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The Ramblings of an Independent Artist

Hi Christina,

I thought your December 1999 article on the Muse's Muse web site was interesting. I agree that sites like mp3.com are not for everyone. I think each artist needs to assess his or her short term and long term career goals and decide whether or not these types of sites will help achieve those goals.

Having said that, I do believe mp3.com (for example) does have something to offer to some artists. The two most compelling reasons to use the service, in my opinion, are:

1) Mp3.com will manufacture and sell your cd for you in exchange for a cut of the cd's selling price. This can be a huge boon for artists who don't have the financial resources to do this themselves. Instead of paying upfront to get 1000 cds manufactured you can have mp3.com do it for you -- for a price, of course. But in certain situations this might be a very valid partnership, particularly for artists that are just starting out and don't have the fanbase to justify manufacturing their own cds. In my humble opinion, brand new artists would be better off taking the money they would have spent on manufacturing the cds and instead put that money to use in an effective promotional campaign (directing people to mp3.com to actually purchase the cd). Again, it'll depend on your career goals and the financial resources you have available to you. The main drawback to this is that you might miss out on "spur of the moment" sales -- someone sees a live gig, digs you, and wants to buy a cd right after the show.

2) The regional listings mp3.com provides are very useful, although I don't know how many visitors to the site take advantage of it. With this tool I can narrow down the band listings to just those acts based in my local area. I've personally discovered a few cool bands this way. In addition, if I'm traveling to another state I'll use this tool to find interesting bands in the area I'll be visiting. This is one way that bands can avoid (to a certain extent) getting lost among the thousands upon thousands of other bands using mp3.com.

Anyway, I just wanted to add in my 2 cents. Take it for what it's worth :)

--Paul

Hi Paul - Thanks for all the MP3.com viewpoints which are all valid and could be put to debate according to one's own personal stand and needs and wants, etc., if one wanted to get on a bandstand about it all - which I don't!!! ha. I'm just interested in getting new fans that I don't have to hunt down myself. That's what major label machines are for, and let's face it, MP3.com is becoming a major label machine on the internet - sort of. The only reason in my present state of mind to sign with any company or to give anything away to a 'company' (I'm not talking about fans), is because of what they are going to do to 'get you out there.' The big steam roller that rolls across the country and sets up touring and radio interviews and puts money into banners and posters and buying space at the major records stores, getting the CD placed in veiw over tons of other major and independent releases. WHICH GENERATES SALES. This is what I would sign for. That's all - promotion and distribution.

And so what does MP3.com offer? Definitely distribution. BUT my big question has been and will continue to be until answered, what about promotion? The truth on MP3.com is I won't even get hits or downloads unless people can find me. The major label artists are the ones really benefiting from MP3.com. People know their names and want to get their music for free. MP3.com is like a free for all for people who don't want to purchase the CD of an artist they like or know of. For the independents who are not known, people have to search through thousands of artists, and if you have had the experience I have had - A LOT of independent music is disappointing. Hence I quit surfing through the indie stufff and go to what I know is good or has been recommended or has the latest buzz. And the artists that have that HUGE of a buzz, for a large majority of people to know about them, are usually major label artists. It might be good for some exposure if you are getting lots of hits and downloads - but then what? Do you make any money - no. But you might, just might, needle in a haystack might, get noticed my a major machine. AND what do the major machines look at when in negotiation with an artist for any kind of deal? SALES. "Well...yes Christina, we can see that you've had many downloads of your material for free...but what are your sales like?" "Can you prove that you can sell? Have you proven that you can SELL." "People seem to be interested in you and your music, but they are not buying." "We will put money into you, but we will have to ask for a lot of your publishing and other royalities and things, because we are taking a huge risk not knowing if you are going to 'Sell." My negociation advantages are nil if I cannot show that I have what it takes for the 'machine' to get interested in backing me. And what it takes is sales. Money drives the machine, not talent, not hits, not downloads. MONEY, plain and simple.

And what drives money is HYPE, promotion, exposure in a BIG way. MP3 asks for my stuff for free and does not promise any type of promotion. So it's a win for them and a lose for the artist in a sense. I'd rather keep all my royalities, drive people to my site where they can listen to samples and buy the CD there if they like it. I keep my rights. I keep my royalities. And I slowly build sales, slowly increasing my negotiation points for that major label interest that will come, and that I will need when the grass roots efforts are draining my ability to make music. BUT I cannot generate 'brand new' fans without hype. That is what I would use a site like MP3.com for if they offered hype. That is what an artist should use any site for - new fan generation. That's what we use press for, advertising for. And that's what these sites should be used for. In the promotion dept., MP3.com is not like a major label, they are only a service and manufacturing organization, offering CD pressing, your own web page, etc. The artist is still responsible for the push.

So I'm not intertested in paying MP3 for things I can do myself. I will negotiate for promotion. Not for CD pressing. Not for a web page where not many 'new fans' will find me. Not to allow my stuff to be given away for free. I can give stuff away to my fans from my site. If you are an artist with no money and MP3.com likes you enough to press your CD for you (or, do they even have to like you? Or do they just charge a fee and take royalities?), than this might be the way to go. But like you said the drawback is not having the CD to sell at shows. And that is a HUGE drawback. My first thought would be forget that option and find SOMEBODY who believes in you to loan you the money so you can have product to sell on the street. Which in my experience is STILL (right now at least), the number one way to make sales. And then use MP3.com to establish your own web page if you cannot afford or don't have the knowledge to do one yourself. Then you can drive your people to the site to buy the CD and then generate either a lot of sales and/or a lot of downloads, which WILL generate some hype and cause somebody to pay attention to you - maybe. BUT don't expect 'new' fans to find you until that hype is in full swing. Until then....nobody's gonna really care out here.

And then the queston still is - is anybody 'buying' the CD? I mean if you are filthy rich and this is a hobby...well go on ahead then!!! But I think the majority of artists would like to make some sort of a living from their work. I certainly am shooting for at least food and gas money! Tomorrow I may discover that everything I've written is bull....and that I run falling into the arms of MP3.com with thankfulness and humbled knees, but until then, I'm going to keep watching and talking to 'artists,' not industry people, 'artists,' whose work sits on MP3.com waiting for the sky to open.

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