Thursday, December 29, 2011


Digital distribution is nothing new. For at least 10 years people have been talking about the decline of physical CD sales, the death of the traditional record store, piracy, and what these things mean for musicians. Usually, the argument goes along the lines of: “digital media = greater piracy = less sales = closure of record stores = greater difficulty in getting label support.” Cue depression.

Sure, times are a-changin’, but artists, and labels, need to adapt. So rather than sit and complain, let’s figure out what opportunities are presenting by this changing landscape.

Physical CDs, in my opinion, are almost, if not already, gone. Even more so for marginal genres such as the one I operate in. That a large percentage of the audience for jazz and improvised music is of a generation that still relates to physical CDs more so than iTunes/iPods doesn’t change the fact that, if we want to broaden our audience, the time has come for artists to save money on printing CDs and use those funds for advertising and touring. For my existing audience, they are dedicated such that they will find my music no matter how it is distributed.

Recording, mixing and mastering has never been cheaper, mainly due to advances in technology, open-source programs such as Gimp make artwork easy and essentially free, and services such as Cdbaby and Bandcamp make digital releases through major distributors cheap and easy.  Now, releasing an album needs traditional major labels no longer. Notice the caveats “traditional” and “major.” Large labels are feeling the pinch as much as anyone, and it seems that their answer is to retreat into ‘pop-jazz.’ Fair enough.

Major chain, Borders’ closure on Lygon Street, Carlton, while Readings (an independent, niche store) continues to thrive right across the road, illustrates that those most concerned with commercialism might be the first to suffer; niche stores will continue to service niche genres, however small.

What about those who prefer the physical product, and/or the audio-philes? Vinyl satisfies both parties, and, though expensive to print, saves boxes of CDs clogging up your house. Download cards (available from the above-mentioned online services) take the place of CDs as a physical object that can be bought at gigs.

Which brings me to my main point: if we are willing to accept that piracy is here to stay, no matter how many times we draw people’s attention to the morality of it all, the thing that becomes most prized is the live performance. It cannot be replicated. The temporarily of music, which is even more pronounced in music involving improvisation, offers a built in guarantee against the live medium being obsolete. Even if the general public are offered more and more reasons to stay at home and watch TV/trawl Youtube/play Xbox, the live performance, extra-musical elements included, seems, at least for now, unreplaceable.

In conclusion, I envisage the priorities for musicians being live performances including touring, financially viable documentation of musical projects with a view to digital distribution and online presence. This article is not intended to be a “death-of-record-stores/labels” post; I quite happily frequent those stores that remain committed to bringing the physical product to the public, especially if the store is dedicated to provide music outside the mainstream. Rather I hope we can begin discussing how modern musicians can engage in the changing landscape of music consumption. Contemporary music invites contemporary solutions.


Further to this are some articles I've appeared in lately:

Jazz planet


  1. Great stuff, Marc. Interestingly, there's a concurrent and very similar train of thought going on in publisher land. Publishers and writers are finding the same issues and a whole bunch of us are coming up with very similar approach. Congratulations on a very useful contribution to the dialogue.

  2. Well said. This is how things are and the best thing to do is to focus on the positives and use the situation to our advantage rather than fighting a losing battle. Something has been lost, but something else has been gained.