The Music Industry In Ten Years




Don Henley is telling audiences at Eagles shows that this may be the last time they see the band. Whether this is true or not, so many of the legendary classic acts are in their seventies, and despite their plastic surgery nobody lives forever, and neither will they. This will put the nail in the coffin of rock and roll, just like the casket containing jazz was sealed over half a century ago. People will still play the music, but there will be very few rock hits.


Yes, splits with record companies could be better, but the truth is there are only a hundred cents in the dollar. Once again, it’s the oldsters bitching loudest, and as they sail off into the sunset their cries will die with them. As for younger acts, they no longer see recording income as the end all and be all. When people talk about Drake or the Weeknd they don’t talk about the record deals they sign, or the amount of money they make from recordings, but their income overall, which comes from multiple revenue streams. Youngsters see that there are many ways to monetize today, that being a musical star is an entrée into a cornucopia of revenue opportunities. Their goal is to get enough traction, become a big enough star, to qualify for those opportunities. As for wannabes, they’ve always bitched and still will.


There’s nowhere to play. So more acts will make it from their bedrooms. Bands are passé. Nothing is universal these days, NOTHING. Meaning there will still be hard rock bands, the kind you hear on Active Rock radio, but people coming up will realize that first and foremost it’s about the track, Lil Nas X being the perfect example. Our entire nation has shifted inside, and it’s not only the pandemic that caused this. The local bar where a band can get started playing covers is nearly gone. Wanna make it? Write and record a hit song.


Are tracks that people know, not tracks pushed by the machine. Doesn’t matter if they’re on the radio, in advertisements, it’s just a matter of whether they’re hooky and special enough to penetrate the public consciousness. Sure, those in the top of the Spotify Top 50 can be hits, but not all of them are.


The gap between the two of them will continue to widen. The younger you are, the less susceptible to hype you are, well, at least if you’ve reached puberty. Today so many have grown up in a world where TV is on demand and doesn’t have commercials. They don’t read physical newspapers. Ads are something they tolerate online. But if you want to win in online advertising you must be gentle and truly fit the surfer’s specific needs. To experience this go on Instagram. Surf long enough and you’ll be seeing ads that make you think “this could help me”. As far as big marketing campaigns that shove things down our throat, not only are they less effective, they have the opposite effect, they turn people off.


Football causes too many injuries that our nation ignores, at least many parents no longer let their kids play football…baseball is too slow and boring…hockey has never gained traction outside of Canada and Russia…basketball’s hipness seems to be fading, it will be played forever but its arc of popularity will be based on charismatic stars, then again, even these have less impact than ever before…it all comes down to E-sports: the action is fast, the barrier to entry is low, everybody plays them, anybody can make it. The point being if you want to promote an act, attach it to E-sports. Which is why concerts on Twitch are so big.


The bigger the show, the more the production. The bigger the show, the less it’s about music. This is the Broadwayification of the music business. If you’re going to charge this much for tickets, there must be spectacle, the audience must be wowed by what they see nearly as much as what they hear.


We’ve learned there can only be a limited number of them, but that does not mean they won’t grow in power and revenue. Ticket prices for festivals will go up and up. It’s like going to an amusement park, the roller coaster is what makes the reputation, but many attendees don’t even ride it. Many festivalgoers don’t even see the headliner, but it’s the headliner(s) that sells tickets. Festivals are a promoter’s dream, if successful, they’re uber-profitable. Therefore, headline prices will go up and up. Will headliners share in the gross? That will be argued, promoters will stick their heels in the ground, but just like acts with leverage get part of the Ticketmaster fee, they’ll want part of festival revenue, or festival OWNERSHIP! Especially if you want to start a new festival, those who help you gain traction will want a piece, especially if it’s not promoted by Live Nation or AEG, entities that can take the hit as the festival spends years trying to get in the black.


