Regular readers of this blog can easily list off some of the so-called game-changing moments in the distribution and enjoyment of music: the original Napster, the iTunes Music Store, mobile devices, Pandora and, most recently, Spotify.
But some of the biggest changes to the music industry haven’t been the most obvious ones.
Think about album sales. Twenty years ago, the album sales charts were based on the rough estimates from random store clerks who happened to pick up the phone when Billboard called every week. In 1991, SoundScan was installed in thousands of retail stores across the country. No longer a number pulled out of thin air, album sales were based on barcode scans and tied to register receipts. Data was collected by SoundScan and reported weekly. Since 1991, the music industry has had rich, reliable data about how many records were selling, and where.
There was a similar watershed moment in radio. Prior to about 1985, radio charts were based on playlists faxed or called in to trade magazines like Radio and Records. As you can imagine, this process allowed for a lot of chart manipulation. Now, thanks to companies like Mediabase, Nielsen BDS and Mediaguide, airplay is tabulated by devices in more than 140 markets that are listening 24/7 to what music is being broadcast. Today’s music industry has robust data about airplay for particular songs or artists down to the city, and the daypart.
Then there’s the avalanche of data that comes from social media. Bands can now tick off their Twitter followers, Facebook friends, YouTube plays, Last.fm scrobbles, and P2P traffic, all as data-driven points about their position in the zeitgeist. Next Big Sound and BigChampagne do excellent jobs of presenting and analyzing this data for musicians.
Despite this enormous list of data, there’s still a critical measurement missing: just how today’s musicians are earning a living. There are lots of assumptions, like “musicians make all their money from touring”, or “nobody makes and money selling records any more”, or “YouTube plays don’t amount to anything”. But we are sorely lacking on empirical evidence to verify or disprove these assumptions.
That is the core reason that Future of Music Coalition launched its Artist Revenue Streams Project. ARS is a multi-method research project to assess how musicians’ revenue streams are changing in this new music landscape. The project employs three methodologies: in-depth interviews with more than 25 different types of musicians — from jazz performers, to classical players, TV and film composers, Nashville songwriters, rockers and hip hop artists; financial snapshots that show individual artists’ revenue pies in any given year; and a wide ranging online survey in which they hope thousands of musicians will participate in fall 2011.
Future of Music Coalition is urging musicians and composers of all types — from session players to songwriters, from self-released rockers to major label stars — to participate in the online survey that will be available nationwide in September - October 2011. Given the crazy configuration of the music industry, this survey isn’t meant for the faint-hearted — it asks questions about specific revenue streams, and why your earnings may have increased or decreased over the past five years. But have no fear: all participants are anonymous. The data will be compiled and analyzed, and delivered back to musicians and music fans to help us all better understand the complex nature of being a creator in the 21st century.
Do your part and contribute to the project. Take the survey here. http://futureofmusic.org/ars.