Small is the New Big in Music

Small is the new big. This is one of the most important ideas of the twenty first century because it’s going to affect all of us. It’s going to influence how you go about executing your indie music career.

Small is the new big means exactly that. It means mass is dying. Smaller things are better and more efficient and they will take over media and the economy.

Thom Yorke of Radiohead spoke in a recent interview with Believer Magazine about hating CDs. He said, “Me and Stanley (Donwood, the designer) always hated CD’s. Just a nightmare. There’s a process of natural selection going on right now. The music business was waiting to die in it’s current form about 20 years ago. But then hallelujah, the CD turned up and kept it going for a bit. But basically, it was dead.”

Thom Yorke can rest easy now that the CD is just about dead. But he and Radiohead already made their money…some of it on CD’s. What about the rest of us in today’s music industry, trying to navigate the choppy waters to YouTube stardom? We don’t have the benefit of music media and mass distribution to ride the wave to riches the way they did in the old days. Sure, you may get a million hits on YouTube the way Barcelona did with their aquarium video. But so what? You still need to turn that into actual profit somehow. You’re on your own.

There’s a very sobering piece at the Flying Charge. The guy who wrote it is having a conversation with himself about whether there should even be a music industry. He says to himself that he’s not sure people are owed the right to get paid for making art. Art is what you get when you strip away the plastic CD and all the packaging that surrounds it and what remains is just the pure emotional essence of the sound.

I disagree with the guy’s premise that people shouldn’t charge money for art. People will pay for the emotional interactivity that art can provide. MP3s don’t provide interactivity. But live events and conversations do.

The big question though is how do you execute interactivity on a mass level in today’s world? The answer is that you don’t. You theoretically can, but it’s so difficult to do that that it’s not even worth trying. And that takes us back to small is the new big.

I said it’s one of the most important ideas to have in your head in the new century. If you have dreams of jetting around in a G5 and performing at sold out stadiums of 30,000 people, I invite you to scale your fantasies down a bit because the world has changed…dramatically. That kind of thing is going to happen less and less in the future. Even Paul McCartney is having trouble filling stadiums.

The new ethos demands small. In cars, in companies, in credit. Dream big. But act small. Your marketing efforts are now structured around conversations, not advertising. And you can only converse with so many people on Twitter and Facebook, etc. But each of those conversations can have tremendous value. It’s just that it all happens on a much smaller scale. Think Who, not How Many. Eyeballs don’t matter much anymore. Actual human connection does.

Instead of dreaming about having $10 million, dream about making $1 million. That’s still a lot of money. You know what the model for a new business is these days? It’s 3 or 4 guys in a garage somewhere with a few laptops and chairs producing something that people are intensely passionate about. They may make $1 million or so in their first year, but chances are they’ll never be big. Same with music. I don’t think we’re going to see many bands with massive global appeal emerge in the coming future. But there will be lots of small bands doing what they love and making a living. What’s wrong with that? It’s easier to get there. You don’t need to be super man. And the focus is finally on the music again.

Make enough to be happy,to do what you love and do some good for the world. What more do you need?


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