The Web Screws Artists Again… By Letting Them Have A Normal Life

from the only-those-who-master-the-dark-arts dept

For pretty much all of the history of Techdirt, we’ve been hearing from the legacy entertainment industries about how the internet has been destroying art and destroying culture. They were making things worse, and we’d have more starving artists and less content — and whatever content we did have would definitely be terrible. That’s the story we were told over and over and over again — and there are still a few in the industry who pitch this story.

The problem is it’s simply not true.

The New York Times has an article by Farhad Manjoo called, How The Internet Is Saving Culture, Not Killing It, in which Manjoo claims that a cultural shift has been happening, one that could have radical implications for creators:

In the last few years, and with greater intensity in the last 12 months, people started paying for online content. They are doing so at an accelerating pace, and on a dependable, recurring schedule, often through subscriptions. And they?re paying for everything.

Manjoo presents compelling stats to back up his argument:

Apple users spent $2.7 billion on subscriptions in the App Store in 2016, an increase of 74 percent over 2015. Last week, the music service Spotify announced that its subscriber base increased by two-thirds in the last year, to 50 million from 30 million. Apple Music has signed on 20 million subscribers in about a year and a half. In the final quarter of 2016, Netflix added seven million new subscribers — a number that exceeded its expectations and broke a company record. It now has nearly 94 million subscribers.

So it seems low-priced subscription-based services are finally coming into their own. Netflix?s lowest subscription plan of $8/month offers access to thousands of hours of content. Compared to DirectTV?s $50/month plan, that?s a bargain. If you happen to also be an Amazon Prime subscriber, between merely those two plans, you can access a huge amount of content whenever and wherever you want… it?s no surprise cheap subscription models across the whole spectrum are finally thriving.

If you?re an creator, this is fantastic news. Patreon now leads the pack with plans for artists to offer their fans a recurring payment option and/or a pay-for-new-content model (and, of course, you can see Techdirt’s Patreon page here). Patreon Founder Jack Conte agrees the wind has shifted recently in favor of fan-funded artists:

?I do think something has changed culturally,? Mr. Conte said. ?This new generation is more concerned with social impact. There?s a desire to vote with your dollars and your time and attention.?

Despite all the disruption the web has wrought on incumbent cable companies and brick-and-mortar game stores, the web has also made it impossibly easy for niche artists to both deepen connections with their fans as well as give them reasons to buy:

Thanks to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, artists can now establish close relationships with their fans. They can sell merchandise and offer special fan-only promotions and content. And after finding an audience, they can use sites like Patreon to get a dependable paycheck from their most loyal followers.

The elephant in the room, of course, is whether artists can deliver on the promises the internet has laid before them; record labels traditionally took care of much of the publicity required to build the buzz that pushes new artists into the public stream but now that artists can take those reins, not all of them are capable or willing. Nevertheless, some artists are willing; Manjoo notes that Chance the Rapper, despite winning best new artist at last year?s Grammys, ?proudly rejected every offer to sign with a record label and even to sell any of his music.? That marks a stark turning point for how all artists could soon come to view recording labels, i.e., as gatekeepers instead of enablers.

For those lucky few rising to the top, i.e., artists who have mastered the ?dark arts? of social media marketing, they can take significant control of their lives and livelihood.

?I can have a normal life now,? said Peter Hollens, an a cappella singer who creates cover videos on YouTube. Mr. Hollens, who lives in Eugene, Ore., now makes about $20,000 a month from his Patreon page. The money has allowed him to hire production help and to increase his productivity, but it has also brought him something else: a feeling of security in being an artist.

?I don?t have to go out on the road and play in bars,? he said. ?I can be a father and I can be a husband. This normalizes my career. It normalizes the career of being an artist, which has never been normalized.”

If the trends continue as Manjoo predicts, that worn clich? of the starving artist will no longer ring true, and the blame rests solely at the feet of the global copying machine that we call the web.

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Comments on “The Web Screws Artists Again… By Letting Them Have A Normal Life”

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TKnarr (profile) says:

The labels used to handle the publicity and advertising. They aren’t going to adapt, but I see the salespeople and marketing types going the same route as the artists: ones that enjoy the job will get together with the artists and take over the role the labels aren’t filling. Instead of labels “hiring” artists to supply them with content to market, we’ll have artists hiring marketing people to help bring attention to their work. It’ll take a while, but I think the change is going to be inevitable.

sehlat (profile) says:

Wonderful news!

Speaking as a Patreon supporter of Techdirt, Peter Hollens, Howard Tayler(, Doc Nickel (, Scott Beiser (, and Kovid Goyal ( that is the best news I’ve heard all day, and it makes me glad that I can pick and choose who to give my dollars to without having to say “Mother may I?” to gatekeepers.

