Streaming has allowed consumers to discover music they might otherwise have not known about. But it hasn’t solved the problem of finding a new model to sustain an industry. Music has shifted from being a product-based business (vinyl, CDs, and individual downloads) to becoming a service-based business (streaming), yet no one has been able to create a model to support the transition adequately.
These streaming services, which charge about $10 a month for a subscription, are basically giving away music at a loss. Until that price point rises, there’s no reason to expect any of them to achieve profitability. The artists themselves make less than a penny a stream.
In a first step to fix this in the US, the Music Modernization Act is sitting with the US Senate to try to change the way musicians get paid. The hope is that an archaic remuneration model will be replaced and music rights and licensing will be brought into the 21st century.
Concerts and tours continue to put food on the table for a select few musicians. Others are simply the hook for events, such as Coachella, which are really about selling an experience that also includes glamping and gourmet food and other drawcards.
This is, arguably, why artists such as the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, and even Guns N’ Roses are still among the top-grossing live acts. They’re playing their catalogues and trading on nostalgia, instead of releasing new material.
That’s a problem. In the past, record companies gave bands or artists three to four albums to build a body of work and to tour and develop a base. U2’s Bono often says that if his band had started out today they would probably have had their recording contract cancelled after two albums. U2 hit the big time only with their fifth album, The Joshua Tree.
Today, it’s all about the singles and less about the albums — much like the ’50s. Artists in the US and UK are lucky if they’re able to sell a million units, which was the norm in the ’70s and ’80s for a success. Nowadays, talent is discovered on YouTube. Once-legendary venues, such as the Marquee Club in London or Whisky a Go Go on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles are fading memories.
As a result, creativity is suffering. Concerts once formed an informal incubator that continually bred new artists. Major headlining artists — themselves once support acts — took new bands on the road with them as opening acts. Without revenue streams, musicians will in time have no practical way to stay afloat and be forced to give up.
ON THE RECORD
But vinyl (and CD) sales are growing. In fact, in 2017, physical sales of records outstripped digital downloads once again. There’s a marked increase in shops selling vinyl exclusively. And it’s not just older folks buying LPs — millennials are discovering vinyl as a format in a big way. Could it be that they’re increasingly looking for something more tangible and real?