Got Love For Sale

Gene Simmons is a smart man. However, his recent comments about the music industry are dead wrong. This is what he said in a quick interview with Billboard:

The record industry is in such a mess. I called for what it was when college kids first started download music for free – that they were crooks. I told every record label I spoke with that they just lit the fuse to their own bomb that was going to explode from under them and put them on the street.

There is nothing in me that wants to go in there and do new music. How are you going to deliver it? How are you going to get paid for it if people can just get it for free?

Mr. Simmons, the problem isn’t college kids downloading songs for free off of the internet. Way back before Napster and iTunes, kids were tape recording songs off the radio and making mix tapes of their favorite songs. They may have even taken a whole cassette tape and recorded it for someone else. Nobody called this piracy. Hell, if anything it was the beginnings of viral marketing.

You might know a little band called Metallica? The only reason that band became a success was the trading and bootlegging of their live shows and tracks. One of those tapes found its way to the right person and the band landed a record deal.

Today, the internet is viral marketing. It is a level playing field. A no-name band from Nowheresville, Middle America can sell their music online and be a legitimate working band without the need of a record company. They tour, sell merchandise at the shows and have a website home base that has everything under one roof… even their music.

More and more artists are leaving their record companies and are using a variety of ways to market their new original recordings. Prince put a CD in a newspaper in London and he gave away a CD to every ticket holder who came to his shows.

The Eagles just put out a double album of material that is exclusively at Wal-Mart. Garth Brooks did the same thing. Collective Soul put out their latest album as a Target exclusive. The bands are their own record company and they found distribution and promotion through retailers and the web.

Lastly, I’m sure you are aware of the incredible success Radiohead had with their little marketing experiment. They put their album online for free as downloadable Mp3s and asked fans to pay what they thought was fair. Now, personally I wanted the band to pay me to listen to their so-called, un-melodic collection of noise they call music. However, as it turned out, the band earned something like eight million dollars because people actually paid for something they could get for free. The fans thought enough of the artist to actually pay money to get something which was available for free.

Gene, you reacted to the Radiohead experiment by saying a business model that earned Radiohead millions of dollars was akin to smoking crack, “You can’t pick on one person as an exception. And that’s not a business model that works. I open a store and say “Come on in and pay whatever you want.” Are you on f—ing crack? Do you really believe that’s a business model that works?”

I will admit you are right in saying the business model doesn’t work for a traditional store. However, the internet is not a traditional store. The internet allows an artist to bring their artistic endeavors to the masses directly. No middleman. No record company, movie company or book publisher is needed.

Corey Doctorow put his entire first novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, online for anyone to download in a huge variety of formats. It was also published as real paper and ink book too. As expected, the online version was just the right kind of viral marketing that pushed sales of the actual book. With the internet and viral marketing, there is very little between artist and patron, so when a patron actually buys something it goes directly to the artist. Simple. Clean.

When I bought Wil Wheaton’s latest book, The Happiest Days of Our Lives, I didn’t go through a bookstore or an online clearinghouse. I went to Wil’s online publishing website, used PayPal to purchase the book and Wil himself packaged the book, slapped the label on it and put it in the mail. Simple. Clean. And Wil made $20 and I’m guessing his costs per book were in the $5 range. I was happy to have that kind of transaction and interaction. I bet plenty of other fans would enjoy it just the same for their favorites.

It has been almost twenty years since KISS actually put out an album of original music. That, in and of itself, is both an incentive for fans to buy new music and incredible pressure on you to actually produce something worthwhile.

You see, I believe the reason KISS doesn’t go into the studio has nothing to do with college kids downloading songs for free or you, Mr. Simmons, having trouble figuring out the distribution or how anyone is going to get paid. It has everything to do with that fact that you can’t put together an album’s worth of material that would be on par with your classic albums. You don’t like the competition with yourself.

Thus, you have become a nostalgia band. If you don’t ever move forward with new music, then you are done as a viable musical entity. I don’t know if its fear or apathy, but for whatever the reason there’s not going to be a new album, its sad.