Oh no! The sky is falling! Piracy is decimating musicians!
No, it's not. My latest law review article rebuts these cries and shows how new technologies have allowed musicians to participate in every step of the process of creating, developing, and marketing music.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has claimed that piracy is "too benign of a term to adequately describe the toll that music theft" takes on musicians. And it has claimed that "there are fewer people trying to make money as musicians today" and that, in 2012, "the number of people who . . . describe themselves as musicians has declined since 1999 by 41 percent."
Although such numbers sound dire, I explain that the 41 percent figure is vastly overstated. Recalculating the figures for Ars Technica, Matthew Lasar found that the decline was only 8.4 percent. The RIAA's response was that it had not compared data between years, but rather had "looked at MONTHLY data: one month in a year vs. another month a year."
Of course, such an exercise allows one to cherry-pick data to achieve desired results. It is no surprise, then, that the RIAA conceded that "different months yield different figures." And, as Mike Masnick pointed out, monthly data "fluctuates pretty drastically" (for example, July figures might be higher because of more weddings).
The remainder of the article provides an overview of tools available to musicians.
The first step in the production process is creation. There are numerous programs that allow users to create their own music, such as Logic Pro X, Cubase, and Pro Tools 11. The most well-known, GarageBand, lets users assemble as many as 32 tracks of instruments such as drum beats, synthesizer riffs, and guitar sounds.
Next comes distribution. Twitter and YouTube are two prominent examples. By shrinking the gap between bands and their fans, Twitter has offered a platform for musicians to connect with their followers. Bearstronaut, for example, used Twitter to release a new single and gain more followers by using a "Tweet for a Track," by which fans retweet a song to their followers and get the single in return.
YouTube is another tool that musicians have used to distribute their works. Alex Day, for example, gained more than half a million subscribers and roughly 100 million views within six years of creating a YouTube channel, and he released three singles at once, which "kill[s] chart placement" but is "better for the fans and for the music."
Musicians also can do their own marketing. Bandcamp provides musicians with "a rock-solid platform for selling your music and merchandise" and offers "up-to-the-instant stats system [that] reveals who's linking to you, where your music is embedded, which tracks are most and least popular, what's being downloaded and when, [and] which search engine terms are sending traffic your way." Other examples include the Coalition of Artists and Stakeholders (CASH) (an open-source, nonprofit organization "focused on educating and empowering artists and their fans") and ReverbNation's Music for Good Program (which allows artists to split their profits with a charity).
Next comes royalty collection. CD Baby Pro offers worldwide music distribution and endeavors to "give independent artists the same royalty collection resources that major label artists" use. TuneCore distributes music to dozens of online services, sends royalties to participating musicians, and provides "detailed sales and daily iTunes, Spotify, and Amazon Music reports."
To carry out each of the above steps, musicians can raise funds from various services. The most prominent is Kickstarter, which, as of this writing, has raised $1.7 billion from more than 8 million people to fund 84,000 creative projects. Indiegogo has looser guidelines that "essentially allow for the crowdfunding of anything—projects, trips, charities, and personal wishes." And Patreon allows users to offer ongoing support for continued work and gives content creators the ability to set rewards such as "giv[ing] out their personal cell numbers, . . . play[ing] an online game with patrons, or even provid[ing] behind-the-scenes production diaries."
In recent years, touring has become an important source of revenue. Market leader Songkick aggregates concert information, allows users to receive notifications of when bands will be in town, and includes a database of fans' accounts of their concert experiences. Bandsintown presents the bands users might be interested in as word bubbles, with the boldness level of the name indicating the app's confidence that the user will like the group. Timbre allows users to enter their location and receive a list of bands playing in their area.
In addition to all these tools, musicians can forge direct connections with fans. Our own Mike Masnick, in this and other fora, has been a pioneer in articulating a business model based on connecting with fans and giving them a reason to buy. Just a few examples:
Amanda Palmer, who in three experiments in one month totaling ten hours, made $19,000 from Twitter (compared with "absolutely nothing" from 30,000 record sales) after creating a "Friday Night Losers T-Shirt," hosting a webcast auction, and offering access to a recording studio event for the first 200 fans to request access.
Josh Freese, a drummer who offers, for varying levels of payment, drum lessons, visits to museums or Disneyland, clothes from his closet, his Volvo station wagon, service as a personal assistant, a spot on tour, or personal songs.
Jill Sobule, who similarly offers, for various levels of payment, access to shows for a year, names mentioned on a "‘thank you' song," concerts at individuals' houses, or the chance to sing on an album.
So don't listen to the record labels. Musicians are not confronting doom and gloom. Unlike the late 20th century, in which record labels played a crucial role, musicians today have the tools to undertake every step of the creation, distribution, marketing, and fundraising processes themselves.
The irony of the labels' flawed arguments is that they ignore that many independent musicians are thriving today, using tools their predecessors could only have dreamed about. No longer is the 20th-century, label-reliant model needed for success. The record labels may continue to witness the decline of their business model, but musicians may find that "the sky is rising."
Michael A. Carrier, law professor and author, Innovation for the 21st Century