We understand, painfully, that the music industry is first and foremost a business. Art typically comes dead last in the traditional label structure. BBC News recently published a report entitled "Music Industry Scrambles for Cash," which basically points out that the industry has come to realize they cannot fight file-sharing and are desperately trying to figure out ways to generate revenue. None of this is new; these reports have been coming out for the last few years. However, the overall tone this time seems to be one of defeat--a slumping of the shoulders and a heavy sigh that basically says "Okay, you got us." And there seems to be an ominous subtext that these execs will become obsolete unless they embrace the new technology.
The industry seems to have reached a conclusion that the strategies for fighting file-sharing will not work. It is now a fact of life. But now there is a new panic. If we are not going to stop file-sharing, and with sales falling, the dilemma now goes "how do we make money now?"
While we aren't terribly fond of the idea of folks losing their jobs, the sympathy is fleeting. The article seemed to focus almost entirely on the intermediaries--people whose jobs have nothing to do with the actual creation of music. Is it possible that this "crisis" will give way to a renaissance in which the artist reaps most of the benefits? Let's explore.
We often cite touring as one of the most effective ways an artist can make money. Only thing is, not all entertainers are created equally. To put this gently, not everyone that dominates your Billboard Hot 100 is necessarily someone we want to hear or see live, because some perhaps don't have the stamina or, more importantly, the talent to take the stage. When you look at the mainstream landscape, it's quite clear that a great deal of entertainers are benefiting from hype, payola, publicity stunts, a bevy of consultants, etc. Remove those elements from the equation and what do you have? Someone that's not really that cute, can't sing, can't dance, can't write a song and just can't. The ones that have already established a solid career can sail on the strength of their name--maybe.
Simply put, the formula of relying on a hot, "of the moment" single might die and light a fire under these entertainers, forcing them to step up their stage game. We'd then be able to separate the men from the boys. A close friend offers:
years, the Grateful Dead followed a business model where they toured
extensively, then not only allowed but invited their fans to tape and
swap songs during the concerts. They rarely released albums, minimizing
the need for a record company, and controlled 100% of the revenue they
generated from tours. The fan music swapping promoted the band and the
touring made them visible and kept new music in the pipeline.
The reason record companies are in a shambles is because there are too many cooks in the kitchen, too many people that need to get paid from a tangible product before the artist can even begin to see a cent. If the industry really wanted to preserve its relevance, we suggest (1) cutting out the middlemen, (2) invest in people with natural talent that don't need special effects, and (3) focus on the development of the artist and not "the hot track." If they were able to do this and stick to it, perhaps the good shit will be the standard instead of the exception.
But we're too pessimistic to believe such a thing will happen.