There’s just not that much money in it anymore.

I wish the problem was streaming, I wish there was a single oppressor keeping players from scraping by. But there’s not. Times have changed, the cultural landscape is so different that anyone from the pre-internet era would not be able to fathom the business. Anyone who stopped paying attention in 2015 would not recognize the business.

Ever since Elvis Presley, ever since the baby boomers came of age, music has been an avenue to get rich. If you just practice your craft, pay your dues, get better, both in recordings and on stage, a major label checked you out and if they signed you you were on your way. The label made a commitment, usually multiple albums, they paid for you to go on the road, they promoted you to radio and the press. And you had a good chance of becoming successful, even without a hit record, the machine got your name out there, people would buy your records, there are old acts still touring today who never had a hit. You see it was a club, with a heavily guarded gate, and most people couldn’t get in. The internet demolished the gate, and now the lunatics are running the asylum.

So if you’re paying attention and up to speed, and the truth is there’s not a soul who knows completely what is going on, major labels are only interested if you come with an audience, demonstrated by social media numbers. But now it’s gotten even more specific, it’s about TikTok numbers. So what we’ve got is zillions of youngsters making very short videos to try and garner a fan base. And if they do, they’ll get a major label deal. Doesn’t matter what the music sounds like, if they’re any good, it’s an economic proposition.

Used to be labels could make stars, that’s completely untrue today. You build the fire yourself as an individual, and then the label pours gasoline on it and see if the flame sustains. And this is so expensive that very few acts are signed. Making the music is the cheapest part, selling it is where all the money is spent, in the marketing/promotion. Of course musicians don’t understand this, they don’t understand the problem with Spotify is not the service, but the labels and their heinous deals. The English government held hearings and that’s what it concluded. But we live in a post-truth era where it’s all about emotion and mob mentality rules, irrelevant of the veracity of the opinions held and proffered.

Now the truth is if you’re totally independent, and work hard and connect, you can make a living via streaming and playing live. You get the money instead of the label. You just can’t get rich. And this is why you got into it. Be clear, back at the advent, the heyday, post-Beatles, musicians, mostly male, did it to get laid and get rich, not to make the same money as the guy working at the gas station. So now when you’re in the game and making bupkes, you feel someone must be at fault, but that’s patently untrue, the game changed and you’re not aware of it.

The most important story you can read today is: 

“The Social-Media Stars Who Move Markets”:

It’s behind a paywall, so if you’re not laying down, forget about reading it. Complain all you want, but the joke is on you. You’ve got to spend to make it. For years you could do it essentially all for free, but not anymore.

So the bottom line is self-styled financial analysts, with little to no experience, have YouTube channels and they’re making bank. Three are featured. Kevin Paffrath, 33, has 1.7 million YouTube subscribers and made $5 million in just the first three months of the year. Rose Han, 32, has 522,000 YouTube subscribers and makes $2 million a year. Casey Adams, 20, has 7,860 subscribers and makes $300,000 a year. In all three cases the purveyors net more than almost any musician. You may gross a lot, but the expenses are stratospheric in music, to net $300,000 a year is a huge achievement.

And it’s not like the above three are experts giving totally accurate advice. They have to be positive 24/7. Mr. Paffrath said despite AMC going up 10% this day, hedge funds were shorting it and therefore he expected the share price to collapse.

“After the live stream ended, Mr. Paffrath started shedding thousands of subscribers, he said. Most videos with positive titles garner more than 200,000 views, he says, while videos that have negative takes on a company or an industry in the title rarely get more than 60,000 views.”

So don’t tell me how great a musician you are, how the successful have no talent, IT’S NOT ABOUT THE TALENT, IT’S ABOUT THE NUMBERS!

So, if your business is on YouTube, you’re directly connected to the money. YouTube is owned by Google, the company pays, like a slot machine, better than any club owner, better than so many promoters. The deal is clean, it’s just a matter of whether you get the views. So why would anybody want to go into music? Where the odds are long and you don’t make much?

