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Business and the DIY Musician

The continued growth of streaming platforms is fundamentally reshaping the music industry. The old gatekeepers of success are watching their kingdom crumble, as artists are taking full advantage of the emerging power dynamic. Historically, singing a deal with a major record label meant embarking on the road to stardom. But now, rather than hope for the attention of A&Rs (artists and repertoire), the contemporary musician has ample tools to create, be heard, and generate a following. However, this new dynamic has led to new challenges developing; the role of the musician has expanded beyond that of a creator. Passion may be contagious, but is it enough? Artists are now becoming the driving source of their own business. In this new ecosystem, one cannot be complacent and merely focus on the creative side, yet still expect to succeed. Understanding the industry, taking advantage of marketing strategies and building a following are vital to stand out in a vast pool of creators. Hence, the lines between artist and businessman are becoming increasingly blurred. As the movement rejecting record label deals or negotiating more favourable terms gains traction, the need for business know-how and industry experience also rises. Thinking of a career in music as a small business is a useful mind-set. It may not be the average 9-5 job, but it requires motivation, commitment, organisation and many more skills than only being able to create. This is not to say that success as an independent artist is impossible, nor that it is not alright to delegate and seek out those with expertise. Building a strong network of connections is part of the game and larger scale projects require helping hands. Time and experience are limited, and being able to recognise and acknowledge weak spots is an important skill to succeed. Finding likeminded people for support is increasingly important in bringing one’s artistic vision to life. Ultimately, with freedom comes responsibility, and the DIY musician must take on various roles to fully take advantage of the advantages of remaining independent. Let’s raise a glass to musicians and do our best to support them in their journey!

Rage Against the Machine: AI and the Music Industry

With major advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology, its potential and effect on various spaces is becoming evident. Music not an exception to this trend as technology has entered the realm of song consumption in subtle ways over the past decade. We live in an era of hyper-personalisation, in which algorithms gathering user data are constantly improved upon to generate playlists that are tailored to each listener’s tastes. Spotify’s Discover Weekly, Apple Music’s My New Music Mix and Deezer’s Flow Mix are prime examples of the power of algorithmically generated playlists, as the popularity of streaming such selections is ever increasing. Google Play goes one step further by aiming to use location, activity and weather data input to suggest appropriate tracks for the user’s mood. As computers are increasingly able to complete tasks that were previously believed to require human judgment and input, the question arises of whether we are moving towards a future of computer generated original music. Can song creation ever become a fully automated process facilitated by AI? The technology to achieve this already exists, and the business implications of even a simple score produced by AI are far reaching. Platforms such as Jukedeck and Amper allow users to generate a custom, royalty free, easy to edit track within seconds. [1] That is not to say that such tracks are of higher quality to those produced by humans. They may be described as lacking ‘soul’: an elusive, unmeasurable quality which lays at the heart of an art piece. But the reality is that AI generated tracks do not need to compete. People working under significant financial constraints will not seek the highest quality soundtrack to be the backdrop of a short film project or a YouTube video. The market for AI produced tracks will thrive at places where terms such as ‘quality’ and ‘soul’ are irrelevant and practicality is of the essence. It may not be the finest produced art, but it will be ‘good enough’ for advertising, TV, social media and other projects where the originality and quality music is not the primary concern. [2] AI produced music means quick turnover, no royalty payment, no need for recording equipment, contracts with individual artists. The terrifying reality is that if AI music companies control this market space, the earning potential or creators and songwriters will receive a heavy blow. Human musicians will be pushed to the margins due to limited availability of projects, having to lower the price of their work to be able to compete with the AI track licensing fees. Humans do not seem alarmed by this prospect. In a study conducted by MusicStats.org, 45 seconds of a fully AI produced song was played to 50 millennials. [3] One group was given a fictitious emotional backstory for the artist and track, whereas the second group was informed that the song was created by an AI algorithm. Interestingly, when measuring the perception of the song by both groups no statistical differences were observed. Knowing that the song was generated by AI rather than produced by a human did not alter the values of ‘Purchase intention’ and ‘Satisfaction Towards the Performance’. Ultimately, AI has the potential to reinvent the way we create and consume music. While fear is a natural instinctive reaction to when the homeostasis of an ecosystem is altered, it is not always the appropriate response. We can choose to look at these innovations with excitement, as an opportunity to evolve and expand our creative talent within this emerging dynamic.

Scratch that big chorus

Will we ever hear a modern a classic like Bohemian Rhapsody again? Songs are just getting shorter and shorter. The Economics of Music Streaming Leading to Shorter Songs Has streaming impacted not only the way we consume music, but the way we create it as well? Data examining the evolution of track length suggests so. According to the data presented on Quartz [1], songs have in fact been getting shorter. A clear pattern is evident when contrasting prior and new releases of some of the biggest current music stars. The disparity between Kendrick Lamar’s breakout 2013 album and his newest work is stark; the average track time has gone from nearly six minutes to nearly four. Similarly, Drake’s tracks are getting shorter despite the album length increasing, and Kanye West’s tracks show a near 40% decrease in length. The examples are numerous and display a clear movement to short, easily digestible songs. Interestingly enough, the average song length on the Billboard Hot 100 fell from 3 minutes and 50 seconds to about 3 minutes and 30 seconds over the last 5 years. But how does the rise of streaming impact song length? The answer may lie in the per-play value of each track. According to the mid-2018 statistics published by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) [2], streaming accounted for 75% of the entire industry revenue. Equally impressive is that streaming revenue has grown by 28% since the start of 2018. The key factor in play is the lack of incentive to make long, complicated tracks. The music industry is a business; creative choices are influenced by market dynamics. The rise of streaming as a source of revenue has thus lead to artists adapting to the pay-per-play mentality. As revenue is not proportionate to track length, the creation of longer pieces is becoming economically unsustainable. The monetary award to be gained is disproportionate to the amount of effort required for the production of Bohemian Rhapsody standard gems. What this new economy rewards are short tracks with a high replay value. It is evident that the streaming era has intruded upon song writing by giving artists an additional factor to consider in their creative process. The dilemma between creative freedom and optimisation of streaming is inescapable, and the path artists chose to follow will be of great interest, particularly over the next decade. This is not to say that shorter track lengths are of lesser quality; notably, Lamar’s newest album DAMN, while featuring shorter tracks than his earlier work, won the Pulitzer Prize for music. Whether the rigid economics of streaming will impact creative decisions in the long term or whether this medium will evolve to allow for rewarding long, ambitious projects remains to be seen.