Wrapping Up the Cloud (Pt. 5 – Finale)

Flatpicking acoustic guitar guru Tony Rice can be found in The Cloud at the music streaming service Grooveshark.

With the enormous amount of musical data floating around the Internet and the seemingly unlimited number of ways to distribute it, I begrudgingly admit that I only have a  limited amount of time and space to dedicate to the subject, therefore I am wrapping up my multi-part series on Music in The Cloud.  Constraints aside, this post will look at some of the other portions of The Cloud that help musicians promote their music.

The Swedish music streaming company Spotify has become a major player in the music industry in just four short years.  As a “freemiuim” service Spotify allows registered users to search through and play millions of selected music tracks from a range of major and independent record labels.  Commercial advertisements are frequently interjected into the music stream for the free portion of the service, but listeners who upgrade to the premium (paid) service lose the ads and gain access to higher bit rate streams and mobile phone apps.

The way that Spotify benefits the independent musician is that it pays royalties to artists and/or labels for every time they play their song.  Because all the music played on Spotify is tracked – all participating labels and artists have access to reporting from Spotify allowing the artist the ability to see where and how their popularity is growing.  Spotify actually encourages independent artists to use artist aggregators in order to license their music so that it can be  played on music streaming sites.  For instance, Tunecore is one of many digital music distributors (or aggregators) that enters into agreements with music labels and artists. For a fee, Tunecore will distribute and stream digital copies of single tracks or entire albums to retail outlets like iTunes and amazon.com or music streaming sites like Spotify. Some of the other benefits Tunecore claims to offer musicians (from Tunecore’s website):

  • Musicians retain 100% of royalties and maintain all rights to their music
  • Songs can be made available on music video games like Rock Band
  • Physical on-demand distribution at Amazon
  • A streaming music player for the musicians’ webpage that plays the artists’ own music
  • Physical distribution, licensing and endorsement deals
  • Free digital cover art or physical CD art

Music streaming sites are usually heavily embedded with social media features as well.  Grooveshark, another music streaming service, allows users to sign in with their Facebook, twitter or Google plus account. As users listen to songs, they can post comments and the link to the music on their social media page of preference.  This has huge benefits for musicians when building a fanbase.  For artists, the task of gaining exposure through “word-of-mouth” promotion is transformed online with these types of embedded social media applications.

I’m sure this will not be the last post regarding music in The Cloud, but I want to open the blog to another range of topics. And besides, it’s been too long since I mentioned Valient Thorr.

Till next time…

A Break in The Cloud (A Valient Ramble Regarding SOPA)

"There’s a big difference between censorship & piracy," Valient Himself puts SOPA into his perspective.

I am taking a break from my multi-part series on “how The Cloud assists musicians” in order to discuss SOPA or the Stop Online Piracy Act that is currently being debated in the US.   As a gesture that the US Justice Department means serious business about online piracy, a large online file sharing site called Megaupload was shut down yesterday by a co-ordinated medley of 8 countries including New Zealand.  FBI agents who structured the case against Megaupload call it an international crime ring — a racketeering enterprise.  The US charges that the website made $175 million from pirated movies and music since 2005 and cost copyright holders nearly half a billion dollars more.  With that in mind, how does this affect the little guy,  the indy band struggling to “make it” on downloads, touring the US and t-shirt sales?

Valient Thorr‘s lead singer Valient Himself manages the band’s twitter page and he posted a multi-tweet “ramble” on what SOPA and the Megaupload shutdown means to his band.  Below I have pieced together Valient Himself’s 12 tweet monologue with expletives censored.

From Valient Thorr’s Twitter page (Jan 20, 2012):

