Weekend Reading: Models, Models Everywhere
There Is No “Old Model.” There Is No “New Model.” There Are Many Models.
Future of Music Coalition
May 3, 2013
Parallels between the music business and the publishing business only go so far — they’re not the same industries. That said, we appreciate this blog post that points out the many different ways in which people make and distribute records. It’s a good reminder that industries are always in flux, and people are always finding new and creative ways to put their work into the world:
Among certain observers, it has become fashionable to contrast the “old model” and the “new model” of the music industry. This conjures up images of a dystopian analog past where the business was run by a bunch of cigar-smoking execs & predatory middlemen out to screw artists, and a utopian digital future where a leveled playing field will allow for artists and fans to join together in group sing-alongs while music flows like water.
It’s not as if there isn’t an element of truth here — digital technology has indeed allowed for easy access to mass-scale distribution channels that musicians use every single day. But overall, this framing obscures as much as it reveals. To begin with, there was never one model of the recorded music business. An examination of musical history reveals that artists and labels are hardly monolithic and have always been diverse in their goals, ambitions and scope of operations….
In the 1940s, Mo Asch, founder of Folkways Recordings, railed against the major labels’ emphasis on following trends and fashions in pursuit of hits, and worked to document folk traditions, particularly the voices of working people who would otherwise not be heard. Private press recordings were another option (for those who could afford it, or could raise capital in other ways — in gospel music, for example, it was not uncommon for local congregations to “crowdfund” recordings). In the eighties and nineties, the growing independent music movement further democratized the means of production, and posited that if commercial radio and MTV shut you out, you could collaboratively build alternative networks for promotion and distribution, like fanzines, direct mailorder, college radio. It was far from perfect, but it was a step toward creating a more diverse cultural ecosystem and opening up access to different kinds of voices.
Speaking of how things get made: Jane Friedman has created a great infographic detailing the main paths to publication for books:
It’s downloadable and fully explained on her blog: http://janefriedman.com/2013/05/20/infographic-5-key-book-publishing-paths/
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