Once it was cool to work at a record store, they no longer exist. Once it was cool to work at a record label, but they no longer divine culture, acts start elsewhere and the majors hoover them up. All the action is in the live sphere. Or on the internet. Online you can make your own destiny, and the younger generations know there is no lifetime employment and no one cares about them so they’re always trying to make a buck online, and traditional industry is behind them. It takes money to be a promoter, but not to be a label. Where you start with no money is online, breakthroughs in platforms, campaigns and acts will continue to thrive there. No one in the music industry saw TikTok coming.


It’s about the panel, the competition, not the music. Which is one reason why music competition shows have only burgeoned on network, which has to cover the widest audience. No music competition show has worked on a streaming outlet, NONE! Because online it’s about the goods as opposed to the penumbra. When you slice and dice the audience, which is what happens in streaming, you’ve got to appeal to a narrow niche, and the truth is very few fans of any genre want to watch these shows, they’d rather just listen to the music. So the big paydays of celebrity judges will decline. Then again, if you’re a star you always have power, because you have REACH! To grow a substantial audience and gain market share is almost impossible these days, so those who break through will be rewarded.


The head of the tail, which will be populated by ever fewer acts, will be where all the rewards are, because of both talent and reach. But music will continue to be overloaded with wannabe acts, the barrier to entry is essentially nonexistent and music is part of the fabric of life. But streaming sites might ultimately put up barriers to getting on their platforms, 60,000 new tracks a day on Spotify is just too much. Then again, Spotify, et al, may realize the negative consequences of disallowing people from their platforms is just too great and just pay for the storage space like YouTube, believing it’s good for the business.


People are now seeing a streaming music subscription as a necessity. Sure, YouTube Music gains subscribers, but it will never be a player, and so much of its base just wants videos without commercials. Also, YouTube’s ads may now be de rigueur, but they’ve increased in number, don’t appeal to the audience…it may be free, but it’s a bad experience. Every time I go on YouTube I’ve got to say whether I want to subscribe? Imagine your phone service asking you whether you want to upgrade whenever you make a phone call…or text!


The share of streaming revenue going to songwriters will rise. It’s artificially low because major labels also control publishers and they don’t care where the money comes from, as long as it comes. But now so many publishing assets are outside the major label sphere. With sophisticated investors/owners who want a return. This has popularized the plight of the songwriter. And when light shines on inequity, change happens. The U.K. government report said the problem wasn’t streaming service payouts, but label payouts/deals. And now the light is shining on publishing, there will be change. But if you are a songwriter…it’s about the hits. The days of having an album track pay your rent are history. So, like everything else in the system, a very few will make more money and everybody else will be on the sidelines. This is the story of the last twenty five years. All the tech companies are huge in value but have proportionately fewer workers than the old blue collar behemoths like General Motors. As the business continues to be refined it will require fewer workers, not more. But those who survive will be handsomely compensated.


Is what gives you power and revenue, which is why those who own it, like the major labels, will always have a seat at the table.


It always comes down to hits. And hit acts. That’s the future. Distribution has been figured out, now it’s all about software. If you’re bitching about the platform you’re either ancient or ignorant, or about to be displaced. There’s a dearth of hit songs, and a dearth of magnetic acts. Breakthroughs are always unforeseen, and in a world of billions, there is someone who is always doing it differently. For some, the trappings are more important than the music, the sell, the wow factor is key. But there will be acts that focus on music only, that won’t complain, whose credibility will be key to their adoption and success. Today everybody says yes, tomorrow’s paradigm shifters will have to say no sometimes. These acts will not be brewed, not hatched by the usual suspects, they will come from seemingly nowhere. But to be ubiquitous you need help. Certainly from concert promoters. Online, you can to a great degree do it yourself, but an injection of cash, from a major with relationships, does aid the ascension. If you want to be a star in the future, be different, and not only in marketing. It’s very hard to write a hit song, to make a great record, but that is the starting point, and the competition will get even more fierce. Talent and vision supersede boundaries and rules. Always have, always will.


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