What are the key issues currently facing Creative Music Practitioners in terms of music production, distribution and consumption patterns and processes?
In this paper, I will be discussing the emerging issues arising within the music industry because of the changing online environment. Tim O’Reilly coins the term ‘Web 2.0’ to demonstrate the transition of the World Wide Web from merely static content passively absorbed by its users (Web 1.0), to a collaborative and participative interface that encourages user-generated content. I will be analyzing such ideas by dividing this paper into the following themes; Mass Amateurisation, We-Think/Mass Collaboration, and Blockchain.
To begin, Clay Shirky describes the concept of mass amateurisation as “a result of the radical spread of expressive capabilities,” (Shirky, p.66) ultimately suggesting that new developments – such as the internet – increase the range of those with access to particular skills. This is not to say that once such skills are obtained that there are now masses of professionals but rather a widespread number of amateurs. Founded in 2005, YouTube is the most pertinent of platforms demonstrating such a concept. In their book ‘Wikinomics: How mass collaboration changes everything,’ Tapscott and Williams state ‘YouTube is the latest in a string of Internet-TV offerings that makes it ludicrously easy to publish, play and share video clips on the web’ leading on to what they coin the ‘prosumer paradigm.’ Those who were once bound to being consumers can now produce and create thanks to the ease of platforms such as YouTube, however from a dystopian angle this comes with many flaws for the industry. A significant flaw is the lack of monetization during the distribution of their work for creators (in this case music artists who may not be the primary sharer). For example, writing an open letter to YouTube, Irving Azoff – manager of acts such as The Beatles, Van Halen summarises that YouTube claims a lack of control over what is uploaded to the platform, allowing users free reign to upload music from popular artists. This means that in the eyes of the platform it is not comparable to streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music and cannot exercise a fault-less royalty payment system. It is however able to formulate a pay wall for its original content and limit the upload of harmful material. Therefore, Azoff states ‘If YouTube valued music, then it would allow artists to have the same control which YouTube grants to itself.’ To further this, a quote from the letter reads,
‘The artist has no choice – their music is on YouTube even if they don’t want it there’ ‘If an ad-supported streaming service doesn’t generate enough revenue for YouTube to pay artists at rates which are comparable to Spotify or Apple, then maybe it isn’t a good business?’
Thus, in conclusion of the theme, a utopian would view mass amateurisation as a positive for the industry as it allows more people to harness their creativity, by producing content and exhibiting it with platforms such as YouTube, Soundcloud and Bandcamp acting as amateur distribution methods. However, the platforms also (in most cases) enable free consumption of content – be it the uploaders or not – thus not compensating artists with the revenue they would otherwise be entitled to through other methods of consumption, e.g. physical sales, radio play or streams. Therefore, this creates the question, did the old model of elite production and professional distribution methods make for a healthier industry as professionals were more valued?
We Think is a concept denoted by Charles Leadbeater and offers a continuation of the ideas previously expressed. In the video edition of his We Think concept, Leadbeater states [in regards to the 21st century] ‘More ideas being shared by more people than ever before.’ The impact of this is an era of ‘mass innovation’ with emerging sites such as those previously mentioned acting as the platforms to showcase the resulting ideas of mass amateurisation. However, as opposed to the dystopian angle of renowned artists being the music practitioners that are losing capital consequent to the increased ease to produce and distribute, ‘old groaning corporations’ also face resultant economic challenges.
Leadbeater argues that the internet creates ‘shared communities’ that promote the innovation and creation of new ideas. If said ideas are good enough and the innovators gather a following from their work, it can be monetized and lead to further opportunities, bypassing the traditional model of corporations scouting and monetizing talent. Relating this back to the music industry and practitioners, Boyce Avenue are artists that exemplify this. As of the beginning of 2018, the band had accumulated 10.5 million subscribers on YouTube where they post covers and collaborations as well as original content, toured across Europe, America, Asia and Australia on multiple tours since 2011 but more importantly did so independently after developing their own indie label, 3 Peace Records. In an interview with Sam Gutelle for YouTube discussion site TubeFilter.com, the band state
‘Well we were actually with a label for about 9 months back in early 2010 and it just wasn’t the right move for a band like us. A big part of what we love about being independent is that we have more control over our creative decisions and the paths we choose to take…It not only feels more personal and intimate but it just feels more efficient and far more rewarding.’
