Monday, January 02, 2006

The next music business

One of my New Year's resolutions is to create more. Among other things, that means more blog entries.

I recently put my last solo album up for sale on CDBaby.

CDBaby is a great site for musicians. For a nominal fee, they will act as a fulfillment center and billing processor - they'll sell your CDs for you and take a very modest cut while offering tons of great features. They provide streaming MP3 clips, a functional (if a bit ugly) page set for your product, and will even act as a digital distributor, getting your content into iTunes, Rhapsody, and the like.

CDBaby makes it much easier for people to sell their music online. I put up "Songs for the Last Man on Earth", which is nearly 10 years old. Within a week, someone bought a copy. I guess they liked it, because it looks like they proceeded to buy some other music I put up there.

I didn't promote "Songs for the Last Man on Earth" - all I did was upload it - and it sold. Theoretically, if word of mouth spread, I could keep selling it without doing anything else. The music would be effectively succeeding on whatever merits it may have. That is the closest thing to a musical Utopia we can hope for, and it is that dream that has driven much of my work over the last few years.

The "Songs for the Last Man on Earth" sale phenomenon isn't isolated, either. Back during's heyday, I uploaded the whole Bastard Science Records catalog to

Among other things, the Bastard Science Records catalog included an ambient album I made as Captain Kirk ("The Shape of the Universe") to For about 6 months, I had half of the top 10 slots in the experimental genre and sold several hundred dollars' worth of CDs. Again, this was without any promotion whatsoever.

I received fan mail from around the world - Japan, German, New Jersey - places I would have never been able to reach.

Most people would call the acts on CDBaby and "aspiring musicians" or "wannabe musicians" or "amateur musicians", but I think that both belittles their work and continues the lie that there's something very special about the major label artists.

There isn't.

Yeah, there's a lot of crap music up on all these sites. But there's also a lot of really good music, too. It's the finding it that's hard. Working on improving the mechanism for finding good music is my next professional challenge.

Today there are a variety of MP3 blogs, but the more successful these blogs become, the closer they edge to returning to what is effectively "major label content."

Word of mouth is still king - nothing beats someone you know telling you about a great new band. Your friends don't care whether something is signed or not, and if they make you a solid recommendation, you don't care either.

CDBaby and its ilk epitomize the next music business. Artists will be more able to focus on making music and have to worry less about distribution. Even marketing can be lower effort and more targeted.

William Gibson famously stated that "the future is already here, it's just not evenly distributed". The future is here in the form of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - a band that topped many critic's lists this year and is doing very well on iTunes and Rhapsody. And they have no label. They are completely self-released, and arguably the first true Internet rock stars.

They'll probably parlay all this attention into a fat major label deal. But perhaps the next band won't.