28 August, 2015

The music industry was simple but then....

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday August 27, 2015

In 1999 the music industry as relatively simple. An artist or band found a manager who persuaded a record label of their worth. Money was invested in producing an album and if it hit the spot millions of copies were sold making everybody rich.

But then along came Napster. Suddenly artists found that everyone was playing their music but noone was paying for it. Needless to say they were upset. Prophesies went out about the death of the industry. Not just the artist but the disk pressers, producers, album designers, promoters.

Big music studios shrank once every musician could run a full, multi-channel production board from their lap top and mix and prep their own music. The whole industry had to find a way to adapt, or die.

The legal battle with Napster was lengthy and intriguing. While some like Dr Dre and Metallica claimed their work was being stolen, others like Dispatch sold out three nights at Madison Square Gardens, and had world-wide success even though they had not been picked up or promoted by a major label. They claimed it was all thanks to Napster.

Eventually Napster was defeated and went bankrupt. But it severely dented the "make an album" pattern of music launching. So has the music industry really died? Well open your ears and you'll hear an awful lot of music that puts a lie to this.

In fact around the world anxious surveys have been carried out and figures analysed. It seems those faring the best are the creatives. Performers, musicians and writers have found their income today is much in line with the past, allowing some growth for inflation.

Taking US Census data, musicians are earning more for themselves than average. Much of this comes from the growth of live music. Performers are spending less and less time in dark studios recording, and much more out on stage playing.

Songkick books live concerts world-wide and they have calculated that between 1999 and 2014 live music income has risen from $14 billion world-wide to $42 billion. Today, touring provides artists with 80 per cent of their income.

The splintering of the record companies has seen a huge growth in musicians' self-employment. This group has grown by almost 40 per cent, while their total revenue has grown by 60 per cent. Taking an overhead snapshot, this shows that the industry itself has not changed a great deal in finance flow, including inflation. What is changing is who gets it and how.

The major capital requirement was always cash for the pressings and marketing. This required a big company, factories, sales force, distribution trucks.
But technology has blown this necessity away. Sure you can have a huge production with a symphony orchestra and Quincey Jones and massive expenses. But at the other end of the scale I can look at my own daughter, Justine Electra, an indie musician covering Europe and the US from her home base in Berlin. While the kids eat their dinner she's in the home office / studio surrounded by instruments and computers, compiling her next album.

From the same computers it goes out to a world-wide fan base on the internet. Recording, manufacture and distribution from a Berlin apartment.
The big EMI stores have gone, replaced by iTunes and streaming. But there are still talented people out there creating the music and playing to a vast world audience, including you and me.


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