UI&us is about User Interface Design, User Experience design and the cognitive psychology behind design in general. It's written by Keith Lang, co-founder of Skitch; now a part of Evernote.  His views and opinions are his own and do not represent in any way the views or opinions of any company. 

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Unlike a Rolling Stone


John Gruber Linked to a BBC story on the Rolling Stones.

He adds his Gruberism to the end. 

So if you look at the history of recorded music from 1900 to now, there was a 25 year period where artists did very well, but the rest of the time they didn’t.

A keener business mind in the music industry you will not find.

I'd like to add my perspective.

Once upon a time,  I was a struggling musician. A gigging guitarist/keyboardist/electroguy, who happened to have both a formal music classical music degree under his belt, a reasonably thorough knowledge of the music industry, and at the same time the ability to barely make a cent out of it. Which, from my experience, is true for the majority of musicians. I've seen the music industry from a bunch of angles . Folk gig. Rock gigs. Touring. Written music for theatre. Been the 'world music guy' in a record store. Recorded, and been recorded in various forms of recording studios. Busking, jingles, choirs. Never got a contract. You get the idea. 

This was how musicians lived. Musicians scraped by. A paying gig at a wedding, a little spare pocket change in your hat. If you got lucky, you got an in-house gig writing for a King or a Lord. Or teaching harpsichord lessons to their kids. And this probably describes musicians' livings for the last thousands of years. Secular (rude songs to drink to) or Sacred (music for church so confabulated it needed to be written down), either end of the stick wasn't paying much.

And being a musician wasn't an easy gig. Even the likes of JS Bach, who had a pretty good full-time job with some rich guy, still spent one day a week ruling the lines on the paper. Talk about labour-intensive. And although Copyright law has roots back to 1709, the great Mozart was buried in a paupers grave because his material was always being ripped off as fast as he could write it. Only much later would copyright, and therefor music-as-intellectual-property, become a source of income for musicians.

Image from Wiki Commons

The ubiquity of the piano in the 1800's onwards created a sheet music market. From 1890 onwards we saw the birth of the recorded audio market. It's counter-intuitive to think that opera was one of the driving forces behind the success of the 'record'. Next up came mass media in the 40s and 50s, and before you knew it, The Rolling Stones were rolling in it. And so was their record company.

Mick Jagger is quoted as saying:

Then, there was a small period from 1970 to 1997, where people did get paid, and they got paid very handsomely and everyone made money. But now that period has gone.

See, the Recording Industry was optimized for 'hits'. You couldn't just record everyone, that was expensive. You got economies of scale producing a single thing. Besides,  you couldnt promote everyone on the radio, there was limited airtime and stations to do that in. And you certainly couldn't stock everyone's records in a record store, there just wasn't enough shelf space. Their business model works best when there's one record by one artist that everyone is buying. Or something approaching that.

The standard approach to achieve this was to sign up a selection of artists, and cut them a crappy deal. The public doesn't realise that a Recording Contract is essentially a loan where the bank decides how you'll spend your money. Most albums lost money. But the rare few made up for it. Like the Rolling Stones.

Then things changed.

Digital technology made it incredibly cheap to record a high quality album (and video clip if you wanted one). Then, the iTunes store etc. made it possible to stock an infinite number of artists. And the internet made it possible to promote and deliver the work of any obscure artist to anyone else in the world. Yay!

OK, so Mick Jagger can only afford slightly shorter lines of coke. But I believe there are now 10,000x more musicians and artists, everyday making their living from their '1000 true fans'. And that rings true for Interaction Designers, Developers, Graphic Designers etc too. I make my living because of Teh Internets and technologies like forums, Skype, Instant Messaging, websites, e-commerce and the like. And it's not just me — I've worked with people in Japan, Austria, Switzerland, France. It's people across the world who are experiencing this revolution.

Case in point: I've got a developer friend here in Australia who just completed an iPad application with the help of a graphic artist. In Russia. And here's a pic from the Swiss Alps with my good friend, and one of the Skitch developers Adrian. A (great) musician by coincidence. You may be surprised to know where that piece of software under your fingertips has come from.



This is the world I, and so many of us in the tech world, now live in. Culture and opportunies cross borders that they didn't before. The democratisation of industries. Don't listen to Mick. This is a wonderful time.