that was provided by the composer. Many years later, Grammavision released the work on CD, and I remember being surprised that LaMonte even accepted this release, with the interruptions due to the multiple CD format. This taught me that selling and marketing is not always appropriate for music that is meant as a cultural contribution.
In the post-classic realm, we donâ€™t have to think like pop artists. If we had to worry about selling a number copies offsetting the record companyâ€™s investment before making a penny, I think the work might be seriously flawed by the intent. In my world, the expectation of CD sales plays no role in what I release, and I would like to keep it this way. I set up my web site as a .net, not a .com â€“ so as to express that it is not a marketing tool, but rather an archive documenting my work. I wonder if some of you feel the same way.
My experience with distributors of any kind has grown worse over the years. In the early eighties, with New Music Distribution Service, I used to sell a few hundred records with every release. When they went out of business, nothing replaced them in providing an alternative distribution outlet that got the CDs to the Tower Records bins. In the 90s, I had CDs at Tower Records through 4-Tay and to our dismay, we never received a cent on The Deus Ex Machina Cycle from Tower Records. My reaction was to go in the opposite direction: make fewer CDs, and not pitch them for selling, but as art works, collectorsâ€™ copies. I even went as far as questioning whether selling CDs is relevant. I think making CDs and DVDs is very important, but that to try and sell them is almost in bad taste: when people visit your site, do you really want to tell them, “buy me, buy me”?
Now we are faced with the dilemma of digital distribution. Should we make our music available on the internet on a 99c per track basis? Is it actually worth the trouble â€“ after all, a PayPal account is twenty bucks a month, and I am not sure I would even sell enough to offset that expense. Some artists have an online licensing agreement for those who want to use the tracks for film! But I believe that without a commercial visibility, this could be a wasted effort.
Meanwhile, Postclassic Radio and other internet radio stations broadcast our tracks, and make it easy for people to copy them. Is it worth the effort to set up a site to â€˜sellâ€™ the music, as if there were a market for it, which still remains in question. I’m afraid that post-classic music might be condemned to remain “too hip for the straights, too straight for the hips…” as Jon Szanto put it. (a percussionist and composer from San Diego who worked with Harry Partch, and with whom I had a long post-blog discussion about selling music.)