Commercialism in Music: Get Creative!

I just read this NY Times article about commercialism in music. The author of this article believes that as recording companies begin to fall, commercial licensing companies will begin to emerge as dominant players in the market.

I couldn't agree more. However, while the author suggests that this is somehow a negative turn of events, I'm not sure I quite agree. It feels like a lateral move towards status quo.

The musician today has more choices than ever. The digital age has enabled free music distribution and has allowed musicians to connect with more people across the globe than ever before. So why does it feel harder than ever to get noticed?

The answer is signal to noise ratio. With millions of bands out there, and infinite, unlimited access to all the bands, consumers and fans are paralyzed and overwhelmed by the sheer volume of music available. A new band in this environment has a tremendous challenge to get noticed. The ruthless ambition of a young band might lead them to a licensing company, who will in turn sell their music for the purposes of marketing a new product or promoting a new movie.

Whether or not you believe that commercial licensing somehow devalues the music, it isn't anything *new*! And that's the real problem.

We still buy into the old notions of how music can be bought, sold, and licensed. Much of the current music industry depends on old tactics applied to the internet. There is nothing particularly groundbreaking happening just yet, in fact most of the music industry is dominated with fear about the demise of traditional revenue streams. So bands are scared too, don't know what to do; they seek out licensing companies and sell their tracks on iTunes and sign multi-million contracts with Live Nation.

Our problem is that we all instantly became dinosaurs when the internet became ubiquitous. In less than 10 years the entire world changed. The old rules don't apply, yet we keep trying to apply them. Fear dominates every action, there is too much change happening - it's all disruptive and our natural human reaction is to shout out apocalyptic visions.

But we've gotta maintain perspective. The opportunities created by the internet and technology only serve to empower musicians, not stifle them. To say that bands can only make money off licensing and touring seems very shortsighted and old-world to me now. We've got to look beyond the old ways and think of new ways for bands to make a living. Maybe the concept of a music band needs to be stretched to involve filmmakers and artists. Maybe musicians have to become more like traditional businessmen. Maybe the concept of an album needs to be redefined.

The demand for music will never go away. So - for a musician to survive, that means that they've got to get creative and innovative with how they want to present themselves to the world - and realize that there are infinite routes and ways to measure success. It might take a few generations to become comfortable with all this freedom...but in the meantime we can at least remain positive about the changes that are upon us and see them as opportunities and not setbacks.