Last Friday I had the great privilege of having drinks (as it were – I’m a Mormon and therefore don’t drink) with Dave Allen. Dave was a founding member of Gang of 4, and now writes a music blog called Pampelmoose. He also co-founded a digital strategy firm called Fight.
During that conversation we covered a variety of topics, including artists’ seeming lack of desire to embrace the Internet. The traditional art model says that artists have to find a gatekeeper (a record label, a gallery, or otherwise) who controls distribution and give up control of their work, so that they can have access to that distribution. The Internet, of course, has completely destroyed this model in the music industry, and is on its was to doing the same thing in the fine art and film worlds.
Dave sent me a message on Twitter last night letting me know about an essay that he’s written that continues the conversation that we had. In Dear Musicians: Please Be Brilliant or Get Out of the Way, Dave puts together the argument that the fact that so many musicians are starving is their own fault (I’m paraphrasing here, get what you want from the essay by reading it yourself). Go read the essay. I’ll wait.
Now, everything that Dave said, I agree with for the most part. I also think that the same arguments can be applied to filmmakers, painters, sculptors, and other artists. Stop giving control to the gatekeepers! You can use the Web to reach out to your fans directly. You can sell your work to whoever wants it, and there are people out there that want it, I promise.
One point of dissension, Dave. In the article, you ask:
“Why is there no online music equivalent of punk rock? Why is there no real and passionate embrace of the new?”
I don’t think that you will see a mass Movement like what happened with Punk. Instead you’re going to see a whole bunch of individual artists who don’t sell 100,000 records through labels. You’re going to initially see a small number of musicians who sell 5,000 records through their own sites and supplement that income with t-shirts, concert revenue, and other income streams. While they may not sell as many records, they’ll end up making more money by keeping 100% of the revenue. This won’t create a mass movement because these artists will make a good living without every becoming famous. They’ll have a distributed fan base of people who love them because they feel like they ‘discovered’ this artist and helped contribute to something special and unique.
You already pointed to several artists who are doing something similar in your essay. I would add Amanda Palmer and Matthew Ebel to your list of musicians who get it.
For all of you reading this post, I issue the same challenge that Dave makes.
Dear Artists: Please realize that you don’t have to seed control of your work, and you don’t have to depend on others to make a living.