Want to understand streaming music? Let me make an analogy.
Before I got married, I had a roommate who was head chef at the Ranch House in Ojai. When she came home from work, she made things like baked brie for a snack (lucky me). She loves to cook – it’s just what she does.
Now, imagine a world where suddenly culture and business fundamentally changed, and there was an easy way for consumers to get restaurant food for free (but they had to listen to ads while they ate), or, they could pay $10/month for a subscription and eat all the food from all the restaurants in the world – as much as they wanted.
Do you think many restaurants would be able to stay open? Do you think my roommate would still have a job? Or, would the concept of “going out to eat” fundamentally change, and my roommate’s friends and family become the only lucky recipients of her talent while she had to seek out another job to pay the bills?
Like chefs, musicians are going to want to make music no matter what. But most are not going to be able to afford to do it for a living. This is the fundamental cultural shift that artist advocate/curmudgeon Jack Ponti keeps trying to get through naive musicians’ heads.
I’m grateful that Taylor Swift is advocating for musicians, but the money she’s fighting for is a tiny – TINY – percentage of what musicians made before the streaming model came in, and it’s not like it was an easy business then. And forget about the concept of “oh, they can make it up doing live shows and selling t-shirts.” Those only sell at the volume to make a living when you are already famous. And getting famous enough for that requires a huge investment, which used to be paid for, eventually, by the sale of music. You see the missing link?
What about licensing to film and TV? Well, as every quadrant of the music business is turning its attention to that sole remaining revenue source, the payouts are less and less and the placements harder and harder to secure.
And now the public is so used to getting music for free – anywhere and everywhere, they are never going to go back to paying for it. In fact, the only reason anyone ever paid for it – as far as I can tell – is because buying a record was the only way you could choose the songs you wanted to hear. When your only choices were AM radio and music you saved up to buy, music was really valuable to you. When it’s everywhere all the time for free, it’s just not valuable the same way.
The business as we used to know it is simply over.
So here’s what I predict. Let’s go back to the food analogy. You are always going to be able to get fast food. There will always be the Ariana Grandes and the One Directions – marketed and paid for by big corporations.
The Rolling Stones, etc – people who were able to achieve success in the old model – they will ride it out and do fine.
For new bands starting out, the ones who are recording in their bedrooms or crowdfunding the cash to go into a studio – it’s going to be very hard for them to find their audience. They’ll be on BandCamp, or on their own websites. They are not going to start small and then break out into the mainstream. They are not going to be coming to a town near you because they can’t afford to.
That’s the part that I think should matter most to music lovers. Music is omnipresent now, but great music is going to be harder to find. The days of a band like the Beatles coming out and transforming millions of lives have passed. The days of a quirky genius like Rickie Lee Jones making the cover of Rolling Stone are over.
Like my friend the chef, I for one am going to keep making music no matter what, keep writing songs and hoping that people will want to hear them enough to invest in whatever Indiegogo or Kickstarter schemes I come up with in the future. Like everybody else, I’m going to be winging it.
But I just want you – the audience – to understand that it’s not just changing for musicians. It’s changing for you too.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 24th, 2015 at 1:43 pm
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