A brief history of why artists are no longer making a living making music
Today’s column from veteran Canadian singer-songwriter Ian Tamblyn is adapted from a speech he gave at a symposium at Trent University. It’s a long read, but we decided to post it here all at once it its entirety because, well, it’s just that good.
I would like to begin this talk on the future of “popular” music with a few cautionary notes about our ability to see into the future clearly. The fact is, it would appear we are not very good at it. Somewhere back in our Savannah DNA, we got very good at reacting to danger when it presented itself — say a lion or tiger. However, it seems we are less capable of looking ahead to avoid danger. In other words, we are a reactive rather than proactive animal. The contemporary analogy in relation to climate change is that we are similar to the frog in a pot of hot water who does not have the sensors to recognize the increasing temperature and the fact that he should get out of the boiling pot.
Yes, there have been a handful of futurists – H.G Wells, Aldous Huxley, and given the state of many current governments I would grudgingly include Ayn Rand. Probably the most successful futurists in our lifetime may have been Marshall McLuhan and Stanley Kubrick, but even so, all of these writers and film makers have been only partially successful gazing into the crystal ball. Given that the past is no more fixed than the future I begin this conversation with you.
What I hope to discuss in this time with you is the relationship between technology, the gift of music and the commodification of that gift and how that gift and the commodification of the gift has been eroded in the digital age, and as I see it, could continue to be eroded well into the 21st century.
The golden age of recorded music
I would like to start by going back to 1945, the end of the Second World War and the beginning of the baby boom generation. By the end of the war, there was a “golden age” of music, the big band era, the beginnings of bebop, the great songwriting partnerships, Broadway musicals, and even the early stirrings of rock n’ roll, as blues came up the Mississippi from the Delta to St Louis and Chicago. It was also the populist height of the music borne of the Depression, the music that came out of the hobo camps, the dust bowl farmers, Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Tennessee Valley Act and so on. It was the music of Woody Guthrie, Jimmy Rodgers, Bessie Smith, Leadbelly, and the Carter Family.
It was the time when audio technology served this renaissance that came of struggle and war, and this technology came as a result of the war itself. Quickly told, the Germans created great microphones so that their leader could be heard in the stadiums. The English built great speakers and listening consoles so they could hear what the Germans were saying. The Americans in turn created excellent platforms (tape recorders) to record what they heard. Though they developed this technology separately and quite secretly, the apex of these technologies would find themselves together in the recording studios around the world soon after the war. The British and Americans found out how good the German microphones were and how they could be used with British speakers and American tape decks. The Germans were quick to listen through British sound systems. To give you a quick example, the Neumann U-47 was first designed in that year and is still considered to be one of the best vocal microphones ever created. It is sought by collectors throughout the world. The microphones used by Ry Cooder and Buena Vista Social Club were U-47 s found in an old studio in Havana.
Time was on our side
It took the next ten years to tweak the technology, but by the mid 50s and the height of the bebop era, the engineers had become artists of this technology, and the results were some of the best recordings ever. With the addition of multi -track recording, invented by jazz guitarist Les Paul, another golden age of recording began. As a side note, it has been said that the best live recording of the bebop era was recorded at Massey Hall with Charlie Parker – on a plastic saxophone he borrowed for the gig – Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Mingus, Max Roach and Bud Powell. The album Quintet marked the only time these giants of the era played live together. It was also the period when Deutsche Grammophon began its run as the premier recorder of classical music. The long playing record appeared, and we entered the age of the album.
What is important to this look at the future through the past is the fact that the engineers had enough time to understand their technology, to begin to use it artfully, because later in the century, this essential process would be lost, and with it much more.
Time moves on and into the 60s, a period you all know well, and you can run through your own favourites. However, the essential point is that the platform of microphones, equalizers, limiters and compressors and magnetic tape decks remained basically the same. Multi-tracking and stereo came along, but the engineers were using the same transport systems. There were, of course, bumps in the road, but at the same time, there were great recordings like the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, The Beatles’ Revolver and Sergeant Pepper’s, Who’s Next – jazz recordings, particularly on the ECM label, emerged, and then in the 70s along with 48 track recorders, Supertramp’s Crime of the Century and one of my favourite recordings sonically: Roxy Music’s, Avalon. The producers and engineers were experts in the studio, and their names were almost as famous as the artists: George Martin, Phil Spector , Glyn Johns, and Phil Ramone to name a few. It is important to recognize that the engineers, producers and artists of this post-war generation had worked on the same platform for 35 years. They knew the process and were experts at it. It is amusing now to see assistant engineers at Abbey Road in lab coats now, but that is how they saw themselves.
The performance rights agencies and the musician’s union
The accommodation or payment for musicians, creators and works was also well-established in the post-war period through a series of royalties paid by the recording companies to the artists – as well as royalties paid to the artists for radio and television airplay that were monitored by BMI and ASCAP and in Canada by CAPAC and PROCAN, which later became SOCAN. The record companies were notorious for not paying these royalties, but there was a system, and there were lawyers who were there to both secure music contracts and ensure that royalties were paid to recording artists – at least in theory.
There was also a formidable force in the musician’s union, which held tight control over gigs and contracts. At times, the union could be intimidating and seemingly out of date. I remember having to swear I had never been a member of the Communist Party when I joined the union in 1971, but it did bring back memories of when some musicians were given a rough ride during the McCarthy period. I mention the musician’s union because if you wanted to play clubs or radio gigs, you had to belong, but you did get paid reasonably for your work. I mention this as well because by the mid 80s, the musician’s union would be a spent force and all guarantees for just compensation at gigs would be gone. I would contend that the union did not move with the times.
By the 70s, the music industry was a huge force in our lives. It was the number one entertainment industry in North America, making far more money than movies or television. However there were chinks in the system and changes in technology that indicated further bigger changes to come. In 1969, The Whole Earth Catalogue was published, and the subtitle was “Access to Tools.” In the book, it revealed the first home four-track recording deck put out by Tascam. It was a revolution in the making. No longer did one have to go through the check and balance system of the record companies and their artists and repertoire staff. You didn’t need to secure a record contract. You didn’t need to incur huge costs at a recording studio that would be then set against future royalties. You could do the album yourself without arbiters from the record company. You could do it yourself! This independent release movement was no threat to the mainstream industry, but as this technology progressed, more would be attracted to the indie movement, and it would seriously threaten the mainstream industry by the 1990s and the forthcoming digital age.
Was punk rock the beginning of the end?
By the late 70s, the industry was fat, corrupt and complacent. It was also very expensive to make a recording in the beautiful studios of the world. It was about to blow apart – in one case literally. It is dizzying what happened in a very short period of time. First the punks came along and called the bloat on the musicians and the industry. Groups like the Ramones, The Clash and The Cure ridiculed the fat boys of the business with rough, loud records reminiscent of the garage bands of early rock n’ roll. The local punk rockers opened and played at clubs that were not associated with the musician’s union; they said, “fuck the union” and basically broke the grip the union had on clubs. Though I enjoyed the new music and was invigorated by the punk and new wave movement, I would have to say they were misguided in their disregard for the musician’s union and undermined a support system that had worked to protect musicians. It would never be the same again.
