music business – business = more music!


I was thinking this morning about the music business, and its place in the history of music. For many years, when asked by friends and colleagues, ‘How’s the music business?’,  I would reply something along the lines of, ‘The music is fine, but as for the business, they pay as little attention to me as I do to them.’ This is a trite response but one rooted in fact. Having lurked on the fringes throughout my long and murky ‘career’, I have a fairly low opinion of the music business, surely prejudiced by my exclusion from their well heeled ranks.

As I grew up in the 50s and 60s, It became clear that there was a global manufacture and distribution system in place, that effectively decided what the world would listen to. They signed up artists they believed they could market successfully, and producers, studios, and musicians were lined up to record the product, after which agents, tour managers, promoters and such were recruited to help the artist go out and conquer the world. By the 1980s, with MTV and the power of the music video coming into its own, this had developed into a highly evolved industry, generating enormous revenues, making a small number of people very rich.

This was strictly a 20th century phenomenon. Prior to this, going back thousands of years, the only music distribution system was personal. Either you heard music performed live, or you didn’t hear it. This could be anything from a full orchestra performing music written for them by composers, down to delivery boys whistling a tune they had heard in the tavern the evening before. For many people, the most likely regular source of music would have been the church. However, no matter what the music or the situation, if music was heard it was because it was being performed live.

 We are now into the 21st century, and music business, alongside life in general, is changing rapidly. By the end of the 1990s, personal computers had become affordable and internet speeds accelerated to a point that made downloading easier and easier. The file sharing sites came into being, and despite legislation, and some convictions and punitive measures, prevail to this day in one form or another. Now we have a whole generation reaching adulthood who have grown up expecting to get any music they want for free.

The music business that so flourished, unopposed, in the last century, is now having its heart torn out, and is struggling to adapt and survive. There are many who think this is no bad thing, and that they are finally getting their come-uppance. It is true that artists are now having their intellectual rights violated wholesale on a daily basis. However, in the model in place say, 30 years ago, it was rarely the artist that earned the big profits. By the time the record companies and peripheral organisations that promoted artists had taken its cut, the lion’s share had gone. As the interested parties go about trying to legislate and license internet traffic, the model for the future remains unclear.

For the consumer, there are definitely positive aspects. Most interesting is the much wider choice of music now widely available. The next sensation could come from any of a bewildering variety of sources.

Also, the door is now open for smaller businesses to flourish, a sort of cottage industry approach, thanks to the Internet. Artists, whose following in the past would have remained local, may now reach a much wider audience geographically without leaving home. This way they are able to create and develop their own market,  without any help from the music business establishment.

Let us hope this is how the future will unfold. In so many areas, we are less and less trusting of large corporations, and prefer if possible to deal with smaller traders. This affords a more personal relationship with our suppliers, and a better feeling that what we pay is going to the deserving parties.

As G K Chesterton said 100 years ago, ‘the future is small’.

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