Eamonn Forde from the Guardian opines at The Quietus that the reports of the record industry’s rebirth are greatly exaggerated. He runs a pile of numbers … which all assume the CD boom of the 1990s was some sort of natural law, not a statistical blip, and the labels have a right to be rolling in money.
This is the music industry forgetting that they live entirely off discretionary income. That’s the stuff spare after rent and food and medicine. When times are tough, attitudes are hard, and people stop spending. That’s why when you say entitled things, the general public tell you to go struggle with a day job like they do.
You’d almost think there’d been some sort of horrifying plummet in people’s financial circumstances. Nobody has any money! They’re on zero hours gig economy contracts! They’re wondering if they can pay rent next month!
For all their begging poor, the record companies are doing pretty well. Forde notes the artists aren’t being blessed with bucks in turn. Do artists have a right to be rewarded for music? They arguably do if it’s selling.
Morally, of course we need a world where artists can do art and still eat and have somewhere to live. The trouble is how to do this in the present day economy — this question confuses art and business. (And also, your customers have the same problem, so don’t be surprised if they’re less than completely sympathetic.) If you’re talking about this as something you want to live off, then you are now a small business and subject to supply and demand. Is there a market for your stuff in particular? How are your customers doing? What’s your competition?
Forde assumes that competition amongst artists somehow shouldn’t affect how well they do. It’s 2017! You are literally in direct competition with every other musician in the entire world! And with every interesting cat picture on the Internet!
Who wants to think like this anyway? Finding yourself in business to eat is horrible. It’s pretty much the opposite of art in practice. It’s ridiculous rat-race bullshit that leaves you barely able to think about the important things. But it’s rat-race bullshit the rest of us are stuck in too. Everyone gets to know what living off gigs means.
The problems are vast, society-wide and fundamentally political. I really can’t see a solution for musicians that doesn’t involve a serious change in how we do Western society. We literally need to roll back neoliberalism, because it doesn’t work. This is of course a huge ask, but Forde’s talking about the need to fix an industry that lives entirely on discretionary income, which desperate people don’t have.
If the record companies really want the good times back, they’re going to have to do something toward the “enlightened” bit of self interest. They need to be pushing for social spending, redistribution of the wealth and support systems people can trust in. Then the listeners will have cash to water the music they love, and artists will have a new paying audience and at the very least a safety net they can get by on while pursuing more rewarding endeavours. You want “good old days,” those are the ones you’re after.
Of course, this would require the industry not to be short-sighted and rapacious for a moment.