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Amy Winehouse 101: The Economics of Music

Thursday, May 10th, 2007
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I am obsessed with Amy Winehouse. A sulty, tatooed soul-singin’ chanteuse from East London who is the toast (burnt) of the UK tabloids. A HELL of a singer. Glad my buddy from CT clued me to her.

So now I like Amy Winehouse. Good for me, good for the recording industry, good for her. Cause I will indulge my Winehouse habit, happily spending shekels if need be.

Unfortunately, because the music industry model is broken, I wind up not being able to spend money when I want to, and have to go out and look for stuff, which winds up being free. I wind up spending a fortune for concert tickets, very little of which goes to the proper recipient. And I’m frustrated that I can’t get more, even if I want to buy more.

Just look at what happened.

I got into Amy by picking up free samples. iTunes had her as single of the week a while back. Then music blogs offered samples I found an entire concert she did in Amsterdam and immediately slotted it in my iTunes library. On other blogs I found fantastic acoustic versions of her songs, lifted from an AOL concert she did. I saw the AOL videos, great stuff. I could also find numerous performances on YouTube. All of this free stuff whetted my appetite for stuff I was happy to pay for. But when I wanted to buy her music, I could get only one album–the recent Back to Black CD. It’s available on Amazon for $11.99 and iTunes for $9.99. She has a previous album, called Frank, that is available only as a import. It’s not on iTunes.

In other words, there is a lot of Amy Winehouse music out there but I can only buy a fraction of it.

Amy came to the US, and of course I want to see her in concert. I heard she was playing at the Highline Ballroom here in NYC, and went to the Web for tickets. I just missed it before she sold out. Went to craigslist, where someone was asking for $75 apiece for the $20 tickets. I told him I’d give him the $150 for two, and he agreed. Then nothing. When I contacted him later, he confessed he sold them to someone else for $100 each. Bastard! By the time I got back to craigslist, tickets were going for $200 apiece. Something in me rebelled against paying that for a $20 ticket. That’s New York. Saw someone else selling tix on craigslist for only $75–in Philadelphia. Instead of biting, I went straight to Ticketmaster and saw that Electric Factory tickets in Philly were still available and I bought two, $18 each, but it wound up costing $56 for both including handling, postage and whatever other bogus fees they were charging.

Saw her on May 5 night in Philly. It turned out great, because, since Philly is a hometown, I drove down with a long-time friend (the one who clued me to Amy the first place) and we had dinner with two dear friends, then a drink afterward with another pal. And I stayed with my parents, glad to see ‘em. But poor Amy Winehouse–she’s not getting what she deserves here.

Amy, if you read after the jump, here’s two ways you can allow fans to get more, and make some money yourself

  • PUT MORE STUFF ONLINE. Letting blogs carry your music is fine–but also make sure you sell it. No DRM, please! Record LOTS of your concerts and sell those, even let fans subscribe. What about an Amy Winehouse subscription, where I can stream concerts AS THEY HAPPEN? Sitting here at my computer, if you were singing in some club somewhere and I could peek in, I certainly would pay for the privilege. I would sign up to get email about your appearances and if I was in the mood, I would stream a concert for a few bucks. I would pay cash money for a new song you felt like singing and immediately posting, especially if it was a cover of a Motown tune. And what’s up with not selling your first album on iTunes?
  • SMART TICKET PRICING. How insane is it to let scalpers make ten times as much money as the artist makes on a ticket to a concert? Tickets for any event that has any chance of being oversold should be conducted by a dutch auction. People enter how much they are willing to pay to see the act. (The mimimum price can be set at the levels they would be in a regular sale.) After a designated time period, the top bidders get the ticket–at the price of the lowest bidder who made the cut. (If there are 1000 seats in the concert hall, and 5000 fans bid, those thousand people who bid highest get in. Their credit cards are charged what the lowest sum bid among those thousand.) This way, fans are sure to get in and scalpers can’t play. And you get the bulk of the money.

In the long run, there’s got to be a different model, different kind of relationships between artists and labels, artists and fans. Today I saw a great article in the Times about how artists trying to break through are using the Net to get going. As the writer (the excellent Clive Thompson) notes, though, it’s not for those who have already made it.

1 Comment

  • ha, funny that I had the identical experience last week with in fact, amy winehouse music. I was looking to buy back in black MP3s and didn’t read the site i bought it from, only to realize it only was some weird microsoft media player PC verson that didn’t work on my computer (I am on a MAC).

    I keep trying to BUY DRM free music that I can play on my devices.
    I keep trying to BUY things for my daughter’s video ipod that are available in Canada.

    Still trying…..

    And these industries try to put their business problems on my wee little consumer shoulders.

    Humph and double humph.

    ps. the site in question didn’t give me my money back but allowed me to at least download from a choice of music they did have for MACs…..All i can say is that the Amazon DRM free music store better be avail in Canada and the sooner the better….

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