Searching for Common Ground

“Musicians don’t retire; they stop when there’s no more music in them.” Louis Armstrong

Not long ago I read a quote from Gene Simmons (KISS) in Esquire.  He lamented Rock and Roll has been destroyed by the current MP3 file sharing practices of music fans.  He said, “file-sharing started in predominantly white, middle- and upper-middle-class young people who were native-born, who felt they were entitled to have something for free, because that’s what they were used to. If you believe in capitalism — and I’m a firm believer in free-market capitalism — then that other model is chaos. It destroys the structure. You’ll never understand unless you’re the one that wrote the song, and you were the one that had the band, whose music people took without paying you for. Once you’re the one who’s been robbed, there’s a moment of clarity. ” –Esquire, 04 Sep 2014

The internet is full of material from David Byrne (Talking Heads) with assertions that streaming music will be the downfall for new bands.  In the Guardian, 11 Oct 2013, David Byrne appears to be lamenting the current MP3 situation because the new bands are not earning much money from streaming music.  He is concerned the recorded song has been reduced to a marketing tool and is no longer a viable source of income.  With the new business model, the income of the younger bands is bound by the size of a venue they can fill.  He believes that most musicians will eventually leave the field and take their skill to other areas of the job market.

Taylor Swift said; “Music is art, and art is important and rare.  Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for.  It’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is.  I hope they don’t underestimate themselves or undervalue their art.” – Huffington Post, 11/7/2014.

Here is what I think. If everyone’s music becomes available for free on sites such as Pandora or Spotify, then compensation for the artist will drop to the point where most musicians can no longer support their families.  I believe that many musicians will step off the stage and pursue day jobs.  We will see a gradual decline in the number of new songs available, we will see the number of new artists decline, and we will see a gradual reduction in the quality of recorded music.

The few musicians that stay in the business will become troubadours, focused on concert revenue, with little inclination to record music because of the extremely poor return on their investment.  Perhaps we will see a return to live music played on the radio.  Perhaps we will see an increase in companies sponsoring artists, with the artists indorsing the company products.

I think we need to find common ground on compensation for music that meets the needs of consumers and the recording artists — $18.00 for a CD is entirely too much money; $100.00 for a concert seat is silly; and $20.00 for a baseball cap with an Artist’s current album emblazoned on the front is a crime.  Writing a single song and becoming a multi-millionaire is not fair to the millions of hard working people who freely give mountains of their hard earned money to purchase music.  However, musicians do need to be compensated sufficiently to address the value of their art, cover their business expenses, earn a modest profit to address the lean years, and earn enough raise their families.  We need to find common ground.

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