Many observers are quick to broadly declare technological change a good thing for musicians, especially when compared with the music industry's past of bottlenecks and gatekeepers. While it's true that musicians' access to the marketplace has greatly improved, one thing is less clear: how have these technological and social changes impacted musicians' ability to generate revenue based on their creative work?
For the past year and a half, the nonprofit Future of Music Coalition has conducted a research project called Artist Revenue Streams: a multi-method, cross-genre examination of how musicians' revenue streams are changing, and why. We gathered data on how musicians make money from disparate sources via 80 in-person interviews with a variety of musician types; financial case studies based on actual income and expense statements from a handful of full-time musicians; and a widely distributed online survey that was completed by over 5,300 US-based musicians and composers. Read more about our methodology and population of study here.
One of our stated goals is to better understand how technological and social changes of the past decade have impacted musicians. Whether it's a composer’s ability to write, record, and digitally deliver tracks to a filmmaker in Los Angeles, a band selling music directly to fans through its website, or a jazz player communicating with fans on Twitter, our findings suggest that emerging technologies have had a significant impact—both positive and negative—on the way musicians organize their careers and how they make money.
The chart below highlights one set of findings from our survey: musicians' comfort level using technologies for common musician-related activities.
Generally, 50% to 70% of survey respondents were "comfortable" or "very comfortable" employing technology for these tasks. The chart shows the greatest consensus around using technology for promotion (68.7%) and for connecting with fans (69.4%). There are many ways that musicians can easily use technology to do this, whether via Tumblr, Twitter, or Facebook.
A healthy portion—56.9%—were equally comfortable using technology to distribute and/or sell music. But it's worth noting that 31.2% of survey respondents answered that they are not using technologies to distribute or sell their music. Some readers might find this puzzling since uploading tracks to TuneCore or building a Bandcamp page is technically easy and inexpensive. But for some artists, questions about how technology enables fan connections or music sales are simply not applicable because of differences in career structures. For example, a chart-topping pop musician's career varies greatly from that of a first-chair orchestra violinist, or a professional session player, or a film and TV composer. There is a huge array of music creators in the US, some whose careers don't involve building fan bases, selling merchandise, or being directly involved with recorded music sales.
This subset of non-users is a singular example of a key overall finding from this Artist Revenue Streams work: the community of music creators is large, diverse, and specialized. This simple realization may be the one of the most important takeaways of this research. It encourages advocates, technologists, and music fans alike to think more broadly about musicians, about the range of engagement with technology, and to more seriously consider the issues affecting different parts of the community. More importantly, it's a clear mandate to include an array of musician stakeholders in the policymaking process.
Kristin Thomson is a consultant for the Future of Music Coalition and co-director of the Artist Revenue Streams project. Access more project data at money.futureofmusic.org.
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