Lefsetz on “Bundling” / Bandcamp on “Music As Artifact”


“The cable companies and content providers are tempting unbundling by fighting their silly wars in public.  We have the reverse problem in music.  Our content has been unbundled.  Only by bundling it again can the industry regain health.”

Bob Lefsetz

vinylOur content has been unbundled largely by itunes (and similar sites).  People don’t buy albums anymore, they buy tracks.  Though I still prefer vinyl above all else, as far as downloads go I’m one of those people.  In 2009, I bought more vinyl than downloads, and more single track downloads than albums.

It’s easy to get what you want.  But how much are you exposed to that’s outside of your taste? If you visit the same websites and sources for your music, how do you find new and different stuff?

The benefit of having to buy the whole package of cable TV is that you get to surf channels and stumble on interesting stuff.

In one of his recent Lefsetz Letters, music writer Bob Lefsetz argues that the music business must switch over to a subscription model.

This would encourage music “surfing,” like channel surfing.  We used to surf the music by buying albums, he says.  You’d buy an album, figure out if you really like the music, and if you did you’d be buying concert tickets and subsequent albums by that artist.

But people don’t buy whole albums anymore, they buy individual tracks.  Lefsetz proposes a new idea…

“…instead of paying ten bucks for an album, you pay ten bucks for music.  And technology allows everybody access, so instead of charging our good customers more, we charge everybody one low flat fee, kind of like cable television, the provider doesn’t care if you watch all day long or not at all, it’s the same price.”

vinyl and limited copies

Vinyl was, and still is, beautiful.  Tapes sucked. CDs aren’t much better.  And now that music has become digitized, there can be no package at all!

Bandcamp, my new favourite music service, the one I use to sell my albums (Hammy’s Secret Life and This Is Awesome), made me so happy with their latest blog post Music As Artifact: Introducing BCWax.  Check out what they’ve created.  Yes, they are making vinyl.  But it’s more than that.  Seriously, read that blog post.

“…we’re fast approaching the point at which the convenience of digital files is preferred by everyone, and in order to sell, the physical version must offer something the digital does not. It must somehow be made into an object that every one of your fans has to own, has to hold while they listen to your music, and has to show to all of their friends. It must be transformed from a disposable good into something your fans will fetishize.”

Ethan Diamond, Bandcamp

It’s exactly what we need. And they’re right, there is very little stopping me (or you) from creating beautiful, limited edition packages of art & music.

music & money

I don’t know if Lefsetz’s idea will work. How many subscription services would exist? Just one? Like Television?

Would you want to pay for a music subscription service similar to cable TV?

As a music fan, here’s what I really want to pay for:

  1. Live performance. The one thing you can’t replicate.
  2. Limited edition copies…with great Art. Visual art and music need to be brought back together again.  As a fan, I miss it.

Now all we need is for someone to come along and make record players standard again.

(photo by Ali Eisner. That’s me spinning at a friend’s party…probably cueing up some Level 42)

2 Responses to Lefsetz on “Bundling” / Bandcamp on “Music As Artifact”

  1. elena says:

    The “bundling/unbundling” idea is really interesting in the context of content’s relationship to form, and reminds me of a Sufjan Stevens interview I recently read:
    here in Exclaim.

    Specifically this part got me thinking, in relation to your post:
    “I feel that the album no longer has a stronghold or has any real bearing anymore. The physical format itself is obsolete; the CD is obsolete and the LP is kinda nostalgic. So, I think the album is suffering and that’s how I’ve always created — I work with these conceptual albums in the long-form. And I’m wondering, what’s the value of my work once these forms are obsolete and everyone’s just downloading music? “

    I’ve always been a fan of the complete, start-to-finish album (can’t really deal with shuffle; my eclectic collection makes it a pretty jarring experience), and can’t help wonder the same things. I feel like a music subscription service would be a lot like radio-ish podcasts or genre-divided satellite radio— these have lately been my avenues to try to find new-to-me music.

    So, I think Lefsetz’s idea already exists, which means it may be difficult to get people to pay for (since they’re already used to getting it for free)… it’ll be interesting to watch how well the New York Times pay structure changes go over, and how the music distributors respond to that model.

  2. Christine says:

    I know what you mean about the shuffle. I also have a lot of demos and rough mixes in my computer from recordings I’m working on, so that screws up the whole shuffle thing.

    And I’ve also been enjoying listening to free radio-ish podcasts. It’s true, these are subscription models. Paying for it seems crazy at this point.

    The next few years will be interesting…

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