From Vinyl to MP3s: Does Music Have Value Anymore?

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As an up n’coming, Hip Hop artiste who sells CDs for $20, it’s obvious that I approach the value of music differently. Either I’m a genius who knows something most people don’t, or a fool too lost to grasp his own stupidity. Turns out I’m neither. My strategy is to make a profit on volume, while building a fan base.

Most of the people I sell to (at least initially) are people who are hearing me for the first time so they purchase on impulse. I sell, based on what I consider to be the value of that impulse purchase.

With the Internet levelling the field a bit, and MP3s, as the new currency, music is definitely cheaper (and freer) to come by. However, the value of music doesn’t lie so much in cost. Artistes now determine the value of their music, for e.g. choosing to release free music (mixtapes), which I also do. Depending on how much clout they have, or their circumstance, they decide what value means to them. Is it reach, attention, loyalty, sales or a combination of all four? Let’s decide.

With the ease of getting tracks, people no longer appreciate music the same way. When a CD or cassette was the only way to store music, a collection was something to be valued. When an album cost like $120TT and you saved your money to buy your favourite artiste’s CD, after listening to singles on radio or (M)TV, or borrowing the album from a good friend, the anticipation was climatic. Sifting through a person’s collection gave you clues about their personality and taste, because thousands of dollars in CDs surpasses the point of infatuation; you had to really love that music.

Music didn’t come out as often either, with shotters like Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston (ok, former shotter) taking at least two or more years’ break between albums. So when your favourite artiste dropped a song, you were more than happy to ‘put out’ the money… and when you ‘put out’ that money, you were sure to listen.

Nowadays, we have access to more music than we even have time to listen to. Listeners have so much music at their fingertips that an artiste would be mad to attempt a Mexican standoff saying, “Well if yuh not paying, yuh not getting my music”. The response would be, “Well I have millions of free songs on YouTube to sift through, so… throw yuh frame!” The artiste of today is competing for, and sometimes paying to capture, the attention of the listener. The value of music is no longer the cost of the track, but the amount of time spent listening to it, so much so that people will literally refuse to ‘pay’ attention.

What about the financial value of music? Heading towards zero if you check recent trends. Album sales in the US have been way down this year, with Eminem having one of the best-selling albums for the year at a little under three million copies sold. By comparison, his album “The Marshall Mathers LP”, released a decade ago in 2000, sold over 10 million copies (and it didn’t take ten years to do it either). So that must mean people have stopped listening to music right? Wrong. The video for “Love The Way You Lie”, featuring Rihanna, has been viewed over 203 million times on YouTube (at the time of writing).

People haven’t stopped listening to music; they’re just listening for free. I have met people who have never paid for a CD in their entire life. Nowadays, when you want to hear a song you just google it or search it on YouTube and listen to it whole day if you want to. Yuh getting yuh favourite songs easy like that. I’m not saying that people won’t buy albums at all, because evidence shows that they do, but even in those cases they aren’t paying for music. They pay because they identify with a personality with little correlation to quality.

I actually have a lot of hope for the music industry, especially for up n’ coming artistes. Things are better than ever for listeners and music creators – the music labels, aka the middle men, not so much. It’s easier to get your stuff out there thanks to virtual, liming spots such as Twitter and Facebook. Chromatics (local, Hip Hop artiste) can tell you about standing with his back to the wall of a mall or downtown Port of Spain, hustling daily; these days, hustling is done a Facebook wall.

Artistes can potentially hit it big with one upload à la The Sorrel Boyz or more realistically satisfy smaller niches. Studio costs are also lower due to advances in technology and greatly reduced equipment costs, and more often than not, everything can be done from right in your bedroom. Once you can engage fans with a steady stream of content then you ‘on’ so to speak. The value of music lies in creativity (in business, not just music), access, connecting with your audience, and leveraging technology. This creates a win-win for artistes and listeners.

So if you’re an artiste, I say build your brand, and make sure it’s unique so that people can identify with you, because once they do the money will start coming. You don’t have to let out everything for free, but share some gems to hook people in. Seek to find your niche and dominate because there are entities that are willing to pay to be associated with good, remarkable content. To the listeners, keep listening and if you don’t support with your money, at least support with your time. Music will always have value. It just depends on whose terms.


Shameless plug: I am having a show in Equinox Bar UWI on Friday 26, November from 8 p.m. Click this link to check out my free mixtape. It’ll give you an idea of what to expect.


Image courtesy; naumoid


Check out the rest of this week’s issue (Issue 33: 22/11/10):


David "Da Face" Hamilton

David Hamilton aka Da Face is a local hip hop artiste who moonlights as a blogger, when he's not trying to capture the hearts and ears of listeners with creative and positive music. He also maintains a blog called "Underground Trini Artiste", and often tries to represent and promote the lesser known artistes in Trinidad and Tobago.

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