There are two strikingly different takes on the current state of the music industry, particularly for new and emerging musicians who are trying to build their careers. One side says that there has never been a better time in the history of music to be an artist, with the limitless potential for audience growth and promotions available online through social media and music streaming platforms like Apple Music, Spotify, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, and others.
The other side is the polar opposite. It says that there are more challenges and obstacles facing new musicians these days than ever before, making the “breakout artist” a pipedream for many emerging artists. Among the people in this line of thought are David Gilmour, formerly of Pink Floyd. He recently told Rolling Stone Magazine his thoughts on the current state of the music industry for new artists:
“It’s a terrible time for young musician starting out because its difficult to get yourself heard. You’ve got to go out and play dates and try to earn a living by playing live since it’s so difficult to make money from recordings. Young people seem to think it’s their right to get music for free. It’s no big huge for me, obviously, but where is the good new music going to come from? I just don’t think that music should be free. Hopefully, this is a thing that will sort itself out over the next few years, and people will be earning properly. And record companies, if they continue in the U.S., will be able to invest money in furthering the exploration of new music.”
It’s hard not to agree with Gilmour’s take on the state of music for artists, due in many ways to the mainstream music fan demanding free music at all costs. Apple Music, for all the reasons I don’t like it does being with it the potential to offset the “free music” model that so many streaming platforms have adopted.
Since the platform (Apple Music) is built around the paid model of buying music and account holders having to register their payment information, the platform for subscription-only is built into the service. Should enough of the market for music be taken by Apple, Spotify would have to adopt a similar model and potentially remove the free service in their system. That would certainly shake up the free streaming market, but in many ways that’s one of the only ways that artists can get back to benefiting financially (in any way) from the plays of their songs.
For new and emerging artists, whether they have been playing for years or not, still face giant obstacles in growing their audience and being able to find the financial bedrock to operate on, especially because of the endless amount of marketing options available. Endless options for music lead to almost endless noise, which is presented at rapid rates on nearly every music platform from Spotify to radio to youtube to social media. The answer that new artists should be looking for are two-fold: great music curators and growing their core audience.
Music Curators, particularly those on indie outlets like public radio programs and stations, are some of the last bastions of hope for DIY, unsigned, and independent musicians because their passion is what drives the attachment their audiences have to them. And their audiences are just as passionate about the arts, supporting artists that they love through buying music (digital and hardcopy) and regularly attending shows.
The Core Audience of a musician or band are the main followers they have, the die-hards, the tried and true fans who stick with an artist through thick and thin, traveling great lengths to see them live and are the first to buy their new music before it comes out. The first people who jump on your crowdfunding campaign are your core audience. The people who stick around after your gig to pick your brain and tell you about how your music helped them through hard times and good ones too, those are your core audience. These are the people who will help pave the path for you to succeed as a musician.
Failing to build a core audience community is a nail in the coffin for any musician who wants to succeed in the age of free music, especially since many music fans’ value of the art has altered the way that musicians can grow. When free is the currency, no one wins.