The following comes from producer, musician, and filmmaker Mikael Eldridge, aka ‘Count,’ who is currently seeking financing to finish his documentary about dramatic shifts experienced by musicians in the digital era. His indiegogo campaign has raised nearly $30,000; the goal is to raise $52,000 by Thanksgiving.
“Unsound and the Story of Today’s Robber Barons
For the past 2 years I have been working on a documentary called Unsound which is about the internet revolution and the impact it is having on the creative world (both positive and negative), particularly on musicians. For all of the haters out there, don’t worry. There is plenty of blame to be thrown around. I equally criticize the old music business as much as the new. The point of the film is not to blame or complain, but rather to shine a light on what isn’t working so that we can make things better.
The film looks beyond the often industry-specific issues we discuss here on Digital Music News. The story of the collapsing music business is the backdrop to the much larger story of the unintended consequences of the internet revolution and how this is impacting creators of movies, books, journalism and the things that not only power the internet, but inform and shape our lives. Although there are so many positive changes affecting the creative world, this is the part of the story most people already know. What is more interesting to me is what most people don’t seem to know. So I decided to take a more critical look in this film.
You can see a collection of some of the clips from the film here.
For months as I’ve worked on this film, I’ve been thinking that in the post-internet age, musicians and creators have been getting the short end of the stick in what otherwise should be an improvement over the old music business. I have also been feeling that that many of the people who have been prospering from the new music business are reminiscent of the robber barons of the 19th century. In fact, that comparison was also made by several of the insightful folks I’ve interviewed in the film, from Noam Chomsky to Bad Religion guitarist and Epitaph Records founder Brett Gurewitz.
This greed from today’s robber barons is transforming what should otherwise be a positive change from a previously dysfunctional industry, into a winner-take-all system motivated by short term gains.
This transformation seems equally, if not more unsustainable as the old music business we rebelled against years ago. I read an article recently that Spotify raised another $250 million, which apparently now values the company above $4 billion. This seems to actually value the company above the actual labels that own the music Spotify streams, which makes absolutely no sense to me.
But it proves the point that today, the mere distributors of content are worth more than the actual creators and the content itself.
Again, this is unsustainable.
This kind of detail about specific companies is not a part of the film, which mostly follows 5 artists and juxtaposes their personal stories with commentary by industry experts and other noteworthy artists. Although the film takes a much bigger picture view, this Spotify story is exactly what the artists I have been interviewing are concerned about. They’ve seen this happen several times already in the post-internet industry, and they are naturally suspicious of platforms that make no investment in their work, offer no promotional value, and in general only extract value from their work.
I heard that Spotify’s CEO Mr. Ek said in August that at some point investors will likely want to get their money back, potentially through an initial public offering.
This is the short-term, unsustainable game that has plagued the music industry for over a decade: create a platform, don’t worry if you lose money, get massive market share, get massive investment, and make a fortune on an IPO.
Meanwhile artists are hurt as their work is devalued, especially independent artists. You see, Spotify doesn’t need to make money as a company to make money for its executives and original investors. This is the big point that people have been missing. It is all so cynical. It is all for the short term gain of the new robber barons who have no interest in a sustainable world for the people that actually create the things that make their wealth even possible.
Of course, things are not all bad for artists in the digital age. There are many people working on platforms that actually help facilitate the artist to fan relationship that is needed. This is what makes this story so compelling and so often misunderstood. That’s why a film like Unsound is so long overdue. Regardless of your views are on these issues, one thing that we should be able to agree on is that the public needs to know what is happening. They need to know that there are indeed serious problems.
For music fans, things have never been better. They have instant access to music any time, anywhere, and they don’t even have to pay for it if they don’t want to. So fans have thus far had little incentive to look deeper in to these issues of how creators are being impacted.
Although we in the industry debate these problems regularly, as far as fans know, things are just fine. They hear the occasional story about somebody raising a million dollars on Kickstarter, and they think all is well. Until fans know there is a problem, there is little chance that things will get better for artists. So although I’ve received a ton of support from industry folks, Unsound is really for fans.
Production for Unsound is nearing completion and we are about to begin editing.
This week on Thanksgiving Day, the indiegogo fundraising campaign for the film ends. You can contribute starting here:
Count is a San Francisco based music producer who has worked on projects with such artists as DJ Shadow, Radiohead, The Rolling Stones, Frank Sinatra, New Order, No Doubt, Galactic, Zoe Keating, Tycho, Trombone Shorty and more.