Respect The Song

July 18, 2013
BY Marc Shapiro
While music fans reap the benefits, artists and industry professionals wrestle with evolving technology and how it is changing their careers
(Photos by Justin Tsucalas)

(Photos by Justin Tsucalas)

The music industry isn’t what it used to be.

With an ever-increasing focus on digital platforms for everything from recording music to advertising live performances to engaging fans, all aspects of the industry have had to adapt to emerging trends and technology.

The industry’s transition has had its up and downs, too. Making an album, recording a song or shooting a music video is easier than ever, but produces less revenue, too. And while the plethora of music services and social media platforms allow musicians — professional and amateur — to put their music out to the world, some are worried about oversaturation in the market and getting paid enough in royalties.

“We are still in this transition and it’s very painful,” said Scott Johnson, a Baltimore-based music and
entertainment lawyer. “For some artists, it really hurts their economics, and I’ve seen others where it doesn’t matter very much.”

What remains an unshakeable cornerstone, the one unique experience that can’t be replaced by computers, that transcends time and technology, is the live music concert.

“People come to the live show for the live experience,” said Jeremy Schon, guitarist in the Baltimore-based jam band Pigeons Playing Ping Pong. “They don’t just come to hear the songs live, they come for the whole experience.”

Live music may remain sacred, but the continuing evolution of the industry has changed revenue, promotion, booking, distribution, live production and more. In concert with those changes are shifts in the way consumers hear about, acquire and listen to music, and artist-fan engagement.

A Changing Model
Sales of CDs peaked in 2000, when more than 942 million albums were sold, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. Since then, sales have been on the decline.

Digital sales, in contrast, have been steadily increasing since 2004.

Last year, digital formats accounted for 59 percent of the total music market, with almost 1.4 billion digital singles sold and 116.7 million digital albums sold. Digital sales were up 14 percent from 2011, surpassing $4 billion for the first time.

While CDs still outsold digital albums last year, the number was down to 210.9 million, compared to 240.8 in 2011.

Music isn’t the only thing that’s gone digital. Engagement and promotion have also gone online. Long gone are the days of mailing out fan club newsletters and postcards for shows. Through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, bands can promote in real-time, invite fans to individual shows and give their audiences a behind-the-scenes view that was never possible before. A myriad of third-party apps and websites allow bands to stream music and videos, keep schedules up to date and get out just about any other piece of information.

“Facebook has become an essential marketing tool for the bands,” Schon said. “Really, for almost every band, it’s almost the easiest way to connect with fans and get information out there.”

Through Twitter, bands can provide up-to-the-minute updates and interact directly with fans. On Instagram, bands can post photos from the road, the studio and the stage. Through sites like Bandcamp, SoundCloud and ReverbNation, music can be bought, downloaded and streamed. And the fans win.

“If you hear about a band, you can check them out immediately,” said Rob Koritz, drummer for Grateful Dead tribute band the Dark Star Orchestra. “The access is so much easier now, that if you want to be turned on to new music and hear new music, you can learn about a new band every day.”

For musicians looking to learn how to play new songs, instructions and sheet music are at their fingertips.

Steve Raskin, co-owner of the Stone House Jam Academy in Bel Air, says it’s easy to learn music online, but that it doesn’t compare to seeing a teacher in person.

Steve Raskin, co-owner of the Stone House Jam Academy in Bel Air, says it’s easy to learn music online, but that it doesn’t compare to seeing a teacher in person.

Steve Raskin, co-owner of Stone House Jam Academy in Bel Air, has done a lot of fill-in work for bands over the years. In the past, he’d go to the library or borrow music from the band he was playing with to learn the songs he would have to play.

“Nowadays, I’ve never been able to stump YouTube,” he said. “What used to take me days, if not weeks, and a lot of effort … I can now do in an hour on YouTube.”

And it’s not just the musicians and the fans who have switched up their game.

Cheaper, More Accessible Technology
It’s also the folks who work behind the scenes. Technology offers new opportunities to increase quantity and improve quality.

With a computer and a simple mic setup, anyone can make a recording. Add a digital camera, and anyone can make a music video. As PA systems have gotten cheaper and lighter, bands have been able to furnish their practice spaces with portable systems and any half-decent venue can afford a good sound system. The same goes for lighting rigs.

“When we were kids, none of the lights, any of that stuff didn’t exist except for arena shows,” said Evan Reisberg, 23, a graphic designer and an employee at Federal Hill venue The 8×10. “Now, every band under the sun has a light guy and a truss. It’s become a production.”

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COMMENTS
  1. Alan VanToai

    Jeremy’s wrong. I don’t go for the experience, I go for the hair. In that respect, Pigeons *never* disappoints.

    Reply
  2. Greg Pash

    Many thanks Marc, informative article, as i am not a techno yet !
    Singing local open night mic night, now and then.
    Just been to ” VOICE ” AUDITION, BIG TV PRODUCTION HERE UK.
    Applied for another, SIMON COWELL, BRITAINS GOT TALENT.

    WILL HAVE TO PRACTICE FOR THAT NOW.
    REGARDS GREG PASH.

    Reply

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