By Chris Burnett, MusicDish.com
I try not to cling too hard to the days of listening to Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) files that sort of sounded like “the song.” Most of you know that there are still many MIDI sites on the Net. I used to create and listen to MIDI files and even swap them among friends back in the day. However, when technology allowed audio file compression to become reality, MPEG Layer 3 (MP3) makes the sound cards that play MIDI files seem very primitive by comparison. MIDI is to MP3, what the old ATARI games are to any X BOX game in this context.
The fact is that Napster overwhelmingly proved that most people will not pay for music they can have for free – any CD can be converted to music files and shared via the Web. So, how do you regulate that? I, like most everyone else, have my own personal feelings on this type of distribution issue. Peer To Peer (P2P) sites like Napster engage in a different form of online music distribution – although also listener driven. Even with all of the “big fuss” about the questionable aspects of the P2P music file swapping craze, it seems that CD sales went up – sounds like the result has been positively free publicity and marketing for many artists, whether wanted or not.
However, for the context and purpose of this writing, a P2P model cannot realistically be compared with OMD sites like the ones @ MP3.com, Artist Launch or Java Music – to name only a specific few. This is because although these companies are inherently different among themselves, they commonly serve actual musicians as a primary tenant of operations. It must also be stated that all of the different OMD sites also have their own presentation of offering some form of potential benefit to artists who join as member content providers.
Further, as stated earlier, the primary visitors to OMD sites are the member artists themselves. We are the ones who actually support the site, primarily because it is in our unsigned independent interests to do so. If the site goes under and we don’t have our own official web site and domain name, then it is back to the non-distinctive quagmire of those “free web page communities” as our only source for a web presence.
Another fact to consider about the Web in general: The fact remains that most users of the World Wide Web are affluent, relatively young, white, and male. Although this dynamic is becoming more diverse, how do you market certain styles of music to such a narrow segment of the listening public?
In its current state, OMD and particularly the MP3 sites that allow unsigned artists as members, are musician-driven ventures. These places would not exist, if not for the artist activity. It seems that no one wants to admit that fact, or say it “out loud,” probably for fear of losing advertisers and investors. But, even such a probable fear is unfounded in logic. Think about it, member artists are also consumers and advocates of these OMD sites. We want to see them succeed, but we also want to be compensated for our efforts.
With regard to any agreed premises of receiving my share of the OMD company sponsored “advertising-revenue-profit sharing-type promotions,” which are based upon the number of daily listeners at my OMD site, it should not matter who listens to my music that is posted there. I should receive credit due for “all listens” if that is the condition of payment. If the listens have been earned from the fact that supporters and fans played my songs each day, which are clearly within most OMD site guidelines, they should be valid. Since artists are also customers and patrons of such sites, it stands to sincere logical reasoning that fellow artists can thus also be defined as legitimate supporters and fans too.
However, it seems that when it comes to paying artists, some OMD sites cannot define a listener in other than vague terms. Artists have actually been denied earnings and some have even had their entire sites removed at one particular OMD, due to alleged gaming activities and findings that the effected artists were found to be in violation of company policy. This left many of us who heard about all of this action confused. We didn’t want to get booted just because some other artist played our music. I spent the better part of a month attempting to gain clarification and specific guidance on such matters from what is probably the largest OMD site currently available to unsigned musicians. I finally just asked the company official for simple “yes” or “no” responses – can’t be vague about “yes” or “no,” can you? I guess you can if you don’t say anything, which is the case. I still have not received a reply to that particular message…
So, to answer my own question in the title of this particular musing – “Online Music Distribution: Is anyone really listening?” I say emphatically – YES! And I must qualify this by adding that most of the listening is indeed done by people who understand and appreciate most of the nuances contained in music. After all of this time online with OMD, taking in “the good, the bad, and the ugly,” I have deduced that in no uncertain terms that the primary listeners at OMD sites are indeed the musicians themselves.
I say that such sites who portend to “pay” artists a royalty in essence for daily listens of their music, should set up a more standard system. One that is more in line with what is the actual dynamic of OMD. Hey, you know that most of your listeners are artist members. Why not set up your profit sharing promotion to reflect that fact? If a maximum earning limit were set each month for all eligible artists in the payout pool, “gaming the system” would not be such an enticement. Artists could promote in a reasonable manner while also working under other than “sweat shop-like” conditions. The incentive that now exists for those marginal musicians without a life away from their cathode ray tubes to “game your system” would then surely cease and desist!
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