by Bill Schacht
Music Business Version 2.0 — a major shift in the music business is upon us. The kind which only comes along once a generation. The music business is entering an era once again more about music and artists than it is the bankers or robots who powered the last two eras.
Just after the world survived the feared Y2K bug, other unforeseen technologies arose to freeze the music business into the deep defensive coma form it is only now just beginning to thaw from. The inability to adapt to these massive new powers cost the music business dearly. Billions and billions of dollars bled out over this past decade. Music version 1.0 didn’t go too well.
Worse, what was an industry grown and run, to an extent, by supporting the creative form, art and artists, had already gotten smacked around good by the CD/MTV era. The highs were high but the come down was harsh. The dual pressures of high finance (duplicating CD’s was seen by financiers as akin to printing money, with fans and recordings already there to exploit from the vinyl era), and the hyper focus on image which MTV demanded forced artists into strange new roles and molds. Along with those stock prices, bankers rose to rule. And higher profits pressure meant more pressure to deliver more hits. Gone were the days an artist might release 4 or 5 albums until that hard focus on profit — in some cases, it seemed like 4 or 5 months was the max for life support. If it didn’t stick, wipe off the wall and move along. If 1 or 2 out of 10 acts popped, so did the corks. Those other 8 or 9 careers? Collateral damage. Prince scrawling ‘slave’ over his face was a defining image.
But those bankers were nothing compared to the robots. Like trillions of items streaming out the broken glass storefront during a global riot, untamed technology enabled music to simply be taken, again and over again, on an unprecedented scale.
Salvation from the massive hemorrhaging appeared in a company uniquely positioned to take full advantage of the situation, wrapping their sorely needed digital tourniquets over the gushes — which in turn helped drive them to become the top company in the world. For worse and better, bits and bytes, hardware and software became the new rule, the robots soundly defeating the bankers as the music business’ new masters.
Yet somehow, amidst the cacophony of computational construct, built upon the bank notes and bullion, a precious tone has somehow cut through. And it is a very raw, human, non computerised tone, joined by a most simple, three word refrain:
‘It’s about us’
Could it be?
Could we just be moving from artists to bankers to computers back to….. artists?
Consider this. Founded and run by a music fan, Spotify proves, as some suspected back in the day, that salvation lay in those zeroes and ones, if just harnessed and directed properly. More and more people are now more and more quickly signing up for music subscription service jukeboxes in the sky, there and elsewhere. It is clear the current status needs to be further developed — and quickly — current compensation schemes simply must be rethought and improved. Rest assured, with those banking and computing geniuses of yore still heavily in the game, and so much to win, we will get there.
‘It’s about us’
Some tag Jay Z’s artist owned TIDAL press announcement a miss (hey, you try getting that roster on stage, OK?) — ‘rich’ artists with a voice at the table — one even quoted Nietzsche. Imagine that. Successful? Intelligent? The nerve! Why should anyone support…. them?
Regardless of your take, the tone grew much louder that day.
‘It’s about us’
And then the gas tanker smashed into the bonfire. June 21, 2015. That beautiful, pivotal, defining, explosive, historic moment. That world’s top company took mere hours — hours — to capitulate to Taylor Swift’s sweetly intoned note. Some say the flip to agree to compensate artists for the free three months offer they’d sought to avoid paying for carries a multi-billion dollar price tag.
For the first time in a long, long time, artists took the win.
‘It’s about us’
That vision at Spotify, that Tidal sea change, that swift kick from Taylor…. a new era for music has arrived. More humanity, less business, more artistry, less robots — a new rhythm, a new logic.
With every choice we make regarding music — music, invisible, yet invaluable to us all — who and how we support it, and the respect we breath out and in to it — we all have a voice, a vocal line, in this song.
So if you like this tone, this tune, turn it up, make it heard.
Because if we’re lucky, and if we get it right this time, the music business is finally back. To music.
After all, it really is, about….. us.
Bill Schacht is a creator and music industry veteran of 25 years having had the ‘pleasure and honor’ as he says to have worked with and for many of the world’s top artists and entertainment companies, including genre making artists like Aliyah, Wu Tang Clan, KISS, Rev Run, Dio, Faith Hill and others, through various formats of music videos, print, marketing, web, editorial, skins, events and others. He is currently focused on the new orb immersive format designed to bring compelling next generation visuals & experiences to music, to be released later this year.