The music Industry has changed so much in just the last 25 years. In the 20th century the music industry was dominated by the big record labels and the major recording studios. To make it big in the industry you signed a record contract and you would go on tour to promote your music. Out of every musician that succeeded in the industry thousands failed. Signing the contract did not guarantee your success. Major labels took an artist’s music and rewrote it for commercial use. A lot of times they would take the music and package it with image. In most cases it was the image that sold the music not the music itself. It is no surprise that record companies in those days poured a lot of money, time, and effort into advertising and marketing for their products
Toward the end of the 20 century things began to change. There was a new file format for audio known as mp3 and now everyone began to down load popular music from the internet. Because of a file sharing service called Napster sales for music hit rock bottom. Record companies and established musicians suffered as sales for popular music began to dwindle and fall. Napster was the forerunner to sites like Myspace and Facebook. Social media began to move from chat rooms and forums to these new sites. It became popular for people to carve out their own little section on the internet in the form of a profile or page that belonged only to them.
New websites appeared for the first time that allowed independent musicians to sell their music as well. Websites like CD Baby would eventually become popular and they would help the independent musician sell their music. The music industry went through a period where the playing field was leveled as independent musicians began to make money by being their very own record label. As a result of this everything changed.
Gone is the romantic notion that you will sign a record contract and that record company will do all your marketing. The belief still exist that all you need to do is show up and play your gig or record your music and the record company will do the rest. Shows like American Idol and the Voice kept that pipe dream alive. The truth is you have a better chance at winning the lottery then becoming the next American Idol. You have a better chance winning the lottery then being an unknown musician and signing a huge lucrative record deal.
There are a lot of musicians I know that still think that they will be discovered and that the waters will part and everything will just fall into place. The truth is that these days if a record company wants you then you have already established yourself as a professional artist to a certain degree and they just want a piece of your pie, or they are going to charge you for marketing and recording your music. A bill for services will be in the contract. I still remember being in high school and dreaming of being a Rock Star! I Remember thinking, “Once these guys hear my band were in.”
The industry has changed in so many ways, and if you are going to try to pursue music as a career then you need to look at the industry angle of things. What makes money in the music industry? If this is going to be a career then it is all about the money not the art. That is the driving force behind everything in the industry. For a lot of musicians this is what makes the industry a real turn off. Don’t confuse the industry with your art. They are two separate things. So let’s look at this Industry.
The first thing to realize is the fact that in the 90’s CD sales were dropping and the record companies were dying as a result. This is in part due to downloading music illegally and in part due to lack of interest in purchasing music because of distractions like cell phones, computers, and video games. Teenagers these days would rather spend their money on those things then buying new music. Teenagers have always been the biggest buyers of music. These distractions were not around 25 years ago. Today there is a lot more competition that is competing for the entertainment dollar.
The styles of popular music have also changed. Now bands are competing with DJ’s, Karaoke, and open mic nights because these things in some cases are cheaper. This is because the operators of events like this are usually just one person. In most cases the vendors are billed as if they are paying for a solo act. Fewer people need to be paid. I have been to 3 weddings and a party this year where the music was from a DJ and not an actual musician. They were cheaper than hiring a real band.
Making money in music on a local level has become harder too. If you teach music and give private lessons then you are competing with free on-line websites that are set up to teach for a much smaller price. These days’ people can watch You Tube and learn a great deal. The internet has cut into a big market share when it comes to teaching music. Getting local gigs or doing anything with music has become harder all because there are more musicians and fewer gigs.
I was in Guitar Center in the recording section looking at software. I noticed a few people over by the drum machines. I was talking to one guy who was into Rap. He was talking about buying a new drum machine so he could get some new beats. When he gets his music out there he thinks he will be discovered. So the old Rock Star Dream has become the new Rap Star Dream! Really? it is the same thing. If you remove all the Rap and hip hop artist from websites like Reverbnation just in my area alone you will drop the local band count by 75 percent. Anyone and everyone can now do this. By some beats rap over them with a certain tone of voice and now you are a musician. Why would I pay for something anyone can do? I should say at this point that there are some very talented people in the Rap and Hip Hop styles of music, but there are a ton of people who seem to believe they are the next upcoming artist without having any musical background at all.
It seems these days everyone thinks they are a musician. All they got to do is get a computer and record some beats. Then they just say some words over that with some rhythmic value and, wa la soon they will be discovered. All they got to do now is hit the export button on the recording software. Soon they will be living the high life. Just how many guitar players have gone down a similar road? Gone are the long hours of practice to perfect your skill. Almost all the new music these days is more automated and electronic. Instruments are not used as the computer generates everything. No musicians are needed. Drummers are being replaced with software like BFD and Addictive Drums. I see less local live music in my area. Dance Clubs are much more DJ oriented now.
The styles of music are changing and they are becoming more interactive and personal. This makes me a dinosaur. Don’t get me wrong. There is still a consumer base for what I do, but it has shrunk drastically for many reasons. There is still money to be made, but the pot is shrinking. This is why musicians who have been making music for the last 30 years are beginning to retire. Neil Young was wrong! I see Rock and Roll dying a slow death. It will be interesting to see what music looks like a few generations from now.
The only thing I am really trying to convey are two points
First: if you are going to pursue music as a career then you will need to do your own marketing and you cannot depend solely on outside sources. You must take the initiative!
Second: this music thing is a lot of work! It is established over time and not overnight. I tried to convey a sense of just how much work it is. I know I can make it sound easy at times, but the truth is there are other fields where you don’t nearly work so hard. Sometimes this is very tedious work.
I have not even brought up the monetary investment yet. Pursuing music as a form of income will require an investment in music gear and software. It will require an investment in education. It will require an investment in time and practice. You wind up wearing many hats. From musician to roadie, from recording artist to producer, advertiser to marketing, and from booking agent to manager all of these roles have now become your job. In fact, many Jobs the record companies use to do now fall on you. Are you sure you want to do this? The competition is fierce and the industry is dying. I know of some musicians who have made their exit from the industry and now the music thing has become more of a hobby with the occasional side job.