Next came the introduction of the CD and the beginning of the digital age, introduced by the industry itself. The digital CD format was invented by James Russell in 1968 and was advanced by Sony and Phillips in the 1970s. By 1981, they were ready to change platforms – a platform that would completely replace records and imprinting on magnetic tape, a platform that had been in existence for more than fifty years. With the release in North America of Billy Joel’s 52nd Street, we welcomed in the digital age.
Technological change outpaced producers’ ability to adapt
What they didn’t tell us was that we were actually entering an age of missing information. What they told us was the CD was a compact unit with a clearer, cleaner sound. However, with a sampling rate of 44,000 samples per second, there were overtones of sound now missing. There were reverbs that collapsed as they tailed out because the sampling rate was not sufficient to hold them. The sound was cleaner because there was less of it. This new format also did not work with the microphones that had worked so well during the analog tape saturation age. The engineers were now scrambling to figure out how they could make this new cold sounding digital age warmer. However, this was made more complex because new technology was rushed onto the market every few months, and engineers might figure out one system only to be confronted with another. ADAT, mini disc, DAT VHS and Beta, as well as advances in digital sound boards and digital recorders marked the technological onslaught of the 80s and 90s. The engineers could not get ahead of the curve of the technological changes coming at them in order to serve the music. This was a far cry from the “golden age” of the 1950’s.
I have long since abandoned arguments about the quality of sound. The analog sound was better. It was fuller and warmer, and it held all the sonic information. I realize for the most part, people listen to music for cultural information, not the sonic quality of that information. I wasn’t listening to the quality of the Byrds with two pennies on my stylus, I was listening to the way they sounded and what they were singing about.
The technological changes of the 80s did not stop there. The home recording units that I used in the early 70s developed and blossomed, as musicians and studios realized that a $200,000 Studer tape deck or $100,000 Neve console could be replaced by a much cheaper series of ADATS and new, less expensive boards. The dinosaur that was the great studio and the great expense involved in it was now at the end of an age as audio companies realized they could make more money selling cheaper digital gear to thousands of punters rather than one expensive piece of equipment in a cathedral of recording.
CDs made it costly for indies to stay in the mainstream
However, the change was on, and we dutifully packed away or sold our records and bought our CD collections. Record companies made fortunes during this period reissuing everything that had been on vinyl. Elvis was king again. He had not left the building. For some of us who could not afford to go digital (CDs were much more expensive to manufacture), it was known as the golden age of cassettes! I released several cassettes during this period, and I mention this for one reason: in 1986, I released a cassette called Over My Head. It was difficult to get things placed in record stores at that time, so I sold it in book shops and health food stores. I sold 60,000 cassettes and then another 40,000 CDs by this method. It went platinum, as they say, but the thing was, because I released it, I received no royalties, and because it was a cassette, it was not played on radio. By being under the radar and independent, I also took myself out of the game and the project was never recognized by the mainstream industry. I have no regrets about this because I, in effect, made the record company’s profits on the recording! But I will admit now that I was undermining a system that had worked.
Along with the new digital age came the introduction of video games and home entertainment systems. Music was now not the only game in town. At first, this was compensated by the enormous back catalogue of records that were rendered to digital CD format, but by the 1990s, the technological revolution that they had brought forward was beginning to feel the effect of competing forces for the disposable dollar.
Music videos turned works of art into ‘recoupable’ promotional expenses
In 1982 MTV arrived, and in 1984 Much Music hit the airwaves, and another development took place that was to affect music and musicians to this day and beyond. MTV and Much Music are rightfully credited with promoting the careers of many musicians, most notably Madonna, Michael Jackson and Duran Duran, and they presented music in an exciting new way. But there was a difference in the presentation of this music that would affect musicians and begin to affect the paradigm of appropriate accommodation for their music. Music videos were seen as advertisements for the artists and record companies and, therefore, were non-royalty-bearing. In fact, the musicians had to pay for these videos, and these payments were set against the royalties owed to the artists by the record companies. It was an interesting dilemma because, while one could see the attraction of the music video, it set a precedent about the value of the music, how music might be perceived, and it potentially undermined royalty payments that radio and television had been paying to musicians. As music videos became more and more grandiose, it aided and entrenched an already hierarchical system that left some musicians in the dust and others, notably Tom Waits and Rickie Lee Jones, to avoid it all together.
The most fateful chapter in this story arrived with the introduction of the home computer, followed by the internet in around 1995. During this dizzying time, cyberspace opened up, and the world truly became the global village that Marshall McLuhan envisaged. Music was now available universally, and the world of music was at your fingertips. The age of downloading began, and with it, the notion that music was not only available, but most importantly, free. In quick succession came downloading networks like Napster, cementing this music-should-be-free notion for a generation. The royalty-collecting agencies were caught behind the times, and any litigation against illegal downloading would be years to come. To this day, free downloading is a way of life for many in this generation, who say, “Why should I pay for music when I can get everything I want for free?” Needless to say, this completely undermined the commodification of music even though the majority of musicians barely made a taxable income.
Now everybody can make a record – and maybe that’s not a good thing
It was not long after the home computer arrived that studio software like GarageBand was available, thus completing the story that anyone could make music at home. While this democratization of the process was laudable, it led to a glut of dubious releases on the market. This was ok in principle, but it made potential purchasers wary of independent product.
While this was going on, big studios were going bankrupt, the musicians union was growing impotent, and in the background, formats continued to change, baffling engineers trying to stay on top of their game. The top musicians continued to use analog studios, but they were getting harder and harder to find. At the same time, home video games and entertainment systems were improving and threatening to overtake the music industry. CDs continued to sell, though, and with the introduction of new microphones and warming buffers, digital recordings improved.
Even this tumultuous period was short-lived as the MP3 format was introduced in 1997 and popularized by Apple’s iPod in 2001. Once again, the platform completely changed and, for better or worse, it changed everything. The sample rate of an MP3 is 23,000 compressed samples per second, half the sample rate of a commercial CD and a quarter of the sample rate of a studio quality digital recording. I am not going to lament the loss of audio quality again because, as I have said earlier, most popular music is not listened to for its audio quality but for its cultural information. But I will say that, when the audio quality reduced to that of an MP3, music’s value is also reduced.
The introduction of the MP3 made CD and record collections obsolete. You could store your entire CD collection on your iPod and later iPad. Free downloading became the way to obtain music as music stores began to disappear across North America. Though musicians continued to release CDs, it became clear that the notion of a recording that had existed for 100 years was in serious trouble.
The internet makes music ‘free’
With the introduction of the internet, music was, however, available from around the world and, on a positive note, it must be said that the world music movement was largely spawned by the new digital global village. One could download music from Bulgaria, South Africa, Angola and Nigeria, and certainly global village expressions like the universally sung song “Stand By Me” were wonderful new events. The problem was that there was no money for all this downloading, which entrenched the idea that music was free, or that music should be free. This trend was symbolically addressed when it was ruled that companies like Napster should be shut down – but really, the horses had been let out of the barn. Many of this generation have not purchased any music in years, although attendance at live concerts has burgeoned during this period.
Again on the internet front, YouTube arrived and, in the music world, this “digitized Much Music” further disseminated some wonderful music free to the world. However, You Tube was free and was, until recently royalty free.
