Everything popular is wrong: Making it in electronic music, despite democratization

Stefan Goldmann on why Web 2.0 can work for you but won’t for most, where all the money went and how working against the market consensus can be a winning strategy.

Electronic music. What we believed for a long time was that anyone with a bit of talent had a chance at a career of about ten years before eventually retiring from the circuit. Of course there are exceptions for whom this does not seem to apply. Francois Kevorkian has probably had the longest career here (unless we count Kraftwerk as part of our little world); and it’s hard to imagine techno or house without Richie Hawtin, Jeff Mills or Laurent Garnier. That’s the good news: it does not necessarily have to meet a predetermined end. On the other hand, artists emerging now face the hardest times ever to establish themselves. The lifespan between breaking through and being laid off seems to have reached a historic low point of half a year. The reasons behind this “haircut” to artistic longevity are the radically lowered barriers to participation, as well as the hectic marketplace discovering today’s new talent and abandoning yesterday’s new talent.

Let’s clarify “barriers”: in the old days of the music business, which was basically before the end of the 1970s, the main barriers to “making it in music” were studio time and access to distribution. Whoever wanted to be heard adequately needed well distributed releases. That is, having recorded material in the first place. The means for producing such recordings were so expensive that at some point only big corporations could spare the funds to pay for the required studio time and personnel. The effect of this economic barrier to resources was that a couple of hundred artists and bands gained access to an audience of millions. Once a recording was produced it enjoyed a long life in the market due to the lack of competition that otherwise would have pushed it off the store shelves. Only under these conditions did the huge, continuous investments in promotion and distribution actually make economic sense in those times and circumstances.

What a typical recording studio once looked like

This model experienced a serious challenge with the advent of the affordable 4-track recorder, which enabled home recording that could deliver marketable results for the first time ever. For instance, the whole late ’70s/early ’80s New York downtown scene can be pretty much explained by this piece of technology. Progress in affordable music equipment in the form of synthesizers, drum machines, these earphones for $50 and samplers gave birth to a plethora of innovative styles in music, including hip hop, house, techno and drum ‘n’ bass. At the same time independent distribution was born, conquering channels previously serviced exclusively by major corporations. The new distributors were capable of connecting with ever smaller target groups. Fueled by enthusiasm, small businesses could survive on small quantities of product previously considered not to be worth the effort. Tango from Finland and death metal from anywhere found comfortable niches with worldwide followings.

These enabled artists and the people around them to become professionals, i.e. to make a living on the music instead of funding a hobby through an undesirable day job. That was the core economic feature of the independent music culture: no riches, but still sufficient funds to avoid wasting time on activities not related to music. Anyone busy generating income from 9 to 5 wouldn’t be able to gain the deep skills necessary to sustain a career in music and hold an audience for long. By the way, this comfortable indie-constellation was never really threatened by the majors, who only occasionally dropped by to sign away the most successful artists of any niche. Working within your own artistic preferences became a pretty comfortable thing to do back in the ’80s.

Closer to what today’s typical studio looks like. Richie Hawtin’s bedroom studio.

The next level was reached when it took nothing but a standard PC and a microphone (if required) to render an entire production. The software that emulated the previously needed pieces of gear came mostly for free thanks to piracy. Therefore, production costs practically hit zero and the record sales you needed in order to sustain a release fell almost to the cost of the manufacturing of the records themselves (with a few bucks for promotion). At that point, at least in dance music, sales figures of just around 5,000 physical units were considered a “hit,” whereas a bit earlier it would’ve required a few hundred thousand units. Many soon realized that even the expense of pressing up records or CDs was not really necessary. A digital download has no costs at all. The logical outcome was distribution that granted any piece of music total availability, with the downside of being the most inefficient way of distribution ever: what should I download when there are five billion files to choose from? Whom should I bless with my attention? Do I have any attention to spare?

Contrary to public perception, this didn’t affect the majors all that much. Their problems were mostly in their inability to maximize the advantages they already had instead of wasting resources on trying to revive an overthrown order. Soon enough it dawned on them that big artists (i.e. those with the biggest turnover) can generate reasonable income through so called 360-degree-deals, covering live gigs, publishing rights, merchandise, etc. all under the control of one company. Even the smallest labels engage in a similar policy nowadays. But the required resources to participate in the game of filling stadiums, really cashing in on movie and advertising deals today are almost exclusively in the hands of majors. Interestingly, the so called “democratization” of music production and distribution didn’t change this allocation of relevant income to the majors’ detriment at all.

