The music business hasn’t been very kind to independent artists over the last several years. Streaming services like Spotify, YouTube, and Apple Music have made it a lot easier for someone else to promote and distribute your music. For up-and-coming artists without a big label behind them, that can be downright scary.
Yet another nail in the coffin of staid record labels, streaming has made it way easier than ever for any aspiring musician with a decent Internet connection and an appetite for self-promotion to get their music heard by the masses. That means no matter what kind of niche brand you’re trying to build as an artist, there are going to be major obstacles put in front of you if you don’t have a fair amount of backing.
And within that niche space, it can appear as though every other musician or band is working directly against you instead of with you. While not everyone will understand why this is happening or how exactly this trend is negatively affecting musicians outside the mainstream bubble, we believe there’s enough evidence here for readers to draw their own conclusions about how limited opportunities are hurting music scenes across the country.
What happens when you cut out the middleman?
There’s a popular saying that you can have anything you want, as long as you want it enough. For most artists, it’s the managers and agents who help them achieve their goals who ultimately have the final say in what the public gets to experience.
But the more artists self-release their music and take advantage of digital distribution services like Bandcamp, the less necessity there is for managers and labels. So as these services gain traction and fans start relying on them more and more as a source of new music, this has led to a situation where there aren’t as many services who want to sign artists who don’t have huge followings.
Limited Opportunities for Live Performers
Even if you manage to land a major label deal, the competition is tough out there for live performers. There are a lot of roaming bands who want to book live shows, but not many venues that want to book them.
It’s hard to compete with the pull of streaming services and the limited number of places on the calendar for live music. And when a band needs to book a show for promotion or an album launch, that becomes an even more slim window for them to make money from their art.
The Rise of Bandit Shows and Residencies
The rise of digital distribution services like Bandcamp has been a boon to smaller artists, allowing them to self-release music and take advantage of digital sales. But as streaming takes off, it’s become more difficult for new musicians to get their stuff in front of the public without going through the kind of middleman that Bandcamp was intended to replace.
In an effort to combat a dearth of opportunities to book shows and make money from ticket sales, some musicians have turned to “bandit shows.” Often, these are shows put on by bigger-name musicians with less-established bands in smaller cities at a discount or even free of charge.
Little to No Support for Record Store Shops or Concert Venues
Streaming platforms haven’t been big supporters of the live music scene either. The payouts for streaming an event aren’t going to encourage many venue owners to bring in more music events to book. And there aren’t a lot of other revenue opportunities for music fans outside of streaming platforms either.
Sure, people will buy concert tickets and buy a few songs here and there, but there aren’t many other places where people will consistently spend money. The record store is one of the last vestiges of a classic model where fans buy physical copies of music products instead of just streaming them online.
And while this is a great economic model for artists who want to sell copies of their music to fans, it’s a death sentence for artists who just want to get their music out to them in the first place.
Key chains and merchandise aren’t cool anymore
Key chains are a staple of music merchandising, but the ones you see in most concerts have been overwhelmingly branded by platforms like Spotify and Pandora. As a result, fans have been left with a lot of uninspired merchandise that’s been produced by more established brands.
The marketplace for concert merchandise is still largely dominated by the same companies that have been producing it for decades. And you’re lucky if you can find a shirt with new art that’s not from a band that got signed by a major label.
If you’re lucky enough to find a band that’s lucky enough to sell merchandise through a platform like Merch, it’s probably because they’re a band that’s already been signed to a label.
The Downside of Online Music Streaming Platforms
As streaming platforms gain in popularity, they’ve also become easier to access, which has made it even harder for smaller artists to break into the scene. It’s become nearly impossible to gain traction without a huge online following, which is a lot harder for artists to build than it used to be.
Modern streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube have made it easy for individuals to launch their own channels, which means it takes less time and effort to get your music heard by a huge audience than it used to. But for those with little to no experience with video editing software, that can be a huge red flag for potential fans.
Before streaming, the music business was a lot more lucrative for artists. Back then, you had to have a serious fanbase to make any real money from music, but that wasn’t nearly as big a problem back then as it is now.
With streaming, you can instantly have an audience, but the amount of work required to cultivate that following has increased significantly. While streaming makes it easier to get your music heard by a wider audience, it also makes it a lot harder for artists to build a following on their own.