In 2010, CD sales dropped 50 per cent and video games had replaced music in homes. In fact, music purchases had dropped to fifth place in the North American entertainment market. Record companies disappeared, compact disc stores disappeared, and by 2012, Starbucks had become the leading distributor of CDs in North America. In 2010, before his world tour, Prince released his new album free thought Britain’s Sunday Times stating that it was a loss leader for his upcoming world tour. Radiohead did the same, stating they would make up the difference in t-shirt sales. Music, they said in effect, was free. But only the musical two per cent could afford to say that.
Free albums as loss leaders
For lesser mortals like myself, this was shocking news, as I was in the middle of a four-CD project and had completed only two. Prince was giving his CD away?! Would the format and platform disappear before I had even completed the project? Would the CD join the boxes of unsold cassettes and albums in my basement? If music was to be free, why did I have so much expensive equipment? Why was I still renting studio time? Why was I still investing in Cds? Why had I invested in my craft for 45 years?
Fortunately, I still am able to play on tour, though the return, all things considered, is about the same as it was in 1980. For a younger generation, they are faced with some clubs where you pay to play.
Still, musicians released CDs they might sell in concert situations. Remember, we are reactive beings who cannot see the future, let alone the present! I sold my CDs through CD Baby, and between 2010 and 2014, the sale of digital downloads doubled sales of Cds. Still I made CDs, though the outlets I could sell them in dropped to one in the city I live in. I have a national distributor for my Cds, but they sell less across Canada than CDBaby sells downloads. The times have changed, as Robert Harris spoke of on his wonderful CBC radio series Twilight of the Gods about the hundred-year rise and fall of recorded music. And still musicians make CDs. In 2013, automobiles and laptops stopped having CD players in them. Though the writing was on the wall, the changes have happened so quickly that, in effect, no one told the musicians of the changes that were to come down on them. If we look back on this conversation, this is exactly the reverse of where I began: where the technology was serving the art form. It would appear at this moment that the art form is being dictated by the technology.
Young musicians no longer see music as a career choice
And so what of the future? Since the death of Steve Jobs, Apple has not released any new platforms in the last five years. Are technological changes slowing down after 30 years of whirling change? As one critic opined, “How many versions of the Beatles catalogue does one really need?”
There are signs that the royalty-collecting agencies are beginning to catch up to the myriad array of digital offspring ranging from the internet to satellite television and radio. Some would say that there is more music being produced now and available now than ever before, and this is probably true. And yet, when I surveyed my incoming students in the music faculty at Carleton University, not one of them thought they would make a living as a musician in the 21st century. Though the sample was small, the response was 100 per cent. When I asked them why they had such an outlook, their response centred around the notion that music has become free or should be free.
I recently received a letter from a filmmaker who sent me an advance for work I had not yet done on her film. Along with her cheque, she wrote, “as a fellow freelancer, I know the value of your work and what it is like to wait for payment.” I was pleasantly surprised and quickly deposited the cheque. The value of the work is the key phrase here. The process of democratization and ease of dissemination of music have both contributed to the questioned value of the work being done. It is so easy now to create and distribute one’s music, people believe it can’t be worth much, so it must be free. What is lost in this equation is the years of craft it might take to get to a professional level of musicianship and songwriting craft: years in the field, a lifetime spent in the trenches.
The future of music? Sponsored artists, mix clubs, and granting bodies?
I suspect that, in the future, musicians and songwriters will continue to ply their craft as they have in full face of the diminishing horizons before them. Perhaps some music will return to a form of digital kitchen party where musicians play for the enjoyment of it and do not expect a financial return for their gift of music – the gift of music without the expectation of return. I see this going on now. I expect for some, it will unfold as it did in the 19th century when painters were gobsmacked by the introduction of the camera. They thought their day was over but came back with a new and liberated approach to the canvas. I think some of the internet work done by the likes of Brian Eno and David Byrne could fall into this category, but they benefit from the comfort zone of considerable financial security. Similarly, in the 20th century, the theatre community suffered an extreme setback with the birth of the film industry. Many thought theatre was over, but theatre reemerged in the post-war period with the “angry young men”: Beckett, Osborne, Pinter, Arden and Ionesco. Yet, since theatre’s re-emergence, it has become a sponsored and often threatened art form, supported by public funds, similar to classical music orchestras and opera.
There is considerable evidence that live music will continue to be supported. If my sons are any example, they keep track of touring artists on the internet and will travel to Montreal or Toronto at a moment’s notice, gathering a crowd to join them through social networking. Local clubs featuring live music continue. Mix clubs are very popular, and indeed, this may be the new type of creative music emerging through digital downloads. This creativity may continue to grow with the DJs being the new musicians blending existing beats and pads. The musician’s union shows some kind of resurrection, but I suspect it will only be viable in the context of supporting orchestra contracts and may not see the street again. On a personal level, the establishment of viable house concerts has kept my date book relatively full.
The future continues to look supportive for music in film, theatre and television. Indeed, many musicians have focused their work on getting their music on television shows, where the economy of scale is huge, and royalties can be bountiful. I think at some point many so-called “non-commercial” musicians will leave the public marketplace and, given their value, elect or hope to be sponsored artists. This has already happened in the jazz world. It is also happening in some granting programs set forward by the Canadian Council or Ontario Arts Council. At the same time, all of you know how oppressed these agencies are by the current governments and how the arts are seen in contemporary North American society. Not necessary. It is ironic for example that in Norway, jazz is presented and taught in primary schools, while in North America , concerned parents fight to keep any sort of arts programming in the schools. We are definitely part of a debate now, and how it goes will affect our future. As times get meaner in this century, and as the water gets hotter in the pot, as resources thin and the world’s population strains the planet, I think the need for music will be greater and indeed may harken back to the visceral need for music that was evident in the hard times of the 20th century through war and depression. How that may be expressed may be in the global village of cyberspace. Whether one could make a living from it depends on where and how we understand the value of that gift.
The responsibility of community
I would like to conclude with an idea that occurred to me after reading Lewis Hyde’s wonderful book The Gift : Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property. I think music is a gift. I feel tremendously lucky to have had music in my life and to have made a living from it. But I have worked hard at it, and it would seem that you have seen value in it by according me a status in the community, one that brings me here today. Though the technology has changed, the value of the work should be unchanged, and yet because of the technological revolution that has overtaken the art form, the idea that music should be free has become dominant in popular culture .
I think in the future, we must return to valuing the art form. If we as artists attend to the work at a professional level, if we support the community in every way we can as artists, and you have invested in us, is it not incumbent on the community to support in kind? Or are you happy to download it, upload it, rip it , and dispense the art form for free? I think it is incumbent on the citizens of the community to understand its relationship to the musicians and creators if it is to be considered a community at all. If this conundrum cannot be addressed, I suspect music will be generated by computers programmed by robots in the future, and that will be a very shitty future. I think it is important to consider this so that the students in my classroom will be able to have a future in music.
I can put this in one sentence. In the words of my musical partner, “No one gives a ****.”
He means … about music … anymore … except us old folks …. we make music for museums, apparently.
I’ve got that cassette…somewhere!
Interesting that the more that one is involved with any creative pursuits the more likely one will be asked to do it for free which has probably always been true and is getting truer and truer as the years go by.
