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The rise of the creator class

I was very taken by the launch of SoundIndex from the BBC, which came to my attention today. Why? Take a look at this partial screenshot:

The chart by itself is not particularly remarkable. Not until you take a look at the rubric for the colours under each track, shown as the Power Bar Key.

A good piece of visualisation, I hear you say. Maybe that’s not particularly remarkable either. Not until you take a look at some of the possible implications on distribution models, from a recent Wired article by David Byrne (yes, the Talking Head).

All of which leads to this, also from the same article, well worth a read:

The times, they aren’t a-changing any more. They have changed. It is no longer possible to sustain a situation where overheads and marketing costs take more than half the money from the sale of a CD. The iTunes approach is not necessarily sustainable either, as Byrne points out.


For many years, I have had to put up with the phrase “content is king”, a phrase I personally find irritating, abhorrent, to be classed with words like “audience”. Looking back, I now realise why content was king. Because we’d managed to drive a wedge between creators and their creations.

It’s not going to be that easy any more, separating the creator from her creation.

I think this wedge may have been meaningful in the days of atoms, when copying the creations was not a trivial task, when distribution was valued and had high barriers to entry. Now all that changes, with the internet becoming that great big copier in the cloud, as Kevin Kelly stated so eloquently in Better Than Free.

For a long time now, I’ve been insisting that Jerry Garcia was the father of opensource (as evinced by the Grateful Dead’s enlightened attitude towards taping rows at concerts) allowing . Now maybe that’s coming round full circle. Now maybe it’s time for musicians to take a leaf out of opensource. Maybe we’re going to see more and more of some variant of Creative Commons, where the music is free as long as you don’t make commercial use of it, with all rights belonging to the artist.

When commercial use is made, the artist gets paid. While continuing to retain all rights.

The artist is in control.

Just musing on a Saturday night.

Posted in Music.


6 Responses

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  1. Sylvia says

    To be fair, part of the “content is king” issue was to keep designers in line, who would want to show off their skills without consideration of the content that was the purpose. This became very noticeable with new technology – where people with no “formal training” were in design/marketing roles creating all-singing-and-dancing flash websites where the point of the website was lost in the rush to be exciting.

    Companies rushed onto the bandwagon. “We need a website.” “What do you want to say to the public?” “Uh, we want to say that we have a website.” Right.

    I spent a lot of time arguing a similar saying, “Form follows function.” I think that’s what is happening with music now – the trappings aren’t a part of the function and so they are falling away rapidly at the first possible opportunity.

  2. Brendan Thesingh says

    Mmm.. arent’t you confusing two things? Content and distribution are not the same thing. Furthermore even though copying has become much easier businessmodels can be changed to fit these new situations.

    I always thought that the phrase “content is king” meant that people only are interested in quality (whatever you mean by that) content. That means it doesn’t matter if it’s free or paid. As long as it is relevant to you and you feel (important word here this is not rational) you are getting your money’s worth.

    Anyway, just because the channels of distribution change does not mean that the balance of power changes towards the artist. MySpace is owned by Rupert Murdoch do you think he’s not going to take his cut somehow? I bet that in this Top 1000 there are almost no artists who are not connected to a major label.

    But it is true that internet has offered better opportunities for those who want to stay as independent as possible. But in that respect Google and Google Adwords are much more important than commercialized social media or fancy chart tools.

  3. Steve Ellwood says

    I’m getting a few broken links in this article
    Quite a few additional http// – in fact in everyone bar the first link…

    … the general thrust of the post is unarguable. Cost of entry, cost of inventory, cost of distribution are all changing so fast the retail model for artists has been completely disrupted.

    I gather touring and merchandise are where the money’s made now – and if that means more people watch more live music, that can only be good.

  4. JP says

    Steve, I hope you find the links work now. For some reason there was an extra http:// in each link after I changed theme. I will look out for it

  5. JP says

    Brendan, in a way you make my point better than I could have. Content and distribution ARE different. However, for most of my lifetime, the people who owned the distribution had all the power, which they used to own the content as well. So in a strange kind of way content and distribution became the same thing.

    Now things are changing. And it is precisely BECAUSE content and distribution are being separated again that the artist is regaining power, maybe even gaining power for the first time.

  6. Martin Budden says

    It’s interesting that you have been insisting that Jerry Garcia was the father of opensource. I think it’s actually *much* older than that. The first commercial instance of opensourcing that I know of is of that of Thomas Chippendale publishing his designs in “The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker’s Director” in 1754. At the time other cabinet makers thought that he was mad – how could he make money if anyone could use his designs? What Chippendale realised was, that, because there would be lots of Chippendale copies, he could charge more for originals. And indeed that became the case – if you wanted to show you had money you commissioned an original Chippendale rather than a copy. I stress that this is only the first instance that I know of. I’m sure there are earlier instances. For example, whenever someone makes money from their reputation I think their are commercial advantages to publishing their designs. So I wouldn’t be surprised to find examples of master swordsmiths or master goldsmiths publishing their designs (or at the very least freely teaching their designs (given the cost of publishing))

    An earlier, non-commercial example of opensourcing was the Protestant Reformation. One of the aims of the reformation was the translation of the bible so that it could be read by the laity. This, in effect, was opensourcing the bible – changing it from a proprietary format (Latin) that could only be used by a powerful elite into a form that could be widely used. And the open/closed source debate in religion goes at least as far back as circa 530 BC when Buddha Gautama attained enlightenment and struggled with deciding whether he should teach the Dharma or keep it to himself (or just those he thought could benefit from it).

    And finally the scientific method is also opensource. One of the basic expectations of the scientific method is that all data and methodology should be should be shared so that it is available for scrutiny by other scientists. The statement “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow” applied to science long before it applied to software. The scientific method is attributed to Aristotle and dates to circa 335 BC.



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