The Business of Music

Jon Caramanica, Joe Levy, and Stephen Bryan discuss the money behind the music industry—what it takes to be a musician, and whether streaming services help or hurt the artists themselves.

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Hi, guys, my name is Tanisha.

My question is:
I feel like most albums

are full of songs that people
don’t necessarily want to hear.

Do you think, in your opinion,

that it’s time for albums
to just disappear?

-I think it already has.
-Didn’t that happen already?

I think the question is not so much

should albums go away
but what should albums be

and albums should not be

two singles and a bunch
of babble.

That’s not what an album should be.

What an album should be
is a fully-conceived work.

If you’ve only got five great songs,
then just put five songs out.

In a world of connectivity,

in a world of social engagement,

in a world of streaming where really
it’s about engaging with your fans,

building connections with your fans,
engaging with them continuously,

month after month, year after year,

that cycle of every two years
having a major project

really doesn’t fit
with that kind of model.

So releasing content
regularly and consistently

over a period of time,
dropping singles every two months

actually fits
a lot better with the way

many, many consumers
want to engage with...

Unless you’re Adele in which case you
can send out one tweet in 18 months,

hold off records for about three years

-and sell 3.3 million in a week.
-Right, that’s an exception.

You can be a young
musician with a following

and still not make much money.

A quarter of U.S. musicians
and singers last year

earned a grand total
of 13.20 dollars an hour.

Pretty depressing, right?

That’s actually way better
than I would have thought.

-No way.
-I mean, I’m not saying that’s great

but there’s no federally
mandated minimum wage

for being a cool musician.

But is it sustainable then?

Don’t most people
just drop out of the industry

if that’s how much money
that they’re making?

I mean probably the secret truth
is it was never really sustainable

but I also think that artists

who can find fan bases can find
quicker paths to monetization today

than they did five or ten years ago.
When there were just big record labels,

you either got on the ship
or you didn’t get on the ship.

Now, there’s 100 different ships.

Steven, what’s your advice
to artists like these ones

who are trying
to make a little bit more,

hopefully,
than 13.20 dollar an hour?

Part of the challenge is it’s more
of a level playing field

which means, for example, on SoundCloud,
we have 12 million artists

that are heard every month.

The competition that’s out there

and the need to really
manage your profile,

manage a relationship with the fans,
that’s kind of in your hands

but the flipside is there’s a lot more
competition for attention and eyeballs.

And isn’t the flipside also
that bands have to do

all that hard work themselves, right?

I actually think the work
that these artists do now

can actually pay real rewards.

I mean, at my job,

I read about plenty of people
that are not signed to major labels

and I think that that would have been
ten times harder twenty years ago.

I think we can say that

if we’re looking
at all the artists in the world,

most work outside
of the major label system.

Okay and why are they doing that?

Is it because these record labels
are taking too big of a share?

Because they can keep
more of their money if they do.

Hi, guys, my name is Tanisha.

My question is:
I feel like most albums

are full of songs that people
don’t necessarily want to hear.

Do you think, in your opinion,

that it’s time for albums
to just disappear?

-I think it already has.
-Didn’t that happen already?

I think the question is not so much

should albums go away
but what should albums be

and albums should not be

two singles and a bunch
of babble.

That’s not what an album should be.

What an album should be
is a fully-conceived work.

If you’ve only got five great songs,
then just put five songs out.

In a world of connectivity,

in a world of social engagement,

in a world of streaming where really
it’s about engaging with your fans,

building connections with your fans,
engaging with them continuously,

month after month, year after year,

that cycle of every two years
having a major project

really doesn’t fit
with that kind of model.

So releasing content
regularly and consistently

over a period of time,
dropping singles every two months

actually fits
a lot better with the way

many, many consumers
want to engage with...

Unless you’re Adele in which case you
can send out one tweet in 18 months,

hold off records for about three years

-and sell 3.3 million in a week.
-Right, that’s an exception.