The world is at your fingertips

Others fell victim to it. Absurdly, the complete disappearance of economic barriers to distribution (offering a free download doesn’t cost more than the time to upload the file) hit the wallets of the “indies” first, stripping a substantial part of their income. This mostly affected the artists and the personnel around them: designers, engineers, studio musicians, promotion and label professionals, music journalists, et al. The mass of competition they encountered meant anyone with a limited marketing budget had a difficult time surviving in the market. With the same promotional tools available to almost anyone, they lost their efficiency. The professionals listed above basically lost their income. In 2000, an average vinyl single generated a return of a couple of thousand Euros, while in 2011 the same single generates a loss of a couple of hundred Euros, even without what were formerly known as “production costs.” Anything on top, like a bigger production, a decent mastering, or proper sleeve design became factors of deepening material loss. That area of the craft gets subsequently cut off and replaced by an undiscriminating routine of two-step-distribution: “save as” and “upload to.”

Fleeing to a purely digital distribution doesn’t look that much better in general: only an established artist backed by a strong physical release experiences significant digital sales. The overwhelming majority goes by unnoticed. The average “digital only” dance single generates around 100 Euros of profit, for both artist and label, now most often being the same person. And these figures go down, too. Today a couple millions artists try to reach a few hundred people. Or like the contemporary pun puts it, “In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 people.”

Vinyl pressing plant from the days of yore

The result is a wide spread de-professionalization. If an artist regularly loses money on her efforts, she faces an economic end to her endeavors sooner or later. Being a “musician” is increasingly becoming a profession for those coming from inherited wealth or being mercantily exceptionally clever. It’s less then ever a question of the intrinsic quality of the music. What used to be done by professional enthusiasts now becomes the domain of the artists — turning them into designer, PR dude and distributor. It all subtracts from the time spent actually creating music. This puts additional pressure on the remaining professional environment. Nowadays it is increasingly harder to get hold of well executed services. Mastering, manufacturing vinyl, music PR — no one qualified enough is willing to tolerate the miserable working conditions and hilarious paychecks of these jobs for an extended time. Whoever has the chance seems to flee the music industry for something more prosperous. The error rate in manufacturing and distribution grows exponentially and actually feeds the market with ever shabbier products in content and execution.

Good luck learning to use one of these while holding a day job

There’s this die-hard belief that income, at least for the musicians (but not for the professional environment), will come from the fees for live performances instead. But how do you get live performances in the first place? Well, purchasing views and press recognition helps. The problem encountered there is that the media has adapted to the state of the music industry. In electronic music that means whoever succeeds in producing two singles may find himself covered by all relevant press and booked throughout the club circuit, just to be replaced by the next “lucky fool” (a term from stock speculation) about three months later. New artists get “pumped and dumped.” What about a year old break, a production that takes longer, or time for having a baby? Two weeks without a release are perceived as a career flaw for those who had their breakthrough in the last three years. A longer shelf life in the media and on the circuit seems to be granted only to artists who started before the big flood came, which is pre-2005 approximately (if I were to spend a year on the beach, most likely I’ll be able to continue exactly where I had stopped). Or to those who buy their coverage — although that only works over a longer period of time on a five-figure budget. Most others face the high probability of approaching music as something you do between college and some dull job.

The artists’ disillusionment leads to ever lamer results in music — why bother? A single produced hastily in two hours work sells 500 units, while a delicate masterwork moves 800 (plus a bit of beer money from Beatport). These figures are in constant decline, too. The market average first pressing of a vinyl 12″ is 300 units now, which regularly indicated sales below this figure (deduct records given away as “promotion” and to friends).

Beatport’s top 100 downloads

What have we learned here? The so called “democratization” didn’t work. Everyone did believe they gained access. This access by itself is stripped of value, though, because no one cares that DJ XY from Z has that new record out. Through any available channel I get dozens of requests per day to listen to somebody’s track. That’s after a spam filter and a disclaimer that I don’t want to receive files. The result is that I don’t listen to files at all — I do buy vinyl regularly. DJ XY doesn’t get the gig. If he does by accident, that’s for the cab fare. In Berlin, with its conspicuous population of 50,000 DJs, promoters and club owners don’t have to try hard. There’s always someone who will play for free if asked. Hey, that’s free promotion for the new DJ XY record. Meanwhile in the provincial town of Z, the locals “practice” for free, so they develop the skills they’ll need to “make it” in Berlin one day. That’s where things come full circle. No proper gigs, no record sales, no income. Anyone who is not already “there” doesn’t seem to arrive anymore.

