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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Are There Really 41% Fewer Musicians?

Gigs image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture blog
According to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, 41% fewer people now describe themselves as musicians than in 1999. That doesn't refer to musician hobbyists, but musicians that get paid, although they may not make their living directly from music. Depressing, right?

There's been a lot of contradiction about those stats by various parties (check out this great article on Ars Technica), but the fact is that even the best estimate places the number at 8% less than 1999. Regardless of which figure you use, the fact of the matter is that as the recorded music sales drops, so does the job opportunities for musicians.

Surprised? You shouldn't be. It's hard out there on the streets of Music Land, and it's been so for a long time. Here's what musicians face these days:
  • Paying gigs are harder to find because there are fewer venues.
  • Many of the existing venues have instituted a pay-to-play format.
  • Fewer record deals are available because there are fewer record labels and way fewer A&R talent scouts.
  • The existing record labels only want to take a chance on a sure thing.
  • The recording budgets are minuscule as compared to 10 years ago.
  • The farm team system and student/mentor relationship of the pre-2000 days barely exists anymore in the music business.
And I'm sure you can probably add a number of items that I haven't thought of here.

This sounds like I'm down on the business and lamenting those "good old days" (that probably weren't all that good in retrospect), but I'm not. I happen to think that this is an exciting time in music. Here's why:
  • The power to realize your creation is literally at your fingertips these days , and it's powerful and economical in an unprecedented way.
  • The information on musicianship, recording and production abounds. From books and videos (like those from yours truly), websites, online forums and newsletters, you can find the answer to just about any question in almost a blink of an eye.
  • The ability to release a product and get it into widespread distribution is cheaper and easier than ever before.
  • The ability to promote yourself is cheaper and easier than ever before.
Okay, I know you can poke a hole in each of the above arguments and in various posts here and on my Music 3.0 blog I'm sure that I have, but I'm still optimistic for the future.

The fact is that we're in the middle of a revolution and just about no one can predict the outcome. Even though the recorded music segment of the business has shrunk by 55% since 1999, the global income from all facets of music is at al all-time high And you can bet that somewhere in the near future a new technology will be created that will help musicians more easily monetize their abilities. These things go in cycles, and we happen to be in a trough at the moment.

So hang tough, musos. Study and learn your craft and more about your branding and marketing, because better days are ahead.


You should follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating social media and the new music business.


Jef Knight said...

Here's what's happened here in Central Ontario, Canada.

The burgeoning post-50 demograph.

These guys, up here anyway, are all reliving their youth and/or living vicariously through their kids vis-a-vis playing music live.
And their are all willing to undercut the competition and get paid in "exposure". Read:egotism.

We are currently experiencing the 2-fold phenomenon of fewer venues therefore fewer pro-oriented (or at least serious minded) bands/musicians and a glut of cr*ppy, pays 100 bucks gigs for the new breed of post andropausal Neil Youngs.

You can't swing a mixing board without hitting some dude in his 50's or 60's that has a new band/solo actor is "producing" some 14 year old Taylor Swift wannabe.

In my town there were always 5 great venues you could count on. Now, there's a "theater" style venue that mostly caters to country music for old people and the local theater guild, one pub that has mosty singles and duos that play "Mustang Sally" and "Ohio" after people finish eating and they move some tables around, and a small cafe/eatery where you get to play to people who are still actually eating. Lord Elpus.

I've made a pretty good living from music but it's almost impossible for me to find gigs for my bigger show. Solo acoustic? Sure, if you don't mind getting in a bidding war with the booker because the next guy will play for half of that.

Feels like a demotion; "campfire guitarist seeks gig a coffee shop. will play for 'exposure'".

So, enough about the complaining part.
I still get to do my "big" live show a number of times a year for actual money. That makes it all worth it.

But it's not enough, especially with all the new music we're releasing in the new year.

So what we are doing to get over this venue challenge is building a live stream studio. I believe that it will be easier and much more efficient to experiment with live streaming concerts (with other artists, special guests and other value added content)as well as other music related video content (ie Cubase/mixing/etc edu) than to chase my tail in what's left of the gigosphere.

Digital content is the future of entertainment.


Rand Bliss said...

It's truly sad and depressing in more ways than one. This ubiquitously slow tortuous death of live music cannot have a 'valid' alternative by anything digital.

Think hard why they're called 'the good old days'. Because that's when the best live bands produced the best recorded music - period. Of course unfair deals, rip-off's and exploitation were as rampant as always, but at least the music itself was based on paying your dues up the ladder to success. Not someone plucked off a YouTube channel and homogenized by modern studio magic with more money spent towards promotion than towards actual value talent development.

Most people of this generation don't even know the difference any more because of constant media saturation based on this mediocrity and attitude.

No risk bottom line business decisions have been killing Hollywood and the music biz is also going down with the ship. It's a can of worms and a vicious circle where everyone loses in the end because art is sacrificed for dollars. 'Greed is good.' Greed wins again.

When someone's on stage, you hear and see the truth, good or bad, warts and all. There's more effort and dedication to improving one's live act. When someone relies on the digital domain, this 'live' honesty can be too easily sacrificed in the name of commerce and exposure. A quick fix isn't just a shortcut, it's the normal route now. It's too easy and tempting to cheat in the name of desperation and/or plain greed.

Digital is a tool like any other that can be used or abused. And easier isn't always best. Desperation can too easily cloud one's artistic integrity.

Live music earned the right to be recorded and sold. Not the other way around. Why make the effort to be a quality live act when everything can be 'created' in the digitally based studio?

Who knows exactly who the original sin lies with that began this downward slide?

Studio killed the live performance star...

We're all dying from exposure for f#+k sake. Save Live Music!

Fred Decker said...

I agree with Bobby --"just about no one can predict the outcome" of the future. Who could have predicted the Beatles or Elvis? Were the doldrums of music worse then or now? You could probably argue either side of that question all day and never resolve it.


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