Yesterday I attended a session named “download problem solved” (dutch review). The idea was to discuss what alternative business models are that can help musicians make a living. Of course a topic like this, combined with 20 people from different background leads to… positive chaos. Usually these situation fuel me with ideas but I need a quite moment to put everything in place. That moment was that same night lying in bed. There are 3 things that stuck with me concerning the (future) of the music industry,
1) There is no download problem
The ability to reach a worldwide audience with a click of a button is a blessing and huge opportunity for 99.9% of the people making music. Now that you don’t need a middle-man to help you reach an audience you can have a much stronger connection with your fans and supporters.
The 0.1% of the people that do have a download problem are in the head of the music longtail. Basically all the artist that are played on the radio and making big bucks. I have a spotify premium account for which I gladly pay €12 a month to stream “popular” music without having to buy it. Rumours are that apple is working on the same model in iTunes. Can that 0.1% get the same amount of money they earn now when everyone adopts services like spotify? Probably not and that is a development for the better!
There is no download problem. There is a industry with broken business model problem. A business model that is based on control. To be honest I don’t think outsiders will be able to fix that industry, they will do everything to stick to their model as long as possible.
What most likely will happen is that a very smart someone from the 99.9% group will find a way to monetize all those new opportunities. We should focus our energy on the opportunities instead of trying to fix a broken model.
2) An artist/band that wants to go pro is just a the same as a tech startup
Every time I’m in a group with people that are discussing the music industry I get the feeling that somehow we are franticly trying to find a way so that as many artists as possible can make a living out of making music. Why is that!?
Here in the Netherlands there are millions playing soccer on their free Saturday morning. All of them know that there are just 36 professional teams with each about 20 paid players. So the chances of you becoming someone who can make a living out of kicking a ball are very slim. Still there is no public debate on how we should save soccer by letting more people make a living out of it.
Every artist should make a conscious choice if he wants to make a living out of (making) music or if he wants to do it as a hobby. If you’re like one of those million soccer players and decided that music is a hobby you need to find a way to subsidize it. The most common way is through a day-job that pays the bills.
If you decide that making music should be your profession than you’ve just stepped into a world called business. The moment you decide this you’re starting a company! Yes, thats right you’re no longer a musician, you’re an entrepreneur that has a talent for making music. The challenges you face are exactly the same a any startup company has in it’s early days. You need to be creative on how / where you’re going to find the money to survive in the early days. You have to be smart about how you’re going to reach your audience.
Can’t make a living out of it? Maybe there isn’t a (large enough) target audience, maybe you suck at selling it, maybe you just not good enough. Again, exactly the same issues as any other startup has. If people don’t want (to pay for) your product / service then you should go out of business!
Next to the pro & amateur groups there is a group of musicians that falls in the “art” section. Meaning that the target group they appeal too will always be small to make a profitable business but which consider a valuable asset in our society. It enriches our culture and should therefore be subsidized by our government.
3) The freedom of content (illegal downloading) makes the music “industry” flourish like never before
The most ridiculous argument I hear about the “illegal” spread of music is that it’s killing talent. History has proven this argument wrong time and time over again in different industries. Let’s take the free spread and access of photo’s online through sites like Flickr and iStockphoto. These sites haven’t killed professional photographer industry, on the contrary. Millions of people have been caught be the magic of photography and are buying semi-pro camera’s and exploring this field. The story is the same if you look at journalism and the uprise of blogs. Or even further back like Clay Shirky described: 15th century Scribes didn’t become obsolete because people stopped reading but because everyone got cheap and fast access to books with the invention of the Gutenberg’s printing press.
Imagine this happening with music (it’s already happening). The free spread of music will lead to more and more people getting engaged. Most of them consuming but some of them will want to express them-selfs through this medium. That’s why I believe that unlimited and unrestricted access to music will lead to a bloom of musical talent like we’ve never seen before.
Eh, right to conclude this story… let’s stop talking about a dying industry that doesn’t want to be helped. Let’s
start keep talking about all the new creative ways artists will be able to express them-self in the 21st century.