Friday, 1 July 2011

The downloading revolution is killing music? Don't be an idiot!

And now a word from (one of my) (free) sponsors! Mediafire.

So, without wanting this to sound like an advert, I just thought I'd do this, as it's something my online activity is heavily relying on now, and then as a knock on effect (soooo much muuuusssiiiiicccc!!!), my life!
I was reading the site's FAQ's and hype on its front page earlier on, and thought I'd repost one paragraph from it, as, for once, what a company / website says to 'big themselves up' is true!

Quite simply, this...
'MediaFire is now one of the fastest growing sites on the web with greater than 100% yearly growth. We are still the only file sharing site to offer unlimited downloads, unlimited uploads, unlimited storage, download resuming, zero wait times, and more, all for free. With the constant addition of new features and our attention to user feedback, MediaFire remains the leader in online storage.'

Thank you Mediafire, you are one of the wonders of the world wide web.
Sorry Rapidshare, Megaupload and everyone else, you just don't cut it.

The debate is (as if I've just started a debate, with myself, from just wanting to post up ONE paragraph!!), however, that downloading music is killing record labels, shops, bands selling merch to make either a bit of a living or cover themselves for touring around playing more gigs. As someone who has played in bands since the age of 16, never getting to, say, the size of a band like Metallica or whoever, but always having merch of the band I am in, it is noticeable the effects of it, to a degree, but, then, directly and more prominently on the flipside, for bands of 'our size', it's easily the best way to get the word around.

The latest band I am in is the best example of this. We (DIASCORIUM) uploaded OUR FIRST EP, to Mediafire last April and posted it on the music blog I ran, with a view of sharing it around a few forums, sending the link to promoters and friends, maybe getting a couple hundred downloads in the process and stir up a bit of notice for the band. Now, (14 months later), the free download has been posted on quite a few other blogs, an American label called TORN FLESH RECORDS came along and offered to repost it on their download site, and people are still downloading it now, even though we've brought out a new CD. It has now had approaching 60,000 downloads worldwide (that we know of, maybe more! plus, there's a few thousand on places like Myspace and ReverbNation etc..) and we managed to get on some great gigs, get a dozen or so reviews, and generally get the word around so much more than if we'd had, say, 500 cds made and tried to sell them for three quid a pop. We eventually did a few physical copies as a few people asked, and put them together as cheaply, simply, but still neatly as possible, and sold them for a pound or sometimes gave them away free, just to get them out there and cover costs of making.

I suppose the argument is, if people are CD buyers, then they'll buy the CD, if they aren't, then they won't. In these times where expendable cash is lacking a lot more than it used to, there are, however, still ways for bands and the labels out there to get heard, which is the biggest battle of all. People are saying downloading music has killed off record sales, but, I feel you can only apportion small amounts of the blame on this. Real life is a huge part of it. After all the mountains of bills we have to cover, be they for utilities or for credit that is handed to us on a plate just to help us survive amidst everything costing more everywhere you look (and some people to just be daft with and get silly amounts of possessions), AND, as those who grew up having to buy stuff to hear it get older and have less money spare with other priorities, there is less possibility to buy CDs. I would love to buy as much as I did when I was younger, even as a downloader of music, it would be great to buy everything I want to, or even just a few things I want to, but I simply cannot. Admittedly, the younger generation of music listeners have grown up around downloading to shift the balance more that way, but it's not as clear cut as the 'no to downloading' brigade will have you believe.

I know a lot of people who are still CD or vinyl buyers, and I know plenty of those who download a lot, who, if they find something new that they love, they'll still make the effort to track a physical copy down, plus, they then repost about the band on their social network pages and keep the whole word of mouth thing going as much as it ever was, maybe even moreso than in the times of tape-trading (but, essentially, in a similar fashion). Just a quick note of thanks, to everyone who ISN'T in a band who does do this, repost about a band, their CD, their MP3s, their video, their upcoming gigs, you are keeping the underground music scene alive and you deserve a huge shake of the hand for this. Every single repost you do helps, even if nobody comments, it is still very important and hopefully more people will do it.