I suspect that the REAL reason the MPAA, RIAA et al. hate the net is just that. You no longer HAVE to bow and scrape and kiss their butts to get what you want.

TKnarr (profile) says:

Re: Wonderful news!

That’s been clear from the start. There’s a reason, after all, that the RIAA’s first target wasn’t the out-and-out pirates, it was the one site ( that was taking any sort of steps to insure people could only download songs they’d already paid for. Pirates the RIAA could deal with, or at least factor into the pricing. A legitimate (or perceived as such) distribution channel outside their control? That was a true threat.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Wonderful news!

What the member of those organizations really hate about the Internet is the ease with which artists can self publish, and make a living from a small audience. That is counter to their business model of keeping the number of works in publication so low that they get large large audience and large sales.

They rightly fear being made irrelevant by the splitting of the market into lots of small niches in which they cannot even follow, never mind compete. Unless they change their business model to low overhead enablers, rather being gatekeepers, they will end up bankrupt as their sales dwindle due to the intense competition,

madasahatter (profile) says:

Re: Re: Wonderful news!

The real advantage for content creators is they can afford to do more interesting projects that would not be “commercially viable” under the old model. The old model has high overhead to pay for while the new model has a lower overhead for funding and much cheaper distribution channels. One of my favorite Youtube channels is a rather niche channel that does very well researched historical videos. This channel would never get a green light under the old model because the audience is limited. But on Youtube (or other channels) the audience can find them and watch when they are ready.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Patreon – where they don’t have archaic contracts subtracting the cost of broken vinyl for your YT releases.

The **AA’s should start getting worried. They are losing control they have enjoyed for years as the only game in town.

Imagine a world where we had Patreon-like systems for collecting the cash & paying promptly without taking massive cuts. Imagine if they could displace the 1000 little, scandal ridden, rights societies. Bring a sense of logic to copyright & not waste tons of cash hunting down a YT stream that some music was heard in the background of but wasn’t the focus of the video.

Treating fans like fans, not living in terror that some kid would sing their cover of a song & rob us blind.

Imagine artists being able to do as much or as little as they wanted to with social media, and not having a ‘team’ pushing the messages of the sponsors who paid enough to get a plug.

Like I said before, a very smart person would be courting artists who are in contracts that might end soon. Create a model that benefits the artists first & takes a clearly detailed cut for the overhead that isn’t inflated with hundreds of little cuts.

The internet, they feared it for good reason. It removes the need for gatekeepers who belong in the past.

Anonymous Coward says:

The personal anecdote side of it for me is simply income and financial security. I used to pirate a lot when I was in college and later when I was working crappy jobs for crappy pay. As I got better jobs and paid off more of my student loan debt and started building an actual savings, I was better able to financially support the artists whose art I enjoy. I subscribe to streaming movie and music services and buy games online. If I’d had to pay for all the art I enjoyed before I was able to afford it, I’d have been bankrupted with credit card debt and wouldn’t have cleared my background check for my much better paying job. If you want millennials to pay for more art, improve the economy, reduce the cost of mortgages and student loans, and increase their chances of getting good jobs.

ECA (profile) says:

I know...


Where would you have Easy access(I DID NOT SAY FREE) to the old movies/music/video games/console games??

Where would a company have Access to a READY CUSTOMER BASE?? DIRECT access..NO exporting, NO shipping, Little handling, NO HARD COPIES..Just DATA..

This ALSO is forcing the industries TO UPDATE the DATA..from the OLD film/tape/VHS/what ever…to DIGITAL FORM.
There have been TONS of media LOST from Abuse/fire/no care of maintenance..

WHAT USE do these Media HAVE?? to them, its MONEY. they use it to sell back and forth to give RIGHTS to each other..
But how mnay people KNOW, how many Wizard of OZ films there are? or the ORIGINAL VIDEO? Alice in wonder land?? HOW about the OLD SINGERS…How mnay people KNOW that LOTS of Music is NOT original..”Happy trails” was NOT a Van halen Song..

WHAT chance do people have if ALL this data is LOCKED UP?? The controlling companies DONT LIKE NEW BUSINESS, and would rather OTHERS DO IT…so they can CHARGE FOR IT..

The funny part, tends to be, Noticing that THERE ARE ALLOT OF REMAKES…and IF’ their RIGHTS are based on the original…THEY HAVE NO RIGHTS…They expired WITH the original..
EXCEPT where they used EXPIRED Rights from another Author, Copied his story line or Changed it..This is a fun area..ALL GRAY…DARK GRAY..

Digitari says:

But but but

“Cord cutters don’t exist, this is just a fad, No one needs faster internet, CD’s last forever, No one wants a phone they can carry in their pocket, 8-tracks last forever, Nothing beats a horse, No one wants a PC in their home, You haven’t made til you get a record deal”

(it’s good to be old)

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