I’ll admit that in the old days if an album had sold 5 million copies or 5 years had elapsed since the release I didn’t mind making a few cassettes for friends. And I still occasionally cruise the used record and cd bins for things I missed over the past 50-some years. And I know where to find Youtube.
However, I’ve pretty much always paid for my music and been pleased to do so. I’ve known and loved many musicians and songwriters, including Ian, and I know how bumpy Dave Bidini’s “Cold Road” can be.
Here a funny one, tho’. Ellen McIlwaine was playing the Rainbow in Ottawa many years back; I’ve loved her from the start, so of course I went down to see the show. At intermission I approached her to express my admiration and told her that I’d made up a couple of compilation tapes for a friend and that I had a twenty in my pocket that I wanted to give her as compensation for the rip-off. She just looked at me like I had oatmeal for brains, shook her head, and walked away.
I see by my internet that Ellen still plays the odd gig, but mostly drives a school bus out west to bring home the groceries. I reckon she’s good with that, but I think it’s a damn shame! I like to think she vocalizes some on those bus trips and how lucky those school kids would be.
As a real time creator of music, I have been waiting patiently for the technology to make bit possible fir me to sell my live performances directly to my it any audience. Recording has allowed for those who are better at creating recordings of their ideas and exploiting those of us who can create in the moment for an hourly wage, while their name is the one on the copyright. The future is here. My family has been performing jazz live for over 100 years. YouTube makes it possible for anyone in the world to see and hear our music. We can get hired to do the “Live Music” thing that records have almost squelched over the years. As for technology replacing me or others like me, I engage the audience taking in the energy of the room and the other musicians! Technology gives me back my future of doing what most songwriters can’t. Create my interpretation of familiar song my way, Live and the abilities to stream it and some day get paid for it by anyone listening from anywhere!
There’s a whole host of really good microphones available for recording use – in your backyard, eh. http://www.wwcoinc.com/srs/page3T.html
I am sorry but this sounds a wee bit like sour grapes. The times they are a changing man, and as you very well pointed out they always have.
IMHO for way too many years music was over produced and over priced. The market was flooded! One out of every four homes in America has a Greenday album. Get my drift?
Multiple stores within a few miles of where I live now sells used CDS for $1.00 each. I use to go to a thrift store that would sell a grocery bag full of cds for a total of $1.00.
For music fans it is great! It is a buyers market. I listen to an entire album for the first time almost everyday.
For professional musicians working today it is not great, but hey, that is just the way sh*t happens. If you don’t believe me ask a painter. Ask a newspaper publisher.
Real musicians have a day job.or your gonna starve to death.I have three professional careers.first I learned to play horn,I’m classically trained.from third grade on.I front my Awesome authentic blues bayand play Harmonica.this is my last career.I played gigs every month for 20 years. I never took a penny of the pay. I gave it to the band!
What do you call a musician without a wife?……….Homeless !
Great article and an interesting read.
I think one important point has been left outand that is music’s relevance to the times.
In other words. In previous centuries and up to and after the war, we had nothing. Music was a way to entertain and releve people of the starvation, poverty, depression, war, dictatorships and everything else that made our lives miserable.
We don’t have that anymore. None of it.
Everybody has everything they will ever need, can ever want and will ever crave. We have houses, cars, flatscreen tv’s, designer clothes and much more. We have mobile phones to self driving cars, keyless entry, voice recognition and we can even design our own children. What more could we want?
I’ve noticed that the live music scene is getting smaller and older, but the two things people do want and will pay for, is to be delivered back in time.
To listen to music played well that isn’t available anymore so they can reflect on happier times. And when they find it, they’ll buy as many tee shirts, stubbies holders and fridge magnets that you can throw at them.
My music days as a teenager and on was, ’75-85′. Such a great time to experience all the different style of music. Yes, at times, records were over produced and expensive to make. There was a healthly creative competition to be unique. Records sold for a reasonable price. The difference was that the bands controlled what they played for the most part, and many if not all the songs on a album, were great (or classics today). Can you say that about many other current band projects body of work today? Why do you think they sell individuals songs for 99 cents? Because the other 99% isn’t worth buying.
Since musicians have less control of their music, and the sponsoring companies look to re-hash popular sounds and styles, everyone sings like a little kid and the songs are forgettable. Like commercial jingles, they can stick but they don’t mean much. Add a video and you’re just selling candy.
Making music for musicians is obviously not free. Time and developing creative talent is not free. For anyone. If you work as a computer programmer making video games for people to play and have fun, would you do it for free? Just so you could play the game and have fun? No is the answer it took lots of education to learn to program and time to get good at learning a new language (like learning the language of music). So why is anyone else’s time free? Because most people value it less? And we accept that? We are our own worst enemy?
So why has the industry suffered? Everything Ian wrote, but more importantly, because musicians now copy sounds and styles, and even if they do it on purpose, they don’t really have a unique identity. In turn not making anything worth paying for because the next band is doing the same thing. If I hear another Greenday rip off band, I would stop buying music too (there is only one Greenday, why do I need to support two? Forget it, they have to now give it away on YouTube).
The other problem is, everyone can make music and put it out. There is too much noise competing for your dollars. So bands have to give it away to have a better chance to be heard. Once the big acts do it, they set the new standard. Thanks guys. Really helping musicians everywhere, just so you can make $$$ on big tours? Charging hundreds for nose bleed seats and $50 t-shirts. Ha who buys $50 t-shirts? I blame our role models. Or the Musical 1%ers. Don’t they have enough? Maybe we should address that? No lets feel sorry for them, and lump them in with all musicians who are starving. We are suckers for our heroes.
Maybe musicians should stick to playing what they really want, and control their own music and forget about partnering with the sponsors, period. Stay independent (cause it’s cheap to make music now and you don’t need them for that). In turn, hopefully returning to when the music stood on it’s own and worth listening to. Stop giving it away! Lead by example. Ya right who does that? Let someone else take the hit. I wanna make money, be famous and not work a normal 9-5 (rappers like to think that way).
People will pay for exceptional music. Maybe some of the rest would then fall away? Unfortunately, young people are being programmed to like current garbage music. And will pass that on to their kids, unless musicians take back their music. There are less genres of music, even if you label them differently. No new emerging styles for the most part.
Yes, the music industry is dying and not what it used to be. Getting signed is not how it works anymore, unless you won on a music reality show. Ask a famous musician how to get signed today. They have no clue. For the most part that’s why the old guys can and are still drawing on tours. Because they came for an era where they made their own musical choices and the music stands to this day. New bands today will not be around 50 years from now. When the old guard leaves, music will be dead.
It’s like global warming we are killing ourselves, we know it, but we can’t do anything about it. We are all part of the problem. It’s not just the industry’s fault. We all have choices. We shouldn’t need unions or policing.
Vote for the right politicians and make them make getting paid at the entry level, part of a political platform. Cause not everyone musicians wants, or to be forced to write mood music for movies and TV, just to get paid and survive. Would you work 10 hours a week cutting lawns for for free for the privilege of keeping your job? Because not every musician will be able to sell in that market. It’s a waste of musical time to create for it, especially if you don’t love it. Could you imagine AC/DC writing music for action films, you think they would want to do that? What a cop out to be forced to accept that reality. Yet we do because we didn’t come for the AC/DC generation. They did and are doing what they want. What band can say that now?