So, back on track... Bands, get that stick out of your arse. Stop complaining about 'Downloading killing music', because it's NOT! It's helping you get the name of your band around a MASSIVE percent more than you would without it. Plus, with the help of sites like the absolutely inspired BANDCAMP which lets bands upload their music, for free, to it, and then have an option on there for people to get the digital music for free or make a donation of whatever they want for it, there's still ways for bands to make a few quid if they so desire from the age of downloading. You just have to think smart and not be lazy! In fact, there's LESS production costs that way so in essence, the downloading music revolution has just saved you a load of money and given you way more chance of getting the name spread and a few quid in your pocket if you so desire. Fancy that!

Labels too also have this option on sites like Bandcamp, and of course through things like Amazon, iTunes and many more, and, again, if they think cannily, there are always ways of getting money for their hard work, but the possibilities of spreading the name of the label are all there too. Looking at it partly as an outsider looking in (having never been fully involved with a 'proper' record label, but have dabbled a little over the years), but also somewhat of an insider looking out for most of my life, there are many more ways in fact. People ALWAYS like a good compilation. It's a fantastic way of getting to know a label and 10 or 20 of the bands on it in the course of just a few minutes. When I first got into music, I used to try and pick up as many free hand out compilations or cheap ones in shops as I possibly could. If I found just 1 or 2 good bands to follow up on from that, then job done, then I'd tell some people about the label I found said bands on, pass the compilations on, and so, there it goes on. This is surely only the same as how downloading works, but a hell of a lot slower, and, granted, on a smaller scale, but still, it's the same principal is it not? One person gets the original and then passes it on down the line? I'm sure folks will disagree, but too many people look negatively on downloading when there are SO MANY positives, and for once, I'm being positive about something, so let's roll with it.

If my band had got a quid for every single one of those 60,000 downloads we would have been absolutely laughing, but, the chances of that happening are, well, none. We may have had 60 of those people feel strongly enough to donate something if we'd posted it in such fashion, and if we'd have been charging for it, then maybe only those 60 (or, if it's passed on, a few hundred) would have heard our songs properly and we may have missed out on the right people (for giving us gigs, for audiences coming to gigs, for people reviewing music etc.) to have heard us, so, to us, we're absolutely thankful for this wonderful possibility.

The labels I DON'T feel sorry for are those who are still trying to charge upward of £10 for CDs (unless they have supreme packaging). Most people are now aware of how much it costs to produce CDs, especially on a more mass scale. If you aren't aware, then I'll tell you. Let's stir things up a bit here! On average, for a smaller band to make 500 CDs, in a box, with 4 pages of colour artwork and a properly printed CD, it costs somewhere between 500 and 1000 pounds. After doing a quick double check of prices on a few replication websites and for the amount of 10,000 units, we're looking at an average of £6000, which is a big amount, BUT, if these CDs are sold at even just £3, then that's 5 times the amount coming back to them. Any label complaining at not selling enough to cover their costs has either made the wrong decision about a band, or is charging too much and nobody is buying, or they're waiting until the labels realise they've set the price too high and inevitably put it on a more reasonable sale price.

When you see a label having a SALE of their CDs and they are charging no more than £5, or if you go to a gig and a band is selling their CD that they've made themselves, then support them, don't buy that one extra pint, buy a CD from them. Even haggle with them, if they're selling it for £5 or £6 quid, offer them something reasonable! Seriously. The chances are they'll take it, as literally everything helps the average, smaller band, out on the road, touring, needing to eat, needing to get petrol to get to the next gig. Seriously, just buy their stuff, get involved, tell your friends to do the same! As an example, we're selling our current release for £5 (an hour long album with 4 other bands on), I'd much rather someone give us £3 for one so that we got something towards petrol and they got to hear the music, than them and us going without because they were a couple of quid short at the end of a night.

