Why musicians have to build technology into everything they do

Why musicians have to build technology into everything they do

Adaptation. Innovation. Creative destruction. Whatever you call it, the constant change needed to stay ahead of evolving trends and technologies is not a new concept, even in an industry as firmly established as music.

The problem is that, while adaptation may be at the forefront of minds and often conversations, I feel both as a musician and a businessman that the idea is still not taken seriously.

We all know that earning a living as a musician is difficult and, mostly, we are not complaining. After all, we do this primarily for the love.

However, the reality of the new model is that it is not only hurting artists’ bank balances, but also affecting the quality of music that can reach the global stage. In effect, good music is harder to come by.

How does this happen? We should probably start by looking at how artists make money.

During my time running a label and managing Fearless Vampire Killers’ finances it became clear to me that music itself actually makes up a small portion of an artist’s income.

This can vary based on the audience, but though we took care to nurture relationships and always ended up doing better than average, this alone would never have been enough.

The rise of streaming, while great for listeners, has destroyed an entire income stream for independent artists.

It is well known that many labels receive greater compensation from streaming services for access to their extensive catalogues, but independent artists sadly don’t have that carrot to dangle.

Either we accept the familiar 0.00000001p (slight underestimation) per-stream on our monthly bank statements, or we miss out on an essential promotional tool. It’s hardly a choice.

You are left with merchandise and touring as your bread and butter. For a band with a global profile this might seem enough, until you take into account what it takes to build that profile.

You need to support other bands for no money and invest thousands into travelling the world, in the hope that you can get in front of new people who might possibly like your music.

Radio is not the powerhouse it used to be, buzz only goes so far and online is throwaway unless you pour money into promotion. Touring is your only real option.

And therein lies the problem: the relentless touring needed to secure your following and capitalise on any buzz requires a huge investment that comes from a supportive label or a rich patron.

Not every talented musician is lucky enough to have either of these, and we are predominantly left with artists that have been selected by a limited financial elite and given the means to rise to prominence.

This is nothing new, but over the past decade this financial elite has largely had the originality scared out of them by imposing venture capital firms not looking for the next Bowie or Prince, but for return on investment.

Even the financial elite have someone to answer to. The issue has only been magnified since the financial crisis hit: their pockets are not as deep as they used to be.

So what can we do to deepen the collective pocket of our music industry, just enough to loosen up and take a punt on something special?

The lazy answer: find more money. It has to have gone somewhere, surely? The gaming industry is exploding, AI is about to revolutionise tech all over again and people have more spare time than ever, so how can we get them to fill it with music?

The better answer: we adapt. Because it’s not just about finding more money, or new ways to make money from music.

It’s about pushing the boundaries of what music can mean to people, how they can consume it and what eventual value we can attach to it.

It is up to all of us, musicians and industry alike, to get creative, to look to other industries and trends, to learn from them and get really bold with what we do next.

Unless we take our chance and weave music into the future make-up of technology then it will become as cheap and as dull as water. In fact, cheaper than water. People happily pay £30 a month for that.

Story By: Kier Kemp, Inklings

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