If the Internet is working for Musicians, Why aren’t more Musicians Working Professionally?

We keep hearing from web/tech gurus about how empowered artists are in the internet age, but yet, the numbers just don’t add up. It’s also ironic that tech bloggers like to promote the idea of  “touring and t-shirts” as a solution to the difficulties musicians are having online. But it really sounds to us, more like an admission that there is no money for artists online in the Exploitation Economy to develop new and sustainable professional creative careers.

This is why, an ethical internet for all citizens is so important. Sometimes, the facts are just so simple…

Ted Cohen: Breaking Through The Noise | | midemblogmidemblog

“The Internet was supposed to be the ultimate leveler, great music would be able to find its audience, the ‘big label’ gatekeepers would no longer control access to the masses.

It hasn’t exactly played out that way. According to my friend, Tommy Silverman/Tommy Boy Records and the co-founder of the New Music Seminar recently told me that he did the math and only 228 artists broke 10,000 units for the first time last year out of 105,000 albums.

That’s 2.17% but only 15 of those did it without the help of a real label.

That’s not very encouraging to the other ninety-eight percent. While tens of thousand of artists are self-releasing their music, their ability to get noticed in a meaningful way is stifled by the sheer volume of music that is arriving daily at iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, MySpace Music, Yahoo, Rhapsody, Pandora, iHeart and others. Ten years ago, there were roughly twenty-five thousand album releases a year.

In 2009, it is estimated that there will be over one hundred thousand albums put into digital distribution. That’s roughly a million new tracks a year, four million minutes of music, or almost three thousand days-worth of song. But, maybe, if I listen really, really fast, I could….nope!”

The numbers below are equally sobering. Not only did the volume of sales drop from 2009 to 2010, but also the number of new releases also dropped. Many promoting the exploitation of artists are also proposing that the new lower barriers for access to distribution will increase creative output, but that also appears to be false.

Business Matters: 75,000 Albums Released In U.S. In 2010 — Down 22% From 2009 | Billboard.biz

75,000 Albums Released In U.S. In 2010 — Down 22% From 2009

Not only were fewer albums released, but the weakest sellers took up a smaller share of new release sales. The 60,000 titles that sold from 1 to 100 units represented 0.7% of all sales from titles released in 2010. In 2009, 0.9% of sales came from the 80,000 titles that sold from 1 to 100 units.

So there were quite a few new albums that sold fewer than ten units.

Put another way, the 60,000 new releases that sold 100 or fewer units averaged just 13.3 units per title.

The statistics above do not support the assertion of the tech blogosphere that the internet has created more opportunities for professional creative careers, or expanded a working middle class of musicians. It’s actually very much so the opposite of their claim.

It’s clear from the numbers above (and continued below) that the democratization of production and distribution has not democratized talent. The most exploited music, is not surprisingly, the most popular. These are the artists and titles which are also developed and promoted by traditional media outlets.

Here’s another interesting stat reported by Digital Music News. Does this look like the empowerment of a new creative middle class to you?

99.9% of Tunecore Artists Make Less Than Minimum Wage…

99.875% – or nearly all – of Tunecore artists are making less than minimum wage through the platform, based on revenue figures recently shared by the company.

Despite this fact, some tech bloggers can’t even understand how the simplest mechanisms function in the recorded music business. In an attempt to discredit some of the reports above one tech blog let lose with this gem below, alleging that because Tunecore and CDBaby releases are not reported directly to Soundscan their releases are not counted in Soundscan stats creating a massive unreported pool of revenue being ignored by the industry.

TuneCore does not report results to Nielsen Soundscan and it puts out a hell of a lot of releases. Similarly, CDBaby/Disc Makers points out that Soundscan doesn’t count its releases either — which number around 50,000.

The problem with the above is not understanding that Tunecore and CDBaby can’t report to Soundscan, because Soundscan collects the data from the point of sale such as Itunes, Amazon, etc. So in fact, all Tunecore and CDBaby releases and sales are actually cataloged and reported by Soundscan afterall. So much for all that unreported sales and revenue.

But of all the numbers, this one is the bottom line. Salon recently reported stats from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that number of working professionals in the music industry are suffering a catastrophic decline. If these numbers were reported by any other industry it would make national headlines:

No Sympathy for the Creative Class

“Musical groups and artists” plummeted by 45.3 percent between August 2002 and August of 2011.”

