|Long time staff member, Lueda Alia, wrote her inaugural post today over at her new personal blog, Alueda.net. The topic is one we've touched on a variety of times on our website (most recently in the post about what to do in college to prepare for a career in the music industry) and it reaches through a variety of at-large societal issues: success, competition, internships, hard-work, and collaboration. Ms. Alia makes an interesting argument that interns are not all that different than artists being poorly compensated for "exposure" at major festivals:|
The way many interns are treated is no different than the way musicians are treated when they work for years for the chance to perform at a major festival, only to be rewarded by “exposure” while festival organizers are going home with millions of dollars.
And that in the music industry we should strive for something more than natural selection and only the top / fittest surviving:
There is no place for the idea of “natural selection” in the music industry, because of one simple fact: amazing things happen when people come together.
The part I specifically found interesting was the argument that hard work is necessary but not sufficient in achieving success at any point in the music industry:
I can’t argue with the idea of hard work, as I believe it is a necessary component of success in any industry. Everyone needs to work hard in order to get where they want to be. However, it is completely wrong to assume that people who have not succeeded financially are not working hard enough, or lack the necessary passion to get there.
However, it's this paragraph that really raises a question I think is worth discussing:
The problem lies not with them, but the prevailing attitude of unhealthy competition and greed in the industry as a whole. There is, unquestionably, enough money in the industry to ensure that musicians, interns, publicists, writers, sound engineers, tour managers, and festival organizers alike can enjoy a comfortable existence, so why are so many people struggling?
As anyone following my writing (or podcast) recently knows, I've been focused on tackling the idea of what it takes to have a sustainable career in the music business. What we have witnessed as we've grown up online is a product (music) that has gone digital. And as we've seen in a variety of markets now: the defining characteristic of anything digital is its zero marginal cost. It doesn’t matter how much effort was needed to create it; that's a sunk cost. All that matters is how much it costs to make one more copy. In the music world that marginal cost is approaching, or has reached, zero. Do we now have a product that can generate enough money to sustain everyone in the industry? Does the internet offer us the technical prowess (bitcoin and other micropayment options) and/or the financial capabilities of collectively pooling resources (crowd-funding, patrons, etc.) to provide a way for all musicians and those they employ (directly and indirectly) to have a comfortable existence?
We're in a perpetual period of transition in the industry and I'm not convinced we have an answer quite yet. I've talked before about how this feels like "the new normal" — and I'm not convinced we are better off for it. My first inclination was that as we moved toward a more direct fan-to-musician model we would see artists be more daring with their art (why cater to the masses if their core fans would support them no matter what), but now we've seen a backlash from backers when they don't like the product they get (if they get it at all). Furthermore, it appears to me that the asking price for each "campaign" seems depended on the size of the band's fanbase prior to launching anyway. Is that really that much of a positive change? When we talked to Kevin Devine he mentioned that he felt like his Kickstarter campaign was a "one bullet gun" and that he couldn't keep going back to that well. Is there a combination of Bandcamp and Kickstarter that makes this sustainable instead of a one off?
I'm really interested in what the guys over at Paetron are trying to build — but how do we account for the basics of popularity and how that equates with financial success? A band that is more popular, by and large, is going to make more money than a smaller band. The internet allows for an expansion of what counts as "popular" compared to even 10 years ago, but we are still seeing artists of small to medium stature struggle to craft sustainable careers while bands that appeal to more people within the demographics willing to spend money on them — are reaping the rewards. Bands (especially unestablished bands) are still signing and finding themselves dependent on record labels. Is that all that much of a change from before? Feels like a new coat of paint on the same old house.
So what are the answers? I understand (and expect) the debate to be one that this is the music business and not charity ... this is how free-markets work and all that (as we saw in the discussions over the recent vinyl pressing debate), but the question Lueda begs is a great one for what is one of the largest niche music communities on the internet: How do we fix this? How can our impact and reach as a large community help?