Friday, January 16, 2009

Miles of Music (quietly) Closes Its Online Doors

Speak to artists that used Miles of Music over the years to sell their CD's and you'll find mixed responses. With the Web site shutting down a few months ago, many artists are left wondering what has come of their sales money and also their unsold inventory.

I've no intention to recount a story I just read somewhere else, so I suggest if you want the details, read Nine Bullets' account of the situation here, and the original post that prompted the research here.

I actually missed the official closing of the store/site, although I understand that Jeff (one of MoM's owner/founders) posted a now non-existent blog about the closing on the Web site. Checking my email, I found the last MoM weekly newsletter went out on 10/07/2008 with no indication that the end was near. Nonetheless, as noted in the above linked blog, they continued to promote new releases right up until the end.

I've had a number of dealings with Miles of Music in the past, both as an artist and as a customer, and I had mixed dealings with them as both an artist and a customer.

First, as an artist, I was thrilled when they picked up my band's CD for their site, feeling a bit of validation from it, given that they really held a strong credibility in the alternative country world. And as I soon found out, a strong recommendation of your CD meant that your sales were likely to spike for a month or more among their faithful. This was great news to an up and coming band, in that it immediately improved our visibility to the core americana audience. In the beginning, we didn't necessarily sell a lot of merchandise, but I specifically remember getting checks here and there for 20 CDs, etc. I don't remember their exact cut, but I distinctly remember they took a little less off the top than some other sites.

In recent years however, with sales improving, I know that payments became much less easy to come by. And as of this writing, I personally know artists that have substantial outstanding sales money they likely will never see.

My experience as a customer followed a similar trajectory, in that at first I found them easy to buy from and quick to ship. However, a year or so ago, I bought some discs and almost had forgotten about them until about 6 weeks later, realizing that while my money had gone through, I still had seen no CDs. After a number of communications, successful and unsuccessful, I did receive the discs, without realizing how much trouble the site was actually in. I regret to some extent that the artists I bought discs of almost certainly have never seen that money.

So what is the point of my personal account? I don't know really, but here are my thoughts.

Miles of Music was an important cultural force in the world of alt country, and while their business failed and left their artists hurting, they were living the life of an indie band to a certain extent as well. MoM pursued their passion of alt country music and it turned out that it wasn't necessarily something that could be profited off of.

Regardless of what amount of money artists still have outstanding from Miles, there may be little left to do except at least to appreciate what they gained from the site beyond album sales. I firmly believe a number of bands have seen their fan bases expand substantially due to the efforts of Miles of Music and their promotion. The effects are hard to single out, and hard to put a tangible value on, but the broadening of fanbases and the increased internet and word of mouth exposure have been extremely beneficial to many bands.

The loss of magazines like No Depression and Harp certainly haven't helped either. These magazines served as major promoters of the music that MoM sold, and without them in circulation, the visibility of many of the bands has faded. It would seem that the network of roots music lovers was a fragile and very interdependent one, and as the various parts broke down, the other points were not able to maintain the interest.

In a sense, the last few years of MoM resemble a twisted version of the early Napster, at least as far as the bands are concerned. Was the increased exposure worth the lack of compensation for the former artists of MoM? I hope that it has been a net gain for some of the acts, and I'm sorry for those that it was not. It's hard on all independent DIY bands when the independent sites they depend on to sell their merchandise do not hold up their end.

While many artists are angry, I fear that the time has come to cut losses and move on. Maybe you will hear from MoM's lawyers in 2009 and maybe you will not? Legal action seems futile given that the site's owners are in bankruptcy themselves.

My personal recommendation at this point would be to make the effort to contact someone representing the site, and determine some way that you might find out your remaining inventory and decide if it would be worth it for you to pay for that inventory to be shipped back to you. However, I say this with a word of caution, in that I wouldn't send any money without ascertaining that you'll actually receive your inventory. I'd be interested to know if anyone has any success with this process, or other ideas about how to proceed.

Beyond that, there's little else to do but file Miles of Music away in the cabinet with No Depression, Harp, Grindstone, KTXT, Ralph's on University, the Gypsy Tea Room, and Whiskeytown.

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