There’s a golden age for everything, and an inevitable bubble burst that follows. Get in at the right time, and out at the righter time, and you’re laughing. For musicians, it was 1991-2003¹, boom to bust. $20 CDs were being bought all day, with appreciators having no alternatives. It was assumed by many who do not study history that this ease of profitability would never end.
The rise of the internet was great for consumers, who suddenly had unfettered access to every song ever made, and at an odd point early on we somehow became disgusted with paying for any of them. And, with the unregulated world of digital piracy taking over, we didn’t have to. As the scales balanced, though, this time meant a downswing for creators. A wider distribution should have at least helped promote live shows so that artists could charge more for those, but that didn’t happen. So now musicians rightfully complain about how hard it is to make money. There’s a theory of “Why do you deserve money too? You already get to have adoring fans and work alongside your friends. If you can’t find a way to monetize then ya burnt,” but I can’t in decent conscience subscribe to this.
Convenience always wins. For a long time, it was easier to steal music than buy it. I purchased a Red Hot Chili Peppers album in the early days of iTunes, but the restrictive nature of the files meant I couldn’t play them on my early-days iPod, so I was forced to download it as well.
More recently, blatant theft of music has been curbed by user-friendly, low-cost streaming services that apparently give money back to artists, but not much. Either way, it’s not enough, and most of them are still broke. And for anyone who thinks that these services are keeping all the money for themselves, keep in mind that none of them have turned a profit since they started. Monetizing music in the digital landscape isn’t easy for anyone.
Bands need to adapt, to offer something else besides tangible versions of their music. CDs, while still manufactured for for sale, have become ceremonial gifts for friends, a relatively useless product we buy only to support the artist. Clinging to that golden age when it’s all we had. We might as well be making a donation. And not necessarily through GoFundMes set up to recoup the losses incurred by not buying insurance for their instruments that inevitably get taken out of the back of their van.
Music streaming services will continue to charge the $10 per month to access their libraries. But what if someone wanted to pay more? If they knew the money was going to the artist. Not the streaming company, but to the artist. And the artist’s people, of course – the managers, agents, etc. – who seem to get the shaft even by consumers, who don’t realize that circumventing necessary middlemen in the quest to get money to the actual performers doesn’t really make sense based on how the industry works.
It needs to be easier, more convenient to give money to artists you listen to. A company could create some sort of Patreon-like Band Bucks app, where you set a monthly amount to give that gets allocated to bands you’ve been listening to as you see fit. As an act of good faith, leading to positive PR, the streaming company can act as a liaison between the band and their fans, to make it easier to buy merch and such directly from their platform. It can be connected with your streaming service and actually divided up based on actual listens or downloads or favourites, or you can select the percentages yourself to help out smaller bands or your friends or specific labels. Connect this with all the social media platforms so you can showcase how supportive you are, for social validation and public acknowledgment. This way the user feels better about making the contribution, a self-imposed music appreciation tax.
One other way to support artists is to retweet songs, share albums, regram grams, which essentially gets them exposure instead of money. Then again, bands are probably a little tired of being paid in exposure.
¹ [Editor’s note: These dates have not been verified by an impartial third party.]