Almost everyone selling CDs for more than a tenner in this day and age is doomed to fail and (almost) deservedly so. Downloading music isn't going to stop. It's only going to increase. Fact. Just don't completely neglect buying music when it's offered for cheap. Support the bands and labels who are genuinely passionate, because, if you are a fan of music, what would you do without them?

There is a lot more to it, I know, with royalties and staff to pay and all that extra stuff, and that's why bigger labels and record shops still charge the sort of amounts that they do, but also because they are greedy and don't understand that people are getting wise to how things are. When you see a price tag of £15 on a CD in a bigger record shop, a large percentage of that is still pure profit. One of the shames of all of this is that independent record shops have been forced off the high street onto online stores or into the confines of local history. They can still exist, just not in the physical world where people can go to browse. I'd say that's the main shame of downloading if I had to find something.

This is probably going to upset a lot of people, but, to be honest, I'm tired of hearing people complaining about 'the state of music' and that 'downloading is killing music'. It's only killing those who aren't able to change, adapt, think smart, do something different. If downloading challenges those involved to do something different with their product, and it's helping 99% (that's not even an over-estimation) of bands get their music heard, then absolutely spot on, let's have MORE downloading! Let's have MORE ways of getting great music to everyone who should be listening to it. I've found so much music recently, going back through many decades:- things that people have ripped off vinyl that came out 20 years ago that only a few hundred copies were made of; Things that would otherwise have disappeared into the ether of sonic history, never to be heard again aside from that select couple of hundred that were old enough, or in the right place at the right time. Thanks to this whole revolution, infinite numbers of people will find rare gems from the beginning of music time (I myself am a big fan of prog rock amongst all the extreme metal that is my preference, and I've recently found so much incredible, intelligent, inspiring, jaw dropping sounds from bands from all over the world, from the 70s and 80s that I would never have heard otherwise). You can hear music written by one sole musician in obscure countries with lesser populations than the town you live in, or that have strict laws, especially when it comes to metal style music that would never get distributed otherwise. You can hear music minutes after someone on the other side of the world to you has created it! I mean, REALLY, how absolutely incredible is THAT! A musician in Australia could send you music they've just created and saved, then uploaded, and you can be listening to it minutes later, from ten thousand miles away! My mind is boggled, and this far outweighs any detrimental effects it can have.

In the last 5 or 6 years, in fact, in the last YEAR, I've heard more new bands than I heard in the first 15 years of being a record buyer and, yes, tape trader, (started when I was about 13), even being a reviewer on a pretty big, established music reviews and promotion site, and I was being sent a lot of stuff to listen to, and, if I find something I like, I'll tell a lot of people. Some of those people will tell a lot of people, and so on and so forth. So, one tiny new band could have their recording heard by people all over the world through the realms of word of mouth, and SHOCK HORROR, downloading, more times in one day than they might in a year of having hundreds of CD at their disposal.

Some people say 'Ah, but the thrill of waiting a couple of weeks to get a package through the post has gone. The excitement of reading all the lyrics and the thanks list and looking at the artwork in front of you has gone.', well, that can't be argued against, but, me personally anyway, I can also still get excited about a release. When you hear that a band is releasing an album on a date a couple of months down the line, you can still get excited, waiting for it, then if you download it, you still have the excitement of hearing it for the first time. You can still get the artwork, full resolution, you can still read the lyrics. I still listen to it in the same way I ever did when I first bought vinyl in a small market stall selling second hand stuff for cheap in Leeds. It still means something to be able to listen to music, I don't understand how anyone can say that there is no excitement in finding new music, no matter how you come across it.

