Tim Bowness, cantante ed esperto di distribuzione indipendente, mi ha inviato questo prezioso contributo sullo stato attuale della musica (alla fine cliccare sul link per leggere l’intera intervista):
It’s clear the streaming companies have absolutely no interest in the livelihoods of musicians. As we’ve seen, they are willing to stoop to legal action to keep royalty rates as low as possible. Why are only a small percentage of musicians are willing to express their outrage at this reality?
That I can’t explain.
For reasons I’m happy to go into, I find streaming a little inadequate as a means of experiencing music, though I completely understand why people use and like it. More importantly, I think that if it does become the sole future for music, it would mean the fall of many independent music labels, the loss of even more music industry jobs, and the almost total disappearance of income for most musicians—especially non-mainstream artists who are already finding things tough.
What the digital companies pay for streams is pitiful and what little they pay is filtered through aggregators, collection agencies or labels. For context, to break even on one of my relatively inexpensive albums, I’d probably need to generate 5,000,000-plus streams, which is unlikely.
While musicians have sleepwalked into allowing their work to be sold for virtually nothing in the digital world, the publishing, TV and film industries have managed to protect their “talent” from being exploited. With films, despite the triumph of streaming and the collapse of DVD and Blu-ray sales, there’s been an increase in cinema attendances. For instance, 2018 was the best in 48 years in the UK. Additionally, Netflix and Amazon pay the going rate, if not more, to create their own content and also pay decent licensing fees for other programs and movies. I’m not sure why there isn’t a decently-funded Amazon or Spotify music label equivalent of a Netflix Original.
The book as an object is still attractive to readers. I don’t know what’s happening elsewhere, but physical book sales in the UK are still strong and stores such as Waterstones are one of the only success stories on the British High Street. Also bear in mind that Kindle prices aren’t that far off book prices and offer more royalties for the authors. If a Kindle sale is equal to an album download, there is no streaming equivalent for books.
The important thing is that the film, TV and publishing companies still seem to place a value on content, artists and the unsung technicians and editors that help bring these things to life.
Unfortunately, it does appear that the remaining major labels are actively trying to kill physical music media, much as they tried to do with vinyl in the early 1990s. We’re lucky in the UK with HMV still surviving and a healthy number of decent independent record stores keeping afloat, but in the US there doesn’t seem to be a major retail outlet selling CDs or LPs, and globally the death of the CD is being hastened by cars and computers no longer having disc drives and electronics stores stopping selling CD players.
For the major labels, who have decades of back catalog to offer digital platforms, no physical media will mean costs are down as they no longer need product manufactured, warehouses to store the product in, staff to run the warehouses and so on. Digital marketing, data uploaders and influential playlist placement are the growth areas.
Profits from streaming are filtering through to major labels, label shareholders, digital music companies, and mobile phone and Internet providers. Whether by accident or design, corporate control is stronger than it ever was and musicians in general earn less than they ever did. This doesn’t take into consideration engineers, producers and music studios, which also face massive pressure from home studios and reduced recording budgets. The diminishing number of audio experts are also being devalued in this environment.
Burning Shed deals with some artists, both well-known and obscure, whose business models revolve around releasing two or three albums a year, pressing a thousand or more CDs of each release, and subsequently selling them online and at concerts. It’s not a path to wealth, but it provides enough of an income for them to keep doing what they do. Vinyl is very expensive to manufacture and not guaranteed to sell, so if CDs died, an income solely derived from streams of a few thousand would necessitate these artists having to give up or just do what they do as a hobby.
I also feel that streaming is destroying good listening habits, and partly as a result of that, negatively impacting on the nature of music creation itself. The format is immediate, disposable and, above all, convenient. The appeal is obvious, but evidence suggests that the average listener has become more like an A&R person and gives a song only a few seconds to impress them.
When you invest in an album or single, you tend to give it time. I personally enjoy the immersive ritual of losing myself in music while poring over the credits and artwork on gatefold LP or digipak CD, and I find that if I don’t immediately like something, I’ll give it a few more chances due to that investment. Some of my favorite music I initially hated and even if I continued to hate something, I found I’d learned something about my tastes on the repeat listens. For some people it will be different of course, but in general I don’t think streaming encourages deep listening.
I use streaming and YouTube purely to see if I like something and want to buy it. As a packaging junkie, one of my great frustrations is that expanded artwork and detailed information, sometimes including correct release years, are pretty much non-existent via streaming platforms.
Outside of this, the number of financially equivalent streams to physical sales in the album chart is too low, by about half in relation to CD and double that again in relation to LPs. The top-100 UK singles chart is now 100% stream dominated, and the album chart is following suit with 60%-70% of entries now determined by streams. Partly as a result of this, we have the least musically diverse and most static charts in living memory. Charts are vanity, but they also dictate what gets radio and TV plays and mainstream media attention, so they remain important.
Fans don’t owe musicians a living, but I think the realities of what the digital era is doing to music should be discussed more openly. Most listeners don’t care how the music they like is made and what it costs to make it, and why would they?
The problem is that while streaming may have enhanced the visual entertainment industry, and so far bypassed the publishing industry, it’s laying waste to all but a few big companies and mainstream artists in the music world. Maybe it’s all part of a process and the sort of music I like and make are on their way out like the silent movies, but I still feel there’s a very strong public interest in all kinds of music and I think it’s something worth fighting for.
A simple question to ask is: is it right that streaming platforms and mobile phone companies do better out of music streams than the musicians themselves? It’s as if in the age of vinyl, the manufacturing plants and plastic companies were making a fortune while the musicians busked on the streets for pennies.
I’ll stop here, but needless to say I think it would be a great shame if physical music media disappeared altogether and I believe the ramifications of a streaming-only future based on the current business models will mark the end of many careers, strengthen corporate influence, and mean less interesting and less diverse music being made.
What advice do you have for artists to attempt to monetize recordings in the current environment?
Maybe it’s as it should be, but if I were to start now, I’m not sure I’d know what to do. It was difficult in the 1980s and 1990s when only around 0.1% of aspiring musicians ever made it to releasing something properly, but it’s even more difficult now.
There will always be big new mainstream artists, and some of them will be interesting. There will always be music used in film and television. And the justifiably legendary likes of Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Radiohead, Prince, and Marvin Gaye will likely thrive in perpetuity due to the cultural impact they’ve already made.
For new or lesser-known non-mainstream musicians, I’m not sure how they’d go about gaining a significant foothold in the new world order, but nothing’s impossible.
New ethical streaming companies could emerge. The existing ones could suddenly see what they’re doing isn’t fair, form labels and pay more. The public could learn to love music packaging again—much as it fell back in love with the book. The album as app—something I’ve had in mind for a decade or so—could emerge as a serious income provider. The more Internet speeds increase, device memories expand, and programming expertise spreads, the more it could become an everyday reality.
My current advice is to go against what prevails. Create the most beautiful, lavish and ambitious music and artwork you can and provide an experience that the streaming platforms can’t.
Tell me something positive about being a recording artist in 2019.
Despite all the above, it’s still a thrill being able to make music. From writing and completing songs to seeing the final release, it remains exciting and emotionally fulfilling to me.
Improved home studio technology has made creating high-quality work far easier and while sometimes feeling like a Pandora’s Box that should never have been opened, the Internet has brought fans and musicians closer together and enabled different ways for musicians to successfully work outside of the industry mainstream.
Technology moves on. Attitudes change. Nothing is ever guaranteed.
Tim Bowness – Instinctual reality by Anil Prasad
Copyright © 2019 Anil Prasad. All rights reserved.