Go see live music in bars! Buy their $10-$20 t-shirts and music (on USB sticks) help promote them, so they can get paid and put out what they want (less chance of it being re-hashed crap). So they can headline without being controlled. Or one day musicians will end up like live theater and orchestras, who rely on public donations to keep alive. Heck it’s happening already. And there is no such thing as global warming lol
The 2nd to the last sentence in this article is not far fetched & is in reality in an experimental phase that will make it a functional entity in music in the very very near future! And I’m not talking about 10 years from now, but maybe just a couple to less then 5 years from now. If you’d like to test my theory, simply talk into your Google Assistant and tell it to write a song for you. Watch what happens! You’ll be amazed, if you haven’t already done so.
Statements like “magnetic tape and tape decks were invented in America” (they were developed in 1930s Germany), or about microphones (the U-47 not being compatible with digital technology…), consoles, the war, “music in the future will be generated by robots” etc shows that the author is clearly writing from his own gut feeling baby-boomer perspective than from well-researched sources and facts, it’s important to keep that in mind when reading this article. I don’t agree to the romantic notion that the technology in the beginning ‘served’ the artform, I think what served the artform in the golden age of capitalism/nationalism has always been war, propaganda and profit, with some exceptions of course. I agree that internet and the mp3 (but also the big media-tech companies such as Google-Youtube/Spotify etc) have made all creative content, not only music, free for users – and these companies monetize from it. He doesn’t write about the pre-tape, pre-vinyl era, the era of the 78rpm shellac records (perhaps because he wasn’t born into it but neither was I) where I wonder how circumstances were for songwriters and musicians, my guess is not really great if you weren’t part of the upper-class musicians.
I also wholeheartedly agree that we should more value the artform, but also non-monetary things such as awareness, the moment and connection.. things that aren’t really compatible with our globalized profit-driven system.
After reading Mr. Tamblyn’s article some questions popped up in my mind: what is really the function of music? Do we need to hold on to its monetized-commodified version giving us such pleasurable results (notice the irony) as today’s mainstream music? What can we musicians-creators do in a future world beset by climate breakdown and the crumbling of the capitalist production system, where the need to organise us into communities will become important to survive?
Music is Art. If you create any kind of art just for money, you create what will obviously sell regardless of how you feel about it. If you create art for yourself, you have created something you will forever be proud of and doesn’t need to be sold or appreciated by anyone else. Hopefully, someday others will feel the same way about your art and it will be in museums or you get paid a huge price for that art making it worth the wait. That balance of waiting for the huge payoff (financially or in worldwide recognition that may or may not come) and being hungry is a fine line that will always have to be addressed. When you get hungry you will find your black velvet cloth, Elvis memories and your paints. Then, right after that you will go create and finish your personal love song for all the world. Artist are dreamers and lovers. Who doesn’t love looking at the drawings made by the cavemen on walls and rocks and wonder why they did that and what it meant? Thank God we have artist since the beginning of time. We are the memories of hope and love …. when sometimes …. there is none. Everyone can’t create a song or play piano but anyone can play a premade piano song on their Iphone. Keep writing, my friends. Keep creating music and art to balance the, sometimes, dark world. It’s what we do.
why are all the comments in italics
The reason that people can’t make money from music is not because of some imaginary advantage to “analog” over “digital”.
Real estate prices closed the clubs. Sampling destroyed the sideman and the session musician. DVDs and YouTube destroyed music teaching.
Another reason is theft. The record industry stole from its creators, and then taught everyone to steal from them, and now no one pays for recorded music.
Almost no one makes a good living from music any more. Lots of people struggle, probably losing money for years, and a tiny number of people make untold millions.
The way that I read this blog article is that there is a tension in the old system. The old system was one which was in many ways not a free market. It acted like a guild, there were unions, but once you were on the inside (ie you had a recording contract) you had access to a machinery that was very good at what it did. There were great engineers, great musicians, but the price was that the artists had in some way to conform to that machine. There were people who managed that balance between having the backing of that machine, and still being able to deliver groundbreaking work. I think of the great work being done in the 70s by Weather Report, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder.
And then you have the destruction of that system. There were many people who didn’t like that machine, and that gave rise to the indie artists, the punks. Not everybody liked the machine (Pink Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine” was probably about that machine, no matter that they were a part of that machine.) A lot of people got shut out of that machine and got fed up. But the net result of punk was the gradual dismantling of that machine. It was exciting at first to see taboos falling and punk being able to say things that were previously unsayable. Hip hop was the flip side of punk because it too relied a lot on the same DIY spirit. And for a short but glorious time, the major labels thought they could back this system as well and put money in it.
The downside of the DIY movement is that the arts of the professional engineers are lost. If there’s no money to feed that system you’re not going to have the engineers that help to make the music sound great. I’m not talking about how 80s music sounds artificially modern through 808s and synthesizers and robot drum machines, I’m talking about the Rudy Van Gelder type of engineers who make the music sound warm and bring out the natural timbres of the instruments.
But the system got dismantled because the paywall got removed. You shouldn’t be a mercenary when you are an artist but you cannot be a musician if you can’t even feed yourself. The paradox is that the talent pool gets expanded and a lot of the interesting musicians get lost, and it’s getting harder and harder to separate the chaff from the wheat. The other aspect is that the revolution has run its course, and the creativity that has been unleashed by punk music / alternative / DIY movement is running out. People are struggling for new ideas. There are no longer new ways to play the guitar, rapping or sampling is no longer novel, all the permutations for crossovers have been exhausted, people are no longer treating electronic instruments as new possibilities, but crutches to use because you cannot be bothered with a real musical education.
So there is a twin crisis, and possibly the two aspects feed into each other: the crisis of viability whereby musicians find it difficult to make a living, and crisis of creativity where the last great ideas and the last great breakthroughs took place quite a while back.
Music is art, and throughout history artists from Michelangelo … to Mozart … to Monet, have kept from starving through the largesse of wealthy patrons. For only a comparatively short time in world history have artists been able to “
actually “make a living” from their work.
Very interesting, informative article.
As a full time musician who is “in the trenches” six nights a week with the general public and interact closely with them, I’m surprised that this author leaves out a huge chunk of the modern picture – instant gratification.
The public’s incessant need to be instantly gratified is stronger than ever. Combined with their ever shortening attention spans, this causes a dramatic effect in how music needs to be presented to them.
Often in clubs and private parties, I’m met with frantic patron requests for songs. I’ll start playing their request and ten seconds into it they are already snapping their fingers, and clapping their hands while saying, “Ok! Let’s go! Next song! COME ON!! Umm….let’s see…Becky! (shouts over to her friend), what do you want him to play next?”
Maybe streaming services like Pandora have done this to people, or maybe it’s a much deeper social issue that goes well beyond music listening.
Jazz musicians – if you were hoping to blow a few choruses of improvisation over your patrons request of “Play it Again Sam” (as time goes by), forget about it. You’ll be lucky if you hold their attention anywhere past the first four measures of the head. All they really need to hear is “You must remember this, a kiss is still a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh”. You don’t even need to get to “The fundamental things apply” before they are satisfied and ready to move onto you playing their next request. (actually, this has often worked out to my benefit in that I have gotten a full tip for only knowing a small part of a tune)
I believe that the internet scrambles peoples brains. To have the world at your fingertips and the answer to any question literally seconds away at any given time of day changes a lot of things. Music listening is most certainly on that list – whether listening to live music or recorded music.
