By George Howard & Jeff Price
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(Intro by George Howard)
We hear a lot about how it was “better back in the day.” Gauzy nostalgia aside, I assume the “day” being referred to is some analog world (or, at least pre-file sharing world) where people purchased physical goods, and artists—ostensibly, at least—got paid a portion of the transaction associated with these purchases. The refrain seems to go something along the lines of: pre-file sharing there was a system in place in which labels signed artists, promoted them, and then, when their records sold, paid them. Sometimes stated overtly, and sometimes implied, in this line of reasoning is that, by dint of the fact that labels could only sign so many artists, they selected the more meritorious artists to release, and therefore the customer had fewer (and, following this line of reasoning, better) choices. As opposed to today, where anyone who wants to release a record can, and, in so doing, “clutters” the market, which makes it more difficult for deserving artists to gain attention. In other words, there are artists (and many industry types) who long for a return to these “simpler” times when an artist could make some demos, get signed, release a more-difficult-to-share record, and get paid.
I’m here to tell you that as is almost always the case with backwards-looking reminiscences, the memory is far more appealing than what was the actual reality. I know this because I lived/worked through “those days,” and continue to work/live through “these days.”
But, you shouldn’t trust my or anyone’s recollection without some support, and so let me detail what “those days” was actually like for an artist. Alongside that, my colleague, Jeff Price, has detailed what “these days” are like, and what “those days” were like.
As you look at the comparisons, some things should jump out at you. You should be seeing that a tremendous amount of time, energy, money, and hope was spent (and, typically, wasted) in the old days on trying to attract the attention of so-called gatekeepers. Another important thing to remember is that, even if you were able to have the gatekeepers anoint you, and you got a deal, your cost of failure was massive. In other words, you usually had one shot and you were out.
But enough of our editorializing. Take a look below, and let us know if you think now is better than then, or vice versa.
George Howard is the Executive Vice President of Wolfgang’s Vault. Wolfgang’s Vault is the parent company of Concert Vault, Paste Magazine, and Daytrotter. Mr. Howard is an Associate Professor of Management at Berklee College of Music