How to “save” the music industry?
Many attempts have been made over the past several years, from streaming services like Spotify to your one friend who insists that the only real way to support artists is to see them live. But it’s still possible to starve on tour and Thom Yorke called Spotify “the last desperate fart of a dying corpse,” so whether you think new modes of music distribution are revolutionary ideas or moribund flatulence, it’s safe to say we haven’t yet figured out the best way to distribute music in the Digital Age.
Recently, Canadian post-hardcore band Protest the Hero have thrown their hat in the ring with Pacific Myth, an online subscription platform. The group raised over $170,000 on Indiegogo to record their previous album, so experimenting with music business models is becoming a calling card of theirs.
In a nutshell, Pacific Myth is a 6-song EP released digitally at the rate of one song per month. Subscribers make a one-time payment of $12, after which they are able to download each song as they are released. No matter when you sign up, you get everything that Protest the Hero has released on Pacific Myth so far, and everything that they will release thereafter.
You might be asking: so isn’t this just an album that you get really slowly?
Well, yes, it kind of is. Buying music digitally isn’t anything new, and in a basic sense Pacific Myth is just a version of that. Subscribers aren’t buying a subscription to everything that Protest the Hero will make forever, just paying for all the content that the band chooses to release this year via this one platform.
What’s novel about the Pacific Myth platform is the way the band prepares the music, and the goodies that come along with it.
Protest the Hero is currently four songs in to the proposed six that will make up Pacific Myth. But even though the next one is scheduled to drop on February 16, that doesn’t mean it’s finished yet. Rather than sitting back and gradually eking out six already finished songs, the band is writing and recording the material as they go along. In their own words:
Most record cycles are at least 2 years. That’s two years of promoting 40-or-so minutes of music. Music that you may have written two years before that! We have never been able to release what we want to release NOW. So that’s exactly what this is. These are songs we love now, songs we are proud of now, and songs which are inherently more candid than our other material.
So in a sense, fans are subscribing to Protest the Hero’s creative process. Because subscribers also become part of a “Fan Community,” they can give and receive messages to the band. On January 8, the band wrote this message to its Pacific Myth subscribers:
In the nature of this campaign and it being as ” real-time” as possible we thought it would be cool for you to suggest some ideas for the final song. Wouldn’t it be cool if you the listener could influence how one of these songs turns out? Anything you want to hear us do, comment below and we might just consider it.”
Bands often like to go on about “removing the barrier” between artist and fan. Pacific Myth turns fans into collaborators, giving them the opportunity to not only sit in on the writing process, but also pipe up with their own ideas.
Pacific Myth is meant to feel more personal, and it works. Subscribers receive the band’s ideas while they’re still fresh, and can instantly give feedback before the next one. On top of that, Protest the Hero posts videos, updates, and even a digital copy of their first EP to make the subscription worthwhile between songs.
This all sounds like a pretty great idea. Metalsucks recently had Protest the Hero’s Tim Millar on its podcast to discuss “whether they realize that they are turning the industry on its head.”
Those are some big words.
Pacific Myth seems to be working well for Protest the Hero, but is it going to revolutionize the industry and be adopted en masse by other artists? Probably not, and here’s why.
Firstly, Protest the Hero benefits from a well-established and very dedicated fanbase. They’ve built a reputation for themselves over many years of touring and connecting personally to fans. They’ve developed a distinguished sound over four studio albums. They spent years with the promotional power of major label Vagrant Records behind them before going independent. In short, they’ve earned the trust, adoration, and purchasing power of a legion of fans by being a damn fine band for many years.
Would you pay $12 to receive songs that haven’t been written yet, by a band that you’ve never heard of and has never released any music?
Unless you’re a gambler, you’re probably going to pass on that one. The success of Pacific Myth is predicated on trust and fan loyalty. Any artist that follows the model would absolutely need that before attempting to use it for their own releases.
Folks on the internet have a tendency to freak out every time some new distribution model is attempted, immediately declaring it the magic bullet that will save the music industry just because we’re starving for something new. This isn’t that.
Pacific Myth is a great experiment and, as a subscriber, a fun and personal way to receive music, but even Protest the Hero themselves aren’t necessarily planning to use the model forever. The band has already stated that Pacific Myth is an interim release to get new music out between now and their next full-length. Unless people are really keen on receiving a polished full-length in monthly increments, it’s likely going to be released as a traditional, full album.
But, in a different sense, Pacific Myth is exactly what the music industry is going to look like from now on. That is, it’s probably going to be one of many ways we listen to music.
Pacific Myth works for Protest the Hero. It wouldn’t work for every artist, but so what?
There is never again going to be only one way to get music, in the way that in the 1960’s you either purchased your favorite record on vinyl, or sat by the radio and hoped to hear a song you like. We aren’t going to go back to that. Ever. Rather than finding the new one-size-fits-all mode of distribution, there will be an ever-increasing diversity of ways that music reaches the masses.
I for one welcome ideas like Pacific Myth, and can’t wait to see what new methods develop, whether they come from Protest the Hero or the fart-hating Thom Yorke.