The following is an open letter from artist and music entrepreneur Evan Lowenstein. He’s the ‘Evan’ in Evan & Jaron and founder of StageIt (stageit.com, @backstageit), a company that allows artists to monetize interactive, live experiences online. Most recently, they’ve attracted participation from Jimmy Buffett.
“Over the past ten years, technology has enabled our fans to enjoy our music for free. If you’re an unknown artist looking to get discovered, this has been a real boon for you. On the flip side, if you’re already established, you might argue that it hasn’t been so great. But regardless of where you stand on the issue of FREE music in exchange for promotion, I believe there is certainty regarding the damage of performing LIVE for free — or better put: giving away yourself for free.
Putting the law aside for a moment (which actually isn’t so novel these days), the internet has taught us that it’s very difficult to monetize what you cannot ‘exclusivitize’. Any content that can be fixed in digital media (music, video, article, photo, software, etc.) is easily replicated and swapped and is therefore difficult to monetize. If Range Rovers could be cut & pasted or dragged & dropped they too would lose their value.
What isn’t replicable and what our fans do value is our time. And theirs. Our fans are schoolteachers, bank tellers and doctors. They fold t-shirts at the GAP, bag groceries and drive tractors. They make $8/hr, $20/hr, $500/hr and beyond. To them, time is money.
The notion of doing something once and then cutting and pasting it (like a record) isn’t easily analogized by our fans. They can’t fold one shirt or fill one bag of groceries and then cut and paste it. They can’t do one spinal surgery and cut and paste it. Every task requires them to be present in the moment and each has its own inherent risks. Our fans recognize the value of our time and appreciate our individual efforts.
Technology is finally presenting us with a whole new opportunity to bridge the gap between social media and the ability to make money. Live online streaming. Sure it’s been around for over a decade but with the increase in bandwidth of the internet and the advancements in web broadcasting, we can now be present in the moment and perform directly from our laptops while allowing our fans to tune in from all over the world.
Yet this presents us with a potential dilemma. Many of us have fully embraced giving away our fixed content as a way to promote our real revenue generating events: touring and appearances. But what happens when we’re given the ability to literally tour the world from our laptops? Should our ‘shows’ be free because it’s the internet?
My message is that it should not and cannot be free. If you utilize an online broadcasting website that doesn’t offer you the ability to get paid, you will be effectively devaluing the only asset we have left. The only asset that is not replicable and cannot be saved to a hard drive: yourself.
Your fans know that time is money. And they are EAGER to pay you. They don’t work for free and don’t expect you to either. Even a guy busking on the street knows that you don’t play without a tip jar present.
My team and I have spent the last two years working on a platform that will help the artist community address the paradigm shift that has taken place between artists and their fans. The product of our efforts – StageIt – is a website that will allow you to make money without the icky feeling of ‘charging your friends.’ I hope you’ll work with us, and start profiting from your incredibly valuable live performances.