Music Mail is an occasional feature from BAMM’s very own Phil Lang. Phil exchanges thoughts with some of our favourite artists on the big issues affecting musicians right now.
I’ll just throw it out there from the get-go here: the subject of this blog post is tired. The whole ‘should music be free / how do musicians make money off of their work?’ conundrum will get an eye-roll at the bar because most of us forget one simple fact: 99% of the world just doesn’t care all that much.
So if it’s a tired subject, then why am I writing about it? Because I have an idea I want to run by you. An idea that highlights my belief that people will pay for music. They will pay if they know more about who and what their money is going towards. They will pay if we give them a little more respect and treat them more like what they are: angel investors in a small business.
The idea came up by way of an email from a musician friend of mine. Jonathan Kirchner plays in the band Con Brio (if you don’t know, now you know—check them out). The following is taken from an email exchange between the two of us. And if you think I’m being flat-out foolish, then, by all means, please let me know. Warning: Duke basketball is used to prove a point (Kirch went to Duke University). Seeing as everyone who didn’t go to Duke despises Duke, I felt a warning was necessary. Also, I’ve edited a bit to clarify points and to prevent this post from going on and on. Here we go:
Kirch: Got a quick question for you to ponder.
Con Brio are putting together a kickstarter campaign to raise funds for our 2nd album (recorded live at amnesia) and to buy a tour van.
As a fan, is there any rad experience that you wish you could have with the band?
Phil: Let me think about this with Con Brio in mind. It comes down to the following: Why are you so passionate about Duke basketball? A shared identity. A shared experience. Even a shared dream (how many of us wish we could be out there slapping the floor on a big defensive stand in the Final Four?)
What does Con Brio share with fans and potential fans? To a certain extent, I think it’s even a shared dream.
To me, one of the most admirable things, one of the ballsiest things about you guys is some of the band members have pushed all their chips into music. You said, Fuck it. I’m going for it. There aren’t many people out there who have the seeds to do that, but there are a ton of us out there who think about it every day.
Also, demonstrate to potential contributors that you are going about it with some small business sense. Hell, break down the expenses and revenue. I would be really interested getting updated numbers—a spreadsheet even—of the costs of a band trying to make an album, selling CDs, touring, lodging, etc. How many albums do you need to sell to break even on an album with touring? How does having 5,000 CDs printed (buying in bulk at a lower rate per CD, but obviously more up front $) change your approach? Do you skip the overhead of a physical product and just offer a digital album, or is this dumb because most people will make impulse purchases at shows? What is the correlation between college radio play and album sales? How does gas price alter tour routes?
And so on. I just think people are willing to spend money on music if they know where their cash is going and how it’s being spent. Call me a dork, but I find this really, really interesting at this point in music.
Kirch: …I think you’re on to something here! Thanks.
So am I nuts? Is Kirch nuts for thinking I might have something here? I pose this to you as music consumers. Would you be more willing to buy recorded music or financially support a band in some way if artists were transparent about the financials of their small business (the band)? Would you be more likely to pay for the music if you identified with the artists? If you’ve read up until now, then you’re definitely not in the 99% who doesn’t give two shits – which means you’ve thought about this, too.