Music distribution models and the artist

Observations and questions

Prior to us moving house in December 2014, I started to rip my CDs to FLAC (Fully Lossless Audio Codec) files, in order to play them on a media center PC, which had its digital out hooked up to the preamplifier, rather than pushing the CDs in my CD player.

Our (SA)CD player is a nice machine (a Sony 1200ES), but using the DAC (digital to analog converter) in the preamplifier yielded similar results (at least on our system, which is not really high-end audio, but good enough not to be annoying) yielded similar results – a bit more critical and forward than the very forgiving Sony ES player, but with similar sound staging and possibly even a tiny bit more authority.

This also enabled me to download and directly play albums bought on Bandcamp and CD Baby, without having to burn them to CD first.
And that’s where my train of thought started.

As a distribution model, storing data digitally on a CD, packaging the CD, putting it in a truck to drive it to a shop, and then again packaging it and putting it in the post from the shop to me is technically completely outdated, and unnecessarily expensive. There is so much physical overhead in this that I really wonder how much of the, say, 18 dollars I pay for a CD actually makes it into the artist’s wallet, and when.

To me, not being an artist, it seems as if it would be substantially more efficient to, if I want to buy Chad Wackerman’s album “Dreams, Nightmares and Improvisations”, I can either go to bol.com  and wait for a few weeks (or, as in this case, NOT find it at all), or I can go to the above-mentioned cd baby link, pay 10 bucks, and play it. Now.
In fact, I did exactly that this morning, and it is playing now. In glorious, uncompressed, high-resolution quality (to which MP3 cannot hold a candle – even my wife immediately hears the difference, although she used to deny it).

The same can be said of books, of course. Like a recorded audio track, a book can be stored, and distributed, as a digital file, and like music, this is done today.

To the consumer, there are many advantages. There is instant gratification when you decide you want something, especially of it is something that is not readily stocked by your local music store or book store. There is no need for a cabinet taking floor space to store your music collection in an accessible way (the same is true, even more so, for books). There is no wear on the medium: files have a habit of not wearing out. They do have a habit of getting lost, but: you can make backups of your library, whereas, if a cd is dropped and scratched, or the cat pees on your books, they’re lost. You can take your library with you on vacation, without needing an extra suitcase. You can bring your library to the cloud, without being worried about a solid backup scheme – your cloud provider should (and will) take care of this.

The only disadvantage I can think of is the lack of a physical medium. While I do not attach much value to a plastic case with a CD booklet, but I used to value a nicely executed record sleeve, and I recognise the art (and yes, I appreciate the smell) of a well-printed, well-bound book. But in the end, I do not enjoy the medium as much as I enjoy the music – or the written word if it is a book. In the end, the downside of not having a physical medium to hang on to is outweighed by the conveniences listed in the previous paragraph. And I can always take a whiff of an old Harold Robbins book while reading Shakespeare’s Hamlet, or a Discworld novel, on my e-reader.

Was it as good for you as it was is for me?

Now… what I am wondering about is this:
If I decide I want Chad’s music, I can haz instant gratification: wait five minutes, import it in the media library, and hey presto, it plays.
But is it the same way the other way around? How fast does Chad get my dollars? And (seeing as to how all of the physical storage and distribution overhead is cut out) how much of my 10 dollars does he get? And how does that compare to CD’s?
For non-Internet-connected dinosaurs like, say, Allan Holdsworth, this distribution model is not directly accessible… he would need a middle man to take care of that for him, which is something an Internet-savvy neighbour could take care of.

However, there would still have to be some marketing effort.
Back in the days when I grew up, that was where traditional record companies came in. But today, if a smart guy like Leonardo Pavkovic would announce a new Holdsworth release on Facebook, the Internets would be all over it within 24 hours. I sit here wondering how many people would spend 10 bucks to be able to download it and listen to it 5 minutes later – I sure as hell would!

I really, really think that, contrary to popular belief, the Internet, and non-physical distribution of music, is potentially a benefit for both artist and listener. Or writer and reader, for that matter.

But I can only speak from the consumer’s perspective. I’d really, REALLY like to hear the point of view of some artists and possibly even publishers – preferably those who live off their art.