Pitchfork has a lengthy feature on the revival of record companies’ fortunes in recent years and asks where the new influx of cash will actually go.
“It looked like the digital revolution really did turn the music business into a moldering husk,” is how it sets up the piece. “But now, like any good zombie during an apocalypse, the industry is once again primed to devour the world on a massive scale.” There is talk of the role of streaming (especially Spotify) as well as how markets like China and India could drive the next wave of growth. But this is run in parallel with reports that many professional musicians are struggling to even make a living wage across all parts of the industry. Even in streaming, some argue that the prognosis is not good for smaller acts.
“There’s very little middle- and lower-class in recording,” proposes Daniel Glass, president and founder of Glassnote Records. “That world has dried up.”
There is interesting input from Open Mike Eagle, an indie hip-hop artist and comedian, on the difficulties of trying to turn a profit in terms of recorded music and why live (and merchandise) is more of a lifeline.
The piece also pinpoints the consolidated majors as being the most significant beneficiaries of the uptick in streaming and digital income in recent years, but digital services are now shifting the power balance.
“The systems change, but the results are the same,” argues Ben Swank, co-founder of Third Man Records. “Now we get to watch a bunch of tech bros talking about how much they love SoundCloud rap.” It then talks about how TuneCore, CDBaby, Bandcamp and AWAL can change things for artists on whole new terms. It quotes Brian Message of ATC Management on why the new artist class system should not be viewed entirely through a pessimistic lens.
“The opportunity for talent to take a greater share of the growing recorded music pie is staring everyone in the face,” he says. “Superstars will continue to dominate the headlines, but the ongoing growth of the semi-professional and niche artists being able to contribute to their living will surge.” There’s a lot more to chew over in the piece so set aside 15 minutes to read it all.