Austin, Texas-based guitar-slinger Ian Moore had a problem that no company in the 2013 digital music ecosystem could solve: He simply wanted to sell a song each day for 30 days as a package deal, with fans naming their own price for that music. He suggests $30, but you can pay whatever you want for the music offered in this ongoing experiment, until June 22.
One might imagine that in this day and age, when start-ups all over the world talk about how they’re disrupting this industry and that — especially the music industry — that a turnkey solution would exist for what Moore was trying to do. One imagines him simply creating an account, uploading the first few songs, setting his suggested price, and waiting for whatever money there is to roll in.
However, no company exists for doing that, or many other out-of-the-box deals. For all of the talk about disruption, the “sell albums and tracks” model of music monetization — a holdover from the days of physical music formats — is still the way recorded music is sold.
To figure out how to sell his music as a 30-song, 30-day chunk, Moore spent an hour on the phone talking to digital music veteran Tim Mitchell (with whom I worked at CNET’s MP3.com for a spell), who is currently the vice president of product management at TuneUp Media. Mitchell spent another hour examining the options — “Fan Page, Bandcamp, ReverbNation, or anything else.” Unfortunately, Mitchell recalls, none of them offered Moore the ability to sell his music the way he wanted to, so “he winged it.”
Moore’s handspun solution: linking a blog post to a PayPal button. If you pay, you get emailed a code that allows access to a web page where the songs appear, and Moore personally offers tech and other support on his Facebook page.
The digital music ecosystem, well over a decade in the making, failed the basic test of letting this guy sell his music how he wanted to, hinting at other gaps that might still exist in the market to let artists sell or rent a mix of their creative output in a number of ways.
Musicians write, record, produce, perform, film, and discuss their music in multiple, diverse digital and physical formats, and there’s a market for much of that stuff — and yet our system still wants them to encapsulate their creative output as songs and albums, and to sell those in the big download stores or stream them in the major services using a pre-fabricated set of rules, and this is as true for the huge services as it is for the little, bespoke ones that purport to let artists distribute stuff directly to their fans.
“The artist-fan services are just as tied into the ‘album/track’ sales model as the services are, and the artists themselves are the ones trying to figure out what to do,” said Mitchell (who was not representing TuneUp when he said that, just speaking as a friend and colleague). “What would be more useful, IMO, is to treat an artist as a business who sells products (some of them audio, some of them video, some of them have to go in the mail, some of them are more like ‘events’) — support the different components, but let them bundle, price, and market appropriately.”
He has a point. Kickstarter lets artists fund projects of all stripes — even the ones their labels refuse to touch — in advance, but when it comes to selling or streaming music and musical experiences that already happened or are happening, we’re still very much in a songs+albums world.