Rolling Stone Recognizes The Future Of Music: Forget The CD, Sell Other Stuff

from the sounds-familiar dept

Video Savant writes in to let us know about a new Rolling Stone article that probably won’t be all that surprising to folks who read Techdirt on a regular basis. Basically, bands today aren’t relying on CD sales to make money (or even as a measure of their own success). Instead, they’re using the music to sell all sorts of other things having to do with themselves. While the article does focus a lot on licensing deals, the much more interesting deals aren’t the ones where songs are licensed, but where the musicians themselves are being paid to create new music. That’s what the guys from They Might Be Giants are doing: Dunkin’ Donuts is paying them a million dollars to create new music for Dunkin’ Donuts commercials.

The article also touches on how important the video game market is for the music industry these days, talking about efforts by bands to license their songs into video games, knowing how much more attention it gets them. While some video games will pay good money to license songs, it seems like bands are so eager for the exposure that many would (and probably should) do it for free — knowing that the increased exposure will help them with everything else they do. On that note, another reader, Lucretious, sends in a story about how the video games Rock Band and Guitar Hero are driving tremendous interest in music, to the point that bands are releasing songs for use in those games even before an album comes out.

Of course, what may be most amusing, is that the Rolling Stone article reads remarkably similar to a USA Today article we wrote about three years ago, which looked at how the Chinese music industry had successfully adapted to rampant unauthorized copying of music. Musicians there learned to adopt new business models and thrive — just as bands in the US are doing today. While the CD may be disappearing, the music business continues to thrive.

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Comments on “Rolling Stone Recognizes The Future Of Music: Forget The CD, Sell Other Stuff”

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15 Comments (user link) says:

I have been saying this for months now. They need to refocus where the income is generated from music. Make the actual music free, or close to free, with no limitations on how it can be used. But, when you are giving the music away, market other products to the person downloading. If they are big fans, they will likely purchase other stuff, like shirts, dvds, concert tickets, etc… And if the record companies are giving away music, there will be an enormous amount of internet traffic, thus they would have the ability to charge a pretty penny for advertising on their artists sites. There is income to be made from free music, they just need to know how to do it. And before you say it… no, I don’t think it is fair for the artists to give the music away. But, it is the only choice they have at the moment. People that want the music for free, don’t have to look to hard to find it. They might as well market some of their other stuff to these people.

Eeqmcsq says:

Re: What is fair?

“I don’t think it is fair for the artists to give the music away” – This reminds me of an anecdote I’ve been formulating for a while. This is probably not historically accurate, but I think the point is valid, and maybe Mike will put up a full blog post about it if he agrees.

Back in the day when the car was being assembled by the newly invented concept called the factory assembly line, workers were placed along the assembly line and each person had a specific task to perform on the line, like inserting a tire, or tightening up bolts. Workers were happy because they got paid well for their unique tasks. One day the car company discovered machinery and automation. Suddenly, these “unique” tasks were performed by robotic arms that could perform these tasks twice as fast, and for many more hours a day. Many workers got laid off because their once rare and valueable skills had become cheaply and abundantly available by these machines.

Was it fair that these workers’ skills suddenly became worthless? Should laws have been placed to ban these machinery and automation and force companies to hire people? Or should these workers learn to adapt and find some new skills that machines and automation can’t perform so they can get hired for?

Replace workers with musicians, skills with music CDs, and machinery/automation with the Internet, and you have a similar situation.

Chronno S. Trigger says:

Fine line

“That’s what the guys from They Might Be Giants are doing: Dunkin’ Donuts is paying them a million dollars to create new music for Dunkin’ Donuts commercials”

Musicians must walk a fine line because this is called, in many music circles, “selling out”. I just found out last week that my mom is really mad at Meatloaf for selling out to Cingular. (I don’t think this way)

“video games Rock Band and Guitar Hero are driving tremendous interest in music”

Guitar Hero got me interested in actual guitar and has increased my music collection by about 2G.

“Chinese music industry had successfully adapted”

Damn it, the Chinese are ahead of us.

Greg (user link) says:

Re: Fine line

This is a good point.

The image of “selling out” is definitely a problem for some bands, even if it looks ridiculous on the surface, because it can aggravate their fans, who do most of the buying (concert tickets, t-shirts, etc). It’s a question of whether the exposure is worth it, and if the new fans gained will outweight (ie, outspend) the possible loss of the old ones.

Personally, I’m not going to hold it against a band if they license all their stuff (though hearing The Clash in an AT&T commercial was a wtf moment), but some people will.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Fine line


Seriously, there’s a couple of billion people on this planet who would disagree. It’s matter of culture, not quality.

Besides, what you’re think of their is probably traditional Chinese Opera music, which is as far removed from modern Chinese music as Italian Opera is from the average boy band.

Yes, i know that comment was probably tongue-in-cheek, I just needed to check…

Grammatically offended SOB says:


Way to waste 3 comments on grammar lessons.
The truth is, who cares.

I don’t know about everyone else, but I understood what the author was trying to say.

As for musicians here, it’s about time you figured out that CDs were going the way of the dinosaur. Kudos on taking 3 years longer than the Chinese.

JimO says:


Ever since their Dial-a-Song service, They Might Be Giants have been pioneers of free (as in both speech and beer) music.

They have hosted their own MP3 store for a long time, and they have a free and fairly regular podcast featuring a mix including but not limited to:

– unreleased material
– demos old and new
– live show recordings
– tracks from current/new albums
– occasional guest/featured artists
– adverts for their shows and services

In addition to the Dunkin Donuts campaign, they’ve done loads of other commercial work (Diet Dr Pepper, Playdoh, more…) as well as plenty of music/themes for TV (Malcom in the Middle, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Courage the Cowardly Dog, more…) …all while staying active, diverse, and profitable artists.

They know it’s not about making a million dollars, but they know where and how to make their money.

Brilliant fellows, the Johns.

Mwingerski (user link) says:

who cares about quality anyway?

Since the CD doesn’t generate any more for anyone, why bother spending any money to make it.

There’s a huge myth out there among tech people that creating a recording now costs next to nothing. I doubt the same people think that creating a website costs next to nothing.

And if you don’t spend much money making something, it can sound pretty lame. 80% recordings released in the past year don’t sell over 100 copies. This might have something to do with quality too. The music that people actually want to listen to requires a vast expense to make them sound good.

Of course you can get digital copies of music for free. That doesn’t mean that what you’re going to get actually sounds good. Record companies have done a reasonably job of spending money on recordings with decent sound quality (separate from the music quality). That’s one thing that indie artists and tech people ALWAY fail to mention. That’s the whole reason most artists WANT a record deal. It’s not to get paid for making albums, it’s so you don’t have to fork out a ton of money to get a good recording with a good team of people who know how to make your music sound like something unique, cool and not completely shitty.

The pop music in China, from a sonic perspective, and from my limited experience in hearing it, is not terribly well recorded or mixed. It usually sounds pretty tinny and harsh. That probably is fine for the market where nobody expects to pay for their recordings. I hope the same doesn’t happen here.

I’m not saying that the CD should make a come back. But to claim that recordings cost close to nothing to make is just total bullshit.

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