The Future of Music

What do you want to see? How do we make it a better world for listeners and creators alike?

There is a non-profit organization focused on this topic, the Future of Music Coalition. Good name, but I’m most impressed by their manifesto, articles, and resources.

And the guys at Sound Opinions (“The World’s Only Rock’n’Roll Talk Show”) are hosting a discussion about “The Future of Music” next week, at Columbia College on Wednesday, December 3rd. You might not agree with their reviews, but they bring context to the music and their rating system is nice and forward thinking as well, rating albums on a “buy it, burn it, trash it” scale. I really appreciate the weekly podcast of Sound Opinions, and how they almost always discuss a news story that addresses the changes in the industry, from downloading music to how its becoming even corporate-focused on business over the music. I expect this event to be like that part of the show, only extended with audience participation. I will be there, and I hope to tell a few people about my ideas for publicpatron.

But I do want to get my ideas on the Future of Music out on here as well.

First off, Im biased towards “independent artists”. And what I mean by independent artists are those whose prime motivation is creating music to express themselves and create great art. Of course finding an audience and making money enters into that, but it seems that the best work of an artist comes earlier in their career, when they sound most original, and are not expected to have huge sales. My guess is that at that point, nobody else is trying to pressure them to do anything musically, and they have the freedom to make the music they want. They are independent. This might also come later in their career if they can maintain or rekindle the passion that usually comes with youth and now have the money to ignore outside influences, if greed doesn’t get the best of them.

So then, just like all media, with so many options of what to listen to available on the net, the biggest problem for independent artists is how to get noticed. You might expect FM radio to fulfill this purpose, but there is ample pressure on these stations to fill the airtime with less-independent artists, from both advertisers and the labels whose major draw to sign these artists is their ability to provide this pressure. Satellite radio might be better, but I doubt it since its now all owned by one company. Besides, the potential audience is so much smaller since they have to pay to listen. And there are the music recommendation services like Pandora or iTunes Genius, but Im not sure how independent they are. Also, I think people want more context for their music and a sense of community. You want a great DJ who can tell you a little about the artist, some history and genre perspective, and make it more human.

The response from independent artists seems to be to put out their music for free download on the net, or on MySpace. I think this is moving in the right direction, but instead of MySpace, they should make their own web site. Fans want a connection to their artist, but they also want to be able to listen to the music wherever, whenever, and on any device they choose. Let them download the files for free without DRM from your site, as this will give you a connection to your fans that MySpace and iTunes simply cant provide, a place on the web where the fan can hear directly and honestly from the artist. Of course artists would rather get paid for the downloads, but on the net, its really hard to ask potential listeners to pay for something they may have never heard, or heard only once and may tire of quickly. There are just so many other free options out there. Publicpatron helps to solve this dilemma, so that the listener pays per listen at a rate they feel comfortable with and the artist is allowed maximum exposure, a fair deal for both artist and listener. This would also allow the artist to use RSS to automatically deliver new tracks to the fans and make available the audio of every concert, getting paid by every fan who listens to any of it and uses publicpatron.

Another way to help independent artists get heard with huge potential is internet radio, also supportable under publicpatron. This makes it really easy for anyone to start their own station, and be heard anywhere they can get a decent internet connection. We need to make internet radio accessible everywhere, an issue of extending and improving wireless internet access and getting a good hardware/software combination everywhere you currently listen to radio, at home and on your portable device, but most importantly in the car. More choices with larger audiences will increase the opportunities of independent artists, whether advertising funds it or not. But publicpatron will also allow listeners to reimburse the internet radio stations they listen to, giving advertisers less control of the content of the stations.

The industry is going through a lot of changes, and there is a ton to complain but also rave about. Thats what the FMC & radio show & discussion next week should be about. Lots of details, but ultimately its about the music we love, supporting the creators, and a better listener experience. How do we get there?

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