Therefore, the impact of this band along with many other online influencers accomplishments is evidence of how the music industry is becoming deprofessionalised. The accolades of online artists can be monetized, enabling amateurs to profit from their self-produced music and skipping out the middle men of corporations such as the labels, publishers or producers. This is made possible by the We-Think era, which includes collaboration of creators from around the globe, and viral sharing of their work enabling them to build a following and market without the need for professional help such as a major/indie label. This is thought to be an influencing factor for the evolution and diversification that all aspects of the music industry are currently undertaking.
The next sector of the music industry losing capital at the expense of new technologies and evolving platforms are streaming companies (distributors), thought to be a relatively new in terms of the evolution of the industry but now falling behind to the idea of block chain. A reason for this development comes from emergent company OPUS who identify numerous grounds as to why ‘the music industry is broken.’ This includes:
1) the fact streaming sites ‘take up to 80% of artist’s revenue,’
2) ‘fans often have to struggle between numerous platforms just to listen to their favorite artists,’
3) ‘playlist makers are not compensated.’
The emerging OPUS platform, operating on block chain technology eliminates these issues by guaranteeing artists 100% revenue for uploading their music to the platform using the decentralized system where artists have full control of what their music is sold for. This is based on the idea that users purchase decryption keys to their favorite tracks so the track is permanently theirs, the transaction is completely transparent thus labels are unable to hide profits from artists. The transparency comes from the unique ID that each upload develops, solving the previous issues of content being copied and modified on other platforms. The metadata stored on this unique ID contains all the ownership and rights information to the song, thus ensuring the royalties go to the correct personnel. A major sector of music practitioners that benefit from such ideas, links back to the previous themes of mass-amateurisation and We-Think. Under previous distribution models including traditional physical sales, and streaming, artists lose revenue to the platforms and even financial brokers who take a cut of the revenue for using their services and every time their song is played. By using block chain platforms, amateur producers who are not funded by record labels, or are unable to access the services of streaming platforms and financers, are still able to profit from their music by being classified with the rights and ownership.
What issues arise from this artist-compensating technology may be asked? As already stated an aspect of the industry majorly affected is streaming platforms but the new model may also negatively affect consumers. For example, the rise of streaming gave consumers music at their fingertips, and a wide choice at that. If the transition to block chain continues to grow as rapidly as the use of streaming did, consumers may lose access to an unlimited music library and the opportunity to learn about new artists and explore new genres as block chain restricts and limits consumers to what they have purchased in terms of keys and coins. Similarly, such a transition could cause a divide within the music industry as artists that value their revenue and royalties move onto blockchain platforms, and artists that value building a market and increasing their listeners remain on streaming. In July 2014, Taylor Swift notoriously pulled her music from streaming platforms stating ‘It’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is.’ Perhaps this viewpoint would be more suited to blockchain, and if the development continues, artists that share her view may pull their music from streaming and move into blockchain. This means that streaming services lose masses of music and consumers are split between platforms to listen to all the music they desire.
To bring together all the outlined themes, we can draw the conclusion that recent developments within the industry that have been made possible by Web 2.0 offer many benefits for music practitioners across the industry but also present numerous issues. The most significant issue revolves around the economics of music and how we access content. Should this be on free prosumer platforms such as YouTube, subscription based services such as Spotify and Apple Music, or does the new blockchain platforms such as OPUS and PeerTracks provide the fairest and most efficient way of distributing what is ultimately a product. As we enter 2018 we continue to see Web 2.0 changing the industry, in particular within the field of data and analytics. Social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook as well as the distribution platforms discussed throughout this essay are increasingly offering more access to music practitioners about the data that concerns them. This could be a solution to issues outlined, for example data on consumption patterns and where fans are accessing their music could guide artists to the platforms which will be most effective for them. Similarly, consumer issues can be eliminated through the increase of data, with predictions arguing that 2018 will bring new algorithms personalising the music experience for individual consumers suggesting that music services that best suit them and suggestions for new music encouraging discovery. This could perhaps solve the issue of over-saturation of music arising from the mass-amateurisation and the We-Think themes. Thus, in evaluation of all the above, could artificial intelligence be the future of reducing and eliminating the issues for music practitioners and consumers alike?
