So last week I rambled for a bit about the state of our current musical situation, in terms of it’s artistic offering and expression. If you didn’t read it, click here. Now whether or not music was better “back then” is certainly debatable, and you already know my opinion on this subject if you read the other post. But how about the state of the entire music industry at large? Sure, the music itself has evolved over the centuries, but has the industry of music taken a turn for the worse in recent decades? I’d like to voice a few opinions on the subject 🙂
Just like Part One, this post will address another statement that I hear quite often. In fact, I probably hear it at every gig. It goes something along the lines of “Man, the music industry was so much better back in the day.” Of course, this is again the nice way of putting it. Though I wasn’t there for it, the common consensus is that there used to be much more work for musicians and there was a greater appreciation for hearing live music. And I believe this to be entirely true, for the most part.
Think about it; at one point in time (before mine, I can assure you) a 5-piece band didn’t need to compete with a 1-person DJ who could do the job for substantially less. People couldn’t see or hear high quality performances at any moment they desired (YouTube, iTunes, etc). There was a legitimate profession for a person known as a “session player” who would have studio’s calling every day to book his time and services (of course this still exists, but not like it used to). Things were different, and some of us wish it would go back to being that way.
On the one hand, I do. I think back to the Glory Days, and perhaps I over-romanticize the idea of the Motown era, but I LOVE the thought of someone going to work each day and just playing music (I’m going to come back to this in a minute). I wish I could make a decent wage doing the work that I love to do, but let’s be honest; it’s tough! The game has changed in so many ways:
– Record sales are at an all time low, not because people aren’t listening anymore but because they’re not paying for it.
– Home-recording has become a big hit so many studios are suffering.
– Venues slap you with all sorts of fees, from stage rental to taking a percentage of your merch, hiring a house man to work your merch table, percentages of your ticket sales…
– It costs me $80 to fill up my truck with gas, so quite often I use half of my pay just getting to the gig.
It ain’t easy, and no one ever said it would be, but the problem is that there’s a shortage of work and very little pay involved for someone to do this full time. So the argument for things being better “back in the day” seems pretty much in favor of the good ole’ days. But just like in Part One of this discussion, my stance remains that the industry, much like the music itself, is evolving and changing just as it always has. Allow me to explain:
In the days of J. S. Bach, success in the music industry meant working at the church. Only the lucky few were selected to be court composers for royalty, so the average Joe (which Bach himself was considered, btw) had to get his gig from the church. Working in music meant working in the church. Fast forward a hundred years it became all about the patronage; Franz Joseph Haydn made his living working for the Esterházy family almost his entire life! Think about it, when Mr. Esterházy wanted to hear music he didn’t pop on his CD player or tune in the radio, he was rich enough to have his own symphony. And if he went on vacation, he’d take them with him so they could perform music that he hired them to write. So in his day, working in music meant working for royalty. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart did not like this idea and tried to freelance it, to do music on his own terms. He failed and died penniless.
In Beethoven’s day you have more opera and theater houses opening to the public, not just royalty, so music became more affordable to the every-man. In the early days of recording music was all about the single and the radio play. In later decades it became about the album as a whole, then television performances, then the pyrotechnics and makeup, and then it was all about the music video, and then it was how many Myspace friends you had, so on and so on…
My point is this – the music industry is EVER CHANGING much as music itself is changing. If you go back even further than the days of Bach you will see that “musician” was never even a job title, but rather something you learned in school like reading and mathematics. The music industry is different today in comparison to the last 20 or 30 years as much as it is to 100 or 200 or even 300 years ago. It’s simply different.
Better or worse? Well, like I said earlier, it was easier to get a gig when my parents were full-time gigging musicians (I know this because they tell me all the time). But was the music industry in their day better than it is now? Well, take the following into consideration:
I’m tying these words in Los Angeles, CA. In a few days this post will go live and hundreds of people from around the world will read them. Literally – around the world! I have followers in Germany, Canada, Costa Rica, Mexico, France, Japan… Some people from every corner of the earth will read these words, and that same network allows them access to my music as well. So not only can I get them interested with the words I’m speaking but I can also expose them to the music that I’m making, to the videos that I’ve released, to the books that I’ve written, to the tours that I’ll be on, when I’m coming to their city… Everything right down to what I ate for lunch yesterday!
It’s pretty amazing the kind of technology that we have at our fingertips and how we can use it to our advantage. Tools that we all accept as commonplace entertainment (and that businesses accept as genuine marketing tools) were unavailable to ANY generation of the past. Nobody in history had the tools that we have today to market ourselves, and even though there’s no guarantee that you can support yourself with them, you at least have the option and freedom to try doing it on your own. No one else has ever had that.
I said earlier that “I LOVE the idea of someone going to work each day and just playing music.” This simply is not the case anymore. The gig got bigger, but it always has! It’s really never been JUST about the music; you had to do music AND do it for the church OR the royalty OR the radio OR this OR that… Nowadays, the key to surviving in this industry isn’t just in writing good tunes; it’s everything else that goes along with it, and though it’s a heavy responsibility we finally have a way to do it all on our own, which is something that I believe every previous generation wish they could have had.
It’s a bit of give and take, as always, but I would not trade the current state of our industry for anything. What do you think?