Now the truth is the traditional financial outlets like Goldman Sachs  and Morgan Stanley, as well as hedge funds, got the memo:

“Wal Street Is Looking to Reddit for Investment Advice: Deep-pocketed banks and hedge funs now take their cues from the armies of Main Street traders”:

They’re not complaining, they’re going where the action is. If the market is moved by punters, they’re diving in. The small investors may be irrational, but if they’re moving markets you’d best chase the game or be left out. Like the major labels. Their systems are worse than financial institutions, they leak money, but the truth is the labels understand completely where the cash is these days. Just like the big investment houses, they’re following the money. Paying attention to what moves markets, like TikTok, not judging the tunes, just the eyeballs.

For the status of the TikTok music world today please read this:

” TikTok… Boom – The app redefined what it means to break as a musician. But could a host of new challenges threaten its dominance?”:

I found the above article on the “Entertainment Weekly” page on Apple News+, for which I pay ten bucks a month. But not only do I pay, I read, multiple times every day. But that’s my business, information. If you’re a player you might be out of the loop, at home busy making music, complaining about the landscape, how you can’t make any money, but the joke is on you!

As for those playing the new game, read this:

“Meet 14 TikTok artists and music curators who are making a splash”:

Now if you work at a major label, none of this is news. This is what you do every day. But you’re a businessman, the musician is not. But I would say a musician needs to be a businessman today to know the field they’re inhabiting, or want to inhabit.

But it gets worse, much worse. A hit is not as big as it once was. Because there’s so much in the landscape, everything has less reach than ever before, not only musical acts, but TV shows, movies… But the old media doesn’t cotton to the new world, so it just prints the metrics of the old world. If you took high school chemistry you know how it is…they teach you about how electrons orbit around the nucleus. And first they tell you it’s circular, like the planets, but when you grasp that concept they then tell you it’s untrue, that the electrons fly in 3-D space and there is no regular path. Confused yet? The media still is. They want you to think entertainment content is limited and it’s all radiating around them, the nucleus, in a perfect orbit that they can divine. Meanwhile, you know this is untrue, wading through the chaos is your everyday job, never mind some people focusing on inaccurate information. But the media is trying to make order out of chaos in a faulty manner. First, the outlets don’t understand everything that is going on, their model is flawed. We don’t need reporters asking, we need natives, living in the vertical, testifying. If you’re asking who, what, why, where and when, you’re already behind the curve, you’ve already lost. Reporters call me all the time and they have no idea what is going on, NONE, and then they write and almost always get it wrong. So, you can codify tracks in a chart, the manipulated “Billboard” one, or the Spotify Top 50, but they don’t accurately reflect what is going on. You can be nowhere near the chart and have a big audience and make a good living. Which you can see when you look at the touring numbers.

But it gets even worse. People go where the money is. And in the sixties, seventies and eighties that was music. You didn’t need a college degree, you just had to be good at what you did, playing, singing, or both.

But then all these people in tech started making billions. It’s essentially impossible to make that money in music. And the billionaires lived rock star lifestyles, going where they wanted and spending untold monies, the way rock stars did in the last century, destroying hotel rooms, getting laid. But it turns out money is a bigger force than fame. If you’ve got cash you can get a partner, people are doing their best to cling to you. Fame? Think of all the famous social media stars that are a joke or broke or both!

Yes, being a social media star is a full time job. It burns you out.

But somehow musicians believe they can relax, smoke dope, and if it doesn’t work out it’s not their fault.

And the social media stars are all about the marketing. Which young musicians get, and then realize the marketing is more important than the music, so that’s where they put their focus. So if you’re complaining about subpar popular music…you’re right!

And then there are the creators. They go where the money is. And since it’s not in music…

And the script has flipped, it’s not about stars, it’s about the hoi polloi, the individual. On Robinhood, on TikTok and YouTube too. Everybody is a star today, almost no one is passive, they want to create more than partake. And this is why if you’re refusing to allow your music to be synched willy-nilly on YouTube and other social media sites the joke is on you. These homegrown creators are the link to your audience, they’re the ones keeping you alive. Hell, it happens on a regular basis, especially on TikTok, creators pick an old song and then it gets traction seemingly out of nowhere!

