7.07.2014

If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em... So You Can Beat 'Em


No other contemporary artform has had to deal with the upheavals brought about by the changes in taste and technology of the music industry, and yet, musicians, producers and record labels have to figure out a way to survive.  Streaming music is one way forward but it's a mixed bag.  Reporting for the NY Times, Jonah Bromwich found that many musicians are now trying to join the party in an effort to win on their own terms.
The rise of streaming music services like Pandora, Spotify and Beats Music has been a boon for listeners, serving up songs for a modest monthly fee or, with ads, free. But their effect on artists, especially those with smaller audiences, has been less positive.
But rather than fight what looks like an inexorable shift in how consumers listen to music, some independent record labels and their artists are embracing the streaming revolution — but on their own terms. 
Last month, Sub Pop Records, an independent label that introduced artists including Nirvana and the Shins, announced a partnership with Drip.fm, a subscription streaming and download service. Fans who sign up for the Sub Pop feed on Drip.fm will pay $10 a month in exchange for albums, singles and special exclusives from the label. 
Sub Pop is among the most prominent indie labels experimenting with subscription models that connect them directly to their fans. Labels like Fool’s Gold, Jagjaguwar and Secretly Canadian have signed on with the two-year-old Drip.fm in an effort to attract fans with exclusive music, a sense of community and an intimate connection with bands and artists. Other younger, digitally savvy musicians are starting their own services to appeal directly to their fans, like Nicolas Jaar’s Other People and Ryan Hemsworth’s Secret Songs.
And what about the indie artist without an established platform that even indie record labels like Sub Pop have?
...[F]or independent artists, the economics of streaming is a tougher proposition. Consider Mr. Jaar, who has developed a small yet loyal following since the release of his 2011 debut album, “Space Is Only Noise.” As an electronic artist who experiments with what could roughly be called “psychedelic future jazz,” he lacks mainstream appeal and cannot rely on the masses to stream his music over and over again. 
“No musician I know is making their living from selling their music,” Mr. Jaar said. “Everyone’s making their living from touring and playing shows.” 
Last August, Mr. Jaar started Other People, a subscription service that distributes his music and that of friends and collaborators. Subscribers pay $5 a month or $50 a year for a weekly offering of songs, all of which can be downloaded through the service’s website. The venture started paying for itself within six months, Mr. Jaar said. 
“The truth is that touring can be really bad for making music, bad for the creative process,” he said. “When I started Other People, I was really trying to find a way to have a self-sustainable label so I don’t have to be touring all the time.” 
Even as it does little for their earnings, indie labels see some benefits from the large streaming services, as they solve the distribution and audience access problems that have historically hindered them. But ultimately, Spotify and the other platforms that make virtually all the music in the world available don’t foster the obsessive music fan culture that nurtures indie labels. 

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