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Tuesday 1 November 2011

The Digital Long Tail.

Like many people interested in music business in the UK, i listened to the lecture given by Pete Towshend, of The Who, yesterday. It has certainly caused a bit of a fuss in the media, with its seeming attack on Apple, iTunes and digital music services.

Whilst i do tend to agree with Pete Townshend on his views about modern record companies and the idea that digital music providers could and maybe should do more to help new music. It made me think of another aspect of this.

Pete Townshend himself referred to the idea of the Long Tail in his lecture. But, i'm not sure he thought that digital music provision and the Long Tail idea could actually help provide some much needed income for musicians in the future?

In the traditional music business, albums were recorded and then released by record companies on vinyl, or more recently on CD. This meant that the CD's etc had to be physically produced, packaged, packed and then distributed to record shops, or outlets across the world. This, as you can imagine, is a costly business and the distribution companies would take a cut of the cost price for their services.

When a group split up, or stopped recording, there would usually come a time, especially for lesser known artists, when those original recordings would be deleted from the record company catalogue and would therefore be no longer available to any potential customer. Either via the record company themselves, or in record stores.

How often have you discovered a band, or artist, only to find out that they're no longer around and their CD no longer available?
This happened to me only the other day. The band in question, The Aeroplanes released their one and only album, 'Black Hearts And Maladies', back  in 2008. Unfortunately, the band split up in 2010. Meaning that i never got the chance to see them live, except on YouTube. A fact that ties in very nicely with the whole point of this blog post.

How i found them is another story. But when i went to try and buy that album, the only place i could buy it was, rather ironically, on iTunes. The physical CD couldn't be found anywhere, except secondhand. It's possibly that with a lot of searching i may have come across it, but who does that kind of thing these days eh?

So, and i'm sure you're ahead of me here, in the old days i wouldn't have been able to listen to, watch, or buy The Aeroplanes music. The digital revolution has enabled me to buy the music and give a little bit of money to the songwriters and members of that band. Money they would not have got otherwise.
It may well only be a small amount of money. But, that is exactly the whole idea behind the Long Tail theory. Small amounts add up to something bigger.
Especially, as that money would not have been forthcoming in the pre-Internet age.

I'm not suggesting that the Internet and digital music in general is good for everybody, because is quite obviously isn't. But, for The Aeroplanes at least, it has helped them to gain one new fan, some much needed royalties and it's also given me a favourite new band.

Sounds good to me.


  1. Absolutely, the low cost of server storage for a digital master file versus the manufacture and distribution of disks should mean more and more back-catalog that is available and discoverable. In the long run, this long tail can only be good for artists and listeners.

    I'll have to search out that interview with Pete and see what he's talking about (besides his g-g-g-generation).

  2. Ken: Here's a link to the text of his lecture:
    To be honest, even though i listened, i can't say i enjoyed the way he spoke. I'm guessing the text would come across better.
    I'm sure we can all think of long lost albums that we can't get anymore. Hopefully, this digital age will help reunite us with that music. It's also a way that the bands can do it themselves, if they own the music that is!