Musician David Lowerey talks about the changes overtaking the music business, and how — despite a lot of promises to the contrary — musicians are working more and netting less than when record companies ruled the earth:
In the last few years it’s become apparent the music business, which was once dominated by six large and powerful music conglomerates, MTV, Clear Channel and a handful of other companies, is now dominated by a smaller set of larger even more powerful tech conglomerates. And their hold on the business seems to be getting stronger.
On one hand it doesn’t bother me because the “new boss” doesn’t really tell me what kind of songs to write or who should mix my record. But on the other hand I’m a little disturbed at how dependent I am on these tech behemoths to pursue my craft. In fact it is nigh impossible for me to pursue my craft without enriching Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google. Further the new boss through it’s surrogates like Electronic Frontier Foundation seems to be waging a cynical PR campaign that equates the unauthorized use of other people’s property (artist’s songs) with freedom. A sort of Cyber –Bolshevik campaign of mass collectivization for the good of the state…er .. I mean Internet. I say cynical because when it comes to their intellectual property, software patents for instance, these same companies fight tooth and nail.
The other problem? I’ve been expecting for years now to see aggregate revenue flowing to artist increase. Disintermediation promised us this. It hasn’t happened. Everywhere I look artists seem to be working more for less money. And every time I come across aggregate data that is positive it turns out to have a black cloud inside. Example: Touring revenues up since 1999. Because more bands are touring, staying on the road longer and playing for fewer people. Surely you all can see Malthusian trajectory?
Before you dismiss Lowerey’s article as the whine of a disgruntled musician, bear in mind he also runs an indie label and recording studio, produces records for other bands, teaches music finance at the University of Georgia and married a concert promoter.
Lowerey notes the tech companies raking off their percentage of today’s music sales don’t — unlike the record companies he spent so many years fighting — invest back in the industry. For example, they don’t dole out advances to a lot of bands on the chance a few will make them a profit. They avoid risk, preferring to simply take their cut and run.
Uber-pundit Nicholas Carr handles the task of summing it all up rather nicely:
The net, he argues, has merely replaced the Old Boss with a New Boss, and, as it turns out, the New Boss is happy to skim money from the music business without investing any capital or sharing any risk with musicians. The starving artist is hungrier than ever.
Parallels to the writing game?
Writers can now wholly bypass the “old guard” publishing houses and self-publish, but are they fooling themselves? Are Amazon and Google the new bosses — companies taking a 30% (or more) cut of an author’s work, but who are not reinvesting in the writing universe like publishers did?
It looks a little bit that way.
In the larger sense, I believe we’re also starting to gain a clearer picture of Internet marketing through the gauzy marketing curtain hung by the Internet’s Hypesters. The value of online advertising continues to fall, monetizing traffic is more difficult than ever, and the small handful of freelance marketers I regularly speak to are finding better ROI in standard, old-school self-marketing approaches.
In other words, meet the new boss, but don’t lose the old boss’s number…
Keep writing, Tom Chandler.
UPDATE: A Salon article by Scott Timberg explores Lowerey’s post from the perspective of musicians now being at odds with fans, who copy their music and don’t feel like they’re doing anything wrong.