Audio technology has not only changed the way the musician and music engineer does their thing, it has changed the literal thought process, sense of patience and attention span in the non-musician layperson.
To be honest, I also don’t see technology (including MP3 and YouTube) as guilty for the alleged banalization (or loss in value) of music in general. It THROUGH the technology but not BECAUSE of it. The thing is: in the times when bands like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple were around, one wouldn’t find lots of other people who could make this kind of sound with ease. You’d whether pay to see them/listen to them or you wouldn’t see/listen to anything at all.
Until the early 2000’s, DAYS were needed to download an album in most of the countries of the world. People still bought CDs, but teenagers without jobs and people from poorer countries saw an opportunity to still listen to music without being thrown away by the cartel prices of the industry.
Nowadays, through YouTube, you can find hundreds of thousands of people who are technically better than most of our old idols and much more accessible, answering back messages, asking for support, producing/covering music with average to pro recording quality in a weekly basis… They are entertaining, willingly providing the “music fit” that people need, for an almost zero cost for the “consumer”.
What I mean is: until the early 2000’s, the mainstream artists and the ones affiliated to such “unions” were the monopolists of music-presenting. To show your art you needed a gigantic apparatus that cut out all the small people. It’s not good if it only protects the musicians that are part of it.
Nowadays, musicians can offer their art for free to the whole world, expecting that people support them through donation platforms like Patreon and also by selling exclusive merchandise – the biggest income source of indie bands nowadays. In fact, that’s the direction that a huge amount of bands take nowadays: a couple of concerts per year, a huge internet presence and a Patreon account. The money isn’t made per song title anymore, but through support from the public that wants to see this artist working on.
The market isn’t over. It just changed, like every market does. Internet presence is maybe stronger than club presence, and money is no longer made by song title, but through merchandise, concerts and donation platforms. It’s not that people don’t value music anymore. They do. But the offer is huge. One has to have “something else”.
What gets lost in all these discussions is the fact that the recorded music industry as a career is a relatively recent phenomenon in the history of music, pretty much just a blip on the screen of the historical continuum. If one thinks about it, playing on the radio didn’t become popular until the teens and early 20s, barely 100 years ago. Musicians didn’t tour as we have come to know it until around the 1930s. By the end of the 1980s, touring for non-signed bands is pretty much over.
In the ’70s and into the mid 80s I was traveling on the road playing six nights a week, sometimes two or three weeks and one spot. We had our motel rooms covered and usually one meal a day. So we had a pretty sharp dividing line between the full time professionals and the weekend hobbyist. The weekenders mostly had day jobs, and so weren’t interested in playing 6 nights a week in clubs, and the pros weren’t interested in weekend taverns. Of course, when the full-time gigs all died out, for a lot of reasons, all that was left was the weekend taverns for the most part. And there just isn’t any money in them anymore. Where I live, live music bars are paying the same $400 a night to bands that they paid in 1978. And I get it, their costs are extremely high to run a live music venue. Things like rent or lease payments, taxes, building maintenance, employee cost, insurance, liability, utilities, liquor cost, licensing fees for music, licensing for liquor, business licenses, on and on it goes, and they always increase. This leaves entertainment as the one budget with wiggle room, and so it usually ends up getting cut. In addition, back in the old days when bands toured on the road, clubs used to be destinations where there was usually something going on in them every night of the week. They ran specials, and events, and did not depend on whoever was playing to draw the crowd. Road bands couldn’t draw crowds, as a rule, because by definition they did not have a built-in fan base in the region. It was up to clubs to cultivate their own clientele. Today, so many of them rely on musicians to bring the crowd with them. And when you’re playing every weekend, no band can expect it’s fan base to come out and see them every single weekend.
Someone else already mentioned, things are always changing. We had a 60-year run of music at the local and regional level being a viable career option. Those days are gone, and whether they will return or not is anyone’s guess. The solo market here is decent, but it’s starting to get crowded. When I started doing it in 2004, there weren’t very many guys doing it. Now, with band gigs disappearing, everyone and their dog is buying a cheap acoustic guitar a little PA and giving performances away just to get booked.
This article hit’s the head on the nail bang on, while some of the response’s are some what lacking in a total understanding of what Mr Tamblyn was really getting at here or the view behind it and picking apart the message.
I would like to thank Mr Tamblyn for taking the time to at least try and fill the blank’s in for the mass’s, far to few do and without them the youth are doomed to never learn a thing!
As to the people who don’t value the time and energy of the artist in any form, well you just keep on thinking that way, because art control’s almost every aspect of your life and when we don’t get paid, you won’t have a chair to sit on a show to watch, a tune to be heard of an idea of what is going on.
Every last thing we use , eat , hear , say,drive or imagine has a hand on it and a mind behind it, we must protect the art form or it get’s used to give us Trumps.
Seems to me young people no longer see music as a career choice-but they see ‘rock star” as one
While I don’t question the timeline laid out herein, I’m not sure I agree with many of the conclusions reached by the author. To be fair, I can only speak from my admittedly limited perspective, but I have said countless times (and will undoubtedly say countless more times) that the digital revolution has been largely positive for me. As a listener, I can now do what I could only have dreamed of as a kid: listen to new and different music every day of my life. As a performer, the benefits have arguably been even greater.
As a teenager, first starting out playing in bands, I could only dream of recording myself in a quality format. It costs many thousands of dollars just to use a recording studio, and exponentially more to own one. Today, with a decent mic and a serviceable laptop, I can make recordings that rival anything that is professionally produced. I have more distribution platforms than I could begin to count, and if I sell these recordings, any profit earned belongs entirely to me. How many stories have we heard about bands selling millions of albums and still going broke? Wouldn’t it be preferable to sell thousands of recordings or tens of thousands of recordings, and keep all the revenue generated by those sales?
Moreover, the democratization of recording tech and distribution has revived the value of live performing, while the Internet and social media offer new opportunities for promotion and networking. As a 20-something, I promoted by hitting the streets with flyers. I’m way too old for that now, but I don’t have to do it because I can hit thousands of eyeballs in a matter of seconds by creating an event page on FB.
I aged out of being a performer under the old model more than 20 years ago, but thanks to the internet inexplicably found myself with new opportunities to perform that I would not have had two decades ago. Last Saturday, at the ripe old age of 52, I headlined one of the largest clubs in Orlando, performing to a packed house. Without boring you with all the details, none of what got me there, from the relationships built with my fellow bandmates to the marketing that put asses in seats (or, more accurately, feet on the dancefloor) would have been possible in the pre-Internet age. The recording and engineering projects we’re currently working on wouldn’t be happening either without the Internet and digital recording, as the band members are scattered across several cities.
I don’t dispute the accuracy of any of the historical changes detailed in this article, but I’m hard pressed to see them as negatives in the same way the author seems to see them. Yes, many things have changed, but at least in my experience, those changes have been almost entirely positive. If the digital revolution had not happened, I simply would not be an active musician today, and I also wouldn’t have on-demand access to virtually the entire global library of recorded music every day. Given the chance to roll back the clock, I suspect the author would take it.
