Make Music, not T-Shirts

Today’s guest blog comes from Chris Wochagg at, an online video portal for artists and musicians.


I’m tired of hearing the suggestion that musicians just have to cross finance through merchandising, ringtones, more gigs and expensive VIP tickets to their gigs. This may work for some bands – call it the Arctic Monkeys Bands – but it ignores a great field of composers and musicians committed to the studio and artists who aren’t willing to perform a rock’n’roll show every night and sell t-shirts, because their “fans“ may have outgrown the age of wearing band t-shirts.

Not every artist is able to entertain crowds nor is sorely tempted to be the focus of a photographer‘s lightning storm, but – and that’s the point – can be an appreciated musician/artist. So there is an enormous number of musicians out there who do not benefit from a “share everything and get more concert visitors” precept. It makes me believe that the idea of making money with additional goods should still be a great possibility to have a greater income and promote the artist, but not the only chance to survive.

This doesn’t mean that we should support DRM, set restrictions on the consumer or try to save the CD as a medium and the exploiting businesses of the majors. The era of the digitalization won’t stop, we’ve already passed the point of no return. Do we have to believe that nobody is going to pay for music anymore? Don’t think so. What we would need is transparency. 

According to a lot of blog comments I’ve read the last months and conversations I’ve had with ordinary music consumers, it turns out, that yes, a lot of people would purchase music. From my point of view the problem is still the non-transparency relationship between the artist and the listeners: Music lovers feel patronized, controlled and criminalized by the industry and take the chance to give it a wipe by downloading illegally via torrents and so on. People rightly complain about the less distribution of profits to the artists, and I often hear that they would like to give their money to the artist not to the unknown industry surrounding the artist. To argue that the only chance to rebel against the abuses of a big music industry and to save the artist’s future is to download music illegally, is not that sustainable, I think. By doing so, we are killing the indies before the majors are reached. Too many independent labels were killed off over the past years. By downloading from other non-label illegal networks, people get paid, who care even far less than the most evil music manager. We pay them with our attention by clicking their advertisements.

Fair trade music

I’m still missing an appropriate platform or an initiative, where music consumer’s demands are met. If people would like to give money to the(ir) artist, they need a clear definition of what the artist gets by buying the song/album. Imagine the “fair-trade coffee” culture: consumers willingly spend more money for “fair-priced” coffee to help producers in developing countries and promoting sustainability because they can trust the certificate that guarantees the fair trade. Wouldn’t this concept be possible for music industry? A certificate for music sold online and the same for a physical medium (be it vinyl, a CD or whatever physical medium will be established in the next few years). 

A) Combine the online platform with information buyers used to get when they bought a physical medium and much more: Who wrote the song? Who produced it? When was it recorded? In which band did the guitarist play before?  Keep me updated when they are on tour, give me the sound tracks for remixing it, and show me rehearsals, etc.

B) The physical medium could be produced from eco-friendly materials to provide sustainability. I’m pretty sure people would start taking care and bring the discussion to a moral level if there is an explicit way to support what they cherish. 

I am aware that this approach requires a great moral acting in an easy-to-steal world, but our make-it-sustainable generation gives me hope.

-Chris Wochagg


11 thoughts on “Make Music, not T-Shirts”

  1. Chris, thanks for your optimistic defense of non-performing musicians. I too believe that there should be viable ways for non-rock stars to get paid for their music. Having put much time and money into my own projects, I’ve been disappointed at my inability to recoup any of the recording costs, and finally relented to just giving my music away for free, on this blog for example.

    There are some online services where fans become directly involved in supporting this project by becoming “investors”, essentially buying shares of a recording, and once enough fans have chipped in, then the artist goes and records something, and there is an open line of communication between the artist and fans. I haven’t participated in these communities myself, but the last I looked into them they were gaining some traction. If anyone can remember the name of one, please share…They were, of course, aligned towards the young singer-songwriters and pop musicians.

    Sometimes I wonder: with so many people making music, and so much of the music being of a high quality, does it have any monetary value anymore? A flood of supply, you know? All I know is that the only remuneration I can reasonably expect for my artistic endeavors in this lifetime is the satisfaction that I saw my vision through and captured it as best I could according to my standards and inspiration.

    Then again, there is a huge supply of cheap decent coffee, but people willingly pay more for fair trade coffee.

    Interesting point about the eco-friendly music medium. Is there such a thing currently as environmentally friendly electronics?

