We’ve heard it a lot lately: no-one’s buying CDs anymore, we’re all logging onto iTunes or whatever site takes our fancy to pick our favourite songs. We’re being told that this is marking the end of the music industry as we know it, with everyone finding it hard to make money.
I actually agree with this. It’s all a bit doom and gloom, but that’s the reality of the music business at the moment. With bands struggling to make money from album sales as it is, they have to focus on touring. It has also emerged that some labels are actually starting to try and get a cut of live revenue, which will make it even harder for musicians to do this for a living.
Some people may argue that if these musicians are really doing it for the love of music, like they often say, then surely it doesn’t matter. Take the example of folk-punk singer Frank Turner, who spoke to me on this issue.
As a working musician, his money earns his living through, well, making music. He's toured almost constantly for six years, playing in 27 countries. It's for the love, but also necessity.
Whilst the business may still be just as challenging, Frank notes that the emphasis of the difficulty has shifted. “The industry has changed. In the old days the challenge was getting a record to the market place. Now the challenge is getting that record noticed in an oversaturated marketplace.”
“My concern is working towards a future where everyone who works towards music being made is reasonably rewarded for their labour,” he said. “At the moment, in the short term, this isn't always the case with the scale of illegal downloading, which undermines the old business model. Some people are losing out unjustly at the moment.”
However, he added: “I'm not sure it's necessarily harder - bands like Arctic Monkeys made their name through digital promotion pretty much entirely.” It’s true that the internet has proved a powerful and industry-changing tool for music, but the ease of promoting comes at a cost.
It’s interesting that despite being a working musician, it doesn’t mean Frank always goes for the physical format. “I prefer CDs myself, but I often end up just buying stuff digitally because I'm on tour all the time and it's hard to carry CDs around all the time.”.
Services like Spotify essentially offering free online streaming of track was a blow, but they seem to be failing. Sky Songs was closed down late last year, and Spotify reported a loss for 2009. For musicians, that’s probably best because it reportedly only pays a small amount to select major labels.
So, is there really a difference between using Spotify and illegal downloading? “From my point of view there's essentially no difference.” Frank explains: “Spotify pay pathetically small amounts of money through, indiscriminately, to a small selection of major labels.”
Frank believes we may eventually move towards a model where all music is free, but artists are fairly compensated. Free music isn’t so much the issue, but rather where the money will come from. He admits: “I can kind of accept that people download music without paying for it, but when the same people complain about, say, merch prices or ticket prices, I get a little frustrated.”
He continues: “I make the vast majority of my living from live, and also from merch. Record sales tick over.”
Even within the last decade, the way we discover music has changed due to the internet. Frank does concede that it helps make discovering bands easier: “It makes dissemination of music much, much easier; if I want to hear what a given band sounds like, I can find out in minutes with the internet.”
Whilst it’s just one man discussing the issue, Frank’s comments to resonate with the reality the music business is facing. Although it's still staying strong, the industry is definitely changing emphasis from CDs and ablums to singles and live shows. Is this a good or bad thing? Let us know what you think.
Female First - Alistair McGeorge