I currently have a love/hate relationship with the music industry - in general. I love being part of it and get to work with some amazing talent. I hate what it has become and how it has slipped into prostituting itself to the lowest bidder. I ran errands today with my wife (yeah I know exciting rock star stuff). As she was driving, this thought went through my head, "I hate the music industry". Let me clarify by saying I love music and artists, but hate the "industry". The dictionary defines industry as, "Commercial production and sale of goods", and that is what I hate so much about the "industry".
We have gone from artists who played music for the love of the art, to artists who play music for fame and fortune. I do not see anything wrong with making a living making music, but I have a real problem with artists who get into the business just to make a fortune. I despise record companies who rip off their artists to make a fortune for themselves. I loathe radio stations who take payment from record companies to spin certain artists and songs. If you think that practice died off in the 1950's payola scandal, it is as prevalent today as it has always been (even as recent as 2007). Money wins and great indie artists lose out - as does the music industry as a whole.
When I hear about the loss of big profits from major labels, I laugh and smile. It makes me happy (weird I know). I wouldn't be so happy if record companies were integrity filled corporations looking out for their musicians and people, but they are unfortunately not. While they accuse other people of being pirates and ruining their business, they have been pirate kings from their inception. Their downfall can be directly correlated in the way in which they have conducted themselves and their businesses. There is the old cliche saying "what goes around comes around" (which ironically was also a Ratt song back when). What the major labels have sown they are now surely reaping - and I do not feel sorry for them.
I like the word Jay-Z used - "purging". there is currently a purging happening in the the industry. The indie movement has garnered support and steam. The internet has opened up a whole new world of bypassing the major labels and has allowed great artists being able to break away from major label bondage. Recently, some good friends of mine lost their major label. Instead of hanging up their instruments and "calling it quits", they took their career into their own hands. They reached out to their fan base and asked them for support on Kickstarter. Their initial goal was to raise $20,000 for their new recording project, but they ended up raising almost $30,000. $30,000 clear without having to repay a major label....big win! They can now record the album that they have always wanted to record, but couldn't due to a major label dictating their every move. I will give credit to the major label for allowing my friends the opportunity to build a fan base large enough to support their current endeavors, but that is where the praise stops (the label was horrible).
I would like to imagine a world where the fan fully supports the artist through funding. Fan funded record labels and fan funded music industry. The old model was the fan buying the album at XYZ retail store and "supporting" the artist that way. The unfortunate truth of that model was that the artist saw very little of that money (the majority went to distributors and the record label). Now revamp the model to where the fan actually has the ability to fund the album through Kickstarter (or any other crowd funding service) and that is a big win for both the artist and fan. I do not believe that major labels are going away anytime soon, though I could be wrong. I believe there will always be a need for major labels to handle major artists like U2, Madonna, Lady Gaga and so on. But, I also believe that the days of the major labels reigning supreme are coming to a quick end - and that is great news for everyone.
We have entered a brave new world, but I believe a better world. If you liken the music industry to universal health care ((just track with me here I'm having an ADD moment) you can see parallels. Right now hospitals and healthcare companies are big businesses with little regard (for the most part) for a patients total well being and health. Doctors are multimillionaires and health insurance companies are seeing record breaking profits. Offer universal health care and you "weed out" doctors who are in it for just the money vs. doctors who are in it to help out the people. Then healthcare insurance providers start losing their power in Washington and have to revamp their business models. It becomes a win for the patients and people who need good quality healthcare. The same could be said of the music industry. If artists are not able to make their millions - or major labels - then that will purge the industry of people who are in it for themselves and not for the love of the art, music, or the people they entertain.
The state of the music industry is hanging in the balance with the fans holding the scales. It is a great time to be in this field (I no longer want to refer to it as an industry). My hope is that through these past years and rough patches we have learned a few good lessons. I hope we have learned that the number one reason for wanting to enter this field is for the love of the art and communicating with people on deep emotional levels. My hope is that each musician has learned to fall in love with the music again and not be infatuated with fame or fortune. My hope is that each fan has learned to invest in artists who have connected with them on multiple emotional levels. And finally, I hope we have all learned that a world without music is a mundane world - colorless and boring. Music is life and the music industry is the cancer killing it.
Kevin "Danger" Jackson is a New York-based producer, engineer, composer, performer, educator and Berklee College of Music alumnus. He writes, produces and engineers music for a wide range of artists in the pop, hip-hop, rock, R&B, classical and electronic genres. His work can be heard daily on a multitude of albums, radio and television stations worldwide.