How Can the Music Industry Save Its Ass?

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.

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8 Responses

  1. Couldn't have happened to a nicer industry.
    No mercy.
    People are willing to pay smaller prices for tracks. Also special remixes. Minimal pricing and fresh content. The artist will profit from volume and wise promotion.
    I agree that known artists need to step up their game. More "total experience" video, audio and merchandise. An artist with 100,00 loyal fans willing to pay 15 bucks will make more than Prince made for the Purple Rain album initially. (under his traditional contract.)
    As far as the middlemen. sorry. "You No Create....You No Get pay!! Bye Bye.
    No Mercy.

  2. You make some very valid points Nova. I also believe the indsutry needs to step up to the plate when it comes to technology instead of seeing it as the enemy. It's archaic and ridiculous.
    What about artist develpment? In the days of Motown, acts were groomed and polished. They knew how to conduct themselves when speaking to the media. They were taught comportment and how to carry themselves in addition to actual music.
    I listen to some of these acts today and I have to wodner if they ever attended class or school at all.
    Guess that's just too much to ask. Now wonder they're going downhill.

  3. I think music industry is collapsing only for mainstream music.
    How could mainstream artists sell their albums. It's just fun for a while and then Bye bye. Artists which deep lyrics and small budget can make it.
    How could you explain the sucess of Jay Dilla for example.
    I guess that people who are hard worker can make it with their loyal fans.
    Music industry should stop try to make hits, cause it doesn't last.
    Is there anyboby who heard about Chingy, or Houston anymore?
    We need true artists who produce and write their song.
    No bullish

  4. Industry Overhaul – Diamonds are being Sifted
    It has never been better time to be independent label, artist, producer, song writer, choreographer etc than in the current climate and the direction the industry is moving. The internet has empowered this indie group, to reach wider audiences and take control of the material. MySpace and other digital distributors tapped into this culture shift at the early stage which enabled them to capitalise and monopolise an emerging market. Gone are the days, where an A&R Exec, sit at their desk wading through CDs, now they trail MySpace and RevebNation trying to look for the next big thing! Even more empowering is the fact that you can now download and pay for music from favourite artists pages. Blogging and Consumer Reviews have also impacted on the majors’ downward curve, how many of us have a purchased an album based on the name alone and listened and been disappointed. Now UGC is far more powerful in breaking or making an artist – I bet majors wish they could revoke allowing Amazon customers to review their material.
    There are so many talented people on this planet, it’s about time that they got the platform for exposure!

  5. The major labels have finally got what was coming to the for a long time. Now is the time for independant labels to come to the forefront and give us the real music that we have been waiting for.
    Independant labels allow the artist to see the fruits of their labour (in terms of cash at least), whereas the majors saw fit to squeeze every penny out of them. How many execs have got rich of an album they had nothing to do with creating??
    Bilal Salaam summed up his views of major labels on his track 'Modern Day Slavery' ... he called out labels such as Sony and Warner for supressing artists natural talent in favour of what they see as commercially viable.
    Most 'major' artists will stick with the big labels, however those on the fringes may well pack up their things and move towards the independant route, and who can blame them?

  6. I would hope that a more equitable sharing of the profits might arise but that's probably just as unlikely with a new smaller label as it is with the biggies now. The corporates just grab everything in all media, existing or yet to be invented, throughout the universe, in perpetuity, not because they have to but just because they can.
    Live performance is absolutely the way to build artist earnings and longevity (perhaps it was always so), which means actually getting out there and working (a necessity and maybe a chore when the albums sell in less stellar figures and you're invited to fewer premieres, fashion shows and nebulous award ceremonies, but surely a joy when you still have an appreciative paying audience and love performing), and it can also improve the artistry. The music industry, like all other forms of media, is bloated and is cutting its cloth to suit the times but I can tell you now, the one thing they won't cut back on is legal advice and business affairs.

  7. Ooh, does this mean "having real vocal talent" will outshine "being pretty"? If so, I can't wait!

  8. If someone wants to make music for money, meaning he wants to sell as many copies as possible, not allowing people to exchange them, he needs to go "Playstation 3 way". Meaning he will introduce hardware encryption into his device and media. Device will not allow users to copy the sound and the sound wont be playable anywhere else. Obviously the device will be completely isolated from any audio equipment including speakers and outputs. Everything will be custom made and encrypted. It sounds crazy but is the only way for this kind of businessmen.


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