In the Hands of the Creators

“I think it’s a very difficult thing to imagine that in 2017 the music industry could be alive and well. But, I do firmly believe that there has never been a better time to be a young creative person than 2017.” Spoken by Jacob Collier, a young musician from London who launched his career through a series of successful YouTube videos, this single quote provides an introductory look into the adaptations the music industry has gone through in the past 19 years. Since the release of Williams Velez’s article entitled “Performing-Rights Collectives: Dinosaurs of the New Millenium?”, a lot has changed with regards to how musicians are able to reach and inspire an audience. Collier, upon accepting a Grammy award for best vocal arrangement in 2017, here serves as a representative of the new “wave” of musicians, composers, artists and performers who have found their audiences, and funding, through online platforms. For one, YouTube, a simple idea from the year 2005 turned into a world-wide phenomenon (now owned by Google), not only allows a seemingly endless amount of information to be shared across the world instantaneously, it also provides a platform for “creators” — for our purposes in this blog, musicians — to share their work with a seemingly unlimited amount of people. Coupled with an increasing reliance on social media among a larger division of the population for daily information, news, culture and opinion, these internet services allow musicians to essentially create their own business models for how a successful creator can operate in the 21st century.

As Velez tends to imagine that a successful performing-rights business model would imitate a Charles Schwab approach to stockbroking, I have often thought that the current musical landscape (in the United States specifically but in other countries as well) resembles something akin to a free market economy. A increasing amount of today’s new music has remained in the hands of the creators themselves; meanwhile, their audiences — in this case, playing the role of “consumers” — with access to the technology which enabled the creators to reach them, have reached unabated authority in deciding who to listen to. In response to the emerging threats to the music industry in the 21st century outlined in Velez’s article, I strongly believe it is this growing crowd of “bedroom artists”, in other words, people who create music on their own terms, enabled by the internet platforms available to them, that will lead our generation forward through all of the challenges we face.

However, the rapid advance of technology and its effect on the way in which musicians can choose to reach an audience has not always been positive. With the advent of streaming services such as Apple Music and Spotify, the artists responsible for the music we listen to, and sometimes ​rely​ ​onfrom day to day, have far too often received unfair compensation for their creative work. In an attempt to combat this issue, Congress found the power to pass a comprehensive Music Modernization Act through to the White House where it was signed by President Trump this past year, marking one of the few rare bipartisan bills in recent political history. The long awaited bill ensures that artists will receive royalties and compensations in the modern era with increased efficiency and reliability, was met with celebrations across the entire music industry.

On the other hand, as Velez points out concisely in his article: “The existing Wall-street driven business cycle augurs poorly for the continued support and/or subsidization of music genres such as jazz, classical, bluegrass, and folk, for which positive economic models have yet to materialize.” While these styles of music are not seen to be as profitable as the “enthusiastic corporate support of R&B, hip-hop and rap, and Latin music” tends to suggest, the contemporary classical music sphere continues to operate on a culture of subsidy outlined in Eric Drott’s article entitled “Fraudulence and the Gift Economy of Music”. This “gift economy” in fact revolves around the notion that compensation for the creation of musical work is contrary to the creation of that work in the first place. In this sense, the modern classical music world continues to stand at odds with the modern musical economy which supports the pursuit of compensation for musical creations and does not favor that artists to forgo these financial advantages in the the name of “art for art’s sake”.

By Chris Beroes-Haigis

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Ben Sisario, “New Way to Pay Songwriters and Musicians in the Streaming Age Advances ” New York Times, June 28, 2018.

Drott, Eric. “Fraudulence and the Gift Economy of Music” in ​Journal of Music Theory​, 54:1. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University, 2010.

Velez, William. “Performing-Rights Collectives: Dinosaurs of the New Millenium?” In ​Reflections on American Music: The Twentieth Century and the New Millenium​. New York: Pendragon Press, 2000

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