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Music: Art or Business? – 2 New-Old Considerations

A few hundred years ago, the purpose of music was to fill the soul. Somewhere along the way music became a business, which is not bad on the surface, but when the stakeholders on both sides of the business feel as if their voices are not being heard, then something is awry. Fans complain about repetition and formulaic music, and artists complain about the need to conform their music as well as the ‘all or nothing’ business model of success; and the music business itself… they complain plenty as well. It’s the perfect triad of finger pointing that under serves everyone.

So why are the three stakeholders in music so often dissatisfied? Having come from outside of the industry and now jumping in with both feet, let me offer some perspective for what it is worth.

First: Music is a business. Anyone that wants to make a living and provide value in that business needs to do so at a price that the market will bear.

First Again: Music is art, and recorded art only becomes so when it transcends from a collection of sounds and images to an emotional connection of intangible value between creator and listener.

Conflicted? Indeed, the best things in life are often grey, and to people who loathe conformity, grey is the new black. So let’s make the best of it.

The key to the long term success for artist, fans, and the intermediary (aka the man), is to realize when things are valued as a commodity of assumed value, or something else. We must also contend with the fact that a recording is almost always both.  In other words, what is emotional and priceless to me, may be nearly worthless to you.

Consideration #1: Forget about commodity models; price art based on emotion and connected experiences that drive emotion.

Many would agree that the status quo, commodity based model currently in play is less than ideal for creativity or business long term. So if you plan to make a living in music, sell art, experiences, or emotional connections, —anything but commodities.

If you are on board with that notion, then there is another leap to make IF one still chooses music as a way to put food on the table. Emotion is not always about the music in and of itself. For example, I may love a recording, while others may love the artist, yet others love only the genre or country it came from. It may even be as simple as one relating a tune to a memory. 1 in 3 music listeners who do not pay for music would if there was a meaningful connectionAll are saleable. Regardless of the reason, packaging, delivering emotional connections, and the business models that emerge from that will lead to tangible value. Some of our research at IQzic indicates that almost 1 in 3 of people who do not pay for music, would pay if they knew it was helping the artist and got something to show for it. Which leads me to:

Consideration #2: Consumers (fans) will pay more when they have ‘something to show’ for their purchase.

For example, the same recording has vastly different values whether it was autographed, was from a live concert you attended, or simply was the fact you discovered it first. The concept of mass customization and delivery is not new, but it has not caught on as well as it should in the music business because it takes considerable agility, thought, work, and persistence. Many independent artists have figured this out long ago, but have struggled to build a scalable infrastructure to ensure they get the most out of what they have to offer, and that’s because emotional connections are personal and two-way.

The music business itself has been just a fleeting moment in the history of music. Musicians made livings in many different ways before the digital age, and those ways have survived since the cave because they awakened something in the soul. The sooner business models are created that support that, the sonner the triad will turn to one of mutual support, with each leg adding value to the other.

Jim Hodson is the founder of IQzic and is dedicated to making every meaningful musical connection that should happen, happen.

Reader Comments (4)

A lot of good points in this article. The economics of music creation and consumption are definitely complex. It's interesting that there are many other fields in the arts where the content of art, the intellectual property, if you will, has been commoditized - photography, movies, books. Yet in some of these fields the content creators have managed to develop viable compensation models (although many are struggling in the same way musicians are). In contrast, one could argue that software programmers are also creators of IP, and the intellectual property created by them (code) is just as easily copied as music or other art forms, yet we value programmers much more in our society and their employers protect their IP vigorously. Computer game programmers, one could argue, create a user experience much like music - emotional, immersive. The consumer of computer game pays willingly for that experience, either directly or via advertising, and yet, like music, they do not have anything tangible "to show for that experience" of consumption. I do think there is a fundamental perception that making music is easy and fun and essentially anyone can do it. Unlike programming, it is seen as a recreational pastime that is rewarding in and of itself, therefore musicians are "self-compensated". Nowhere near as many people aspire to become programmers or enjoy programming for fun as there are people making music in their basements. Thus, some of the problem with the economics of music is also of supply and demand - too many musicians and not enough software programmers.

January 7 | Unregistered CommenterSolveig Whittle

Solveig. Great points. I believe your analogy to photography is much more applicable than S/W.

Anyone can take a great picture, but few can take great pictures consistently, under any conditions, and know what to include and what to ignore. So when you need a photo that counts, such as at a wedding, you can command a significant premium because of the emotional value if you have the skills that few have.

w/r to software, there is one aspect that is similar to art, for example all the coders and freelancers spending hours to make apps, many of which only sell a few copies...sound familiar? But the other side of software is more analogous to commissioned work. They don't code unless there is a customer willing to pay what they value themselves at. Another point where your s/w analogy might be flawed is because unlike music or art, there is an independent and very large demand on nearly identical skills by nearly 100% of businesses today. Creators of music have relatively little market demand of this nature to make their supply more valuable.

@IQzic we are capturing the emotional connection and helping the artist gain greater value from it, either by financial or social commitment from the fan.

January 7 | Registered CommenterJim Hodson

The business and artistic side would get along better if pricing were at least based on a proper market. Right now, the market is completely distorted by piracy and the thuggish attitude of content-delivery monopolies like the streaming services, in setting very low payout standards. Those low pay-outs are themselves justified and perpetuated by the culture of free (stolen) intellectual property.

January 11 | Unregistered CommenterSasha

GREAT analogy, Solveig. I write about software as a freelance gig, so I know about the field. Open source software is an interesting wrinkle to your point. Programmers often contribute their free labor to open source projects to gain experience, visibility, industry cred, contacts and offer charity. Most of the internet runs on this open source software. And software vendors have to be constantly on the alert to how open source may encroach or change their business model. As with music, it's a complex ecosystem and the idea is to have a mix of experiences and professional interactions that raise your value until people pay you bank to do what you first did for free.

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