Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Music Biz: 2007

Great article by Clive Thompson in today's NY Times Magazine about the changing economics and sociology of the music business in the age of the internets.

The focus of the article is Brooklyn's own Jonathan Coulton (although the tale of OK Go's viral video dance explosion and the Hold Steady's bar band über alles story are examined as well).

While the accounting details of how he makes a living with no label, no publicity machine and no radio airplay (outside of the odd NPR story or appearance -- does that even count as radio airplay?) are interesting...
By the middle of last year, his project had attracted a sizable audience. More than 3,000 people, on average, were visiting his site every day, and his most popular songs were being downloaded as many as 500,000 times; he was making what he described as “a reasonable middle-class living” — between $3,000 and $5,000 a month — by selling CDs and digital downloads of his work on iTunes and on his own site. are the retail aspects of his self-marketing approach...
his fans do not want merely to buy his music. They want to be his friend. And that means they want to interact with him all day long online. They pore over his blog entries, commenting with sympathy and support every time he recounts the difficulty of writing a song. They send e-mail messages, dozens a day, ranging from simple mash notes of the “you rock!” variety to starkly emotional letters, including one by a man who described singing one of Coulton’s love songs to his 6-month-old infant during her heart surgery. Coulton responds to every letter, though as the e-mail volume has grown to as many as 100 messages a day, his replies have grown more and more terse, to the point where he’s now feeling guilty about being rude.
...what was most interesting to me was the way his webcentric career has allowed him to geomarket his real potential money-maker -- his live shows.
When he performs, he upends the traditional logic of touring. Normally, a new Brooklyn-based artist like him would trek around the Northeast in grim circles, visiting and revisiting cities like Boston and New York and Chicago in order to slowly build an audience — playing for 3 people the first time, then 10, then (if he got lucky) 50. But Coulton realized he could simply poll his existing online audience members, find out where they lived and stage a tactical strike on any town with more than 100 fans, the point at which he’d be likely to make $1,000 for a concert. It is a flash-mob approach to touring: he parachutes into out-of-the-way towns like Ardmore, Pa., where he recently played to a sold-out club of 140.
As long as you're willing to overlook the fact that the song may be unsuitable for younger or more sensitive listeners, check out Coulton's paean to the sun-kissed carnal delights of the First of May.

Also, Coulton provided the music to a series of John Hodgman's Little Grey Book Lecture podcasts that are musts for your listening device and can be downloaded here.


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