Navigating The Changing Seas of The Music Business

Circumnavigating the slick waters of the music business is enough to make any artist drown. In the sea of streaming services, PR and booking agencies, managers, social media and more, you find yourself struggling to catch your breath as wave after wave of new content floods the market. 

Every day I log into my Soundcloud account and try to keep up with heaps of new tracks and DJ mixes in my stream. On one hand it’s amazing that so many creative people are able to send a song to so many new ears ready to listen. On the other it’s like sorting through a box of cables; so much is similar, it’s hard to find what you’re really looking for. I often find it exhausting and frankly deflating. How does one compete amongst such heavy and constant competition? And let’s not kid ourselves, if you’re interested in forging a career in music, you’re in a competition like everyone else who decides to go into business for themselves. And like any business, music has it’s model for making money. 

Since broadband internet’s arrival, the music business model has shifted more towards merchandising and live performance as a means to financial gain. Even the most popular artists aren’t making the sums from CD and record sales of the past via streaming services; evidenced by groups like Radiohead who decided not to include their music on sites like Spotify. That means all that time and money you spent on studio fees or software or hardware or whatever you used to make that perfectly polished track has essentially gone into promotion. Because the song itself is only going to make you so much money via streaming services or downloads. So you hope that those 1000+ plays get you a gig or two that will help recoup all that time and money. 

And let’s face it; even the majors are hurting from lower song sales. Maybe all the smaller players; labels and individual artists are making enough to be satisfied. Maybe for you or them, releasing music is a fun hobby done on evenings and weekends to help feel better about a boring day job. But for the rest who aspire to make their bread and butter from the profits of their productions, it’s tough times. Being in the music business today requires not just song savvy but a cunning ability for self-branding, marketing and promotion; at least until you can pay someone else to do it for you. 

I recently received an email from a new streaming service who’s site makes statements like “Artists have the right to share, upload, and create music at no costs. There should be no barriers to entry for the next great artist.” Though the idea of this very democratic service seems wonderful, I can’t help but think ‘who’s paying for this site?’ What kind of plan do you have for your company in the next 10-20 years? How will you avoid going the route of Soundcloud and having to start charging your users money to use your service? Businesses need capital to finance their endeavours. That includes artists. Will all that time, effort and money that went into producing the track you’ve uploaded for streaming be paid back in live show and merch revenues? I think in this case, the company feels that the better you can grow your fan base, the more potential for monetization via other means.

On the other hand, you’ve got all the horror stories of artists who signed to a major, only to be shelved because they’d already released a female, alt-techno singer-songwriter that month and so down goes another potential career. So what’s a music maker to do? 

I’m down for the democratic, and we need new businesses and new approaches to how the music business model will work. But if new services are going to come online and be really helpful to artists, they need to determine how the average punter in his or her bedroom is going to monetize their hard work so they can continue to make music as a career rather than spend their days doing some 9-5 that they detest. That’s real change. That’s a truly democratic industry.

Navigating these dark and treacherous waters, in search of that island paradise is all an artist can do at this point. I suppose one must jump in to find any treasures lurking below the surface. Is there a company that’s addressing all of these needs that isn’t a subsidiary of Vivendi, or will the success of future artists truly reside in their own ability to cleverly utilize every service available?