What i$ a Musician Worth? Part 2 -The Worth of Music as a Product

Quick recap of current activities


Boy, am I excited! In just 24 hours, I’ll be getting ready with my band to record our debut lo-fi EP. All weekend. I’m so excited! I can’t wait to share our songs with people, and finally be able to look for gigs (with recordings to show venues).

Our band had a rehearsal last night, which our recording engineer came to. We set tempos and talked about what we will need to bring for the weekend. If possible, we’ll record James’ drums to a click track. There are some pretty gnarly tempo changes in some songs, and I think for a proper recording, a click is essential. I’m pretty darn happy with how we were sounding. We’re going to spend tomorrow (Saturday) recording all of James’ drums in our regular rehearsal studio. We’ll be playing along, to get the right “live” feel, but probably won’t get any guitars down. It’s all about tracking drums. On Sunday, though, we’ll be doing both guitars and bass at Ross’ friend’s house (who has a really sweet home lab called Fireball Studios). If we get vocals down, all the better, but I’m thinking I’ll probably have to do that during the week, sometime.

I’m really pumped to see how it all turns out! I’ve never recorded before with a whole band. I have done pro recordings in the past, but usually on my own or with Ross, with session musicians playing the other instruments, or with programmed drums, etc. This time, all the sounds will be coming from US!…and our instruments. It’s going to be so fun and creative.

And now…

What i$ a Musician Worth? Part 2

In my previous post, I mused about what music is worth when it comes to gigs. This post, I’m interested in discussing the worth of music itself…music as a product, and a commodity.

I found an interview on mashable.com with Billy Corgan at SXSW. It’s a chat about whether social networking and the digital age are really helping artists. Billy Corgan votes no 😛 It’s not really as simple as that, though. He points out the good side and the bad side of the current musical climate. And the world’s changing value system towards music. Whether or not you like Billy Corgan, I think he has some very interesting and intelligent insights on this topic. I’ve transcribed some of Billy’s words below (keep in mind he’s talking conversationally):

“With any commerce, you start with a fundamental belief, which is ‘I’m ok with paying for this thing.’…We’ve lost the gradiated rational decision of what music is worth. The ‘album’ was a contrivance of the music industry, because in the beginning they didn’t give a shit…it wasn’t until The Beatles and The Beach Boys that the album as a form was risen to a higher form, and they realised ‘Oh, we can sell even more of these things’. And so then, everybody was an ‘artist’. So, whatever’s happened in the last 15 years with technology has degraded the price point to the point where people say, ‘I just don’t wanna pay for that. Or, if I’m gonna pay for it, I’m really gonna be super picky about what I buy. And then…the secondary casualty, which is it’s turned music culture into a service culture… People like me used to be ‘auteurs’ – “I’m gonna do what the fuck I wanna do, like it or don’t like it” – well, if you’re really good, they’ll come. And if you don’t do a good job, they won’t come. Now, somehow, I’m supposed to beg for attention. That’s completely counter-intuitive to, a), why I became a musician, and b) to the personality of someone like me. So, I’m supposed to have enough of an ego to make my own world, music, artwork, everything. But, please, oh, please, can you fork out that $15, that $10? That’s a really big decision…What?! How did this become such a big decision?…The general person no longer really believes in the idea of making that purchase. They just don’t trust it anymore, for whatever reason. And that’s been the weird thing that none of us could have anticipated…..What the sophisticated fan needs to understand is, if they don’t support (the artists they love) in total, from their world, if they get caught up in that snarky, smalling mentality, it’s actually a vote for the other side (of flash-in-the-pan music with no real artistry). And that side is only going to get bigger and bigger and bigger.”

And about the relationship between musicians and fans:

“The young artist understands that, (they need to) build a world that people are going to want to visit, and stay in… they’re gonna have to want to participate in a wider set of commercial exchange. Now, that could take different forms. It doesn’t even necessarily have to require money. If you have 100,000 people on your Facebook, you need to turn those people into an army that’s going to work for you. Now, in the old way, if you’d go to them and say ‘Please, can you help me, we need our street tream’, 90% of your fans say “fuck off” and they see it as beneath (them). But your fans have to be sophisticated enough to understand that, in essence, they’re aiding and abetting the enemy. If you’re an alternative music fan, you’re basically aiding and abetting the enemy (if they don’t help)…I remember one time…like 5 years ago, I asked our fans, can you please call up the radio stations and request our song? Because that is, part and parcel, the way they judge whether or not they’re going to play your song. (Imitating fans) “Fuck you!”…At what point do we make this exchange where people empower themselves to support the things they really believe in?….Artists are gonna have to represent more than just the narrow bandwidth of music…You have to mean something and be more.”

Watch the video here, it’s pretty awesome.

