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What Artists Can Do to Survive: Part 2 Inspired by Prince

[from The Comet]

photoIn my last post, I outlined three lessons every artist should live by. Prince, whose music I love, recently made a statement which has now provoked me to revisit the first rule in greater detail: Make it easy for fans to discover your music – don’t kill yourself trying to control how they do it.

In a recent interview with the U.K.‘s Daily Mirror, Prince had this to say: “The internet’s completely over. I don’t see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else. They won’t pay me an advance for it and then they get angry when they can’t get it.”

The basic lesson I attempted to outline in my last post was about availability. In the digital world, scarcity is a thing of the past because new music is quickly available everywhere – both legally and illegally. The idea that consumers will consume music through all channels available to them leads to only one logical conclusion. Musicians should be proactive about distributing their music any way they can. Only then can artists capture the marketing value from unpaid distribution and the revenue from paid distribution. In a world where anything can be digitized, avoiding new channels will only mean less revenue and less marketing which the artist can control.

Prince’s 20TEN will only be available with physical copies of the U.K.‘s Daily Mirror this Saturday. His Purpleness can certainly distribute his music however he chooses. Indie musicians trying to make a living don’t have that luxury. And regardless of how Prince chooses to distribute 20TEN, the album will inevitably wind up online anyway. That’s where the fans are, and that’s where they’re getting new music. By not distributing digitally, Prince is simply cutting himself out of a revenue opportunity. This may not matter to Prince, but it does for most indie musicians. There are many people who would buy 20TEN online (myself included). These fans will have no way to give Prince their money, and instead many will download illegal copies.

In light of his statements, it seems like Prince has two goals:
1) Get an advance
2) Get his music directly to fans.

It’s easy to criticize, but it’s harder to suggest alternatives. To that end, Nate Lew, Indaba Music’s own marketing director had this to say:

“I read the news all day, but I don’t get my news from a newspaper.  I also don’t listen to much music on my CD player, or listen to the radio on my stereo. I get more and more music from new devices. So what about a deal with a device manufacturer? They’re the ideal partners for Prince. Clearly Apple is out, but I bet Nokia would jump at the opportunity. Or HP. They’ve done some interesting things with Jay Z and Dre to sell computers. I bet Microsoft (Xbox), Samsung (smart TVs), and many others would pay big money to have an exclusive release and/or partnership with Prince.”
I think Nate has the right idea. Go where the fans are. Make it easy for them. Fans aren’t reading newspapers. Unless you’re one of the most talented artists to ever live with a devoted worldwide following, don’t follow Prince’s example. Fortunately for him, 20TEN will be heard no matter where he puts it.