The price of fame
The price of fame
Bands are free from the shackles of the record industry and can now find fans online, cutting out the middle man. So the theory goes, in any case. Back in 1999 when I was writing a column about this sort of stuff for Making Music magazine, I noted that despite the vast number of independent music websites and the spread of peer-to-peer file sharing, we still hadn’t seen a major hit originate online.
Now we have, of course. Arctic Monkeys and Nizlopi are among the acts that built up a following online and turned it into music industry success.
But how easy is that model to replicate? Rhodri Marsden, who plays keyboards with Scritti Politti, set out to find out. He cut a single, made a video and put it on Youtube. Here’s his song:
Marsden reports that his film was at one stage the most watched video on Youtube and it reached an audience of over 250,000 viewers. How many sales did that translate into? 58. Which means he made one sale for every 4310 people who watched the film. (Leaving aside the probability that there were multiple views included there, because we have no way to measure them and they’re unlikely to significantly distort the figures).
In terms of record sales, the experiment failed. It used to be that the video was there to promote the single, but now people are happy to just consume the video. Any time they want to hear that song again, they can just go back to youtube and replay it. Many people can as easily rip the song from youtube as buy it from iTunes, if they want to play it on other devices.
However, in terms of web promotion, the experiment has been a massive success. The video only cost £870 to make, £300 of which was the fee for using the location in the video. That means it cost a third of a penny per viewer. It’s hard to imagine any other way someone could find a quarter of a million viewers for a song they recorded in their bedroom. Anyone who’s ever written a song would love to have even a fraction of that audience.
The internet does enable bands to shortcut the music business. But this experiment suggests it might also mean giving up on the ‘business’ side of that and being content to focus on the ‘music’. The price of fame is cheap, but online fame is fleeting and unlikely to lead to commercial success.