Ian Tamblyn’s diatribe is, I guess, well meaning. But his moaning about how tough life is for artists and how “hard times” like the depression years could be a possible solution to this dilemma (Let’s make life miserable for all, so that musicians have a better life?) is self defeating.
Making a living with music has never been remotely easy. It has always been a crap shoot, even for the most gifted and hard working individuals. Why?
It’s a hard reality to accept, especially for a talented artist that has practiced countless hours and made many personal sacrifices in their personal life, but: art is not necessary. It’s not food, it’s not shelter, it’s not a warm body beside you. If you make music, you are in the same boat as sculptors, painters, and professional sports teams. You are competing for the same disposable income and time as the movie theater and other distractions, and for that matter with the internet with it’s infinite number of rabbit holes.
If we think of music as an entertainment product, (And you have to if you are going to make a living at it) then you have to think about capturing the imagination and dollars of your customers. The questions artists must ask are things like why is the NHL so successful? And why do people spend so much time on their devices?
It doesn’t matter that every person who has slapped a tambourine twice has access to inexpensive multi track recording software. Very few people will listen to that track, and no one will pay for it, anymore than I will pay to see a bunch of guys playing beer league hockey. Talent and showmanship is necessary. But it’s not enough. (And remember, for every kid that plays in the nation hockey league, there are 10,000 dedicated youngsters who never made it.)
So how to make music pay more? There are some clues . The massive popularity of televised talent shows is one. Do we need to revive the battle of the bands tradition – locally? Have people come in and vote for their favorite artist that night? Make a spectacle out of it? Start a battle “league?”
And about the NHL. Or more specifically, the 10,000 kids who never made it. I bet 99% of them become serious or even rabid fans. Yes, I’m talking about infecting kids with music at an early age.
We can’t depend on the government to do this.
That means that successful bands should be dedicating some portion of time to perhaps playing at schools, or discounting tickets for young fans and generally planting seeds for future income. And if your fledgling band is going to play for next to nothing anyway, play where young kids congregate. Heck, it might even be at a hockey arena.
Making music for a living is a luxury. There is a small percentage of those that are so original / talented / charismatic etc that they will make a living out of it or in a few cases be rich. There will be a large percentage of those who will need to supplement their music income. And there will be those that never make any money from music but continue to make great music on the side. The industry is constantly evolving and musicians from all persuasions have a hard battle trying to create income from music. Only a few will succeed. It is a tough industry. Everyone knows that. Some will get lucky, most will not. Great music will be created. Some of it may never get heard outside a small circle of fans. This is the way it is and always has been. Live music will never die. Technology will shape the way we hear and interact music but anything will be possible.
The music industry is not going to stop changing. The next development that no one seems to see is the music revolution building across the country. Canada, join musicians that are working to resolve most of the problems you stated above. Here is more, be a part of the positive change.
Here is a summary of the Music Revolution; 3 old men control 80% of music. (No women.) That’s bad for everyone. The music revolution against it, that’s great. This music revolution is opening the doors to thousands of musicians, and lots of new music in every style.
3 CEOs (Warner, Universal, Sony – all men no women in one of the worst glass ceilings anywhere) control 80% of the music industry, only support the same aging teen pop stars – where 1% of musicians make 70% of the money and all the rest make about minimum wage (15K)
The major 3 make the art, distribute it, promote it on the media outlets they own, and then give themselves great reviews. No musician has a chance, no matter how good you are!!!
For best music quality, there should be thousands of competing companies, not three; and about half should be run by women. The quality and variety of mainstream music is at an all time low and hasn’t changed much in 10 years. Radio is just ads and nobody is listening, concert tickets are a rip off and hassle, vinyl prices are ridiculous, the music media is just press releases of what they want to promote, awards shows seem fake, best selling music charts can’t be trusted, online streaming sales never get to the musician, music never changes – always the same few promoted over and over- and there is never news of the alternative to all this. Music sales have barely caught up to those of 1999! Most money goes to a few over promoted aging pop stars. (70% goes to 1% of musicians.)
Where is the music media? What story could be bigger? Corporate media, you can’t pretend this is not happening anymore.
Reader, who do you support, 3 businessmen, or all musicians?
Show some courage and demand better for yourself and all musicians. This is not a time to hide your head in the sand!
The Music Revolution should bring these developments to every musician!
1. Fair chance to be played on all radio stations due to the quality
of the music.
2. Fair guaranteed reviews for all recordings.
3. Pennies for Play, each time someone clicks on your recording on any website.
4. Fair, unbiased, ad free, music media.
There is a music revolution going on and you can decide which side you want – the side with 3 CEOs that control 80% of the music business and the music media, or all the rest of us.
Do something! Do anything! Just about everything you do will help all musicians.
Help by these very small things.
1. Pass the word that 3 CEO’s control music – all men with no women allowed in key positions – and have done great harm to music, radio, concerts, music media, and music online, as well as ruining the careers of thousands of musicians. Just talking about it helps all musicians everywhere.
2. Support the Dallas musicians or anyone else that is actively against all this.
3. Lift a finger, literally, and LIKE your favorite songs and videos. Show you care, lift a finger.
4. Talk to your favorite music news site and ask why they won’t talk about the music revolution.
5. Support Pennies for Play, a way for any musician to stream music for pennies on his website without record companies or any corporations.
The music business is auto tuned!
The Texas Video Showdown is one indie musician representing all musicians, versus the Pop Stars,
Bernie’s comment is a good one. In fact, across the country there are outreach programs in various states where musicians often combine music education and performance. Utah has something called the “Young Audience” program, funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, and other sponsors. Musical ensembles travel to various kindergarten through 6th grade audiences in the state combining lecture and performance. One key factor (no pun) is that the schools aren’t required to pay for the entertainment (it’s free to them, and funded by other sources).
This kind of program combines the best of both worlds: education and entertainment for growing children, and compensation for the musicians. Certainly at least part of the intent with such a program is altruistic. One aspect of the program centers around inspiring young children to become involved in creating music — the very excitement that attracted the performers in the first place. And without that sense of ‘giving back’ (at least a portion of the time) the performance of music becomes, to a great extent, an income-seeking activity, or ‘making a living’ as it were.
Robert Kiyosaki once asserted that poor people work for the pay, and rich people work for free. When someone works for free in order to generate income (which, in a sly way, seemed to be what he was implying that one should do), it might be for the wrong reason. Some of the more fortunate geniuses of past centuries were lucky enough to have some amount of sponsorship — J.S. Bach was one example. Though he was never wealthy, he had enough financial resources to afford him time to pay homage to the Creator through his music. And Bach’s contributions in that manner was beautiful, significant, and had little motivation of remuneration.
Though I don’t believe music should be free, the other side of that is that when someone has developed their art and craft to a high degree, it seems important to do some contributing without expectation. By doing this, the art is kept alive.
Oops. Meant to say ‘Bach’s contributions in that manner *were* beautiful’….. 🙂
I have a Grammy, multi-platinum songs and I raise grass fed beef for a living. I don’t do many live performances because I’m kinda’ pissed off at the public for devaluing what I was born to do. So, I keep it from them nowadays and play my music for my family and for my own enjoyment and run my ranch. If consumers didn’t pay for my beef I wouldn’t give them any grass fed beef. I’m the same way with my songs. My songs now only have worth to the future generations of my family and that’s why I try to document in song old families stories so that our family history will have a life. The public consumer doesn’t value my songs that everybody listens to enough to pay for them so, F….. ’em!!! I’ll keep them to myself and charge them for my beef that supports my music habit.
