I'm not sure if you remember my letter but this is the music writer who grew up from Brooklyn. I responded to your first DIY article and recently found your blog containing the follow-up on tinymixtapes. I hope this is an appropriate means of reaching you since you included it in your blog post.
What's striking is that this year live music finally surpassed recorded music in revenue for the first time in many years.
Labels, major or otherwise, will always have an edge in that they are the gatekeepers to high quality material. From concerts to vinyls and CDs their product will always trump anything that can be obtained on bittorrent. The problem, from tickets to records, as always is price control. And with a generation raised on Itunes free bittorrents are a reasonable alternative for younger listeners to quality materials. Its not the same as getting a bootleg DVD on the street. Enough people think its acceptable enough based on their own experience with music so they'll go with free.
With that mind set at the forefront, music in this country has always operated on a hyper capitalism model with virtually no oversight (LiveNation merging with Ticketmaster this year is the most dramatic example). You even say in your article that money is a means of voting to keep an artist in business. But money is also a broad arbiter. Niche performers never get enough to sustain more than a meager and temporary existence. In indie rock for example, you are expected to have a break out record that will attract a buyers coalition large enough to sustain your momentum. Wilco is a great example of this. They've culled a fanbase of jam band enthusiasts, indie rock followers, NPR devotees, folk fans, country fans, yuppies, noise/experimentation enthusiasts and many others. Had the band kept a select following with polarizing music they'd be living hand to mouth. But because they are considered indispensable to so many groups they must continue on and the money pours in.
So when we vote with money, aren't we also asking for broader appeal and, possible, a more watered down product in certain instances. Not all mind you, but sometimes the big record doesn't make it and
In other countries when the government gives out significant funds to the arts at more then the top grant-worthy levels, mid-level institutions thrive from their involvement as well. Moreover, sharing something because more palatable because, like the Smithsonian, people will have already paid for the music in tax dollars. So it won't truly be for free and that eliminates the free-rider impulse.
Outside of that ideal situation of massive funding for diverse genres what about the here and now ? While the internet provides a mechanism of piracy it also provides for a sense of intimacy. Amanda Palmer recently got her fans to pay for certain aspects of her tour through donations (lodging, food, etc.). That's incredible. They feel close to her not only because of her music but because her availability to fans and gift incentives she's provided with records. John Darnielle posts on his forums and gives out free music on occasion. Anni Rossi is giving out a free EP for people who sign up for her updates. Being accessible pays off and it doesn't require a one sided investment. They've invested more time into making me a fan and I've responded in kind. Its not voting with money if the relationship feels more reciprocal.
So in other words, killing everyone with kindness has worked and the Internet has played a role in that. Its an old system. Just as I mentioned about the 80' underground in my last letter: when you have a connection with the audience via college radio, gigs, fan clubs, and record stores you will have a customer. I'm less likely to steal from you the performer if I know you and what you've done for me. So on the upside I get the quality product you've made with your label and I've helped out a person I've felt invested in. That personal investment makes the free low quality alternative much more hollow.
That ran long I apologize. Keep up the good work.