The Layaways and Billy Bragg contemplate new business models
The Digital Audio Insider blog is a good read for insights about the way the online music business works for indie artists, offering nice details about wholesale prices, royalty rates and the like. Its author, David Harrell, is also in a band called The Layaways. Awesome band name! Anyway, yesterday Harrell's blog post asked the musical question, should his band give away its new album? The tactic seemed to have worked well for Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead, but those bands are well-known quantities with loyal followings. There's also an argument for unknown new bands using their recordings as loss leaders, given that they make their livings (such as they are) off of live performances anyway. My guess is that the wisdom of giving one's music away will depend on one's ability to attract attention to the offer. Plenty of bands have given songs and albums away over the years, so The Layaways wouldn't grab headlines just by joining the pack. Anyway, tell me what you think, but more important, tell David. He's the one with skin in the game.
Another musician with a blog worth reading is Billy Bragg. As dedicated followers of this blog know (OK, it's probably an exaggeration to use the plural form of follower), I'm completely in the tank for the guy. Bragg's blog is mainly about the adventures of a working musician; he seems to prefer publishing his musings about the economics of the business in dead tree media, such as this letter to The Guardian in the UK. In it, he scoffs at the idea of ISPs sending warning letters to suspected file-sharers (as the six top Internet providers in the UK agreed to do yesterday). I'd quibble with his notion of a cozy relationship between ISPs and the labels, as well as his suggestion that the ISPs could be held liable for their users' infringements. But I agree with his bottom line -- the most promising path is to provide an unlimited amount of music for a flat fee or free, with advertiser support. That's the direction the labels are headed, albeit slowly, through initiatives such as Universal Music Group's deal in the UK with BSkyB, ad-supported music sites such as iMeem and SpiralFrog, and Nokia's effort to bundle free downloads with cellphones. Bragg also makes the case for letting royalties flow directly to artists, which is what U.S. law requires for about half of the fees raised from webcasters, satellite radio and non-interactive cable music services.