The propaganda that the future will have us all giving away music for free in order to make a living on gigs has been proven wrong by reality. Because basically everybody does exactly this and still doesn’t get booked all over (or not often enough, as with most “mid career” artists). The exception being Radiohead, of course, but only after a decade on the million-dollar budget of a major. The only profiteers here (and biggest fans of piracy and Creative Commons) are the stock holders of the Nasdaq 100. If you want to make a living on music, buy the relevant stock and live off the dividends. That’s where all the money goes that used to pay musicians and music professionals some time ago. It says a lot about the other side of “democratization,” too: the individual in search for music experiences no upside. He pays for the returns of Apple, Google, Beatport and the speaker fees of Larry Lessig and Chris Anderson by being lost in a flood of irrelevant, crappy music and the feeling that others had more fun before (hence the retro obsession in today’s music). The total de-motivation doesn’t manifest itself only in the musicians’ under achievements, but also in the annoyance of everybody else. A frustrated DJ plays lame tunes in front of people bored to tears. That’s the average event out there. Alternatively, a collective nostalgia for some era of “old days” prevails. Everyone keeps doing the same thing out of the fear that the slightest deviation from the norm will scare away the small remaining, yet patient audience who goes along because of a lack of alternatives (we dance either because we paid or because the drugs kicked in).

Nasdaq studio

Did that depress you? Now, here comes the good news: exactly because everyone seemingly performs to the lowest still acceptable standards, all you have to do as an artist is to unleash disproportional waves of creativity. Since nothing promises secure success anymore, all considerations to what “works in the marketplace” can be freely dumped and forgotten. The more out there you get, the better. It’s the only way to stand out in a totally dull environment. The advantage is, put cynically, that the old channels are jammed. Whoever tries to break through them following “proven” old ways (which usually means emulating other people’s career paths) is wasting time and energy. We can’t learn much from studying the careers of Carl Craig or Ricardo Villalobos anymore because the conditions that enabled them don’t exist any more. The channels that do work are found elsewhere and are open to those who possess endurance, individuality and substance — the values that are disappearing most rapidly now.

To an extreme extent, success in the arts is subject to random factors (we see many successful people who have no clue how they got there, how to stay there or how to repeat it). The more radically and frequently you stand out, the more often you get exposure to those factors, thus increasing the probability of channels opening up for you. That is not spamming the Internet but creating radically individual great music in the first place. Once you enter the channel, you allow more factors to work for you, since these tend to add up (path dependency). Art always had to be great (whatever that is) and move people in order to succeed, too. But now there’s that third dimension of having to create a wide gap between you and the competition, even if that’s just within one genre. If you can implement this idea in your work, the flood is not threatening at all anymore since it works against itself. “Unique” is the most valuable word in a crowded environment of generic ideas and overwhelming redundancy. Striving for this quality is also exactly what is most rewarding artistically. Besides screaming fans and free drinks, that is.

What the music buying experience used to look like

A very odd example for creating stand out events: I had that funny experience when I recorded an album for cassette last year. No one involved expected anything more than to have some fun with it. Still, I spent a lot of effort on this one, specifically on getting my head around the question why to use a cassette at all. No one else would have put more work than necessary into such an obsolete format. And just that brought in a lot of attention, which any file on Beatport, regardless how good it is, wouldn’t have done at all. And there was no free lunch involved. On the contrary, distribution was severely cut down to a very few sources. Today it’s actually so much easier again as long as you can get your head around the notion that “anything popular is wrong.” Especially in mainstream media like Germany’s Der Spiegel or UK’s BBC (in features, not the usual playlists), I’ve only been covered because of totally odd projects. For the same reason new opportunities follow, which artists who cling to functionality and marketplace consensus never encounter. I don’t play techno clubs exclusively now, but also find myself scoring a ballet, performing in museums or getting calls from classical performers for collaboration — my techno background makes me stand out in these settings as well. In return, crossover encounters of this kind add that edge to the artist’s profile which feeds back into the club scene. It’s definitely more rewarding than spamming the internet with “listen to this track” emails.

Highly individualized, lightly advertised work is way more attractive nowadays than consensus-style work, advertised to death (short, unsustainable hype is the most one can hope for there). People are starting to realize this. Many top labels stopped promoting their new singles for instance. It just appears in the shops and that’s it. It’s not unlikely that artists will increasingly lose their interest in having their output available all over and seek for a more intimate exchange with the audience. Why plaster the Internet with files? Who finds that valuable anymore? Imagine an incredible piece of music available only once — on dubplate. Or let’s consider falling back in history — music only in the presence of its creator. No release. Come to the concert. Enthusiasm will be back when you get this feeling of attending something really special. How to create this feeling for the audience is the core task of the creatives, if they deserve that name.



That said, it still takes a huge amount of time and dedication for an artist to develop a standout profile. This raises the issue of financing a career in music. Since the indies mostly lost their capacity to fund musicians, the artist’s required initial investment has become higher again. Usually people argue there will have to be some sort of day job then. As aforementioned, that would be perfectly fine if being occupied all day with something not relevant to music didn’t actively hinder you from devoting yourself to developing your artistic edge. Your mind will be occupied with other stuff instead of exploring the areas of sound where it gets deep. To be able to create stuff that outlasts two weeks, you’ll need to go full time at some point.

