The music industry rises to the challenge of the digital age


Is the music industry doomed to be much less profitable than it was in the recent past? Experts no longer believe so. A few years ago it seemed that the internet had crippled the CD industry and that musicians and record companies would no longer be nearly as wealthy as they were in the twentieth century. However, the music industry has managed to adapt to new technology and has significantly increased its profits over the last five years. Record companies are no longer gloomy about their prospects and expect to see their earnings rise considerably over the next decade. While the music industry is currently less profitable than it was at its late nineties peak, the industry is expected to recover and surpass its previous high point by about 2030.

Uiversal music group, the largest of all record labels, is already bigger than it was before the CD market crashed. After thirteen years worth of decline, the industry has seen for or five years worth of increasing profits. The music streaming service Spotify is mainly responsible for this recovery. Spotify is likely to become even more successful if it becomes widely used in China and India.

While the future looks bright for the formerly struggling record companies, it may not be so great for musicians, especially not less well known professional musicians. Most people who make music for a living don’t make a lot of money. The average musician in 2017 made only $35000 per year, hardly more than half of which came from music. Even with a mix of live shows, record label payments, online streaming income, and selling merchandise, a professional musician tends to earn less than an average income. Perhaps the music industry’s ability to capitalize on streaming will do little to help the ordinary musician.

Mike Eagle is a good example of a typical modern musician. Most of his money comes from television, but he loves making music and continues to even though there is little profit in it. Eagle’s hip hop record What Happens When I Try to Relax cost $10,000 to produce and only earned him $20,000 worth of music sales. After touring and selling merchandise, he made $35000 in 2018. Thankfully Eagle has a television career as well, and the money he makes in television is far more than what he makes in music. Eagle wants people to know how much the support of fans means to small indie musicians, who have minimal profit margins.

Even if a musician makes a great deal of money for the music industry, they may end up seeing only a tiny fraction of it themselves. In 1993, the essay “the problem with music” showed how a band could make a few million dollars for the industry and still end up making less money than full-time minimum wage workers. In the long run, the internet seems like it will help and not hurt the music industry. However, it may continue to hurt individual artists. The money goes first to streaming sites such as Spotify, secondly to publishers, and lastly to musicians.

Despite their difficulties, at least some artists may be able to benefit financially from the recovery of the music industry. Alternatives to the major music labels are appearing, and an aspiring musician may be able to use them to keep a large share of their profits. The internet makes it easier for a band to self-publish and to self-promote than ever before. Often, a group can keep as much as 50 or 80 percent of their profits if they release music in this way. Ten years ago, the music industry seemed doomed. If the music industry recovered for the record companies, perhaps it could also recover and reach new heights for musicians.