TuneCore's Jeff Price has a six-part series analyzing the financial state of the music industry from the point of view of an independent artist. Price offers compelling reasons to believe that although the labels are experiencing a severe downturn, artists as a group are earning more than ever, thanks to the Internet.
I have a feeling that the record industry's rejoinder to this would be, yes, more artists are earning some money from their music, and all told, there's more money going to artists than ever before, but there are fewer opportunities for an artist to sign up to a label like ours that controls so much of the distribution channel that we can guarantee large sums of money for these lottery winners.
In other words, the music industry today is much less winner-take-all, with the benefits diffused to a larger pool of artists at the expense of the few who did so well under the old system. This is what I mean when I say a good copyright system is one that encourages the broadest-possible engagement in culture: more music, from more musicians, reaching more people, at more price-points, in more formats. It's a win for free expression and for art, but it's a loss for some artists and the institutions that supported them.
I don't celebrate those losses: it's terrible to think of people who loved and lived for music losing their jobs (most of the people at labels aren't greedy tools deciding to sue 40,000 music fans; greedy tool-dom is confined to a few powerful decisionmakers). It's sad to think of the tiny pool of musicians who did so well taking a loss (though before we weep for them too much, remember that yesterday's winners are well situated to get even richer from merch, performance and licensing, even without the archaic recorded music industry and its shiny bits of plastic).
But copyright's purpose should be to get as much art made and available as possible -- it's not a full-employment scheme for administrators and marketing people and record-store clerks; it's not a lottery that makes millionaires out of a couple of lucky artists. There's nothing wrong with it doing those things, but they aren't why it's there: it's there to fuel expression and art.
The reality is:
* More musicians are making money off their music now then at any point in history.
* The cost of buying music has gotten lower but the amount of money going into the artist's pocket has increased.
* There are more people listening, sharing, buying, monetizing, stealing and engaging with music than at any other point in history.
* There are more ways for an artist to get heard, become famous and make a living off their music now than at any point in the history of this planet.
* Technology has made it possible for any artist to get distribution, to get discovered, to pursue his/her dreams with no company or person out there making the editorial decision that they are not allowed "in".
* The majority of music now being created and distributed is happening outside of the "traditional" system.
And to reiterate, sales are up...
Seeing that the Nielsen stats are readily accessible and accepted as legitimate, why then are we left with the impression that music sales and revenue are down? The simple answer is album sales and overall gross revenue from music sales (CD and downloads) are down. The increase in music purchases comes from the people buying individual songs. The decrease in revenue comes from a $0.99 song costing less than a $16.98 physical album as well as fewer purchases of physical CDs.
(via EFF Deep Links)
(Image: Diesel Sweeties tee)