Great musicians have a true love and passion for their art. They seek to express themselves through their music and provoke a corresponding response in their audience creating a musical conversation of sorts. On the other hand, musicians have to eat and, therefore, usually expect to get some sort of compensation for the time, effort and the resulting art they create. That’s where the business side of the music business comes into play.
Setting aside the art vs. commerce philosophical debate, the reality is that a music industry exists and many, many people want to make a fortune — or at least a living — in it. There are many ways to make money from music and, as the larger recording companies have discovered since the digital age began, many more ways to lose money.
In the pre-digital era, musicians made most of their money from the middle men, not the audience itself. Music labels paid them to record albums and managed their tours, paying out advances, stipends, and profit shares according to complex contracts. Smaller acts were paid by venue owners to perform gigs at bars or clubs or even by schools hosting a prom or families holding a wedding. In some cases, musical acts had managers who were between them and the venues and labels, adding another layer between the musician and the ultimate consumer of their music.
There were always exceptions to this layering effect. At the very bottom of the music business is the street performer who passes a hat or guitar case to get money directly from those who listen. Technological advances that made pressing first records and then cassettes and CDs cheaper made it possible for musicians to self-produce their music and sell recordings directly to their fans without the interference of a label or manager. This put more of the business directly into the hands of the musicians, but it was still limited by the physical reach of the performers.
Digital Age Music
Enter the computer and, more importantly, the internet. Computers have advanced so rapidly that the tools for recording, once the purview of expensive recording studios who charged thousands of dollars for session time, are now available on home computers. Bands and musicians can compose, record, mix and copy music from their personal computer. They can burn CDs or create music files that, while not at the high quality of professional studios are more than “good enough” for sales. As technology continues to advance, mobile recording using smartphones and tablets are making on-the-spot production possible.
The internet has also played a key role in the revolution of the music business. With the creation of websites and then blogs and now social media, it is possible for musicians to build a world-wide audience for their music without leaving their home. They can share music files, post videos, and even offer live streams f their concerts with little financial outlay. They can directly sell CDs and concert DVDs or, more likely, provide music and video files for use on a variety of media devices. No more middle man needed to attract an audience and collect their money.