The Devaluation Of Music
A couple of weeks back, I had the pleasure of being one of the guest panelists on the live MSI Hitlist radio program. As such, my task (along with the other panelists) was to pick a “Song Of The Month” from the various weekly winners selected during July. It was a tough choice. All five of the tracks in the “competition” were exceptional examples of independent musical artistry, but in the end, we selected a tune called “No Guarantee” by Bosco & Peck. It’s a great tune and I suggest you give it a listen for yourself by clicking here.
In fact, I dare say that if we had a fully functional time machine and could transport ourselves back to the pre-Internet radio/pre-Sirius/XM musical dark ages, this song might well have been solid Top 40 hit. Maybe even a “million seller” which would have generated a lot of profits for the record companies and (hopefully) the artists.
How could that have happened? You ask. Well, before digital sound files, if you wanted to add a new song to your collection of music, you had to buy it on vinyl or a CD. There was some copying going on, but that usually meant getting an inferior sounding copy on a cassette tape.
In the 1960s, a vinyl 45 rpm “single” cost between 89 and 98 cents. In today’s money, that’s just a tick under 7 bucks! In all those passing years, the price of almost everything escalated 6, 7, or even 20 times or more, yet the price of music has stayed roughly the same—which in reality means it’s been horrendously devalued.
If there is an upside, it’s that the new technologies have brought glorious new opportunities for worthy bands to reach a larger audience. As a result, we all now get exposed to music that may never have made it to a Top 40 play list in the past. The downside, of course, is that there’s not much money in it for the artists, not to mention the once fat record companies who not must fight for tooth and nail to just keep the lights on.
It’s typically the same for bands playing live, and even disc jockeys. In the late '70s and early '80s, bands were getting about $350 for a three hour gig. 30 years later (unless its is a B-level+ casino or something like Fremont Street in Las Vegas) it is still $300-$350 per gig. DJs, particularly those who specialize in weddings, have fared better overall but are still taking a hit in the economy.
As someone who has spent probably half my lifetime income on music, musical instruments and PA gear, I’m a huge proponent of seeing worthy musicians and DJs fairly compensated for their time, talent and experience. Unfortunately, here in the digital age, music has become just another disposable commodity. The life time of even the top selling “singles” has been reduced to mere weeks.
For the indie artist who can no longer count on sales and bookings to pay the bills, new opportunities such as “Kickstarter” exist for finding the funding for new projects. In addition, artists need to take advantage of every opportunity to reach the masses using platforms such the MSI Hitlist. And don’t discount the potential of video. Indie artists who submit their music videos to sites that promote independent music (such as the Live2Play Network) can reach several thousand new potential fans with even a short run.
The working musician’s perspective from Andrea Bensmiller of the Live2Play team:
“When it comes to actually making money on your recordings, it's not likely that you'll see enough sales to actually recover your costs. But you can increase your chances of that happening, by being involved in as many online digital distribution systems as possible. CD Baby does a great job of covering all the bases for artists who sign up for their program, and automatically also gets your music up on iTunes. You can also use CD Baby to sell your music on Amazon and Facebook, as well as license it for film and TV, and get royalties on Youtube.
You'll want to start participating in sites like Reverbnation and Soundcloud to increase your exposure and make music loving friends who might somebody buy your stuff. And selling physical CDs is still a reasonable way to make those dollars here and there - especially if you gig. Do yourself a big favor and try to be as professional as possible with your display cases, signs, and ways to take people's money.
Licensing your music to film and TV is the most lucrative of the ways for you to make money - but also one of the hardest areas to get into. For more information, on licensing, see Andrea's complete series on it on the site (link to the first part).
Keep in mind, though, that every online program in the world isn't going to help you if you aren't out there consistently working and promoting yourself in the real world and to real people. Your best path to making money at music is to expand your network of friends and colleagues. And it should be something that you do EVERY day.”