  • I wanna ramble for a sec here- don’t wanna clog feeds too much, so hopefully you won’t unfollow, but I wanna address something:
  • there’s a big difference between censorship & piracy. I’ve been against SOPA & PIPA from the beginning, but not because they may take away
  • my ability to download free movies or music. That (hopefully) is NOT why MOST artists are against it. We are against it b/c the bills are
  • written SO poorly as to allow corpos & the gov’t to BLOCK or CENSOR our sites & therefore our thoughts & freedom much like in China, etc.
  • Downloading flicks & jams that are not free is illegal, & REALLY takes bread out of all artist’s (big & SMALL) pockets (read: mouths).
  • I’m still against SOPA & PIPA & I think the MPAA & RIAA are f****** up. But if Megaupload goes down, that’s not censorship. They were pirates
  • Everyone is guilty of illegal downloading. Me including. Since Napster was invented. But its out of hand. There are still tons of sites up.
  • I’ll not shed a tear for megaupload. The point of this ramble is this: SOPA & PIPA were written poorly. Most in gov’t couldn’t tell you why
  • If they were purely anti-piracy they may not have been that bad. But they were full of flaws that would have endangered our freedom.
  • But piracy endangers plenty as well. Many artists have spoken out about this. Gillionaires may not care, but hundredaires can’t afford rent!
  • Just wanted our Anonymous friends to know that while we’re mostly on their side, All stories aren’t black & white.
  • Thanx for reading… sorry for the ramble. Hope yall dig that. now back to your regular scheduled horse****. #peace

Valient Himself has never been more outspoken or elegant in his opinions and because we are witnessing a milestone in online privacy/piracy/speech, I would be remiss to neglect devoting some time and space to the issue here on Project Bandwidth.   I tend to agree mostly with Valient Himself’s opinion.  Poorly written legislation can have a chilling effect on free speech.  Perhaps a more contemplative piece of legislation will replace SOPA in the future, but even with SOPA not officially “on the books”  the long arm of US law has already managed to take down an internet monolith like Megaupload.  Imagine what the US could do with SOPA in full effect.

Next time we head back to The CLOUD.

Buying In to Sell Out

For bands, making money from music alone is not enough. Sometimes it's all about the merch. (Photos from Kings Road Merch and Indiemerch.)

Taking more notes from Mr. PJ Bond who, as of this writing, is playing his music around the United Kingdom, a musician can not live on music alone.  A lot of the money generated for independent bands and musicians doesn’t come from the sale of their music, but from their merchandise.  Getting from one show to the next means keeping a tight rein on expenses and shilling t-shirts, stickers and posters out of a well-worn suitcase after the show.

Although selling merchandise face-to-face is the most efficient way to turn money into food or gas, it’s impossible for one person or band group to manage a “merch booth” while performing.  Keeping an eye out to make sure money and inventory doesn’t disappear can be handled by a manager but most bands and musicians barely make enough money to keep the tires from falling off the tour van so musicians turn to the internet for solutions.  While a dedicated website is a great way to get information to fans, it can be cumbersome when it comes to selling merchandise.  Also, “official” band merchandise is difficult to keep “official”, in that more popular bands have their name and image re-sold “unofficially” through sites that have no link with the bands, therefore the bands do not receive compensation for money generated on their name.

Online retailers are numerous but some specialize in catering to musicians and bands specifically.  In an effort to find out which merch retailers are used  I have subscribed to some independent bands whose music I like.  Metal/Punk band Valient Thorr uses indiemerch.com. From their website:Indiemerchndising prides itself on relationships and quality… with the industry’s most advanced manufacturing capabilities and distribution services.”  The site is subdivided into the indiemerchstore section which allows a band to sell their merchandise through a web-based secure interface (indiemechstore.com)and another section specializes in manufacturing the merchandise whether its t-shirts, pants or hats (indiemerchandising.com ).

Indiemerch.com also offers a value add service by allowing bands to customize the look of their site in order to brand their retail page alongside their merchandise.  From the band-specific page a band can place links to their official website, latest blog updates, and the site automatically lists the best sellers.  Here’s a look at Valient Thorr’s indiemerch page.

A more popular indy band, Social Distortion, uses Kings Road Merchwhich offers similar services but has a larger distribution network throughout the world. (Social Distortion’s kings road merch page.)  King’s Road Merch offers merchandise production, tour supply, design, online stores, and retail distribution but doesn’t allow the same page customization as indiemerch.

There are countless merchandise sites that perform similar services but may not cater specifically to musicians such as: grindstore.com; zazzle.com; cafepress.com; rockabilia.com; scrappyapparel.com; bandwagonmerch.com; bandwear.com

Still there’s many other sites that cater to musicians merch needs and if you know of any that need adding to this post or to my research please send it along.