The Music Industry 1982‐2020
Write a 6‐8 (maximum) page essay on how digital technology revolutionized the business of making and selling music since the arrival of the compact disc in 1982. A superior submission will compare the paths of two musicians whose careers were forged during the beginning of this century (suggest Drake and Danny Michel – see below). Secondly, “the global crisis of COVID‐19 has changed society without any guarantee of what the future will hold, and those within the creative sector are desperately trying to protect the industry from financial ruin.” 1 Write a two‐three paragraph statement on the action(s) you would take to ensure the sustainability of the live music industry during this period of COVID‐19.
Suggested Reading (for starters):
Barry Kernfe1d. Pop Song Piracy: Disobedient Music Distribution since 1929. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011. pp. 200‐216. (see postings in Moodle)
Decade of Drake, go to cbc.ca/music/decadeofdrake
Danny Michel “A Peek Behind the Curtain: The Expiration Date on Music,” Kitchener‐Waterloo Record, p. 22. November 15, 2018.
I’ve been a full‐time musician for 25 years. It’s been nothing but hard work, but I love hard work. My songs bought my house, my studio, pay the bills and more. Through it all the conversations backstage with other musicians have always been about music, family, guitars, friends, art etc. But in 2018 that conversation changed. Everywhere I go musicians are quietly talking about one thing: how to survive. And I’ve never worried about it myself UNTIL 2018. What I can tell you is my album sales have held steady for the last decade until dropping by 95% this year due to music streaming services. Note my earnings for “Purgatory Cove”: this song has been in the TOP 20 charts (CBC Radio 2 & 3) for 10 weeks, climbed to #3. In 2018 that equals $44.99 in sales (An artist earns $0.003 per play on Spotify).
I know I’m not alone. As a result bands/musicians are downsizing, recording at home, cutting corners where ever they can. Studios are losing business. Session musicians, techs, administration, grant writers are all losing work. And with every band in the world back on the road, venues are clogged and ticket prices have tripled. For me it means being away from home and taking on more work than I ever have. A recent post by Unison Benevolent Fund showed “In a study of the music industry labour market, 24% of musical professionals indicated they were considering leaving the music industry”.
From the conversations I’m having I believe that statistic is much higher. Over the last few months I’ve spoken to many brilliant life‐long musicians (some you know) who are quietly beginning their exit strategy. I fear musicians are reluctant to admit any of this because so much of this industry is perception; the illusion that an artist’s career is soaring, when really, it might not be. Having to be the constant used‐ car salesman, manager, admin person AND travelling artist (while in survival/panic mode) isn’t healthy. Yet, you can’t afford to hire anyone. Social media makes it all worse and as a fellow musician pointed out, streaming services shame artists with the pressures of how many “likes,” “streams” and “followers” they have. No‐ one needs to feel sorry for me. This is what I do. And I’m not scolding anyone or suggesting people stop using these services. I don’t know what the answer is. But I hope musicians speak up about what’s really happening. Music fans deserve to know how this all works and why the artists they love may soon be gone. This new model of “free music” simply can’t last much longer.
I’m thrilled to see the conversation come forward truthfully and musician’s being real. In a world that is more fake everyday. It’s what we need most. The post has been “shared” almost 3500 times with 1000s of “likes” & “comments”. It’s revealing & concerning. I’m also getting constant personal notes from musicians (many you know) sharing their stories. Truthfully, they’re heart breaking. Some struggling to pay rent, buy food or see a dentist. It’s worse than I suspected. And always hidden. That’s why I decided to reveal MY simple math.
This colossal revenue loss affects all artists at every level, each in different ways. And each have their breaking point. If you’re at the top, you’re at the top. If you are at the bottom struggling, I can’t imagine how you’d survive. Me, I do ok. I’ve worked really hard for a few decades, saved my money, invested, paid off my house… So no one needs to feel sorry for me. But what it means for ME is having to make up the huge loss in album sales by slugging it out on the road even harder. Never home, always away. The drives, lugging gear, merch, admin, planes, hotels. As I approach 50 I have to admit I find the thought debilitating. Is this my breaking point? How is this sustainable? This is how music streaming is about to effect me. For others it’s much worse.
The comments from all music fans have been supportive, beautiful and kind. To them, thank you for being there with us. You know who you are. To everyone, don’t feel bad about using streaming services. That’s not the issue. How little they compensate the creators of the content is the problem. I have Spotify and use it sometimes, but less all the time. It’s soulless compared to holding a vinyl album lyric sheet in your hands or leafing through the beautiful art/CD package and reading all the albums credits, musicians, studios and artists that worked together to create it.
Again, I don’t pretend to understand the deep mechanisms in the machine and I don’t know the answer. And shocked that no‐one else does. It is a global issue. This is just my prediction…an explan
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