This is also graphically represented here at Digital Music News:



All of this gave us pause when we saw a report given by The Future Of Music Coalition (FOMC) in Digital Music News that artists earnings are benefiting from digital technologies? How? As opposed to what? I can see that some digital technologies may be helping artists, but “overall” is simply, statistically, not true given the information above. So it trouble’s us to see statements like the one below made in public by the organization’s Kristin Thomson at SF Music Tech in February of 2012.

 “Overall, digital technologies seem to be having a positive impact on musicians’ earnings capacity”

Really? Maybe it’s not surprising that FOMC is also aligned with Public Knowledge who held a joint workshop to help musicians understand that, “Copyright law is changing rapidly in the face of new technologies.” The only problem is, copyright law is not actually “changing rapidly,” but it appears that Public Knowledge would like it too! Make no mistake about it, Public Knowledge is advocating for less artists rights and protections.

So the real truth is this; if the internet is working for musicians, why aren’t more musicians working professionally?


6 thoughts on “If the Internet is working for Musicians, Why aren’t more Musicians Working Professionally?

  1. While I don’t profess to be a great musician/producer, I would love to make music for a living. I wanted to put my faith in technology to help me out – and in myriad ways, it has. The way I make music is almost 100% in-the-box, which was unthinkable even a few years ago.

    As of right now, though, I have about 40 tracks that I haven’t released to the internet, nor have plans on releasing, until there’s at least some chance that I can make some money on them. The only avenues at the moment that I have some possible chance of making money is through remix contests, which are generally a crapshoot, and licensing, which appears to be the only way to make any semblance of money.

    But putting together an album? Maybe after the tech sector smartens up a bit and makes changes to the perception that all recorded music should be free. Unless you’re a full time touring artist with the backing of traditional media outlets for promotion and whatnot, what’s the point? How can anyone hope to support themselves on less than minimum wage, when so much work goes into the process on the front end?

    I have the confidence in my music to say that it’s worth more than free. Do I think that I should be making thousands of dollars on my first official release? Of course not, but when I see figures like the dismal ones above, it doesn’t give me the incentive to put in the effort… I might as well just stay in my current job and keep music as just a hobby.

  2. Yes, there are obviously some who have been able to strike out using the internet and achieve what many would consider financial and artistic success. Yes, these “some” are regularly highlighted as success stories that would rapidly grow in magnitude if only new technology was embraced with business models where the artistic work is monitized via the sale of scarce goods. The recent focus on securing financing by means such as Kickstarter provides more grist for the “the problem is an outdated business model” mill

    Unfortunately, this is where “theory” and “reality” rapidly diverge. Disclaimer: I am a lawyer. I do not write music, sheet music is beyond my comprehension, and I could not carry a tune in anything other than a briefcase.

    What has always troubled me about these “new age gurus” is that only a very precious few have any substantive and extensive familiarity with what is involved in the creative process, beginning with an idea and culminating with the public release of a work that one hopes finds traction with consumers of artistic creations. Of course, once such a creation is released every Tom, Dick, Harry and Sally feel compelled to :share it” with the world, and anyone who dares express concerns about such activities is labeled a “copyright maximist” who is simply unable to comprehend, a reprehensible monopolist, a business dunce for failing to realize that “sharing” if free advertising, etc.

    Maybe there is a measure of truth to some of these “sharing is good for the artist” arguments, but at some point it time one has to wonder if these are “new age utopians” who use such arguments as a means of salving their consciences for elevating their “rights” to a higher plane than the rights of artists themselves.

    Out of curiosity I began following those who advocate economic theory and utopian arguments to gain an understanding where these individuals, and let us not forget organizations and academics, are coming from. I believe that the fundamental priciple uderlying all of their arguments is that the First Amendment is so, so important that all other laws must be deemed its subordinates. One needs only to read the tomes prepared by the EFF, Public Knowledge, The Berkman Center at Harvard, and similar “scholars” at, for example, Stanford and Berkely to quickly realize why I consider them to be in large measure the catalysts behind much of what motivates much of the anti-copyright rhetoric.

    It is indeed a pleasure to have found a location on the internet where reality is being used to seriously question the basis upon which such groups are proceeding.


    M. Slonecker

  3. Regarding Soundscan: It should be noted that a large percentage of a DIY artist’s album sales come from purchases at concerts…but they can’t report those sales to Soundscan. Soundscan will not allow single, unaffiliated artists to report venue sales. None of my venue sales are ever reported.

    Zoe Keating

  4. I commend you for this article. You have brought truth to light. I have been in the trenches as a Major Recording Artist and as an Independent, and have watched the destruction of the music industry as those who champion the internet throw smoke screens to hide the truth. I love the fact this article exposed and answered all questions with such simplicity.
    Royal Wade Kimes

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