Streaming Platforms Open the Door for Indie Artists Locked Out by the Typical Model


A blonde, eyes wide and moving, looking for someone, anyone to give assurances. In the background a piano plays and the chords repeat.

“It’s my own desire. It’s my own remorse. Help me to decide. Help me make the most of freedom and of pleasure, nothing ever last forever. Everybody wants to rule the world” sings Angela, a character on the hit show Mr. Robot.

This was a hit song in the 1980s by Tears for Fears. Roland Orzabal, Ian Stanley, and Chris Hughes wrote it. The publishing company with rights to it issued a synchronization license for use by the show. This is how the model works. Sign a record deal, record the music, have a hit, sell the music, tour, and collect royalties on the art for years to come. Along the way there are service providers: record companies, tour promoters, publishing companies, and others. They present themselves as the path to success. And to a degree they are right.

 

What artist hasn’t said “If I just sign a record deal? If I just get a major tour? If I get my song in that movie? If I just get my chance.”

And along came Chance the Rapper, who won Grammys this year for Best New Artist, Best Rap Performance, and Best Rap Album. The Grammys are run by the Recording Academy and they recently updated their rules of eligibility to include music only available via streaming. Streaming is key.

With the technology of today there are two methods for music distribution. You can buy the music e.g. iTunes. This is the ownership model. Or you can stream the music. This is the access model. Anyone older than 35 is familiar with the ownership model. Think 8-Track, cassettes, and CDs. With services like Spotify, Tidal, and others the user doesn’t take ownership of the art, they basically rent it in the form of a stream. The user doesn’t care. They don’t even realize they are a user. They are simply listening to music.

This isn’t a funeral for record labels. We are not staring at a casket. Zombies maybe, but not a casket. Record Labels still have a place. Over 100 years of history is not undone by a handful of success stories.

But it is to say the value has shifted. If I appeal to the math of the situation (music and math share the same parts of the brain, right?), what are the odds of success with a record label? Think about their catalog. How many artists are represented? Ten? 100? Now think about the number of artists which have broken through over the last year? Justin Timberlake kicked off the Oscars. He came on the scene in 1998. Lady Gaga did the halftime of the Super Bowl. She wore a meat suite to the MTV Video Awards in 2010. This sort of success for a record label is at best 10% and more likely less than 1%. So, if I’m an artist why am I trading earnings for a 1% chance?

Labels can provide analytics and consultation. Answers to these questions: Where are my fans physically and virtually? Given my style, what artists are best for collaborating with? What brands are similar to my brand? Which platform offers the best service? Which venues are the best at getting the word out? And how can I get better?

As an artist, you must ask do I need a label? No, you don’t. The tools for success are available to you. You can record with a high end iPhone microphone and master your music with software on your laptop. You can connect with fans and find new ones with social media. And now there are platforms such as Disctopia which will host your creative works, count your streams and sales, and pay out individually to you and your collaborators on a weekly basis. These platforms are available virtually on any connected device so your fans can enjoy your creation on the bus, the patio having coffee, or anywhere else the mood strikes. Perhaps most important, these platforms don’t lock you in. Most are monthly subscriptions. They help to make the most of freedom and of pleasure.

As the band Tears for Fears said “Welcome to your life, there is no turning back. Everybody wants to rule the world.”