Why were all "the indies" standing on the sidelines cheering when the industry blew up?
13 Feb 2010
If you will excuse me writing in the first person, I wanted to say, at the top of this article, that I was inspired to write this after spending some time perusing songwriter's forums on line. I was interested in the quality of information being distributed in these forums and wondering if they were adequately educational.
I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the info. Legally, most questions were answered correctly. But I couldn't't help but notice a real lack of understanding of where the music industry is at the moment.
Let's try to get this picture in focus by first looking at the old music industry that we all watched being "blown-up" by modern technology. As great as technology is to those of us who love to make music, it is a double-edged sword as well. Sometimes technology can be a "bull in a china shop."
THE OLD MODEL: SONGWRITER ⇒ PUBLISHER ⇒ ARTIST & PRODUCER ⇒ LABEL ⇒ DISTRIBUTOR ⇒ RETAILER ⇒ CUSTOMER
We all loved how digital technology made making our recordings easier and easier, and also much more affordable. But of course, at the same time, that very same technology was reeking havoc to our regular paychecks because of illegal file sharing.
Here is the problem that made me cringe while reading through the songwriters' forums on line. Any given songwriters' forum on line is, by definition, going to be filled with unsuccessful songwriters. This is not to say that they are not talented. Some are very talented, but they haven't yet had any success to speak of. Successful songwriters, who are very wealthy, wouldn't spend their time "chatting" in forums. Successful songwriters have found their way through the maze of the recording industry and are happy and way too busy to be "chatting" in forums.
So, just by the very nature of things, if you visit forums, you wind up in a room full of unsuccessful people discussing how difficult the industry is rather than really focusing on songwriting. They tend to give each other encouragement based on uneducated praise rather than help each other in a constructive and critical manner. Of course, what they are missing is an "editor." Someone who can tell them how to make each of their songs better. This, of course, would be a publisher. A good publisher, has to double as an editor for his/her writers. Songwriters that write for fun, and enjoy the hobby of songwriting need never to face the criticism of an editor. But the professional songwriter needs this constructive criticism in order to better hone and polish his/her song.
So if you think of a publisher as an editor, you can begin to see the importance of this relationship for both parties. I wish that "up and coming" writers would understand this better. They will, once they get to where they are trying to go. It is part of the process.
There also seems to be an attitude in these songwriter forums that the collapse of so many major labels has somehow opened the gates for all of the "indies" to now flood their goods to market. It saddened me to hear this attitude because, from my vantage point as a publisher, I can assure you that the indie writer that is trying to find his way to market now has less of a chance than he/she had when the industry was healthy.
At first, I asked myself "why don't these people understand that their industry has taken a very bad beating?" Marketing opportunities for songwriters to "cash in" on their work are shrinking NOT expanding. Of course I soon realized that these writers (having never been to the dance, meaning the national charts) had managed to deceive themselves that it was the big labels that were in their way, giving them, an excuse if you will, for not having found success as a songwriter. So as many of the major labels began to implode due to illegal file sharing, these outsiders seemed to be dancing on the sidelines, not knowing they were dancing at their own funeral. Sad.
Writers and publishers today just have to adjust their work ethics and realize it will take even more effort to bring your songs to market than ever before. Best of luck to all.