The Double-Edged Sword of Digital Democratization

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Chris Anderson reportedly fetches $40,000 (or more) for an appearance, according to sources.

But most artists struggle to make that in a year, much less one gig.  So what’s wrong with this picture?

The data is still settling out, and anecdotal stories suggest that some artists are actually making ends meet.  The question is what the longer-term rearview mirror will ultimately display.  “This is not the best time to be an artist,” Hello Music chief Zack Zalon asserted, part of a broader rip-apart of the Long Tail at Digital Hollywood this week. “Actually, it’s the worst time to be an artist.”

So, is this just a game for hobbyists, not career musicians?  Throughout the music-related discussions, a number of variables kept resurfacing.  Democratization of distribution now translates into a total oversupply of content, and a complete dilution of attention and money.  “Democratization is a double-edged sword,” said Ted Mico, EVP of Digital for Interscope Geffen A&M  (UMG).  “You need more than a power-sander, you need a contractor,” Mico continued, while also noting that UMG “threw the building” at Lady Gaga to make that success happen.

Separately, CyKik’s KamranV pointed to a total “dispersion of revenue,” while also noting that artists “feel like it’s easier to give it all away” than construct “awkward” business relationships with fans.

Niches certainly exist, but according to Zalon, there are far too many pockets for fans and content to effectively meet.  The terrain is simply spread too thin, suggesting a bigger role for companies that can successfully market – and monetize – a talented artist.

Then again, this is not a black-and-white question, and few were taking extremes.  On the issue of DIY, Mico noted that “this is not a binary, ‘dead or not dead’ discussion,” while also noting that only certain artists make sense for a major label partnership.  MySpace Music VP of Strategy and Operations Frank Hadju was “not ready to give up on DIY yet,” while also noting that artists are starting to dial down their expectations.  In the new era, Hadju observed that plenty of artists are simply not “harkening back to the period of wine and roses,” and instead mapping more practical outcomes.

Report by publisher Paul Resnikoff in Los Angeles.