Grammy Tech summit keynote: stop whining about CD sales and realize the definition of success has changed

Ian Rogers, an old-school music-tech geek who runs Topspin, a music/tech startup, gave a hell of a keynote at the GRAMMY Northwest MusicTech Summit, in which he told the most powerful people in the music industry to suck it up, get over the rhetoric about stealing and lost CD sales, and build businesses with the net, not against it.
The lamenting we read in the press is not the story of the new music business. Continuing to talk about the health of the music industry on these terms is as if we’d all been crying about the dying cassette business in 1995. The difference is that when we moved from cassette to CD the winners were the same (big companies who owned access to cash, distribution, and marketing) and the definition of winning was the same (more units sold for these big companies).

As I’ve been saying for years, the physics of the media space have changed and you shouldn’t expect the winners or even the definition of winning to stay constant, so simply looking at how iTunes replaces CDs doesn’t tell the entire story.

GRAMMY Northwest MusicTech Summit Keynote


  1. I found myself nodding in agreement at much of what he wrote, but I can’t help but wonder at his idealism:

    “…artists should own their copyrights and participate in how they’re exploited and accounting should be transparent.”

    Our current business model is purely exploitative. The resources are means to an end (usually very high profits for small numbers of people). His model suggests that the resources (the artists) can be ends within themselves. Its a great idea, who’s time has come, but the music industry (like so many dinosaur industries) is not going to let this happen quietly.

  2. @urshrew – the good news is that the “current business model” you’re referring to is already on its way out the door. The music industry is definitely not going gently into that good night, as you note, but it kinda doesn’t matter. They’re going anyway.

    The bad news, though, is that the logical next iteration of the music biz which Rogers sketches in his keynote – a world where artists own their copyrights, run high-margin / low-overhead / niche-targetin’ fanclub-type mini business empires – has been right around the corner for the better part of a decade now, and I’m starting to wonder whether that’s a permanent condition.

    Until someone can point to a band that’s succeeding in this new paradigm that’s not named Nine Inch Nails, bands should be hanging onto those day jobs.

  3. For the most part, the idea of an artist actually getting rich DIY will never be common. Million sellers would stop happening. But you don’t need to sell millions under a more artist- focused model since artists would actually get to keep most of the money as opposed to being forced to give 90% (or more) away to folks who had fuck all to do with the writing/ recording process, but who control the distribution of music.

    Bands will need those day jobs, indeed. Or play a huge number of gigs.

  4. Keep those day jobs. Absolutely.

    Keep them while you build your fan base. Keep them while you maintain your current fans and engage new ones. While you’re playing too many gigs for too-little pay, and struggling to find new revenue models, such as T-shirts, posters, collectables, backstage access, private shows, etc, etc, etc.

    And down the road, you’ll be rewarded with (hopefully) a massive fan base who will be willing to buy your next offering NO MATTER WHAT. And even when you acheive that level of success (which not every band will have the talent or the persistance for), you’ll still not make the kind of money that today’s top acts make.

    But that’s the point. The music industry shouldn’t be about 100 acts making billions of dollars, while hundreds of millions of bands get nothing. This new music industry allows you to have music as a job, if you’re willing to work hard at it, just like every other self- employed person who rises above his/her peers and succeeds. And it allows you to make a middle-class living by being good and being smart and working hard, which was never possible under the thumb of a recording industry who owned your content and controlled your earnings.

    Yes, keep your day job for a while. But in this new music industry, the payoff will most likely be worth it, where in the past only music’s ‘lottery winners’ got a peice at all.

  5. @RADIONOWHERE: Did you actually read all of the keynote? You want the name of one band that’s succeeding in this new paradigm?: Joe Purdy. In Ian’s words:

    “How many of you have heard of an artist called Joe Purdy? Joe is in his late 20s and has already recorded and released 10 albums, selling more than 650,000 singles on iTunes thus far. He made more last year than I make as the CEO of Topspin (as it should be) and he bought himself a house. He’s selling more music to fewer fans and earning a living from his art. He might not be on the cover of Rolling Stone or a household name, but personally I consider him a successful artist, I know his manager does as well, and I hope Joe thinks of himself that way, too.”

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