Last week the Berklee College of Music wrapped up its conference on the future of the music industry. Whatâs different from other similar conferences is that this was held by a school set to graduate a class bound for this very industry. High level representatives from Interscope, Tommy Boy , Warner Music and other labels were there to defend their industry.
As part of this conference, Damian Kulash from the bank OK Go, Ben Folds, Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman (most of who had split from the labels recently) locked themselves in a studio for 12 hours and came up with six new songs, with input from their fans, who were watching via Twitter.
Amanda Palmer said that âgetting signed meant reaching peopleâ¦. [it] meant people would hear your music. That doesnât mean anything anymore.â Gaiman stated âwhatâs interesting here is the incredible speed with which we can get what we do today to our fans, to the curious, to the people who just see a reference to it on the internet and want to find out what it isâ¦ that completely changes everything.â
The music industry has seen CD sales drop 50% in the last year and many are saying that the old paradigms like shipping out millions of physical CDs is a thing of the past. There is a lot of fear because the old models arenât working the way they did before and the big businesses were based on those models. Those models were based on control, and control was based on limiting supply. However, you simply canât limit supply in the digital world.
Since labels can't make money by controlling unit sales anymore, they need to start caring about customers, something they haven't done in the past. However, contrary to popular belief, musicians do need labels.
You may not call it a label, but whatever your team is, who's going to do marketing, who's going to do billing, who's going to monetize the assets and the brand? Who's going to do collections? Who's going to do legal? Who's going to protect you when people steal your stuff?
There is a dominant perception, in this DIY era, that aspiring musicians don't need or want record deals. But a recent survey by ReverbNation.com and Digital Music News found 75% of more than 1800 artists surveyed actually do.
But on the flip side Del Bryant, CEO of BMI Publishing, sees a bright future for the music industry. His company's been representing songwriters internationally since 1939 but he says things have changed dramatically in the digital age.
"Ten years ago we weren't licensing hardly any digital," says Bryant. "Today we're licensing it, it's the fastest growing sector or our income in percentage points. We will cross $30 million in this year."
While industry reps at the conference tried to take the old model into the new world there were a lot of young musicians in the crowd for whom there is and will be no model. Amanda Palmer said that âas an artist you kind of are obligated to empower yourself, which is kind of a pain in the ass, you knowâ¦ it was clearly easier when you could just get in a limo and be told what to do, but now thatâs over.â
Given these facts, now that more and more musicians are releasing their work independently, it is becoming more important than ever for them to seek counsel and protect their copyrights whether they are with a label or not. The first step to this is a registration of their work with the US Copyright office. Only then can lucrative deals such as licensing become a reality.