How Innovation Can Sustain the Music Industry

Portrait of an Introspective Recording Artist
Portrait of an Introspective Recording Artist

An interesting article featured on my newsfeed this week detailing 99 problems faced by the music industry. Though the article is a year old, it paints a gloomy picture for the future of music and all the issues raised are valid. The article has haunted me for a few days but the deeper you delve into the problems the clearer the solutions appear to be.

Firstly, people will always like music.

There will always be a market; the challenge is making music financially viable for the creators. This is where the industry no longer needs to be governed by traditional record labels. Investment does not need to come from those who gain profit from it. Renowned fine-artists over the centuries did not have their work controlled by investment companies (albeit many works were commissioned) and it does not need to be this way for recording artists in order to survive today.

Secondly, accessibility to music is abundant.

As a recording artist in the late eighties and nineties there were limited avenues to push. New artists built their fan-base through gigging, fanzines and the rare demo review in Melody Maker or Sounds. It was considered a compromise to have your track remixed by a dance producer in the hope of your mix being played by club DJ's and finding a way onto the Record Mirror Club Charts.

Today, social media connects a potential global audience for music. New artists can make their music available on Soundcloud and YouTube, build a fan-base on Facebook and Twitter, and sell their music on iTunes and Amazon. Artists can brand their image, target genres and even ask their fans to finance it.

Record companies are more selective with the artists they sign. The aforementioned article states that only the established artists are making revenues for the labels. The new model for record labels is to let the artists do the donkey work. Creating the product is no longer enough; it's a business, and artists must learn and invest marketing time to attract the attention of a major label.

Thirdly, there is no shortage of talent.

There never was. The old model was largely based on luck -- who you know -- regardless of talent. The new model hasn't changed in that sense and record labels still exploit talent shows and television (and recently internet) celebrities for their ready-made audience.

Talent has become more dynamic. It's not enough to be able to play well, write well and perform well. To be successful, artists need to stretch their talent and expanded their creative prowess to brand their product.

There are no longer revenues from direct sales that can enable record companies to invest as openly in new artists as they have done in the past. This isn't a bad thing for the artists. There were hundreds of horror stories throughout the decades of manipulation by record companies, with artists being forced to compromise their artistic integrity to produce commercial product. Artists now have much more control.

Manufacturing costs have fallen. Artists can record quality tracks on a laptop computer and it costs nothing to make a recording available on MP3 format or for streaming, and a track's success is not dependent on CD sales (though undoubtedly this helps major artists).

Many recording artists are also visually creative. Promotional videos are more likely to go viral with an innovative idea or twist and don't have to cost a fortune to produce. The internet is a more effective medium than mainstream cable and as likely to influence sales.

Crowdfunding has helped numerous established artists in recent years but it can also help new artists. The more innovative the pledge perks the more likely funding is to reach beyond the support network of friends and family. There is a growing trend for artists to receive advertising revenue directly through sponsorships and brand associations.

The music industry has 99 problems, but the paradigm shift could present its own solutions. Record labels have been forced to change their business model but the artist's role helps reduce their overheads and offset the diminishing profits from digital sales.

Ultimately, everyone can benefit from these changes.