Well…I certainly quoted that interview extensively! It just really got me thinking, both as a musician and as a fan. I feel as though I could be a better music fan than I am. There are some bands I really love, but I can’t say I ever do much more than buy the occasional ticket to their show, buy their album or maybe post one of their music videos on Facebook. There has only ever been one band that I went into full on fan-mode for (The Red Paintings – an amazing Australian band). And Mr. Corgan is correct, I loved TRP for more than their music. I loved them because they were a crazy art-rock band that featured artists painting live to their music at every show, usually on canvases but sometimes even on humans. They are a band that put on amazing themed gigs. Some I’ve been to include the Alice in Wonderland theme gig, the Andy Warhol themed gig, and even the Mark Ryden painting-themed gig. At every one of these shows, the band dressed up in incredible themed costumes, and encouraged the audience to dress up, too. (How’s that for ‘representing more than the narrow bandwidth of music’, Billy?).

I just dug up some old photos from the Mark Ryden gig, this was like…at least 5 years ago, but check it out. Amazing creativity:

Terrible photo, but here are two members of the band dressed as Mark Ryden paintings.

One of the paintings the costumes were based on, ‘The Creatrix’

The other painting, ‘The Debutante’

Me on the right, looking psychotic in my costume

‘The Butcher Bunny’ I based my costume on.

You can check out The Red Paintings’ talent for incorporating visuals with their work in one of their videos.

Why did I stop being such a crazy fan? I got sort of irritated at the politics of some of the people going to the gigs (the same people came every week). Eventually, the rad people I had fun with became replaced with new fans who, I felt, had less respect and weren’t as fun to hang out with. Plus I got busy with my own music and didn’t feel I ‘had the time’ to keep going to every gig. I haven’t seen a Red Paintings gig in a long while (though Ross and I did get to play support for them once!…in one of the worst gigs of our life. I was sick. Anyway…). I will always have time for The Red Paintings, though. They really make you want to get involved.

Now speaking as a musician – I dont think that it’s necessary to create that fancy or extensive a world for your fans to interact with. (But you can see how amazingly effective it is). You just have to do it your own way. The Red Paintings definitely had a particular vision, and followed through on it. As a musician, find your own vision and make that come across as much as possible in your music. Find out what makes you unique, and get that across to your audience. Not everyone may like you, but you will attract people who dig what you’re about. Give stuff away to fans, be generous, but don’t give everything away. Invite people into a special world that you and your band have created.

Hope I’ve stimulated your brain today. I’d better get ready for work – thanks for reading!

This entry was posted in Music, Musical Integrity, Success, the full musician and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to What i$ a Musician Worth? Part 2 -The Worth of Music as a Product

  1. keithpp says:

    Why record lofi? There is enough lofi shit about, Record hifi, high qualitly. If it is worth recording do a good job.

    Too many artists are let down by bad recordings, bad cover art.

    • Thanks Keith. Why record lofi? ‘Cause we’re all broke, and we are really, at the moment, just recording some demos so that we can book gigs. To get gigs around where we live, you have to show some recordings to the venue booker. We have no recordings, and so we haven’t yet booked any gigs direct for ourselves (we’ve had some gig offers through other bands that we know, but we want to be able to organize our own gigs).

      I don’t think the recordings will come out ‘bad’. We are doing them with some very good sound engineers, they just happen to be good friends of ours and we aren’t spending a whole heap of time and money on it all. It’s just a fun exercise at the moment to get some songs recorded and move on to actually gigging. We decided to refer to it as a “lo-fi EP” because we’re still not sure how professional-sounding it will turn out, and we don’t want to raise expectations of it by calling it an ‘EP’ proper. (It’s not going to have massive crackles in it or sound like a cat beaten in a bathroom. It just may have that slightly rough-around-the-edges ‘live’ feel to it). We will sell the ‘demos’/lofi EP for really cheap, and are mainly doing it just to have some recorded examples of our music. In Australia this is really not uncommon, a huge amount of bands get started by putting their craptacular demos up on Triple J Unearthed…many of them end up getting played on radio, gain more of a following, and move on to a proper release a few months later.

      At the end of the day, I think good songs and good band chemistry comes across even through less-than-perfect production. We want our recordings to sound how we sound live and not have them prettied up too much. Plus I’d like to do a sort of ‘practice take’ before we record a really pro EP later this year. That way, we will have already tried some things in the studio together. And we will probably have a better idea of what we want, and how we want to use our time.

      Hope that answers your question x


  2. keithpp says:

    Try crowd sourcing.


    Yeah, I can see the problem, but short-sighted.

    If you put something out that is not you at your best you are not doing yourselves any favours.

    Contact Shadowboxer and Steve Lawson, how to record on a low budget.


    Calling it lofi, will immediately put people off.

    It is amazing what can be done live with a simple mic pair.

    If you have got good sound engineers and they have good equipment, that is a good start.

    Look up Anthea Neads and Andrew Prince on youtube and see how bad some of their videos are. Not a route to follow.

    On the other hand check this out Steve Lawson and Lobelia at a house concert.


    Or Imogen Heap live improvisation for Earth Hour 2012


    I have often been at concerts and thought, I wish this was being recorded live.

    • Lol, it’s fine. Thanks for your opinion though, I’ll look into your links. Yeah I’m aware of crowd sourcing. We just need to get some recordings done. We aren’t trying to conquer the world with the recordings, they aren’t a big release. As I said, we just need some recordings or we won’t get any gigs. I think they will turn out nicely. I’ll post them when they are done and you can tell me how crap you find them 😉

  3. keithpp says:

    Look forward to finding them on bandcamp!