And the most successful “musicians”? They’re all into brand extension, because that’s the only way you can make big money, have the perch in the hierarchy you used to be able to have back in the sixties and seventies. You want to be a billionaire yourself, for a seat at the table. So Rihanna doesn’t make music for five years but joins the ten figure club. And the story is everywhere! Because money is the hook. As for “People” and “Us” and the rest of the gossip rags…the faces are in on the game, it’s their way to stay in the public eye, and if you’re not there, you’re usually forgotten.

Like I said above, you can make a living in the music business, and you don’t even need a label to do so. But get rich? Even if you have a label deal relatively speaking you won’t be rich compared to those with money in the world today. And the truth is most people are driven by money. Music is just a place for those without portfolio, no education, no experience, to make it. Concomitantly, if you have an education and experience you don’t want to go into music, because it’s so much easier to make big bucks elsewhere. Of course there are exceptions, but just dealing with the wankers in the music business turns off most potential business stars. It’s still cottage industry in an era of streamlined outfits that know where every dollar is, run by MBAs.

Now if you read Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers,” you know the first criterion of success is to be in the right place at the right time. Right now THAT IS NOT MUSIC!

It was in the sixties and seventies, and when the old paradigm was dying MTV came along and saved it. But the internet blew it apart.

This has got nothing to do with how good you are at your instrument, how many dues you’ve paid, how good your record is. As a matter of fact, you can put out a positively great record and few can hear it today. That wasn’t even true ten years ago. Used to be if it was great, people would find it. But now there’s so much in everybody’s channel they can’t keep up with everything. Which also means if you want to stay top of mind you have to release music and interact online 24/7, otherwise you’re forgotten. I know you hate this, but if you’re complaining you’re not making enough bread, this is the only way to go!

We’re still in transition. No one involved wants to speak the truth, for fear of cracking the edifice. The streaming services are beholden to the labels who want to maintain their power at all costs. Like outfits in Clayton Christensen’s “Innovator’s Dilemma,” ripe for disruption. Turns out most of the young audience wants to make clips with the tunes and what tunes they are is not as important as the catchiness of the final product. Never have the major labels had less power. Without their catalogs they’d be moribund.

The public is in control. The same public that is not 100% vaccinated and does not even agree on the same vaccine information. It’s like that in every sphere today. Music is the same way. There are people who wholly reject the Spotify Top 50 and are deep into their scenes of whatever and are totally happy. They are in control.

But it used to be the business was in control. And it depended on talented artists for an audience always eager to greet the new via a limited system. As limited as radio was, MTV was even more shaved down. Only a few acts got exposure and they were bigger than all the rest. Now there is no unifying force, only disorder. And you study the game and find your place or you’re a square peg constantly trying to fit into a round hole.

So if you want to play music for a living, go ahead. If you’re smart, you’ll stay small, you won’t have dreams of ubiquity, you’ll focus on the music to bond fans to you.

That is not the mainstream game, where the music itself is secondary, where the makers are personalities, and it all moves so fast that unless you’re truly interested, probably a young fan, you don’t even scratch your head and complain, you just inhabit the niche you want to. And you find like-minded people online. What’s not to like?

The public is happy. People consume what they want when they want.

The musicians? They’ve lost control! At least the labels are trying to keep up, the complaining players are not, they’re just waiting for it to return to what it was, and that’s never gonna happen.

A good analogy is television. Do you really think we’re going to go back to three networks, even cable with a few pay services and limited product? Never!

Adjust or die.

Or don’t start playing the game to begin with. Why go into music? It’s like being a painter, only you’ve got to constantly travel to do it. If this is your calling, go for it. Or start on TikTok. Or just go where the action really is, follow the money, which once again isn’t in music. Oh, there’s cash, just not the big cash you’re dreaming of!

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