Friday, February 09, 2007

Revisiting Music Business Models for the Internet Age...

Two nights ago I had that rare pleasure of being blown away by the performance of a musician who I'd previously never heard of - Earl Klugh, playing jazz at the Blue Note in New York City. After the show I couldn't wait to tell some music aficianodo friends to check him out. But then I realized none of them would likely pony up nearly $20 to buy an album of a musician they'd never heard of, and after one listen, might think is awful.

This is a prime example of what's wrong with the music industry's business model in the Internet Age. At $35 per ticket, Earl Klugh is not going to expand his fanbase, and his case appears ripe for musical piracy on BitTorrent and Limewire by those curious about him. The artist suffers, and the people miss out on his extraordinary talent.

There is an alternative business model. Give away the live recordings of concerts for free. Artists such as the Grateful Dead and Dave Matthews Band have for years allowed audience members to legally record their concerts, and distribute those recordings for free, so long as no profit is being made. Why would artists ever choose to do such a thing? It's called promotion. If Earl Klugh would allow people to freely share recordings of his live shows, he would be using a viral marketing strategy to turn more people on to his music, ultimately leading to increasing his fanbase, generating better ticket sales, and even selling more albums, as there is always a demand for more polished studio albums of high audio quality.

Think it's crazy? Hundreds of artists already have adopted such a strategy and web databases provide links to tens of thousands of LEGAL live concert recordings by musicians. I, personally, was turned on to the Grateful Dead years ago through a concert recording, obtained legally and for free, and while I still download many of their shows on a regular basis without paying, I've also pumped untold thousands of dollars into their coffers by going to dozens of live concerts.

Certainly, this business model might not work for everyone. It is particularly suited for those musicians who struggle generating album sales and who tour constantly. It also helps if their live performances offer something different than simply playing their albums. Jazz musicians seem especially suited to this model, in addition to jambands, as their concerts are often heavily improvised.

When the show ended, I was dying to email a number of friends about the performance and tell them to check Earl Klugh out. But being unwilling to shell out $20 for the unknown, piracy would have been their only other option - and that is a serious shame. The artist suffers, and the people miss out. Can someone explain to me how the recording industry is actually working in the interests of the musicians by doing this? Maybe one day I'll play some of his material for them in person, marketing the old-fashioned way, by word-of-mouth. However, as I have written about a number of times in this space, if left up to the recording industry and Apple's DRM software, which makes the old idea of creating a mixed CD for a friend impossible, pretty soon I might not even be able to do that.
  

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