O’Reilly, T. (2009) What is Web 2.0. O’Reilly Media.
Shirky, C. Everyone Is a Media Outlet. Here Comes Everybody: the Power of Organizing without Organizations. New York: Penguin, 2008. 55-80.
Tapscott, D. and Williams, A. D. (2006) Wikinomics : how mass collaboration changes everything. New York: Portfolio.
Knopper, S. (2016) Inside YouTube’s War With the Music Industry. Article, [online]. Available at: https://www.rollingstone.com/music/features/inside-youtubes-war-with-the-music-industry-w433914 [Accessed 10 Jan. 2018].
Billboard. (2017) No.6: Irving Azoff |Power 100|Article, [online] Available at: https://www.billboard.com/articles/business/7685302/no-6-irving-azoff-power-100 [Accessed 10 Jan. 2018].
Azoff, I. (2016) Dear Youtube: An open letter from Irving Azoff. Article, [online] Available at: https://www.recode.net/2016/5/9/11609494/irving-azoff-youtube-artists-streaming-music [Accessed 10 Jan. 2018].
We think. (2008). [Video]. Youtube: Charles Leadbeater. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qiP79vYsfbo
Anderson, T. Boyce Avenue. (2016) INTERVIEW: WE MEET BOYCE AVENUE, THE WORLDS BIGGEST INDEPENDENT BAND. Available at: http://www.inclusivenetworks.co.uk/interview-we-meet-boyce-avenue-the-worlds-biggest-independent-band [Accessed 10 Jan. 2018]
Gutelle, S. (2013) YouTube Billionaries: Boyce Avenue Tops YouTube’s Music Scene. Available at: http://www.tubefilter.com/2013/09/12/youtube-billionaires-boyce-avenue-tops-youtubes-music-scene [Accessed on 10 Jan. 2018]
Boyceavenue.com, (2017). Boyce Avenue Official Website. [online] Available at: http://www.boyceavenue.com [Accessed 10 Jan. 2018]
Kuznetsov, N. (2017) Revolutionizing Digital Music Through Blockchain. Article, [online] Available at: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/revolutionizing-digital-music-through-blockchain_us_59916850e4b063e2ae058127 [Accessed 10 Jan. 2018]
opus-foundation.org. OPUS Official Website. [online] Available at: http://www.opus-foundation.org [Accessed 10 Jan. 2018]
Udoh, S. (2017) Opus Platform: Pioneering Music Streaming On The Blockchain. Article, [online]. Available at: https://medium.com/@Simeon4real/opus-platform-pioneering-music-streaming-on-the-blockchain-c44f9d21c89b [Accessed 10 Jan. 2018]
Winchester, S. (2017) OPUS: Worlds First Decentralized Streaming Platform Built on Ethereum And IPFS. [online] Available at: https://steemit.com/cryptocurrency/@sirwinchester/opus-world-s-first-decentralized-music-streaming-platform-built-on-ethereum-and-ipfs [Accessed 10 Jan. 2018]
Dickson, B. (2016) How blockchain can change the music industry. Article [online]. Available at: https://techcrunch.com/2016/10/08/how-blockchain-can-change-the-music-industry [Accessed 10 Jan. 2018]
Linshi, J. (2014) How Taylor Swift Pulled Her Music From Spotify. Article [online]. Available at: http://time.com/3554468/why-taylor-swift-spotify [Accessed 10 Jan. 2018]
Rosso, C. (2016) The Music Industry in 2026 – Technology and Trends Changing the Future of Music. Article [online]. Available at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/music-industry-2026-technology-trends-changing-future-cami-r- [Accessed 10 Jan. 2018]