On The Economy of Music
Every few months or so there re-arises the debate about the current state of the music industry. What’s fun is that all the blog posts that go viral (the post that started the current debate, the artist’s retort, and an industry pundit’s take) make competing but valid points. Without going into every detail those posts do, here’s a brief rundown of the overarching issue:
- Artists/musicians create music and expect to be compensated fairly for their time and effort.
- Companies like record labels used to have a monopoly on which music was sold by who and when.
- Technology has leveled the playing field among distribution of music, consumption of music, and even creation of music. Anyone and everyone can record, sell, or listen to anyone else’s music with a couple clicks of a mouse button and little else.
So the problem is that every group believes they deserve something. Artists think they deserve to get paid for their work, companies believe they deserve the amount they used to get 15 years ago, and the general public believe they deserve music for free because there’s no roadblock to do so. As it stands, this a problem without a solution.
A lot of people like to blame the evil record labels. While I won’t say that they’re inherently evil, but it’s not like their biggest concern is anything but making money. Maybe we should blame the public then. They’re a bunch of no good thieves, right? Surely it couldn’t be the all important artists who do nothing but make song after song that reaches deep into our soul with such heartfelt lyrics as “SHOTS! SHOTS! SHOTS, SHOTS, SHOTS, SHOTS!” or “Baby, baby, baby, oooooh.”
I honestly don’t think the question we should be asking is who deservers what, but rather what has value. Prior to ubiquitous internet use, we, the generally public, were being trained to want music on all the time. We were convinced to have CD players at home, in the car, on our person and to pay dearly for that privilege. None of those things happen now, but we still get to have music everywhere we want. Know what else doesn’t happen anymore? No one buys an album for $15, takes it home, listens to it, and regrets buying it because the only good song was the single. We’ve now arrived at a time where the cream truly does rise to the top. Now, just because a song “hits it big” doesn’t mean that it’s creators or purveyors see near the amount of money that they would have several years ago. What I’ve learned though is that despite the no-cost availability of music, people will absolutely still pay for quality.
Example: I’m willing to bet you’ve all heard the song “Party Rock Anthem” by LMFAO. It was all over commercials, TV shows, YouTube videos, they even played it at the Super Bowl this year. I’m not saying there’s not a place in the world for party music, but I think we can all agree that this song isn’t exactly a prized piece of art. Anyway, despite how huge that song became, it only translated to about 1.3 million album sales.
As a counterpoint, Adele’s album “21” was released about five months prior to LMFAO’s album and is currently standing at a total of 22 million album sales. Not only has it sold a ton of copies, it’s still selling tons of copies as it currently stands at number 3 in the U.S. It’s one of the best albums released to a wide audience in recent memory and is still grabbing people’s attention.
Artists of the world: just because you make something doesn’t mean you deserve people’s time and money, so don’t feel ripped off when you don’t get it. We all know that with so much competing for our attention we will only invest in that which we believe in. That’s a rule of economics: something only has worth if someone is willing to pay for it.
Record labels of the world: This isn’t the same world where you were the only game in town. Money is tight for everyone, music can be had at no cost, and $15 can buy a lot more groceries than it can CD’s. Until time travel becomes possible, give up trying to make the same amount of money you did in ’96. Know that if you push garbage to the masses, they might not want to pay for it.
To the general music loving public: If you are touched, moved, or otherwise enjoy music from particular artists, spend money on them. Be generous so that they are still able to make music. There’s a very small number of artists out there who live comfortably, and the rest are struggling. If you truly love their music, don’t just buy the CD, concert tickets, or T-shirts; donate to them directly through PayPal, share the music with your friends, and see if there’s anything else they’d like from their fans.
I know I didn’t solve anything here, but I thought this might help explain to some of you why you keep hearing “The Music Industry is DYING!” and didn’t already have years of seeing it firsthand under your belt.