  2. Very good points… and your idea of a Music Fair Trade program is one I never thought of.

    The more I read and the more I think about the music industry, the more I realize there will never be any one solution to satisfy so many different interests, goals, ideals and ambitions.

    That said… we are very lucky to have so many talented people crafting and recording songs for our enjoyment. The unfortunate thing is that most people don’t have the time to wade through all the new music and just as importantly, only have limited dollars to spend on music.

    One idea I’ve add kicking around in my head is that instead of purchasing music or individual tracks, why not sponsor or become patron to the artist (you would obviously be able to buy/download their music). This might help minimize the passing/throwaway nature of music which only serves to devalue the artist.

    So, let’s say instead of paying $15 for a CD, I sponsor an artist to the tune of $50/year or even $100/year if I’m a huge fan. They have provided more joy and entertainment in my life than that “one-time” dollar amount. Maybe this will help stop thinking of music as just economic units.

    I would argue that the relationship between fans and artists is getting stronger because the middle (we add no value) layer is being sidelined. The unfortunate part is the lingering bitterness, resentment and animosity that exists thanks to the music industry’s approach to protecting their profits at the expense of both artists and fans.

    I have thought on numerous occasions, what if the music industry approached the Napster affair with positive vision and foresight? Would things be better today? I guess it’s hard to look forward when your goal is to protect the past.

    I think a music fair trade program would work if it’s voluntary, has simple rules/guidelines and is focused on building relationships between artists and between fans. Essentially, creators and consumers come together as a network where we can respect each other and work together to celebrate music that is so ingrained in everyday life.

    Great thinking and conversation… we need more of this to come up with different workable ideas and solutions.

  3. I agree that the relationship between fans and artists is getter stronger. The distance is being reduced by necessity and/or technology. Cynics might say that artists need to do more to get people to part with their money. But I think musicians tend to be decent, interesting and fun people that enjoy the interaction with others that shared musical interests provides. The internet has made it so much easier to establish more channels of dialog, even if they can’t be as direct as a one-to-one conversation. This internet thang is good, despite corrupting the flow of money to our well-endowed keepers…Fuck yeah.

  4. I think it is important to provide more information to buyers. Music is a product of the business and just with any other product we buy, we are given details about what we are getting.

  5. @Brian: Ask me to part more money to a corporate welfare bum and I would have already said screw off. But, let me interact and connect with a musician, and there is way less hesitant on my part to purchase music from them.

    Bottom line is that we do business with people/companies we like. Companies across all sectors, especially some in the music industry seems to have forgotten that economic activity is relationship driven.

    I say let’s keep empowering artists with new tools, resources and technology. Let the real producers and builders of this world take back control.

  6. Hey guys, just responded to this on my blog, but having worked for The Hector Fund and been consulting for a while, I have to say that I think micro financing music really does not fix the problem. Coffee fair trade is different because you can’t share coffee. My point is, as long is music is shareable, even just by burning a CD, buying it is charity. People willing to play for music are willing to give money when they don’t need to, which is of course great, but in my opinion, this is just not a monetizing model.

  7. Very powerful statements made here. Right down the pipe, no shinola. I admire that. As an artist trying to promote an underground genre, which I am still excited about, many desperate ideas come to mind, as far as grabbing monetary attention for financing. Yet I am more inclined to simply focus on the music and let the business people work it out. Without a good product, there seems to be no value attached for selling purposes. And that value lies heavy on the opinions of music fans, right? Fast selling ideas put cash in the pocket, but eventually folks will start to feel like they are getting stiffed on quality music. Which, unfortunately, we are. The good news is that it begins to highlight the obvious talent around us, who have been relentlessly practicing and honing skills, while the debauchery of certain industry people has been going on. These are the artists who are slowly coming out of the ‘briar patch’ and into the world again. The compromise to me is HOW MUCH do quality artists feel they need? And what percentage of THAT do business partners want? As a songwriter, it’s not that difficult to write songs, really. It seems more difficult to do business. I’d be happy being a thousandair, honestly. And am willing to share that with any deserving partner.


  8. I would categorize myself as one of the musicians you’re talking about: I don’t play live all that much, and I’m not really into the idea of marketing myself as a brand. I just like writing songs and making records. My solution so far is just to sell the music for fairly cheap ($5 for the whole album as a download). As costs of production keep going down, this becomes more and more feasible, especially if you’re not spending money to press a whole bunch of CDs.

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