The Internet Killed Music, Didn’t It?

12490636_sIf you follow Be Your Own Record Label over on Facebook you’ll have seen that I linked to a fascinating article the other week from the New York Times. It’s massively relevant to you as an independent musician.

Why? Because it looks at the debate between those, like me, who say this is the best time EVER to be a DIY musician – and those who say that this is the worst of times.

And it does it with facts. It’s a really long, forensic article that I just couldn’t put down. It really breaks down the data so we can understand exactly how the digital age has impacted those who are trying to make a living as musicians and songwriters.

Doom Or Possibility?

The standard argument says that, in an age of free music, we should all be starved out of existence. Indeed, culture generally, from artists to writers to moviemakers to singers – we should all be suffering now. Art and culture itself, they say, is under mortal threat.

I never bought into these doomsday arguments. I knew the big companies would get hit. But so what? I always believed that putting creative power into the hands of the many could only be a good thing, and that creative people would find ways to make art and be supported in ways that the old methods couldn’t have even conceived of. That the corporates would take a hit, but that artists on the ground would prosper.

And that’s exactly what the data says has happened.

The data tells a really uplifting story that is dripping with possibility like never before. You can read the full article from the NYT site here. I warn you it’s long, but it’s also well worth the read.

For those who just want a precis, here’s the key facts below.

(Note that this data is from a study of Occupational Employment Statistics in the USA, the United States Economic Census, and data from Economic Modeling Specialists International).

The Key Facts

  • Writers, performers, directors and musicians have economic fortunes which are the same or better than their counterparts 15 years ago in 1999 (when Napster and Google took off).
  • During this time, creatives as a group outperformed the rest of the economy.
  • From 2002 to 2012, the number of self employed independent artists, writers and performers grew by almost 40 per cent.
  • The income they generated grew by 60 per cent, far more than the rate of inflation.
  • In 1999 there were 53,000 Americans whose main job was musician, musical director or composer. By 2014, that had risen 15 per cent to more than 60,000.
  • The number of self employed musicians grew by 45 per cent from 2001 to 2014.
  • But were they broke? No. Their income rose by 60 per cent from 1999 to 2014.
  • In the 15 years since Napster, more people than ever are writing and performing songs for a living.

Why might this be?

  • Technology has driven down the cost of making recorded music.
  • The middle men are largely gone. Now there is a direct relationship between artist and fans.
  • Musicians have direct access to distribution channels for their work. No more gatekeepers.
  • There are now more ways to buy creative work than ever before, due to online delivery platforms, whereas nobody bought anything on their computer or phones 20 years ago.
  • There are more ways to be compensated for creative work than ever before.
  • People do still pay for content.
  • Crowd funding allows fans to fund creative work in new ways. Kickstarter alone have raised $153 million for music related products.
  • The Future of Music Coalition monitors revenue streams for musicians. It recently identified 46 different sources (more on this in a future post!)
  • Thirteen of those didn’t even exist 15 years ago.

The conclusion

Economic and technological trends are not undermining our chances of making a living. They are making creative livelihoods more achievable.

The death of the music “industry” means there are more people who have music as their career than in the glory days of Tower Records.

Yes, this is the BEST time ever to be a musician. The power and the possibilities are at your finger tips, and the hard facts back it up.

In the old days of gatekeepers, most musicians were excluded from recording at all. As indie music producer Steve Albini says in the article: “When I started playing in bands in the 70s and 80s, most bands went through their entire life cycle without so much as a note of their music ever being recorded.”

We now live in very different, very exciting, and very powerful times. The only barrier is yourself – what you know, and what you do. And both of those are in your power.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, so leave your comments here – or tell me what you’d like me to cover in future blogs.