Is the internet killing music?

You all have Graham Linehan (@Glinner) and this article on boingboing.net to thank for my starting this blog.  I studied Business at University and I continue to work in Marketing and Sales; combine that with my passionate love of music and this article really got me thinking.  It challenged my perceptions of what is really happening in the music industry.  I don’t want to seem melodramatic, but after reading this I really did spend literally minutes thinking about the issue, and I resolved to write about it.  140 characters weren’t sufficient.

Jeff Price in his article (via Cory Doctorow on boingboing) makes the point that today more revenue is making its way back to the artist than in pre-internet times, despite the overall revenue generated by the music industry suffering a dip.  I am all for this in principle; it’s the artist’s work, they should profit the most from it.  The article also makes the point that whilst revenue is down, the actual number of individual music purchases is up significantly since 2006 according to Nielsen, and if Nielsen can tell us how many people watch a TV program they must be able to tell us how many songs have been purchased.

So the consumer is getting more music for less money, but with more money going back to the artist.  It must be a dream scenario right?

It certainly seems like a Utopian situation.  Everybody wins apart from the big, bad record companies and music publishers.  Yet there is also a groundswell of artists, including Lily Allen, James Blunt and Gary Barlow of Take That, who broadly support the record industry and clamping down upon the dark side of digital music and the internet, namely file-sharing / copyright infringement.  (See this article.)  You often read about established artists saying that they make their money only through touring and merch, and no longer through recorded music.  I fundamentally believe that artists should be able to make a living directly from the sale of their work, and as consumers we have no right to expect it to be free.  It should also be noted that Jeff Price and Tunecore as a digital music distribution service are effectively in competition with “traditional” record companies.  Nobody is ever going to big-up their competitor, no matter how altruistic their business model might seem.

So now I’m left thinking that maybe the music artist isn’t quite as badly off as I did before, but it’s the record companies that are clearly losing out though broad access to music online.  Should this be reason for celebration?  By adopting Jeff’s business model would we not all cut out the middle man and get more music for less money?  The artists would have complete copyright control over their work and could promote, use and package it in whatever way they want.  The artist would also reap all of the profit generated by their work.  Personally I am all for these things.

However, this model does appear to place responsibility for all the commercial aspects of the music industry, bar digital distribution, onto the artist.  It also places the entire financial risk of creating, and most significantly promoting the music onto the artist themselves.   Social media has opened up so many outlets for bands and artists to promote themselves that this model seems feasible.  An artist can open up Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc. accounts, and without spending any money they potentially have access to a huge audience.  The artist is then only saddled with the cost of creating their music, which with today’s computer software needn’t be very high.  The big “but” is that in reality the scope for promotion via social media is limited for the vast majority.  Even if you assume that an artist could attract a thousand fans on Facebook or a thousand Twitter followers, and each of those buys an album at $10 a pop, it might be enough to cover the cost of making the record, but it certainly isn’t enough to make a living out of.  Fine for passionate hobbyists, who will be happy to recoup costs, but where will our pop and rockstars of the future come from?  For every Justin Bieber who achieves hundreds of thousands of YouTube plays as an unknown teenager, there are thousands of artists, who struggle to achieve a hundred.

Record companies are here to stay I think.  The great thing is that today the balance of power in the music industry has tilted strongly towards the artist.  Record companies have been battered, but they still hold the competences in selecting artists and music that will appeal to either a broad or narrow base, then promoting and distributing that music to its base.  In the future I expect to see record companies moving closer to the business model advocated by Tunecore; working as service providers for artists, rather than as the owners / patrons of the artists’ work.

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About therealantman

Music fan, loves photography, business graduate, works in sales and marketing. May or may not post a lot and be opinionated. Will try not to write when drunk.
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