Even after tolerable initial periods of day job-cross-finance, those who succeed are never safe. Since the available funds (those remaining after the Nasdaqs sucked out what they could) get distributed to more and more people, even electronic music’s top and near-top level artists’ income drops rapidly. Periods of sufficient remuneration are followed by periods of economic frustration. Therefore there is a need to have sources of income that are independent from your own music’s direct returns. That is, any income that can be obtained with spending very little time on it — no day jobs allowed unless you are a grossly overpaid consultant for a few hours a month, like I am occasionally. One may consider the pros and cons (there are such) of grants and fellowships, commissions from the industry or institutions, as well as sources of passive income. The latter means that once set up, a scheme generates income without investing further time — interest, the concepts of arbitrage and leverage, or exploiting details of copyright law may serve as rather abstract examples here. How to make them work for you would be a topic of it’s own. Separating income and music in your head can be deeply rewarding. The freedom experienced in creating music to your own criteria first and even “against the market” if necessary is way more elegant than trying to squeeze as much as possible out of music that has to produce your paycheck. That is another factor contributing to an artist’s longevity in the market — having guts and principles. Get your head around it, do your homework and you’ll quickly see solutions that work for you.

Stefan Goldmann is an electronic music artist, DJ and owner of the Macro label. This article, which first ran in Silo magazine, is translated from the German.

Anon  on April 19, 2011 at 4:45 PM

Buy the right records. Play them at the right time to the right people. Watch the drugs kick in. Great night. That’s all that matters.

Anon  on April 19, 2011 at 5:35 PM

Play the right records at the right time to the right people on the right drugs.


Cam  on April 19, 2011 at 8:03 PM

“Separating income and music in your head can be deeply rewarding.” Of course it is! That is why artists should not expect to make money from their recordings. Music made without a commercial incentive or expectation is real music. That is why digital music stores are so full of crap – anything’s worth a shot when there’s even a small chance of renumeration!

People who believe that they should be entitled to make a living solely off their music are kidding themselves. Frankly, there are heaps of talented artists out there and not enough money to support them all. To boot, a truly miniscule proportion of these artists are capable of producing a continuous stream of high quality work. This is why the concept of labelling someone an “artist” is silly – it pigeonholes people who could be doing something productive (even if menial) with their lives after that initial burst of creativity vanishes, which it almost always does.

Do your best to make good music when you’re feeling it. Because when in a truly artistic frame of mind, money and success shouldn’t enter the equation. Do it to please yourself, and if you manage to please some others who show some gratitude, even luckier you!

Cinimod  on April 20, 2011 at 4:08 AM

The democracy wished for and granted to the consumer has become the last nail in the coffin for the producer. Everybody has stolen on the internet, some to massive extents, others trying hard to stop. The depressing thing is facing the fact that human nature is essentially deceitful, greedy and selfish, and that any new development in technology will be misused by the people to their own benefit. But this is not true of everyone, just some of the uber obsessed ‘fans’.
The desire of these enthusiasts in these music scenes is to have things upfront, so tracks will be ripped from radio shows, re-edited to be jingle free and uploaded within minutes of transmission. This was the only currency a DJ/producer had to set themselves apart from the wannabees, but as soon as they give it to ANYONE to promote other than played on an unrecorded live performance, people WILL steal it and distribute it THEMSELVES. Die hards, hobbyists and wannabees used to keep independant producers afloat, but now have the means to get their hands on their god’s goodies instantly. That is the democracy they sought for so many years, their way in, a chance to have access to all the upfront stuff and wow a crowd with it, knocking dead the king with a cheering bunch of revelers all hailing the new one. The means justifies the end, they have supported this producer for so long, why not steal from him a little to help them along on their road to stardom, and living the dream of giving up the day job?
If you want to make any kind of living, you can not rely on the support of your scene and it’s kingmakers. You are immediately confined to the the reach of their fanbase. ‘Normal’ unobsessive people will ocassionally buy music that they catch, hear and like in their ‘normal’ lives, which doesn’t include trawling forums and playlists for new or obscure music. They neither care nor have the time.
Talent, no committments, luck of meeting the right people at the right time and you have a chance to get in. When you are in, aim higher than impressing the main player in your sub genre of your niche. Think bigger, differently and with your heart and soul and people will notice your creations. Look up Kutiman’s THRUyou project on youtube; an accomplished but fairly underground breaky hip hop producer had an original idea and smashed it with over a million views, and will hopefully be getting offered some interesting things to work and a bit of cash over the next few years from it.
There is hope and good people are still out there. The old cliche of wheat and chaff rings true, and their is no greater democracy than that.

Stefan Goldmann  on April 20, 2011 at 2:49 PM

“That is why artists should not expect to make money from their recordings. Music made without a commercial incentive or expectation is real music.”

