Selling out - the give-away-product music and survival of the smartest

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An article by Max-Leonhard von Schaper.

In today's societies money is key for personal well-being, guarantee for the basics of human needs, including food, water, healthcare and a place to crush. And like most people we have to earn money in our daily jobs, working our asses off for one purpose or another. The same is true for music artists.

So in which way can an artist survive in today's world of downloadable music? Where does selling out starts and what is commonly accepted? How can one and who can stay upfront in the race towards success?

First of all, each one has to ask oneself an important question:

What is my reason for doing music?

Is it personal fame, that one hasnt received in other means? Is it a message one wants to bring across? Or is the seemingly easy monetary income pop stars have? This article will not speak for those that find their answer in the first or third question, but this article tries to help those that see their music as a purpose vehicle for a greater means. Idealism, again!

Artists have various sources of potential income:

  • Selling their music (be it in CD, tape, vinyl or digital form)
  • Licensing their music (advertisement, movies, etc.)
  • Selling tickets (and associated gimnicks) to their shows
  • Selling merchandise (T-shirts, hoodies, drum sticks, etc.)
  • Donations by fans
  • Sponsoring by companies

And which each of these incomes the question of "Selling out" is coming into the picture in the underground scene. When each song of a CD is being released as individual single record as well it is more likely that the artist is being labelled "selling out" as if he/she is putting up a special compilation history box with a well-prepared booklet depicting the band's troublesome years.

But how realistic is it that a band will earn an income with a 15€ or 100 RMB priced CD despite having a regular Douban following of 1200 fans? I vote agaist it and I claim that a band will have a better chance to utilize their other potential income sources if they freely distribute their music online in addition to a nicely (and well priced) CD available for collectors. Instead of concentrating on the monetary income characteristic of their music a band should concentrate on the other benefits their music can bring them: Getting vastly and quickly distributed by fans to other music circles, and hence getting easier recognized by labels, venues and press.

Concerts and festivals, usually to be thought as a constant and good stream of incoming money, cannot be relied on. As mainland China is experiencing within a short number of years the amount of "music festivals" rose quickly to over a 100 per year, with recognition factor and uniqueness of the festival decreasing. In Beijing there are up to 10 livehouses, same in Shanghai, with regular shows every week, over filling the potential audience (i.e. the market) with bands and music. Europe and the US have already experienced that trend and the pay-to-play concept has taken over music of the live music scene. First advances of this concept have already manifested in various band competitions in China, that supposingly lead to the Greater Good for bands. Alas, to no avail.

So what about merchandise? Band hoodies displaying affection for hardcore music, punk shirts calling for the demise of society in general? That cool band shirt no one else has seen so far? In as much as this might be labelled "selling out" as well (are you a supermarket or a band?), it is my honest opinion, that only merchandise will an underground enable to survive in the short and mid term. Merchandise enables fans to participate with a band outside of concerts and areas where the music is played. It helps them to display said affection to the outside world without having to revoke the music here and there.

I can only recommend every Chinese band to really rethink their current approach on merchandise and build up a valid strategy on that. Take the following examples:

  • Suicide Silence (US, Deathcore), We Butter the Bread With Butter, I Wrestled A Bear Once, Parkway Drive are constantly pushing out new shirts via Impericon whereas the band Yaksa only has one band shirt available for sale in 13 Club, Beijing, in 2007/8
  • European mailorder EMP devotes over 30 pages of their catalogue to band shirts, metal only, whereas the Painkiller online shop only has general metal shirts, but not band specific ones

Where is the Spring Autumn hoodie? Where the Yaksa cap? Where the Car-sick Cars car-sticker (for the back-side, next to the license plate)?

In today's world only the smart ones will survive!

--Azchael 06:33, 28 September 2011 (CEST)

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