In defense of technology, I have to agree with the comments of Patrick Coast above.
Prosperity for PERFORMERS, as opposed to authors, playwrights, painters, or composers, has been a fairly recent aspect of technology. (Yes, I realize there is overlap, and many gifted authors & composers never lived to see the prosperity they deserved.) Who recalls the first generation of Shakespearean actors or those conductors or violinists who first led a Beethoven symphony?
It was only technology, from lighting and amplification to film/video and vinyl/magtape/digital, that shifted the financial focus to performers. But we can all hope the pendulum doesn’t swing back so far that performers are forgotten, either financially or historically.
I liked this article very much.
When Ian talked about the onset of music videos, it reminded me of how many people often respond to the visuals, not the music. When someone says, this is such a great video, you’ve gotta watch it,” I try to close my eyes the first time through.
One reason music is “free” these days is that most of it is pure crap. While some people may claim that the digital revolution has spawned a new wave of creativity, I would counter with quick turn of the radio dial or a click on your computer which will put that notion to rest in less than 4 measures.
If you want to sit at a computer and exchange files (as I have heard many young people say, and which any fool with a computer can do) go ahead. As for me I will call four or five of my friends and we will get together in my studio and with my “Old School” outboard gear and console, and crank out some pretty good sounding recordings and have a great time doing it all in the same room while working together in a creative studio environment. Sounds like fun ? Well guess what….it is !!!!
“Oh you must be a rich Republican to be able to afford to record in your own studio with all this gear….” NO. I just worked hard for a number of years playing clubs, concerts and studio gigs and I invested in new and used gear some of which I used to star ta small audio rental company which helped pay for my future studio.
But you don’t want to do anything like that do you….it would require sacrifice, hard work and a certain amount of time. Hard Work ???? Sacrifice ????? Time ????? What’s that / I am of the new “enlightened generation” I am ENTITLED to everything and I want it now !!!
Yes the old business model was to a certain extent corrupt. It’s easy to blame someone or something else for your problems but sooner or later you have to look in the mirror and ask yourself “What part of this mess am I responsible for ?”
Enjoyed reading the article.
The movie industry keeps improving the end product. Beta, VHS, Super VHS, Lazer Disc, DVD, HD DVD, Blu-Ray, SD Streaming, HD Streaming etc…They also keep adding more unique content. Commentaries, Interviews, Outtakes etc. What has the music industry done since the CD? Ooops!
I flirted with being a professional musician but wound up as a doctor instead. Life has been pretty good to me so I pay for music as much as I can.
To be painfully honest, most music is worthless anyway. The little pop music I find valuable, and for which I paid in the form of vinyl or CD, was a historical accident taking place in the decade that spans from about 1965 to 1975, or was made later but under properly-digested influence of that period (think REM, Radiohead, etc). Clearly, that accident could only happen because 1) there was a now lost expectation that composers of popular music should have an extensive command of the musical language, not to rival those of the classical field but not to lag too much behind either; and 2) there was money to compensate those who were willing to undergo the extensive training, be it in the form of formal study or just hours and hours of practice, required to acquire such command of the musical language.
So to me it’s all more a matter of sociology and economics, rather than technological development. The latter was largely irrelevant – up to the point where it made music free, which did change the game but only to mean that the 65-75 accident could never happen again. The “normal” state – people paying as little as possible for shit of the least possible quality that will still satisfy their needs – remains unchanged since the dawn of man.
As I read all this, trying to figure out how to recover costs on my next album im discouraged. At this point, im not sure if I even expect to make money doing this anymore. I guess, im back to where I started as far as music is concerned. Maybe I just want someone to feel somethig, anything thats a connection when they hear my music. I wonder where that road leads.
Physicals still sell… but downloads and streaming is the way to make money
I cannot fathom why anyone would bother attempting a career as a recording artist anymore. Piracy is rampant, streaming services pay next to nothing, and touring is an exercise in red ink. I can write and record to my heart’s content without any reference to the public or the industry.
A fan of my music contacted me to thank me for saving his life. You see a certain song made the difference as he considered suicide after his girlfriend had left him. He wanted me to know that my song had made the difference and for this he wanted to thank me. Come to find he had downloaded my song from Limewire! My stolen song had saved his life. And this is the new world musicians live in. Sad days for Pro musicians. Fans have no clue how much it costs us to make quality music. I used to add orchestras to my songs in the old days. Now I can’t afford to employ another Pro musician.
Part of the reason is as a whole today in 2020 most adults who grew up on good music just don’t give a shit about supporting emerging newer artist even of their own age like myself.Now I’m not bitter maybe a bit frustrated but everyone I know in Canada never encourages me they think I have Rock Star dreams though nothing is further from the truth
.Sure I got my music into a small who etc and do it for the love of it but I never get one word of encouragement except for my online friend and WHERE are they? in the USA of course where millions STILL LOVE MUSIC!
How exactly do you talk about the rise of the CD/digital era without even mentioning Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms? That CD was a game changer…
Excellent article. Thank you for this.
It’s a disgrace that this great art form has been so devalued.
Seems to me we need, among other changes: better music education for all; something like a musician’s union to advocate as a group for musicians’ rights (including in extreme cases, like our current situation, mass strikes of musicians and even mass pulling of music from exploitative and non-transparent platforms); control of piracy of all sorts; better understanding of an protection of intellectual property rights; reasonable minimal pay rates per stream.
People always leave two things out when talking about the decline in music purchases, physical and digital:
1. The MASSIVE DETERIORATION in the QUALITY of music beginning sometime in the early 90s.
2. Albums have always had filler.
Given either factor, why be surprised that people stopped buying new releases (not old)?
Be honest, there is no good music hiding out there, it is all hype when people claim that you just have to dig and keep digging. NO. It is ALL MEDIOCRE. It is derivative.
Music and the culture that supported it is on life support.
We don’t have new, fresh, life experiences to write something new and good.
More thoughts on my blog: “The Thinking Man’s Music”
If recorded music is free then maybe everything else should be as well. Yes, music is considered a luxury but just think if tomorrow all music disappeared. You wouldn’t die of hunger or thirst but mentally people would deteriorate and live would become miserable. Just because it’s free doesn’t mean it should be. That’s demeaning to all musicians regardless of skill level who take the time to write and record themselves and then offer it up for public consumption. Next time someone says they shouldn’t pay for music ask them to go into a grocery store, fill up their cart and then try to walk out of the store without paying.
Music has not deteriorate since the 1990’s. That’s complete bullshit. Saying there is no good music hiding out there is non sense as well. I suspect that Thinking Man’s Music stopped listening to new music in the 1990’s. Just go on Bandcamp and you’ll find some really awesome stuff that has come out recently. Is there crap out there? Of course. There has been real gems and real turds in every decade and that definitely applies to the 1960’s and ’70’s. There seems to be some misconception (is it just Boomers buying their own hype?) everything that came out in those two decades was pure gold. Ha! Not!