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Back to the Future – How Can Musicians Make a Living?

Steven Stone looks at the latest figures on revenues from music and doesn’t like what he sees…

A recent study done by MIDEA shows that since 2000 revenues in the music industry only declined 3%. That’s good right? Wrong, that’s bad.

AR-oneper3.jpgAlthough overall revenues have only dropped 3%, during this period there’s also been a 41% decline in retail sales of recorded music. Only a 60% increase in growth from “live revenue” sources, i.e. concerts, has kept the overall amounts flowing into entertainment industry coffers at almost 2000 levels. But according to this blog in Digital Music News  the top 1% of artists are getting 53% of that total.

What does this mean for a “middle class” musician? Less of their income can be expected to come from recordings and more needs to come from live shows in order to make ends meet. Also the kinds of gigs those who aren’t members of the elite 1% can expect to play are less remunerative than big stadium gigs – if they pay at all.

AR-oneper2.jpgAccording to the MIDIA report, “It is probably fair to say that we are approximately half way through a huge period of transition for the music industry. The realignment of revenue is merely a precursor to the new business models, products and career paths that will emerge to capitalize on the new world order. It is in this next phase that the real ‘fun’ will start. Expect every traditional element of the industry to be challenged to its core, expect dots to be joined and old models to be broken. But be in no doubt that what we will end up with will be an industry set up for success in the digital era.” While I agree with this report about the amount of disruption these new business models will cause, I’m not onboard with the conclusion that the industry will be “set up for success in the digital era,” especially if that “success” doesn’t include 99% of the musicians who create music.

AR-onper4.jpgBack in the Middle Ages troubadours made all their money touring from town to town doing live gigs. It looks as if, for many musicians, we are returning to that income model…

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