It has always seemed odd and somehow amusing to me that in our anything - goes society there are still a few small things one can do that seem to be universally viewed as taboo. While there is heated debate over some issues so large that the very same activity considered a "right" by some can be considered "murder" by others (don't worry - I won't go there), society has managed to reach consensus on a few simple activities that are universally considered unacceptable. I'm talking about major, unforgivable, reprehensible, abhorrent, despicable behaviors (ok - enough with the hyperbole) like...
...cutting in line at the grocery store, picking your nose in public, or heaven forbid- being a few days late with a credit card payment! (You'd think the entire economic system is about to collapse for lack of your $25 minimum payment the way you get penalized in your credit report for years and as much as those companies go nuts contacting you if you ever miss a payment!)
Well, it seems that to many there is a new universal taboo to add to the list: trying to sell music online and elsewhere rather than giving it all away for free. It seems public perception has progressed full circle from the idea not long ago that downloading illegal music for free was a violation of copyright law and considered "stealing", to the point now that those musicians or record companies who still expect people to purchase their music are considered "greedy" "insensitive to their fans" and/or "evil corporate capitalists". The moral high ground has now been taken by those who once were considered lacking integrity and the onus has now been placed upon those simply trying to bring in income for something that had been considered worthy of economic value for generations prior.
With the proliferation of music streaming sites such as Spotify, Pandora, and the new Apple Music, along with all the music that can easily be found on YouTube, there is hardly a reason for anyone to ever purchase music recordings anymore. An entire generation is being raised for whom the act of paying for and owning their own collection of music is a completely foreign idea. It's sad and odd for me to think that acquiring, curating, and being proud of my own collections of first records, then tapes, then CD's and on into my vast collection of purchased digital downloads that was such an integral part of my development as a musician growing up and on into my adult life is not even on the radar of the many young musical students I work with today. The trade off, of course is that they have never known a world where it wasn't so easy to have access to any of millions of songs at any time without consideration for cost or effort to find and purchase.
So as much as I or any of us over a certain age may pine away for "the good old days" of buying and selling music, like it or not free and subscription - based music streaming is here to stay and is likely the future of music for the foreseeable future. The final blow came about half a year ago when even Apple - the largest company in the world (by market capitalization) and controller of about a third of the entire 15 billion dollar music industry - changed their iTunes music selling service to a subscription based streaming service. Sure, you can still purchase and download any of the songs in their catalogue for about a dollar, but for just ten bucks a month you can now have access to ALL the music and still organize and store your own choices in playlists and category searches alongside your previously purchased downloads and ripped CD's. Even I have gotten on board with this and become a subscriber and sure enough - I have not spent a single penny on recorded music except for my subscription fee (which is far less than I would have spent on purchased downloads since access to music I or my students are working on is a necessary, ongoing business expense.)
But there is one notable exception. The ONLY music I have purchased as download is about the only music I was forced to purchase since I could not get it for free through Apple Music or anywhere. I, along with millions of others gladly shelled out a few dollars to purchase Adelle's new CD because except for a few teaser tracks it will not be available for streaming for a while, if ever.
Well - duh!! This spectacularly proves the obvious - that if people can easily and legally get something for free, why pay for it? She didn't just break the record - she sold 3 times more than the nearest competitor for most sales in 2015 in just the last 6 weeks of the year!
This is why I will probably go against what almost every music industry "expert" is saying and similarly not release my upcoming Christmas album to streaming as an independent (except for a few "teaser" tracks - including the one I released last Christmas which you can sample here). Even though I am not well known like Adele, the same simple principle of economics 101 applies. My biggest competition to selling my recent Christmas song was myself! Thousands loved it and streamed it, but only a handful purchased. Why should I expect my listeners to do anything different than I have done?
You can read more about Adele's success with this simple marketing policy in this New York Times article here.
Most people are unaware of how huge this change is. The comparative circles in the infographic below remind me of similar charts of our planets and sun. It is a real eye opener. We are not talking about a small difference here but an overwhelming game changer!
So we'll see where all this is headed. Hopefully there will be more options available even to independent artists for partial releases, "windowed" release and other strategies. But in the mean time I will just keep moving forward with creating as much as I can, hoping that things like my Patreon pledge supporters can make up the difference for other revenue streams that seem to be dwindling or no longer available.
I'd love to hear some of your comments on this - particularly from other recording artists and writers who have depended on at least part of their income from the sales and/or royalties of creative works.