The musician and his worst enemies

Following up on a discussion that was started a few days ago on a group dedicated to Allan Holdsworth on The Book Of Faces, here are some things that cross my mind. The text below is largely speculative, and serves as a basis for discussion rather than as canon. 😉


We know how much Allan Holdsworth sucks at self-promotion… but he’s not alone. Quite a few non-mainstream musicians would rather just follow their heart and make music without having to bother with filling in forms, actively promote themselves, or seeking for ways to enhance their exposure in a changing media landscape. Quite a few artists are actually shy, and not very willing (or capable) to engage socially. In that respect, I recognize a trait that they share with engineers: they just want to do their thing. My guess is that, for many artists, actively communicating with their fan base is a chore, rather than something they aspire. Some deal with this better than others, and some seem to actually like it (or at least put up a good show of liking it), but that’s not a universal trait.

Yet, it seems as if, in the changing media landscape, that would seem to be just what the doctor ordered for non-mainstream musicians. Why?


The average consumer is not interested in supporting an artist. This goes way further than I thought – I know a guy who plays guitar himself, but admits without shame that he will only listen to Youtube playlists, and hasn’t bought any music since dust was invented. Yes, that came as a shock to me too.

I think people like him may well turn out to be their own worst enemy, for if that attitude would persist, he would, within decades, be listening to a mix of Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Nicki Minaj and Pharrel Williams.
So, that’s not the type of consumer the average Richard Hallebeek would be aiming at – nothing to see here, please move along.

There is, however, a small base of people who realise that there is good karma to be gained from supporting your favorite artists. The question for the artist is: how do we find them and get their money?
Seriously: this group has 2.726 members. I don’t think there are as many Pledgers as there are group members.

One thing the Unreal Allan Holdsworth group thrives on is the opportunity of meeting people who are just as mad as you yourself are. But let’s admit it – most of us really like it that Louise​ has joined us, and occasionally serves as a link between us, the hysterically-screaming horde of fans, and The Master Himself. Being just a bit closed to the Object Of Our Admiration is quite satisfying.

This brings us back to my earlier question:
Why should the musician reach out to his fan base?
Well, the record company surely isn’t doing it anymore – mainly because, for many independent artists, there is no such thing. In a way, this seems like a Good Thing(TM), because that’s one less party that can screw the musician. We’ve all heard the stories.
But on the other hand, when John Coltrane was under contract with Atlantic, Ahmet Ertegün was apparently a Good Guy, and Atlantic made sure that John got sufficient exposure. With the demise of the traditional distribution model, that’s gone down the drain.

As the traditional distribution model crumbles, new opportunities arise. Bandcamp is a good example for the indie artist. They charge a marginal fee, so most of the money does indeed go to the artist – and in fact it goes into the artist’s pocket rather rapidly.
However, just putting your album on Bandcamp and then sit back and wait isn’t going to do you much good – you will still have to drag people in. Either you do that yourself, or you find someone who will do that for you.

The question remains: where, and how, do you find your audience? It appears that I, as a consumer, have been a bit too optimistic about that. I recently made some noise about a few albums from . While this attracted quite a few likes, it did not result in any sales on Bandcamp. And yes, you do not have to have artist access to see the sales numbers on Bandcamp…
So, it seems as if liking something, and even commenting on something with great enthusiasm, does not always equal actually putting your money where your mouth is. Okay, that sounds a bit harsh, I admit. Winking smile

But to the musician, the net result is the same.

So… how do you musicians think you are going to get my money? Let’s throw some ideas around.

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