SKF NOTE: Digital music devastated the old order of earning a living in the music business. I still don’t understand all the nuances those changes made. But I understand enough to know album sales and airplay lost much of their money earning potential for musicians, while live performing became a major option for musicians’ compensating for their loss of song/album royalties.
In 2015 I asked Neil Peart how Rush was adapting to the music marketing changes. Neil’s reply was, and is, clear, helpful, and eye opening.
Scott Fish – Mar 15, 2015, 9:01 AM
Sometime maybe you can explain how Rush – and, by extension, all popular musicians – adjusted to the changes in marketing music. It wasn’t so hard when the end product was a vinyl LP. The record company produces X, sells Y, and Z is the amount of return LPs.
But now, with digital music – holy smoke! Actually, albums are sometimes digital, CD, and vinyl. From my perspective, it seems as if musicians almost consider albums as loss leaders, making up the loss with concerts and swag.
In the 50s, as you probably know, all the Indie rock labels (i.e. Sun, Chess) would produce boxes of 78’s, then 45’s, throw them in the trunks of cars, and barnstorm radio stations across the U.S.
So, on one hand the new technologies make it much easier for musicians to produce and promote their songs. On the other hand, the new technologies seem to make it tougher for musicians to earn a buck, or a living.
[Neil Peart] — Mar 15, 2015, 11:51 PM
Re: your question about the “economics” of being a rock band today. Yes, in the ’70s until the late ’90s/ early-Noughties touring was often a break-even proposition, while record sales (and publishing etc.) were the income generator.
Now, alas, for us even to make a modestly-budgeted album would struggle to break even — and touring and its associated revenues (merch) are the wage-earners.
Which sucks when you’d really like to retire from all that — to feel free of it. And you pine for the days when after a lifetime of work, artists used to be able to live off *ahem* royalties (such a quaint concept).
Because as the media of musical commerce change, corporate entities struggle to keep up — always, by definition and temperament, well behind the true zeitgeist. And when they do get their fingers into the pipeline, they find ways to diminish the flow to artists to a trickle. (I sense there’s a metaphor with water rights in the West, but am too tired to pursue it. Lucky you.)
In another example — once upon a time writing a theme song for a hit TV series could be a lifetime annuity. No more. Bean-counters hate the idea of anyone else making any part of what they see as “their” pie — or at least (and this is good) their pie-chart!
(Because it’s quarterly earnings on which their personal performance is judged, nothing more.)
Now such specimens dictate, without negotiation, that the composer will only be paid a flat fee — not very much — and nothing more ever, in perpetuity. They buy out the composer before any eventual success or failure is even known. Thus they feel justified in paying on “failure” terms.
In the bigger picture of the entire music business, as the suits struggle to keep pace with digital downloading and streaming, they institute structured deals that give the artist a pittance. (Classic example of “too little, too late.”) As if to say, “It’s this or nothing — because we are stopping ‘them’ from stealing it all.”
It’s a sad mess.