Selling Out: The reality of the music industry
Words by Scenewave Oz - Published on May 26, 2010
Recently, I read an article titled ‘How much do music artists earn online?’ It’s a question I’ve thought about from time to time, and one which is quite topical of late due to the abundance of music piracy and lawsuits against persistent offenders. The article revolves primarily around a large (and beautifully designed) infograph, which compares different revenue streams (both physical and digital) against the average monthly wage of a US citizen.
At first glance, the outlook appears quite grim. 143 self-pressed cd sales in a month will earn minimum wage, compare this against over four and a half million streams on spotify to earn the equivalent. These staggering figures paint a desolate outlook for the vast majority of bands hoping to make a profession out of music. However is this all bad news? Or is it just a sign of the times?
With the rise of the internet and the mainstream acceptance of digital distribution, it is easier than ever before for a band to get their material from the studio to the consumer at minimal cost. MySpace has played a large part in bringing about a monumental shift toward self promotion and the rise of independent ‘online’ labels. Essentially, anyone with a pc and a myspace account can create a band, and push their music to the masses. This ‘over-saturation’ is very similar to what is happening right now within the design community.
These days, anyone with a pc and a copy of photoshop tends to call them self a ‘designer’, when in reality there is a vast difference between reading a tutorial on how to create that shiny new web 2.0 button and learning the fundamental principals of design. While the basics might land you a job here and there, it’s not going to result in a sustainable career, and I feel the same applies to the music industry.
Nothing personal, It’s just business
Like any business, the success of a company relies, among other factors, on the quality and popularity of it’s product or service. In the past, the way this product (the music) was offered was in a consistent physical form, varying only slightly over the years, from vinyl to cassette to cd. Each form carried a relatively consistent price across the board, and sales were determined based on the product’s popularity.
Essentially, the formula is still the same, however the primary shift is in how the product is distributed. iTunes blew the market open when it launched in 2001. No longer did a band need to be signed to the ‘big four’ to gain global distribution. This technological revolution served to even the playing field, putting the big hitters side-by-side with the up and comers.
So what’s the problem with this new medium, and why is everyone so concerned all of a sudden that everyone making music should be making a living from it? Perhaps the problem doesn’t lie in how the product is distributed, but blown out expectations as a result of a level playing field.
Not everyone can make a living from music
The web has opened up a plethora of opportunities for emerging artists. For many, it’s an exciting time to be involved in an industry in transition. For others it’s a frustrating world full of idol winners, youtube stars and myspace self-promoters, where musical talent has little correlations to popularity and success. The stark reality, which can often be overlooked, is that not everyone can make a living from music.
Maybe this is all a little pessimistic, however like acting, art and other creative pursuits it is often a lucky break, a chance meeting, or an important contact, which can make all the difference. We live in an age of unrivalled opportunity and with that comes unrivalled competition.
What do you think of where the music industry is heading in this digital age?