It’s funny how disaster scenarios become embedded in culture and flourish like flowers in Spring. Television’s death had been predicted for more than a decade. The advertising industry has been “at death’s door” for nearly as long. And the music industry? Well, that’s currently in palliative care. Really?
It’s as if we want megaliths to crumble. Want thousands to be out of work. Or do we just like the drama, enjoy revelling in the gossip and the gasping?
Sure, the music industry has been dealing with problems that began in the early years of this century, first piracy, then a nascent streaming model – a one-two punch that literally reinvented the retail paradigm for music consumption.
First, Steven Jobs rides in as the white knight and saviour of the music industry, and the industry kneels. Then the arrival of Spotify and other streamers big and small take up the mantle (and iTunes morphs into Apple Music) and labels become investors in these new companies. Labels embraced streaming and streaming embraced them back, and the future of the business of music is set forth on a new and, for the labels especially, exciting future path.
Streaming services also helped restore the power of labels in an unintentional way. It is very, very hard for music artists to make money on any of them. So while emerging artists are using all the powers that new technologies afford them and all their digital savvy to create collaborative networks in order to make and promote their music, the rewards are disheartening for most. They still want, and if you’re primarily a pop artist, still need the marketing power of music labels; need an organisation of individuals that make up a team of experts in areas they may not have the required acuity to navigate the crowded waters of new music effectively.
There are so many more releases every week from artists who have new access to the marketplace, and it has become harder and harder to be noticed. Music labels may have to fight harder to make their artists visible, but they have experience at doing so. That experience (along with long-standing relationships) still produces clout.
Lastly, while it is harder for labels to make short-term, immediate cash on front-line releases through streaming than it was when they relied on selling records, they’ve found a new source of income – product placement. Major international advertisers are also struggling to reach consumers, with media becoming so much more diverse and views becoming so much more scattered. Teaming up with labels is a win-win.
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Yes, the music industry had a woeful 2020. Live music ceased. There were virtual concerts eventually, providing some restoration of the industry’s must reliable income stream. But this did not kill the industry. It stifled its vitality for a while. Live music will recover.
In fact, one of the greatest problems that the music industry is facing today isn’t a killer. It’s an irritant and it’s costly but piracy won’t kill the music industry any more than it will kill the film industry, photography or book publishing.
According to the IFPI, 27% of consumers listened to pirated music in 2019, but that was a 10% drop from the year before. In 2018, it reported that 27% used illegal methods to listen to music, 23% of people overall and 34% of Gen Z using illegal stream-ripping.
There are many platforms providing illegal free music downloads. Some are taken down. The most effective strategy so far has been weaning music lovers off illegal streaming, supporting public service campaigns, by forgoing revenue from album sales (releasing free albums) if it results in higher concert ticket sales. Of course, not all artists are able to do this, but several have.
The arrival of Dolby Atmos (Apple is calling the high resolution, multi-channel mixes “Spatial”) with its ability to place individual sounds all around listeners with more space and depth opens a whole new world of excitement for the music industry to explore.
But what it does need, and needs now, is to take back the power of finding talent. Streaming has given too much of that power to its customers, without giving them the capacity to make music artists thrive financially.
An industry populated with “starving artists” cannot be in peak health. Scouring through oceans of emerging talent is a difficult and largely thankless task for the time invested in all the creative industries. In most creative industries, emerging talent awards do a lot of the heavy lifting.
In the music industry there are the Djooky Awards that I have co-founded. It’s global and offers a generous prize to attract serious talent (a US$20,000 first prize plus cash rewards for runners-up) and they are linked to one of the beacons of the industry, Capitol Recording Studio – the United States’ Abbey Road. The winner receives a recording trip to Capitol in Los Angeles.
Currently, Djooky is looking to unearth talent in Australia. That can only be a good thing for the health of music industry in Australia at the very least.