I’ve been online since the dawn of the Internet. I established Innerviews, the first online music magazine, in 1994. I’ve seen the evolution first-hand from the initial promise of democratic web-based music distribution and availability, to the anti-artist horror of Spotify, Apple Music and now, the PledgeMusic debacle.
During the ’90s and into the late ’00s, the way things often worked was pretty damn simple. Independent artists and labels sold stuff, including physical media and downloads on their websites. iTunes and CD Baby were other key outlets. Attention was created for this music through whatever early iterations of social media existed, including newsgroups, message boards, chat rooms, Myspace, leading up to the earliest iterations of Twitter and Facebook. Artists and indie labels were the masters of these new domains. And it scared the crap out of big record labels and media conglomerates almost as much as the LimeWires and Pirate Bays did. Why? Because it was legal and there was nothing they could protest.
The end of the conventional music industry, gatekeepers and corporate overlords was well within the horizon. Artists were making money, receiving funds directly and creating sustainable livelihoods. Things were a little less of a struggle for the first time in a long time.
And then the corporate overlords returned, creating Faustian pacts with artists and indie labels, who for reasons I cannot fathom to this day, took the bait and willingly handed over the majority of their music in exchange for virtually nothing but empty promises of “exposure” and “career building.”
In the case of PledgeMusic, fan goodwill was transformed into a full-on fiasco that would make Madoff and the Lehmans proud, with many artists, labels and consumers alike not receiving what they were promised.
See a pattern here? Yes, it’s the corporate middle man. Over time, the Internet’s promise of a direct connection to paying fans was quietly eroded. It never needed to be.
Of course, I realize streaming numbers are firmly embedded into every music industry construct, used to justify booking, media exposure and other investments. I’m not here to argue the fact of the multi-pronged corporate streaming stats death grip. If your goal is to be a commercial artist trying to pursue fleeting fame and mass adoption, by all means, that’s your route. Have fun with that.
For the rest of musicians, I assure you that you’ve all been sold a completely fake bill of goods. I have met untold numbers of music industry people in the streaming and fan-funding platform era. Most of them have no clue whatsoever what it means to exist as a musician. They don’t care either. They have no-one’s backs but their own. Same as it ever was. PledgeMusic’s failure is emblematic of this reality.
Now, honestly, why do you need a fan-funding platform at all? Chances are your fan-funding campaign isn’t going to generate new fans. More likely, it’s appealing directly to your existing fans that believe in you — the ones you’re already in touch with across social platforms.
Simply set up your own funding page on your website and drive your fans there. Post videos and updates just like you did on PledgeMusic, and keep 100% of the money and maintain complete control.
On the streaming front, I consider it stunning that artists continue to give away their music wholesale. I’ve written extensively about this compulsive insanity. But I would like to remind you that you can provide preview-before-purchase streams via your website using a variety of pre-built templates and plugins. There is also, of course, Bandcamp and its embed codes, that let you connect to one of the only honorable platforms left that lets you keep the majority of money.
In 2019, ask yourselves how the streaming companies and fan-funding platforms have worked out for you. I talk to hundreds of musicians yearly. Not a single one of them has anything good to say about any of it. It is still possible to take control of your recorded music destiny and monetize on your own terms. Sure, entitled consumers who expect all music to be free will whine. Certainly, music industry people will call you crazy and out of touch. Honestly, do you really need either of the latter two groups of people in your life? Think small. Think organically. And yes, keep that day job.
Anil Prasad is the founder of Innerviews: Music Without Borders, the world’s first online music magazine, established in 1994.