If you’re an aspiring author in need of a steady income, you might be more than a little envious of Charles Dickens. While it’s a common misconception that the prestigious British novelist was paid by the word, he did receive money every time he put out a new installment of one of his books. This practice, known as serialization, meant that Dickens had the public coming back to him over and over for new content (all 900+ pages, when he could manage to keep the plot going that long). Serialization does make a lot of sense for certain media. Episodes of The Walking Dead video game keep fans of the show interested over a long period of time, perfect for a franchise that’s also releasing television episodes one at a time. The same goes for comic book series that draw collectors with drama-packed titles year after year. In these contexts, a serial gives companies an incentive to invest their time and artistic resources, knowing that consumers are prepared to pay for these content-rich installments more than once.
Just think of famous pop music and you’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger success story than the Beatles. The catchy riffs, memorable choruses, and larger-than-life personalities of the four young Brits made them an unprecedented international sensation. Yet for all their charm and talent, it’s a stretch to see how they could have achieved it all without the backing of radio and record companies. With vinyl on the shelves and top-billed hits on the air, the Beatles were able to spread across countries without setting a foot there. Those in the music business had an enormous financial interest in releasing as many records as possible and putting them on as many stations as they could, but they could only make it happen when the fans kept coming back with money.
But times have changed. It isn’t necessary, in practical terms, for anybody to repeatedly pay for music. Whether you utilize unlimited streaming or are willing to break the law to pirate to your heart’s content, why would you want to pay for individual songs (or albums, for that matter)? At this point, you might be thinking I’m saying that all music should be free, but I have a more nuanced thought for you instead. Music is so widely available that it may as well be free, but if people and advertisers no longer wanted to fund it with their purchases, who would put on concerts in big venues or get time on major radio stations? Many pop artists simply would cease to be big names if they had to get full-time jobs. For most of these individuals, music and career are synonymous, as they’ve worked to curry the favor of record labels and so forth.
At the same time, though, artists like Matt Steady are not thinking about it this way – for a stunning number of modern musicians, low-budget releases are the way of the future. Instead of having a record company put them before the public on a top 40 chart, they have chosen to pursue dedicated fan bases who communicate and advocate for them online. Have a look at his recent interview where he explains how he’s using little more than word of mouth to promote himself, and yet is able to make a comfortable living from his creative endeavors. For artists, their work is about more than just earning money, of course; it’s an outlet for intense feelings that are hard to talk about in everyday conversations. This is why a song can instantly change our moods, getting us to think about relationships and life experiences while drawing us back to what we thought and felt in the moment.
Serialization does sell, but music isn’t just a product. Every teenager who’s ever picked up a guitar can tell you it’s something more, holding in your hands the power to create. When I write, I feel the same way. You do not pay me every time you click on one of my articles, but if you read and think about my ideas, you are still honoring the time I spent creating them. Likewise, you are not forced to give any musicians your money or listening time. Those are valuable to you, and you’re honoring the artists every time you let them entertain you. The Appetizer strives to be an outlet for you to meet and actually get to know these people as human beings. I write about them in order to share their stories and enthuse about their music. And from there, the choice is yours – do you want to go a step further than just listening? Will you pursue the music you find yourself drawn to, seeking out more of the musician’s work? If you do this, then you’re not at the mercy of the serial. You’re choosing to make your own statement by where your listening time and money go, hopefully to the groups and soloists you feel deserve them most.