Musicians are a very adaptable bunch, particularly independents. We’re the ones who turned the original MySpace into a powerhouse of music discovery; we’ve made Twitter an important platform for conversations about music; we continue to drive eyeballs to YouTube. Unfortunately musicians have also experienced the hassles of having a once-dependable platform disappear or transform into something that isn’t so useful, like when MySpace went Murdoch or the recent changes to Facebook.
Musicians’ needs in the digital realm might not be simple, per se, but they should be recognized. Although artists are generally enthusiastic about digital tools to reach fans, raise capital and sell stuff, we’re less thrilled when an online service goes away or is modified to the extent that its less useful. When news broke recently that streaming on-demand site Beats Music had acquired Topspin—a well-liked, direct-to-fan commerce solution for musicians—many wondered what this would mean for artists who had come to depend on its suite of services.
The good news is that Beats is incorporating Topspin’s ArtistLink, which should give musicians on Beats opportunities to sell merchandise within the streaming service. The bad news is that the Topspin Platform—which powers everything from artist newsletters to physical mailorder—was not part of the acquisition. (Keep in mind that the Topspin Platform offered plenty of utility even for artists who choose not to be on streaming services like Beats or Spotify.)
This week came news that the Topspin Platform would be purchased by entertainment licensing and merchandise Cinder Block/BandMerch. Based in Burbank, CA, Cinder Block/BandMerch’s roster includes sports and music groups such as The Who, Manchester United, Kid Rock, Rise Against, Coheed and Cambria, Death Cab for Cutie, Misfits, The National and more.
So, problem solved, right? Maybe, maybe not.
Cinder Block/BandMerch’s parent company is AEG Live—the live entertainment powerhouse that controls a hefty portion of the concert promotion, venue and merchandise marketplace. AEG and its partner, the Transom Capital Group, guided Cinder Block and BandMerch through a merger just last month. While none of this is inherently awful, it does demonstrate how artists are increasingly dependent on tools made available by giant conglomerates that may not forefront the interests of independent creators.
That’s why Future of Music Coalition is interested in open technologies that musicians can use that aren’t going to just go away or be turned into something entirely different when gobbled up by a bigger fish. In fact, we just partnered with our friends at CASH Music on a proposal to promote digital tools that musicians and other creators can use and customize, and that will ultimately be sustainable.
We see this as consistent with our core mission and values: to empower musicians in a legitimate digital marketplace built on choice and flexibility. Actually it’s not that much different from what FMC co-founders and bandmates Jenny Toomey and Kristin Thomson offered musicians back when they operated the DC indie label Simple Machines. Their beloved pamphlet, The Mechanics Guide, became the go-to source for those looking to put out a record on their own. The guide was first published in 1991, when getting music out to the world took a good bit of effort. By putting information in the hands of the people, Jenny and Kristin helped tons of independent labels get off the ground. We see our proposal with open-source, nonprofit developers CASH Music as proudly carrying on this tradition.
Several of us at FMC use Topspin, and we love it. Just like we love Bandcamp, and hell, even Facebook (sometimes). But we’d love to see artists taking the power of digital into their own hands. Because we’re the ones who will still be here creating after today’s online companies are bought and sold or go out of business. That’s why we need tools that are customizable and resistant to being phased out because a corporation doesn’t see a way to make money.
Do you share this vision of choice, utility and sustainability for creators? Then go click “applause” on our proposal so we can keep creating a brighter future for musicians and fans.