The Dawn of the Independent Musician

2005 was the dawn of the new music industry. The old industry was a world where the corporate fat cats finally got so greedy that they actually started to devour themselves, but that left a space for everyone else. I think great music is finally back and the music industry is re-discovering its soul. All thanks to the independent musician.

For me, 2005 was the moment when I realised that it was no longer possible to keep track of every great new band that was out there. I used to be able to ask 18 or 19 year olds, ‘so what kind of music are you into’ and I would know every band that they listed. In 2005 the answer to that question just got so ‘far out there’ that nobody could keep track. ‘I’m totally into this Industrial/Grind Core German metal band; they don’t have a record label and have never toured outside of Germany. They only have 112 fans on MySpace so far, but I am the most passionate of all their fans. I have every T-Shirt and I made a video clip for them, which is being played on German community television.’ WHAT?

It’s not the 1st time in history that this has happened. The original music business of the 1950’ and 1960’s was all about people power. Record Labels and Radio started playing rock n’ roll due to overwhelming demand from fans wanting to discover new music. The labels didn’t really care about rock music but the fans did and the Baby-Boomer kids had money. The Baby-Boomers actively sought new music but with limited communication options they relied on the corner stones of the record label, the radio and the retailer to help them find it. Those 3 became the ‘taste makers’ telling the consumer that they knew what was good music and what was not. They supposedly filtered out the bad music and let consumers access the good stuff.

Here is where it all started to go down hill, the labels worked out that it was not about the music at all, it was about having ‘hits’. If you are going to sell something, it is much more profitable to sell lots of one product than lots of different products. The filter got narrower and narrower. The definition of ‘good music’ really became ‘most popular’ or the ‘highest selling music.’ The 80’s were really full of this kind of thinking. The easiest to digest music was the most popular and niche music got pushed out of the way.

Somewhere around 1994-95 file sharing and Napster suddenly took hold. The filter was off for the 1st time. While most of the music that was shared was still the super popular stuff, there was plenty of obscure, niche stuff available. All those previously unrealised tracks (unreleased because the record company thought they were not “commercial enough”) were suddenly available to anyone with a home computer, anywhere in the world. In a way the record companies tried to jump on-board, digital music stores (like Apple’s iTunes) offered legal paid for downloads, but the filter was still there. You could only buy what the companies made available and only in the territory where you held a credit card. All in all, not enough freedom and not enough niche music was made available. The independent musician was left out.

Then in 2005, MySpace really took hold. The music maker could interact directly with the fan. No filter at all. Any band, any fan, anywhere in the world. The filter providers (the record label, the radio/TV stations, the retailers) become completely irrelevant. This changes everything and levels out the playing field for everyone. Now in 2010 it’s all about good music again. It’s not about getting a stack of record company cash behind you or getting main stream radio airplay. It’s about getting fans to talk to you directly. No more excuses. Just make great music, get it out there (you know all of the ways you can do that) and start building a stack of fans.

I think that history will look back on 2005 to 2010 as the beginning of the next phase of the music industry. The Dawn of the Independent Musician.

Banner Photo Credit
Te NGuyen