Did The Internet Kill The Music Composer?

I was recently introduced to a new tool called UJAM. A free cloud-based music composition tool that enables enthusiasts with tools to create, stylize and share their musical ideas over the web. Little or no experience is required to use this tool and it’s free. Once you publish your songs through UJAM, users can listen to them and share them on social media sites like Facebook. If you already have your songs ready for the internet, other sites like SoundCloud offer a great interface that can be used to embed your music in any site and also has some nice sharing, commenting and social components built into them.

Napster: the game changer

I suppose, since Napster, sharing audio and other media became an inevitable reality that all content owners have had to contend with ever since. Some bands have been successful in using the Internet to propagate their sound, making money mostly on tours and other channels, products or services, but not on the sales of their music.

There’s iTunes and Amazon to buy MP3 files (to name a few), but let’s face it, for each tile purchased legally, there’s probably 100 times the number being pirated. Those of you who remember mix tapes know that this isn’t new. There’s always been some pirating involved, but never to this magnitude.

The paradigm shift

These technological changes have made it easier for people to create and share their music. As a result, it has reduced the perceived value of their creation because there is more content offer available today than there ever was. Yet the demand for professional music has not grown at the same rate throughout the years. In other words, more music (or people available to do it) + less demand = less value. Whereas a few decades ago, technology was very expensive and complicated, the number of music composers with the means and the knowledge to produce an equivalent quality of music (and synchronize it to image in some case) was very small and the demand was there. The end result is that you could run a business, hire people to write the music and others to run the technical parts and still generate a profit. While that model still stands today, it can support a much smaller number of players; especially when you can run a one-person production studio with minimal investment in hardware, a few online YouTube tutorials to give you the basics and lots of trial and error.

For the love of music?

Going back to the UJAM example I was mentioning above and the social media sharing, it’s clear to me that little if no money can be made off these distribution channels. Once someone has something for free, it’s hard to go back and charge them for it. Yes, social media helps in making your creation more visible to a larger audience than your circle of close friends or your family. Yes, it’s possible someone will hear your music and want to buy it or hire you. But it’s more likely you’ll get something out of it. And that’s where a good marketing strategy comes into play and can help you determine the next steps of your business.

 What do you think?

Do you feel internet has affected your bottom line? If so, what have you been doing to help regain some of the value lost?

On The Fence: Where Music and Marketing Meet

A bit of history

When I finished my Master’s degree in musical composition 20 years ago, I had built myself a small studio in the basement of a commercial building with the help of a business partner. At the time, our goal was to knock on the door of every movie or tv production company in town, give them a copy of our demo tape and a provide them with a list of services we could provide. This was before blogs, Facebook, YouTube or any of the social media tools available today. Hell, it was even before the Internet was around or MP3 files existed. Computers were used to sequence music using MIDI software or print music sheets and that was it. When I look back, I see how the business has changed and how different the marketing tools for creative people are today. But aside from the music itself (and I’m not talking about specific styles that have evolved as the result of the technological changes made possible by computers), the challenge still remains the same: get a break in the business and make a living out of it.

Twenty years later, I work in the social marketing sphere.

What happened to my music career?

I did get some great music gigs, had some decent music under my belt. I also had some talent and worked hard at it for a number of years, but it wasn’t really enough to pay the bills. So I had to make the decision to work in “related” businesses, offering “transferable” skills. One thing led to another, and here I am. Obviously, I’m cutting out the juicy bits because that’s not the point of this article.

Is this a blog about fences?

Along the years, I realized the Internet made it easier to get your music out there, but it doesn’t really offer any “new” visibility to small content creators. Furthermore, the people who hire you want more quality than ever at a price that is below cost for a small shop. Volume (not loudness, but quantity) is the only savior in most cases.

On the other hand, social marketing is about making a mark, getting noticed, creating a story that people will want to share. Making a brand (you, in this case) stand out over all others. Transform an image/sound into something remarkable.

My goal will be to stay on the fence, like a cat between two yards and look at both sides until I see something of interest: comment on things I hear in my marketing career that can apply to someone trying to start in the music or sound business. But also provide some creative perspective to the sometimes result-driven marketing world.

As with all things on this earth, change is inevitable and growth is organic in nature, so I hope you will enjoy the discussion as it evolves and will participate with your own ideas and personal experiences.