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New economic models for music?

by Seb Chan on July 24th, 2007

An interesting piece in the New York Times on Prince. When I was in the UK a few weeks back there was a lot of controversy (heh heh) about his move to give his latest album away with a newspaper – which has apparently led to Sony refusing to sell to retail in the UK.

Prince’s priorities are obvious. The main one is getting his music to an audience, whether it’s purchased or not. “Prince’s only aim is to get music direct to those that want to hear it,” his spokesman said when announcing that The Mail would include the CD. (After the newspaper giveaway was announced, Columbia Records’ corporate parent, Sony Music, chose not to release “Planet Earth” for retail sale in Britain.) Other musicians may think that their best chance at a livelihood is locking away their music — impossible as that is in the digital era — and demanding that fans buy everything they want to hear. But Prince is confident that his listeners will support him, if not through CD sales then at shows or through other deals.

This is how most pop stars operate now: as brand-name corporations taking in revenue streams from publishing, touring, merchandising, advertising, ringtones, fashion, satellite radio gigs or whatever else their advisers can come up with. Rare indeed are holdouts like Bruce Springsteen who simply perform and record. The usual rationale is that hearing a U2 song in an iPod commercial or seeing Shakira’s face on a cellphone billboard will get listeners interested in the albums that these artists release every few years after much painstaking effort.

But Prince is different. His way of working has nothing to do with scarcity.

Prince is in a rather unique position – he is already bankable, he is already a celebrity. But what of those who are not yet in a position to sell out stadiums and command giveaways in the national press? And, what about those for whom ‘performing’ is not an option?

From → Sounds, Words

3 Comments
  1. Oh and here is another take – Lefsetz.

  2. Well, there’s always your blog and related communities of interest. That’s not the cover of the newspaper and it can be a real ghetto of inattention … but I think now, you have to be the celebrity first, musician second. So why buy into it? Need to find ways to bypass it.

  3. this makes me think of the books. they may not have chosen to give their music away for free but thats what happened after pitchfork got behind them. on their site they implore their fans to order t-shirts because “we can make a much better living selling t-shirts than we can selling music”

    from their website:

    We feel the need to dispel any notions that we are financially sitting pretty because of the acclaim our music has enjoyed. It’s true, we’ve released a couple of records and we’re grateful to all of the writers who have taken the time to write about them, but unfortunately our record sales do not reflect this. Our work, although deeply satisfying to us, has left us both on the brink of financial collapse since we began, so we are asking you: Please, do not steal our music thinking that we can afford it. We barely get by, and aren’t able to afford basic things like health insurance, let alone raising a family, etc. We love what we do, and we love that people listen, but if you would like to see our work continue, please support us, and all of the artists you enjoy, as directly as possible. The sad fact is, we can make a much better living selling t-shirts than we can selling music, so please help us keep this going.

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