The Future of Music

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For a decade now the sale of CD’s has been slowing, as more and more people download music illegally.  At various times the following “solution” is proposed: bands can tour – they’ll make money from concerts.  They can record their songs and put them out there for free, bringing in ticket buyers for a concert.  I’ve always found this to be a bit nonsensical.  Most recordings that sound halfway decent use a professional engineer and a producer, neither of who works for free.  I don’t think they would work for a cut from some new band on a tour.  And for that matter, just ask your average North American band how much the Nintendo generation is hitting the bars and clubs to see what’s happening with some new band.  From everything I’ve heard, it’s grim and getting grimmer.  And some of our best musicians  today don’t tour, they’re not in a band, not photogenic, whatever.  They are the studio musicians that make all those hit songs (during the 70’s and 80’s some incredible percentage of #1 songs used a particular studio bass player (Carol Kaye)  and a particular studio drummer (Hal Blaine)).  What will they do?

So, given that musicians will make less and less from recordings, and that only certain already successful and famous musicians can make a living touring, and there are many wonderful musicians who don’t want to spend a life on the road anyway, what will happen?  Here’s my predictions:

  1. Musicians will simply record fewer of their songs.  If you want to hear them, you’ll have to go see them.  They may release some, to whet the appetite, but the majority will be for live performances only.
  2. Gradually, a new generation of audience will get used to the idea that music is something you have to go and see (welcome to 1870).  Club and bar attendance will go up, and more hotels and restaurants will offer live music.
  3. The spread in revenue amongst musicians will equalize to some extent. Today: millions barely making it, a few making fortunes. A generation from now: millions earning a living, thousands doing quite well, a few making fortunes .
  4. Shows will take on a new (actually very old) form.  Having a regular gig in a big town will be desirable and fairly lucrative.  This will bring back the idea of the musician as a host, introducing and playing with guest stars and maybe even acts that are not musical.
  5. Following onto that, we’ll get the eventual return of the celebrity MC.
  6. More and more live shows will feature standards.  Today, all the money is in recordings, and all the money in recordings goes to the suits and the composer and arranger.  So the goal is to write and play your own music.  When the money is made from live performance, more musicians will go for the standards.

I guess I’m basically saying that more and more genres of music will take after jazz, because what I’ve just described sounds like the jazz scene today.  But there’s darn little money in jazz, from all that I’ve heard.  The key here is that once the avaialability of new recordings goes down, people may be spending that money on live shows.

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