Happy New Year, hold onto your hat

Just like every new year, the predictions are all over the map from the winner of the next election to the predictions of where the music industry is going. I personally am looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead with, of course, a little trepidation after seeing how this year ended with the impeachment drama.

For my two cents, as far as the music industry goes, we are on the edge of creating some good songs and going back to the roots of the sixties and seventies with the advantage of a higher level of production.

About the time things seem to be leveling out, today tensions are escalating in the Mid-East with Iran, just to keep things interesting on the international scene.

Following is a post by Cherie Hu – Journalist & Author of the Water & Music Newsletter:

It’s difficult to predict the future. It’s much easier to track what we’re talking about in droves today, the narratives around which will often influence our decisions and manifest into action tomorrow.

There are three general trends I’ve noticed bubble up among industry conversations in 2019, that I think will flesh themselves out in full in 2020:

We want better solutions for customer/fan relationship management (CRM). A crucial feature of the shift towards an all-you-can-eat streaming model isn’t just that subscribers don’t own their music; it’s also that artists don’t own their audiences. At worst, this can end up mirroring the world of pay-for-play social media, with particularly frustrating implications for the very community that many of these streaming services claim to serve on the backend, namely independent and emerging artists. There’s a reason why even the biggest celebrities are now sharing their phone numbers on social media and asking fans to text them: artists want to own the information around whom their fans are, and make that insight readily accessible in a centralized place instead of fragmented across several middlemen.

We want alternative, sustainable sources of capital for recording artists. If you ask a signed artist why they decided to go with a label deal instead of releasing music independently, they will likely mention the upfront advance as one of the most appealing factors of their arrangement. While many labels do incredible work, I don’t think there’s any reason why the vehicle of a label contract alone should still maintain such a stronghold over funding for recorded music. Some startups have recently launched ambitious experiments in equity crowdfunding, whereby fans can invest in artists’ future albums in exchange for a share of royalties (e.g. Corite  and Stampede Live). The downfall of Pledge Music while bitter, has unearthed a new market gap in direct-to-fan funding and marketing tools that needs to be filled if we truly believe in a more democratic playing field for artists.

We don’t know who actually “owns” the music industry — yet. Is it the publishers? BMG just launched its own artist-management division, Downtown Music Holdings now owns CD Baby and Kobalt Music Group has long used AWAL to fuel the former’s foundational publishing business. Or is it the managers? After all, they oversee all aspects of their artists’ businesses, and are arguably the best positioned to diversify into multiple revenue sources and integrate vertically yet nimbly (e.g. Scooter Braun acquiring Taylor Swift’s Big Machine catalog). Or is it the tech companies? It’s no coincidence that two of the hottest players in the global music landscape right now are also Chinese tech conglomerates with literally dozens of other revenue streams (Tencent and ByteDance). This question becomes even more complicated once you realize that all kinds of music companies are now encroaching on each other’s commercial territory. Our understanding of where power is really clustered in the music industry will be continually warped and challenged in 2020.

Over the past decade, artists and labels — using technological tools — have become increasingly independent, capturing control and ownership of publishing, masters, and avenues of distribution. But independent marketing fell into the trojan horse of social media, with many artists exclusively relying on the likes of Facebook to get the message out. The keys to discoverability were firmly in the hands of a new crop of corporate gatekeepers.

Undesirable actions by these platforms — such as algorithmically cutting access to fans and unrepentant involvement in political and privacy scandals — started opening eyes to the pitfalls of this reliance. Displeasure continues to grow as these companies fight back by further segmenting audiences and requiring even larger ‘boosts’ to reach one’s fans. The 2020 election — a looming social media show — will move this dissatisfaction even more into the mainstream.

Thus, independent artists are increasingly introducing homegrown strategies that are entirely within their control. We see this in the rising talk of reclaiming fandom, direct support of artists, and the importance of individual ‘stories.’ And we see new twists on old concepts. Email lists, creative artist sites, blogs, localized grassroots outreach — tactics that predated social media, now coming together with the latest technological innovations to form a new breed of DIY.

In the aftermath, social media will remain a tool, but merely a tool — downgraded but still handy. It’s a hammer, not a house. Independent artists will understand that, along with increased interest in owning masters and administering rights, control over how artists reach and interact with their audiences is just as vital.

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