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in Filmmaking
on Oct 6, 2009

Where went the music business may go the film business is a common refrain these days. The music business was slow to deal with the digital revolution and has seen its business models capsized. For this reason, Filmmaker has asked journalist Mike Johnston to attend the Future of Music Summit, just wrapping up in Washington, D.C., and report back on what went down.

“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” That quote from The Who seems to encapsulate the material presented during the first day of the Future of Music Conference. While the Internet has obviously eliminated many of the problems faced by independent artists in the past the ones that remain seem to loom as large as ever. It all revolves around how to expose your product to as wide an audience as possible. In this area the established, well funded media companies still have an enormous advantage.

Before the Web existed it seemed as though the main challenge for independent artists, outside of getting distribution via a major label or studio, was to just get their products “on the same shelf” with major label releases. Once the Internet came into existence this problem was eliminated. Any artist could now put their material right alongside any other album or film. Although this obviously helped a bit the lesson learned was that just being on the shelf didn’t serve as a sufficient incentive to most consumers when it came time to make a buying decision.

Ariel Hyatt, Founder of Ariel Cyber PR, illustrated this point during her marketing presentation. She used a pyramid graph based on the total number of albums released and sold last year. She said that there are 5 million bands on MySpace as a way to have a figure representing the huge number of bands out there. Out of those bands, 105,575 released albums last year. There were only 110 bands which sold 250,000 or more copies of their album. There were 1,515 bands who sold over 10,000 albums and 5,945 bands who sold 1000 albums or less.

If you remove the major label artists from those numbers how many are left? That is the reality of the digital marketplace. It is like being in a crowd where everyone has access to everyone else and it all seems fair and good. Until, that is, someone with the ways and means to do it picks one person out of the crowd and puts them up on a stage with a PA system. At that point you become just a face in the crowd, your voice drowned out by the “chosen one” on stage with the PA.

While the process of making a music CD or film has become much more affordable and even distribution via digital aggregators has been quite successful but none of that bridges the “digital divide” between those who have and don’t have computers. It also doesn’t cross over into traditional analog or cable broadcast channels.

Only 1/6 of the population of the world has web access at this point. Traditional media companies have access to the whole population across analog, cable and web channels while indie artists are pretty much no further ahead than they ever were in respect to bridging the digital market divide.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel though. Now that TV has gone digital programs like Microsoft’s Media Center allows viewers to watch both computer and cable TV channels on their television set with one remote to control the process. Music and film artists can get their materials featured on sites like Live365 (radio) or Cinema Now (film/video) and once more achieve “same shelf” status but this time across the entire market outside of the web. But the same problem remains; effectively promoting your product to a wide audience. Whoever solves that problem for indie artists will undoubtedly be a millionaire. — Mike Johnston

Mike Johnston started his career writing op-ed pieces for several newspapers in the mid 1990’s. He most commonly writes on the environment, alternative energy and the arts. In the early part of the new century he had a climate change/alt energy blog which saw a half million hits. At that time he was asked to be an energy advisor to the Gephardt for President campaign. More recently he has writing on the blogcritics.org site and was called Boone Picken’s favorite blogger on the Pickens Plan website.

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