Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The new music world

If you're sensing a bit of a theme here today, there's a reason for that—the majority of my backlog of posts consisted of updates to previous topics that I hadn't revisited in a while. In this post, I'm going to write an update on the ever-changing music industry, to discuss some recent developments. From the New York Times,
A decade after Apple revolutionized the music world with its iTunes store, the music industry is undergoing another, even more radical, digital transformation as listeners begin to move from CDs and downloads to streaming services like Spotify, Pandora and YouTube. 
As purveyors of legally licensed music, they have been largely welcomed by an industry still buffeted by piracy. But as the companies behind these digital services swell into multibillion-dollar enterprises, the relative trickle of money that has made its way to artists is causing anxiety at every level of the business. 
Late last year, Zoe Keating, an independent musician from Northern California, provided an unusually detailed case in point. In voluminous spreadsheets posted to her Tumblr blog, she revealed the royalties she gets from various services, down to the ten-thousandth of a cent. 
Even for an under-the-radar artist like Ms. Keating, who describes her style as “avant cello,” the numbers painted a stark picture of what it is like to be a working musician these days. After her songs had been played more than 1.5 million times on Pandora over six months, she earned $1,652.74. On Spotify, 131,000 plays last year netted just $547.71, or an average of 0.42 cent a play.
In general, it's a little bit hard to know whether to consider this a good thing or a bad thing, for the artists or the consumers. What's certainly clear is that we're moving toward a model where recorded music is little more than an advertisement for the artists, who will make the majority (if not all) of their money from live performances and touring.

Realistically, this is how the music industry has always effectively worked, with a select few exceptions. Recall this graphic, from my previous blog post about the Dave Matthews Band, which has likely set the model for the future of the music industry:

I certainly sympathize with those artists who are unable to make enough from live performances to support themselves, but I also find it unlikely that those artists would realistically be able to sell enough physical music to support themselves, either, under any economic arrangement or business model.

I generally assume that consumers of music have only a set amount of disposable income available to spend on their music, and that performers should generally want them to spend as much of that money as possible on the thing that nets them the greatest share of the money—that thing, always, has been live performances, and therefore the less money spent by consumers on physical music, the better. Maybe that's the wrong assumption to make, and consumers really will destroy the music industry with their choices, but I have serious trouble decrying the decline of the record label model. It was never a good deal for the artists, regardless of what some of them may think.

[New York Times]
(h/t Marginal Revolution)

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