Keeping Your Publishing – 21st Century Style

Back in the day, there was a mantra that was taught to songwriting musicians, almost without fail:

“Keep your publishing.”

As I see it, the mantra was a call to keep some kind of control in a world where a lot of control had to be ceded to others. Recording was very, very expensive, and so was the release of that recording. In the age of physical media (heck – physical EVERYTHING), the people with the money to produce the physical media called all the shots.

By “the people with the money,” I am referring to the many and various record companies.

This is not to say that DIY was completely impossible, but for a musicpreneur to actually reach a wide audience in a short time required very large resources. The holders of the resources tended to demand a lot of control in exchange for the privileges involved: Unless you had a lot of pull, they would control what was released, where it was released, and in what quantity, and your opinion wasn’t worth a whole lot.

And they owned the copyright to the sound recording. You could NOT just take your masters and do whatever you liked. The control of the recorded music belonged to someone else.

If the record company owned both the sound recording AND the rights to the underlying song, you really had nothing except whatever fame you had managed to scrape up. All the money involved in anything to do with your tunes would first go to the record company, and then they would cut you in later – likely for as little as they could get away with.

Keeping your publishing meant keeping some control. Having a say somewhere. Owning your intellectual property instead of just being allowed to represent it.

That’s why you should have your own website. Having a web presence that you own and pay for is a 21st-century, internet-enabled version of keeping your publishing.

Who’s Making The Decisions?

If you’re like me, you may have a complicated relationship with social media. On the one hand, it’s a great way to get your material out there. It’s often the digital way to “meet people where they are.” People are naturally present there, and it’s usually a simple process (requiring no extra sign-in) for those folks to request notifications when you have something to say.

On the other hand, social media can vacuum up your time, offer a really troublesome signal-to-noise ratio (people are being bombarded with input, which means your input may or may not be recognized), and it just generally may not line up with how you prefer to interact with others.

As a long-ish form, deep thoughts sort of guy, I don’t really get along with Twitter.

Anyway…

Social media is also not truly under your control.

Sure, you get to pretty much post whatever you want, whenever you want to, but you’re ultimately using a platform at the pleasure of the platform owners. If they want to change how your content is presented to other users of the service, you don’t get any individual say in the matter. If they want to run some traffic-shaping experiment that just happens to wreck your big announcement, that’s too bad for you.

And if they decide to take control of your account, or just dump it off the server, there is basically no recourse open to you. (You can send an e-mail and beg, I suppose.)

Yes, you can pay for being featured, but you originally signed up for free.

If you signed up for free, you are NOT a customer. You and your data are the product, and the company’s well-being depends on them managing their product as they see fit. This may or may not be a good thing for you and your content, and if you have no independent platform for your online existence, you are very stuck with what other people decide.

So, I say, leverage social media. Leverage it in any way that will work for you. Don’t let it be your only presence on the web, though. Have your own site. To whatever extent possible, have it be a far better experience than social media offers to your dedicated fans. You can make all your own design decisions on your own site. You can have a site built specifically to offer the functions you want to offer to visitors. If changes are going to be made, you choose when they happen and how extensive they are.

You also retain complete rights to everything involving the site, instead of sharing those rights with an entity that can modify its privileges at a whim. (I don’t encourage paranoia, but you have to recognize a power imbalance when you see it.)

I could have a lot of the more “compact” material from The Small Venue Survivalist live entirely on Facebook, but then Facebook would have control over that material – and that content would have no presence if it disappeared from Facebook. If I post a meme on the Facebook profile, I almost always create a post for it on smallvenuesurvivalist.com as well. I want complete ownership of what I say, and I also want that material to be search-indexed on my site.

I could have all my longform content posted and managed entirely on Patreon, but then I’d be stuck with the display restrictions that Patreon puts on posts. Patreon’s design is pretty nicely functional, but it’s generic from creator to creator. It doesn’t really fit my specific needs for hosting my full articles. When it all comes down to it, I don’t want to look like everything else on that platform – I want my work to be presented in the exact way that I want it presented, thanks.

Keep your publishing. Keep ALL your publishing. Have your own site, and be THE owner of both your content and its presentation. Be subject to your whims, instead of someone else’s.

  • Well done! I like it when someone else says it like I feel it!