That’s a true-ism, I believe. In an underground scenario (and in most mainstream scenarios, too) you can’t plan financial success. Really. Even majors claim only 5% of their output ever hits BIG money. That’s why you shouldn’t “expect”. Still, if you come up with something great and contribute to society that way, you should be rewarded like any other dude out there, too. It often doesn’t happen. That’s why I encourage even great musicians to have their plan B, and that shouldn’t involve hours working at the gas station (a waste for society in 2 directions: less great art, and 1 job less available for someone else who might need it more or have more love for it).

But still, are there “too many talented” musicians? In any genre, I hardly find more than 1 really talented new artist a year, capable of producing more than 2 great records or creating great leaps forward even just once in a “career.”

Call it elitist, but 99% of the electronic music out there generically repeats the remaining 1%. My whole point is to think about how to be part of that 1%. More likely to happen when you go where few have been, no? Remuneration in that sphere is way easier to obtain (though not always… see above).

If you want to be in that other 99%, my blessings with what ever makes you happy.


Hrishi Mittal  on April 21, 2011 at 5:45 AM

What do you think of the earbits model where artists pay for airtime? – http://www.earbits.com/play/#/faqs/artist

HockeyBias.com  on April 21, 2011 at 8:43 AM

Superb. This dovetails nicely with Jaron Lanier’s book ‘You are not a gadget’. http://www.amazon.com/You-Are-Not-Gadget-Manifesto/dp/0307269647

amiszh  on April 21, 2011 at 9:02 AM

Lovely long way of saying “create less unoriginal crap and maybe you’ll even make money, not to mention you’ll be enjoying yourself so much more”. Good, timeless advice.

Dan Voell  on April 21, 2011 at 9:07 AM

Great Article! THE OLD RULES DON’T APPLY. I ran into a situation with a very talented artist who even when presented with a better option then the status quo wanted to approach the status quo because it’s what he was taught in school and what the last generation did. YOU ARE IN A NEW MARKET. Look at other business models (software/finance) as a means to build your music career, own your product, and get it out there. The internet jumped between you and your fans and said you had to go through it. Not True.

ALXander  on April 21, 2011 at 9:13 AM

It is not often that someone has the balls to say it like it is. Fantastic article, I hope people learn from it, highly unlikely.

I make artful electronic music which often includes an actual recorded electric instrument, if you could use my skill at some point or if you want to do a random collab send me a hey

I sound like this

Nick Taylor  on April 21, 2011 at 9:16 AM

From a guitarier sort of background…

… agreed you’ve got to do it full-time. You’ve got to be fully immersed in the culture.

We had a (how you say?) kicking scene in London in the 90s – without making money selling records. How? We didn’t pay rent. We all (or most of us) lived in squats, on the dole. Made a bit of money here and there driving vans or doing the odd night at a bar.

But… the thing that really made a difference was not “making money” but “killing expenses” – ie: landlords.

Adam I.  on April 21, 2011 at 10:25 AM

This makes me think of one of my favorite acts from the past five or six years: M83. Granted they date back a little bit further than that, but they don’t sound like anything else.

Another one that is a stand-out to me is someone named Laurel Halo (google it and download her 4-single EP). Again, she sounds like nothing else.

Jack  on April 21, 2011 at 4:46 PM

The word “democracy” has fallen on hard times. Both the base post, and several comments, used it in the same way, meaning “anyone can do whatever they want.” But that is not what the world means. Democracy actually means “everyone gets together to decide to do the same thing.” The first concept actually has a different name; it’s “anarchy.” “Democracy” is “everyone has a voice in building a consensus.” “Anarchy” is “everyone follows their own whim.”

Music was largely anarchic until the twentieth century. Sure, there were rock stars like Mozart and Beethoven, but most people never heard them, or only once in a lifetime. Music was “what cousin Bob does with that mandolin.” Anarchic music is still music. We still dance, we still sing along, eat and drink and chat and mate to it. But it’s not commercial. If you want commercial music (which is necessary for music to be financially profitable to anyone), you need actual “democracy.”

Bob  on April 21, 2011 at 5:40 PM

Thanks for an insightful piece. I’ve been thinking about the problem lately and it seems like the content creators are being raked over the coals by Big Search, Big Hardware and Big Piracy. It’s kind of sad when I look at Apple and think that they’re sort of a savior because they actually help the creators make some cash and then take 30% for doing pretty much nothing. But even Apple can play the part of Big Hardware because every hardware company knows that you’re not going to buy a new MP3 player that holds 5000 songs if you’re really going to have to spend $5000 to fill it up.

