BitTorrent Survey: Artists Remain Optimistic Amid Daunting Digital Challenges

The Hudson Project
Moby performs a‪t the 2014 Hudson Music Project Festival on Winston Farm in Saugerties, New York on Saturday,  July 12.‬

The single biggest impression one gets from the BitTorrent Artist Survey released Tuesday is how outrageously difficult it is to make a living as an artist in the 21st Century. Not that it was ever easy, but the always-on media cycle have colluded with an explosion of digital marketing and distribution options to make it much harder for musicians to get heard.

Consider the following BitTorrent survey results:

  • 55 percent release work once a week or more
  • 34 percent typically release projects for free
  • 45 percent post at least once a day on social media

Imagine a profession where you are putting out an original product every week, often charging nothing for it, and spending the rest of your free time promoting the work you're giving away. Often, the work you're producing isn't enough to win the day -- you have to bundle it with other types of media, such as behind-the-scenes videos, books, photos, short stories, comics and zines.

Despite this, the vast majority, or roughly 70 percent of the 200 independent artists surveyed for the BitTorrent Artist Survey, were optimistic about the state of creativity.

Why the disconnect?

It's not that today's artists are blind to the obstacles. It's that they also see opportunity, said Straith Schreder, director of content strategy at BitTorrent, which in recent years has been heavily marketing its bundling technology as a distribution vehicle for independent musicians and filmmakers.

"There's an opportunity for context-driven experience with music," Schreder said. "One of the things we think very hard about is how we can facilitate more substantial storytelling by using bundles to publish rich stories across multiple media. There's an opportunity to elevate the album in a digital age with artwork, photos, interviews. We can go beyond just sharing MP3 files."

More than 30,000 artists have distributed bundles through BitTorrent, including Moby, Madonna, Linkin Park, Skrillex and De La Soul. About 27 percent of those have used BitTorrent's paygate, a feature introduced in September of last year that lets artists put some of their content behind a paywall inside the bundle. Thom Yorke, Diplo and The Magnetic Zeros were among those who used the paygate to sell music directly to fans.

BitTorrent isn't the only direct-to-fan option for artists. Patreon in 2013 launched a platform that lets fans contribute money to artists each time the artists produce new work. Bandcamp recently introduced a new feature that lets artists collect monthly or annual subscription fees from fans who can then access their music.

As the report notes, "there are now 46 ways for musicians to make money, on and offline."

As Jimmy Cliff put it in his 1969 song, "You can get it if you really want. But you must try, try and try, try and try."