Insound’s Tip Jar: A Sign That “Making Your Money On The Road” May Not Be All That Viable A Strategy

noah | June 3, 2008 2:00 am

Last night Glenn at Coolfer noticed that the indie-leaning retailer Insound had instituted a new program called Give More, Get More, which allows people who purchase digital albums to earmark 25 cents of the purchase price toward one of six bands to help support their next national touring effort. (The current beneficiaries are The Big Sleep, Russian Circles, The Twilight Sad, Headlights, Epsilons, and Videohippos; buyers can also add extra money to the touring fund if they wish.) People who buy digital albums also get an MP3 mixtape of 10-15 “hand-selected” tracks, which is updated monthly. Insound says that it’s doing this “to save the album, to give back to bands, to give more to you, to help inspire music discovery, to change perceptions, to change the business model, to make a difference, to show we can.” But Glenn sees some ominous implications for the state of indie rock lurking beneath the tip jar:

The implications of this program should seriously disturb indie rock fans. Charity is at complete odds with the very popular notion that the Internet is fueling a sustainable music middle class. Give More, Get More highlights music’s Catch-22: record royalties don’t pay the bills, but nearly all of them need record labels to get noticed.

Is buying the music not enough? Is going to the concerts not enough? No? Then adapt to the new marketplace. The solution is not to call on customers to prop up a business model that may have some shortcomings. If the system is so broke, do something legitimate to fix it (heck, even all all-out lobbying effort for government-funded indie rock endowments, a la Factor, would be a better solution). If the album is so endangered, don’t try to prop it up with the equivalents of used toothpicks. Find a long-term, sustainable solution that improves the welfare of all bands.

I have to agree with Glenn’s point here, and I also have to say that programs like this–and the fact that some of the bands being supported by this initiative are well-known enough that they can be considered part of the “much-blogged-about” musical class that is supposedly making the money it’s losing from record sales back through the power of attention-generated cash–are a sign that the highly touted business models where touring is considered the way for newer bands to make money (or at least not lose a ton money on the recorded-music end of things) are probably a fool’s game.

After all, if touring was as lucrative for bands who didn’t sell albums as the tech pundits claim, wouldn’t these bands not need handouts–particularly since they’re coming from the ever-dwindling mass of people who are still willing to part with cash for recorded product? (The justifications that the “free music for me, because I deserve it because I’m eight years old at heart” tech-pundit crowd will likely make for that particular wrinkle of the plan are already starting to make my head spin.) Scott from Pretty Goes With Pretty made a good point here a few weeks back when he said:

This whole conversation about the music business is beginning to feel like waxing and waning diet fads. There’s no trick to dieting: eat less, excercise more. There’s no secret to saving the music industry: enjoy what you listen to and pay for it.

Which is a good point, and, ultimately, a fine way to live by. But there’s a flaw in the analogy: With dieting, the solutions are entirely personal–i.e., it’s up to you to control your own weight destiny (btw, I totally recommend Wii Fit, particularly the hula-hoop-related games). With the music industry, the solutions are more dependent on the actions of others, which is why Insound’s idea is ultimately flawed: It puts the burden of supporting music on an ever-shrinking number of people and as a result it has to be a temporary stopgap.

Anyway, to alleviate some of the doom-and-gloom tone of this post, here is a video for one of the bands in the plan, Headlights. They tour a lot–their current MySpace headline is “On the road again…”–and their album Some Racing, Some Stopping is pretty fantastic.

Give More, Get More [Insound] It’s A Sad Day When Indie Rock Resorts To This Sort Of Charity [Coolfer] Headlights – Cherry Tulips [YouTube]