I wish I had better ideas.

mrG  on April 21, 2011 at 8:58 PM

A delightful read, but let’s try this: Pablo Picasso said, “Art is just another way of keeping a diary”

If this is so, then the way to garner attention is not simply to out-do the oddity of your last LOLCats post, but to be an interesting diarist, to be someone who actually has something to say that is interesting to a degree that you really want to know what that person is going to say next. So you hang on the releases, and through that person, you discover others who are also following these ideas and in there you have a community, a network. Given a network, all sorts of commerce-like things can happen; given a large enough network, it starts to feedback and self-inspire itself, and given a still larger network, sales people will get interested in piggy-backing on it (which is not always, if ever, a Good Thing)

But the key concept here is being an interesting diarist, in having something to say next that expands on what you had to say before, and leads to a direction. Beethoven didn’t just dream up nifty sounds that were “neater” than the last, he had a system, he was on a quest, he had a THEORY of where music HAD to go, and each and every composition (outside of commissions for money) was a further exploration into that space, each new symphony was the logical successor to the prior, building from the learning experience, going forward.

Mahler then picked up from Beethoven, and kept running, another interesting musical ‘diarist’; Schoenberg then did the same, and Cage ditto. Each was moving in a direction, applying themselves to exploring where this music HAD to go, carrying things to their logical conclusion. It wasn’t about spandex and wigs and arriving in a cocoon 😉

So it behooves the artist to become interesting FIRST, and THEN make music based on that foundation so as to prove their point. To some extent the ear-candy people are doing this too, only the theory they are applying towards is sales and persons in the club, which is nonetheless a quest and a scientific endeavour.

I would just, myself, hope to find diarists with something a tad more interesting to say :)

Dr. Colossus  on April 22, 2011 at 5:37 AM

Thanks for that thats a really good article. I’m going to re-post that. I’ve pretty much always been saying pretty similar things.

As regards artistic originality / novelty, anyone you can see doing anything original was there at least 6 months before you. You try catching up with their fresh new style you will always be playing catch-up. You try jumping on the “next big thing” you will always be out of date. It makes more sense just to do your own thing.

The paradigm I view music on the internet from is like gigging in the 60’s You play to different areas (of the internet) and grow in reputation. You may sell a bit of merch along the way (mp3’s) but its only chump change.

You only make some money to live off if you ever get taken up by the mainstream media (and don’t sign all your singles over in shitty contracts to shitty labels). Thats sort of like being signed in the old times.

You need to sell about 4000 mp3 albums a year to be comfy off from this game (taking into account fallow) and thats only going to happen with mainstream media. Even then that feels like a lot of mp3 albums to sell. At my listeners to sale ratio that it something like at least 40,000 listeners to get 4000 legal downloads. Thing is there is a global market so a shitload more money to be made if the crest of the wave can be broken.

filastine  on April 24, 2011 at 5:52 PM

There isn’t a word out of place here.

Zoe Amateur  on April 25, 2011 at 9:29 PM

Не that has an ill name is half hanged.

Cinimod  on April 26, 2011 at 9:33 AM

If a democracy is the even distribution of informed choice and giving the people a voice(the choice being to pay for music or not)then the people have voted with their feet.
90% don’t care the artists get nothing and steal.
10% have a conscience and pay.
Outlook for the future as a generation grows up NEVER having payed for music in it’s life = bleak. That 10% WILL die out or diminish in time. It may not be for another 50 years, but they will. How on earth can it be combated?
It can’t, you are dealing with human nature, which like water seeks the path of least resistance. And in that sense it isn’t democracy, it is revolution. The people truly have the power to access an endless developing universe of knowledge now, and how do they predominantly use it? Watching porn or stealing music and film. Well there’s progress. Make entertainment free and the people will never stop entertaining themselves. When do they find the time to truly learn or develop as a race? They don’t.
I sense a trap. Get out, now!

Cindy Gallop  on April 27, 2011 at 2:51 PM

Stefan – great post.

Something is worth only what someone is willing to pay for it.

What we are willing to pay depends on the emotional value it has for us.

Music is one of the most emotional experiences known to mankind.

The music industry has completely lost sight of that fact in its attempt to keep the top-down model going by focusing on purely rational (they think) ways of making money.

The music industry business models of the future belong to those who understand the emotional value of music and how to leverage that in a way that makes sense for musicians and fans alike.

And also to those who understand the truth of the Alan Kay quote:

‘In order to predict the future, you have to invent it.’

Cindy Gallop

Thomas  on April 27, 2011 at 5:55 PM

one of the best comments/advice ive heard in this field came from Markus Schulz.. he said “THE DAY YOU START MAKING MUSIC FOR YOURSELF IS THE DAY YOUR CAREER WILL TAKE OFF”

Beebos  on April 29, 2011 at 1:11 AM

Excellent article! Making electronic music now is really depressing compared to 10 years ago or so…I just wish people would realise the effect it has when they download illegal mp3s instead of buying their music.

