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10 theses on the future of the music business

A few weeks ago, we had a discussion in the iPad Musician facebook group about the chances to "make it" as a musician. Thoughts about that subject kept spinning in my head. To stop them spinning I wrote them down. This is my opinion, and I'd be very interested in YOUR opinion. I see my theses as a starting point for a discussion, so share your thoughts with me and every other reader of this blog. Ok, here we go...

1. Every Musician has a potential audience
Music is something deeply emotional. Something deeply subjective. Music brings the deepest emotions of an artist to the surface. If the listener resonates with the emotions of the artist, he will love the music and become a fan. As long as a musician has access to his emotions and expresses them in his art, there will be people who resonate with his art. There is music that resonates with a bigger audience, there is music that resonates with a smaller audience. But there is no music that resonates with NO audience.

2. In the past, it was the business of the music industry to make music available
For centuries, the only way to listen to music was to listen to music in a “live” setting. With the development of audio recording, it was possible to store music and listen to that stored music. For the storage and distribution of stored music, an infrastructure was needed. The music industry provided that infrastructure.

3. To make the music business profitable, a record had to sell in large quantities
Recording and distributing was expensive. Recording technology was developing fast and made hi-tech studios available. Vinyls or later CD’s had to be pressed and brought to the people via record stores. A musician had to sell large quantities of his record to even reach a break-even point.

4. Selection of acts with high commercial potential was necessary
As music was a business and a business had to be profitable, the labels selected their artist and released only music they thought was rentable. Art was –in large parts- determined by commercial interests. As music industry slipped into crisis even idealistic indie labels, that once were a home to more far-out artists, either vanished or gave in to commercial thinking. As a result, the artistic quality of music decreased.
That was then…this is now…

5. Thanks to new technologies, this form of the music business is becoming obsolete and will vanish.
With the arrival of high-quality digital home recording (be it on iOS, a Mac or a PC) and digital distribution services the music industry as it was is not needed anymore. A musician can realise his musical vision at home, he can set up a home studio at quite low cost for almost every kind of music. At the moment, a home studio is still inferior to a professional hi end-studio but as technology develops fast, it’s only a question of time until a hi-end quality can be done at low cost. Afterwards he can make his music available worldwide via bandcamp, iTunes and other services. The music industry in it’s old form is becoming obsolete and as a consequence is slipping more and more into crisis.

6. In the future, it will be the business of the music industry, to establish connections between musician and his audience.
As we said in Thesis 1, EVERY musician has a potential audience. Connecting every musician to HIS special audience is the main task for a music business of the future. The availability can be achieved by the artist. But there has to be a new infrastructure that is able to make connections. Connecting people with similar interests is the main theme of social media. The music industry has to become like social media. It has to develop structures that make it possible that each artist finds the people who resonate with his, special, music.

7. It will be possible to earn money and make a living. The possibility to earn a fortune will decrease.
As music can be produced at much lower cost, the break even point for a record can be reached much faster. As an example: The only costs an iOS musician (to make it easier, we’ll take a “purist” who doesn’t use external hardware) has for producing his music are the costs for his apps and maybe a new iPad every 2 years. That makes about 500 € a year. If he makes about 5 € out of every record he sells, he has to sell 100 records a year to “break even”. As the number of artists will increase, there’ll be a lot less room for “big names” who earn a lot of money. But, if the music industry does its job of connecting artists and audience, it will be possible to earn a living. Maybe new ways of earning money, instead of selling records, will develop. But in a new music business there will be better chances for all musicians to earn a living.

8. The tight connection between artist and audience will be the crucial point to make money with music.
At the moment, the willingness to pay money for music is very low. Music has become something like an always available environment, separated from the efforts of the artists. It is not connected to the artists anymore in the minds of the people. It is always available, and –as people believe- has no worth anymore. To change that, music has to be reconnected to the artist, to his person, to his emotions. If audience and artist are connected, if the audience is interested in the artist again, there will be an interest that the artist is able to continue to do his art and deliver music that touches the emotions of his audience.

9. The music business of the future is like social media.
To reconnect the artist and his audience, the new music industry has to provide channels and possibilities to connect. It has to “show” fitting artists to their audience and encourage people to connect. It has to encourage artists to grant the audience access to their creativity. But it definetely has to do better than current social media in guarding the privacy of musicians and audience.

10. There will be losers of this development, but it is good for the artists and for artistic quality.
Yes, there will be losers. Recording engineers, owners of high end studios, Record Stores. But if the music industry develops in the along the described lines, it wil be good for the quality of music. Maybe not for the sonic quality at the beginning. But for artistic quality. Musicians will be free to do the music that comes out of their heart. There’ll be no need for commercial compromises. The music industry network will connect them to the audience of their niche. There’ll be much more variety. Right now, a glimpse on this variety can be catched within the iOS music scene. There’s everything from dark ambient landscapes, hip-hop, electronica, chillout through to vintage prog rock.
Music is art and art has a value. We should work together to find ways to give that value back to music, instead of complaining about the way things are.

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