In the world of digital media and technology, music is one such industry that has been forward-thinking in embracing the opportunities. From the streaming platforms of Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music, to the increased incorporation of music videos and visual aids to compliment musical styles, the days of stocking up records and CDs of your favourite artists seem far behind.
But, while this change has provided big business with the chance to grind out a solid profit, how much does the world of streaming provide for the musicians of today? Surprisingly, it is less than what many may think. For instance, Pharrell Williams' song ‘Happy’ was one of the most streamed songs of 2014, with over 43 million streams on Pandora alone. However, for all that effort, he only earnt $2,700 based on those millions of streams. It is somewhat unsurprising that artists like Taylor Swift have come out against these platforms, even taking down her music from Spotify in protest.
Is it harder for up-and-coming artists to a buck in the digital music world? And does it come down to how we as consumers consume music?
Jacqueline Pearce has been in the industry for three years, and is currently about to embark on a tour of the United States as the bass player for alternative rock artist, Jeremy Costa. From her experience, she agrees digital streaming is not business-friendly for up-and-coming artists.
“I don’t think there is any money in streaming. I mean, other than getting your name out there, it’s good for that. But apart from that, when people stream they often put on a playlist from Spotify and they put it on in the background.”
How we consume music also comes down to the fact that we don’t have the patience to listen to albums anymore, like we did in the past. What we as consumers look for in new music is instant catchiness, rather than longer, subtler listens an entire album provides. It is probably the reason why, in Jacqueline’s mind, there is an economic emphasis these days on singles.
“Singles usually are the best way to get your name out there. I think it is usually better to release a single first before you release your whole album in one go, and that is what most artists do anyway.
“But it’s not just streaming, but piracy as well. It’s so easy for people to get a single or album for free, so people aren’t buying music anymore. I also find even doing gigs is harder these days, because people don’t appreciate live music anymore, they think it is just a hobby. That seemingly justifies not paying you or not paying you enough. They’ll say ‘we will give you free drinks and a meal.’"
Streaming and piracy have impacted on physical sales, with artists like Adele not releasing her most recent album 25 on online platforms initially, but instead in physical form to make people pay for the music. Digital media has made such huge changes, both in production and consumption of music. There are more artists than ever out there trying to make it in the music industry, and the ability to record music has never been easier. This means that more artists are competing for the attention of listeners.
“Back in the Sixties and Seventies, there were really a few big bands that were known, say the Beatles and the Stones and Pink Floyd. So, the industry was much smaller; the big labels had all the reign, and there wasn’t access to this sort of technology at home. A lot of people today make music in their bedroom, like I do, because it is easy. You miss out on some of the professional quality, but for a lot of artists, like on Triple J, they just start by jamming in their room. Like Tash Sultana, for example.
“For young musicians like me, it is hard to crack that industry. I think that if you go towards labels, it’s best to go for an indie label, as major labels end up owning 85% of your music and there is no guarantee you will actually make it if you sign with them.”
Jacqueline thinks the best way for young artists to grow is through doing what she’s doing: touring, playing for an audience, and developing a fanbase and industry connections. Recent successful artists like Kendrick Lamar have emerged off the back of developing a strong online following, which has shown the benefit that digital media has in getting names out there. But, for artists who struggle, will many follow Taylor Swift's example and turn their back on those platforms?
Logically, the answer is no, as those platforms are growing and growing. But Jacqueline thinks that the challenges will continue:
“Media is growing. Online sources are growing. Some will learn to adapt and others won’t. You have to work your butt off. If you’re not prepared to do that then you’re not going to get anywhere. It is such a hard industry and is so competitive, you’ve got to make yourself stand out in that extra way. You’re going to sacrifice a lot. You’ll be ripped off, you’ll have people walk all over you, but you just got to keep going and not be discouraged.”
Maybe the struggles of artists and online media is the latest example of the same problem that has always been there: it is a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll. Will the interest of the artists change in the online world? Who knows? Regardless, the new and emerging artists struggling for our attention have come off the back of this growth in the digital world, and it is going to change the face of music forever, whether we like it or not.
Jacqueline Pearce is the bassist of Jeremy Costa's band, who are currently touring around Australia.