This article echoes one Tweeted by Chris Anderson a while back –


Daniel Masson  on April 29, 2011 at 5:55 PM

Excellent !!

thissen3000  on April 30, 2011 at 1:55 PM

du bist ein kleiner neidischer scheisser

Andrew Thomas  on May 1, 2011 at 6:23 AM

I couldn’t agree less with this article, Mr. Dinosaur. Music is effectively free to make, free to distribute, and should be free for all. With production costs effectively zero, music is finally being produced by people who make music for pleasure – not because they see the pound signs at the end of it. There’s nothing worse than careerist bands who just want to get into music to get “signed” and hope to make money. Free digital distribution is finally killing of the obscenely wealthy pop star, and killing-off the major labels which have cheated their artists for so many years. It’s fantastic.

Enough about getting into music to make money. Making music should not be a job – being a doctor, or a builder, that’s a job. Music is a fantastic joyful hobby though. People paint pictures for pleasure, not to get rich. People should make music for pleasure, not to get rich. MUSIC IS NOT ABOUT MAKING MONEY, IT IS ABOUT MAKING MUSIC.

Andrew Thomas  on May 1, 2011 at 6:27 AM

Oh, and there’s no such thing as “stealing music”. Downloading a file, giving a file to a friend, is not “stealing”, no matter how many people tell you it is. You can steal a physical object, it is not possible to steal abstract information by copying it. You are copying information. You are not denying the original owner of that information anything – they still have their original copy. It is distributing information at zero cost. Nobody loses. Do not listen to the thought police who tell you copying a file from one disc to another is stealing. IT IS NOT STEALING. MAKE MUSIC FREE.

Annonymous  on May 2, 2011 at 11:32 AM

Good article, but that isn’t Hawtin’s studio…

That’s where he checks email, does business as usual.

His studio looks NOTHING like that.

Had to make this point, sorry…

Creedah  on May 2, 2011 at 12:00 PM

This is all true and it is depressing, there are other factors concering technology companies vs. record labels; studying the business has taught me a few other things. Originality is extremely hard because true inspiration doesnt just happen on its own. Most people who produce their own material are influeneced by their favorite artists; this can be both helpful and a curse as the more you try to sound like them the better you’ll become at producing but the problem with it is the fact there are going to thousands of otehr people with teh exact same motive as you. A good place to start would be to try to fuse genres together, grooves, basslines and textures to try to create an innovative personalized sound, then provided with alot of time and critisism the progression of the sound will increase untill it eitehr arrives and a totally radical destination or just withers back toward square one. Good luck to all teh upcoming producers and artists. The public doesnt know how lucky they are to have you!

sean  on May 6, 2011 at 11:33 AM

this article is valuable to anyone who values making money in music –and anyone who does that probably makes run-of-the-mill music anyway. the classic electronic tracks that initiated genres and revolutionized industries were not bent on making money, however, and rather on making music.

motz workman  on May 6, 2011 at 6:48 PM

This is a very insightful article. As we have been learning about this at college I thought I would post a couple of my own views on this issue. First of all I think that the music industry has always been a hard thing to crack into. But what really needs to happen is to say no and not support mass digital distributors like iTunes and beat port. ITunes are renowned to be one of the most popular download sites for music. Taking a hefty chunk of the artist’s talent at a figure of about 40% of every single/album sold. They have almost become the Tesco of the music world and completely monopolized the market. If you really want to see passionate and talented up and coming artists, the best idea is to buy hard physical product rather than digitally downloading. First of all, ITunes and the like are not promoters; they are simply showcasing the artists work and have no interest on pushing out anything. They rely solely on the purchaser knowing exactly what they want. (Which usually and sadly comes to the conclusion of musical commodities like Justin bieber and lady ga ga due to these being the most accessible to the wider audience.) This in turn makes the music industry stagnant because there is no money being pumped into it forcing good producers/artists to take up a day job which pushes music aside and makes it more of a bedroom hobby rather than a full time music career. (On the contrary, music labels are promoters that literally push artists out there and even give them a wage to live on so music can become their day job. The point I am trying to get to is that digital downloads are destroying real creative music out there by taking over all record company’s (which are promoters) Also, if physical product was purchased, the artist would see a significant rise of cash to every unit sold compared to that of digital downloads. This therefore would be fueling a proper music career for that artist evidently creating better music for you!

gabriel  on May 6, 2011 at 8:11 PM

music is what it is we all do it as a way 2 express those eternal emotions that dont transend with babylonan words hehehehehe laugh n cry coZ u only get one go

Stefan Goldmann  on May 8, 2011 at 5:29 PM

Amazingly few comments dwell on a view like this (I always assumed that was a mass phenomenon):

“this article is valuable to anyone who values making money in music –and anyone who does that probably makes run-of-the-mill music anyway.”

