Music industry’s future: Creators and Performers

The music industry is falling apart. Not in the way your under-maintained 1991 economy car with rust spots is leaving a breadcrumb trail of broken parts, but in the way your high school clique drifted apart as everyone got older and started looking for new direction. This is the order of things, both natural and man-made — everything trends towards its own destruction.

Sadly, the music industry hasn’t quite figured this out yet. They’ve been fighting blindly to retain the status quo, and failing miserably. RIAA take note: suing your core audience for using your content, thus alienating them and their sphere of influence from future purchases is not good business acumen. Where did you get your MBAs, from Sally Struthers’ International Correspondance School?

It’s high time you accepted that you are no longer in control of your own future. Your audience is.

This is the way it’s always been, actually. The audience — those who support your business — will ultimately shape it. If they decide that something is no longer worth time (and especially money), are you going to keep that part of your business running? I think not. No businesses are that stupid. (Okay, almost no businesses.)

They way I see it, we’re going to see two classes of artists emerge from the Old School of Music: Creators and Performers. Together, they will help retain the creativity we’ve come to expect from our music industry, but will bring more depth and more options. Music might even take on more importance in terms of its creation and distribution, and the music industry will continue to thrive if it figures out where the revenue stream will be. (Subtle hint: pay attention to the rest of this article.)

Okay, first the Creators. These are the people you’re already familiar with: the artists and bands who create the music, record albums, and play concerts. In the future, they might continue doing these very things. But some of them might change. Like The Beatles in their Studio era, some Creators might decide only to focus on recording music (whole albums might even go away), and spend the time and effort to get them absolutely right.

Oh, and a note to The Beatles, while we’re talking about you. (I love you guys, I do. You created beautiful music and you will likely forever remain as the most adept composers and performers in the rock genre.) You and/or your Estates need to get the hell off your high horses. You’re good (still), but saying that your music is worth more than those sold for $0.99 on iTunes is the height of arrogance.

There’s a reason the $0.99 price point works well. First, it’s psychological — it’s less than a dollar (or pound, or euro — you get my point). Most people don’t think twice about something that costs less than a dollar. Doesn’t matter if it’s exactly one dollar (hence one teeny, weeny cent more) — that decimal point will immediately turn buyers away. Also consider economies of scale — the less something costs, the more likely you are to sell that item. In an era where piracy is being held up as the industry’s single largest threat, you should really consider that you’ll not only increase sales but decrease piracy if one of the factors for theft (the cost) is reduced.

Not that I haven’t already ranted about those very concepts before. Not once. Nuh uh.

“Okay,” you say, “if Creators are only making albums, how do they make any money? All the big money is in concerts these days!”

Yep. That’s where the Performers come in. Not every Creator will want to perform. Some of them, like The Beatles, will want to only create music. But then there are people who aren’t as interested (or even capable) of creating music — they’d rather perform. Want some examples? Look at most of the pop artists out there — they don’t write their own stuff.

The catch here is that the rules change a bit. Think “cover bands”. There are bands out there — you’ve seen them — who play the dingy bars and office parties of the world who don’t have an original note to their credit, but can play Baba O’Riley better than The Who. The Performers excel at creating a show, a spectacle of music that can come from one or many different Creators (even themselves, if they also create).

Yeah, I know that happens already. But this is the difference: They don’t ride for free. Right now, artists only receive royalties when a song of theirs is recorded by another artist — not when it’s played live in concert. Music becomes licensed for use, and any Performer can apply to use a given piece of work in a performance. The copyright laws already support such a model, just that this loophole exists.

A Creator could do very well if a license fee is paid for each song that’s played on a concert tour. The fees could easily be set per venue, where a small venue might garner only $20, but a large venue could net thousands. Per showing.

Yes, this could create a chaos where there are dozens of Britney Spears clones running amok. But similarly, it could also create multiple Cirque du Soleils. And since the prices of live shows would likely rise as a necessary result (since you’re paying for an experience), Performers would be competing to create high-quality shows to gain the most audience (and hence, most profit).

The music industry? Who do you think orchestrates contract negotiations between Creators and Performers, who helps organise the album sales, who helps set up concerts and takes a slice of those profits? No, the profits won’t be as large as they used to be, and artists will likely end up with control (if not complete, then certainly partial) of their own work, but the music industry can certainly support the efforts. The key thing is that it will still be smaller than it is now. That much is inevitable.

This model is, in my opinion, already emerging. It will have arrived when we finally see something new: a successful Performer who plays only music made by someone else. Quite literally, a Top 10 cover band. They’re definitely coming, though. It’s just a matter of when.

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