Back to the 'as someone who's been in bands for years' train of thought, I think this is absolutely fantastic, why would the world not want this? Why would someone who runs a label or a promotions company not want their band to get heard? I'd MORE than happily miss out on a couple of record sales to have 1000 people here the band I was releasing a CD of, even if they were established and relying on the money to pay a wage. Surely in the long run you can't buy the free spreading of the word of your release as efficiently, effectively and directly as you can this way, compared to via advertising in magazines and for banners on websites which cost a hell of a lot more with less guarantees that people will then buy the record.

For long established labels who have been there throughout all the changes in technology and ways of getting their music heard and ways of selling their music, I understand and appreciate fully how frustrating it must be when 10 or 15 years ago you could sell your CD for £10 or £15, and sell tens of thousands of copies, whereas now you have to sell it for £5 and sell thousands or hundreds instead. Those who accept it as part of the world we are living in will realise that any business, whatever it is, has to morph, change and adapt all the time. It has always been this way, think back even further before crazy technology was even a relevant argument, everything was a little more 'manual'!

One label that fits this, and I'll give them massive kudos for the way they've changed, whether people like the way they've changed over the years in the styles they've released or not, you have to admit they've been clever all the way through, and that's Earache Records. When they first started it was the mid 80s, tape trading, no internet, word of mouth buzz on the grapevine, flyers etc., they've released hundreds of records, and now release their music for a lot cheaper than they did, one recent release by an extreme / grind metal band from Singapore no less, Wormrot, was even given away for free upon its initial release for a short time, and then made available to buy physically. This has shot the band to the forefront of the entire world extreme metal scene in almost no time at all. They've been playing festivals and tours all over the world, and, granted, they were hard working BEFORE the label picked them up, but that's WHY the label picked them up, and then fully embraced and 'worked' this downloading revolution to its fullest potential, improving their reputation even more (well, in my eyes it certainly does anyway. What a great way to get publicity, and the amount of people that spread the link around even just in my circle of friends or on forums I read was immense), and then they release the CD, and, hopefully, make some money for all concerned from it too. Why the hell not, business is business, and the clever and inspiring deserve to reap the rewards. I'm not singling Earache out for any particular reason, I'm not getting hand outs from them. I have, over the years, found some life changing bands through them, and, so for that I am thankful, but they are quite simply an absolutely succinct case to back up my point. They've tried so many things over the years, some have worked, some haven't, I'm sure they'll admit that too, but at least they're trying, and at least they're progressing, and looking at the way things are in the world and attempting to stay one step ahead or at least on level par with what is around them. There are plenty of outlets that do, but I've followed their progress almost since their first days so I've seen how they've evolved.

For newly established labels who enter into the ring and expect to be able to do things how they were 10 years ago, then, you've got no chance. Don't bitch and moan about people downloading when you've set up your company wrongly. I know quite a lot of people who have set up labels, promotions, distribution, merchandising outlets in the last 10 years or so, and all of them have had to change how they do things even in this shorter time period, and the ones who have been clever about it are doing a roaring trade and are still in profit, whilst keeping a great reputation, so it IS possible.

I'll be honest, I would LOVE to make my actual living out of playing or being involved in music. Touring, selling merchandise, just being involved, somehow. It is one of the most saddening parts of my existence that this will never be the case, that's just how it is, and how it is for a majority of very talented people out in the world of music (playing, promoting, releasing), but 'this day and age' has given me and all those people MORE opportunity to get their sounds and their passion out to ears who care. It would be a shame for people to not be able to hear all the wonderful arrays of music, whatever it is they choose, or be able to find new styles and artists they wouldn't normally hear or give a chance to, so, as said before, more downloading possiblities please.

And breathe.

So, what started as just ONE paragraph, and was intended to end there continued on a massive amount more than I thought. I await the abuse from people who claim to be losing money because of downloading, as, with everything in the world, there are people whose lives are affected by 'the other side of the coin', people have their opinions and stories and recollections that will exemplify their claim, but, to me, business, progression and success is all about evolving with your surroundings, and, whether you like it or not, that's not the issue, it's what you do to continue the success, because, in this world, ANYTHING is possible, you just have to work out how to do it.

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