Posted on | November 8, 2010 | 2 Comments
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the current state of things both in the music industry, and in everyday life in general. Consider this post an open discussion about what’s happening and where we are headed…
A lot of changes have been occurring over the last decade, initiated almost entirely by technology, and this continues to be the case today. In the music world, technology made home recording possible and relatively cheap (without the need for major label funding), worldwide distribution and promotion affordable for everyone (also without the need for major label funding), and leveled the proverbial playing field giving every artist/band equal access to potential fans throughout the globe (all of this is often referred to as the “long tail“). In everyday life, technology has put the immense power of communication and connection literally in the palms of our hands, spawning a radical shift in trends towards diversity, customizable and on-demand digital enhancement, and the rise in power and access of every individual’s voice.
The opportunities that these changes provide have seemingly limitless potential, which optimistically would have profoundly positive effects, and yet along with the new visibility and exposure for the independent artist/business owner/writer/etc. comes a new struggle: to stand out and garner attention. The flood gates have opened and a new sea of voices screaming to be heard has been unleashed upon our daily experience.
This is not a bad thing. I’d venture to guess that the majority of independent artists and bands out there have no problem with competing for listeners since a large majority of these opportunities are low in cost, if at all. However, there is a motivating element that has not changed while all other aspects of the music industry have: the desire to be “rich and famous.”
What we are experiencing today is an overlap of the “old model” meeting the “new model.” Large paydays and “rockstar” status were rewards for being successful under the old model when major labels handpicked a rare few to receive the opportunity to be heard. But now that filter has been removed, and literally anyone has the potential to create and distribute music to anyone and everyone via this new model. An artist/band can now be easily discovered the world over, but that exposure doesn’t exactly equate to cash. More and more media is available for free via the wonders of the internet, and listeners can browse the ever-growing catalog of new music/artists/bands without the burden of money. Yes, fans still discover their new favorite band and support them by purchasing, but as the number of artists/bands available for discovery grows, the support given spreads much wider than before, and the paychecks simply get smaller.
Still, people want to get rich. They make EP’s and YouTube videos and Twitter accounts and Facebook pages and Ping accounts… all to hopefully get discovered by fans who will rocket them to stardom and financial freedom. And those artists/bands who are already established have seen a radical drop in their earnings under this new model, and have responded by charging more for live performances and appearances, which has led to a noticeable downturn in the live music market (Live Nation cancelled over 200 concerts in 2010 due to poor ticket sales, and on average, Americans attended .9 concerts a year in 2010 versus 2.1 in 2000 — read Bob Lefsetz’s post on this topic).
I believe that we need to adjust the way that we view money. Too much of it was thrown around during the heyday of major labels, and now the math simply doesn’t work anymore. It’s time to remove the expectation of large paydays, and return focus to the creation of good music for the purpose of creating good music, not because you’re looking for a winning lottery ticket that will make you rich and famous. In fact, I’d also suggest that if your primary focus is to make it big, you simply won’t be able to last, and the only way to truly make a connection is to once again make it about the music.
I’m not ignoring the fact that, with the way the world currently works, we all have to make money in order to survive, but there’s a big gap between being broke making music and being rich making music — a huge gap that allows for comfortable living, while making music with integrity and honesty for the benefit of those who will enjoy it. There is a direct correlation between this and what is happening in other aspects of our daily lives. The economic crash and hardship that has followed is a necessary “trimming of the fat” that has to happen in order for focus to be returned to what’s really important.
Money is not important. Money is something we made up, and then decided that you have to have it in order to get things. We locked up everyday necessities like water, food, clothing and a place to live, then required cash in order to get them. And so the acquisition of money has become the desired goal that takes up the majority of our lives, because it “makes things easier.” We toil and stress to achieve that which would relieve toil and stress… sounds a bit illogical to me.
It had to happen this way. We’ve been distracted for too long by things that have no real meaning in our lives, and now that system is failing, so it’s time that we adjust our expectations and outlook on the way we live, communicate, relate and interact with one another.
Integrity is the new focus. Make music to make others happy, just as it makes you happy. Paint, write, design, draw, sculpt, and create to make others happy, just as it makes you happy. Let’s not gripe over dollars and cents. It’s time to recognize that we are a community — we always have been, but we’ve been selfishly distracted… it’s time to wake up.