Every day here at WAMM, we do our best to help artists learn about and adapt to the new realities of the music industry.
But when it comes to things like filesharing, some artists have limits.
Last month, the respected French dance music label Institubes voluntarily shut its doors, citing not a lack of interest but their fans’ disturbingly persistent unwillingness to pay for their releases.
“At first it was fun to figure out ways to get people to check out our music,” label founders Jean-René Etienne and Emile Shahidi wrote on their site. “But once that’s done and you have something resembling an audience, it becomes apparent that this is not really your job. Your job is to reconcile the public with the very idea of buying records. All the power to you if you can bear it.
“Most of what we could have done to prevent or delay this outcome reside in two words: lifestyle and branding,” their farewell address continues. “Investing in t-shirts and co-branding, scoring ‘collaborations’ or sponsorship deals with deep-pocketed companies. I have but a regret: we actually did it sometimes. We should have said no more often. Bands struggling to get together with brands, artists and audience deriving more validity from corporate interest than from anything else, bands happy to learn that in the future they would have to ‘take charge of their own promotion’: this wasn’t for us.”
There are multiple ways of looking at what Shahidi and Etienne did. Some might say that they are being stubborn, that their refusal to accept the new realities of media consumption is their loss. But Shahidi and Etienne are not alone in their discomfort with the direction that things are moving in.
Earlier this week, Canadian band One Soul Thrust thought their album had been downloaded on 100,000 times on LimeTorrents, and their reaction to the news was not exactly Sick of Sarah-esque. “People have stolen from us,” lead singer Salem Jones declared.
Stories about labels like Institubes and bands like One Soul Thrust pose the question of how those who refuse to accept piracy are supposed to function in today’s music industry. How can they get discovered? How can they create buzz? How can they survive? If an artist thinks the concept of freemium is ridiculous (like Josh Freese does), how are they supposed to raise the money necessary to record or tour?
Because filesharing is, paradoxically, both ubiquitous and (mostly) illegal, it is not enough to simply fold your arms, frown, and complain that it is bankrupting our culture. Its presence is an inarguable fact now, and thus controlling the transmission and sale of your music becomes that much more difficult. But is it impossible?
T-Bone Burnett once suggested that artists should not put their music on the Internet, an idea that seemed so ludicrous to some people that they assumed he was trying to make a larger conceptual point. But if you believe strongly in the idea that filesharing is wrong, then it must inform your approach to the way you make and disseminate your music.
The major labels didn’t change anything. They just hired lawyers, and it destroyed their public image. But what other options are there? How can you adapt your craft to avoid putting yourself into a situation where your work can be stolen? Is the answer not to record it? Not to sell it? Secretly add a watermark to it? What will you do?