The Music Business: Doing it Right

Laying down money for recorded music has been increasingly difficult for me to do in the last ten years; it’s such a blatant rip-off for everyone concerned, except the record companies. Shelling out a tenner for a piece of plastic that cost around ten bob to make, combined with the knowledge that the artist will receive even less than that makes it difficult to swallow.
But finally, the pillars of free-market capitalism (who caused this hideous situation in the first place) are crumbling away exposing the bottom of the pyramid to the fresh air.
For decades, the Dinosaurs have pumped disgraceful amounts of their artists money into fighting away easy access to music. Publicity campaigns, threats of ludicrously OTT litigation, lobbying for draconian legal protection, investment in countless scams which purport to offer copy protection…and all it did was harm consumers and artists – the affect on pirates was negligible. The pirates will always win, and the fascists are bound to lose – but what about the artists?

At long last, people are starting to understand how the Internet works and how it can benefit musicians. Bands and labels with a clue have started to realise that they can bypass the crooked upper echelons of the business and go direct to the fans – who also benefit because they can be closer to the music.

Together with the vinyl revival, this has been happening for a while now but I’ve only just encountered it directly.

Several jobs ago, someone dumped a bunch of music on our music server (this is de rigeur in most tech companies these days by the way – you may not like it but that’s how it is). One band in the deposit was Mogwai. I didn’t really know anything about them, and wasn’t too excited by what I heard at the time. But over the years they grew on me until now I spend a large proportion of my working life with them in my ears as I write my code. Those “pirated” tracks took me from ignorance to fully fledged fanhood. Did they ever get any money out of me – well…and hears the sad part…no. I love what they do, and I want them to be successful, but I never went the extra mile and shelled-out.

In the last year I’ve had to acknowledge that I owe the band, but paying full price for a fucking CD really still goes against the grain. I’d rather buy some t-shirts direct from them, or see them at a concert. A friend told me that they had a new album on the cards, and so excitedly I checked out their website. Their label, SubPop, were offering a free sample track from the new album in exchange for joining the Mogwai mailing list. They really did a good job – the process was quick and simple, the track was excellent, the list is very low-traffic and it just made me feel more connected to the band, and excited about the prospect of the new album.

A posting on the list announced a special deal on pre-orders of the album. I have to confess that by this time I’d managed to obtain a rip of a pre-release copy and had been playing it constantly – but the nagging guilt that I wasn’t giving anything back had already persuaded me to buy a copy. This was perfect. So, a few clicks and a credit card transaction later I’d spent over double what I would normally have spent in a shop, but for a special edition vinyl release of the album.

Now, I spent more than I needed to, but in the distant past I have spent more on a single CD purchase in a retail store than this. Not only that, but this time I was dealing directly with SubPop/Mogwai which felt a great deal better than dealing with some horrible retail outlet; real or virtual. In fact, considering how rare vinyl now is, this is a bit of a bargain.

The package arrived today and it’s truly a beautiful thing. A luxuriously pressed double album with a big, thick, heavy, blue-note-style cover. It included some silly novelty things like stickers and even some Mogwai earplugs, but you know what, even approaching 40 I still love that sort of tat.

But the most excellent bit was a small card inside the sleeve on which was printed a magic number and a URL. In return for visiting the URL and typing the magic number you receive a ZIP file containing 320K MP3s of the whole album, a PDF booklet, and a 23minute long extra track which I’m now greatly enjoying as I type this.

SubPop get it! They know what they’re doing! They know what we want. Will I buy more stuff from them or Mogwai in the future? Damn right I will! I love them even more. I almost feel connected now.

Look and learn Sony.

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