The New Normal

“The Creative Apocalypse That Wasn’t”

The reason concert tickets are so expensive is because people want to buy them. Furthermore, attendees agitate against paperless ticketing because they want the ability to resell. So promoters have given up trying to control access to the supposed hard core fan. The truth is tickets, although expensive, are in most cases underpriced. Why does everybody want to go?

Because in a world of digitized culture where you spend so much of your time in front of a screen you want something real, and there’s nothing as real as a concert.

Read the above article. Which posits that the ceiling did not fall Chicken Little. Those who said there would be no art in the digital era turned out to be wrong. Not only that, this writer says that musicians are actually doing pretty well, there are more indies receiving more money.

But I doubt you’ll read the article. Because it’s tough to read something that’s antithetical to your world view. The internet killed music, you can’t make money any more, and that’s that. Kind of like those Republicans who cannot admit they’re wrong when confronted with facts. You see it just doesn’t FEEL right!

While you were sleeping, data entered the music business. It may not decide what song’s a hit, but indicators tell labels when to push the button, when they have something hot. Managers, agents and labels track social media and streaming services and when they see something reacting, they push the button. Spotify itself does this. It sees what people are flocking to and then reaches out to help acts have further success. It’s in Spotify’s best interests, the more it helps make hits, the less blowback there is.

But this blowback is incessant.

“In 1999, the national economy supported 1.5 million jobs in that category (Group 27-0000, the Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports and Media Occupations); by 2014 the number had grown to nearly 1.8 million. This means the creative class modestly outperformed the rest of the economy, making up 1.2. percent of the job market in 2001 compared with 1.3 percent in 2014. Annual income for Group 27-0000 grew by 40 percent, slightly more than the O.E.S. average of 38 percent.”

But Group 27-0000 doesn’t include self-employed musicians.

“From 2002 to 2012, the number of businesses that identify as or employ independent artists, writers and performers (which also includes some athletes) grew by almost 40 percent, while the total revenue generated by this group grew by 60 percent, far exceeding the rate of inflation.”

“…in 1999 there were nearly 53,000 Americans who considered their primary occupation to be that of a musician, a music director or composer; in 2014, more than 60,000 people were employed writing, singing or playing music. That’s a rise of 15 percent, compared with overall job-market growth during the period of about 6 percent. The number of self-employed musicians grew at an even faster rate: There were 45 percent more independent musicians in 2014 than in 2001.”

“According to the O.E.S., songwriters and music directors saw their average income rise by nearly 60 percent since 1999. The census version of the story, which includes self-employed musicians, is less stellar: In 2012, musical groups and artists reported only 25 percent more in revenue than they did in 2002, which is basically treading water when you factor in inflation. And yet collectively, the figures seem to suggest that music, the creative field that has been most threatened by technological change, has become more profitable in the post-Napster era – not for the music industry, of course, but for musicians themselves.”

And there you have it, but a few more salient points to round out the topic:

“Part of the answer is that the decline in recorded-music revenue has been accompanied by an increase in revenues from LIVE music. In 1999, when Britney Spears ruled the airwaves, the music business took in around $10 billion in live-music revenue internationally; in 2014, live music generated almost $30 billion in revenue, according to data assembled from multiple sources by the live-music service Songkick. Starting in the early 1980s, average ticket prices for concerts closely followed the rise in overall consumer prices until the mid-1990s, when ticket prices suddenly took off: From 1997 to 2012, average ticket prices rose 150 percent, while consumer prices grew less than 100 percent. It’s elemental economics: As one good – recorded music – becomes ubiquitous, its price plummets, while another good that is by definition scarce (seeing a musician play a live performance) grows in value.”

“The same technological forces that have driven down the price of recorded music have had a similar effect on the cost of making an album in the first place. We easily forget how expensive it was to produce and distribute albums in the pre-Napster era.”

“The vast machinery of promoters and shippers and manufacturers and A&R executives that sprouted in the middle of the 20th century, fueled by the profits of those high-margin vinyl records and CDs, has largely withered away. What remains is a more direct relationship between the musicians and their fans. That new relationship has its own demands: the constant touring and self-promotion, the Kickstarter campaigns that have raised $153 million dollars to date for music-related projects, the drudgery that inevitably accompanies a life without handlers. But the economic trends suggest that the benefits are outweighing the costs. More people are choosing to make a career as a musician or a songwriter than they did in the glory days of Tower Records.”

Expect a flurry of naysayers to come out of the woodwork shortly. The Trichordist will freak out, all those agitating for a return to yesteryear. But the truth is we’re never going back, even if everything Steven Johnson says in this article is wrong. So why can’t we just accept it and move on, certainly the public has done this.

But the industry can’t. The industry can’t get over the fact that recordings are not where the money is, that it’s only the entry point to the gravy train. To see execs complain is like listening to American textile honchos bitching forty odd years ago when production moved overseas. As for bringing manufacturing back to America, a ridiculous left wing/Democratic saw, that will happen when people agree to pay $2000 for a flat screen and $20 for a pair of underwear. You start with hearts and minds, and the public not only likes cheap prices, it likes having the history of recorded music at its fingertips.

So stop complaining. You can make money in music, many are. Yes, the spoils are going to the 1%, but that’s true in all walks of our economy. Turns out there’s a limited number of top-notch execs and a limited number of top-notch musicians. Do you want to go see Taylor Swift for a hundred bucks or the girl down the street for five dollars? Economically the latter seems like a good deal, but the truth is you want to see a star.

The public is happy. Instead of trying to get people to change their minds and go back to a past that you want, better to give them what they want, even better, give them MORE than what they want, new and different. That’s what turns people on, not when they’re corralled and ripped-off, but when they’re enticed.

This article was in the “New York Times.” A publication that itself is challenged by digital disruption. But the truth is the “Times” is the most powerful publication in the world, and what is said there has impact, it does not matter if you agree or even read, the truth is the “Times” sets the agenda, it’s the starting point of the discussion.

And now that this article’s in print, many people will stop worrying about the downtrodden musician or songwriter. After all, worker bees have had to change jobs numerous times, be fleet on their feet, why should musicians get a pass?

You don’t.

These are the good old days.

This is the new normal.

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