There’s nothing like a good manifesto. Earlier this week at the Midem music conference in Cannes, France, avante-rock pioneers Brian Eno and Peter Gabriel unveiled what they call the Magnificent Union of Digitally Downloading Artists. The purpose is to encourage–and empower–artists to exploit do-it-yourself digital distribution, labels be damned. To help the cause, Gabriel’s organization, OD2: On Demand Distribution, announced a new digital music platform called the SonicSelector, which artists can use to sell their music online. By harnessing the power of the Internet, Gabriel and Eno suggest, artists can reach their fans in entirely new ways–uploading, say, a new song as soon as it’s completed, instead of having to wait to put it out on a full-length CD.
More power to them. The Grateful Dead was the first band to see the benefit of thinking outside the corporate distribution box. By allowing fans to record their shows, for example, the Dead vested their audience and, ultimately, became one of the highest-grossing acts in history. Spin-offs of this Grateful economy are now in practice by a family of artists, primarily classic rock and jam bands, including Dave Matthews, Phish, Pearl Jam, the Who, Wilco, Prince, Ween, and David Bowie. They’re doing everything from selling instant live CDs of their shows to distributing their own free MP3s over the Net. It’s good for the artists. It’s good for the fans. And, contrary to the recording industry’s mantra, it’s good for business too.