Eps 6: How The music Business can save us all

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Stacey Wade

Stacey Wade

Podcast Content
Plain and simple, if you are an indie artist looking to have your music featured in streaming platforms across the world, then you will want to become familiar with various different distribution platforms that are used nowadays. Because of how users now consume music, artists must deliver and market their music to platforms like Spotify, Pandora, and others, but do not mistake streaming radio with on-demand music.
Many artists are perfectly content for their songs to get free airplay on terrestrial radio, but AM/FM stations need only a license from ASCAP/BMI/SESAC in order to play the music, meaning that they need only to pay the performance royalties to the songwriters, and no mechanical royalties to the label/recording artists. This distinction - what is widely considered to be an unfair loophole by the music industry - means whenever a song is played on the radio, it is just making money to its writers, not artists. There are additional differences among different types of audio-recording licensing that earn royalties, like performance rights and copyright and synchronization rights -- but, in practice, all that matters is that this copyright belongs to artists and whichever labels are behind them.
Music distribution is the process by which a music distribution company signs a contract with a record label or artist, giving it the rights to market its music on a variety of channels. The big three record labels distribute music to massive conglomerates in the radio industry and streaming platforms, which control the way that music is consumed, and which take a growing portion of industry revenues.
For decades, the consolidation of corporations and growth of streaming music platforms has been shifting power toward the technology giants, and toward the conglomerates, which, thanks to a stunning failure of U.S. monopoly regulations, have come to dominate terrestrial and satellite radio, concert promotion, ticketing, artist management, and venue ownership--essentially, all income-generating slices of the industry. Revenues generated by music licensing, for example, have more than doubled over the last 15 years, thanks to newer, more aggressive licensing practices, but also because the media business has changed similarly to that of the worldwide recorded music business. One major reason is simply because, with a shrinking one income stream, the music industry has had to reevaluate its other businesses and attempt to make up for lost revenues from recorded music through increased revenues from music licensing and live music.
Live music and concerts are experiencing huge growth, and many are suggesting this is where artists will make most of their revenues. Historically, touring was meant to help drive album sales, but with the explosion in music festivals over the past few years, live concerts have become the biggest revenue driver for artists. Artists who are able to master the art of touring and performing live concerts are able to make a substantial amount of money, but generally speaking, touring and performing live shows must be taken alongside album sales and other income.
If you are looking to earn in music, and particularly if you are an indie artist doing so on your own terms, you are going to need to go outside the music and treat it as a business. If you want to make a living from music you will still need to approach music as a business; but remembering that music is art first and foremost, your output will retain value over the long haul. If you are a musician in our culture, and you are looking to pursue music as a full-time career, then you must learn how to treat music like business.
That is, business is still how our culture meets the needs of people - and music is still a need. Yes, you could make an argument that people are willing to pay for movies more due to what kind of content they are, and there are less movies produced every year compared to the amount of music released, but the fact is the film industry is thriving, as well as growing.
What we know is that the numbers on iTunes are dropping, streaming services are paving the way to new ways to share music, and within 5-10 years, services that we have never heard of could be dominating how we consume. One reason why such small shares are so low is because streaming services - despite revitalizing the wider music industry - are not profitable to artists, unless they are chart-topping names such as Joni Mitchell or Cardi B. Despite the ample opportunities for discovery streaming platforms may provide music makers, gaps remain, and there is still limited path to proper artist compensation.
Certainly, as bands such as Metric and Beastie Boys found, cutting the corporate overhead and infrastructure of the big labels in the digital age not only gets their music onto iPods quicker, but also leads to greater feelings of personal connection, as well as much greater profit margins for musicians. You also do not need to sign with an indie label to get your music out there -- and you will not pay for it, either. Artists and labels are free to put their music out entirely on their terms, pick exactly what stores they want it in, and make money from each play.
Some musicians may even decide to work with PR agents and DJ services before they release their music. My company also assists musicians with services like PR and distribution, and indie musicians frequently ask me about ways that I can help bring their music to larger audiences.
Once you create a music product, you sell this music product to the public via promotions, concerts, and record sales. If you are performing the music , then the audience is going to become interested in you, not just in your songs. A distributor will directly deal with all of the different music services, not you, in return for a commission and/or a percentage of royalties that you receive.