  4. keithpp says:

    Totally off topic. Brilliant story of a nine-year-old blogger!

    An amazing blog by a nine-year-old girl. Then look how she was treated by the local Stasi.


  5. Pingback: Artists need a little more than a viral video to succeed « Keithpp's Blog

  6. keithpp says:

    99.9% of writers who complain about “piracy” in internet NEVER had any book “pirated”. – Paulo Coelho

    While you were sleeping, Amanda Palmer built an army. – Sean Francis

    Music is not a product, it is an art form.

    It is treating music as a commodity that has got us in the mess we are now in.

    For the major record labels music is a commodity, the next big hit, no nurturing of talent. They could just as easily be selling baked beans.

    Once again we are seeing the confusion between price and value.

    How do we value the time composing a piece? How do we value the price someone gets from listening to it.


    The CD or LP or bits in a download are the carrier, They are not the sounds we hear.

    If someone says social networking does not help creative artist he is a clueless idiot, probably a brainwashed patsy for the big record labels, who does not know what he is talking about.

    I have never heard so much gibberish as that spouted by Billy Corgan. He has not a clue about social media. He lumps spotify, myspace, twitter and blogs together. He also confuses the major record labels with the music industry.

    The only two that matter are twitter and blogs.


    The major record labels are an aberration, and that is why they are dying. They operate on a 90/10 spilt. 90% goes to them, 10% to the artist and the artist has to bear all the costs. Not exactly a good deal for the artist

    Bandcamp charges 15%. on what is sold. To have a presence there is free. On average those downloading music pay 50% more than is asked. Why? Because they know the money they pay is going into the pocket of an artist, not into the coffers of a faceless corporation.


    Community supported music works. I am not surprised this guy gets no support when he asks for it as there is a total disconnect. That is why many once-famous-for-five-minutes acts, when they come off a major record labels and think crowd sourcing will fund our next album fall flat on their faces and what are perceived as unknown bands do well.


    There has to be dialogue, interaction. Something Imogen Heap, Amanda Palmer, Steve Lawson and Paulo Coelho understand.

    Imogen Heap uses crowd sourcing not for finance, but for ideas. She sought sound samples, film clips.


    Amanda Palmer knows how to communicate with her fans. The days of I am the great rock star travelling around in a limo with smoked windows are long gone.


    String Cheese Incident sought the help of their fans to fight ticketmaster and they got it.


    When Steve Lawson toured the US, all the gigs were arranged through people who had downloaded or shared his music through bandcamp.

    The price we pay for an album, say $10, is not the value we place on it.

    Social media is the best thing that has ever happened to creative artists. That most have no idea how to use it, does not mean it is bad. A bad workman always blames his tools.


    Not so long ago Neil Young referred to piracy as the new radio.


    Remember payola? It was an illegal payments scheme where record labels paid radio stations to play their music. They paid them to play the music for free!

    It is a basic fundamental given that most choose to ignore: We cannot like a piece of music until we have heard it!

    And how do we hear a piece of music? Because someone chooses to share it with us.


    What do we mean by success, how do we measure it?

    Artists have been brainwashed by crap TV shows like X Factor that success equates to being a brain-dead celebrity, obtaining a contract with a failing major record label.

    It is easier than it has ever been to promote yourself. The costs of recording has plummeted.

    A better way of measuring success that people are listening to you and enjoying your music. How do you value that?

    Artist do not die of poverty. They die in obscurity.


  7. keithpp says:

    A lovely example of simple live recording


    and yet very high quality.

    Profits from which go the Save the Children.

  8. keithpp says:

    An idea from Steve Lawson that may be of interest


    Not sure exactly how this works, but I think: He goes on your memory stick and you pocket the money from the sale, you go on his memory stick and he gets the money from the sale.

    Advantage to you is you get to sell something with more albums on it.

    Advantage to you if he sells memory stick with you on it you get known to more people.

    Worth it least looking into and giving it a try.

  9. keithpp says:

    Emily White, an intern at NPR, recently wrote she has 11,000 tracks but only had ever bought fifteen CDs.


    This brought a patronising attack by David Lowery in an open letter to Emily White.


    My own take on what Emily White wrote is that she is naïve and simplistic.

    Tedious and time-wasting as it was, I spent half of today reading through what David Lowery had written. It was not difficult to demolish.


  10. keithpp says:

    Somebody That I Used To Know – Mike Dawes


    released Tuesday

    early hours Wednesday morning 301 hits

    early afternoon Wednesday 5,615 hits

    early hours Thursday morning 22,596 hits

    early afternoon Thursday 114,579 hits

    early hours Friday morning 164,174 hits

    I had expected Thursday afternoon to see a levelling off, instead seeing exponential growth.


    What a shame not on bandcamp as would have ridden on the momentum. Would have seen same exponential growth, some of which would have translated into downloads and sales.


    If nothing else this exposes the nonsense peddled by David Lowery that internet is bad for creative artists.


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