“Making music should not be a job. MUSIC IS NOT ABOUT MAKING MONEY, IT IS ABOUT MAKING MUSIC.” (well, in any case some ISP stocks make wonderful returns here)

Still, it is worth dealing with this kind of view (interestingly, it never comes from anyone actually DOING music on an above-“first steps” level – if it was of any value, it should have at least a minority support from just some reknown musicians?). It is obvious nonsense to link “music done as a profession” with a majors / pop star wealth / commercial interest perspective. Pop stars have always been a tiny fraction of the musicians’ community.

There are millions of “professional” musicians on the globe that do what they love (or are capable of) in the first place and don’t even know what a major is. I’m talking about music being the only perspective (besides sports) for gifted individuals to escape obscene poverty in 3rd world countries or class poverty in 2nd and 1st world countries. It is more accessible and realistic than becoming a doctor or engineer. And we increasingly see electronic music offering such possibilities, too (well, until recently). Think of Brazil or South Africa. Or of Detroit back in the day.

I bet anyone who voiced the “music is a hobby and shouldn’t generate any income” oppinion:

A) is middle class & male
B) owns a mac
C) never had to rely solely on his own work (whatsoever) to make a living (i.e. having parents with sufficient funds to support them through college or on whatever other leisure things they do in their sufficient leisure time before they take on one of these nice paying jobs in their respective societies)

We should take it for what it is: it is an ideology for people who have no clue what they are talking about. They have never invested any effort in learning anything in music beyond selecting the presets from the menu of some software they downloaded from a Russian server (go ahead – I support that since I found a Native Instruments ad on a website that offered a free download of my music). Of course, at this level of experience, it seems nonsense to them to make money from that – and I agree 100%.

Still, this view is uninformed (mildly put) since it is only applicable to one very narrow way of creating music. Other (actually: most) music takes time. A classical violinist HAS to practive 5-9 hours a day. There is no day job option. Arguably even in electronic music, millions of people have benefited culturally from the music developed by gifted musicians. Some tracks might have been created on a lazy afternoon (and the house classics have earned a loooot of money), others took weeks or months to produce.

Go out and listen to some music other than the generic stuff you filled your harddrive with. If someone didn’t spend years to develop what your internet friends emulate with their presets, you wouldn’t even know electronic music exists. Rest assured that people like Carl Craig, Richie Hawtin, Ricardo Villalobos, Jeff Mills, Larry Heard and even Deadmau5 have invested years of their lives to develop what their fans love them for. And no one of them is on a major (except Deadmau5). If it was their hobby you would have never heard of any of them though. And I couldn’t care less if someone releases on a major or an indie. Miles Davis was on a major. Bach was on the majors of his baroque era (money from the church & some feudal ruler – without these people wouldn’t have listened to his stuff for the last 300 years).

I’m fine, thanks, but you never know the background of people. Assuming that music should be something only middle class kids can afford to do (as their “hobby”), while everyone else is happily invited to stay wherever the social ladder put them … well, judge for yourself what such worldview is worth.


matt allaby  on May 9, 2011 at 8:12 PM

Very well thought out and considered piece. props.

Started-DJING-in-1979  on May 10, 2011 at 6:12 AM

“Once a recording was produced it enjoyed a long life in the market due to the lack of competition that otherwise would have pushed it off the store shelves.”

True, but the raise of independent radios in early 80’s (here in Europe) contributed a lot to shorten average life span of these recordings, simply because people become tired of hearing them 24 times a day.

the cute belieber  on May 12, 2011 at 1:47 PM

awww, deadmau5 in third, c’mon U can reach the first place
deadmau5 forever <3<3<3<3<3<3

pd: it's not progressive house, is electro house

newnumbertwo  on May 18, 2011 at 11:28 AM

All the talk about day jobs and creating reminds me of a Bukowski poem:

air and light and time and space

“–you know, I’ve either had a family, a job,
something has always been in the
but now
I’ve sold my house, I’ve found this
place, a large studio, you should see the space and
the light.
for the first time in my life I’m going to have
a place and the time to

no baby, if you’re going to create
you’re going to create whether you work
16 hours a day in a coal mine
you’re going to create in a small room with 3 children
while you’re on
you’re going to create with part of your mind and your body blown
you’re going to create blind
you’re going to create with a cat crawling up your
back while
the whole city trembles in earthquake, bombardment,
flood and fire.

baby, air and light and time and space
have nothing to do with it
and don’t create anything
except maybe a longer life to find
new excuses

Egoless  on May 19, 2011 at 8:56 PM

What a true & depressing article…

Egoless  on May 19, 2011 at 9:12 PM

Those people stating that music should be free are completely missing the fact that that making music is a time consuming activity. And time is money… There are bills & rents to pay, food to eat, supporting your family, children etc… The day doesn’t last for 48 hours, so you can have a day job and have enough time to practice, produce and make a breathtaking piece of music!!!


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