Yesterday, Japantown’s Hotel Kabuki filled up with hundreds of pale-faced tech nerds wearing blazers-and-jeans combos. These inventors and couriers of music technology spent the day arguing about the perks and pitfalls of various technologies at the 10th SF MusicTech Summit. Two highlights from the day approached the idea of music from opposing ends of the tech spectrum.
The Future of Music: Digital Sales or the Broadway Pit?
Kristin Thomson, education director at the national nonprofit Future of Music Coalition, gave a presentation called “Are Musicians Benefitting from MusicTech?” It was a first look into the findings of FMC’s Artist Revenue Streams research project, which examines technology’s effect on musicians’ incomes. While top employees of game-changing streaming services, promotion platforms, and distributors like Spotify, RootMusic, and Tunecore, gave their own talks elsewhere, Thomson explored how these inventions have changed the game for musicians’ bank accounts.
The short answer: They have, sort of. The 5,000 musicians surveyed agreed that emerging technologies made a significant impact on their careers. This means technologies like home recording and selling music on Bandcamp, as well as keeping in touch with fans on Twitter and Facebook. “Musicians’ access to the marketplace has greatly improved over the last 10 years,” Thomson said. “But how has it impacted their ability to earn money based on their creative output?”
The effect was interesting: A majority saw some revenue increase, but many saw a decrease. “This is the negative consequence of leveling the playing field,” Thomson said. “It’s easy for musicians to participate in the digital marketplace, but now it’s flooded with content, and naturally this means there’s more competition for consumers’ dollars and attention.”
At the end of the day, the study found that “tech-savvy” musicians are making less money than the “non-tech-savvy” musicians, meaning those who aren’t trying to go direct to fans by selling their recordings, e.g. section players in orchestras and pit musicians at Broadway. So perhaps, if you want to make a decent living as a musician, consider shelving your Bob Dylan vinyl and resuming your Chopin studies…