The music industry has radically changed in the last couple of decades. The Internet revolution has transformed the way we create and consume music. It has built new hierarchies and power balances, stealing the control once owned by major record labels and giving it to the consumer.
This shift hasn’t involved just the music industry, but any field where a commercial transaction between a buyer and a seller occurred. Think about a newly opened restaurant: with tools such as TripAdvisor or Yelp! consumers have the power to make it succeed or fail.
Now that the power is in the hands of consumers, the music industry has to re-balance. Common promotional practices useful in the past, for example, are no longer effective. Who needs radio airplay when landing on the right Spotify playlist can get you the visibility and exposure needed to succeed?
These changes implied the rise and fall of jobs and enterprises. Music entrepreneurs suddenly realized it was necessary to reinvent their mission to survive. Musicians learned how to become entrepreneurs themselves. The consumer discovered new ways to listen to some fresh music without needing the advice of the big media.
Could all these changes occur effortlessly and painlessly?
Of course not. Here is a list of three major problems that we’re facing in the music industry:
Problem Number 1: Most Artists Make No Money
Music is everywhere. Today, we consume it way more and more efficiently than ever. There are tons of new opportunities for musicians arising day after day.
Everything grows quickly and unstoppably in the music industry.
So how come artists aren’t making much money from it?
It is common sense: if the Internet is the great revolution we all believe it is, and if it has helped to bring many businesses to the next level, why aren’t musicians benefiting as much from it?
Last year, a Citigroup report stated that musicians only gained 12% of the total $43 billion generated in the industry throughout 2017.
This alarming statistic proves that while the music industry is still a profitable enterprise, its protagonists, the ones who actively produce that richness, are left starving.
It is no wonder if we look at how much money can musicians made on the biggest music platform of our times, Spotify. The Swedish giant pays right holders a ridiculous amount per play, something between $0.006 and $0.0084. To earn a decent amount, say $1000 in a month, an artist needs approx. 120.000 streams consistently per month, obviously if he or she is the only right holder of the track.
Now, is this doable? Totally. As mentioned earlier, it would be enough to land onto the right playlist to get tons of streams. However, there is a lot of hard work involved in this process. So much work, with no guarantee of success, that it could feel like a waste of time.
To get on playlists, musicians need to make a lot of research and build a relationship with the curators. Otherwise, they can try to please the algorithm or direct their existing fans to their Spotify profile but…is it worth it?
Problem Number 2: Long Term Record Deals are Becoming a Thing of the Past
Some may see this as a positive thing, but I’d like to explain a big drawback to it.
In the past, high-potential artists had far more time to grow, experiment, and even fail before coming up with something great. A record label would sign an act for three or four releases (sometimes less, sometimes more) and during the amount of time needed to produce and publish those records an artist had the opportunity to mature.
Today the industry demands a finished product. Full stop.
New young stars, sometimes even teenagers, rise almost daily, offering some perfectly polished tracks, that cost them (or their parents) thousands of dollars. They have no time to work on themselves and their music, to hit the road and make some life experiences to feed their art: they need to start making money quickly to return on the investment initially made.
Of course, the music industry never liked “losers”. It has always been a business: money was and still is the main focus of the whole supply chain.
However, probably because money wasn’t a big problem back then, record labels would sometimes bet on quirky acts, outsiders, and innovators. Noncommercial stuff. That’s how we managed to listen to Frank Zappa (and love him), for example.
Erasing failure from the equation of the creative process is very dangerous for talent.
Problem Number 3: Live Shows
Fans no longer pay to purchase music and artists need to get massive numbers of streaming hits online to earn any decent money. As a result, live shows constitute the biggest revenue stream for most artists.
However, the world of live music is more intricate than ever before.
Emerging artists, who are yet unknown, often have a hard time finding the right spots to showcase their talent. They hardly ever get paid a fair amount of money for their efforts and their working conditions are often unacceptable. Artists often get offered gigs with no payment, while venue owners rationalize that they are giving the artist exposure (sometimes this is true, other times it’s not).
On the other side of the coin, even big stars are sometimes struggling to sell out their monumental shows, often because of high ticket prices, that have steadily increased in the last few years.
Left in the middle, between poor struggling artists and big popstars, lies the concert-goer, often disappointed by the high prices and confused about where to go, in a sea of offers, to enjoy a night of good live music.
The music industry has tried for years to resist the technological changes our whole society has gone through. As a result, it is left unsure, hesitant, in a state of confusion.
Upcoming musicians are imagining new ways to build a sustainable career independently, often turning their backs to the mainstream world and accepting to be less famous but more profitable, operating as much more businesses-savvy artists.
Will they be the ones to fix our difficult music industry?