8 Jul 2016

Selling Music Online

I've been asked by Fizzle to write 5 blog posts on each of the 3 topics I have narrowed down as the focus of my startup business. Fizzle are a group of entrepreneurs who's business is providing short courses, support and a community for other entrepreneurs with good ideas and drive, but who do not have much practice in The Doing Of The Things.

I am starting a record label, having been casually waving around the branding logo and registering a business name, and doing a few other things to build my foundations. QuirkyFace Studios will be a solid, awesome thing once it is off the ground, and I appreciate the direction I have managed to source from a few places, these online vids and courses through Fizzle.co being one of them.

So, one of the topics I've used a weighted-average decision matrix to narrow down to (cool thing, I will use it heaps) is Selling Music Online, and I have been tasked to write my first blog post about that topic. Good thing I already have a blog.

Let me tell you a bit about selling music online.

It's difficult. It is very, very hard to get people to want to buy, let alone commit to buying, files that they can find freely available on the internet. On top of this, the substance within these files is intangible. A lot of people consider music as just waves floating through the air, and do not understand the amounts of sweat, blood and tears that go into creating the final product.

The ones that do appreciate the value of music, will pay for it digitally. They used to be just other musos as a core group, and genuinely passionate music appreciators. The flocking masses at one stage only bought CDs, vinyl, or tapes because that was the only way they could own music. Once the gates of Napster opened and there were no longer security cameras and an established transactional process to stop their consumption, those masses disappeared from the music market, they were no longer consumers but thieves on the outskirts of the economy. I have done the same, in the past. And I still do it with things I don't value like I value music. Note to self: change that behaviour.

I find however, that the paradigm of music sales is shifting of late as paid downloading and subscription-based music services become more common, as well as an increase in the unpaid torrenting and downloading of music.

As the selling of music online starts to become a more present and visible cultural phenomenon through emerging market leaders like Google Play Music, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, etc., the second-guessing from neighbours, friends, social media and news when someone says "I just grabbed this for free, because I could" is more prevelant.

These days, slowly, the digital file with an artist's hard work encoded on it is being seen by society as an increasingly more valuable item. The cultural voice is beginning to establish a new status quo and an acceptance of the inherit value of music, regardless of the medium it is presented on.

If something is valuable means it has a price. People will generally pay for something if they value the product they receive at the cost of those dollars to them. That is, loosely, how the entire world-wide economy runs. In the online music market there has largely been a skewed perception that a digital product has zero value; the perception that because a digital file can be replicated for free, it is worth nothing, not worth compensation. This effectively, for a while, removed digital sales from the market. The market forces of supply and demand, and any sort of hope of starting a business that involves mostly selling music online, were invalid.

I've paid for my subscription to Fizzle because I value their content, and the cost of the dollars I lose is equal to or less than the value I put on the advice and support I get from that service. Even though I could find some way (probably) of getting the same videos and course material for free, I wouldn't even bother looking for it that way. I value something I receive, so I part with what I have (cash) to receive it.

More and more these days, people think like that regarding the value of digital products, and the online music market is remerging from the depths it sunk to immediately upon sailing, having been struck down by that skewed value perception.

In the way of Taoism, Buddhism, physical science, and every fundamental Life principle, the value-price-paying model is also how The World works, not just the Worldwide Economy. You give something, you get something different but of equal or greater value back. You take something on or receive it, you will end up parting with something you have of the same or lesser value, as the new takes its place. The yin and yang, the breath of life, the flow of energy and matter.

I believe that not paying for digital music files is simply stagnating the already flowing process. To think of it one way, on a slightly profound note, if a consumer amasses a whole bunch of music files without parting with their money, they will simply lose something else of the same value down the track: the loss of pride from a disapproving party's scorn, the loss of peace of mind from a guilty conscience, or even the loss of a core identifiable music taste from listening to something that one was not into enough to pay for. Food for thought there.

In the past, I have had a massive attitude of "Fuck it" about my own music, releasing my albums and tracks for free on the internet, and actively promoting them as so. Perhaps living with my parents and having no real momentum to need to get out was a factor in me sacrificing any income for my services and work like that. But what it actually did was label my amazing pieces of music (some of them, not all, are amazing) as completely valueless. Worth nothing, by my own volition.

With a bit more common sense, worldly experience, an HD in Economics at University and a genuine need to earn income, I have switched on my value generator, and decided that all the new products I release under my own artist name shall have a price tag. People can, and will, find a way to get them for free. But people steal, all over the place, and there's nothing anyone can do really to control that, especially not in the realms of online sales.

Still, putting a price tag on my music is me saying it is worth something. Important in its own right, but also important for developing a record label where I want to attract other artists as paying customers (taking a cut from their album sales or however the business model will work). And if I were to have a back-catalogue of albums and tracks that are literally worth nothing, it does not bode well in the eyes of the potential signee, as their wide-eyed dreams of making money off their music would not be seen to match reality.

I am caught at the moment between recording music myself, developing my business ideas and brand, and generally having a few things go wrong with and juggling Life. But one day at a time, this is all coming together.

Stay connected, I'll keep you posted.