While indie musicians may be benefiting from airplay on websites like Pandora or even HD and satellite radio channels, it's a tough slog to sell their material one CD or song at a time. The demise of the record labels, and the larger music industry model, challenges unknowns and even once-popular music icons to rethink how to market their songs and albums to consumers who now have infinite choices.
"The Long Tail" effect which makes it possible for the little guy to sell and expose his music on iTunes (or get her films rented on NetFlix or his books sold on Amazon) won't make anyone rich, but it will keep careers alive.
Kevin Kelly of Wired magazine wrote an article one year ago called "1,000 True Fans" - a manifesto for how artists and craftspeople can build a small but loyal fan base in order to survive. That's great if you're the sculptor working out of your spare bedroom studio or the folk musician playing gigs on the weekend.
But if you're U2 - trying to sustain a 30-year career during these tumultuous times for the music industry, what's your plan? Well, they're one of the few bands that continues to rely on the traditional model - a record label (in this case, Universal Music) and its promotional department. Yes, U2 is wisely exposing themselves and their music on network television (especially the Letterman 5-day stunt) and via large-scale awards shows and events. A big band needs a big plan.
Here's Bono, from a recent New York Times article, speaking about the U2 philosophy in 2009:
“I’m interested in commerce. The excuse for bigness is that songs demand to be heard if they’re any good. And without the kind of momentum of being in a big rock ’n’ roll band, you won’t get your songs heard.”
Obviously, not interested in chasing that long tail.