Why Pay For Music?

Santafe.com - September 24, 2012

"People have to learn to support live performances of music they like, put a couple of bucks in a tip jar or buy some merchandise that goes directly to the support of the musicians"

There have been some startling statistics being discussed recently on Music Think Tank, Digital Music News and Performance Rights Organization blogs. Key is the figure that there are 41% fewer working musicians now than there were in 1991. There are several reasons for this, the primary being that it is more difficult than ever to make a living as a musician.

It is a historical adage that in difficult economic times the entertainment industry does not suffer, due to the concept that people will invest in things that will allow them to temporarily escape from their problems. This does not necessarily seem to be the case with regard to musical entertainment in the current economic environment. It is only too convenient to blame the problem on the demise of physical media for music reproduction, but the issue extends to live music performance as well. It is high time that the attitude of the listening public is addressed.

The streaming technologies and ever-expanding availability of transmission bandwidth (albeit at expanding cost) have made it possible to have whatever music you want at your beck and call and at increasing quality resolutions. The problem is the revenue generated from this business model is distributed to the carriers rather than the originators of the music. These companies that provide the information pipelines to the ears and eyes of the public have a business model dictating that they pay the lowest possible fees to the providers of the content that they make available. The powerful lobbying ability of these corporations combined with the disarray of the music industry business models due to the ongoing digital transition have created a lopsided business position with regards to who makes money from providing recorded music to the public. This is most evident in the lack of any production and publishing credits available for the songs the public hears. It was a simple contractual obligation to credit the composers, producers, engineers, etc. when the music was being delivered via physical medium. Such contracts are not in place for such credits embedded in the metadata of digital media.

The cumulative effect of this operational paradigm is to devalue the content creators and heap the financial gain on the corporations that make the content available. This has resulted in fewer jobs available for people on the creative side of the equation and a corresponding lower quantity and quality of musical content. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to find quality music other than the tiny sliver that breaks through into mass media coverage, and we all know how engaging the music is at the top of the pop charts. There are constant complaints among the listening public as to “Where are the protest songs?”, “Why does syndicated radio play such horrible music?” and “Who is putting out this crap,” among other relevant questions. The answer is in the lopsided business model that rewards transmission technology over content creation.

So how does this apply to the business of live music performance? It is pretty much the same, but here the model is lopsided to the side of the venue operator. It has come to the point where musicians often have to pay for the privilege of performing at a popular establishment, in the hope that they can sell enough merchandise or build enough of a fan base that it is worth the cost. This process undercuts the musician with integrity and rewards the one that is vanity financed or believes that the music they are putting out is not worth anything. It takes a driven, dedicated musician who really believes in what they are creating to persevere in the face of this devaluation of their product.

There is hope for change, however, though the situation has yet to bottom out. The idea is that the content that gets mass exposure gets so bad that it opens up new venues and methods of distribution that capitalize on providing quality content that floats to the top of commercial effluent. We need innovative venues, promoters and music business professionals to rise up and champion music with integrity rather than the commercial schlock that is available to the mainstream public.

And of course it comes down to the listening public. If someone will not pay for music that means it has no value to them. When something is perceived to have no value, then what is the incentive for the creators to try and increase the quality? People have to learn to support live performances of music they like, put a couple of bucks in a tip jar or buy some merchandise that goes directly to the support of the musicians. That also means turn off syndicated radio, produced for the mass content and non-engaging media. Are you really paying attention to it anyway? What would you be missing?

This is the only way discerning music lovers will balance the equation and return quality musical content to the marketplace. It won’t happen quickly in any case, but it won’t happen at all unless the public takes a leading role in restoring value to its musicians.