Is the democratization of the music business a complete failure?

November 18, 2021 0 Comments

I grew up in the 1980s. That was the era of the big labels, the big tours, and the great hairstyle! A lot of money was made. Bands of the 60s and early 70s talked about how they screwed up but that these 80s bands were winning it. Go back and watch the Billy Joel or John Fogarty episodes of “Behind the Music.” Bands were getting screwed from left to right by everyone, including promoters, managers, and record labels. The attitude among the ruling elite of the music industry was: “These are hippies. Keep them high and make sure they have lots of groupies and they’ll be happy. They don’t know how to handle money. So we’ll take care of that for them.” . This is why many artists of the late ’60s and early’ 70s ended up penniless once the ringing in everyone’s ears had faded.

Fortunately, in the late 1970s, things were changing and in the 1980s with the arrival of MTV, smarter artists, and a legacy of horror stories from a decade before the musical artist ruled the planet. The artists in that area were some of the most influential people in the world and some of the most financially successful. Some of the artists of the 1970s and 1960s also enjoyed major comebacks and financial success during that period. The image of the musical artist. Exactly the opposite of today.

So what the hell happened?

Gene Simmons and many others would like to blame grunge for the current situation. In the early 1990s, ongoing rock music suffered a setback. From an artistic point of view, it seems to have been necessary. Grunge was something of a reset button, and while some artists in that movement were very low-key in their performances, bands like Rage Against the Machine had crowds gathered in mosh pits. It wasn’t all dark stages, depression, and looking at shoes. Keep in mind that whenever there has been a major change in the world, there are always several drivers. For example, the Vietnam War, the Kennedy assassination, psychedelic drug experimentation, and Watergate entered the pot that created the hippy movement. It was not just a factor. With that in mind, let’s go back to the “glory days” of the late 1970s and 1980s.

In the 80s it was very expensive to record an album, master it, make a video and promote it. Record labels would spend thousands before the song or album was released and never knowing what kind of return on investment to expect. Why was it so expensive? In reality, it takes an entire town for a band to be recorded, videotaped, and promoted. Many of you reading this now have learned it the hard way. We’ll get back to that in a minute. Albums like Purple Rain and Born in the USA had dozens of people making sure that everything was done and that it was done right. This was not yet a guarantee of financial success, but the records were really well done. The artist concentrated on writing good music. The band concentrated on playing that music perfectly live and in the studio. The video director and his team gave the video their full attention and the people at the label worked hard to get the record and the video to be played and supported (paid for) the tour. He was a good model. Quite expensive, but it worked, and it gave many artists of that time a lot of financial and social capital. Then someone had a “better” idea …

Winy crybabies complaining …

So we have this well-oiled machine, but still some people were not happy. Many artists felt that the big labels controlled the business. Big evil corporations crushed real artists. Many shouted “It’s not fair!” That was his right to do it. The war lasted about 10 to 15 years and when the smoke cleared. The tag system was dead. The independent artists had won. The music business was now completely “democratic”. We wanted a “fair” system … and guess what? We got our wish. The business is completely democratic. You can burn a great sounding disc at home. There are mastering services that will master your record very well for a very low price or you can even do it yourself. Technology also makes video creation very inexpensive and fast, and there are literally HUNDREDS of targeted marketing services at the freelance musician’s price. The Internet allows you to promote yourself all day and night for practically free. Now everyone can be a rock star!

Where are all these rock stars ???

With all this technology and free promotion, why isn’t EVERYONE a rock star? If you’re a musician reading this, you’ve probably noticed that while all of this democracy sounds good … I mean that democracy HAS to be good, right? Why am I not having the success that I feel I should or even feel that I deserve? Some 20 years ago something disturbing began to happen. You would buy a CD of your favorite artist only to find that the only good song was the one you heard on the radio. This is REALLY what happened to the music business. The drive to do more, spend less, and get that quicker ROI leads to albums being produced with maybe a good song, rather than an album being worth great material. Fans began to become skeptical. I’m not making it up. This became a big topic in the music press in the late 90s and early 2000s. Bands like Hootie and Blowfish would put out an album full of great material. They sold millions and in an effort to duplicate that success they rushed to make another record. The second album sank. This happened with many artists of that time. You can’t pull a hook and change your customers. You will lose EVERY TIME!

Album sales were falling. Internet downloads were increasing. People thought … “Hey, your last album was pretty weak. Why should I spend $ 14.99 on your CD and be disappointed when I can get it for free on the web?” I’ll deviate here for a minute. Did you find a price of $ 14.99 for a fairly high CD in the last sentence? Actually, that was a bargain price for a CD at the time. Many CDs were selling for $ 17.99 and some for as much as $ 19.99. It’s hard to imagine people these days spending that much money on a CD, if they would buy one at all. That’s how bad things are. The combination of weaker material, customer disappointment, internet download, money depletion, and more options for people to spend their entertainment dollar on things not related to music is what got us where we are today.

Democracy in action!

So … fast forward and this is 2014. The business is very segmented. Most of the music that plays on the radio does not translate well live unless you are the original artist. So even the cover bands are struggling. Hip-hop and country have surpassed the success of rock many times over. Now that everything is democratic, the artist has too much on her plate. You need to write, record, produce, mix, and master your own album. book your own shows, do your own promotion, shoot your own video, and bring your own gear. Most record labels are just those “labels.” They are just the business structure that the artist herself must create. There is a lot of freedom these days, but with freedom comes responsibility. This is why not everyone is an indie sensation. Very few can maintain this work ethic. She’s a bitch doing it all yourself. Remember that you STILL need to keep the lights on and feed. Many people are excited to see how open the business really is. It is wide open. There’s a lot of really unique, interesting, fun, catchy, and downright great music. Many artists who couldn’t find a platform even 5 years ago are on tour and make a living from it. But they broke their asses to get there. They formed joint ventures with other artists and companies. They learned how to outsource much of their promotional costs. They barter. They find a way. They have learned that a village is really needed.


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