The Evolution of Music and Money

By guest contributor, John Stuart

What Was I Going To Say by John StuartHey all, my name is John Stuart. I’m an avid music fan with a passion for Bitcoin. There may not seem to be a whole lot of overlap between the two, but I hope to change that by the end of this article. I’ll stick to talking mostly about music, because that’s what I know, but I’m going to try to relate everything to Bitcoin. I hope you find it interesting and worth reading.

In case you haven’t kept up on recent trends in the music industry, I’ll give a short rundown of where we’re at and where we’ve come from. A long, long time ago, musicians were treated like special servants. They were taken into service by churches or monarchs to compose and perform music for a salary. Eventually they became emancipated from this type of work and they would sell their music to public performance places like opera houses and concert halls. Things continued in a similar fashion for a while, but when audio recording was developed things started changing rapidly.

Recording began as a specialized craft that was very expensive. A system developed where record companies would grant artists a sum of money to cover the high recording and production costs in exchange for the exclusive distribution rights of the music. Contracts would grant artists a certain percentage of the income from their music, but the bulk of it went towards paying the record label for the money they had loaned to the musicians and any promotion they may have done. As with all systems, there are ups and downs to this one. Some record labels might be very gracious and help artists achieve their goals, and others might be greedy and take advantage of peoples’ talents and abilities. No matter how the artists are treated in this system though, they are still essentially indentured slaves to record companies. This system remained unchallenged for a long time until very recently.

Today things are changing in exciting new ways. Recording is not nearly as expensive as it used to be; aspiring songwriters can put together a home recording studio capable of acceptable quality recordings for only a few hundred dollars. For people like me, who have done just that, this is an amazing new development. The internet has revolutionized the distribution side of things in even more amazing ways. Artists are no longer obligated to produce costly physical copies of their music, like the vinyl records, cassettes, and CDs of the past. Nowadays, the average listener will intake the majority of their music in digital form, which is virtually costless to produce.

It is now much easier than it has ever been for people to distribute their own music, which has allowed artists to reap the full benefits of their labor, instead of settling for what’s left over after the record label has taken its share. The extremely important part of all this is that artists can keep the rights to their music. I know, it sounds ridiculous to think that in the past some artists have not even owned their own material, but it is true. Many artists are very protective of their work, and they now have the ability to exercise that protection. For people like me, it means I can license all of my music under creative commons. This is something that is important to me personally, and I’m glad to have the ability to do it.

So what does any of this have to do with Bitcoin? Well, I wouldn’t say it’s a direct parallel, but in many ways what Bitcoin is doing for currency is analogous to the changes taking place in the music industry. That is eliminating the need for trusted third parties and putting control back into the hands of people. This isn’t the only connection though. I believe Bitcoin itself, used as a means of exchange, has the potential to help the music industry continue its path towards change.

If you’re reading this blog, I’m sure you’re already aware of all the benefits that a peer-to-peer monetary system has to offer, but you may be unaware of why a similar system is important to musicians. As I mentioned earlier, the antiquated way of distributing music through record labels can increase an artist’s potential reach, but it reduces them to indentured slaves. Just like musicians used to be hired into the service of the church or the king and required to perform certain tasks, artists under record contracts have less creative freedom than artists working independently. This is why there has been a huge shift towards independent music making recently. The elimination of a third party allows the flow of information between artists and fans to be unfiltered and immediate, which is great because music is in essence a form of communication. Doing things in a peer-to-peer fashion is just good practice in my eyes. It is a more freeing, direct, and honest way of doing money—and music.

The lower costs of producing music these days and the ability to distribute digitally through the internet has even made giving away music for free a more viable option than ever before. I’m an advocate of free music and needless to say I have a lot of thoughts on this topic, but we won’t have room to include all that in this post. This is a divisive topic, but the fact is that plenty of people in recent years have given away their music for free while depending on a second job, donations, or purchases of physical merchandise to make up their losses. The ability to use Bitcoin for this process could make it even less complicated and more freeing than ever. Although there aren’t too many artists who seem to be hopping on the Bitcoin train just yet, I myself see it as a great way to exchange with supporters.

Bitcoinstarter LogoAlong with the new independent music craze has come the advent of crowd sourcing. Sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have allowed independent artists to raise money from their fans to increase the production value of their music and the scope of their projects. Instead of depending on a large corporation who is just hoping to turn a large profit off of your work, it is now possible to raise money in advance from the people who want to hear your music in the first place. They get to decide how much it is worth to them and their money goes straight to the artist instead of trickling down through a large company. I hope that Bitcoin will become integrated into more crowd funding services as the Bitcoin economy grows. I know of at least a few crowd sourcing sites that support the use of Bitcoin, namely Bitcoinstarter and CoinFunder. I have considered crowd sourcing in the future and I would definitely want to include Bitcoin in that process, if at all possible.

All I can say about all of this is that I’m glad to be alive right now. There are a lot of great things happening with Bitcoin and the music industry today, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to benefit from and be a part of it. I’m extremely excited to see how things continue progressing. Special thanks to Daniel for giving me a guest spot on the blog.

John Stuart is an aspiring musician who has been playing guitar for over eight years. He was accepted to music school but chose to pursue a more independent path. He is a longtime friend of mine and our many philosophical discussions are often deeper than we know. He considers himself a voluntaryist/anarchist so like many of us, he has a great passion for Bitcoin. His music embellishes our YMB Podcast regularly and his voice has contributed as well. All donations to the following address go directly to John.


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